When Presbyterians Shout
Yesterday I preached a message from Isaiah 54 with the above title. Saying “when Presbyterians shout” sounds akin to responding to improbable news with “when pigs fly” or that other hyperbolic (and non-Biblical) figure of speech involving hell and freezing. Yet that’s not exactly what I had in mind. Presbyterians shouting is not improbable, just not as common as one might like. Admittedly, it takes a great deal to get us to open up the tonsils. But there are definitely certain situations that bring forth the “Hallelujah!” and “Praise the Lord!” even from Calvinists.
Such as times of great conversions, which is what Isaiah 54 promises and calls us to “Shout for joy!” over.
“Shout for joy, O barren one, you who have borne no child; break forth into joyful shouting and cry aloud, you who have not travailed; for the sons of the desolate one will be more numerous than the sons of the married woman,” says the LORD. Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch out the curtains of your dwellings, spare not; lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left. And your descendants will possess nations and will resettle the desolate cities.
Though the church, like ancient Israel, can go through times of barrenness and unfruitfulness, the Lord promises seasons when the church will abound with new spiritual offspring. Having recently listened to reports of thousands of new believers on a new mission field in Africa, and of the same in an old mission field in Asia, I have heard Presbyterians shouting. Yes, the “Hallelujahs” have been a bit too reserved at times and, on one occasion, permission even had to be granted by the moderator to express it, but all-in-all the enthusiasm is real and genuine. In the 1857 prayer revival in America, the Presbyterian Weekly could not help but shout out a report of the 50,000 converts that had taken place in six months.
I look at my own ministry field and, to be honest, grow discouraged over the lack of conversions and interest among the people in the true things of Christ. Yet this passage in Isaiah encourages me, for these promises were given to a people preparing to enter a time of barrenness first before the blessings would come. In the same vein, Spurgeon in Morning and Evening takes the psalmist’s question “Why go I mourning?” and asks:
Canst thou answer this, believer? Canst thou find any reason why thou art so often mourning instead of rejoicing? Why yield to gloomy anticipations? Who told thee that the night would never end in day? Who told thee that the sea of circumstances would ebb out till there should be nothing left but long leagues of the mud of horrible poverty? Who told thee that the winter of thy discontent would proceed from frost to frost, from snow, and ice, and hail, to deeper snow, and yet more heavy tempest of despair? Knowest thou not that day follows night, that flood comes after ebb, that spring and summer succeed winter? Hope thou then! Hope thou ever! For God fails thee not. Dost thou not know that thy God loves thee in the midst of all this?…Come, sing in the midst of tribulation. Rejoice even while passing through the furnace. Make the wilderness to blossom like the rose! Cause the desert to ring with thine exulting joys, for these light afflictions will soon be over, and then “forever with the Lord,” thy bliss shall never wane.
Indeed, shout for joy, O Presbyterians! And for any non-Presbyterians who may read this, pray for us. For the joyful shouting is not an optional suggestion, but a divine command.