Robert Haldane’s Revival
The start of the new millennium has many pundits wringing their hands about the future, but believers in Christ should he looking to the future with optimism. This may be the year in which the Lord returns. He can come at any time. Again, this may be the year in which we see the beginning of the reformation for which we have been working.
What will it take to see the beginning of a genuine revival in 2000? Let me answer that by reflecting on a revival that took place in French-speaking Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century. It was called Haldane’s Revival after a Scotsman named Robert Haldane (1764-1842). After his conversion, Haldane became concerned with the evangelisation of Europe, a passion which found him in the city of Geneva in the fall of 1815.
Robert Haldane was sitting on a park bench by the lake of Geneva one day when he got into a conversation with some university students. They were studying for the ministry, but they were clearly not converted. So Haldane invited them to his flat in the old city, not far from the great church once pastored by John Calvin, where they participated that winter in what we would call a Bible study. Haldane taught them from the book of Romans, on which he would eventually write a great commentary.
Each of those young men was soundly converted through that study and became an effective leader in the revival that followed. These men were so effective in this work that a professor in the university named Monsieur Cheneviers later wrote to Haldane to ask what it was that had gotten into these young students, what had so profoundly transformed them and made them such effective Christian workers.
Haldane answered in a letter that is now part of his commentary. He said it was a study of the last verses of Romans 11, particularly verse 36, in which God is pictured as his own last end in everything he does; “for from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen.” He said it was understanding that “the manifestation of the glory of God is the great end of creation, that he has himself chiefly in view in all his works and dispensations, and that it is a purpose in which he requires that all his intelligent creatures should acquiesce, and seek and promote it as their first and paramount duty.”
I think that is what is chiefly lacking in today’s church, and that we are never going to have a reformation until we re-establish that perspective. But that will chiefly require repentance and a recovery of the Reformation doctrines.
For who is it who will be able to say, ‘To God be all the glory”? Not the world certainly The world is set on its own glory. Its creed is the cry of Nebuchadnezzar, “Is this not the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty” (Dan. 4:30), the precise opposite of Romans 11:36. Nor can Arminians say it. They can say, ‘To God be the glory.” But as long as they hang on to the supposed ability of man to make the final determination as to whether or not he will be saved, apart from the sovereign regenerating power of God to enable him to believe, they cannot say, ‘To God be all the glory.” Arminian theology always retains some of the glory for ourselves.
But here is my chief point. Neither can true followers of the Reformation say it, whether they be “five point doctrines of grace” Calvinists or “five solas, Law and Gospel” Lutherans, as long as what we are actually trying to do is to build our own kingdoms, as many of us are.
God has said, “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another” (ls. 42:8). Until we understand that and begin to conform our desires and aspirations to it, we will not see the reformation we say we want. But we can be revived. It has happened before. Why not now? There has certainly never been a period in recent history in which a true Reformation has been more desperately needed.
James Montgomery Boice.
Senior minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia.
Robert Haldane’s warm commentary on Romans is published (clothbound and 732 pages) by the Banner of Truth
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