We all want revival. We all want the Spirit of God to enter each one of us and make us obviously set apart into a royal priesthood, doing good and devoting ourselves to prayer, hearing of the word, and breaking bread in loving fellowship. We long for our church and life to mirror the earliest days of the first century church of Acts.
However when churches schedule a special Revival speaker, or goes to a Revival conference, and we emerge smiling for a few days but then the waves of euphoria fade, we call that revival. It’s what we’ve become used to as our experience of “revival.”
Yesterday our pastor read from a biography of Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century theologian and pastor who is ‘credited’ with sparking the Great Awakening in America with his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
The extended quote Pastor Mark read was about what life was like in their village while the Awakening (revival) was going on.
Here is Jonathan Edwards from his book, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God on what happens in a heart that is falsely revived, IF they are even lucky enough to hear a preacher who preaches sin in the first place, an increasingly rare event nowadays:
Very often, under first awakenings, when they are brought to reflect on the sin of their past lives, and have something of a terrifying sense of God’s anger, they set themselves to walk more strictly, and confess their sins, and perform many religious duties, with a secret hope of appeasing God’s anger, and making up for the sins they have committed. And oftentimes, at first setting out, their affections are so moved, that they are full of tears, in their confessions and prayers; which they are ready to make very much of, as though they were some atonement, and had power to move correspondent affections in God too.
Hence they are for a while big with expectation of what God will do for them; and conceive they grow better apace, and shall soon be thoroughly converted. But these affections are but short-lived; they quickly find that they fail, and then they think themselves to be grown worse again. They do not find such a prospect of being soon converted, as they thought: instead of being nearer, they seem to be further off; their hearts they think are grown harder, and by this means their fears of perishing greatly increase. But though they are disappointed, they renew their attempts again and again; and still as their attempts are multiplied, so are their disappointments.
When the Spirit of God moves, it is obvious what is happening. The community changes immediately. Read what Edwards wrote about life in a truly revived community:
These awakenings when they have first seized on persons, have had two effects; one was, that they have brought them immediately to quit their sinful practices; and the looser sort have been brought to forsake and dread their former vices and extravagances. When once the Spirit of God began to be so wonderfully poured out in a general way through the town, people had soon done with their old quarrels, backbitings, and intermeddling with other men’s matters. The tavern was soon left empty, and persons kept very much at home; none went abroad unless on necessary business, or on some religious account, and every day seemed in many respects like a Sabbath-day.
The other effect was, that it put them on earnest application to the means of salvation, reading, prayer, meditation, the ordinances of God’s house, and private conference; their cry was, What shall we do to be saved? The place of resort was now altered, it was no longer the tavern, but the minister’s house that was thronged far more than ever the tavern had been wont to be.
That is just beautiful. But why wouldn’t it be? The Holy Spirit of God is beautiful. They are simply reflecting Him in a way we are not used to seeing en masse.
The key to revival is awareness of one’s sin and God’s wrath against it. People who have become aware of their sin will naturally do the things Edwards described. Far from being a dolorous position, people who know their sin are joyful, because now they know and understand grace. See more Edwards’ Faithful Narrative-
The unparalleled joy that many of them speak of, is what they find when they are lowest in the dust, emptied most of themselves, and as it were annihilating themselves before God; when they are nothing, and God is all; seeing their own unworthiness, depending not at all on themselves, but alone on Christ, and ascribing all glory to God. Then their souls are most in the enjoyment of satisfying rest; excepting that, at such times, they apprehend themselves to be not sufficiently self-abased; for then above all times do they long to be lower.
Some speak much of the exquisite sweetness, and rest of soul, that is to be found in the exercise of resignation to God, and humble submission to His will. Many express earnest longings of soul to praise God; but at the same time complain that they cannot praise Him as they would, and they want to have others help them in praising Him. They want to have every one praise God, and are ready to call upon every thing to praise Him. They express a longing desire to live to God’s glory, and to do something to His honor; but at the same time complain of their insufficiency and barrenness; that they are poor and impotent creatures, can do nothing of themselves, and are utterly insufficient to glorify their Creator and Redeemer.
A revived community will reflect God’s heart, which is contained in His Son, who is the Word. (John 1:1-5). People’s passion will be to seek God more, through His word. (Hebrews 1:1-2). Edwards sees a love for His word come alive in the people who have been truly revived:
While God was so remarkably present amongst us by His Spirit, there was no book so delightful as the Bible; especially the Book of Psalms, the Prophecy of Isaiah, and the New Testament. Some, by reason of their love to God’s word, at times have been wonderfully delighted and affected at the sight of a Bible; and then, also, there was no time so prized as the Lord’s day, and no place in this world so desired as God’s house. Our converts then remarkably appeared united in dear affection to one another, and many have expressed much of that spirit of love which they felt toward all mankind; and particularly to those who had been least friendly to them. Never, I believe, was so much done in confessing injuries, and making up differences, as the last year. Persons, after their own conversion, have commonly expressed an exceeding great desire for the conversion of others. Some have thought that they should be willing to die for the conversion of any soul, though of one of the meanest of their fellow-creatures, or of their worst enemies; and many have, indeed, been in great distress with desires and longings for it. This work of God had also a good effect to unite the people’s affections much to their minister.
The dominant thread in Edwards’ recounting of the aftermath of the Revival, is self-hate. It’s true. People all around had come to recognize their own depravity, and thus in contrast, God’s beauty. This was what the Awakening helped them see, understand, utter, live. The revival was thrust forward on waves of self-hate.
Martin Luther wrote, as summarized by John MacArthur,
Martin Luther, as you know, launched the Protestant Reformation. He was a Roman Catholic priest who came to understand the truth of salvation by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, apart from works, and ceremonies, and all the rest; and so he determined that he would confront the Roman Catholic system, the great monolithic system of error and deception, and he selected 95 different statements, 95 different protests – that’s why we’re called “Protestants” – 95 different assertions that ran contrary to Catholicism. He wrote them down and he nailed them on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
The fourth of his protests, the fourth of his 95 assertions was that a penitent heart, a heart that comes to God and receives salvation is characterized by – here’s his term, “self hate.” Self hate. Quoting from Luther’s fourth statement. “And so penance remains while self hate remains.” He said that self hate was the true interior penitence. “This,” said Luther, “is essential to the gospel.”
This is why revivals of today fail. The audience does not hear a message of self-hate, they hear messages of self-love. Self-love will never, ever revive a heart or convict one of sin.
Special speakers are hired to come to our churches for a week, or people clamber aboard buses to be shuttled to arenas where special speakers await…who give the message that we are worth something to God, we are good, we are just waiting to be whatever we can be. Our dreams can ambitions can be fulfilled. We can have all our rights, privileges, respect, honor, and affirmation, plus Jesus. In today’s revivals, Jesus is the add-on, nestled alongside to a person who is usually pretty good but just needs an extra boost. In Edwards’ Awakening, first the person understands his abasement, comes to see his depravity through Jesus’ eyes, and loathes it. Then and only then, can he see Jesus as He is, glorified, holy, and beautiful.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at a revival in the Bible that is tremendous in its power and effect.