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What is revival? It is another dimension, in which tremendous things happen and God¬ís people are at last moved. William B. Sprague summarized some of its major aspects and manifestations as follows:
1. There is a revival of scriptural knowledge -- People really come to know their Bibles and, when they pray, a wealth of scriptural passages and verses weave through their prayers. Compare this to the poverty that there is in our prayer life today. During times of revival almost every other sentence would probably contain some Scripture. The revival of scriptural knowledge would also mean its application in people¬ís lives. A knowledge of the promises of God would be used in order that those promises be claimed.
2. There is a revival of vital piety -- By this is meant not just pietism--in a sense that would be obnoxious--but rather true godliness: godly men and women clearly identifiable, found throughout all congregations in the various towns and regions in which we live.
3. There is a revival of practical obedience -- People say that revival is impractical and other-worldly, but of course, it is not. Revival brings an abundance of change to every avenue of society: improvements, blessings, side-effects, which are by-products of the one central movement. You cannot begin by improving the periphery, you must begin with God. You start at the center in order to see the results spread eventually to the corners. It is then that people¬ís lives are healed. It is then that those people who had never previously considered God find themselves seeking a place of worship. This is revival....
Incidents of Revival
The incidents recorded are very, very many. Let us take an example from the 1859 Revival in Northern Ireland. One particularly memorable experience is described as follows: "We had been praying for and expecting some such precious blessing, but were, notwithstanding, taken by surprise, so sudden, powerful, and extraordinary were the manifestations of the Spirit¬ís presence. Persons of every shade of temperament and character were mysteriously affected, overpowered, prostrated, and made to pour out the most thrilling, agonizing cries for mercy. Most of those thus impressed and awakened found peace and comfort in a very short space of time, and then their countenances shone with sweetness and glory beyond description.
"Very many of them received a marvelous fluency and power of prayer. A hatred of sin, a love for the Saviour, a zeal for His cause, an affection for one another, and an anxiety about perishing sinners took absolute possession of their hearts and literally ruled and governed their actions. For about six weeks, almost all agricultural operations and, indeed, every kind of secular employment was suspended, no man being able to think of or to attend to anything but the interests of his soul. Night and day the sound of praise and prayer never ceased to float upon the air.
"An overwhelming sense of awe and terror held in check the boldest sinners, while thousands who till now had lived as if eternity was a fiction seemed now for the first time to realize its truth and presence, and to feel as if the end of all things was at hand. I should say about one thousand people were suddenly, sensibly and powerfully impressed and awakened."
Let me take an incident from the 1859 revival in Wales. At one particular time during that revival, everywhere in the immediate district surrounding the town of Dolgellau, there were people rejoicing and praising, singing and, during the meetings, filling all the chapels. Dolgellau town itself, however, still remained as dead as could be, even though its chapels also were full of people pleading, praying, and agonizing.
What eventually happened? The deadlock in the end was broken by children! The account given was that one night they decided to sneak out of bed, somehow managing to get the key to the minister¬ís vestry, the inner sanctum, a place forbidden to children in a time when elders were elders! They proceeded to put papers over the windows and in the keyholes so that no one would catch them. They then lit a candle and began to pray. What should they do? They felt terrible that revival had not come to their town and began to plead with God.
The eldest, who was only twelve, led with the words [in Welsh] "Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come..." It was the only prayer he knew, in response to which, nevertheless, God did indeed come! The children had crept gingerly through the cemetery, terrified of every grave, but now they flung open the doors and windows, jumping and leaping over the gravestones as they went out. As they did so, the people of Dolgellau came to meet them, proclaiming, "He has come!"
Such is what happens in revival! Can you try a little to comprehend the totally different dimension that is thereby involved? Such a thing as this cannot be organized in any way whatsoever. You cannot suddenly decide to rush out of the house at twelve-thirty a.m. and say, "He has come!" It just does not happen like that. It is rather, indeed, it has to be, therefore, a spontaneous, glorious, supernatural event, being no less than an actual visitation from God Himself.
Oh, for Such a Visitation Today!
Oh, that we in this present generation might be caught up in such a visitation at least once before our era draws to a close! Meanwhile, our solemn duty is to preach the Gospel. Preacher of God, preacher of the Word, you must preach the blood, the forgiveness of sins, repentance and faith. But above all else, God wants watchmen who will prevail in prayer, congregations, also, that know how to pray, how to pray through vital issues concerning life and death and the salvation of souls. What God wants are congregations that know how to pray for their pastors that they be given enabling power to succeed in the work that God has given them.
How do we begin to pray along such lines? Most importantly, pray first of all that there might be not only a sense of the presence of God but also that the minister might be able to bear it. Tackle these things on a spiritual level. Begin to pray on a higher dimension.
It is so easy to look at the present need and say, "Revival? It has been such a long time, and the tide has gone out so far. Surely it will never come back in again. This is an advanced century: the age of the video, television, and computers. The tide has gone out too far, and it will go out still further; sin will become bolder; heresy and confusion will reign supreme. The world already behaves as if God were dead and His children forsaken. Can we still believe that it is God¬ís intention not to leave us desolate, that we are indeed the delight of His soul, and that He desires for us to be revived from the very depth of His innermost being, far more so than that degree which we desire for ourselves?" What is our verdict in these things?
It is so easy to relax and rock away in our evangelical rocking chairs. Do you have an evangelical rocking chair? Do you know all your doctrines, and are you content that you are sound, perfectly and wonderfully sound? The chair is sound, and you are rocking beautifully. You have read, chewed, and swallowed Berkhof¬ís Systematic Theology, digested perhaps twenty-two volumes of Calvin, along with a host of others! Very good, you should not be ignorant, but how can we rock so comfortably amidst all our knowledge and still not apply it?
In contrast, there is also the experimental rocking chair. "I was in such a place, and I experienced this, that, and the other, and now I am so contented, satisfied, and comfortable that I can hardly make a move at all." Present-day Christian believer, we must cease to rock. We must get out of our chairs and get on our knees before God. Of course, we must honor the doctrines, and there are also many experiences which will remain to us always precious. But beware! Beware of presumption and sloth! Beware also of that which awaits you if you do begin to awake from your slumbers!
Once you come to that place where you know God can intervene and you are determined to be both evangelical and spiritual, it is then that your adversary the devil will begin to take notice. Be prepared for this. He may well whisper in your ear, "All this is just Welsh sentiment--1904 and all that." Take heed, for the devil, as always, is a liar. In this he lies: he lies for the simple reason that revivals are not exclusively Welsh preserves; still less are they "past it" in terms of the wider world historical perspective. On the contrary, revivals are still going on today in many different locations across the globe, and if the Lord tarries, there will surely be more.
Yet we must recognize that there is an adversary, Satan, who does not want the people of these islands to begin again to worship God. Satan does not want people to honor God in their everyday pursuits, so as to begin to affect and permeate society. He will do everything he can to persuade us that these things are impractical in our century, saying that God will have a more intellectual or mechanical way of working, using the talents, gifts, and machinery that men have today. We must not listen to him.
Revival has always been, and still remains, God¬ís essential tool for moving the hearts of men. Revival changes lives; it changes history. It is the vision without which the people perish (Proverbs 29:18).