Chapter I. Revival in Egypt
29 Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the sons of Israel; 30 and Aaron spoke all the words which the LORD had spoken to Moses. He then performed the signs in the sight of the people. 31 So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped. Ex. 4:29-31
A study of Biblical revivals will enable us to understand what kind of revival God is ready to give. It will also serve as a guide for intelligent prayer and effort in this direction. I intend to speak of revival in the popular sense, dealing with the cases where multitudes turned to the Lord. The first of this character is reported as taking place in the northern part of Africa.
The children of Israel were brought out of Egypt by means of miracle and revival. The plagues were God's arguments with Pharoah. Against his will he was compelled to let the people go. But the Israelites were not forced out. They were consenting parties to the exodus. Before they left the country they had been brought to faith in and obedience to God. In the list of the heroes of faith recorded in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, we find the Israelites included. "By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land." The story of this revival centres our thoughts around three characters--the Reviver, the Revived, and the Revivalists.
1. THE REVIVER
This revival was of God. He heard their cry. This was not necessarily directed to Him. It was the cry of distress. Their oppressed condition appealed to Him. He was moved with compassion. He said: "I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. Ex. 3:7. Mingled with the compassion was indignation with their oppressors. "I have surely seen," He said, "the affliction of My people." He could not look on, unmoved, at the injustice that was being dealt out to them. He also remembered His covenant which He had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give the land of Canaan to their seed. And because His word awaited fulfilment He said He would bring the children of Israel out of Egypt. Being moved with compassion for their sorrows, with indignation at their wrongs, and with a desire to fulfil His word, He called Moses to be their deliverer. Moses was not willing to undertake the work, and God had a long controversy with him concerning the matter. It was God who called Moses, persuaded him, commissioned him, and strengthened him for the task.
a. God can Revive.
A revival is a Divine thing. It is a putting forth of Divine strength. It is God visiting the people. A revival cannot be organised any more than the spring. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground (Ps. 104:30): Men watch the coming of spring and avail themselves of it. They plough the ground and sow the seed, but it is God who gives the rain and the sunshine, and who makes the juices of the trees and of the grasses to flow. In the same way the renewing of spiritual life is a work of God.
b. God wants to Revive.
The revival in Egypt was not only a manifestation of God's power, but an act of Divine grace. His heart was in the work. He visited the people because He was moved with compassion. He is not indifferent to the world's needs. Over and over again, when spiritual life has seemed to be on the point of extinction, God has stepped in and has saved both it and the people. The history of revivals is the story of God stepping in to save faith and morals from death. Each revival in the history of Israel came when religion was low. It means ruin for the people when faith is eclipsed; and God will not allow the world to be utterly lost. The revivals of Christianity have occurred when the funeral of the faith has seemed nigh. When the Christian church was corrupt, impure, tyrannica1, and generally in a scandalous condition, the Reformation came, and the people were led back to a purifying and helpful faith. When religion in England in the eighteenth century was cold and formal, when literature was atheistic, when the working people were living like brutes, the great evangelical revival, under Wesley and Whitefield, took place. And now - when men are telling us that the church has lost its hold of the mass, when a church census reveals that the most Christian of our cities has only one in six of its people attending worship, when the prevailing temper of the people is one of utter indifference to God, and complete absorption in the race for wealth or the pursuit of pleasure -God has stepped in and given us an evidence of His power and of His living interest in men's welfare by the revival in Wales. In South Africa the spirit of the times is manifest in every town and village. Indifference to God characterizes the overwhelming majority of our people. The breath of God's Spirit is needed to save faith and character, and to heal the land. And the visitation that is required, God is waiting to give.
c. God will Revive.
His Word abides. Over 400 years earlier His promise to Abraham had been given. The centuries had not made His promise obsolete. Many men consider an old promise obsolete though unfulfilled. But it is not so with God. The promises of revival still hold good. God said to Solomon: "If My people, which are called by My name, shall 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." The promise of that word abides; and wherever the conditions of it are fulfilled the promise will be realized. Again, in the New Testament: "Repent, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord." God is always willing to fulfill His Word; and if we listen and look to Him we may expect revival in our land.
2. THE REVIVED
The children of Israel were a backslidden people. They were the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and they had been brought up in the faith. When they entered Egypt they were a chastened, God-fearing company, but in the course of years they had sunk to the level of the life around them. Joshua tells us that the people served other gods in Egypt. The worship of the golden calf in the wilderness was a return to the religion to which they had become accustomed.
A revival in the southern portion of the same continent over 3,000 years later will mean a return of backslidden people to the Lord. History has repeated itself. In Africa men have forgotten their fathers' God, and succumbed to the influences of the life around them. The people outside of our churches, who make a holiday of a holy day, are not ignorant of God. They knew a church life at home; they came to us from godly homes; many of them have been in the Sunday schools of the older countries. Others, occasionally in our churches, were once more regular in their attendance upon the means of grace, and active in Christian service. A revival will mean a call to these to return to the faith of their fathers and to their first love. God is waiting to welcome such. He is ready to bless. Each backslider who returns will help to bring a blessing. Each returning one will encourage others.
They were a poor and an oppressed people. They were enslaved. Their days were spent under the lash. They knew no day of rest. It was toil from early morn to late at night, from youth to old age. Their social conditions were radically wrong. But Moses did not wait for an improvement in their earthly lot before preaching to them the word of the Lord. They attained to faith before a commercial or social revival came. The spiritual was first, the temporal came as a result. There are many social conditions around us that need altering, and injustices that require attention. But legislation moves slowly. In the meantime we need not wait for better temporal circumstances before seeking for spiritual improvement. A revival of spiritual life is the quickest way to improve social conditions. A revived spiritual life means a quickened conscience all round. A new man means a new home, new homes mean new streets, new streets mean a new city. And an interest in the public welfare comes to the new man. A quickened conscience will put into operation good laws which are now practically a dead letter because of the lack of a healthy public opinion to make them effective; and it will also be productive of better legislation to remedy other evils still awaiting improved laws.
And just as we do not need to wait for social reform before having a revival of spiritual life, so we do not need to wait for commercial revival before receiving an increase of spiritual blessing. Commercial depression and poverty must necessarily curtail schemes of church extension, and put a stop to building efforts; but no money is wanted to bring a revival. The spiritual life can be increased without the outlay of an additional penny. God can, and will, revive poor and a distressed people if they only look to Him.
3. THE REVIVALISTS
Moses and Aaron gathered the people. The text says that Moses and Aaron gathered the elders; but as the narrative speaks of the presence of the people, we conclude that the people were brought together through the elders. The assembling of the people is our united work. There are people to be gathered, and they need to be gathered in order to hear the Word of the Lord. If the services at God's house are helpful to us we should talk about them. We should make it known that a good thing is on, and endeavour to get others to the place where our spiritual life receives help.
They preached the Word. All revivals have been accompanied with preaching. God's Spirit works through the Word. The revival in Wales is no exception; though temporarily, in many cases, the sermon was pushed on one side. But this was because all the Lord's people became prophets. The rank and file testified. Preaching, however, is more highly regarded in Wales now than ever. The new converts want instruction. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." Let us know the words which the Lord hath spoken, and tell them out to others.
They did the signs. What are the signs which God empowers us to give in order to win men to the faith? "By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another." "The nations shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes." If quarrels are made up; if fault-finding and backbiting are discontinued; if we cease to be self-centered and learn to take a warm-hearted interest in others; if we are honest and pay our debts; and if we become contented, patient, and forgiving, signs will be given which will help men to believe.