This entry is part 10 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
It is time to consider some of the effects of revival upon the individual, the church, and society. We take as our starting-point the great results of the Pentecostal outpouring:-
Acts 2:43ff Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Acts 4:32ff All the believers were one in heart and mind. No-one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was with them all. There were no needy persons among them.
Referring to passages such as these, J.S. Stewart remarks:-
Here is a thumb-nail sketch of the type of local church that revival produces.
Opened windows, 78.
Stewart goes on to analyse the features of the Christian church in that dramatic period following Pentecost. First, he says, ‘It was a steadfast church’. Second, ‘They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and the apostles’ fellowship’. Third, ‘It was a prayerful church’. Fourth, ‘It was an overflowing church’; they overflowed in liberality and also in praise. Fifth, ‘It was a powerful church’ – powerful in its Gospel presentation, and powerful in holiness.
It is clear, then, that the Pentecostal outpouring had immense effects both on the church and on the wider community. In the remainder of this chapter, two great results of revival will be singled out for special consideration: first, the unusual success of the gospel, resulting in large numbers of people being converted to Christ; and second, the moral and social changes resulting from outpourings of the Holy Spirit.
1. The success of the gospel
One of the great effects of revival is that large numbers of people embrace the gospel of salvation. The Scriptures contain many passages which predict and describe such seasons of harvesting of souls:-
Isa 2:2f In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it…
Summarising the teaching of the Old Testament concerning God’s attitude towards ‘the nations’, G.A.F. Knight remarks:-
Amos can stand upon his mountain-top at Tekoa, and see in imagination the nations all around him being moved about the earth as a player would move his pawns upon a chessboard (Amos 9:7; cf Isa 37:29). But God, who is the God of purpose, would not move them thus in vain. Even the pagan nations of the earth are to be understood as living within God’s plan, and in the end his redemptive purpose will be known to all the earth (cf Isa 2:1-4; 19:18-25, etc.)
Knight, A Christian Theology of the Old Testament, 120.
The phrase ‘the last days’ in Isa 2:2 has already pointed us towards the future; later in Isaiah comes another prediction of the glorious success of the gospel which seems to suggest the Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit:-
Isa 44:3ff For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing upon your descendants. They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’; another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and will take the name Israel.
Christ himself established the connection between the outpouring of the Spirit in evangelistic success:-
Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
And subsequently, we learn of the mighty fulfilment of our Lord’s promise:-
Acts 2:41 Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
Acts 2:47 And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Acts 4:4 But many of those who heard the message believed; and the number of the men grew to about five thousand.
Acts 5:14 More and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.
Acts 11:21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
Acts 11:24 And a great number of people were brought to the Lord.
Iain Murray gives the following survey of evangelistic success in revivals:-
In a single day, at Pentecost, the number of Christ’s disciples was increased an hundredfold and similar, sudden growth has been characteristic of all revivals. It was not only in Jerusalem that the church has grown by thousands. It is computed that ‘the Great Awakening’ of 1740-1742 added some 50,000 to the churches of New England and perhaps 300,000 in all the thirteen colonies. Revival at Yale in 1802 brought 70 students to Christian commitment and similar events were seen at other colleges in the same period. Half a million were estimated to have joined the Protestant churches of North America in the remarkable years 1857-59. Northern Ireland in 1859 had in increase of around 100,000 in the number of Christians. Wales in the same years saw some 50,000 added to the churches.
Murray, Necessary Ingredients of a Biblical Revival, 5.
The ministry of the Puritan Richard Baxter has already been mentioned as being marked by many conversions:-
He ministered in Kidderminster for two periods between 1640 and 1660. He reported, ‘When I came thither first, there was about one family in a street that worshipped God and called on his name; and when I came away, there were some streets where there was not past one family in the side of the street that did not so; and that did not, by professing serious godliness, give us hopes of their sincerity.
in Gillies, Historical collections, 148f.
The power of the gospel in times of revival is such that many true believers experience it afresh, almost as though they had been ‘reconverted’:-
Many that had been formerly wrought upon, that in the times of our declension had fallen into deep decays, and had in a great measure left God, and gone after the world, now passed under a very remarkable new work of the Spirit of God, as if they had been the subjects of a second conversion.
Edwards, in Gillies, Historical collections, 360.
David Brainerd, missionary to the North American Indians, witnessed the fruit of his evangelistic labours:-
It was an amazing season of power, as if God had bowed the heavens and come down. So astonishing was the operation upon old as well as young, that it seemed as if none would be left in a secure and natural state, but that God was now about to convert all the world. It is impossible to give a just description of the appearance of this influence. Some were rejoicing to see so many striving to enter in at the strait gate, and wanted to push them forward as some expressed it. Others, both old and young, of both sexes, were in tears, and in anguish of spirit, with downcast looks like condemned malefactors. So that there seemed to be a lively mixture of heaven and hell. Their concern and religious affection was such, that I could only discourse to one and another, and sometimes address them all together, and at last concluded with prayer.
Brainerd, in Gillies, Historical collections, 479.
Many who had laboured for a lifetime without apparently little success now found their ministry attended with extraordinary power and effectiveness:-
In those days, more success sometimes attended one sermon than had been accomplished in a lifetime’s ministry before.
Evans, Daniel Rowland, 367.
Thomas Charles, of Bala, commented as follows on the success of the gospel in Wales in 1791:-
It is an easy and delightful work to preach the glorious gospel here, in these days. Divine truths have their own infinite weight and importance in the minds of the people. Beams of divine light, together with irresistible energy, accompany every truth delivered…I bless God for these days, and would not have been without seeing what I now see in the land. – No, not for the world.
Thomas Charles, in Murray, The Puritan hope, 122.
There have been times when it has seemed that the majority of conversions taking place have been under revival conditions, as during the 2nd Great Awakening in America:-
It has come to pass in these days in which we live, that far the greater number of those who are turned from darkness to light, so far as we can judge, experience this change, during revivals of religion.
Sprague, Lectures on revivals, 3.
It is noteworthy that the gospel in such times often has a wonderful effect on children. For example, in a parish in Scotland during the 1740s:-
Some children, boys and girls, in the easter end of the parish, about twelve in number, betwixt nine and fifteen years of age, began last winter to meet in a private house, (the landlady being a godly poor widow,) every Lord’s-day evening, and Monday’s night, where they exercise themselves in prayer by turns, singing and conferring about what they hear in public. They keep strict discipline among themselves, and admit none to their society, but such as undertake to pray with them…they watch close over the behaviour of each other. They are constant hearers of the word, and examine one another about it. Their outward deportment is grave and quiet, without any childish levity yet discovered about them. They are illiterate, but fond of learning.
in Gillies, Historical collections, 455.
Buildings sprang up which remained as silent witnesses to the harvest of souls during the revivals:-
Travellers in Wales could notice testimonies in brick and stone across the country – churches and chapels with foundation-stones marked ‘Built 1860, enlarged 1905,’ citing the dates of the years following the revivals.
Orr, The Light of the Nations, 234f.
Of course, when Christians have seen and experienced afresh the power of the gospel in revival, they are very likely to renew their efforts to propagate the Christian message:-
It is significant that Taikyo Dendo anticipated a Latin American movement of fifty years later, Evangelism-in-Depth, in emphasising the role of every Christian witness rather than that of an evangelist and his team; in preparing all believers as soul-winners instead of training an elite group to counsel inquirers; in multiplying the number of active evangelists rather than multiplying the number of hearers for the evangelist; in urging ‘go and preach’ instead of ‘come and hear’; and in mobilizing the church instead of doing the work for its members.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Eastern Asia, 25.
2. Effects on the wider community
When a pebble is thrown into a pond, the ripple-effects may extend a considerable distance and may be long-lasting. So it is with revival: the beneficial effects may be seen in individuals, churches, and even whole communities for many years afterwards. Indeed, it is one of the acid-tests of revival, that it does in fact produce such beneficial and lasting effects. Wise revival leaders knew that they must look, not to the excitement of the moment, but to the longer-term effects on those who had apparently been ‘wrought upon’
Earnest Baker remarks that:-
A revival of spiritual life is the quickest way to improve social conditions. A revived spiritual life means a quickened conscience all round. A new man means a new home, new homes mean new streets, new streets mean a new city. And an interest in the public welfare comes to the new man. A quickened conscience will put into operation good laws which are now practically a dead letter because of the lack of a healthy public opinion to make them effective; and it will also be productive of better legislation to remedy other evils still awaiting improved laws.
Baker, The Revivals of the Bible, 15.
In the accounts of revival in the Bible, we find hints that a spiritual awakening can have deep and lasting effects on the wider life of church and society. This is apparent in the best-known passage about revival:-
2 Chron 7:14 ‘…then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.’
One great result of revival, then, is that it will lead to a greater measure of social health (‘I will…heal their land’). And this indeed was one result of the revival under Jehoshaphat:-
2 Chron 29:f And the fear of the Lord came on all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel. So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest round about.
And the early chapters of the Acts indicate the moral and social effects of the Pentecostal outpouring (see Acts 2:44ff; 4:32ff).
A number of wider and longer-term effects of revivals may be noted, which are such that the ripples caused by a revival can continue to influence church and society for good many years afterwards. August Francke, for example, was a German Lutheran minister and early advocate of Pietism. He was converted in 1687, and his Bible classes in Leipzig led to revival amongst both students and townspeople. Apart from his many intellectual endeavours (he was a professor of theology) he expressed his concern for poor children in many practical ways. He founded an orphanage, schools, a teacher training school, and various industrial enterprises designed to train his children and help finance the work. In a sermon, he said:-
If I find my mind never so well disposed to relieve the wants of the poor and necessitous; yet in all this, I do no more than barely answer my duty. I own God almighty to be my Lord, and my Sovereign, and the supreme disposer of all that I have. And since He hath commanded me to exercise charity to the poor; why should I be so bold as to rebel against His holy will, by withdrawing that from the poor, which He will have bestowed upon them? God forbid!
in Shaw, Christian Social Work? reflections from church history, in Foundations, 6 (May, 1981), 34f.
Jonathan Edwards, too, emphasised the importance of the care of the poor:-
It is…our bounden duty, as much a duty as it is to pray, or to attend public worship, or anything else whatever…I know of scarce any duty which is so much insisted upon, so pressed and urged upon us, both in the Old Testament and New, as this duty of charity to the poor.
Edwards, Works, II, 164.
D.W. Bebbington has pointed out that the Evangelical Revival in Britain led to a notable improvement in the quality of ministerial labours:-
Ministers of religion were roused to greater zeal in the performance of their duties. Although in Scotland the custom of visiting the flock had been generally maintained, in England, as the clergy rose in income and social status during the eighteenth century, mixing with their inferiors became less expected of them. The hunting, shooting and fishing person was a common type. It was the Evangelical movement that prompted the clergy to greater diligence, especially in cottage visiting.
Bebbington, Evangelicalism in modern Britain, 70.
Many societies for the promotion of the spiritual life and for the propagation of the gospel came to birth in the aftermath of the 1859 revivals:-
Out of the 1859 Awakening arose the Keswick Movement for the Deepening of the Spiritual Life (1875). In the eastern hemisphere, it became a unifying force in Evangelicalism, a missionary recruitment rally of the highest quality. Out of the same agitation in America, the organisation of the Holiness Movement resulted in splintering, giving birth to vigorous denominations in the Wesleyan tradition.
Christian Endeavour, a movement for training young people in church-related activity, began in a local revival in Maine in 1881, under Francis E. Clark. Within fifteen years, there were more than two million members in forty thousand local societies: they were ecumenical and evangelical.
Albert B. Simpson, a convert of the 1858 Revival in Canada, founded the Christian and Missionary Alliance in 1886, at first as an inter-denominational organisation but later itself becoming a denomination as missionary minded as the Moravians.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Africa, 51.
The UCCF (formerly IVF) is still a very active force in the promotion of evangelical Christianity in universities and colleges. The first seeds of this, too, were sown in 1859:-
[In 1859] prayer meetings at Oxford and Cambridge gave rise to Christian Unions which later united to form the Inter-Varsity Fellowship.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Africa, 50.
Some revivals have succeeded in uniting Christian people where man-made plans have often failed:-
It was most significant that the Awakening of the 1900s was ecumenical, in the best senses of the word. It was thoroughly interdenominational…There is a total lack of evidence of any response on the parts of Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox communities, but this is not surprising, for it was so in the days of the Puritans, of Wesley, of Finney, and of Moody. Only in the mid-twentieth century, when their changing attitude to Scripture has accompanied a changing attitude to dissent, have heretofore non-evangelical church bodies been affected by evangelical movements.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Eastern Asia, 18.
The great revivals of the past have had a profound effect upon the establishment of popular education:-
The connexion between the great Evangelical Awakenings and popular education is not hard to establish. The Lollards and the Reformers were led by scholars who were ready to share all the blessings of education with their followers. The Puritans established universities and colleges where none previously existed. The Revivalists of the eighteenth century founded schools and colleges as a matter of course. The nineteenth-century awakenings led to the foundation of numerous schools, high schools and colleges both in the United States and Europe and elsewhere, extending general education until the State took over the fully-fledged popular education programme.
Orr, The light of the nations, 268.
And many have been the philanthropic initiatives which came to birth during, or as a result of, revivals:-
Philanthropy was actively promoted by Evangelicals from the beginning of the movement. Wesley’s generosity was legendary. He would scatter coins to beggars, he waded through snow in old age to raise money for the relief of the poor and he died worth virtually nothing because his considerable income from publications was given away. Evangelicalism as a whole taught that good works are a fundamental element of Christian duty. There was a continuity between traditional teaching on concern for the poor, as expressed for instance in the religious societies of the Church of England, and the charitable work of Evangelicals. What the revival added was its characteristic zeal. There was a proliferation of local schemes for doing good. Wesley encouraged his followers to visit the sick, going in pairs. The Calvinistic Methodist London Tabernacle ran a work shop for a while and later an employment exchange. Perhaps most strikingly, there were the orphan houses. Halle provided the model. Both Whitefield and Wesley lavished their care on similar institutions, in Georgia and New castle respectively. Whitefield expended enormous energy on planning, organising, supporting and defending his orphanage. ‘I called it Bethesda’, he wrote, ‘that is, the House of Mercy; for I hope many acts of mercy will be shewn there…’
Bebbington, Evangelicalism in modern Britain, 70.
And so these earlier initiatives sowed the seeds for more organised projects aimed at the general improvement of society:-
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was founded in London in 1824, and became the largest as well as oldest society of its kind in the world. Not only did it endeavour to stamp out cruelty, but it offered free vetinary service to as many as one quarter of a million mute creatures annually. It is not surprising to learn that the founder of the Society was an evangelical clergyman named Arthur Broome, and that Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, the famous evangelical emancipator, chaired the first meeting assisted by Wilberforce and Mackintosh.
Orr, The light of the nations, 93.
As is well known, the trade union movement in this country had its roots in revival Christianity:-
All of British Trade Unionism owes much to the six Dorchester labourers who were transported for seven year’s servitude to the Australian penal colonies. Their crime was that of forming an Agricultural Union to resist further depression of their wages as farm hands, wages already cut to a below-subsistence level of a shilling a day. These labourers were guilty of no violence and no intimidation, not even strike. In 1834, all six were dragged from their homes and given short shrift at a trial. On April 30th, thirty thousand men bearing thirty-three trade union banners marched on Whitehall to petition the government against the harshness of their sentence.
These Dorchester labourers, often called the “Tolpuddle martyrs”, included three Methodist local preachers and two others who were active in the Tolpuddle Methodist Chapel. A sixth man professed no religious convictions, but was so impressed with the religious life of one of his companions, who slaved with him in a convict gang, that he became a Christian and a Sunday School superintendent in later life.
Orr, The light of the nations, 91.
There were men like Lord Shaftsbury who, spurred on by an evangelical commitment, used their influence and ability to improve the lives of the oppressed and disadvantaged:-
Lord Shaftsbury once described himself as “an Evangelical of the Evangelicals,” and his spiritual experience led him into a crusade for human betterment which was an unparalleled demonstration of Christian love…harnessed to the improvement of the lot of the working poor.
Before Lord Shaftsbury’s reforms, workers were caught in a treadmill of competitive labour, which served to keep them straining for sixteen hours a day. Shaftsbury and his friends put an end to that by legislation limiting the operation of the factories to ten hours a day, introducing a Saturday half-holiday, as well as abolishing all unnecessary Sunday labour.
Shaftsbury’s Mines and Collieries Act made impossible any further exploitation of women and children in coal mines…His Chimney Sweep acts prohibited the vile use of little boys to clean narrow chimneys of soot…Shaftsbury, by his Lunacy Acts, transformed the lot of the insane from that of abused prisoners to protected patients.
Shaftsbury promoted public parks, playing-fields, gymnasia, garden allotments, workmen’s institutions, public libraries, night schools, choral and debating societies, and other self-help. Not only did Shaftsbury accomplish the work of ten men in social reform, but he also kept busy in evangelical ministry, being president of the Ragged School Union, the World YMCA, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Church Pastoral Aid Society, the Religious Tract Society and many others – so many, in fact, that at his memorial service in Westminster Abbey in 1885 no less than two hundred religious, social and philanthropic organisation were represented by officials, with all of which Lord Shaftesbury was more or less directly concerned.
Orr, The light of the nations, 90.
The movement for the abolition of slavery drew many of its most energetic supporters from the ranks of those converted during revivals:-
The pioneer advocates and engineers of the abolition of slavery within the British Empire were almost all the products of the Evangelical Revival. William Wilberforce and his colleagues were evangelicals, many of them the pillars of the then-derided, now-extolled Clapham Sect, a group of Church of England Evangelicals and Free Church adherents with a greater concern for the souls and bodies of men than for current ecclesiastical strife.
Orr, The light of the nations, 83.
Historians have differed in their evaluations of the reasons for the ending of the slave trade. But, as Bebbington remarks:-
The ending of the slave trade did not come about (as was once held) because it had ceased to be profitable to Britain. Evangelicals were by no means pawns in the hands of economic interests. There is nevertheless a tendency in contemporary historiography to play down the Evangelical contribution to anti-slavery. It is true that other groups took important parts. The Quakers, only beginning to be touched by Evangelical religion, supplied money, manpower and ideas, moving into action before the Evangelicals. There was popular radical participation in anti-slavery from the 1790s onwards. The slaves, by their frequent rebellions that created problems of colonial administration, helped free themselves. Yet Evangelicals were central to the whole enterprise. Wilberforce contributed able leadership, his college friendship with Pitt, the Prime Minister, proving a huge advantage to the cause; information was assiduously collected by Thomas Clarkson and the James Stephens, father and son; missionaries fostered sympathy for the oppressed blacks; and in 1831-3 there was a mighty upsurge of Evangelical public opinion in favour of ending slavery. A number equivalent to ninety-five per cent of the connexion’s membership signed Wesleyan anti-slavery parliamentary petitions in those years…Evangelicalism cannot be given all the credit for the humanitarian victory over slavery, but it must be accorded a large share.
Bebbington, Evangelicalism in modern Britain, 72.
The emancipation of slaves was just one benefit of the nineteenth-century revival:-
The first social impact of the awakening of the nineteenth century was felt in the emancipation of the slaves, in the protection of prisoners, in the care of the sick and wounded, in the betterment of the standards of workers, in the defence of women and children and of helpless animals.
Orr, The light of the nations, 82.
Likewise, the revival in the early years of the present century contributed in many ways to the good of society:-
On mission fields, the missionaries multiplied their schools and hospitals. In twenty years, pupils in Christian schools in India doubled to 595,725; 90% of all nurses were Christian, mostly trained at mission hospitals. In China, missionaries pioneered secondary and higher education and laid the foundations of the medical service; the beginnings of the African educational systems and medical service were due likewise to the missionary impulse.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Eastern Asia, 19.
These revivals often drastically changed and improved the life-style of a district or even a whole country, as in Wales immediately following the revival of 1903/4:-
The story of the Welsh Revival is astounding. Begun with prayer meetings of less than a score of intercessors, when it burst its bounds the churches of Wales were crowded for more than two years. A hundred thousand outsiders were converted and added to the churches, the vast majority remaining true to the end. Drunkenness was immediately cut in half, and many taverns went bankrupt. Crime was so diminished that judges were presented with white gloves signifying that there were no cases of murder, assault, rape or robbery or the like to consider. The police became ‘unemployed’ in many districts. Stoppages occurred in coal-mines, not due to unpleasantness between management and workers, but because so many foul-mouthed miners became converted and stopped using foul language that the horses which hauled the coal trucks in the mines could no longer understand what was being said to them, and transportation ground to a halt.
Orr, Evangelical awakenings in Eastern Asia, 14.
We should not forget, either, the effects on individual behaviour and morality. Here is an example from Wales in the 1859 revival:-
In an evening service, a coarse and callous farmer was strangely affected. In the morning he was alarmed by the consciousness of a mysterious and revolutionary change in himself. He was unable to swear. He said to himself like Samson, ‘I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself.’ But his evil strength had departed, and he was weak and was as another man. He sought his servants at their work, imagining that he would there find sufficient reasons for the exercise of his cherished habit, but for the life of him he couldn’t rap out a single oath. Then he realised that his ailment required a drastic remedy, and thought, as a last resort, that if he could see some neighbour’s sheep trespassing on his pasture the lost faculty would be recovered. So he climbed a hill that was near, but nothing availed. He began to tremble in every limb. ‘What is this?’ cried he. ‘I can’t swear; what if I tried to pray?’ He fell on his knees among the furze-bushes, and continued a man of prayer as long as he lived.
in Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 96.
The assertion of this chapter has been that it is an unfailing characteristic of revival to contribute to the spiritual and moral well-being both of church and society. No religious movement which fails to much such a contribution can be rightly called a revival. Many and varied are the religious movements which clamour for our attention: but if all they offer is ‘good feelings’ or purely personal ‘benefits’, they must be pronounced, if not fraudulent, then deeply inadequate. Part of our prayer and part of our task, under God, must be to make individuals, churches, and societies as good as they possibly can be in a sinful and broken world.