Saturday, March 10, 2007

Surprising Works of God: Understanding the Nature of Revival

by JM

Pt. 1 – Towards a Definition

It has been of late that God has been stirring within the hearts of many within our church a longing for revival. As for me, the seeds were implanted within my heart through reading George Marsden’s biography on Jonathan Edwards in 05’, and then through reading Arnold Dallimore’s and Michael Haykin’s biographies on George Whitefield at the end of 06’. Edwards and Whitefield were men who both embodied and perpetuated one of the great revivals of Church History: The Great Awakening of the 18th century. These were men of spiritual depth, passion, knowledge, and compassion for the lost; they inhaled sweet devotion with Christ, and exhaled Christ-exalting, soul-winning, and church-edifying preaching and teaching. Whether it’s the theological acumen and precision of Edwards, or the unmatched eloquence of Whitefield, no one could doubt that these were men whose souls burned with white-hot passion for Christ. Edwards and Whitefield were 2 of a number of “revived” men who saw no small work of God’s Spirit in their lives and ministries. We could go on to name Edward Griffin, Asahel Nettleton, Lyman Beecher, Gardiner Spring, Samuel Davies, and a host of others who like a cloud of witness surrounding us, give us fresh legs and new wind to run the race set before us.

As with all good gifts, Satan has his counterfeits: for God’s Christ, Satan commissions his anti-christs; his false christs with external similarities to the true, but housing poison for the soul and inordinate glory to man. In particular, to counteract God –given revival, Satan has distracted many with what Iain Murray labels “Revivalism.” Yet, we all know that God is in the habit of taking the wicked intentions of demons and demon-like people and channeling these for His greater promotion. And so it is with counterfeit revival. Counterfeit revival, when compared to the genuine, give us occasion to see the real work in its grandeur. For it’s in the contrast that we have greater clarity of the subtle yet monumental differences. What is at first imperceptible and seemingly insignificant assaults us as the very heart of the matter. Much like Satan’s alleged facsimile of God’s command to Eve in Genesis 3, so it is with the differences between revival and revivalism.

To highlight the genuine given the backdrop of the spurious, let’s settle ourselves to provide a working definition of what is meant by revival:

Revival is a sovereign, irregular, and temporary act of God whereby, through the operation of the Holy Spirit,

(1) certain churches experience a heightening of things believed, an acceleration of processes that are typically slow paced, and a greater success of those things endeavored,

(2) the communities in which these churches reside are affected by this movement unto salvation in far greater numbers than at ordinary times,

(3) the effects of (1) and (2) are long-lasting upon individuals, churches, and communities; fruit consistent with individuals, churches, and communities who have imbibed fully of the power of the gospel, and

(4) Christ is exalted primarily through conversion and the sanctification of His people.
By way of clarification, this move of the Holy Spirit has been often described as the “out-pouring of the Spirit,” “baptism of the Spirit,” “effusion of the Spirit,” “infilling of the Spirit, “greater measure of the Spirit,” and other phrases like these. This operation of the Spirit is believed to be displayed at Pentecost and during subsequent “infillings” described for us in the apostolic narrative.

By “a heightening of things believed,” among a number of things, I mean; a greater awareness and hatred of sin; a greater desperation for Christ and dependence on His meritorious work; a greater preoccupation with God’s glory; a greater sense of the transiency of life and imminence of the kingdom of God; a greater fervor in the work of the Lord.

By “an acceleration of processes that are typically slow,” I mean that God accomplishes in a quicker way what he normally does in a prolonged manner. Remarking on this phenomena in his own ministry, Edwards says,

“When God in so remarkable a manner took the work into his own hands, there wasas much done in a day or two as at ordinary times, with all endeavor that men can use, and with such a blessing as we commonly have, is done in a year” (Edwards, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, 350).
Earlier, Edwards gives particulars to what he means.
“God has also seemed to have gone out of his usual way, in the quickness of his work, and the swift progress his Spirit has made in his operations on the hearts of many. It is wonderful that persons should be so suddenly and yet so greatly changed. Many have been taken from a loose and careless way of living, and seized with strong convictions of their guilt and misery, and in a very little time old things have passed away, and all things have become new with them” (Ibid.).
By (2) and (4), I mean that the chief goal or end of this operation of the Spirit is the exaltation of Christ as Savior through an extraordinary harvest of soul’s saved and set aflame with aspirations for and exploits of holy living. This is also what I meant in “a greater success in things endeavored.”

I think that it’s safe to assume that pseudo-revival will equivocate, redefine, or reject more than one of these elements this definition. We’ll turn to this in the following enstallments.