Maintaining the Vision
God has given us the books; we must now pray for the Spirit. That might be said to sum up the present position among us as a Calvinistic constituency. We are in a position of intense privilege; but at the same time we have an immense responsibility. For a full quarter of a century God has been placing in our hands the very best of books, and thereby opening our eyes to the riches of our inheritance in Jesus Christ.
At the beginning of the recovery of sound books and true doctrine we may have been content for a time to enjoy these things on our own and with those whose hearts God had similarly touched. But if that was ever the case, it is certain that it is the case no longer. On every hand and in every fellowship it is evident that a sense of burden lies on the spirits of the brethren. The implications of the doctrines taught, learned and loved, as a consequence of reading the books, is today everywhere to be seen in a deeper hunger for spiritual power.
We cannot be content any more to say 'success is not important'. A new phase of the Reformed awakening is to be seen. The truth we hold, like nitroglycerine, is immensely potent. The instinct of Calvinism is to feel that it ought to be heard and, by the grace of God, will be heard by all the world, sooner or later. If today mankind is still and at rest in its carnal indifference, yet by besieging the throne of heaven we shall endeavour to receive the requisite power to make the world listen in God's good time.
All this may sound a little like arrogance, or something worse to those who have only a minimal sympathy with our conception of things. What likelihood can there be that a sprinkling of men in this and that country could possibly shake the whole earth? Who do these men think they are? Such questions are, no doubt, in the minds of many of our critics.
It is precisely at this point that the burden of our responsibility is most sorely felt. We have been put in trust with a message which can and which (given the essential divine help) must turn society upside down. The state of our nations demands of us that we do not fail. What forsaking of God there is on every hand! What shaping of a new Sodom and new Gomorrah is to be seen in lands once swayed by Bible laws and Bible principles! What building of things which God is ready to throw down again and throwing down of things which God is determining to build up again is taking place all around us in so many of our countries! It is a vexation to the mind even to think of the way souls are being dragged down into the pit and that too with all the sophistication which our modern world can contribute to it.
It is not pride or human ambition which drives men who love the truth to agonize for the needed spiritual power from God. It is the realization that something has been given which has brought revolution into our own lives and which the world we live in needs desperately. Still more, a conviction is being borne in our minds that, by all the laws of pre-cognition known to us, we may well be living on the threshold of some new and great intervention of God in the world. Events and their accompanying convictions bring inescapable, even painful, feelings that God has not been working in the way He has without some mighty reason still hidden in the womb of his decree and thus still invisible to us.
The effect of such strong, compelling conviction wrought in the heart of so many of the people of God everywhere is to be seen in the urgent yearning for a new dimension of spiritual power to be given to us in all our pulpit work, a power which will be commensurate with the intensity of the prayers desiring it and with the truths which have so changed our own lives. Whether we care to call it revival or reformation or something else is of secondary importance. What matters, and matters acutely, is that the truths which have thrilled and emancipated so many should be trumpeted across all the land, and across all lands if God permit.
Perhaps the single expression which comes nearest to summarizing the vision we have for our nation and generation is that fine phrase of Wesley's — the condition of being 'ripe for mercy'. The plain fact is however that, much as we yearn to see it, the vision continues to tarry. Few of us, if any, have seen much of a shaking amongst the dry bones. Revival has not overtaken us. We ask but do not as yet receive; nor has the door been as yet opened to our cry. In the meantime we are all too aware that the demolition is going on all around us at an ever-accelerating pace. The mainstream denominations are largely drifting with the current towards some sort of world-church without a creed worth speaking of. At a local level, we cannot help noticing the church closures from year to year. Most alarming of all in some ways, the very term 'evangelism' seems to have lost its classic meaning in certain circles where it was once to be found.
Is there exaggeration in the picture just drawn? After all, it can be replied, there are congregations here and there in Britain and elsewhere where marked blessing has been seen. There is no denying that this is the case. For the inspiration brought to us by these congregations we are profoundly thankful to God. With a sense of thrill and of awe we hear of buildings once dilapidated now in a state of repair, of galleries once the repositories of old hymn books or of dust now filling up with new and young listeners to the exposition of the gospel, of now and then a movement of the Spirit of God sweeping away prejudice and stirring groups of people to tears of real repentance. Such reports are nourishment to our faith. But they cannot be said to be regular in our experience. They do not come up in point either of frequency or of potency to the levels of spiritual blessing which we have learned to believe possible with a sovereign God. We are brought by every known insight we have into the power, character and workings of God to confront a single burning question: Why is God keeping silent so long? In one way or another probably all orthodox ministers in the free world are wrestling with that question more than with any other.
If one may be pardoned for what is a rather harsh expression, is not our burden and our problem the strange silence of God even more than the unbelief of men? In the position in which we are placed today, do we not find ourselves more and more standing alongside Habakkuk and the psalmist and asking, 'How long?' and then saying, 'I will watch to see what he will say to me'?
O that we knew how to move the Almighty! O that he would allow us to touch him in the place where he is jealous for his own glory and would keep silence no longer! O that he would give to us the glory of moving him to pluck his right hand from his bosom, to lift up his feet, to arouse himself like a giant refreshed by sleep! He has given us the books; O that he would now give us a rich measure of his Spirit so that we might also bring the truth we love home to the hearts and lives of the people of this generation!
If we received the answer to that prayer we may well feel we could say with Simeon, 'Now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared...' No doubt to make such a request is to ask for a 'hard thing'. But those who have felt the mighty power of the truth on their hearts are ready to spend their strength patiently hoping against hope and knocking at God's door till he hears us and till he does for us far more than we can ask or even think.
At this point, however, a sobering reflection must be given due place. Granted that the great need of our times is for a manifest work of the Spirit of God, may it not be that there is a measure of infirmity in some of our zeal, and a measure of ignorance therefore in our asking? If the Psalmist in Psalm 77 was not above conceding that there were aspects of infirmity even in the way he longed for revival, may we not also have something of the same kind for which to reproach ourselves?
One consideration of major importance which we cannot afford to overlook is this. The men whom God has used in his great acts on earth in times past have been saintly beyond the common measure. There are apparent exceptions perhaps. But they only prove the rule. The thought is a strong reminder to us that while God is pleased to keep comparatively silent we have vital work to do to perfect that which is still wanting in our own personal sanctification. The time prior to spiritual awakening is not wasted time in the economy of divine providence. It is surely time graciously given for the maturing of the soul, the ripening of graces, the mortification of the works of the old life, the striving to reach that goal of perfection which led M'Cheyne to cry, 'Make me as holy as a saved sinner can be.'
After all, we do not love or serve God for what he gives but for what he is in himself. To be with God, to be like him, to be near him, to partake of his image — these are the deepest and the highest ambitions of a renewed human soul. These are heaven itself. Can it be that the best and quickest way in which we could hasten the day of revival and stir God to cut short these evil days of silence would be to delight ourselves more in God himself as not simply our chief but as our only good? Could we but see all things as desirable in him for his sake and because he is the fountain of all blessedness, and could we but aim at his glory more completely, we might find to our amazement that the blessing of revival we so deeply long for would overtake us suddenly an unawares. To delight in God is to receive our heart's desires.
May He grant it to be so and may 1983 bring many tokens of his coming visitation to all the pulpits where his truth is loved more dearly than life.