This entry is part 12 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 aspect of revival which merits careful study is the miraculous element. Now it is perfectly correct to say that any true revival is of supernatural origin, just as is regeneration of an individual soul. But this part of our subject still needs consideration from a more limited point of view. The question still to be answered is, To what extent, if any, do miracles occur in revivals?
This is a question on which evangelical theology has not yet articulated a clear, unambiguous answer. Some, following Jonathan Edwards, have tended to deny the possibility of contemporary miracles. A smaller number of reformed leaders, including D.M. Lloyd-Jones and Richard Lovelace, have asserted the possibility of modern miracles. Our task in the next two chapters will be to present some of the materials contributing to this debate in so far as they occur in connection with revivals, and to allow each ‘side’ to speak for itself.
The present chapter will take a descriptive approach to the phenomena: more detailed discussion will be left until the next chapter.
There are a number of occasions in Scripture where miracles are mentioned in connection with spiritual awakenings. The connection between the miracle of the Exodus and subsequent awakening is clearly expressed:-
Ex 14:30f That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.
The idea that miraculous signs were intended by God to promote faith and love emerges in the Lord’s complaint to Moses in Numbers 14:-
Num 14:11 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?”
But Satan has his own ‘miracles’, and so we can never view extraordinary occurrences as ‘proofs’ that God is at work. In this way many have been deceived and have been led far away from the true and living God. The most important thing is to love, fear and obey God:-
Deut 13:1ff If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes places, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.
Another clear link between the demonstration of God’s miraculous power and subsequent spiritual revival is found in the story of Elijah:-
I Kings 18:38 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!”
The prophecy of Joel merits attention here:-
Joel 2:28 And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.
This passage in Joel is taken up by Peter on the day of Pentecost: ‘This is that’ (Acts 2:16ff). We can discern the following elements of fulfilment: the inauguration of ‘the last days’; the miracle-working powers of Christ and his apostles; the heavenly portents at the time of the crucifixion; the call to repentance; the offer of salvation; the applicability of the gospel to all classes; and the worldwide success of the missionary impulse. There seems no biblical or theological reason to limit the wonder-working aspect of Joel’s prophecy to the day of Pentecost, for, as F.F. Bruce points out:-
Luke probably sees in these words an adumbration of the worldwide Gentile mission, even if Peter himself did not realize their full import when he quoted them on the day of Pentecost. Certainly the outpouring of the Spirit on a hundred and twenty Jews could not in itself fulfil the prediction of such outpouring ‘upon all flesh’; but was the beginning of the fulfilment.
Bruce, The Book of the Acts, 68.
And so the great Day arrived:-
Acts 2:28ff And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Later passages in the Acts seem to suggest that there are times when it is needful and right, not just to accept miracles if and when they are granted, but to actively pray for them:-
Acts 4:29ff ‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness, while thou stretchest out thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of thy holy servant Jesus.’ (RSV)
Commenting on the verse just quoted, I.H. Marshall says:-
The prayer is not primarily that the opponents will be brought to naught. Rather, on the assumption that this will inevitably happen, the church asks for strength to carry on witnessing during the time while they still continue to be able to exercise their opposition. The Lord’s servants need courage (verse 13) to stand up to the threats against them and continue to proclaim the Word. At the same time, they are conscious how much the effectiveness of their preaching was aided by the healings and other miraculous signs worked by the Lord through the name of Jesus, and they prayed for the continuation of these.
Marshall, Acts, 107.
The Lord answered this prayer by granting the continued growth of the church with accompanying healings and other miracles:-
Acts 5:12 Now many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the apostles. (RSV)
Signs and wonders do not stand on their own, as though they were self-interpreting; nor are they represented in Acts as of prime importance. But they are represented as powerful and persuasive accompaniments of the preaching of the gospel:-
Acts 14:3 …speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. (RSV)
Miracles in post-biblical revivals
It would be quite wrong to give the impression that the literature of revival is littered with accounts of apparently miraculous phenomena. Moreover, when such accounts are mentioned it is often with reticence and caution. But there is enough at least to give us pause for thought.
Some of the pre-Reformation movements were characterised by a belief in miracles:-
The expectation of miraculous healing in response to prayer and the laying-on of hands was strong among Waldensians who called this an ‘article of faith’ and an ‘apostolic design’.
Bridge, Power evangelism and the Word of God, 120
Rex Gardner, with his dual background in medicine and Christian ministry, has written a fascinating study of healing miracles. He quotes from the Scottish reformation period:-
It is ordinary with God to give his servants whom he stirres up and employes in extraordinary employments with extraordinar gifts and endewments, such as the gift of prophecie. Such prophets there were many in Scotland, about and shortlie after the tyme of the reformation, viz., Messrs Wishart, Knox, Welsh…They foirprophecied many things, whereof some were fulfilled in their own dayes, and all of them after their death.
In Gardner, Healing miracles,
The Scottish reformer Robert Bruce was renowned for his extraordinary spiritual powers. He himself said:-
‘There comes never thing to me, trouble or alteration, but He gives me warning before.’
The following is an example:-
One might, when the affair of Gowrie was bringing on him much trouble, he had a very supporting discovery in his sleep. He thought he saw in his sleep ‘great difficulties represented to him in his way, and that he behoved either to pass through them, or die by the way. At last he resolved to hazard all in following what he thought obedience to God; and when passing on he felt a strong emotion on his spirit to say, In and through Michael, the captain of the Lord’s host, I shall prevail; O Michael, Michael, who is like the strong God!’ We see the fulness of his heart even in his dreams, and how the Lord refreshed and revived his warriors, while he gave them the sleep of his beloved.
Gillies, Historical collections, 178.
An evaluation of Robert Bruce dating from 1843 plays down the miraculous element, leaving it to us to try to judge to what extent Bruce’s powers were natural, and to what extent supernatural:-
The people of the land felt his holiness so deeply, that it was usually believed he had prophetic endowments, and that miraculous occurrences took place in regard to him. Men felt his heavenliness; and an interpretation was put upon providences that regarded him, which they would not have put on those that befell other men. It was easy to believe that such a man would receive special marks of favour from above.
in Gillies, Historical collections, 179.
C.H. Spurgeon recounts the following story:-
In July, 1719, [Col. James Gardiner] had spent the evening, which was the Sabbath, in some gay company, and had an unhappy assignation with a married lady, whom he was to attend exactly at twelve. The company broke up about eleven, and he went into his chamber to kill the tedious hour. It happened that he took up a religious book…called, ‘The Christian Soldier’, written by [Thomas] Watson…While this book was in his hand, an impression was made upon his mind, which drew after it a train of the most important consequences. Suddenly he thought he saw an unusual blaze of light fall on the book while he was reading, and lifting up his eyes, he apprehended, to his extreme amazement, that there was before him, as it were suspended in the air, a visible representation of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross, surrounded with a glory, and was impressed as if a voice had come to him, to this effect: ‘O sinner, did I suffer this for thee, and are these thy returns?’ He sunk down into his chair, and continued for some time insensible. He then arose in a tumult of passions, and walked to and fro in his chamber, till he was ready to drop, in unutterable astonishment and agony of heart, which continued until the October following, when his terrors were turned into unutterable joy.
in Spurgeon, Memoir of Thomas Watson, prefaced to Watson’s Body of divinity, xi.
It is clear that the original author of the above extract wanted to interpret the incident as an effect of the recipient’s imagination (‘he thought he saw’, etc). But some readers of the account may prefer to see a supernatural element here.
There is a fascinating little story in an account written by James Robe of the Kilsyth awakening of 1742:-
Yea there is an instance of a young woman who had for some years been under a wasting and consumptive distemper, keeping her bed for the most part, who obliged her friends to carry her one evening to hear God’s word, where she was awakened. She was so low that I thought she would live but a few days; yet from that time she recovered, and in appearance the Lord made both her soul and body well.
Robe, When the wind blows, 135.
The last days of John Kennedy, a noted Scottish minister, are described in a book which has impeccable reformed credentials:-
On Friday his throat became affected. Inflammation set in, and continued to make progress. He expressed no anxiety, and uttered no complaint…Remaining in bed, he seemed lost in contemplation, an expression of placid joy resting on his face. He had calmly laid himself down to die…While his wife and a pious friend were sitting in his room…their attention was suddenly arrested by the sounds of the sweetest melody. Such was the softness of the strange music, they felt it could not have been a thing of the earth, and while it lasted they could only listen in solemn silence. When the spell was broken, Mrs Kennedy hastened to ask him if he heard any strange music. He gave no answer, but beckoned here to be silent, with an expression of absorbed attention and of ecstasy on his face.
Kennedy, The days of the fathers in Ross-shire, 196.
This leads us to draw attention to an intriguing phenomenon which occurs from time to time in revival: ‘singing in the air’. This experience, unsought and unexplained, had a stunning effect on those who heard it:-
An unusual phenomenon in [a revival which occurred in Beddgelert in 1817] was the ‘singing in the air’ which many reliable witnesses had heard. The sound of heavenly, angelic voices, sweetly and softly joined in harmony, without any apparent melody, was overpowering. The effect on the hearer was to render him incapable of movement as though nailed to the spot.
Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 15.
Something similar heralded a local awakening in Wales some years later:-
In 1851, at Staylittle in Montgomeryshire, spiritual things were at a low ebb. “A young man, David Vaughan, was greatly concerned about these things and urged his father to influence the faithful of the church in favour of a week of prayer meetings. No movement was felt during the first week; all was cold and lifeless, so that some advocated the termination of the prayer meetings. The following Tuesday night, however, while on their way home from the prayer meeting, the people heard the sound of singing, sweet and heavenly. News of this spread throughout the area, and during the next few days the Spirit’s saving influences were strongly felt.
Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 20.
The German evangelical leader Johann Christoph Blumhardt (1805-1900) was in 1838 installed as pastor at Mottlingen, where a revival occurred which was accompanied by healings of bodily and mental diseases.
Morton Kelsey gives the following account of Blumhardt’s healing ministry:-
[Blumhardt] needed to help a girl in his church who was seriously disturbed and whose illness was accompanied by unexplained and frightening psychic phenomena. He found himself face to face with a power that was working to split one personality and destroy others both physically and mentally. With every tactic of the Spirit, he was able in the end to help her regain mental and physical health, and won her lifelong loyalty to the church. But this was only one of the results. Blumhardt himself found the power of the Spirit through his confrontation, and both he and his parish were changed by it.
People began coming to him to confess things they had done. Because he knew the satanic forces that were pitted against God, he could offer forgiveness in a way unorthodox for Lutherans. He also had to meet the same satanic forces in himself and ask God to hold off judgement for a while. His parish came alive; people flocked to church, looking and acting younger, and suddenly healing was occurring…In 1846 he was forbidden to make physical healing a part of his spiritual ministry. His reply, however, made it clear that he could not stop healings from happening if he continued this ministry, and he was allowed to go on within his own parish. Six years later he left the church to give full time to working with the sick at Bad Boll.
Kelsey, Healing and Christianity, 236.
David Morgan exercised unusual abilities for quite a short period during the 1859 revival in Wales. He had been seeking revival for some years, and had become very unhappy with the state of his own ministry. One Tuesday night, he went to bed as usual:-
He awoke about 4 am, and was instantly conscious that some strange, mysterious changes had come over him. He became aware with awe of a marvellous illumination of his faculties, especially of his memory. ‘I awoke about four in the morning,’ said he himself, ‘remembering everything of a religious nature that I had ever learnt or heard.’
Evans, Revival Comes to Wales, 54.
This enhancement of mental faculties gave Morgan an unusual facility when dealing with enquirers:-
All the converts who ‘stayed behind’ with the church members would be invited to come forward to the front seat. Here the Revivalist would converse with them individually, inquiring with friendly interest about their family connections and responsibilities, and after winning their confidence he would proceed, like a skilful surgeon, to probe their spiritual wounds, and administer the cordial of corrective which his diagnosis of the case enjoined as necessary. Then he would kneel and commend the converts to God, individually and by name however numerous they might be, his petitions moulded with minuteness and detail upon his conversations with them.
in Evans, Two Welsh Revivalists, 42.
Here is another example from David Morgan’s ministry:-
In the middle of his sermon, he startled his audience by suddenly exclaiming, ‘If any of you here tonight deny the deity of the Son, I have nothing better to tell you than what Morgan Howell, Newport, shouted on Lampeter bridge, “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor. He became poor when he came to Bethlehem; tell me, when was he rich?”‘ This remark was utterly irrelevant to the preacher’s subject-matter, and no one could conjecture whence it came, and whither it went. The mystery was solved in the after-meeting, for among the converts were three Unitarians…who presence in the service was quite accidental, and certainly unknown to the preacher.
Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 63.
Evan Roberts, leader in the 1904/5 revival in Wales, was given to prophetic visions:-
There was no question in his mind as to their authenticity or authority. They were given in conformity to the biblical pattern (Joel 2:28, “your young men shall see visions”), and their message was consistent with biblical truth.’ One vision concerned the awful reality of hell. Another Christ’s victory over the devil. And others were visions of the moon. In one of these latter there appeared and arm outstretched towards the world, the hand holding a piece of paper with the figures “100,000” written on it. ‘After that, whenever he prayed, he had no peace until he asked God specifically for that number of souls.’ ‘Each vision was presented in biblical categories such as the victory of Christ’s kingdom, the spiritual conflict with Satan, and the power of God in salvation. They were also prophetic in nature, because each one found in the subsequent revival…its literal and complete fulfilment.
Evans, The Welsh revival of 1904, 79.
The relationship between miraculous phenomena in historic revivals on the one hand, and the more recent development of the Pentecostal movement on the other hand, will be examined in more detail in a later chapter. But it is interesting to note in passing that at the same time that the Pentecostal movement was developing in many countries, a widespread revival was being experienced which certainly contained ‘charismatic’ elements:-
During the Welsh Revival, there occurred charismatic phenomena – uncanny discernment, visions, trances – but no glossolalia. There was an outbreak of speaking in tongues in India in the aftermath of the Awakening. In 1907, there was speaking in tongues among converts of the Revival in Los Angeles, from which Pentecostalism spread widely.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Eastern Asia, 19.
D.M. Lloyd-Jones preached a series of sermons on revival during 1959 (the centenary year of one of the most famous revivals). During the course of this preaching he made many comments in favour of accepting the possibility of miraculous occurrences in revival. He mentioned the gift of prophecy. In revival, he says:-
There is very often a gift of prophecy given. I mean by that, literally an ability to foretell the future…I knew a man whose minister had this gift…in the revival of 1904 and 1905. It disappeared completely afterwards, but while the revival lasted he was told beforehand of something that was going to happen in his Church, not once, but morning by morning. He would be awakened out of his sleep at half past two in the morning, and be given direct and exact information of something that was going to happen during that day, and it did happen. You find knowledge given to people, which is quite inexplicable. There were cases in Northern Ireland, for instance, of people who could not read and could not write…but suddenly…they were given an ability to find places in the Bible and to make known the contents. It happened to the mill girls in Northern Ireland. Poor girls who had been brought up in poverty and penury, who were ignorant and who had had practically no education, they suddenly began to prophesy. They displayed amazing knowledge and were able to speak in an unusual manner.
Lloyd-Jones, Revival, 135ff.