Volume 24 | Number 6 | July 1996

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Observers of Sufferers

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Observers of Sufferers

A Treatise on Revival: Part Two

By Dr. H. T. Spence

Part Two

The month of July brings us to a cyclical reminder of the birth of our nation in 1776. Historians from a variety of philosophical backgrounds have written volumes of publications presenting their views of what influenced or provoked the birth of this beloved country. Certainly a number of views of history have proven to be true, and yet there are other views (increasingly so) which are inaccurate and simply become an outlet to the prejudicial mind and heart of the writer. But there is one influence upon the birth of our nation that stands above them all and cannot be contradicted: The direct influence of "God" and His workings of revivals and awakenings during the time of our birth.

The First Great Awakening (1740-45) proved to be of great influence as the Protestant Reformation did in many areas in the sixteenth century. In America providence used this movement of God to form a national consciousness among people of different colonies whose primary ties were with Europe rather than with one another. It definitely reinforced the strong conviction among many in the colonies that God had a special destiny in store for America; it also developed a sense of cohesiveness among the people. Time and a tonnage of written disinformation has erased the fact that Whitefield, Tennent, and Edwards were rallying names for Americans thirty years before Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and Samuel Adams became the familiar household names. These former men, through their preaching, strongly affected the colonies in those early years: such as the moral character of America; the rejuvenation of higher education and the founding of colleges; the birth of the missionary spirit, especially to the Indians; the heightening of the roles of both the clergy and laity which had fallen into an ill-favored reputation. It brought about a call to the colonies for a greater need of dignity and respect for life and the proper, biblical concern for society. (This latter observation has become distorted and misunderstood today: The Revivalists and Awakeners did NOT see themselves as reformers of society structure. Most were silent on the social ills, concentrating their efforts on spiritual conditions of men. Finney did much for the cause of abolition but did not view himself as a reformer in it. George Whitefield, 1740-1790, accepted slavery and did not preach or work against it, although he did strongly attack the cruelty of some slave owners as "masters of barbarity.")

But it must be kept in mind that revivals and awakenings in national history were periodic restoration of God's people after a time of great indifference and decline. This principle is firmly taught in the Word of God as we see leading up to the revivals in the days of Asa, Jehoash, Hezekiah, Josiah, Zerubbabel, Nehemiah and others. Revivals or awakenings do bring advancements to a nation; but, as Solomon Stoddard stated, there are declines which follow the awakening, and much of the decline is the result of excesses that appeared from enthusiasts led by their own self-conceit and authority. Jonathan Edwards stated during the First Great Awakening:

If we look back into the history of the Church of God in past ages, we may observe that it has been a common device of the Devil, to overset a revival of religion, when he finds he can keep men quiet and secure no longer, then to drive them into excesses and extravagances. He holds them back as long as he can: but when he can do it no longer, then he will push them on, and if possible, run them upon their heads. And it has been chiefly that he has been successful in several instances to overthrow most hopeful and promising beginnings: Yea, the principle means by which the Devil was successful, by degrees, to overset that great religious revival of the world, that was in the primitive ages of Christianity: and in a manner to overthrow the Christian church through the earth, and to make way for, and bring on the grand anti-Christian apostasy, that masterpiece of all the Devil's work, was to improve the indiscreet zeal of Christians, to drive them into those three extremes of Enthusiasm, Superstition, and Severity towards opposers, which should be enough for an everlasting warning to the Christian Church. And though the Devil will do his diligence to stir up the open enemies of religion, yet he knows what is his interest so well, that in a time of revival of religion, his main strength shall be tried with the friends of it, and he will chiefly exert himself in his attempts upon them to mislead them. One truly zealous person, in the time of such an event, that seems to have a great hand in the affair, and draws the eye of many upon him, may do more (through Satan's being too subtle for him) to hinder the work than a hundred great, and strong, and open opposers.

History seems to prove similar patterns that emerge in the coming of great awakenings to a nation, community, or church. The first of these patterns: revival is usually preceded by a time of spiritual depression, apathy, and gross sin, in which the great majority of nominal Christians are hardly different in their life-styles from members of secular society.

Another pattern which emerges is that when this happens an individual or small group of God's people become conscious of their sins and backslidden condition, and vows to forsake all that is displeasing to God. Such people recall past outpourings of God's grace and power, and long for such in their own lives for godly living. When the histories of revivals have been written later, it was discovered that individuals at great distances and completely unknown to each other had, prior to the awakening, been praying simultaneously to the same end. (A note of interest: twenty-one families entered into a covenant of prayer in Germany in 1383 to pray every day for God to visit their country with a spiritual awakening. The last of these families concluded this one hundred year prayer chain in 1483, the year Martin Luther was born.)

A third pattern which surfaces is found in the fact that when a time comes that a few Christians begin to yearn for a manifestation of God's power in their lives, one or more leaders arise in God's providence with prophetic insights into the causes and remedies of the problems. When such leaders arise to speak they proclaim the standard of biblical holiness that exposes the ungodliness of the age, and call God's people to a quest for God's holiness in their lives.

A fourth emerging pattern is that when the previous patterns occur the awakening of Christians occur; and this awakening is to an understanding and an appropriation of a deeper, spiritual life.

But it must be fully acknowledged, in the study of revivals and awakenings, that the evangelizing of the unsaved may or MAY NOT be concurrent with this awakening of the Christians. Carefully note the history of the Protestant Reformation: the bringing of salvation to those outside the church was NOT a paramount issue, but it was the dissemination of Scriptural doctrine. The prominent "Neo" leaders of our day, including the interpretation of "revival" by a number of Fundamentalists, make the terms "revivalism" and "evangelism" synonymous, which is NOT true. Yes, perhaps unsaved people may come to accept Christ in a genuine move of God's Spirit. But if a society has been "cluttered" with the Gospel of Christianity for a long period of time (though perverted as it may be), evangelism may not be the central thrust of God's revival workings. If one would study the Welsh Revival in 1902-05, most of the people of Wales considered themselves regenerated. "Revival" or an "Awakening" is primarily for God's people, although there may be conversions of those who do not identify themselves with Christ.

But a final observation in history seems to indicate that an awakening or revival is God's way to prepare and strengthen His people for imminent or future challenges, sufferings, or severe trials. History has proven this time and time again as such awakenings were often antecedent to persecutions and severe tests as yet unseen, that were to come and winnow God's people.

America, in spite of its claim of the "Christian Religion" is in the worst condition of its history. Christian Liberalism, Neo-Evangelicalism, and the Charismatics surface in the media with equal, professional productions and capital as the secular, mega media. Yes, they even cry aloud that today's religion is the Fourth Great Awakening in America. The public, American Christianity (especially the conservative Neo-Evangelicals) acknowledge national sins, degeneration of society, the failures of home and government, but our country is void among the public preachers of a prophet's voice for true awakening to God and biblical righteousness. We are simply in an awakening to "religion."

The deep perversion of Christianity among its popular spokespersons across our country today has woven itself in a permanent fashion with whatever true Gospel is known by the public. Because of this, though I pray for my country regularly, I see no hope of a national revival or awakening in America. I respect anyone who is looking to God for such a revival, but there is a point where the wound of a nation is incurrable (Micah 1:9a). But I do see the hope of revival for a local church or family. Though debauchery and sin were rampant in days of the First Awakening, there was still a sanity of thinking concerning "God" which is no longer in our society. For America has become the religious melting-pot of the world; even the old Eastern Religions have been Americanized and eclectically merged with Christi-anity. The public understanding of the genuine God of heaven is no longer evident. Perhaps it is irretrievably lost until the Lord returns to set up His Kingdom.

The local churches and homes desperately need a voice to arise and given a biblical treatise on revival, so that God's people will see the cost of a personal revival or awakening. Otherwise, the term will fall into a sham and become another collectible piece in the conquest of the Neo's.