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A Bible Revival

A Bible Revival poster

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the first post-captivity books, belong to each other. Zerubbabel led the first company of exiles back to the land of promise. Eighty years later he was followed by Ezra with a company of probably fifty thousand. Ezra’s mission was purely religious. He brought gifts to the temple and sought to restore the worship of the fathers and revive the spiritual life of the nation. He was faced with very discouraging conditions, for the Jews had intermarried with the heathen and corrupt and idolatrous practices had been introduced which created a great problem.

The book of Ezra ends with the account of these things. Fourteen years later, Nehemiah began his great work which was both civil and political, and every chapter in this wonderful book which bears his name is intensely interesting and rich in information for all servants of God.

The story divides itself naturally into seven parts:

  1. Chapters 1 and 2—How God did the seemingly impossible thing in answer to prevailing prayer.
  2. Chapters 3 to 6—The great building enterprise—faced with opposition and ridicule, but sustained by private prayer.
  3. Chapter 7—The census and registration of the people, with their pedigrees.
  4. Chapters 8 to 11—The revival and its results.
  5. Chapter 12—The census of the priests and Levites.
  6. Chapter 13—The dedication of the wall.
  7. Chapter 14—The restoration of temple worship.

Every Man Responsible

Nehemiah and Ezra, though differently endowed, were kindred in spirit and in purpose and vitally necessary to each other. Nehemiah could not do Ezra’s work, nor could Ezra do the work of Nehemiah. In Galatians 6:4 we read: To every man “his own work.” You have undoubtedly observed in the Scripture how God associates men like Nehemiah and Ezra, Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas; and we think of other great combinations like Moody and Sankey, Torrey and Alexander, and others.

Nehemiah, as the civil and political leader, had built the walls and reorganized the people. During all this period of reconstruction (the record of which extends to the end of the seventh chapter) we do not see Ezra. But now he comes upon the scene to direct the spiritual activities, for we are told that he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses as well as a godly priest who “prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statues and judgments.” Therefore, it was appropriate that Nehemiah should give place to Ezra.

The eighth chapter gives us a beautiful picture of a real Bible revival, and that is what the church of God needs today. The moral and political conditions of the world are distressing, but not more so than the spiritual conditions in the professed body of Christ. I do not think the world will be very greatly affected by the testimony and activities of the church until there comes to God’s people a genuine awakening. Our own church needs this revival. Your pastor needs it, and day and night he is crying to God for a breaking-down of the things that hinder, that the great work may begin. “Oh, that He would rend the heavens and come down.”

The Real Meaning

During the last few years the term revival, which has been so much used, has, I am afraid, been much abused. The revival that we are expecting and for which we are longing implies much more than the decision for Christ on the part of unsaved individuals. Indeed, souls may be saved without a revival. A revival always begins with God’s people. See 2 Chronicles 7:14. You will observe in that verse that the appeal is to God’s people. When they “seek my face,” when they “turn from their wicked ways…I will heal their land.”

The church today is filled with backsliders. Many believers, like the Christians at Ephesus, have “lost their first love.” With them, Jesus no longer has the pre-eminence, for other persons or things have come between. They may hold membership in the church, and perhaps official positions, but Christian duties have become irksome; spiritual devotion, Bible study, secret prayer, fellowship with God’s people in the assembly are sadly neglected, the hallowed glow of that first love has been lost, and it is easy to make excuses for these declensions.

A Cure For Dissension

A revival also promotes spiritual, social, and domestic unity. The air is filled with suspicion, envy, and jealousy, and through rivalries and quarrels, homes and churches are divided. I say with a sad heart this morning that the church of Jesus Christ today is similar to the church at Corinth when Paul wrote his first epistle to it, pointing out that their factions and divisions were not the result of heresy, but of carnality. These conditions have prevailed throughout the church’s history whenever spiritual life was at low tide. It is natural to say mean and cutting things, to be unkind and unfair. These things are the fruit of the flesh. But when the tide comes in, these difficulties disappear. We forgive and we forget; we act like Jesus when we are filled with the Spirit; we are not constantly criticizing and judging and dividing His body, but “speaking in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is religion at full tide. Someone has beautifully expressed it in the following verse:

“The little pools in ruffled pride
Their distance keep,
’Till swelling tide
Uprears his snowy crest;
Each lakelet keeps its barrier wall,
’Till one vast billow clasps them all
To ocean’s mighty breast.”

Have you ever walked upon the sand when the tide is out and noticed the numerous little pools and bays? Some were larger and more dignified than the others, but each was independent of the other until the tide came in. Then the distinction was lost. They were all covered by the great billows of the mighty ocean. Oh, that the tide might roll in!

The Source Of Conviction

A revival means conviction—a tremendous sense of sin and its guilt. Someone has said that the chief characteristic of our day is “the lost sense of sin.” This is not only true of the world, but also of the church. How readily we excuse sin, palliate, and condone it. A revival does not mean the covering up of wrong; it rebukes unrighteousness. A revival quickens the individual conscience and makes us judge sin in ourselves. It reveals, it restores, it rebukes, it reunites, and sometimes it compels us to make restitution.

Reverence, An Important Requisite To Revival

Here we have the record of a Bible revival. Notice first, the wonderful congregation. We hear a great deal about the crowds that gather to hear some preachers, but I think Ezra preached to the greatest congregation known. There were nearly fifty thousand people standing before him in the streets to hear the reading of the law (Ezra 7:66–67), with a great chorus choir of 245 voices—“all that could hear and understand.” But observe that it was not only a great congregation, but it was intensely reverent when Ezra opened the book of the law. As he lifted it up all the people stood quietly with bowed heads. “And Ezra praised [sic] the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.”

Paul, in his epistle to the Ephesians, speaks of “grieving the Holy Spirit,” and I am sure that irreverence in connection with meetings for worship is a great grief to our Lord. “Jesting, foolish talking which are not convenient,” says the apostle. In His presence angels veil their faces chanting, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.”

So when Ezra lifted up the Book, the whole congregation stood reverently like patriots when their National Anthem is sung.

Several Sundays each summer for a number of years it was my privilege to minister to the congregation of the First Baptist Church of New York of which that great champion of the faith, Dr. I.M. Haldeman, is pastor. Whenever I began to read the Scriptures the congregation arose and every one opened his Bible and read with me. In that church the Bible is reverenced as God’s own Word in the same way as the book of the law was regarded as the Word of Jehovah by Ezra’s great congregation.

I know that this reverence for the Scripture is sometimes called “Bible idolatry.” Some say we worship the book. Well, I will have no objection to that bit of ridicule. It is God’s Book and reveals to us His will, and why should we not respect it as the voice of God? We are told that it is “only a book,” but unlike every other book, this is the living Word of God.

Revealers Of God

You have probably observed in reading the Scripture that the written Word and the incarnate Word are so identified that it is difficult at times to decide which is meant. The same things are said of each and the same characteristics adapted to each. The great fundamental resemblances lie in the fact that both the written Word and the incarnate Word are revealers of God.

In Philippians 2:16 Paul speaks of holding forth “the word of life.” The reference here is undoubtedly to the written Word. But in 1 John 1:1 we find the same phrase exactly, and there the reference is to the incarnate Word. In Hebrews 4:12 the apostle speaks of the Word as “living, powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword.” That refers to the Scripture. But without any change of subject the writer refers to the incarnate Word: “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in HIS sight. But all things are naked and open unto the eyes of HIM with whom we have to do.” Someone has pointed out: “When the Word was made flesh and tabernacled among us there was nothing in His appearance that manifested His deity, He stood with the multitude on the banks of the Jordan and they knew Him not. This was true of His life for thirty years.” Just so with the Bible. In appearance it is not different from other books. It bears the same resemblance to them that Jesus, the Son of Mary, bore to other men. It was given in human language; Jesus came in the flesh. Yet between the Bible and all other books there is a fundamental difference—the difference between Jesus and all other men. “In Him was life,” and the Scripture is the “living Word.” Just as Jesus, to the unregenerate, has “no form nor comeliness,” no beauty to be desired, and is just a “root out of dry ground,” so the Bible means nothing to those who do not come to it in the spirit of reverence and faith.

The Word In Action

You will observe in connection with this great revival that Ezra gave the Word a chance to work. Nehemiah 8:8: “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” I suppose that is what you would call expository preaching.

In the great revival under Martin Luther, the Bible played a vital part. The Wesleys were called “Bible bigots.” It was through the preaching of the Word that the great Methodist church came into existence. Faith in the Scripture and faithful presentation of its truths brought about one of the greatest awakenings the world has ever known. D.L. Moody, the founder of this church, was a real Ezra. His great genius was in reading the Scripture and causing the people to understand it. And that is why the fruit of his ministry abides after many days.

Doers Of The Word

The members of Ezra’s congregation were not only hearers, but they practiced the preaching. In verses 14 to 17, you will observe that they found written in the Word ordinances that had been neglected since the days of Joshua. This was a challenge to faith, and immediately following we have a lovely example of obedience. These people might have argued that David had neglected this ordinance and Solomon following him had not observed it, and therefore it did not matter. But real faith obeys the revealed will of God regardless of men’s failures.

Great Gladness

The result of this obedience was very great gladness. And it is always so. “To obey is better than sacrifice and to harken than the fat of rams.” A revival of spiritual religion not only separates—it fully satisfies.

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