Text: "O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy" (Habakkuk 3:2).
It is supposed that the prophet Habakkuk was contemporary with Jeremiah, and that this prophecy was uttered in anticipation of the Babylonian captivity. Looking at the judgments which were speedily to come upon his nation, the soul of the prophet was wrought up to an agony, and he cried in his distress, "O Lord, revive Thy work;" as if he had said, "O Lord, grant that Thy judgments may not make Israel desolate. In the midst of these awful years, let the judgments of God be made the means of reviving religion among us. In wrath remember mercy."
Religion is the work of man. It is something for man to do. It consists in obeying God. A "Revival of Religion" presupposes a decline. Men are so spiritually sluggish, there are so many things to take their minds off religion, and to oppose the influence of the gospel, that it is necessary to raise an excitement among them, until the tide rises so high as to sweep away the opposing obstacles.
It is not a miracle. A miracle has been defined to be a Divine interference setting aside or suspending the laws of nature. They are neither suspended nor set aside in a revival.
Another definition of miracle is something above the powers of nature. But religion consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature. Revival is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means—as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means.
There has long been an idea prevalent that promoting religion has something very peculiar about it, not to be judged by the ordinary rules of cause and effect. No doctrine is more dangerous, and more absurd. Suppose a man were to go and preach this doctrine among farmers, about sowing their grain. Let him tell them that God is sovereign and will give them a crop only when it pleases Him; and that for them to plow and plant and labor as if they expected a crop is very wrong. Suppose the farmers should believe such a doctrine. They would starve the world to death.
It is the renewal of the first love of Christians resulting in the awakening and conversion of sinners to God. It presupposes that the Church is sunk in a backslidden state. It always includes conviction of sin on the part of the Church. Backslidden Christians will be brought to repentance and have their faith renewed. It breaks the power of the world and of sin over Christians.
When the churches are thus awakened and reformed, the reformation and salvation of sinners will follow. The worst parts of human society are softened and reclaimed, and made to appear as lovely specimens of the beauty of holiness.
Ordinarily there are three agents and one instrument employed in the work of conversion. The agents are God, some person who brings the truth to bear on the mind, and the sinner himself. The instrument is the truth.