Revival (4)…

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

The final major characteristic that has attended revival has been the growth of the Church and its mission in the world. The Great Awakening of the 1740s produced 50,000 new church members. The Prayer Revival of 1857-8 produced half-a-million new church members and an additional 50,000 in Wales. In 1806 Samuel Mills, a freshman at Williams College, helped to lead a group of five students to pray for revival of the campus. One of those meetings took place beneath a haystack because of a thunderstorm. The subsequent revival was the impetus for what would become an unprecedented thrust in foreign missions. Out of it came the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the American Bible Society, and the American Colonization Society. There is a plaque at the site of the Haystack Prayer Meeting that says; “The Birthplace of American Foreign Missions.” Richard Lovelace claims that “every major advance of the kingdom of God on earth is signaled and brought about by the general outpouring of the Holy Spirit in revival.”

It should also be mentioned that along with the missionary outreach of the Church, revival has also had clear social implications. Timothy Smith claims that genuine revival fuses the personal and the social aspects of the gospel. This can be seen especially in the revivals of the mid-nineteenth century which gave birth to the organization of trade unions, the abolition of child labor, women’s suffrage, the YMCA, the founding of colleges and other benevolent and missionary organizations, and the abolitionist movement. In fact, Smith quotes Count Agenor de Gasparin who concluded that the Prayer Revival of 1857-8 had actually paved the way for the election of Lincoln: “The great moral force which is struggling with American slavery is the Gospel.”

The social implications of revival are best summed up by Gilbert Haven, a Boston abolitionist who became a Methodist Bishop after the Civil War. “The Gospel…is not confined to a repentance and faith that has no connection with social or civil duties. The evangel of Christ is an all-embracing theme. It is the vital force in earth and heaven…. The cross is the centre of the spiritual, and therefore the material universe.”

Timothy Smith points out that the first stanza of the old Methodist revival hymn, “A charge to keep I have, a God to glorify; a never-dying soul to save, and fit it for the sky”; was followed by the second stanza, “To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill; O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will.”

One final consideration is of the signs and wonders which sometimes attend revivals. At Pentecost there were signs that accompanied the coming of the Holy Spirit—the sound of a rushing wind, tongues of fire, a perception that the disciples might even be drunk. Yet, these exact signs did not attend all of the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts. Similarly, revivals throughout history differ as to the manifestations. A revival in Indonesia in 1965 was attended by the sound of a tornado and of a fire so loud that the fire company was called to the church, but there was a revival going on and not a fire. A 1973 revival in Cambodia was accompanied by miracles and healings. The 1994 “Toronto Blessing” saw an emphasis on the phenomena of laughing, rolling, crying, and some being carried out of the auditorium.

On the other hand, the campus revivals which started in 1995 with Howard Payne University and spread to Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth; then to Beeson School of Divinity in Birmingham, and on to several other colleges such as Olivet Nazarene and Wheaton College, were relatively free of manifestations. The records show deep repentance, continual confession, weeping over sin, deliverance from sexual sin and other life dominating issues, racial and familial reconciliation, but not attending phenomena.

Jonathan Edwards had to deal with the varying opinions on the phenomena that often accompany revival in his Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, written against the backdrop of the First Great Awakening. He tried to walk the middle road between those who discounted revival because of the “hysteria” which often occurred, and those who believed that “anything goes” whenever revival comes. I would refer the reader to a very readable and brief summation of Edwards’ Treatise entitled The Experience that Counts, prepared by Dr. N.R. Needham and published by Grace Publications Trust, London. This little book is a wonderful primer on the nature of conversion.

Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me:
Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh on me.
(Daniel Iverson, 1926)

(My message on Revival was given at Wheaton College Chapel on March 18, 2015. Click this link if you would like to view it.

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