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THE MAIN FEATURES OF TRUE REVIVAL
(SERMON NUMBER 9 ON REVIVAL)
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Peter stood up on the Day of Pentecost and quoted from the Book of Joel,
“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy...And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17, 18).
God pours out “of” His Spirit in times of revival. He says, “I will pour out in those days of my Spirit.” How strange that most of the modern translations leave out the word “of.” It is definitely there in the Greek text. It is apó in Greek. The Old Geneva Bible has it, “of my Spirit.” The King James has it, “of my Spirit.” But only the NASV and the NKJV have it in the modern translations. That’s why I don’t trust them. That’s why I tell you to get a King James Bible. You can trust it! Those old translators didn’t leave words out or give so-called “dynamic equivalents.” “I will pour out in those days of my Spirit.” The liberal says, “That’s the Septuagint.” I say, nonsense! That’s what the Spirit of God put down on the page in the Greek New Testament – and He doesn’t lie! When the Spirit of God quotes the Septuagint, the very Greek words are “breathed out” by inspiration in the New Testament. “Of my Spirit.” Why is that important? I’ll tell you why. God doesn’t pour all of His Spirit out. He sends just as much as we need! George Smeaton, back in 1882, said, “There is a shade of meaning not to be lost in the words ‘of my Spirit’ (apó) distinguishing between the measure [given] to men and the [unlimited] fulness of the resources of the fountain” (George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, 1882; reprinted by the Banner of Truth, 1974; p. 28). The apostolic churches received repeated outpourings of the Spirit because there is always more to give! Concerning “apó” (of), Dr. A. T. Robertson said, “The Spirit in his entirety remains with God” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, volume 3, Broadman Press, 1930, p. 26; note on Acts 2:17).
I have been unusually blest as an eye-witness to three God-sent revivals. I completely agree with Iain H. Murray, who said, “Witnesses to revivals invariably speak of something being given which was not there before” (Iain H. Murray, Pentecost Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998, p. 22). An eye-witness to the 1859 revival in Ulster, Northern Ireland said, “Men have felt as if the Lord had breathed on them. They were first affected with awe and fear – then they were bathed in tears – then filled with a love unspeakable” (William Gibson, The Year of Grace, a History of the Ulster Revival of 1859, Elliott, 1860, p. 432). On February 29, 1860 Rev. D. C. Jones said, “We have been visited with a larger measure of the Spirit’s influence than usual. It came ‘like a rushing mighty wind,’ and...when the churches little expected it” (Murray, ibid., p. 25). That was how revival came the first and the third time I saw it. The Holy Spirit came down so suddenly and so unexpectedly that I will never forget it as long as I live!
Now, in true revival, there may be certain events that are peripheral, not central. These are events that happen in some revivals, but are not the main features of every revival. I will name a few of them. These points are drawn from various places in Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book, Revival (Crossway Books, 1987) and from my own experience and observations of the revivals I have seen.
1. Tongues. In the first revival, at Pentecost, we are told that they “began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). Many of our Pentecostal friends have taught that this is a central feature, that every revival must include this. But there are two main reasons to reject that claim: (1) the “tongues” of Acts 2 were not ecstatic utterances. They were actual foreign languages. This is very clear in Acts 2:6-11. “Every man heard them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:6). “How hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (Acts 2:8). Then a long list of language groups are listed, ending with the words, “We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11). It is therefore clear that they did not speak in ecstatic utterances, as modern Pentecostals and Charismatics do. I know they appeal to other Scriptures for this practice. I am not dealing with that here. I am simply saying that those at Pentecost spoke in foreign languages, “as the Spirit gave them utterance” (2:4). I have no doubt that this was a miracle. But it was not a central part of the revival, because other revivals are reported in Acts where this did not happen. (2) Ecstatic utterances did not appear in Protestant revivals before the counterfeit revivals began in the 20th century, not even under Finney’s excesses. Please don’t stop listening. You may find that you agree with this if you hear the rest of what I say. Counterfeit revivals include all forms of “decisionism,” not just Pentecostalism and the Charismatic movement, which are only part of the false “revivals” of our time. Counterfeit revivals in the modern era have their roots in “decisionism” in its various forms. Also, I know full well that some Pentecostals and Charismatics are saved. But tongues was never a part of the Protestant revivals of history before the twentieth century, as Pentecostal scholars admit.
2. “Cloven tongues like as of fire” (2:3). That was a one-time event. It does not appear in any other revivals reported in the Book of Acts, or in Christian history.
3. Demons crying out as they came out of those possessed (Acts 8:7) and multiplied healings (8:7). Neither of these features appeared in the revival at Pentecost! So, again, this is not a central feature of revival. It is not reported in many other revivals in the Book of Acts. I know that the “laughing revival” (so-called) makes these things central, but they are wrong. Hundreds of revivals have appeared in Christian history where these events did not take place – and also in many of the revivals in the Book of Acts itself.
4. The Apostles were put in prison after preaching in the great revival recorded in Acts 4:1-4. But imprisonment did not accompany all the revivals recorded in the Book of Acts. Sometimes this has happened in Christian history, but not always. So, we conclude that the imprisonment of preachers is not a central feature of revival.
5. The shaking of the house in Acts 4:31. I know this also happened at the beginning of the revival on the Isle of Lewis, where Duncan Campbell preached in the late 1940s. But it didn’t happen anywhere else in the Book of Acts, and has not often been reported in the history of revivals. Therefore we conclude that the shaking of a house is not a central feature of revival.
6. The book burning at Ephesus in Acts 19:19, 20. Yes, at Ephesus, during a revival there, people brought books of magic and burned them, “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed” (19:20). I saw that happen in a revival at a fundamental Baptist church in Virginia. But they did not burn books during the revival I saw at the First Chinese Baptist Church. It did not happen during other revivals recorded in the Book of Acts. So, I conclude that this also was a peripheral occurrence, not a central feature in revival.
7. Open confession of sins. Yes, people openly confess their sins in public in some revivals. That happened sometimes – in the 1904 revival in Wales, at Asbury College in Kentucky in the 1960s, at the First Chinese Baptist Church, and elsewhere. But they did not do that on the Day of Pentecost, nor in the First Great Awakening, nor in many other revivals. So, we must conclude that open confession of sins, before the congregation, is also peripheral, not a central feature of revival.
8. Screaming and falling on the ground. Yes, that happened a few times during a revival at Northampton, in Jonathan Edwards’ church, and in some meetings conducted by Dr. Asahel Nettleton in the Second Great Awakening. But it did not usually happen under the ministry of George Whitefield, although it did during some meetings where he preached in the great revival at Cambuslang, Scotland. It was not a feature of the Third Great Awakening under C. H. Spurgeon in London. It did not happen at Pentecost as far as I can tell from the Bible. So, screaming and falling on the ground is not a central feature of revival. It may happen, but it does not have to happen in a revival. And people being “slain in the Spirit” when touched on the forehead by an evangelist did not occur in the revivals I have seen, nor did it occur in most of the revivals in history (see chapter six of Iain H. Murray’s book, Pentecost Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival, Banner of Truth, 1998, pp. 134-169).
I am not saying these things never occur, but they are certainly not central, not true in every revival across the centuries. If we look for these things, we will usually find that we have been deceived, either by fanaticism or by the Devil himself! Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “You must not exalt to the primary and central position matters which belong to the periphery” (Revival, Crossway Books, 1987, p. 60). One of the ugliest meetings I have ever attended was a so-called “Laughing Revival” meeting in Florida, where laughter was thought of as the central feature of revival! Dr. Arthur B. Houk and I saw another horrible perversion of “revival” one night in Pasadena, California, where people growled like lions and screamed like monkeys! I am not even sure why they thought this helped them! It seemed like nothing but mass hysteria of the lowest order! Where was Christ in all that?
9. You cannot “make” revival come. That is from “decisionism.” Even fasting and prayer cannot guarantee revival. The teaching that revival depends on the action of Christians is from Charles G. Finney (1792-1875). It has done great harm because it has made people think that revival depends on them instead of God. God alone decides when He will send revival. We can and should pray for revival. But God alone decides when He will send us a revival. Nothing we do can guarantee a revival. It is entirely in the hands of God. “Power belongeth unto God,” Psalm 62:11 (See Iain H. Murray, Pentecost Today?, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998, pp. 8-16).
What, then, happens in a real revival? What are the main features of true revival? Dr. Lloyd-Jones listed several things that accompany true revival. He based these things on a study of the Day of Pentecost, in its main features, in his great book, Revival (ibid., pp. 204-211).
1. God comes down in their midst. Everybody is aware of His presence, and His glory, and His power. That is what happens, in some measure, and to some extent, in every revival that the Church has ever known. (You don’t need to be told that God is there. You know He is there! That was my own experience in the revivals I have seen. There was a sense of awe and wonder in the meetings. People were awe-struck, sensing the very presence of a Holy God).
2. The church is given, as a result of this, great assurance concerning the truth. People are absolutely certain and assured of Bible truths. This is a universal experience in times of revival.
3. The church is filled with great joy and a sense of praise. People suddenly know that the Lord has come down among them. “Their very faces show it. They are transfigured. There is a heavenly look that comes upon their faces, which is expressive of this joy and praise...the Spirit irradiating the whole personality, and giving a joy which is ‘unspeakable, and full of glory’” (Lloyd-Jones, ibid., p. 206).
4. When revival comes you do not have to exhort people to come to church to worship and hear the preaching. They insist on coming. They come night after night, and they may stay for hours, as they did at Pentecost.
5. A new power and boldness is given in the preaching. Powerful preaching of the Gospel is a feature in all real revivals. A new power is experienced in the preaching. The people listen as though their lives depended on it. When revival comes the preaching itself will draw crowds of people.
6. When revival comes people come under conviction of sin. Lost people are so convicted of sin that they are in agony. I think this is perhaps the greatest proof that God has sent revival to a church. People who were cold and indifferent are made to feel “alarmed and terrified” by their sin (Lloyd-Jones, ibid., p. 209). This is proof that the Holy Spirit has come to convict them “of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). At Pentecost they were so convicted of sin that they cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). This happens in every true revival. Where conviction of sin is absent, you have a counterfeit of revival. There must be heavy conviction of sin, which is true in all real revivals (Lloyd-Jones, ibid., p. 209).
7. People will trust Christ and find forgiveness of sin. They suddenly see that Jesus is their only hope of salvation. They do not merely “make decisions.” Instead they flee to Christ and “receive” a new life, and they leave the old life because they have been saved by Jesus. They talk much about the love of Christ and the Blood of Christ. The blood atonement of Christ is central in all true revivals.
8. The converts join the church. They are “added to the church” (Acts 2:47). There is no need for “follow up” in revival. The converts automatically join the church – and you can’t keep them away from the church meetings! I saw this happen in the first revival I witnessed, and in the others. You don’t have to go after the converts. They are drawn into the church’s fellowship by the power of God. Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, “When the Holy Ghost comes in power more will happen in an hour than will happen in fifty or even a hundred years as a result of your [work] or mine...Pray God to have pity, and to have mercy, and to shed forth again his Holy Spirit among us” (Lloyd-Jones, ibid., pp. 210, 211).
Dear friends, we are not in a time of revival in our church now, but the Holy Spirit is drawing some people to Jesus even today. How I pray that you will trust Jesus soon. Jesus died on the Cross to save you from sin. He shed His everlasting Blood to cleanse you from all sin. He rose from the dead to give you eternal life. I plead with you to trust Jesus now, even before revival comes. Dr. Chan, please lead us in prayer. Amen.
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Acts 8:5-8.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“O Breath of Life” (by Bessie P. Head, 1850-1936).