Editorial: May 2010
Vital Christianity begins with a response of the whole being to the call of the Gospel for repentance and spiritual rebirth by faith in Christ. The convicted see themselves as in a mirror; they see themselves as God sees them; every act of hypocrisy confronts them. ‘The terror of the Lord’ is inspired by a sense of having rebelled against the divine love, of having failed to give glory to God.
Lives are changed and transformed as a result of revival. People openly confess their sins, hiding nothing. Drunkards become sober, chains of evil habits are broken and lives are enriched by prayer and spiritual exercise. A great moral revolution takes place. The dead are awakened and those already awakened are quickened. “Evangelism affects the other fellow; revival affects me.”
“Revival is a sovereign act of God upon the church whereby He intervenes to lift the situation completely out of human hands and works in extraordinary power.” A revival means humiliation, a bitter knowledge of unworthiness and an open confession of sin on the part of ministers as well as laity.
Each revival has been preceded by a time of spiritual deadness, when faith has waxed dim. Revivals are necessary for vitalising man’s spiritual life and for spurring him to high endeavour. The dramatic growth of the churches resulting from revivals is part of history. Significant moral, social and cultural changes have accompanied major revivals. Revivals are used by God for quickening man’s spiritual life, and for his spiritual education and progress.
The revival under Wesley saved England from the peril of a revolutionary movement such as the one which broke out in France. The movement led by Francis of Assisi thrilled Italy, which brought forth the greatest splendours of art and literature. During the Florentine revival, under the leadership of Savonarola, in the land given over to licentiousness and crime, righteousness found a voice. Luther started his ministry “when the gates of entrance into the kingdom of heaven were made to open and close at the clink of gold.” As a result of the Reformation led by him, the Bible became the possession of the people, for the first time in history. All these men had the courage of conviction and faith in God. They followed truth at whatever cost. They learned to obey God with boldness. They turned out to be some of the strongest and grandest men the world has ever known.
Each revival is characterised by the discovery of some doctrine held coldly or lost sight of. Justification by faith, one of the clearest of Pauline doctrines, was lost sight of; it had ceased to exist. Ecclesiastism was so dominant that for centuries men read the Epistles without understanding that the words they read meant something diametrically opposite. This is one of the curious facts regarding human mind—“it can see only that which corresponds with current opinion, and failing to see what is opposed to it.”
Many miracles happened during some revivals: the deaf heard, the blind saw, tumours destroyed, all kinds of sickness disintegrated by the fire of the Spirit. This is followed by an outburst of joy through assurance of pardon and cleansing, with peace of heart and eagerness to serve—a transformation in the morals of the individuals and congregations, who are touched with cleansing fire from above. Sickness of sin overcomes the human heart. Unsatisfied and empty, men turn from seeking after vanities to seek the living God. The movement leads to a deepened sense of sin.
The splendid imagery of Isaiah becomes true. “The mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field clap their hands” (Isa.55:12). Like in the Early Church, “they eat their bread with abounding gladness and singleness of heart” (Acts 2:46).
Revivals are recurrent, not continuous. Times of declension are sure to come in the form of widespread secularism. There comes a profound sense of dissatisfaction, both to believers and local churches. Nobody but God can begin to tell when a long awaited revival will begin, what form it will assume, or how long it will continue at the crest. “It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7). “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Eccl.3:1).
Revival profoundly affects large masses of the community. A people whose hearts are changed by the Gospel can transform society. The greatest influence is on the poor, and on those whom the churches have neglected. Every revival goes back to apostolic simplicity and to the spirit of the Early Church.
In the providence of God, revival comes through the leadership of a person whom He has called and equipped for this work of grace. The rise and progress of revival seems to have depended mainly on the personality and leadership of one man, chosen and blessed of God, to become a voice for God in the midst of “a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil.2:15).
Isaiah (700 BC) was different from Paul (approx. 10-68). Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) had little in common with Luther (1483-1546). Savonarola (1452-1498) was different from Wesley (1703-1791). However, each one of them had unshakable faith in God, an overwhelming sense of the call of God for great service, great faith in the power of God to move mountains and a determination to do the work he was called to do.
However, we should never lose sight of the fact that the purpose of revival is to make God, not men, famous; not to focus the eyes of the people upon human leaders, but upon the Divine Leader; to give glory not to great men, but to the great Saviour.
There is a time limit for every revival. Every revival in the past was temporary. Barely has the revival outrun the span of a generation. Luther set the limit at thirty years; Isaac Taylor at fifty years. It spends its strength and recedes. Few things in life are more pathetic than the swiftness with which the good gets tarnished or corrupted. Billy Sunday remarked, “They tell me, a revival is only temporary; so is a bath, but it does you good.”
No one pretends that it is well with the church today. In these dark days, unbelief holds the field while the feeble church, without the strength to resist, sits in humiliating impotence. The church has lost its spiritual power and has opened its heart to the world. The outward duties of religion continue to be performed with the old regularity, sometimes with increased vehemence to make up for the decreased sincerity. The Spirit is lacking. The praises are of the lips. The sacrifices are without the incense of a broken and contrite heart. The whole body of the church is permeated with worldliness. Preachers continue to use the same old words, but without the convincing and converting power; they have become the mere jargon of the pulpit. Insincerity makes the message halting and unredeeming. The door is open for grave abuses, divorcing religion from morality. The church has become depleted, self-seeking and worldly. Its influence over its members is used to enhance worldly comforts. Worship is reduced to coldness and formality.
Those who minister in the church have become worldly. The love of wealth, ease and power overrules. Desire for possessions has become the supreme passion of life. People have lost the power to enjoy what they possess. Man can no longer be trusted. Murder and incest, lust and cruelty haunt the mansions of the great and the hovels of the poor. Religion, emptied of its spiritual contents, becomes a worship of externals. People have become bankrupt of spiritual discernment. Clergy has become lethargic. The prophets “strengthen the hands of evil-doers so that no one turns back from his wickedness” (Jer.23:14). Religion is de-spiritualised. Christian festivals have become occasions for drunken revelry, with record breaking liquor sales. In the words of the prophet Micah, “Her heads judge for a bribe, her priests teach for pay, her prophets divine for money, yet they lean on the Lord, and say, ‘Is not the Lord among us? No harm can come upon us’” (Mic.3:11).
The churches are frantically trying to stitch the veil, torn at the death of Christ from top to bottom, making it difficult to accept the Biblical teaching regarding the priesthood of believers (1Pet.2:9). Men are more intent in proving the doctrines of the church than in living them. The good ship, terribly overloaded with worldliness and apathy, is steered badly.
When the light in the church is darkness, then how great is that darkness! The church has become worldly, selfish, Christ-less. However, within the church there are many who have not bowed the knee to Baal, who mourn the loss of spiritual power and have not ceased to pray earnestly for revival. When the night is at its darkest, the dawn is on the way, may we hope.
The church of Jesus Christ won the hearts of the poor in the early days, not with her pomp, worldly power, possessions, culture or education. Instead, it was by her evangelical fervour, allied with love. “A religious awakening that does not awaken the sleeper to love has roused him in vain.” By no other gift can she ever win the masses, even in the 21st century. The earlier we realise this, the better.
So, let us pray: “O Lord, revive Your works here in the home church, and let the revival begin with me.” “O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy” (Hab.3:2).