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SIX MODERN ERRORS ABOUT REVIVAL
(SERMON NUMBER 15 ON REVIVAL)
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
My subject tonight is “Six Modern Errors About Revival.” I first became interested in revival back in 1961. I purchased a little book at the Biola Bookroom about the First Great Awakening. It contained extracts from John Wesley’s Journal, and was published by Moody Press. I have been thinking about revival, and praying for it, for over fifty-three years. It has been my privilege to experience two extraordinary revivals in Baptist churches. These were not evangelistic meetings, or “charismatic” meetings. They were the kind of revivals that we read about in books of Christian history. I also saw God-sent revival during the “Jesus Movement” of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
After fifty-three years of reading and thinking about this subject, I do not consider myself an authority on revival. I am just beginning to understand some of the important truths concerning revival.
I have made mistakes concerning revival in the past. For several years I was led astray by the writings of Charles G. Finney. Even now I am not sure that I understand the subject completely,
“For now we see through a glass, darkly” (I Corinthians 13:12).
But tonight I will give you six errors about revival, things that I have come to reject. I hope that these points will help you as you pray for God to send revival to our church.
I. First, the error that there can be no revival today.
I will not spend much time on this, but I must mention it because many believe it. They say things like, “The great days of revival are over. We are in the last days. There can be no more revival.” Those are common thoughts among many Bible-believing Christians today.
But I believe this to be a mistake for three reasons:
(1) The Bible says, “The promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). The Apostle Peter said that about the great revival at Pentecost, that there would be outpourings of God’s Spirit to the end of this age!
(2) The greatest revival of all will come in the midst of the Great Tribulation, under the Antichrist, at the very end of this age (ref. Revelation 7:1-14).
(3) The greatest revival in the entire history of the Far East is going on right now, tonight, in the People’s Republic of China, and other countries in the Third World. The greatest revivals of modern times are going on there right now!
It is a terrible mistake to think that there can be no revival today!
II. Second, the error that revival depends on our evangelistic efforts.
This is a common error among Southern Baptists and others. This idea has filtered down to them from Charles G. Finney. Finney said, “A revival is as natural a result of the use of the appropriate means as a crop is of the use of its appropriate means” (C. G. Finney, Lectures on Revival, Revell, n.d., p. 5). Many churches still advertise “a revival” to begin on a certain day – and end on a certain day! This is pure Finneyism! Revival does not depend on our evangelistic and soul-winning efforts!
Listen to Acts 13:48-49,
“And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.”
I think those two verses clear up the idea that revival depends on our evangelistic efforts. Although the Gospel “was published throughout all the region” only those who were “ordained to eternal life believed.”
Yes, we are told to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15) – but not every creature will believe! In times of revival more people will believe than at other times – but it is quite clear that revival does not depend on our evangelistic efforts alone.
III. Third, the error that revival depends on the dedication of Christians.
I know that many people quote II Chronicles 7:14. But it seems strange that they do not quote a New Testament verse to back up their theory that revival depends on Christians “getting right with God.” Why should this verse, given to King Solomon, be used as a formula for revival in a New Testament church? I see no more reason to do that than for a preacher to send out ships from his church, “bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks,” as Solomon did in II Chronicles 9:21, just two chapters later!
Iain H. Murray said, concerning II Chronicles 7:14, “The first thing to say is surely that what is promised is not [New Testament] revival, for the promise has to be understood, in the first instance, in relation to the time in which it was given. It is of Old Testament Israel and her land of which the healing here is spoken” (Murray, ibid., p. 13). The idea that revival depends on the dedication of Christians is from Finney.
Winston Churchill once wrote to his young grandson, telling him to study history, because history provides the best means for making intelligent guesses about the future. Following Churchill’s dictum, “Study history,” we find that the idea of revival depending on the “full dedication” of Christians is not true. The prophet Jonah was not fully dedicated to God. Read the last chapter of Jonah, and you will see his shortcomings and lack of faith. No, the greatest revival among Gentiles in the Old Testament did not depend on the “absolute surrender” or “perfection” of the prophet. John Calvin was a less than perfect man. He had a man burned at the stake for heresy – hardly displaying a New Testament attitude! Yet God sent great revival under his ministry, and through his writings. Luther had a vile temper at times, and once said that the synagogues of the Jews should be burned. Yet in spite of Luther’s sometimes vitriolic, sinful anti-Semitism, God sent revival under his ministry. We forgive Calvin and Luther because we realize that they were medieval men, still influenced on these matters by Catholicism. Yet, in spite of their shortcomings, God sent the mighty Reformation revival under their ministries. Whitefield sometimes made mistakes due to “inner impressions,” that he wrongly thought were from God. Wesley resorted to casting lots (throwing dice) to determine the will of God. Yet Whitefield, Wesley, Luther and Calvin saw great revival in their ministries.
We see, from these examples in history, that imperfect men, men sometimes not as holy or dedicated as they should have been, were mightily used by God in times of revival. We must conclude that Finney and his followers were wrong when they said that revival depends on Christians becoming fully dedicated. The Apostle Paul tells us,
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (II Corinthians 4:7).
I will close this point by referring to Stephen’s sermon to the Sanhedrin. We are specifically told that Stephen was “full of faith, and power, [and] did great wonders and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:8). Yet Stephen did not see revival come from his preaching. Instead, he was stoned to death. He was a holy and righteous man, but this did not produce revival automatically in his ministry. We can fast and pray, and become truly wonderful Christians, but this will not force God to send a revival. Why? The Apostle Paul gives the answer,
“So then neither is he that planted any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (I Corinthians 3:7).
Yes, we should constantly pray, and sometimes fast, for revival, and at the same time, always remember, “but God…giveth the increase” (I Corinthians 3:7). It is the sovereign power of God alone that produces true revival!
IV. Fourth, the error that revival is the usual state we should expect
in the church.
The Holy Spirit was poured out on the Apostles at Pentecost. They preached to people in their own languages, and three thousand were converted in this mighty revival, recorded in Acts, chapter two. But we find that they needed to be filled with the Holy Spirit again, as recorded in Acts 4:31,
“And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).
This shows us that there were seasons of revival in the early church, unusual times of revival. But there were other times when the work of the churches went on in the usual, day-to-day manner. I think this is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said, “Be instant in season, out of season” (II Timothy 4:2). This means that we should continue to preach and pray and witness whether there is revival or not. Christ calls us to obey the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), and “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15) whether there is a revival or not! Some will be converted even when there is no unusual move of God.
If we think that revival is the usual way God works, we will become discouraged. Iain H. Murray said,
It was over this point that George Whitefield had to caution his friend William McCulloch, a minister of Cambuslang [Scotland]. In 1749 McCulloch was discouraged because he no longer saw what they had witnessed in the awakening of 1742. Whitefield’s response was to remind him that 1742 was not the norm for the church: “I should be glad to hear of [another] revival at Cambuslang; but, dear Sir, you have already seen such things as are seldom seen above once [more than once] in a century.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones refers to a similar instance in the case of a Welsh minister whose “whole ministry was ruined,” by his constantly looking back to what he had seen and experienced in the revival of 1904: “When the revival ended…he was still expecting the unusual; and it did not happen. So he became depressed and spent about forty years of his life in a state of barrenness, unhappiness and uselessness” (Iain H. Murray, ibid., p. 29).
If God doesn’t send revival, we must not let it discourage us. We must go right on, “instant in season [and] out of season,” proclaiming the Gospel, and leading sinners to Christ one by one. But, at the same time, we should continue to pray for God to send a special time of awakening and revival. If God sends a revival, we will rejoice. But if He doesn’t send revival, we will continue leading souls to Christ one at a time! We will not be discouraged! We will not give up! We will be instant in season and out of season!
V. Fifth, the error that there are no conditions whatever
connected with revival.
The Scriptures and history both show us that revival does not depend on human evangelistic efforts or the total dedication of Christians. But there are certain conditions that must be met. These are primarily correct doctrine, and prayer. We must pray for revival, and we must also have correct doctrine concerning sin and salvation.
In his book, Revival (Crossway Books, 1992), Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has two chapters, titled “Doctrinal Impurity” and “Dead Orthodoxy.” In these two chapters this man, who saw a revival in his early years of preaching, tells us that there are certain doctrines which must be preached and believed if we expect God to send revival. I will mention four of the doctrines he gave.
1. The Fall and ruin of mankind – total depravity.
2. Regeneration – or the new birth – as a work of God, not of man.
3. Justification by faith in Christ alone – not faith in “decisions” of any sort.
4. The effectiveness of the Blood of Christ to cleanse sin –both personal and original sin.
These four doctrines were attacked by Charles G. Finney, and have been downgraded or neglected ever since. No wonder we have seen so little revival since 1859! I cannot go into detail, but these are vital doctrines, which must once again be preached if we hope to see revival come to our churches. Our churches contain many lost people, who will never be truly converted unless we preach on these subjects vigorously and strongly – and repeatedly!
Dr. Lloyd-Jones said,
Look at the histories of revivals, and you will find men and women feeling desperate. They know that all their goodness is but filthy rags, and that all their righteousness is of no value at all. And there they are, feeling that they can do nothing, and crying out to God for mercy and for compassion. Justification by faith. God’s act. “If God does not do it to us,” they say, “then we are lost.” And so they [feel their] utter helplessness before Him. They pay no attention, and attach no significance, to all their own past religiosity, and all their faithfulness in church attendance, and many, many other things. They see it is all no good, even their religion is of no value, there is nothing that is of value. God must justify the ungodly. And that is the great message that comes out, therefore, in every period of revival (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, ibid., pp. 55-56).
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
“Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:24-25).
VI. Sixth, the error that revival begins with joy and laughter.
The so-called “laughing revival” is not a true revival in any sense. I saw one of their meetings in person with my friend Dr. Arthur B. Houk. It was a sad parody of true revival. It fit right in with what people today think about salvation. Dr. John Armstrong said, “What [they] want is happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction” (True Revival, Harvest House, 2001, p. 231). They are not thinking of their need for salvation from their sin!
But that changes in a real conversion, and in a real revival. In revival, and in individual conversions, “Brokenhearted, Christ-centered confession and repentance will characterize a true movement of the Spirit. People will... weep under the most profound impressions of sin” (Armstrong, ibid., p. 63).
It has been my experience that nearly everyone who experiences a real conversion weeps with tears of regret and sorrow for their sins. And that has been true of many people in the revivals I have seen as an eye-witness. And that has always been true in the classical revivals of the past.
How we pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon you! How we pray that He will cause you to mourn and weep for your sins against God. How we pray that you will be cleansed from your sin by the precious Blood of Jesus! “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (I John 1:7). Amen. Dr. Chan, please come and pray for God to send such a revival to our church.
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Zechariah 12:10; 13:1.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Revive Thy Work, O Lord” (by Albert Midlane, 1825-1909).
THE OUTLINE OF
SIX MODERN ERRORS ABOUT REVIVAL
(SERMON NUMBER 15 ON REVIVAL)
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
(I Corinthians 13:12)
I. First, the error that there can be no revival today, Acts 2:39;
II. Second, the error that revival depends on our evangelistic efforts,
III. Third, the error that revival depends on the dedication of Christians,
IV. Fourth, the error that revival is the usual state we should expect in
V. Fifth, the error that there are
no conditions whatever connected
VI. Sixth, the error that revival begins with joy and laughter,