CHRIST APPEARING AMONG HIS PEOPLE

SERMON BY CHARLES FINNEY

"Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years. And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, said the Lord of hosts."--Malachi iii., v. 1-5.

 

These words were originally spoken by Malachi respecting Christ and John the Baptist. We learn from the New Testament that John the Baptist was the messenger who was sent before the face of the Messiah to prepare the way before him. We find this explained in the third chapter of the Gospel by St. Matthew, which I read to you at the commencement of the service. John the Baptist was sent before Christ, and Christ was the Lord who suddenly came to his temple; and the things followed his coming that are here spoken of in this passage of scripture--as also in a great many other passages of scripture. We have here not only a fact announced, but a principle revealed in reference to religion and God's government of men. Christ had a church on earth when he came, but it needed searching and purifying, and he came for the sake of carrying forward this work. In this passage we have a striking illustration of the manner in which Christ deals with his people when ever he comes amongst them to search and purify them.

My present design is to notice the characteristics of a genuine appearing of Christ among the people to revive his work--the revival of religion among them. There are many other passages of scripture in various parts of the Bible which reveals the same principle. It is said of Christ, you recollect, that when He came his fan was to be in his hand and that he should thoroughly purge his floor, gathering the wheat into his garner, and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. It is often of the greatest importance that men should consider well what are the true characteristics of Christ coming among his people--what are the indications and evidences of it? There are a great many reasons why people should understand how such an appearing may be known, some of which reasons I shall have occasion to point out this morning. Before Christ personally appeared among the Jews he sent his messenger to prepare the way. John the Baptist was sent, you know, to call the attention of the people to the near approach of the Messiah, and to prepare them to receive him.

Now this is a principle of the divine government, that when Christ is about to appear to revive his work among his people he sends a messenger to prepare his way. Nay! it is a curious fact that when he comes to judge and to condemn men he often sends them warning--he sends a messenger to prepare his way, whether he comes in judgment or in mercy: this is a very common thing and has been in all times; when he comes in judgment he warns men in order to put them on their guard, if by any means he may bring them to repentance; and when he comes in mercy he prepares them for such a visitation also--therefore, in the first instance, when the Lord comes to revive his work, somebody will be stirred up to call the attention of the people to the real condition of things and the necessity for a reformation among them. You will find this to be uniformly the fact, that when Christ is about to appear somebody will be stirred up to consider the spiritual wants of the people, and will do more or less to prepare the way for the coming of Christ by calling the attention of the people to their necessities. Sometimes it will be the pastor of the church, and this will generally be the case, or the leading members of the church, or other instrumentalities, will call the attention of the people to their spiritual wants, and then after this has been done, the Lord will suddenly come to his temple. There is first the seeking after the Lord, then a calling upon his name in earnest supplications for him to revive his work, and then the Lord whom they seek will suddenly come to his temple. The Lord's temple is his true church on earth, of which the temple at Jerusalem was only a type; and doubtless reference is made in this passage to the people of God and not merely to the temple at Jerusalem. In the second verse it is said, "But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire and like fuller's soap." Now what did Christ do when he first appeared amongst men? And here let me say that what he did then he does substantially now under similar circumstances, and for the same reason--because of the necessity for it; now it is always to be assumed when Christ comes to revive his work that such a revival is needed. But what is implied in such a necessity as a visitation for a revival? There is a great deal implied in the necessity for such a visitation; for this reason, whenever he comes to revive his work in any place there is a great need for it.

It implies that there is much that is wrong, and that there is therefore much need for a reformation,--this is always implied in a reformation of religion. In the first place some are stirred up to see that such things are needed; they look and seek for a reformation and after a time the Lord suddenly comes. "But who shall abide the day of his coming"? What is his object in coming? what will he say? what will he do? "He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness." Of course then whenever a revival is needed, this may be expected that when Christ comes there will first be a tremendous searching among the people. When he did come what did he do? "Think not," he says, "I am come to bring peace on earth, but a sword; for I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's foes shall be they of his own household." What did he do? Why he began at the fundamental difficulty; he began by upturning the foundations of their hopes, all their self-righteous expectations. He brought to bear upon them a searching ministry.

Observe, by his searching ministry, he threw them into the utmost distress, and agony of mind; he revealed to them the spirituality of God's law--of the whole Bible as it then existed; and brought so much truth to bear upon them as to search them out. Now this is what he always does: this is his first work. He must try the metal to see what dross there is in it: he must see what chaff there is with the wheat, and then fan it away. He shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver and gold: he must put them into the fiery furnace, by bringing truth to bear upon them in such a manner, as to purge the dross from the pure gold. But let me say again: in such processes as this, it will very generally be found that certain classes of persons are peculiarly affected. We find in the present case, that Christ took in hand chiefly the Pharisees, the leaders of the church, and in a most unsparing manner searched and tried them; reproved their errors; contradicted them, and turned their false teaching completely upside down. To be sure this greatly offended them; very greatly tried them. But it is easy to see that this must have been the first work with him, for he came to purify the Jewish Church, and he must do this, by teaching them their errors and misconceptions--their errors of doctrine and their misconceptions of the law of God. Now what he did then, he always does with all churches and all people, when he comes to revive his work; whatever errors and misconceptions they may be labouring under he must set himself to correct. If he find them with superficial views of the spirituality of God's law, he must correct them: if they have superficial views of the depravity of the human heart, they must be corrected--if they have Antinomian views on the one hand, or legal self-righteous views on the other, they must be corrected. He must cast light on all the dark places, search the nooks and corners; and dispel all errors by the powerful light of truth: this must always be the case. And here let me say, that it is almost always true, that when the church or religion wants reviving in any community, much of the difficulty lies--when perhaps people are little aware of it--in their having settled down into some false conception of things, and mistaken their own spiritual state, and have thus betaken themselves, to various forms of error, more or less serious and fatal; so that after all they are not in that state in which Christ wishes them to be, but yet persuade themselves, that they are in a state which is acceptable to God.

Now all this must be corrected; consequently when he takes hold of any community, any church, any people, any nation, you will always find that he begins in high places; he will begin among the leaders of Israel; among the heads of the people, and he will give them a terrible searching; he will try their spirits, their teaching, their lives, and he will most severely try them. It is very common--I have always witnessed it--for Christ when he comes to revive his work, to begin by trying the ministers themselves; "he will purify the sons of Levi"--this he always does in all places. Indeed he needs to try them, that they may be instrumental in trying others; he needs to search them, that they be instrumental in searching others. He is going to work by them and through them, and therefore he will first give them a most tremendous sifting and searching; their motives will be searched, all their springs of action will be laid bare, and he will bring them to see their errors, and feel them too. I have many times known such terrible searchings to take possession of even ministers themselves in revivals of religion, that they would for a time almost despair, indeed I have known them quite do so for a time. Now this, I say, may be expected.

But let me say again: when Christ comes, of course, his object is to search out wrong every where and set it right. He will search out the carnal professors of religion. These are divided into various classes. Sometimes there are ambitious persons in the church, who have an ambition to rise in the church--their ambition takes a religious type. They wish to be highly influential, to be highly respected, to be put forward in the church, and to be held in great esteem; now where there has been such ambition as this, Christ sees it, and will search it out. How often have I seen such persons as these searched out in such a manner as greatly to expose and mortify them. With men who have thus been ambitious, Christ will take such a course, as to shew that they have been spiritually ambitious; if they wanted to be thought very respectable, and be very high and influential in the church--he will put them down when he comes to revive his work.

There is a great deal of this very often in churches, but Christ will surely search it out and destroy it. "Who shall abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth?" Again there are many professors of religion who have a worldly ambition; they want to rise in the world, they are trying to climb into the highest places of society--they court alliances with families who are on the high places of the earth. Now Christ at his appearing will search out these worldly minded professors, and oftentimes will make terrible revelations of their state of mind. Some have been spiritually proud, or have had a worldly pride, and they will all be searched out. Again: oftentimes when he comes, he will make revelations of character, and reveal the thoughts of many hearts, in a manner that shall be truly terrible and shocking; things shall appear which were not supposed to have any existence: with respect even to religious teachers, things shall come out of such a nature as to shock men, and they will say who would have expected that? Who would have supposed that such and such things existed? Who would have expected that such a state of things existed, as actually did exist at the time of our Lord's appearing in Judea? What a state of things did his coming reveal! Who would have expected it? And what a stumbling block it must have been to the mass of the nation that all the teachers and leaders of the people should deny that he was Christ; they could not recognize his likeness to the prophetic announcements, which has been made of him, and so they rose to oppose him. Now we say, what a stumbling block this must have been to the great mass of the people, who were accustomed to look up to their teachers as the very best of men, and the most excellent of the earth: for it had come to be said, if any men are religious the Pharisees are; if any men may hope to be saved, the Pharisees may--they were regarded by the people as the most excellent of the earth. Now mark! what a stumbling block it must have been to the mass of the nation, that this class of people, almost to a man, rose up to oppose Christ when he came. They did not know him: they would not acknowledge him; they were angry with his preaching, and denounced the searching manner in which he dealt with them. It is always the case now, that just in proportion as people are out of the way in any church, or in any given locality or country, two things will be seen: first, that they do not know it themselves--they will be blind to their own position; and second, just in proportion as they are out of the way, will they be taken by surprise at Christ's coming. These same indications will be seen more or less, as the state of things more or less resembles those which existed when our Lord was upon earth. If the church are settled down with some Abraham for their father; if they prefer to be the followers of some man or somebody who has stood very high in the Church of God, there will always be certain indications boiling out and revealing themselves, which are not in harmony with the Gospel.

Now this is a very striking fact, that oftentimes without being aware of it, people get into such a position as entirely to misapprehend the truth. Again, "the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed" when Christ comes. Now it often comes to pass, that men do not clearly reveal to their fellow creatures the deepest springs of action within them, unless something is done to search them out; but when certain things are done, they will reveal the deepest springs of action within them.

Some men, when Christ comes to revive his work, will reveal great spiritual pride and arrogancy. They pretended to be very humble, and very prayerful, and all their deportment before people would seem to tell them that they were really so; but when Christ comes and begins to search them, and calls in question any thing respecting them, they reveal their great spiritual pride, their arrogance, their ambition, their disposition to lord it over God's heritage, or their true spiritual ignorance. "The thoughts of many hearts shall be revealed," now this is often very striking to see; I have witnessed it in a great many cases in times of revival; and precisely similar revelations will be made, when Christ comes to revive his work in any given church or locality. How strongly the deep feelings and springs of action will come out. It will be said of such and such an individual--"What does he say?" "What, does he say so?" Things so unexpected will come out! Oft times let me say, individuals will be so searched that they will see their own rotten-heartedness, and other people likewise will see it. O! sometimes these revealings are terrible indeed! If I had time, it might be profitable and instructive to relate some of the multitude of facts that I have witnessed in revivals of religion, in illustration of what I am saying: terrible and even shocking things have been brought to light, and always will be under such circumstances. When Christ comes to revive his work, he will bring iniquity to light by searching, preaching, and the power of the Holy Ghost. He will be a swift witness against them; there is no mistake; he "will be a swift witness when he comes to judgment against the sorcerers and against the adulterers." Yes, against the adulterers, for adultery will be brought to light; "and against false swearers;" false swearing will be brought to light; "and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages." Transgressions shall be brought to light; "the widow and the fatherless and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of Hosts." Every one of these things are often revealed and brought to light, when Christ comes to revive and purify the sons of Levi! The chaff is to be separated from the wheat; and the dross to be purged away from the gold and silver, and the corn and the metal are to come forth pure. A terrible searching this will be! A time of severe trial and sifting. But after this season of trial is past and things begin to settle down; "they shall offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years."

But he will not only do this with the church; he will also try the congregation, who are not professors of religion; and will bring a terrible searching to bear upon them, through his ministers, through his church, and by his spirit--he will bring home conviction to them, so that they shall understand themselves, and know the state of their own hearts!

A few remarks must close what I have to say this morning. In the first place, every one can see by looking closely at it, that these things must be true, of all revivals of religion. Now mark! I am speaking of revivals of religion; of Christ coming to revive his work, as spoken of in the text. Now if religion is to be revived, sin must be put away; if sin is to be put away, there must be a conviction of sin; and if there is to be a conviction of sin, searching must be applied. This must be a first step to a revival of true religion in any community--for mark! A revival implies a necessity for a revival. If the people are in a declining and luke-warm state, then of course they want a revival, and before they can be revived, things must have a terrible searching. Again: it must be true, as every one can see, that the searching must begin in high places; that there will be, and must be, searching among those who are to be made instrumental in searching others, thus carrying the work forward. Rely upon it, that when any reformation is to be made, it will commence with the ministers; it must be so, for if any change is made for the better, in any church, those who are to be the instruments of carrying it on, must be prepared for their work. Again: many persons have no just conception of what constitutes a true revival of religion; and so when Christ commences a revival, they begin to be surprised. They often think that such a terrible state of things as is manifested, where such a work is begun is evidence of anything else, than the Spirit of Christ among the people. Thus it was when Christ came among the Jews, and therefore they could not see in Christ a likeness to the Messiah, whom they expected. Now, let me say, it is always so, where people want reviving--they are surprised, because they are not aware that they are so much out of the way; therefore when such means are adopted, they will say, these are not the kind of means that were needed. Of course, if they knew what they wanted, and if they were aware of their true condition, they would not be in the circumstances in which they are; but they are not aware of their true position, and their real wants. If it was left to them, they would universally do something else, than that which Christ sees is needed. But when they complain of the means which is adopted, and you ask them what they think they want, they cannot tell! They do not apprehend their true position, and their real wants. Therefore Christ always comes and takes them all aback and surprises them. He sees they need reviving, and therefore he searches them by his ministers, whom they will sometimes rise up against, oppose and denounce.

If persons would but consider deeply what is always implied in the necessity for a revival, they would see, that just those means must be used which, if they are in need of a revival, they do not desire, otherwise they would not be in such a state. The difficulty is in their own hearts. Their hearts are wrong. Now if their hearts are wrong, they do not desire that thing which God says they want; consequently when he comes to revive them, he will take such a course as will greatly shock their prejudices, for mark me, if he did not shock their prejudices, he never would revive them; if your prejudices, I say, are never shocked, you will never be revived--never! Universally to shock prejudice is the very first thing done towards a revival! He universally takes them aback, in order to make them see that they are not going right. This should always be understood, and always counted upon by those who stand upon the watch towers; those who stand upon the high places of Zion, that if they ask Christ to come, he will give them a terrible searching; this is absolutely necessary, and I say should be remembered.

I have often had occasion to say to ministers, with whom I have been labouring as an Evangelist, "I fear there is something coming, that will make the ears of the people to tingle; I am afraid there is something that God will search out; take care lest there should be some terrible revelation." Now when pastors know that any evil thing exists, let them apply themselves to search it all as before the light, and bring every soul to repentance. The searching will open men's minds, but let pastors not be afraid; let them stand fast: let them understand that their work is to purify and purge the church from dross and chaff: and in the prosecution of this work, they must expect that those who are at ease in Zion will be afraid and terror will surprise the hypocrites. But these things must be done.

Let me say again; it will often come to pass, of course, indeed uniformly, that where a revival has commenced, persons who have kept up a fair outside, and deceived people, will then begin to be exceedingly restless and uneasy and will manifest a degree of opposition that from their profession was not to have been expected. A revival of religion will uniformly find out such people as these and bring them to their proper level, and make them understand themselves, and other people also will not fail to understand them. Sometimes I have known the most striking cases of persons, who, it was supposed, would favor a religious movement, turn very restive, and find fault with this thing and that thing, and with the manner and the matter of this one, and of the other. Now this is to be expected; because if they are out of the way, this will be of course. If such is their condition their hearts need be broken and searched, and it is not to be expected that this will be gratifying to them, or what they wished for.

Again: persons, who have seen revivals of religion, know what to expect in them, and they don't therefore want a revival. They dread the searching! And why should they not dread it? They are afraid! They may well be afraid. I have known ministers sometimes afraid, either for themselves or some of their people; they dreaded the disclosures of the rotten state of many among them.

But let me say again; impenitent sinners, who have committed crimes and are averse to making restitution, will dread a revival.

Once more: many persons who have hopes in which they have not much confidence, will have their hopes tried. There are many persons hold on to a hope when they can just barely hold on to it; they find it difficult to hold on at all; they have so many doubts and misgivings--and so much reason to doubt. I am convinced that those doubt most who have the greatest reason to doubt! Cases are very rare in which persons doubt of their hopes, who have not good reason to doubt. Now persons who have hopes in which they have but very little confidence are not willing to have their hopes tried, to have them brought right into the crucible; they will therefore feel wretched when a searching commences, that will be likely to severely try their hopes.

But this leads me to say again: hopes that are really good at the bottom must be tried also. Those whose hopes are good, have need to be tried that whatever is wrong may be removed. Christ therefore brings the fire to bear upon them, and bring their hopes to the proof, and such will come forth from the furnace "rooted and grounded in love." Some have been guilty of crimes; these will be searched out. Perhaps crimes against the law, or against society. Most disgraceful things have sometimes been discovered, and made public, and sometimes the individual has been brought to repentance. Oft times when Christ comes to purify, it will appear as if the Church was about to be torn in pieces. I have often seen this myself. Just in proportion as professors of religion get into any false peace, it will seem, when a revival commences, as if every thing was going to pieces. Don't be afraid, Christ is at the helm! Don't be afraid, I say of any such result as the church going to pieces; only continue to pray, and put every soul in the crucible--let every soul be thrown in; every one must be tried and searched: hold steadily on, let the fire try and search them to the bottom. It will do the people good.

Once more: oft times it will be found in revivals of religion that this will occur in congregations,--some will go away; they can't stand it; they won't give up their idols. Some, I say, will go; but generally where one goes twenty will come! When the minister goes on searching and sifting it will sometimes produce great changes in a church and congregation; and mark! it is necessary that the worldly element should be put out, and therefore such changes are necessary. Sometimes I have observed that when the worldly element has got into a church, it diffuses itself like leaven, till almost the whole church becomes possessed with a worldly spirit. Now Christ comes to work the worldly element out: and it is curious what means he will sometimes take to work it out: no matter what outward form it puts on, he will work it out of the church in one way or another: some he will bring to repentance, and he will greatly change the position and relations of others; instead of being high in the estimation of the church, they will become low, and some who are low will be elevated. Views will be changed of the spiritual character of many of the members; some will be greatly mortified; great changes will be introduced. These things, and such things as these, may always be expected when Christ comes to revive his work. "He is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel." Some will fall and some will rise. Great changes will occur, but they will be all for good.

Again:--and I hasten to close what I have to say this morning--revivals of religion are designed by Christ not only to sift, purify, strengthen, and settle the church; but they are designed also to tell upon impenitent sinners who live around them--for Christ works through the church upon the world, consequently they are sealing times, harvest times, when multitudes are gathered in.

Now, let me ask, my brethren, have you had any indications of Christ's coming to you? Have you found that the Master, whom you sought, has come to his temple? Have you many evidences of Christ's appearing among you? How many of you have been searched? Have you been thrown into the crucible? Have the things that I have briefly noticed, and which are contained in my text, been seen among you? If so then you know that Christ is in the midst of you.

Once more: oft times persons are looking for a revival of religion in an exactly opposite state of things, to that which really constitutes a revival of religion. They want Christ to come in such a way as not to disturb any body--they cannot suffer any excitement! No excitement? Can a backslider be reclaimed without being excited? Never! Can a sinner be converted without excitement? No! Never!! And no church ought to expect it.

But once more, and then I have done for this morning. Those that cannot abide the day of his coming here, how shall they abide the day of his coming hereafter? If you do not expect his coming or do not profit by it, or cannot stand the searching, cannot abide his coming to promote a revival of religion, what will you do, when he comes to judgment? If you cannot bear the searching light of truth here, O what will you do, when you stand unveiled in the presence of the solemn judgment under the blaze of that glory, from which the seraphim turn their faces, and cover them with their wings?

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