This entry is part 8 of 21 in the series: Revival
- The Biblical idea of revival
- Divine and human agency in revival
- Examples of revival
- Conditions prior to revival
- Experience of God in revival
- Repentance and revival
- Prayer and Revival
- The Word of God and revival
- Preaching and revival
- Results of revival
- Physical and emotional phenomena of revival
- The miraculous element in revival (I)
- The miraculous element in revival (II)
- Demonic Activity in Revival
- Problems associated with revival
- Evaluating Revivals
- Pentecostalism, baptism in the Spirit and revival
- Prospects for Revival
- ‘Lord, I have heard of your fame’ – stories of revival
- ‘Renew them in our day’ – prospects for revival
In this chapter, two closely related aspects of revival will be considered: first, the place of the Bible itself in spiritual awakenings; and second, the place of biblical doctrine.
THE PLACE OF THE BIBLE
One of the leading features of revival is that the Bible takes its rightful place as God’s truthful, inspired, and authoritative revelation. The Book which had lain gathering dust on the bookshelf at home is now taken up and read with delight as people realise the importance and vitality of the message it contains. The Book which had received such scant attention in the sermons of a thousand ministers is now pored over, preached over, and prayed over.
Examples from the Bible
The primacy of the Scriptures is very clear from the Bible’s own records of revival movements. Walter Kaiser remarks that:-
Every revival in the Old Testament rested solidly on a new and powerful proclamation of the Word of God. The most obvious evidence of this characteristic can be seen in the revival under Josiah, when the book of the law was found and read with great response in the presence of the king. In the revival that took place under Jehoshaphat, the Levites ‘taught throughout Judah, taking with them the book of the law of the Lord’ (II Chron 17:9). No less central was the Word of God in the revival under Ezra and Nehemiah, for Ezra read from it from daybreak until noon (Neh 8:3) for seven days (Neh 8:18), ‘making it clear and giving the meaning (Neh 8:8). But even in those instances where the revival was not immediately preceded by a proclamation or reading of the Word of God, such as with Jacob or Elijah on Mt. Carmel, the power and ministry of that mighty word is not very far out of the picture.
Kaiser, Quest for renewal, 19.
Of the revival under Jehoshaphat, we learn that a leading feature was the fact that the king sent his princes across Judah, carrying the book of the law of the Lord with them, teaching it to the people (II Chron 17:7ff).
Then again, during the reign of Josiah, the book of the law was rediscovered by Hilkiah (II Chron 34:15). When it was brought to the king and read to him, he tore his clothes and wept with grief (vv18,19,27). Such is the solemn and dramatic power of the word of God:-
What Josiah focussed on were the judgements of God. Indeed, the curses of God are just as true as are His blessings. We are taught to say “amen” to both. And if we know by experience that one is true, then we must also believe that the other is true as well.
Kaiser, Quest for renewal, 120.
But this is generally the pattern in revival: first, conviction and self-condemnation, then, a firm resolve to serve God and walk in his ways:-
II Chron 34:29ff Then the king called together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. He went up to the temple of the Lord with the men of Judah, the people of Jerusalem, the priests and the Levites – all the people from the least to the greatest. He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the Lord. The king stood by his pillar and renewed the covenant in the presence of the Lord – to follow the Lord and keep his commands, regulations and decrees with all his heart and all his soul, and to obey the words of the covenant written in this book..
Then again, in a powerful spiritual awakening in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah the law of God occupied a central place:-
Neh 8:1ff …all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel. So…Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from day break till noon…And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law…The Levites…instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being said.
Examples from Christian History
This concern for the truth of God has been a leading feature of revivals throughout history:-
If you read the history of all the revivals of the past you will find that they have been periods when men and women have believed this book to be the word of God. They have believed it literally, they have regarded it as the revelation of God, and the truth concerning him, and man’s relationship with him, and all that is involved. And they believed that this book has been written by men who have been divinely inspired. They have submitted themselves to it, they have not stood above it as judges, and as those who can decide what is right and wrong.
Lloyd-Jones, Revival, 40.
A renewed interest in the Word of God leads ordinary Christians to relish Bible study and biblical preaching:-
Revived individuals are…marked by their great interest in the Word of God. Most professing Christians are content to let their pastors or Bible teachers do the digging for them in the Word of God, but revived individuals find themselves desiring the ‘sincere milk of the Word as newborn babes.’ They soon learn to relish the strong meat of the Word and to delight in lengthy, deep, reverent, practical, and searching teaching and preaching. Even more, they will be moved to diligent personal study of the Bible and to faithful application of its wonderful truths to their lives.
Roberts, Revival, 26.
In revival conditions, the words of Scripture take on a new significance, and are applied to the heart with exceptional force, as occured during the Great Awakening:-
Persons commonly…have had many texts of Scripture brought to their minds, which are exceedingly suitable to their circumstances, often come with great power, as the word of God or of Christ indeed; and many have a multitude of sweet invitations, promises, and doxologies flowing in one after another, bringing great light and comfort with them, filling the soul brimful, enlarging the heart, and opening the mouth in religion.
Edwards, Works, I, 355.
Even illiterate people find that they can acquire an astonishing amount of Bible-knowledge:-
It is really astonishing to me to observe what a copious and pertinent use of the Scriptures many illiterate persons have acquired, and with what a readiness and fluency they pray in Scripture language.
in Gillies, Historical collections, 454.
A remarkably close acquaintance with the Scriptures was evident among the great leaders and preachers of the revivals. Of Daniel Rowland it is said that:-
The Word of God so mastered his attention that…his son could affirm that he ‘knew almost the whole Bible, as the expression is, by heart; so that hardly a passage could be mentioned to him, that he could not tell the chapter and verse where it was to be found’.
Evans, Daniel Rowland, 37.
Rowland’s attitude to the Bible has been summarised as follows:-
For Rowland, as for the other Welsh Methodists, the Bible was God’s Word. As such it was authoritative, determinative, and final. Its precepts were binding, its promises were reliable, its values were real, and its categories were valid. Its truth and its power were corollories, so that authentication went alongside effectiveness. In matters of history, theology, and morality alike it was entirely trustworthy.
Evans, Daniel Rowland, 370.
Rowland consistently and passionately believed in the sufficiency of Scripture for salvation. As expositions of Scripture, sermons were the vehicle par excellence of teaching God’s people. They were rendered effective and powerful by the Spirit’s application to the soul, and His enabling in the arena of personal and public life. In Rowland’s teaching, there is a finality about Scripture which is exclusive. All other claims to authority, whether on the part of Church Councils, or of individuals asserting an immediacy or ‘prophetic’ utterance, are both dangerous and superfluous.
Evans, Daniel Rowland, 204.
Not just leaders and preachers, but ordinary people too, who were led to a new esteem for the Scriptures. Of a revival which took place under the ministry of Asahel Nettleton, we learn that those who had been awakened:-
…were spontaneously led to take the word of God for their guide. The Bible was preferred to all other books, and was searched daily and with eager inquiry.
in Sprague, Lectures on revivals, App 72.
The following charming anecdote comes from the Welsh revival of 1859:-
One morning at eight, little children held a prayer meeting on behalf of an aged sinner of eighty-four…That same day in the afternoon service the old rebel yielded, conquered by love divine and human…He was absolutely illiterate, but as a new-born babe he desired the sincere milk of the Word. He obtained it in halfpenny-worths by giving coppers to any children who would read a chapter to him.
Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 104f.
Scriptural knowledge is indispensable in the work of conversion, even though it would be unwise to stipulate how much Biblical knowledge is necessary in each case:-
I will not undertake to decide what amount of scriptural knowledge is necessary to conversion in any given case, or to question the fact that men under certain circumstances may be renewed where their knowledge is very limited; nevertheless it is certain that religious reflection precedes religious feeling in the order of nature. Before men can feel remorse, much more contrition, for their sins, they must have held strongly to their minds the fact that they are sinners. They must have reflected upon what it is to be a sinner; on the character of God, not only as Father, but a Lawgiver; on the reasonableness of their obligations to him, and on the guilt of violating those obligations.
Sprague, Lectures on revival, 19f.
And Scriptural knowledge is needed for the continuation of revival work:-
If revival is to be sustained, systematic preaching and teaching of the Word of God is mandatory. In earlier generations, revival converts might have had a considerable background of biblical truth and morality upon which immediately to draw, but most of today’s hopeful converts have very little, if any, biblical knowledge. Therefore, the urgent necessity of balanced biblical teaching and preaching can hardly be over-emphasised.
Roberts, Revival, 122.
The leads us, then, to consider the place biblical doctrine in revival.
Especially in some of the earlier revivals, the work of the Spirit was often accompanied and promoted by a renewed interest in ‘experimental’ (practical) theology:-
The people seemed to have a renewed taste for those old pious and experimental writers, Mk Hooker, Shepard, Gurnal, William Guthrie, Joseph Alleine, Isaac Ambrose, Dr Owen, and others, as well as latter – such as Mr Mead, Flavel, Shaw, Willard, Stoddard, Dr Increase and Cotton Mather, Mk Mather of Windsor, Mk Boston, etc. The evangelical writings of these deceased authors, as well as of others alive, were now read with singular pleasure; some of them reprinted, and in great number quickly bought and studied.
in Gillies, Historical collections, 353.
There was a time when even theological training institutions gave a high priority to revival:-
When Princeton Theological Seminary was founded in 1812, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church thought it necessary to state the new institution’s position on revivals; the Seminary, it declared, shall ‘train up persons for the ministry, who shall be…friends of revivals of religion’.
Murray, The necessary ingredients of a biblical revival, I, 19.
Sadly, however, the cause of revival suffered grievously from the general theological decay which set in during the 19th century:-
The whole church was drifting quietly toward Marcionism, avoiding the biblical portrait of the sovereign and holy God who is angry with the wicked every day and whose anger remains upon those who will not receive his Son. Walling off this image into an unvisited corner of its consciousness, the church substituted a new god who was the projection of grandmotherly kindness mixed with the gentleness and winsomeness of a Jesus who hardly needed to die for our sins. Many American congregations were in effect paying their ministers to protect them from the real God.
Lovelace, Dynamics of spiritual life, 83f.
There was then a notable difference between the Welsh revivals of 1859 and 1904, which reflected the profound change in the theological climate between those two periods:-
The Reverend William Hobley observed that the 1904 Revival lacked the theological emphasis of the 1859 Revival. He quotes the words of ‘a revered elderly minister’ that ‘it was for the Atonement they gave thanks in ’59, but now they give thanks for their own pleasant feelings.’ It was surely this theological void, the doctrinal deviation of the times, that accounts of the somewhat disappointing results of that revival even in terms of character building.
Roberts, Revival and its fruit, 17.
Orthodox theology could no longer be taken for granted in 1904:-
Previous Welsh awakenings had taken place in the context of an accepted, even if at times sterile, orthodoxy. By 1904 those very doctrines which had formed the backbone of the historic denominations were relegated to a place of secondary importance. If they were not strenuously opposed, at least they were regarded with scornful indifference. Having, in the eyes of religious leaders, lost their significance and relevance to a progressive society, these vital truths were culpably ignored in the preaching and teaching ministry of those churches. Consequently the 1904 revival came to a church which was doctrinally off balance. Sadly, there were to be few who had either the discernment or the conviction to correct it.
Evans, The Welsh revival of 1904, 34.
This neglect of Scriptural instruction was a strategic mistake in the 1904 Welsh revival:-
The Welsh Revival took scripture knowledge for granted, and preaching thus deemed superfluous was at a minimum. The Welsh revival constituency was ill-prepared for a new onslaught of anti-evangelicalism which captured a generation of otherwise disillusioned Welshmen.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Eastern Asia, 15.
If this was true of in 1904, how much more so at the present day! If the cause of revival is to be understood and promoted aright, then there is a great need to strive for intellectual mastery:-
I am more and more convinced that Christianity has lost control of Western culture because it has failed to spend time and money on the cultivation of the mind. The result is a modernism that cannot transform culture because it has capitulated to paganism, and a fundamentalism which has no traction because it is our of touch. The only way we can avoid these polar dangers of destructive and protective enculteration is to invest time, money and prayer where the impact is greatest: in the formation of Christian hearts and minds. Warm hearts alone will not conquer a culture unless we wield the instruments that govern the central mindset of society: ideas. But ideas alone will be powerless unless they are controlled and directed by Spirit-filled hearts.
Lovelace, Renewal as a way of life, 192.
Anti-intellectualism is often promoted today because many Christians fail to distinguish between the proper and improper use of the mind in the service of God. But this is a capital error:-
Christians who block out their minds in the process of attuning themselves to the Spirit are trying to replace an essential human attribute by the gift of the Spirit which is meant to transform that faculty, not to replace it. To relinquish the guiding and superintending function of the intellect in our experience seems pious at first, but in the end this course dehumanises us by turning us into either dependent robots waiting to be programmed by the Spirit’s guidance or whimsical enthusiasts blown about by our hunches and emotions.
Lovelace, Dynamics of spiritual life, 265.
Learning and Godliness
The truth is, that learning and godliness can co-exist in a wonderfully satisfactory and effective way:-
Let us listen to Andrew Bonar, as he speaks of Samuel Rutherford, that wonderful man of God of the seventeenth century, in whom godliness and learning were blended to a notable degree. Rutherford, he says, ‘persevered in study as well as in labours, and with no common success. He had a metaphysical turn, as well as great readiness in using the accumulated learning of other days. It might be instructive to inquire why it is that wherever godliness is healthy and progressive, we almost invariably find learning in the Church of Christ attendant on it; while, on the other hand, neglect of study is attended sooner or later by decay of vital godliness. Not that all are learned in such times; but there is always an element of the kind in the circle of those whom the Lord is using. The energy called forth by the knowledge of God in the soul leads on to the study of whatever is likely to be useful in the defence or propagation of the truth; whereas, on the other hand, when decay is at work and lifelessness prevailing, sloth and ease creep in, and theological learning is slighted as uninteresting and dry. With Samuel Rutherford and his contemporaries we find learning side by side with singularly deep godliness.’
Hughes, Revive us again, 39f.
Let us make it our business to recognise the authority of the written Word, to submit to it doctrines, and to fight on the side of God’s truth in the ‘Battle for the mind’.