What, how, when and why?
Having read a goodly number of books on the subject of Revival, a number of questions surface, and in this article I should like to address these questions under the four headings above.
What? What exactly is Revival? What are the characteristics of Revival? How do we determine whether or not a Revival has broken out in a particular place on the earth’s surface? I have received quite a lot of help in answering these questions by re-reading a book by the late Arthur Wallis entitled “In the Day of Thy Power”. He wrote it in 1956, and Rosalind and I first read it in 1967, when it made a deep impact on us, so much so that we made haste to visit Arthur and ask him to help us receive the Baptism of the Spirit. But that is another matter altogether, even though it is connected with our theme. Quotations will all be from his book unless otherwise stated. Here then are the characteristics of true Revival.
- “Revival is divine intervention in the normal course of spiritual things. It is God revealing Himself to man in awful holiness and irresistible power. It is such a manifest working of God that human personalities are overshadowed, and human programmes abandoned. It is man retiring into the background because God has taken the field. It is the Lord making bare His holy arm, and working in extraordinary power on saint and sinner.” . . . . “Revival is essentially a manifestation of God; it has the stamp of Deity upon it, which even the unregenerate and uninitiated are quick to recognise.”
“It is characteristic of revivals that they have been seasons when sins that have long hindered blessing are exposed, confessed, and forgiven. Relationships, wrecked by pride, envy, and evil-speaking are wonderfully restored when the hearts of the saints melt in the fires of revival. As Jonathan Edwards wrote of the 18th century New England Awakening, ‘Abundance has lately been done at making up differences and confessing faults one to another, and making restitution; probably more within those two years, than was done in 30 years before.’”
Here are two examples of true Revival movement –
“No town in Ulster [Northern Ireland] was more deeply stirred during the 1859 Revival than Coleraine. It was there that a boy was so troubled about his soul that the schoolmaster sent him home. An older boy, a Christian, accompanied him and before they had gone far, led him to Christ. Returning at once to the school, this latest convert testified to the master, ‘Oh, I am so happy! I have the Lord Jesus in my heart.’ The effect of these artless words was very great. Boy after boy arose and silently left the room. On investigation the master found these boys ranged alongside the wall of the playground, every one of them on his knees! Very soon their silent prayer became a bitter cry. It was heard by those within and pierced their hearts. They cast themselves on their knees, and their cry for mercy was heard in the girls’ schoolroom above. In a few moments the whole school was on its knees, and its wail of distress was heard in the street outside. Neighbours and passers-by came flocking in, and all, as they crossed the threshold, came under the same convicting power. Every room was filled with men, women, and children seeking God.”
“Similar stories could be told of the 1858 American Revival. Ships as they drew near the American ports came within a definite zone of heavenly influence. Ship after ship arrived with the same tale of sudden conviction and conversion. In one ship a captain and the entire crew of 30 men found Christ out at sea and entered the harbour rejoicing. Revival broke out on the battleship ‘North Carolina’ through four Christian men who had been meeting in the bowels of the ship for prayer. One evening they were filled with the Spirit and burst into song. Ungodly shipmates who came down to mock were gripped by the power of God, and the laugh of the scornful was soon changed into the cry of the penitent. Many were smitten down, and a gracious work broke out that continued night after night, till they had to send ashore for ministers to help, and the battleship became a Bethel.”
Notice the evidence of geographical limitations, and the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit to bring “conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment” without a word being spoken by an evangelist or minister. This shows a clear distinction between the usual work of evangelism, which was God’s design, let there be no doubt about that, and the extraordinary work of God in times of Revival. There was a suggestion of this special activity of God in Peter’s address in Acts 3:19-20. “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send the Christ.” First comes normal evangelism, producing repentance in a number of cases, followed by the “times of refreshing” which has often been used as an apt description of Revival, and then the promise of Christ’s return.
This last item, namely the return of Christ, has always been one of the most notable factors within times of Revival. People have become acutely aware of the demands in the New Testament to “watch and pray”, and rejoice in the knowledge that the One who went away will “come again” and take us to be with Himself. Paul speaks about those who “love His appearing”. John says that “when He shall appear we shall be like Him”. And at the conclusion of the Book of Revelation, the Bride joins with the Holy Spirit to say, “Even so come, Lord Jesus”. These are just a few of the many, many references to the promise of the Lord’s return, and as I said before, these verses stand out in stark relief to those who have been blessed under the ministry of Holy Spirit during Revival.
To sum up, the characteristics of Revival are (a) a deep and penetrating sovereign work of the Holy Spirit quite apart from normal evangelism, (b) an awareness of sin, and a deep desire to be right with God on the part of unbelievers, (c) a desire for restitution of wrongs perpetrated in the past, by new converts and also regular church-going Christians, (d) a profound urgency to share the good news of Jesus with everyone, and finally, (e) an acute awareness of the nearness of Christ’s return. It is vitally important to recognise these five characteristics. If they are not present, then one may rightfully ask whether it is true Revival.
But there is one other factor which is also vital. The above five characteristics speak about the internal working of the Holy Spirit amongst men. But in every case of Revival in the past, there has always been a violent reaction from the outside world, from those who refuse to repent, and want to destroy the work of God. “Many know of the contribution of Jonathan Edwards to the New England Revival in the 1700s; few know that he was ultimately compelled to resign from the church so signally blessed through his labours. Many know of William Burns, under whose ministry revival broke out in R.M.McCheyne’sChurch in Dundee and elsewhere; few know of the gruelling he received in defending that work before a committee of his ministers. So it was with Finney and many others. If we find a revival that is not spoken against, we had better look again to ensure that it is revival.”
So much for our first question, as to What Revival truly constitutes. We now ask
How does it come about? Is Revival something that takes man by surprise? Does it happen in a completely sovereign way? Or does it come about as a result of some form of human activity?
All Revivals have been triggered from the intense prayer requests of God’s children. It seems as though the desire for Revival is planted in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, and worked upon in secret in their lives, before any outward manifestation occurs. Many examples can be drawn from historical writings to bear this out. Hear what Charles Finney had to say. “The first ray of light that broke in upon the midnight which rested on the churches in Oneida County, in the fall of 1825, was from a woman in feeble health who, I believe, had never been in a powerful revival. Her soul was exercised about sinners. She was in agony for the land. She did not know what ailed her, but kept praying more and more, till it seemed as if her agony would destroy her body. At length she became full of joy, and exclaimed, ‘God has come! God has come! There is no mistake about it, the work is begun, and is going all over the region.’ And sure enough, the work began, and her family were almost all converted, and the work spread all over that part of the country. Now do you think that woman was deceived? I tell you, no. She knew she had prevailed with God in prayer. She had travailed in birth for souls, and she knew it.”
Hear what Duncan Campbell said in his description of the Lewis Awakening in 1949. . “It began in a small group who were really burdened . They entered into a covenant with God that they would ‘give Him no rest until He had made Jerusalem a praise in the earth’. They waited. The months passed, and nothing happened, until one young man took up his Bible and read from Psalm 24; ‘Who shall stand in His holy place? He that has clean hands and a pure heart . . . He shall receive the blessing from the Lord.’ The young man closed his Bible and, looking at his companions on their knees before God, he cried, ‘Brethren, it is just so much humbug to be waiting thus night after night, month after month, if we ourselves are not right with God. I must ask myself – ‘Is my heart pure? Are my hands clean?’ He got no further, but fell prostrate to the floor. An awareness of God filled the barn and a stream of supernatural power was let loose in their lives.” God’s servants were made ready before the Revival broke out. They then became His ministers in the midst of the sovereign work that followed.
Arthur Wallis spent most of the latter years of his life praying for Revival, together with an enthusiastic band of earnest men and women. They truly believed that God was shortly going to pour out a manifest blessing on the British people. In 1967 Wallis convened a conference for the very purpose of stirring up the spirits of the 350 of us who attended, to know the ways of God in Revival. During that time of waiting and prayer, the following word was received from the Lord by Edgar Parkyns. “Blind when you should be seeing; eyes that cannot perceive when they should know the glory of my calling; lives that are bound in the greyest twilight when they should be entering into the brightness of the presence of the Lord. How is it that my people are in darkness when I have left them light? How is it that they are hungry when I am their bread? How is it that hungering after truth, they are not able to consume it or take it? How is it that there is a negative answer, dullness, and lack of perception amongst those who are my children, my elect? How is it, says the Lord, that you have been brought thus far and yet your spirit is in bondage? There is that which holds you back from the glory of God. How is it that there is this power drawing you back when the Lord is calling you into that which is His fullness, into the revelation of His body, into the understanding of the mystery of the body of Christ? The Lord is calling you out of darkness. The ministry of the Crucified is a ministry of healing and of giving sight to the blind, and yet each one of you must come as that one alone, not as a crowd but as one, and the favour of the Lord God shall be placed upon your spirit, and you shall discover where you have failed your God, and where was the controversy between you and the Spirit of the Lord. Yes, you shall know, you shall discover that which has been within you for many years, over which there has been a long forgotten controversy. Even there shall the Lord bring you again, and you shall discover that already in your spirit you have known what has hindered you, what has held the blind upon you, that which has closed your vision of the Lord God, that which has kept down the veil upon you. You shall know it and recognise it, and of all things that you have loved, for the Lord is calling each man to the place of the cross.”
We were all deeply moved by these words, realising that the “way of the cross” was the “forgotten controversy”, and there was a re-dedication amongst many of those who attended. But as for the Revival that was expected, it has not come to this nation, and Arthur Wallis died suddenly in 1988, not to have witnessed the great event he so longed to see. More about times and seasons in the next section.
Yes, Revivals have all begun as a result of a deep and penetrating work of God in the hearts of some of His servants, some of whom have never been recognised as the instruments in God’s hands to bring about Revival. One hears of elderly ladies, sometimes blind, sometimes arthritically bound, who have spent all their time in prayer, and who then watch the result of their intercession with deep joy as God invades the land. But they are never “up front”, hardly even recognised. But God looks down upon them with intense pleasure.
Finally in this section, we find a cautionary note struck by R.A.Torrey. “Why should we pray for a revival? For the glory of God, because we cannot endure it that God should continue to be dishonoured by the worldliness of the church, by the sins of unbelievers, by the proud unbelief of the day, because God’s word is being made void; in order that God may be glorified by the outpouring of His Spirit on the church of Christ.” Only for the glory of God, not for any lower purpose, whether for increase in church membership, greater power, more influence, financial security and so on.
This brings us to the question of When does Revival break out?
We have just seen that the intense, country-wide prayer for Revival amongst Arthur Wallis’s group never actually occurred. Or should I say that it has not yet come about, some 40 years later. Duncan Campbell said that they waited a long time for Revival in the Hebrides. But Finney spoke of a woman who visited him to ask about Revival. He sent her back to her town to find a few others of like mind, and to pray. They gave themselves to prayer three times a day, and after just seven days the Revival commenced. These examples show us that although God gives the urgency to pray, and the Holy Spirit grants the ability to intercede with strong tears of earnestness for the people who sit in darkness, yet the actual Revival is always a sovereign work of God. We cannot use times of repeated and intense prayer to say that they guarantee Revival, but nevertheless those prayers are necessary to achieve something in the battle between light and darkness, even if we are not allowed to know its full purpose on this side of the great divide.
Finally, we must ask Why do Revivals occur at all? Is not the work of evangelism the God-given tool by which men are saved? Paul said that “the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe”. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel”.
It is here that I would like to present my own understanding of this question, because I have not seen it addressed in print throughout all my reading. I am of the persuasion that Revivals are precursors of conditions that will prevail when the Kingdom of God is established on earth, a time when the Holy Spirit will be “convicting men of sin, righteousness, and judgment” on a world-wide scale, which localised Revivals have been just a small foretaste. Wallis got near to this when he said, “Revivals provide a blessed foretaste of a day yet future when the saints shall ‘attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,’ and the Saviour’s prayer be finally answered.” Yes, in resurrection, when God will begin to use His resurrected and glorified Bride to minister in that grand universal revival throughout the earth, whereby God will obtain a mighty harvest of souls.
The only reason why some Christians might reject this proposal is because of faulty theology that imagines the Bride of Christ to be taken from the earth, never again to have any function here, and that the rest of mankind be herded off into a darker form of “eternity”. But the Bible is full of teaching relating to the Kingdom age, in which a great deal of evangelistic activity takes place. The Bride is the firstfruit, just as Jesus was the firstfruit of resurrection. As James pointed out to the Jerusalem conference, once the “tabernacle of David is set up again, God will call the residue of men to Himself.” That is the fulness of God’s work, even as the calling out of His Bride was to be the means whereby it could be accomplished.
Readers’ comments will be welcome on this theme.