This entry is part 11 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
One feature which is often notable in revival, is the presence of a variety of unusual phenomena, ranging from physical prostrations to (real or apparent) prophesyings, visions, and miraculous healings.
Now some scholars have been content merely to note the occurrence of these phenomena without making any serious attempt at biblical or theological explanation. Ronald Knox, for example, at the end of a long book which catalogues many extraordinary features associated with revivals and ‘fringe’ movements, clumps them all together, and says:-
How to explain these phenomena – Camisard child-prophecy, or Jansenist convulsions, or Methodist swoonings, or Irvingite glossolaly – is a question that need not detain us.
Knox, Enthusiasm, 588.
Similarly, Walter Hollenweger, in his major study of Pentecostalism, seems at a loss to explain the phenomenon of demon possession. He thinks that most cases can be explained ‘within the framework of modern psychiatric knowledge’ (as if that could be relied upon to give an incontrovertible account of any mental or emotional disturbance, let alone demon possession!), but then goes on to postulate an ‘inexplicable remnant’:-
This ‘inexplicable remnant’ points to the fact that our methods of apprehending and describing reality are relatively accurate only in certain spheres, for which the method used is particularly appropriate. Thus the ‘inexplicable remnant’ does not point to the existence of demons, but to the inaccuracy (perhaps only temporary) of our explanations of reality.
Hollenweger, Pentecostalism, 380f.
But the Christian who takes the biblical revelation as authoritative will not wish take refuge in the agnosticism of Knox and Hollenweger in this matter: he or she will want to seek an understanding based on biblically-defined categories of explanation. And these categories seem to be three-fold: first, some of these phenomena are best explained in terms of human responses to the excitement and trauma of revival – this is the physical and emotional dimension; others are best explained in terms of the more direct activity of the Holy Spirit – this is the miraculous dimension; and still others are best explained in terms of the operation of evil forces opposing revival – this is the demonic dimension. These categories will therefore be considered in turn in the next few chapters.
In the present chapter, then, we look at the physical and emotional aspect of revival.
The phenomena described
There are a number of instances of physical and emotional phenomena in the revivals recorded in Scripture. For instance, in the account of Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel we read not only of a remarkable miracle, but also of the awe and emotional excitement of those who saw it:-
1 King 18:38f Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord – he is God! The Lord – he is God!”
There were powerful scenes in the revival under Jehoshaphat:-
2 Chron 20:18f Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord. Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.
In the Acts, we read of a number of unusual emotional and physical manifestations: on the day of Pentecost, the disciples were thought to be drunk (2:13); Peter’s hearers were ‘cut to the heart’ (2:37; the man healed at the gate Beautiful was seen ‘walking and leaping and praising God’ (3:8). But most dramatic of all in the early chapters of Acts is the account of the death of Ananias and Sapphira, possibly under extreme conviction of sin (5:1-10).
The Post-Reformation Period
Moving on to more recent spiritual movements, we note that powerful emotional scenes accompanied the preaching of James Melville in 1596:-
…thereafter did Mr Melville gravely discourse upon the last chapter of Joshua, with that evidence and demonstration of the power of God therewith, as all who were there were enforced to a strange and unusual motion, with groans and tears, yea then to some retired personal meditation for searching each of them their own ways.
Gillies, Historical collections, 157.
Here is an example from the same period:-
We have a remarkable instance in Mr Bolton, that noted minister of the church of England, who after being awakened by the preaching of the famous Mr Perkins, minister of Christ in the university of Cambridge, was the subject of such terrors as threw him to the ground, and caused him to roar with anguish. The pangs of the new birth in him were such, that he lay pale and without sense, like one dead…We have an account…of another, whose comforts under the sun-shine of God’s presence were so great, that he could not forbear crying out in a transport, and expressing in exclamations the great sense he had of forgiving mercy and his assurance of God’s love. And we have a remarkable instance, in the life of Mr George Tross…of terrors occasioned by awakenings of conscience, so overpowering the body, as to deprive him, for some time, of the use of reason.
Edwards, Works, I, 370.
Dramatic scenes were witnessed in Glendinning in the 1620s:-
Behold the success! For the hearers finding themselves condemned by the mouth of God speaking in his Word, fell into such anxiety and terror or conscience that they looked on themselves as altogether lost and damned; and this work appeared not in one single person or two, but multitudes were brought to understand their way, and to cry out, Men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved? I have seen them myself stricken into a swoon with the Word; yea, a dozen in one day carried out of the doors as dead, so marvellous was the power of God smiting their hearts for sin, condemning and killing. And of these were none of the weaker sex or spirit, but indeed some of the boldest spirits, who formerly feared not with their swords to put a whole market-town in a fray; yet none in defence of their stubbornness cared not to lie in prison and in the stocks, and being incorrigible, were as ready to do the like the next day.
in Murray, The Puritan hope, 30.
The ministry of David Dickson in 1625 was accompanied by similar phenomena:-
Robert Fleming writes of ‘a very solemn and extraordinary outletting of the Spirit’ in 1625. This was experienced particularly at Irvine, under the ministry of David Dickson. ‘For a considerable time, few Sabbaths did pass without some evidently converted, and some convincing proofs of the power of God accompanying his Word; yea, that many were so choked and taken by the hearts, that through terror the Spirit in such measure convincing them of sin, in hearing of the Word they have been made to fall over, and thus carried out of the church, who after proved most solid and lively Christians.
Murray, The Puritan hope, 28.
The Great Awakening
During the Great Awakening in America, scenes such as the following were common:-
It was a very frequent thing to see a house full of outcries, faintings, convulsions, and such like, both with distress, and also with admiration and joy. It was not the manner here to hold meetings all night, as in some places, nor was it common to continue them till very late in the night; but it was pretty often, so that there were some that were so affected, and their bodies so overcome, that they could not go home, but were obliged to stay all night at the house where they were.
Edwards, in Gillies, Historical collections, 360.
The extreme nature of some of these phenomena seemed sometimes to threaten health, or even life itself:-
Some persons have had such longings after Christ…as to take away their natural strength. Some have been so overcome with a sense of the dying love of Christ to such poor, wretched and unworthy creatures, as to weaken the body. Several persons have had so great a sense of the glory of God, and excellency of Christ, that nature and life seemed almost to sink under it; and in all probability, if God had showed them a little more of himself, it would have dissolved their frame.
Edwards, Works, I, 356.
In view of what has been said in earlier chapters about repentance, it is not surprising to find that many of of the extreme emotional phenomena are associated with conviction of sin:-
Some few instances there have been, of people who have had such a sense of God’s wrath for sin, that they have been overborne; and made to cry out under an astonishing sense of their guilt, wondering that God suffers such guilty wretches to live upon earth, and that he doth not immediately send them to hell. Sometimes their guilt doth so stare them in the face, that they are in exceeding terror for fear that God will instantly do it.
Edwards, Works, I, 351.
The following extract clearly demonstrates the physical effects which could accompany revival:-
Extraordinary views of divine things, and the religious affections, were frequently attended with very great effects on the body. Nature often sunk under the weight of divine discoveries, and the strength of the body was taken away. The person was deprived of all ability to stand or speak. Sometimes the hands were clenched, and the flesh cold, but the senses remaining. Animal nature was often in great emotion and agitation, and the soul so overcome with admiration, and a kind of omnipotent joy, as to cause the person, unavoidably, to leap with all the might, with joy and mighty exultation.
Edwards, Works, I, 376.
New England, 1741:-
It was a very frequent thing, to see a house full of outcries, faintings, convulsions, and such like, both with distress, and also with admiration and joy…And there were some instances of persons lying in a sort of trance, remaining perhaps for a whole twenty-four hours motionless, and with their senses locked up, but in the mean time under strong imaginings, as thou they went to heaven, and had there a vision of glorious and delightful objects.
Edwards Works, I, lviiif.
From a similar period, we have have George Whitefield’s experience in Scotland, as described by him to John Cennick:-
Yesterday morning I preached at Glasgow, to a large congregation. At midday, I came to Cambuslang, and preached, at two, to a vast body of people; again at six, and again at nine at night. Such commotions, surely, were never heard of, especially at eleven o’clock at night. For an hour and a half, there was such weeping, and so many falling into such deep distress, expressed in various ways, as cannot be described. The people seemed to be slain in scores. Their agonies and cries were exceedingly affecting.
Whitefield’s Letters, 513f.
The occurrence of physical prostration has already been mentioned in some of the examples given above. Here is another instance, this time from the ministry of Howell Harris in 1740:-
At Llangeitho on the 24th September, the crowds were enormous, and when Harris spoke in English and Welsh to the five or six thousand present, ‘many cried out “What must I do to be saved?” and fainted away’. Such physical prostrations, accompanying severe conviction of sin, had been common at Llangeitho from the early days of Rowland’s ministry. They were not confined to Llangeitho, or even to Wales, during the Great Awakening. Nor were they regarded as the sure evidence or index of a genuine work of grace, but as occasional consequences of the Spirit’s power, to be evaluated subsequently in the light of changed lives and a sustained, consistent profession.
Evans, Daniel Rowland, 106f.
The emotional experiences during revival can sometimes almost defy description. The following recounts the experience of Howell Harris:-
I was last Sunday at the Ordinance with Brother Rowland where I saw, felt, and heard such things as I can’t send on paper any idea of. The power that continues with him is uncommon. Such crying out and heart-breaking groans, silent weeping and holy joy and shouts of rejoicing, I never saw. Their ‘Amens’ and crying ‘glory in the Highest’ etc. would enflame your soul were you there. ‘Tis very common when he preaches for scores to fall down by the power of the Word, pierced and wounded or overcome by the love of God, and sights of the beauty and excellency of Jesus, and lie on the ground, nature being overcome by the sights and enjoyments given to their heaven-born souls that it can’t bear, the spirit almost bursting the house of clay to go to its native home. Some lie there for hours, some praising and admiring Jesus, free grace, distinguishing grace; others wanting words to utter…Others lie wounded under a sense of their piercing Jesus, so that they can hardly bear it; others in triumph over all their enemies.
Howell Harris, in Evans, Daniel Rowland, 216f.
Scenes of great rejoicing occurred in Wales in 1762:-
In this, as in the house of Cornelius long ago, great crowds magnified God without being able to cease, but sometimes leaping in jubilation as did David before the Ark. Sometimes whole nights were spent with a voice of joy and praise, as a multitude that kept holiday. I heard from a godly old woman that it lasted three days and three nights without a break in a place called Lon-fudr in Llyn, Caernarfonshire, one crowd following the other: when some went home, others came in their place; and although they went to their homes for a while, they could stay there hardly any time before returning. When these powerful outpourings descended on several hundreds, if not thousands, throughout South Wales and Gwynedd, there arose much excitement and controversy concerning the matter; many were struck with amazement and said, ‘What can this mean?’ ‘They are drunkards.’ said some. Others said, ‘They are mad’, very like those (earlier scoffers) on the day of Pentecost long ago.
in Gruffydd, Revival and its fruit, 22f.
The Mid-19th-Century Revival
In Wales in 1858:-
Astonishing scenes accompanied the final hymn at one of [David] Morgan’s services at Tregaron: ‘…a godly old woman, named Nell, eighty years old, who had failed to attend the afternoon service owing to the very severe rheumatic pains in her limbs, and had only crept painfully to the evening meeting, advanced briskly across the open space and put her hand on Enoch David, a lame and decrepit deacon of seventy-two, who sat in the “big seat”. This was high-backed, and a seat ran around it outside as well as inside. As if electrified by Nell’s touch, Enoch stood on his feet, and with one vault cleared the high obstacle between him and her; and the two, soon joined by others, began to leap and dance, as if the days of youth had returned to them.’
Evans, Two Welsh revivalists, 48.
Details of these physical and emotional phenomena vary somewhat from one place and time to another. In Wales, in 1859, there was much praise and rejoicing:-
The 1859 revival in Wales was characterised by frequent outbursts of praise. The outbreak in a Carmarthenshire town is recorded thus: ‘One Sunday morning, an elder rose to speak, and his first remark was that the God they worshipped was without beginning and without end. ‘Amen!’ exclaimed a young girl in the highest notes of a lovely voice. ‘Blessed be his name forever.’ This cry might be compared to the touch of the electric button that shivers a quarry into a thousand hurtling fragments. Scores of people leaped from their seats, and, gathering in the vacant space in the centre, they gave vent to their pent-up emotions in outcries that were almost agonizing in their ardour and intensity.
Orr, The light of the nations, 144.
The Scottish phase of the 1859 revival was described as follows:-
An eyewitness of the 1859 revival in Scotland wrote of ‘the preachings at which sometimes an entire large congregation seemed as if one molten mass of humiliation before God, the prostrations…under an overwhelming sense of sin, the trances and unconscioushours of soul struggle called by those who passed through the experiences “being drunk with the Spirit”, and the strange ecstatic “dancings”, mostly among the fisher-folk, all these were certainly connected with lifelong spiritual transformations, though doubtless also connected with physical and psychological excitements and impacts. But no same student of spiritual phenomena…could possibly question the reality of the wonderful life renewals eventuating from these and such-like phenomena.’
Macphail, Reminiscences of the 1859 Revival, 26.
The 1904 Revival
From the 1904 revival in Wales comes this account:-
One thing I know: ‘thursday night, December the 22nd, 1904,’ will be inscribed in letters of fire in my heart for ever! Now, don’t ask me to describe what I felt that night – I can never do it! I can say this: I felt the Holy Spirit like a torrent of light causing my whole nature to shake; I saw Jesus Christ – and my nature melted at his feet; and I saw myself – and I abhorred it!…O! the Love of God in the Death of the Cross is exceedingly powerful! I have done nothing since Thursday night but sing to myself that hymn, [‘O! the infinite power of his Love!] And today I feel that I belong to everybody. O! how the Love of Christ expands a man’s heart!
Rev J.T. Job, in Roberts, Revival and its fruit, 9f.
What are we to make of these phenomena?
Some have been so impressed with the physical and emotional manifestations of revival that they have been led to suggest that they are an essential feature, not to be criticised or called into questions. Speaking of physical manifestations and prostrations as a feature of the Lewis Awakening (1949-53), Duncan Campbell says:-
I find it difficult to explain this aspect – indeed I cannot; but this I will say, that the person who would associate this with Satanic influence is coming perilously near committing the unpardonable sin.
Campbell, The Lewis Awakening, 29f.
A similar point of view is held by John Wesley, who accepted these phenomena, although not uncritically. He records a conversation with George Whitefield:-
I had an opportunity to talk with him of those outward signs, which had so often accompanied the inward work of God. I found his objections were chiefly misrepresentations of matter of fact; but the next day he had an opportunity of informing himself better. For, no sooner had he begun (in the application of his sermon) to invite all sinners to believe in Christ, than four persons sunk down close to him almost in the same moment. One of them lay without either sense or motion; a second convulsed all over his body, but made no noise, unless by groans; the fourth, equally convulsed, called upon God with strong cries and tears. From this time I trust we shall all suffer God to carry on his work in the way that pleaseth him.
Wesley, Journal, 7/7/1739.
But the fact that Wesley did not accept all these phenomena uncritically is evidenced by the following journal extract, in which he expresses his concern lest people run to extremes in this matter:-
I found the people [on a return visit to Everton] in general were more settled than when I was here before but they were in danger of running from east to west. Instead of thinking, as many did, that none can possibly have true faith, but those that have trances or visions, they were now ready to think, that whoever had anything of this kind, had no faith.
Wesley, Journal, 3/1/1762.
A second approach views such phenomena with distrust, and attempts to keep them to a minimum. Such was the approach of Asahel Nettleton during the Second Great Awakening:-
[He] did all he could to keep the movement of his day pure and put down anything that bordered on the fanatical in the meetings he conducted. Although occasionally some fainted under the tension of conviction, he never tolerated the kind of violent bodily movements which characterised many of the frontier camp meetings. Such demonstrations as shrieking, groaning, rolling on the floor, clapping hands, jerking, or leaping were unknown under his preaching. Also he discountenanced visions, trances, and immediate impressions of one kind or another, as being fanatical and delusive…The kind of revivals he promoted were so rational, scriptural and beneficial in their effects that few pious people could really object to them.
Thornbury, God sent revival, 141.
W.B. Sprague was another who, preaching and writing during the same period, ascribed little importance to physical and emotional phenomena:-
The change which takes place in conversion is of a moral nature; it has its seat in the soul, and no where else. There is no natural connection between this change and any bodily postures or movements.
Sprague, Lectures on revivals, 225.
Hay Aitken, looking back in 1906 over fifty years of evangelism, wrote:-
My own experience and observation has led me to the conclusion that the permanence of the results of revival movements is in inverse ratio to the excitement with which the work is accompanied…Nothing is more to be deprecated in revival work than mere physical excitement and hysterical emotionalism…Where revival work is quiet, solemn, and heart-searching, where the preacher deals with the conscience rather than plays upon the feelings, and above all where Gospel truth is clearly and fully presented, the results will be at least as permanent as in any other kind of evangelistic work.
Aitken, Revival work, 23f.
A recent author, too, objects to the notion that the effectiveness of a revival can be guaged by the degree to which these phenomena have been experienced:-
In certain past revivals, physical manifestations have been supposed to indicate the presence and work of the Holy Spirit. Falling in trances and being taken with the jerks are among those phenomena highly regarded by some lovers of revival. Do the Scriptures indicate a fixed relationship between the physical and the spiritual? The evidence plainly proves that a person can experience such physical phenomena without any permanent spiritual good being accomplished.
Roberts, Revival, 121.
A third approach is represented by Jonathan Edwards. As we shall see, he gave a cautious welcome to these phenomena, viewing them as probably inevitable accompaniments of revival, although neutral (ie neither good nor evil) from a spiritual point of view. Peter Beak, in a recent paper discussing Edwards’ view, raises some questions which indicate his own rather critical attitude towards the phenomena. Firstly, he asks:-
Is his [Edwards’] claim of biblical support for these outward manifestations at a time of revival convincing? He mentions the disciples in the boat seeing Christ approach them across the water, and the Philippian jailer falling down before Paul and Silas. But both Matthew and Mark indicate that the fear of the disciples was because they thought they saw a ghost; and the jailer had had such a series of shocks…that we could not be at all surprised if he “fell trembling before Paul and Silas” even if there had not been a work of God inhis heart prompting him to ask, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And where we should most expect to find such phenomena if they are to be thought of as normal accompaniments of revival, on the Day of Pentecost itself, there are none: Luke, that most meticulous of commentators, records no fainting or other bodily effects, and even when the people were “cut to the heart” we are told that they “said” rather than “cried out”, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Beak, Jonathan Edwards and the phenomena of revival, 8.
Secondly, Beak asks:-
Does he give sufficient weight to the patchy and spasmodic nature of the occurrence of these phenomena? Both during the Great Awakening and other times of revival, the depth of the Spirit’s work does not seem to have had any relationship to the presence or absence of these physical manifestations.
Beak, Op cit., 8.
Thirdly, Beak asks:-
Does he give sufficient weight to mass hysteria and the incidence of these phenomena outside of revival? Cryings out, faintings and the like are recorded in all sorts of situations, from the meetings of Katherine Kuhlman…to the frenzied dances of animistic worshippers or crowds of young girls at some pop concert.
Beak, Op cit., 9.
Beak’s strictures are valuable in reminding us that physical and emotional phenomena do not occupy a position of prime importance in the biblical accounts of revival (although we may question whether the Pentecostal outpouring was as calm an affair as he makes out, cf Acts 2:13), that some post-biblical revivals have been more, and others less, marked by these phenomena, and that powerful emotions may be expressed in settings other than evangelical revivals (and whoever doubted that!). But Beak goes beyond helpful caution when he closes his paper with a comment concerning…
…that naive gullibility which accepts without question so-called signs and wonders which may be at best psychological and at worst the confusing interventions of the one who disguises himself as an angel of light and sends those of whom the Lord warns us that they will “perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible.”
Beak, Op cit., 9.
This kind of comment is unhelpful, not simply because it rejects the possibility of ‘signs and wonders’ (there is a proper and necessary forum for that debate) but because it subsumes ‘signs and wonders’ under the heading of ‘physical manifestations’. He is not alone in this: charismatic writers often do the same. But the time has come to clear up this confusion, and to separate out the three categories of phenomena, namely, the human, the divine, and the demonic. Once distinguished, they can then be discussed on their own merits and in their own terms.
Let us look into Jonathan Edwards’ position a little more closely. Edwards observed and interpreted the phenomena of revival with his usual care and thoroughness. He concluded that, despite many excesses, it was foolish to discount a revival simply because of the occurrence of these physical and emotional phenomena:-
Concerning the very great stir that is in the land, and those extraordinary circumstances and events that it is attended with, such as persons crying out, and being set into great agonies, with a sense of sin and wrath, and having their strength taken away, and their minds extraordinarily transported with light, love and comfort, I have been abundantly amongst such things, and have had great opportunity to observe them, here and elsewhere, in their beginning, progress, issue and consequences; and however there may be some mixture of natural affections, and sometimes of temptation, and some imprudences and irregularities, as there always was, and always will be in this imperfect state, yet as to the work in general, and the main of what is to be observed in these extraordinary things, they have all the clear and incontestable evidences of a true divine work. If this ben’t the work of God, I have all my religion to learn over again, and know not what use to make of the Bible.
Edwards, in Murray, Jonathan Edwards, 217f.
According to Edwards, physical phenomena, although not proofs of the genuineness of a revival, were quite consistent with true spirituality and saving grace:-
Cases of sudden physical collapse, of outcries, and of swoonings…were witnessed in many congregations from the summer of 1741 onwards…In Edward’s view such evidences of shock were no proof of any saving work of the Spirit: people might indeed be overwhelmed and prostrated by sudden alarm when savingly convicted by God, but he also knew that the same outward effects could accompany feelings prompted by the truth in the unregenerate while under the slavish fear of God. The presence of such phenomena might even be the result of hysteria, yet his own experience in the summer of 1741 led him to believe that in most cases there was no need for the friends of revival to be alarmed if congregations were disturbed by signs of physical distress.
Murray, Jonathan Edwards, 217.
In Edwards’ view, bodily effects could not used as evidence either for or against the genuineness of a spiritual work:-
A work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, or the failing of bodily strength. The influence persons are under, is not to be judged of one or the other, by such effects on the body; and the reason is, because Scripture nowhere gives us any such rule.
Edwards, Works, II, 261.
Edwards taught that revival should not be judged by these phenomena at all, but by the rule of Scripture. He made his point with wry humour:-
Many are guilty of not taking the Scripture as a sufficient and whole rule, whereby to judge of this work. They judge by those things which the Scripture does not give as any signs or marks whereby to judge one way or the other, viz. the effects that religious exercises and affections have upon the body. Scripture-rules respect the state of the mind, moral conduct, and voluntary behaviour; and not the physical state of the body. The design of the Scripture is to teach us divinity, and not physic and anatomy. Ministers are made the watchmen of men’s souls, and not their bodies; and therefore the great rule which God has committed into their hands, is to make them divines, and not physicians. -Christ knew what instructions and rules his church would stand in need of, better than we do; and, if he had seen it needful in order to the church’s safety, he doubtless would have given to ministers rules for judging of bodily effects. He would have told them how the pulse should beat under such and such religious exercises of mind; when men should look pale, and when they should shed tears; when they should tremble, and whether or no they should ever faint or cry out; or whether the body should ever be put into convulsions. He probably sould have put some book into their hands, that should have tended to make them excellent anatomists and physicians. But he has not done it, because he did not see it to be needful. -He judged, that if ministers thoroughly did their duty as watchmen and overseers of the state and frame of men’s souls, and of their voluntary conduct, according to the rules he had given, his church would be well provided for as to its safety in these matters.
Edwards Works, I, 368.
The view of Howell Harris contains much that is sensible, and seems to make the correct connection between the inward spiritual experiences and the outward phenomena:-
As to ‘crying out’, some I have seen and spoken to. They were so penetrated by the Word that they could not help crying out, some on seeing that they were lost, and others on seeing that they had pierced the Son of God by their sins; whom if you had seen you would have had no scruple about, but have blessed God on their account. There is, it must be confessed, much of the evil spirit and hypocrisy in the crying out of some. I publicly objected to it, and Rowland thanked me. Their singing together on the way has much simplicity in it. The heart being thus kept heavenward, trifling thoughts as well as idle talking are prevented. When my heart is warmed by love, I cannot help singing, even if I am hoarse. Their speaking to or embracing each other in love, I am sure was also in great simplicity. I find such love in my own spirit towards you, that if I were near you I could not help embracing you in the love of God, which others may construe as imprudence.
in Evans, Daniel Rowland, 145.
Just over a century ago, Robert Dabney made a careful analysis of the use and abuse of the emotions in ‘religious excitements’. He recognised the indispensible role of the emotions in human life and experience:-
The function of feeling is as essential to the human spirit, and as ever present as the function of cognition. The two are ever combined, as the heat-rays and the light-rays are intermingled in the sunbeams.
Dabney, Discussions, Vol III, 2.
And as far as the spiritual life is concerned:-
The efficacious…movement of the feelings is just as essential a part of a true religious experience, as the illumination of the intellect by divine truth; for indeed, there is no such thing as the implantation of practical principle, or the right decisions of the will, without feeling. In estimating a work of divine grace as genuine, we should rather ask ourselves whether the right feelings are excited; and excited by divine causes. If so, we need not fear the most intense excitement.
Dabney, Discussions, Vol III, 1.
But, says Dabney, emotional excitement on its own counts for nothing:-
The excitement of mere sensibilities, however strong or frequent, can offer no evidence whatever of a sanctified state.
Dabney, Discussions, Vol III, 3.
And where religious gatherings are managed so as to subordinate Christian truth to excitement of the emotions, the is a serious risk of mass self-deception. And this, says Dabney, is what happens when the ‘new measures’ are employed:-
These plain facts and principles condemn nearly every feature of the modern new measure ‘revival’. The preaching and other religious instructors and shaped with a main view to excite the carnal emotions, and the instinctive sympathis, while no due care is taken to present saving, didactic truth to the understanding thus temporarily stimulated. As soon as some persons, professed Christians, or awakened ‘mourners’, are infected with any lively passion, let it be however carnal and fleeting, a spectacular display is made of it, with confident laudations of it as unquestionably precious and saving, with the design of exciting the remainder of the crowd with the sympathetic contagion. Every adjunct of fiery declamation, animated singing, groans, trears, exclamations, maoisy prayers, is added so as to shake the nerves and add the tumult of a hysterical animal excitement to the sympathetic wave…This purely natural and instinctive sensibility take son the form of religious feelings, because it is sympathy with religious feeling in others. The subject calls it by religious names – awakening, conviction, repentance – while in reality it is only related to them as a man’s shadow is to the living man…By a natural law of feelings, relaxation must follow high tension – the calm must succeed the storm. This quiet is confounded with ‘peace in believing’…When the soul is removed from the stimuli of the revival appliances, it of course sinks into the most painful vacuity, on which supervene restlessness and doubt. So, most naturally, it craves to renew the illusions, and has, for a time, a certain longing for, and pleasure in the scenes, the measures, and the agents of its pleasing intoxication. These are mistaken for love for God’s house, worship and people. Then the befooled soul goes on until it is betrayed into an erroneous profession of religion, and dead church membership. He is now in the position in which the great enemy of souls would most desire to have him, and where his salvation is more difficult and improbable than anywhere else.
Dabney, Discussions, Vol III, 11f.
How then are we to understand the emotional excitement which can be experienced in revival? How does it differ from others kinds of non-Christian or even non-religious excitement? Is there any difference between the religious excitement associated with revival and the frenzies and ecstasies seen, say at rock concerts?-
On one level there is certainly very little difference. Very probably the immediate sensations and the conscious nervous impressions are very much alike in both. I found light on this in a sermon by C.S. Lewis entitled ‘Transposition’…He observes that to express the spiritual through the natural is like translating from a richer to a poorer language. In the poorer language you have to use the same word to express more than one meaning; and it is the same when you try to express the richer world of the spirit through the poorer medium of our physical frame. We have only laughter to express the most ribald revelry and the most godly joy; we have only hearts to express the most selfish and worldly grief and the most godly sorrow. Therefore we must not be not unduly surprised that spiritual rejoicings are so similar in their manifestations to rejoicings of a very different kind.
Roberts, Revival and its fruit, 8.
In summary, it may be suggested that unusual physical and emotional phenomena are not essential elements of revival, in the sense of being prompted directly by the Holy Spirit for some saving or sanctifying purpose. On the other hand, they can be natural accompaniments of revival, in the sense that they may form fitting human responses to the word of God proclaimed and the grace of God received. They are therefore neither to be discouraged nor actively encouraged, but accepted and guided.
It will be an important but sometimes difficult pastoral decision to distinguish between these phenomena and those emanating in a more direct way from the Holy Spirit and which partake of the nature of miraculous occurences. This will form the subject of the next chapter.