Volume 49 | Number 5 | November–December 2021

Inglés Español

The Beginnings of Revival (Reprint)

By Dr. H. T. Spence

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land (2 Chron. 7:14).

One of the things affecting revival throughout history has been the variety of views of theology. Some theological systems do not allow the seeking or praying for revival and sometimes even the existence of revival itself. We’ve heard the statement, “If God wants to send us a revival He will; it is totally left up to Sovereignty.” With such thinking there is no praying for or desiring for revival in the life or in the church.

The truth of biblical revival is tied up in a paradox; a paradox is two seeming opposites molded together into one principle, bringing about a balance of both. We tend to think that Sovereignty and human responsibility are dialectic in nature, and as light and darkness cannot be brought together. Rather than dialectic, in reality they are paradoxical. Notice in the following passages of Scripture how two seeming opposites are molded together into one principle, thus bringing about a balance of both:

John 6:44 states, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” This is emphatically true and cannot be undermined. Then John 5:40 states, “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life,” or “ye do not will to come.”

Jeremiah 29:10 records that God sovereignly appointed seventy years for the Babylonian captivity. Yet in Jeremiah 29:12–14a, near the end of the captivity, the Lord said, “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, saith the Lord: and I will turn away your captivity.” Daniel came to understand sovereignty’s appointment in Daniel 9, by reading books such as Jeremiah’s writing. Following this understanding, then Daniel said, “And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (9:3).

In Acts 27:22 the Lord tells the apostle Paul, “And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship.” This was sovereignty’s appointment. Then in 27:31 Paul commands, “Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.” All of these examples express the harmony of a biblical paradox.

The Effects of the Reformation

Pelagianism and Augustinianism are two important theologies that arose in the fourth and fifth centuries affecting the theology of the Church down through history. Both concern a view of the depravity of man.

Pelagius (Latin name, Morgantoo) was a British monk who was a friend to Augustine and Jerome (of the famous Latin Vulgate Bible). In his early 50s he gave to the Christian world the theological belief of what has come to be known as Pelagianism. In his childhood he was a perfect and model child for his parents. He lived in a Christian atmosphere all his life. From this natural “perfect” life, he concluded that man was born well—without sin. His theology birthed the belief that the sin of Adam only affected Adam and none other, and that all children are conceived well and only need a Saviour if they personally sin.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, strongly reacted to this growing theology of his friend and denounced it. His early life was not like that of Pelagius. Although Augustine had a godly mother, he lived a reckless life filled with deep sin. He did not come to profess the Christ until his mid-30s. Considering his past life in light of the Scriptures, he concluded that man was born depraved, dead in sin; therefore, all men needed redemption.

During the early days of the Reformation a newer view slipped in between Pelagianism and Augustinianism known as Covenant Theology. Covenant Theology suggested that the children of Christians grew up into a saving knowledge of Christ, entering their prime life as Christians. This approach was embraced in order to keep the children from eventually leaving and becoming Romanists. These children were baptized in infancy, acknowledging they were a part of the visible Church, the Kingdom of God on earth. There then followed an “age of discretion” (or an age of accountability) at which time children were required to make their own confession of personal conversion if they were to attain full communicant status.

As Protestantism came to its third and fourth generations, especially here in America, an increased number of adults could not qualify for communicant status. The parents did not perceive in their children what the first generation saw in their offspring. In fact, some of the children when reaching adulthood left the church altogether. Others who continued in the church without a profession still wanted their children to be baptized. To accommodate this enigma in their theological system these American Covenanters passed in 1662 what was known as the “Half-Way Covenant.” This concept became a part of Covenant Theology. Such a compromise brought great destruction to spirituality in the churches of New England.

Solomon Stoddard of Northampton

In the providence of God, Solomon Stoddard (1643–1729) became the pastor at Northampton, Massachusetts. During his ministry he observed how the Half-Way Covenant was destroying the churches of New England. With prayerful burden before the Lord, he realized something needed to be done. His readings of past revivals drew him to the awakenings that came to Scotland in 1596 and later in 1625-30 at the parish of Stewarton. These brought hope to his heart that God could also work in his church and in New England.

Stoddard’s church at Northampton was started in 1661 under Rev. Eleazer Mather. After Stoddard came to assist, Mather died. Stoddard then married Mather’s widow and began a pastorate that lasted sixty years. He preached so strongly that people in the Connecticut Valley called him “Pope” Stoddard. But after God sent some five revivals to the area, the people grew to deeply love him.

Solomon Stoddard finally abandoned the Half-Way Covenant. He opened communion to any professing Christian, stating that only God knew who was truly regenerated. Another important change did not require new converts to have come from a Christian home. He believed that if a person were present for the communion and the preaching of the Word, he could be helped toward the moment when grace would enter his heart. He believed there were two stages for preparation: humiliation and contrition. These two stages would come, Stoddard believed, if one attended the church.

He told the ministers in the Connecticut Valley that they must preach against all the evil ways that they found in the people; if not, sin would increase among them. In addition, he declared that most people would hate such preaching at the outset because of its condemnation of their sins; however, after conversion they would greatly love the preacher.

How was this preaching to be accomplished? Stoddard gave the preachers several suggestions. They were not to read the manuscript of their sermons. Although he did not request that they preach extemporaneously, he required they know their manuscript well before entering the pulpit. (Stoddard was one of the first men in the New England area who did not read his sermons.) He also exhorted these ministers that they preach with authority: it must hit hard for the “conversion of change.” Stoddard pled that this change must truly be seen in the genuinely converted and that men must be led into the understanding of the evil of their hearts and the strictness of the law before they will be convinced of the preciousness of Christ. Stoddard was thoroughly assured that men were in a deep spiritual sleep and that they tended to flatter themselves as if there was no coming judgment from God or hell. He implored the ministers to give no one rest who was in such a sleep condition; they were to pull them as brands from the burning. And when such individuals were converted, they must be warned of the need of going on with God, for piety is not natural to a people. The minister must press them on their way in Christ!

There were many men of greatness associated with the First Great Awakening in America, such as William Tennett, Gilbert Tennett, George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards. But Solomon Stoddard was the man God used preliminarily among his own Calvinistic, Covenant Theology men. He boldly told his fellow ministers in New England that what they were preaching was not working, that the families were losing their children to the world and still calling them “Christian.” He believed the only hope was for the minister, the man of God, to rise up and call upon God for an awakening among the people and their children. They must “preach” for this awakening and they must “pray” for this awakening.

Then there arose among his peers the reasoning that such awakenings would only come in the Lord’s time. This, they claimed, was a sovereign matter negating the need of such preaching and praying for it. Stoddard truly believed in the Sovereignty of God and that such a move must come from Him, but he came to believe that the clergy and laity could assist in preparing the heart for such a work from heaven.

The Need of Balance in Theology

One of the great weaknesses in the theological systems of Church history is that they are built upon an overemphasis of a certain truth to the neglect of another. They are all “human” systems—only the Bible is divine and infallible. Some systems may be more biblical than others, but they are all built by men. Sometimes they can become an enemy to deepening one’s walk with God. Some systems will have to be altered, if only a little, in order for the acceptance of God’s workings.

It is interesting to note that most of the revivals in later history have been through Calvinist men. Although God used the message of their system that addresses law and grace, in every situation these preachers had to alter their preaching by calling the people to accept, to repent, to believe, and to yield—all matters of human responsibility. The paradox may be denied in the system, but it will come out in the practical burden of the life before the Lord. I have known some precious men who were strong in Reformed Theology but read much among the revivalists. This brought a passion and burning in their living, preaching, and praying that would not otherwise have been found in their system.

One of the great contributions that Solomon Stoddard made in trying to bring a balance in Covenant Theology and Reformed Theology was the matter concerning the Elect. At that time in American history, a growing number of people believed they were not part of the Elect and therefore had no hope for revival or conversion. This belief had become so strong that even ministers were telling certain individuals that they were not a part of the Elect, thus bringing hopelessness to those individuals. But Stoddard, to give hope to these people, taught that Election cannot be known for sure in this life and therefore everyone should respond to the gospel as if they were elected.

Concerning Calvinism’s TULIP acronym, he viewed the perseverance of the saints (P) a knowledge only realized at the end of one’s life. He also declared in the preaching for the awakening that men should have a greater scope in their cooperation with God than Calvinism had traditionally allowed. It must be remembered that up to this point in New England theology, a minister was not to persuade individuals to seek salvation if they were as lost and helpless as Calvinism seemed to decree. The seeming contradiction between Calvinism and Stoddard’s hope of revival was that he insisted upon the unknowability of the Elect. He clung tenaciously to the scriptural doctrine of man’s total inability before God; he also preached that as God draws the individual by His grace and Spirit, that man must come and accept God. The actual granting of the grace was to be found in God’s power alone. This preaching became the breakthrough in Calvinism that opened the door for his grandson Jonathan Edwards, Jonathan Dickinson, and every other revivalist of consequence in the Great Awakening.

Prayer and 2 Chronicles 7:14

Within the context of Solomon’s dedicatory prayer for the new Temple (2 Chron. 6:14—7:22), the English word prayer appears seventeen times. For our English word prayer there are three Hebrew words. The first word tephillah means a “prayer of praise” and appears nine times in this passage. Although the praise of the Charismatic is a false praise due to the fact they are praising in the context of heresy and “another gospel of another kind,” there is the necessity of praise being an integral part of our praying. Unlike Lot’s wife, our prayers should be filled with praise to God for His deliverances in our life and with the evidence that we are deeply appreciative for these deliverances.

A second Hebrew word for prayer is palah and appears seven times. It is the second English word for prayer in 2 Chronicles 6:19. This word means “to judge.” Judgment is also important in our praying: the judging of self, of our sins, of our family, of our church, of the age in which we live, and of the world at this End Time. This judging leads to confession and repentance. Although one could be too severe upon himself in judgment without the consciousness of Christ’s provisions, one must ever be judging pride and any religious self-righteousness. This kind of praying, sadly, is receiving less of an emphasis in public prayer today. The prophets often prayed this palah prayer (see Dan. 9).

The third Hebrew word for prayer is chanan and is found in 6:37. Chanan means “to entreat grace and pity.” Especially amidst palah praying we need chanan praying; this kind of prayer is the hope that God will be gracious to us in both the dealing and forgiveness of that which is confessed and repented of.

It was after Solomon’s prayer that we read in 2 Chronicles 7:12 the Lord “appeared to Solomon by night, and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer, and have chosen this place to myself for an house of sacrifice.” Do we view our church sanctuaries as an appointed place that God has chosen? Do we believe it to be a “House of Prayer”? Do we acknowledge that it is a place of hope for God to do and work among His people? Second Chronicles 7:15 states, “Now mine eyes shall be open, and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place.”

God deals with His people who go back on Him or become apathetic: He tells Solomon in 7:13, “If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people; . . .” God’s words to Solomon speak of three calamities that could affect one’s life. (1) The shutting up heaven (no rain) spiritually represents a time when distance comes between men and God. This is when His people have not known His spiritual presence for a long time; when they have not been refreshed, renewed, revived; when there has been no rain on the soul or on the congregation for a great season of time. (2) The devouring of the locusts is when the believer is no longer experiencing the blessings of God as he once did. (3) The sending of pestilence is when the Christian life becomes barren in the light of what was formerly done for God.

In the devastation of these workings of God upon the spiritually retreating Christian, there comes the promise of 2 Chronicles 7:14:

If my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

This is not a promise to the unregenerate; this is a promise to God’s own people. They must humble themselves: they must bring themselves low and mortify their pride. And they must pray! This Hebrew word is palah! They must honestly judge themselves; they must honestly judge their sins, open and secret. They are not to pray generically, but to specifically judge the failures and sins of their life. Such praying is not found within the churches of our times or the private prayers of individuals. Praying has become too general, too generic, and carefully avoids shame and hurting. These are the days of “self-esteem” praying and the pretense that everything is all right.

Coming out of this deep prayer, there must be the seeking of the face of God, which in Scripture is the Holiness of God. And there must be a turning from our wicked ways! This kind of praying and seeking will only come from a broken and contrite heart, one that has been broken of its stubbornness, rebellion, resistance, and has come to an absolute submission to God and His Word in obedience. It is only then that God’s people will know the “hearing” from heaven, the “forgiveness” of sin, and a “healing” of the life (the land).


Have you been longing for a revival in your heart, in your family, and even in your local church? There must be a beginning to this revival. It will be hard on pride, but the breaking of it truly is the right way for God’s spiritual blessings. The Laodicean Church Age proclaims, “I have need of nothing” (Rev. 3:17). Acknowledgment of the need of revival is the first step. “I am in need of revival; my family is in need; and, my church is in great need of revival.” It is only when the leaders of the Fundamentalist movement, the pastors of local churches, and the presidents of Christian schools go public with the cry, “We are in need of a mighty revival from God,” will we ever enter into the burden of it. Pastors are preaching their programs and their safe sermons, for they are afraid to acknowledge the real condition of their church. As the President of the United States of America must always give a positive “State of the Union” address (otherwise it will reflect badly upon him), so do the leaders of the churches and denominations. We are deeply afraid to acknowledge our spiritual need of God. But this acknowledgment is the beginning of revival.

Let us rise with honesty, let us rise with hope in God, and let us rise with a deep desire for revival and recovery of our churches, schools, and families. It is time for us to acknowledge before God: “We are in need, O God, of revival.” “Turn us again, O God, and cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved” (Ps. 80:3, 7, 19). Thank the Lord that such a benefit is provided in the Atonement of Christ: “He restoreth my soul” (Ps. 23:3a).