It is always wise to revisit great books written by great men. The words of the great saints always are of value, and one can never drink too often from these deep springs of biblical truth and spirituality. And some authors can never be read too often as well.
Plenty come to mind here, but two like-minded champions should be at the top of your list: A. W. Tozer and Leonard Ravenhill. Both men were towering prophetic voices last century, speaking to and pleading with an anaemic and lethargic church. So lowly had so much of the church become that God especially raised up these two giants in the faith to challenge, rebuke, exhort and warn the church of their day.
They were fearless prophets who spoke what God wanted heard, not what men wanted heard. I can’t help compare them to an Old Testament prophet I am just now rereading: Jeremiah. Consider the first seven verses of Jeremiah 25:
The word came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim son of Josiah king of Judah, which was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. So Jeremiah the prophet said to all the people of Judah and to all those living in Jerusalem: For twenty-three years – from the thirteenth year of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah until this very day – the word of the Lord has come to me and I have spoken to you again and again, but you have not listened. And though the Lord has sent all his servants the prophets to you again and again, you have not listened or paid any attention. They said, “Turn now, each of you, from your evil ways and your evil practices, and you can stay in the land the Lord gave to you and your ancestors forever and ever. Do not follow other gods to serve and worship them; do not arouse my anger with what your hands have made. Then I will not harm you. But you did not listen to me,” declares the Lord, “and you have aroused my anger with what your hands have made, and you have brought harm to yourselves.”
Year after year he proclaimed truth, yet most of it fell on deaf ears. In fact, most of it fell on angry and resistant ears. For all of his efforts, he met rejection constantly, and as I read again this morning, he ended up paying a heavy price for it. Jer. 37-40 records some of his many hardships, including lengthy stints in prison, in cisterns, and in other forms of captivity.
It is always that way with God’s spokesmen. They are usually rejected, and seldom embraced. One of my favourite statements of Tozer is this one: “I have preached myself off of every Bible Conference platform in the country!” Yep, that is usually how it goes with God’s choice servants.
So go back to these great men and reread their Spirit-emblazoned words. Perhaps start with Ravenhill’s 1959 classic, Why Revival Tarries. Not only is this a must read (and reread) but even the foreword is worth the price of the book – written by none other than his friend and kindred spirit, A. W. Tozer.
The words of Tozer still stir the soul and move the spirit mightily. Let me offer part of what he wrote there:
Great industrial concerns have in their employ men who are needed only when there is a breakdown somewhere. When something goes wrong with the machinery, these men spring into action to locate and remove the trouble and get the machinery rolling again.
For these men a smoothly operating system has no interest. They are specialists concerned with trouble and how to find and correct it. In the kingdom of God things are not too different. God has always had His specialists whose chief concern has been the moral breakdown, the decline in the spiritual health of the nation or the church. Such men were Elijah, Jeremiah, Malachi and others of their kind who appeared at critical moments in history to reprove, rebuke and exhort in the name of God and righteousness.
A thousand or ten thousand ordinary priests or pastors or teachers could labor quietly on almost unnoticed while the spiritual life of Israel or the church was normal. But let the people of God go astray from the paths of truth and immediately the specialist appeared almost out of nowhere. His instinct for trouble brought him to the help of the Lord and of Israel.
Such a man was likely to be drastic, radical, possibly at times violent, and the curious crowd that gathered to watch him work soon branded him as extreme, fanatical, negative. And in a sense they were right. He was single-minded, severe, fearless, and these were the qualities the circumstances demanded. He shocked some, frightened others and alienated not a few, but he knew who had called him and what he was sent to do. His ministry was geared to the emergency, and that fact marked him out as different, a man apart.
To such men as this the church owes a debt too heavy to pay. The curious thing is that she seldom tries to pay him while he lives, but the next generation builds his sepulcher and writes his biography, as if instinctively and awkwardly to discharge an obligation the previous generation to a large extent ignored.
Oh that God would raise up such men today. We certainly need them now as much as ever – perhaps even more so.