Why read about revivals?
1. It is encouraged by God
Many times in scripture God encourages the re-telling of Hiis mighty works in the lives of men and women. There are innumerable examples in the Old Testament, eg:
Ps 145:4-6, 11-13 4 One generation will commend your works to another; they will tell of your mighty acts. 5 They will speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty, and I will meditate on your wonderful works. 6 They will tell of the power of your awesome works, and I will proclaim your great deeds. 11 They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, 12 so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendour of your kingdom. 13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations
Ps 78:3-7 3 What we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, 6 so that the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.
In the New Testament also we see graphic illustrations of the ministry of Jesus and of the early church. But why are these in the Bible? Why do today’s Christians need to know what God did in the past? Of what benefit or advantage can it be to read histories and biographies of God’s great exploits, whether they be Biblical or historical testimonies. Certainly God has a good reason for the recording and reading of His glorious activities.
2. Through reading God’s awesome activities we discover His will for the church today.
There can be no doubt that God wants His church to be ‘the light of the world’ and ‘the salt of the earth.’ This means healthy and effective churches. It means a growing and expanding church. It means a church that is glowing with a love for Jesus Christ and a passion for the lost. It means honouring and serving His church.
It is specifically ‘revival history’ that reveals just how God infuses His church with such qualities. It is undeniable that revival is the major means that God has used to advance the cause of the Gospel throughout the ages.
"Though there be a more constant influence of God's Spirit always, in some degree, attending His ordinances; yet the way in which the greatest things have been done towards carrying on this work, always has been by remarkable effusions of the Spirit at special seasons of mercy…"
Jonathan Edwards said, "Though there be a more constant influence of God's Spirit always, in some degree, attending His ordinances; yet the way in which the greatest things have been done towards carrying on this work, always has been by remarkable effusions of the Spirit at special seasons of mercy…"
Revivals are His foremost way of advancing the quality and quantity of the church. This is His major antidote for decline and the foremost method of reviving dying churches and achieving mass evangelisation and the reaping of huge harvests of souls. In times of revival Christians renew their love for God, commit themselves to prayer, become serious about evangelism and see unprecedented numbers of converts. Revivals result in church growth, new church plants, the expansion of mission work and Christian social endeavour.
3. By reading of former times of refreshing our faith is quickened and our prayer lives are revived, paving the way for fresh outpourings of the Spirit.
There are countless examples of this through history. I have included a few here:
This work began under the ministry of the Rev. W. McCulloch who began to seek God for a fresh outpouring. The news of the gracious movement under Wesley and Whitefield filled his soul with joy. He at once began to tell his people the story of the great revival in England and America. Soon the entire membership was affected. They gave themselves to revival prayer and desired him to preach more of these ‘revival themes’ of salvation, regeneration etc. The congregations so increased in number that the church was too small they had to hold the preaching services in the open air. The whole town was affected as were many ministers who visited from elsewhere.
This movement originated in the work of the Rev. J. H. Moore in Connor, Co. Antrim. For years he preached the Gospel faithfully, but with little success. News of revival in America stirred him to pray and promote a revival among his own people. He often preached on this subject and read accounts of great revivals of the past to his congregation. The idea of having a revival began to grip the people and it became the subject of much prayer.
In 1857 the Sunday School teachers began to hold a weekly prayer meeting and as a result they soon noticed a marked increase of attention and seriousness among the children.
After some months, four of the young men who were connected with this prayer meeting began a secret prayer and fellowship meeting to pray for revival. Rev. W. Gibson records, “For a few months they had to walk by faith. They wrestled on. They prevailed.”
At the same time another remarkable book was read by one of these young men, James McQuilkin. The book was George Müller’s Autobiography which was filled with testimonies of extraordinary answers to prayer. He also read other materials like ‘The Life of McCheyne’ and Finney’s ‘Lectures on Revivals’ which had much to do with the spread of the great revival. The Irish revival was a direct result of the reporting and reading of ‘revival literature’ and the prayers it provoked.
Evan Roberts: “I could sit up all night,” he said, “to read or talk about revivals. It was the Spirit that moved me thus.”
Coming from the ‘land of revivals’ (Wales experienced many awakenings in its history) Evan Roberts was very conscious of his nation’s rich heritage. Spurred on by revival history he prayed and read and talked, for ten or eleven years, about revivals. Throughout his teenage years he spent hours in communion with God, praying for a revival to come to Wales again. Sometimes he and his friend, Sydney Evans, would sit up for hours and hours at night talking about a revival, and when not talking he would be reading about revivals. “I could sit up all night,” he said, “to read or talk about revivals. It was the Spirit that moved me thus.” It was in the context of one such evening that God gave Evan faith for 100,000 souls, which he was about to witness coming to Christ in the following eight months! It was Evan Roberts faith and prayers which played such a great part in the famed Welsh revival. In turn stories of the revival sparked faith and prayer around the world. The most significant was its affect upon the Pentecostal pioneers of Los Angeles. Evan Roberts’ news was like oil on an already-burning fire and hastened the outpouring at Azusa Street as believers sought God for more holiness and power.
After being a missionary in China for about thirteen years, Jonathan Goforth, in 1901, began to be dissatisfied with the results of his work. This led him to study how to promote revival.
He began to read the life and writings of Charles G. Finney, who emphasised that any company of Christians can have a revival if they will fulfil the necessary laws. Goforth said, “If Finney is right, then I am going to find out what these laws are and obey them, no matter what it costs.
He says, “Slowly the realisation began to dawn upon me that I had tapped a mine of infinite possibility.” He became so obsessed with this subject and spent so much time in prayer that his wife began to fear that his mind could not stand it.
At this point news of the Welsh Revival in 1904 reached China and it further inspirated to him.
Soon the famous Manchurian revival under Goforth began to break out, and became notable for its emphasis on widespread conviction, public confessions, and extensive conversions.
An astounding local church revival occurred in 1906 at the Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh, during the ministry of Joseph Kemp. He was not a powerful preacher although he was true to the Gospel and favoured expository preaching each Sunday morning. “He nourished his soul and warmed his heart by continually reading everything he could on ‘Revival.’ Whitefield’s life had a great influence on him; as also had Finney’s ‘Lectures on Revival.’ It was with great joy that he would sit down with those who had passed through the 1859 revival, and listen to their recollections of those wonderful days. Revival was his passion and he had a vision of what God could do. He prayed fervently to the Lord and in the first three years of his ministry in Edinburgh, from 1902, 347 people joined the church!
When news of the Welsh Revival reached Scotland he just had to visit Wales, where he spent two weeks watching, experiencing and drinking in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. On his return he reported what he had seen and the people were on the tiptoe of expectancy. Throughout 1905 the nightly prayer meeting became fuller each week.
In 1906 a Conference began on January 22nd and it was here that the fire began to fall. Preaching became secondary to prayer and over a thousand came to Christ in that first year of Revival. Up to thirty and forty were saved in every meeting. The presence of God became tangible; life, death and eternity seemed suddenly laid bare. Intense prayer, uncontrollable weeping and overwhelming conviction swept through the congregation. Hours passed like minutes. This continued for three glorious years.
Pandita Ramabai, a converted Hindu, established a centre for young widows and orphans called "Mukti" Mission which means – ‘salvation’ or ‘deliverance.’
News of the revival in Australia in 1903 aroused Pandita Ramabai to send her daughter and Miss Abrams there, in order that they might catch the inspiration of the revival fire and form praying-bands for Mukti among the Australian Christians.
Then, news of the revival in Wales increased Ramabai’s hunger for a visitation from God. In January 1905, she told her pupils about it, and called for volunteers to meet with her daily for special prayer for a revival in India. Seventy came forward, and from time to time others joined. In June five hundred and fifty were meeting twice daily in this praying band.
Rejoicing still more that the revival had reached the Welsh missions in the Khassia Hills in Assam, she then asked for volunteers from her Bible school to give up their secular studies and go out into the villages to preach the Gospel. Thirty young women volunteered, and were meeting daily to pray for an enduement of power when God visited them.
While Ramabai was expounding John 8 in her usual quiet way one evening, the Holy Spirit descended with power, and all the girls began to pray aloud so that she had to cease talking. Little children, middle-sized girls, and young women wept bitterly and confessed their sins. Some few saw visions and experienced the power of God and things too deep to be described. Two little girls had the spirit of prayer poured on them in such torrents that they continued to pray for hours. They were transformed with heavenly light shining on their faces.
“From that time,” said Miss Abrams, “our Bible school was turned into an inquiry room. Girls, stricken down under conviction of sin while in school, or in the industrial school, or at their work, were brought to us. Lessons were suspended, and we all, teachers and students, entered the school conducted by the Holy Spirit.”
We could cite many other examples, not least of all that of Charles Finney’s “Lectures on Revivals of Religion” which have already been mentioned. The reading of these lectures has resulted in hundreds of revivals across the world throughout the generations since they were penned in 1834.
Some years ago, George and Alec Gallup undertook an exhaustive investigation as to what makes some people more successful than others. Using the polling techniques that have made them famous, the brothers researched and wrote a book titled, "The Great American Success Story". One of their conclusions: Successful people read!.
This true for those who have experienced authentic revival.
Of course, no-one want to become mere ‘revival readers.’ We all aspire to be ‘history makers!’ A good place to start would be to read revival literature. Our faith will be enlarged. Our vision will be inspired. Our prayers will be stimulated and we will position ourselves before God so that we are ready in the day of His power.