Revival (2)…

Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:6)

If one studies intermittent spiritual awakenings throughout history, s/he will notice several characteristics that attend and are the consequence of revival. Last week we mentioned that there were usually times of preparation that occurred before revival came. Often the preparation was accomplished through the faithful preaching of the Word of God over time, especially on the themes of substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, repentance and the pursuit of holiness.

A second characteristic: Occurring  before many revivals were evident times of crisis or spiritual apathy. Certainly the cyclic periods of declension, despair, and deliverance are formative to understanding the entire history of Israel in the period of the Judges. Jonathan Edwards believed that the sudden death of a young woman precipitated the revival of 1734-5 in Northampton. Prior to the 1857-8 prayer revival in New York City there was a general decline of religion in America and a growing lukewarmness in the Church after a period of revival from 1830-42. There was also the Bank Panic of 1857, which was one of the most needless financial crises in American history. Based upon hysteria and rumor, banks closed for two months and people could get neither credit nor cash to live on or to run their business.

We also have records of revivals taking place during the crisis of the Civil War especially among Confederate troops. Eifion Evans writes of the Revival of 1858-60 which swept Wales and calls attention to how one region of the country was affected by the sudden death of a young man, while another area was chafing under the moral debauchery that attended a rising prosperity due to a flourishing slate-quarrying industry.

A third characteristic: Revivals have often been precipitated by an acute awareness of the resplendent majesty and holiness of God and a respondent awareness of the depth of human sin. The vision of Isaiah 6 is the pattern for such revival. In the face of a national crisis (the death of good King Uzziah), Isaiah saw the Lord, high and lifted up in all his majesty. This struck a deep cord reminding Isaiah of his own sinfulness and creatureliness in comparison. “Woe is me; I am coming apart!” This was certainly Martin Luther’s turning point—a perception of the depth of his own sin coram deo (before God) and not by human standards.

The Puritans, the Pietists, and the leaders of the First Great Awakening preserved this strong preaching of God’s holiness and the demand for humility and repentance. However, as Richard Lovelace points out, “subsequent generations… gradually moved away from [this]. Rationalist religion reacting against exaggerated and over-explicit portrayals of human wickedness and divine wrath… began to stress the goodness of man and the benevolence of the Deity. By the time of the Second Awakening (mid-1790s to 1840), many leaders of the revival were… presenting an increasingly kindly, fatherly and thoroughly comprehensible God.”

No one is advocating going back to the “hell-fire” and damnation sermons of the Puritans, but neither should we so domesticate God that we fail to properly present his majestic character. We should faithfully preach the message of the cross, for it is in the gospel of Christ that God’s love and justice meet. The cross is the attestation both of God’s perfect hatred of sin and the perfect manifestation of the depths of God’s love and mercy in the sacrifice of Christ.

Cross of Jesus, cross of Sorrow,
Where the blood of Christ was shed,
Perfect Man on thee did suffer,
Perfect God on thee has bled!

Here the King of all the ages,
Throned in light ere worlds could be,
Robed in mortal flesh is dying,
Crucified by sin for me.

O mysterious condescending!
O abandonment sublime!
Very God himself is bearing
All the sufferings of time!
(William Sparrow-Simpson, 1887)


Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? (Psalm 85:6)

What do you think of when you hear the word revival? Do you think of loud preaching, people coming forward to get saved, and/or wild expressions of spiritual ecstasy? As Robert Coleman has said, the word revival comes from the word meaning “to live.” In Ezekiel 37:5 the Lord told the prophet to speak to the dry bones saying, “I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live.” Thus revival refers to a special and sovereign work of God where He visits His people to reanimate, to restore, and to release in them the fullness of the Holy Spirit for the furtherance of the gospel in the world.

Richard Lovelace defines revival “not as a special season of extra-ordinary religious excitement…. Rather it is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit which restores the people of God to normal spiritual life after a period of corporate declension.”

There have been those who would dispute this definition. For example, Charles Finney, influenced by the Edwardesian New Divinity which claimed that everyone had a natural ability to repent, applied such a principle in his methodology of revival. He claimed that revival was not a miraculous work of God, but “the right use of the appropriate means.” His views certainly embroiled him in controversy even with the more moderate Calvinists of the day, such as Henry Ward Beecher. However, even though they disagreed about methodology there was a basic agreement as to the desire for and purpose of revival.

If one studies intermittent spiritual awakenings throughout history, s/he will notice several characteristics that attend and are the consequence of revival. Over the next several blogs I’d like to look at these, one at a time, so that we will have a better idea of what to look for and expect as we pray for revival to come in our day.

FIRST, there is usually a time of preparation that occurs before revival comes. Often the preparation has been accomplished through the faithful preaching of the Word of God over time, especially on the themes of substitutionary atonement, justification by faith, repentance and the pursuit of holiness. Many years before the Reformation took place, there were forerunners like John Wycliffe and the Lollards; before them, there was Jon Huss in Moravia, the Waldensians in Northern Italy, and John Tauler (1300-1361).

Pre-dating the First Great Awakening of 1740-2 were five or six periods of spiritual renewal called “Harvests” under Solomon Stoddard, Jonathan Edwards’ grandfather, in his 58 year pastorate in Northampton, MA. There was also the revival in Northampton under Edwards himself in 1735. Also, before the prayer revival of 1857-58 that began in New York City, there were independent prayer revivals in Hamilton, Ontario as well as in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. J. Edwin Orr documents that there were also prayer revivals among the slaves south of the Mason Dixon line. Then these prayer revival in the US and Canada swept across the Atlantic into Ireland, Wales, and Scotland in 1858-60.

This should teach us that if we are in a place where God has already done a great work in the past, we should celebrate that work and ask him to do it again in the future. At Wheaton College we have a rich heritage of revival. Between 1878 and 1895 there were accounts of at least ten different times of revival on campus. More recently, there were the revivals of 1936, 1943, 1959, 1970, and 1995 (in fact, 20 years ago yesterday.) These should be looked upon not only as times when God worked in an unusual way, but also as preparations for the new work that God might do once again in the future. (Psalm 85:6)

Do it again, O Lord!

Re-visiting Selma

I am sitting in a coffee shop just down Broad St from the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, where 50 years ago 600 African-Americans marched to defend their constitutional voting rights. They were beaten back and bloodied by the county sheriff and his deputies and a row of Alabama State Troopers. March 7, 1965 was known as Bloody Sunday and was celebrated last Sunday by 80,000 people and two presidents; one of whom is Black, and the other who signed the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act of 2006. I wonder if the original marchers were chased back as far as this coffee shop?

I am here on a mission project trip with 11 football players from Wheaton College. We have been working with a ministry called Blue Jean Selma (, which is a parachurch community development ministry centered around worship and reconciliation within the Body Of Christ, as well as encouraging entrepreneurial start-up businesses in order to produce jobs and bring economic and spiritual renewal to Selma. We have a met so many people committed to the Lord, to each other, and to Selma.

We have been rehabbing an old church to make room for a new Teen Challenge discipleship center, grinding floors at a brand new cookie factory, landscaping and cleaning up around a new site given to the Blue Jean Church as a meeting place and coffee shop. We have been treated to southern hospitality (that means food) to such an extent that if we weren’t working so hard we would gain about 100 lbs. each. Every evening our team gathers for a debriefing time, and a time in the Word and in prayer. These young brothers are experiencing a lot and are great examples of what God has in store for his church. They are learning about the deadly sin of racism, but also how the power of the gospel can bring forgiveness and reconciliation. 

We will be here until Sunday and will leave after we participate in the service at the Blue Jean Church. We will have a lot to share; certainly about our experience in Selma and its place in the civil rights movement of the 60’s and in the continuing saga of the racial divide in our country. More importantly, we will be able to share about solutions and the power of the gospel to change the human heart and replace racial hatred with the love of Jesus.  

It has been a short week and in the scheme of things we have not accomplished much, but we have been witness to how God is relentlessly working out his love and mercy in the very context of a place once known for its bloody violence. And he is doing it through ordinary people who once were lost but now are found; who once were blind but now are able to see.      


A Fresh Twist to Some Old Proverbs…

Last weekend my wife and I spent some time with three of our grandkids at their home in New Hampshire. They are so special, as are all of my grandchildren. Their energy (whew!), ideas and humor were refreshing, and a great affirmation that their parents are doing a wonderful job in raising them. Speaking of humor, I found this little excercise where a first grade teacher (supposedly) collected well-known sayings. She gave each child in her class the first half then asked them to come up with the remainder of the proverb. Cover up the right side of the following list as you complete the saying on the left; then compare your response to what the kids had to say. Enjoy…

Better to be safe than………………..punch a 5th grader
Strike while the …………………….bug is close
It’s always darkest before…………… daylight savings time
Never underestimate the power of……….termites
You can lead a horse to water but……
Don’t bite the hand that…………….. looks dirty
No news is…………………………..impossible
A miss is as good as a……………….mr.
You can’t teach an old dog new…………math
If you lie down with dogs, you’ll………stink in the morning
Love all, trust……………………
The pen is mightier than the…………..pigs
An idle mind is……………………..the best way to relax
Where there’s smoke there’s……………pollution
Happy the bride who…………………..gets all the presents
A penny saved is……………………..not much
Two’s company, three’s………………..the musketeers
Don’t put off till tomorrow what……….you put on to go to bed
Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and…….you have to blow your nose.
None are so blind as………………….Stevie Wonder
Children should be seen and not………..spanked or grounded
If at first you don’t succeed………….get new batteries
You get out of something what you………see pictured on the box
When the blind leadeth the blind……….get out of the way

And the favorite:

Better late than…………………….pregnant.

Speaking of Daylight Savings Time, don’t forget to turn your clocks forward one hour this Sunday. Also, I would appreciate your prayers this week as I am driving with 14 football players from Wheaton College to Selma, Alabama on a missions project trip over spring break. We are leaving this Saturday, which is the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday”; the day 600 African-Americans were attacked as they walked across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in defiance of segregationist repression of their right to vote. We will be there!