Alex's Blog for January 31, 2011 - Remembering the Great Works of God (Habakkuk 3:2)
By Alex Dodson
Today, we have forgotten the great works of God in our land. The prophets of doom and the escapist theologians tell us that our nation is destined for destruction and that there is not much we can do about it. The church awaits the rapture which is surely to come soon and we will leave all of this behind. Yet, we conveniently forget the great things that God has done in our nation in the past. Instead of giving up the land and leaving it to Satan and his forces, we need to remember God's great works of the past and to pray that He will visit us again. This is exactly what Habakkuk did. We read in Habakkuk 3:2 - "Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make known; in wrath remember mercy." The King James Version puts it this way: "O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O, Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy." Habakkuk was living in a day of spiritual decline in Judah. Sin was reigning in the land. Judgements were beginning to fall. Yet, Habakkuk calls on the Lord to renew His great works of old and in wrath to remember mercy.
In chapter 3 of Habakkuk, the prophet looks back on God's mighty acts of the past, primarily the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Habakkuk does this in the form of a prayer. He remembers God's mighty acts how he had crushed Pharoah and saved His people and defeated the inhabitants of Canaan. For example, verses 13-15 describe the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea - "You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness, you stripped him from head to foot. With his own spear you pierced his head when his warriors stormed out to scatter us, gloating as though about to devour the wretched who were in hiding. You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters." He concludes this vision or rehearsal of God's deliverance from Egypt with these words, "I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us." God had told Habakkuk that the Babylonians would invade Judah to punish them for their sins but that in the end the Babylonians would be judged. So, Habakkuk would await patiently for God to carry out His plan. Judah would be disciplined for their sin but the nation invading them would also be punished in the end. God would carry out His purpose and Habbakuk was to wait and see what God would do. He closes out the chapter with these words,
"Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights." (3:17-19) Habakkuk leaves us with the clear teaching that God is sovereign and will carry out His plan in history. Judah would temporarily be punished but yet there was more to come. In the future she would be restored and her enemies would be defeated.
Today, we live in a time of great moral and spiritual decline in our nation. The church, itself, is weak and worldly. Our sins as a nation are piled up to heaven and even now God is pouring out His warning judgements upon us. Even greater judgments may come in the future if we do not repent. Yet, we must not forget that God has blessed this nation in the past and in times of decline, He has visited the nation with great spiritual revivals. Like Habakkuk, we must remember His works of old and in the midst of dark times we must cry out like Habakkuk, "Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy."(3:2b) The Psalmist also cries out to God in a similar way in Psalm 85:5-7 (Geneva Bible) - "Wilt thou be angry with us forever? And wilt thou prolong thy wrath from one generation to another? Wilt thou not turn again and quicken us, that thy people may rejoice in thee? Shew us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation." Today, we need to be praying for the Lord to come down among us and restore the nation as He has in times past.
There have been great revivals of the past that have swept through the nation and brought restoration. There have been three great revival periods that affected the country on a national scale. Though there have been local revivals from time to time and spiritual renewals, nothing else has happened in this nation on the scale of these three great revivals. These revivals all took place in the 18th and 19th centuries. The First Great Awakening occurred in the 1740's. The Second Great Awakening came in the opening of the 1800's and lasted for almost fifty years. The last Great Revival in America came upon the nation in 1858-59 right before the Civil War. These three great revival periods stand out in our history when God came down in a mighty way. Yet, today we hear little about these periods and secular revisionist historians hardly mention them at all. Even most Christians today know almost nothing about these great revivals of the past in our nation.
In July of 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon in Enfield, Connecticut entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God". His text was Deuteronomy 32:35 - "Their foot shall slide in due time." He had preached this same sermon in his own church in Northampton, Massachusetts shortly before and nothing unusual happened. Yet, on this day in Enfield, God came down. Like on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came as a rushing mighty wind upon the congregation. Eleazer Wheelock reported that the people who were normally "thoughtless and vain", were so changed by the time the sermon was ended they they were "bowed down with an awful conviction of their sin and danger." (Iain Murray - Jonathan Edwards, A New Biography, p. 168) Another witness reported, "We went over to Enfield where we met dear Mr. Edwards of Northampton who preached a most awakening sermon from these words, Deuteronomy 32:35, and before the sermon was done, there was a great moaning and crying out through the whole house…." (Murray, p. 169) Murray writes, "Edwards himself says nothing of the Enfield sermon although it proved, says Trumbull, 'the beginning of the same great and prevailing concern in that place with which the colony in general was visited'. There were, after all, many similar days in the year 1741. Writing, for example, of what happened at Wethersfield at the end of the same year, Wheelock reported to a friend, 'The whole town seems to be shaken….Last Monday night the Lord bowed the heavens and came down upon a large assembly in one of the parishes of the town, the whole assembly seemed alive with distress, the groans and outcries of the wounded were such that my voice could not be heard'." (Murray, p. 169) Jonathan Edwards wrote on January 21, 1742 concerning the country as a whole, "Neither earth nor hell can hinder God's work that is going on in the country. Christ gloriously triumphs at this day….By what I can understand, the work of God is greater at this day in the land than it has been at any time. O what cause have we, with exulting hearts, to agree to give glory to him who thus rides forth in the chariot of his salvation, conquering and to conquer…" (Murray, p. 171) Through the preaching of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and others, the Great Awakening spread throughout the colonies. It affected the whole nation. Thousands were brought to Christ and thousands of Christians were revived in their faith. Murray writes, "Certainly the increase in church membership was impressive but much more so was the religious and moral change which the Awakening brought to the colonies in general. Speaking of this period, the cautious Samuel Miller of Princeton had no hesitation in writing in 1837, 'A revival of religion more extensive and powerful than ever occurred before or since, was vouchsafed to the American churches.'" (Murray, p. 176)
The next great visitation of God's Spirit upon the nation happened around the year 1800 which began a revival period that lasted for as much as fifty years. This time in our history has been rightly called the Second Great Awakening. In speaking about this time of revival in the nation, Iain Murray writes, "The speed and extent with which Christian churches were revitalized and multiplied at the beginning of the nineteenth century constitutes the era before us as the most important in the whole period under consideration in these pages. More than that, the Second Great Awakening has to be one of the most significant turning-points in church history. 'One of the most remarkable and extensive revivals ever known has passed over this people', Reed and Matheson wrote in 1835. Similarly, The Biblical Repertory and Theological Review, a journal not known for exaggeration, believed that it had pleased God to make America 'the theatre of the most glorious revivals that the world has ever witnessed'." (Revival and Revivalism, p. 117-118)
The Second Great Awakening began on the frontier and spread throughout the nation. One of the roughest places in the country and especially in Kentucky was Logan County. Peter Marshall and David Manuel comment, "Logan County attracted so many murderers, horse thieves, highway robbers, and counterfeiters….that it was nicknamed 'Rogues' Harbor' by the outlaws who fled there to escape justice back east." (From Sea to Shining Sea, p. 60) In 1798, Rev. James McGready came to Rogues Harbor from the Carolinas with a powerful message from God's Word. He preached on the necessity of the new birth and he called the people of his congregations to pray for revival. He asked them to sign a covenant which read in part: "When we consider the Word and promises of a compassionate God, to the poor lost family of Adam, we find the strongest encouragement for Christians to pray in faith - to ask in the name of Jesus for the conversion of their fellow men….With these promises before us, we feel encouraged to unite our supplications to a prayer-hearing God, for the out-pouring of His Spirit, that His people may be quickened and comforted, and that our children, and sinners generally, may be converted." (From Sea to Shining Sea, p. 60-61)
Within a year, revival began to break out in his churches. The revival began in July of 1799 and continued to break out. In June of 1800, more than five hundred people showed up at one of his churches some traveling as far as a hundred miles away. Concerning the summer of 1800, McGready wrote, "The present summer has been the most glorious time that our guilty eyes have ever beheld. All the blessed displays of Almighty power and grace, all the sweet gales of the divine Spirit and soul-reviving showers of the blessings of heaven which we enjoyed before, and which we considered wonderful beyond conception, were but like a few scattering drops before the mighty rain which Jehovah has poured out like a mighty river upon this, our guilty, unworthy country…" (From Sea to Shining Sea, p. 64) The revival spread and in the summer of 1801 twenty-five thousand showed up for a meeting at Cane Ridge, Kentucky. Many were converted and Christians were renewed and there was much fruit to be seen. Dr. George Baxter of Washington Academy in Virginia after journeying to Kentucky to investigate the revival wrote, "The power with which this revival has spread, and its influence in moralizing the people, are difficult for you to conceive, and more so for me to describe….I found Kentucky, to appearance, the most moral place I had ever seen. A profane expression was hardly ever heard. A religious awe seemed to pervade the country….Never in my life have I seen more genuine marks of that humility which…looks to the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way of acceptance with God…." (From Sea to Shining Sea, p. 69)
The Second Great Awakening was not just confined to Kentucky but spread all over the nation. Churches were revived and many thousands were converted. The revival would continue for many years. As late as 1832, W. B. Sprague wrote, "The cause of revivals has hitherto been gradually and yet constantly gaining ground. The last year has been, in this respect, unparalleled in the annals of the church; and there is much in prophecy to warrant the conviction that….these effusions of the Holy Spirit will be yet more frequent and powerful." (Lectures on Revival, p. 3) This would indicate that the Second Great Awakening was still in full force even after thirty years.
The next great revival period began in 1857 and continued on through 1859. This was just before the Civil War and many who were converted in those years died in the war. It all started in New York when Jeremiah Lamphier started a prayer meeting for laymen at his church. J. Edwin Orr wrote, "Within six months, ten thousand business-men were gathering daily for prayer in New York, and within two years, a million converts had been added to the American churches." (The Second Evangelical Awakening, p. 16) Orr goes on to write, "The influence of the awakening was felt everywhere in the nation. It first moved the great cities, but it also spread through every town and village and country hamlet. It swamped schools and colleges. It affected all classes without respect to condition. A Divine influence seemed to pervade the land, and men's hearts were strangely warmed by a Power that was outpoured in unusual ways. There was no fanaticism. There was remarkable unanimity of approval among religious and secular observers alike, with scarcely a critical voice heard anywhere. It seemed to many that the fruits of Pentecost had been repeated a thousandfold. At any rate, the number of conversions reported soon reached the total of fifty thousand weekly, a figure borne out by the fact that church statistics show an average of ten thousand additions to church membership weekly for the period of two years." (p. 22) This great revival helped to prepare the nation for the war years that lay ahead.
These three great periods of revival in American history show us that God has come down in a powerful way at crucial times in our past. Now we are living in a time of great spiritual and moral decline. The nation is on the brink of judgment and yet we go on in our sinful ways as if God didn't know. The church has become weak and worldly. Is there any hope? Iain Murray writing about the conditions prevailing before the Great Evangelical Awakening of the 18th century says, "Everywhere in the English-speaking world, including Wales and the American colonies, a similar situation prevailed: formalism, coldness of heart, indifference to religion, and worldliness holding a general sway over he populations." (Puritan Hope, p. 112) Then all of a sudden things changed and God poured out His Spirit in a mighty way on America and Britain. It can all happen again. We must cry with Habakkuk, "Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy."
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless indicated otherwise
Marshall, David and Manuel, David. From Sea to Shining Sea, Fleming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan, New Jersey, 1986.
Murray, Iain. Jonathan Edwards - A New Biography. The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1987.
Murray, Iain. Revival & Revivalism - The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1994.
Murray, Iain. The Puritan Hope. The Banner of Truth Trust, London, 1971.
Orr, J. Edwin. The Second Evangelical Awakening, Marshall, Morgan @ Scott, London, 1955.
Sprague, W. B. Lectures on Revivals, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh, 1958. (First published, 1832)