A Revival of the Work of God
March 11th, 1990 @ 10:50 AM
A REVIVAL OF THE WORK OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-11-90 10:50 a.m.
And thank you, the multitudes of you who share this hour on radio and on television. You are a part of our wonderful First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled A Revival of the Work of God. We are, as you have heard by announcement, preparing for one of the finest outpourings of the Spirit of the Lord we have ever experienced in the life and history of this dear church. The last week of this month, beginning on Sunday the twenty-fifth, we will begin our protracted series. And the sermons of the pastor each Sunday is in preparation for that Pentecostal presence of the Lord. The messages are from the Book of Habakkuk. I read the first verse, “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see” [Habakkuk 1:1]. Then the first verse of the third chapter:
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.
Nobody knows anything about Habakkuk. He just appears, delivers his brief message of three chapters, then he disappears. All we can know concerning the man lies in the thing that he wrote in delivering this prophetic message from God.
There are three things that we learn of him, that the world knows, from the little book of three chapters that he left behind. The first: he prophesied the coming of the Chaldean, the Babylonian army, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the state of Judah [Habakkuk 1:5-9]. That means that he lived in about 600 BC. The captivity began in 587 BC, about thirteen years later.
This prophet Habakkuk lived between the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BC by the Assyrian host [2 Kings 17:18], and then he prophesied the destruction of the Southern Kingdom, which came to pass in 587 BC [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21]. Between those two tragic eras in the lives of God’s people, Habakkuk stands to deliver the message of the Lord. And that is why he begins, “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see” [Habakkuk 1:1]. He is outlining the coming of the Chaldean hosts, the Babylonian army of Nebuchadnezzar.
Lo, says the Lord God, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation…
They are terrible and dreadful . . .
Their horses are swifter than the leopards, and they are more fierce than the evening wolves . . .
They shall come for violence: their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sands of the sea.
This is the announcement of the coming destruction of the kingdom of our Lord in the earth, the kingdom of Judah. And that’s why it is called hammassa, hammassa, “the burden,” which Habakkuk the prophet did see. You can read in Job when he was so afflicted he cried saying, “My life is hammassa unto me,” my life is a burden unto me [Job 7:20].
So the prophetic message that God gave this prophet to deliver to the people of the Lord, it was a burden, it crushed his heart into the dust of the earth. That is also why in the text, in chapter 3, “O Lord, I have heard Thy speech and was afraid” [Habakkuk 3:2]. He trembled before the judgment of Almighty God upon the sin and sorrow and transgression of his people. He was afraid. The judgment was terrible. Jesus said, “Do not fear those who can put your body in a prison. Fear Him who can cast your soul and body in hell” [Matthew 10:28]. Fear Him. Tremble before Him.
Remember in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, it says that “Noah, warned of God of things yet to come, moved with fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his house” [Hebrews 11:7]. “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord” [Proverbs 9:10]. O God, what of my soul, and what of my life, and what of the eternity yet to come before Thee? O God, have mercy upon me! [Luke 18:13].
He says something, “The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see”; “did see,” the burden which he “did see” [Habakkuk 1:1], the prophetic message delivered in his hands, and through his mouth, and to the people which he did see.
I think of an instance in the eighth chapter of 2 Kings, when Elisha announces to Hazael that he is to be king over Syria [2 Kings 8:12-13]. Ben Hadad is sick unto death, and this Hazael is no member of the royal family; he’s just an officer there in the court [2 Kings 8:7-8]. And yet Elisha says he is to be king over Syria. And in the story it says that Elisha fixed his eyes upon Hazael, and as he steadfastly looked up him, Elisha burst into crying and into tears. And Hazael said, “Why look upon me so, and why do you weep so?” And Elisha replies, “Because you will be king over Syria. And as king over that dominion, these mothers in Israel, you will rip them open, who were heavy with child, and the children you will dash against the stones, and the young men you will slay” [2 Kings 8:12]. And Hazael said, “Is your servant a dead dog, that he would do a thing like that?” And Elisha says, “Yea” [2 Kings 8:13]. And Hazael did exactly as Elisha prophesied [2 Kings 8:15]. That’s this, the prophecy that Habakkuk did see, the tragedy of the judgment of God upon His sinful people [Habakkuk 1:5-9].
The second thing for which Habakkuk is known is a little verse, a little tiny verse in the second chapter and the fourth verse, “The just shall live by faith” [Habakkuk 2:4]; when Habakkuk asked God for an answer: “These Chaldeans are more ungodly than Your sinning people in Judah. And why is it that You would send these vile, vicious, violent Babylonians and take away a people, however sinful we may be? We are not as evil as these who are bringing judgment” [Habakkuk 1:12-13].
And in the second chapter it says that Habakkuk stands waiting for God to give him an answer. I also would like to have an answer to that, which you can’t ever find. How is it that the wicked prosper, and some of God’s people are cast into the dust of the earth? Anyway, Habakkuk stands before God waiting for an answer, and the answer is, “The just shall live by faith” [Habakkuk 2:4]. You must trust God for the ultimate. Well, that little verse became the touchstone and the foundation for the preaching of the apostle Paul when he hurled his thunderbolt against the Judaizers in Galatia. He did it with that verse, “The just shall live by faith” [Galatians 3:11]. And when Paul wrote the greatest theological treatise in human speech, the Book of Romans, that was his text: “The just shall live by faith” [Romans 1:17], this little verse in Habakkuk [Habakkuk 2:4].
Do you remember this also, when the Christian faith died in liturgy and ritual, when indulgences were sold by the papal court for money, do you remember when Martin Luther went to Rome, and he was climbing up on his knees the Scala Santa? Many of you have stood there and watched that. The Scala Santa is supposed to be the sacred stairway that they brought from Pilate’s judgment hall up which Jesus went to be condemned to die. It has twenty-eight steps in it. Well, Martin Luther was climbing on his knees that Scala Santa, and in the middle of his climb, this text from Habakkuk, “The just shall live by faith” [Habakkuk 2:4]; not by indulgences, not by works, the just shall live by trusting God! Like a flame of fire that text entered into the soul of Martin Luther, and he stood up and walked back down the steps of the Scala Santa and to his church at Wittenburg, and nailed ninety-five theses on the church door, and the Reformation was on. That’s this little verse: “The just shall live by faith.” It’s from Habakkuk [Habakkuk 2:4].
A third thing that he is noted for is the third chapter. This is one of the most beautiful lyrics ever written in human speech. And in the ninth verse, “God does cleave the earth with rivers.” I wish I had an hour. “God doth cleave the earth with rivers” [Habakkuk 3:9]. Not forever does sorrow and trouble and hurt and despair continue. God breaks it up. No matter what the darkness into which you may enter or the despair into which you may be plunged or the hurt and agony of our soul, it doesn’t last; God breaks it up.
And wherever you find in Holy Scripture the river, you will always find that it is used in a glorious and triumphant way. In the Psalms, “There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God” [Psalm 46:4]. In the forty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel, he sees a great river flowing from beneath the altar, and it flows to the desert of the east, down to the Dead Sea [Ezekiel 47:8]. And the whole created world comes to life, burgeoned and beautiful. As he says, “Everything shall live whither the river cometh” [Ezekiel 47:9].
And then the Bible closes in the twenty-second chapter of the Book of the Apocalypse, “I saw a river of life, clear as crystal, proceeding, flowing, out from the throne of God and of the Lamb” [Revelation 22:1]. And that is the wonderful verse in this third chapter of Habakkuk [Habakkuk 3:10]. God breaks up our darkness and our despair and our sorrows with a river of the promise of life.
Now, to the text, “A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet: 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, not tomorrow, not of yesterday but now, “in the midst of the years,” now, “make it known; in wrath remember mercy” [Habakkuk 3:1-2]. “In wrath, remember mercy.” “In the judgment of God, O Lord, remember Thy goodness and lovingkindness, call it to mind.” All of that arises over the blessings of God upon Israel.
Amos said, quoting the Lord and speaking to Israel, “Of all the nations and peoples of the world, of all of them, you are Mine. You only have I known: therefore will I punish you” [Amos 3:2]. That’s the strangest thing: because of their exalted place and position, chosen, beloved of God, because they were known to the Lord, therefore, “I will punish you.” That’s a strange thing, but it’s so everlastingly true.
I do not know of a people in the earth more heartbrokenly persecuted than the people of God, the people of Israel, the people of Judah. Just this last week I listened to a man from over there, from over there, and his word was, “These Arabs, and Iraqis, and all the rest of them, are just abiding the day when,” he had a sign like this, “when they cut the throats of the three million Jews that are in the state of Israel.” O Lord, how they have suffered. And they have suffered because they were the chosen people of God and have not been true to the faith, to their high calling in Christ Jesus.
Now, I want to apply, I want to preach as that concerns us. There has never been a nation so blessed as America, none! None comparable! The outpouring of the mercies of God, and the gifts of God upon our native land, those mercies are beyond compare. They are multitudinous. And I read there has never been a nation, and there is no nation, that is as lawless as America. Great God in heaven, that such a thing could be said about us. There are more murderers in prison and in the penitentiary in America than there are preachers in the pulpits. There are more barmaids serving liquor than there are girls in college. I read this last week of a senator, he said, “The landmine in our national capital is liquor. It’s the cocktail party,” he called it. He said there are three parties in Washington D.C., the Republican Party, and the Democratic Party, and the cocktail party.
And the whole earth is drowned in drugs. Addiction is a curse from God. I don’t care what anybody says, venereal disease and AIDS is a judgment of Almighty God. And all America is plunged into the most anti-God . . . I heard a man say last week, he was over there in Russia and he was preaching in a school, and reading the Bible and praying in the school; he said there is more liberty in the schools of Russia than there is in the schools of United States of America.
You can hardly believe these things! You can hardly believe these things! And that’s why the prophet prays. “O God, in wrath, in the judgment of God, remember mercy” [Habakkuk 3:2]. So he takes his appeal to the Lord, a prayer of Habakkuk the prophet: “O Lord, O Lord, O God!” He prayed, he bowed before the Lord in supplication.
A call to prayer—I cannot sleep.
A midnight vigil I must keep,
For God doth speak. And I repeat
To prayer, to prayer, to prevailing prayer!
The need for such is everywhere
It covers earth, it fills the air
The urgent need of 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 been borne to my heart today!
It’s the need of prayer. Let come what may.
We shall overcome if we watch and pray.
Awake, awake! Ye saints, awake!
Your place in prayer, believe and take.
Stand in the breach, for Jesus’ sake
If the world be lost, and our nation be lost
And our soul be lost for Jesus’ sake!
A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet of God: “O Lord, I heard Thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord . . . remember in the midst of the years; have mercy, dear God.” Do you notice His work? “O Lord, revive Thy work, Thy work,” God’s work [Habakkuk 3:1-2].
As we pray, as we prepare, O God, let it be that we see the arm of the Lord extended to us; let it be something God does. Lord, we’re going to organize, and we’re going to plan, and we’re going to prepare, and we’ll do everything that human mind could think for, getting ready for revival, but O God, what are these feeble efforts on our part if the Lord is not present, if God doesn’t work? “O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years” [Habakkuk 3:2].
I was in a church, a very large church, happened to be there when they had a revival meeting. I never knew a soul present, not one. But I sat there, and I stood there, for I don’t know how long just weeping my heart out, moved for joy. I saw those people coming forward; a mother with a daughter; a father with his son; a businessman with his employee; two partners, one had introduced the other to the Lord, just a host of them, coming down those aisles, giving their hearts in faith and trust to the Lord Jesus, just moved of God. That is the work of the Lord! That’s God’s work, seeing people saved, coming forward, trusting Jesus as their Lord and Savior. That’s God’s work.
“O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known” [Habakkuk 3:2]. Something that God alone can do, Lord, let our eyes see it and our hearts feel it and experience it.
Some of these things that have happened to me along the way have so colored my life. This is one. In a village in a county, holding revival meeting, down the aisle came a woman and sat there on the front row, and just wept her heart out before God. And while she was there weeping, a dignified, practical looking woman came forward to me and said, “Have the congregation stop the singing and be seated.” Well, I had no idea, she was the president of WMU, I learned, and a leader in the church. “Stop the singing.”
So we stopped the singing of the invitational hymn and had the people seated. And she went over and stood in front of that woman who was weeping her heart out. And lifting up her voice said to us, she said, “I’ve always said that there were two things that would make me shout in the church. One, if God would save my husband. And the other, if this dear woman would come back into the fold and into the love and grace of the Lord God.” And that woman who was seated there on the front row stood up and said to that practical looking dignified president of WMU, she said to her, “I have hated you, and I have cursed you, and I have demeaned and belittled you, and I’ve gossiped about you, and I’ve told lies about you, O God,” she said, “Forgive me, forgive me, sweet, precious friend, forgive me, forgive me.”
I didn’t know it, but the enmity, and the bitterness, and the hatred of those two women was known throughout that part of the world and throughout the church. Like Paul writes to the church at Philippi, “Syntyche and Euodias, tell them to love one another,” [Philippians 4:2], get together again. That’s what happened there. And when that woman confessed to this other one, “I have hated you, and cursed you, and lied about you, and now I ask you to forgive me.” They put their arms around each other with many tears. You can’t describe the effect a thing like that has upon a people. That’s God’s work. God does that. That’s God!
There’s nobody you ever saw in the pulpit ministry that believes more in organization than I do: planning, preparing, meticulously making ready, but O God, after we have planned and prepared and made ready, O God, come down, come down! Let it be the arm of the Lord extended; let it be a Pentecost [Acts 2:1-46]. Lord, the flames of fire, that’s what we pray for, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God. “O Lord, in the midst of the years, send revival; in wrath, remember mercy!” [Habakkuk 3:2].
And to you who have listened to the message on television, on your screen you will find a number. Call that number. There will be somebody who will tell you how to accept Christ as your Savior. There will never be another inquiry you will ever make in your pilgrimage that has the meaning of this one if you’ll make that call. To give your heart and your house and your home to the Lord Jesus; to invite Him to live with you, to bless your family; your children, you, there’s nothing comparable to it in human life. And if you’ll do it and accept the Lord as your Savior [Romans 10:8-13], I’ll see you in heaven some glorious and triumphant day.
And to the throng in God’s sanctuary, in the balcony round, down one of these stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me today, and I’m answering with my life. I’m bringing my whole family, we’re all coming.” A couple of you, or just one somebody you, may angels attend you in the way as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.