Shiloh (Part One)
Go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name to dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel (Jeremiah 7:12).
Thirty-seven year old Asahel Nettleton, the powerful Presbyterian evangelist, was exhausted. He had been preaching several times daily in his home state of Connecticut from early spring, 1819, until mid-summer. He needed a break, so he made his way to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York for a little respite. While recuperating from his strenuous schedule, Presbyterian pastor Mark Tucker from nearby Stillwater paid Nettleton a visit. Tucker told him that the surrounding region was a spiritual wasteland, that no Presbyterian or Congregational churches existed there (these were the two major denominations at the time and both were identical in Reformed doctrine, save their differences in church government). He prevailed upon Nettleton to take up gospel preaching in Stillwater and the surrounding towns. So in late July 1819, Nettleton began preaching the gospel of grace in Stillwater, remaining there for at least a month, seeing scores of people awakened to their perilous condition, many of whom were hopefully converted. He then preached for a similar time-frame in Saratoga Springs and then also in Malta. Several thousand people gave evidence of new life in Christ through his evangelistic preaching in those towns. Finally, in March of 1820 Nettleton came to Schenectady and settled in at the First Presbyterian Church, located in the old Stockade (the part of the city formerly fortified against Indian attacks). The church had been founded in 1760 and had recently built a beautiful sanctuary with a balcony (circa 1805). Nettleton preached Christ crucified to the people of Schenectady and many came under profound conviction of sin there as well. Records of First Presbyterian Church, Schenectady, show that one hundred and twenty people were gathered to the church in 1820 by profession of faith, no doubt directly related to the preaching of Nettleton. It seems that wherever Nettleton preached revival and awakening soon appeared. The Holy Spirit with convicting, regenerating, and converting power was mightily upon Nettleton.1
That was then, but what about now? Upstate New York has again become a spiritual wasteland. Charles Finney later came into the region and brought a man-centred and manipulating message which yielded thousands of spurious conversions. When the people predictably fell away from their counterfeit faith, they became hardened to the true gospel, wrongly assuming that they had heard the true message and found it lacking. ‘I tried it . . . been there, done that . . . doesn’t work.’ Upstate New York has never recovered from Finney. However, recently there are hopeful and encouraging signs of renewal at First Presbyterian Church, Schenectady. Pray for this church, that God will fan the flickering flame of revival and cause it to ignite into a mighty, far reaching fire that consumes the people of that region with the true gospel of grace.
But how did they lose gospel power, and we may rightly ask ourselves the same question – in light of the marvellous history of revival in all parts of the United States, what happened? Why has the power, the anointing, the unction of the Holy Spirit left us?
This brings me to a brief explanation of the Jeremiah 7:12 passage cited above. When Joshua led the people of God into the promised land he pitched the tabernacle of God at Shiloh, a town about twenty miles due north of modern day Jerusalem (Josh. 18:1). When Hannah prayed to the Lord at the place of worship, asking him for a son, she prayed at Shiloh. When the Philistines came against Israel, they defeated them, killing four thousand of their men. This was unprecedented. Israel always won when going into battle. When their leaders tried to understand what happened, they remembered that they had not taken the ark of the covenant (the presence of God) with them into battle. That had to be the problem, so they brought the ark of the covenant into the camp, prior to their next engagement with the Philistines. They were sure of victory then, but they viewed the ark like a talisman. Even the Philistines were fearful, believing they could not stand against God’s presence. However the Philistines routed Israel, killing thirty thousand more men, including the wicked sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas. When corpulent Eli heard the disastrous news, that his sons had died, that the ark of the covenant was gone, he fell over backwards in grief, broke his neck and died. When Phinehas’ wive heard the shocking news, she went into premature labour and died. Prior to her death, however, she told the people to call her son Ichabod (the glory has departed, 1 Sam. 4).
So when Jeremiah gave his history lesson, reminding the people of Judah what God had done at Shiloh, how he had taken his presence from them due to their pride, unbelief, and rebellion; it was meant to be a wake-up call for them. The glory was about to depart from Judah in their day unless they repented and returned to the Lord of glory.
Simply put – we lack power and efficacy. The church is losing the culture war today, because the glory has departed. We have lost the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. We have our wonderful plans, our gifted communicators, our beautiful buildings, but we lack power. Jesus told his disciples to remain in the city until they were clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49). He told them they were to be his witnesses when they received power (Acts 1:8). Paul said that he was not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16). He also said that his gospel did not come to the Thessalonians in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with full conviction (1 Thess. 1:5). He said the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18).
If we grieve the Holy Spirit, then his power leaves us. King David, after committing the heinous sin of adultery and then murder, is convicted to the core of his being and cries out to God, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Thy presence, O Lord, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me’ (Psa. 51:10-11). Indeed, the true believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and he always will be, but sin can cause the believer to forfeit the divine graces of the Spirit’s presence. In this scenario the believer is walking by the flesh and not by the Spirit. He begins to doubt God’s love for him. He has no felicity in prayer. He increasingly becomes cold-hearted or hard-hearted, ambivalent about the eternal verities. He may step up his activities of church life. He may go perfunctorily through the disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, and family devotionals, but he lacks power. He may try new means of reaching people in the community with the gospel, but they are powerless to effect change. People are not convicted of their sin when he shares Jesus with them. Few, if any, are converted through his evangelistic work. He may even forfeit such work altogether, convincing himself that he ought to leave that kind of thing to the specialists anyway. And he becomes stagnant in his progress of biblical holiness.
We have more to say on this vital topic.2
Life & Labours
Go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name to dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel (Jeremiah 7:12). Thirty-seven year old Asahel Nettleton, the powerful Presbyterian evangelist, was exhausted. He had been preaching several times daily in […]
- See ‘Shiloh (Part Two)’ here
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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