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HOW DO WE UNDERSTAND REVIVALS?

 

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

A sermon preached at the Fundamentalist Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, February 11, 2001

 

"I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts 2:17).

 
Iain H. Murray has written a very interesting little book titled Pentecost Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival (Banner of Truth, 1998). The first two chapters are especially helpful. They are titled "How Do We Understand ‘Revival’?" and "Charles G. Finney: How Theology Affects Understanding of Revival." In this message I will attempt to "boil down" the basic message of the first of these two chapters and preach it in a way that is hopefully helpful to you in understanding the great subject of revival. All of the material in this sermon is from the first chapter of Murray’s excellent book. I believe that every preacher who is vitally interested in revival should obtain a copy of the book and study the first two chapters very carefully.
Over 100 years ago Dr. Theodore Cuyler of New York said:

"I would advise you, my brother, not to talk   too much about a "revival." You will wear out the very word (ibid., p. 1)."

His advice was not widely received. The word "revival" continued to be used extensively for decades. Even today, especially among Pentecostals and charismatics, the word is in constant use.

But in spite of all that has been written and said about revival, there is no clear, common understanding of the word. This is partly because the term "revival" has changed in meaning over the last 150 years. It once stood for special converting outpourings, but this changed to a time of religious excitement, or simply to a series of special meetings. Few words in contemporary Christian use have come to represent such a variety of ideas.
Several preachers have told me that we should drop the term "revival" altogether and look for another word to describe this phenomenon. I think they are wrong, and that we should retain the word, but explain it Biblically.
Furthermore, we need to know how the word was originally used so we can understand the old records of past revivals. A misuse of the historical use of the word has, for instance, led the leaders of the "laughing revival" to claim that they are following Jonathan Edwards. This is an absurd statement if a person knows anything about the usage of the word in Edwards’ time. But simply dropping the word because others have used it incorrectly would cause us to lose more than we could gain by substituting another word which has no historical roots.
No matter how revival is explained, there is much about it we do not understand. I have been an eye-witness to two great classical revivals, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that much of what I saw has left me with a sense of amazement and, as Murray says, "conscious of mystery." He says, further, "If we could understand revivals they would not be the astonishing things which they are" (ibid., p. 5).
There are three main views of what revival is. By looking at the Scriptures, we can attempt to determine which of these three views is correct.



I. Revivals are not Biblical.

 
This view states that the whole idea of revival is not Biblical at all. That is the view of the Dutch Reformed Church and of those who might be classified as hyper-Dispensationalists. Most Independent Baptists do not hold this view. So I will not discuss it in this message. It teaches in general that there are no duplications of Pentecost and no little Pentecosts. Christians already have the Holy Spirit and only need to realize what is already theirs according to this position.
But it fails to take into account the various periods of revival recorded in the Book of Acts after Pentecost. It also does not deal adequately with the great movements of God recorded in Christian history, such as the Reformation and the first, second, and third Great Awakenings.



II. Revivals are conditional, based on obedience.

 
This view teaches that the presence or absence of revival depends on the obedience of Christians. "Conditionalism" sometimes teaches that revival could be permanent and continuous if Christians lived up to what God expects from us.
I myself held to a form of "conditionalism" for years. Only after many years and much observation and meditation on the Bible did I give up "conditionalism" as unscriptural.
There are two main types of conditionalists:

                                  (1)    Those who believe that revival can be secured by intense 
   
                                        prayer and evangelistic effort. This was the position of 
                                           Charles G. Finney, who said, "A revival is as naturally a 
                                           result of the use of appropriate means as a crop is of the
                                           use of its appropriate means; and if the right means 
                                           continued to be employed revival would never cease" 
                                           (ibid., p. 8). The late Jack Hyles is a famous example of 
                                           someone who held this view in our time. Revival, to them, 
                                           is based on these conditions: strong prayer and 
                                           vigorous personal evangelism.
                                                 The practical problem with this view is that it 
                                           doesn’t work! Anyone who has been through a number 
   
                                        of prayer and fasting seasons and has knocked 
                                           themselves out in personal evangelism for months, or 
                                           years, knows that these human efforts do not produce 
                                           classical revival, such as we read about in the Book of 
                                           Acts and in Christian history.

                                 (2)     Another form of conditionalism teaches that the 
                                         emphasis should not be so much on evangelism as on 
                                         Christians repenting and renewing their personal 
                                         holiness as the means of bringing about revival. This has 
                                         been the emphasis of groups as various as the Keswick
                                         Convention, the Pentecostals, and Campus Crusade for 
                                         Christ (who mix in some of the elements of the fi
rst view).

 
Both groups of conditionalists often rest their case on II Chronicles 7:14,

 

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble 
 themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their
 wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive
 their sin, and will heal their land" (II Chronicles 7:14).

This is the favorite "revival" text of conditionalists of both the first and second type. They say, "If God’s people will pray more and win more souls, revival will come. Second Chronicles 7:14 says so." They say, "If God’s people will repent and fast and seek to be holy, then God will send revival and heal our land. II Chronicles 7:14 says so."

Actually, II Chronicles 7:14 has no direct application to New Testament revival, and none at all to America as a nation. The verse is simply not talking about America and it is not talking about Christians! I was astonished when I first thought of this myself. I realized this was a covenant promise to ancient Israel as a nation and to the Hebrew people of that dispensation. That’s when I began to realize that the verse really has nothing to say about the "conditions for revival" in our time. I know we’ve heard this verse from D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, Bill Bright and many others. Falwell and Bright have promoted large fasting and prayer conferences based on it. Dr. Falwell lost nearly 100 pounds fasting like this twice. Bill Bright even wrote a book on fasting and prayer for revival. But no classical revival has come as a result of these conferences, fasts and calls for personal holiness.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against fasting and prayer for revival. I just don’t think we can use II Chronicles 7:14 to claim that God will send revival if these conditions are met. Remember, it hasn’t worked yet! Thousands of Christians have met the conditions of II Chronicles 7:14 without ever seeing revival.
On the other hand, the two great classical revivals I witnessed had no real preparation. The first one happened at a summer camp in 1971 conducted by a Southern Baptist church. The second one happened in the deep south at a conservative independent Baptist church. There was no intense prayer and soul winning before either of these revivals. There was no emphasis on "Christians getting right and fasting" before either of these revivals. Both of them were spontaneous, sudden, and thoroughly unexpected. The first one brought nearly three thousand people into the church in about two years. The second one brought over five hundred people into the church in three months.
Actually, to be quite honest, I believe there are two conditions preceding classical revivals, but they are not the ones listed by Finney or found in the Old Testament, Old Covenant Jewish promise of II Chronicles 7:14. The two conditions I think are Scriptural are these:
    1. Correct theology concerning the person of Christ and a
      correct understanding of conversion. Dr. Lloyd Jones, 
      who had quite a bit of insight into the nature of revival – 
      plus personal experience – gave these doctrinal
      conditions as necessary to make it possible for revival to 
      occur.
    2.  

    3. Conscience-probing preaching (such as you do not hear
      often in our day), followed by pastoral counselling. In a 
      sense, these are conditions. But I do not hear these two
      given by "conditionalists" today.

 

I do not say that correct doctrine on conversion and hard preaching, followed by pastoral counselling, will produce revival. I do say that these conditions make an atmosphere where it is much more likely that God may send revival (though He may not, because He is sovereign).



III. Revivals are larger measures and degrees of the working of God.

 

This is the Old-school view of revival. Murray correctly says, "Old-school spokesmen believed that while the (Holy) Spirit was permanently given, He was not given in the same measure and degree as was witnessed in Pentecost (and in subsequent revivals" (ibid., p. 17).
This is the view that was held before Finney came on the scene. It was the main view during America’s three Great Awakenings.
This view agrees with the first one – that the Holy Spirit was given permanently at Pentecost, but with this vital difference: Old-school spokesmen believe that, while the Spirit was permanently given at Pentecost, He was not given in the same measure and degree as was witnessed at Pentecost, and in subsequent revivals.
Two things overlap at Pentecost. First the Holy Spirit came, never to be removed. Therefore the work of conversion never stops, from that point until now. But secondly there was the "largeness" of the degree of the Holy Spirit’s influence. It was not the permanent standard for 3,000 people to be saved all at once, as at Pentecost.
So, from Pentecost to the present, the work of the Holy Spirit can be seen as (1) His normal work, and (2) His extraordinary work. These two differ in degree. This is the Old-school view of revival: it is the belief that the Holy Spirit is poured out in an extraordinary way during times of spiritual awakening.
There are a number of proofs that this is the correct position given in the Bible and Christian history. It is indisputable that there are differences in the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible.
Turn to Acts 2:4,
"And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost…"

Now look at 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…"

Here is a part of Pentecost that was clearly repeated – there was a larger giving of what they already possessed.

Peter’s quotation of the Old Testament (in Greek) on the Day of Pentecost included the phrase, "I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts 2:17). George Smeaton points out: "According to the New Testament quotation (in Greek), there is an important shade of meaning not to be lost in the words ‘of my spirit’ (apo), showing the difference between the measure of the Spirit given to men and the inexhaustible riches of the fountain" (ref. ibid., p. 20). We see in the Book of Acts that the early churches received repeated givings of the Spirit because there is always more of Him to give. That is why, after Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came again in fulness, recorded in Acts 4:31.
Another proof of the Old-school position comes from Christian history. How can such turning points as the Reformation or the Wesleyan revival be explained if the Holy Spirit is always uniformly present? The great Scottish reformer John Knox explained the powerful events of his day by saying, "God gave his Holy Spirit to simple men in great abundance" (ibid., p. 21). James Robe described the revivals at Cambuslang and Kilsyth, in Scotland, in a book titled, Narratives of the Extraordinary Work of the Spirit of God. Jonathan Edwards spoke of "Surprising Conversions," in connection with the New England revival of the middle 18th century.
Witnesses to revival invariably speak of something being given which was not there before – something much more than Christians merely deciding to be more faithful or to make greater prayer and soul-winning efforts. Murray says: "A revival is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit…resulting in…a widespread movement of grace among the unconverted" (ibid., p. 24). Charles Simeon said, "The work of conversion must be very gradual among you, unless God pours out of His Spirit in a most extraordinary measure upon you" (ref. op. cit.).
Alexander Moody Stuart said:
While the Holy Ghost is always present in his church, there 
are times when he draws manifestly nearer and puts forth 
greater energy of power (ibid., p. 24).
So, too, Welsh preachers of the Old-school spoke of revival in the same terms. During the great revival of 1859-1860, Rev. D. C. Jones reported, "We have been visited with a larger measure of the Spirit’s influences than usual. It came suddenly ‘like a rushing mighty wind,’" (ibid., p. 25). Another Welsh preacher said of this period: "I am firmly persuaded that the Almighty is opening the sluices of grace and pouring out streams of blessings on the churches" (ibid.).
We will continue this subject next Sunday night with Iain Murray’s chapter, "Charles G. Finney: How Theology Affects Understanding of Revival." In closing this message, let me go back over what we have learned and make an application.
 

                            (1)    We learned that the term "revival" has shifted in 
                                     meaning, especially since the days of Charles G. Finney.

                            (2)    We learned that there have been three main views of 
                                     revival:
    1. There is no such thing as a revival.

    2. Revivals come when certain conditions are met 
      by Christians.

    3. Revivals are sovereign acts of God in which 
      larger degrees of His Spirit are poured out.

 

We hold to the third position. We believe that each and every conversion is a miracle. We rejoice over every conversion because it is a triumph of God over man’s fallen nature and the hosts of Hell. In revival, a greater number of people find deliverance and true conversion, because a greater measure of converting grace is poured out by God.
When we are praying for revival, we are not praying for the Holy Spirit to come. He is already here according to the Bible. What we are praying for is this: a greater manifestation of God’s awakening and converting grace, through the Holy Spirit.
Whether God’s grace comes to one person or to many, it is always a miracle when a lost person gets saved. It takes a miracle of God’s grace for a lost person to awaken to the fact that he is living in sin and headed for Hell. Awakening to an awareness of one’s depravity and inability to save oneself is also a miracle of God’s grace. Coming to Jesus Christ for justification and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness requires a miracle that can only be accomplished by God. Jesus said:
"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent
 me draw him…" (John 6:44).
Objectively, Jesus Christ died on the Cross to pay for your sins. Objectively, He arose bodily from the dead and ascended into the Heavenlies, where He is currently seated, praying, at the right hand of God. These are objective truths.
But they can only become your subjective reality by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, operating on you and within you. This constitutes the miracle of conversion. If you feel that God is drawing you to His Son, Jesus, for cleansing from sin by His Blood, come and speak to me tonight in my office.

 

Solo by Benjamin Kincaid Griffith: "Revive Thy Work"
                                                                     by Albert Midlane (1825-1909)

 

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."

THE OUTLINE OF

HOW DO WE UNDERSTAND REVIVALS?

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

"I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts 2:17).

                                     I.    Revivals are not Biblical (Dutch Reformed and
                                               Hyper-dispensationalist).
                                     II.   Revivals are conditional, based on obedience
                                               (conditionalism), II Chronicles 7:14.
                                     III.  Revivals are larger measures and degrees of the
                                                working of the Spirit of God (Old-school),
                                                Acts 2:4; Acts 4:31; John 6:44.