Many people pray and long for revival. But what do we mean by it? Perhaps this is assumed to be rather obvious. It is a special outpouring of God’s blessing when His people are spiritually renewed and many others are converted. Revival includes this but it is in fact much more besides. In its totality, it is a deepening and strengthening of God’s whole work not just in the lives of individuals. But what do we mean by God’s whole work?
John King (d. 1679) answers this vital question in a sermon on Habbakkuk 3:2 about God reviving His work. He observes that there are times when God’s work may be near ruin but not quite ruined. The church and people of God may not only be near ruin but may experience much deadness on their spirits. This may be true and yet we may not have a true sense of it. All of us need to pray for reviving. This condition may continue for years, or a considerable time. This is why Habbakkuk prays for revival “in the midst of the years” i.e. during the Jews’ long exile in Babylon.
King was preaching in times of great persecution. This is the only sermon that survives of the many that he preached in the fields. It was preached in 1678 in the district near to Loch Lomond. He had a powerful voice that could easily carry for a quarter of a mile. Frequently hunted down and imprisoned for preaching “illegally”, King was executed in 1679 together with another minister, John Kid. The last words of his written testimony are significant. “The Lord visit Scotland with more and more faithful pastors, and send a reviving day unto the people of God…Farewell all creature comforts, welcome everlasting life, everlasting glory, welcome everlasting love, everlasting praise; bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me”.
In applying his text, King says that we must be greatly taken up with God’s work and its need for reviving. Sadly, many pray for revival without a sense of our woeful lack of obedience to God. The Bible makes it clear that we cannot expect to enjoy God’s blessing if we are willfully disobedient to Him. This relationship between obedience and God’s blessing is important to understand. King focusses on our role, are we willing to fulfil our responsibility in relation to the work that we are looking for God to revive? What is the responsibility we must discharge in relation to God’s work? He identifies the following areas.
1. Gathering the Church of God
Gathering a Church to Himself is God’s Work. He calls His Church “the work of mine hands” (Isaiah 19:25). This may give deep conviction to many, since you have cared very little about this work. What care have you taken about it? If we were all brought to give our answer, what would we say? It is true, we are not called to have greater care than our responsibilities reach. I fear, ministers have not been taken as much care concerning His Church as we ought. This is lamentable.
This belongs to you and every one of you, in your particular position of responsibility. “What can we do?” they say, “…nothing”. Have you been sent into the world to do nothing? You should both do and be able to do. Although you may not be a prominent member of the body, you may be useful in your position. Although you are not the hand or the head, yet you may be a finger or toe.
We should all take care concerning the Church of God. But what should we do in reference to the Church? Contribute all you can do or have for the Church in your capacity. If you can do no more, will you pray for the Church which is God’s work and concern. Pray that He would advance His own work and take care of His own Church. Are we not in a capacity to do more, and to act and do for the Church? Now who does that? We are all at ease and the work of God is laid aside. But says the Spirit of God in Isaiah 45:11 “Concerning the works of my hands command ye me”.
2. Reforming and Building the Church of God
Reforming and building God’s house comes to a stop and is hindered. See to it then. In Nehemiah 3, this was one of God’s works in which they were to engage. They were to reform and build the house of God that the Babylonians had destroyed. That is one of His works and we should all endeavour to do it. Some are not in a capacity to do this but labour to do all that you can. We once had a well-ordered Church; but what is it now? What have we done for to build up His work?
In Haggai 2 they lacked the silver and gold and had many enemies. So they neglected building the house of God and built their own houses. He reproves them for it in Haggai 1:4 that God’s house was lying waste. Have many not done the same nowadays? This house is lying in ashes. This is lamentable indeed; we have not been careful in rebuilding and restoring the house of God. Let everyone’s conscience tell him or her about this.
3. The Preaching of the Gospel
We should take care about this. We should all (as it were) hold fast our hands around this. Were it not for some, we do not know where the preaching of the gospel would go. You should promote the preaching of the gospel. It is one of His works: it is His great work. It concerns our eternal happiness: and will it not increase our grief if we are found careless about it?
4. The Worship of God
Worship is called the work of God (Nehemiah 10:33). Nehemiah was careful about these things. O that there were many Nehemiahs in our day, to pray for the work and worship of God. We cannot tell what we have done for the worship of the house of God. We have taken little trouble about the house of God and for His worship. No care is taken to get it set up in our families. There is little concern amongst us to see to the whole work of God.
5. The Work of Grace
The work of grace in your heart and mine is God’s work. How little care there is about that. It is called the work of grace (1 Corinthians 15). What care have you taken about it: how to get it or keep it when gotten? Our blessed Lord Himself says “This is the work of God” (John 6:29), believing in Him. Get faith in exercise. O if we had faith to lay hold on His promises we might stand on our feet despite all that our enemies could do to us. But we lack faith and that takes us off our feet. The disciples lacked faith to believe that He was able to bring them through this world, and yet He was able to set food before them (Luke 22:35). Do not lack faith in His ability to carry you through; many have gone wrong in these days because of this.
These are His works; therefore we should give attention to them. Especially to have the gospel preached and promoted, to have the house of God built and things in His house rectified. These things tend greatly to the glory of God. What blessing there will be when all these things go well. If we do not do so we will be reckoned for His dishonour, not for His glory.
Contribute much to the edification of His saints and the good of souls, to have the gospel preached and the Word hid in your hearts, to have the house of God rebuilt, His work revived and things brought to purity and the due order. Is there not great good in all this? Where will you get good, if it is not in this? Nowhere else.
These are the means of saving as well as edifying souls. Will you not therefore give attention to them? You take care for yourself in the needs of your body and in worldly things, so you should. But the work of God should be the great work. This is your first work, but we bring it in last.
May this not be a rebuke and challenge to many a conscience? Must this not be a fore regret? How we should lament it, considering how little we have done for the reformation and rebuilding of His house and the reviving of His work and worship. “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion”, who are not concerned about the work of God. How can those who lay themselves aside and are lifeless escape this curse when they might have been useful for the work of God? How can such think to be free from that woe?
It is His work, His house: therefore, you should do all you can to build and rebuild it. Do all the service to him you can. This will entitle you to the promise in Isaiah 66:10 “Rejoice with her all ye that mourn for, and be glad with her all ye that love her”. When the work of God shall be restored and revived, they shall be comforted and you shall have a share in it with them.
[There is a very readable biography of John King together with his co-martyr John Kid. This was recently authored by Maurice Grant. It is warmly commended and available from the Scottish Reformation Society for £5.95. Order from firstname.lastname@example.org]