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The Oberlin Evangelist
August 26, 1840
"O Lord revive thy work." Hab. 3:5.
This is a part of the prayer of the prophet, after contemplating the awful wickedness of the people, and the destruction which God threatened to bring upon them. He had witnessed their great crimes and contemplated their condition till his heart was oiled with agony. He finally brought the matter before the Lord, and asked if he were always to witness such grievous things? The Lord replied that He would visit them with dreadful judgments; he would do a work which the prophet "would not believe though it were told him." Still the prophet was not satisfied. He saw nothing but violence done by Israel, and nothing but destruction awaiting Israel. His benevolent heart was wrought up to agony in view of the fast coming judgments of God upon the guilty people. He saw no way to prevent these, but by a revival of religion. Religion is obedience to God. The people were in a state of disobedience. Hence a revival of religion would be a revival of obedience, and this alone could stay God's exterminating wrath. Therefore the prophet cries out in prayer. "Oh Lord revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known, in wrath remember mercy!"
We do not intend to dwell on the necessity of prayer for the promotion of revivals, (for this none can deny) but to say some things in reference to the kind of prayer to be offered. We say then,
That when there is a lack of prevailing prayer it is time to have a rain of righteousness. That there is much formal praying, that never prevails with God, never brings the blessing asked for, nor any other, is a simple matter of fact and cannot be denied. There is very little sense of our need of blessings, and of course very little earnestness in asking for them, and very little confidence that God will bestow them.
How did Abraham pray for the salvation of Sodom? He “went up and stood before the Lord," and besought Him to spare the guilty city. He hoped there were fifty righteous men there, and for the sake of those he pled with the Lord till an answer came. Then lest here should not be fifty he asked the same thing should here be but forty, and so down to ten, and each time had his request granted. Jacob also, how he prayed. His brother was coming upon him with a force that would rush his little company. He made the best disposition of them he could, and remained behind to pray that the Lord would subdue the heart of his brother. He wrestled all night in prayer. And in the morning the angel seems to have suggested to him that he ought to hasten on and protect his family. But he had not yet prevailed, and he replied "I will not let thee go except thou bless me." Then the answer came. "As a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed." He had prevailed with God, and he had prevailed with man. The heart of his brother was subdued. His murderous purposes were all changed, and when they met "Esau ran to meet him and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him; and wept." How peacefully Jacob went on after he had prevailed with God, and received an answer. No more account of anxiety and alarm, but that peace which rests in the assurance of God, though the event had not yet transpired.
So of the Bible saints generally. They prayed expecting a blessing and prayed till it came, or till the Lord assured them that it should or should not be granted. There seems to have been none of that uncertainty which is so common now, which results in neither receiving the blessing nor in an assurance that it shall be granted.
Professors of religion pray for deliverance from condemnation, for freedom from sin, that they may be taught by the Holy Spirit, and have their hearts opened to receive all the truths of the gospel, and they pray for these for a long season, and yet they remain essentially in the same state of sin, and condemnation, and darkness. They pray for the deliverance of the Church—for her sanctification—that she may "come up out of the wilderness leaning on her beloved,"—that she may be delivered from a worldly spirit and really become what she was intended to be, a burning and a shining light, “a city set upon a hill." They feel a great desire that the Church may become holy, and yet she continues in a state of conformity to the world. They pray for the conviction of sinners. Their hearts yearn over them. They realize in some measure their condition while out of Christ. They see them convicted of sin, and they pray for their conversion. But their prayers are not answered. Sinners remain careless or lose their convictions, and grow more hardened and bold in sin. Why is this?
It was not so with Bible saints. How Daniel prayed for the deliverance of Israel from captivity. He "understood by the books," that the time had come when prayer would avail, and he set himself to confess his sins and the sins of the people. He acknowledged the justice of God in their affliction, for "they had transgressed the law in departing from the living God." They had not obeyed His voice, and "therefore the curse was poured upon them." But he pleaded for forgivness. “To the Lord God," said he “belongs mercies and forgiveness." "O, my God incline thine ear and hear, open thine eyes and behold our desolations." “O, Lord, hear; O, Lord, forgive, O, Lord hearken, and do and defer not for thine own sake." And then he adds, "While I was speaking and praying, while I was speaking in prayer," the answer came. God sent Gabriel causing him to "fly swiftly," and assured Daniel that his prayer was heard and the thing should be accomplished.
Thus Daniel seemed to expect a blessing and he prayed till it came. Shall not Christians under the greater light of the gospel dispensation have equal faith and equal perseverance in prayer with those under the Old? Instead of our being satisfied with less manifest answers to prayer, with our greater privileges and greater means of acquaintance with God, we ought to commune with Him more confidently. What an amount of instruction has been given since the time of Daniel! How it runs through all the New Testament, and by the precepts and by the example of our Savior and of the Apostles. It is made so plain that we need not mistake. And then the Holy Spirit has been given in a much higher sense at least than He was ever given before, and His office is to convert and sanctify men. We have now the word of Jesus Christ pledged, that “whatsoever we shall ask of the Father in His name, we shall receive it." In numberless instances, and in almost every variety of form is this truth inculcated.
Now brethren, why do we not understand and improve our privileges in this respect? That we do not, that we live far below them, is a fact. Who prays as Elijah prayed, as Ezra prayed, as the Apostles prayed, or as Bible Christians generally prayed? Alas, we have lost our confidence in God, and when a Christian comes into that state in which he begins to have confidence in God, and to express it, the great mass of the Church are alarmed and fear he is deluded. God is pleased with confidence in Him. He loves to have His children trust, not tempt, Him. The occasional instances of this which occur and the result, show His approbation of it. He hears and answers when they trust Him. Is it not plain that we need a rain of righteousness upon the Church? Are you, Christian brother, in such a state of acceptance with God, that He hears and answers your players. Are you growing better by the communications of His grace to you in answer to prayer? Is the world growing better in answer to your prayers? Does God convert sinners at your request; If not, do you not need a rain of righteousness upon yourself? And will you not set yourself to pray with the Prophet.
"O Lord, revive thy work?"
Taken from The Oberlin Evangelist, Volume 1, February 26, 1840.