A Revival of the Work of God
March 11th, 1990 @ 8:15 AM
A REVIVAL OF THE WORK OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-11-90 8:15 a.m.
And welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. You are now a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled A Revival of the Work of God. As you heard our minister of education, Jody Mazzola, say a moment ago, this month is given to prayer and intercession in behalf of our appeal for souls. The last week in this month of March is dedicated to our spring revival. And the sermons that I preach this month at this hour are in preparation for that importuned, implored outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God. They are from Habakkuk.
I read the first verse [Habakkuk 1:1], "The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see." And the third chapter and verse 1 and 2:
A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid:
O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known;
in wrath remember mercy.
The little Book of Habakkuk: there is nothing known about him at all; just what we read in these three little brief chapters. But he is known for three things which are presented, depicted in these three little chapters.
The first: he prophesied the destruction of Judah and the carrying away into Babylonian captivity. In this first chapter:
Lo, God raises up the Chaldeans, the Babylonians, that bitter and hasty nation, who shall march through the breadth of the land.
They are terrible and dreadful. Their horses are swifter than leopards, and are more fierce than the evening wolves. They shall come for violence;
And thus describing that bitter and tragic portrayal of the Babylonian captivity and the destruction of Jerusalem and the state of Judah, he calls it a burden, "The burden which "Habakkuk the prophet did see." The weight of the message he had from God bowed his soul into the dust of the ground. So he calls it "The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see".
That’s why in the second text, in the third chapter: "O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid, was afraid" [Habakkuk 3:2]. What God is able to do in the judgment upon His people strikes terror to the trembling soul. "I was afraid." Dear me! Jesus said, "Don’t be afraid of him that can put your physical body in prison or saw it asunder; fear Him who can cast your soul and body into hell. You be afraid of him" [Luke 12:4-5].
You remember in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews [Hebrews 11:7], the book says that "Noah, moved with fear, built an ark to the saving of his house." Thus with Habakkuk, he heard the word of the Lord and was afraid; godly fear. The Book of Proverbs says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" [Proverbs 9:10]. For us to be before God, "O Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner" [Luke 18:3].
You notice, "The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see, the burden which he did see," that’s an unusual way to describe the vision and the revelation of God to the prophet that he delivered to the people. That’s an unusual thing. Do you remember in the eighth chapter of 2 Kings, when Elisha anointed Hazael to be king over Syria? Benhadad was nigh unto death, the king, and Hazael was just in the court; and yet God said, "He is to be king over Syria." Well anyway, in that eighth chapter it says, "Elisha set his countenance upon Hazael," looked at him, and looked at him, and as he looked at him, Elisha the prophet began to cry, began to weep. And Hazael much in consternation asked the prophet of God, "Why do you look at me? And why do you cry?" And Elisha replies, "I see what you are going to do to the people of God. You are going to rip up their women with the sword. You are going to dash their little ones against the stone. And you are going to destroy the people and the families of God" [2 Kings 8:7-13].
Well, that’s what happened to Habakkuk: "The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see," looking at the soon coming of the destruction of the nation and of the people, it was a burden to his soul. Well, that’s the first thing that he’s known for. He lived about 600 BC; and in 587 BC, about thirteen years later, all of those tragic prophecies came to pass.
All right, the second thing that Habakkuk is known for is a little tiny verse, and I suppose the most tremendous one in the Old Testament. God didn’t answer Habakkuk when he said, "I want God to show me and to help me in this tragic prophecy that I have been sent from heaven to deliver." So he, in the second chapter, he is in a watch tower, waiting for the word of the Lord. And the word of the Lord does not come. And God says to him instead, in verse 4, "The just shall live by faith" [Habakkuk 2:4]. You have to trust God. You have to believe in Him. "The just shall live by faith."
That became the text of the life of the apostle Paul: when he hurled that thunderbolt against Galatia in the little Book of Galatians, that is the verse that he used [Galatians 3:11]. And that is the verse that is the text of the Book of Romans, which is the greatest treatise in theology that has ever been penned, "The just shall live by faith" [Romans 1:17]. And do you also remember that when the Christian faith became nothing but ritual and dry response, and do you remember when indulgences for sin were sold by the papal court? Do you remember at that time Martin Luther was climbing on his knees the Scala Santa – the Scala Santa is one of those things, tradition, has no meaning actually at all, but it’s supposed to be the stairway that Jesus climbed in Pilate’s judgment hall. There are twenty-eight steps. And I have stood there, as I’m sure many of you have, and watched the people climb up on their knees that Scala Santa. They get favor in heaven by doing that. Well, Martin Luther was climbing those twenty-eight steps of the Scala Santa, and right in the midst of his climbing those steps, this text came into his soul like a flame of fire, "The just shall live by faith." Not by climbing steps, not by supposed good works, "The just shall live by faith," by trusting in the Lord. And Martin Luther stood up right in the middle of climbing those steps, turned around, walked down, back to Wittenberg where he was a priest, and nailed his ninety-five theses against the door of the church, and the Reformation was on. All of that around that one little verse: "The just shall live by faith."
And a third thing: the third chapter by which this Habakkuk is known is one of the most elegant of all of the beautiful paeans of praise in the Word of God. For example, in the ninth verse he says to the Lord God, "Thou didst cleave the earth with rivers." I wish we had time to speak an hour on it. "O God, You did cleave the earth with rivers" [Habakkuk 3:9]. He looks upon the sorrows and tragedies of life, and particularly those that overwhelmed his nation; but it isn’t continuous. Pain or sorrow or death are not forever: God breaks it up. And here he refers to it being broken up by rivers.
Wherever in the Bible you find rivers referred to, it is always in the blessing of the Lord God Jehovah Himself. That’s an unusual thing. For example, in the Psalms, the psalmist will say, "There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God" [Psalm 46:4]. You remember in the forty-seventh chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, he sees a river of life, flowing out from underneath the altar toward the East, toward the Dead Sea, and the whole earth becomes verdant and alive, "For," he says, "everything liveth whither the river cometh" [Ezekiel 47:9]. Then do you remember in the Revelation, the last chapter "And I saw a river of life, clear as crystal" [Revelation 22:1]? That’s God; no matter what our sorrow or how deep our despair, God always breaks it up. It isn’t continuous; He cleaves the earth with the rivers of hope and salvation.
Now to my text: "A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy" [Habakkuk 3:1]. As he prophesies of the coming destruction of the city and of the people, he makes that appeal to God, "O God, in the judgment and in Thy wrath, remember mercy."
You know that’s an unusual thing when you think through the relationship of God to His people. For example, Amos will quote the Lord as saying, "Of all the nations and peoples of the world, you only have I known: therefore will I punish you" [Amos 3:2]. Isn’t that an amazing thing? And when you think of the history of Israel, the people of God, it has been that from the beginning to the end: their very blessing, their very place of prominence and acceptance in the presence of the Almighty is in itself an occasion for the judgment and the vengeance and the wrath of Almighty God.
I listened to an Easterner this last week, you know, from over there, and it just frightened my soul just to listen to him. If you listen to somebody from Iraq or somebody from Jordan or somebody from that Arab world anywhere, they literally plan on annihilating – they make a gesture like this – those three million Jews over there in Israel. O dear God! the very blessing of the Lord God in choosing the people was the occasion for the judgments of the Lord God upon them. O Lord – take away their altar, take away their temple, take away their lampstand, smite the sheep as well as the shepherd, judging the people because of their sins.
Well, sweet people, if it were just a matter of Israel, why you could say, "That’s just Israel. And that’s between Israel and God." But for us in America the same principles of the Lord God obtain with us as with Israel, the chosen family of the Lord. We are blessed beyond any nation in the world. There is no country, there is no place on the planet that has in it such infinite riches from God’s hand as does America. America is blessed of God. And because of those blessings, God is going to judge America. I tremble before the very thought.
If God doesn’t judge America, He is going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah. There are more murderers in prisons and in penitentiaries in America than there are preachers in the pulpits. This nation, "under God," is wicked and lawless beyond any other nation in the world. I read that, I read that, I read that – we are before God the most blessed of all the people in the world, and we are the most lawless. O Master!
And I see the judgment of God upon our people. Don’t let anybody tell you that venereal disease and AIDS are not judgments of Almighty God. They are. And when I think we spend far more money on gambling than we do on all of our educational programs and systems in the nation; and drugs, that is a curse from heaven itself, the addiction that accompanies it. And the tragedy of all tragedies to me is the average America couldn’t care less. They don’t go to church. Most of the people in America do not go to church, and they’re not concerned for their children, and they’re not concerned for their homes, and they’re not concerned for their welfare in the days that unfold before them. Great God! "In wrath remember mercy." Please, God, have mercy upon our people and upon America.
So what the prophet does, he takes his appeal to the Lord: "A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet. O God, I heard Thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy," a prayer of Habakkuk the prophet of God. He takes his appeal to the Lord.
A call to prayer, I cannot sleep;
A midnight vigil I must keep.
For God doth speak, God doth speak.
To prayer, to prayer, prevailing prayer;
The need for such is everywhere.
It covers earth, it fills the air:
The urgent need for urgent prayer.
To bended knee, to bended knee,
God’s call to you, God’s call to me;
Because what is and is to be
Shall reach throughout eternity.
Oh folks, I say, again I say,
A truth has burned in my heart this day.
It’s the need of prayer, let come what may.
We shall o’ercome, if we watch and pray.
Awake! Awake! Ye saints awake!
Your place of prayer, believe and take.
Stand in the breach for Jesus’ sake,
Ere the world be lost and souls be lost,
Too late, too late.
A prayer of Habakkuk, "O Lord, I have heard Thy speech, and was afraid: O God, revive Thy work in the midst of the years; in wrath remember mercy."
I think of that appeal, "Revive Thy work, O God, Thy work;" not what we do, or not what man is capable of doing, but, "Lord, what the omnipotent God in heaven is able to do. Revive Thy work, O Lord, in the midst of the years," now.
I wish I had time just to recount some of these things that I have looked upon in my heart: the work of God, what God can do. For example, I am thinking now of a wonderful church. And I went to the service; it was in the midst of a revival. I never knew a soul there, not one. I didn’t know anybody. I was a stranger. And I sat there and stood there for I don’t know how long, weeping my heart out as the choir sang the invitation hymn and the people stood up, down the aisle, down the aisle, down the aisle, down the aisle. A mother with her daughter, a father with his son, a businessman with his employee, two who work together and were friends, coming to the Lord, coming to the Lord, coming to the Lord, a host of them. That is a work of God. God does that. God does that. Sweetest experience, the tears I cry, not knowing a soul, the tears I cry, just tears of joy seeing people come to the Lord; the work of God.
Let’s take again just one other little facet, a little pericope out of my life. Back yonder in those days, I was holding a revival meeting in a village. And in that service, in the appeal, there came forward a woman, and she sat down there just crying her heart out. And another woman, she was an illustrious-looking woman, she was the president of their WMU, she called out, "Stop the singing. Stop the singing." Well, that’d be enough in itself to make you wonder what in the earth is happening. "Stop the singing," she said. And she came up to the front and stood in front of that woman who was seated there, who was crying her heart out, and she said – see I didn’t know all this, because I was a stranger, I was just holding a revival meeting – but those two women were bitter enemies, and the whole world knew it; the county, the church, the village, everybody, the whole world knew it, the feud between those two women. And when that other woman, the WMU president, came and said, "Stop the singing," and walked over where she was, that woman who was seated and crying stood up and said, calling the name of that illustrious WMU president, "I ask your forgiveness. I have lied about you. And I have demeaned you. And I have cursed you, and I have hated you, and I have been jealous and envious of you. Oh sweet, would you forgive me? Would you forgive me?" And they put their arms around one another and cried there in the presence of the people of God. Great God in heaven! what a revival broke out! That is a work of God. That’s God. And that’s why the prophet prays, "Lord, not what we can do, and we’ll do our best, organize, work, assign; but O God, revive Thy work in the midst of the years. Please, God, bare Your arm and let us see the hand and the power of the presence of God in our midst."
That’s what I want to see. I want to see God in this place. I am in favor of organization, as you know. And I am in favor of the programing, and I’m in favor of everything that we can do. But over and above and beyond, O God, I’d just like to see an outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord, another Pentecost, flames of fire. Lord, descend upon our people and grant us a great revival.
We have to close. Our time is gone. In a moment we’re going to sing a song. And while we sing the appeal, a family you coming into the fellowship of our wonderful church, a couple you answering the call of God in your heart, a one somebody you accepting Jesus as your Savior, while we sing this hymn of appeal, what a wonderful time to answer with your life – as we stand and as we sing. God bless you as you come.
REVIVAL OF THE WORK OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Habakkuk is known for three things
A. Prophesied destruction and captivity of Judah
1. He was burdened by his message
2. He feared God’s judgment
B. The just shall live by faith
1. The text of the life of Paul
2. Martin Luther and the Reformation
C. Cleave the earth with rivers
1. Sorrow and tragedy of life are not unbroken
2. In Scripture, rivers are blessings of God
II. Pleading the mercies of God
A. Blessing of God in choosing Israel occasion for His judgment
B. God will judge America
III. Habakkuk took his appeal to the Lord
A. A call to prayer