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SIX MODERN ERRORS ABOUT REVIVAL
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
I have no opening text tonight. We will open our Bibles and look at several verses of Scripture. The subject of this sermon is "Six Modern Errors About Revival."
I first became interested in the subject of 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 42 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 you read about in books of Christian history.
After 42 years of reading and thinking about this subject, I do not consider myself an authority on revival. I feel like a small schoolboy, 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 believe are mistakes. I hope that these points will help you as you pray for God to send revival.
I. First, the error that we should focus on the Apostolic gifts to have revival.
While I do not hate the Pentecostals, I think they are wrong. And I think that their emphasis on the Apostolic gifts has been a hindrance to real revival. Iain H. Murray says,
These gifts were unknown in the time of Chrysostom (c. 347-407) and Augustine (c. 354-430). Nor have they ever been possessed by any…leaders in any of the revivals from the Reformation to the present century…The Reformers appealed solely to Scripture. They claimed Apostolic truth, not Apostolic gifts. The same was true in the Puritan period, through the Great Awakening in the time of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys, and down to Spurgeon. All agreed with Whitefield that "the miraculous gifts conferred on the primitive church have long since ceased." If such leaders were filled with the Spirit, as they were, in order to do such a mighty work, it is strange that they knew no miraculous gifts…All the claims for the renewed existence of extraordinary phenomena which have been successively made in the last thirty-five years - tongues, healings, prophecy and "slaying in the Spirit" - far from preparing for revival, have rather been a distraction from the great truths which the Spirit has always honored in the heralding of awakenings (Iain H. Murray, Pentecost Today? - the Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival, Banner of Truth, 1998, pages 197-199).
The emphasis on the Apostolic gifts has caused many people to distance themselves from the very thought of the Holy Spirit and revival. This is a shame, because the main work of the Holy Spirit is given to us by Jesus, in John 16:8,
"And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment."
We desperately need the Holy Spirit to do this work in our churches today.
And, then, another great work of the Holy Spirit is given to us in John 15:26,
"But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me."
We need the reproving work of the Holy Spirit. We need to have Him testify of Christ. These are the things He must do in our midst if we are to have real, historical revival!
II. Second, the error that there can be no revival today.
I will not spend much time on this, but I must mention it because so 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 very common thoughts among Bible 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).
(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 Southeast Asia.
It is a terrible mistake to think that there can be no revival today!
III. Third, 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, who 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 today 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!
Please turn with me 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."
Before I comment on these verses, you must understand that I am not a five-point Calvinist. I do not hold three of the five points. I am just telling you that so you will know my perspective. Yet, as I look at these verses, I am forced to admit that only "as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." Although the gospel "was published throughout all the region" only those who were "ordained to eternal life believed."
I think these two verses clear up the idea that revival depends on our evangelistic efforts. 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.
There is a mystery concerning all of this - because there are things concerning conversion and revival that go beyond human reason. We are told to evangelize the lost whether they believe or not.
IV. Fourth, the error that revival depends on the dedication of Christians.
I know that someone may 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.
Iain H. Murray says, 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. Jonathan Goforth echoed Finney's teaching when he said, "The sin of unyieldedness, alone, can keep us from revival…Pentecost is yet within our grasp. If revival is being withheld from us it is because some idol remains enthroned" (Jonathan Goforth, By My Spirit, 3rd edition, Marshall, Morgan and Scott, n.d., pp. 181, 189).
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 antisemitism, 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 ministry. Whitefield sometimes made mistakes due to "inner impressions," that he wrongly thought were from God. Wesley resorted to casting lots to determine the will of God. Spurgeon occasionally smoked cigars, though to be fair we must realize that this was not seen then as it is today. J. Frank Norris was sometimes mean-spirited. We forgive him because we realize what great pressure he was under, starting the independent Baptist movement, as he did. Yet Whitefield, Wesley, Spurgeon, Luther, Calvin and Norris saw great revival attend 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 honestly 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).
You see, revival does not depend on Christians dedicating themselves completely, or rededicating themselves. No - revival depends on "the excellency of the power…of God, and not of us" (II Corinthians 4:7).
Using II Chronicles 7:14, the late Bill Bright taught that Christians repenting and fasting and dedicating themselves would produce revival. But Mr. Bright was wrong, although he was a good man in many ways. He was unconsciously promoting Finney's idea that man can make revival happen by full consecration. But, sadly, no revivals broke out in the Western world as a result of Mr. Bright's efforts. Why? Because true revival does not depend on the dedication of Christians. It depends solely on "the excellency of the power…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).
All of the glory in revival must go to God - and none of the glory must go to men, even good and holy men! So, you must not think that if we go through deep repentance and deep rededications that this will automatically bring revival. That is a false idea from Finney. I am not saying that you shouldn't consecrate yourself to God. By all means do it! But we must remember that we are not dealing in magic! We cannot force God to send revival by dedicating ourselves. I read recently where someone said, "Revival will take place when we pray honestly with a complete dedication." That sounds too much like "magic" to suit me! We cannot manipulate God and make Him send revival. We should humble ourselves and admit that no matter how "honestly" we pray, and no matter how "complete" our dedication is, God has the final say in whether or not He will send revival. It's up to Him, not us! Yes, we should constantly pray 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!
V. Fifth, 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"
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). I think this means that we are supposed to preach 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.
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 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 it comes, we will rejoice. But if it doesn't come, 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!
VI. Sixth, 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, but 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 great 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 only four of these doctrines.
1. The Fall and total 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.
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 are full of 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"
"Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood" (Romans 3:24-25).
That is the doctrine of revival! That is the doctrine of salvation! "Through faith in his blood"!
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
"The Sound of Abundance of Rain"
THE OUTLINE OF
SIX MODERN ERRORS ABOUT REVIVAL
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
(I Corinthians 13:12)
I. The error that we should focus on the Apostolic gifts
II. The error that there can be no revival today, Acts 2:39;
III. The error that revival depends on our evangelistic efforts,
IV. The error that revival depends on the dedication of Christians,
V. The error that revival is the usual state we should expect in
VI. The error that there are no conditions whatever connected
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