The GOSPEL TRUTH
THE REVIVAL WE NEED
OSWALD J. SMITH
With a Foreword
BY REV. JONATHAN GOFORTH, D.D.
The Christian Alliance Publishing Company
260 West 44th Street, New York, N.Y.
WE read in Isa. 66:8, that "as soon as Zion travailed she brought forth her children;" and this is the most fundamental element in the work of God. Can children be born without pain? Can there be birth without travail? Yet how many expect in the spiritual realm that which is not possible in the natural! Oh, my brethren, nothing, absolutely nothing short of soul-travail will bring forth spiritual children! Finney tells us that he had no words to utter, he could only groan and weep when pleading with God for a lost soul. That was true travail.
Can we travail for a drowning child; but not for a perishing soul ? It is not hard to weep when we realize that our little one is sinking below the surface for the last time. Anguish is spontaneous then. Not hard to agonize when we see the casket containing all that we love on earth being borne out of the home. Ah, no; tears are natural at such a time! But oh, to realize and know that souls, precious, never dying souls are perishing all around us, going out into the blackness of darkness and despair, eternally lost, and yet to feel no anguish, shed no tears, know no travail! How cold our hearts are! How little we know of the compassion of Jesus! And yet God can give us this, and the fault is ours if we do not have it.
Jacob, you remember, travailed until he prevailed. But oh, who is doing it today? Who is really travailing in prayer? How many, even of our most spiritual Christian leaders are content to spend half an hour a day on their knees, and then pride themselves on the time they have given to God! We expect extraordinary results, and extraordinary results are quite possible; signs and wonders will follow, but only through extraordinary efforts in the spiritual realm. Hence, nothing short of continuous, agonizing pleading for souls, hours upon hours, days and nights of prayer will ever avail. Therefore, "gird yourselves, and lament ye priests; howl, ye ministers of the altar: come, lie all night in sackcloth, ye ministers of my God. Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land unto the house of the Lord your God, and cry unto the Lord." (Joel 1: 13-14.) Oh yes! Joel knew the secret. Let us then lay aside everything else, and "cry unto the Lord."
"We read in the biographies of our forefathers, who were most successful in winning souls, that they prayed for hours in private. The question therefore arises, can we get the same results without following their example? If we can, then let us prove to the world that we have found a better way; but if not, then in God's name let us begin to follow those who through faith and patience obtained the promise. Our forefathers wept and prayed and agonized before the Lord for sinners to be saved, and would not rest until they were slain by the Sword of the Word of God. That was the secret of their mighty success; when things were slack and would not move they wrestled in prayer till God poured out His Spirit upon the people and sinners were converted." (For Those Who Seek.)
All men of God have become men mighty in prayer. The sun never rose on China, we are told, without finding Hudson Taylor on his knees. No wonder the China Inland Mission has been so wonderfully owned of God!
Conversion is the operation of the Holy Spirit, and prayer is the power that secures that operation. Souls are not saved by man but by God, and since He works in answer to prayer we have no choice but to follow the Divine plan. Prayer moves the Arm that moves the world.
Prevailing prayer is not easy. Only those who have wrestled with the powers of darkness know how hard it is. Paul says that "we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Eph. 6:12.) And when the Holy Spirit prays it is "with groanings which cannot be uttered." (Rom. 8: 26.)
Oh, how few find time for prayer! There is time for everything else, time to sleep and time to eat, time to read the newspaper and the novel, time to visit friends, time for everything else under the sun, but--no time for prayer, the most important of all things, the one great essential.
Think of Susannah Wesley who, in spite of the fact that she had nineteen children, found time to shut herself in her room for a full hour each day, alone with God. My friends, it is not so much a case of finding time as it is of making time. And we can make time if we will.
So important did the Apostles consider it that they would not even wait on tables, but said: "We will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word." (Acts 6:4.) Yet how many ministers are burdened with the financial side of the work, and how many officials expect them to bear it! No wonder their spiritual work is of such little account !
"And it came to pass in those days, that He went out into a mountain to pray and continued all night in prayer to God." (Luke 6:12.) Such is the record concerning the Son of God; and if it was necessary for Him how much more so for us! Oh, think of it!--"all night in prayer." How many times could that be written of us? Hence, His strength! Hence, our weakness!
How fervently do the prophets of old urge a life of prayer! Hear Isaiah as he exclaims: "Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till He establish, and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth." (Isa. 62:6-7.)
"Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them; wherefore should they say among the people, 'Where is their God?' (Joel 2:15.)
And not only did they urge prayer, but they themselves prayed. Daniel says, "I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplication, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes; and I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession." (Dan. 9:3-4.) And Ezra also wielded the same mighty weapon in every time of difficulty. "I fell upon my knees," he says, "and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God." (Ezra 9:5.) Then follows his most remarkable prayer. The same method was followed by Nehemiah. "And it came to pass when I heard their words," he relates, "that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days and fasted, and prayed before the God of Heaven." ( Neh.1:4.)
Such was also the practice of the Early Church. When Peter was in prison it is stated that "prayer was made without ceasing of the Church unto God for him," and "many were gathered together praying."
And now in closing may we turn to the record of God's dealings with His honored servants, and hear what they have to say about the secret of results. And oh, may He put upon us the burden of prayer and supplication that rested upon these mighty spiritual giants and filled them with such travail!
"John Livingstone spent the whole night prior to June 21, 1630, in prayer and conference, being designated to preach next day. After he had been speaking for an hour and a half a few drops of rain disconcerted the people, but Livingstone asking them if they had any shelter from the storm of God's wrath went on another hour. There were about 500 converted on the spot."--Livingstone of Shotts.
"I once knew a minister who had a Revival fourteen winters in succession. I did not know how to account for it, till I saw one of his members get up in a prayer meeting and make a confession. 'Brethren,' said he, 'I have been long in the habit of praying every Saturday night till after midnight, for the descent of the Holy Ghost upon us. And now, brethren,' and he began to weep, 'I confess that I have neglected it for two or three weeks.' The secret was out. That minister had a praying church."--Chas. G. Finney.
"Prevailing, or effectual prayer is that prayer which attains the blessing that it seeks. It is that prayer which effectually moves God. The very idea of effectual prayer is that it effects its object."-Chas. G. Finney.
"In a certain town there had been no Revival for many years; the Church was nearly extinct, the youth were all unconverted and desolation reigned unbroken. There lived in a retired part of the town an aged man, a blacksmith by trade, and of so stammering a tongue that it was painful to hear him speak. On one Friday, as he was at work in his shop alone, his mind became greatly exercised about the state of the Church and of the impenitent. His agony became so great that he was induced to lay by his work, lock the shop door, and spend the afternoon in prayer.
"He prevailed, and on the Sabbath called on the minister and desired him to appoint a 'conference meeting.' After some hesitation, the minister consented, observing however, that he feared few would attend. He appointed it the same evening at a large private house. When evening came more assembled than could be accommodated in the house. All were silent for a time, until one sinner broke out in tears, and said if anyone could pray, would they pray for him. Another followed, and another, and still another, until it was found that persons from every quarter of the town were under deep conviction. And what was remarkable was that they all dated their conviction at the hour the old man was praying in his shop. A powerful Revival followed. Thus this old stammering man prevailed, and as a prince had power with God."-Char. G. Finney.
"'I have pleaded with God this day for hours, in the wood, for souls: He will give them. I know His sign. I shall have souls tonight. Yours, I trust, will be one.' Night came, and with it such a power as I had never felt. Cries for mercy rang all over the chapel. Before the sermon was done, I, with many others, fell upon my knees to implore salvation."--One of Thos. Collins' Converts.
"I went to my lonely retreat among the rocks. I wept much as I besought the Lord to give me souls."--Thos. Collins.
"I spent Friday in secret fasting, meditation, and prayer for help on the Lord's Day. About the middle of the sermon a man cried out; at the cry my soul ran over. I fell to prayer, nor could we preach any more for cries and tears all over the chapel. We continued in intercessions, and salvation came." --Thos. Collins.
"He gave himself unto prayer. Woods and lonely wayside places became closets. In such exercises time flew unheeded. He stopped amid the solitary crags to pray, and Heaven so met him there that hours elapsed unconsciously. Strong in the might of such baptisms, he became bold to declare the cross, and willing to bear it."--Life of Thos. Collins.
"It loaded me down with great agony. As I returned to my room I felt almost as if I should stagger under the burden that was on my mind; and I struggled, and groaned, and agonized, but could not frame to present the case before God in words, but only in groans and tears. The Spirit struggled within me with groanings that could not be uttered."--Chas. G. Finney.
"I proposed that we should observe a closet concert of prayer for the revival of God's work; that we should pray at sunrise, at noon, and at sunset, in our closets, and continue this for one week, when we should come together again and see what further was to be done. No other means were used for the revival of God's work. But the spirit of prayer was immediately poured out wonderfully upon the young converts. Before the week was out I learned that some of them, when they would attempt to observe this season of prayer, would lose all their strength and be unable to rise to their feet or even stand upon their knees in their closets; and that some would be prostrate on the floor, and pray with unutterable groanings for the Outpouring of the Spirit of God. The Spirit was poured out and before the week ended all the meetings were thronged; and there was as much interest in religion, I think, as there has been at any time during the Revival."--Chas. G. Finney.
"I have often seen him come down stairs in the morning after spending several hours in prayer, with his eyes swollen with weeping. He would soon introduce the subject of his anxiety by saying, 'I am a broken hearted man; yes, indeed, I am an unhappy man; not for myself, but on account of others. God has given me such a sight of the value of precious souls that I cannot live if souls are not saved. Oh, give me souls, or else I die!' "--Life of John Smith.
"God enabled me to so agonize in prayer that I was quite wet with perspiration, though in the shade and the cool wind. My soul was drawn out very much from the world, for multitudes of souls."--David Brainerd.
"Near the middle of the afternoon God enabled me to wrestle ardently in intercession for my friends. But just at night the Lord visited me marvelously in prayer. I think my soul never was in such an agony before. I felt no restraint; for the treasures of Divine grace were opened to me. I wrestled for my friends, for the ingathering of souls, for multitudes of poor souls, and for many that I thought were the children of God, personally in many different places. I was in such an agony from sun, half an hour high, till near dark, that I was all over wet with sweat.--David Brainerd.
"I withdrew from prayer, hoping for strength from above. In prayer I was exceedingly enlarged and my soul was as much drawn out as I ever remember it to have been in my life. I was in such anguish, and pleaded with so much earnestness and importunity, that when I rose from my knees I felt extremely weak and overcome I could scarcely walk straight; my joints were loosed; the sweat ran down my face and body; and nature seemed as if it would dissolve."--David Brainerd.
"Prayer must carry on our work, as well as preaching. He does not preach heartily to his people who does not pray for them. If we do not prevail with God to give them repentance and faith, we are not likely to prevail with them to repent and believe. Paul gives us frequently his example of praying night and day for his hearers."--Richard Baxter.
"Several members of Jonathan Edwards' church had spent the whole night in prayer before he preached his memorable sermon, 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.' The Holy Ghost was so mightily poured out, and God so manifest in holiness and majesty during the preaching of that sermon, that the elders threw their arms around the pillars of the church and cried, 'Lord, save us, we are slipping down to hell!'"
"Almost every night there has been a shaking among the people; and I have seen nearly twenty set at liberty. I believe I should have seen many more, but I cannot yet find one pleading man. There are many good people; but I have found no wrestlers with God. At two or three small places, we had cries for mercy; and several were left in a state of deep distress."--Wm. Bramwell.
"Where the result which he desired did not attend his own ministry, he would spend days and nights almost constantly on his knees, weeping and pleading before God; and especially deploring his own inadequacy to the great work of saving souls. He was at times when he perceived no movement in the church, literally in agonies; travailing in birth for precious souls, till he saw Christ magnified in their salvation."--Life of John Smith.
"If you spend several hours in prayer daily, you will see great things."--John Nelson. "He made it a rule to rise out of bed about twelve o'clock, and sit up till two, for prayer and converse with God; then he slept till four; at which time he always rose."--Life of John Nelson.
"Be instant and constant in prayer. Study, books, eloquence, fine sermons, are all nothing without prayer. Prayer brings the spirit, the life, the power."--Memoir of David Stoner.
"I find it necessary to begin at five in the morning and to pray at all opportunities till ten, or eleven at night."--Wm. Bramwell.
But must we go back to these mighty men of old? Are there not some today who will ask God to burden them? May we not even in this generation have a Revival in answer to faithful, believing, travailing, prevailing prayer? Oh, then, "Lord, teach us not how to pray, but to pray."
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