TIMES OF REFRESHING
A sermon preached on the occasion of Mr. D. G. Crowter’s second anniversary as pastor of Gower Street Memorial Chapel, London, on Friday, September 7,1984.
“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” Acts 3.19.
A Certain Promise
“The times of refreshing shall come.” There is no uncertainty about this verse. It is an absolute and certain promise regarding the future of the Church of God, and the future of the people of God.
This verse has been understood in different ways. There have been those who have confined the times of refreshing to the times beyond the end of the world’s history, because we read in verse 21 of “the times of restitution of all things.” Certainly there are rich blessings to be enjoyed by God’s people at and beyond the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. But I take this expression in verse 19 to be a promise, a promise which belongs to the whole of the true Church of the living God, and a promise that belongs to that Church in every age down to the end of the world’s history. Certainly it was true in the particular circumstances of this chapter. Some of these people to whom Peter had been preaching were already beginning to experience such times of blessing. For centuries the Jewish people had been in a state of spiritual darkness, bondage, dryness, and barrenness. For over 400 years, until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, there had been a dark period in their spiritual history. But now God had appeared again; God had intervened in their national history, and God had intervened most remarkably in the history of the world. God had sent His own dear Son into the world, and the Saviour had come to give His life a ransom, a sacrifice, an atonement for sin. And now, after the blessings of Pentecost and the powerful coming of the Holy Spirit, there are already times of refreshing.
The earlier parts of this chapter serve as a very vivid natural illustration of such a time of refreshing. There was the poor lame man who had to be carried to the beautiful gate of the temple where he had to sit and beg and wait for the charity of the people who went in and out at the gate. But along came Peter and in a most wonderful way, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, commanded this man to ‘rise up and walk’. There was a man in a most miserable, helpless, wretched state; a word from Peter – the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – and he stood up; he was leaping and jumping and praising God. There was an amazing change in that man’s life. Now that is the kind of change, illustrated in a natural way, which I believe we shall see in a spiritual way when there are ‘times of refreshing’.
The Parched Earth
What precedes times of refreshing? This summer we have had sufficient sunshine and periods of dry weather to appreciate the effect of the rain. What happens when there is no rain? The earth becomes dry and parched, living things begin to die, seeds will not germinate, and so much around us becomes brown and shrivelled up. That, is a prelude to these times of refreshing. And that may be the situation personally in a believer’s life, or collectively in the life of a church, or far more generally in the life of the church throughout a particular area, or even throughout the world; for historically that has been the case. There have been long periods when the true Church has been weak, numerically few, spiritually depressed, and there has been no evidence of divine power in anything like the same measure as at other times in history. We are obviously more familiar with the situation in regard to our own souls and in regard to those churches with which we are connected. If we were honest, we would have to say that there have been times of dryness, times of spiritual barrenness, times when it seems that everything has become parched and shrivelled up. In a situation like that it seems as though what was alive is going to die, as though no seeds germinate, and nothing seems to be growing. I do not know how clearly and precisely that may describe past experiences for you personally, or for you as a church. But I am sure that if we are honest we know that there have been times like this. Some of us have to say sadly there has been more than one occasion when that has been true of us. Spiritually we seem to have got very dry and hard and unresponsive. It seems as though the seed of the Word can fall on our hearts as though it is falling on the way-side and the birds of the air come and take it away. Then we have to ask ourselves serious questions. Are we really spiritually alive?
Similarly in the life of a church. Maybe there is the preaching of the Word, the faithful ministry of the gospel, and yet you sit and you listen and there is not that warm responsiveness to the word preached. There is not a mixing of faith with the Word that is heard, and so you can quickly become dull of hearing.
Now the parched dry earth is a sad picture of people who have become dull of hearing and do not receive the Word; there is no mixing of faith with the Word that they hear, there is no application of the truth to their own situation, and there is no fruitfulness as a result of the preaching of the Word. Be honest, yourselves; have there not been periods like that? That is why I take these simple words in verse 19 to have a continuing relevance to believers and to churches and to the Church as a whole. It is a wonderful promise which we have in this simple expression. In spite of what we are, and in spite of what we repeatedly have been. God is declaring
wonderfully that ‘the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord’. There is the prelude with regard to the spiritual condition of things. It had been like that until the day of Pentecost. Although there had been rich blessings through the ministry of John the Baptist, through the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the ministry of His apostles, now there is this wonderful outburst of spiritual power and blessing and grace associated with the day of Pentecost and the days immediately following. Indeed the Lord had promised His apostles that they would see greater things than any that they had seen in the life of the Saviour, because He knew that the Word of the gospel would spread from the Jewish people into all the world. He knew that instead of the ones and the twos here and there, instead of the twelve and the hundred and twenty there would be thousands upon thousands called to follow their Saviour. He knew that throughout the world eventually there would be not only thousands upon thousands but millions who would hear and who would believe. That little band of believers would grow numerically, and in influence, and the teaching of that little band would spread; others would be added to them to be preachers and teachers until the whole world would be affected by the gospel. Now it is a promise that the Lord Jesus Christ will not come again until He has called His people from out of every kindred and tribe and tongue, and so there have been, and there will be ‘times of refreshing’.
The Word Preached
What else do we see regarding the prelude to these ‘times of refreshing’? When God, by His Spirit, begins to move and to work what do we see? In verse 19 we read “Repent ye therefore, and be converted.” There are three things which I want to notice. First the Word is preached. In this case the word is that simple fundamental gospel principle, “Repent ye therefore and be converted.” There was preaching. As the apostles went about preaching and teaching they seized every opportunity to speak to the people concerning Jesus Christ. When Peter saw the people running together into the porch that is called Solomon’s greatly wondering, he said, “Ye men of Israel why marvel ye at this…”. He has an opportunity, and he speaks to them of the honour and glory and dignity of Jesus Christ, and then he charges them with their sin. That must have been a devastating thing to say to them: “Ye… killed the Prince of life.” It sounds paradoxical: the Prince of life – you killed Him. We know by God’s grace that there is life by His death, but that does not lessen the guilt of their sin. “Ye … killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.” They seized the opportunity to preach Christ, to preach man’s sin, to
charge the consciences of the people with the guilt of crucifying Jesus. And then the preaching of the Word developed in this way -the command to repent and to be converted that their sins might be blotted out. There was a faithful, powerful, personal preaching of the Word. And when the Holy Spirit works, and there are to be times of refreshing you will find that those men whom God has called to preach the Word are anointed with a fresh sense of Divine power. They are given a fresh sense of spiritual authority. They speak with a fresh pointedness. They lay upon the consciences of people the sins of which they are guilty, and they call on them to repent and to believe and to be converted, that their sins might be blotted out. That is one of the characteristic features of an outpoured blessing of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost. Those that preached the Word were blessed with a boldness they had never known before. Individual believers were also blessed with a new boldness to testify of their faith, and even when persecuted and scattered, they went everywhere preaching the Word.
Hard Hearts Softened
Secondly, as a prelude to those times of refreshing, there is a breaking of the hard ground, a softening of the hard hearts of men. If there is one thing that we need to pray about today, it is that there will be such an influence of the Spirit of God to soften the hard hearts of men. O how hard they are. And let me begin right at home, in all honesty and affection. Some of the hardest hearts are the hearts that have been hardened under the gospel. There are such things as gospel hardened sinners: “We’ve heard it all before,” “There’s nothing new in this.” The poor minister strives and prays and pleads with his God that he might be able to preach with a new warmth and vigour and feeling, and the people say, “O it’s just what we’ve heard before. Same old thing again.” There is nothing harder than a heart that’s hardened like that, under the gospel. What a mercy when hearts as hard as that are softened and then broken, and there is repentance, and men grieve for all those sinful occasions when they scorned the Word of God, and when the gospel has been just words. Then it is that they begin to cry to the Lord to make that precious gospel bum into their heart and affect them again. “Repent ye therefore”, because you have heard the Word, because the gospel has been preached to you, because Christ has been set before you. “Repent ye therefore”, because He is the Son of God, and because His Word is not to be ignored.
The word of a gospel minister is not just his own opinion. He is not claiming infallibility. He is not claiming the inspiration that the apostles had. But he is insisting that if a minister is anointed by the Spirit of God he brings God’s message to the people. “Repent ye
therefore” because God has been speaking. Isn’t that what had happened? As Peter had begun that wonderful history of gospel preaching, people had heard the word, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted.” That is a spiritual turning. It is essential; there must be such a turning. This is how the apostle expresses it in 1 Thess. 1.9, “Ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.” And if you have not turned in the same way you are not converted. The language is clear enough. A prelude to times of refreshing will be an inward change which is fundamental and radical. It is an inward change in which a person is turned in the opposite direction. His whole way of life is reversed. Instead of running in the ways of sin and wickedness he turns to the ways of righteousness and truth. Instead of serving the wicked one he turns with a heart made willing to serve the living God. He has the spirit of Saul of Tarsus as when he was changed in that remarkable way and said, “What wilt thou have me to do?” That is the measure of true conversion. “Yes”, he said, “Verily I thought I did God service when I was persecuting Christian believers and haling men and women to prison. I thought I did God service.” That was the magnitude of the change; a completely different direction. Humbled and broken, he said, “What wilt thou have me to do?” Repent! “Repent ye therefore”. It is an argument. It is a command. It is a pressing word. “Repent ye therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out”. As long as you go on in the ways of sin and unbelief and rejection of the gospel you will never know the forgiveness of sin. And you won’t when you come to the end of your life and stand before the judgement seat of Jesus Christ. Those who are hard-hearted, unbelieving and impenitent will receive a just recompense of their sin. That is what makes these words so pressing and of such vital significance. “Repent ye therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.”
Conviction of Sin
So thirdly, there is a new and deep sense of sinfulness, of personal guilt. There is this new willingness to admit our sin, to confess our sin, to turn from our sin and to seek the Lord. O how we need to pray that men’s hearts will be softened. How we need to pray that hearts that have been hardened even under the gospel ministry will be broken and softened in this way, and that they will repent of their sin against Jesus Christ. How we need to pray that in this country generally there will be a softening of men’s hearts, that they will be made receptive to the gospel because at the moment it seems as though the vast majority of people have no time for these things at all. But the promise still stands. “Times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”
The Presence of the Lord
What is the secret of these times of refreshing? I would say that the secret can be understood in two ways. Clearly and pre-eminently in this verse, there is a connection between times of refreshing and the presence of the Lord. How many could say with absolute certainty and conviction, “I know that only the Lord can really refresh my soul”? How many church members would say, “I am convinced that only the Lord can refresh His Church”? Well, I hope there are a good number who can say that, and without any hesitation at all.
It is from the Lord that the refreshing comes. But it is not as though the Lord stands at a distance and says, “I will refresh my people, they are far away but I will refresh them.” The times of refreshing are not only times which the Lord Himself gives to us, but they are times which He gives to us by coming to us Himself. That is the wonder of these times of refreshing. He comes in a very marked and special way to His people. Do you know anything about that? Do you know anything about the beginning of these experiences in your own soul when the Lord first came to you in that way of first conviction, and of initial quickening? “Ye must be born again”. Do you know anything about that? When you were born again, whose life was it that you received? Where did that life come from? What was the effect of it? Think of Saul of Tarsus; as he looks back over those beginnings in his life, now as Paul, the preacher to the Gentiles, he says “God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, revealed his Son in me.” “From the presence of the Lord” came that blessing, and it was a manifestation of Jesus Christ to him personally.
Isn’t that what we need? Don’t you sometimes get down on your knees and say, “O Lord come to me again. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation. Come Lord into my life with that heavenly love and power that I have known.in former days.”
Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
The Presence of the Holy Spirit
There is another thing to notice in connection with this wonderful promise. “The presence of the Lord’ I take to be the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ with us as the Son of the Father. But, you say. He is not present with us in physical form as He was with the apostles. No, they saw Him go up into heaven, they knew that He had ascended up into the presence of His Father. What is this ‘presence of the Lord’ then? I think that is what has led some people to restrict the meaning of this verse to the second coming and events that follow the second coming. But I believe we can understand it in
this way; the Lord Jesus Christ has promised to be present with His people through the power and blessing and presence of His Holy Spirit. Now that is a spiritual mystery, and there is spiritual depth to this truth. Jesus said to His disciples, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” To the end of the age. Jesus was saying, “I am going to be with My Church and with My people down to the end of time”. Yet He ascended up into glory, and they no longer saw Him with their natural eyes, physically He had gone. But you go on to read in these chapters in the Acts of the Apostles, and what is the impression you gain as you read? Surely you gain the impression that these men were strangely conscious of the nearness of their Lord – the presence of the Lord. And when did that special awareness of the presence of the Lord begin to be so vivid? It was when the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost and was poured out upon them in that most wonderful way! This really lies at the heart of this wonderful blessing. It is the presence of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is at work in your life you will have this personal sense of nearness to, and relationship with, Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the blessed third Person in the Trinity by whom we experience the love and communion and fellowship of Jesus. “Our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” These are times of refreshing. O, precious times of refreshing! Precious spiritual times of life and warmth and renewed vigour! “Times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”
Power in Preaching
What are the consequences of these times of refreshing? Let me begin with the ministry. What happened as a consequence to this faithful preaching and teaching? At the beginning of chapter 4 we have two results. There were those who were grieved that Peter and John taught the people and they laid hands on them and put them in hold until the next day. There was bitter opposition. “Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.” When God refreshes His ministers in their ministry, and anoints them again with fresh oil, there will be Faith in the hearts of the people. “Many of them which heard the word believed.” They were convicted and were brought to repentance. They were pointed to Jesus. They mourned over the awful crime of killing the Prince of life, and from that time onward they knew what it was to love the Lord, to follow Him, to serve Him. Those will be the simple but wonderful consequences of times of refreshing in the ministry of God’s ministering servants. There will be a believing response in the hearts of the people because the Holy Spirit makes the word preached powerful amongst them.
The Response of the Heart
What about the people? Go back to the illustration of the ground, dry and hard and cracked and parched, where nothing will grow. When there is a time of refreshing there is a new sensitiveness. It is as though you are seeing those old familiar things in a new way. It is as though your heart can now respond to things which previously you just heard and they went over your head. Now you are taking them to your own heart and so your life is affected. In times of refreshing there is a new softness. In times of barren, parched dryness there are all kinds of problems, personal and collective. People are critical of one another; Church members are disagreeable. You get all kinds of problems because of the low state of spirituality amonst God’s pepple. O yes, they are God’s people but they are in a low state. But when times of refreshing come then there is a new warmth, a new love. You can see it over and again in these records of the Acts of the Apostles. When times of blessing came under the power of the Spirit of God there was a great warmth of affection for those who were in need, and they shared things amongst themselves. They “had all things common”. Yes, there was a deep compassionate concern, a new sensitiveness.
Love to Jesus Christ
But at the heart of it all, is a new warmth of spiritual love to Jesus. Instead of singing “Do I love the Lord or no. Am I His or am I not?”, there are hearts that respond and say, “I know I love the Lord”; “I know whom I have believed”; “I have committed the keeping of my soul unto Him”; “I know Him”; “I know His grace”;
“I’ve proved His power to save”; “I know His longsuffering and His grace in reviving”. There is a new assurance, spiritual and warm, a new persuasion and confidence. That was the hall-mark of the New Testament Church. There has grown up the idea that it is somehow a super-spiritual state to be in if you are always mourning your wickedness and your low state and your unbelief and doubts and fears. These things are real, and there are times when we have to mourn over them, but times of refreshing are times when God deals with things like that. The sickness of our souls He has come to heal, and the weak barrenness of our spiritual life He has come to revive. So you will hear a different language. You will hear the language of humble confidence and gracious assurance when “times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord”. “Many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.” And they were not ashamed to own the Lord, and to be identified with these imprisoned apostles. They were not ashamed to be identified with the church of Jesus Christ when times of refreshing had come.
There is therefore an influx of members into a living church, and they are living souls. And the Lord adds to the church daily such as should be saved. When times of refreshing come there is a new and deep and spiritual regard for the Word of God. The Word of God is “multiplied”. A strange expression! It does not mean that copies were made and distributed; it means that the effect of the Word in men’s lives was multiplied in the lives of others and deepened in each individual. The effect of the Word is seen in times of refreshing.
Then there is a new unity amongst God’s people, a deep spiritual bond. Why? Because in times of refreshing you can tell who are the Lord’s people. I looked at some grass outside our house. Patches of it were very green, generally under the trees in the shade. But another part of the garden is all brown. You ask, “Is it alive?” You would have to get down on your hands and knees to find if there were any green shoots, but after the rain you will soon recognize that it is alive because it is green again. So it is spiritually. In times of refreshing you recognize spiritual life in others, and they recognize it in you. That is how this spiritual oneness, relationship, and union grows, because of the recognition of God’s work in another person’s soul.
Times of refreshing will make God’s people more sensitive about their way of life, about their behaviour, and about their relationship with the world. Times of refreshing will mean men and women are more devoted to the Saviour, more devoted to His cause, and more self-denying. They would not think it an imposition to be told “they are not their own, they are bought with a price”. When times of refreshing come there are men and women and boys and girls who are only too glad if they can do anything to honour Him; anything in which they can express the love they feel for Him. They are not trusting in their works. They are not looking for their works to save them, but with gratitude in their hearts they are saying, “Lord, what can I do?”
A Labouring Church
Times of refreshing are times when you will see the church labouring, and remarkably active. A mere activism, a lot of things going on, committees and meetings and so on, can be typical of the parched barrenness. But real, spiritual life will show itself in spiritual growth and spiritual activity and spiritual concern, for the life and well-being of the church, both locally and world-wide. Times of refreshing were known in Jerusalem, and immediately you see the
Spirit of God moving men in strange, and sometimes distressing ways, out of Jerusalem into all the world, because Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Times of refreshing shall come.”
A Lively Church
When times of refreshing come, your meetings together will be different. Can you say that has been true this past year? Have there not been occasions when you would say ‘there was something very wonderful and very sacred about our meeting’? It was as though, when the meeting was finished, you hardly dared to speak. They are blessed times when our hearts are so sensitive, we just want to “consider Him who bore such contradiction of sinners against Himself.” In these meetings of God’s people are often times of praise and thanksgiving. There have been times in the history of the Church when there has been a new spiritual poetry. That is something we have almost forgotten. Why have we a hymn book? What happened? Why, there were times of refreshing, and men and women were so affected by the truth and the love of Christ that they expressed themselves in exalted, spiritual poetry and praise and song. “Times of refreshing shall come.” In spite of the fact that in certain parts of the professing Church today there is all manner of confusion and wildness and noise and rant, I cannot move from this, that when times of refreshing come there will be the evidences in every aspect of the life of the Church. Do you remember that sacred time when Jesus and His disciples met together for the last supper, they sang a hymn and went out. What wonderful unity there was there as they sang those precious psalms of praise to God.
What about times of refreshing in your private prayer, in your private reading of the Word? There will be times of refreshing in your private conversations with each other, and in your family circle. There will be times of refreshing and communion between husband and wife and parents and children. I still vividly remember an occasion, when in one family I knew very well, two young people were powerfully called by the grace of God. O, what a home to go .into! What a time of refreshing! They are blessed times. “Times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord. And He shall send Jesus Christ which before was preached unto you: whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things.”
Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ is coming again at the end of time, but He is coming again in this spiritual way in the power of His Spirit From time to time in the life of His Church. And bless God, He is
going to come like that in the lives of individual believers. This is the sovereign grace of God. He shall send Jesus Christ. He has been preached to you. Perhaps already your heart is beginning to move toward Him in the preaching that you have heard. Perhaps you are still seeking Him and you are saying, “Lord come and bless me as others have been blessed.” “Times of refreshing shall come.” He will send Jesus Christ to you in a personal revelation and manifestation to your soul. He will reveal His Son in you. “Times of refreshing shall come.”
God grant that through this coming year you will know much of that blessing, indeed I pray the whole year may be such a time of refreshing.