Local Church Uniting For Revival
By Charles G. Finney
"Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth, as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 18:19).
The evident design of our Lord in this text was to teach the importance and influence of union in prayer and effort to promote religion. He states the strongest possible case by taking the number two, as the least number between whom there can be an agreement, and says that "where two of you are agreed on earth, as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven." It is the fact of their agreement, upon which He lays the stress, and mentioning the number two appears to have been designed merely to afford encouragement to the smallest number between whom there can be an agreement.
In order to come within this promise, we are to be agreed in prayer. This is particularly taught in the text.
Agree in Desires and Motives
We should agree in our desires for the object. It is necessary to have desires for the object, and to be agreed in those desires. Very often individuals pray in words for the same thing, when they are by no means agreed in desiring that thing. Perhaps some of them, in their hearts desire the very opposite. People are called on to pray for an object, and they all pray for it in words, but God knows they often do not desire it, and perhaps He sees that the hearts of some may, all the while, be resisting the prayer.
We must agree in the motive from which we desire the object. It is not enough that our desires for an object should be the same, but the reason why must be the same. An individual may desire a revival for the glory of God and the salvation of sinners. Another member of the church may also desire a revival, but from very different motives. Some, perhaps, desire a revival in order to have the congregation built up and strengthened, so as to make it more easy for them to pay their expenses in supporting the Gospel.
Another desires a revival for the sake of having the church increased so as to be more numerous and more respectable. Others desire a revival because they have been opposed or evil spoken of, and they wish to have their enemies know that whatever they may think or say, God blesses them. Sometimes people desire a revival from mere natural affection, so as to have their friends converted and saved.
If they mean to be so united in prayer as to obtain a blessing, they must not only desire the blessing, and be agreed in desiring it, but they must also agree in desiring it for the same reasons.
Agree for Good Reasons
We must be agreed in desiring it for good reasons. These desires must not only be united and from the same motives, but they must be from good motives. The supreme motive must be to honor and glorify God. People may even desire a revival and agree in desiring it and agree in the motives, and yet if these motives are not good, God will not grant their desires.
Thus parents may be agreed in prayer for the conversion of their children, and may have the same feelings and the same motives, and yet if they have no higher motives than because they are their children, their prayers will not be granted. They are agreed in the reason, but it is not the right reason.
In like manner, any number of persons might be agreed in their desires and motives, but if their motives are selfish, their being agreed in them will only make them more offensive to God. "How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?" (Acts 5:9). I have seen a great deal of this where churches have been engaged in prayer for an object, and their motives were evidently selfish.
Sometimes they are engaged in praying for a revival, and you would think by their earnestness and union that they would certainly move God to grant the blessing, till you find out the reason. And what is it? Why, they see their congregation is about to be broken up unless something can be done. Or they see some other denomination gaining ground and there is no way to counteract them but by having a revival in their church. And all their praying is only an attempt to get the Almighty in to help them out of their difficulty, and is purely selfish and offensive to God.
I have had a multitude of letters and requests that I should visit such and such places and endeavor to promote a revival, and many reasons have been urged why I should go, but when I came to weigh their reasons, I have sometimes found every one of them selfish. And God would look upon everyone with abhorrence.
In prayer meetings, how often do we hear people offer reasons why they desire such and such blessings, but their reasons are not right in the sight of God. If these are truly their reasons and if they are actually excited by those reasons, it would render their prayers not acceptable to God. Their motive was not right.
There are a great many things often said in favor of the cause of missions, which are of this character, appealing to wrong motives. How often are we told of six hundred millions of heathens who are in danger of going to hell and how little is said of the guilt of six hundred millions engaged and banded together as rebels against God, or of the dishonor and contempt poured upon God our Maker by such a world of outlaws.
Now I know that God refers to those motives which appeal to our mere natural sympathies, and compassion, and uses them, but always in subordination to His glory. If these lower motives are placed foremost, it must always produce a defective piety and zeal, and a great deal that is false. Until the church will look at the dishonor done to God, little will be done. It is this which must be made to stand out before the world, it is this which must be deeply felt by the church, it is this which must be fully exhibited to sinners, before multitudes of souls can ever be converted.
Parents never agree in praying for the conversion of their children in such a way as to have their prayers answered, until they feel that their children are rebels. Parents often pray very earnestly for their children because they wish God to save them, and they almost think hard of God if He does not save their children. But if they would have their prayers prevail, they must come to take God's part against their children, even though for their perverseness and incorrigible wickedness He should be obliged to send them to hell. The parents must desire their children's salvation with a supreme regard to the glory of God.
Agree in Faith
If we would be so united as to prevail in prayer, we must agree in faith. That is, we must concur in expecting the blessing for which we pray. We must understand the reason why it is to be expected. We must see the evidence on which faith ought to rest, and must absolutely believe that the blessing will come, or we do not bring ourselves within the promise.
Faith is always understood as an indispensable condition of prevailing prayer. If it is not expressed in any particular case, it is always implied, for no prayer can be effectual but that which is offered in faith. In order that united prayer may prevail, there must be united faith.
Agree As to Time
Again, we must be agreed as to the time when we desire the blessing to come. If two or more agree in desiring a particular blessing, and one of them desires to have it come now, while others are not ready to have it quite yet, it is plain they are not agreed. They are not united in regard to one essential point. If the blessing is to come in answer to their united prayer, it must come as they prayed for it. And if it comes, it must be at some time. But if they disagree as to the time when they will have it, plainly it can never come in answer to their prayer.
Suppose a church should undertake to pray for a revival, and should be all agreed in desiring a revival, but not as to the time when it shall be. Suppose some wish to have the revival come now and are all prepared, and their hearts waiting for the Spirit of God to come down and are willing to give time and attention and labor to it NOW. But others are not quite ready. They have something else to attend to at present, some worldly object which they want to accomplish, some piece of business in hand and want to finish this thing, and then – but they cannot possibly find time to attend to it now. They are not prepared to humble themselves to search their hearts and break up their fallow ground, and put themselves in a posture to receive the blessing. Is it not plain that here is no real union, for they are not agreed in that which is essential? While one part is praying that the revival may come now, the others are praying with equal earnestness that it may not come now.
We must agree not only upon a time, but it must be the present time, or we are not agreed in everything essential to the work. Unless we agree to have the revival now, we shall not now use the means. But until the means are used, it cannot come. It is plain, then, that we must be agreed upon the present time, that is, we are not agreed in the sense of the text until we agree that now we will have the blessing and conduct ourselves accordingly. To agree upon a future time is of no use for when that future time comes, we must then be agreed upon that present time, and use means accordingly, so that you see you are never properly agreed until you agree that now is the time.
Agree in All Essentials of Obtaining the Blessing
You see the language of the text, "If two of you shall agree as touching anything that they shall ask." Many people seem to read it as if it referred merely to an agreement in asking, and they understand it to promise that whenever two are agreed in asking for any blessing, it shall be given. But Christ says there must be an agreement "as touching" the thing for which we pray. That is, the agreement or union must comprise everything that is essential to the bestowment and reception of the blessing.
1. If Christians would enjoy the benefits of this promise in praying for a revival, they must be agreed in believing revivals of religion to be a reality. There are many individuals, even in the church, who do not in their hearts believe that the revivals which take place are the work of God. Some of them may pray in words for an outpouring of the Spirit and a revival of religion, while in their hearts they doubt whether there are any such things known in modern times. In united prayer there must be no hypocrisy.
2. They must agree in feeling the necessity of revivals. There are some who believe in the reality of revivals, as a work of God, while at the same time they are unsettled as to the necessity of having them in order to the success of the Gospel. They think there is a real work of God in revivals, but after all, perhaps it is quite as well to have sinners converted and brought into the church in a more quiet and gradual way, and without so much excitement.
Whenever revivals are abroad in the land and prevail and are popular, they may appear in favor of them, and may put up their cold prayers for a revival, while at the same time they would be sorry on the whole to have a revival come among them. They think it so much safer and better to indoctrinate the people and spread the matter before them in a calm way, and so bring them in gradually, and not run the risk of having wildfire in their congregations.
3. They must be agreed in regard to the importance of revivals. Men are not blessed with revivals, in answer to prayers that are not half in earnest. They must feel the infinite importance of a revival before they will pray so as to prevail. Blessings of this kind are not granted but in answer to such prayers as arise from a sense of their importance.
It is when men desire the blessing with unutterable agony that they offer such prayer as will infallibly prevail with God. Those who feel less of the importance of a revival may pray for it in words, but they will never have the blessing.
But when a church has been united in prayer and really felt the importance of a revival, they never have failed of having one. I do not believe a case can be found of such a church being turned empty away. Such agreement, when sincere, will secure an agreement also on all other subjects that are indispensable.
4. They must be agreed also in having correct scriptural notions about several things connected with revivals.
A. The necessity of divine agency to produce a revival. It is not enough that they all hold this in theory, and pray for it in wordsThey must fully understand and deeply feel this necessity. They must realize their entire dependence on the Spirit of God or the whole will fail.
B. Why divine agency is necessary. There must be an agreement on correct principles in regard to the reason that divine agency is so indispensable. If they get wrong ideas on this point, they will be hindered. If Christians get the idea that this necessity of divine influence lies in the inability of sinners, or if they feel as if God was under obligation to give the Holy Spirit in order to make sinners able to obey the Gospel, they insult God, and their prayers will not avail. For in that case they must feel that it is a mere matter of common justice for God to pour out His Spirit before He can justly require Christians to work or sinners to repent.
They cannot pray successfully until they understand that the sinner is a rebel, and obstinate in his rebellion – so obstinate that he never will, without the Holy Spirit, do what he might do as well as not, instantly, and this obstinacy is the reason and the only reason why he needs the influence of the Holy Spirit for his conversion. The only ground on which the sinner needs divine agency is to overcome his obstinacy, and make him willing to do what he can do and what God justly requires him to do.
The people of a church are never in an attitude in which God will hear their united prayers unless they are agreed in so understanding their dependence on God as to feel it in perfect consistency with the sinner's blame. If it is the other way, they are agreed in understanding it wrong, and their prayers for divine help to the unfortunate instead of divine favor to make a rebel submit, are wide of the mark, are an insult to God, and they never will obtain favor in heaven.
C. They must be agreed in understanding that revivals are not miracles, but that they are brought about by the use of means like other events. No wonder revivals formerly came so seldom and continued so short a time, when people generally regarded them as miracles or like a mere shower of rain that will come on a place and continue a little while and then blow over, that is, as something over which we have no control. What can people do to get a shower of rain? Or how can they make it rain any longer than it does rain? It is necessary that those who pray should be agreed in understanding a revival as something to be brought about by means, or they never will be agreed in using them.
D. They must be agreed in understanding that human agency is just as indispensable to a revival as divine agency. Such a thing as a revival of religion, I venture to say, never did occur without divine agency, and never did occur without human agency. How often do people say, "God can, if He pleases, carry on the work without means." But I have no faith in it, for there is no evidence of it.
What is religion? Obedience to God's law. But the law cannot be obeyed unless it is known. And how can God make sinners obey but by making known His commandments? And how can He make them known but by revealing them Himself, or sending them by others – that is, by bringing THE TRUTH to bear upon the person's mind till he obeys it.
God never did and never can convert a sinner except with the truth. What is conversion? Obeying the truth. He may communicate it Himself, directly to the sinner. But then the sinner's own agency is indispensable, for conversion consists in the right employment of the sinner's own agency. And ordinarily, He employs the agency of others also, in printing, writing, conversation and preaching. God has put the Gospel treasure in earthen vessels. He has seen fit to employ men in preaching the word. That is, He has seen that human agency is that which He can best employ in saving sinners.
There is not one in a thousand, if one in a million, converted in any other way than through the truth made known and urged by human instrumentality. And as the church must be united in using those means, it is plainly necessary that they should be united in understanding the true reason why means are to be used, and the true principles on which they are to be governed and applied.
E. It is important that there should be union in regard to the measures essential to the promotion of a revival. The church must be agreed in regard to the meetings which are held, as to what meetings shall be held, and how many, and where, and when they shall be held. Some people always desire to multiply meetings in a revival, as if the more meetings they had, the more religion. Others are always opposed to any new meetings in a revival. Some are always for having a protracted meeting, and others are never ready to hold a protracted meeting at all. Whatever difference there may be, it is essential that the church should come to a good understanding on the subject, so that they can go on together in harmony, and labor with zeal and effect.
They must be agreed as to the manner of conducting meetings. It is necessary that the church should be united and cordial on this subject, if they expect to offer united prayer with effect. Sometimes there are individuals who want to adopt every new thing they can hear of or imagine, while others are totally unwilling to have anything altered in regard to the management of the meeting, but would have everything done precisely as they are accustomed to. They ought to be agreed in some way, either to have the meetings altered, or to keep them on in the old way.
The best possible way is for the church to agree, in this, that they will let the meetings go on and take their course, just as the Spirit of God shapes them and not even attempt to make two meetings just alike. The church never will give the fullest effect to the truth until they are agreed in this principle – that in promoting a revival they will accommodate their measures to circumstances, and not attempt to interrupt the natural course which pious feeling and sound judgment indicate, but cast themselves entirely upon the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, introducing any measure, at any time, that shall seem called for in the Providence of God, without laying any stress upon its being new or old.
F. They must be agreed in the manner of dealing with impenitent sinners. This is a point immensely important, that the church should be agreed in their treatment of sinners. Suppose that they are not agreed, and one will tell a sinner one thing and another another. What confusion!
Sinners who are awakened and anxious, presently get confounded, and do not know what to do and perhaps give it all up in despair or conclude there is in reality nothing rational or consistent in religion.
A church ought to be agreed. Every Christian ought to have a clear understanding of this subject, and all speak the same thing and give the same directions. And then the sinner will find no one to take his part and can get no relief or comfort till he repents.
G. They must be agreed in removing the impediments to a revival; if a church expects a revival, they must take up the stumbling blocks out of the way.
(1). In the exercise of discipline. If there are rotten members in the church, they should be removed and the church should all agree to cut them off. If they remain in the church they are such a reproach to religion as to hinder a revival. Sometimes when an attempt is made to cast them out, this creates division, and thus the work is stopped. Sometimes the offenders are persons of influence, or they have family friends who will take their part and make a party and thus create a bad spirit and prevent a revival.
(2). In mutual confessions. Whenever wrong has been done to any, there should be a full confession. I do not mean a cold and forced acknowledgment, such as saying, "If I have done wrong, I am sorry for it." But a hearty confession, going the full length of the wrong, and showing that it comes out of a broken heart.
(3). Forgiveness of enemies. A great obstruction to revivals is often found in the fact that active and leading individuals harbor a revengeful and unforgiving spirit towards those who have injured them, which destroys their spirituality, makes them harsh and disagreeable in their manner, and prevents them from enjoying either communion with God in prayer, or the blessing of God to give them success in labor. But let the members of a church be truly agreed in breaking down and confessing their own faults and in cherishing a tender, merciful, forgiving, Christ-like spirit toward those who they think have done them wrong, and then the Spirit will come down upon them not by measure.
H. They must be agreed in making all the necessary preparations for a revival. They should be agreed in having all necessary preparation made, and agreed in bearing their part of the labor or expense of making it. There should be an equality and not let a few be burdened and the rest do little or nothing, but every one his proportion, according to his several ability. No envying nor jealousy, nor of those mutual recriminations and altercations and disrespectful remarks about one another, which are so inconsistent with brotherly love, and such a stumbling block in the way of sinners.
I. They must be agreed in doing heartily whatever is necessary to be done for the promotion of the revival. Sometimes a slight disagreement about a very little thing will be allowed to break in and destroy a revival. A minister told me that he once went to labor in a place as an evangelist, and the Spirit of God was evidently present, and sinners began to inquire, and things looked quite favorable, until some of the members in the church began to agitate the inquiry how they should pay him for his services. They said, "If he stays among us any longer, he will expect we should give him something," and they did not see how they could afford to do it. They talked about it until the minds of the brethren got distracted and divided and the minister went away. He would not have left at the time whether they gave him anything or not, but the church got into such a state as to grieve the Spirit and he saw that to stay longer with them would do no good.
Oh, how will those professors feel when they meet sinners from that town in judgment, when it will all come out, that God was ready and waiting to grant them a blessing, but they allowed themselves to get agitated and divided by inquiring how much they should have to pay!
J. They must be agreed in laboring to carry on the work. It is not enough that they should agree to pray for a revival, but they should agree also in laboring to promote it. They should set themselves to it systematically, and as a matter of business, to visit and converse and pray with their neighbors, to look out for opportunities of doing good; to watch the effect of the word, and watch the signs of the times, that they may know when anything needs to be done and do it.
They should be agreed to labor. They should be agreed how to labor. They should be agreed to live accordingly.
K. They must agree in a determination to persevere. It will not answer for some members of the church today to begin to move and bluster about and then as soon as the least thing turns up unfavorable to get discouraged and faint and one-half of them give over. They should be all united and agree to persevere, and labor, and pray, and hold on until the blessing comes.
In a word, if Christians expect to unite in prayer and effort so as to prevail with God, they must be agreed in speaking and doing the same things, in walking by the same rule, and maintaining the same principles and in persevering till they obtain the blessing, so as not to hinder or thwart each other's efforts. All this is evidently implied in being agreed as touching the things for which they are praying.
In praying for a revival, they must be agreed not only in asking, but in everything else that is indispensable to the existence and progress of the thing prayed for – revival.
Every church is justly responsible for the souls that are among them. If God has given such a promise and if it is true that where so many as two are agreed, as touching the things they ask for, it shall be done, then certainly Christians are responsible, and if sinners are lost, their blood will be found upon the church.
The church must be agreed! O, if we could find one church that were perfectly and heartily agreed in all these points, so that they could pray and labor together, all as one, what good would be done! But now, while things are as they are, we see colony after colony peopling hell, because the church is not agreed. O, what do Christians think, how can they keep still, when God has brought down His blessings so that if any two were agreed, as touching the things they ask for, it would be done. If the churches can have what they ask, as soon as they are agreed as touching it, then certainly the damnation of the world will be required at the hands of the church!
In the light of this promise we see the awful guilt of the church. God has given it to be the precious inheritance of His people at all times and in all places: if His people agree, their prayers will be answered.
The church might take hold of the promise in such a manner that vast numbers might be saved, but they are not agreed. Therefore souls will perish. And where is the responsibility? Who can take this promise and look the perishing in the face at the day of judgment?
– Arranged from Lectures On Revivals Of Religion.