This entry is part 14 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
The present world is the arena for an uncompromising, bitter struggle – the struggle between good and evil, of God and his armies against the Devil and his. We believe that the victory belongs to God in Christ. But we know too that the Devil, although defeated, is not yet banished, and continues to war against all that is good and true and right with such malice and resourcefulness as we can scarcely conceive of. Now, when ‘God comes’ in revival, and God’s people are stirred up to to repentance, prayer, evangelism and good works, it is certain that Satan will do all within his power to destroy the work, and if not destroy it, to damage and discredit it in whatever ways he can. In the words of Dora Greenwell,
‘We shall scarcely find a deep spiritual awakening in a community or in any heart which is not attended and sometimes warped by counteracting developments, also spiritual, in which we may trace signs that look like the dark and terrible irony of a being whose hatred to the human race is so deadly that he will, if possible, work man’s woe through his very blessedness.’ (Quoted by Wood, Baptised with Fire, 154).
The whole subject of demonology is still ill-understood by Christians today, and it has alway been difficult to steer a clear path between the twin rocks of scepticism and credulity. But there is a substantial body of evidence in favour of the fact that demonic activity has become particularly prevalent at the two extremes of the church’s spiritual health: for when the flame the spiritual life is low, then defences are down and the way open to all kinds of evil; and when the flame is burning bright the devil is aroused to oppose the work with all his cunning and might.
This is not the place to attempt a thorough treatment of biblical demonology. But it is worth pausing to illustrate two things from Scripture. First, the way in which the moral and spiritual climate can become so depraved that the way is left open to all kinds of evil and Satanic practices. This occurred during the reign of Manasseh:-
2 Kings 21 Manasseh…did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the People of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he erected altars for Baal, and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served them…And he burned his son as an offering, and practised soothsaying and augury, and dealt with mediums and with wizards.
And it was not until Manasseh’s grandson Josiah came to the throne that there was a thorough reform and a glorious revival (2 King 22).
The second thing to illustrate from Scripture is how demonic activity can be found also during a time of great spiritual blessing:-
Acts 18:11ff And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.’ Seven sons of a Jewish high priest names Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?’ And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, mastered all of them, and overpowered them, so that they fled out of the house naked and wounded…
We may then detect demonic activity at various times, but especially at these two extremes: at times of great depravity, and at times of great blessing. The apostles met outright demonisation from time to time in their ministry, and wrote in their letters of the need for Christians to be well informed about the strategies of the Devil in opposing the work of God. He appears in the guise of tempter (Gen 3:1), deceiver (Jn 8:44), persecutor (1 Pet 5:8), hinderer (1 Thess 2:18), buffeter (2 Cor 12:7), impersonator (2 Cor 11:14) and accuser (Rev 12:10).
Demonic activity is also quite frequently mentioned in the early writings of the church, including the ‘Didache’, and the works of Justin Martyr and Augustine. The Reformers also acknowledged the importance of the topic. Luther was interested in – almost pre-occupied with – the subject. Calvin also accepted the reality of demon-possession, but his writings are freer of superstition than those of Luther. There was a very widespread belief in witchcraft in the 17th century, and the tragic outcome of the Salem Witchcraft trials in Massachusetts in 1692 is well known, when hundreds of people were arrested and nineteen hanged as witches. It is usual these days to put the whole episode down to religious superstition, but it may well be that some at least of the accused were not so much peddlers of witchcraft as victims of demon-possession.
The modern Christian church at large has no clear conception of the forces which oppose God and his people:-
In the Second Evangelical Awakening and later renewal movements there is less perception [than in previous movements] of the opposing forces. This is because the West passed through a watershed in the eighteenth century in which superstition was abandoned for the opposite error, substitution. The Enlightenment did us a great service by teaching us not to fear a great many enemies which do not exist: witches who can really harm you, vampires, werewolves and many other things which go bump in the night. But it also did some very irrational things: it denied even the existence of witches and attempted to banish from the universe all creatures intermediate between God and man, including angels.
Lovelace, Renewal as a way of life, 101f.
But we will do well to take demonic activity seriously:-
The Bible is extremely restrained in its treatment of angelic beings in contrast to the luxuriant overgrowth of pagan superstition in this area, but it clearly teaches that behind the human power structures of evil there are malignant forces of superhuman power and intelligence directed by ‘the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience’ (Eph 2:2). Evidently the evil that emerges naturally from the human can be prompted, shaped and governed by these forces to accomplish their own larger purposes in opposing redemption. Every expansion of the kingdom of God involves combat with and displacement of these occupying forces.
Lovelace, Dynamics of spiritual life, 70.
Lovers and supporters of revival must learn how to distinguish between the work of man, the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Devil, for, surprising as it may at first seem, the difference may not always be obvious, especially when outward, temporary features are taken as evidence:-
Revival may lead to displays of emotion and occasionally of physical violence which would hardly seem to indicate the influence of the Holy Spirit, but rather of some demonic power. In every awakening, apparently, the precious is mingled with the vile. It was not long after Pentecost before Simon Magus sought…to steal the heavenly fire and capitalise it for his own pernicious purposes. And it would seem that seasons of spiritual renewal rouse the Devil to his most sinister devices. He is the father of lies and has an infernal counterfeit to set against every movement of the Spirit.
Wood, Baptised with fire, 154.
Yes, even in the midst of a wonderful revival, Christians are never out of danger from the great enemy of God’s kingdom:-
It is a grand error for persons to think they are out of danger from the devil and a corrupt, deceitful heart, even in their highest flights, and most raised frames of spiritual joy. For persons, in such a condition, to cease to be jealous of themselves, and to neglect watchfulness and care, is a presumption by which I have known many woefully insnared. However highly we may be favoured with divine discoveries and comforts, yet, as long as we are in the world, we are in the enemies’ country, and therefore that direction of Christ to his disciples is never out of date in this world (Lk 21:36), ‘Watch and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things, and to stand before the Son of man.’
Edwards, Works, I, 398.
The fact that the work of Satan is particularly apparent is no argument against a revival being genuine:-
If many delusions of Satan appear, at the same time that a great religious concern prevails, it is not an argument that the work in general is not the work of God…Yea, the same persons may be the subjects of much of the influences of the Spirit of God, and yet in some things be led away by the delusions of Satan, and this be no more of paradox than many other things that are true of real saints, in the present state, where grace dwells with so much corruption, and the new man and the old man subsist together in the same person; and the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the devil remain for a while together in the same heart. Many godly persons have undoubtedly in this and other ages, exposed themselves to woeful delusion, by an aptness to lay too much weight in impulses and impressions, as if they were immediate revelations from God, to signify something future, or to direct them where to go, and what to do.
Edwards, Works, II, 265.
Strategies of the devil in opposing revival
The devil has many strategies which he uses to undermine the work of revival:-
There can be no doubt that the great adversary of souls makes it his constant study, by working on the minds of hypocrites and fanatics, and by leading good men, as far as possible, into his snares, to counteract and to discredit revivals of religion.
Samuel Miller, in Sprague, Lectures on revivals, App, 24.
1. Camouflage. Of course, if the devil can continue to deceive the masses into thinking that he does not exist, then his work is half-done already:-
Most of the devil’s advantage depends on the ability to move among human affairs undetected.
Lovelace, Dynamics of spiritual life, 136.
Why have modern theologians been so reluctant to acknowledge the practical relevance of biblical Satanology? It may not be impertinent to suggest that the devil has had a hand in this. ‘Hell is a conspiracy,’ as Whittaker Chambers once said, ‘and the first requirement of a conspiracy is that it remain underground.’ If ‘the God of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of the Messiah’ (2 Cor 4:4), then he is surely capable of pulling the wool over the eyes of Christian intellectuals and whispering in their ears that he does not exist.
Lovelace, Renewal as a way of life, 100.
2. Counterfeit. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians that ‘even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Cor 11:14). And Jonathan Edwards reminds us that:-
There are other spirits who have influences on the minds of men besides the Holy Ghost. We are directed not to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits whether they be of God. There are many false spirits, exceeding busy with men, who often transform themselves into angels of light, and do in many wonderful ways, with great subtlety and power, mimic the operations of the Spirit of God.
It would be difficult to think of any good gift from God for which the devil does not also have a counterfeit:-
Let us…remember that whenever the Spirit of God is working in mighty power, the Devil always seeks his opportunity. If he can discredit the work, he will. And he has always tried to do so. He has tried to bring in his counterfeits, he has tried to drive people to excesses, and he has often succeeded with particular individuals. That is why there is so much in the Bible about testing the spirits, and proving the spirits.
Lloyd-Jones, Revival, 146.
Satan seems to find it particularly easy to counterfeit the outward phenomena of revival – the physical and emotional manifestations:-
Soon after the devil observed such crying and distress of soul and agitation of body to affect people under the word, he also began to seize people under the word, with strange unnatural distortions, convulsions, hideous roarings; to bring, as we plainly saw, contempt and disgrace upon the true work of God.
William Grimshaw, in Evans, Daniel Rowland, 159.
The 1860 revival in the Caribbean was accompanied by phenomena which at first might have seemed ordinary manifestations of the Spirit’s work, or, at least, acceptable human responses. But their nature and degree were such as to suggest a sinister source:-
The unaccountable prostrations were often followed by terrific contortions of the body, jumping, shouting and wild actions. Such counterfeits were followed by a revival of the African superstition, obeah witchcraft, and the rise of local prophets dedicated to rooting out this superstition. Where the madness of ‘myalism’ was not quickly checked, it did fearful mischief among ignorant and superstitious people. Where ministers opposed the fanatics, they were denounced as hinderers of God’s work.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Latin America, 29.
3. Another way in which the devil can undermine a spiritual work is by provoking mental or emotional disturbances:-
[Some] have often suffered many needless distresses of thought, in which Satan probably has a great hand, to entangle them, and block up their way. Sometimes the distemper of melancholy has been evidently mixed…One knows not how to deal with such persons; they turn every thing that is said to them the wrong way, and most to their own disadvantage. There is nothing that the devil seems to make so great a handle of, as a melancholy humour; unless it be the real corruption of the heart.
Edwards, Works, I, 351.
So, when hitherto balanced people become irrationally disturbed in their thoughts or behaviour, we may suspect demonic activity:-
When this work of God appeared to be at its height, a poor weak man who belongs to the town, being in great spiritual trouble, was hurried with violent temptations to cut his own throat, and made an attempt, but did not do it effectually…In the latter part of May, it began to be very sensible that the Spirit of God was gradually withdrawing from us, and after this time Satan seemed to be more let loose, and raged in a dreadful manner. The first instance wherein it appeared, was a person putting an end to his own life by cutting his throat…After this multitudes in these and other towns seemed to have it strongly suggested to them, and pressed upon them, to do as this person had done. And many who seemed to be under no melancholy, some pious persons who had no special darkness or doubts about the goodness of their state…had it urged upon them as if somebody had spoken to them, ‘Cut your own throat, now is a good opportunity. Now! Now!’ So that they were obliged to fight with all their might to resist it, and yet no reason suggested to them why they should do it.
Edwards, Works, I, 363.
4. If Satan cannot keep Christians slumbering in indifference, then he causes them to run to extremes, and to fall into fanaticism:-
Satan will keep men secure as long as he can; but when he can do that no longer, he often endeavours to drive them to extremes, and so to dishonour God, and wound religion in that way.
Edwards, Works, II, 271.
If we look back into the history of the church of God in past ages, we may observe that it has been a common device of the devil to overset a revival of religion; when he finds he can keep men quiet and secure no longer, then he drives them to excesses and extravagances. He holds them back as long as he can; but when he can do it no longer, then he will push them on, and, if possible, run them upon their heads…The principle means by which the devil was successful, by degrees, to overset the grand religious revival of the world in the primitive ages of Christianity…was to improve the indiscreet zeal of Christians, to drive them into those three extremes of enthusiasm, superstition, and severity towards opposers; which should be enough for an everlasting warning to the christian church.
Edwards, Works, I, 397.
5. Demonisation may occur. A number of cases of outright demonisation are related in the Gospels and in Acts (see, for example, Mark 5:1-20). John Wesley was one who took very seriously the work of demons in opposing the gospel. Leahy’s comment is probably fair:-
No doubt at times Wesley was too ready to see demonic influence, but that he encountered it often during his remarkable lifetime is scarcely open to dispute.
F.S. Leahy, Satan cast out, 119.
Early in his revival ministry (1739), John Wesley came up against phenomena such as the following:-
I was sent for to one in Bristol…She lay on the ground, furiously gnashing her teeth, and after a while roared aloud. It was not easy for three or four people to hold her, especially when the name of Jesus was named…In the evening…she began screaming before I came into the room; then broke out into a horrid laughter, mixed with blasphemy grievous to hear. One who from many circumstances apprehended a preternatural agent, asking, ‘How didst thou dare to enter into a Christian?’ was answered, ‘She is not a Christian. She is mine.’ We left her at twelve and called again about noon on the 26th. And now it was that God showed he hearest the prayer. All her pangs ceased in a moment; she was filled with peace, and knew that the son of wickedness was departed from her.
Wesley, Journal, October, 1739.
Such an outright confrontation with Satan was seen by Wesley as preferable to his more usual, subversive activity:-
It is well that Satan is constrained to show himself so plainly in the case of these poor demoniacs. Thereby he weakens his own kingdom, and excites us to assault him more zealously.
Wesley, in Leahy, Satan cast out, 121.
6. Another strategy of the devil is accusation:-
There is no activity which is more characteristic of the devil. Satan is constantly bringing charges against God to us. Meanwhile, at the throne of God, he brings charges against us to God! In Revelation he is called ‘the accuser of our brethren…who accuses them day and night before our God’ (12:10). Many of these charges are exaggerated by lies. Remember that the word ‘diabolos’ means ‘slanderer’.
Lovelace, Renewal as a way of life, 106.
He can distort our self-image into a caricature with all our faults exaggerated and all our virtues obscured. He can try to destroy our confidence that God lives us, because of continuing patterns of sin in our lives. If we have broken out of those patterns, he can tempt us into individual instances of sin. Then he tries to convince us that sin has us in an unbreakable bondage and that therefore God will neglect or even destroy us in judgement. He can divide us from other Christian by whispering accusations against them in our ears, caricaturing them in our minds, perhaps at the same time that he is caricaturing us in theirs!
Lovelace, Renewal as a way of life, 107.
7. Satan can stir up misrepresentation of God’s people. Satan, as we well know, is a liar (see John 8:44). Here then is another of his strategies against God’s people:-
Most Satanic lies involve malicious misrepresentation or twisting of the facts in ways that darken reputations. However, the devil is also active in brightening the reputations of those who are dangerous to God’s kingdom, ‘for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is not strange if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness’ (2 Cor 11:14-15). Thus the demons are the motive power behind false religions, giving their leaders charismatic force and seducing others into following them (1 Tim 4:1; 1 Jn 4:1-3). If we judge from the experience of Peter, the devil can even insinuate his ideas into dedicated Christian believers and make them his mouthpiece on occasion (Mt 16:23). Every part of the church – Catholics and Protestants, fundamentalists and modernists, Western and non-Western – shows some marks of the devil’s ability to lead us into believing falsehood, causing us to ignore or doubt biblical truth.
Lovelace, Renewal as a way of life, 107f.
8. A further approach of the devil is temptation (see Mt 4:3):-
The temptation of individuals can cause profound difficulties both in their lives and for the Messianic kingdom. If millions of Christians can be tempted to neglect the church, the Scriptures, prayer and other dynamics of spiritual life, they can be kept at a subsistence level of strength which will offer little threat to the kingdom of evil. If they can be discreetly steered into forms of sin which are in obvious conformity to the world, not only will their own spiritual lives be weakened, but they will turn others away from the Messiah. If teachers and preachers can be tempted to believe and propagate falsehood, the fabric of the kingdom will be weakened.
Lovelace, Renewal as a way of life, 106.
Preparing for battle
It is clear from all of this that to be involved in revival is to engage in spiritual warfare. How ready, prepared, and equipped are we for this battle?-
The agenda of the Messiah and his people is to dislodge and displace the occupying powers of darkness and reverse what they have done. ‘The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that he might destroy the works of the devil’ (1 Jn 3:8 NASB)…The ebb and flow in the life of God’s people in times of renewal and decline only reflect the advances and retreats in this invisible warfare, as the territory which is more substantially controlled by God’s Spirit expands and contracts.
Lovelace, Renewal as a way of life, 104.
Those who would commit themselves to praying and working for revival must realise that they are engaging in all-out war:-
Revivals of religion are advances in the progress of the kingdom of God which inevitably occasion counter-movements on the part of the powers of darkness. Periods of renewal are therefore times of vigorous activity both among agents of God and agents of darkness. Behind the scenes of earthly history in awakening eras we can dimly discern the massing and movement of the invisible troops of darkness and of light. While this may seem fanciful to anyone in the twentieth century, it is simply realistic according to the biblical world picture, in which the angels of God are portrayed as locked in combat with the occupying powers of darkness at critical junctures in the unfolding of world history.
Lovelace, Dynamics of spiritual life, 256.