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Born After Midnight
By A. W. Tozer
Moody PublishersCopyright © 1987 The Children of A. W. Tozer
All rights reserved.
Born After Midnight
Among revival-minded Christians, I have heard the saying, "Revivals are born after midnight."
This is one of those proverbs that, while not quite literally true, yet points to something very true.
If we understand the saying to mean that God does not hear our prayer for revival made in the daytime, it is of course not true. If we take it to mean that prayer offered when we are tired and worn-out has greater power than prayer made when we are rested and fresh, again it is not true. God would need to be very austere indeed to require us to turn our prayer into penance, or to enjoy seeing us punish ourselves by intercession. Traces of such ascetical notions are still found among some gospel Christians, and while these brethren are to be commended for their zeal, they are not to be excused for unconsciously attributing to God a streak of sadism unworthy of fallen men.
Yet there is considerable truth in the idea that revivals are born after midnight, for revivals (or any other spiritual gifts and graces) come only to those who want them badly enough. It may be said without qualification that every man is as holy and as full of the Spirit as he wants to be. He may not be as full as he wishes he were, but he is most certainly as full as he wants to be.
Our Lord placed this beyond dispute when He said, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6). Hunger and thirst are physical sensations that, in their acute stages, may become real pain. It has been the experience of countless seekers after God that, when their desires became a pain, they were suddenly and wonderfully filled. The problem is not to persuade God to fill us, but to want God sufficiently to permit Him to do so. The average Christian is so cold and so contented with His wretched condition that there is no vacuum of desire into which the blessed Spirit can rush in satisfying fullness.
Occasionally, there will appear on the religious scene a man whose unsatisfied spiritual longings become so big and important in his life that they crowd out every other interest. Such a man refuses to be content with the safe and conventional prayers of the frost-bound brethren who "lead in prayer" week after week and year after year in the local assemblies. His yearnings carry him away and often make something of a nuisance out of him. His puzzled fellow Christians shake their heads and look knowingly at each other, but like the blind man who cried after his sight and was rebuked by the disciples, he "cried the more a great deal" (Mark 10:48). And if he has not yet met the conditions, or there is something hindering the answer to his prayer, he may pray on into the late hours. Not the hour of night, but the state of his heart, decides the time of his visitation. For him it may well be that revival comes after midnight.
It is very important, however, that we understand that long prayer vigils, or even strong crying and tears, are not in themselves meritorious acts. Every blessing flows out of the goodness of God as from a fountain. Even those rewards for good works about which certain teachers talk so fulsomely, and which they always set in sharp contrast to the benefits received by grace alone, are at bottom as certainly of grace as is the forgiveness of sin itself. The holiest apostle can claim no more than that he is an unprofitable servant. The very angels exist out of the pure goodness of God. No creature can "earn" anything in the usual meaning of the word. All things are by and of the sovereign goodness of God.
Lady Julian summed it up quaintly when she wrote,
It is more honor to God, and more very delight, that we faithfully pray to Himself of His goodness and cleave thereunto by His grace, and with true understanding, and steadfast by love, than if we took all the means that heart can think. For if we took all those means it is too little, and not full honor to God. But in His goodness is all the whole, and there faileth right nought. ... For the goodness of God is the highest prayer, and it cometh down to the lowest part of our need.
Yet for all God's goodwill toward us, He is unable to grant us our heart's desires till all our desires have been reduced to one. When we have dealt with our carnal ambitions; when we have trodden upon the lion and adder of the flesh, have trampled the dragon of self-love under our feet and have truly reckoned ourselves to have died unto sin, then and only then can God raise us to newness of life and fill us with His blessed Holy Spirit.
It is easy to learn the doctrine of personal revival and victorious living; it is quite another thing to take our cross and plod on to the dark and bitter hill of self-renunciation. Here many are called and few are chosen. For every one that actually crosses over into the Promised Land, there are many who stand for a while and look longingly across the river and then turn sadly back to the comparative safety of the sandy wastes of the old life.
No, there is no merit in late-hour prayers, but it requires a serious mind and a determined heart to pray past the ordinary into the unusual. Most Christians never do. And it is more than possible that the rare soul who presses on into the unusual experience reaches there after midnight.CHAPTER 2
The Missing Witness
One cause of the decline in the quality of religious experience among Christians these days is the neglect of the doctrine of the inward witness.
Stamping our feet to start the circulation and blowing on our hands to limber them up, we have emerged shivering from the long period of the theological deep freeze, but the influence of the frosty years is still felt among us to such an extent that the words witness, experience, and feeling are cautiously avoided by the rank and file of evangelical teachers. In spite of the undeniable lukewarmness of most of us, we still fear that unless we keep a careful check on ourselves, we shall surely lose our dignity and become howling fanatics by this time next week. We set a watch upon our emotions day and night lest we become over-spiritual and bring reproach upon the cause of Christ. Which all, if I may say so, is for most of us about as sensible as throwing a cordon of police around a cemetery to prevent a wild political demonstration by the inhabitants.
We who hold the doctrines of the New Testament these days believe ourselves to be in direct lineal descent from the apostles and true and legitimate offspring of the early church. Well, I believe there are today some who belong to the household of God, who are of the chosen generation and make up the royal priesthood and the holy nation of which Peter writes (see 1 Peter 2:9). They are found scattered among the churches where, we may as well admit, they are often a source of embarrassment to the mixed multitude that composes the membership. That much is true; but for us to assume that all evangelicals belong in the apostolic succession is to be too optimistic for our own good. So to believe suggests a disquieting parallel with those scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day who claimed spiritual descent from Abraham because they could demonstrate that they were his physical offspring. "We be Abraham's seed" (John 8:33), they boasted. Jesus replied by making a distinction. "I know that ye are Abraham's seed" (v. 37), He told them. "If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham" (v. 39).
In the same way as the Pharisees, we may err gravely by assuming that we are children of God because we hold the creed of God. It most certainly does not follow. It is not physical descent that marks one a true child of Abraham, for Abraham is the father of such as have faith, and faith is not passed on by natural procreation. So it is not creedal descent that proves us to be true sons of Pentecost, but identity of spirit with them upon whose heads sat the cloven tongues like as of fire.
One distinguishing mark of those first Christians was a supernatural radiance that shined out from within them. The sun had come up in their hearts, and its warmth and light made unnecessary any secondary sources of assurance. They had the inner witness. They knew with an immediate awareness that required no jockeying of evidence to give them a feeling of certainty. Great power and great grace marked their lives, enabling them to rejoice to suffer shame for the name of Jesus.
It is obvious that the average evangelical Christian today is without this radiance. The efforts of some of our teachers to cheer up our drooping spirits are futile because those same teachers reject the very phenomenon that would naturally produce joy, namely, the inner witness. In their strange fear of the religious emotions, they have explained away the Scriptures that teach this witness, such as, "The Spirit itself beareth witness" (Romans 8:16), and "He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself" (1 John 5:10).
Instead of the inner witness, we now substitute logical conclusions drawn from texts. A conversation between a seeker and a worker in an inquiry room is likely to run about like this: "Do you want the Lord to receive you and make you His child?" "Yes." "Well, read this: 'Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out' (John 6:37). Do you believe that?" "Yes." "Now if He doesn't cast you out, what does He do?" "I suppose He takes me in." "Amen. Now He has taken you in and you are His child. Why don't you tell others about it?" So the bewildered seeker forces a waxy smile and testifies that he has been converted to Christ. He is honest and means well, but he has been led astray. He has fallen victim to a Spiritless logic. Such assurance as he has rests upon a shaky syllogism. There is no witness, no immediacy of knowledge, no encounter with God, and no awareness of inner change.
Where there is a divine act within the soul, there will always be a corresponding awareness. This act of God is self-validating. It is its own evidence and addresses itself direct to the religious consciousness. Abundant external evidence may exist that a work has been done within, and in this, the reason may rejoice; but such evidence cannot be sufficient to guarantee that a saving work has been wrought. Whatever can be judged by reason is subject to the limitations and errors of reason. God waits to assure us that we are His children in a manner that eliminates the possibility of error, that is, by the inner witness. In one of the most triumphant hymns ever written, "Arise, My Soul, Arise," by Charles Wesley, there occur these lines,
His Spirit answers to the blood, And tells me I am born of God.
To the salvation-by-logical-conclusion devotees, such language is plain heresy. If it is heresy, I run to join such a glorious heretic. And may God send us many more.
They continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42, emphasis added)CHAPTER 3
Faith Is a Journey, Not a Destination
They continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
So says Luke of the thousands who received the Word and were baptized following the preaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost.
Conversion for those first Christians was not a destination; it was the beginning of a journey. And right there is where the biblical emphasis differs from ours.
Today all is made to depend upon the initial act of believing. At a given moment, a "decision" is made for Christ, and after that, everything is automatic. This is not taught in so many words, but such is the impression inadvertently created by our failure to lay a scriptural emphasis in our evangelistic preaching. We of the evangelical churches are almost all guilty of this lopsided view of the Christian life, and because the foundations are out of plumb, the temple of God leans dangerously and threatens to topple unless some immediate corrections are made.
In our eagerness to make converts, we allow our hearers to absorb the idea that they can deal with their entire responsibility once and for all by an act of believing. This is in some vague way supposed to honor grace and glorify God, whereas actually, it is to make Christ the author of a grotesque, unworkable system that has no counterpart in the Scriptures of truth.
In the book of Acts, faith was for each believer a beginning, not an end; it was a journey, not a bed in which to lie while waiting for the day of our Lord's triumph. Believing was not a once-done act; it was more than an act, it was an attitude of heart and mind that inspired and enabled the believer to take up his cross and follow the Lamb whithersoever He went.
"They continued," says Luke, and is it not plain that it was only by continuing that they could confirm their faith? On a given day they believed, were baptized, and joined themselves to the believing company. Very good, but tomorrow what? and the next day? and the next week? How could anyone know that their conversion had been genuine? How could they live down the critic's charge that they had been pressured into a decision? that they had cracked under the psychological squeeze set up by crowds and religious excitement? Obviously, there was only one way: They continued.
Not only did they continue, they continued steadfastly. So wrote Luke, and the word "steadfastly" is there to tell us that they continued against serious opposition. Steadfastness is required only when we are under attack, mental or physical, and the story of those early Christians is a story of faith under fire. The opposition was real.
Here again is seen the glaring discrepancy between biblical Christianity and that of present-day evangelicals, particularly in the United States. In certain countries, I am told, some of our brethren are suffering painful persecution and counting not their lives dear unto themselves that they might win Christ. For these, I have only utmost admiration. I speak not of such as they, but of the multitudes of religious weaklings within our evangelical fold here in America.
To make converts here, we are forced to play down the difficulties and play up the peace of mind and worldly success enjoyed by those who accept Christ. We must assure our hearers that Christianity is now a proper and respectable thing, and that Christ has become quite popular with political bigwigs, well-to-do business tycoons, and the Hollywood swimming pool set. Thus assured, hell-deserving sinners are coming in droves to "accept" Christ for what they can get out of Him; and though one now and again may drop a tear as proof of his sincerity, it is hard to escape the conclusion that most of them are stooping to patronize the Lord of glory much as a young couple might fawn on a boresome but rich old uncle in order to be mentioned in his will later on.
We will never be completely honest with our hearers until we tell them the blunt truth that as members of a race of moral rebels, they are in a serious jam, and one they will not get out of easily. If they refuse to repent and believe on Christ, they will most surely perish; if they do turn to Him, the same enemies that crucified Him will try to crucify them. One way, they suffer alone without hope; the other way, they suffer with Christ for a while, but in the midst of their suffering, they enjoy His loving consolation and inward support and are able to rejoice even in tribulation.
Excerpted from Born After Midnight by A. W. Tozer. Copyright © 1987 The Children of A. W. Tozer. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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