UPDATE- I have found the original source and as it is only now availble on the wayback machine include a copy here.
The Doctor thinks we are crazy if we reject the notion of God intervenng directly in human history today. This quote makes me want to pray more for him to stretch out his hand and act:
‘What is being taught in Christendom today is this, that since we have got the New Testament canon, since we have got the Word now, we do not need these direct interventions, we do not need God to speak to us directly, as He spoke to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob and these patriarchs. We have got the Word now! Is this superior to the direct speech of God? I think we are mad! There is no other word for this. We are mad.
We are meant to be in a superior position to every Old Testament saint because of what has happened in our blessed Lord and Saviour! But this teaching would have us believe that we do not need this direct contact with God now, and that all that has come to an end since the formation of the New Testament canon…….remember that the great point of the whole teaching of the Bible, of all you can deduce from it, is to tell you that God is a God who acts. And our only hope this afternoon is that this is still true. He has not finished acting. He is going on….There is only one hope. That is that He is still the living and the acting God. Christ is at His right hand, and He is seated and waiting until His enemies should be made His footstool…….
I have been defending the faith – and people have praised me for doing it. Rubbish! What a miserable failure it has all been! From now on I am determined to do one thing only, and that is to give God no rest nor peace, until He does prove Himself and show Himself. I have expended so much energy in reasoning with the people about this faith. We have got to do that, it is part of preaching. But if we stop at that it will avail us nothing. But what I now am concerned about and I am concentrating on is this – asking God to show Himself, to do something,to give this touch, this manifestation of power. Nothing else will even make people listen to us. ….Nothing is going to call the attention of the masses of the people to the truth of this faith save a great phenomenon, such as the phenomenon of the day of Pentecost, the phenomenon of any one of the great revivals, the phenomenon of a single changed life. This is something that always arrests attention, maybe curiosity – what does it matter? The people come and listen……
We must not be content until we have had some manifestation of the activity of God. We must concentrate on this. This is my plea, that we concentrate on this, because it is the great message of the Bible……. Let us put it like this: Do we really believe that God can still act? That is the question; that is the ultimate challenge. Or have we, for theological or some other reasons, excluded the very possibility? Here is the crucial matter. Do we individually and personally really believe that God still acts, can act and will act – in individuals, in groups of individuals, in churches, localities, perhaps even in countries? Do we believe that He is as capable of doing that today as He was in ancient times – the Old Testament, the New Testament times, the book of Acts, Protestant Reformation, Puritans, Methodist Awakening, 1859, 1904-5? Do we really believe that He can still do it? You see, it is ultimately what you believe about God. If He is the great Jehovah – I am that I am, I am that I shall be, unchanged, unchanging, unchangeable, the everlasting and eternal God – well, He can still do it.
=====COPY OF ORIGINAL SOURCE AVAILABLE ONLINE HERE=============
The Evangelical Magazine of Wales April 1981
THE LIVING GOD
D. MARTYN LLOYD-JONES
Each year since its inception in 1955 the Doctor attended the annual Ministers’ Conference unless prevented from so doing by ill-health or absence from the country. He would chair the open discussions and bring the Conference to a memorable conclusion with a closing address. Here is one such address, delivered in June 1971, but still relevant.
I THANK God for this privilege of being allowed to do this year by year. I always feel it is a great responsibility, and yet it is, as I say, a very great pleasure and I am deeply grateful.
The remark that I want to try to give to you is in many ways a continuation of what we were discussing together on Monday night. The emphasis was that our troubles are mainly due to the fact that there is a lack of life amongst us. Ultimately all our problems can more or less be traced back to that – a lack of life. Now I want to go on from there to ask the question, Why is there this lack of life? Or at any rate, what is the main cause? If I were asked to name one cause, what is it? And I for myself would not hesitate to answer that it is due to a lack of a realization that God is a living God. We are not only in trouble about life in ourselves; we seem at times to forget that there is life in God.
It is this neglect of the living God – the God who acts. That is why I asked our friend Mr. Swann to read that portion of Scripture to us (Acts 13:24-42), because it is one of the many summaries that you have in the Bible that brings out this great point. Have you noticed how that so frequently in the Old Testament and in the New, when there is a crisis, when there is trouble, what the man of God does is to give a review of history. The psalmist does it constantly. You have several instances of it here in this book: Stephen did it in his great defence; Paul does it here in Antioch in Pisidia. A review, a grand review! Why? Just because it brings out the main element.
I feel that, as in the secular world, our greatest danger in the spiritual world is to miss the wood because of the trees. This is a perpetual thing. We are obsessed by details, over-concerned about particulars, and our greatest danger of all is to miss this whole, this grand whole, because of our inordinate preoccupation with these particular trees. I feel that at a time like this, and especially in these conditions, this is perhaps our greatest need. Our discussion which has just finished is, I think, an instance of it. It is inevitable. We cannot help this because we are in the flesh still. But I believe we have to be very careful about it, especially because it ultimately leads to the position in which (though it sounds almost incredible) our greatest sin of all is to fail to realize that God is an acting God – He does act.
Our whole position depends upon that: God’s action in the past, God’s action in the present, God’s action in the future. Now I believe it is important that we should analyse for a moment the ways in which we have tended to forget that God is a God who acts. One, of course, is the danger always of religion. Religion is generally the greatest enemy of the Christian faith. To be a religious person is one of the greatest hindrances to becoming a Christian, because it gives certain satisfactions. And we know today that, speaking of the churches in general in this land, there are congregations with an alarming percentage of people who are religious but who are not Christians. Religion is dangerous, you see, for this reason, that it is always something that puts emphasis upon our activities, our practices – we practise religion. And thereby we tend to think that it is entirely a matter of our activities, our conduct and behaviour, with the result that God is nearly always forgotten – taken for granted, of course, but therefore forgotten.
Then another cause of this – which comes a little bit nearer to us, speaking as evangelical brethren – is that we become so immersed in our activities that we do not stop to think what we are doing, or why we are doing it.
Professionalism is the greatest curse of the minister. And although we are born-again men, we are ever in danger of becoming professionals. We are involved in preparation of sermons and preaching them. We are announced to do it; it is a part of the machine. And we have pastoral duties, funerals to take and marriages. The pastor is a very busy man – and this has to go on and on and on. As I think I was saying on Monday night in that story about Wilberforce, one of the easiest things of all is for a man to forget his own soul and to forget God. Of course, he still gets on his knees mechanically and says his prayers, but sometimes he stops at that. Even praying is part of a routine, part of the thing to do, and there is no realization of the living God, this God who acts. So then, that is one of the causes why we are constantly falling into this particular error.
Another one, of course, and a very prolific one, is false evangelism. We are all familiar with this; we have all seen it, perhaps taken part in it. When I talk about false evangelism, I mean that type of evangelism which conceives of itself primarily as a matter of organizing a campaign. The church is losing numbers. What can we do? We can hold a campaign. You decide who to have as your missioner, and so on. The whole outlook is one of activity – what can we do? We must have a campaign. Or if you are eager young people, it is a part of the outlook and the routine, and certain students go on a campaign and decide which town to attack and to evangelize, and so on. That is the mentality. This is the way in which the thinking takes place.
NOW … AND THEN
Now, you know, we have dealt with this many times in this conference. But there has been a very great departure here from what used to be the custom and the habit of our fathers. I do not mean our immediate fathers; I mean our great-great-great-grandfathers. You have to go back a long time. You see, when things were not going well in the churches, they reacted in a very different way. What they did was to say: ‘What’s the matter? Why has God left us? Have we offended Him? There must be some cause for this.’ So the minister and deacons would talk together and they would decide to call a day of prayer and humiliation. Humiliation was the word used – prayer and humiliation, sometimes accompanied by fasting. And they would tell God. They felt that they had wounded Him and hurt Him, that He was obviously turning His back on them like a wayfaring man. They would acknowledge and confess their sins and they would plead with Him to come back. That was their way. But, you see, that has gone, and it has been missing from the background of most who are troubled here today. Many of us, most of us by now probably, have seen the error of all this. But that has been our background, and these things tend to go on influencing us even though we have seen they are wrong.
Well then, what makes it so terrible is this, that when these arrangements are made and the organizations are set up and they have their committees to deal with this and that, generally, towards the end of the meeting, somebody will say: ‘Ah well, of course, we must have some prayer backing.’ Prayer backing! God as an afterthought! So you set up a subcommittee for prayer. And it is generally an afterthought, the last thing. You see, the whole approach is in terms of what man can do and human activity. God is only remembered almost casually at the end, and in a perfunctory manner. Then in the actual carrying out of the evangelism, the same thing comes in. The controlling idea has been this. Here is a statement made of the gospel. The people are asked to believe this and to receive it. And if they do so, they are told they are Christians. They take a decision, or they sign a form or a book or do something else. The whole emphasis again is, you see, upon man, upon man’s response. A number of doctrines are put before him, and he is asked to receive them and to accept them and to believe them, and he is assured that if he does so he is a Christian. Now we know that that is Roman Catholic teaching. Their view is that what a man does is to accept the body of doctrine and of dogma that is put before him.
It seems to me that evangelicals in this country, speaking very generally, have been doing precisely the same thing. It is put not so much in terms of ‘coming into contact with the living God’, as of accepting a number of propositions. If you accept those, you are a Christian. ‘Do you believe these things? If you do, all is well.’ Now again, you see, the departure from the old evangelicalism is quite alarming. There you read, in biographies and church histories and so on, of men coming under conviction of sin, and perhaps it would last a long time. John Bunyan was eighteen months in tremendous agony of soul, searching for God. Now I have often heard evangelical people saying today that this was all wrong, that these people were ignorant. Why didn’t they show the man salvation? Why eighteen months of repentance? He could be put right quite simply. Some evangelical organizations could put this man right in a matter of a few seconds. There is a verse – and a verse – one, two, three, four, five – got it all! But you see, the point then was that men conceived of salvation as coming to a knowledge of the living God, not accepting a number of propositions. So while the emphasis is on accepting a number of propositions or a statement, God is really forgotten. I know they all believe in God, they may make statements about God. But what is never brought out is that the essence of this matter is a meeting with God – doing business with God.
The old preachers, you see, brought this out very well. I remember having a most excellent illustration of this in my first year in the ministry in 1927. I had the great privilege of preaching on that occasion with a great old preacher in South Wales, called W. E. Prytherch. We were preaching together at Pyle in Glamorgan, and I had to preach first. The old man went up after me. He would not preach, but he said that I had stated the gospel and that he had a function to perform. And he said that he was just a little agent representing a great master, the Lord Jesus Christ. Now what he told the people was this – he didn’t simply ask the people to believe what I had been saying-he put it like this: ‘This is what I am here for-to tell you that Jesus Christ is in the office now. Come and see Him – the Person – go to your office.’ With a break in his voice – and what an extraordinary voice it was – he said, ‘Go to your office.’ Well, it was the personal encounter. That is the thing that I am concerned to emphasize. We, in our false views of evangelism, tend to put our stress upon the acceptance of a number of statements, and we are then incidentally forgetting God, and forgetting that the main thing is the activity of God.
But then, coming still nearer to our subject, I have a terrible feeling – and it is terrible, because I am one of the chiefest of the sinners – that nothing has so caused us to forget God and to forget the living, acting God, as our concern about apologetics. We have regarded ourselves as the defenders, the guardians, the custodians of the faith. We are that of course, but I am afraid that we have often stopped at that, and we have given the whole of our time and energy to defending the faith, defending the propositions- and forgetting God. Now you see, it is all a question of balance. We have got to indulge in apologetics. But what worries me, as I look back across my life, is that I have probably given too much time and attention to apologetics. Thirty years ago it was still more necessary than now. It is always necessary, but then we were still fighting the old liberalism up to a point. And quite unconsciously one could be found a sort of an apologete and no more. God was really forgotten, and one got engaged in endless discussions and debates. You were defending the truth at this point and that point, and safeguarding the whole position, steadying the
ark and putting your hands on it to steady it – forgetting God! I am quite sure of it, and I plead guilty to it myself. One often indulged in these apologetics in a more or less carnal manner, and one enjoyed scoring points off the other side. But the terrible thing was that God tended to be forgotten. So let us be very careful about this matter of apologetics. Let us keep it in its place. I am almost coming to the conclusion that the only place that apologetics should have is briefly in an introduction to a sermon. If you spend the whole of your time on apologetics, you are really not preaching the gospel. Start with it if you like and just do a little demolition work; but do not pat yourself on the back and go home and have a wonderful meal because you have just pulled down a rotten building! The question is: Have you put anything up? The danger of being negative! And the danger of feeling ‘It’s our gospel, my church I am protecting, my interests’ – and forgetting God!
Or then, still more recently, something else has been happening, which has aggravated this whole tendency to forget God. And this is the new and increasing preoccupation with what is called in general ‘the application of the gospel’. Now we are creatures, you see, of reaction. The charge that has been brought for many years against those of us who are evangelical is that we have taken no interest in social and political conditions. This has been the constant attack against us. All our interest was in our little personal souls and their salvation – forgetting the world. We have not had a social emphasis. This attack, of course, was made for years and years upon us. I remember very well in about 1947 reading a book by Dr. Carl Henry, soon afterwards the editor of Christianity Today. He wrote a book with the title of The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, and I read this with great interest. He tells us that the lost note in Fundamentalism was this lack of social interest. I remember feeling at the time what a serious misjudgment this was, what an utterly false diagnosis. He was dealing with American Fundamentalism; and he said the missing note in American Fundamentalism was this lack of a social interest. I remember writing to him at the time and discussing it with him afterwards and venturing to suggest to him that he had missed the point, and that the real trouble – the missing note in American Fundamentalism as I have met it and known it – was a lack of spirituality, a carnality, professional evangelism, professional apologetics. That was the thing that appalled me when I first met American Fundamentalism – the sheer carnality of the outlook. They were more like business men than Christian men.
Well now, you see, the more intellectual men began to react to this criticism, and they said: ‘We must bring in this note!’ And they have been doing so ever since. So that now it is almost the controlling idea – Christian philosophy! You know, it has been going for a long time in Holland. It was started there by Professors Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven. And this is a teaching which talks about Christian politics, Christian medicine, even Christian mathematics, Christian everything! It is this idea of law and of spheres, and so on. Well now, this has come down in many, many different ways, sometimes almost purely philosophically. I remember attending a conference in the South of France in 1953. And, to be honest and to be helpful, I have got to say this: I had to keep on reminding myself that I was in a Christian conference! I had to remind myself of it, because all the papers were entirely philosophical, and the arguments and disputations were almost entirely on that level. There was virtually no prayer at all. It was all a question of papers and of discussions, but it was a Calvinistic conference.
This is the thing that has now come in like a flood into evangelicalism, particularly in England. Everybody is talking about the Christian attitude towards this and that. I happened the other day casually to pick up the syllabus of a well-known Christian organization, and I noticed that the next two meetings are to be on these things. The first is to be on ‘The Christian attitude towards strikes’, and the other on ‘The Christian attitude towards art’. You see, this is the thing! We have been missing this. And some of them press it so far as to say that if you want to evangelize the modern world, you have got to know something about politics, you have got to know something about art, you have got to know something about literature, you have got to know something about novels, the modern drama, the modern films – and so on. The argument is that you cannot evangelize the modern man if you cannot speak to him in his own idiom, if you do not know how he thinks. So you have got to familiarize yourself with these things. I do not know that I have told you here of an experience I had about fifteen months ago. I was preaching in a certain place, and a young man and his wife, who were going to be missionaries, were very kindly driving me there and back. They belonged to the church where I was preaching. As we were going home that night, the wife, sitting at the back, suddenly burst upon me, ‘Could I ask you a question?’ I said, ‘Yes, what is it?’ ‘Now’, she said, ‘what’s your view about reading modern novels?’ I was somewhat taken aback, because I knew that she was in a well-known missionary training college. I said, ‘Why do you ask that question?’ She replied: ‘I am in great trouble about it in my college. I am actually being persecuted.’ ‘What’s this?’ I asked. ‘Well’, she said, ‘one of our lecturers told us that if we want to evangelize the modern man, we really must know what he reads, what he is talking about, the way in which he thinks.’ So now, one of the first things she has to do is to read modern novels. The lecturer had commanded certain novels. ‘I read one of them’, said this candidate. ‘You know, it did me such harm, and it made me so unhappy and so miserable that I decided I should not read another one. I could see no purpose in it and it did me great harm. I refuse to read any more.’ She added ‘I am now being attacked by my fellow-students and by the lecturers. They say I am not doing my duty, and I cannot be an effective missionary’ – because she was not reading these modern novels! I said: ‘Didn’t they tell you that you ought to spend three to six months in a public house every night, so that you could evangelize drunkards? Did they tell you that?’ No, they had not told her that! I said: ‘They should have – to be logical – they should have!’ – But this is the attitude. What does it mean? It means that God is forgotten. You see, we do it all.
Now, the extraordinary thing about this is that this teaching has come from the Free University of Amsterdam, the great Calvinistic College, founded by Abraham Kuyper in 1880, the great bulwark of the Reformed Faith. That is where it has come from. This is what is so interesting. Calvinism, which has always exalted the sovereignty and the glory of God, has now become thoroughly Arminian in this matter! God is more or less forgotten. And that outlook I met in America two years ago, where even in well-known seminaries they on the whole did not believe in preaching any more. What you do is this: you go to people’s houses and you start talking politics to them, and you show the defects in their politics and try to introduce them to Christian politics. Or, if they are interested in art, you see paintings on the wall and you start talking about modern art; you expose the wrongfulness of modern art and its background, and then you tell them about Christian art – and so on. That is the way in which you evangelize. The declaration, such as Paul made in Athens – ‘whom ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you!’ – that is out. You do not declare Him with a dialogue! You hold a discussion. So you see, in this way God, I maintain, is being forgotten. The whole emphasis is upon our trying, our becoming well-versed in these various disciplines and interests and a
spects of culture today. This is the way. Brethren, I maintain that this is a denial of God – the living, acting God and His sovereignty in all these matters!
I must go one further step. I believe the same thing is happening in the realm of what I call a ‘theological scholasticism’ which is beginning to manifest itself amongst us – a ‘theological scholasticism’ in which we talk about the doctrines of grace instead of talking about God, the doctrines of salvation instead of Christ, the living Saviour. I believe that this is a new form of Deism. I could convict so many today of a new Deism. You know what that means. It took this form at the beginning of the eighteenth century: God was regarded as the great Creator, described as a great watch-maker. He made the watch, He wound it up, and then He put it down and He has no more to do with it. That was their way, you see, of denying miracles. Miracles are nonsense, they said. God does not interfere. He has made the watch, He has put it down, and on it goes; He does not interfere with it. Deism! Well, I suspect a new kind of Deism is with us. I was referring to it partly yesterday in talking about miraculous healing and miracles and things of that kind. On some sort of theological and biblical grounds, as they would claim, they say that miracles cannot happen today, because all this ended with the Apostles. As if to say, ‘Oh yes, God acted then; but He hasn’t acted like that since.’ He is shut out, on a priori grounds, on what they call biblical and theoretical grounds. They say, ‘God does not act like that now.’ They are shutting Him out. Is not that Deism? Who has given them the right to say this? The Scriptures do not say it, but they are saying it.
The fact is, of course, that there are many such people, who not only will not admit the possibility of miracles today, or at any time since the apostolic era, but equally reject the possibility of demon-possession today. They are dismissing it all as psychological. They will not grant that it is possible for a person to be demon-possessed today. They admit, of course, that it happened in New Testament times; but, they say, not now. I am not imagining all this. I have been involved in discussions about it, and I know that this is their standpoint. They will not accept the possibility of demon-possession today. It is all explained in terms of psychology. This is as if to say, you see, that because, on their understanding of it, God had decided at the end of the apostolic era that He would not interfere any more in a miraculous manner, the devil also very kindly and very politely said, ‘Well, I will not act either.’ That is what it comes to. You see, the thing is monstrous and ridiculous. In other words, these men have worked themselves into a theoretical and academical theological position in which God is not allowed to act, and the demons are not allowed to act; there is no spiritual activity. What is Christianity? Well, Christianity is an acceptance of a body of doctrine, and a discussion of this and a defence of this, and an attempt to understand it more and more.
Now I say that this shuts out God. The fact that men talk a lot about God does not mean that they really believe in the living God. They are talking about God; they are making statements about God; they are experts on the attributes of God; but they seem to shut out the living God, God Himself, the acting God. By their theories, He is not allowed to act. This is Deism; it is a kind of theological scholasticism. And this is the terrifying thing, that you can be talking about God and His attributes and so on, and yet have no contact with and no personal knowledge of this living God. I am not exaggerating, brethren, I am speaking solemn truths and facts. You can find some of the highest and most orthodox seminaries and collections of Christian men, reformed, Calvinistic, orthodox up to the latest dot, and the guardians of this faith, and some of them never have a prayer meeting and never talk about prayer. As I say, in their actual teaching they exclude the activity of the spiritual realm directly and immediately today, whether from the side of the Holy Spirit, or from the side of the evil spirits.
REVIVAL – DANGEROUS?
In the same way, of course, they are not interested in the whole notion of revival. They never talk about it; in fact, they dislike it. Revivals are regarded as enthusiasm, as something excessive, dangerous, ecstatic. They say this is not what is needed. We have received everything, we are born again, we have the Scriptures. What we need to do is just to go on to understand the Scriptures more deeply. They not only do not expect the Spirit to come upon them, but they do not like teaching which suggests that He can come, and that we should pray for Him to come. All this is disliked. Now I am not imagining this. I could prove this to you. Those of you who have the three volumes of Charles Hodge on Theology, observe the amount of space which he gives to the Holy Spirit in those three volumes; observe the amount of space he gives to revival. You can do the same with the works of Warfield. I say this with profound regret, because of my debt to these men. But I think that was the great weakness in their whole position, as it was still more in the case of Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck of Holland. The result is that today institutions that were founded as bastions of orthodoxy have become hotbeds of modernism and liberalism. And I would attribute it entirely to this, that it had become theoretical, intellectual; it has become an intellectualism, God is shut out, even though they are always talking about God. This is the tragedy of the situation, and it reminds us of the subtlety of the devil.
This further shows itself in this way, in an antipietistic attitude. Pietism has become a term of abuse by now. When you talk about the subjective element and the experimental, it is dismissed as Pietism. It has been a word of taboo for years on the Continent, and in Holland in particular, where they call it either Pietism or Methodism. They dislike it; they show bitterness with respect to it. It is astounding that many who claim to be the most biblical of all men should react even with temper and with an element of violence against what they call Pietism. They dislike the eighteenth century, and so on.
GOD WHO ACTS
Well now, these are the ways, I think, in which unconsciously so many of us have been forgetting God, the living God. Why is this so wrong? There is only one answer: because it contradicts the main message of the Bible. The main message of the Bible is to tell us about the activity of God. What did the men filled with the Holy Spirit talk about on the day of Pentecost? Well, fortunately we have the evidence of the people who were there. These men ‘were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?’ Then the list of the people follows – ‘. . . Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues’ – speak what? the wonderful experiences we have had? No, – 0’the wonderful works of God.’ That is the theme of the whole Bible. The Bible is the record of the wonderful works of God. It is not a textbook of theology primarily; it is a history book, the history of the wonderful works of God. The Bible is really the history of the salvation of God. In order to be that, it has to start with the beginning: the creation and so on. But its real message is God’s activity in the redemption of a fallen human race. Is not that its message from beginning to end? ‘In the beginning God created.’ How can we possibly go wrong after that? But we do – we forget that it all begins with God.
Then the story goes on. Every time man acts, he always does something wrong, doesn’t he? He sins, he rebels, he goes astray in his cleverness, and so on. And the whole thing had ended, were it not that God comes in. Isn’t it amazing how we can miss this? Adam an
d Eve listen to the devil, you see, and they sin, and they immediately realize they have done wrong, and they are alarmed and they are troubled, and they go and hide. God comes down – God coming down! – in the cool of the evening, and He shouts, ‘Adam, where art thou?’ And out they come, trembling. God – God coming down! This is a summary of the whole message. I wish I had the time just to take you through the whole thing again. You say that we know all this. I know. The people to whom the psalmist recapitulated the history, they knew. And you remember what old Peter says in his second Epistle. He is going to die, he says. What is he going to do with them? Is he giving them a new message? No. He is reminding them of the things they already know. Why? Well, because although they knew them, they had forgotten them. The greatest need in the Church and the greatest need of ourselves is to be reminded of what we know. ‘Though you know them’, says Peter, ‘and are established in the present truth’ – and he keeps on repeating this. Yea, he says, while I am in this tabernacle I am to go on reminding you. Is it not tragic that we need to be reminded of the central thing? We are experts on details, but we have forgotten the centre. So we need to be reminded of all this.
The Bible is full of it. God did not stop acting when He came down to the garden of Eden. He went on acting. The tower of Babel, the flood before the tower of Babel, the call of Abraham – this is God acting, God interfering, God erupting into it all, choosing men, speaking, giving them a message – and on you could go. Go through it all. Those patriarchs: Jacob – that night and the ladder, the living God, the house of God, and the great vision. Are you asking me to believe that Jacob was in a superior position to us? Are you in the position in which you say, ‘I wish I was living in the times of Jacob, and that I could have a direct contact with God’? That is what is being taught, you know. What is being taught in Christendom today is this, that since we have got the New Testament canon, since we have got the Word now, we do not need these direct interventions, we do not need God to speak to us directly, as He spoke to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob and these patriarchs. We have got the Word now! Is this superior to the direct speech of God? I think we are mad! There is no other word for this. We are mad’ We are meant to be in a superior position to every Old Testament saint because of what has happened in our blessed Lord and Saviour! But this teaching would have us believe that we do not need this direct contact with God now, and that all that has come to an end since the formation of the New Testament canon.
Well, go on, read about Moses, read about Joshua and about David. Go and read about the messages as they came to the great prophets. And all is God raising up, God acting, God interfering. Then, ‘when the fulness of the time was come, God send forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.’ And the whole time we have the law, the finger of God. ‘The words I speak, I speak not of myself’. We see His utter dependence upon His Father. He is repeating the message that has been given to Him. He puts His whole emphasis upon the activity of God. This is a part of His self-humiliation. He does not empty Himself of His Godhead, but He empties Himself of some of the prerogatives, and He is living as a man, and He is dependent. That is why He used to pray so much. ‘Our Lord had a greater need of prayer than you and I. We can get on much better without prayer than our Lord could!’ That is our position! Why? ‘We have got the New Testament canon – work out the theology! We do not need this now! We have got the truth; it is understanding of the truth that matters’, we say! So we do not pray. So we do not know God!
Well, here it is. This is what I want to emphasize. Our Lord has given this teaching, and He returned to heaven. Has God stopped acting? Read the book of Acts. And it is a book of acts, as has been pointed out; not so much the acts of the Apostles, as the acts of the Holy Spirit, the acts of the risen Lord through these Apostles. That is what they keep on saying. When the people came to Peter and John in the temple and were ready to worship them, they said, ‘It is not we. It is His Name, – through the power that is in His Name – that has done this wonderful thing.’ All along they pointed people to Him. It is the activity of the risen Lord. Luke at the very introduction speaks of the things which ‘Jesus began to do’. He is still doing them! The same Jesus! He has gone back, but He has not stopped acting. They are the acts of the living Lord and on they go. You find it running right through this book of the Acts of the Apostles. Then you get your Epistles with their great expositions. But does this mean that because we have got it all recorded, He has stopped acting? I suggest that that is to deny the message of the Scriptures. He goes on acting. He has not stopped acting. As He did not stop when He rose from the dead, and He did not stop when the Spirit was sent, still less has He stopped because we have got the New Testament canon.
He has gone on acting subsequently throughout the running centuries. We would not be here this afternoon, if it were not for the living and the acting God. The study of the Scriptures alone would have finished the Church long ago. Your great experts your orthodox men – it was dead – and it would have died! And what has kept the Church alive has been God acting in revival. John the Baptist was not the last man that God called – of course not! The Apostles were not the last men that Christ called. He has been calling men ever since. Brethren, He has called us. It is because of the acting God that we are where we are and what we are. But you see it, of course, supremely in this matter of revival. Jonathan Edwards is surely right when he says, that God’s main method throughout the centuries of adding to the Church and adding to the number of the elect has been through revival. I think that this is true. I think the history of the Church proves this. That has been God’s main method: the hundreds, the thousands are brought in in revival. There are conversions in the intervening periods, but the great additions – the majority of the people when the final number of the elect is made up and they are counted – you will find that the vast majority have come in during periods of revival. And revival is nothing but the direct activity of God the Holy Spirit, the mighty rushing wind, the Spirit coming down, the Spirit being poured out. It is Christ who does this. He is the One who baptizes with the Spirit. He pours out His Spirit. And this, I say, is what is meant by revival.
Now it sounds as if I am discouraging the study of the Scriptures and theology, which I am not. All I am saying is that if we stop at that, we are excluding God. Do that for all you are worth, but on top of it all, remember that the great point of the whole teaching of the Bible, of all you can deduce from it, is to tell you that God is a God who acts. And our only hope this afternoon is that this is still true. He has not finished acting. He is going on. The number of the elect is going to be made up; all Israel is going to be gathered in. What comfort have you got as you face your modern humanism and materialism, and the various philosophies, and communism, and everything that is so much against us? Is your study in the Scriptures, is your apologetics going to deal with this? If you believe that, you are the biggest fool in Christendom! There is only one hope. That is that He is still the living and the acting God. Christ is at His right hand, and He is seated and waiting until His enemies should be made His footstool. God knows when the end is coming. He alone knows it, but it is coming. It is coming! There is a day coming when Christ will come back conquering and to conquer. Let the world do what it will. Let hell be let loose. It will make no difference; there is no
thing that ‘can make Him His purpose forgo’ – thank God! -‘nor sever my soul from His love.’
OUR SUPREME NEED
Very well, what I deduce from all this is this, that our supreme need is the realization of the fact that God is alive, and that God acts and is still acting. History, of course, is so full of this. We are not the first to be fools and to go astray. Remember what they did at the end of the seventeenth, at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Things were very bad then much as they are now. Robert Boyle felt that something must be done about it. What did he do? Oh appoint a lectureship; we are going to do it, you see! Lectureship! We are going to defend the truth. Bishop Butler – Butler’s Analogy! What is he doing? Oh, defending the truth against the rationalists, Cambridge Platonists, the rationalists and the deists. Defending the truth! Wonderful – great men – great scholars! They are going to defend the truth of God! But do you remember the story of what happened? It was George 1, I think, who asked somebody one day about Bishop Butler: ‘Is Bishop Butler dead?’ ‘No, Sir’, said this man, ‘he is not dead, but he is buried somewhere in the country.’ What a good commentary that is on so much of our scholarship! Very learned, very wonderful, but buried in the country! It did not make the slightest difference. But something did make a difference. What was it? God laid His hand on George Whitefield and something happened. Is it not obvious? Now, do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that we do not need apologetics; but it has a very small place – keep it there. This is the thing. What the Boyle lectures and Butler’s Analogy did not do and cannot do, nor any other such similar endeavour, God comes in and does. He acts – the living God. He is still the same. And He has done it even since that eighteenth century.
‘PROVE ME NOW’
And now it seems to me that it comes to this. I feel that the message that God is giving to us in this conference is in the words of Malachi. I believe He is saying this to us: ‘Prove me now’ – ‘Prove Me. I am there; you prove Me.’ This has become a tremendous conviction with me. Maybe because I am facing my last years and I have been defending the faith – and people have praised me for doing it. Rubbish! What a miserable failure it has all been! From now on I am determined to do one thing only, and that is to give God no rest nor peace, until He does prove Himself and show Himself. I have expended so much energy in reasoning with the people about this faith. We have got to do that, it is part of preaching. But if we stop at that it will avail us nothing. But what I now am concerned about and I am concentrating on is this – asking God to show Himself, to do something, to give this touch, this manifestation of power. Nothing else will even make people listen to us. See, you bring out your apologetics; the others will answer. Every time you say something, you may say ‘This is unanswerable; nobody can turn this back.’ The reviewers wholly dismiss you, say you are a fool, you are ignorant, you do not know what you are talking about. That is what they will say. I can tell you now. You write your books. That is what you will get. I have had it! You see, one scholar . . . and another answers him. And they are satisfied. No, no! Nothing is going to call the attention of the masses of the people to the truth of this faith save a great phenomenon, such as the phenomenon of the day of Pentecost, the phenomenon of any one of the great revivals, the phenomenon of a single changed life. This is something that always arrests attention, maybe curiosity – what does it matter? The people come and listen. And the preacher has his opportunity. Nothing will avail us save this manifestation of the activity of God.
My plea, therefore, is simply this – and with this I close – that we keep this ever in the forefront of all our thinking, all our preparation of sermons, and all our praying in particular. We must not be content until we have had some manifestation of the activity of God. We must concentrate on this. This is my plea, that we concentrate on this, because it is the great message of the Bible, so substantiated by the lessons of history. That is obviously today the only thing that gives us any hope as we face the future. And God seems to be saying that to us. ‘Prove Me now. Try Me. Risk your everything on Me. Be fools for My sake. Cast yourselves utterly upon this belief.’ Let us put it like this: Do we really believe that God can still act? That is the question; that is the ultimate challenge. Or have we, for theological or some other reasons, excluded the very possibility? Here is the crucial matter. Do we individually and personally really believe that God still acts, can act and will act – in individuals, in groups of individuals, in churches, localities, perhaps even in countries? Do we believe that He is as capable of doing that today as He was in ancient times – the Old Testament, the New Testament times, the book of Acts, Protestant Reformation, Puritans, Methodist Awakening, 1859, 1904-5? Do we really believe that He can still do it? You see, it is ultimately what you believe about God. If He is the great Jehovah – I am that I am, I am that I shall be, unchanged, unchanging, unchangeable, the everlasting and eternal God – well, He can still do it. And I believe He is saying to us. ‘Try Me. Prove Me. Cast your all upon Me. Go on until I have given you the proof you desire.’ Then we will forget the trees for a while, and we will see the grand power of our God, and God’s gracious and eternal purposes in His dear Son. We will first be humbled, and I think many of us will feel that we have never been Christians at all. It will not be true; we are. But what we will experience then will be so great and glorious, so overwhelming, that we will scarcely believe that we have ever known anything about these things at all. May that day soon come!
* The Evangelical Magazine of Wales