Nicodemus answered and said to him, How can these things be?
This question is often asked concerning revivals of religion, and in dealing with it I would show —
I. THAT THERE ARE SOLID GROUNDS ON WHICH TO BUILD A HOPE OF THE DISPENSATION OF THE SPIRIT TO PRODUCE REVIVALS OF RELIGION IN OUR CHURCHES.
1. We should endeavour to obtain a correct estimate of the real condition of the primitive churches of whom we read that they received the Holy Ghost. On this subject there are two opinions.
(1) Some regard them as bordering on perfection.
(2) Others as discovering the weaknesses of an infantile state emerging from barbarism. The truth lies between the two extremes. They were distinguished by peculiar privileges and exalted attainments, but many of them were possessed of weakness, imperfections, and sins. Yet nothing is more indisputable than that they were in constant receipt of the influences of the Spirit of God.
2. The Holy Spirit chooses oftentimes to display His Divine prerogative of sovereignty as to the time, place, and modes of His operations; and He displays it in such a manner that not unfrequently He gives no account of it to us. How is it that of two men brought up under the same influences one is converted and the other not? There is an analogy between the operations of God in nature and in grace, as different countries will yield different productions, each excellent in their kind; as oaks are of slow, and parasites of rapid growth, so is the work of conversion. Read the explication of the subject in 1 Corinthians 12. So one country is visited with a dispensation of the Spirit which issues in marked and numerous conversions, while another is visited with one which issues in works in defence of the gospel, and yet another with the missionary spirit.
3. There are circumstantials often connected with revivals which are by no means essential to their general character.
(1) It is no indication of a genuine revival that there is great excitement. There may be real spiritual excitement, but often it is of an empty character; and there may be a true revival when all is calm and noiseless.
(2) Nor is it a certain evidence that great numbers profess to be converted.
4. There are facts frequently occurring amongst ourselves which prove that the Spirit has not forsaken us.
(1) Individual sermons are known to produce great results.
(2) Churches often receive members into fellowship without special efforts.
(3) Individual cases of conversion show the Spirit's operation.
5. Inference that if the means be employed we may expect yet greater things in the way of the Spirit's manifestations.
II. THERE ARE PREPARATORY MEASURES TO BE ADOPTED IN ORDER TO THE ATTAINMENT OF THESE HIGH AND GRACIOUS DISTINCTIONS.
1. Cultivate a solemn, deep, and abiding conviction of the necessity and importance of the Spirit's influences to advance the cause of religion.
(1) In your own hearts.
(2) In your congregations and churches.
2. Labour to put out of the way all those impediments which tend to obstruct the descent of the Spirit. Trifling with prayer, speculating on gospel verities, hypocrisy in worship, conformity with the world, uncharitableness and all those things which "grieve the Holy Spirit of God."
3. Acknowledge thankfully what God has already done by His Spirit.
(1) Not to do so displays ignorance and ingratitude.
(2) To do so will open the eye to God's wonderful working in many particulars, church building, Bible circulation, Sunday schools, missions, etc.
4. Consecrate more time to fervent and importunate prayer-private, family, social, etc.
5. Expect great things from God.
Parallel VersesKJV: Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?