I recently finished reading a wonderful and thought-provoking book by Iain Murray entitled, Revival and Revivalism. It chronicles some of the church history of the late 1700s and early 1800’s including some of the aspects of the Great Awakenings in New England. Being in pastoral ministry in New England for 18 years, my burden for the lost souls of New England has grown, but so has my burden for God’s people in New England. There is a real need for existing believers to be revived in our hearts, to be busy in disciple-making, and to grow deeper in our pursuit of practical holiness.
But a question that must be addressed is this, “how can/does this happen?” For instance, the psalmist asked God in Psalm 85:6, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” He was crying out for what we would call revival. To re-engage in a growing, thriving, vibrant life lived with God, leading to a joyful countenance in God, is what this passage is talking about.
So, can this kind of revival be manufactured by human means? Or is this something that God does according to his own good pleasure? That is an important question to consider. This was a very controversial subject, particularly in the early parts of the 1800s, as Murray chronicles. Were the Great Awakenings manufactured by human means? I don’t think we could rightly say so. Those were manifestations of God’s Holy Spirit pressing on people’s hearts in a mighty way, not usually seen. There were no emotional, manipulative appeals made, no “working the crowds” with some kind of technical or musical mechanism. What God used was the foolishness of preaching and the prayer of God’s people.
As the 1800s progressed, other thoughts arose, perhaps with good intentions, that if these revivals were what God wanted, then we should strive to have them all the time. So certain preachers, like Finney, believed that revival could be manufactured through certain means. These new methods caused great concern with others who saw the working of God’s Spirit in a mighty way with lasting effects, while these new methods produced a lot of high energy meetings with shallow and seemingly superficial effects.
Why is this important? New England is about two centuries or so removed from these Great Awakenings. They were a time when entire cities would shut down for prayer; when God’s people were impressed greatly with the glory and greatness of God and subsequently of their own sinfulness; and when many lost people came to saving faith in Christ as a result. There was no huge fanfare or prediction of when it would happen, only a humble prayer for God to work mightily in people’s hearts coupled with the faithful and fervent preaching of God’s Word.
O that New England Christians would return to this kind of mindset! O that we would be sobered by the gravity of our spiritual situation and the depravity of our own hearts! O that we would have eyes to see the grandness and glory of our all-mighty God! O that God would revive his people again, so that they would be filled with joy in him!
This cannot be manufactured, manipulated, or scheduled on our church calendars. It must be prayed for with a sobriety, with a dependency, with a humility that goes beyond what many are familiar with, or even willing to admit. This must start with individual Christians who are serious about their own need for the Holy Spirit’s impression upon them, guidance of them, and control over them on a daily, hourly, and moment-by-moment basis. We must pray. We must seek God’s face. As preachers, we must faithfully preach the Word of God. Yet, as church members, we must listen and heed the Word of God faithfully as well.
This is New England’s need. This is the need of every state in our nation. This is the need of every country of our globe. May God’s people pray. May God’s preachers preach. May the winds of God’s Spirit move mightily through our churches. May the lost see our distinction as God’s people and sober-mindedness in this world and be saved through the proclamation of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. And May the glory of God be in the forefronts of our minds, both now, and forever more. Amen.