Revival

John Murray on the Importance of Proclaiming the Law of God

There might not be a topic on which professing Christians are more confused about, and more neglectful of, than the law of God. You could certainly say that the gospel itself ranks higher on that list, and you would not necessarily be wrong in saying so. But in some ways ignorance and confusion regarding those two things are inextricably bound up together, aren’t they?

For if you get the law of God wrong, it is seemingly impossible to get the gospel right. In some ways it may very well be the virtual absence of the law of God in the preaching and teaching of the church that has led to much of the perceived impotence of the proclamation of the gospel in our day! John Murray (1898-1975) writes:

“When the proclamation of God’s law is neglected, the significance of the gospel is correspondingly reduced in our presentation and in the apprehension of men. The gospel is the gospel of salvation, and salvation is, first of all, salvation from sin in its guilt, defilement, and power. If our emphasis on the judgment of God upon sin is minimal, correspondingly minimal will be our esteem of salvation and of the Savior. One sometimes wonders whether the faith in Christ which is demanded of men in the presentation of the claims of Christ can have any real content in view of the beggarly conception of the gravity of sin which is presented as its presupposition and concomitant. Faith in Christ does not arise in a vacuum. It arises in the context of conviction of sin and it is to the creation of that conviction that the ministry of judgment ministers.”

Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol.1, p.144

At the preaching of the Apostles on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2, the hearers were so convicted of their sin and guilt before God (“cut to the heart”), that they said, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v.37). They were really asking the same question that the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas in Acts 16:30, when he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” In our day, with the lack of preaching of God’s law and corresponding lack of conviction of sin, one may be far more likely to hear someone say, “Why do I need to be saved?” or “Saved from what?”

Murray goes on to say that “Our age needs the ministry that will make men tremble before the awful majesty and holiness of God and in the conviction of the reality of his holy wrath.” (p.145)

Such was the preaching that God used to stir up a revival of sorts in the great city of Nineveh in Jonah’s day. The word of the Lord came to Jonah, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2, ESV) Now, it took some doing to get Jonah there, but when he finally arrived at the city, what was his message? In Jonah 3:4–5 we read:

“Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them.” (ESV)

And God showed mercy on them, didn’t He? But He used the proclamation of His just judgment and wrath to bring them under the conviction of sin, and to grant unto them the grace of repentance and belief.

Likewise it was this kind of preaching that the Lord used to stir up revival during what has come to be known as the Great Awakening in the 18th century. The best-known sermon from that awakening was no doubt “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God“, by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). It is as fire & brimstone as the name suggests, but God used it mightily in bringing revival to New England.

Ministers of the gospel must preach Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23), and to do that we must also preach the law. Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) writes:

“Old Robbie Flockhart used to say, “It is of no use trying to sew with the silken thread of the gospel unless we pierce a way for it with the sharp needle of the law.” The law goes first, like the needle, and draws the gospel thread after it . . . .”

Lectures to My Students, p.338

He goes on to say that “No man will ever put on the robe of Christ’s righteousness till he is stripped of his fig leaves, nor will he wash in the fount of mercy till he perceives his filthiness.” (Ibid)

These things are clearly taught in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Not only does he tell us there that “through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20, ESV), but even the very flow of thought or argument in the epistle displays this for all to see. For right after speaking of the gospel being the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16), Paul spends the better part of the first three (3) chapters of the epistle expounding at length the bad news of the doctrine of the sin and depravity of man before giving us the good news of salvation in Christ, justification by faith alone, sanctification, and glorification in the chapters that follow (4-8).

May the Lord in His mercy grant that the ministers of the gospel in our day might not neglect the preaching of the law in connection with our preaching of Christ. And may He use that to awaken many unto their desperate need for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, in drawing them unto Him by faith for salvation.

If My People Pray (Prayer in the Midst of Pandemic)

MedicineWe are living in a rather strange, unsettling time. This is the first time that most of us have ever experienced anything like what we have seen related to the Corona Virus (COVID-19) pandemic. It reminds me of the opening verses of the prophecy of Joel:

Hear this, you elders;
give ear, all inhabitants of the land!
Has such a thing happened in your days,
or in the days of your fathers?
Tell your children of it,
and let your children tell their children,
and their children to another generation.” (Joel 1:2–3, ESV)

Likewise, has such a thing as this current pandemic happened in our days or in the days of our fathers? Not that I know of.

Hundreds of thousands of cases have been reported in the U.S., and, as of the writing of this post, over 16,000 deaths have been confirmed so far. And those numbers, sadly, will no doubt continue to rise for the foreseeable future.

Even for the vast majority of people who as of yet remain uninfected, this pandemic has impacted nearly every single aspect of our way of life. Countless businesses have been forced to close their doors, many permanently so. Millions of people have lost their jobs. The national economy has all but ground to a screeching halt.

Simple things that many of us used to take for granted, such as going out to eat, social gatherings, going to public places like parks, beaches, hiking trails, the movies, etc., have all been put on hold. In many places throughout the U.S., Christians can’t even gather together corporately for public worship on the Lord’s day!

What is the solution to these things? We are often tempted to put our faith in science, medicine, the state or federal government, and other such things to solve all of our problems. Don’t get me wrong – all of these things have their proper, God-given place. God often uses these very things to bring us relief from many worldly ills.

But we must not put our faith in these things, as if the arm of flesh were sufficient to save (Jeremiah 17:5-8). That is idolatry. They are not sufficient for these things. No one is. The best scientific models have proven to be inaccurate. Doctors and medical experts, as good and as well-intentioned as they may be, are neither omniscient nor infallible. And the various leaders in our state and federal governments are only human, after all. They are not all-knowing. They are not all-powerful. And so it is futile (if not worse) to expect them to be able to act as if they were. They too need our prayers, as Paul has written (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Perhaps if we stopped expecting them to solve everything for us, we would be more apt to pray for them instead of criticizing their every move (as if we would do any better).

Just as the cause of these things is not ultimately of an earthly origin (except for sin), even so the solution is not ultimately to be found in earthly or human means either.

Are you wondering what it is that you can do in the midst of all of the uncertainty and unrest during this pandemic? Do your best to stay safe, and to be there for others in need. But there is one more thing. And this may be the most needful thing of all.

2 Chronicles 7:13-14 gives us a right perspective on these kinds of things and the ultimate solution to them. There the Lord Himself says,

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (ESV)

This passage reminds us that calamities of many kinds are often (at least in part if not the whole) a chastisement or judgment from God for idolatry and wickedness.

At times does our God not still shut up the heavens so that it does not rain? Does He not likewise send locusts or other things to devour or otherwise destroy crops or livelihoods? Does He not even send pestilence or plague? None of those things are outside of the scope of God’s all-encompassing providence.

Ought we not to see this current pandemic as an act of God’s just judgment? Does not even our own land, which has enjoyed the manifold blessings of God’s grace and mercy in abundance throughout her history, have much wickedness of which we need to seek God’s face and repent?

These things that we might think of as merely being “natural disasters” are not only part of God’s all wise & powerful providence, but they are also at times intended as a chastisement or judgment for wickedness. The Scriptures are replete with examples of such things.

God often sends drought, famine, pestilence, war, and other such calamities in order to get our attention, and to turn us from our wicked ways.

And so we as God’s people must think and act like believers, and not like deists or atheists. These things did not come about randomly or by chance. And while we may not be able to infallibly interpret God’s works of providence, we should be sure that He does all things for a reason, even the sending forth of calamity (Isaiah 45:7).

2 Chronicles 7:13-14 is a call to prayer and repentance. And there God holds forth a promise of mercy (both forgiveness and healing) to the repentant.

And so if we would see the healing of our land, we must first humble ourselves before our God and pray. To humble ourselves means to acknowledge both our sin and guilt, as well as our need for His mercy. It also means acknowledging that His judgments are altogether righteous, holy, and just.

We must pray and seek the face of God. Prayer must not be our last resort in time of crisis or calamity. The Bible says that God’s house is to be “a house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:7; Mark 11:17). If we who are called by God’s name do not pray and seek God’s face, who will? And if God’s hand of chastisement does not get us praying, what will?

If this pandemic gets us praying, it will have done us much good!

And, lastly, we must turn from our wicked ways. In other words, we must repent. If we humble ourselves, pray, and genuinely repent, then we may expect the mercy of God. Then God will, by His grace, “hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” And we will find that even the repentance itself is a gift of God’s grace, as only God can grant repentance, whether to an individual sinner, or even to a nation (2 Timothy 2:25).

But notice that what comes first when God hears our prayers for mercy is not the healing of the land, but rather the forgiveness of our sins. Then and only then come His healing mercies. As Matthew Henry puts it in his commentary on these verses, “Pardoning mercy makes way for healing mercy.”

We might be tempted to focus primarily on the healing of the land, and the removal of the chastisement and suffering itself, rather than our need for repentance and forgiveness.  It is surely right to be concerned for and pray for lives to be spared. We should continue to pray for those who have been directly affected by this deadly virus. And we should be thankful to God for His mercy that so far the death totals have been far lower than the initial models predicted. We should see that as an answer to prayer, and give God the thanks and glory for it!

I must admit that at times I have even found myself being more concerned with the inconveniences and disappointments related to this pandemic, such as the inability to visit with family and friends, the restrictions on public worship, and even missing baseball (!), than with the urgent need for repentance and revival in our land, even in the church. As much as we may long for things to “get back to normal,” we should long for revival in our land even more!

We must seek forgiveness for our sins, first and foremost, and not just healing. Our sin is the real disease; our miseries are only the symptoms and results of that disease.

We who know the Lord Jesus by faith must seek God’s face and pray for revival and repentance, so that God might show mercy to us and heal our land. That is the lesson and promise of 2 Chronicles 7:13-14.

May God in His great mercy bring such revival, that He might grant repentance and faith to many, and so forgive our sins and heal our land, to His glory alone.