We Must Have Revival
Renew our days as of old. (Lamentations 5:21)
John Girardeau, the Old School Presbyterian1 minister from Charleston, SC, in 1851 turned down the opportunity to pastor a large Presbyterian church in order to begin a church with African slaves, out of Second Presbyterian Church, Charleston. Girardeau’s methodology was to hold a weekly prayer meeting, to divide the congregation into classes of fifty each so that accountability and pastoral needs could be adequately addressed, and to preach the Word of God with power. The church began with thirty-six members and by 1860 there were six hundred members and over fifteen hundred attending both the morning and afternoon services. His congregation of slaves, who largely were not allowed to learn to read or write by their masters, learned by rote memory the Shorter Catechism of the Westminster Confession of Faith; and his congregation built the largest church building in Charleston at the time. Almost all the members were African slaves. Girardeau rejected any semblance of a business plan. He sought the unction of the Spirit upon his preaching and God answered powerfully.
When revival came to New York City through the noon-day prayer meetings led by Jeremiah Lanphier,2 the revival began also to spread throughout America, Wales, and Northern Ireland.3 As the nation moved closer and closer to war and secession Girardeau’s people also longed for revival. So they began a prayer meeting in 1858, praying every night for several hours, over many weeks. They asked for him to preach to them but he refused, waiting instead for the Spirit first to visit them. One evening, while he was praying, Girardeau says that he felt something like a lightening bolt rush through his body, head to foot. He stood in stunned silence for a few minutes. He then led in a hymn and said that preaching would begin the next night. The people sat down in their seats, waiting for him to begin preaching that very moment. He then knew the Spirit had come upon them as well! The preaching and praying lasted that first night until midnight with much weeping – some wept for their lost souls, while others wept for the joy of their salvation. Large numbers of blacks and whites were saved during these many weeks of preaching; and churches throughout Charleston were built up by the revival.4 Many of those saved in the revival preaching of Girardeau died a few years later as they marched off and faced the awful guns of war.
In concluding his five poems of lament due to God’s judgment on Judah’s recalcitrance, Jeremiah makes an appeal to God, ‘Restore us to thee, O Lord, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old’ (Lam. 5:21). He is asking God to remember them, to restore the ‘glory days’ of life under King David. The Psalmist asked for the same thing, ‘O God, restore us, and cause thy face to shine upon us, and we will be saved’ (Psa. 80:3). Can we not agree to ask, likewise, for God to renew our days as of old! Do we not desperately need a fresh visitation of the Spirit upon us! While circumstances have changed, can we not agree that the same kind of Holy Spirit-anointed ministry as they had in Girardeau’s day is still needed! What are we to do?
Bottom line – we must have revival or we will perish. What must we do to see it? As I have mentioned before5 we must come to grips with our guilt. We have failed to seek God as we ought. We have failed to pray, to evangelize, and to speak the word of truth to one another. We have imbibed of worldliness and materialism, worshipping the god of peace and affluence. We must gain an intolerable burden for the glory of God. We will not gain this until we see our guilt and repent of our sin. And we must possess an indomitable hunger for the salvation of souls. We must see the fire and brimstone. We must smell the hellish sulphur. We must hear the agonizing cry of the damned. We must lament how our blessed Lord’s name is besmirched by those who deny his deity, who say he is only one of many saviours.
But we must also be willing to pay the price for revival, and that means revival prayer. Daniel prayed twelve hours (Dan. 9:21). The one hundred and twenty prayed for ten days (Acts 1:9, 24). Anna prayed for fifty years (Luke 2:36-37). If we are unwilling to set aside at least twelve hours to pray, then we do not mean business with God!
We must regain a biblically-structured ecclesiology. By this I mean all believers must see their need to evangelize (Acts 8:4).6 To fail here is to be disobedient to the Great Commission. We all are to speak the Word of God to one another, teaching and exhorting one another Eph. 4:25). And all are to serve others, putting their needs before our own, what Francis Schaeffer called ‘living in community’ as followers of Christ (Gal. 5:13). But while all are to do these three things, it is also true that God gifts some as evangelists, some as teachers, and some as deacons (Eph. 4:11, Acts 6:1ff). Knowing and using our spiritual gifts is a vital and worthwhile pursuit. And there are three offices within the church – evangelist, elder, and deacon – and all three are vital to the welfare and growth of any local body of Christ (Eph. 4:11, 1 Tim. 3:1ff). And for every one evangelist there ought to be two elders to teach biblical truth, and three deacons who are there to minister to the physical and material needs of these new converts. That’s because new converts from ‘the world’ often need lots of help learning how to alter their lives more into conformity with the teaching of the Bible.
But we must also seek God for revival preaching. Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship men like Bill Hill, Ben Wilkinson, and Arnie Maves were the backbone of this vital ministry that no doubt brought thousands into the kingdom of God. As Francis Schaeffer exhorted us7 we must unashamedly and unreservedly proclaim biblical truth to our post-Christian culture. By revival preaching I mean the Spirit-anointed proclamation, exposition, and application of Holy Scripture that debases man and exalts Christ, that calls people to faith in Jesus, that calls people to gospel holiness. The revival preacher preaches for a verdict, seeking to drive men to Jesus for salvation and sanctification. Peter at Pentecost, Paul at Ephesus, Jonathan Edwards at Enfield, and George Whitefield at Philadelphia are all examples of revival preaching. God has always used it to bring revival, and we must have it again.
I say we must have revival or we will perish under God’s wrath. Is this too strong a statement? No! Look at church history. When the church no longer acts like the church – evangelizing, teaching, and serving the needy – then Christ takes the lamp stand out of its place and moves on to another venue in the world. He left the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and he is presently leaving the United States. We must have revival. We must be willing to pay the price. We must seek God in revival prayer. We must have a biblical, ecclesiastical structure. We must have revival preaching. We must! We must! We must!
But we cannot. In our flesh dwells no good thing. We want our comfort, not the glory of God. And we certainly do not have the ability to bring conversions and the gospel transformation of our culture. Therefore we must thirst for God, and we won’t do this unless the Spirit shows us our sin of unbelief and worldliness, unless he makes known to us our idolatry. But when we thirst, then we will be moved to pray earnestly, and when we pray earnestly God will give us the grace to shine with the glory of Jesus on our faces and lives. I urge you to see your sin of guilty silence, of worldliness, of worshipping before the god of comfort and affluence. And I urge you to repent, and seek Jesus for the outpouring of his Spirit on your church, community, nation, and world. We must have revival or we will perish!
- These preachers held firmly to the doctrines of grace, affirming God alone to be the author of salvation, while denying that man had any part in it whatsoever. Consequently, they eschewed the ‘new methods’ of men like Charles Finney.
- For an account of the New York revival see Samuel Prime, The Power of Prayer (Banner of Truth, 1991).
- For an account of the Ulster revival see John Weir, The Ulster Awakening (Banner of Truth, 2009).
- Douglas Kelly, Preachers with Power: Four Stalwarts of the South (Banner of Truth, 1992), pages 130-134.
- See the article ‘How Dark the Gold Has Become’ on the Banner of Truth website.
- Francis Schaeffer makes the same point quite emphatically, Death in the City, page 122
- Again see Schaeffer’s Death in the City, a series of lectures he first gave at Wheaton College in 1968, calling us not to accommodate to the culture but to proclaim propositional truth, what he called ‘true truth’, announcing the judgment of God on a people who had turned their back on Reformation teaching.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut. [Notes 2 and 3 added.]
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