Why Revival Tarries
March 17th, 1968 @ 10:50 AM
WHY REVIVAL TARRIES
Dr W. A. Criswell
2 Thessalonians 2:3
3-17-68 10:50 a.m.
On the television, on Channel 11, and on the radio, on KIXL, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message entitled Why Revival Tarries. As I have observed and commented several times, one of the most phenomenal things I have ever seen in the life of a church are these congregations at 8:15 and at 10:50. At 8:15 this house was jammed and packed. You could not find a seat anywhere. People finally came in looking around, standing around, trying to find a seat, at 8:15 o’clock each morning, each Sunday morning. We are coming to the place where frequently our largest audience is at 8:15. I just cannot believe such a development in the life of our church, but it is glorious. We start the day early Sunday morning getting up, coming here to church, and our Sunday school is growing. I suppose there is not another downtown church in the world that is growing; the Sunday school continuing to grow. God has blessed us in this church beyond any other I know in the world.
Now as I turn to this significant subject this hour, I am turning aside from the series that I have been preaching in Daniel. And for these immediate weeks, all of the services, Sunday morning, Sunday night, will be turned toward revival, an outpouring of the Spirit of God upon us. And as I prepare the background for the message this morning, I have turned to the little books that close the series of Paul’s epistles. It is a strange thing; it is an unusual coincidence that the first letters that Paul wrote and the last letters that Paul wrote are together here in the Bible. I would not think that there was any thought of such a thing in the arranging of the books of the New Testament. The books of the New Testament are the four Gospels, the presentation of the life of Christ; then, following the Acts of the Holy Spirit, as the Christian message was scattered over the civilized world, then there were gathered together the thirteen epistles of the apostle Paul, and they were arranged according to the bigness, the number of words in the letter—that and the doctrinal content, but I would think mostly the size of the letters—then that through to the end of Paul’s epistles, the little letters that he wrote, the small ones. Now, that happened to be the first ones that he wrote and the last ones that he wrote. I make mention of that to point out to you that what Paul says here—the background of the message this morning—that what Paul says here is not at a certain period in his life, but there is something that the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostle Paul that you will find in his first letters, all through his letters, and in the last letters.
Now in the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians, you will find in the third verse a mentioning of that something that the Holy Spirit revealed to the apostle Paul, and that something is this: that there shall be in the churches a great falling away. And you will find that word apostasia translated, in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, “There shall come a falling away”; hē apostasia, a falling away. Our English word “apostasy” is almost exactly like that Greek word apostasia. There shall come a falling away, an apostasy. Now, this is in the first letter that Paul wrote. These two letters to Thessalonica were the first letters that he wrote, and in Paul’s first letters, he refers to the fact that there would be among the churches of Christ a great falling away, an apostasy.
Now I’m going to turn the pages to the last letters that Paul wrote. In 1 Timothy chapter 4, Paul writes, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly”—pointedly—“now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith” [1 Timothy 4:1]. Now that’s the same Greek word, apostasia, except in its verbal form. There shall come a time, the Spirit says “expressly,” when there shall be a departing from the faith [1 Timothy 4:1].
Now I’m going to turn once again: in the last letter that he wrote, in 2 Timothy chapter 3, Paul writes the same thing. “This know”—want you to know, to remember—“that in the last days, perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers” [2 Timothy 3:1-2]. Now verse 5: “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” [2 Timothy 3:5]. They will have the accouterments of religion; they’ll have the liturgies of religion; they’ll have all the embellishments of religion; they will have the form of religion; “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” Now I have emphasized that: that this is not a thing that Paul said at a certain period of his life, but this is from the first time that he spoke in the name of God and in the last time that he spoke in the name of the Lord. The Spirit says expressly that there shall come a great apostasia, an apostasy, a falling away, a departing from the faith [2 Thessalonians 2:3].
Now, as I address myself to the subject Why Revival Tarries, I speak nothing other than what I see with mine own eyes and what I read in the revelation of the Word of God. As most of you know, August and September a year ago I made an extensive journey through the countries of northern Europe: England, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and came back through Austria and Eastern and Western Germany. Being a clergyman, being a minister of the gospel, I was a thousand times more sensitive to the churches and the religious life of the people. And in the days of the week, as well as on Sunday, I looked at, and I visited with, and I attended the services and the people of Christ in that tier of countries in northern Europe. I have not yet gotten over the chill that came in my soul as I looked and as I attended those services. One of the great far-famed cathedrals of the world, in which one of the great reformers of the Reformation literally turned his nation God-ward, I attended the service on a Sunday in that church. In one section of the building, the congregation meets. The great massive vacuity of that building around would discourage any soul, yet this is the place where the fire and the flame and the fury of the Reformation swept the whole nation God-ward! Now, to me like an empty shell with a little group of people meeting in one spot in it, one corner of it, and it is so arranged for that purpose. They meet here, and the great mausoleum and sepulcher is silent and open and catches dust.
I met, in another capital city in another nation, a little handful of people calling on the name of the Lord in a pattern, as they had the Sunday before, as they will the Sunday after, expecting nothing from God; just that little handful of people. And in another of the great capitals and a teeming city, the pastor of the First Baptist Church is also a senator in the parliament of the nation—a very gifted, a very learned, a very fine Christian man. And he said to me, he said, “Within the last few years the Baptist people in this nation have halved in number,” not multiplied; they are one-half as many today as there were a few years ago. And in another one of those great capitals of one of those nations in northern Europe, I attended the First Baptist Church. They had one baptism the year before, just one. They had one baptism the year before. And when I asked about the state churches—and most of those nations have a state church—there is not two percent of the people who attend church at all, any kind of a church. And when you talk to a guide, or you talk to a tourist agent, or you talk to anybody that can understand English—and most of them can—and you ask them about the Lord, or you ask them about the church, or you invite them to go with you to a service, their inevitable and same reply is always, “I am not interested.” And they will repeat it, and a little more emphatically each time: “But I am not interested! I am not interested!”
Then finally, to Russia, to Russia. No one can ever visit Russia without some things indelibly impressed on your mind, and one is this: on a Sunday, there are thousands and thousands and thousands of people milling in the streets, aimless, pointless, with nothing before or after or around; just milling, thousands, thousands, thousands; the masses of those people just walking up and down the streets. And we attend a little Baptist church in a communist controlled country—they own everything; that’s what communism is. They own everything, and you are assigned where you live, if you can find an assignment. So the properties of the churches are owned by the state, and the state assigns the place of worship. So in the Soviet Union, the Baptist denomination is a recognized denomination, and in a great city you will find an Orthodox Russian church open. You will also find a Baptist church open, as in a city as big as New York; you will find one little Baptist church open. Or in a city the size of Chicago, as Leningrad, you will find a little Baptist church open. Were it much bigger than it is, the government would destroy it, but here it is, behind a wall. All of them behind a wall or a fence; the only exception I know to that is the one in Moscow. And as we attend the service, and always that Russian communist guide with us—never beyond his or her surveillance—I will talk to one of them, and the reply to me about religion is, “But look at them. Look at them! They are so poor and they are so ignorant.” A little handful, but that’s not the tragedy of the Soviet Union or religion in a communist state. The tragedy of religion in the communist state is not that the government has padlocked the churches—and you can see big padlocks on them—and the tragedy is not that this church is turned into a railway station, and this one into a granary, and that one into a warehouse. That’s not the tragedy. Nor is the tragedy that those people mill on Sunday by the thousands and the thousands and the thousands. The tragedy is that they do not care whether the church is padlocked or not, nor do they miss religion as such! I suppose it was nothing to them in the beginning. It is nothing to them now, that they have no open door, and no open Bible, and no minister of the gospel, and no church, and no faith, and no religion; they could not care less! This is the tragedy: were you finding an oppressed people who were weeping because they had no God, or crying to heaven because they had no religious liberty, or weeping and mourning because they had no place of worship—but they don’t weep, and they don’t mourn, and they don’t care! This is the tragedy of the communist world.
And may I come to our own nation of America? The only difference, increasingly so, in the great cities of America, the great throngs in the biggest cities in America, the only difference in the cities of America and the cities of the Soviet Union is this: that in America our people have automobiles, and boats, and they leave the cities by the thousands and the thousands and the thousands, whereas in Russia, being poor—and they are all poor—they have nothing to do but to walk up and down the streets. But the people are the same. They don’t miss God, and they don’t need the Lord! Anybody who would try to convince me that in America Sunday is a holy day would find it an impossible assignment, for Sunday, as the weekend in America, is a holiday! And every announcement practically on the radio, on the television, every presentation in an editorial, every piece of legislation working towards that end is to that effect: that the weekend is a time to play, to be amused, to be entertained. It’s a holiday; it is not a holy day.
This weekend, Friday and Saturday, the meeting of the Adult Division of our church had a retreat in a motel between here and Fort Worth, and I shared with them that retreat. In the convocation, there was a professor from the Southwestern Seminary who made an address to us. He preached here not very long ago: Dr. Roy Fish, professor of evangelism at the seminary. And in that address he made to those meeting adults he was thinking of a German youth, and the young fellow, living in the days of the rise of Hitler, the young fellow felt in his heart a call to be a minister of the gospel of Christ. But he lived in that day when the Youth Bann was organized with the Third Reich, and as you know and the historian writes, Hitler won German by winning the imagination and the heart of its youth. So after the agony of a struggle between the call of Christ and his friends and fellows joining the Youth Bann, he finally decided to join the Bann and went goose-stepping off after Hitler. Over the ruins of the Third Reich, a friend was talking to the young man and asked him about that agony in his soul, and the decision that he made, and why he made it. And the young German man replied, “Sir, in those days it seemed to me that Hitler was so big, and Jesus the Christ was so small.” And he cast his life and lot and destiny with Hitler, and drowned the call of Christ in his soul.
As I listened to the professor describe that German youth, I thought this is the pattern, increasingly so, emphatically so, of all American life. Materialism and secularism and all of the things of this world and this life are so big they cover the horizon, and Christ seems so small, so small. Consequently we give ourselves to the materialities of this life, to the secularisms of this life, to the things of this life, and we are forgetting God! And this is the repercussion that you find in the life of our nation! Our nation does not forget God and not reap a tragic and a merciless harvest. The divisiveness in our national life, the apparent lostness among our leaders, and the wave and the flood of crime and delinquencies and alcoholism and drug, all of these things are the aftermath of the choices of the life of a people. And all of the money in the world will not correct it, and all of the superior legislation that our brain-trusters and eggheads can think of will not change it! This is a pattern of the judgment of God upon the life of America, which is becoming as material and as godless as the life of our communist enemies.
Why revival tarries; “And in the last day there shall come an apostasia, a great falling away” [2 Thessalonians 2:3]. I am asked a thousand times from one side of this nation to the other, as I preach through a convention or through a conference or a convocation, I am asked, “Do you think we will see revival?” Now they don’t mean a revival in a church, they mean national revival. “Do you see any sign of it? Do you believe it is coming? Will we have revival in America?” And my answer is an unequivocal, and an emphatic negation, “No! There is no sign, but there is the opposite of it,” and a multiplying indication of the opposite of it. There is no sign of revival in American, nor in the world, none at all. There are only signs of an increasing apostasia, a falling away, a turning back [2 Thessalonians 2:3].
About a week ago, within this week, someone placed in my hands a little oblong booklet, it is just about that size, like that. And to my great surprise, it is a little booklet of cartoons. I would not have even looked at it had it not been for the title of it. And the title of it was, is, “Why No Revival?” Well, that intrigued me, “Why No Revival?” Well, I was getting ready to preach this morning on why revival tarries, just my way of saying, “Why no revival?” So I opened the little booklet of cartoons, and I looked at the first one, and the first one was “The Modern Family Altar.” The modern family altar; and they were gathered around the idiot box, and there they were looking at the two-gunner and the culprit out there he was going to plug. That, according to that cartoon, is the modern family altar. And I turned to the next cartoon. It was a cartoon with “A Modern Saint Wrestles in Prayer,” and there he was, this modern saint, getting ready to go to bed, and he was a-saying, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” Well, I thought, “God bless him, most of our saints would not even think or pause even to say that!” The modern saint wrestles in prayer against the powers of darkness, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” All right, I turned the page to the next cartoon. It was entitled, “The Brilliant and Scintillating Testimonies of God’s Children for the Goodness of Grace of God.” And there the preacher was, and he was saying, “Oh, won’t somebody testify? Won’t somebody stand up and say what God has done for you?”
And I have thought a thousand times of that same feeling that I saw pictured there in that cartoon: that preacher up there, “Won’t somebody, won’t anybody stand up and testify for the Lord?” Why, I’ve done that here in this church I don’t know how many times. And so the fellow there in the cartoon said, “We’ll now stand for the benediction.” If I were to do it this morning, I’d have to beg, and to cajole, and to plead, “Won’t somebody stand up and testify that God has been good to you, that you love the Lord?” You wouldn’t do it. You wouldn’t do it. You won’t even come down here and pray. One of the men in our church got furious with me because I was pressing the people to come down here and pray, to open the service with an altar call. I speak in these conferences of our prayer rail here, and they always ask me—one of the ministers will—“Well, does anybody come and pray?” And I always confess, “No, there’ll be two or three. No.” I don’t want you to think that I’m doing this with any idea that next Sunday morning you’re going to come down here and pray; you’re not going to do it. I have given up that. Our hearts are too hard, and our spirits are too removed, and we are too self-conscious! We’re not thinking about the Lord. We’re thinking about “me,” “I.” “Well, if I were to go down there and kneel, why, somebody would watch me go down there and kneel, and I’m very self-conscious, pastor, you see. I’m very timid, you see.” Such intellectual and spiritual idiocy and inanity, that if I were to stand up and testify, I’d be self-conscious, or if I were to come down here and kneel, I’d be self-conscious. The reason is we don’t have enough religion even to kneel in prayer in the church, nor do we have enough love for God to testify and to witness to others. There is something radically wrong with us! I mean deeply wrong, radically wrong, basically wrong. We are nominal, ephemeral Christians on the surface. There is no depth of commitment in us. Now, I repeat: I’m not expecting you to come down here to pray next Sunday. You’re not going to come. I’ve given it up; I don’t even review it. Why I’m speaking of it is just by way of illustration: that there is not in us the great moving of the Spirit of God. We are too self-conscious. “Think I’m going to be caught down there on my knees praying? No! Think I’m going to be caught testifying for the Lord? No! Not I, Not I.”
Those cartoons: one was a cartoon at a prayer meeting, and they were saying, “Oh, how that brother over there needs praying for, and how that this one over here needs praying for, and how that old sister over there needs praying for.” Then down there in the corner—he chose a modern translation—“You get the log out of your own eye, then maybe you can see how to get the speck of sawdust out of your neighbor’s eye” [Matthew 7:3]. It ain’t the preacher, and it ain’t the deacon, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer! “That bunch of heathen over there, and over yonder, and over there, they need God, but I don’t. I don’t. I live in a separate, unique, and adequate world. I don’t need it.”
Well let’s get to the end of that little cartoon book. Had it all been like that, it would have been amazingly despairing and pessimistic. But they had two cartoons at the end. One of them was a cartoon of a church, and the people in the church were on their knees, and they were on their faces, and they were sobbing and crying before the Lord. And they were, saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” “Why, I’m no sinner! Why, that guy out there, he’s the sinner, and that one over there, and that one over there! But I don’t need praying for, nor confess my sins.” My brother, we all are sinners! [Romans 3:23]. You are! We are. I am. God be merciful to me, a sinner. Or like that publican beat on his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner” [Luke 18:13]. That’s exactly what he said, that’s exactly his words. “The sinner,” as though nobody else in the world was.
Well, this last cartoon, the people were down on their knees and on their faces, sobbing before God and confessing their sins. Now, the last cartoon, I couldn’t help but brush away the tears when I looked at it; just a plain, ordinary cartoon. This cartoon: there was a mother in the house with the daily newspaper, and the headline read, “Revival Sweeps the Nation as Millions Turn to Christ.” And the father across the table was saying—the businessman in the home—he was saying, “Dear, oh, the power of God is felt everywhere. The churches are aflame.” Then he added, “Delinquency and alcoholism and crime have practically ceased.” Then he added, “And in government and in business, corruption is no more!” And then he added the final sentence: “God has healed our land.”
There is no other way! Legislation nationally, locally, statewide will not do it, nor will all the money poured out into the governmental agencies do it; it will not! There will be no turning in America, and no changing in America, and no blessings of God upon America until God does it! “God has healed our land” [2 Chronicles 7:14]. Revival.
Now, I come to the burden of this message. Listen. One of the remarkable things in that Book, and what I read in that Holy Book, I read in human history. Out there in my study, where I slave over this thing, I read the Book, page after page, poring over that Book. Then I have volumes and volumes, and I read, and what I read in history is just a confirmation of what I read in that Book. They are the same thing. God wrote it here by inspiration [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]; secular and profane men wrote it here by observation. Now, what is that? And this is the most precious thing God can give us. Until the Spirit is taken out of this world [2 Thessalonians 2:7], until the consummation of the age, until the denouement of time and history, until the end comes, until there is a rapturing away—an old Anglo-Saxon word for a snatching away—until there is a taking away of God’s people out of this earth [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17], until then the Holy Spirit is here! God in power and presence is here, and as long as God in power and in presence is here in this world, there is a possibility, always and ever, of revival! And there has never been an age or a time when there was not revival in the earth. Never!
When the church at Jerusalem lost its witness in legalistic Judaism, the power of God fell upon Antioch and Ephesus! And when the church at Antioch became formal and cold, the church in Milan became a flame for God. And when the churches of North Africa lost themselves in ceremony and in ritual, the churches of Gaul were turning the heathen and the pagan to the Lord. And when the church at Rome lost its witness, the churches in Ireland won the whole nation to the Lord! And when the churches of the Levant, of Palestine, and of North Africa were destroyed by the avenging sword of Muhammad, at that very moment the scholars of Iona were going forth to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons, our forefathers! And when Italy became a field of rotten stubble, the fields of Bohemia and Moravia whitened to the harvest. And when France lost its life and its witness in paganism and darkness, the morning stars of the Reformation were beginning to rise in England. And when in New England the Unitarian defection destroyed the churches and emptied the pews, at that very moment the pioneer preacher was pressing across the Alleghenies into the great heartland of America, and it was in that movement that God brought the word to me in a pioneer preacher, and I was won to Jesus.
There is no time in the world but that somewhere there is revival. And however it may be there, and however it may be yonder, and however it may be there, we can have revival. The First Baptist Church in Dallas can become literally, veritably, a flame of fire.
I have promised, oh, that I will finish before we leave this television, so that the people—and there are thousands of them—who listen to this service this hour can know the conclusion of this message. I must hasten to that conclusion. We can have revival; we can. However the flood of paganism and the world of apostasy around us, we can have revival. The Holy Spirit of God is still in this place and still in this church.
How: there are three things that I have opportunity just to mention them. One, one: God can use us in our faithfulness and in our dedication. In our faithfulness, God can use us and send revival. You know, once in a while I speak of a crazy thing that would never in the earth come to pass, but preaching through these evangelistic conferences, I’ll often mention it because it is so apparent in our church because of the size of our church. There are fifteen thousand members in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. You cannot crowd, no matter how you would do it, more than three thousand people in this auditorium. And I say if our people did no other thing than to love God enough just to come, just to be here, that means you would have three thousand people on the inside, and you would have twelve thousand people out there in the streets trying to get in. And if such a phenomenon as that ever happened in the history of Christendom, you would have Life magazine, and Look magazine, and The Saturday Evening Post, and all the other newspapers and photographers in the country coming down here and taking pictures of a church where three thousand of them could get into the auditorium and twelve thousand of them were out there trying to look in. But you wouldn’t do that, and I don’t know why I use illustrations like that, except just to show the inanity of our spiritual lives. Just faithful enough to come, but I won’t be there. I won’t be there. But if we did come, I don’t know what God would do. He is just anxious and waiting for a reason to bless. Faithfulness, faithfulness in witnessing; I don’t have the ability, nor does any other man, to convert a soul. Even a little child, I stagger in his presence. But God saves. My only assignment is to witness, to speak, to invite, that’s all I can do, that’s all we can do.
The second is prayer. God somehow made it that way. We must pray for God to answer, and there is no answer without praying. We must ask if we are to receive. Jesus the Son of God prayed and God answered [John 11:41-44]. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, He is not dwarfed and withered, that He cannot save; nor His ear heavy that He cannot hear: But your sins have separated between you and your God, and your iniquities have hid His face from you, that He will not hear” [Isaiah 59:1-2]. We have a block! We have a block.
And the third thing and the last is our consecration. As Jesus said, John 17:19: “For their sakes I consecrate, I sanctify Myself.” That does not mean we’re getting increasing holy; such a thing is theologically impossible. The word “sanctify,” the word “consecrate,” means I set myself apart for this cause. Maybe it’s for the circle of the family, maybe its for the neighbor, maybe its for the Sunday school, maybe its for the city, but for their sakes I sanctify myself, I dedicate myself, I consecrate myself. That’s revival. That’s revival.
Now let’s sing our song of appeal, And while we sing it, while we sing it, somebody you, to give himself to the Lord [Romans 10:9-10], a family you, to come into the fellowship of the church, as we sing this song, as we make this appeal, would you come and stand by me? “Here I am, pastor. I give you my hand. I give my heart to God.” As you sit where you are in the balcony round, on this lower floor, make the decision now, do it now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming: “Here I come, pastor. Here I am.” A couple you, a family you, or one somebody you: “I open my heart and life to the Lord God, Jesus the Christ [Ephesians 2:8], and here I come openly, publicly, unashamedly. Before angels and men, I confess my faith in the Lord, and here I am.” Or to put your life with us in this dear church, to pray with us, to agonize with us, to ask God to bless us, with us, you come. As the Spirit shall open the door, make it now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.