Leonard Ravenhill died twenty-two years ago (1994). Without the advent of the internet, his memory would have remained cherished only without certain circles and his sermons traded on video cassette between a few church groups.
Thanks to Youtube, online sermon archives, audio recordings, and the new orthodox scholarship that is revitalising itself by drawing afresh from the forgotten orthodox wells of the past, Ravenhill is perhaps more widely known in 2016 than he was even during his lifetime. He deserves to be, for he addressed his mission to the Church at large, transcending denominations (most of which he predicted as far back as the 1980’s would diminish and utterly fail because their methods and motives had faded from true, biblical standards of Christianity).
Ravenhill identified himself as a classical Pentecostal, but he was not overly partial to Pentecostals. He repudiated modern Pentecostalism with its dramatics, lights, glitz, hand waving, “praise bands” and so forth. His was a Pentecostalism of the Holiness Movement from the 1920’s; a serious commitment to holiness, to prayer, to contemplation, to reverence, to awe at God, and to the word of God. This species of Pentecostalism is as far removed from the modern variant as a wise elder is removed from a callow adolescent.
One cannot listen to many of his sermons without coming to realise that Ravenhill had a deep abiding love for God and for the holiness of God. Both qualities are rare today, even among people who identify themselves as Christians.
His commitment to God was absolute. He was well-known to pray for six or more hours a day, often beginning at midnight and praying through the early hours of the morning. And his prayers were not trite. He exemplified the very essence of St. Peter’s call to be a “holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ“. Ravenhill’s prayers were indeed sacrifices of a spiritual sort. He prayed with tears, with groaning, and with energy. Like Paul, he “travailed as in birth” in the place of prayer in the hope of bringing Christ into the hearts and lives of others – primarily, a Church bound in its 20th century winter.
Prayer was the heart of his service and the cornerstone of his life in a way that is so sadly missing in the Church today. “No man rises above his prayer life”, Ravenhill was wont to say, “No man is greater than his prayer life”, which is certainly true. Moreover, his preaching reflected this depth of prayer. There was the atmosphere when he preached of the throne room of God. Crowds would come to listen to him. At the beginning of his sermons there would often be a frothy, carnival atmosphere among some visitors, but this quickly dissipated as his sermons progressed until people were made solemn and still.
Like his close friend A. W. Tozer, Ravenhill devoted a considerable part of his life to the study of men who had a deep connection with God and who had been involved in serious, meaningful revivals of Christianity. His attention was arrested by men of God who had poured out their entire life into the service of God, and he sought to do the same. His preaching was often ornamented with references to Whitfield, Booth, the Wesley brothers, to Ann Carmichael, and so on. In like fashion, he reflected deeply on the life of St. Paul, and the service of the prophets. Through it all, the motivating force in his life was to stand approved by the One he loved on the awesome Day of Judgement.
He lived his whole life – not merely a portion of it – in the “light of eternity”. Everything in his life was centred on the grandeur and majesty of the throne of Christ before which all men must stand. Indeed, in his office, a plaque was attached to the wall bearing a single word: “ETERNITY”. That was his daily preoccupation. That is what he strove toward.
Occasionally God raises up men upon whom he has bestowed a clarity of vision about the enormity of the life of the world to come, and gives such men to the Church. These servants of Christ burst through the membrane of our pretensions. They are impassioned with the glory of Christ; hungry for eternal blessing and divine closeness in a way that defies so many in our comfortable world of seemingly settled certainties. Such men provoke and sharpen. They are sent to bring holy fire to the cold hearts of their brethren. Leonard Ravenhill was one such man.
Of all his sermons, the one which has probably had the deepest impact is his sermon titled “The Judgement Seat of Christ”, which leaves one spellbound and sombre at the thought of Jesus Christ in judgement, of the great accounting of all things at the end of the ages, of every man’s work being tried by the pure and holy Son of God. It is an uncomfortable sermon and it seriously disturbs one’s own pretensions and self-righteousness, as all good preaching should. It is a sermon that savours of the incense of the heavenly realms, and one well worth listening to and contemplating seriously.
Oh that more men might see the awesomeness of coming judgement and the vastness of eternity. Oh that the Church might arise and embrace again its commission with fervour and with faith. Enough with the rubbish of politics and social commentary. Enough with grubbing about money and risk and investment. Time indeed, to get serious about our eternal destination – infinite hell, or infinite heaven.
“There are a million roads into hell, but not a single road out.” – Leonard Ravenhill.