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Revivals true and false

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Date May 22, 2002

REVIVALS TRUE AND FALSE

In short, a revival shows itself to be genuine by its effects upon the religious, the fraternal and the missionary life of the church.

[The following fascinating piece is extracted from the chapter on Revivals of Religion in the Writings of Thomas E. Peck, (Banner of Truth Trust, 3 volumes, hbk)]

The only efficient agent in producing a revival is the Holy Ghost; a revival cannot be “gotten up”; it must “come down”, hence begins with prayer.

The only instrumentality to be used is the Word of God, bringing the soul into contact with it by reading, preaching, singing, the sacraments, and the exercise of discipline. Error may be mingled with truth in the course of a revival, but it is the truth alone which is the means of awakening the unconvicted and of quickening the spiritual life of the believers. The truth of God is seed, and error is seed (Mt.13:24-27), and each produces according to its kind.

1. WHAT IS TO BE THOUGHT OF RELIGIOUS EXCITEMENTS?

(a) No excitement is to be considered as genuine because it is uncontrollable, and this for the reason that other sorts of excitements, notoriously not the effects of the gracious operations of the Spirit, are uncontrollable also. Saul was greatly excited when he lifted up his voice and wept, and said in the presence of his own men, and of David and his men, “I have sinned”, but he sinned on. Judas was greatly excited when he threw down the money and declared that he had betrayed the innocent blood, but he went and hanged himself.

(b) No excitement is holy and genuine because the subject of it professes to have great spiritual enjoyment. “Satan”, says Dr Plumer again, “has his devices for pleasing the people as well as for disgusting them in matters of religion. What is more calculated to gratify a carnal mind than a strong delusion leading one to think himself a Christian, and yet not disturbing his lusts? Besides, man is naturally fond of frolic, and many excitements in religion are so conducted as to suit this propensity. Unconverted men have as little enmity to a religious frolic as they have to one of another sort, provided, always, that the thing is not to last too long, and that then matters are to resume their usual course, and all the parties are to be at liberty to return to their covetous practices, their selfish gratifications, their avoidance of rigid self-denial and their indulgence of sin”.

(c) Religious excitements which exist only in social and public meetings, private and closet duties being neglected, are to be suspected. After due allowance has been made for the legitimate operation of the social and sympathetic part of man’s nature in the matter of public worship, it may be said with Dr Plumer, that “when any man or number of men can pray fervently and very earnestly in a social meeting, yet when alone have but few words or little earnestness or less power, they may know that their hearts have deceived them”.

(d) All religious excitements are to be dreaded which make men careless as to the state of their own hearts. At no time more than in a general awakening should the extent, spirituality and holiness of the law, the unspeakable deceitfulness and wickedness of the heart, the sovereignty of God, the trying fires of the last day, the perfectly lost and helpless state of the unregenerate, and the fulness and freeness of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, be kept constantly in view by ministers, Christians, and sinners.

(e) A religious excitement attended by “bodily exercises” is to be dreaded. Not that these exercises are proof of the spuriousness of the excitement, but that while they are as little proof of its genuineness, they are so considered by ignorant people, and the Spirit of God is dishonoured. Moreover, there is more danger of self-deception; that is, more people are in danger of deceiving themselves when these exercises attend the excitement, because, by the operation of sympathy, they spread more rapidly than the ordinary signs of emotion. Such narrations as those of Davidson’s will make every sober Christian pray against these exercises. It will not do, however, because these phenomena can all be accounted for upon natural principles, to say that there is no real presence of the regenerating and sanctifying Spirit in such scenes. They prove nothing either way, save that the nervous system is powerfully affected. The presence of the Spirit can be proved only by effects which are in harmony with his own blessed nature and with his word. This leads us to the next question about revivals:

2. WHAT ARE THE EVIDENCES THAT A GENUINE REVIVAL HAS TAKEN PLACE?

This question may be answered in a general way by reference to such passages as those just cited. But let us take an instance of a revival known to us by God’s testimony to have been genuine, and see what the effects were. (Acts 2:37-47).

(a) This revival began with a deep conviction of sin on the part of the professed people of God, the members of the Jewish church. A so-called revival, in which are not awakened the unconverted members of the church, including both the communicating and the non-communicating members, in which there are no “searchings of heart” and bitter bewailings of unfaithfulness on the part of the true people of God, is hardly worthy of the name.

(b) An increased attention to those duties of which God is the direct object, mainly His worship (Acts 2:42), His word more valued, and the fellowship of believers in the ordinances of worship, sacraments and prayers deeper and more pronounced.

(c) A marked increase of attention to those duties of which believers are the direct object. (vv44, 45). Liberality in giving is a good sign of a genuine revival.

(d) An increased attention to those duties of which the impenitent are the direct object. (v47).

In short, a revival shows itself to be genuine by its effects upon the religious, the fraternal and the missionary life of the church. It is deplorable that even in our own branch of the church the number rather than the quality of those added to its communion should be so much regarded.

3. ARE THE FREQUENT OCCURENCES OF REVIVALS A TEST OF THE FAITHFULNESS OF A MINISTER OF THE GOSPEL?

Some are called to sow, others to reap (Jn.4:35-38) some are eminently qualified to awaken sinners, others to edify saints. The difference between sowing and reaping is strikingly illustrated in the foreign missionary work, which has been hitherto mainly a sowing work. The reaping done by Paul and Barnabas came after centuries of the preaching of Moses in the synagogues. The ingathering under the apostles in Palestine was the reaping of that which had been sown by their Lord. Every minister is to be faithful in his place, and leave results to God, who is sovereign.

4. WHAT MEANS ARE TO BE USED FOR OBTAINING A REVIVAL AND FOR PROMOTING IT?

(a) The means have been already mentioned in a general way: they are God’s Word and the ordinances, mainly of worship, by which the Word may be more readily and impressively brought into contact with the heart and conscience. And here it is of the very last importance that we should adhere to God’s commands and abstain from our own inventions. We should carefully distinguish between means that God, in His sovereignty, may use, and means that He authorizes us to use. The sudden death of some one in the congregation would give great emphasis to the warnings of the minister; but no one would say that it would be right in men to cause a death in such circumstances in order to make the truth impressive.

(b) The means ordained of God are adapted to the nature of man as a rational and responsible being. The emotions which we ought to seek to awaken are the emotions which the truth has a tendency to produce; and we ought to aim at no other. The means are moral, not physical, in their nature; they operate morally, not mechanically. Hence, some kinds of preaching, praying, singing, administration of the sacraments, are better suited to obtain a revival than other kinds. The gifts of ministers vary. Some are better fitted to awaken, others to edify and comfort. Paul and Barnabas were sent out together, no doubt, because their gifts were not the same, and they were intended to complement each other. For the very same reason that God selected men and not angels to be preachers, the men themselves must not be all of the same mould, and the same man must not always be exactly like himself. One of the most significant statements
concerning the great preachers above mentioned is that in Acts 14:1: “It came to pass in Iconium, that they so spake that a great multitude, both of the Jews and also of the Greeks, believed”. The result was due, in part, to their manner of speech, the matter being the same gospel which they preached everywhere. The man of doctrine and the man of “consolation” both surpassed themselves on that occasion.

The odious distinction, however, between ministers indicated by the use of the phrases “revival men,” or “revivalists”, in application to some of them and not to others, ought never to be made. “If a revival man”, says the great preacher whom we have several times quoted, “is one who loves to see hearts broken in view of the cross of Christ and labours to that end, then all converted ministers, not in a backslidden state, are revival men. If by this distinction it is intended to designate those only who have frequent and precious seasons of refreshing, it is a wrong use of the words, for many whose ministry is exceedingly blessed are never so called. Neither can a desire to witness a day of God’s power, nor soundness of evangelical views, nor earnestness in publishing the gospel, nor solid and lasting success in the ministry, be pleaded as exclusively belonging to those who regard themselves as the peculiar friends of revivals”. So much as to the manner of dispensing the Word and ordinances.

As to the matter, the presentation of certain doctrines of the Word is better suited to obtain a revival than that of others. The reading of the genealogies in the first chapters of 1 Chronicles, Hermann Melville relates, was the means of awakening a careless sinner on one occasion; but nobody would say that such a passage is as well suited to alarm and awaken as that in John 3:1 ft, or that in Mark 9:43-50, and a multitude of others that might be named. The preaching which presents “the three Rs” as they were quaintly called by Rowland Hill – Ruin by sin, Redemption by Christ, Regeneration by the Spirit – is the best suited for revival, because it is the preaching of the very core and marrow of the Word. Let us guard against imagining that preaching to believers, dwelling upon their privileges and hopes, their temptations and perils, is not suited for revival work. Dr Nathan L Rice, of Kentucky, who was eminently blessed in this kind of work, is reported to have always begun a “protracted meeting” by preaching a series of sermons to believers.

It is impracticable and unnecessary to go into details upon these maffers. Within the limits just stated, there is great room for variety in the forms of presenting the truth; and this variety will be determined by the circumstances of cases and the judgment of the workman who has been taught by the Spirit rightly to divide the Word of truth.

THOMAS E PECK

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