Posted in theology

Is it “Revival”?

By Elizabeth Prata

I’m actually not following the event taking place at the Kentucky Christian college, Asbury University. Apparently after the usual required Chapel service, Theology Professor Tom McCall said on February 13,

But this past Wednesday was different. After the benediction, the gospel choir began to sing a final chorus—and then something began to happen that defies easy description. Students did not leave. They were struck by what seemed to be a quiet but powerful sense of transcendence, and they did not want to go. They stayed and continued to worship. They are still there.

The chapel service that allegedly set all this off was held on February 8. One person noted that the sermon was absent a discussion of sin, repentance, cross, confession of Christ as Lord. It’s been a week since. They are still there. It’s standing room only. People singing, praying, crying, repenting. They are confessing sin. They aren’t flopping around on the floor or emitting hysterical laughter. Is this a genuine move of God? Is it emotionalism? Groupthink? The debate has been ongoing in social media.

One of the most famous revivals in history was the First Great Awakening that began during church services in Northampton Massachusetts and Enfield Connecticut where Jonathan Edwards preached the sermon titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. The sermon was delivered in 1741, but the awakening began in various parts as early as 1730. In England, John Wesley was preaching fervently during a revival there, and in the colonies here in what became the US, George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards were preaching.

Edwards was also praying. He had prayed for a long time for revival, and God answered his prayers. During the height of it and afterward, Edwards thought much on the mechanism of revival, the definition of revival, and how to determine if a revival is genuine. He sought to reconcile the mind – which studies the Bible, and the heart’s affections for its Author – with revival as backdrop.

Edwards explains in several of his subsequent works, such as A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, (which can be read online at the link), The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, and An Account of the Revival in Northampton in 1740-42, (al linked below free to read online) that there are two underlying causes of biblical revivals: prayer and the preaching of God’s Word. True revivals are not the product of man’s efforts to bring it about, except for prayer and preaching.

Edwards relates that revival began the same way in a number of cases, great groups of people seemed to have “been seized” by the Spirit. Many who had previously been saved but doubted were now content in great assurance. Others who had not yet been saved, suddenly were preoccupied with religious things, including sermons, meeting together in groups to study and pray, and forsaking previous dalliances with immoral hobbies. They were dressing modestly, and their conversations were seasoned with grace and of the Savior. Edwards noted that rare was a day when people were converted past middle age, but that many in the elderly category as well as the young were converting.

Was it genuine? We all wonder when we are either participating or observing such a work and ponder if it is of God or of satan. Misattributing to one or the other in error would be disaster! Edwards pondered the same. In his treatise The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, which can be read online at the link, Edwards said,

And as to the fruits of this work, (which we have been bid so often to wait for,) blessed be God! So far as there has been time for observation, they appear to be abiding. I do not mean that none have lost their impressions, or that there are no instances of hypocrisy and apostacy. Scripture and experience lead us to expect these, at such a season. It is to me matter of surprise and thankfulness that as yet there have been no more. But I mean, that a great number of those who have been awakened are still seeking and striving to enter in at the strait gate.

“Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God, A Sermon Preached at Enfield, July 8, 1741,” by Rev. Jonathan Edwards, Printed by S. Kneeland and T. Green, Boston, 1741. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, and the Rare Books Division, the New York Public Library.

The passage of time will always tell. The work God begins in a heart will continue until the Day. Others, for many reasons if not genuinely saved will fall away. The broad gate will beckon those.

Some, Edwards, noted, are prejudiced against the work of God in revival, and revile it. They do so out of ignorance of the facts, or jealousy- not having seen or experienced such a thing in their own spheres, or they “may dislike the present work, because it supports and confirms some principles which they have not yet embraced, and against which such prejudices hang about their minds, as they cannot easily shake off.

Edwards did go on in the above linked booklet with noting marks of genuine revival. One of them, he warned, is that “A work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tears, trembling, groans, loud outcries, agonies of body, or the failing of bodily strength.” He said that a person not exhibiting such effects on the body may indeed be genuinely converted, or a person who does exhibit such effects might be apprehending the horrors of hell upon their soul, or apprehending their own wickedness in the face of a holy God- and trembling from righteous fear.

After giving negative marks of the true revival, Edwards continues with genuine marks of a true revival. He said foremost, “When the spirit that is at work operates against the interests of Satan’s kingdom, which lies in encouraging and establishing sin, and cherishing men’s worldly lusts; this is a sure sign that it is a true, and not a false spirit.

It makes for interesting reading, to be sure. However, Jonathan Edwards was not the only person concerned with whether an Awakening, or a Revival, was genuine. The Second Great Awakening occurred in America in the late 1700s when Ebenezer Porter observed one between 1773-1778. He wrote his “Letters On Revival” and noted the results of revival: Changed lives (few examples of apostatizing professors; Assembly faithfulness, Unity, Humbled pastors, A spirit of gratitude. (excerpt from a study guide on Porter’s book, here).

The Chapel Library offers one of their entire magazines on Revival. The Free Grace Broadcaster Issue 223 has within it many good essays on revival. You can read this online or order a free hard copy mailed to you for free. Authors and topics include-

What Is Revival? Horatius Bonar (1808-1889): a helpful definition of and general introduction to the subject of spiritual awakening:

Motives for Revival: David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981): many Christians pray and long for a mighty move of God’s Spirit in revival; but what should our motives for this be? This survey is a helpful answer to the question.

Preparation for Revival: Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892): an earnest exhortation for Christians to prepare their hearts for revival by agreeing with God, His Word, and His ways.

Pray for the Spirit: James W. Alexander (1804-1859): there can be no revival without a mighty outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. God’s people must pray to our gracious heavenly Father for just such a blessing.

The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit: Robert M. M’Cheyne (1813-1843): a weighty, thoughtful discussion regarding the powerful changes God’s Spirit works in the human heart.

Solemn Pleadings for Revival: Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892): an ardent and solemn appeal for God’s people to plead with God for great works of grace and a call to renew our strength in Him.

The Men God Uses in Revival: Horatius Bonar (1808-1889): a challenging and provocative look at the kind of preachers God uses in spiritual awakening.

Preaching for Revival: William Reid (1814-1896): an overview of the all-important truths that men must proclaim if we would experience revival.

Crucial Doctrine and Revival: David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981): a brief examination of two crucial doctrines God blesses to the salvation of souls.

The Effect of Revival: Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758): a first-hand observation of what God-sent revival really produces in sinful men and women.

Charles Spurgeon called the basement prayer room “The Boiler Room” because prayer and his people praying was truly the power of the church. Photo by Peter Herrmann on Unsplash

Paul Washer said of revival, “Many people have the idea that they are going to “pray in” a revival. Other people say, “Revival will come whether you pray or not.” I am not in either one of those camps. But I know one thing. When I see men, women, and young people all over the world praying for an awakening, to me that is the firstfruits of revival. And I can count on the fact that He Who gives these firstfruits will bring in the full harvest.

Revival and Reformation- what do they have in common? in an essay called The Spirit of Revival, RC Sproul said,

“It is noteworthy that this period in history is commonly referred to as the Reformation and not the Revival. What is the difference between revival and reformation? As the etymologies of the words suggest, revival describes a renewal of spiritual life, while reformation describes a renewal of the forms and structures of society and culture. It is not possible to have true reformation without first having true revival. The renewal of spiritual life under the power of the Holy Spirit is a necessary condition for reformation but not a sufficient condition for it. Therefore, though it is not possible to have reformation without revival, it is possible to have revival without reformation’ –end Sproul

The most startling awakening was what occurred at Nineveh under Jonah’s preaching. Jonah was disobedient, but he was a true man of God. He preached of his Holy God to the pagans at cruel and inhuman Nineveh. They heard.

Jonah 3:5, 3:7-9, “And the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, animal, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat, and do not let them drink water. But both man and animal must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God with their strength that each may turn from his evil way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and turn away from His burning anger so that we will not perish.”

The King was acknowledging the sovereignty of God there. He had put on sackcloth himself. God saw their repentance was genuine and he relented of the doom formerly pronounced upon the Ninevites.

In Acts 19:18-20 we read that the Spirit of God entered many at Ephesus and they repented.

Also, many of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and were burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.

Spencer Smith who was present at Asbury for 2 hours, said that people were openly confessing their sins. That’s the first part of a genuine revival as seen in the verse describing Ephesus. The second part remains to be seen. The college at Asbury is host to a nest of false organizations such as Passion Conferences and Bethel for the Collegiate Day of Prayer on campus next week. If the Collegiate Day of Prayer organizers are part of this revival, they will repudiate those organizations and not accept their presence and partnership any more, no matter the financial cost at this late date to stop their entry. Smith said actually, the Kenneth Copeland folks arrived on campus to enter the current revival – and they were asked to leave.

The word of God prevailing is the key.

Whether the event going in in the Asbury Chapel is a genuine move of the Spirit or not, time will tell. As Matthew 3:8 says, we must bear fruit in keeping with repentance. If the Asbury folks are truly repentant, they will not fall away and they will bear fruit for the glory of God.

As always, we pray for more to come to know the Lord, more and more prayer every day as the world darkens. We are the light. Has the Light come upon students in Kentucky? One hopes. No matter what, let us proclaim Christ, and not lose hope nor grow weary.

Encouragingly, whether the Asbury event is genuine move of the Spirit or not, people are hurrying to various sources to learn more about what revival is and isn’t and to the Bible to seek verses which may explain what is happening in Kentucky.

Further Resources

The chapel service that allegedly set all this off

Jonathan Edwards, Revival, and the Necessary Means of Prayer

A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, (which can be read online at the link),

The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (read online)

An Account of the Revival in Northampton in 1740-42 (audio)

Revival issue at Chapel Library, read online or send for free copy. The Free Grace Broadcaster Issue 223

Paul Washer said of revival (free to read online)

The Spirit of Revival, RC Sproul devotional

Two solid people went to the event and observed first hand. Alisa Childers and Spencer Smith. I’ll post both their comments below. Alisa’s video was 11 min, Spencer’s is about an hour.


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.

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