As we’ve chronicled in our previous posts here and here, Frank Bartleman became one of the key players in Azusa Street Revival. He was a man of passion and deep burden. His prayers literally opened the heavens, and his messages were withering to all that was of the flesh. Everything that stood as an obstruction to the full exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord of all became the object of his travailing prayer and was ruthlessly opposed by his fearless pen and tongue.
But Frank Bartleman was more than an intercessor and more than a dauntless revivalist. He was a man of vision – a prophet! He perceived a deeper significance of what the Holy Spirit was after in revival and called upon God’s people to go on to that ultimate. His voice, although so long silent, now once again goes forth. Shortly before his death in 1925, Bartleman delivered the following message:
The world is the field; the true Church is the treasure—like a kernel in a shell. But the nominal Church, the ecclesiastical Body in each generation, is also like a field in which the true mystical Church—-the living Church—like a treasure is hidden. But even this true, mystical Church is far from being the treasure of divine life and power originally planned and provided for in the purpose of God.
Ever since the early Church fell from New Testament purity and life, she has been like a backslider, fallen from the summit of apostolic days—-though destined to return and yet enter into the full blessing of the Father’s house. I refer to the true, mystical Body of Christ. It is a “prodigal son,” wandered from the Father’s house, but since the Reformation gradually returning. Nearly five centuries have now passed since the Reformation.
The route back has been devious and long, with many a dark valley, as well as many a glorious summit. But steadily, relentlessly, the mighty Spirit of God has been moving on, restoring that which was lost and heading things up toward that great prophetic revelation of the Body of Christ in unity and fullness—even one Body, fully matured “unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13 KJV)!
Beloved, unless we understand this, we will not be able to move on with God and understand the different stages, experiences, and various standards and operations in the Church’s history during this dispensation. That is why most Christians have failed to move on with God and to accept His cumulative unfolding in the restoration of revelation, light and experience, once lost, but now being restored to the true Church. If you do not fully see this, or if it seems to differ from your present conception of things, do bear with me. Before I am finished, I believe you will understand; and, if so, it may well transform your life, giving new and vital direction to your prayers and ministry.
The Heart of our Trouble
The human soul is very lazy toward God, and no one generation has seemed to be able to travel very far on its way back to God and His standard from which the early Church fell. It is true that human error or conceit continually satisfies itself with a part instead of the whole, but the real fact is that men are not willing to pay the full price to come back fully to Go’s standard, to be all the Lord’s.
The early Church came forth from the “upper room” fresh in her “first love,” baptized with the Holy Spirit, filled with God, possessing both the graces and gifts of the Spirit, and with a 100 percent consecrated for God. This was the secret of her power. She was all for God, and God was all for her. This principle will apply in all ages, both individually and collectively.
No sacrifice on the altar means no fire. The fire of God never falls on an empty altar. The greater the sacrifice, the more the fire. When the prodigal gets home, and the Church becomes 100 percent for God again, we will have the same power, the same life—-and the same persecution from the world.
The reason we have so little persecution now is that the Spirit cannot press the claims of God home on the world through us. When that happens, men must either surrender or fight. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8)! God never changed. We are not waiting for God. God is waiting for us. The Holy Spirit is given; we are still in the dispensation opened on the day of Pentecost. But God can only work when we are willing, yielded, and obedient. We tie God’s hands.
The history of the Church has been the same. Each company that has come forth in the line of restoration has run the same course. That is human, fallen nature. It is human failure, not God’s. When everything dries up and dies out, we call upon God. This alone makes it possible for God to come. He must have some place to put His Spirit, and only empty vessels can be filled. When we are filled with our own ways, think ourselves rich and increased in goodness spiritually, God can give us nothing. “To the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet” (Prov. 27:7 KJV).
The crumbs tasted good to the Syrophoenician woman, but well-fed children despise even dainties. They will throw the food across the table at one another. Like the children of Israel, they despise even “angels’ food. The best preacher in land cannot preach with liberty when his message is not desired or received. The oil ceases to flow as soon as there are no more empty vessels to be filled. This will often explain why good preachers sometimes have liberty and other times have no anointing. Criticism will stop the flow of oil through any preacher. Oil will not flow when frozen.
How it all Begun
The early Church ran well for a season. Everything went down before it. But by the third or fourth century, they had compromised to escape the cross. They sold out to the devil, backslid, and went down into the “Dark Ages.” They lost the Holy Spirit anointing, the gifts, the life, the power the joy— everything. The Church became the prodigal, left the Father’s house, and went to feeding swine. The devil found he could not stamp out the early Church by killing them. For everyone he killed, two sprang up. Like the children of Israel, “the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew” (Exod. 1:12 KJV).
They exposed themselves purposely, recklessly, for this reward. Someone has said the greatest call that ever came to man is the call to suffer in a noble cause. Heaven was real to a early Church—- far more real than earth. In fact, they seem to have lived only for the next age. That was their longing, their goal, to be delivered from this present evil world. It was the sole relief they looked forward to. This present life, after all, is the true saint’s purgatory. It is the sinner’s heaven—- his only heaven— and that is said beyond words to express! But, glory to God, it is our only hell! We are in the enemy’s country, running the gauntlet, with foes lined up on all sides— but we’re just passing through.
Without question, it was God’s desire to restore the backslidden, prodigal Church at once, when she fell, just as He must have desired at once to restore the human race in the beginning, when they fell. But He could not. Human fallen nature was too weak. God also wanted to take the children of Israel right into Canaan from Kadesh-Barnea when He brought them out of Egypt. It was only a short journey, but they frustrated His purpose and desire. “They grieved God and limited the Holy One of Israel” (ps. 78:41) just as it has ever been. In consequence, they stopped going forward, went to “milling around,” and “their carcasses fell in the wilderness” (Heb. 3:17). Beloved, whenever we stop going forward, we go to “milling around.”
When an individual stops going forward for God, he begins to go in a circle, just as a man when lost in a forest ceases to go straight forward but wanders in a circle. So it was with the early Church. When they ceased to go forward, they started wandering in a circle and became lost in the Dark Ages.
The devil had found that he could not destroy them or stop their march by persecuting and killing them; so he removed the cross, offering them titles, positions, honour, salaries, profits of every kind— and they fell for it. They no longer needed to look to God for their protection and support. They were “like the nations around about them, “just as the children of Israel when they rejected God as their King. And it is so with our great Church bodies of today. History repeats itself in every movement through human weakness and failure.
For the Azusa Street part of this study, I borrowed heavily from Frank Bartleman’s own account of the revival in his classic work, Frank Bartleman’s Azusa Street, First Hand Account of the Revival, compiled by Roberts Liardon, and now published by Destiny Image Publishers. This book contains important insights on the nature of the revival and can be found in many Christain bookstores or anywhere books are sold.