This entry is part 18 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 Prospect Stated
One of the most striking things arising from a perusal of the literature on revival is the very prevalent hope which is sustained concerning a latter-day outpouring of the Holy Spirit in revival. The following extracts are typical:-
The Scriptures are so far from encouraging us to plead for a diminution of divine influence in these last day of the gospel that on the contrary, we are encouraged to expect, hope, long, and pray for larger and more extensive showers of divine influence than any former age hath ever yet experienced. For, are we not therein taught to pray, “That we may be filled with all the fulness of God”, and to wait for a glorious epoch, “when the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
Whitefield, in Murray, The Puritan Hope, 150.
There is much in prophecy to warrant the conviction that, as the millenial day draws near, there effusions of the Holy Spirit will be yet more frequent and powerful.
Sprague, Lectures on revivals, 4.
Even the most guarded and cautious interpretation of prophecy leads us to expect a still more glorious effusion of the Holy Spirit in “the latter days”.
in The revival of religion, xi.
We have many and express assurances in the Scriptures, which cannot be broken, of the general, the universal spread and reign of Christianity, which are not yet accomplished. Nothing has yet taken place in the history of Divine grace, wide enough in energy, blessed enough in enjoyment, magnificent enough in glory, to do anything like justice to these predictions and promises. Better days, therefore, are before us, notwithstanding the forebodings of many.
William Jay, in Murray, The Puritan hope, xiv.
Strong and certain was the conviction of the Christians that the church would come forth triumphant out of its conflicts, and, as it was its destinations to be a world-transforming principles, would attain to domination of the world.
Neander, in Murray, The Puritan hope, xii.
Iain Murray summarises Jonathan Edwards’ view of unfulfilled prophecy:-
It corresponded with beliefs which had been general among the Puritans. When “the fulness of the Gentiles” is brought in, the ethnic Israel will also be largely saved and, while restored to their own land, they will be united will all the church of Christ and “look upon all the world to be their brethren…” But before this can happen antiChrist – the great barrier to success of the gospel – must fall. And this Antichrist is not some dread secular power to arise in history, rather he “Does all under the shew of sanctity and holiness, and being the spouse of Jesus Christ…He is Antichrist inasmuch as he usurps Christ’s offices in opposition to him.” Thus, they saw Antichrist as “his holiness” the primate of the Roman Church, the pretended vicar and successor to Christ upon earth: “Popery is the deepest contrivance that ever Satan was the author of to uphold his kingdom.” the overthrow of this great evil, prior to the millenium, will be gradual and by means of the power of the truth.
Murray, Jonathan Edwards, 49.
It is evident from Scripture, that there is yet remaining a great advancement of the interest of religion and the kingdom of Christ in this world, by an abundant outpouring of the Spirit of God, far more extensive than ever yet has been. It is certain, that many things, which are spoken concerning a glorious time of the church’s enlargement and prosperity in the latter days, have never yet been fulfilled. There has never yet been any propagation and prevalence of religion, in any wise, of that extent and universality which the prophecies represent.
Edwards, Works, II, 284f.
Edwards reflected thus on happy hours of contemplation and conversation at the beginning of his ministry:-
I very frequently used to retire into a solitary place, on the bank of Hudson’s River, at some distance from the city, for contemplation on divine things and secret converse with God, and had many sweet hours there. Sometimes Mk Smith and I walked there together, to converse on the things of God; and our conversation used to turn much on the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world, and the glorious things that God would accomplish for his church in the latter days.
Edwards, Works, I, xiv.
W.B. Sprague elaborated his conviction concerning this “hope”:-
If you read the prophetical parts of scripture attentively, you cannot, I think, but be struck with the evidence that, as the millenial day approaches, the operations of divine grace are to be increasingly rapid and powerful, Many of these predictions respecting the state of religion under the Christian dispensation, it is manifest, have not yet had their complete fulfilment; and they not only justify the belief that these glorious scenes which we see passing really are of divine origin, as the claim to be, but that similar scenes still more glorious, still more wonderful, are to be expected, as the Messiah travels in the greatness of his strength toward a universal triumph. I cannot but think that many of the inspired predictions in respect of the progress of religion, appear overstrained, unless we admit that the church is to see greater things than she has yet seen; and that they fairly warrant the conclusion that succeeding generations rejoicing in the brighter lights of God’s truth, and the richer manifestations of his grace, may look back even upon this blessed era of revivals, as a period of comparative darkness.
Sprague, Lectures on revivals, 32f.
Sometimes, indeed, the optimism of those experiencing revival overflowed into a belief that their revival was the revival – the last, great outpouring. So Calvin Colton wrote during the Second Great Awakening:-
It was a general historical truth in the days of our Saviour, and seems to be so yet, “that strait is the gate and narrow is the way, that leadest to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat.” But this will not be true in the days of the Millenium. It was a general historical truth in the apostolic age…that the public opinion of the world was against Christianity. But it is not so now…Christians now have only to take advantage of that impression – of that state of society, which God in his providence has induced, in the progress of 1800 years…to plant their feet on this ground, start from this point, and, by one united and vigorous inset, march directly to the conquest of the world, in the use of the simple and naked weapons of evangelical truth.
Colton, American Revivals, 141ff
It now appears that Edwards and Colton were unduly optimistic, for in fact their own days of revival were succeeded, not by an ever-increasing success of the gospel, but by further alternating periods of declension and renewal. But just because they mistook the time of the latter-day outpouring this does not mean they were necessarily mistaken in their expectation that it would take place at some time.
The Prospect Asserted
The expectation of a latter-day revival has been extensively documented by I.H. Murray in his book ‘The Puritan Hope’. Murray connects this hope for a world-wide awakening with the prospect which prophecy seems to hold out for a future large-scale turning of the Jews to Christ. This is not the place repeat Murray’s arguments. All that can be indicated here is an indication of some of the grounds upon which this hope is based. The most important ground, of course, is Scripture. Following are some of the Bible passages which are believed to teach the prospect of a great latter-day revival:-
Gen 3:15 – ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seen and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.’
This verse has been commented on as follows:-
What is the meaning of the first promise, that the Seed of the woman is to crush the head of the Serpent, if not that Christ is to establish a triumphant kingdom in the earth? Would that promise and prophecy be fulfilled if the gospel were never even to make an approach to universality?
Lorimer, in The Revival of Religion, 189.
Gen 12:2f – ‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing…and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’
A comment on this passage:-
To Abraham, standing at the head of the Jewish economy, essentially local in its nature, it was promised that in his Seed, namely, Christ, all nations – all the families of the earth – should be blessed. A similar promise was repeated to succeeding patriarchs. And does it not distinctly point to universality? What can be more comprehensive than all nations, – all families of the earth?
Lorimer, in The Revival of Religion, 189
Psalm 2 predicts the world-wide success of Christ and his gospel:-
Psa 2:8 – ‘Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.’
Psalm 22 has a similar thrust:-
Psa 22:27f – All the nations of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations will bow down before him.
Lorimer says concerning this Psalm:-
The Saviour is not only spoken of but actually personated, apart from whom indeed the psalm is unintelligible…Nothing can be more comprehensive than this – the very ends of the earth, without exception, and the very tribes and families of the nations, all are to worship Messiah; and a reason is assigned, because the world is his, and he is entitled to the homage of all nations.’
In The Revival of Religion, 190
Psa 86:9 – All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name.
C.H. Spurgeon writes on this verse as follows:-
David was not a believer in the theory that the world will grow worse and worse; and that the dispensation will wind up with general darkness, and idolatry…We look for a day when the dwellers in all lands shall learn righteousness, shall trust in the Saviour, shall worship thee alone, O God, “and shall glorify thy name.”
Treasury of David
Passages in the prophets – particularly Isaiah – seem to speak in glowing terms of the prospect of an unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit:-
Isa 2:2 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.
Isa 45:22f “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.”
With the passage just quoted in mind, Jonathan Edwards wrote:-
When God manifests himself with such glorious power is a work of this nature, he appears especially determined to put honour upon his Son, and to fulfil his oath that he has sworn to him, that he would make every knee bow, and every tongue confess to him. God hath had it very much on his heart, from all eternity, to glorify his dear and only-begotten Son; and there are some special seasons that he appoints to that end, wherein he comes forth with omnipotent power to fulfil his promise and oath to him. Now these are times of remarkable pouring out of his Spirit, to advance his kingdom; such is a day of his power, wherein his people shall be made willing, and he shall rule in the midst of his enemies; these especially are the times wherein God declares his firm decree, that his Son shall reign on his holy hill of Zion.
(Edwards, Works, I, 380)
A further passage in Isaiah seems to speak of the worldwide success of the gospel:-
Isa 49:6 “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
The prophecy of Joel is significant:-
Joel 2:28 “And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”
Referring to this prophecy, John Fletcher of Madeley commented that there is here:-
A blessed promise of which our Lord gave an earnest on the day of Pentecost when he sent a glorious shower on his little vineyard, a pledge of the might rivers of righteousness which will by and by cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
John Fletcher, in Wood, Baptised With Fire, 13
E.J. Poole-Connor’s comment on this passage is as follows:-
This remarkable utterance, like many of the prophetic Scriptures, seems to have a two-fold application; one to Israel in the last days of the Jewish dispensation, and another to the Gentile nations in the closing period of the Christian era; its earlier and partial fulfilment at Pentecost throwing light, as we believe, upon that which will be later and larger…Our anticipation…is that while the close of the age will witness grievous declension, it will be broken in upon, ere judgement falls, by a powerful worldwide testimony to the grace of God; and that this testimony will be accompanied by a great work of the Holy Spirit which will complete the fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel.
Poole-Connor, Evangelicalism in England, 292ff
The same writer goes on the suggest that the initial fulfilment of this prophecy occurred in the Pentecostal outpouring and the persecution and destruction which soon followed (c.f. the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70).
Its final and even great fulfilment will occur at the end of the age, with a great spiritual outpouring preceding terminal apostasy:-
Our anticipation…is that while the close of the age will witness grievous declension, it will be broken in upon, ere judgement falls, by a powerful worldwide testimony to the grace of God; and that this testimony will be accompanied by a great work of the Holy Spirit which will complete the fulfilment of the prophecy of Joel.
Poole-Connor, Evangelicalism in England, 294f
To passages n Zechariah seem to speak of a glorious latter-day awakening:-
Zech 8:22ff – This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the LORD and seek the LORD Almighty. I myself am going.’ And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the LORD Almighty and to entreat him.” This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'”
Zec 12:10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.”
T.V. Moore says concerning this latter passage:-
There is here predicted a great spiritual blessing from God on the Church, but contemplated mainly as now containing the penitent Jews. “A spirit of grace and supplication” is an outpouring of the spirit of God, that awakens gracious affections and leads the heart to prayer…In this mighty revival that shall take place in the future, there will be much prayer and much penitence. This penitence shall pervade the whole Church, but especial prominence is given here to the recovered Jews. “They shall look upon me whom they have pierced.” As God is here the speaker, this passage has always been a stumbling-block to the Jews, for how could God be pierced? The only fact that explains it is that which they have not yet admitted, that they have crucified and slain that prince of peace who was God manifest in the flesh. As soon as they see that fact they will see the consistency of the passage, and will mourn the guilt of their fathers in crucifying the incarnate Son, and their own guilt in so long rejecting him.
A Commentary on Zechariah, 197f
Another famous passage which seems to teach a latter-day revival involving large-scale turning of the Jews to Christ is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans:-
Rom 11:11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.
This passage in Romans has been variously interpreted. But John Murray argues persuasively:-
Nothing less than a restoration of Israel as a people to faith, privilege, and blessing can satisfy the terms of this passage. The argument of the apostle is not, however, the restoration of Israel; it is the blessing accruing to the Gentiles from Israel’s “fulness”…Thus there awaits the Gentiles, in their distinctive identity as such, gospel blessing far surpassing anything experienced during the period of Israel’s apostasy, and this unprecedented enrichment will be occasioned by the conversion of Israel on a scale commensurate with that of their earlier disobedience.’
The Epistle to the Romans
The apostle Paul, in the 11th chapter of the Romans, speaks of the success of the gospel among Jews and Gentiles in the primitive times, though embracing a multitude of churches, as but the first fruits – the pledge and the earnest of a coming, a golden harvest; and he speaks also of the Jews being brought in to the fulness of the Gentiles; implying that there is a Gentile fulness yet to be gathered.
Lorimer, in The Revival of Religion, 195
Then, the Apocalypse contains many words of cheer and encouragement for believers in the last, difficult times:-
[The] book of Revelation is, from beginning to end, not only a magnificent prophecy of the perpetuity of the church, in spite of the heresies, obstacles, and persecutions of many centuries, but also a prophecy of the ultimate and universal triumph of the kingdom of Christ. It contains a picture of the glory of true Christianity upon earth before passing into the ineffable glories and beatitudes of heaven.
Lorimer, in The Revival of religion, 195.
Rev 14:6f Then I saw another angel flying in mid-air, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth-to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
Alford comments that the word ‘gospel’ is always used in the New Testament to refer to ‘The Gospel’ – the good news of salvation by grace. But an extraordinary power and success in the proclamation of the gospel seems to be implied here, as the earth’s last and darkest days approach (cf. Mt 24:14). E.J. Poole-Connor says that this passage:-
points…to yet another of these sovereign interventions of Divine grace in periods of declension and godlessness commonly designated Revivals. It may therefore be hoped, it may even be expected, that amid the ever-deepening departure from God which (it would seem) will mark the last days, there will be, for a time at least, a concurrent proclamation of the Gospel by messengers raised up of God, whose preaching shall be as that of angels sent down from heaven.
Poole-Connor, Evangelicalism in England, 292.
And so, without attempting anything like a thorough examinations of the biblical passages, we nevertheless get a feeling for the way in which the triumph of Christ and his gospel is presented in Scripture. It must be suggested that no outpouring of the Spirit up to the present time – not even the original Pentecostal awakening – has quite satisfied or fulfilled all that these majestic passages predict. Nor can their fulfilment simply be transferred to the Second Advent of Christ and the heavenly consummation: for the harvest of souls to which many of these passages refer will by that time be past. This prospect should not be taken as cutting across the imminency of the Lord’s return; nor should it be seen as denying the spiritual darkness which is also said to characterise the last days: but still the prospect should be cherished and longed for.
The hope for a latter-day revival does not, however, depend only on the interpretation of individual texts of Scripture. It is bound up with larger themes and purposes.
This hope is to a very large extent Christological: that is to say, it is connected with what we know and are assured of concerning the victory of Christ and the triumph of his kingdom:-
The universal and final success of the gospel is mixed up with the glorious work of Emmanuel. It is part of his reward, and that reward is guaranteed to him by a divine oath. He has, as Mediator, been appointed heir of the world, that he might receive the heathen for his inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession. The Father hath said unto him, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever;” and moreover hath said, “I have sworn by myself – the word hath gone forth out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return – unto thee every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear.”
Lorimer, in The revival of religion, 200
Support for this view can also be gained from a consideration of the nature of the gospel itself:-
True Christianity, – in other words, the gospel of Christ, is not only indestructible in its nature, and so permanent to the end of time, it is essentially diffusive. There is nothing in it of a local or temporary character. Its ordinances are so few and simple that they admit of being observed in all countries…The gospel too can live and flourish, as the even has proved, under all forms of civil government…It is compared to light, and to salt, and to leaven – objects which diffuse themselves, and assimilate all which they touch to their own likeness. A true Christian cannot keep the gospel quietly in his own bosom as a thing of private gratification; – no: he cannot help making it know to others: sympathy impels him…Hence there is a provision in the very nature of true Christianity for its universal propagation.
Lorimer, in The revival of religion, 188f.
The Prospect Denied
It is to be acknowledged that many Christians do not share this hope:-
There are many within the Church of Christ who do not really believe in revival at all. They do not deny that God quickened his people at Pentecost, but they feel that such a miracle was unique and unrepeatable. Or, if they are persuaded to recognise the phenomenon of revival as recurring in history, they argue that it has now spent itself and that we cannot look for any further awakening. It is said that the times have waxed too late and gross for us to hope for renewal now, or that living as many suppose we do in the last age no revival can be looked for until the Lord returns.
Wood, Baptised with fire, 10.
Speaking in Geneva in 1840, J.N. Darby (early leader of the Brethren movement) said:-
What we are about to consider will tend to shew that, instead of permitting ourselves to hope for a continued progress of good, we must expect a progress of evil; and that the hope of the earth being filled with the knowledge of the Lord before the exercise of his judgement, and the consummation of this judgement on the earth, is delusive…Truly Christendom has become completely corrupted,; the dispensation of the Gentiles has been found unfaithful: can it be restored? No! impossible.
in Murray, The Puritan hope, 201.
A modern theologian has written:-
Scripture certainly does not sustain the notion that the Church will experience a period of great prosperity, antecedent to the coming of the Lord. The very opposite is true.
Herman Hoeksema, in Murray, The Puritan hope, 79.
Those who hold to this negative view probably have especially in mind Christ’s Olivet Discourse (Mt 24; Lk 21; Mk 13). This passage follows on directly from Christ’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, an event which took place in AD 70. The Olivet Discourse was to a large extent fulfilled during the 1st century. But, as Iain Murray says,
It is certainly true that the Olivet discourse looks forward to the second advent and it may well be that some of the ‘signs’ which preceded the overthrow of Jerusalem will recur on a grander scale as the world draws near its end; to accept this, however, is no means the same as saying that the Olivet discourse comprehensively describes the whole course of world history between the first and second advents.
Murray, The Puritan hope, 80
2 Timothy 3:1-6 is also cited to support the view that the period just prior to Christ’s return will be characterised by unmitigated wickedness and depravity, and that we can accordingly hold out no hope for a latter-day revival. But this view is based on an inadequate interpretation of the passage, for,
1. Paul, in referring to ‘the last days’ has in mind the gospel-age generally, and not just its final stages, cf Acts 2:17; Heb 1:2.
2. Paul says to Timothy, ‘avoid such people’; showing that he had Timothy and his contemporaries very much in mind.
3. Again, the Apostle states, ‘they will not get very far’; showing that the folly spoken of is limited in scope and duration.
Some today would argue that the church has fallen into irreversible decline: that she has entered the ‘Laodicean’ phase of terminal lukewarmness and compromise (Rev 3:14ff). In answer to this, it must be suggested that the habit of dividing the Christian era into seven stages, corresponding to Christ’s description of the seven churches of Asia (Rev 2 & 3), is fanciful. But even if the Laodicean description is applicable to the present day, we should still reply with Arthur Wallis:-
Has Christ presented us with the picture of Laodicea as an example to follow or a state to condone? Did he intend that we should resign ourselves fatalistically to the spirit of Laodicea because we believe that we are in the end times? The Lord warned this church that its lukewarmness would result in judgement unless there was repentance. Surely his purpose in this whole message was that the church might be moved to repent, and so be delivered from its lukewarmness and the judgement he had pronounced on it.
Wallis, Rain from heaven, 23
It may well be misleading to try to characterise the days or years preceding our Lord’s return either in terms of a prevalence of evil or a prevalence of good. It was so in the 18th century, which was characterised by two opposing and virtually simultaneous movements – one religion (the Great Awakening) and the other anti-religious (the Enlightenment). Thus, at the end of the age:-
We have every reason to believe that it is the power and magnitude of the Spirit’s work which will provoke Satan to father his host together, and fight his last battle with the armies of the living God and Armageddon. The madness and desperation of his struggle are no mean proof of the liberality and abundance with which the Spirit shall have been communicated.
Lorimer, in The revival of religion, 220.
A further argument urged against hoping for a latter-day revival is that we should be looking for revival, but for Christ’s return. Arthur Wallis has answered this objection well:-
Of course Christians should be looking for Christ’s return, but are they? Hardly, when, carnality, apathy, and worldliness are so rife. But such a state is incompatible with a people preparing and praying for God to come in power. A church ready for revival is a church ready for his coming. They have purified themselves, and John tells us that it is this purifying that is the indispensable preparation for Christ’s return, and the final proof that we really have the hope within us, 1 Jn 3:3.
Wallis, Rain from heaven, 24.
Christian viewpoints concerning the event at the close of the age have often been classified according to their teaching concerning the ‘millenium’. Augustine, for example, adopted an amillenial position, understanding the thousand-year reign of the saints (Rev 20) as a symbol of the church’s growth and success during the entire period of its earthly history. The early Reformers, such as Luther and Calvin, seemed to take a similar view. Later Reformers and Puritans tended to continue this line, although a number added a definite belief in the future large-scale conversion of the Jewish people. The postmillenial outlook was introduced by Daniel Whitby in the early 1700s and taken up by Edwards and, later, by Colton and others. Premillenialism, which had been prevalent in the early church, was taken up again in altered form by J.N. Darby and has soaked deeply into modern evangelical thinking.
This is not the place to engage in detailed discussion of these eschatological views. Fortunately, if Richard Lovelace is correct, it is not necessary to do so. For, he argues,
the remarkable thing about this spectrum of millenial views is that all positions were used to support efforts at revival and social reform, since even the premillenialists believed that an outpouring of the Spirit and the conversion of large numbers of Jews and Gentiles would precede the Millenium.
Lovelace, Dynamics of spiritual life, 408.
The same writer adds:-
Each eschatological position…can be of help in encouraging the church in its warfare and its mission. Premillenialism explains the apparent growth of evil in the world and nerves the church to stand firm under persecution. Postmillenialism can energise the church to rise up out of social passivity and work to transform a whole culture so that God’s kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven. Amillenialism can equip the church to keep steady under good conditions or evil, constantly holding forth the word of God and pressing for the maximum expansion of the gospel without being discouraged at setbacks.
Lovelace, Dynamics of spiritual life, 412.
But, again, each position can be sued to divert the church from missionary aims:-
Premillenialists can adopt a bomb-shelter mentality which withdraws from social and cultural engagement and simply waits for the end to come, passively tolerating or even welcoming the spread of evil because it hastens the return of Christ. Postmillenialists can seriously underestimate the strength of the opposing forces, call for advance when retreat and consolidation are in order, and fail to confront the world realistically when they are infiltrated by myths of progress and human goodness. Then, too, they can lose their awareness that only through the spiritual rule of Christ can evil be restrained. Amillenialists can become routine functionaries who pay no more attention to the prevailing of the kingdom than they do to the state of the weather, doggedly serving up dead orthodoxy week after week and plodding along with little concern for success or victory.
Lovelace, Dynamics of spiritual life, 412.
None of this is to advocate a merely utilitarian approach to the doctrine of the last things, or to suggest that the differences in views are irrelevant or unimportant. But it does show that none of these positions is inconsistent with a hope for future revival.
And understanding of the latter-day revival which is quite prevalent is that it will be ‘like Pentecost’. This, of course, is a leading tenet of the Pentecostal churches themselves:-
Pentecostalism…looks with special fervour to the future. Particularly close to the heart of the Pentecostal and one of the major symbols of his self-consciousness is the conviction that the movement in which he stands is, or is under, ‘the latter rain’, as referred to by the prophets (Joel 2:23; Jer 5:24; Deut 11:14; cf Joel 2:28f; Acts 2:17-21; James 5:7). A s the apostolic church represented the former rain bringing the first-fruits, Pentecostals believe that their movement is God’s ordained latter rain bringing in the last-fruits of the great harvest, the immediate prophase to the second advent.
Bruner, A theology of the Holy Spirit, 28.
But this view also occurs in teaching arising from other evangelical traditions:-
That day which shall convince the great body of professing Christians of the reality and desirability of revivals will constitute a new era in the history of religion and will precede manifestations of power like that of Pentecost.
Barnes, in Lloyd-Jones, Revival, 93.
In one sense, Pentecost was unique: it was unique as a stage in the glorification of Christ, and it was unique as an event inaugurating the age of the Christian church. But as an outpouring of the Spirit, and as an equipping of the church for its work of evangelism, it was the first (and not necessarily the greatest) of many:-
Nothing can be more directly contrary to the intention and teaching of the Word than to expect a ‘second Pentecost’. I would as soon look for a second Calvary. But this does not imply that the experience of the disciples at Pentecost is not to be known again. On the contrary, it is because the Spirit, who then began his special work, is still present in the Church to continue it, that Pentecost admits of no repetitions. Whether the miraculous results may once more be seen in the latter days of the Church yet to come, we know not certainly; though the Book of Revelation seems to lead us to expect this. But the spiritual results have continued, in great or less measure, and among more or fewer of the people of God; and they are to be looked for, desired, asked, and by faith attained.
Elder Cumming, in Wood, Baptised with fire, 114f.
This series began with the thought that the spiritual progress of the Christian church through history is not uniform, but follows a cyclical pattern in which periods of declension alternative with times of revival. Perhaps this understanding, and the expectation which many Christians have concerning the darkness and unbelief of ‘the last days’ can be integrated with a hope for a final glorious awakening:-
Christianity is like a fire which periodically develops a vigorous blaze but is each time covered with increasing quantities of green wood which must dry out before they can be ignited. We may be near the point in history when virtually all of the available wood on the planet is about to be put on the fire. The outcome of this situation could be terminal apostasy and great tribulation, or it could be terminal awakening of the church and a new era embracing the splendour of a purified Christian movement confronted by new countermovements of opposition.
Lovelace, Dynamics of spiritual life, 427.