The character and tendency of modern revivals has awakened no little anxiety in thoughtful minds among all denominations. Many of the revivals which have occurred during the last forty years have given no evidence of the work of the Spirit of God. The light which flames up for a time, soon dies out, leaving the darkness more dense than before. Popular revivals are too often carried by appeals to the imagination, by exciting the emotions, by pandering to the love for what is new and startling. Converts thus gained have no more desire to listen to Bible truths, no more interest in the testimony of prophets and apostles, than has the novel-reader. Unless a religious service has something of a sensational character, it has no attractions for them. A message which appeals to unimpassioned reason, awakens no response. The plain warnings of God's word, relating directly to their eternal interests, fall as upon the ears of the dead.
The converts are not renewed in heart or changed in character. They do not renounce their pride and love of the world. They are no more willing to deny self, to take up the cross, and follow the meek and lowly Jesus, than before their conversion. In a genuine revival, when the Spirit of God convicts the conscience, the earnest, anxious inquiry will be heard, "What must I do to be saved?" And this not merely for a day. With every truly converted soul the relation to God and to eternal things will be the great topic of life. But where, in the popular churches of today, is the deep conviction of sin? where is the spirit of consecration to God? The spirit that controls the world rules in the church. Religion has become the sport of infidels and skeptics because so many who bear its name are ignorant of its principles. The power of godliness has well-nigh departed from the churches. Heart union with Christ is a rare thing now. The majority of church-members know no tie but that which joins them to an organized body of professed Christians. Love of pleasure and thirst for excitement are everywhere prevalent. Picnics, church theatricals, church fairs, fine houses, personal display, have banished thoughts of God. Lands and goods and worldly occupations engross the mind, and things of eternal interest receive hardly a passing notice.
Pleasure-lovers may have their names upon the church-records, they may stand high as worldly-wise men; but they have no connection with Christ of Calvary. The apostle Paul describes a class who are "lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." Concerning them he says, "From such turn away." [2 TIM. 3:4, 5]. Be not deceived by them, do not imitate their practices.
Notwithstanding the wide-spread declension of faith and piety in the churches, the Lord still has honest children among them; and before his judgments shall be visited upon the earth, many ministers and lay-members will separate from these bodies, and gladly receive the special truths for this time. The enemy of souls desires to hinder this work, and before the time shall come for such a movement, he will arouse what appears to be great religious interest in the churches. They will exult that God is working marvelously for them, when the work is that of another spirit. Under a religious guise, Satan will spread his influence over the land. He hopes to deceive many by leading them to think that God is still with the churches.
Many of the revivals which have occurred since 1844, in the churches that have rejected the Advent truth, are similar in character to those more extensive movements to be witnessed in the future. The excitement manifested is well adapted to mislead the unwary; yet none need be deceived. In the light of God's word it is not difficult to determine the nature of these religious movements. The history of God's dealings with his people in the past testifies that his Spirit is not poured out upon those who neglect or oppose the warnings sent them by his servants. And by the rule which Christ himself has given, "Ye shall know them by their fruits," it is evident that these movements are not the work of the Spirit of God.
The scriptural doctrine of conversion has been almost wholly lost sight of. Christ declared to Nicodemus, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." The heart must be renewed by divine grace, man must have a new life from above, or his profession of godliness will avail nothing.
The apostle Paul, in relating his experience, presents an important truth concerning the work to be wrought in conversion. He says, "I was alive without the law once," -- he felt no condemnation; "but when the commandment came," when the law of God was urged upon his conscience, "sin revived, and I died." [ROM. 7:9]. Then he saw himself a sinner, condemned by the divine law. Mark, it was Paul, and not the law, that died. He says, further, "I had not known sin, but by the law; for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." [ROM. 7:7]. "The commandment which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death." [ROM. 7:10]. The law which promised life to the obedient, pronounced death upon the transgressor. "Wherefore," he says, "the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good." [ROM. 7:12.]
How wide the contrast between these words of Paul and those that come from many of the pulpits of today. The people are taught that obedience to God's law is not necessary to salvation; that they have only to believe in Jesus, and they are safe. Without the law, men have no conviction of sin, and feel no need of repentance. Not seeing their lost condition as violators of God's law, they do not feel their need of the atoning blood of Christ as their only hope of salvation.
The law of God is an agent in every genuine conversion. There can be no true repentance without conviction of sin. The Scriptures declare that "sin is the transgression of the law," [1 JOHN 3:4.] and that "by the law is the knowledge of sin." [ROM. 3:20]. In order to see his guilt, the sinner must test his character by God's great standard of righteousness. To discover his defects, he must look into the mirror of the divine statutes. But while the law reveals his sins, it provides no remedy. The gospel of Christ alone can offer pardon. In order to stand forgiven, the sinner must exercise repentance toward God, whose law has been transgressed, and faith in Christ, his atoning sacrifice. Without true repentance, there can be no true conversion. Many are deceived here, and too often their entire experience proves to be a deception. This is why so many who are joined to the church have never been joined to Christ.
"The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." [ROM. 8:7]. In the new birth, the heart is renewed by divine grace, and brought into harmony with God as it is brought into subjection to his law. When this mighty change has taken place in the sinner, he has passed from death unto life, from sin unto holiness, from transgression and rebellion to obedience and loyalty. The old life of alienation from God has ended; the new life of reconciliation, of faith and love, has begun. Then will "the righteousness of the law" "be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." [ROM. 8:4.]
The doctrine of sanctification, or perfect holiness, which fills a prominent place in some of the religious movements of the day, is among the causes that have rendered modern revivals so ineffectual. True sanctification is a Bible doctrine. The apostle Paul declared to the Thessalonian church, "This is the will of God, even your sanctification." [1 THESS. 4:3]. And again he prayed, "The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." [1 THESS. 5:23]. But the sanctification now so widely advocated is not that brought to view in the Scriptures. It is false in theory, and dangerous in its practical results.
Its advocates teach that the law of God is a grievous yoke. and that by faith in Christ, men are released from all obligation to keep his Father's commandments. Bible sanctification is a conformity to the will of God, attained by rendering obedience to his law, through faith in his Son. Our Saviour prayed for his disciples, "Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth." [JOHN 17:17]. There is no genuine sanctification except through obedience to the truth; and the psalmist declares, "Thy law is the truth." [PS. 119:142]. The law of God is the only standard of moral perfection. That law was exemplified in the life of Christ. He says, "I have kept my Father's commandments." [JOHN 15:10]. And the apostle John affirms, "He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." And again, "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments." [1 JOHN 2:6; 5:3]. Those who love God will love his commandments also. The truly sanctified heart is in harmony with the divine precepts; for they are "holy, and just, and good."
It is only when the law of God is set aside, and men have no standard of right, no means to detect sin, that erring mortals can claim perfect holiness. But let none deceive themselves with the belief that God will accept and bless them while they are willfully violating one of his requirements. The commission of a known sin silences the witnessing voice of the Spirit, and separates the soul from God. Jesus cannot abide in the heart that disregards the divine law. God will honor those only who honor him. "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law; for sin is the transgression of the law." "Whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not; whosoever sinneth [transgresseth the law] hath not seen him, neither known him." [1 JOHN 3:4, 6]. Though John in his epistles treats so fully upon love, yet he does not hesitate to reveal the true character of that class who claim to be sanctified while living in transgression of the law of God: "He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." [1 JOHN 2:4.]
Sanctification is believed by many to be instantaneously accomplished. "Only believe," say they, "and the blessing is yours." No further effort on the part of the receiver is supposed to be required. But the Bible teaches that sanctification is progressive. The Christian will feel the promptings of sin, but he will keep up a constant warfare against it. Here is where Christ's help is needed. Human weakness becomes united to divine strength, and faith exclaims, "Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." [1 COR. 15:57]. Paul exhorts his brethren, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;"[PHIL. 2:12.] and concerning himself he declares, "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." [PHIL. 3:14]. The successive steps in the attainment of Bible sanctification are set before us in the words of Peter: "Giving all diligence, add to your faith, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance; and to temperance, patience; and to patience, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, charity." "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." [2 PET. 1:5-7, 10]. This is a daily work, continuing as long as life shall last.
Spurious sanctification carries with it a boastful, self-righteous spirit which is foreign to the religion of the Bible. Meekness and humility are the fruits of the Spirit. The prophet Daniel was an example of true sanctification. His long life was filled up with noble service for his Master. He was a man "greatly beloved"[DAN. 10:11.] of Heaven, and was granted such honors as have rarely been vouchsafed to mortals. Yet his purity of character and unwavering fidelity were equaled only by his humility and contrition. Instead of claiming to be pure and holy, this honored prophet identified himself with the really sinful of Israel, as he pleaded before God in behalf of his people: "We do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousness, but for thy great mercies." "We have sinned, we have done wickedly." And "for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach." He declares, "I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people." [DAN. 9:18, 15, 16, 20]. And when at a later time the Son of God appeared in answer to his prayers to give him instruction, he declares, "My comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength." [DAN. 10:8.]
Those who are truly seeking to perfect Christian character will never indulge the thought that they are sinless. The more their minds dwell upon the character of Christ, and the nearer they approach to his divine image, the more clearly will they discern its spotless perfection, and the more deeply will they feel their own weakness and defects. Those who claim to be without sin, give evidence that they are far from holy. It is because they have no true knowledge of Christ that they can look upon themselves as reflecting his image. The greater the distance between them and their Saviour, the more righteous they appear in their own eyes.
The sanctification set forth in the Scriptures embraces the entire being, -- spirit, soul, and body. Paul prayed for the Thessalonians, that their "whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." Again he writes to believers, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God." [ROM. 12:1]. The Jews were commanded to offer in sacrifice to God only such animals as were free from disease or blemish. So Christians are required to preserve all their powers in the best possible condition for the Lord's service. Says Peter, "Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul." [1 PET. 2:11]. The word of God will make but a feeble impression upon those whose faculties are benumbed by any sinful gratification. The heart cannot preserve consecration to God while the animal appetites and passions are indulged at the expense of health and life. Paul writes to the Corinthians, "Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." [2 COR. 7:1]. And with the fruits of the Spirit--"love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness," -- he classes temperance. [GAL. 5:22, 23.]
Notwithstanding these inspired declarations, how many professed Christians are enfeebling their powers in the pursuit of gain or the worship of fashion; how many are debasing their godlike manhood by gluttony, by wine-drinking, by forbidden pleasure. And the church, instead of rebuking, too often encourages the evil by appealing to appetite, to desire for gain, or love of pleasure, to replenish her treasury, which love for Christ is too feeble to supply. Were Jesus to enter the churches of today, and behold the feasting and unholy traffic there conducted in the name of religion, would he not drive out those desecrators, as he banished the money-changers from the temple?
The apostle James declares that the wisdom from above is "first pure." Had he encountered those who take the precious name of Jesus upon lips defiled by tobacco, those whose breath and person are contaminated by its foul odor, and who pollute the air of heaven and force all about them to inhale the poison,--had the apostle come in contact with a practice so opposed to the purity of the gospel, would he not have denounced it as "earthly, sensual, devilish"? Slaves of tobacco, claiming the blessing of entire sanctification, talk of their hope of Heaven; but God's word plainly declares that "there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth." [REV. 21:27.]
"Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." [1 COR. 6:19, 20]. He whose body is the temple of the Holy Spirit will not be enslaved by a pernicious habit. His powers belong to Christ, who has bought him with the price of blood. His property is the Lord's. How could he be guiltless in squandering this intrusted capital? Professed Christians yearly expend an immense sum upon useless and pernicious indulgences, while souls are perishing for the word of life. God is robbed in tithes and offerings, while they offer upon the altar of destroying lust more than they give to relieve the poor or for the support of the gospel. If all who profess to be followers of Christ were truly sanctified, every channel of needless expense would be turned into the Lord's treasury, and Christians would set an example of temperance, self-denial, and self-sacrifice. Then they would be the light of the world.
The world is given up to self-indulgence. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life, control the masses of the people. But Christ's followers have a holier calling. "Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." [2 COR. 6:17, 18.]
It is the privilege and the duty of every Christian to maintain a close union with Christ, and to have a rich experience in the things of God. Then his life will be fruitful in good works. When we read the lives of men who have been eminent for their piety, we often regard their experiences and attainments as beyond our reach. But this is not the case. Said Christ: "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me." "He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit." [JOHN 15:8, 4, 5]. The prophets and apostles did not perfect Christian character by a miracle. They used the means which God had placed within their reach, and all who will put forth a like effort will secure a like result.
Paul addressed his Corinthian brethren as "them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus;" and he thanked God that in everything they were enriched by him, "in all utterance and in all knowledge," so that they came behind in no gift. [1 COR. 1:2, 5, 7]. In his epistle to the Colossians he set forth the glorious privileges granted to the children of God. Said the apostle: We "do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness." [COL. 1:9-11]. Such are the fruits of Bible sanctification.
In setting aside the claims of the law of God, the church has lost sight of the blessings of the gospel. Bible conversion and sanctification, -- a radical change of heart and transformation of character, -- is the great need of the churches of today. Revivals in which men become members of the church without real conviction of sin, without repentance, and without acknowledging the claims of the law of God, are a cause of weakness to the church, and an occasion of stumbling to the world.
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