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Category Archives: Reformation and Revival

*Prayer: The Prelude to Revival by Roger R. Nicole

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It is in keeping with Reformed thought that revival should be grounded in prayer, because in prayer we acknowledge God’s sovereignty. God alone is the One who can dispense revival. So, revival is not something that is within the reach of human beings; it is something God alone can provide.

Sometimes people have expressed the attitude they think we ought to have in a motto which goes like this: “You ought to pray like a Calvinist and preach like an Arminian.” That is, pray as if everything depended upon God and preach as if everything depended on you. I would like to suggest a change in this formula which will improve it by fifty percent: “You ought to pray like a Calvinist and preach like a Calvinist.” Do not pray as if everything depends on God. (There is no good reason to have an “as if” in that motto, because things do depend on God. He is the One who sovereignly ordains and blesses.) Then preach like a Calvinist, because there, too, the results depend on God. Do not imagine that either prayer or preaching are activities in which we suddenly take leave of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

What Does Prayer Change?

When we consider prayer, there are questions which often are disturbing to the minds of some people. The first question is: “Do you think that you can really change the mind of God? That is, can prayer make God modify His sovereign plan?” There are people who feel that unless you are prepared to say this, there is no great value in prayer. I do not know what the reader’s particular idea on this subject may be, but I would like to say that if you believe you can change the mind of God through prayer, I hope you are using some discretion. If that is the power you have, it is certainly a most dangerous thing. Surely God does not need our counsel in order to set up what is desirable. Surely God, whose knowledge penetrates all minds and hearts, does not need to have us intervene to tell Him what He ought to do. The thought that we are changing the mind of God by our prayers is a terrifying concept.

I will be frank to confess that if I really thought I could change the mind of God by praying, I would abstain. I would have to say, “How can I presume, with the limitations of my own mind and the corruptions of my own heart-how can I presume to interfere in the counsels of the Almighty?” It is almost as if you were to introduce somebody who is utterly ignorant of electronics to a weapons plant in which, by pushing certain buttons, one might precipitate an explosion. You say, “Go ahead and push buttons. Never mind what happens.” Oh, no! There is comfort for the child of God in being assured that our prayers will not change God’s mind. This is not what is involved in prayer, and we are not in danger of precipitating explosions by some rash desire on our part.

But then people say, “If you cannot change God’s mind, what is the point of praying? If prayer does not change things, prayer is worthless.”

Here you have perhaps noticed that I have changed the formula. I did not say,”change the mind of God,” but “change things.” I never said that prayer does not change things. Prayer does change things, but it does not change the mind of God. The reason prayer changes things but does not change God is that He has appointed prayer as an effectual means for accomplishing His own purpose. This effectual means is essential for this accomplishment. When we have a right understanding of the sovereignty of God, we recognize that God has established a plan in which not only the effects but also the causes are ordained. We cannot disconnect the causes from the effects or the effects from the causes.

For example, I lift a book in your sight. Because the book has risen into the air, I am in a position to say, “God has ordained that it should get to this particular place.” He must have ordained it because that is where the book is. But notice, God did not ordain for the book to rise all by itself. He ordained that it should rise at the end of my hand. He ordained that I should have strength in my arm to lift it. He ordained that I should choose this particular book in order to illustrate this particular point. There is a connection between the book’s rising and the subject I wish to develop. All these things are tied up together. If there were no lecture, there would be no point of illustrating the power of second causes. If there were no desire to illustrate the power of second causes, my hand would have remained at my side. If my hand had remained at my side, the book would not have risen. I think we can argue in this way.

God, however, ordained that there should be this lecture, that there should be a desire to show the correlation of causes and effects in His sovereign plan, that this particular illustration should come to my mind, and that I should implement it by the strength that He has given me. One cannot say, “If you hadn’t touched it, it would have risen anyway,” because God did not ordain that it should rise anyway. He ordained that it should rise through my hand.

That is exactly the case with prayer. Prayer is an effectual secondary cause that God has related to the effects involved. Just as the activity of human beings on earth is related to the effects that are produced, just as the book rising is related to the hand lifting, so are the effects of prayer related to the prayer that is offered. So although prayer does not change the mind of God, it does change things. God has appointed change through prayer, even though the way in which the cause is related to the effect is not perfectly clear to us.

The fact that the way this happens is not clear does not give us grounds for denying the relationship. We pray for healing. If God provides healing, we cannot say, “There would have been healing whether I prayed or not; I would have gotten well anyway.” God provided healing in relation to prayer.

We pray for an increase in the knowledge of God and earnestness in His service. If God is pleased to bless our lives in this way, we cannot say, “This would have happened whether I prayed or not.” God provides His blessing in relation to the prayer.

We pray for the salvation of someone we love, someone God placed on our hearts to intercede and plead for. That person is born again by the work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot say, “This would have happened whether I prayed or not.” It is related to our prayers. God, who has appointed the salvation, has also appointed prayer as the means to that salvation. We cannot omit any link in that chain and say that the chain will exist whether the link is there or not.

A final question is: “How can I pray if I do not see how prayer works?” That is not a wise way of handling the matter, since it is God who tells us that prayer is part of His plan for us. It is not necessary that we have an understanding of the ways in which God’s purposes are implemented. God has put this means at our disposal. He encourages us to pray. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 He says, “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” To insist that we must have an understanding of how this works is a very unreasonable attitude.

Even in affairs of daily life we do not have this attitude. I am sure you have used a touch-system telephone. Do you understand how it works? Do you have that consummate knowledge of communications to know exactly what goes on when you press those little buttons? Do you know how those numbers are changed into binary code and used to track down the particular telephone you wish to call? Experts may understand this. But I must say, as far as I am concerned, when I am calling, I do not think of any of those things. I just pick up the phone and touch the buttons. I do not worry about how this happens. I am interested only in whom I am going to reach and what I will say.

It is the same with prayer. We do not have to know how it works. It is enough to know that it does work. Prayer is part of God’s sovereign plan and is an effectual means by which we can share with God in the fulfillment of that plan. When we pray, we are cooperating; we are working together with God in the work to which, in His own mercy, He has been pleased to call us.

Since prayer is part of God’s plan, we are not forcing God’s hand at any time by praying. We are not intruding our own will in a way that is disagreeable or uncomfortable to God. We do not need to fear that we are finagling with buttons about which we know nothing, which might bring disaster on ourselves and others. We are praying in line with the great purposes of God. Without prayer there are many things that would be different. It is by virtue of prayer that they are what God has planned them to be.

In Scripture, prayer is presented as a prerequisite for revival. It is a prelude. If you study the history of revivals, you will find that they are best documented not only in their effects but also in their preparatory prayer periods. This was true of the revival in New England under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. It was true in the revival in Wales under Evan Roberts. It was true of the revivals attending the ministry of Charles Grandison Finney in the United States. Revival that is worthwhile is bathed in prayer. When He wants a revival, God is pleased to lead His people· to pray that revival might be forthcoming.

(1) The prayer that leads to revival must be believing prayer. This is the point the apostle James makes in his Epistle (James 1:5-7, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord”). When we come to the Lord we must come with the expectation that He is able and will do great things. If we come vacillating, wondering whether God is able to accomplish anything, whether the situation is really so desperate that even God cannot touch it, then obviously our prayer is lacking in fervency. We are just going through the motions, as it were. We are not really praying.

God wants us to come to Him in faith. Indeed, prayer is an exercise of faith in which we are steeped in the supreme greatness and ability of God, and have our eyes fixed on the majesty of His purpose and the superlative quality of His resources. Nothing is impossible for our God. Our God is able to move mountains. He is able to transform hearts, break resistances, reach out even underneath the conscious lives of people to transform them. So we should never say, “Here is somebody beyond God’s reach. The hardness of heart is so great, the wickedness of life is so manifest, that this cannot possibly be a candidate for acceptance into the kingdom of God. We might as well give up on this person.”

In spite of the fact that the early church had seen God do many great things, it undoubtedly thought this way about Paul. The early Christians thought. “This one is lost. There is no way God will bring Paul into the kingdom. He is a persecutor, an enemy, an opponent. There is no hope for him.” When Paul tried to join the church, they gave him the cold shoulder (Acts 9:26). They said, “We can’t trust this man. He will be spying on us and then use his knowledge to annihilate the church.” It took Barnabas to reason, “God saved me; maybe He can save Paul, too.” He went close to Paul and befriended him at great danger to himself. He made sure that Paul truly was a child of God. Then he brought him to the apostles (Acts 9:27). We, too, might think, “What less likely a candidate for election than Paul?” Yet God was pleased to reach him and change him. God made him the great apostle of the Gentiles, the benefit of whose ministry is still with us to this day. We need believing prayer, prayer that does not concentrate on the obstacles. We must not say, “He is hopeless,” or “Our country has gone to the dogs,” or “Our church has gone liberal.” Prayer must recognize that God is all-powerful and can do wonders. If anyone prays and does not believe, that one is unstable (James 1:6-7). He cannot expect anything. But if we come with faith, accepting the reality of the power of God, we will experience that effective prayer which changes things in keeping with God’s purpose.

(2) The second characteristic of the prayer that brings revival is submission. It must be submissive prayer. That is, we must be prepared to submit our own ideas, aims, and ambitions to the sovereign God. We must not intrude with our outlook, pressing it on God, as it were. Rather, we must come with a desire to understand God’s outlook and subordinate our desires to what He has ordained.

Some people say, ”That kind of prayer is not really effective. If you start by saying, ‘If it be Your will … ‘you are attempting to give God an out in case He is not going to do it. You are not believing.” That is not the point at all. We do not need to give God an out. God does not need an out. What we are doing when we say, “If it is Your will … ” is articulating the principle that we are not telling God what should be done but are actually identifying with His purpose and asking to work together with Him in fulfillment of that purpose.

We have a moving example of this kind of prayer on the lips of our Lord Himself. In Gethsemane He said, “If it is possible . . . Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). This is mysterious to us, for it indicates that at that point of His human consciousness, our Lord was left in suspense as to what the will of God was. “Not as I will, but as You will.” That is the condition of effective prayer-that we should be willing to accept what God has ordained in order that His purpose might be accomplished.

Sometimes it is hard for us to pray that way, because our will is so strong, and our understanding of what God should want is so clear that we do not even feel like saying, “Your will be done.” When we pray for revival, especially, we say, “We do not need to introduce conditional clauses. The very fact that God leads us to pray is an indication that He wills that some form of revival should come.” Still, the very essence of a consecrated prayer is that it should be in keeping with the will of God.

This is what is meant by praying in the name of Jesus. To pray in the name of Christ is not simply to have a little addition to your prayer, in which you use those words almost as a magical formula to insure success. To pray in the name of Christ is to identify yourself with Christ, with His aims, His purposes, His ministry. It is to say, “I am with Jesus, I am for Him and His purposes.” The one who prays in the name of Jesus does not need to fear disappointments, because unity with the purpose of God protects him from that. There is a submission to God which acknowledges with gratitude the way in which God is pleased to answer.

This prayer must be God-centered. It must relate itself to God’s glory rather than to our private desires. Of course, God permits us to present our private desires as well. There is nothing wrong in asking God to give us good weather for mountain climbing if good weather is important for it. But here again, it would be wise to say, “If it be Your will,” because there are also people, such as farmers, who need rain. Since the desire of the mountaineer may conflict with the desire of the farmer, it would be good for both of them to be submitted to whatever God is pleased to send. God permits us to present our desires, but we must have a supreme desire, especially in the prayer for revival, to see the glory of God manifested.

Some of the most effective prayers in Scripture do this. They are even argumentative at this point.Think of the prayer of Abraham when he prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah. He even argued with God, saying, “Is it right for You to destroy those cities if fifty … forty-five … forty: .. thirty… twenty… ten righteous people live there?” (Gen. 18:24-33). God blessed that prayer. So we can say that if Lot and his family were saved, it was because of the faithful intercession of Abraham, who did not relent, even though, in the end, the number he cited was not sufficiently small to warrant ID salvation of the wicked cities.

Think of the prayer of Moses who argued, “If You destroy Your people, what will happen to Your name? Your glory is at stake. Don’t do it” (Ex.32:11-13).God blessed that glorious intercessory prayer of Moses, who disregarded his personal ambitions in order to identify with the purposes of God.

A prayer for revival should be centered, not in the desire that we should have more money for our church (because there will be more people coming), not that there should be a new Vitality in our denomination (as compared with other denominations), nor that any other of our human desires and ambitions should be satisfied, but rather that the glory of God might be manifested. We should pray that His name might be exalted, that His kingdom might be made evident, that His glorious reign might be established even more widely in the hearts of men and women.

(3) Our prayer must be persistent. The Scripture emphasizes that we ought not easily be discouraged in prayer (Luke 18:1). If we do not receive at once the answer we are looking for, we ought not to reason, “Well, God just doesn’t want me to have that; I guess I’ll give up.” There are people who have been wonderfully persistent in prayer-for husbands or wives, children or parents-and God has blessed their persistence. Do not give up too soon. Do not conclude too rapidly that God is uninterested. So long as you have a burden on your heart, keep praying.

In the church in which I am a member there is a man who has moved me profoundly in this respect. It is a wonderful church now. We have a preacher who is a wonderful expositor of the Word of God. I never attend a service there at which my soul is not blessed. But some 40 years ago this church was exceedingly small-there were about 10 or 12 people on a Sunday morning-and it was passing through a veritable desert from the point of view of biblical ministry. I understand that at one time one of the pastors was actually a practicing Christian Scientist.

Throughout this bleak period this man, Deacon George Day, was praying. He did not say, “This church gives me nothing. There is nothing to be expected here, nothing to be hoped. I am going to find another fellowship that will be more fruitful for me.” No! This man said, “This is my church. I am not going to give up. Since I do not get any spiritual nurture from the sermons, I will get it from the Bible directly. I will attend some other meetings in other places, but I am still going to be in my own church on Sunday morning, and I am going to pray for this ministry.” Deacon Day kept praying for that church for years. Now he is an old man, more than 80. There is hardly any strength left in his body. When he can come to church he uses an earphone, because he is very deaf. But there is joy in his heart which moves one to tears. Whenever I see Deacon Day, I see the power of God to answer persistent prayer. I see a warrior who did not allow himself to be defeated, but who stayed at his post, pleading for his church and asking God’s blessing upon it.

(4) Finally, the prayer that leads to revival must be consistent prayer, in which we are prepared also to do what we can to achieve what we are asking. If we pray for the conversion of our loved ones, somehow we must give out witness, too. We must witness by life and words, when they can be effectually presented. If we pray for revival, we must be prepared to open our hearts so that God may revive them. We ought never to take prayer as a means of avoiding the actions God challenges us to.

My father had an experience which I would like to relate to illustrate this point. As a young minister he had been an assistant in a large church which had only two pastors in 50 years, one ministry of 25 years, followed by another of 25 years. After having been in that church, my father became pastor of a very small church in a little village in southern France. Prayer meeting was on Wednesday evening, and there was usually a very limited attendance. One Wednesday there was a frightful storm. The wind was blowing. Rain was falling in buckets. My father thought, “There is not going to be anybody at the prayer meeting tonight. If I go, I will only drench myself. I might as well stay home.” My father was very interested in Hebrew and was studying the song of Deborah in the book of Judges. The temptation was great to stay in his cozy home and deal with that.

As my father was wrestling with this, there came to his memory a sermon given at the time of his ordination. It was on the passage which says, “Go out and make them come in” (Luke 14:23). Most of the time we think about the expression “make them come in.” But on this occasion, the preacher had focused on the phrase, “Go out.” He had said, ” ‘Go out’ means to reach out for people; it means, do not stay in the coziness of your study. You must go out and reach out.” While the gales were blowing and the wind was hitting the windows, my father remembered that and concluded, “Well, I guess God wants me to go out. I do not expect many people. I do not expect very much of anything at this prayer meeting. But if God has told me to go out, I will go out and speak at the prayer meeting;” This was the meeting in which revival started in his church!

Prayer is the prelude to revival. Do you want revival? Then be prepared to pray. “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray . . . then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.”

*This article was originally an address given at the 1982 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, Philadelphia, PA. and is adapted from Dr. Roger R. Nicole, “Prayer: The Prelude to Revival” in Reformation and Revival, A Quarterly Journal for Church Leadership (Volume 1, No. 3, Summer, 1992).

About the Author: Dr. Roger R. Nicole (1915-2010) was a native Swiss Reformed Baptist theologian and taught for many years at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary as well as the founder of the Evangelical Theological Society.

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George Sweeting’s 7 Steps To Personal Revival

*George Sweeting’s Seven Steps To Revival:

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(1) Develop the desire to know Jesus Christ better. Develop a holy dissatisfaction. The contented Christian is the sterile Christian. Paul said in substance, “Jesus arrested me on the Damascus road. Now I want to lay hold of all that for which I was arrested by God.” Be thoroughly dissatisfied with your spiritual posture.

(2) Pray for a revolutionary change in your life. I think of Jacob wrestling with God. He wanted a blessing. He wouldn’t be denied. Throw your entire life into the will of God. Seek God’s very best.

(3) Do what you know to do. If we pray for revival and neglect prayer, that’s hypocrisy. To pray for growth and neglect the local church is absolute foolishness. To pray that you’ll mature and neglect the Word of God is incongruous. Put yourself in the way of blessing.

(4) Totally repent. “Create in me a clean heart!” David sobbed. For a whole year David was out of fellowship. But he confessed his sin; he turned away from that sin, and then he could sing again; he could write again; he could pray again.

(5) Make the crooked straight. If you owe a debt, pay it. Or have an understanding with the people you owe. Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” (Luke 19:8). As much as possible, make the crooked straight.

(6) Develop a seriousness of purpose. Keep off the detours. Let nothing deflect that magnetic needle of your calling. If there is anything that is a trojan horse in our day, it is the television set. Beware lest it rob you of your passion and purpose.

(7) Major in majors. The Christian life requires specialists. Jesus said in effect, “Be a one-eyed man” (Luke 11:34-36, “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light”). Paul said, “This one thing I do.” Too many of us burn up too much energy without engaging in things that bring us nearer to God.

Refuse to rust out. Start sharing your faith. Make yourself available. Back your decision with your time and talent and dollars. Finally, ask God for great faith in Him. Begin to expect great things.” ~ George Sweeting

*This insight on Revival was gleaned from the book of Quotes and Illustrations called Who Said That? by George Sweeting. Dr. Sweeting was the sixth president (1971–1987) and chancellor of Moody Bible Institute. He received a diploma from Moody Bible Institute (1945), his B.A. from Gordon College and his Doctor of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Sweeting has served as a pastor in several churches, including Grace Church, Madison Avenue Baptist Church and The Moody Church and also spent nine years traveling the world as an evangelist. Dr. Sweeting has written numerous books, including The Joys of Successful Aging, Too Soon to Quit, Lessons from the Life of Moody and Don’t Doubt in the Dark. He formerly hosted the Moody Radio program Climbing Higher and is a former columnist for Moody Magazine. Dr. Sweeting and his wife, Hilde, reside in the Chicagoland area.

 

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Book Review on Bold Reformer by David S. Steele

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Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig

I have to start out this review by commenting on the author. Dr. David S. Steele, I am privileged to say is a very dear friend with whom I am blessed to have known for close to 30 years. We met at Multnomah University (Multnomah School of the Bible) back in the mid 1980’s, where we were roommates and have remained good friends ever since. We also earned our doctorates together in the early 2000’s in Seattle. I write this to say that I am very biased in whole heartedly recommending this book because the author is one of the men I most admire and respect on planet Earth. Whether he speaks or writes – I listen! He is one of the most disciplined pastors I know. He loves God deeply, and is passionate that others would come to know Him through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are both Lead/Preaching pastors in our respective churches (he in Washington; I’m in California); approximately the same age; and both have had our share of trials and triumphs in ministry. I believe what makes this such a great book to recommend is because Dr. Steele writes as a theologian, pastor, and practitioner. There are no theories here. What is written are biblical truths that have been forged in the trenches of ministry. Dave Steele is indeed a Bold Reformer in the ilk of men like Martin Luther, the Apostle Paul, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and other godly men who have been courageous in the trenches of ministry who preceded us.

Bold Reformer is a great book because it cuts through theories and fads and hones in on essential theological truths that are necessary whether past, present, or future. It is a book that I have now read twice, and will definitely read again. It’s especially a helpful book for pastors in the trenches and would-be pastors. In this book Dr. Steele writes about the essential foundations a pastor needs to believe and promises he can rely on through thick and thin. I am grateful for my friend, and grateful that out of his own trials he has written a helpful and encouraging book for pastors to never give up.

This year (2017) will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous nailing of the 95 Theses on the castle door at Wittenberg that sparked the Reformation. I truly believe that this book has the potential to spark a new reformation in pastors today. The same principles that Martin Luther applied are necessary today and needed desperately in order to bring about reformation and revival. I am hopeful that Bold Reformer will be used to bring about a new reformation of and for the glory of our awesome God as it is widely oread and practiced.

 

Jonathan Edwards on the Life of a Christian

5 Things Jonathan Edwards Teaches Us about the Christian Life

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This is a guest post by Dane Ortlund. He is the author of Edwards On the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.originally posted @http://www.crossway.org/blog/2014/08/5-things-jonathan-edwards-teaches-us-about-the-christian-life/

Jonathan Edwards for the Rest of Us

For many of us, Jonathan Edwards is a skinny white guy who never smiled, except when talking about hell. If we know anything more, it’s:

  • that he wrote a lot of really dense books

  • that he talked a lot about the glory of God

  • that he was part of the Great Awakening

  • that John Piper likes him a lot

And that’s about it.

But there are riches to be mined in Jonathan Edwards far beyond what you may have been exposed to. Reading Jonathan Edwards is not for historians and professors mainly, but for the rest of us.

Here are five things Edwards teaches us about the Christian life—your Christian life:

1. If you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically different and freshly empowered you now are.

When sinners repent and believe for the first time, it often feels as if nothing much has happened, and it often looks as if nothing much has happened. Our wrinkles don’t go away. Our Myers-Briggs personality profile doesn’t change. Our IQ isn’t improved. Our driver’s license photo looks the same after conversion as before, just a few years older and grayer.

Similarly, a foreigner who has just attained citizenship in their country of residence will not feel or look much different, upon receiving formal declaration of citizenship. Yet they now belong to an entirely new nation. More than this, they now have all the rights and privileges that belong to citizens of that nation.

Edwards teaches us that the quiet, seemingly innocuous change that takes place in the new birth is of eternal—even cosmic—significance. A fallen sinner has just become an invincible heir of the universe. The Holy Spirit has just taken up permanent residence in the temple of this soul. In new birth, Edwards writes, the Christian “is a new creature, he is just as if he were not the same, but were born again, created over a second time.”

For a Christian to wallow in sin and misery is for a butterfly to crawl miserably along the branch as if it were still a caterpillar.

2. Even if you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically fallen and blindly dysfunctional you remain.

If we understate the positive change in new birth, we also tend to understate the fallenness that remains. But Edwards knew of the strange dysfunctions that remain among all of us, including true believers. He saw it in himself.

Edwards spoke frequently, for example, of the lurking dangers of pride: “It is a sin that has, as it were, many lives. If you kill it, it will live still. If you suppress it in one shape, it rises in another. If you think it is all gone, it is there still. Like the coats of an onion, if you pull one form of it off, there is another underneath.”

We often don’t feel the weight of our sin. Why? Because of our sin. The disease is itself what prevents us from detecting the disease.

How do we get out? One answer is: read Jonathan Edwards. His sermons will do wonders to re-sharpen your blunted conscience and re-sensitize your heart to its fallenness.

3. Authentic discipleship to Jesus Christ calms and gentle-izes (not radicalizes and excites) Christians.

Edwards is famous for his hellfire sermons, but it is striking to trace the evolution of his preaching over his three decades in the pulpit. Scholars point out that the hellfire sermons were more typical of the young Edwards and gradually decreased over his career, while other themes grew increasingly strong: the beauty of Christ, the loveliness of holiness, the calmness of a justified life, the gentleness of God.

A sermon that nicely sums up the core of Edwards’ ministry is “The Spirit of the True Saints Is a Spirit of Divine Love,” based on 1 John 4:16. There we read statements like:

  • “The very nature of God is love. If it should be enquired what God is, it might be answered that he is an infinite and incomprehensible fountain of love.”

  • “He who has divine love in him has a wellspring of true happiness that he carries about in his own breast, a fountain of sweetness, a spring of the water of life. There is a pleasant calmness and serenity and brightness in the soul that accompanies the exercises of this holy affection.”

  • “God in Christ allows such little, poor creatures as you are to come to him, to love communion with him, and to maintain a communication of love with him. You may go to God and tell him how you love him and open your heart and he will accept of it.”

That, more than anything else, is the pulsating core of Edwards’ ministry. Radical godliness is not obnoxious, showy, or boisterous. It is quiet, gentle, and serene.

4. Christianity is gain, and only gain.

Toward the end of his life, Edwards was kicked out of his church by a vote of ten to one—by professing Christians, upstanding church members. This, and other trials he encountered during his life, lead me to conclude that the lofty vision of Christian living that he has left to us is not naïve idealism. He felt the pain not only of rejection, but of rejection by close friends and family members who were part of his church. And yet, having his eyes opened to present pain did not close his eyes to future glory.

Why? Because we will have God, in heaven, unfiltered, forever. Consider the following breathtaking statement:

The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or in each other, or in any thing else whatsoever that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what shall be seen of God in them.

Christians leave nothing behind when they die. All is gain.

5. Revival is not what you think it is.

When evangelicals today hear the word “revival,” we generally picture tears, loudness, animated preaching, exuberance, humiliating confession of sin, and so on. Some of these things may be present in revival, perhaps, but Edwards came to long for revival because he saw that it is not a move from the ordinary to the extraordinary so much as a move from the sub-ordinary to the ordinary. We become human again. We breathe once more.

Edwards witnessed two revivals. One was local, contained to New England, in the mid-1730s. The other, six years later, was transatlantic and became known as the Great Awakening. Edwards made the fascinating observation that, in the first revival, God’s people tended “to talk with too much of an air of lightness, and something of laughter,” whereas in the second revival “they seem to have no disposition to it, but rejoice with a more solemn, reverential, humble joy.” The first revival’s joy was real but frothy. The second revival’s joy was deeper and more calm.

Simply put, revival isn’t weird. True revival is rehumanizing. It re-centralizes not the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit so much as the ordinary fruit of the Spirit.


Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is Senior Vice President for Bible Publishing at Crossway. He is the author of several books, including Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God, and serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible study series. He lives with his wife, Stacey, and their four kids in Wheaton.

 

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Should We Pray For Revival?

By Alvin Reid

Should We Pray for Revival?

When do you think the following observations were made?

  • Ministers today seem more concerned with political power in society than spiritual fervency in the church, while pop culture contributes to the moral decay among the youth.

  • While marked by an increasing ethnic diversity and various religious beliefs, the nation’s established religious groups –– particularly Protestants –– demonstrate a sterile spirituality. One pastor bemoans the obsession with gambling and rudeness, while churches are attended at convenience.

  • College campuses teem with students chasing after the latest philosophies, the more unbiblical the better. The more educated a person you find, the less likely you are to discover a Christian. Meanwhile, churches are filled with people who listen to pastors preach then contradict the sermon by the way they live.

You may think these descriptions came from the blog of some concerned Christian commenting on our time. But the first one comes from Great Britain just before the preaching of John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, and others who were used by God to lead a great revival there. The second comes from the American colonies prior to the First Great Awakening. The final came around 1800, with college campuses in the newly formed United States influenced by Voltaire, Rousseau, and others, at the dawn of the Second Great Awakening.

Ours is not the first generation to recognize the spiritual declension among us, or to see the need for God to awaken his church and touch our land. From the saints of the Old Testament to leaders in our time, prayer for revival has marked believers who understand the need for the Spirit surpasses our ability and intelligence.

In my own tradition of the Southern Baptist Convention, I see a growing focus on prayer for revival. New SBC president Ronnie Floyd has already led several gatherings of pastors across the nation to pray for revival. I participated in one in Atlanta with almost 400 people –– mostly pastors –– seeking the Lord. You can be sure that when revival comes, it will not just touch Southern Baptists! Revival is the work of God, not of a tradition of men. “We can define it as a period of unusual blessing and activity in the life of the Christian Church,” Lloyd-Jones observed. “Revival means awakening, stimulating the life, bringing it to the surface again.”

Five Reasons to Pray for Revival

So should we pray for revival? Let me offer five thoughts on the topic:

1. If we choose to pray for revival instead of obeying God, we should not pray for revival; we should pray a prayer of repentance.

Prayer for revival is not a bandaid cure. If we are not passionate about sharing the gospel, honoring the word, and bringing glory to God, our prayers for revival are meaningless. Note the words of Tozer: “Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late — and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work.”

2. If we see revival as God’s stamp of approval on our status quo Christianity, we may not desire the answer God gives.

Past awakenings brought fundamental changes to music and methods, for instance. Both John Wesley and Whitefield struggled mightily with the idea of preaching in the fields. They were proper Oxford men, after all! But their use of such a “profane” method helped to spur a great revival. In past revivals both gospel proclamation and social ministry converged, whereas today they are too often seen as rivals. Revival separates our preferences from unchanging truth.

3. That being said, we should pray for revival, starting with our own hearts.

I know I am experiencing a fresh touch of God when I stop confessing everyone else’s sins and start with my own. Too many of us are better at expressing our opinions on social media than focusing on what the Spirit is saying to us.

4. We pray for revival because of biblical teaching.

Psalm 85:6 and Habakkuk 3:2, among others, offer us examples of revival prayer. Michael Haykin offers insight on the apostle Paul and prayer for revival. Ray Ortlund also has a fine article on biblical revival praying.

5. We pray for revival because of our study of history.

Here are only a few examples:

It is God’s will through his wonderful grace, that the prayers of his saints should be one of the great principal means of carrying on the designs of Christ’s kingdom in the world. When God has something very great to accomplish for his church, it is his will that there should precede it the extraordinary prayers of his people; . . . and it is revealed that, when God is about to accomplish great things for his church, he will begin by remarkably pouring out the spirit of grace and supplication. (Jonathan Edwards, Some Thoughts on Revival)

Oh! men and brethren, what would this heart feel if I could but believe that there were some among you who would go home and pray for a revival: men whose faith is large enough, and their love fiery enough to lead them from this moment to exercise unceasing intercessions that God would appear among us and do wondrous things here, as in the times of former generations. (Charles Spurgeon)

When did you last hear anyone praying for revival, praying that God might open the windows of heaven and pour out his Spirit? When did you last pray for that yourself? I suggest seriously that we are neglecting this almost entirely. We are guilty of forgetting the authority of the Holy Spirit. . . . When God sends revival he can do more in a single day than in fifty years of all our organization. That is the verdict of sheer history which emerges clearly from the long story of the Church. (Martin Lloyd-Jones)

I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions. (John Wesley)

G. Campbell Morgan famously observed how a sailor has no impact on the wind. But a good sailor knows the wind, and knows how to set the sails when the wind blows. Let us study the history of revival and let us gather in what Edwards called “a humble attempt to promote explicit agreement and visible union of God’s people, in extraordinary prayer” so that we will know when the Spirit moves afresh. Then we may set our sails accordingly.

Source: Alvin Reid (www.desiringgod.org – June 18, 2014)

About the Author: Alvin Reid is Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. He is the author of several books, including Firefall 2.0: How God Has Shaped History Through Revivals.

 

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Book Review on R.C. Sproul’s: Everyone’s A Theologian

A PRIMER ON THE MAJOR DOCTRINES OF THE BIBLE

Everyone's a Theologian Sproul

Book Review by David P. Craig 

This book is almost a word for word account of R.C. Sproul’s DVD teaching series entitled “Foundations: An Overview of Systematic Theology.” Having watched this video series in the past I immediately recognized the content. I’m glad this series has now been made available in book form.

R.C. is a master teacher and in this book he covers the subject of Theology in its broadest sense. Theology not only refers to the study of God, but to everything that God has revealed to us in the Bible. In sixty short, but jam-packed chapters R.C. unveils with depth and clarity a summary of what the Bible has to say about its most important themes: Theology Proper – The study of God; Anthropology and Creation – The study of man; Christology – The study of Jesus; Pneumatology – The study of the Holy Spirit; Soteriology- The study of salvation; Ecclesiology – The study of the Church; and lastly (no pun intended) – Eschatology – The study of last things.

This book is an excellent introduction to all of these subjects and the sub topics they address. As R.C. Sproul says, “Everyone, is a theologian, but either a good or bad one.” You will come away from reading this book having learned a ton of important truths that will help you become a better theologian. With profound depth, clarity, historical, and practical wisdom Sproul will delight and intrigue you in helping you grow in your journey and intimacy with God – using your head, heart, and hands for His glory and your good.

 

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Fortress for Truth: Martin Luther

By Steven J. Lawson

Martin Luther was a giant of history. Some believe he was the most significant European figure of the second millennium. He was the pioneer Reformer, the one God first used to spark a transformation of Christianity and the Western world. He was the undisputed leader of the German Reformation. In a day of ecclesiastical corruptions and apostasies, he was a valiant champion of the truth; his powerful preaching and pen helped to restore the pure gospel. More books have been written about him than any other man of history except Jesus Christ and possibly Augustine.

Luther came from hard-working stock. He was born in the little town of Eisleben, Germany, on November 10, 1483. His father, Hans, was a copper miner who eventually gained some wealth from a shared interest in mines, smelters, and other business ventures. His mother was pious but religiously superstitious. Luther was raised under the strict disciplines of the Roman Catholic Church and was groomed by his industrious father to be a successful lawyer. To this end, he pursued an education at Eisenach (1498–1501) and then at the University of Erfurt in philosophy. At the latter, he received a bachelor of arts degree in 1502 and a master of arts degree in 1505.

Luther’s life took an unexpected turn in July 1505, when he was twenty-one. He was caught in a severe thunderstorm and knocked to the ground by a nearby lightning strike. Terrified, he cried out to the Catholic patroness of miners, “Help me, St. Anna, and I will become a monk.” Luther survived the storm and made good on his dramatic vow. Two weeks later, he entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. His father was furious over Luther’s apparent wasted education, but Luther was determined to follow through on his vow.

Lost in Self-Righteousness

In the monastery, Luther was driven to find acceptance with God through works. He wrote: “I tortured myself with prayer, fasting, vigils and freezing; the frost alone might have killed me… . What else did I seek by doing this but God, who was supposed to note my strict observance of the monastic order and my austere life? I constantly walked in a dream and lived in real idolatry, for I did not believe in Christ: I regarded Him only as a severe and terrible Judge portrayed as seated on a rainbow” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 24, eds. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann [St. Louis: Concordia, 2002], 62). Elsewhere he recalled: “When I was a monk, I wearied myself greatly for almost fifteen years with the daily sacrifice, tortured myself with fastings, vigils, prayers, and other very rigorous works. I earnestly thought to acquire righteousness by my works” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 12, 273).

In 1507, Luther was ordained to the priesthood. When he celebrated his first Mass, as he held the bread and cup for the first time, he was so awestruck at the thought of transubstantiation that he almost fainted. “I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken,” he confessed. “I thought to myself, ‘Who am I that I should lift up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine majesty? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin, and I am speaking to the living, eternal and true God’” (Luther, cited in Bruce Shelley, Church History in Plain Language [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995], 238). Fear only compounded his personal struggle for acceptance with God.

In 1510, Luther was sent to Rome, where he witnessed the corruption of the Roman church. He climbed the Scala Sancta (“The Holy Stairs”), supposedly the same stairs Jesus ascended when He appeared before Pilate. According to fables, the steps had been moved from Jerusalem to Rome, and the priests claimed that God forgave sins for those who climbed the stairs on their knees. Luther did so, repeating the Lord’s Prayer, kissing each step, and seeking peace with God. But when he reached the top step, he looked back and thought, “Who knows whether this is true?” (Luther, cited in Barbara A. Somervill, Martin Luther: Father of the Reformation [Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2006], 36). He felt no closer to God.

Luther received his doctor of theology degree from the University of Wittenberg in 1512 and was named professor of Bible there. Remarkably, Luther kept this teaching position for the next thirty-four years, until his death in 1546. One question consumed him: How is a sinful man made right before a holy God?

In 1517, a Dominican itinerant named John Tetzel began to sell indulgences near Wittenberg with the offer of the forgiveness of sins. This crass practice had been inaugurated during the Crusades to raise money for the church. Commoners could purchase from the church a letter that allegedly freed a dead loved one from purgatory. Rome profited enormously from this sham. In this case, the proceeds were intended to help Pope Leo X pay for a new St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

This horrible abuse enraged Luther. He determined that there must be a public debate on the matter. On October 31, 1517, he nailed a list of Ninety-five Theses regarding indulgences to the front door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Nailing such theses to the church door was a common practice in the scholarly debates of the time. Luther hoped to provoke calm discussion among the faculty, not a popular revolution. But a copy fell into the hands of a printer, who saw that the Ninety-five Theses were printed and spread throughout Germany and Europe in a few weeks. Luther became an overnight hero. With that, the Reformation essentially was born.

The Tower Experience

It is possible Luther was still not yet converted. In the midst of his spiritual struggles, Luther had become obsessed with Romans 1:17: “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.” Luther had understood the righteousness of God to mean His active righteousness, His avenging justice by which He punishes sin. On those terms, he admitted that he hated the righteousness of God. But while sitting in the tower of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Luther meditated on this text and wrestled with its meaning. He writes:

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue, without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scriptures from memory. I also found in other terms an analogy, as, the work of God, that is, what God does in us, the power of God, with which he makes us strong, the wisdom of God, with which he makes us wise, the strength of God, the salvation of God, the glory of God. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 34, 337)

The time of Luther’s conversion is debated. Some think it took place as early as 1508, but Luther himself wrote that it happened in 1519, two years after he posted his Ninety-five Theses. More important is the reality of his conversion. Luther came to realize that salvation was a gift for the guilty, not a reward for the righteous. Man is not saved by his good works but by trusting the finished work of Christ. Thus, justification by faith alone became the central tenet of the Reformation.

Attacking Papal Authority

Justification by faith alone clashed with Rome’s teaching of justification by faith and works. Thus, the pope denounced Luther for preaching “dangerous doctrines” and summoned him to Rome. When Luther refused, he was called to Leipzig in 1519 for a public debate with John Eck, a leading Catholic theologian. In this dispute, Luther affirmed that a church council could err, a point that had been made by John Wycliffe and John Hus.

Luther went on to say that the authority of the pope was a recent contrivance. Such religious superstition, he exclaimed, opposed the Council of Nicaea and church history. Worse, it contradicted Scripture. By taking this stand, Luther irritated the major nerve of Rome—papal authority.

In the summer of 1520, the pope issued a bull, an edict sealed with a bulla, or red seal. The document began by saying: “Arise, O Lord, and judge Your cause. A wild boar has invaded Your vineyard” (Pope Leo, Exsurge Domine, as cited in R.C.Sproul, The Holiness of God [Wheaton: Tyndale, 1998], 81).  With these words, the pope was referring to Luther as an unrestrained animal causing havoc. Forty-one of Luther’s teachings were deemed to be heretical, scandalous, or false.

With that, Luther had sixty days to repent or suffer excommunication. He responded by publicly burning the papal bull. This was nothing short of open defiance. Thomas Lindsay writes, “It is scarcely possible for us in the twentieth century to imagine the thrill that went through Germany, and indeed through all Europe, when the news spread that a poor monk had burnt the Pope’s Bull” (Thomas Lindsay, Martin Luther: The Man Who Started the Reformation [Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2004], 91). But though he was hailed by many, Luther was a marked man in the eyes of the church.

The Diet of Worms: Luther’s Stand

In 1521, the young Holy Roman emperor, Charles V, summoned Luther to appear at the Diet of Worms in Worms, Germany, in order to officially recant. The renegade monk was shown his books on a table in full view. Then Luther was asked whether he would retract the teachings in the books. The next day, Luther replied with his now-famous words: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and

contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 32, 113). These defiant words became a Reformation battle cry.

Charles V condemned Luther as a heretic and placed a hefty price on his head. When Luther left Worms, he had twenty-one days for safe passage to Wittenberg before the sentence fell. While he was en route, some of his supporters, fearing for his life, kidnapped him and took him to the Wartburg Castle. There, he was hidden from public sight for eight months. During this time of confinement, Luther began his translation of the Bible into German, the language of the commoners. Through this work, Reformation flames would spread even swifter.

On March 10, 1522, Luther explained the mounting success of the Reformation in a sermon. With strong confidence in God’s Word, he declared: “I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept … the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 51, 77). Luther saw that God had used him as a mouthpiece for truth. The Reformation was founded not on him and his teachings, but on the unshakeable footing of Scripture alone.

In 1525, Luther married Katherine von Bora. This amazing woman was an escaped nun committed to the Reformation cause. The two repudiated their monastic vows in order to marry. Luther was forty-two and Katie was twenty-six. Their union produced six children. Luther had an extremely happy family life, which eased the demands of his ministry.

Till the end of his life, Luther maintained a heavy workload of lecturing, preaching, teaching, writing, and debating. This work for reform came at a high physical and emotional price. Each battle extracted something from him and left him weaker. He soon became subject to illnesses. In 1537, he became so ill that his friends feared he would die. In 1541, he again became seriously ill, and this time he himself thought he would pass from this world. He recovered yet again, but he was plagued by various ailments throughout his final fourteen years. Among other illnesses, he suffered from gallstones and even lost sight in one eye.

Faithful to the End

In early 1546, Luther traveled to Eisleben, his hometown. He preached there and then traveled on to Mansfeld. Two brothers, the counts of Mansfeld, had asked him to arbitrate a family difference. Luther had the great satisfaction of seeing the two reconciled.

That evening, Luther fell ill. As the night passed, Luther’s three sons—Jonas, Martin, and Paul—and some friends watched by his side. They pressed him: “Reverend father, do you stand by Christ and the doctrine you have preached?” The Reformer gave a distinct “yes” in reply. He died in the early hours of February 18, 1546, within sight of the font where he was baptized as an infant.

Luther’s body was carried to Wittenberg as thousands of mourners lined the route and church bells tolled. Luther was buried in front of the pulpit in the Castle Church of Wittenberg, the very church where, twenty-nine years earlier, he had nailed his famous Ninety-five Theses to the door.

Upon his death, his wife, Katherine, wrote concerning his lasting influence and monumental impact upon Christendom: “For who would not be sad and afflicted at the loss of such a precious man as my dear lord was. He did great things not just for a city or a single land, but for the whole world” (Katherine Luther, cited in Martin E. Marty, Martin Luther: A Life [New York: Penguin, 2008], 188). She was right. Luther’s voice sounded throughout the European continent in his own day and has echoed around the world through the centuries since.


Source: Excerpted with edits from Pillars of Grace, © 2011 by Steven J. Lawson. Published by Reformation Trust Publishing, a division of Ligonier Ministries. http://www.ligonier.org/blog/fortress-truth-martin-luther/October 17, 2011.

 

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