Rev. Robert Murray MCheyne1
Preached at St. Peters, Dundee, on January 8th 1843; published in The Sword and the Trowel in 1868, and now edited. To our knowledge it has not appeared in any of the collections of MCheynes sermons.
Text: So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed. Acts 19:20
IT is a blessed time, brethren, when the word of God grows mightily and prevails. It is a blessed time in a soul, it is a blessed time in a family, it is a blessed time in a congregation, it is a blessed time in a country when the word of God grows mightily and prevails. Is this your desire? I do not think that the desires of a Christian should be bounded by anything short of eternity. It is a blessed state of things of which the prophet Isaiah speaks, “Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.” It is a blessed state of things that is described in that passage, “Is it not yet a very little while, and Lebanon shall be turned into a fruitful field, and the fruitful field shall be esteemed as a forest?” (Isaiah 29:17). It is a blessed state of things that is described by the prophet Ezekiel, “I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season: there shall be showers of blessing” (Ezekiel 34:26). It is a blessed state of things that is described in the seventy-second Psalm, He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.
Ah! these are just lively descriptions of such a state of things as is described in our text, when the word of God grows mightily and prevails.
From these words I would show you, first, the marks of such a time, and secondly, the means for bringing about such a time.
I. Let us consider, then, THE MARKS OF SUCH A TIME.
And first of all, we shall consider such marks in ministers.
One mark is when ministers have got a deep and abiding discovery of sin in themselves and others. Often ministers do not see much of sin, but oh! when God gives ministers a true discovery of sin, then their words come with power. When God gives ministers a deep discovery of indwelling sin sin in their own heart, ah! that is a time when the word of God grows mightily and prevails. Sometimes, God gives ministers a deep discovery of the ugliness of sin in their people shows them that their sins are like the torch that set hell on fire. We cannot preach if we do not see sin. It is only superficial preaching we engage in if we do not see sin.
A second mark in ministers in connection with revivals is that they have great discoveries of Christ. Jonathan Edwards relates, “Once, as I rode out into the woods for my health, in 1737, having alighted from my horse in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer, I had a view, that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God, as Mediator between God and man, and his wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. This grace that appeared so calm and sweet, appeared also great above the heavens. The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent, with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception which continued, as near as I can judge, about an hour; which kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears, and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul (what I know not otherwise how to express) to be emptied and annihilated; to lie in the dust, and to be full of Christ alone; to love him with a holy and pure love; to trust in him; to live upon him; to serve and follow him; and to be perfectly sanctified and made pure, with a divine and heavenly purity.” Is it any wonder that such a man preached with power, and that many were converted under his ministry? Those of you who have been reading the eighth chapter of the Acts this morning, will have seen that when Philip went down to Samaria, he preached Christ unto them, “and there was great joy in that city”. So it must be with ministers still; Christ must be the theme of all their preaching; but oh! there are many times when ministers preach of Christ as through a veil. There are times when ministers cannot speak with any power, for they do not see the preciousness of Jesus. But oh! when He shows Himself through the lattice, when He shows to ministers His hands and His side, as it were; when they get fresh views of His finished work, oh! it is then, it is then that the word of God grows mightily and prevails. It is then they can speak as with the manna in their mouth. Oh pray for such a time! Pray that ministers may not be without Christ, for, O brethren, it is a true saying, “Like priest, like people.”
There is a third mark. It is when ministers have an awful sense of the value of immortal souls. The redemption of the soul is precious. A soul is of more value than a house of gold and silver. “Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” There are times when ministers do not realise the value of souls. There are times when ministers do not see the value of the souls of their people. But, brethren, there are blessed times when God gives us to know that your souls are of infinite value. There are times when God lets us see that you must live for ever, either in heaven or hell. There are times when ministers may be said to be insatiably greedy about precious souls. You may have seen a father standing on the sea-shore, beholding the vessel that bears his son being dashed upon the rocks. Oh! at that moment when she goes to pieces, he would be willing to dash into the boiling surge to try and save his child. Something like this at times is the feeling of ministers for souls. You have seen a house on fire. The father has escaped, but his wife and children are left behind in bed; and as he stands beside the fire engine, you may have seen his feelings working, his agitation, and his look of intense anxiety, as the means are being applied to attempt their rescue; but greater than this is the feeling, at times, of ministers for souls. Yea, they are willing to die to lay down their own life if souls could thereby be saved. “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Tim. 4:6). These are times when the word of God grows mightily and prevails.
There is another mark I should not miss: that ministers can pray for their peoples souls. There are times when ministers can only pray for themselves. But ah! brethren, it is a blessed time when ministers are not only near God themselves, but can bring their people with them; when they can say, “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?” (2 Corinthians 11:29). Ah! these are blessed times, when ministers can take the Lord to witness, “God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.” These are blessed times, brethren, when God gives ministers the grace and spirit of prayer, and that spirit of prayer is diffused through their sermons, their only desire being the conversion of souls. It is said of Thomas Shepherd, that when on his death-bed he said to a young minister, “God is my witness, that I never preached a sermon without having the conversion of souls in view.” It is said of a certain Scottish minister, that always on the Sabbath night he used to pray for every one of his people individually. Pray that ministers may have the same yearning for souls now, for it is then, and not till then, that the word of God grows mightily and prevails.
There are marks of such a time of revival not only in ministers but also in Gods people. It is a mark that they undergo, as it were, a second conversion. The disciples of Christ once put the question to Him, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). At another time Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). These two passages show you that there is second conversion not being turned from state of sin unto God (for that is done already), but brought to have a renewed sense of sin and of the preciousness of the Saviour of sinners. At a time of revival believers get a deeper and more awful discovery of the pollution of their own hearts; they get such a view of the volcano within that they are brought to see Christ with enlarged views; they are brought to see Him, it may be, as Thomas did, when he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” They are brought to see, to an extent they did not see before, the power, the love, and the beauty of Christ. They hear Jesus saying to them anew, “I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies; I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord.” And they join themselves anew to Christ in a perpetual covenant that shall never be broken. Ah! brethren, at such a time, they engage themselves anew to be the Lords. Brethren, pray for such a time: you know it is not with us now, and you know you need it.
A second mark in believers at a time of revival is that the sanctuary of God becomes especially amiable to them. “How amiable are thy tabernacles, O Lord God of hosts.” You know, brethren, when the soul of a believer is dry and languishing, the house of God becomes as a dry and thirsty land where no water is. There is no power in ordinances. The voice of the Beloved is not heard; and the song of praise touches no chord of sympathy in the heart. But oh! it is quite different when the ordinances are felt to be sweet; when the Psalms are like the notes of the songs of the New Jerusalem; when it is like a breeze wafted across from the shore of the better land; and then the prayers are like speaking to God face to face, there is a real meeting with God in prayer; there is a real confession; there is a real taking hold of the robe of Jesus and saying, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.” And, O brethren, at such a time as that, the preaching of the Word comes with authority. The preaching of the Word is seen to be His rod out of Zion. It is then that His doctrine drops as the rain, and His speech distils as the dew. It is then that the broken bread and the poured out wine are like the avenues leading into the palace of the king. These are times when the name of Christ is like ointment poured forth. Pray for such a time, brethren.
Another mark among believers in connection with a revival is holy living. It is a time when Ephraim shall say, “What have I to do any more with idols?” At present there is much careless walking among professing Christians; there is little care to keep themselves unspotted from the world; there is little earnest walking with God. But oh! brethren, how different it is when the word of God grows mightily and prevails; when it pleases God to pour out His Spirit with the word, then believers walk softly they walk with God; then believers begin to lay their hearts before God, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” At such a time believers begin to search their hearts, to see if there be any leaven in the house. You remember that the children of Israel were commanded, when keeping the passover, to put away all leaven out of their houses; so in a time of reviving the leaven of malice, and envy, and evil speaking, is put away. There is a holy circumspectness in their walk and conversation. And then the family altar is set up, and family government is exercised. You remember the case of Abraham: how we read of him over and over again building an altar unto the Lord, and calling upon the name of the Lord, and how the Lord says of him, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.” Ah! thats a lovely sight, brethren. Is it so among you? It will be the case when the word of the Lord grows mightily and prevails. Pray that it may be so.
I would now notice briefly the marks among the ungodly at a time of revival.
First, notorious sinners will be converted. It was the case at this time at Ephesus; as we see in verse eighteen: “And many that believed came, and confessed, and showed their deeds” and they will not be contented to leave their idols: but look at the nineteenth verse, “Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men.” This same thing took place at Corinth. Paul said to the Church in Corinth, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God;” and yet Paul continues, “Such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” O brethren, so it is in every time when the word of God grows mightily and prevails.
Its a sad mark of a town when there are no open profligates arrested and brought to Christ, but, brethren, its a blessed time when open sinners are seen leaving their sins and seeking the Saviour; when men are seen giving up their unholy gains; when tavern keepers take down their signs and burn them when they give up their licenses. And its a blessed time when card players throw away their cards and take the Bible instead. Its a blessed time when the gaudy lovers of dress take their gaudy dresses and burn them. Once there was such a time in this place. Pray that it may come again.
Another mark is, many who are not converted are yet remarkably restrained. Many leave their outward sins and seem to turn unto the Lord but feignedly, and not with the whole heart. Do not mistake me, however, as if I meant to say I would like to see hypocrisy; but it is a mark that God is working in a place when the wicked are forced to give up their ways, when the taverns are deserted, when there are no lights in public houses on Sabbath night. And, brethren, though these are nothing in themselves, yet they are the marks of a time when the word of God grows mightily and prevails.
A third mark is this: a time of revival is a time when there are many adversaries. The lion of the forest will seldom roar if you let his lair alone. That is why Satan is so often quiet. “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace;” but when the word of God begins to grow, then Satan soon stirs up the spirit of persecution. If the word of God grows and prevails in this place, you will soon see husbands looking out their wives, parents looking out their children, and heaping upon them reproach because they will follow Christ. Ah! its a good sign when the lion roars. I cannot say I wish we had more reproach, for oh! it is ill to bear, but I would say, I wish we gave more occasion for it. The offence of the Cross is not ceased yet.
II. Let me speak a word as to THE MEANS FOR BRINGING ABOUT SUCH A TIME.
The great and only agent in bringing about a time of revival is the Holy Spirit. You know it is written, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6). It is not by argumentative preaching; it is not by human eloquence or persuasion, nay, though I had the tongue of an angel it would not avail unless accompanied by the Spirit. You remember the text: “Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers; . . . until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high” (Isaiah 32:13 and 15). Until the Spirit be poured on ministers, the word will not grow mightily and prevail. Observe that passage in Isaiah where it is said, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing.” What is the cause of all this? “For in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert” (Isaiah 35:5,6). There must be a breaking out of waters if ever the eyes of the blind are to be opened, or the ears of the deaf unstopped. Pray then, brethren, that ministers may get the anointing of the Spirit. Pray that they may be like John, of whom it was predicted, “He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost. . . .and many of the children of Israel may be turned to the Lord their God.” O! pray, “Wilt thou not revive us again; that thy people may rejoice in thee?”
A second means is, the ministry. Now I do not say that revivals cannot begin without ministers, because they may, but they generally begin with ministers first. In all the great revivals of which we read, ministers, under God, have been the instruments employed. Pray that it may be so among us. I am sure, brethren, I would never more speak if I were persuaded that this end were not to be accomplished by my ministry. And I am sure also that if God is to work any mighty work by us, He would need to make us holier He would need to consecrate us afresh. Ah! brethren, we would need to be like those who said, “We will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
The last means I would mention is believers being more devoted. The work begins first in the hearts of believers, thus it spreads to those around. Brethren, if anything is to be done in this place, the Holy Spirit must begin with believers. They must be more prayerful and more devoted in the cause of Christ. Brethren, could you not lay this more to heart? Could you not give more time to prayer? Could you not plead more with God for ministers that they might be more successful? And then, could you not live more holy lives? Could you not keep your garments clean? Could you not reprove sin? Could you not speak modestly for Christ, and warn the wicked around you of their fearful danger? Brethren, could you not do more by writing letters to unconverted friends at a distance, using any and every means, if by any means you may gain some? Brethren, could you not do your utmost? God has done His utmost. “What could I have done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?”
Do you not know that every unconverted sinner will soon be in hell? Do you ever lay this to heart? Do you ever consider that in a little while our last sermon will be preached, and our last opportunity of doing good will be over? Oh! do you ever think that you will reflect in heaven, if such a thing were possible, that you did so little for Christ? If anything could make your tongue silent then it would be that you had done so little. Oh! how few tears bedew you pillow by night; how seldom does the midnight hour hear your strong crying and tears. Oh! how lightly does it seem to sit upon your conscience that so few are saved. You know many around you will soon be cast down to hell, and can you do no more to arouse them from their slumber? Ah, my brethren, these are the means by which the word of God grows mightily and prevails, Will you use them or not? The Lord grant you may, and to Him be all the praise. Amen.
1. Robert Murray MCheyne (1813-43) was widely regarded one of the most saintly and gifted ministers in the Church of Scotland in his day. After a year of being assistant to the aged Rev. John Bonar at Larbert and Dunipace he was ordained, in November 1836, as the minister of the new charge of St. Peters in Dundee. Prevailing Moderatism in the Church and spiritual deadness in many parishes were a grief of heart to him. He laboured diligently in Dundee and other parts of the country, despite his delicate health, and his ministry proved to be most fruitful. In 1838 he visited Israel as one of the three deputies who were to make an enquiry on behalf of the Churchs Mission to the Israel. The published account of their visit, says the Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology, did much to stimulate interest in Jewish Mission, and led to pioneer work among Jews in parts of Europe, most notably Hungary. In 1842, when the government refused to accede to the demands of the Churchs Claim of Right (a protest against the intrusion of the civil authorities into the spiritual domain of the Church), MCheyne believed that a disruption was inevitable and prepared his congregation for it. But serious illness overtook him and he passed away in March 1843, at the age of 29 and after less than six years in Dundee. His desire for the salvation of souls is seen not only in the above sermon but also in this comment, inscribed in one of his manuscripts not long before his death, “As I was walking in the fields, the thought came over me with almost overwhelming power, that every one of my flock must soon be in heaven or hell. Oh, how I wished that I had a tongue like thunder, that I might make all hear; or that I had a frame like iron, that I might visit every one, and say, Escape for thy life! Ah, sinners! you little know how I fear that you will lay the blame of your damnation at my door.” Editor.