God Coming Down To His People
By John R. W. Stott
One of the greatest passages about the spiritual renewal of the people of God is Second Chronicles 7:1-3. I understand that in times of spiritual barrenness this passage has been a challenge and an encouragement to Christians to pray for revival. It was a favorite text of Evan Roberts, and was often quoted during the Welsh Awakening of 1904-05, of which he was the divinely appointed leader. Certainly these verses are calculated to clarify our vision and purify our ideals as we look forward to the future:
“Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices; and the glory of the Lord filled the house. And the priests could not enter into the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house. And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the Lord, saying, For He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever.”
This passage describes what happened at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem which King David had planned and King Solomon built. The elders of Israel had assembled. The ark of the covenant had been carried by priests and Levites into its place. Singers and trumpeters had united in a chorus of praise to God. King Solomon had prayed his mighty prayer of dedication, and when he had ended, “fire came down from heaven…and the glory of the Lord...filled the Lord’s house.”
The Character of Revival
The essence of what took place on this occasion is described twice. “The glory of the Lord filled the house” (v. 1), “The glory of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house” (v. 2). That is revival – the glory of the Lord filling the house of God, and the people of God made unmistakably aware that God is in their midst.
The glory of God is the manifested presence of God, so that when the glory of God filled the house, the people were overwhelmed by a sense of His presence. The glory of the Lord had settled on Mount Sinai when Moses went up to receive the law. The children of Israel were guided out of Egypt and across the barren desert by this same glory, seen as a pillar of cloud by day, and fire by night. But when the people entered the Promised Land, they fell into idolatry and immorality, and the glory departed from them. But now, at the dedication of the temple, the glory of God visibly returned. It was so evident, and so tremendous, that “the priests could not enter into the house of the Lord, because the glory of the Lord had filled the Lord’s house” (v. 2).
This is the character of revival, whenever God has sent it to the church. It is an inescapable, overwhelming knowledge of His overshadowing presence.
Is this not what we need today? In the days of the church’s vigorous youth, the presence and activity of the Spirit of God were evident. The signs of His coming and of His power were both seen and heard, not just in supernatural phenomena but in moral and spiritual works, not just in the rushing wind and the tongues of fire, but in holiness, love and boldness.
They walked in the fear of the Lord. They had such a vivid sense of God’s presence that they lived in awe of Him. Their worship was reverent, humble and spiritual. They hungered and thirsted after righteousness. They pursued holiness with earnest intent.
They walked in love. This was a clear sign of the Holy Spirit’s power, because love is the first fruit of the Spirit, and “he that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:8).
There is no doubt that the early Christians loved each other; they were taught by God to do so. And if the Holy Spirit filled the church with the power of revival, we would learn to love each other more. We would be more eager for fellowship, seeking out the brethren, engaging in spiritual conversations with them, and meeting in groups spontaneously. We would befriend the lonely and the friendless, entertain strangers, care for the needy, and shepherd the babes in Christ. We would stop backbiting and censorious criticism. Jealousies, rivalries and resentments would shrivel up in the fire of God’s presence. We would be less self-assertive and self-pitying, less anxious for recognition, less prickly and less easily offended. We would be more sympathetic, tolerant and gracious. We would care more for the welfare of others than for our own.
The Conditions of Revival
“When Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices.” The two conditions of this manifestation of God’s presence were the offering of prayer and of sacrifice. It was when the sacrifices had been laid on the altar and when the king had completed his prayer that the fire fell from heaven. What does this mean?
The sacrifices stood for dedication. They were largely burnt offerings. The burnt offering was totally consumed, and nothing of it was left. It symbolized the unconditional dedication of the worshipper to God.
The prayer was a prayer of dependence. In it Solomon rehearsed a number of possible disasters – national defeat and captivity, drought, famine and pestilence, and in each case the pattern was the same. God’s stricken people were to humble themselves and acknowledge their sin, to repent and cry to God, and then (Solomon prayed) “Hear Thou from heaven Thy dwelling place, and forgive, and render unto every man according to all his ways” (2 Chr. 6:30). In each case of need the people were to look to God for mercy and deliverance, to indicate that their expectation was from Him, and that it was upon Him alone that they depended.
The same two conditions must be fulfilled today before revival can come to the church. Not that these things will bring revival. There is an element of the incalculable in revivals. As Alexander Whyte said: “There is a divine mystery about revivals; God’s sovereignty is in them.” Nevertheless, without these things revival will not come.
What, then, about our prayers and our sacrifices, our dependence upon God and our dedication to Him? Are we wholly committed to Him? And have we renounced self-confidence and self-dependence, the sinful idea that we can organize spiritual renewal by our own effort and ingenuity? Have we said: “Truly my soul waiteth upon God: from Him cometh my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation” (Psa. 62:1-2)? Only then will the fire fall from heaven and the glory of God be revealed in the church.
The Consequence of Revival
“When all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped…” (2 Chr. 7:3).
To me this is extremely impressive. When the fire fell and the glory appeared, the people did not congratulate Solomon on the fine prayer he had prayed which had produced such miraculous results. They did not honor the priests who had prepared the sacrifices, or give superstitious reverence to the altar or temple that they should thus attract the fire and the glory of God. They did not boast of their own piety, which had secured such a manifestation of the divine presence.
No! Instead, they bowed down with their faces to the earth and worshipped God. They gave glory to God. They burst into spontaneous singing, taking upon their lips the chorus of the official singers of the temple: “For He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever.”
There were hallowed moments of refreshment and revival, moments of heaven on earth, in which the people enjoyed a foretaste of the glory that is to be revealed, as they fell on their faces and gave the honor and the praise to God.
This then is the ultimate be-all and end-all of revival, namely that the church (so often in its sin-stained history, proud, self-satisfied, sinful and self-confident) should fall down and truly worship God, and that God should be honored and glorified. Here is a vision to occupy our thoughts and prayers until the glory of God again fills the house of God.
Reprinted from an earlier issue of Herald of His Coming.