Revivalism is the Protestant movement concerned with the conversion and salvation of the individual and includes the attempt to appeal to the masses on behalf of Christ. This term refers to strains of 17th and 18th century strands of Anabaptism, Puritanism and Pietism, which stressed personal religious experience, the ideal of a holy life and the priesthood of all believers. It was set against the spiritual lukewarmness and sacramentalism of the established churches of the day. Yet, sadly, what began as revival degenerated into “revivalism” as we know it today.
Second Awakening revivalist and Oberlin professor Charles Finney claimed that revival of religion suggests first a declension: “It presupposes that the Church is sunk down in a backslidden state and a revival consists in the return of the Church from her backslidings, and the conversion of sinners … ” Revival brings fresh impulses to the saints in a new beginning before God. The charm of the world is broken and the power of sin is overcome by the power of the cross. Believers enjoy a new foretaste of heaven and have new desires for union with God. The worst of human beings are softened and transformed into the beauty of holiness.
For all this to occur, the Church first needs to repent and be reformed by the power of God.
What is Revival?
In our day the term revival is greatly misunderstood. To some it is merely the holding of evangelistic meetings; to others it means the restoration of backsliders. But these are the by-products of revival, not revival itself. William Sprague said that revival occurs when religion rises from depression to life and strength and Christians are more faithful in their obligations. G.J. Morgan called it “reviving humanity … to the sense of God … to reanimate the life of the believer, not the regenerate.” Arthur Wallis defined revival as “God revealing Himself to man in awful power and holiness.” Finney spoke of it also as a new beginning before God, a breaking down of heart, a getting down into the dust before God with deep humility and a forsaking of sin. Jonathan Edwards described it as “the goings of God.”
According to J. Edwin Orr, the best definition of revival lies in Acts 3:19: a “time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.” Our spiritual deadness must be reanimated, our declension reversed as we pray with Isaiah, “O, that you would rend the heavens and come down … ” (64:1-3). Second Chronicles 28–29 indicates what must be attended to if revival is to come to the house of God:
- The abused holy things must be restored and the way of access reopened to God (28:24)
- The quenched lamps of testimony must be relit (29:7)
- The incense of prayer must ascend once again (29:7)
- We must return to the sincere worship of God (29:6)
Revival holds back God’s anger, according to Psalm 85:5-6. The Lord who walks among the lampstands (Rev. 2:1-5) searches our hearts about non-attendance at necessary worship (Heb. 10:25), unreliability of service (1 Cor. 4:2) and unholiness of heart and life (1 Thess. 4:7, 1 Peter 4:17). “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense – Jesus Christ the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).
To all who seek Him, He will disclose His lovely face and quicken all our drooping powers. Too often we are like Absalom, who did not see the face of his father for three years (2 Sam. 13:38). How long has it been since you walked and talked with the Lord? He alone “makes His face to shine upon you” (Num. 6:24-26).
In revival we become aware of God’s grace (Rom. 6:14): “You are not under law, but under grace.” Legalism and censoriousness are dealt a deathblow. “We back up the hearse,” as Bud Robinson used to say, “load up carnality and cart it away!”
Revival also makes us aware of God’s pace . By that I mean we learn to distinguish between the voice of God and the voice of Satan. The loud feverishness of Satan’s demands gives way to the “still, small voice.” Satan’s driving gives way to God’s leading—the vague generalities of Satan yield to the specifics of the known will of God. The “I want” of our lower instincts becomes the “I ought” of the higher Christian life. Revival bringsthe stilling of the heart: “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, Mark 4:39).
Beginning with the Book of Acts, the history of the Church is a history of revival. Those 28 thrilling chapters abound in instances of God breaking supernaturally into the ordinary affairs of men. Central to multiple conversions and the manifestation of spiritual power was the person and work of the Holy Spirit. By 200 AD, Tertullian could write, “We have filled all quarters of the world.”
Sixty years later the historian Eusebius told of people flocking to the religion of Christ, with pagan altars deserted and the cultic mystery religions virtually put out of business.
Patrick (A.D. 395 – 493), the ”apostle of Ireland,” said that “I was reformed by the Lord that I should concern myself for the salvation of others.” Columba and others in the spirit of revival founded churches, schools and monasteries. We ”swarmed like flies,” declared Augustine of Canterbury, “into the dark places of heathen Europe.” In the 12th century, the Waldenses, for whom “every rock was a monument,” prepared the way for the Bohemian Revival in which John Huss was martyred.
A new emphasis on the Bible and preaching sprang from the 15th century Lollards (preachers) under John Wyclif. At the heart of the revival was “making known the Scripture.” John Savonarola, unprecedented as a preacher, changed the very face of the corrupt city of Florence so that even the Sultan of Turkey ordered his sermons to be translated into Turkish! Savonarola’s aim was simple: “to be a regenerator of religion.”
During the Reformation Martin Luther was used by God to free millions from spiritual bondage, much of it through his prayers, study of the Word of God and an emphasis on strong doctrine. John Calvin was converted by reading the Bible and led a revival in Geneva which caused the taverns and bars to close down. John Knox, mighty in prayer, changed the face of history in Scotland in 1559. “O Lord,” he prayed incessantly, “give me Scotland or I die!” God gave him Scotland!
In the mid-17th century, with thousands adrift from the Church, George Fox heard a voice declare, “There is one, even Jesus Christ, that can speak to thy condition.” He yielded his life to Jesus, stressing prayer, the Bible and the “inner light,” and founded the Quakers (Society of Friends), which influenced The Salvation Army.
We could go on to describe the “Methodist Pentecost” which began, at a love feast in Fetter Lane, London on January 1, 1739, but was itself preceded by the Moravian Revival under Count von Zinzendorf. Their “bands” underlined the settling of differences and disputes and the ever–burning flame of prayer. Jonathan Edwards helped to bring in the Great Awakening in America in 1735 with a new emphasis on family life and the Lord’s Day when “the goings of God” were discerned in His sanctuary. And so the movement continued through Whitefield, Asbury and Finney with an emphasis on being “endued with power from on high” and “constant fillings” of the Holy Spirit. And Finney was a huge influence on Catherine Booth. Revival fires burned on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Role of The Salvation Army
The Army was born in the superheated fires of revival, coming into being through obedience, dedication and holy courage. It arose out of the Home Mission of the Second Evangelical Awakening in 1859, known as the “Year of the Right Hand of the Most High.” William Allen wrote of “the amazing growth and worldwide ministry of The Salvation Army” and “the spiritual causes of this revival of religion. ” The heart of William Booth, a 16–year–old pawnbroker’s apprentice, was cleansed by the blood and filled with Holy Spirit fire until “Blood and Fire” became less a motto and more a way of life. There were more spiritual luminaries in one square yard of Salvation Army sky, claims one biographer, than in the century span of many other organizations. Yet we may rightly question this in the today’s climate of spiritual declension. How are the mighty fallen and the fallen become mighty!
Revival has motivated Salvationists in every country and territory. In South Africa, early Salvationists were cast into prison, but revival broke out in the jails! The individual foot–soldiers of Methodism led to the shock troops of Salvationism as men and women lived, sacrificed and died for the sake of the Gospel. Holiness blazed from our banners and prayers and tears were our meat and drink. Vibrant testimonies blistered our lips and knee drills were crowded with earnest, believing prayers. But what of today? That sovereign, sudden, searching work of God (Hab. 3:2-6) appears to be missing except in isolated pockets of “old-fashioned” resistance to post-modern theologies with the emphasis on “bricks, budgets and bucks.”
Are we content with a “baptized” self-indulgence, our identity blurred by a pseudo-gospel which equates divine approval with affluence? Have we forgotten the meaning of practical holiness with its moral obligation to reach the socially poor and the spiritually lost? Are we marked by a Christian character that will stand the test of the Judgment Seat (1 Cor. 3, 2 Cor. 5)?
Duncan Campbell tells the story of the Lewis Revival on that Scottish island in 1947. At one meeting where the heavens appeared to be as brass, an old deacon prayed in a climate of unusual spiritual hardness, “Lord, you promised to pour out floods of water on the dry ground … and you’re not doing it!” This was followed by a silence and then he prayed again, “Lord, I challenge you to now honor your word!” Then, said Campbell, that great building, made of granite, shook like a leaf and people all over the village were calling on the Lord to save them! That is the revival that we need! And it is gloriously possible.
The Way Forward
Revivalist Leonard Ravenhill suggested that the way forward, among other things, required less playing and more praying, less feasting and more fasting, less profession and more possession, less popularity and more persecution, less lust and more trust. To be revived we need a divine discontent, a homesickness for holiness, for revival will only come when we are desperate, when we no longer trust in religious organization or political correctness, in material prosperity and popular preaching that tickles the ear. We need to stand before the Lord in our true state, “poor, miserable and blind,” desperate for revival.
The secret of William Booth was not merely that he laid all on the altar, but that he never took it back! There must be a return to simplicity, to New Testament study and methods, with the Bible as the model for service. Our focal point must again be the preaching of the cross, the priority of the salvation of Christ as man’s greatest need. Speculative theology and cold orthodoxy must be put aside.
Then will “the Lord turn again the captivity of Zion … our mouths filled with laughter, and our tongues with singing: then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them …” (Psalm 126:1-6).
O Holy Ghost, revival
comes from Thee,
Send a revival, start the work in me;
Thy word declares Thou
wilt supply our need,
For blessing now, O Lord,
I humbly plead
By Colonel Brian Tuck