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)

Bonhoeffer…Life Together

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) had a brilliant career in theology ahead of him. At seventeen, he began his studies at Tubingen, Germany. He earned his doctorate in theology from the University of Berlin at age 21. Then, at 24, he qualified to teach there. When Adolf Hitler took power, many pastors and theologians yielded to Nazi interference in church affairs, however, for Bonhoeffer there could be no German-Christian compromise with Hitler. He signed the Barmen Declaration, which declared independence from Hitler’s state and from the co-opted church. He helped create the independent “Confessing Church” in Germany.

In 1935, he created and directed a clandestine seminary in Finkenwald (Pomerania) for training young pastors in Christian discipleship. There, he shared life together with about 25 young men devoted to God. It was closed down by the Nazis in 1937 but not before he wrote two classics: “The Cost of Discipleship” and “Life Together.” He was officially forbidden to publish or speak publicly but he continued to work for the resistance to the Third Reich.

In 1943, Bonhoeffer’s record of resistance and his involvement in smuggling Jews out of Germany safely into Switzerland (the “U7” operation) got him arrested. Just before he went to prison, he became engaged to Maria. He wrote love letters from his cell but his plans were never to be. After two years in prison, it was learned that he played a part in a failed Hitler assassination attempt. He was declared a traitor and executed by special order of Heinrich Himmler on April 9, 1945 at the age of 39, just a few weeks prior to Hitler’s death and the end of World War II. In August 1996 the German authorities announced that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was no longer regarded by law as a traitor.

It was at his secret seminary in Finkenwald that Bonhoeffer both learned about and wrote “Life Together.” I would encourage you to read it (perhaps in a small group setting, maybe as roommates or suite mates in college, maybe as families). Over the next few weeks let me share a few things that Bonhoeffer said that I have found most helpful in doing Life Together as a church.

“Let (us) thank God on (our) knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”

Bonhoeffer saw that the visible fellowship of the church is the result of God’s grace- it is a blessing (Ps.133:1). He says that not all Christians receive this blessing: the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the gospel in foreign lands. The physical presence of other believers is a sourced of immeasurable joy and strength to a believer. Have you experienced this? “The companionship of a fellow Christian is a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God.” When we visit the lonely or the sick and touch them and speak encouragement to them, it is as if they were touched and encouraged by God himself. When we bless and affirm each other, we do so with the blessing and affirmation of Jesus Christ. It is to our shame that this incredible gift is so “easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day.” Christian fellowship is based upon grace.

“Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ… We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.”

I am a brother to you because of what Jesus Christ did for me; and you are a brother or sister to me because of what Christ did for you. We’ve heard that before, but Bonhoeffer unpacks it is a different way. He says that a Christian needs other Christians because of Jesus Christ. Let me personalize this thought. I know that God’s Word in Jesus Christ has pronounced me guilty. Before God, I am a guilty sinner even though I do not feel like one. I also know that God’s Word in Jesus Christ has pronounced me not guilty and righteous because of my faith in what Christ has done for me. God’s word has pronounced me not guilty even though I feel guilty and unrighteous. Therefore the Christian lives by God’s Word pronounced upon him. Thus, where is my salvation? In Christ; how do I know? It has been pronounced upon me by God’s Word.

That is why I love God’s Word, for it forms the very basis of my relationship with Jesus Christ and is the very foundation of the assurance of where I stand with God. And this Word of God has been given to us not only for ourselves but for one another. The Christian needs another Christian to speak God’s Word to him, especially when discouraged and uncertain and when he cannot help himself. He needs his brother to be the proclaimer of God’s Word to him. “The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.”

This could help enhance our understanding of 1 John 3:19, 20: “By this shall we know that we are of the truth and reassure our hearts before him; for whenever our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts…” The context indicates that the very way we know we belong to God is by how we love one another. I believe that speaking the Word of God into someone’s life is an incredible act of love; it brings encouragement to the heart of a brother/ sister and assurance to our own hearts that we belong to God.

Beer and the Bible?

guinnessOK, the Bible and beer do not ordinarily go together, but what I am going to tell you next will be intoxicating. Arthur Guinness (1725-1803) started a beer-brewing business in Dublin in 1760. Arthur was married to Olivia Whitmore and together had 21 children (10 of whom survived into their adult years). He died in 1803 and she in 1814. He was deeply inspired by the revivalist John Wesley to use his wealth and talents to make the world better. Taking scripture as his guide, Arthur served the needy of his time by making beer and worked to use his gifts to honor God. Guinness was also the founder of the first Sunday Schools in Ireland and started an organized effort to outlaw dueling. His son, Arthur, became an ardent defender of Irish Catholic civil rights, which was interesting because he was a Protestant.

I still don’t think that many of you are convinced that brewing beer would ever be a means of social reform and/or Christian witness. However, before you judge too harshly—— keep reading. Many people today do not even like the beer because it is so filling, but that was/is the genius of Guinness. He made his beer so full of minerals, barely, and iron that most people weren’t able to drink more than a couple of pints. In addition to being nutritious, because the alcohol content was considerably lower than whiskey or gin, it meant that fewer people were actually getting drunk. Curt Harding of Christian News Wire writes: “The water in Ireland, indeed throughout Europe, was famously undrinkable, and the gin and whiskey that took its place was devastating civil society. It was a disease ridden, starvation plagued, alcoholic age, and Christians like Arthur Guinness–as well as monks and even evangelical churches–brewed beer to offer a healthier alternative to the poisonous waters and liquors of the times.”

I am also impressed with the legacy of Olivia and Arthur. Their grandson was Henry Grattan Guinness (1835-1910), a famous evangelical preacher throughout Britain. He once said, “I do now most heartily desire to live but to exalt Jesus; to live preaching and to die preaching; to preach to perishing sinners till I drop down dead.” By the way, Henry was a teetotaler. His daughter, Geraldine (1865-1949) became a missionary to China at the age of 22, and there met and married the son of Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission. She became known as Mrs. Howard Taylor and wrote the biography of Hudson Taylor as well as other significant books about the work of God in China. Finally, Os Guinness (1949- ) Christian author, apologist, and social critic, is Arthur and Olivia’s great-great-great-grandson. When he was two, Os was carried out of China in a basket on a pole by his missionary parents escaping the invading Japanese army. He is an excellent writer and speaker whom I have had the privilege of meeting.

Throughout history Christians have used their skills, gifts, and resources to glorify God and change the culture in some very unique ways. You may not have agreed with the way Arthur Guinness addressed an issue of his day, but what are you doing? I wonder if it will be a Christ-follower who will effectively address the issue of gun control?

You can read more about the Guinness family in THE SEARCH FOR GOD AND GUINNESS: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World (Thomas Nelson, October 13, 2009), Stephen Mansfield.

Jonathan Edwards’ Grandfather, Solomon Stoddard

Almost everyone has heard of Jonathan Edwards, but very few are familiar with Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729), Edwards’ grandfather. Stoddard was an influential force in New England Puritanism, often referred to as the “Pope” of the Connecticut Valley of western Massachusetts. He was a powerful preacher who saw five (possibly six) revivals during his fifty-eight-year pastorate in Northampton. Yet, he has often been marginalized because of his very unique view of the Lord’s Supper as a “converting ordinance.” I wrote a book that was just published this week exploring Stoddard’s view of Communion against the changing face of Puritanism reflected in the Half-Way Covenant. While Stoddard firmly believed in the doctrine of divine election, he also believed that God was so gracious and sovereign that no one could judge whether a person was elect or not. Consequently, he crafted an evangelical theology based upon the preaching of the gospel and viewed the Lord’s Supper as another form of preaching for the conversion of sinners.  I have dedicated this book to two congregations where the bulk of my pastoral ministry life has been spent: College Church, Northampton, MA, where I was for twenty-five years, and Community Fellowship Church, West Chicago, IL, where I am now. Though this book is an academic work that I hope will find its way to colleges and seminaries, I also hope it will be a good read for pastors and lay-folks who think deeply and enjoy Puritan history. Copies of Beyond the Half-Way Covenant can be purchased through Wipf and Stock Publishers online and in a few weeks online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Continue reading “Jonathan Edwards’ Grandfather, Solomon Stoddard”