And with fire
Messages on Revival
A. Skevington Wood
THE NATURE OF REVIVAL
Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the Lord have created it. Isaiah 45:8
THE definitions of revival are legion. Every book on the subject has supplied its own. But there is unity in this diversity. The many attempts to crystallize the meaning of revival in a single statement represent variations on a theme. There are no serious discrepancies. It is simply that revival is a many-splendoured thing and can no more be confined to a formula than the grace of God.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, revival in the specifically Christian of the term, means the reawakening of religious fervour. John Bonar described it as the exchange of the form of godliness for its living power the coining of life where life has never been, notwithstanding the long and fond profession of it. He amplified that account by adding that, viewed with respect to the Church, revival is a time of newness of life, and reviewed in respect to the world it is a time of multiplied conversions. In the language of Calvin Colton, one of the earliest writers on American revivals, it is the multiplied power of religion over a community of minds, when the Spirit of God awakens Christians to special faith and effort, and brings sinners to repentance. New life bringing a new joy that is a fair description of a revival of religion, declared Dr. John S. Simon, the Methodist historian, on the basis of Psalm 85:6.
The experiences of the day of Pentecost repeat themselves, he continued, and the weary Church finding its lost youth, walks in the morning light of Apostolic days. A revival breaks the power of the world and of sin over Christians, wrote Finney. It brings them to such vantage f ground that they get a fresh impulse toward heaven; they have a new foretaste of heaven, and new desires after union with God; and the charm of the world is broken, and the power of sin overcome. A revival is a voluntary and determined return to first things said Principal John D. Drysdale and a whole-hearted honouring of God as Creator, Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, and the Holy Ghost as our Sanctifier. And to round off this selection, here is D. M. Panton: Revival is (as at Pentecost) the localized presence of Deity, revealing man to himself, and so shaking the soul to its foundations.
These, then, are just a few of the manifold definitions of revival. Each of them throws light upon some aspect that otherwise might have been overlooked. But of course the best and surest guide to the nature of revival is Scripture itself. Here we learn all we need to know on every topic that is essential to Gospel truth, and here therefore we shall expect to discover the fundamental significance of revival. Few of the standard Bible dictionaries do justice to the importance of such an enquiry and there is real need for thorough linguistic research in this field. Within the limits of this present essay we can do no more than mark out the terrain.
It is the Old Testament that provides us with the bulk of our relevant material. Revival is throughout associated with varying forms of the root haya, to live. The general sense of the verb usually (though not uniformly) translated to revive is to quicken, to impart fresh life. That is the implication, for instance, of Ecclesiastes 7:12. The excellence of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it. In Hosea 14:7 it is used with reference to grain, and they shall revive as the corn might be rendered be caused to grow. In 1 Chronicles 11:8 we read And Joab repaired the rest of the city: that affords us with another and pregnant connotation of revival, for the root is the same (cf. Nehemiah 42).
A whole series of usages suggest the idea of recovery or restoration. It may be from discouragement, as in Genesis 45:27 where when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived. It may be from exhaustion, as in Judges 15:19 where Samson, after slaying a thousand men with the jaw-bone of an ass, was sore athirst, but God clave an hollow place that was in the jaw, and there came water thereout; and when he had drunk, his spirit came again, and he revived. It may be from slavery, as in Ezra 9:8 where the priest of the restoration gave thanks to God for granting a little reviving in their bondage.
Often the recovery referred to is from sickness and disease. When the children of Israel had been plagued with fiery serpents in the wilderness, Moses, we are told, made a brazen likeness of the offending creature and lifted it up before the people. And it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived (Numbers 21:9), or, rather, lived again, that is, revived.
A derivative from the same verb is employed in Ahazias enquiry concerning his recovery (2 Kings 1:2), the story of Naamans cleansing from leprosy (2 Kings 5:7), and the prophecy of Elisha about Benhadads restoration (2 Kings 8:10).
On many occasions forms of this selfsame root appear in passages which relate to resuscitation from physical death. This is the distinctive prerogative of the living God. He alone gives life and He alone restores life. The Lord killeth and maketh alive; He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up (1 Samuel 2:6). In this sense cognates of the verb to revive are used to describe the restoration of the Shunammites son and of the man buried in the sepulchre of Elisha (2 Kings 8:5 and 13:21). In the case of the widows child at Zarephath, revival occurred when the soul came into him again (1 Kings 17:22); in the case of the resurrection of dry bones in Ezekiel 37 revival Occurred when the breath came into them (v. 10). The word is found with similar meaning in Hosea 6:2: After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight, no doubt with a veiled Messianic implication. Two other instances clearly fall into this category. The first is an enquiry about personal survival: If a man die, shall he live again? (Job 14:14). The second anticipates the general resurrection: Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they rise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead (Isaiah 26:19).
We are now left with a set of occurrences in the Book of Psalms where this same verb takes on a special tone with reference to spiritual revival, either individual or communal. The note in the Brown, Driver and Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon on this technical signification is most instructive: to revive the people of Jehovah, by Jehovah Himself, with fulness of life in His favour. The first time the Psalmist resorts to this term there is an obvious link with the last class listed above. Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth (Psalm 71:20). Psalm 80:18, 19 is obviously relevant to the revival of Gods people as we understand it nowadays: So will not we go back from Thee: quicken us, and we will call upon Thy name. Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause Thy face to shine: and we shall be saved.
Passing over the familiar 6th verse of Psalm 85, which will form the text of a later chapter, we reach the 119th Psalm which positively teems with examples. To quicken recurs no less than eleven times. In each case the revival involved is personal. Nine times over the Psalmist prays Quicken Thou me. In v. 25 it is Quicken Thou me according to Thy Word. In v. 37 Quicken Thou me in Thy way. In v. 40 Quicken me in Thy righteousness. In v. 88 Quicken me after Thy loving kindness. In v. 107 again Quicken me, O Lord, according to Thy Word. In v. 149 Quicken me according to Thy judgment. In v. 154 yet again Quicken me according to Thy Word. In v. 156 Quicken me according to Thy judgments. And in v. 159 Quicken me according to Thy loving-kindness.
Twice the Psalmist testifies that God has already revived him. This is my comfort in my affliction, for Thy Word hath quickened me (v. 50): I will never forget Thy precepts: for with them Thou hast quickened me (v. 93). This repeated plea for personal revival which runs like a refrain throughout the exceptional length of the 119th Psalm brings a challenge to every believer. It points to the only way of blessing.
Before we pray Revive us, O Lord, each one of us must be ready to ask Revive me, O Lord. Again with the Psalmist, we must make this our petition: Teach me to do Thy will; for Thou art my God: Thy Spirit is good; lead Me into the land of up- rightness. Quicken me, O Lord, for Thy names sake (Psalm 143:10, 11).
A memorable tale is told of those two great stalwarts of God, Dr. F. B. Meyer and Dr. G. Campbell Morgan. They had travelled together to Cardiff in the early days of the Welsh revival of 1904. A fine upstanding policeman was on traffic control duty outside the railway station, so the Doctors of Divinity approached him to ask where the revival was. He put his hand on his heart and with a radiant face he replied, Gentlemen, it is here. That is where revival is to be found. It is no abstraction. God does not waste His matchless energy in vitalising empty space and thin air. His work is done in people: first in His own people and then through them in His lost people. Revival is a quickening of hearts and unless it begins in yours and mine it will never spread.
In the period between the two world wars the Christian Church in China inaugurated a Five Year Plan for advancement. The motto commended to every member was this: Lord, revive Thy Church, beginning from me. That is where revival must always start. The foregoing survey of Old Testament vocabulary has brought us to a sharp realisation of that fact. May we sing the old chorus with a new sincerity:
Lord, send a revival
And let it begin in me.
A similar word study in the New Testament would be equally valuable and instructive. Although the Authorised Version only translates two Greek verbs appearing in three places as to revive the frequency is greater than might be supposed. The word which is used in Romans 7:9 to describe the revival of sin in face of the commandment, and in Romans 14:9 with reference to our Lords return to life from the grave, is also employed in Luke 15:24 where the father of the prodigal announces, For this my son was dead and is alive again. The other verb occurs only in Philippians 4:10 and is originally a gardening term which alludes to the blooming of flowers in springtime.
But if we had time to embark upon an exhaustive examination of the vocabulary of revival in the Scriptures of the New Testament we should have to notice also the numerous instances where the verb rendered to quicken is found in the sacred text. The reader who will consult those passages with a concordance as his guide will be richly repaid. And indeed the entire terminology of the Spirit would have to be surveyed if we were to obtain a comprehensive picture of what the New Testament teaches about the nature of revival. Much of it, however, will be dealt with in further chapters of this book, so we can close the investigation for the present at this point.
We shall now turn to the verse from Isaiah 45 which lies open before us. Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; the Lord have created it. This beautiful passage from the Old Testament Scriptures came by inspiration to one who longed and interceded for revival. Here we have the God-breathed language of one who vehemently desired an increase of genuine piety and who was accustomed to look forward to times of refreshing from the hand of the Lord. Isaiah has been rightly denominated the evangelical prophet and he, more than any other, delighted to describe the shower of Gospel blessing associated with an awakening of the Spirit.
Professor O. C. Whitehouse has aptly characterised this fervent outburst as a lyrical effusion or intermezzo. Our hearts thrill to the music of the celestial spheres as we rehearse it. It is all the more surprising and remarkable in that it is included in the charge to Cyrus, the Persian ruler, who is nevertheless the instrument of Gods sovereign and mysterious purpose.
This little-studied verse reveals something more concerning the nature of revival. It tells us WHENCE REVIVAL COMES. Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness. Drop down . . . from above . . . pour down these phrases of the Word disclose the source of revival. Like every good and perfect gift, it is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (James 1:17). Revival is a supernatural phenomenon and it has a supernatural origin. It is a gift from God. Being the outpouring of Gods everlasting mercy, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath.
Revival is not the manufacture of man. No human agency can bring it about. As Ernest Baker has said, a revival cannot be organised any more than the spring. It is from above and nothing from below can contribute to it. It is not an earthly concoction: it is a heavenly creation. There is scarcely anything we have the handling of observed Richard Baxter, but we leave on it the prints of our fingers. Revival is unmarked by any such defilement. It is untouched by hand. It is all Gods, own work.
Again and again the records of revival testify to its Divine origin. Here is Bishop Handley Moule recalling his impressions of the Dorset awakening in which both he and Evan Hopkins were converted. I must not close without a memory, however meagre, of one wonderful epoch in the parish. It was the Revival. The year was 1859, that year of the right hand of the Most High. . . . Ulster was profoundly and lastingly moved and blessed. Here and there in England it was the same and Fordington was one of the scenes of Divine Awakening. For surely it was Divine. No artificial means of excitement were dreamt of; my fathers whole genius was against it. No powerful personality, no Moody or Aitken, came to us. A city missionary and a London Bible-woman were the only helpers from a distance. But a power not of man brought souls to ask the old question: What must I do to be saved?
That is the nature of revival blessing. It comes from the hand of the Lord to bring renewal to the face of the earth. It fulfils the Scripture promise: He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth (Psalm 72:6).
This verse also tells us How REVIVAL IS RECEIVED. Let the earth open. It is as simple as that. Just as the parched ground lays itself bare to the gift of rain, so Gods people are to wait for the shower of blessing. They are, as we have seen, to humble. themselves, and pray and seek Gods face and turn from sin. They are to spend and be spent in winning souls and ministering to the necessities not only of the saints, but also of all who have been left bruised and broken on the Jericho road of life. But in respect of revival, when we have done all we are still unprofitable servants and can never hope to earn revival as a reward for faithfulness.
One word contains the secret let the earth open. How hard it is for us to accept revival as a bestowal from Gods bounty! The fallacy of works invades even our conception of spiritual quickening. We want to feel that we have done something towards it. We tend to imagine that God is helpless without our efforts. And so we are continually driving ourselves and our fellow-believers to greater endeavours. It is good that we should be always abounding in the work of the Lord, but we should remember that the work is indeed His and not ours, and that no amount of zeal on our part, however determined and even frenzied, can in itself effect a revival. It is not what we do for God but what He does for us that constitutes revival.
Early in the Welsh awakening of 1904 a Wiltshire evangelist visited the meetings at Ferndale. He stood up and said, Friends, I have journeyed into Wales with the hope that I may glean the secret of the Welsh Revival. In an instant, Evan Roberts was on his feet, and with an uplifted arm towards the speaker, he replied: My brother, there is no secret. Ask and ye shall receive. That is how revival comes. Ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss (James 4:2, 3).
This verse further tells us WHAT REVIVAL PRODUCES. Let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together. These are the twin end-products of revival. Salvation, of course, is the grand object of every time of refreshing. God quickens that He may save. God, Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), prepares these seasons of renewal for the purpose of salvation. God doth not respect any person, yet doth He devise means, that His banished be not expelled from Him (2 Samuel 14:14). That was the salient feature of Pentecost. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved (Acts 2:47).
The second product of revival is righteousness. This is a different word in the Hebrew from that used earlier in the verse. That which comes down from heaven is tsedeq; that which springs from the earth is tsedaqah. The first is cause and the second is effect. The former is the Divine endowment and the latter is its outworking on the human plane. Salvation necessarily issues in righteousness. When a man is put right with God he will soon be right with his fellows as well. His entire way of life will be affected. Any spiritual experience which does not evidence itself in such moral realignment is rightly suspect. Pauls prayer for his Philippian converts is appropriate to every newborn soul. That ye may approve the things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:10, 11). Here is the very essence of righteousness.
This, then, is the nature of revival. It comes from above. It is received by the openness of faith. It produces salvation and righteousness. And before this verse from Isaiah 45 reaches its end, God sets His own seal to the work. I the Lord have created it, He says. That is the Makers mark stamped indelibly upon the product. And as the gift is His, so its aim is that He may have all the glory. The final objective of revival is to magnify the majesty and mercy of our incomparable Redeemer. I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside Me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me: that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside Me. I am the Lord, and there is none else (Isaiah 45: 5, 6)