From the authors. Revival is the need of the hour and the concern of many. We propose to do at least 8 articles on this important theme. The first deals with Old Testament revivals from Creation to the Monarchy, then other revivals found in the Old Testament period, followed by New Testament Revivals, Post Apostolic Revivals, a Survey of Revivals in History, together with their characteristics, phenomena and effects.
IMARC trusts that you will enjoy these articles as developed by the Crossmans who personally studied this subject. This is a grand outline of the history of revival and we thank them for their kindness in allowing us to publish it. The chapters will be installed over the course of this year. Drop in and get the latest updates of this outline.
From Creation to the Monarchy
When we think of revival as a special coming down of God, we may well envy the people of Old Testament times. Angels walked with them and shared a meal beneath the tree (Genesis 18). God had audible conversations with people (Exodus 3).
These early visits of God were not revival in the New Testament sense, although they tell us a great deal about the character of God and what he does when he comes. Usually his purpose in coming was either to preserve his people, punish his enemies or to promote his kingdom.
However, the Old Testament has many accounts of extraordinary interventions of God, especially in the life of his people, Israel. It would be impossible to list and comment on all of them here. Besides, many have been analyzed already by such princes as Horatio Bonar, John Gillies, Jonathan Edwards and, more recently, Wilbur Smith.
The following selection from the Old Testament may help us understand more of God himself and what happens when he intervenes. It may also chasten us for our superficial and rigid views about his working. Certainly it should encourage us to notice God is not reluctant to visit his people.
1. Genesis 4:26 At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord. Jonathan Edwards writes of this sentence, in "The distinguishing mark of a work of the spirit of God":This seems to have been the effect of a remarkable outpouring of the spirit of God - the first remarkable outpouring that ever was.
Mankind was already in a spiritual downward spiral, as the Genesis context makes clear. Of himself, man is never able to reverse the slide. There has to be a divine dynamic to change direction. God, in his mercy, had stepped in - he had intervened in some not fully recorded way, and man began to call on him, - maybe also to proclaim him.
2. Genesis 6. The Story of Noah.We have a sudden, stupendous insight into the heart of God in Genesis 6:6. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.
Mankind, though young on the earth, was full of sin and was to be destroyed. But Noah found favor (Genesis 6:8) and God had long patience (I Peter 3:20) two remarkable evidences of the mercy of God. Horatio Bonar's words are apt.
3. Genesis 35:1-15
A remarkable household revival occurs here. Dr. Wilbur Smith includes it among the seven chief Old Testament revivals. It was clearly initiated by God in verse 1. Jacob and his company were immediately aware of sin. They purified themselves and buried their idols, setting out to seek God. Fear of Jacob and his household fell on all the surrounding towns. At Bethel Jacob built an altar and God came down and blessed him (verse 9). He reminded Israel of his covenant and promises. "Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him."
4. The Exodus
Clearly the days before, during and after the Exodus represent one of the greatest revivals in human history.
After 430 years, mostly of darkness and slavery, God says "the cry of the Israelites has reached me. (Exodus 3:9) The crying out was because of their pain; it was probably largely an ignorant cry; but in all likelihood there were some who knew they had a right to call upon God. They were his people.
His answer was majestic in plan, execution and in transcendent revelation of himself. The judgments on Egypt, the blood of the lambs, the angel of the Lord's guiding, the miraculous deliverance; all are significant characteristics of God's coming down among his people. He used human instruments in Moses and Aaron. He demonstrated that it was only by blood that they could be delivered. He showed his omnipotence in great signs and wonders. He revealed himself as such a majestic and merciful God, the people burst out in spontaneous singing and dancing. (Exodus 15)
5. The Wilderness Travels
As the Israelites traveled they had frequent experiences of the coming down, or drawing near, of God.
At the giving of the law in Exodus 19 and subsequent chapters we actually read (in 19:20) "The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain." God's coming was accompanied by thunder, lightning and a loud trumpet blast. It was an impressive signal that when he comes his people fear him.
After the sprinkling of blood in Exodus 24 the seventy elders went with Moses and the priests and "saw the God of Israel." All the people saw the glory of the Lord "like a consuming fire" on top of the mountain.
In Exodus 33, after the apostasy of the golden calf episode, we have a significant account of God's willingness to restore his presence. Moses was a powerful mediator; one to whom God listened. When the people humbled themselves and Moses pleaded for them with strong arguments, God said, "I will do the very thing you have asked because I am pleased with you and I know you by name". (Exodus 33:17) He had asked for God's presence with his people.
The whole period of Israel's journey to Canaan illustrates the frequency of God's interventions. His gaze was always steadily upon them. He rained bread for them in the desert, the very "grain of heaven" (Psalm 78:24), and made water flow like rivers for them. (Ps. 78:16) After allowing them to live in misery after rebellion, he "awoke as from sleep, as a man wakes from the stupor of wine" to intervene again and again. (Psalm 78:65)
A remarkable coming down of God is described in Exodus 40:35. When the tabernacle was finished, the glory of his presence so filled it Moses could not enter.
In Numbers 21 we read how God intervened after a major rebellion among the people, and commanded Moses to make a bronze snake so that the people might look upon it and live. But for his intervention, time after time the people would have been destroyed.
Joshua 3-6: 10
Because of their unbelief a whole generation, numbering maybe two million, never received their inheritance (Hebrews 3:10 & 11).
But under Joshua there was a renewing of the covenant, attended by signs and miracles (Joshua 3 & 4). Here there was a significant addition: a monument of stones was set up to tell "all the peoples of the earth - that the hand of the Lord is powerful." Revival is a witness to the world.
A man standing with a drawn sword in Joshua 5:13 called himself the commander of the Lord's army. The subsequent chapters have much to teach on warfare in revival. Jonathan Edwards affirms that revivals are "part of God's plan to advance his kingdom." This advance has to drive back the hosts of Satan. The victory at Jericho was to be a pattern for all time: the battle is the Lord's. The Canaanites witnessed a terrifying conquest when Jericho fell.
Joshua 10 is regularly overlooked as a story. It is because the sun stood still. Readers are not too sure about the cosmic powers of God. Can he, or does he ever make the sun stand still? Are the sun and the moon beyond his power? The whole story of Joshua 10 is magnificent in its emphasis on God's omnipotence. God came down and fought for Israel. When Joshua cried to him to "stop the sun", the Lord answered.
7. The Judges
The revival at Bokim in Judges 2 is unique. After the catalogue of failure in Judges 1, the second chapter opens with God's fierce rebuke. The angel of the Lord actually traveled from Gilgal to Bokim and addressed the whole nation. It was a time of great and loud weeping (Judges 2:4). Many observers of revivals down the ages have used the name Bokim to describe the scenes they witnessed. Here at Bokim the Israelites also offered sacrifices; it became a place of a restored relationship.
The subsequent chapter of Judges follow a cycle: apostasy, punishment, crying to God and the raising of a savior. This has much to say on the subject of revival, not least because it speaks so eloquently and movingly about the nature of God. He did not plan this rebellion, nor its consequent misery. He never intended their enemies to enslave them. But when they cried out of the depth of their despair, he heard from heaven and rescued them, for "he is a gracious and merciful God," (Nehemiah 9:31). He did this "time after time" (Nehemiah 9:28). He raised up Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson. Interestingly, not all of the people joined battle: some refused to come and missed the victory. This has often characterized a time of revival.
In the bleak, apostate days of Samuel's boyhood, God hardly ever appeared to his people. However, I Samuel 3:21 says he did appear at Shiloh, and revealed himself to Samuel. By I Samuel 7 the ark had been absent for twenty years and "all the people mourned and sought after the Lord" (verse 2). Samuel told them that mourning and seeking are not enough. Lives must be revolutionized. Then Samuel began his great intercession for them. The people fasted, confessed and poured water before God at Mizpah, begging Samuel to continue crying to God for them, for the Philistines had come to attack this mourning assembly. Samuel offered a lamb as a sacrifice and cried to the Lord for Israel. In this revival of the people's commitment to God and the victory that followed, Samuel's part was crucial. He commanded the repentance; he called the assembly; (he interceded); he offered the burnt offering, and he raised the Ebenezer. Throughout his lifetime God's hand was against the Philistines (verse 13), and Israel was a new nation.
Samuel had authority in prayer. "I will call on the Lord to send thunder and rain" he tells Israel in I Samuel 12:1;7. In the next verse we read, "That same day the Lord sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the Lord and of Samuel."
back to index
Our first study has demonstrated there were frequent visitations of God from the time of Creation to the time of Samuel. The remainder of the Old Testament history contains far more accounts of times of Divine intervention.
9. David. II Samuel 6
God intervened often during the years of David's gradual accession to the throne of all Israel.
In II Samuel 6, when "the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the Name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim that are on the ark" (v. 2) was to be returned to Jerusalem there were scenes of great moments in Israel's history. Celebration was ecstatic until Uzzah's casual irreverence caused his death by the anger of God. Even in celebration God tolerated no unholy familiarity. The ark rested with Obed-Edom and brought such blessing to him for 3 months that David determined to bring it to the City of David itself.
Musical instruments, shouts of rejoicing and dances of joy accompanied the ark to Jerusalem. Burnt offerings were sacrificed, fellowship offerings made; bread and cakes were distributed. It was a time of rejoicing, unity and blessing of the people (v. 18).
Here we also see a bystander who despised the celebration (v. 20). David had gone home to bless his household and a leading member of it had nothing but contempt for his dancing "before the Lord with all his might" (v. 14). Michal was an Israelite princess, but she knew nothing of the glory of God. Neither could she understand an explosion of joy which cannot be contained, but which is so clearly the heritage of the people of God.
But there is another account during the reign of David that certainly ranks as a time of Divine intervention and an episode of special grace. David had sinned in numbering the people and judgment was being visited upon Israel. David confessed his sin and prayed earnestly. God heard his prayer. Judgment was stayed, through at the cost of 70,000 lives (I Chron. 21:14). At the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, "David lifted up his eyes and saw the Angel of the Lord stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand." At this vision David fell to the ground, confessed his guilt, worshiped and sacrificed the oxen he purchased from Ornan. And God "answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering." I Chron. 21:26
10. Solomon. II Chronicles 5-7
It would not be possible to represent the splendor of the Dedication of the Temple in II Chronicles on film or canvas. The beauty of design and ceremony is richly recorded in the Bible, yet the glory of the occasion is almost beyond comprehension.
The coming down of God on this occasion was not on a spontaneous celebration. The ceremony had been meticulously planned, even to details of dress, instruments and furnishing. So many sacrifices were made the animals could not even be counted (II Chronicles 5:6). As the choir sang, a cloud filled the temple so the priests could not minister.
In II Chronicles 6 we have Solomon's monumental prayer of dedication, a prayer which incorporates the foundation principles of revival:
In chapter 7 God signally came down. Fire fell from heaven and consumed the sacrifices. The glory of the Lord so filled the temple the priests could not even go in, just as he had filled the tabernacle in Exodus 40:34. The people knelt with their faces to the ground in worship. The sacrifice they made after this involved 120,000 sheep and goats. The "vast assembly" (v. 8), which included people of distant lands, then celebrated for 2 weeks before going home full of joy.
Here is a coming down of God on an organized ceremony: the dedication of his house and the observance of his appointed feast. During the night God appeared to Solomon to give his immutable promise of II Chronicles 7:14.
The emphasis of God's revelation to Solomon here is much on the conditional "if". There was nothing automatic about the blessing. Significantly this conditional "if" appears 1,162 times in the word of God.
When the people wept so much as Ezra read the Old Testament to them in Nehemiah 8 there was great cause for weeping. They realized what they had missed
11. Asa. II Chronicles 15:1-15
Asa's army seemed powerful until the Cushites came. Then Asa's men looked like a little band. Asa's prayer of II Chronicles 14:11 shows his knowledge of God. His was a desperate cry:
The enemy was "crushed before the Lord and his forces" (v. 13). After this decisive victory, the Spirit of God come upon the prophet Azariah. The conditional is again central to the prophecy.
If you seek him, he will be found by you but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. (Chronicles 15:2)
Asa was energized by this Spirit-filled message. He set about a spiritual revolution of the kingdom, removing idols and cleansing the land right up into Ephraim. Interestingly, large numbers had moved from the northern kingdom of Israel to the southern kingdom of Judah to be under a godly king (v. 9).
Asa assembled all the people under him and a great sacrifice of 7,700 animals took place. A national covenant was made: every man and woman would wholly follow the Lord (v. 11). So radical was this commitment, the threat of death was placed on dissenters. The covenant occasioned great shouting and the sound of trumpet and horn.
12. Elijah on Carmel. I Kings 18
The spiritual state of the northern kingdom of Israel had sunk to such depths under the kings Zimri and Omri during Ahab's time that it is astonishing to find God's mercy yet extended to them in sending Elijah.
In I Kings 18 we have a unique confrontation. The power of God through one man stood against all the hosts of darkness. Elijah initiated the confrontation (v. 19), and on Mount Carmel we have the monumental contest between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal. The spiritual darkness of the people could hardly have been more intense, and Elijah could hardly have been lonelier. Yet after the failure of the frantic prayers of Baal's prophets, Elijah calls on God in verse 37:
Then the fire of God fell from heaven, consuming both the sacrifice and the altar itself. The people fell prostrate crying
"The Lord, - he is God! The Lord, - he is God!" (v. 39).
Firstly, like others before him, Hezekiah set about cleansing the land, and with energy. He understood clearly what God required. "He sought his God and worked wholeheartedly" (II Chronicles 31:21). In destroying the idols he also destroyed Moses' bronze snake, the Nehushtan (cursed serpent), because the people had made an idol of it. It was a vast cleansing of the land reaching beyond Judah into the northern kingdom of Israel. Hezekiah also restored the worship of God in all its beauty and glory, laboring to please the Lord in every detail.
Secondly, it was a large-hearted revival. Hezekiah actually wrote letters to war-torn Israel, inviting everyone to Jerusalem for the Passover. His letters embodied a passionate plea that all Israel should return to the Lord. Generally the letters were scorned, but there were groups who "humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem" (II Chronicles 30:11). The revival included aliens (v. 25) in its all-embracing scope. Verse 18 tells us unclean people were allowed to eat the Passover "contrary to what was written" (v. 18) because Hezekiah prayed for them and God showed mercy.
Thirdly, there was a welling up of joy. An initial seven days of rejoicing were followed by seven more. Jerusalem rang out with singing and with "the Lord's instruments of praise" (v. 21).
Fourthly, the people poured in their gifts and there was too much to cope with. Storerooms had to be made to house all the produce piled up in heaps (II Chronicles 31:8).
Lastly, God's hand was on his people to bless but also to defend. II Kings 18 and 19 record God's deliverance against the lords of Assyria: 185,000 men were dead without Judah striking a blow. He was their shield and defender.
17. Josiah. II Chronicles 34-35
This was the last great revival in Judah before the Babylonian exile. Significantly, it was largely a revival of the Book of God.
As a teenage king, Josiah had set his heart on following God. Rigorously, almost angrily, Josiah smashed and turned the idols and altars of false gods, traveling into Israel itself right up to Naphtali to cleanse the land. Not content with destroying the images, Josiah ground them to powder, scattering it on the graves of those who sacrificed them and burning the bones of their priests. There was a righteous fury in Josiah's determination to rid the land of its filth.
Then he turned to repairing the temple of God, and it was here that Hilkiah found the Book of the Law.
When Josiah heard the book read, he tore his clothes. In anguish he sent to inquire of God what he should do to avert the judgments of God on the nation, both Judah and Israel's remnants. The priest Hilkiah and king's officials came to the prophetess Huldah. She told them God had decreed calamity on Judah, but because of Josiah's tears, repentance and devotion he would have mercy in his lifetime.
Josiah then assembled all the people and read to them the Book of the Law and the whole nation covenanted to serve the Lord wholeheartedly.
The Passover celebration which followed was performed on a massive scale, and with reverence for every detail.
Here was a young king who brought an entire NATION back into covenant with God. The focal part played by the Passover feast underlines the re-emphasis of every revival on the blood of sacrifice: the basis of a relationship with God.
A great revival took place among the returned exiles in Nehemiah 8. But there were foregleams in Ezra: times of great rejoicing and renewed understanding of the purposes of God.
1. Ezra 3:10-13
Here was a bout of rejoicing as the foundations of the temple were laid under Zerubbabel. God had brought his people back from exile. The rebuilding of the temple had begun. Dimly, it may be, they perceived God had yet a mighty plan for his people, which was promised Abraham but yet unfulfilled. So they shouted with praise (v. 11) and sang to the Lord, "He is good; his love to Israel endures forever".
Old people wept nostalgically; younger ones shouted for joy "the people made so much noise, and the sound was heard far away."
2. Ezra 6:13-22
When God sent Haggai and Zechariah to the weary temple-builders their preaching lifted the whole work to a divine level. The workers began to see the vision and catch the glory of the plan of God.
By the time of the dedication of the temple the people had "separated themselves from the unclean practices of their Gentile neighbors in order to seek the Lord" (v. 21). They celebrated the Passover with joy "because the Lord had filled them with joy" (v. 22). After months of opposition and setbacks God had revived his people.
3. Ezra 9
These chapters do not record a revival of the usual kind. Nevertheless it should be included in the annals of God's special work of grace.
Ezra is in abject misery. Just as Daniel did, Ezra takes the sin of the people on himself and is too ashamed to lift his head. The prayer of Ezra 9 shows the depth of this self-abasement. "Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered round me" (v. 4).
By chapter 10 the crowd was a large one, - men, women and children - deeply affected by Ezra's praying confessing, weeping and throwing himself down before the house of God (v. 1). Ezra besought God to have mercy, and the people besought Ezra to help them put their lives right. Here is conviction of sin, spreading, and causing necessary distress, from one man to a whole nation, small though it was. Immediately, the sin had to be faced and dealt with, and a list was recorded for posterity of those who had ignored the laws of God.
19. Nehemiah 8 & 9
The last great revival recorded in the Old Testament was once more engendered by the Book of the Law.
The temple was standing; the walls were rebuilt. All the externals appeared to be in place. But the people's understanding of the word of God, and therefore God himself and his plan for them, was slight.
The people were drawn to Jerusalem as by a magnet. They actually asked Ezra to bring the Book of the Law and read it to them. From daybreak till noon, Ezra stood on a high platform in the square and read it to them - to every man and woman who could understand. They listened attentively, (v. 3), standing in reverence, and raising their hands when Ezra praised the Lord. Then they bowed and worshipped, faces to the ground.
As Ezra read the word of God, and as his assistants explained it, the people wept. When the Spirit of God works in revival people weep at hearing his word. But Nehemiah then encouraged them to cease from weeping and rejoice, for this was a sacred day, a day of rejoicing.
So they celebrated the occasion with great joy, sharing their feast with all who had come. They observed the Feast of Tabernacles joyfully for seven days, every day continuing to hear Ezra read the word of God to them.
On this occasion the confession and covenant followed the celebration. The prayer of Nehemiah 9 is one of the pinnacles of Old Testament revelation on the subject of revival. It shows the nature of God. He is exalted and omnipotent; but also
back to index
In the first two studies we saw how often God came down in the story of the Old Testament: how He intervened in the affairs of His people.
In the New Testament His coming down culminates in the greatest coming of all: the coming of the Lord Jesus - God walking among men for thirty-three years. There are accounts both before and after this supreme event which show how God in His mercy intervened as if to accentuate that coming. John the Baptist's preparatory work marked a signal revival. The coming down of God the Holy Spirit after the ascension of God the Son ushered in a new era of frequent blessing: He would come more often than before, with far-reaching, global effect.
1. John the Baptist.
John came out of the desert dressed in camel's hair and living on locusts and wild honey. Described by Jesus as a "burning and a shining light," John's national revival was one of the most far-reaching in Israel's history.
When John appeared, the Jews were sunk in degeneracy. In Luke 1:78 John's father Zechariah says it was only "because of the tender mercy of our God" that John was sent to purify the land. His ministry was to change the nation, we read in Luke 1:17. Filled with the Spirit from birth, John was a fearless preacher of repentance who drew crowds from all parts of the country. He was the first one to preach Christ, both as Son of God and the Lamb to bear away sin - the hallmark of all subsequent revival preaching. John's words were uncomfortable, revolutionary and magnetic. His message was one of radical righteousness, a putting right of the life. Nothing less could prepare the nation for that supreme event: the coming of Jesus.
Interestingly, there were numbers of individuals who had extraordinary dealings with God during these days. Such were Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary, Anna and Simeon. Here were men and women being filled with the Holy Spirit before Pentecost; they were signs of an awakening in the nation, little lamps being lit in preparation for the coming of the Light of the world.
2. The Earthly Ministry of Jesus Christ.
Every 'coming down' of God before the incarnation was but a foreshadowing of that greatest coming of all, when He came down in the person of His Son and walked on the earth He had created. The Lord of Glory walked on the dusty streets of Jerusalem.
In the ministry of the Lord Himself we are able to see all the many-faceted aspects of God's coming down to His people.
His life and teaching brought more than a revolution: those who followed underwent a new creation.
Some occasions in particular seem to describe a kind of revival. Luke 10:1-20 is one of them. Jesus commissioned 72 to go into all the towns ahead of Him. The harvest was ready. The message of the kingdom was to be proclaimed. The sick must be healed, and demons cast out. God would supply all His worker's needs.
When the 72 returned, they were overjoyed at the power of the gospel they preached. The name of Jesus had infinite power.
If we are to understand what happens when God comes down to His people we need to immerse ourselves in the gospels. In the coming of Jesus we have the greatest pattern of all.
3. Pentecost. Acts 2.
The story of the coming of God the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 is both a unique occasion and a specimen day. Dr. Lloyd-Jones comments "Pentecost is indeed unique; unique in that it was the first of many subsequent outpourings."
The early chapters of Acts form the document, recorded by the Spirit Himself by which every revival must be measured. He has not left us to our own judgment: it is essential, in studying revivals at any time, to return constantly - as an inspiration and correction - to that monumental account in the book of Acts.
God the Spirit came with violent power, both in wind and fire. Weak believers were transformed into mighty servants of God. Other languages were given them to declare His wonders (v. 11). The Old Testament was lit up and its prophesies understood (vs. 14, 25). All men and all women who served God could be prophets (v. 18). The crowds in the streets were gripped and cut to the heart (v. 37) crying out for salvation. Three thousand were converted on that very day. Much emphasis is placed on the lifestyle that resulted: the daily prayer, fellowship and teaching; the love and sharing; the signs and miracles; the joy and remarkable fear; the daily growth of the church; the authoritative preaching.
The wind and fire of the Spirit operated in every aspect of the early church. He dealt with lying by death (Acts 5:5) and great fear seized the whole church (5:11). He so united believers they pooled all their assets (4:32). Such was their prayer meeting in Acts 4:31 that the house shook. They were filled with the Spirit more than once (4:31). Great miracles were performed (5:12) and great numbers believed (5:14). Paramount was the Spirit's teaching of the truth. It could be said that the whole mighty revelation of the rest of the New Testament, from Romans to Revelation was a direct result of Pentecost. Driven by the Spirit, believers began to spread: by Acts 8 the gospel is already reaching Ethiopia, by Acts 16, Europe.
4. Samaria. Acts 8.
Of all the stories of this remarkable area, the revival in the city of Acts 8 must be one of the most astonishing.
The coming of the Spirit in Acts 2 resulted in fierce opposition, as so often in subsequent revivals throughout history. This resulted in a great harvest, for here were thousands of Spirit-filled Christians who "preached the word wherever they went." (Acts 8:4) They scattered!
Deacon Philip arrived in Samaria and began to preach Christ. (Did some remember Him from Sychar?) Philip also healed the sick and cast out evil spirits. The preaching of such good news and the performing of such miracles produced what the Holy Spirit's work always produces: a people full of joy. When Peter and John came to Samaria and through them the Holy Spirit came on the believers in fullness, we have all the characteristics of a city-wide revival. Even the severity of judgment against sin (v. 20) is but a further indication of the authority of the Spirit at times like this.
Barriers were already falling: here Jews are rejoicing with Samaritans.
5. Caesarea. Acts 10.
Many strands of the story of Pentecost come together in Acts 10. Here is a Roman centurion seeking God. Here is Peter learning that Gentiles must be brought into the sheepfold. Here is the Holy Spirit demonstrating that He comes upon whom He will when He will and in what manner He chooses.
"I now realize," says Peter in v. 34, "how true it is that God does not show favoritism." It is while Peter is preaching Christ that "the Holy Spirit came on all who hear the message." They spoke in other languages and praised God. Having been baptized in the Holy Spirit, they were then baptized in water (v. 48).
6. Antioch. Acts 11.
No church buildings are mentioned in the New Testament. But there are large churches.
Such was the church at Antioch in Syria.
At first, only Jews were targeted with the gospel here, but when Gentiles were included, huge numbers believed. Barnabas was dispatched from Jerusalem to assess this great move of the Spirit. He was so full of joy at what he saw, he set off to find Paul at Tarsus. The "Christians" - as they were first named at Antioch - were then privileged to have for a whole year the best Bible teacher the world has ever known. It was from this company that the Holy Spirit stirred the first missionary enterprise. Revival always results in evangelism.
7. The Missionary Journeys. Acts 13 ff.
Many remarkable events occurring in the subsequent chapters of Acts show how powerfully the Holy Spirit was working in the years following Pentecost.
After Paul's address at Pisidian Antioch many believed, and the following week almost the whole city gathered to hear him (Acts 14:44). From here the word spread to the whole region. A large number in Derbe became disciples (14:21).
On subsequent journeys, some places Paul passed through are simply mentioned; others such as Philippi, Thessalonica, Corinth and Ephesus are places where the Spirit worked in numbers and in depth. Paul's letters witness to the remarkable work, a "demonstration of the Spirit's power" is how he describes it. Sometimes Paul, like the host of evangelists who succeeded him, found the ground hard and the toil backbreaking. Sometimes it seemed no one believed his message. But at other times the Holy Spirit came with great convicting power, fulfilling the eternal purposes of God in bringing many to believe and to have everlasting life. This was the purpose of Pentecost, and has been ever since.
back to index
1. They occurred at a time of moral darkness.
God's interventions seem to come when things are at their worst.
Spiritual lamps were very low - all but extinguished - in Israel when God brought about a revival. Look at Judges, look at II Chronicles and see the state of the people upon whom God had mercy. The Old Testament presents a people who hardly knew God at all, who worshipped idols and indulged in appalling heathen practices, who had lost the book of the law and were enslaved by enemies. In the days of the Judges, thirteen times the Israelites fell into sin and apostasy; thirteen times God sent judgment; thirteen times they cried to the Lord; thirteen times he raised saviors. Almost every Old Testament revival followed a time of remarkable darkness.
Now this may seem obvious enough. God's people need new life because there is little life left in them. When John Wesley arrived at a particularly depraved and immoral town in Lancashire he exclaimed, "Excellent conditions for a mighty revival!" And a great turning to God took place.
This very fact is a bulwark to the soul. "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14). When a nation or a church seems at its lowest, praying people may yet call for God's mercy. "In your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a great and merciful God" (Nehemiah 9:31).
Sometimes revivals occur after a period of lethargy and a dangerous spiritual decline of which people are not even aware. Mechanically performing a ritual of worship, their hearts are far from God. When he intervenes to awaken them they suddenly realize their perilous position: they are "wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Revelation 3:17). Revivals have occurred at times like this, and most frequently when the night was at its darkest.
2. All were preceded by prayers.
Every revival in history has been preceded by prayers.
Significantly, the first revival of all time, in Genesis 4:26, is defined almost exclusively in terms of its prayer. "At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord": the time Jonathan Edwards describes as "the first remarkable outpouring that ever was."
It was always when people called that God answered. They called brokenly out of deep distress and called in faith because they knew his nature.
It was when Solomon made an end of praying that the fire fell and the glory of the Lord filled the temple in II Chronicles 7:1-4. It was when Elijah prayed that the fire fell and the people turned to worship God on Mount Carmel in I Kings 18. It was when Jehoshaphat prayed that the Spirit came on Jehaziel and there was such deliverance and revival in II Chronicles 20. God never came in reviving power unless his people turned and called on him.
II Chronicles 7:14 sets out God's conditions unequivocally:
Jonathan Edwards wrote, "When God is about to do a great work he pours out a spirit of supplication."
Hudson Taylor advised, "Learn to move men to God by prayer alone."
Certainly it seems that all other good, routine activities of believers became subordinated to this hunger for the face of God. As in times of national or personal crisis believers want one thing only: to call on God. The calling may be prolonged, because in itself it cleanses and disciplines the soul, and not all prayer is heard, nor is God one to be cajoled and wrestled with for his blessing: he wants to bless.
It was in awakening to the Lord's teaching on prayer that the massive Korean revival began in 1903. A Dr. Hardie was asked to speak on prayer to a small group. "The Holy Spirit taught him many things," writes Jonathan Goforth. The effect was electric. "Dr. Hardie visited ten mission centers and gave his prayer talks," Goforth continues, "and during 1904 ten thousand Koreans turned to God." This, the missionaries felt was blessing enough - until they heard of the many thousands who had turned to the Lord in the Kassia Hills in India in 1905-6. The Korean workers began to pray, and prayed on, month after month. "The result," writes Goforth, "was that all forgot about being Methodists and Presbyterians... that was true church union: it was brought about on the knees."
"It paid well," wrote Mr. Swallen of the 1907 Korean Revival, "to have spent the several months in prayer, for when God the Holy Spirit came we accomplished more in half a day than all of us could have accomplished in half a year. In less than two months more than 2000 heathen were converted."
It was Lanphies's prayer-meeting in New York that began, slowly and steadily, to grow in numbers and in power and spread the great 1859 revival in America and Europe. In some areas it could be called a prayer-revival. William Arthur, author of The Tongue of Fire, visited Kells and Cannar in 1859. He wrote of attending a prayer-meeting, "About thirty different places in the parish now have them regularly and in all a hundred meetings are held weekly. The room was densely crowded - the following evening at this prayer meeting there were about 300 person present."
Understanding the nature and the place of prayer is clearly an essential to those who look for God's intervention. "And I will do whatever you ask in my name," Jesus covenants in John 14;13, "that the Son may bring glory to the Father."
3. They rested on the word of God.
Whenever the Holy Spirit of God awakens his people he brings them back to the Word of God.
Jonathan Edwards goes so far as to declare that an assessment of any movement claiming to be of the Holy Spirit can be made on this criterion: what place is given to the authority of scripture?
In Old Testament times Israel was always brought back to the words God had spoken. As early as the days of Moses and Joshua the people were constantly reminded of laws already written with the finger of God on stone.
The written word of God acted as a catalyst in the revival under Josiah. When it was found and read, Josiah tore his robes. He had not known it. Huldah the prophetess drew their attention, not to the blessings, but to "the curses written in the book" (II Chronicles 34:24). The king read the book to the people and a national renewing of the covenant took place. It was a revival of the word of God.
Similarly the great revival of Nehemiah 8 was produced by a return to the reading of God's word. When the aged scripture scholar Ezra opened the book the people stood up in reverence. It was not just read to them - it was explained, to be sure they understood it. As they understood, they stood "weeping as they listened to the words of the Lord" (Nehemiah 8:9). Significantly, after the tears they began to "celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words made known to them," (Nehemiah 8:12). The Holy Spirit never works apart from the book he has written.
In the story of Pentecost in Acts it is arresting to notice how much space is given to the illumination of Old Testament prophecy. Whole chapters in some cases, and large sections in others, are given to this declaration of the word of God by Peter, Stephen or Paul. The Old Testament was as a sharp sword, it cut to the heart (Acts 2:37 and 7:54). Preaching the word already given always characterized a true revival but it comes with a new dynamic: to some it is almost like a new Bible. The Holy Spirit always makes truth clear. It is this clarity which cuts the heart, and it is this clarity which becomes a bulwark to the soul.
The Holy Spirit also beautifies. In times of his blessing the scriptures become a treasury of wonder. Pastors have been known to wish every day were a Sunday, such riches have been opened up in the word. During the revival at Dundee in 1846, Robert Murray McCheyne preached on and on beyond his meal time. Chastised by his housekeeper for ruining his meal, McCheyne pleaded, "I couldna give o'er preaching, and the people wouldna give o'er listening." Significantly, McCheyne said he asked many people from among the thousands who had attended the meetings during those remarkable days as to which message or sermon had been most used of God. He could not find one person who remembered what McCheyne had said; they only remembered the verses and passages of the Bible he had brought to them.
Andrew Bonar, who ministered in Scotland during McCheyne's days, noticed the deepened hunger for an understanding of the Bible after the 1859 revival. He illustrates this by describing his series on Christ in the Tabernacle and its effect on his hearers. There was a hunger to know more. There was a receptivity to the truth. There was a certainty of its authority. Many Bible-teaching conventions owe their origins to a revival such as that in 1859.
In times of revival the Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh: "your sons and your daughters shall prophesy" quotes Peter in Acts 2:17. Besides the professional preacher, the Holy Spirit frequently equips and sends out others to declare the word. He gives gifts freely. Examples can be found among the Lollards, the Waldenians, the Wesleyans and early Salvation Army in Europe, as well as tens of thousands raised up in Africa, the Orient and the Americas.
But the Holy Spirit has never honored preaching which is not derived from and built upon his word. Weaknesses which followed some movements can be traced to weaknesses in biblical teaching.
4. Human Instruments Were Used.
In times of revival God uses human instruments. With one or two rare exceptions, for example, the angel's coming to Bochim in Judges 2, the Bible makes clear that God uses people as spokesmen and leaders at times of revival. In some cases, such as those of Moses and Joshua, we are given some insight into their preparation and training. In others, such as the Judges Deborah, Gideon and Jephthah, we are simply told God raised up saviors. Sometimes the spirit came for a single occasion, it seems, as with Jehaziel in II Chronicles 20. On other occasions it is a lifetime's calling, as in the story of the priest Jehoiada in II Chronicles 23 and 24, and as in the life of the apostle Paul.
Throughout church history it is salutary to notice the unexpected, even "unsuitable" instruments God uses in times of revival. He is no respecter of persons.
Jonathan Edwards, the preacher and Congregational theologian of the great New England revival was one of the outstanding intellectuals of his time. He had been a child prodigy, entering Yale at 13 years of age; he later produced some of the most famous theological works ever written in America. He became president of Princeton. God used him in one of the most remarkable revivals on record, in eighteenth century Massachusetts.
In eighteenth century Cornwall, a mother asked John Wesley to pray for her baby. Wesley laid hands on the child, and prophesied that this little Launceton boy would be used of God. He grew up severely retarded and physically so oversized he had iron boots made to support his weight. Unemployable, he dug a cave of earth for himself and made it his home. He became known as Daft Danny. He joined the Methodist Class meeting, but the leader refused to let him "testify". Eventually, however, he was allowed, and he spoke with such power, doors opened to him all over the area. He preached, exhorted and testified in church after church and hundreds came to saving faith in Christ.
William Haslam, a High Church ordained clergyman, who prized his clerical dress even to the white gloves, and whose absorbing interest was church architecture and stained glass windows, was quite suddenly converted by his own sermon as he preached it. High above his lay congregation, Haslam came to simple faith in Christ, in nineteenth century Baldhu, in Cornwall. An astonishing revival occurred in his high Anglican church, and in the following years a great many other churches were transformed by his ministry in the west of England. Crowds numbering in thousands, as he himself bears witness in his autobiography From Death to Life.
In Haslam's congregation on his conversion day was a simple layman called Billy Bray. A tin miner of great faith, Billy Bray was a Bible Christian lay preacher who had an unusual anointing of God. Thousands of people were led into faith through his preaching: he left an indelible mark on the area. Church after church was founded through the work of Billy Bray.
The Countess of Huntingdon, a leading supporter of the early Methodist revival, said she thanked God for the letter "m" in the alphabet, for though "not many were of noble birth" in the calling of God (I Corinthians 1:26), it could not be said there were not any. There were, in fact a good number in her own day. Lord Radstock was raised up to be a great preacher in a later day, after the 1859 revival, when God used him as a powerful spiritual leader traveling around Europe. Through his preaching a great many people were called into the service of God.
Amanda Smith, a black lady who had once been a slave, was one of God's most remarkable instruments to the nineteenth century. In America she preached with such an anointing of God many hundreds were led into faith in Christ. Her message was to Christians, too, and Mrs. Smith was in demand everywhere in both America and Europe. Dr. William Taylor states that she seemed to "have the world at her feet." From her autobiography one can guess that this humble self-effacing lady would not have wished anything of this sort: but undoubtedly God set his seal on her ministry. The same could be said of Catherine Booth, the quiet, peaceful preacher of the early Salvation Army through whom thousands met with God.
Even children have been used. In the famous Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky in 1801, a spectator, J. B. Finley, himself much used in printing later, gives an account how, in his first visit to Cane Ridge, he witnessed an estimated 25,000 gathered. He saw a ten year old boy standing on a tree limb preach with phenomenal power for about an hour. As he closed his sermon on John 7:37-9, with an eloquence that could only have been inspired from heaven, he raised his handkerchief, and dropping it cried, "Thus, oh sinner, will you drop into hell, unless you forsake your sins and turn to God." At this point, Finley report, "sinners fell as men slain in mighty battle and the cries of mercy seemed as though they would rend the heavens; and the work spread in a manner which human language cannot describe."
Certainly revivals are a further fulfillment of Acts 2:17 and 18: "I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy... even so my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit on in those days and they will prophesy."
5. There was a conviction of sin.
The people of God are always astonished to find that the coming of God's Holy Spirit causes such a desperate conviction of sin.
The history of revivals is a history of a restored fear of God. It was grace, says John Newton, that taught his heart to fear. When the holiness of the Holy Spirit was made apparent in Acts 5:11, we are told that "great fear seized the whole church."
The Israelites of former years, and the new Israel of later years forgot the nature of God's view of sin. Old Testament revivals were often accompanied by tears, and God sometimes let the people weep for a considerable time before the repentance was complete. In I Samuel 6 God struck down the men of Beth Shemesh for their familiarity and irreverence toward the ark of his presence. "Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?" asked the people of Beth Shemesh, astonished.
The Israelites began to agonize over their sin in I Samuel 7, fasting, weeping and pouring out water before the Lord at Mizpah. Nor did God answer overnight. He does not lightly forgive sin. Here they needed Samuel's mediation as intercessor, a lamb as a burnt offering and prolonged waiting on him.
What an affecting portrait we have of Ezra, in Ezra 10:1, not only praying and confessing his sins, but "casting himself down before the house of God," - dire conviction, indeed!
Similarly, the revival in Nehemiah is characterized by weeping. In Nehemiah 8:9, Nehemiah actually tells the people they have wept enough. But in the following chapter they return to their sackcloth and ashes and articulate their confession. Ezra and Nehemiah demonstrated by their reactions to the people's sin that they knew the nature of God; he is separate from sinners.
This is why there are so many alarming scenes at times of revival. People fall down in fear. Some seem "petrified" - unable to move. Jonathan Edwards looked up from his sermon in 1741 to see a stricken congregation: people were actually shaking.
Wherever Anna Christiansen preached in S. W. China in the 1930's, Christians were gripped with conviction of sin. Cleansing revivals occurred in many churches. The messages were simple enough, but God took hold of them. "The lid was off," said a missionary; "terrible sins came to light among respectable Christians. Many faces were white with fear."
Goforth describes a 1907 scene in Korea where "the heavens seemed as brass" in the service. Then the leading elder stood up and confessed to stealing. "Conviction of sin swept the audience," writes Goforth. "The service commenced at 7 o'clock Sunday evening and ended 2 o'clock Monday morning - day after day the people assembled - the refiner was in his temple - let man say what he will, these confessions were controlled by a power not human."
Nor does this work end with confession. The restoration of stolen goods, the repayment of misappropriated funds and the putting away of wrong relationships fill many pages of revival accounts. The Old Testament places much emphasis on this phenomenon: great store is put on the purifying of the temple, the cleansing of the priests, and restoration in the lives and worship of the people, as in the revival under Hezekiah and Josiah. In every revival, from Jacob's to Nehemiah's there was a practical result from conviction of sin: a smashing of idols, a building of altars, a restructuring of homes.
Ireland in the early 1920's saw a heavy sense of guilt come over people who listened to W. P. Nicholson. It was no psychological ploy either. Belfast docks had to allocate special barns to house all the stolen goods returned. Eventually a notice was posted: "please return no more goods."
When God moved on the Keswick Convention in 1923, the local Post Office ran out of postal orders, so many came in to repay money misappropriated. Businesses and shops have been amazed at the quantity of restored goods they have had returned after times such as this.
Anthony of Padua's preaching in the thirteenth century had such a convicting effect on the thousands who heard him in the open fields of Italy, there was a rush to restore stolen goods. In later centuries Anthony was superstitiously prayed to as the saint of lost property.
Even more frequent, perhaps, is the heavy sense of sin over wrong relationships, wrong attitudes and long-held animosities. Much preaching about these things may have been heard, but with little effect. Sometimes people have sat in churches for a lifetime unmoved. Then God himself is revealed by the Holy Spirit, and there is a terrible dawning. Fear grips the heart, and often weakens the body. It is a moment of sudden truth. Isaiah cried out, "Woe to me! - I am a man of unclean lips - and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty," (Isaiah 6:5). When God comes in power, as Dr. Lloyd Jones comments, more is done in one hour than in a lifetime's ministry.
Coupled with this new understanding of sin is a certainty of judgment to come. The concept of eternal punishment and hell, which have become clouded and distant, even debatable, now comes into sharp focus. The clearest of all teachers on hell, the Lord Jesus Christ, makes his words sharper and powerful. As Donald Guthrie observes, "If Jesus' words are given their face value, hell becomes a terrifying reality." Many of the people who were in the awakening - a significant word in this context - under Jonathan Edwards spoke of the sudden certainty of hell that gripped them.* Similarly, those in the Hebridean revival under Duncan Campbell spoke of the clarity with which the Spirit taught them of judgment and punishment to come.
A direct result is that there is a new impetus of warning. People are concerned for family and friends, neighbors and social contacts. "Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family" (Hebrews 11:7)
6. There is an emphasis on the blood of Christ.
When God had special dealings with the patriarchs in Genesis he frequently moved them to build an altar. An altar speaks of worship; but it also speaks of sacrifice.
In days of national revival in Israel such as those in Joshua 8, Judges 6 under Gideon or II Samuel 24 under David, altars were built to make sacrifices to God. When God drew near to the people in the days of Solomon and Hezekiah, thousands upon thousands of animals were sacrificed to him as if to emphasize the basis of people's relationship with him. They came by way of blood. Especially towards the end of Judah's sad history before the exile, God brought them in the revivals under Hezekiah and Josiah to focus on the Passover.
Throughout church history, the Holy Spirit's work in revival has been to bring believers back to the cross. This is because without Christ's blood we have nothing, and with his blood we have everything. The implications of this primary truth comes with devastating force during revivals and it comes with glory. In brief, the Holy Spirit's chief work is to glorify Christ, and he does this by lighting up the cross and the blood shed there. Many believers have confessed that revival's chief blessing for them was a sudden assurance that they had "redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace," (Ephesians 1:7). They even sing about the blood of Christ, just as the elders do in Revelation 5.
The theology of redemption by blood has a major place in revival preaching. In some movements this emphasis has been the outstanding characteristic; for example, in the eighteenth century Hernhut revival in Germany; the 1904 revival in Wales; and the twentieth century Ruanda movement in Africa. In every revival, however, there is an emphasis on Christ's death and its vast implications. There is a revelation of its purchasing...
7. There is great joy.
God always intends joy for his people.
Wherever the Lord Jesus went he produced joy. When the Holy Spirit operates there are always scenes of great joy.
When the priests began ministering in Leviticus 9, glory and fire came from the Lord, "and when the people saw it they shouted for joy and fell face down," (verse 24). When the ark of God's Presence returned to Jerusalem, "David and the whole house of Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord with songs and instruments," (II Samuel 6:5). The rejoicing during the revival under Hezekiah continued day after day. For seven days the Feast of Unleavened Bread was celebrated "with great rejoicing, while the Levites and priests sang to the Lord every day," (II Chronicles 30:21). We are told "there was great joy in Jerusalem," (verse 26).
The Old Testament is full of joyful occasions of God's visiting his people. Sometimes they were so noisy, as in Ezra 3:13 and Nehemiah 12:43, the sound was heard far away. Many times, for example in Leviticus 23:40 and Deuteronomy 12:7, God commands his people to rejoice before him. In times of revival there is an outburst of joy.
Joy was one of the early church's most compelling characteristics. The fruit of the Spirit is joy. There was great praise and gladness at Pentecost (Acts 2:46,47). "There was great joy in that city," when Philip preached and healed the sick in Samaria, (Acts 8:8). The epistles, product of the coming of the Spirit and authored by him, contain "inexpressible and glorious joy" (I Peter 1:8).
Times without number down the ages, when God has revived his people there have been scenes of quite extraordinary joy. During the 1952 revival in Barvas in the Outer Hebrides, even Church of Scotland elders confessed they had danced with joy.
George Whitefield records in 1743, "At 7 o'clock in the morning I have seen perhaps 10,000 from different parts, in the midst of the sermon crying praise to God and ready to leap for joy."
Robert Jones, writing of the 1762 revival in Wales, says, "Sometimes whole nights were spent with a voice of joy and praise."
Not surprisingly, this has often been much maligned by outsiders. There have certainly been examples of excess, but the wonder among these in revival is how they called themselves Christian and rejoiced so little before. But now they "burst into songs of joy... for the Lord has comforted his people," (Isaiah 52:9). Their joy cannot be contained!
back to index
A Diary of Revivals
The contention of the series is betrayed by its title, "He Comes Often" - that God has repeatedly and frequently visited His people in the power of the Spirit, either to preserve His people, to punish His enemies, or to promote His kingdom. Only eternity will show accurately how many times God has invaded His kingdom in revival power. What I have sought to do is to make some kind of a diary, collecting the dates and sometimes the agents He has used. It may be questioned whether the following all fall into the category of being a special visitation. My judgment call is that they were and list them for your perusal. Thumbnail sketches of these revivals will be given in this, and subsequent issues of the magazine.
Historians depend on records. Christian history can only be studied from the records we have, however biased or slanted the writers appear to be. In the earliest days of the Christian era, there were tumultuous movements which we can only evaluate through the mists of time. Battles between orthodoxy and spontaneity seem to have been waged down the centuries, and we can only wonder at the Spirit's preserving of the apostles' doctrine while so frequently demonstrating His power to baptize with new life.
All of the following thumbnail sketches are of examples of a reviving or awakening of spiritual life. Emphases vary, extent of influence varies, some examples sound strange to the modern ear. But there is enough evidence - in some cases, clear evidence - of a coming down of God upon His people for us to include these examples in our historical survey of revivals. There is an inclination of many to limit this concept idea of revival to the well-known movements of more recent western history. Perhaps this brief and selective account will at least broaden our understanding and widen our horizons.
1. Montanism (155-170).
This movement has had better press in recent years. Marcion, the second century heretic, was very hostile to this movement - which in itself might make us interested in it - and for centuries, the received wisdom about Montanism was wholly negative. Now it is regarded as a powerful attempt to return to the purity of the early church in an age torn by schism and heresy. Montanus, himself, claimed spiritual gifts and great crowds of people, especially in Phrygia, came to believe in Christ and sit under his preaching. Many preachers rose from the movement, both men and women, and Tertullian became its most powerful ally. John Wesley judged the movement - which was not without flaws - as a work of revival in a young church declining into formalism and deadness.
2. Irenaeus (c130-200)
Irenaeus was Bishop of Lyons, and from his writings we inherit a statement of orthodox Christian church doctrine which can scarcely be equaled. There is evidence that he may have had some sympathy with the Montanists. Under his preaching in Lyons, a revival broke out among the townspeople. There are accounts of exorcisms and even the raising of the dead. Remembered largely as a theologian and defender of the faith, here is a man God used signally in revival.
3. Gregory Thaumaturgus (c213-270).
Gregory became a Christian through Origen and after some years returned to his native Pontus where he was made a bishop. He was a dedicated preacher of the gospel and almost the whole pagan population of his diocese was won to Christ through him. It is difficult to winnow truth from legend among the many miracles reported in his remarkable times, but it would appear that God worked very powerfully among the people.
4. Gregory the Illuminator (c240-332).
Armenia was the first country to embrace the Christian faith as a whole nation. The story of persecutions which forms Armenian history makes tragic, if stirring reading. It was Gregory who brought the message of Christ to the Armenians and through whom the king became a believer. Following this, a remarkable movement of God among the people took place, resulting in thousands turning to faith in Christ.
5. Anthony of Egypt (c251-356).
As a young man, Anthony gave away all his possessions to devote his entire life to God. Athanasius, champion of orthodoxy, commends Anthony as a righteous man who led a large number of followers to stand against the moral corruption of the contemporary church and society. Records tell us of remarkable healings and exorcisms occurring among this large group of Christians. Over the years (Anthony lived to be over 100) more and more believers joined his organized community in the desert.
6. Martin of Tours (c335-397).
Martin was a Roman soldier who believed he had a vision of Christ. Becoming a Christian, he left the army and devoted himself to the work of God. Eventually, he became Bishop of Tours and set himself to evangelize France. The monasteries he founded were missionary training colleges and from them he sent out a host of missionaries. The influence of this movement was far-reaching and stories of miracles abound in connection with his work. Even when we view some of these stories with caution, we are left with clear evidence of God's hand upon Martin himself and the lasting effect of his evangelists. Converts were said to number in the thousands.
7. Chrysostom (347-407).
John Chrysostom was Bishop of Constantinople. He had early been assigned the special task of preaching by Bishop Flavian and became one of the finest expository preachers in history, sometimes called Chrysostom, the golden-mouthed. His fearless preaching of righteousness of life brought the wrath of Empress Eudoxia; he was subsequently exiled, where privations led to his death. Spurgeon, in his sermon on revival, 'The Mighty Acts of God" gives a description of God's work through Chrysostom:
8. Augustine of Hippo (354-430).
It is difficult to glance through the pages of the Church's history without reference to Augustine, even though we are looking specifically at revival movements. God's coming down upon this North African shaped western theology for the ensuing centuries and is still massively influential today. In his own day he was used to inspire and preserve thousands of believers from the heresies and corruptions around them. His Confessions are a spiritual classic still exerting powerful influence.
9. Simon Stylites (c390-459). The Pillar Ascetic.
Having lived as a monk from his youth in an enclosed cell in Antioch, Simon found himself surrounded by people needing spiritual help, who called in a continuous stream. His teaching and advice drew crowds. Eventually, to preserve his own devotional life, Simon built a pillar and lived on its top. From its platform he addressed throngs of people, "converting pagans, awakening the careless, reconciling enemies and urging ... orthodoxy" (Oxford Dictionary of the History of the Christian Church). Simon's teaching had a powerful effect on the world of his time.
10. Patrick (c389-461).
Born in Britain or Gaul, Patrick was taken as a slave to Ireland at 16. Escaping to Gaul by ship, Patrick felt God's call to evangelize Ireland and probably trained in the monastery at Lerins. On his return to Ireland he was fiercely opposed by the Druids, but his extensive travels and powerful preaching brought many thousands to faith in Christ. He established churches, organized Christian communities and changed the face of the country. His work is one of the clearest examples of a real awakening during these early centuries of the Christian era. The Irish missionary impulse was felt early among Patrick's converts and in due course had world-wide impact. Patrick is still a revered name in Ireland.
back to index
11. Columba (c521-597).
Columba left his Irish home impelled by God's call to evangelize Scotland. With 12 companions he settled on the island of Iona and from there set out on preaching tours of the mainland and the islands. So effective was their message, both the king of the Picts and the king of the Scots became believers, in company with a great many of their people. Clearly the impulse of God is seen in the evangelistic zeal and the effectiveness of this 6th century preaching.
12. Columban (543-615).
Columban was a fearless Irish missionary who traveled with his companions to France, Switzerland and Italy, evangelizing and establishing monasteries. His independence from the domination of Rome and his outspoken rebukes of court corruption drew active opposition, but in being expelled from one area to another, Columban was able to reach wide areas with his dynamic preaching and a great many people turned to Christ.
13. Paulinus (c584-644).
It was through the preaching of Paulinus that York Cathedral was founded. Edwin, King of Northumbria, became a Christian, in addition to his chiefs and many of his subjects. Having originally been sent to reinforce Augustine of Canterbury's mission, Paulinus found the North of Britain ripe for evangelism and a strong and continuing movement started there.
14. Lindisfarne Apostles (c634-687).
When Aidan arrived in Lindisfarne, or 'holy island' as it is often called, he came from Iona with missionary zeal. He selected twelve men to train as his co-workers, and with them he traveled far and wide across Northern Britain preaching Christ, founding churches and encouraging believers in dark days of ignorance and superstition. A previous monk from Iona had returned reporting that the barbarism of the British would never yield to the gospel. However, Aidan's gentleness won the hearts of his hearers and his preaching changed the face of the North. J. B. Lightfoot concludes that it was Aidan, not Augustine of Canterbury, who was the Apostle to Britain. From Lindisfarne, a number of other effective preachers were commissioned: Wilfred, Cedd and Chad, and Cuthbert, among others. These were clearly years of apostolic zeal and effective ministry. Contemporary records tell of miracles and signs; we know God did an extensive work in bringing hundreds to a knowledge of himself.
15. Boniface (c680-754).
Boniface was originally called Wynfrith and he came from Crediton in Devon. He is sometimes called the 'Apostle to Germany' because of the great numbers he led into faith in Bavaria, Thuringia and Hesse. It was reported that he baptized 100,000 people (Hardwick, Growth of the Church, p. 19).
16. Willibrord (658-739).
A native of Northumbria, Willibrord went with a missionary band to West Frisia. Such were the results of their preaching that they established many churches and a large missionary center near Luxenbourg, traveling across Europe and at one time working with Boniface. Remarkable events took place under the preaching of Boniface and Willibrord.
17. Alfred the Great (849-899).
The Church in Europe descended into deep darkness during the ninth century. Political disintegration made Europe itself an easy prey to invading hordes. Magyars, Muslims and Slavs from the East raided and plundered, but especially Scandinavians in their large boats brought ruin to established Christian communities, burning and pillaging from Britain to Russia. The papacy sank into deep mire of immorality, intrigue and corruption. But in the darkness of the ninth century, Alfred the Great established a light. Alfred defeated the Danes, established a Christian kingdom, and as Latourette observes, "brought about a religious and intellectual revival." It was a turning point for Christianity in England. By example and by promoting Christian education, Alfred led his people back into a living faith. Eventually, it was missionary endeavors from England that won the Scandinavian peoples to Christ.
18. The Revival at Cluny (10th century).
The sixth to the tenth century were Dark Ages, indeed, and saw a great moral decline in the church itself, as well as turbulence in the political scene. There are few recorded awakenings. However, there was a remarkable movement at Cluny, in France. Here was a sudden re-emphasis in holy living, resulting in a surge of new spiritual life. Cluny was a monastery founded by the Abbot Berno. He and his successors wanted to cleanse and revive its life, and thereby, the churches associated with it. A new emphasis in the devotional life produced a spiritual fervor and drew admiration from all quarters, extending Cluny's influence across Europe for over two centuries. Three hundred monasteries were following Cluny's pattern by the twelfth century, rigid in discipline and committed to lives of prayer.
19. The Cistercian Movement (1098).
Benedict founded a monastic order in Italy in the fifth century in protest at the low standards of spiritual and moral life in the church of his day. It was a movement of lay people seeking a perfect way to live for God: a life of disciplined piety, yet also reaching out to the poor and sick. By the time of Cluny's revival, most monasteries had lost all their initial commitment. As Cluny grew in influence and wealth, it did the same. The Cistercian order was founded in 1098 by a group of monks wanting a new life of holiness and prayer. Joined later by Bernard of Clairvaux, they attracted a great many adherents. A surge of new life took hold, characterized by ardor as well as astonishing discipline and self-denial. By the 12th century, 530 Cistercian abbeys had been established. Especially in its earlier days, Citeaux (Lat. Cistercium) produced a Bible-oriented, powerful and deeply devoted company of lovers of Christ, numbering in tens of thousands as the years went by.
20. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)
In 1115, a young monk was sent from Citeaux to start a new monastery. Named Bernard, he remained its abbot until he died. Living in the twilight of the mediaeval 12th century, some of Bernard's strictures and actions seem strange to us today, but his spiritual stature cannot be questioned. He and thousands who followed him spent more than half their waking hours reading and meditating on the Bible itself. A deep experience of the love of Christ developed among the adherents of the 170 daughter-houses of Clairvaux, producing some of our most Christ centered hymnology. Both Luther and Calvin regarded Bernard as a forerunner of the Reformation, especially in his stand on the final authority of the Bible, the person and work of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Undoubtedly, God was at work in both the depth and extent of Bernard's influence, producing an almost mystical, but nonetheless genuine, ardor for His Son.
21. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226).
It is not surprising that people found Francis and his followers attractive in the 13th century. After his conversion, he dedicated his life entirely to the service of God, giving away all possessions, caring for the sick and the poor, sleeping in the open, preaching such a joyous gospel that great crowds began to follow him. Bands of missionary friars were sent all over Europe and parts of North Africa. Initially, their transparent love for God and concern for man, coupled with their care-free poverty had a far reaching effect on the people who observed them, and in spite of later abuses, the mobile preaching of mendicant friars brought to the common people a new, simple and direct message about God. The Dominican friars soon after emphasized the priority of preaching, teaching and scholarship, but Francis' emphasis was on simplicity and dedication of life. The Calvinist pastor Paul Sabatier did much to renew interest in Francis, whose works he depicts as a relighting of the lamp of pure gospel in the mediaeval church.
22. The Waldensians (c1170 on).
Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant from Lyons, employed a priest to translate the Scriptures from Latin into French. From his reading thereafter he came into a living faith and soon began to share his experience with his friends. The movement gained ground rapidly, spreading many beliefs which were truly evangelical. They called themselves "the Poor Men of Lyons," traveling barefoot, teaching an apostolic creed divested of accretions from Rome and returning to simple Christianity. Like most of the revival movements, the Waldensians sent out lay men and women to preach their rediscovered gospel of Christ, and their teaching spread rapidly across France, Spain, Italy and Germany. At first, Rome gently opposed them, but soon the opposition grew fierce and the story of the persecutions they suffered as a movement is one of the most tragic in church history.
23. The Beguines (12th century on).
There appears to have been something of a revival under the preaching of Lambert le B'egue (Stammerer) in Liege during the 12th century. It was characterized by its use of the vernacular Bible and its following of lay men and women. The Beguines, themselves, were women who dedicated themselves to work for God without entering religious orders. Some lived at home; some formed small communities. They took no vows and could own property and marry. Because of their style of worship and preaching some called them Lollards. The movement spread from Holland across parts of Europe for two centuries. The men's counterpart (Beghards) adapted itself to papal authority and was assimilated. The women Beguines suffered great persecution, though their chapels and communities continued for many centuries, remnants still existing in Belgium.
24. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231).
Born of a noble family in Lisbon, Anthony was first an Augustinian scholar. Greatly impressed by the Franciscan movement, he transferred to their order and here his great gift of preaching was discovered. After some offices of high academic importance, he was released to devote himself to preaching. The effect of Anthony's preaching was remarkable both in depth and extent. A significant revival of true faith took place in the area of Padua where Anthony was stationed. In 1231 records reported that up to 30,000 people stood in the fields to hear him preach. Such conviction followed, mass restitutions took place and Anthony couldn't handle the crowds wanting to confess sin. Miracles certainly occurred. In spite of legends and superstitious accretions over the years, it is clear that God brought a wave of awakening through Anthony's ministry.
25. Arnold of Brescia (c1100-1155).
More reformer than revivalist, Arnold is worthy of mention because of his courageous and influential stand against the corruptions of the church. Originally, Abelard's pupil, Arnold denounced the Confessional, teaching that Christians should confess to each other. He attacked the corruptions of the clergy and preached the incompatibility of wealth (even any possessions) with discipleship of Christ. Papal wrath secured his capture and he was burnt at the stake in Rome in 1155.
26. Peter of Bruys (d. c1140).
This man anticipated Luther, as did other independent preachers of the time, and had a large following especially in and around Provence. He rejected the Mass, infant baptism, church buildings, prayers for the dead and the use of crucifixes. Although his followers became unruly and aggressive, his preaching had wide impact. He was burned by an angry mob after his consigning of crucifixes to the flames.
I asked, "Will you please give me your reasons for this confident faith?" "Yes," said he, "I believe my prayers will be answered because I have fulfilled these five conditions:
And surely this has made the difference between George Müller and tens of thousands of God's dear children. Whenever the Lord showed him that it was His will he should pray, he continued in prayer until the answer came.
back to index
27. John Wycliffe (1329-1384) and the Lollards.
Wycliffe is rightly hailed as the Morning Star of the Reformation. God's use of this man to stir both the minds and hearts of fourteenth century England cannot be passed by. This was an awakening of understanding: an anointing of truth. First Wycliffe gave himself to scholarship at Oxford and exercised powerful academic influence by teaching and writing. Then he instigated the translation of Jerome's Latin Vulgate into vernacular English, unglossed. Thirdly, he sent out traveling preachers on every highway and village green. The effect of all this was incalculable on every strata of society. His outspoken attack on the corruption of the church inevitably drew fierce opposition and brought persecution and death to his followers. But the Lollard's impassioned preaching spread: the laity realized they could have a direct experience of God and preach it. Early in the 15th century Wycliffe's teachings were condemned by the Church of Rome, his unauthorized translation of the Bible made forbidden reading; and as is usual in revival times, the establishment tried to silence lay preaching. The Lollards were soon being burnt at the stake.
28. Jan Milic of Kromeriz (d. 1374).
Fourteenth century Prague saw a remarkable revival of Biblical truth under several outstandingly courageous preachers. It seems to have started through the fearless Augustinian canon Conrad of Waldhausen, who denounced the corruption of church and clergy. He was followed by Milic, under whose preaching thousands assembled to hear the Bible taught and whole areas of Prague were transformed: red light districts vanished and a school for preachers was set up. Milic was eventually imprisoned by the Inquisition of Rome.
29. Matthew of Janov (1355-1393).
Matthew was also used of God in 14th century Bohemia and championed the cause of biblical preaching. He dogmatically asserted that the Bible alone should be the authority of doctrine and faith. It was quite possibly Matthew, a keen student, who (with others) translated the Bible into the Czech language.
30. Jan Hus (1369-1415).
Best known of the Bohemian revival leaders is Jan Hus, rector of Prague University. He became a powerful and popular preacher at Bethlehem Chapel in Prague, a center of protesting preachers long before Luther's day. Wycliffe's influence was strong in Prague during those years. Hus condemned the morals of the clergy and the inequalities of society, and the people of Bohemia flocked to hear him preach. Eventually excommunicated, imprisoned, and finally burnt at the stake, the effect of Hus' courageous stand was felt in the coming centuries, both politically and theologically.
31. Jerome of Prague (1370-1416).
Jerome was a friend of Hus. He studied at Oxford and was influenced by Wycliffe. He traveled widely, especially among the universities of Europe, where he exerted great influence. His dynamic and down-to-earth preaching brought many into real faith in Christ, but also drew predictable opposition. He showed great courage, suffering torture and burning at the stake.
32. Geert de Groote (1340-1384).
Geert led a profligate life in high academic circles in Paris and Cologne until his conversion in 1374. After this, his dedication to God was absolute. After three years in a monastery in Munnikhausen, he set out as a missionary preacher to Utrecht. As William Law remarks, it was his deep spirituality which brought new life. A group of like-minded people gathered round him, eventually to be called the Brethren of the Common Life. Their emphasis was on holiness of life, missionary endeavors and education of the young: excellent free schools were founded all over the Netherlands. Among the adherents of the Brethren of the Common Life was one Thomas à Kempis. But Geert's insistence on repentance and reform brought clerical wrath: his license to preach was withdrawn and he died soon after.
33. Vincent Ferrer (c1350-1419).
A Dominican mission preacher, Vincent traveled through his native Spain, and through France, Switzerland and northern Italy with a remarkable anointing of the Holy Spirit on his mission. In days of decadence and corruption, his preaching arrested and transformed towns he visited. According to records, miracles sometimes accompanied his preaching; certainly enormous crowds turned out to hear him. In Spain, a great many Jews and Muslims came to believe in Christ. Everywhere, it seems, his denunciation of sin brought deep repentance. There were numerous preaching friars attempting to reform and revitalize a lethargic and corrupted church, but Vincent was clearly one of the most used of God.
34. Girolamo Savonarola (1452-1498).
Savonarola was a fervent and ascetic young Dominican who was sent to the priory of San Marco in Florence in 1482. Deeply grieved by the hypocrisy and sin in the church and the profligacy and vice in society, Savonarola acquired fame as a denunciatory preacher in many places he was sent to visit, and by 1491 Florentines themselves were flocking to hear him. The effect of his preaching was profound, resulting in remarkable changes in the city. Bonfires were made of indecent books and costumes; carnivals became religious processions; many thousands of people came into a new or a deeper understanding of Christ (even Michelangelo and Botticelli were greatly influenced). In his sermons, Savonarola urged all Italy to make Christ their King. In Florence, he became the leading political as well as religious figure of his day. Predictably, ecclesiastical authorities eventually silenced him, first forbidding him to preach and then putting him to torture and execution. He was hanged in the great plaza in Florence. The distinctives of this remarkable revival were fear of God, repentance and restitution, and an extensive moral cleansing of society. Texts of Scripture that were displayed in the city were visible until recent times.
35. Martin Luther (1483-1546).
The Reformation, resolving itself in a break with the Roman Church, was already springing up in many parts of Europe. Seeds of this are evident in many preceding paragraphs. But Luther is rightly hailed as its leader. He became a monk, and later a priest, with the Augustinians, an order who had already attempted, like many, to reform the church. Finding no peace and no assurance of salvation, even by extremes of penance, Luther met with God during what he called his Tower Experience: a great revelation through Scripture that man is justified by faith only. The implications of the stupendous shift back to apostolic foundations and the effect on church history is hard to overstate. It was a work of God in revival. Thousands of people came to understand for the first time the love of God in Christ. Salvation could not be earned: it was a free gift, a finished work. Obviously this undermined the whole edifice of the existing church; there were 95 points to debate when Luther pinned his challenge (as did many) to the university bulletin board. Turbulent years were to follow, but revival spread to small groups and large churches across Europe as believers turned again to read the New Testament and especially the epistles of Paul.
36. Hugh Latimer (1485-1555).
Latimer, Bishop of Worcester, was one of the courageous band of Reformers in the days of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary, who brought crowds of listeners to understand the foundations of the faith by their preaching. "I began to smell the Word of God and forsook the school doctors and such fooleries." In an age of spiritual ignorance, God raised up scholars and divines to preach against the corruptions of the church and stand for the reading and propagation of the Bible, and "Latimer, more than any other man, promoted the Reformation by his preaching," writes Southey. From the young Edward VI, to the masses of the lower classes, Latimer's influence spread through much of England. Finally, with great dignity and restraint, Latimer faced trial and was burnt at the stake in Oxford, with Ridley, on October 16, 1555.
37. John Calvin (1509-1564).
Calvin is another giant of the Reformation awakening. He studied at Paris University as a boy at the same time as Francis Xavier and Ignatius Loyola. Subsequently, Calvin studied law, also mastering Greek and Hebrew. Soon after this Calvin had a radical conversion experience and came under the influence of Protestant reformers. He surrendered his ecclesiastical revenues and settled in Geneva, Switzerland. At the age of 26 he published his Christian Institutes, the most influential book of the Reformation. Calvin was a man who wept for those to whom he preached and labored to bring men to Christ. He was a powerful and effective preacher through whom God brought thousands into faith.
- F. E. Marsh
back to index
38. Caspar Schwenckfeld (1489-1561).
In the tumult of the Reformation there were many lesser luminaries who have left records of God's remarkable dealings. Schwenckfeld was one of them: a nobleman from Silesia (now Poland) who writes of a "visitation of the divine" in 1518. He became an ardent Reformer, but was concerned about some of the practical consequences of Luther's emphases. Schwenckfeld became an influential teacher of the "experimental knowledge of Christ." He and his followers called Confessors of the Glory of Christ proclaimed a living knowledge of God and a love for all the brethren in a day of doctrinal controversy. Unorthodox though some of his concepts were, Schwenckfeld and his followers knew a remarkable visitation of God.
39. John Knox (1505-1572).
Few men have ever had so profound and long-lasting an influence on the religious life of an entire nation as John Knox. A Roman Catholic for the first forty years of his life, including years as a priest, his own studies troubled him and through the brave martyr Wishart, it seems, Knox met with God. Carried off as a prisoner, Knox served as a French galley-slave; once freed he served the Church of England. Visiting Geneva, Knox came into Calvin's orbit, and on returning to Scotland almost single-handedly turned the country to faith in Christ. Severe and authoritarian he may have seemed, but thousands came to understand through his fiery preaching that salvation is by faith in Christ alone and that righteousness of life will be a product of that faith.
40. John Rogers (1500-1555).
This fearless preacher of St. Paul's in London had studied at Cambridge in England during the troubled days of the Reformation. He was sent to Antwerp as a chaplain where he met Tyndale and Coverdale. Coming into a new understanding, he joined the work of translating the Bible into English (in 1537 issuing the Matthews Bible). Bishop Ridley later gave Rogers pulpits in London where his sermons had widespread effect. He was arrested, imprisoned and burnt alive for his faith.
41. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556).
A young Spanish knight, Loyola, was severely wounded fighting the French. While recovering, Loyola immersed himself in reading, and while reading books about God and His communicating to men, he experienced a visitation of God for himself. So profound was his conversion, he hung up his armor for the last time, put away his expensive clothes, and, dressed as a beggar, lived in a cavern to study and meditate on God. Loyola soon began to preach, and finding himself rejected in Spain, went to Paris where his influence was far-reaching. In their early years, his followers were keen evangelists and missionaries. Later excesses and deviations of the Jesuits belied the initial pure devotion and total consecration which had been engendered by Loyola's encounter with God.
42. Francis Xavier (1506-1552).
Xavier was one of Loyola's group in Paris; he is an example of the evangelistic zeal which characterized them. His missionary travels took him to India, Japan and China, the very first to bring the name of Christ to these far-flung and unknown places.
43. Johann Arndt (1555-1621). Among the many people God illumined during the 16th century was the son of a Lutheran pastor, Johann Arndt. Years of university study failed to satisfy him. As he read Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ and the sermons of Taules, God met with him and he became a great instrument in His hands. Arndt was greatly influenced by Theologica Germanica which includes writings of the mystics and complained that the church of his day was full of "many heavy disputes and polemical sermons… The Christian life, true repentance, godliness and Christian love are almost forgotten." Many came into a living experience of Christ through Arndt's writings both in his lifetime and in the decades following.
44. John Welch (1570-1622).
Welch was a son-in-law to John Knox. He spent his youth with a band of robbers on the borders between Scotland and England. Coming home in repentance, he studied for the ministry, subsequently pastoring several Scottish churches. Under his ministry in Ayr, historians tell us, the city was wholly transformed. Before entering the pulpit, he would ask the elders to pray for "the anointing." Unusual power seemed to accompany his preaching. Like Knox, his influence grew in many cities and revivals came to many churches where he preached. Contemporaries remember him for his life of prayer, saying Welch regarded a day wasted if a third of it was not spent in prayer.
45. John Davidson (1596).
A remarkable event took place in 1596 when Davidson was invited to chair a session of the General Assembly in Scotland. Five hundred ministers were gathered, besides elders and lay people. Davidson read to them Ezekiel 33 and 34 and spoke of sin, repentance, confession and covenant with God. The assembly broke out in tears and great weeping. Great conviction had fallen on all these church leaders. It was followed by the raising of hands by hundreds who entered into a new covenant with God.
back to index
We are pausing in our historical survey of revivals to consider an aspect of the work that many people find perplexing. This is the phenomena, or unusual physical manifestations that have often taken place during these special times.
This subject is of importance today because of disturbing claims being made that the Holy Spirit is prompting strange, even weird behavior among certain groups, and this behavior is supposed to authenticate His presence.
Some people become absorbed with phenomena, signs and wonders. Easily excited people seize on unusual manifestations as proof positive that God is working. This may be far from the case. Nor should undue emphasis be placed upon them. Accompanying signs may well be present when God comes down in power, but He does not always bless in this way. Wesley witnessed many scenes of the supernatural. He writes:
"Do not easily ascribe things to God. Do not easily suppose dreams, voices, impressions, visions or revelations to be from God. They may be from Him. They may be from nature. They may be from the devil. Therefore, "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits, whether they be of God." (I John 4:1). Try all things by the written word, and let all bow down before it. You are in danger of enthusiasm (fanaticism) if you depart ever so little from Scripture." (From A Plain Account of Christian Perfection)
The other extreme is to allow no place whatsoever for supernatural phenomena. There are those who hold that all miraculous signs ended with the death of the apostles, and all accounts of unusual physical manifestations are received with some skepticism. It would, of course, be virtually impossible to give accounts of revivals throughout history truthfully and maintain this view.
The Reasons for Phenomena
We cannot try to fathom the mind of God fully in this, but if revival is a coming down of God in power, we should expect the unusual: that is, after all, the supernatural breaking through the natural. Moreover, when believers are immersed in His power and presence they will be affected in spirit, soul and body. The fact that the body is affected should not surprise us; it is greatly affected by emotions even in the human realm.
In addition, as Dr. Lloyd-Jones suggests, unusual phenomena may be instruments to awaken interest and arrest the attention of a lethargic and moribund church and society. This was certainly so at Pentecost.Scriptural
Our thesis is that revival is God coming down, and that He has done this often. When He intervened in the affairs of men in Bible times, there was almost always an unusual manifestation: things happened that were way beyond the natural understanding of men.
In Genesis 15, when God entered into covenant with Abraham, a brazier of fire, symbolizing the Presence of God, passed between the laid out elements of sacrifice that Abraham had prepared.
In Genesis 28 when Jacob experienced a vision of God at Bethel, he saw angels descending and ascending the ladder. Here God appeared in a vision.
In Exodus 3, at the call of Moses in the wilderness, there was a burning bush, which flamed, but was not consumed. God was that Burning Bush.
In Exodus 16, when God intervened to meet the needs of His starving people, the Israelites saw the glory of God in the desert, a strange dew, and after the dew went up, manna as a small round thing.
In Exodus 17, when God met the thirst of His people, He stood upon a rock, as Moses struck it with his rod.
In Exodus 19, at the giving of the Law, it was accompanied by several unusual signs: there was a darkness, a tempest, an earthquake, trumpet blasts, and an audible voice that struck terror into all.
In the departure from Egypt, the waters of the Red Sea "stood up on a heap" (Psalm 78:13).
When Solomon ended his prayer at the dedication of the Temple, "the glory of the Lord blazed among them - causing all to fall to the ground." (II Chronicles 7). There are, of course, many more phenomena.
The Old Testament constantly draws our attention to the "otherness" of God, emphasizing the supernatural nature of His working: when He stepped in, natural laws were broken. His presence was always marked by the supernatural; His work always demonstrated a power beyond the human.
In the New Testament, the whole Gospel dispensation was ushered in with signs, wonders and miracles in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, the mighty wind, fire and gift of languages arrested the people of Jerusalem, and such divine power attended the preaching that 3000 were saved.
We can conclude that God may well perform unusual and miraculous things among us when He comes down. Church history demonstrates this. However, the devil can also counterfeit miracles and signs. Furthermore, there can be mere emotional excitement, and a move of God begun in the Spirit can end as the work of the flesh. "Never have heat without light," warned David Brainerd. Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, Daniel Rowlands and others attested these two principles: God's coming is often attended by unusual signs, but there is constant danger of the spurious - the intervention of the flesh.
Arthur Wallis, in his book In the Day of His Power, devotes a whole chapter to the subject of phenomena entitled, A Sign Spoken Against. It is a subject which has engendered strife, but it can prove invaluable for us to look at some of the reported phenomena both from revivals long past and those close to our own day.
Strangely enough, this is one of the most common experiences in Revival. There is a grip, an intensity of feeling and a heavy awareness of the holy and majestic Presence of God. Whole congregations are immersed into a stillness that can last for hours, even days. "God is in His holy temple; let the earth be silent before Him" (Habakkuk 2:20). Many accounts of revival record that a great silence and stillness took hold of the people: no one could move, as if time stood still.
During the Welsh revival of 1904 there were times of powerful silences lasting for hours, sometimes days.
Dr. E. D. Griffin writes of God's coming down in power in Connecticut in 1792 in several places, one of which was called the "Quiet Revival,"
"In point of power and stillness, it exceeded all I have ever seen. While it bears down everything with irresistible force and seems almost to dispense with human instrumentality, it moves with so much silence that unless we attentively observe its affects we are tempted at times to doubt whether anything uncommon is taking place."
Visitors to a great tent meeting in Transvaal in the 1970s thought no one had come to the meeting as they approached: there was no sound to be heard. The truth was that God had come with such remarkable force there was no sound or movement among the hundreds present, sitting in their seats.
This has been a feature of many scenes of particular blessing: people sit in silence at the end of a meeting, unable to speak or move. In revival this is sometimes intensified: for hours there is no sound though there may be thousands present. (It was this feature that characterized the early Quaker movement. Originally many of their silent meetings were genuine.)
By way of contrast, times of revival are often times of great noise. Initially this sometimes causes concern, even offense, and some good people boycott the meetings altogether. God is a God of order, they argue, and here there appears to be disorder.
The truth is that when God works on people they often cry out, like the Philippian jailer, or like the crowds at Pentecost. He causes them to weep as at Bokim, in Judges 2. He also causes them to burst out in praise: the "joyful noise" He requires of us. All this produces a good deal of sound, especially when He deals with crowds of people.
Wesley, Whitefield, Rowlands, Finney, MacDonald (of Ferintosh) and Duncan Campbell all report they had to stop preaching because of the noise of the penitent. Daniel Rowlands, in a letter to Howell Harris, writes of the "brave opportunities" he had preaching in Wales:
"Whole congregations were under concern and crying out that my voice could not be heard. O what am I that my eyes and ears should see and hear such things!"
In The Wind of the Spirit by Elvet Lewis - lectures given in London in 1915 - Lewis claims that three times he witnessed a "mighty, rushing wind" (Acts 2:2, KJV) which came through meetings with tremendous noise. Andrew Murray witnessed similar phenomena in Wellington, South Africa, as did Ivor Davis in the Congo revival. Interestingly, both Murray and Davis had tried unsuccessfully to stop the noise of their congregations when revival came, alarmed at the 'disorder.' Both became instruments in the very revivals they tried to suppress. Davies describes an occasion when he was waked in the night by a tumultuous noise. He rose to find a crowd of Africans crying to God for mercy on them as believers, and calling out His praises.
Jonathan Goforth writes that a Mr. Swallen had an instructive experience in Korea. As Swallen was conducting a service, weeping and confessing broke out among the people. "He had never met with anything so strange, and he announced a hymn, hoping to check the wave of emotion which was sweeping over the audience. He tried several times but in vain and in awe he realized Another was managing the meeting. He got as far out of sight as possible."
At Cane Ridge in Kentucky in 1801 a special camp meeting was organized by some Presbyterian ministers. So great was the spiritual hunger of the time that six days of round-the-clock meetings were planned. Barton Stone, the leading minister, estimated that 25,000 people attended. After the first meeting, the power of God came down. James Finley wrote:
"The noise was like the noise of Niagara. The vast sea of human beings seemed to be agitated as if by a storm. I counted seven ministers all preaching at one time, some on stumps, some on wagons Some of the people were singing, others praying, some crying for mercy shouts that rent the very heavens."
Finney, in particular, had a preference for orderly meetings, but he stood aside frequently when he saw people were moved to cry out by a power that was not their own.
Spiritual discernment is obviously vital during times of God's visitation, for there are many dangers in mass emotion. But the story of revivals down through the centuries attests time and again that the Holy Spirit frequently causes people to burst out into weeping and song.
When Daniel saw the visions recorded in Daniel 8 he "was terrified and fell prostrate" (8:17). A deep sleep overcame him and he lay with his face to the ground (8:18). Similarly, Daniel found his strength drained away and he lay in a deep sleep with his face to the ground in chapter 10:9. He was helpless and speechless (verses 15 and 16) - he could "hardly breathe" (v. 17).
When John saw the Lord Jesus in Revelation 1:17 he "fell at His feet as though dead." When Ezekiel saw the Lord he "fell face down" (Ezekiel 1:28) as did Abraham in Genesis 17:3.
There is plenty of Scriptural warrant for falling prostrate before the Lord. Throughout Church history, in times of revival there have been evidences of similar prostrations time after time. This has often caused disquiet among onlookers and it has occasioned opposition on frequent occasions. In our own day a good deal of spurious and counterfeit falling has been in evidence, sometimes attended with great dangers. There have been occasions of excitement and display. However, genuine cases of prostration have occurred in so many historical accounts of revival they clearly merit attention in any discussion of phenomena.
Dr. Stephen Olin, a 19th century New England Congregational minister and scholar, was impressed with reports of the preaching of "Father Taylor" at Seaman's Bethel in New Bedford. However, Olin was disturbed to hear that people sometimes fell down under this man's preaching. Olin went to hear Taylor, determined not to be emotionally affected. Olin reacted with some contempt. As he continued listening, however, he felt his strength leaving him. He struggled to resist, failed, fell to the ground and was carried out by attendants to a nearby tent. From this experience, Olin later attested, he came to know God in His fullness: his ministry was transformed.
John Wesley became concerned at the number of prostrations under his preaching in the 18th century. A titled lady retorted to his appeal for advice, "These smitings are doing more good than your preaching." Lady Maxwell advised him to go on preaching and ignore the smitten because their removal seemed to grieve the Spirit.
Occasionally people have remained on the ground for many hours. Doctors have reported a weak pulse and low body temperature. In Tracey's account of the revival in America under the Tennant brothers he reports, "Some had to be carried out of the assembly, being overcome as if they had been dead." Almost always, these prostrations resulted in conversions to Christ or a deepened consecration and anointing of the Spirit.
There is an unusual example during Whitefield's preaching where more than one man was struck down as Whitefield preached on the text "it is appointed unto man once to die" (Hebrews 9:27), and they met their death at the hand of God that very moment. The effect on the open-air crowd was profound. As in Acts 5:5 "great fear seized all who heard what happened."
The reality and immediacy of eternal truths of heaven and hell, death and judgment, forgiveness in the cross and the holiness of God are greatly intensified by the Spirit during revival and fear has a powerful effect on the human frame.
McGready, a Presbyterian minister, describes a "sacramental encampment" - a camp gathering for communion - in Kentucky in 1800:
"No person seemed to wish to go home - hunger and sleep seemed to affect nobody - eternal things were the vast concern. Here awakening and converting work was found in every part of the multitude Sober professors who had been communicants for many years [were] now lying prostrate on the ground."
The following year, at the Cane Ridge Revival, James Finley writes of one of the outdoor scenes:
"I stepped up onto a log where I could have a better view of the surging sea of humanity. The scene that then presented itself to my mind was indescribable. At one time I saw at least 500 swept down in a moment as if a battery of 1000 guns had been opened on them."
It is not possible for us to assess the tumultuous events like Cane Ridge with absolute accuracy. There were excesses; there was on occasion mass emotion. But there remained a deep and long-lasting result in the lives of a whole generation in that area.
Jonathan Edwards witnessed prostrations under his preaching in New England in the 18th century. Much criticized for his toleration of weeping, crying out and prostrations, Edwards argued that these were irrefutable manifestations of the reality of God's interventions. He acknowledged the counterfeit and excesses of some pseudo-phenomena, but was one of the clearest and most thoughtful of the defenders of revival and its outworking. He was also an outstanding example of a fearless preacher who saw God's word alone can cause men to fall in conviction.
back to index
In the last issue we dealt briefly with three phenomena of revival which seem to occur frequently: silence, noise and prostrations. We now come to some of the other phenomena often recorded in historical accounts.
4. Trances or Visions
The visions predicted in Acts 2:17 occurred frequently in apostolic days: for example in the story of Ananias in Acts 9:10, of Cornelius in Acts 10:3, of Paul in II Corinthians 12 and John in the Revelation on Patmos.
Certainly, in days of the Spirit's power many have had visions of God, sometimes of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary and sometimes of heaven. Occasionally the vision has produced a trance-like state which has lasted a considerable time. Always the result was rational, enhancing the worship of the Lord and intensifying affection for Him.
A blasphemous, illiterate servant girl in Ulster lost the power of speech and fell into a trance-like state during the 1859 Revival. For over five hours one evening, still unable to speak, she found verses of Scripture, one after another which outlined the story of redemption, tracing each with her finger, illiterate as she was. Twenty-three verses were thus located silently and marked by turning down the corners of the page. The Bible she used was kept as evidence. Later the girl could only recall going through a great battle with evil and finding the Bible was her defense.
Rev. G. Metcalf wrote a letter which was published in the Daily Express of another case in Ireland during these days:
"I mention the case of a young lady who for four weeks lay the greater part of the time as if in a trance, but during that whole period nothing could exceed the beautiful language to which her lips gave utterance. In fact, so exceedingly interesting and remarkable were the opinions and statements made by her on many religious subjects when she was in that state that I brought many persons to witness the scene in hope of their improvement as well as my own."
Duncan Campbell used to describe how God gave visions of Himself during the 1950's Hebrides Revival. On one occasion a great section of the congregation at Barvas fell prostrate, lost in visions of Christ in Glory. This is in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland!
Well known is the striking testimony of that great theologian of Revival, Dr. Jonathan Edwards:
"Once as I rode out into the woods for my health in 1737, having alighted from my horse, in a retired place, as my manner commonly has been, to walk for divine contemplation and prayer, I had a view, that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God as mediator between God and man, and His wonderful, full, pure, sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. This grace, that appeared so calm and sweet, appeared also great above the heavens. The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent, with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception, which continued as near as I can judge about an hour, which kept me, the greater part of the time, in a flood of tears and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be, what I know not otherwise to express, emptied and annihilated, to lie in the dust and be filled with Christ alone, to love Him with a holy and a pure love. To trust in Him, to look upon Him, to serve, and to follow Him, and to be perfectly sanctified and made pure with a divine and heavenly purity. I have several other times had views very much of the same nature, and which have had the same effect."
Henry Bredon, a Methodist minister, writes during a Revival in 1841 of several manifestations of the Lord to him over the years, but of one in particular:
"I was sitting in my own house in Higher Templeton Street in the afternoon of the day… With the eye of my soul I clearly as I ever saw anyone with my bodily eyes at any time. My soul had very sweet union and communion with Him. I seem to have received from Him a changing and transforming influence which I felt for a very long time afterwards… The good effects arising from that manifestation have never passed away from my life."
5. Heavenly Singing
There are interesting accounts at various times and places of the sound of "angelic singing" or unearthly music at times of revival.
In 1949 such a claim was made by many in the Hebrides Revival off the shores of Britain. Frank Marshall, an evangelist in Ireland, saw an unusual coming down of God in Ballyroberts, where a scheduled week of meetings became a nine-months period of great blessing. Many described how they heard heavenly music as they came from the meetings.
Dr. Eifion Evans reports several similar accounts in his well-researched survey of Welsh revivals. My friend Glyndwr Davis used to tell of a walk he took in 1904 in the Brecon hills near Aberere during the great Welsh revival, when he and his companion heard very clearly an unearthly and beautiful music above them.
A phenomenon that has been claimed from time to time is one often associated with spiritism: levitation, or being bodily lifted off the ground. It would be tempting to discount these claims were it not for the weight of evidence surrounding some of them and the impeccable qualifications of the claimants.
There are records that Mrs. Jonathan Edwards knew a few such experiences, although both she and her husband wisely were reticent about it. Jonathan Edwards regarded his wife as a great woman of God and records that such a woman (he does not identify her) was lifted from the earth by the Spirit on occasion.
Bramwell Booth, in his record of the Whitechapel revival, maintains (somewhat reluctantly!) that there were cases of people lifted off their feet as they attempted to come to the front of William Booth's meetings at the invitation.
A man by the name of Callum reports of an incident in the Hebrides when during a prayer meeting, more than one person was levitated. In one church there is a small signature high in the building made by a man who felt both he and others might doubt the facts later!
A good many years ago there was an unknown woman who passed along a road and thought: "Here is a religious tract. I will just drop this on the road and offer a prayer, and who knows but what some bad man will come along and pick up this tract, and it may save his soul." So the woman passed on. Sure enough, a little while after there came a very bad man along, and it was Richard Baxter. He picked up the tract and it brought him to God and was the means of his eternal salvation.
Richard Baxter wrote a book entitled A Call to the Unconverted, which brought thousands into the kingdom, among others Philip Doddridge. He wrote a book entitled The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul. Its harvest is uncounted multitudes for the kingdom of heaven, among others the great Wilberforce. Wilberforce in turn wrote a book on The Practical Views of Christianity. It has done good beyond all earthly computation, and brought many into the kingdom, among others Leigh Richmond. Leigh Richmond wrote a book called The Dairyman's Daughter. It has brought tens of thousands to the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.
Think of all that tide of influence rolling on through Richard Baxter, through Doddridge, through Wilberforce, through Leigh Richmond, on and on, forever and ever. Shall that woman get no reward? Has she not already received her reward? I tell you, her reward is just as great in heaven as that of Richard Baxter, of Doddridge, of Wilberforce, of Leigh Richmond.
back to index
We have seen that almost every revival of note has been accompanied by the unusual. One cannot claim for a moment that it is necessarily a work of the Holy Spirit. However, sometimes, it most certainly is.
We have already written of unusual Silences, of great outbursts, of Noise, of Prostrations, Visions, Heavenly Singing and occasional levitation.
7. Physical Reactions
Peter Cartwright and Lorenzo Dow often witnessed strong physical convulsions take place in their congregations in the eighteenth and nineteenth century revivals in the USA. Such fear of God's holiness and the certainty of judgment on sin seized Cartwright's listeners that he writes of "more than 500 people [being convulsed] at once in my large congregations… it was on all occasions my practice to recommend fervent prayer as a remedy, and it almost universally proved an effectual antidote."
In the Congo revival of more recent years, missionaries reported some people immobilized, feeling their wrists and ankles chained, and only released when they confessed sin, and then only when confession was complete.
It may be that we understand more today of the impact of emotion on the body. We see it on all hands in the secular world: we are not surprised that onlookers thought the disciples were drunk in Acts 2 when they were filled with the Spirit of God. So it is not hard to believe stories from numerous revivals of people leaping for joy. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church solemnly tells us that "Jumpers" was a nickname of Welsh Calvinistic Methodists from their former custom of 'leaping for joy' at their meetings.
Robert Jones, a Welshman writing of the 1762 revival in Wales a few years after the event, says:
"Great crowds magnified God without being able to cease, but sometimes leaping in jubilation as David did before the Ark. Sometimes whole nights were spent with a voice of joy and praise… I heard from a godly old woman that it lasted three days and three nights without a break at a place called Lonfudr."
Dancing for joy was not exclusively Methodist - though even in the Wesleyan revival, Methodists were always of accused of "enthusiasm" (too much joy). In the Hebrides Revival of the 1950s Presbyterian elders leaped for joy. After a sermon on the majesty of God in Wales in 1851, John Lewis comments on the reaction of the congregation in their heavy wooden shoes:
"Such jumping and exulting I never saw before or since… They jumped wonderfully in their clogs… leaping and praising God. This was a meeting to be remembered forever."
Jonathan Edwards, in a treatise concerning religious affections (1746) writes, "True religion, in great part, consists in the affections [emotions]." In some thoughts concerning the present revival, Edwards describes how a godly woman sometimes felt constrained to jump for joy.
8. The Gift of Prophecy
It is on record that, occasionally an individual was given the gift of prophecy or foretelling, during a time of revival.
John Welch, son-in-law of John Knox of Scotland, who was used of God in many awakenings, occasionally was able to predict future events with great accuracy.
A minister with the Church of Scotland, who was a product of the Hebrides Revival, spoke of a man in his church to whom the Spirit would often reveal future events, especially concerning people in the parish. "I always listened to him," said the minister, "for I never found him to be wrong."
Duncan Campbell often told of two older ladies to whom God remarkably revealed what was to happen at Barvas in the Hebrides revival, and various other places subsequently.
Sandy Peden, known as "The Prophet" had a remarkable gift of foretelling during the revival among the Scottish Covenanters. He foresaw the downfall of many enemies of the gospel and accurately predicted events of history.
9. A Visible Glory
In Old Testament days, God often showed his glory visibly, as to Moses in Exodus 33, to the Israelites in Exodus 40:35, and at the temple in II Chronicles 7.
Occasionally, in Old English writings of Mediaeval days, accounts are given of a "shining light" accompanying early preachers of the gospel - accounts which are hard to verify but interesting to note.
In our own day, Roberts and Gruffydd, in their book Revival and its Fruits mention times of a clear illumination of places where revival was taking place, seen by people across the valley.
Let the account of R. B. Jones of the 1904 revival suffice:
10. Gift of Preaching; Enhanced Abilities
When the Holy Spirit came upon Bezaleel in Exodus 31 he was given the gift of craftsmanship. When the Spirit came upon Samson in Judges 14:6 he was given prodigious strength. The Spirit came upon Elijah in I Kings 18:46 and he outran Ahab's horses forty-two miles to Jezreel.
In times of awakening, the Holy Spirit has anointed His servants with the gift of preaching time and time again. It is the gift of prophesy as outlined in I Corinthians 14:1-5.
A minister by the name of Evans, of the Presbyterian Church in Llantrisart, Wales, was notorious for his boring sermons. One day he sat listening to an account of God's work of revival elsewhere in Wales and the Spirit came upon Evans. No one knew of this until he stood up in his pulpit the following Sunday. All his hesitancy and uncertainty and heaviness had gone. His congregation were gripped by the power of his preaching: he seemed like another man.
John MacDonald of Scotland's story is similar. He was an excellent man and a deadly dull preacher. While in Edinburgh he had what his biographer calls "a baptism of fire." He was transformed. Like Whitefield, he came to preach to thousands and often they would stand outside in cold, Scottish drizzle, held by the power of the word.
Almost more than any other phenomenon, the gift of preaching seems to be revival's hallmark. There is a raising up of many of the most unlikely people, anointed to be heralds. Laymen and women are often among the most used, as in Wesley's day.
"Even upon My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days and they will prophesy." Acts 2:18.
10. Other Phenomena
Instances of other unusual phenomena accompanying revival are recorded. Some here claimed the appearance of angels, as in the revival under Marie Monsen in China earlier this century. (In fact Chinese Christians have many remarkable and well-documented accounts of appearance of angels during persecution.)
There are accounts of a rushing wind coming through meetings as at Pentecost. This appears to have happened in South Africa in the revival under Andrew Murray. Dr. Elvet Lewis also claims this occurred in several revivals in Wales which he personally witnessed; he records this in The Wind of the Spirit. More recently, we are told, it occurred in the Congo Revival.
Healings during times of awakening would be too numerous to deal with adequately. Suffice it to say that the Spirit of God restored many, many people physically during meetings in revival days, mostly without much publicity.
Even resurrection from the dead is not unknown. In the South African revival in Kwa Sizabantu, some of us met a healthy lady who tells of being raised from the dead, a story which is corroborated by the pastor and people of the community.
During the seventeenth century Cervantes movement in Scotland, John Welch, Knox's son-in-law, was the human instrument of several awakenings. Welch was acquainted with a young man he was convinced God wanted in the ministry. This young man was killed during a terrible battle with the English redcoats. Welch refused to leave the body, and turned to agonized prayer that God would fulfill his hopes for the young man. Friends around, trying to prove to Welch that the man was indeed dead, did some rather terrible tests to the body. The man was certainly dead. Welch refused to give up and was still in prayer the next day when suddenly the man sat up, alive and puzzled about his friend's treatment of his body. The story makes splendid reading in the Scottish Covenanter history The Cloud of Witnesses.
back to index
We examined the coming down of God as recorded in the Bible both in the Old and New Testaments. We followed on with some accounts of remarkable visits of God among His people from the days of Iranaeus and the early centuries of church history up to the Reformation and beyond.
We have looked at the characteristics of revival: those features which seem to be present in every coming down of God. We examined various phenomena which have occurred during these revivals.
Before continuing the historical survey we want to look at an aspect that thrills every Christian worker and as much as any other calls us to our knees. A. What is the effect of Revival in the church and B. on society at large?
In this issue we will look at Revival's effect on the Church. God always works first among His own people.
1. A Sense of God's Actual Presence.
When God comes down in a special way, His Presence is both glorious and disturbing. No one present is left unmoved by it. Some Christians wonder if they had ever really known Him before.
Sometimes He comes down on one gathering; sometimes on consecutive meetings in a church fellowship; sometimes on a whole geographical area.
Christians from such revivals speak of a profound sense of God making Himself known to His people, often overwhelmingly. He came down on a meeting at the Keswick Convention in England in 1917, where thousands were deeply affected. One on the platform turned to his neighbor saying, "I have never seen anything like this before." The other replied, "I don't know what you mean: I only saw God."
Edwin Orr speaks of whole areas of Britain being aware of God during the 1859 revival. Thousands of fellowships were visited by Him in a way they had never experienced before.
2. A Sense of Sin.
Consequent upon this immediacy of His Presence is a sharp conviction of sin. People acknowledge an actual trembling, a weight of guilt, a smitten conscience; and this among believers as much as unbelievers.
If there is anything Revival does it is this: it cleanses the church. The low standards of Christian living, the blurred conception of right and wrong and the hidden, covered-up sins are suddenly brought into sharp focus. God's searchlight is blindingly clear.
This is why Wesley, Walsh and others often speak of the days and nights spent with crowds who are crying to God to have mercy on them. "Great fear seized the whole church," we read in Acts 5:11.
And this is because God, in His infinite mercy, longs to be the Purifier of His people, to separate and sanctify them for Himself.
3. Eternal Punishment a Doctrine Declared.
The Bible teaching on eternal punishment (almost always softened, questioned and then more or less rejected as spiritual life weakens) becomes a vital doctrine again. The spirit of listeners grows faint at the words of the Lord Jesus, "Then they will go away to eternal punishment" (Matthew 25:46).
"Fear Him," said the Lord Jesus, "who can cast both soul and body into hell" (Matthew 10:28). It was this fear that was so remarkable under Jonathan Edwards' preaching. An elder ran forward in one of the services while members of the congregation gripped the pillars and pews. "Mr. Edwards! Have mercy on us!"
It is after a new realization of these terrible truths that the glory fully dawns that Jesus stepped in to save us from the wrath of God.
4. The Centrality of the Atonement.
Of 1,000 sermons of an evangelical preacher I have recently examined, only two dealt with the death of Christ.
The apostles were determined to preach nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified (I Cor. 2:2). An amazing shift of emphasis takes place in Revival preaching.
Jesus Christ is the focus of the message, and the efficacy of His death is the central theme.
His suffering, His blood, His atonement and the redemption possible in Him is the great message
"The Spirit of Truth Who goes out from the Father will testify about Me," says Jesus in John 15:26.
When the Spirit comes in power, which is Revival, He always focuses peoples' minds on Jesus Christ and the infinite significance of His death on the Cross.
5. A Conscious Infilling of the Spirit.
Dr. Lloyd-Jones defined Revival as "a multitude of believers being simultaneously baptized by the Holy Spirit."
Interestingly, most of the great classics on the Holy Spirit in our libraries today are products of Revival.
This is no coincidence. When Lloyd-Jones commented that more is done in one hour in Revival than in a normal lifetime's ministry, he is referring to the effect of the Spirit's coming in power. We know He comes to reveal, convict and regenerate. But He also comes to fill. Empty, defeated and bankrupt Christians are transformed, as the disciples were at Pentecost. They can scarcely contain their love for Him, joy in Him and assurance of "so great salvation." And, as many have observed, there is a permanence in this work. Fifty years after the Welsh Revival its people still bore its hallmark. It seemed to be indelible.
6. Boldness in Witnessing.
One of the effects of the Spirit's work on believers is a spontaneous compulsion to evangelize. So certain are they of all they believe they are unafraid to declare it. They feel they must go and tell, and they are full of boldness in so doing. The new dynamism comes from the new assurance.
back to index
7. Large Numbers of Conversions.
In view of the remarkable effect of Peter's preaching at Pentecost, it is hardly surprising that revival is almost always accompanied by large numbers of conversions. Three thousand were added to the church at Pentecost, and five thousand a few days later. Daily "the Lord added to their number," we read in Acts 2:47 and in 5:14 and 6:7. Luke tells us numbers were increasing rapidly.
This is one of the most encouraging hallmarks of Revival. Historians speak of thousands coming into the kingdom in the days of Wesley and Whitefield. Where much labor seemed necessary to bring few into the faith before revival, the Holy Spirit brings conviction to great crowds who cry, "What must we do to be saved?" It seems as if the initiative is all theirs: knocking at the doors of the kingdom of God, desperate for entry.
Numerically, revivals account for the greatest of all church growth.
8. The Nature of Worship is Radically Changed.
New wine needs new wineskins. New life in the church, especially involving considerable numbers, almost always brings new dynamism in worship. The old order of worship, often grown settled and staid, or else casual and careless, is suddenly transformed.
The new believers have met with God and they want God-centered, not man-centered worship. In the Welsh revival of 1904 many of the believers spoke of being unaware of anyone but God in their meetings.
Leaders of services wait on God: they are aware of Him, even afraid to intrude on His work. Duncan Campbell frequently tried to convey the awe felt by ministers and leaders in the Hebrides Revival. The immediacy of His Presence affected all worship of Him.
There is a need to participate. People want to tell what God has done and sometimes burst into praise. Congregations who were passively silent are actively vocal. I Corinthians 14 gives an insight into the dynamism of a young revival-born church. It has problems! But it is a church bursting with life.
9. Hunger for the Word.
Linked to the new form of worship is a hunger for Bible truth. Entertainment and storytelling are not hallmarks of a revived pulpit. People are hungry for real food from God.
Nehemiah 8 tells of the desire for God's written word in time of revival. It had been neglected, perhaps viewed as dull and irrelevant. Suddenly it was alive and powerful, "sharper than a two-edged sword." The people wept copiously as they listened from daybreak till noon. Then they "celebrated with great joy because they now understood the words that they had made known to them" (verse 12).
Every true revival is characterized by this coming-alive of the word of God. Its proclamation often has an electrifying effect, as under Jonathan Edwards and many others. The word of God becomes meat and drink to individual believers and a hammer to break rocks in pieces (Jeremiah 23:29). This often represents a clear doctrinal shift: the Holy Spirit authenticates what He has written.
10. Prayer Meetings Multiply.
We read in Acts 2:42-47 of a band of believers living in a fellowship almost intoxicated with joy. Every day they met, we read, for teaching, fellowship, 'breaking of bread' and prayer. Daily prayer meetings! When the Holy Spirit comes in power, prayer meetings are energized by God. It is hard to bring them to a close. Suddenly, it seems, believers realize the limitless power of prayer; suddenly, quiet silent Christians want to burst into praise. Suddenly it dawns on the church that the prayer meeting is the paramount meeting - "My house shall be called a house of prayer" (Luke 19:46).
11. Believers Want to Serve.
We observed earlier that after days of revival many people enroll for service. Many missionary movements were born after revivals, for example, the surge of concern about global evangelism after the 1859 revival in America and Europe. It is noteworthy that the Korean church has been a great "sending" church ever since the Korean revivals of the early twentieth century.
In almost every avenue of Christian service there is a growth in applicants and candidates after the baptism of new life. Colleges are founded, students multiply in numbers; many homes are opened for informal meetings and churches are full of people wanting to serve.
12. Unity Among Believers.
Christians of the twentieth century - especially in the western world - often look wistfully at the unity among believers demonstrated in Acts. Locked into our denominational fastnesses we tend only to pay lip service to the oneness in Christ of His redeemed people. We look over the wall at each other.
True, revivals have sometimes occurred in one local church, and sometimes among a group in one denomination. However, a Holy Spirit revival always has this hallmark: it breaks down walls. Even when one church is revived, people come from all directions, and both pastor and people now want every church to share the blessing.
The Canadian revival of the 1970s exemplifies the coming together of many denominations. The Keswick movement in England - born out of revival - illustrated the deep, abiding unity which Jesus intended for His disciples: "all one in Christ Jesus." It was insignificant what party or denomination anyone came from: the greater the sense of God's Presence, the greater the unity of believers.
This may well be one of the more overlooked effects of the genuine work of the Spirit. We cannot pray for revival to build up our own little empire: He will not do this. His concern is for all who will share His glory - all His church in every place. Revival begins the answer of the Lord's prayer to the Father in John 17:23: "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know you sent Me."
If it is certain from Scripture that gladness in God was intended to be the common possession of His children, it is almost equally certain that most of us have largely failed to experience it. The pilgrim way, which the Lord ordained to be a path of song, has become to many a highway of sighs. "The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads" - that is His program for us; they shall plod their way wearily, and with only rare and uncertain accessions of strength and joy - that, all too often, is our actual experience.
It was, of course, never intended that we should be always in ecstasy - few of us can bear much of that; but there is a lowly, loving gladness in God that makes all life tender and holy, and that expresses itself unfailingly in quiet and happy song, which rises, on occasions, into strong and glowing exultation. It is this we want, it is this we may have; for it is to this we are called by a thousand Scriptures. Unbelief would have us degrade these to the level of our experience, but faith bids us raise our experience to the level of the Scripture promise. Our actual life will be according to which of these courses we follow.
back to index