The Urgency of the Hour
March 18th, 1990 @ 8:15 AM
THE URGENCY OF THE HOUR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-18-90 8:15 a.m.
And we welcome the uncounted multitudes of you who are sharing this hour on radio. You are a part of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Urgency of the Hour. We are getting ready for our tremendous revival meeting that begins next Sunday. Our evangelist, our revival preacher will begin next Sunday night; and then there will be services every day at noon around a table where we break bread together, and then every night at seven o’clock, through Friday; our spring revival meeting. And the messages that the pastor has prepared are in preparation for this day of the outpouring of the Spirit of God. All of them are on the same text in Habakkuk chapter 3, verses 1 and 2: "A prayer of Habakkuk. 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."
What happened, he lived about 600 BC, and God sent him with the announcement that his nation was to be destroyed, and their capital city was to be destroyed, and the whole people of God were to be carried into captivity. He lived between the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, and he himself announced the destruction of the Southern Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom was destroyed in 722 BC. He lived and delivered this prophecy about 600 BC, and in 587 BC – thirteen years later – the nation was carried away into Babylon. And the nation and the city lay in ruins.
What is an amazing thing to me is how he responded: he cried, "O God, revive Thy people in the midst of the years." His answer was a prayer for revival. What do you think of that? As I read the Word of God, revival will save a nation. It did so in the days of Hezekiah. The Assyrian army came from Mesopotamia, from the Tigris River, from Nineveh, and destroyed Samaria and the Northern Kingdom. And the Assyrian army came down south to destroy Judah and Jerusalem. And Hezekiah called his people to prayer. And they turned to the Lord God, and the revival saved Judah and saved Jerusalem [2 Kings 19].
The revival under Josiah, who was the great-grandson of Hezekiah, delivered Judah in the days of that good king [2 Kings 22]. If you are acquainted with history at all, at the same time that blood was running through the streets of the cities of France in the 1700s, when the guillotines were cutting down so many of the noblemen of the French nobility that the streets were soggy with blood. In the 1700s, at the same time that the French Revolution was destroying the nobility and the people of France, the same conditions obtained in England – the nobility there, the kind of a caste system there – but at the very exact time that France was plunged into that awesome revolution of blood, at that exact time, England was experiencing a great revival under John Wesley and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. Revival will save a nation, save a people.
Revival will save a city, "And Jonah entered Nineveh, saying, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed." And the king and the people clothed themselves in sackcloth and sat in ashes, and there was a great turning to God. And the Lord God spared Nineveh [Jonah 2:4-10]. Revival will save a city.
Under the days of John Chrysostom in Antioch, the Emperor Theodosius was on his way to destroy the city because of its rebellion against the Roman people. And when Theodosius and his army arrived, the city was in a great revival under John Chrysostom. And Theodosius spared the city of Antioch. Revival will save the city.
Under Savonarola, Florence was delivered in a marvelous way, in an outpouring of the Spirit of God. Revival will save a city.
And I haven’t time as I wish I did: revival will save a church. Revival will save a family. And revival will save a lost soul. His response to the awesome judgment of the announced coming destruction of the city and of the state, "O God, send a revival. Revive Thy work in the midst of the years” [Habbakuk 3:2].
Revival is a Christian name; it’s a family word, "revival." We are the ones who have revival. The unconverted are dead, the Bible says, in trespasses and in sins: they need to be resurrected, they need to be saved; it is we who know God, who’ve been saved, it is we who have a revival, when the spark is turned into a flame. Revival is an assembly word, it is a church word: we have the revival; the warmth, and the fellowship, and the joy, and the gladness in the house of the people of God. Revival is a normal word. We are not reaching out for some monstrous experience alien to the mind and purpose of God. We are praying for the normal life of a devoted servant of Christ.
What would you think if a man were to say, "My children are down fifty-one weeks of the year. But don’t worry, next year they’ll be up for another week?" No. We’re to be up. We’re to be revived every day of the year. And our protracted series of services is just a sign of the assembly of the people of God who are overflowing with the joy and gladness and fellowship of His Holy Spirit in our midst.
These are the attendants of revival. Number one: the spirit of contrition and confession and humility on the part of God’s people. Coming before the Lord, "O God, forgive me my sins." As David cried, "I acknowledge my sins. If Thou desired sacrifices, I would give them: but Thou delightest not in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken heart and a broken spirit, O God, Thou wilt not despise." [Psalm 51:3,16-18] I’m not what I ought to be. I’m not what I could be. And by the grace of God I’m not what I’m going to be – maybe praying because we don’t pray, maybe weeping because we don’t weep, maybe crying because we don’t cry, maybe burdened because we’re not burdened, maybe concerned because we’re unconcerned – with weeping hearts, coming back to Calvary. That is the spirit of revival.
This is the spirit of revival: deep, earnest intercession for the lost, that they might be saved. I was holding a revival meeting in these years past, in one of the great cities of America, and in one of the most elite churches in our nation. And an incident happened in which I was humiliated and embarrassed beyond any way I could describe it. At a ten o’clock morning service, when the message was delivered and the benediction pronounced, I was standing in front of the pulpit right there, just standing there; and there was a large group standing around me. And they were shaking hands with me, and saying gracious words of encouragement and appreciation. And there came a tall, hatchet-faced, hook-nosed critter, followed by two or three of his disciples; and he edged himself through that crowd down to me and stuck his finger in front of my nose, just like that, and said to me, "You are not a Bible preacher." Well, I said, "I have given my life to the study and the ministry of the Word of God." Then he repeated, "I say you are not a Bible preacher. You preach what you think. You don’t preach what God says, you preach what you say." Well I said, "What makes you think that?" He said, "I listened to your sermon this morning, and you preached that we ought to pray for the lost." Then he added, "Where does it say in God’s Word we’re to preach [pray] for the lost?" Well I replied, "I hadn’t thought,I haven’t been asked anything like that. Well it just says it all through the Bible, we’re to pray for the lost." Then he held out a big black Bible and said, "Show me in this Word, in the Bible, where God says we’re to pray for the lost. Give me chapter and verse." Well, I hadn’t thought of it, and was overwhelmed. And I said, "Neighbor, I just can’t do it right now." Then he drew himself up to his height, and with that long, bony finger stuck it back in my nose and said, "Isn’t that what I said? You are not a Bible preacher. You preach what you say and not what God says." And he turned on his heel, and walked triumphantly out of the church followed by his two or three disciples; and left me there in the midst of that group humiliated and embarrassed.
Well, the preacher took me to my hotel room, and I went into it and closed the door and sat down in a chair in my hotel room, and bowed my head before the Lord, and said, "O Lord God, is that nitwit, is that screwball, is that right? That there’s nothing in the Word of God about praying for the lost?" And sweet people, I had one of those rare experiences that you’ll have maybe once or twice in a lifetime: I tell you the truth, it was as real as anything I have ever known. God came into that room; the Lord God came into that room, and put His arm around my drooping and humiliated shoulders, and the Lord said to me, "Why preacher man, did you never read in My Book where My servant Paul said in Romans chapter 10 and verse 1, ‘Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for my people is that they might be saved?'” That is what God will do for His people: He will put a burden on their hearts that the lost might be saved. That’s God, and that is the spirit of revival.
This is the spirit of revival: a spirit of oneness and of closeness, of fellowship, of togetherness. This is revival: we’re in love with God and with one another, and we join our hands and our hearts and our prayers in behalf that the lost might be saved, that they might be found.
I wonder if any one of you remembers a big spread on both pages of Life magazine, in the years gone by, a picture that covered two big pages, those inside pages. The picture was of a wheat field in Kansas, and from horizon to horizon, as far as the eye could see in every direction, was that vast wheat field, an enormous, endless wheat field. What had happened was, in the farmer’s house, the wheat farmer’s house, was the mother, the wife in the home, and a little bitty boy. And while the mother was busy in the kitchen and in the chores of the house, that little tiny boy wandered out of the house and into the wheat field. And after a while, the mother sensing that the lad was not there, she called him by name, and then walked through the house, couldn’t find the lad; then outside and couldn’t find the lad; then to her husband where he was at work, and they searched for the little boy – couldn’t find him. And the close neighbors were told, and they helped search. And after a day, then all of the people in that part of the world began to search for the little boy. And after three days, not finding the lad, one of the neighbors said, "Let’s join hands, let’s join hands and let’s comb this great wheat field." So they joined hands from side to side, a great line of them; and they combed that wheat field back and forth, that great line. And when they found the little boy, he was dead. And the picture in Life magazine was that father standing there, looking down on the dead body of his little bitty boy, and crying, "O God, that we had joined hands before!" and that was the caption of the picture. "O God, that we had joined hands before!"
Oh! that made an impression on my heart. There is power, there is blessing, in joining hands and hearts and prayers in the family of God, in the church of our blessed Lord. And that in itself is revival.
May I name just one other? This is the spirit of revival: the spirit of conviction and conversion, God’s appeal to the lost. One of the most unusual experiences I ever had here in our sweet church, I went to see a sweet family; they were not Christians. And when I got through making my appeal, the father shook my hand, and he said to me, "Pastor, I’ve been saying no to God all the days of my life – every appeal, no, every invitation, no." But he said, “Preacher, I’ve said no to God for the last time. I’m saying yes. And when you say, will I be at church? I say, yes. And when you invite me down that aisle, I say yes. And when you say, ‘And bring your family with you,’ I say yes. And when you say I am to repent of my sins, I say yes. And when you say I am to trust in the Lord Jesus, I say yes. And when you say I am to be baptized, I say yes. I’ve said no to Jesus for the last time. From now on, I’m saying yes.” Why it was one of the most moving and sweetest experiences I’ve ever had in my life. "I’m saying yes to God." That is real revival.
And that’s our appeal to your heart this morning. Does God bid you here? Say yes. Does the Lord invite you? Say yes. Does the Spirit of Jesus in your heart say, "Come to Me?" Answer, “Yes, and here I am pastor; God bless me as I walk down that stairway or walk down this aisle. This is God’s day for me, and I’m saying yes," while we stand and while we sing.
THIS IS REVIVAL THE URGENCY OF THE HOUR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Habakkuk prays for revival
1. Revival will save a nation
2. Revival will save a city
3. Revival will save a people
II. What is revival?
A. Revival is a Christian word
B. Revival is a church word
C. Revival is a normal word
III. Characteristics of revival
A. Spirit of contrition and confession
B. Burden and intercession for the lost
C. Spirit of unity
D. Spirit of commitment