WHAT IS REVIVAL?
Around the middle of the 19th century the churches in America were having a lean time. People were far more preoccupied with gold than with God and most had little interest in spiritual matters. Church leaders, meeting in Pittsburgh, called upon church members to pray for revival and church pastors to preach on the subject on the first Sunday of every year.
The Old North Dutch Church of downtown New York City was especially feeling the drought. In addition to the factors mentioned above many families had moved out to the suburbs giving place to offices and immigrants. On July 1, 1857, Mr. Jeremiah Lamphier began to work as a lay missionary. He diligently and methodically visited the homes, hotels, offices and boarding houses but with little success. Discouraged but dedicated he distributed leaflets inviting businessmen and office workers to join him in prayer at 12 noon in one of the back rooms of the Old North Dutch Church. On the appointed day, Wednesday, September 23, 1857, noon came and went with no-one joining him. After thirty minutes alone Lamphier heard a footstep on the stairway and a second person arrived. Eventually there were six. The following Wednesday twenty showed up. The third week there were forty and they decided to meet every day. Ever larger numbers began attending until three rooms were full. The largest churches opened up and were soon filled to capacity.
Within six months ten thousand people – mostly businessmen and office workers – were gathering daily in New York for “The Noon Hour Prayer Meeting.” The churches began to hold preaching services in the evenings and at unaccustomed times. Jesus Christ became the main topic of conversation throughout the city and large numbers of people were converted. The Awakening spread to other cities and across the country. God had arrived on the scene! This – was Revival.
We shall return to this remarkable story in a later chapter.
REVIVAL is, by very definition, the infusion of new life into that which is dead, is sick, or is comatose. Revival of the Christian Faith is a visitation of God leading to a restoration of New Testament Christianity within the churches and a spiritual awakening among the ungodly. It is the Sovereign God pouring upon his church mighty power leading to an extraordinary harvest of new believers.
I know of no more interesting, exciting or stimulating subject than that of revival. It refocuses the mind, strengthens faith, stimulates prayer, and inflames the heart.
BEFORE Revival – Scenario One
It may happen like this: at certain times the church becomes formal, joyless, powerless, and ineffective. Membership declines to such an extent that the world mocks it, or regards it as a total irrelevancy to be ignored. During particularly bad periods unbelief within the church spreads like a cancer and the clergy parade the fact that they reject the very doctrines upon which the church has been built. At such times those few who remain faithful to the historic Gospel are discouraged, if not despairing. For all intents and purposes the church appears to be dead and its complete demise is widely predicted. That revival is desperately needed is obvious. The faithful few are praying. (Sadly, this scenario could still describe the church situation of much of Europe in the 21st century.)
Then something remarkable begins to happen. Tiny buds of new life manifest themselves. Certain groups begin to pray earnestly; preachers here and there exhibit unusual power and effectiveness; there begins to be among the people a great sense of the awfulness of sin, the reality of judgment, and the goodness of grace. Spiritual things become real and the blessing which has begun within the church spills out into the world as large numbers of people are saved. It is springtime. Revival has come.
BEFORE Revival – Scenario Two
However the scenario may be somewhat different. Perhaps the churches are not struggling. Congregations are good, staffs grow ever larger, there are programs for every age and every need. Facilities are being built at enormous cost which are quite magnificent, while the music offered is of professional standard. In fact many churches seem to be throbbing with life. Furthermore, far from abandoning the Bible, many of these churches claim to believe it devotedly. They are proud to be labeled “Evangelicals” and regularly anathematize the theological Liberals. They and they alone, they declare, are the true people of God.
Yet…yet…something is wrong. A closer look reveals that the life is not spiritual life. Ask the busy members preparing for the next extravaganza what is meant by “Justification” – the very heart of the Gospel – and they would hardly know. The preaching lacks substance and one listens in vain for the centrality of the cross. Sin, repentance, and judgment to come are hardly ever mentioned. Great Bible words such as atonement, sanctification, adoption, election, are missing. There is little about Heaven, and Hell is taboo. You won’t hear much about the cost of discipleship and the call to holiness either. The focus is on time not eternity, man’s needs not God’s glory.
When the crowds leave the worship service the main topics of conversation, either then or throughout the week, are not the things of God but the things of the world – business, sports, politics, and the like. Ask to attend the Prayer Meeting and there will either not be one or it will be very poorly attended. Little if any energy is given to the deepening of spiritual life and the cultivation of the knowledge of God. Much energy, however, is devoted to entertaining the crowds to keep them coming, raising money to pay off huge building debts, and trying to better other churches in numbers, programs, and facilities.
The second scenario is in some ways more serious than the first, for these kinds of churches see no need for revival. They think they have everything and boast of their “success”. Actually they are like the church of Laodicea, to whom our Lord Jesus sent this message, “I know your deeds that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:15-17). (Sadly, this second scenario may well describe many churches in the United States of America in the 21st century).
But when the Spirit comes this begins to change. Someone begins to say, “Something is missing – something vital.” Perhaps a few begin to search their own hearts, to repent and to pray. The Lord Jesus had an appeal to those Laodiceans, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and eat with him and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Some folk, instead of trumpeting Christ’s supposed presence, weep at his obvious absence and plead with him to return.
And when he does, show business gives way to God’s business.
Revival is not the same as evangelism. The church is indeed commanded to evangelize for the Lord Jesus gave to the church its great commission and the church must fulfill that trust in good times and bad; but revival is a sovereign act whereby God grants to the church such a season of refreshing that one is reminded of the days of the Acts of the Apostles. This is Pentecostal power. Evangelism is something we do, asking God to motivate it, direct it and – especially – make it fruitful. Revival is something God does, and the church stands in awe.
This is not to suggest that there is never any connection between evangelism and revival. Indeed, in the Eighteenth Century Revival in England and America under Edwards, Whitefield, and Wesley, it was as they evangelized that the extraordinary reviving power of God was sent down. It has been said that to call an evangelistic campaign a “revival”, to announce that the church will have a “Revival” on such and such a date, has led to much confusion. Revival is not something one can announce in advance. We can pray for it, long for it, hope for it, even seek to remove all hindrances that might delay it, but we cannot organize it for it is sovereignly given when and where God wills. Nevertheless we should acknowledge that at least those who hold these special efforts are seeking to obey our Lord’s command to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel” which is more than some of us do who criticize their terminology. I suspect they are more likely to see true revival than disobedient “do-nothings.”
What is Revival? – Part 2
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF TRUE REVIVAL
Since I came to know Christ in 1954 I cannot recall a time when I was not captivated by the subject of revival and the thrilling stories of such times from the history of the church. Alas I have never been part of a revival but I have read of many, at different times and in different places. I can therefore point to certain characteristics that are common to them all and seem to authenticate that a work is truly of God. Let’s consider some of the main ones.
1. COLLECTIVE BLESSING
Revival is something which happens to a church, a group of churches, an entire area, or even a nation. At certain times revival has spread from nation to nation and spanned thousands of miles. Individual renewal is not, therefore, being spoken of here. This does take place, of course, but the point of revival is that many are affected at once. Acts 2:4 says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit”. Acts 4:31 states, “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit”; and Acts 10:44, “The Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.”
Revival is not confined to one social group but touches all classes. George Whitefield had a fruitful ministry among the aristocracy of England and the leaders of Colonial American society, yet as with his Savior, “the common people heard him gladly.”
Revival is not confined to one age group. Frequently the youth are among the first to be deeply affected. They have been somewhat indifferent to the faith passed on from their parents having no real faith of their own. Their lives have been marked by rebellion and the pursuit of pleasure. But when the Spirit comes all that changes and having experienced the new birth they become serious, dedicated, and on fire for Christ. During revivals large numbers of children are affected as well as adults. When Jesus comes in power the children flock to him as they always did. So do the poor, the outcasts, and the needy.
2. CONVICTION AND REPENTANCE
Whereas hitherto sin has been treated as something trivial, if considered at all, in times of revival there is a renewed sense of the awfulness of sin and its offense against a holy God. There is much sorrow for sin, brokenness before the Lord, and accompanying tears of repentance. Sometimes there is open confession as those who have been false repent of their sham and “playing church.”
In a future article we will tell the thrilling story of the Revival which occurred in New England in the eighteenth century led by the great Jonathan Edwards. One of his most famous sermons was entitled, “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” (from Deuteronomy 32:35), which he preached in Enfield in 1741. Edwards used to read his manuscript and his method of preaching was somewhat undemonstrative. One contemporary account describes the effect this way, “When they went into the meeting-house the appearance of the assembly was thoughtless and vain; the people scarcely conducted themselves with common decency.” Then, as the sermon progressed, “…the assembly appeared bowed with an awful conviction of their sin and danger. There was such a breathing of distress and weeping, that the preacher was obliged to speak to the people and desire silence that he might be heard.” Another wrote: “Many of the hearers were seen unconsciously holding themselves up against the pillars, and the sides of the pews, as though they already felt themselves sliding into the pit.”
Similar is the scene described by revivalist Charles G. Finney, almost one hundred years later, when he preached in the village schoolhouse near Antwerp, New York, “An awful solemnity seemed to settle upon the people; the congregation began to fall from their seats in every direction and cry for mercy. If I had had a sword in each hand, I could not have cut them down as fast as they fell. I was obliged to stop preaching.”
One notices, by the way, that the “falling down” was not because the preacher had touched them, or lined them up and confronted them, prayed over them, or blown on them, such as we see with certain televangelists today (whatever you may think of that), but because they were under the preaching of God’s Word, overcome with conviction of sin and crying to God for mercy. Such physical and dramatic manifestations are not always present in times of revival but deep conviction is. It is an essential mark. If it is not present then it is not revival.
Not only is the believer’s relationship with God brought under scrutiny, but also that with his fellow believers. When the Spirit of God is mightily at work there is a great sense of brotherly love. Long feuds are ended, grudges confessed and repented of, broken relationships healed, frequently with many tears and cries to each other for forgiveness.
Revivals frequently have begun in the Prayer Meeting and gatherings for prayer are very much characteristics of revivals. The great revival of 1857-1860 has even been designated, “The Prayer Meeting Revival,” but I know of no revival that could not be designated in the same way. Most pastors today would admit that prayer meetings are usually the poorest attended in the church. Indeed many churches no longer have a meeting which is specifically for prayer. (Some churches entitle a meeting “The Prayer Meeting” but they do almost everything except pray!)
In one of the churches I was privileged to pastor I invited anyone interested to join me to pray for revival. I had been studying the subject and reading about the great outpourings of God’s Spirit at certain times and places in history. I longed for the same. We were seeing much blessing and growth, but I longed for more – not only for our church but for all the churches in the city and beyond.
For many months a small group of people (at most 12) met with me faithfully week by week to pray for revival. We were by no means discouraged by their being so few of us because – as we have seen earlier – great revivals have come when only two or three were praying for it, or even only one! We did not see revival. Nevertheless let me suggest what would have happened had God been pleased to pour down upon us His mighty presence and power.
The account at the beginning of the previous article “What is Revival?” that can be found on the Articles page, gives us a clue as to the kind of way we might have seen it happen. Had revival come, perhaps one Saturday, drawn by the Holy Spirit there would have been thirty who came to pray with me; then fifty, then one hundred. Soon we would have needed to move the gathering into the main auditorium. The people would have refused to end the meeting after one hour concluding that no Saturday evening engagement could be half so important nor half so exciting as this was.
This extraordinary power would have been seen in our WORSHIP. We, like most churches, concluded our worship when we had finished our time with God. When revival comes we cannot – we will not – be dismissed until God has finished His time with us, however many hours that might be. Quite probably there would be gatherings for prayer, praise and preaching every night.
Our EVANGELISM would then have brought forth extraordinary results. It would be harvest time. In fact every aspect of church life would have throbbed with the dynamic of new life.
Revival is like a great fire; it starts small and then spreads and spreads. It might have started in the worship service; it might have come as we gathered for the Lord’s Supper; God might have chosen to answer our cries by visiting first the youth, a Sunday School class, or a home group.
One thing, however, we can be sure of is that the church would have become a church frequently and earnestly at prayer. If prayer does not become a church priority then it is not true revival.
4. JOY AND PRAISE
Revival is characterized by great joy. I have heard recently of churches and meetings where people are given to hysterical, uncontrolled and prolonged laughter, the imitation of various animal noises, and other bizarre exhibitions. These are attributed to the Holy Spirit and are said, by some, to be a sign of revival. I, myself, visited a prominent church in Toronto and saw and heard all this for myself. This “holy hilarity” (as it has been called) even continues during prayer, the reading of Scripture and the preaching. I have difficulty with that.
The joy experienced in revival is joy over sins forgiven, relief that the awful burden of guilt has rolled away at the Cross, and sheer happiness in the attributes of God. It is not mindless. It has been put about by some prominent leaders and preachers that we need “a bypass of the mind.” I could not disagree more strongly. A mark of the fullness of the Spirit of Truth is a love for the Bible, a hunger to know more of it, and a joy in all that it teaches. An encounter with God results in a “renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2), and Peter urges his readers to “prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled” (1 Peter 1:13). There might, for some people, be some psychotherapy in “having a good laugh” in an uninhibited way (or a good cry for that matter). For some with deep-seated emotional problems there may be cathartic release in roaring like a lion, braying like a donkey, or rolling on the floor. There is nothing new in that. We are not, however, discussing manifestations which are merely psychological (however therapeutic) but those which are spiritual and have their source in a mighty work of God. Such Divine experiences, I repeat, are linked to Divine Truth.
Someone may say, “But what about the Day of Pentecost? Didn’t the Spirit-filled disciples behave in such a way that people thought they were drunk” (Acts 2:1-13)? Yes, some thought that (v13). This was clearly because the one hundred and twenty disciples were speaking languages they couldn’t understand. However many did understand and were amazed to recognize their own home tongue in an unexpected place, Jerusalem, and from an unexpected source, Galileans (verses 6,7,12). And what were these followers of Jesus speaking? Well, they were not speaking gibberish! They were in fact “declaring the great deeds of God” (Acts 2:11). Nothing could be less mindless than a group of people publicly declaring the great things which God has done.
Now I am not saying that we do not need more joy. An average congregation today sometimes looks more miserable (as I heard one preacher say) than a can of worms at a fishing contest. What I am saying is that during a time of Holy Spirit revival the joy and the praise flow freely but they combine the heart and the mind, the Spirit and the Word.
When revival comes the people cannot wait to gather together for praise, doing so every night and sometimes all night. Praise and prayer go hand in hand. There is much singing. Today it is often difficult to get some congregations to sing well. Maybe that is because they really have nothing to sing about! Cotton Mather, the great New England Puritan, said, “It is remarkable that when the Kingdom of God has been making any new appearance a mighty zeal for the singing of Psalms has attended it and assisted it.”
New hymns are frequently born during a revival, such as those of Charles Wesley in the eighteenth century who wrote over four thousand hymns. Revival songs are full of biblical truth. They major on the attributes of God – especially his grace – the beauties of Christ, the centrality of the Cross, the efficacy of Christ’s blood, the triumph of his exaltation, the work of the Spirit, the believer’s certain hope of Heaven, and the eventual conquest of his Kingdom and his Return.
That leads us to the next characteristic of true revival…
What is Revival? – Part 3
It is sometimes forgotten that the Day of Pentecost was full of preaching. Acts 2 records a five-point sermon preached by the apostle Peter, full of Scripture, full of doctrine, and full of Christ. This emphasis on preaching and the Word is continued throughout the book…
…the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. Acts 4:2
Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Acts 4:29
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. Acts 4:31
“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching…” Acts 5:28
Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ. Acts 5:42
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly… Acts 6:7.
And also see: Acts 8:4-5; 30-31; 9:20, 27-28 etc.
We will return to this in a later article.
So, the history of revivals could be studied by reading the biographies of great preachers, for example; John Hus, John Calvin, Martin Luther, George Whitefield, John Wesley, the Tennents, Jonathan Edwards, Asahel Nettleton, Charles Finney, and many others.
When the Spirit of God is at work he exalts preaching and gives people a hunger for it which is almost insatiable. During the Cambuslang (Scotland) Revival of 1747, William McCulloch preached every night for twelve weeks. During the Eighteenth Century Revival in Wales, Rev. Daniel Rowland began his sermon during morning worship and the congregation held him there preaching until rays of sunlight broke through the west window announcing sunset. Time had been forgotten.
Though the 1858-1859 Revival is usually remembered for those remarkable noon prayer meetings which sprang up all across the country, it is a mistake to imagine that there was not much emphasis on preaching. Edwin Orr, an authority on revivals second to none, writes,
The Revival of 1858-1859 was a revival of preaching…as many people attended the preaching services as the prayer meetings. There were crowded services every night of the week and most churches were compelled to hold three or four services on Sunday.
6. CENTRALITY OF SPIRITUAL MATTERS
It is a characteristic of revival that almost everything becomes of little or no consequence compared to spiritual matters. Everywhere people are discussing the things of God and eternal realities. Meetings are held for fellowship and the discussion of spiritual experiences and for mutual admonition and encouragement. The people cannot wait to finish their work in order to gather together for some spiritual exercise, and holiness becomes the first desire of every believer.
Jonathan Edwards recounts of Northampton in 1735:
The town seemed to be full of the presence of God: it never was so full of love nor of joy, and yet so full of distress, as it was then. There were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house. It was a time of joy in families on account of salvation being brought unto them; parents rejoicing over their children as new born, and husbands over their wives, and wives over their husbands. The goings of God were then seen in His sanctuary, God’s day was a delight, and his tabernacles were amiable. Our public assemblies were then beautiful: the congregation was alive in God’s service, everyone earnestly intent on the public worship, every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister as they came from his mouth; the assembly in general were, from time to time, in tears while the word was preached; some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for the souls of their neighbors.
7. A LARGE NUMBER OF CONVERSIONS
The revived Christians are not content to enjoy the blessings of salvation for themselves. They long for others to be saved and to know the Lord. Even beyond the evangelistic zeal of those revived, however, it seems as if God would go ahead and draw sinners to come inquiring. Like the Philippian jailor they cry, “What must I do to be saved?”
When we go out to the world, that is evangelism. When the world spontaneously comes clamoring to the church seeking God, that is revival. Or, we could put it like this: when the church goes to the world WITH the Gospel, that is evangelism; but when the world comes to the church FOR the Gospel, that is revival.
One of the most common characteristics, then, of revival is the great harvest of new converts which is brought into the church. As it was in the Acts, so always:
Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. Acts 2:41
But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand. Acts 4:4
Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. Acts 5:14
So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Acts 6:7
For example, in 1830 it is computed that 100,000 were converted in that one year in the United States, and Lyman Beecher remarked:
That was the greatest work of God, and the greatest revival of religion, that the world has ever seen in so short a time…This is unparalleled in the history of the church and the progress of religion.
Even greater was to follow. Additions to the churches as a result of the 1857-1859 Revival were as follows: Ireland, 100,000; Wales, 100,000 – or, one-tenth of the population; Scotland, 300,000; England 650,000; the United States of America, 1 million.
It must be stressed that what is spoken of here is not a membership on paper only. These days there are churches in America which boast hundreds, and even thousands of members, but which only ever see one-third of them. The rest must be the “invisible church.” The numbers are quite meaningless. When we speak of additions in times of revival we refer to unbelievers coming under great conviction of sin and turning from their idols to serve the living and true God. We speak of people crying out to Jesus to save them, and trusting only in his atoning blood. We speak of those in whose lives were to be seen lasting changes, and who were truly added to the church.
Remarkable stories abound of people being struck down with conviction, not only in church buildings, but also on their way there, at their place of work, in the streets, and even while engaging in various amusements. The Lord of the harvest has come down and it is time for reaping. Compared with the hard work we have to do normally in our evangelism this is like the difference between rowing and hoisting the sails when the strong winds begin to blow. Or the difference between the hard toil of irrigating the fields with buckets of water drawn from a well and watching in amazement and delight as the heavens open and pour down the life-giving rain day after day.
8. SOCIETY AFFECTED
It is remarkable to read of the effects of revivals upon the society in general. Drunkenness and crime are greatly reduced, and in some areas virtually eliminated during the period of the revival. It is a widely held view that the Eighteenth Century Revival in Great Britain so changed the face of society that a bloody revolution, such as took place in France, was averted. In 1904, the pit ponies down the mines in Wales became confused and unable to respond to commands because the miners ceased to use their customary profanity.
Before the evangelical awakening among the miners of Kingswood, near Bristol, England in 1739, the mob would frequently give vent to their frustration with an outpouring of destructive violence. Fired up with drunkenness the miners would rampage through the streets of the city burning, looting, pillaging, raping, and assaulting, until their fury was spent. Just eight months after the outbreak of the revival John Wesley wrote in his Journal:
The scene is already changed. Kingswood does not now, as a year ago, resound with cursing and blasphemy. It is no more filled with drunkenness and uncleanness, and the idle diversions that naturally lead thereto. It is no longer full of wars and fightings, of clamor and bitterness, of wrath and envyings. Peace and love are there. Great numbers of the people are mild, gentle, and easy to be entreated. They do not cry, neither strive, and rarely is their voice to be heard in the streets, or indeed in their own wood, unless they are at their usual evening diversion – singing praise to God their Savior.
While some characteristics seem to be common to all revivals, other things vary. The origins of the revival may vary, as I have indicated. In one case it begins with a small prayer meeting, in another, during a preaching service, or, in some other circumstance. Jonathan Edwards was convinced that the sudden death of a young man, and then a young woman, of Northampton, Massachusetts, was the catalyst which began the remarkable awakening in that town in 1735.
The revival may break out in a great city or famous church, but it is just as likely to begin in some obscure place or tiny hamlet. In 1857 it was New York; in 1859 it was Connor, Northern Ireland. Sometimes God uses men of extraordinary intellect or eloquence such as Edwards and Whitefield in the eighteenth century, while at other times seemingly mediocre men are the chosen instruments, such as James McQuilken in Northern Ireland in 1859, or David Morgan in Wales in 1859, or Jeremiah Lamphier in New York in 1857, or Evan Roberts in Wales in 1904. This variety is an indication that the work is not of men but of God.
Another indication of the Divine sovereignty in revivals is that they can break out simultaneously in unrelated places. It will be seen in a later chapter of this series that 1735 was a remarkable year. As God poured out His Spirit upon the work in Northampton, Massachusetts, so, in a similar manner, God was blessing the work of the Tennents in New Jersey, and saving the souls of John Cennick, Daniel Rowland, and George Whitefield in the United Kingdom who were each to become mighty instruments of revival.
Sometimes the revival is attended by stillness and quietness, but sometimes by the very opposite. There are dramatic physical manifestations such as groanings, weepings, convulsions, trances, prostrations, and the like. These have, at times, been so extreme as to call forth criticisms upon the entire revival. Unquestionably, in some cases, these phenomena have been counterfeit, being merely psychological, or even demonic. The leaders themselves sought to eradicate, or at least to curb, such excesses. Edwards concluded (and taught) that such things neither validate nor invalidate a work as to whether it be God’s work or not. We know today that physical and emotional phenomena (swooning, laughter, rolling, jerking, and even speaking in tongues) are displayed among Hindu sects, New Age groups, and other non-Christian communities. True signs of Holy Spirit revival are to found, therefore, in marks other than extreme physical or emotional demonstrations.
10. A SENSE OF THE MAJESTY OF GOD
Perhaps beyond anything else, that which characterizes revival is a great sense of the presence and majesty of God.
There is nothing mechanical or trivial in revival. It is not a time for entertainment and jokes and applause. It is not worked up, it is sent down. God has come among his people. There is a trembling before the Lord, a sense of awe in His holy presence, and yet joy unspeakable and full of glory in the light of His mercy and grace. At last He has become for thousands upon thousands, the LIVING GOD.
One preacher used as an instrument of revival described it as “a community saturated with God“. I know of no better description.
Don’t you long to see that? I do.
What is Revival? – Part 4
DO WE NEED REVIVAL TODAY?
Do we need to pray for revival? I think so. That is not because there is no blessing of God today. God has not left himself without witness.
I know churches in both Great Britain and the U.S.A. of various denominations and labels where the light of the Gospel shines ever brighter. Community churches, Anglican/Episcopal churches, Baptist, Pentecostal, and so on. God is not concerned with labels or differences on secondary matters. What God blesses is where His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is worshiped and glorified: where the Gospel is preached and Jesus and the Cross are central: where there is a powerful but tender call for sinners to repent and give their hearts and lives to the Lord and Savior who died and rose again that they might live.
Nevertheless, in far too many others not only are the Scriptures not preached with Holy Spirit power (unction), they are not even read! Not only is there no prayer meeting, there is no meaningful prayer in the Sunday service. But, there may be sophisticated Power-point presentations; skits and dramatic interludes; ear-splitting amplified music, but when all is said and done, Almighty God is absent. Where is the awareness of the HOLY? There isn’t any. It is not so much that someTHING is missing. SomeONE is missing. God’s Presence and Power.
So – if you query whether we need revival today let me ask you two questions:
- When you go to church is there such a sense of the Presence of the Holy Spirit in the service of worship that you do not want it to come to an end – you do not want to leave, and when you do leave the Presence of the Lord stays with you for the rest of the day?
- Do you see strangers and unchurched people coming into the church burdened with a sense of sin and pleading with the Pastor/leaders to show them the way of salvation?
Or – let me put it another way. What about the culture of the nations in which we live in the second decade of the 21st century, whether it be Britain, America, or another country where we reside?
God says in His Word, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). As you observe the culture of the nation where you live, and the behavior of the people, young and old, do you sense it is growing in the direction of “righteousness”, or otherwise? I mention a few things for your consideration:
- Couples live together and change partners with hardly a second thought to the consequences either for themselves or for their children when such “partnerships” break up.
- Those who do enter marriage have a 50% chance of ending up in the divorce court.
- Many children are growing up scarcely knowing who their real parents are.
- Pregnancies are terminated, a large number almost before they have begun.
- Personal and public conversation is littered with expletives and blasphemies – even on the airwaves. Nothing is sacred any more.
- Drunkenness is prevalent. DUI crimes account for many accidents and deaths. Drug use is on the rise.
- God has been taken out of our schools and replaced with secularism, humanism, evolutionism and condoms. Not many decades ago the chief problems among high school students were talking in class and chewing gum! Now the main problems are drugs and violence with more and more schools having to search students for drugs or weapons before they are allowed to enter the building.
- We live in a day when moral absolutes have been abandoned. “Tolerance” is the great word. The person who says, “This is right and that is wrong,” is labeled as intolerant and ostracized. When there is no such thing as absolute right and wrong, then everyone does what is right in his/her own eyes. As in Israel in the time of the Judges in the Old Testament, “everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25).
The Bible teaches that Christians are to be “salt” and “light” in the world. In other words where churches are vibrant with life and power they will make all the difference to the society around them. Considering the moral and cultural downward direction of our societies in the western world we do not seem to be a very effective influence, do we?
However, a corrupt society with a downward spiral becoming worse and worse is not new. In our next series of articles, starting in May, we will look at the situation in England and America in the 18th century, and how God poured down His Spirit in a mighty revival. We know it as, “The Great Awakening.”
One of the persons God so greatly used at that time was John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. In 1742 he traveled to Newcastle, England, and this is what he wrote in his journal,”I was surprised: so much drunkenness, cursing and swearing (even from the mouths of little children) do I never remember to have seen and heard before, in so small a compass of time. Surely this place is ripe for Him who “came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Surely we need to long for and pray for an outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord such as they saw in that great historic revival of the 18th century.