A REVIVAL DESIRED
Habakkuk 3:2. O Lord, revive thy work!
THE ministry of the Prophet Habakkuk seems to have been contemporaneous with that of the Prophet Jeremiah. He foretells the judgments which should be executed on the Jewish nation by the Chaldeans; and the fearful recompence which should come on the heads of the Chaldeans by the instrumentality of the Medes and Persians. But he was not willing that his people should wait so long without a blessing, even the whole period of their threatened captivity; and therefore, in a divine ode, an ode of peculiar sublimity, he implores of God the restoration of his favour towards them, and entreats him to blend his judgments with mercy: “O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years; in the midst of the years (of their captivity) make known: in wrath remember mercy!”
The petition here offered is highly proper to be presented to God, at all times:
I. For the Church at large—
It is proper,
1. For the Jewish Church—
[The captivity of that people in Babylon lasted only seventy years: but that to which they have been subjected, since their dispersion by the Romans, has lasted above seventeen hundred years: and in all this time there has been no material revival amongst them, in a way of humiliation, or of return to God. But now it seems as if God were about to return in mercy to them, and to restore them to himself: so that we are encouraged to cry unto him, “O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years!” And certainly we have the same encouragement which the prophet had. He in all the subsequent part of this chapter, reminds God of his former interpositions for them, in Egypt, and in the wilderness; and of the deliverances vouchsafed to them under circumstances of still greater difficulty than that with which they were encompassed in Babylon: and we may also well call those wonders to remembrance, as an encouragement to plead for them, and to expect from God’s hands the most signal interpositions in their favour. For their present dispersion is not more unfavourable than their oppression in Egypt; nor are the manifestations of God’s favour, which we look for in their behalf, more glorious than those which were vouchsafed to them at the Red Sea, and on Mount Sinai. It is not a new work which we have to solicit for them, but only a revival of the former work. And we may hope, that God will yet again, and at no distant period too, take them under his protection, and “reveal unto them more richly than ever the abundance of peace and truth.”]
2. For the Christian Church—
[This is at a low ebb, and greatly needs a revival. Where are the Pentecostal effusions of the Spirit, and the simultaneous conversions of thousands unto God? In great and extensive countries, where religion once flourished, the very name of Christ is now scarcely known. And amongst those who profess to be followers of Christ, how little is there of real piety, and of vital godliness! Whether amongst pastors or their flocks, we behold but little of that primitive simplicity, or of that entireness of devotion to God, which characterized the apostolic age. We read of “days of the Son of man;” and those are what we want to behold amongst us. We want to see the lighting down of his arm amongst us; and such displays of his power and glory as he gave when “he shook the room where his people were assembled, and filled them all with the Holy Ghost” and with power [Note: Acts 4:31-33.]. In a word, we are looking for “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord:” and for these we should be earnestly pleading with God in prayer; saying, with the prophet, “O that thou wouldest rend the heavens, and come down; that the mountains might flow down at thy presence [Note: Isaiah 64:1.]!” and, with David, “Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee? Shew us thy mercy, O Lord, and grant us thy salvation [Note: Psalms 85:6-7.].”]
But the petition may be offered also,
II. For our own souls in particular—
Who amongst us does not need to offer it?
[We are but too apt, all of us, to experience changes in the divine life, similar to those which take place in the natural world. There are seasons of spring and autumn, summer and winter: and such we find at times within our own souls. In early youth, our feelings are warm and our imaginations lively: and we seem as if it were not possible for us ever to decline from the ways on which we have entered. But, when we have advanced to middle life, how often do we see reason to deplore the loss of those ardent affections which once glowed in our souls! “The cares of this World, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desire of other things,” have beguiled us, and caused a painful declension within us; so that we have need particularly to cry, “O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of my years!” — — —]
To the prophet’s remedy, then, we should betake ourselves—
[Prayer is, of all things, the most effectual. Personal exertions are good in their place, and even necessary: but, to whatever extent they be carried, they will be of no avail without prayer. The husbandman may labour day and night; but he can never obtain a crop, without the shining of the sun, and the influences of the former and latter rain. All is under the controul of heaven with respect to him: and so it is with respect to us: and it is by prayer that the Divine blessing is to be obtained. And what would not the prayer of faith effect? Has it closed heaven for three years and a half, and then opened it again; and shall it not avail for us? Were we but earnest and constant in prayer, there would be little reason to complain of declension, though every day would still bring with it the need of a revival.]
And have we not the same encouragement?
[The prophet looked back to former days, and pleaded for a repetition of former mercies. And shall not we also look back to the day when he quickened us from our death in trespasses and sins, and created us anew, and translated us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son? We are taught to consider his gifts as earnests and pledges of further mercies: and that is a just mode of arguing which the Psalmist adopts, “Thou hast delivered my soul from death; Wilt thou not deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before the Lord in the light of the living [Note: Psalms 56:13.]?” God says to us, “Put me in remembrance: let us plead together: declare thou, that thou mayest be justified [Note: Isaiah 43:26.]:” and if we use these means in faith, our success shall resemble that which the prophet describes: “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old! Art thou not it that hath cut Rahab, and wounded the dragon? Art thou not it which hath dried the sea, the waters of the great deep; that hath made the depths of the sea a way for the ransomed to pass over? Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and mourning shall flee away [Note: Isaiah 51:9-11.].”]
1. Inquire now, I pray you, what is the state of God’s work within you?
[Has he ever yet wrought effectually in your souls? Has he ever brought you out of bondage to the world, and sin, and Satan; and brought you to live in a state of entire dependence upon him, for guidance in his ways, for protection from enemies, for daily supplies of grace and peace, and for the final possession of the promised land? And are you advancing in the divine life, and “making your profiting daily to appear?” — — — If the work is not yet begun, lose not a moment in pleading with him, that you may obtain mercy at his hands. And if, through the prevalence of temptation, it has declined at all, cry to him with all possible earnestness, “O Lord, revive thy work!” and leave nothing undone, if by any means you may “strengthen in your souls what is yet remaining, but is ready to die [Note: Revelation 3:2.]”]
2. Let nothing discourage you in your application to the Lord—
[See the state of the Jews in Babylon; and judge whether you can be in a more desperate state than they. To Babylon they had been sent by God himself, in token of his heavy displeasure: and there they were oppressed without mercy. No access to God had they in his ordinances; nor had they any hope of deliverance, except what was founded on his word of promise. Let your state, then, be as bad as your imagination can paint it, and the same blessed hope is yours: for God will not shut his ear against the cry of the poor destitute, or disappoint their desire. Go to him with that prayer of David, “Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. O satisfy us early with thy mercy, that we may rejoice, and be glad in thee all our days [Note: Psalms 90:13-14.]!” and you may be perfectly assured that he will return to you, and “give you a reviving in your bondage [Note: Ezra 9:8.].”]
THE CHRISTIAN’S BOAST
Habakkuk 3:17-18. Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.
A CHRISTIAN will be distinguished from others, whatever be his situation in life; but the more trying and afflictive his condition be, the more will he cause his light to shine before men, and demonstrate the excellence of the principles he has embraced. The prophet’s resolution, in the prospect of the Babylonish invasion and of the calamities consequent upon it, affords a just picture of every child of God: for though all do not possess the same attainments, all determine through grace to make God the exclusive object of their joy and triumph. Taking then the text as expressive of the feelings of all God’s people, we shall notice,
I. The Christian’s boast—
The Christian is not exempt from the common calamities of life: but though he partakes of the troubles in which others are involved, he feels supports with which others are wholly unacquainted—
1. He views God as his God and Saviour—
[The Christian contemplates God as the Creator and Governor of the universe, but more especially as the Saviour of sinful man. He admires the stupendous method which God has devised for the salvation of sinners through the blood and righteousness of his only dear Son: but that which gives peculiar sweetness to his meditations is, that he is enabled to claim God as his Saviour, who has been already the “God of his salvation, and is daily his strength; and will be an effectual Saviour, making his feet like hinds’ feet, and causing him to walk upon his high places [Note: ver. 19.]” — — —]
2. He determines, in the want of all other things, to rejoice in him—
[In possessing God, he enjoys a suitable good, an all-sufficient good, and an everlasting good; he has that which fully satisfies the desires of his soul [Note: Psalms 4:6.] — — — which makes him regardless of all his wants or trials [Note: Psalms 46:1-4.] — — — and which is unchangeable, no less in its operation than its existence — — — Hence he determines to rejoice in God, no less when bereft of all the necessaries of life, than when surrounded with a fulness of all earthly comforts.
Nor is this a vain boast: for it accords with the experience of the godly in all ages of the world [Note: Hebrews 10:34. Acts 5:41; Acts 16:23-25.] — — —]
We shall have a just view of the Christian, if we consider,
II. The insight which this gives us into his real character—
Following the clew which this passage affords us, we shall find that the Christian is,
1. An exalted character—
[His thoughts are not engrossed by the things of time and sense; he soars to heaven, and views God himself in all the perfections of his nature, and in all the wonders of his grace. Nor could he be contented to call the whole world his own: he will be satisfied with nothing but the enjoyment of God, and a well-grounded persuasion of an interest in his favour. In this respect he as much surpasses the wisest philosopher, as the philosopher excels the most illiterate clown; because they who search deepest into the works of nature are circumscribed by the creation, whereas the Christian contemplates the Creator himself. Indeed he emulates even the angels around the throne, who are represented as continually looking into the mysteries of redeeming love [Note: 1 Peter 1:12.].]
2. A happy character—
[The Christian is not exempt from trials and troubles; yet is he far happier than any unregenerate man. There is not any earthly bliss of which he has not a higher relish than others, because he enjoys, not the creature only, but God in the creature. A carnal mind cannot form any estimate of the Christian’s joys. To know what is meant by communion with Christ, by the witness of the Spirit, and by the love of God shed abroad in the heart, we must experience them ourselves; and without such experience we are as incapable of judging of them as a blind man is of colours, or a deaf man of sounds. No words can fully express the joy with which the Christian is sometimes favoured: it is represented as “unspeakable and glorified [Note: 1 Peter 1:8.].”]
3. An independent character—
[Others, if bereft of earthly supports, are reduced to extreme distress: the Christian may be deprived of all external comforts, and still the source of his happiness will remain entire. He can even derive happiness from his afflictions; he can “rejoice in his sufferings,” and “glory in his tribulations.” He is independent of the whole world: none can greatly add to his happiness, or materially detract from it. In the fulness of earthly blessings he enjoys God in all; and in the absence of them he enjoys all in God [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:10.]]
1. The careful Christian—
[God would “have you without carefulness [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:32.]:” he commands you to “be careful for nothing [Note: Philippians 4:6.]:’ and four times in the space of a few verses does our Lord repeat the command, “Take no thought,” that is, no anxious thought, “about any earthly thing whatever [Note: Matthew 6:25; Matthew 6:28; Matthew 6:31; Matthew 6:34.].” O ye who are “careful and cumbered about many things,” see how ye live below your privileges. Get your hearts more filled with the love of God, and the cares of this world will be dissipated as the dew before the sun [Note: Galatians 6:14.].]
2. The timid Christian—
[Some, though dead to the world, have not that joy in God which it is their privilege to possess. They meditate too much upon their own infirmities, and too little upon the perfections and promises of their God. O brethren, look at God as the God of salvation, as the God of your salvation, and you shall have your fears turned into confidence, and your sorrows into thanksgiving and the voice of melody.]
3. The confident Christian—
[If your confidence be tempered with humility and contrition, “hold it fast,” and “keep the rejoicing of your hope firm unto the end.” Such joy in God will recommend religion unto others, and “be the strength of your own souls.” While living in this state you will be prepared for every event: you will be guarded equally against the allurements of prosperity, and the terrors of adversity. “Rejoice then evermore; rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Habakkuk 3". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany