'Arthur Wallis was a great Christian statesman whose work on Revival, 'In The Day Of Thy Power,' was, and still is, the most insightful and helpful work on the Biblical principles and dynamics of Revival ever written.
I was just a young convert when I picked up a second-hand copy of the book, originally published in 1956. I was immediately overwhelmed with a deep desire to seek God for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That desire grew through many years of missionary, evangelistic and pastoral work and has spurred me on to pray and prepare God's people for the best that is yet to come.
I am personally indebted to Arthur and his work and treasure memories of my personal friendship with this man of God' - The Librarian.
We have included three chapters.
"God came. . . . His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise. . . . He stood, and measured the earth; He beheld, and drove asunder the nations: And the eternal mountains were scattered, the everlasting hills did bow; His goings were as of old" (Hab. 3:3)
There was never a day in which the term "revival" needed to be more carefully defined. It has come to be used in relation to spiritual things so widely and so loosely that many are perplexed to know what it does mean. To some prejudiced or misinformed people the term is synonymous with excessive emotionalism and mass hysteria. It is to be hoped that the following pages will be a sufficient answer to such a slander on the work of the Holy Spirit. Others use the word to describe a successful evangelistic mission. When they tell us that their church is "having a revival", we understand them to mean that a gospel campaign is being conducted there. This use is possibly a relic of days when the Spirit was working widely, and one had only to arrange such a mission to witness a quickening amongst the believers and an ingathering of the lost. Today it is otherwise, but in any case to use the term thus is misleading.
Some, adhering closely to the etymology of the word, use it to describe a personal reviving of the believer by the Holy Spirit. If an individual or group is quickened in holiness and brought into a place of blessing, that is what they call "revival", even if there is little extension of the work. Similarly others, whose emphasis is more on a definite experience of the Spirit, will claim that when an individual or group has been filled with the Spirit they have "got revival", regardless of whether there are any repercussions outside their circle. In so far as revival always involves the reviving of individual believers these views are true, but as definitions of revival they are inadequate.
We cannot go to the Bible to see how the word "revival" is used, for it is not found there, although it contains many examples and types of revival, and unfolds all its principles. The nearest Scriptural equivalents are "revive" (or quicken), and "reviving", but these may be applied to individual quickening, and are not always synonymous with what has come to be called, by common consent down the centuries, "religious revival". It might be well if those who wish to describe what is simply a quickening work amongst believers would use those Scriptural expressions, "revive" and "reviving", and distinguish them from "revival", which includes and yet exceeds them. Revival is more than big meetings. It is more than religious excitement. It is more than the quickening of the saints, or their being filled with the Holy Spirit. It is more than a great ingathering of souls. One may have any one of these without revival, and yet revival includes them all.
There is a wealth of difference between missions or campaigns at their best and genuine revival. In the former man takes the initiative, it may be with the prompting of the Spirit; in the latter the initiative is God's. With the one the organization is human; with the other it is divine. There is no intention here of disparaging the work of missions, or of denying that God has owned them to the conversion of multitudes, but it must be made clear that they do not constitute revival. Missions may be a part of the continuous programme of evangelism which is the task of the church, but revival is a thing of special times and seasons. Revival may of course break out during a mission, but when it does so certain features will appear which are peculiar to revival, and certain features will disappear which are characteristic of missions. However, while revival tarries, the normal evangelism of the church must continue, but let us keep the distinction clear.
The meaning of any word is determined by its usage. For a definition of revival we must therefore appeal to the people of God of bygone years, who have used the word with consistency of meaning down the centuries, until it began to be used in a lesser and more limited sense in modem times. Numerous writings on the subject that have been preserved to us will confirm that revival is divine intervention in the normal course of spiritual things. It is God revealing Himself to man in awful holiness and irresistible power. It is such a manifest working of God that human personalities are overshadowed, and human programmes abandoned. It is man retiring into the background because God has taken the field. It is the Lord making bare His holy arm, and working in extraordinary power on saint and sinner.
The God of the Old Testament saints and prophets was the God of revival. In chapter 63 of his prophecy, Isaiah, recalling how God's people had rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit (verse 10), longs for a manifestation of His zeal and mighty acts (verse 15). He looks upon the downtrodden sanctuary and cries out, "Oh that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at Thy presenc . . . . to make Thy name known to Thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Thy presence! When Thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, Thou camest down . . . " (Isa. 64:1-3). Habakkuk also, living in a day when God's judgments were already being poured out upon His people for their sin, pleads for revival, "O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy" (3:2). Then in vision he perceives the answer to his prayer; he sees God on the move (verse 3), manifesting His power and glory (verses 3-6). He sees the tents of Cushan in affliction, and even nature itself moved at the divine presence (verses 7, 10,11) as the Lord marches through the land in indignation, going forth for the salvation of His people (verses 12, 13).
At the end of the Old Testament story we find God still pleading with the remnant through His servant Malachi, and promising revival at this eleventh hour if His people would pay the price: "Bring ye the whole tithe into the storehouse . . . and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (3:10). One might refer to Zechariah, to Joel, and to many another prophet, who brought to dark days a ray of hope in the promise of revival. How many saints in that bygone age could have testified to the value of this great expectation that filled their lives, in the words of David: "I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Ps. 27: I 3).
In the New Testament the true motive-force of revival is seen in clearer light as we find it associated with the pouring out of the Spirit. In its historic setting as the birthday of the church, Pentecost was unique, and there were factors in that remarkable event that have never been repeated. But as a specimen outpouring of the Spirit, Pentecost was unique only in being the first.
Peter declared on that memorable day, "This is that which hath been spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts 2:6). It is to be noted that Peter, speaking under inspiration, was led to alter the Joel prophecy (2: 28) from "it shall come to pass afterward" to "it shall be in the last days". This wonderful promise relates then to a period of time, "in the last days", not just to a moment of time, such as the day of Pentecost. It is equally clear from the words that Peter quotes that the prophecy had but a partial fulfilment on that day. There was evidently more to come. All the years of the church's history have been in the last days", and thus it has pleased the Lord down those years at special seasons to fulfil this prophecy.
There is further evidence in the New Testament that God never intended to confine the outpouring of the Spirit to one historic day. In Acts I0 verse 45 the remarkable event at Cæsarea is described by Luke as an outpouring of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul writing to Titus uses the same word as did Peter when quoting Joel: "the Holy Spirit, which He poured out upon us richly" (Titus 3:5,6).
True revivals have ever been marked by powerful and often widespread outpourings of the Spirit. Many times the preaching had to cease because the hearers were prostrate, or because the voice of the preacher was drowned by cries for mercy. Who will deny that these were outpourings of the Spirit? Who could find a more appropriate description of such scenes than the words of Luke: "The Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the Word"? (Acts 10:44). David Brainerd recorded the beginning of the wonderful movement among the American Indians in 1745 thus: "The power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly 'like a rushing mighty wind' and with an astonishing energy bore down all before it. I stood amazed at the influence that seized the audience almost universally, and could compare it to nothing more aptly than the irresistible force of a mighty torrent. . . . Almost all persons of all ages were bowed down with concern together, and scarce one was able to withstand the shock of this surprising operation."
Revival can never be explained in terms of activity, organization, meetings, personalities, preachings. These may or may not be involved in the work, but they do not and cannot account for the effects produced. Revival is essentially a manifestation of God; it has the stamp of Deity upon it, which even the unregenerate and uninitiated are quick to recognize. Revival must of necessity make an impact upon the community, and this is one means by which we may distinguish it from the more usual operations of the Holy Spirit. The marks of revival will be considered more fully in a later chapter.
"This is that which hath been spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts 2:16).
There are certain characteristics that mark this divine activity we call "revival", and distinguish it from other and more normal operations of the Spirit. Some have already been mentioned, but it will now be necessary to set them forth in order, and consider them in their relation to the whole. As Pentecost was the first distinctive outpouring of the Spirit, a careful examination of that great event will reveal the distinctive features of every subsequent outpouring. Let Acts 2 be the textbook.
This first mark is implicit in the statement, "When the day of Pentecost was now come". Every genuine revival is clearly stamped with the hallmark of divine sovereignty, and in no way is this more clearly seen than in the time factor. The moment for that first outpouring of the Spirit was not determined by the believers in the upper room but by God, who had foreshadowed it centuries before in those wonderful types of the Old Testament. "The slaying of the paschal lamb told to generation after generation, though they knew it not, the day of the year and week on which Christ our Passover should be sacrificed for us. The presentation of the wave sheaf before the Lord 'on the morrow after the sabbath' (Lev. 23: 11-16) had for long centuries fixed the time of our Lord's resurrection on the first day of the week. And the command to 'count from the morrow after the sabbath, from the day that ye brought the sheaf of the wave offering, seven sabbaths', determined the day of Pentecost as the time of the descent of the Spirit. . . . They tarried in prayer for ten days, simply because after the forty days of the Lord's sojourn on earth subsequent to His resurrection, ten days remained of the 'seven sabbaths' period" (A. J. Gordon).
But there was something more than the fulfilling of prophecy in the choice of the day of Pentecost for the great outpouring. It was a strategic moment which God had foreseen would give to the event of that day the maximum possible effect. God saw to it that this mighty outpouring of the Spirit was felt throughout the world of that day, for the feast had brought to Jerusalem "Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:5). Not only the day, however, but the time of day had been appointed by God, that the mocking charge, "they are filled with new wine" (verse 13 might be easily rebutted, seeing it was but "the third hour of the day" [9 a.m.] (verse 15).
Similarly God has His time for every subsequent outpouring, a time that must surely be related to a thousand other plans He has on foot, and therefore a time that He alone can determine. It has already been mentioned that God promised His people Israel, if they were obedient, the rain of their land, but only "in its season" (Deut. 11: 13-17; Ezek. 34:26). It would not help the spiritual harvest that God desires if we could have the outpouring of the Spirit any time or all the time; any more than it would have helped their harvest if the Israelites could have had the former and latter rain at any time or all the time. "Ask ye of the Lord rain." When ?-----"In the time of the latter rain" (Zech. 10:1). A sober view of the sovereignty of God will not lessen a God-given burden, or discourage fervent praying in the Spirit, but it may deliver us from extravagance in which some have erred, or despondence in which some have failed, in their quest for revival.
It may seem strange to go to Charles Finney for an example of the sovereignty of God in revival, as that great revivalist tended to overlook this aspect in battling against the hyper-Calvinism of his day. However, he once recounted: "While I was in Boston on one occasion, a gentleman stated that he had come from the capital of Nebraska, and he had found prayer meetings established throughout all the vast extent of country over which he had travelled. Think of that--a region of 2,000 miles, along which the hands of the people were lifted tip to God in prayer! From north to south, till you come within the slave territory, a great and mighty cry went up to God that He would come down and take the people in hand and convert souls; and He heard, and everybody stood astounded." Such a vast, unorganized, and yet coordinated prayer movement cannot be explained except that God in His sovereignty had taken the initiative. What is true of the promise of future blessing for Israel, is true also of the promise of revival, "I the Lord will hasten it in its time" (Isa. 60: 22).
It has been said of the Welsh Revival, "The outpouring of the Spirit came dramatically with precision, in the second week in November, 1904, on the same day--both in the north and in the south." Undoubtedly there were those in both regions who had met the conditions and were ready for God to work, but we cannot account for this strange co-ordination apart from that divine strategy which lies behind the sovereign ways of God. In the 1859 Revival that spread to many parts of the British Isles, there was an immediate movement in some places when Christians met to pray and fulfil God's conditions. In other parts, however, although it would appear that the preparation of heart and burden of prayer were quite as real, the believers were kept waiting for one or even two years. It is significant that when revival came after a longer waiting period, the work was often deeper and more widespread. "Behold, He withholdeth the waters, and they dry up; again, He sendeth them out, and they overrun the earth" (Job 12:15). The same principle is seen in the great variety of manifestations that have accompanied different movements. God is sovereign, and His sovereignty is revealed not only in the timing of every revival movement, but in the manner and measure of the Spirit's working.
Where believers have been encouraged by God to expect revival, and where they have with all their hearts sought to prepare themselves and pray through, but the blessing has been delayed, there is a danger of giving way to despondence, or undue introspection. Let such remember that if He has promised, then "God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? Or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?" (Num. 23: 19). Let such be emboldened to "hold on" by a sober view of the sovereignty of God, and the immutability of His purposes. "The Lord of Hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.
For the Lord of Hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?" (Isa. 14:24, 27). Let them wait on the Lord, and wait for the Lord, and they shall not be ashamed (Isa. 49:23).
This feature was also in evidence, for "they were all together in one place" (verse 1). How these believers in the upper room had reached this state of preparedness is shown in Chapter 1, where we find that they "all with one accord continued steadfastly in prayer" (verse 14). The word of God presents to us side by side the two foundation stones of every revival - the sovereignty of God and the preparedness of man. Because we cannot understand how they harmonize is no reason for emphasizing one at the expense of the other. There is an extreme view of the sovereignty of God that argues, "If God wills to send revival it will come. Nothing that we do can effect this, so why need we be concerned?" The word of God and history teach us that such an attitude of indifference and fatalism must be abandoned before revival can be expected. If the blessing comes then we may be sure that somewhere someone has met the conditions and paid the price. Such a view of divine sovereignty ignores the conditions of spiritual preparedness.
There is also an extreme emphasis on spiritual preparedness that ignores the fact of divine sovereignty; it suggests that God is at our beck and call, and that we can have revival any day we care to pay the price, much as we can have electric light the moment we care to turn the switch. The word of God gives us the proper balance by presenting, as here in the first verse of Acts 2, the two aspects side by side. Similarly David declared, "Thy people offer themselves willingly in the day of Thy power" (Ps. 110:3). The day of His power is determined by God alone, and emphasizes His sovereignty; but in that day His people have met the conditions by being ready and willing, which reveals the fact of spiritual preparation. God reminds us of His sovereignty when He declares, "I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be builded . . . I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it"; but He adds, "For this moreover will I be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them", reminding us of the conditions that must be fulfilled (Ezek. 36: 33-37).
War is not all attack, but there is a strategic moment for offensive action. The place, the time, and the manner of any attack are of crucial importance in the interests of the campaign as a whole; therefore such matters are not left to the soldier in the fighting line, but are determined beforehand by the supreme commander in the conference room. He alone can see the whole picture and keep his hand upon the whole situation. If, however, the plans made at the highest level are to be carried through successfully, the soldier in the line must be fully prepared for all that is involved. Revival, as, we have seen in the previous chapter, is a strategic attack by God upon the strongholds of Satan. The place, the time, and the manner of working are in the sovereign hands of the Lord the Spirit; but His subordinates, through whom He works, must be spiritually prepared when God's zero hour strikes.
How clearly these two important factors are set forth in the promised rain of Canaan. Divine sovereignty was seen in that the rain was confined to its God-appointed "season", but it was also strictly conditioned by the obedience of the people. "If ye shall hearken diligently unto My commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, that I will give the rain of your land in its season" (Deut. i x: 13). God declared with equal emphasis and on the same occasion, that if on the other hand they turned aside and served other gods and worshipped them, He would "shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit" (verses 16, 17).
How spiritual preparedness, or the absence of it, may influence God's working is vividly illustrated by the visit of the Saviour to Nazareth. "He could there do no mighty work . . . and He marvelled because of their unbelief" (Mark 6: 5,6). What this spiritual preparation involves, and how it may be effected, is a subject so large and so important that it must be considered separately.
Here is the third feature, "And suddenly there came. . " (verse 2). Since revival may be likened to a strategic attack, it is plain that, as in the realm of human conflict, so in the spiritual, the effect of every attack is heightened by the surprise factor. In revival God works suddenly and unexpectedly. Often even the mass of believers are taken unawares, while wonder and astonishment grip the hearts of unbelievers. It was so at Pentecost where we read of those who came together, "They were all amazed and marvelled" (verse 7), and again, "They were all amazed, and were perplexed" (verse 12). As to Christians being taken by surprise, Charles Finney often noticed it and remarked, "They would wake up all of a sudden, like a man, just rubbing his eyes open, and running round the room pushing things over, and wondering where all this excitement came from. But though few knew it, you may be sure there had been somebody on the watch-tower, constant in prayer till the blessing came." How vital it is for the ears of the saints to be open to the voice of God in these days, for He speaks first to those whose ears are attuned to Him, and then He acts suddenly. "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). God's methods have not changed down the centuries: it may be the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, it may be a tiny cloud arising out of the sea; such insignificant tokens are all that is needed for the listening ear or the watchful eye. "I have declared the former things from of old; yea, they went forth out of My mouth, and I shewed them: suddenly I did them, and they came to pass" (Isa. 48:3); "Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them" (Isa. 42:9).
In 2 Chronicles 29 there is a detailed account of the revival that took place under Hezekiah. The house of the Lord was cleansed and the people were moved to offer sacrifices and thank-offerings in such abundance that the few priests who had sanctified themselves could not handle them, and they had to be assisted by the Levites. Scripture records, "Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, because of that which God had prepared for the people: for the thing was done suddenly" (verse 36). Who knows all that God is preparing for His people in these days? May we not be found unsanctified, and so unfitted for the work, when the day of God's power shall dawn.
The effect of the sudden working of the Spirit in revival is very striking in the conviction of sinners. Often without any preparatory concern or even thought for spiritual things, a sinner will be suddenly seized with overwhelming conviction of sin. "But God shall shoot at them; with an, arrow suddenly shall they be wounded . . . and all men shall fear; and they shall declare the work of God, and shall wisely consider of His doing" (Ps. 64:7, 9). Describing the course of the Ulster '59 Revival at Ballymena and elsewhere, John Shearer writes of some who "were suddenly pierced as by a sharp sword, and their agonized cry for help was heard in the streets and in the fields. Here, for example, is a farmer returning from market in Ballymena. His mind is wholly intent upon the day's bargain. He pauses, takes out some money, and begins to count it. Suddenly an awful Presence envelops him. In a moment his only thought is that he is a sinner standing on the brink of hell. His silver is scattered, and he falls upon the dust of the highway, crying out for mercy" (Old Time Revivals).
With the brevity and simplicity characteristic of Scripture we are shown in four words the source of the outpouring, "there came from heaven" (verse 2). 'This provides the fourth feature of revival; it is spontaneous because it is "not forced or suggested or caused by outside agency" (Oxf. Dict.). It is the result of a divine and not a human impulse. In language plain to all, it cannot be "worked up". It is true that spiritual conditions must be met before revival can be expected, but fulfilled conditions do not provide the motive force of revival. At Pentecost it was "the windows of heaven", not the windows of the upper room, that were opened. The source of the blessing was the heart of God, not the heart of man. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that such "seasons of refreshing" have always come "from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19). We may believe that during those ten days of waiting there were revived hearts in that upper room, but there was no revival; there were empty vessels, but no outpouring. When it came, it came direct from heaven and found in that waiting band a channel through which to flow.
A missionary, recounting what he had seen of the 1860 Revival in South India, wrote, "Man seems to have little part in it, the Spirit's work is all predominant, fulfilling that blessed promise, 'I will work'." Another who wrote of the 1904 Revival stated, "The hidden springs of the Awakening in Wales lay deep in the heart of God", and this is where we may find the springs of every awakening. The origin of all revival must be traced back, further than human factors and fulfilled conditions, to the heart of the Eternal that yearns to bless, and to bless superabundantly. "God so loved . . . that He gave" and "He that spared not His own Son . . . shall He not also with Him freely give us all things ?"
Once again the rain of Canaan, with the remarkable accuracy of Scripture types, aptly illustrates this very feature of revival. Contrasting Egypt, which typifies the world, with Canaan, which speaks of that which is heavenly, God said: "For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowedst thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs; but the land, whither ye go over to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven" (Deut. 11:10, 11). Egypt was stamped with the workmanship of the creature; it was "as a garden of herbs", carefully laid out, planned and arranged. Canaan, on the other hand, was stamped with the workmanship of the Creator; for everywhere the eye was refreshed and delighted with the unorganized order of creation, it was "a land of hills and valleys".
Egypt's fertility, as dependent upon water as was Canaan's, was watered with the foot. In other words, a simple device worked by the foot, which can still be seen in Egypt today, pumped water from the Nile, and conveyed it by a system of irrigation channels to where it was required. Thus the supply of water was dependent upon human energy and ingenuity, and a dirty supply it was when men had finished manipulating it, and it had reached the thirsty soil. But the heavenly country - oh, how different--"a land that drinketh water of the rain of heaven". Canaan was made fruitful by that which came down in all its freshness and purity from above. God had designed that it should be dependent upon the heavens for water, and if these were shut up, the spiritual reason must be sought out and the matter rectified; there was no suggestion of devising any artificial substitute.
It was said of redeemed Israel that they "turned back in their hearts unto Egypt" (Acts 7:39). Someone has put it thus: "It was one thing to get the people out of Egypt, but quite another to get Egypt out of the people." Said the prophet, "Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help . . but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord" (Isa. 31:1). This tendency of going back for assistance into the land whence we have come out, of borrowing from the world and its ways, is as evident today as ever. There are still too many who have more confidence in the working of the foot to produce results, than in the bowing of the knee. This spontaneous feature of revival, however, cuts right across this human tendency. There is no mightier corrective to worldly methods in Christian service than a heaven-sent revival. Who would want to continue to work the pump when the heavens are pouring down a copious rain?
A movement bears this mark of spontaneity when men cannot account for what has taken place in terms of personalities, organization, meetings, preachings, or any other consecrated activity; and when the work continues unabated without any human control. As soon as a movement becomes controlled or organized, it has ceased to be spontaneous - it is no longer revival. The course of the 1904 Welsh Revival has been outlined thus: "God began to work; and then the Devil began to work in opposition; and then God began to work all the harder; and then man began to work, and the revival came to an end." It is most needful in times of revival that a careful watch should be kept so that nothing should gain a foothold which is not of the Spirit, but great care must be taken not to interfere with what is evidently the work of God. When God is working let man keep his hands off. Many a revival has ended through human interference.
Here is another conspicuous feature that characterizes revival. "There came . . . a sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind there appeared unto them tongues . . . like as of fire" (verses 2, 3). Wherever the Spirit of God is poured out saints and sinners alike are made acutely aware of the presence of the Almighty. The spirit of revival is the consciousness of God. Just as the "light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun" struck down the zealous Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, and brought him to his knees, convicted and repentant (Acts 26), so does the Eternal Light, in days of revival, burst upon the slumbering consciousness of men with much the same result. On the day of Pentecost God manifested His presence first to those in the upper room, and then to the multitude who had gathered outside, who were soon "pricked in their heart" (Acts 2:37), until that strange, mysterious influence from heaven had spread over the whole city, "and fear came upon every soul" (verse 43).
The effects of such manifestations of God are twofold: men are made aware both of His power and of His holiness. What awe must have come to the hearts of that waiting band, as they listened to that "sound as of the rushing of a mighty wind" - what a sense of the irresistible power of God! But there was also the appearance of "tongues parting asunder, like as of fire". Fire typifies the activity of God's holiness in relation to sin; fire consumes and fire purifies. When the Spirit came upon Christ it was not as the fire, but "as a dove", for there was no sin in Him, as the Father then declared, "Thou art My beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased" (Luke 3:22). But here the tongues like as of fire sat upon each of them, bringing not only a sense of the infinite holiness of God, but of the activity of that holiness in dealing with all that was unholy in themselves.
This manifestation of God in power and holiness was intensely personal. The sound of the wind appeared to bear down upon them until it filled the very house where they were sitting. The tongues of fire parted asunder and sat upon each one of them. It was God moving in power and holiness, and moving toward them; they themselves were the objects of God's activity. Here is an outstanding feature of revival, and it is not difficult to see why it results in overwhelming conviction both among the saved and the lost, whenever there is unjudged sin. Those waiting hearts in the upper room were doubtless cleansed and prepared for the coming of the Spirit, consequently there is no evidence of conviction, though no doubt there was a deeper work of purging accomplished by the fire of the Spirit. Usually, however, it is otherwise. At such times man is not only made conscious that God is there; but that He is there, as it seems, to deal with him alone, until he is oblivious of all but his own soul in the agonizing grip of a holy God.
If these facts are borne in mind the extraordinary effects of past revivals will not seem incredible. The ruthless logic of Jonathan Edwards' famous discourse, Sinners in the hands of an angry God (from Deut. 32:25), preached in his usual plain and undemonstrative manner, at Enfield, New England, in 1741, could never have produced the effect it did had not God been in the midst. "When they went into the meeting-house the appearance of the assembly was thoughtless and vain; the people scarcely conducted themselves with common decency", recorded Trumbull, but he goes on to describe the effect of the sermon: "the assembly appeared bowed with an awful conviction of their sin and danger. There was such a breathing of distress and weeping, that the preacher was obliged to speak to the people and desire silence that he might be heard." Conant says, "Many of the hearers were seen unconsciously holding themselves up against the pillars, and the sides of the pews, as though they already felt themselves sliding into the pit."
Similar is the scene described by Charles Finney when he preached in the village school-house near Antwerp, N.Y. "An awful solemnity seemed to settle upon the people; the congregation began to fall from their seats in every direction and cry for mercy. If I had had a sword in each hand, I could not have cut them down as fast as they fell. I was obliged to stop preaching." Of course the measure of conviction is not often so overwhelming as this, and varies even with different individuals affected on the same occasion, but the explanation is always the same, the manifestation of God in holiness and power.
This strange sense of God may pervade a building, a community, or a district, and those who come within its spell will be affected. At the beginning of the 1904 Awakening near the town of Gorseinon a revival meeting was in progress throughout the night. A miner, a somewhat hardened notorious case, returning from his shift about 4 a.m. saw the light in the chapel and decided to investigate. As soon as he opened the chapel door he was overwhelmed by a sense of God's presence, and exclaimed, "Oh, God is here!" He was afraid either to enter or depart, and there on the threshold of the chapel a saving work began in his soul.
No town in Ulster was more deeply stirred during the 1859 Revival than Coleraine. It was there that a boy was so troubled about his soul that the schoolmaster sent him home. An older boy, a Christian, accompanied him, and before they had gone far led him to Christ. Returning at once to the school, this latest convert testified to the master, "Oh, l am so happy! have the Lord Jesus in my heart." The effect of these artless words was very great. Boy after boy rose and silently left the room. On investigation the master found these boys ranged alongside the wall of the playground, everyone apart and on his knees! Very soon their silent prayer became a bitter cry. It was heard by those within and pierced their hearts. They cast themselves upon their knees, and their cry for mercy was heard in the girls' schoolroom above. In a few moments the whole school was upon its knees, and its wail of distress was heard in the street outside. Neighbours and passers-by came flocking in, and all, as they crossed the threshold, came under the same convicting power. Every room was filled with men, women, and children seeking God.
Similar stories could be told of the 1858 American Revival. Ships as they drew near the American ports came within a definite zone of heavenly influence. Ship after ship arrived with the same tale of sudden conviction and conversion. In one ship a captain and the entire crew of thirty men found Christ out at sea and entered the harbour rejoicing. Revival broke out on the battleship "North Carolina" through four Christian men who had been meeting in the bowels of the ship for prayer. One evening they were filled with the Spirit and burst into song. Ungodly shipmates who came down to mock were gripped by the power of God, and the laugh of thc scornful was soon changed into the cry of the penitent. Many were smitten down, and a gracious work broke out that continued night after night, till they had to send ashore for ministers to help, and the battleship became a Bethel.
This overwhelming sense of God, bringing deep conviction of sin, is perhaps the outstanding feature of true revival. The manifestation of it is not always the same. Sometimes it is predominantly the unconverted who are convicted, as in the cases quoted. At other times it is Christians or professing Christians, as in the revivals in Manchuria and China (1906-9) under Jonathan Goforth; or the recent awakening in the Belgian Congo (1953). But the explanation is always the same, Of the revival in Northampton, Mass., Jonathan Edwards wrote: "In the spring and summer, A.D. 1735, the town seemed to be full of the presence of God. It never was so full of love, nor so full of joy, and yet so full of distress, as it was then." To cleansed hearts it is heaven, to convicted hearts it is hell, when God is in the midst.
Here is a further vital feature--"they were all filled with the Holy Spirit". In times preceding revival it is common to find among believers of various persuasions a fresh emphasis on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. Many have been lost in a maze of theological controversy. Others have moved for years in the rut of traditional interpretation, concerned with an explanation rather than an experience, a definition instead of a dynamic. But with those stirrings of the Spirit that are the precursor of revival, there is born in many such hearts a wholesome dissatisfaction with that vague and mystic view of being filled with the Spirit that leaves one in the dark as to what it is, how it comes, and whether or not one has received it. There is not scope here to deal with this important subject as it needs to be dealt with, but let us briefly mention three important facts regarding the anointing of the believer with the Holy Spirit that emerge from this and other parallel cases in the New Testament.
Firstly, the anointing was a definite experience. It had to be, for the risen Christ had left the believers of the upper room with a promise and a command: the promise was that of the Spirit coming upon them, "Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence" (1:5); and the command was that they were to "wait for the (1:4) to be fulfilled, "tarry ye - until" (Luke 524: 49). Apart from the expectation of a definite experience they could not have obeyed the command to "tarry until". However, they took their Lord at His word, they waited, and in due time the promise was fulfilled. They knew that they had received the promised Holy Spirit, and very soon others knew also that something remarkable had taken place.
These who but a few days before had slunk into the upper room and bolted the door for fear of the men who had murdered their Master, are now standing in the open and alleging that this Jesus is alive, and accusing their hearers of His murder. Peter, who a month and a half before had denied his Lord at the jibe of a servant-girl, now stands before the multitudes in the very city where He was crucified, and asserts that God had made this Jesus "both Lord and Christ". Certainly something very definite has happened to these believers. Every other instance in the New Testament of individuals being filled with the Spirit confirms that it is a definite experience. There may or may not be emotional accompaniments. There may or may not be striking manifestations, but it is the birthright of every child of God to receive that anointing, and to know that he (or she) has received it.
Secondly, the anointing was a dynamic experience. It was not given that they might enjoy a spiritual uplift. It was not given primarily that they might be more holy. It was given to make them powerful and effective for God. Through it they would be "clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24: 49). "Ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be My witnesses," said the Saviour (Acts 1:8). As the Father had sent Him, so was He sending them (John 20:21i), and it was in view of this commission that He breathed on them as a symbolic act, and commanded them to receive the Holy Spirit, which they did on the day of Pentecost. Thenceforth they were to be like their Lord, 'anointed . . . with the Holy Spirit and power" (Acts 10:38). Being filled or anointed with the Spirit is always related to spiritual service. This alone can make the fearful believer a courageous and effective witness for Christ. It does not result in all becoming evangelists or great soul-winners. The gifts bestowed may vary with each individual (1 Cor. 12), and this is in the hands of the same Spirit "dividing to each one severally even as He will" (1 Cor. 12:11). But with each there is an imparting of power, and an equipping to function for God in whatever way He may choose.
Finally, it was a desired experience, intensely desired. It was then, and still is, born out of soul thirst. It is the experience of the one who cannot do without it. "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink" (John 7:37). "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty" (Isa. 44:3). Thirst is a more intense desire than hunger, and in the realm of the Spirit "thirst" is the word that God has used to illustrate the desire that should characterize His people. How ready the Lord is to satisfy the longing soul, and to lead His people to the "fountains of living water". Child of God, are you thirsty to be filled with the Spirit?
Characteristically revival is a time when large numbers of believers are filled with the Spirit. Such an event, as here at Pentecost, may set off a revival. Charles Finney received a mighty anointing of the Spirit on the evening of the day of his conversion. As a result a revival broke out the following day in Adams, N.Y., the town where he lived. When the waiting vessel cannot contain the abundance of the heavenly anointing, there must of necessity be floods upon the dry ground, and such are often the beginning of revival. Said Finney, "Many times great numbers of persons in a community will be clothed with this power, when the very atmosphere of the whole place seems to be charged with the life of God. Strangers coming into it and passing through the place will be instantly smitten with conviction of sin, and in many instances converted to Christ."
God has not only said, "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and streams upon the dry ground", but also "I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring" (Isa. 44: 4 Both are blessedly true of revival, for it is then that God not only pours out His Spirit upon the church, but also upon the seed and offspring of the church, so that new-born souls are at once filled with the Spirit and become effective for God. A revival will often increase in power and influence in this way.
"The tree is known by its fruit" (Matt. 12:33).
Where are yet further features of this Pentecostal outpouring which may help us to recognize outpourings of the Spirit today.
This mark of revival is suggested by the phrase, "they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4). Of course, strictly speaking all the operations of the Spirit are supernatural. The most ordinary conversion of a sinner is a supernatural work, but it may not be manifestly so. Here is meant that which is in the eyes of men manifestly supernatural, and which can be accounted for in no other way. It is that which produces in the hearts and minds of onlookers the reaction described here, "they were all amazed, and were perplexed, saying one to another, What meaneth this ?" (verse 12).
In considering this particular manifestation of speaking with tongues it is needful to avoid unhealthy extremes. Some who expound the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost are careful to avoid any mention of this strange phenomenon, as though it had no real significance. Others, however, can see nothing else in the chapter; to them it is the be-all and the end-all. Some insist that this gift of tongues is now extinct, others that it is the indispensable proof of the filling of the Spirit. Neither view is supported by Scripture or by history. It was not the only proof of the filling of the Spirit in apostolic times (Acts 8: 14-17; 9:17-19; I Cor. I2:30); it is not the only proof today. At the same time God has never withdrawn this or any other gift. It is true that tongues with prophecies and knowledge are to cease, but not till "that which is perfect is come" (i Cor. 13: 8-10).
Revival always seems to bring with it a temporary return to apostolic Christianity. Never is the church nearer to the spirit and power of the first century than in times of revival. An eyewitness described the New England Revival of the 18th century thus: "The apostolical times seem to have returned upon us." Thus we must not be surprised to discover that God uses such times to restore spiritual gifts which many have thought were confined to the days of primitive Christianity. Such a conservative work as the Devotional Commentary contains this note on the verse "Quench not the Spirit" (1 Thess. 5:I9): "In the early church the influence of the Holy Spirit in the utterances of individual believers was fully recognized. He is set before believers as the source of various gifts (1 Cor. 12), and conspicuously of gifts of utterance (Acts 2:4). In times of spiritual blessing these gifts are more especially manifest. It has been so in every great revival from the days of Wesley and Whitefield to the days of Evan Roberts. Such gifts, coming indeed from the Spirit, are not to be quenched, put out, like a lamp no longer needed or a fire that meant danger. Nor must such utterances - 'prophesyings', not necessarily predictive, but claiming to be of divine impulse - be despised. They are, indeed, commended by St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:1, 39). They are to be received with respect and yet with intelligent discrimination."
It is not suggested that the exercise of such supernatural gifts is confined to times of revival; nor is it maintained that God only bestows them during such seasons, for the facts are otherwise. It is only asserted, as a fact beyond dispute to those who accept the testimony of history, that the renewal of such gifts, together with various other signs and wonders, are a prominent feature of revival. God is sovereign in all these things. Let the creature beware of imputing folly to the Creator, or of dictating to Him how He shall conduct His work. If God-sent revival is characterized by elements altogether new to our experience and which we cannot understand, if there are dreams and visions, tongues and interpretations, revelations and trances, prophesyings and healings, tremblings and prostrations, let us remember that God said that "signs" would accompany the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2: 17-19), and that it has almost always been so.
God uses such signs as a divine authentication of the truth of the gospel, even as Nicodemus said to Jesus, "We know that Thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these signs that Thou doest except God be with him" (John 3:2). Thus it was with His disciples who "went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed" (Mark 16: 20). "God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will" (Heb. 2:4). We would do well to ponder that last phrase, for it emphasizes that such matters rest solely in the hands of God. Nevertheless the fact remains that during those early days it pleased God to employ signs and wonders in nearly every great ingathering of souls to bring the people together and prepare their hearts for the truth. The first recorded prayer of the church was that "signs and wonders may be done" (Acts 4:30). This was an invincible weapon against persecution. It may be that God will consummate this age as He commenced it.
Perhaps the most common sign in times of revival has been the prostration of convicted souls. It was common in the Wesley-Whitefleld Revivals. Lady Huntingdon wrote to Whitefleld regarding the cases of crying out and falling down at the meetings, and advised him not to remove them, as had been done, for it seemed to bring a damper on the meeting. She wrote: "You are making a mistake. Don't be wiser than God. Let them cry out; it will do a great deal more good than your preaching." Wesley in his journals dated July 7th, 1739, recorded a conversation with Whitefield on this subject, whose objections were evidently founded on misrepresentations of fact. "But the next day he [Whitefield] had an opportunity of informing himself better: for no sooner had he begun . . . to invite all sinners to believe in Christ, than four persons sunk down close to him, almost in the same moment. One of them lay without either sense or motion. A second trembled exceedingly. The third had strong convulsions all over his body, but made no noise, unless by groans. The fourth, equally convulsed, called upon God, with strong cries and tears. From this time, I trust, we shall all suffer God to carry on His own work in the way that pleaseth Him."
In the 1860 Revival in Tinevelly, South India, the main instrument God used was a native evangelist called Aroolappen,* a disciple of A. N. Groves. The movement began in the Brethren assemblies in which he had laboured, later spreading to other communities. Aroolappen wrote of the beginning of the movement as follows: "From the 4th May to the 7th the Holy Spirit was poured out openly and wonderfully. Some prophesied and rebuked the people: some beat themselves on their breasts severely, and trembled and fell down through the shaking of their bodies and souls. . . . They saw some signs in the air. They were much pleased to praise God. Some ignorant [uninstructed] people gave out some songs and hymns that we never heard before. - . All the heathen marvelled, and came and saw and heard us with fearful minds."
This man of God wrote again later, "In the month of June some of our people praised the Lord by unknown tongues, with their interpretations. In the month of July the Spirit was poured out upon our congregation at Oleikollam, and above 25 persons were baptized. They are steadfast in prayers. . . . Some missionaries admit the truth of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Lord meets everywhere one after another, though some tried to quench the Spirit."
Henry Groves, son of A. N. Groves, writing in the Indian Watchman for July, 1860, gives a fuller account of this movement, and of how two poor native women received visions which led to days of deep conviction of sin, after which they found peace. The husband of one of them bitterly attacked his wife while she was under conviction, and accused her of being demon-possessed. Soon after he himself fell into a trance while out in the fields in which someone appeared to him and told him to read Revelation 1 and to tell others "I am coming quickly". He returned to the house weeping and under deep conviction, soon afterwards finding peace. These converts went forth to tell their neighbouring heathen what God had done for their souls.
Henry Groves continues his account: "The day following when Aroolappen was engaged in prayer, he says, the spirit of prophecy was given to some there, and a little boy said that in a certain village, which he named, about a mile distant, the Spirit of God had been poured out. Within a quarter of an hour, some men and women came from that village, beating their breasts in great fear and alarm of conscience. They fell down and rolled on the ground. This continued a short time; they all asked to have prayer made for them, after which they said with great joy, 'The Lord Jesus has forgiven our sins', and clapping their hands together, in the fulness of their hearts' gladness, they embraced and kissed one another. For nearly three days this ecstatic joy appears to have lasted. They ate nothing, except a little food taken in the evening, and passing sleepless nights, they continued the whole time in reading of the word, in prayer and in singing praises to the Lord. Of some it is said, 'they lifted up their eyes to heaven and saw blood and fire and pillars of smoke, and, speaking aloud, they told what they had seen.'"
Several missionaries, at first sceptical or even opposed to the movement, were won over when they saw the fruit of it, and were compelled to acknowledge that the work was of God, though some remained dubious of the revival phenomena. One declared, "I do not know that there has been one single case, where one, whom my dear native brethren and myself have considered really influenced, has fallen back." Another wrote, "What God is now doing in the midst of us was altogether beyond the expectations of missionaries and other Christians: who can say what manifestations the Spirit of God will or will not make of His power?"
It is strange, yet all too often true, that when the Spirit of God is working in supernatural power in revival, unbelievers will often be more quickly convinced that this work is wrought of God, than some believers. No doubt there always have been and always will be the prejudiced and sceptical among the people of God, who in unbelief would limit the Holy One of Israel; who cannot bear to think of the Almighty working outside the range of their own finite understanding, or beyond the bounds of their own limited experience. They would have revival, but only if it comes along the quiet orderly lines of their own preconceived ideas. Where it is otherwise they will attribute the work to the flesh, or where this does not provide adequate explanation, to the Devil. Of course there is always the possibility of satanic intrusion, or of the admixture of the flesh in such times of blessing, but this calls for a spirit of discernment, not a spirit of prejudice; the ability to "prove the spirits, whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1), not the wholesale, out-of-hand condemnation of them, which must often result in quenching the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). There is a general tendency to err on the side of prejudice, suspicion and unbelief; and this attitude is nowhere countenanced in the New Testament. Where there is doubt, let there be a patient waiting upon God until the true character of the work is manifest, for the tree will be known by its fruit. Let all take heed. If we indulge in hasty criticism we may be speaking against the Holy Spirit; if we oppose we may "be found even to be fighting against God".
Finally, let us ponder these words from the Church Missionary Intelligencer (1860) on the Tinevelly Revival, written after the work had revealed its true character: "We believe that an unreadiness to recognize the extraordinary operations by which the Holy Spirit is now revealing Himself here and there, is too much a characteristic of the church generally. There are thousands in the ministry of the Church of England, there are multitudes in other denominations, whose conceptions of the work of the Holy Spirit are greatly narrowed, in consequence of their not having given due attention to the admirable accounts on record of the revivals enjoyed, since the days of the Reformation in various Europe and America. A very peculiar responsibility is resting upon all at this day, in consequence of the many proofs afforded of the readiness of the Holy Spirit to do things transcending the narrow limits of our ordinary experience. When the Son of Man cometh shall He find faith on the earth? When He is prepared to bless the church with unwonted tokens of His nearness, with new discoveries of His majesty and grace, will He be met by a proportionate faith?...
"Let us not put our views of decorum and of order above the mighty operations of the Spirit. When He comes forth in His glory, it is as it were a judgment day; there is an overwhelming revelation of sin and of danger; and we can no more expect men to act under such circumstances in accordance with ordinary rules of decorum, than we could expect men aroused from their beds by an earthquake to avoid every demonstration of a noisy or alarming character. Perhaps it behoves us all to surrender our very imperfect views of the power and majesty of the Holy Spirit, and prepare for something grander, more awful and more revolutionary than we have yet witnessed."
"And when this sound was heard, the multitude came together" (verse 6). In chapter 37 of his prophecy, Ezekiel records his vision of the valley of dry bones, over which he was commanded by God to prophesy; he says, "I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise . . and the bones came together . . ." (verse 7). Similarly at Pentecost there was a divine magnetism at work, and the "dry bones" were drawn irresistibly together to where God was working in power. On this occasion God used the supernatural manifestation as the magnetic agent, "when this sound was heard", and this is very often the case in seasons of revival. Sometimes, however, this strange drawing is apparent even where there is no outward manifestation. This would seem to have been the case when Paul and Barnabas visited Antioch-in-Pisidia, when "almost the whole city was gathered together to hear the word of God" (Acts 13: 44).
During the early days of the recent Lewis Awakening, there was a remarkable movement in the village of Arnol. There had been no response during the first few meetings, and a time of prayer was convened in a house at the close of an evening meeting. As one man was praying all present became aware that prayer had been heard, and that the Spirit of God was being poured out upon the village. They left the house to discover that the villagers also were leaving their cottages and making their way, as though drawn by some unseen force, to one point in the village. There they congregated and waited, and when Mr. Duncan Campbell commenced to preach, the word took immediate effect. In a few days that small community had been swept by the Spirit of God, and many souls had been truly converted to God.
It is constantly the complaint of the evangelist that the unconverted, pleasure-loving masses will not come to hear the gospel. Although there have been exceptions, it is still true that many city-wide campaigns attract but a small proportion of those they are designed to reach, and though one rejoices that some do come and that some are saved, the needs of the masses remain largely untouched. The majority of those converted in such meetings are those with church connections or who have been interested by Christian friends. One must admire the energy and thoroughness with which attempts are made to alter this situation. Large sums are spent on advertising and publicity of every kind. Witness marches are conducted through the streets. The meetings themselves are not lacking in varied items and features calculated to appeal. If all this did not reach the godless masses the time before, then it is only ground for trying again with greater thoroughness or more imagination. If it is found that the proportion of spurious decisions is high, then it must be reduced by more careful training of the inquiry room workers, and by greater diligence in following up each case.
There is no intention here of destructively criticizing such evangelistic drives. Rather let us thank God for all that they achieve in making Christ known and leading souls to repentance. Though God blesses and uses them according to the proportion that faith and prayer are exercised, it is important to realize their limitations. As we survey the situation, we may well inquire with Gideon, "And where be all His wondrous works which our fathers told us of?" (Judges 6:13). Is this all that God can do in the face of the appalling need on every hand? Are we for ever shut up to the obvious limitations of modem evangelism? Must we never hope to see that mightier working that truly touches the masses at every level and compels them to face the implications of the gospel? Shall there never be a day of God's power, when our organization, and publicity, and inquiry room technique shall be superseded by the resistless power and faultless control of the Holy Spirit?
Of course God expects us to do our part in drawing souls under the sound of the gospel. It required no outpouring of the Spirit to bring Simon Peter to Jesus, it needed only the invitation of Andrew, his brother (John 1:41, 42). But where the normal means are failing to achieve the necessary end, it is of no avail to adopt the extra special means. If the natural means do not succeed we must look to the supernatural. On Carmel Elijah's fervent pleading left the people unmoved. "How long halt ye between two opinions?" was his challenge; but "the people answered him not a word" (1 Kings 18:24 But when God answered by fire instantly the people were on their faces. What the strivings of man cannot achieve is but the work of a moment to the outpoured Spirit. We may be sure that when God begins to work the people will be there, drawn not by invitation or persuasion, but by that divine magnetism that operates in revival.
It may be necessary for us to cease from our own endeavours in order to enlist the mighty intervention of God. It is possible to be so busy with what we are doing, that we are oblivious of that mightier work that God is waiting to do, if we will but give Him the opportunity. When we are brought to seek His face, and acknowledge, as did Jehoshaphat, "We have no might against this great company . . . neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee", then we may expect Him to answer us likewise, "the battle is not yours, but God's . . . Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still and see the salvation of the Lord with you" (2 Chron. 20: 12-17).
"But Peter . . . lifted up his voice, and spake forth unto them" (verse 14). When we speak of "apostolic preaching" we do not mean that of apostles only, but the kind of preaching that was characteristic of that first century, and of revivals down the years. Although many souls are saved in revival apart from preaching, such times have nearly always been characterized by the powerful proclamation of the truth. Sometimes the outpouring has come through such preaching; at other times, as here, the preaching has come through the outpouring. There is a rugged grandeur about the apostolic preacher which recalls the fearless prophet of Old Testament days. They were clothed with the same power and impelled by the same boldness, for their torches were lit from the same holy fire. Neither was popular, but both were mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. "When a prophet is accepted and deified, his message is lost. The prophet is only useful so long as he is stoned as a public nuisance calling us to repentance, disturbing our comfortable routines, breaking our respectable idols, shattering our sacred conventions" (A. G. Gardiner). Of such a character was the apostolic preacher. Peter's address on this occasion reveals all the main features of apostolic gospel preaching.
The primary design was to lead souls to repentance. A glance at the message of the New Testament preachers, John the Baptist, the Lord Himself, and the Apostles, will confirm that "repent" was one of the great words in their gospel vocabulary. They were not out merely to obtain many ''decisions'' but rather to ''turn many to righteousness" (Dan. 12:3). The difference in emphasis is important. The true index of their success was not in the counting of heads or hands, but in the revolutionizing of lives and even communities, men and women turned "from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God" (Acts 26: 18). Since repentance was to them the fundamental condition of conversion, they did not set out at once to "get results" but to produce conviction of sin, without which there could be no solid foundation for a soul-saving work.
Under the ministry of these early preachers people did not decide to become Christians simply because this was a desirable or respectable thing to do, or because Christianity appeared more attractive, and to offer better dividends than living for the world. There was no suggestion that salvation was just a course of expediency, an insurance policy for eternity, or a good bargain that any sensible man ought to make with his God. No, indeed; they were led to repent because they saw their desperate plight. They were convicted of their shameful rebellion against God, Whose laws they had broken and Whose Son they had crucified. They were indeed "weighed in the balances and found wanting". They were lost and undone, and more than ready, when a loving Saviour was presented to them, to flee to Him for refuge against the wrath of a holy God.
There is so much emphasis today on believing, receiving, deciding, and so little on the vital step of repenting. We need to beware of reducing conversion to a technique, for a person can be persuaded to go through the motions of accepting Christ while the conscience remains unawakened, the will unmoved,, and so the heart unchanged. If the soil is shallow the seed may germinate, but it will be without root, and so "he endureth for a while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway he stumbleth" (Matt. 13:21). The apostles felt that their labour was in vain if their converts did not stand fast (1 Thess. 3:5-8).
How was it that this apostolic preaching produced such deep and abiding results? Because these men dealt faithfully with the question of sin, that the conscience might be aroused (Acts 2: 23, 36). Because they urged upon their hearers the imperative necessity of immediate repentance to God (verse 38). Because they preached baptism in accordance with their commission from Christ (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16: 16), as that which was to accompany and seal that act of repentance (verse 38). And because they demanded that all this should be followed by "doing works worthy of repentance" (Acts 26:20). With the exception of the controversial question of baptism, these features have always characterized revival preaching.
"It was, I believe, a precept of John Wesley's to his evangelists, in unfolding their message, to speak first in general of the love of God to man; then, with all possible energy, and so as to search conscience to its depths, to preach the law of holiness; and then, and not till then, to uplift the glories of the gospel of pardon and of life. Intentionally or not, his directions follow the lines of the epistle to the Romans" (Moule on Romans).
It was said that Charles Finney in dealing with souls had a fixed principle never to tell a man how to get right with God until he could no longer look him in the face. Only when his conscience had been so thoroughly awakened that he hung his head in shame over his sin, did he consider that he was ripe to be told the way of salvation. We may say that Finney went too far, but do we go far enough? It is vain to urge men to go to the Physician so long as they remain unconvinced that they are dangerously ill. A Puritan writer, Thomas Goodwin, remarked in this connection, "Traitors must be convicted and condemned ere they are capable of a legal pardon; as sentence must be pronounced before a legal appeal can be made." When we try to foist a pardon on the rebel who has not been apprehended or convicted, we invite him to trample it underfoot. Bearing in mind this design, to produce conviction with a view to repentance, let us notice four characteristics of apostolic preaching revealed in Peter's address.
It was spontaneous preaching, as spontaneous as the outpouring that produced it. Christ had promised, when they should have to stand before governors and kings, "It shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you" (Matt. 10:19, 20) This word seemed to have a fulfilment in the seizing of many other unexpected opportunities of preaching Christ. It is remarkable that this masterly address of Peter that led to the conversion of three thousand souls, should have been impromptu. No one would deny that there is a place for the prepared and deliberate presentation of the gospel, but too many have lost sight of that unpremeditated, inspirational preaching which is so characteristic when the Spirit of God is working in power.
Charles Finney wrote in his autobiography: "For some twelve years of my earliest ministry, I wrote not a word; and was commonly obliged to preach without any preparation whatever, except what I got in prayer. Oftentimes I went into the pulpit without knowing upon what text I should speak, or a word that I should say. I depended on the occasion and the Holy Spirit to suggest the text, and to open up the whole subject to my mind; and certainly in no part of my ministry have I preached with greater success and power. If I did not preach from inspiration I don't know how I did preach. It was a common experience with me . . . that the subject would open up to my mind in a manner that was surprising to myself. It seemed that I could see with intuitive clearness just what I ought to say; and whole platoons of thoughts, words, and illustrations came to me as fast as I could deliver them."
Recounting the revival at Evan Mills, Finney wrote: "I had not taken a thought with regard to what I should preach. The Holy Spirit was upon me, and I felt confident that when the time came for action I should know. As soon as I found the house packed I arose and, without any formal introduction of singing, opened upon them with these words: 'Say ye to the righteous that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe to the wicked! it shall be ill with him; for the reward of his hands shall be given him.' The Spirit of God came upon me with such power, that it was like opening a battery upon them. For more than an hour the word of God came through me to them in a manner that I could see was carrying all before it. It was a fire and a hammer breaking the rock, and as the sword that was piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit. I saw that a general conviction was spreading over the whole congregation."
Although God has His times for this mightier work of the Spirit, as Malt 10:19 suggests, the vision of it needs to be recaptured. The gift of spontaneous preaching enables the evangelist to seize unexpected opportunities, as did Peter here at Pentecost and at the Temple Gate (Acts 3:12); also Paul on Mars Hill (Acts 17) and on the steps of the castle in Jerusalem (Acts 22); and it gives maximum scope to the Spirit of God to produce conviction and lead to repentance. Far from encouraging laziness, such a manner of preaching demands incessant prayerfulness and constant meditation and feeding upon the word. Clearly, it is only possible "in the Spirit", and this anticipates our next feature of this apostolic preaching.
It was anointed preaching. Peter was "filled with the Spirit"; there was the explanation of his power. This feature has already been considered, and we need only touch on it now in its relation to public preaching. Christ had promised His followers that through the coming of the Spirit they would receive power to be His witnesses (Acts I:8), and that the Spirit would work through them to convict the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment. It is strange, in view of the explicit promise of Christ, that many busily engaged in the preaching of the gospel seem to have no concern that they do not see that power operating in their ministry, nor any desire to seek and obtain it.
Apostolic preaching is not marked by its beautiful diction, or literary polish, or cleverness of expression. It has laid aside excellency of speech or of wisdom"; it has no confidence in "persuasive words of wisdom" but operates "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power", so that the faith that it kindles in the heart does "not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:1-5). It was said of Savonarola, the great Italian Reformer, that "nature had withheld from him almost all the gifts of the orator", and yet he was mighty through the power of the Spirit. Said A. J. Gordon of him: "When we read of his intense and enrapt communion with God, his unconquerable persistence in seeking the power of the Highest, till 'his thoughts and affections were so absorbed in God by the presence of the Holy Spirit, that they who looked into his cell saw his upturned face as it had been the face of an angel', we are not amazed at the character and effects of his preaching - so pathetic, so melting, so resistless that the reporter lays down his pen with this apology written under the last line - Such sorrow and weeping came upon me that I could go no further.'"
There can be no substitute whatever for the anointing of the Spirit; it is the one indispensable factor for the effective proclamation of God's message. The apostolic preacher is first and foremost the man who can say with his Master, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel" (Luke 4:18 A.V.).
It was also fearless preaching. This feature is directly related to that which we have just considered. "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spake the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31). These first Christians had been wonderfully liberated from "the fear of man that bringeth a snare". They gave their hearers the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. There was no watering down the stern demands of divine holiness, no modifying the eternal severities to appeal to the natural man. The apostolic preacher was like Noah "a preacher of righteousness". He did not shun to set forth the changeless laws of a holy God, because he knew that "by the law cometh the knowledge of sin" (Rom.3:19, 20), and that this is the instrument that the Spirit of God uses to reveal, that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (verse 23).
Whitefield said of Griffith Jones, a Welsh evangelist of his day, that his preaching possessed "a grasp on the conscience". Such a ministry requires a proclamation of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin, and such a fearless application of the divine law as probes the conscience and leaves the hearer standing guilty before God. Such preaching does not generalize about sin and sinners, but focuses on the individual conscience and fearlessly declares, "Thou art the man". It was said of Gilbert Tennent, a contemporary of Jonathan Edwards, and mightily used in the New England Revival, "He seemed to have no regard to please the eyes of his hearers with agreeable gesture, nor their ears with delivery, nor their fancy with language; but to aim directly at their hearts and consciences, to lay open their ruinous delusions, show them their numerous, secret, hypocritical shifts in religion, and drive them out of every deceitful refuge wherein they made themselves easy, with the form of godliness without the power. . . . His preaching was frequently both terrible and searching" (Prince's Christian History).
Here Peter charged his hearers with the crime of crucifying their Messiah. They may not have been personally present, but they were personally responsible, for they had consented to His death. Emphatically he spoke of "This Jesus Whom YE crucified" (verse 36). Little wonder that we then read, "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart." Fearless preaching like this was calculated to produce conviction, or to stir up the bitterest animosity. It usually did both. Many preachers today are so tactful, so careful lest they should offend, that they achieve little or nothing. How different were the "shock tactics" of the apostolic preacher, as we listen to his burning words in temple court (Acts 3:13-15) or Jewish Council (Acts 4:8-11; 7:51---53); well might he say, "I truly am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin" (Mic. 3:8). Such preaching, by making indifference impossible, sets the hearers in one of two camps. It is calculated to produce a revival or a riot.
Finally, it was Christ-centred preaching. Having explained to the astonished multitudes that this which they saw and heard was the outpouring of the Spirit promised in Joel, Peter took them at once to "Jesus of Nazareth". He did not at once assert His deity, but found a common basis in what they already knew and believed concerning Him, in facts which were beyond contradiction - "a. man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs." It was a principle of these apostolic preachers to find common ground with their hearers and to work from that. They commenced with what was assuredly believed and accepted, and from that basis they argued their case, point by point, persuading the multitudes that this Jesus was the Christ.
In the story of the Ethiopian eunuch we read that Philip "preached unto him Jesus" (Acts 8: 35). He did not preach about Jesus, he preached Jesus; his message was a proclamation, a setting forth of the person of Jesus the suffering Messiah, yet Son of God. Paul's determination was ever to know nothing among men "save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2), and so vividly had he set Him forth to the Galatian churches that he could remind them - "before your very eyes, Jesus Christ has been portrayed, crucified" (Gal. 3:1, Darby). The risen Lord had explained to His disciples before He ascended into heaven why it behoved "the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory" (Luke 24: 26). He had opened their minds to the full significance of the cross and the resurrection in the plan of redemption, "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name unto all the nations" (Luke 24:45-47), and so in these aspects they set forth Christ in their preaching.
The very corner stone of apostolic preaching, however, was the witness to the resurrection. Everything hinged on the fact that the Crucified One was alive. If He had indeed risen all His claims to be the "Sent One" of God, the long-promised Messiah, were authenticated and beyond dispute, and men found themselves under a cloud of divine wrath, guilty of the greatest crime of all time. "Ye denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted unto you, and killed the Prince of Life" (Acts 3:14). "The Righteous One; of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7:52). It was the light from the empty tomb that explained the enigma of the Cross; it was this that transformed apparent defeat into actual victory, and tragedy into triumph. The resurrection was God's masterstroke to prove beyond all doubt and for all time the deity of Jesus, for He was "declared to be the Son of God with power . . . by the resurrection of the dead" (Rom. 1:4).
Apostolic preaching cannot of course be limited to the ministry of the evangelist, separated for this special work. In revival it is common to witness widespread evangelism through numbers of believers possessed with the spirit of the first Christians, who when "scattered abroad went about preaching the Word" (Acts 8: 4). Paul wrote similarly to the believers of the Thessalonian church, "From you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth; so that we need not to speak anything" (1 Thess. 1:8). This explains the rapid and prodigious progress of Christianity in the first century; and the same thing in lesser degree has accompanied and followed almost every great movement of the Spirit.
It is said of the Moravian Revival, that in the thirty years following the outpouring of the Spirit on the congregation at Herrnhut (1727), the Moravian evangelists, aflame for God, had carried the gospel not only to nearly every country in Europe, but also to many pagan races in North and South America, Asia, and Africa. Dr. Warneck, German historian of Protestant Missions, wrote, "This small church in twenty years called into being more missions than the whole evangelical church has done in two centuries." More than one hundred missionaries went forth from this village community in twenty-five years.
Of the 1860 Revival in South India, the Indian Watchman observed: "As in Ireland [Ulster Revival - 1859], so here, the recent converts, seized with irresistible spirit of evangelization, were the means of carrying the wondrous influence from one place to another." A missionary wrote, "There were indisputable marks of a revival among the people, brought about by the influence of five men who had come voluntarily to preach the gospel to heathen and Christians. . . . The effect of their proceeding hitherto has been extraordinary. The heathen listen to them attentively. Their doctrine is sound and pertinent, exhibiting a right practical understanding both of law and gospel." Another says, "It is indeed a new era in Indian Missions, that of lay converts going forth without purse or scrip to preach the gospel of Christ to their fellow-countrymen, and that with a zeal and life we had hardly thought them capable of."
It will be seen that these features constantly emphasize what has already been remarked, that revival does not lead us forward to fresh stunts or unexplored methods to make the gospel more attractive and acceptable, but back to the old and often disused paths of apostolic evangelism. Would we be ready for revival? - then let us "ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein" (Jer. 6:16). Where the Spirit of God is in complete control there is an inevitable return to the simple methods of the first century, and great is the surprise of many to discover that they not only still work, but that they still work the best. They are in fact the only channels capable of carrying the mighty rivers of blessing let loose in revival. We shall now see how great those rivers can be.
"And there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls" (verse 41). "And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved" (verse 47). "But many of them that heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand" (4:4). "And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (5:14). "And the number of the disciples multiplied . . . exceedingly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith" (6: 4 So reads the record of Pentecost and the days that followed. Here then is a further distinctive feature of revival, superabundant blessing. God had indeed fulfilled the promise of Malachi 3:10; He had opened the windows of heaven and poured out such a blessing that there was not room enough to receive it.
If these recorded results of that outpouring of Pentecost were not part of inspired Scripture, we might have wondered whether the accounts were not exaggerated. Down the years, however, there have been seasons of revival when the blessing was, numerically at least, comparable with Pentecost. One wrote out of the midst of the New England Revival (eighteenth century), "The dispensation of grace we are now under is . . . in some circumstances so wonderful, that I believe there has not been the like since the extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit immediately after our Lord's ascension." Space does not permit giving here statistics of the great revivals of the church, even if accurate information were available. However, a few figures will be quoted, remembering that they are only estimates, but made when modesty and reserve in these matters were much more prominent than they are today.
It is estimated that 30,000 souls were converted through Whitefield's revivals in America. Of the revival in the same country in 1830, Dr. Henry Ward Beecher remarked to Charles Finney, "This is the greatest revival of religion that has been since the world began." It is computed that 100,000 were converted that year in the United States. In the great 1858 revival, conversions numbered 50,000 per week, and over the whole of the United States there could not have been less than 500,000 conversions, according to Finney's estimate in 1859, when the revival was still spreading. "In the year 1859 a similar movement began in the United Kingdom, affecting every county in Ulster, Scotland, Wales, and England, adding a million accessions to the evangelical churches" (J. Edwin Orr).
Far more significant to thoughtful minds than massive statistics is the estimate of what proportion of a community or district is savingly affected in these extraordinary seasons of blessing. Of the New England Revival (eighteenth century) Conant wrote:
"It cannot be doubted that at least 20,000 souls were added to the churches of New England out of a population of about 250,000. A fact sufficient to revolutionize, as indeed it did, the religious and moral character, and to determine the destinies of the country." In Acts 9: 34, 35 there is the account of the healing of a palsied man which resulted in the wholesale turning to the Lord of a town, Lydda, and a populous district, the Sharon. Many similar instances could be given of communities swept by powerful revivals when it was most difficult, if not impossible, to find a single unconverted soul.
Of the revival in Northampton, Mass. (1735) Jonathan Edwards wrote: "There was scarcely a single person in the town, either old or young, that was left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world. Those that were wont to be the vainest and loosest, and those that had been the most disposed to think and speak slightly of vital and experimental religion, were now generally subject to great awakenings. And the work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner, and increased more and more; souls did, as it were, come by flocks to Jesus Christ."
Similarly Finney wrote of the revival in Rome, N.Y.: "As the work proceeded, it gathered in nearly the whole population." Of the 1858 Revival in Sweden, an English minister resident in Stockholm reported, "I should be disposed to consider that at least 200,000 persons have been awakened out of a population not exceeding 3 millions." This would mean one out of every fifteen people. Another wrote of the same revival: "The awakening is so extensive that there is scarcely a town, a village, or a hamlet, where there is not a little company of believers united together, and edifying one another in love." Revival commonly leaves behind such groups, meeting on the simple ground of oneness in Christ, as did the early church. This leads us to the last feature of the outpouring of Pentecost.
"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . . And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need. And day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they did take their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people" (verses 42-47). In those early days, the manner of life of the believers, their church order and fellowship were marked by divine simplicity and spiritual power. As faith and spirituality waned the power of the Spirit was gradually withdrawn. Soon it became necessary to substitute human arrangements, which could be worked without the Spirit's power, for the divine arrangements, which were dependent on that power. Thus by degrees the simple apostolic pattern ordained by the Spirit was abandoned in favour of the complex ways of man, and those concerned with the building up of the churches forgot the exhortation of God to Moses concerning His house, "See that thou make all things according to the pattern." Some asserted that God had revealed no pattern; others that the pattern did not matter, that every man could do that which was right in his own eyes. Since revivals bring a renewal of the power of the Spirit, they are commonly accompanied by a return to the simple apostolic pattern.
It is significant that many of the revivals of Old Testament days were characterized by a return to the divinely ordained worship of the house of the Lord. Asa, for example, "renewed the altar of the Lord", and "brought into the house of God the things that his father had dedicated" (2 Chron 15:8, 18). Similarly Josiah sent men "to repair the house of the Lord" (2 Chron. 34: 8). Hezekiah also "in the first year of his reign . . . . opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them" (2 Chron. 29:3). He then ordered the Levites to "carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place" (verse 5), which was of course essential to any further progress; but this was not all, for the rest of the chapter describes how "the service of the house of the Lord was set in order" (verse 35). It is needful, if the blessings of revival are to be preserved and maintained, that the cleansing of the house from sin, worldliness, and unbelief, be followed by the reestablishing of its order in divine simplicity. This passage in Acts 2 reveals that the outpouring of the Spirit was followed by steadfast continuance on the part of the believers in the four matters essential to their corporate life.
Firstly, there was the apostles' teaching. All the great movements of the Spirit that have affected the course of history have been accompanied and consolidated by spiritual teaching. Where this is not the case it is possible for a good movement to go off into error, peter out, or be dissipated in extravagance and fanaticism. The outpouring of the Spirit was never intended to be a substitute for such teaching, but rather to stimulate it. The one provides the dynamic and impetus; the other ensures that the power released continues to flow along the right channel. A missionary wrote of the converts of the 1860 Revival in South India, "One thing is very marked, their intense reverence for the word of God, and desire to be conformed to it in all particulars." What can do more to produce a hunger for God's word, foster a love for "sound doctrine", and check heresy of various forms than a mighty outpouring of the Spirit? Said R. A. Torrey, "A genuine, wide-sweeping revival would do more to turn things upside down and thus get them right side up than all the heresy trials ever instituted."
Secondly, there was the apostles' fellowship, in which they continued steadfastly. Not until the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost, and these believers were fused into one body, the church, do we have this first mention of "fellowship", a sharing together; for though our fellowship is with the Father and Son, it is ever "the fellowship of the Holy Spirit", affected and maintained by Him. This fellowship of the early church was not only related to their spiritual experiences, but also to their material possessions, for they "had all things common" (verse 44). In this connection the following report from the 1860 Revival in South India is significant: "There are now in Christian Pettah alone, about one hundred who are bound together in the ties of Christian fellowship, and in the district of Arulappatoor there is about the same number, and very many more scattered about elsewhere. Sunday they make a day of special fasting and prayer, abstaining often from food till after the partaking of the Lord's Supper, which is partaken of every Sunday evening at 8. They appear to be living in much real simplicity, having all that they have in common, and working together for the common support" (Henry Groves). Steadfast continuance in fellowship involves the diligent cultivation of the corporate life, in which there is no provision for the free-lance or the "lone wolf". Here everything is sacrificed for the common good, and the unity of the Spirit is diligently preserved. Here the believers "consider one another to provoke unto love and good works" (Heb. 10:24). Such a fellowship can only be maintained at the price of ceaseless vigilance, but it is characteristic of times of revival.
Thirdly, there was the breaking of bread in which they also continued steadfastly. The Lord's Supper was prefigured in Old Testament times by the Feast of the Passover, and it is significant that three outstanding revivals in the history of Israel were marked by a widespread return to the keeping of the Passover, under Hezekiah (2 Chron. 30), Josiah (2 Chron. 35), and Ezra (Ezra 6:19). It is therefore not surprising to discover that revivals have ever quickened the desire of the church to obey the Saviour's command, "This do in remembrance of Me." Many a time the outpouring of the Spirit has coincided with the gathering of the saints to keep this simple ordinance. The glorious revival at Cambuslang, near Glasgow (i 742) under the minister, William M'Culloch, culminated in two great communion seasons. Under the preaching of Whitefleld, supported by that of this parish minister, the word was attended with remarkable results. Tens of thousands gathered on the hillside to hear the word of God, many being smitten down and carried into the surrounding houses. Thousands came to the communion tables, "sitting down by companies upon the green grass, as in Galilee of old". On both occasions the voice of prayer and praise could be heard throughout the night, mingling with the mourning of stricken hearts.
We read of the first communities touched by the Revival in South India, "They were very anxious to enjoy the Lord's Supper - every day if they could have it.' Thus it was immediately after Pentecost, when the Lord's Supper was taken in the believers' houses in conjunction with the daily food "breaking bread at home, they did take their food with gladness" (Acts 2:46). It was in this manner that the Lord had inaugurated this simple ordinance in the upper room, and revival ever tends to bring us back to the apostolic pattern, divesting these things of the cloak of ecclesiasticism, and delivering us from the twin perils of ritualism and tradition. A modern writer has done well to remind us, "It is possible to reject traditions a thousand years old, and yet be slaves to traditions of scarcely fifty years standing" (W. W. Fereday).
Finally, there was steadfast continuance in prayers. As revivals are born out of prayer, so are they maintained by prayer; without it they cannot continue in purity and power. Soon after the outpouring at Herrnhut (1727) that commenced the Moravian Revival, it was determined that the voice of prayer should never be silent, neither by day nor by night, just as of old the fire was ever to be kept burning upon the altar. Twenty-four brethren and the same number of sisters divided the twenty-four hours between them into prayer watches. The number of intercessors increased, a spirit of prayer being poured out even upon the children. That prayer meeting went on without intermission, day and night, for 100 years, and was the source of power of the Moravian Missions.
When the revival in Adams, N.Y., that commenced with his own conversion, began to decline, Charles Finney read an article entitled, A Revival Revived. "The substance was, that in a certain place there had been a revival during the winter; that in the spring it declined; and that upon earnest prayer being offered for the continued outpouring of the Spirit, the revival was powerfully revived." He suggested to the young people that they should each pray in their rooms at sunrise, at noon, and at sunset for one week. Before the week was out a marvellous spirit of prayer was poured out on them, some lying prostrate on the floor during these seasons, praying for the outpouring of the Spirit. "The Spirit was poured out, and before the week ended all the meetings were thronged."
Prior to Pentecost it is recorded that the believers "continued steadfastly in prayer" (Acts 1:14); after Pentecost the young church "continued steadfastly . . . in prayers" (Acts 2: 42); and when the rivers of blessing were flowing far and wide, and the work was so extensive that the apostles could no longer cope with it, we hear their solemn resolve, "We will continue steadfastly in prayer (Acts 6:4). Let it be burned upon our hearts by the Spirit of God that this mighty movement that turned the world upside down was not only born out of prayer, but that it brought forth prayer, and was maintained by prayer. Such praying, costly but indispensable, has ever characterized the great revivals of the past.
How simple were the channels along which the rivers of that first outpouring flowed. The corporate life of the first church was maintained by no methods or devices more complex than teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. These means were simple, but they were sufficient. When the Spirit of God is poured out again it will be seen that nothing more is needed. Other expedients are only called for when the power of the Spirit begins to wane. The local church is the only visible society that can adequately meet the varied needs of the believer, young or old. This is the design of God, though He raises up and uses other organizations when the local churches have failed. It is vital that the living stones quarried in times of revival shall not be left lying about, but shall be built into the house of God, and share the corporate life of the church. Therefore the form and condition of that local body are of great importance.
It is surely right that a soul converted in revival, when the Spirit was in complete sway, should be brought into a fellowship where, in the simplicity of apostolic church order, the Spirit continues to control and where there is scope and liberty for each member of the body to exercise his or her spiritual gifts to the blessing of all. How often the flames of revival have been extinguished by the very structure in which it broke out. After the first inrush of the Spirit, the doors and windows were shut by the iron hand of ecclesiasticism, formalism, and tradition; the flame was suffocated; the Spirit quenched. The outgoings of revival are a key to the continuance of the work. If factory wheels are arrested by some outside agency, either the motive power is also arrested and all movement ceases, or else the link that joins the power to the wheels is broken. In a mighty movement of the Spirit sometimes the link is snapped, and the revival movement is severed from the old machinery and linked to new that is fit to receive and use the fresh output of power. It is the old principle of new wine causing the old wine-skin to burst so that the wine is spilled (Matt. 9:17). New wine requires new wine-skins, and if the old are not prepared to be renewed and remodelled by the Spirit of God to meet the new situation, God has no alternative but to reject them. A movement of the Spirit can only be contained by the organization of the Spirit, and that organization is characterized by simplicity. As we scan that distant horizon, and watch the sun rising over that first church as it moved forward in the power of the Spirit, we are compelled to exclaim with Cowper,
"Oh, how unlike the complex works of man
Heaven's easy, artless, unencumbered plan!
. . . . . Majestic in its own simplicity."
1. What Is Revival?
2. Distinctive Features Of Revival (1)
3. Distinctive Features Of Revival (2)