Revival (4)…

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:6)

The final major characteristic that has attended revival has been the growth of the Church and its mission in the world. The Great Awakening of the 1740s produced 50,000 new church members. The Prayer Revival of 1857-8 produced half-a-million new church members and an additional 50,000 in Wales. In 1806 Samuel Mills, a freshman at Williams College, helped to lead a group of five students to pray for revival of the campus. One of those meetings took place beneath a haystack because of a thunderstorm. The subsequent revival was the impetus for what would become an unprecedented thrust in foreign missions. Out of it came the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the American Bible Society, and the American Colonization Society. There is a plaque at the site of the Haystack Prayer Meeting that says; “The Birthplace of American Foreign Missions.” Richard Lovelace claims that “every major advance of the kingdom of God on earth is signaled and brought about by the general outpouring of the Holy Spirit in revival.”

It should also be mentioned that along with the missionary outreach of the Church, revival has also had clear social implications. Timothy Smith claims that genuine revival fuses the personal and the social aspects of the gospel. This can be seen especially in the revivals of the mid-nineteenth century which gave birth to the organization of trade unions, the abolition of child labor, women’s suffrage, the YMCA, the founding of colleges and other benevolent and missionary organizations, and the abolitionist movement. In fact, Smith quotes Count Agenor de Gasparin who concluded that the Prayer Revival of 1857-8 had actually paved the way for the election of Lincoln: “The great moral force which is struggling with American slavery is the Gospel.”

The social implications of revival are best summed up by Gilbert Haven, a Boston abolitionist who became a Methodist Bishop after the Civil War. “The Gospel…is not confined to a repentance and faith that has no connection with social or civil duties. The evangel of Christ is an all-embracing theme. It is the vital force in earth and heaven…. The cross is the centre of the spiritual, and therefore the material universe.”

Timothy Smith points out that the first stanza of the old Methodist revival hymn, “A charge to keep I have, a God to glorify; a never-dying soul to save, and fit it for the sky”; was followed by the second stanza, “To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill; O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will.”

One final consideration is of the signs and wonders which sometimes attend revivals. At Pentecost there were signs that accompanied the coming of the Holy Spirit—the sound of a rushing wind, tongues of fire, a perception that the disciples might even be drunk. Yet, these exact signs did not attend all of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts. Similarly, revivals throughout history differ as to the manifestations. A revival in Indonesia in 1965 was attended by the sound of a tornado and of a fire so loud that the fire company was called to the church, but there was a revival going on and not a fire. A 1973 revival in Cambodia was accompanied by miracles and healings. The 1994 “Toronto Blessing” saw an emphasis on the phenomena of laughing, rolling, crying, and some being carried out of the auditorium.

On the other hand, the campus revivals which started in 1995 with Howard Payne University and spread to Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth; then to Beeson School of Divinity in Birmingham, and on to several other colleges such as Olivet Nazarene and Wheaton College, were relatively free of manifestations. The records show deep repentance, continual confession, weeping over sin, deliverance from sexual sin and other life dominating issues, racial and familial reconciliation, but not attending phenomena.

Jonathan Edwards had to deal with the varying opinions on the phenomena that often accompany revival in his Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, written against the backdrop of the First Great Awakening. He tried to walk the middle road between those who discounted revival because of the “hysteria” which often occurred, and those who believed that “anything goes” whenever revival comes. I would refer the reader to a very readable and brief summation of Edwards’ Treatise entitled The Experience that Counts, prepared by Dr. N.R. Needham and published by Grace Publications Trust, London. This little book is a wonderful primer on the nature of conversion.

Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me:
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
(Daniel Iverson, 1926)

(My message on Revival was given at Wheaton College Chapel on March 18, 2015. Click this link if you would like to view it.

Revival (3)…

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:6)

The fourth characteristic accompanying revival down through history has been the confession of sin with the accompanying knowledge and certainty of forgiveness. The confession of sin is before God, but it is also before the church. In revival, there is an embodiment of the truth of James 5; “confess your sin one to another that you might be healed.” This is why we see recorded in the documents of most revivals the deep conviction of sin and the need to repent, but also the experience of joy and freedom which accompanies such repentance. Edwards describes the awakening in Northampton as such: “… the town seemed to be full of the presence of God. It never was so full of love nor so full of joy and yet so full of distress as it was then.”

The fifth characteristic of most revivals has been that they cannot be controlled. There is usually a sudden beginning and then a sudden ending. Martin Lloyd Jones writes: “While it is perfectly true to say that we can quench the Spirit and be a hindrance, it is never true to say that if we observe all the rules and the conditions that we can produce revival. No, God keeps it in his own hands, the beginning, during the course, and the end. In everything we are dependent upon the Holy Spirit and his power.”

This hallmarks for us an understanding that revival is a sovereign act of God. We may plan an evangelistic outreach or a service of worship, but we cannot plan a revival. It is an independent act of God accomplishing his sovereign purposes on behalf of his eternal plan for human history. This being said, we do not mean to minimize the importance of prayer in relationship to revival. If God’s sovereign will is the primary cause of revival, then prayer can be seen as a “second cause.” In other words, God chooses to accomplish his sovereign will for this world through the prayers of his people; just as God’s sovereign work of regeneration and conversion is accomplished through the “second cause” of evangelism. (For an excellent discussion of this, see J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.)

There is no better example of this relationship between prayer and revival than what we have already referred to as the Prayer Revival of 1857-8. Jeremiah Lanphier, a former businessman, started a noon-time prayer meeting at the Old Dutch Church in Lower NYC on September 23, 1857. For three months he had been knocking on the doors of boarding houses, shops, and offices inviting people to come and pray. On that day, he prayed alone at first and then others trickled in. The next week six people came; the next week twenty and the next week forty came. Then on October 14, the worst financial panic in history struck and banks around the city closed. People lost their jobs and children went hungry. No one could have anticipated this, but suddenly the Fulton Street prayer meeting exploded with crowds exceeding 3,000 and demanding more meeting sites around the city. Within six months, 10,000 people gathered weekly all around NYC.

This Prayer Revival spread to Philadelphia, Boston, New Haven, Albany, Washington, DC, and even Chicago. There was no hype or hysteria—just prayer. Finney said, “There is such a general confidence in the prevalence of prayer that the people very extensively seemed to prefer meeting for prayer to meeting for preaching. The general impression seemed to be, ‘We have had instruction until we are hardened; it is time for us to pray.’”

When the Prayer Revival was at its height, it was estimated that 50,000 people a week were converted with overall estimates ranging from 300,000 to one million. It is also estimated that the people who joined churches in 1858 amounted to almost 10% of the country’s total church membership. All of this is utterly amazing in and of itself, but this revival also had an impact in igniting awakenings that swept the British Isles in 1858-60.

More next week…

Lord, teach us how to pray aright
With reverence and with fear;
Though weak and sinful in your sight,
We may, we must draw near.
(James Montgomery, 1823)

Revival (2)…

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:6)

If one studies intermittent spiritual awakenings throughout history, s/he will notice several characteristics that attend and are the consequence of revival. Last week we mentioned that there were usually times of preparation that occurred before revival came. Often the preparation was accomplished through the faithful preaching of the Word of God over time, especially on the themes of substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, repentance and the pursuit of holiness.

A second characteristic: Occurring  before many revivals were evident times of crisis or spiritual apathy. Certainly the cyclic periods of declension, despair, and deliverance are formative to understanding the entire history of Israel in the period of the Judges. Jonathan Edwards believed that the sudden death of a young woman precipitated the revival of 1734-5 in Northampton. Prior to the 1857-8 prayer revival in New York City there was a general decline of religion in America and a growing lukewarmness in the Church after a period of revival from 1830-42. There was also the Bank Panic of 1857, which was one of the most needless financial crises in American history. Based upon hysteria and rumor, banks closed for two months and people could get neither credit nor cash to live on or to run their business.

We also have records of revivals taking place during the crisis of the Civil War especially among Confederate troops. Eifion Evans writes of the Revival of 1858-60 which swept Wales and calls attention to how one region of the country was affected by the sudden death of a young man, while another area was chafing under the moral debauchery that attended a rising prosperity due to a flourishing slate-quarrying industry.

A third characteristic: Revivals have often been precipitated by an acute awareness of the resplendent majesty and holiness of God and a respondent awareness of the depth of human sin. The vision of Isaiah 6 is the pattern for such revival. In the face of a national crisis (the death of good King Uzziah), Isaiah saw the Lord, high and lifted up in all his majesty. This struck a deep cord reminding Isaiah of his own sinfulness and creatureliness in comparison. “Woe is me; I am coming apart!” This was certainly Martin Luther’s turning point—a perception of the depth of his own sin coram deo (before God) and not by human standards.

The Puritans, the Pietists, and the leaders of the First Great Awakening preserved this strong preaching of God’s holiness and the demand for humility and repentance. However, as Richard Lovelace points out, “subsequent generations… gradually moved away from [this]. Rationalist religion reacting against exaggerated and over-explicit portrayals of human wickedness and divine wrath… began to stress the goodness of man and the benevolence of the Deity. By the time of the Second Awakening (mid-1790s to 1840), many leaders of the revival were… presenting an increasingly kindly, fatherly and thoroughly comprehensible God.”

No one is advocating going back to the “hell-fire” and damnation sermons of the Puritans, but neither should we so domesticate God that we fail to properly present his majestic character. We should faithfully preach the message of the cross, for it is in the gospel of Christ that God’s love and justice meet. The cross is the attestation both of God’s perfect hatred of sin and the perfect manifestation of the depths of God’s love and mercy in the sacrifice of Christ.

Cross of Jesus, cross of Sorrow,
Where the blood of Christ was shed,
Perfect Man on thee did suffer,
Perfect God on thee has bled!

Here the King of all the ages,
Throned in light ere worlds could be,
Robed in mortal flesh is dying,
Crucified by sin for me.

O mysterious condescending!
O abandonment sublime!
Very God himself is bearing
All the sufferings of time!
(William Sparrow-Simpson, 1887)


Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:6)

What do you think of when you hear the word revival? Do you think of loud preaching, people coming forward to get saved, and/or wild expressions of spiritual ecstasy? As Robert Coleman has said, the word revival comes from the word meaning “to live.” In Ezekiel 37:5 the Lord told the prophet to speak to the dry bones saying, “I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.” Thus revival refers to a special and sovereign work of God where He visits His people to reanimate, to restore, and to release in them the fullness of the Holy Spirit for the furtherance of the gospel in the world.

Richard Lovelace defines revival “not as a special season of extra-ordinary religious excitement…. Rather it is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit which restores the people of God to normal spiritual life after a period of corporate declension.”

There have been those who would dispute this definition. For example, Charles Finney, influenced by the Edwardesian New Divinity which claimed that everyone had a natural ability to repent, applied such a principle in his methodology of revival. He claimed that revival was not a miraculous work of God, but “the right use of the appropriate means.” His views certainly embroiled him in controversy even with the more moderate Calvinists of the day, such as Henry Ward Beecher. However, even though they disagreed about methodology there was a basic agreement as to the desire for and purpose of revival.

If one studies intermittent spiritual awakenings throughout history, s/he will notice several characteristics that attend and are the consequence of revival. Over the next several blogs I’d like to look at these, one at a time, so that we will have a better idea of what to look for and expect as we pray for revival to come in our day.

FIRST, there is usually a time of preparation that occurs before revival comes. Often the preparation has been accomplished through the faithful preaching of the Word of God over time, especially on the themes of substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, repentance and the pursuit of holiness. Many years before the Reformation took place, there were forerunners like John Wycliffe and the Lollards; before them, there was Jon Huss in Moravia, the Waldensians in Northern Italy, and John Tauler (1300-1361).

Pre-dating the First Great Awakening of 1740-2 were five or six periods of spiritual renewal called “Harvests” under Solomon Stoddard, Jonathan Edwards’ grandfather, in his 58 year pastorate in Northampton, MA. There was also the revival in Northampton under Edwards himself in 1735. Also, before the prayer revival of 1857-58 that began in New York City, there were independent prayer revivals in Hamilton, Ontario as well as in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. J. Edwin Orr documents that there were also prayer revivals among the slaves south of the Mason Dixon line. Then these prayer revival in the US and Canada swept across the Atlantic into Ireland, Wales, and Scotland in 1858-60.

This should teach us that if we are in a place where God has already done a great work in the past, we should celebrate that work and ask him to do it again in the future. At Wheaton College we have a rich heritage of revival. Between 1878 and 1895 there were accounts of at least ten different times of revival on campus. More recently, there were the revivals of 1936, 1943, 1959, 1970, and 1995 (in fact, 20 years ago yesterday.) These should be looked upon not only as times when God worked in an unusual way, but also as preparations for the new work that God might do once again in the future. (Psalm 85:6)

Do it again, O Lord!