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!