Friday, October 31, 2014

A Reformation Day Look at Revival

The following is a guest article written by my good friend Det Bowers.

“O LORD, revive Your work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy” (HABAKKUK 3:2).

Christians pray for revival – times of refreshing when the Holy Spirit takes large matters upon Himself and awakens the rebellious to their rebellion, to God’s wrath and to Christ’s sacrifice.  Revival is social.  It is an event of restoration between a holy God and a sinful people. 

Revival occurs when God visits His people by pouring out His Spirit upon them so that their consciences are quickened to the eternal cause of Christ (Jer. 29:10-14; Zech. 2:10f.; Acts 2:17ff.).  Seasons of revival are marked by an awareness of being always in God’s sight and spiritual matters take on a reality as never before.  Converts are identified; Christians become fearless and tireless; a community experiences overflowing joy; loving generosity abounds (Acts 4:32). 

In 1858-9 revivals occurred in the United States and Great Britain.  The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the darkened waters and there was a new light in the life of men.  The multitudes sensed the reality of Christianity and began to drink of holy streams that make glad the city of God.  The heavenly dew of the Holy Spirit fell in fullness and people were awakened out of their self-centered stupor (Rev. 3:2f.).  They began to desire eternal garments of loveliness rather than the distracting comforts distancing them from their God.

Many churchmen have been very long in the service of sin because though they have light in their heads, God has not graced their hearts.  They have been withholding themselves from the Lord and His eternal cause.  They have been in the church but lacked seriousness about eternal matters, they lacked sobriety about their position with God and solemnity regarding the wellbeing of their society.

But how is man’s cloud of confusion removed so that he might experience the great rain of holiness falling upon him and be baptized by the Spirit of revival?  God says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” (Ps. 19:7).  Man will not experience the year of jubilee, the acceptable year of the Lord, until the doctrines of grace are brought to bear upon his heart. You should not expect to encounter revival as long as preachers smooth the cutting edge of the sword of God’s word.  Revivals come at the invitation/expense of unashamedly preaching rightly divided scriptural truth.

Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “We want again Luthers, Calvins, Bunyans, Whitefields, men fit to mark eras, whose names breathe terror in our foemen’s ears.  We have dire need of such.  Whence will they come to us?  They are the gifts of Jesus Christ to the Church, and will come in due time.  He has power to give us back again a golden age of preachers, a time as fertile of great divines and mighty ministers as was the Puritan age, and when the good old truth is once more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the altar, this shall be the instrument in the hand of the Spirit for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land.”

The gentle zephyr filling the Church and the hearts of churchmen shall not be experienced until sermons pour forth from the sacred desks arousing churchmen to purity in their Christianity.  The Church of Christ cannot expect revival when they preach and teach for the purpose of entertaining or amusing.  The Lord’s work must be prosecuted with fresh energy.  The awakened consecrated Church is God’s principal earthly instrument in issuing the invitation to the Holy Spirit to capture a people for Himself.  The Bible must be preached, taught and lived with a pulsating earnestness that is enthusiastically uncompromising. 

Revival occurs when the word of God cuts to the marrow of men’s souls.  You can identify revival by the prayers accompanying conversions.  The people begin to pray as though live coals have been placed upon the altar of their consciences.  They pray as a people looking through new eyes to a new world.  They pray with an earnest urgency for the outpourings of the Holy Spirit to rend the heavens and come down Himself so that every valley would be lifted up and every mountain brought low (Isa. 40:4).  They crave the great Sovereign of the Church who alone can give the increase. 

You yearn for your generation to pine for the glory of the Lord so that they might be placed in the cleft of the rock as He passes by (Ex. 33:22).  Your heart is for the melting power of His gracious influence upon your city.  You want to be among the brethren as the heavenly fire descends with the influence of the Divine Spirit.

Pray for the Lord’s Spirit to starve all the gods of the earth and to ride upon His chariots of salvation so that the bones of man might tremble at the preaching of His word (Zeph. 2:11).  Your desire is to see the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Nain and Lazarus resurrected from their graves.  You crave to arrive at the vestibule of heaven where you can fully experience divine gales at your face, the fire of revival in your eyes and the irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit in your heart. 

Could your adulterous and sinful generation become tokens of God’s favor so that they might be plucked as brands from the burning as by Divine mercy?  Could the Almighty God pour out streams of blessings upon such an undeserving crooked and perverted people?  When a people enter into an absolute surrender of themselves to the shower of Divine influences they will discover they have been arrested by the power of the word, drawn to the teaching of the word and committed to applying the holy word to their unholy lives.  Then and only then shall gracious visitations and great awakenings stem the tide of evil in its insidious advance. 

You will know that a revival has occurred in your church when a hush captures the assembled congregation, when people speak via tears, when a strengthening current of inward emotions are expressed in sober terms, when hearts long for fresh visitations, when every day is lived as the Sabbath, when there is a living for the next Lord’s Day, when infamous sinners flock to the church, when the homes of the members of your church become mini-seminaries wherein every father is the high priest of the Lord. 

You will know that the celestial awakening is upon you when community conversations center upon the Jesus of the Bible, when there is a movement afoot to take of the water of eternal life freely and without cost (Rev. 22:17), when men of renown are overpowered by the influence of the Spirit and become childlike in their petitions, when ladies of eminence lose their powers of resistance, your sons and daughters prophesy, your old men dream dreams, your young men see visions (Joel. 2:28), when legions of the beloved come with weeping asking the way to holy Zion, when men are no longer content with mere outward professions of Christianity, when lives take on an everlasting gravitas and when the Church of Christ becomes transparent in its stewardship.

You will know that you have entered the regenerating matrix of the Holy Spirit when young people who have been reared in the church begin to behave themselves even as the Christ conducted Himself at the age of twelve (Lk. 2:42ff.), when the children of believers recognize themselves as the prodigals they indeed are, when God’s elect cease supporting public houses that finance drunkenness, licentiousness, bawdiness and disrespect of self and others, when the electronic and print media begin gasping for breath because the Christians are no longer funding their society’s hatred of unvarnished biblical truth.

Societal revivals have occurred when awakened consciences no longer protect facets of their lives from the influence of God’s Scripture.  The revived ones love Christ more than any one or any thing and they hate their sin more than they hate the consequences of their sin.  Those awakened to the cause of Christ know their guilt, perceive the dangers of hell, recognize their inadequacies, lament their lack of self control and pray for the salvation of their loved ones.

A culture in the midst of revival bears witness to laborers serving their employers as never before and employers honoring laborers even as Boaz graced his servants (Ru. 2:4).  Revival connotes a coming to spiritual life so that the revived seek life in the death, resurrection, ascension and intercession of Christ.  Their days on earth increase in their resemblance to the days of heaven.  A missionary spirit overtakes the Church with lives so solemnized that they are committed to taking the gospel to all the nations regardless of the cost.

Awakened Christians walk in the likeness of Simeon and Anna “looking for the consolation of Israel… for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk. 2:25, 38, respectively).  They expect a day of divine visitation whereby the in name only Christians will be removed from the rolls of the Church and the true believers shall be brought to the fore.  They know that the effusion of the Holy Spirit upon their land will bring consistency in their courage, godliness, orthodoxy, patience and wisdom.  Revived Christians know that revival assures them a season of supernatural fertility whereby God’s Church so proclaims His word that what has previously affected but a few shall now become authoritative to thousands and thousands. 

You have the very same Spirit today who brought the First Great Awakening to America in the 1740s, the Second Great Awakening from 1800-25, as well as the Third Great Awakening in 1857.  He brought the 1807 revival to Mowcop, England, and the 1904-5 revival to Wales.  He is the same God, the same Jesus and the same Holy Spirit. 

Today’s times and people are no more difficult than earlier times.  You flatter yourself to think otherwise.  The Church of Christ needs to awake and garment herself with the only effective means of salvation – Christ and Him crucified as set forth in the inspired, inerrant and infallible word of God.

Your heart yearns for a time when the gospel is in the ascendancy throughout your land.  You want a shocking and awesome communication of God’s Spirit.  You are eager to live in the days when people so ravenously await to hear the word of life that the biblical churches cannot contain them. The passing matters of this life no longer consume Christians when they live as though the King is coming (II Cor. 4:16-18).  Evangelical deserts become holy oases – their religion becomes biblical rather than formal. 

You need to hear anointed voices thunder so that those slumbering into Gomorrah will become awakened.  You covet another Pentecost.  You anticipate Nineveh’s experience during the season of Jonah’s preaching (Jonah 3).  Your longing is for the Church to emerge from its present state of biblical ignorance and capture the dews and damps of God’s generous righteousness.

An awakened Church discovers its members athirst for God’s glory.  The people become as the burning bush – constantly burning yet never consumed.  In their fiery revival they rid their nations of harlotous idolatry and disinterest in eternal matters.  They bring a taste of the New Jerusalem to the shores of the perishing so that those in agony over their sins shall be alerted to the wounds of the Kinsman. 

Do you want revival?  Revival comes at immense cost because diverting comforts must be addressed and purged.  You cease grasping for this world in the hopes of mingling worldliness with the Holy Spirit.  You pursue the dawning of true Christianity with the burning of the Seraphim by petitioning your God to cease hiding His face and to effectuate the outpouring of His Spirit (Eze. 39:29). 

Effusions of the Holy Spirit most often accompany contrite prayers for God to bring forth His spiritual children.  Pray the Psalms: “It is time for the Lord to act, for they have broken Your law.  Therefore I love Your commandments above gold, yes, above fine gold” (Ps. 119:126f.).  Let God know of your seraphic desire to see Him glorified.  Leave no question in anyone’s mind that you intend for your life to become the theater for His glory. 

Your preacher will alert you to the commitment your church has in the matters of revival.  He cannot be slothful in his studies or in his duties.  His hobbies cannot capture his days and he redeems his time for eternal engagements.  His speech cannot be careless and he guards against pleasing men.  Therefore, your preacher has three stirring responsibilities.  He is to persuade those under the dominion of sin that they are indeed under the dominion of sin.  He is to persuade those who are not under the dominion of sin that they are not under the dominion of sin.  He is to live as a man who counts “all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8).

You cannot expect revival unless the whole counsel of God is preached and lived.  You hold fast to the doctrines of grace embodied in the rich and deep theology of your Bible.  You worship with a people who believe in the truth of God’s word, the necessity of the new birth, the reality of the miracles reported in the Scriptures, the existence and activity of Satan, the significance of the bodily resurrection and the implication of Jesus coming again in judgment. 

Self-conversions and man-manipulated emotions may bring an immediate happiness, but they assure long-term spiritual barrenness.  When theology and evangelism are separated the best revival will be but short-lived and evidence few truly saved.  The cause of revival is not found in men or in humanly orchestrated favorable conditions, but in the lavish influences of the Holy Sprit who alone makes the Church the Church. 

The revival you seek is not a single event but a relationship marked by a continuum of events.  Though it may be inaugurated in a worship service, revival is witnessed when the sacred fire of the word is taken into the bosoms of the hearers and then into their homes.  They leave worship centers with holy impulses.  Revived people are anxious inquirers for the way to holy Zion.

Are you not thirsty for an era of mercy?  Do you want to witness those you love subdued by sovereign grace?  Would you be delighted to know that your child had been smitten with an arrow from the quiver of the Almighty?  How pleased would you be to have your ship of state afloat in streams of everlasting salvation?

In January of 1859, Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, “We must confess that, just now, we have not the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that we could wish….  Oh, if the Spirit of God should come upon those assembled tonight, and upon all the assemblies of the saints, what an effect would be produced.  We seek not for extraordinary excitements, those spurious attendants of genuine revivals, but we do seek for the pouring out of the Spirit of God….  The Spirit is blowing upon our churches now with his genial breath, but it is as soft as an evening gale.  Oh, that there would come a rushing mighty wind that should carry everything before it.  This is the lack of the times, the great want of our country.  May this come as a blessing from the Most High.” 

What is your responsibility? God’s people must pray to become drenched in the bath of divine influences.  They yearn for their lips to be touched with a live coal from the altar of God.  Awakened people know the richness of an innumerable ingathering, a sweeping of the harvest into eternity.  They understand that in the time of revival the Lord Christ does walk again among the living in all His holy glory and power; blessing and refreshing His beloved.

Perhaps the time has come for you to call a counsel of war and deliberate upon your faithfulness.  Read Zechariah 4:6 to become familiar with the hindrances to revival and the means to revival.  The spiritual drought in your nation must come to an end.  Your God ushers in revival not by an increase in activity, but by turning the hearts of the fathers to the word and then to the application of that word to their children (Mal. 4:6).

Beloved, the almighty and imperceptible wind of the Holy Spirit can do more in one evening of true worship than legions of preachers can accomplish in countless thousands of millennia.  He can bring to the fore pillars of cloud by day and of fire by night to guide the unregenerate to Him.  No one but the Spirit can flood your congregation with His mercy – drops of mercy falling upon the hearts of His children even as their eyes bedew their Bibles afresh.


Other titles accessed in this document and that may assist in your study of revival include:

Iain H. Murray, The Old Evangelicalism (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005).

Iain H. Murray, Revival and Revivalism, The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2002).

Iain H. Murray, The Puritan Hope, Revival and the Interpretation of Prophecy (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971).

Ebenezer Porter, Letters on Revival (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1858).

Samuel I. Prime, The Power of Prayer, The New York Revival of 1858 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1859).

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