by Roland Lamb
THE Protestant Reformation, sparked off four hundred and fifty years ago today when Martin Luther nailed his famous “95 Theses” to the door of the University Church at Wittenberg, is the greatest extra-biblical illustration of the scriptural doctrine of revival. I deliberately commence that way and express it thus lest we mistakenly take human experience rather than divine revelation as our starting point. For the self-same reason I have a text! You will find it in:
Psalm 119:107, “I am afflicted very much; quicken me, O LORD, according to thy word.”
In view of our subject we could well describe this psalm as “the psalm of revival and reformation”. Let me tell you why I think so. Some years ago I read Dr. Arthur Skevington Wood’s messages on revival entitled, And with Fire, in which he outlined the use in the Old Testament of the Hebrew verb usually translated as “to revive”. He affirmed its basic meaning was that of imparting fresh life. He noted the use of this word in the Book of Psalms and especially in this one in reference to spiritual revival. In every instance but one the word is translated in the Authorised Version as “Quicken”, as in our text: “Quicken me, O LORD”. Dr. Wood added, “The note in the Brown, Driver and Briggs Hebrew-English Lexicon on this technical signification is most instructive: `to revive the people of Jehovah, by Jehovah Himself, with fulness of life in His favour’.” All of which leads us naturally to a necessary definition of terms.
Revival. What exactly is Revival? We need to beware of too narrow a definition. Some of our American and Canadian friends conceive of it as descriptive of an evangelistic campaign. But effective evangelism, leading to the conversion of sinners and the transformation of society, is the inevitable outworking of revival; but no more.
Some years ago the then President of the Methodist Conference fell victim to this basic confusion of terms in his Presidential Address. In an obvious attack on the Methodist Revival Fellowship and all it stood for, he declared that its plea — that only revival would arrest the slow haemorrhage of the life blood of the Church — was irrelevant. “In this twentieth century,” he declared, “we have repeatedly called our people to this time-honoured way of revival. We have promoted Forward Movements, Commando Campaigns, Crusades and Missions of every kind and attempted recently a Year of Evangelism. We have told our people, `Evangelise or perish!’ but although we have struck the match many times, the flame has spluttered and died . . . No one can say we haven’t tried; we have tried and failed.” He was, of course, confusing evangelism and revival. And, as a tragic result, was decrying the need for Methodism to get on its knees before God to tell Him, “No one can say we haven’t tried, O LORD; we have tried and we have failed.” Short of that, there can be no true revival!
Then, too, we need to differentiate between what Geoffrey King once described as revival with a small “r”, signifying personal revival, and revival with a capital “R”. Invariably the latter has begun with the former, but we mean more than personal revival when we speak of revival with a capital “R”. By that, I suggest, we should mean: “The sovereign intervention of God whereby He graciously so restores His own backslidden people to a new empowered life of joyful obedience to Himself that the Holy Spirit also convicts the ungodly and unbelieving of their sin and converts them to Christ.”
Our text implies the first part of that definition, “Quicken me, O LORD”. Certainly revival has to do with God, His sovereignty, omnipotence and grace exercised toward His own. It is in fact, a “church” word. You can’t revive the unbelieving world; it first needs saving; being “dead in trespasses and sins” it needs “viving”! Before you can revive anything, it must first be alive. That is why, unconsciously maybe, we believers sometimes exclaim, “What we need is revival!” And our definition plainly shows, too, that “reformation” has something to do with “revival”. Read it again ! But in what sense do we use that word, “reformation”?
Reformation. Our very definition of revival suggests the right answer when it speaks of God’s people being restored in revival “to a new empowered life of joyful obedience” to God. For where has God revealed His will save in His Word? As Merle d’Aubigne states in the second volume of his book The Reformation in England (significantly subtitled “The Revival of the Church”), “The only true reformation is that which emanates from the Word of God”. Clearly the psalmist thought so too as he prayed, “Quicken me, O LORD, according to thy word”.
Now, this Hebrew verb, translated in the Psalms almost invariably as “quicken”, appears only in five psalms; once in each of four (Psalms 71, 80, 85, and 143); but the same word also occurs eleven times over in this 119th Psalm. And this, I need hardly remind you, is the psalm of the Book! Is this not supremely significant? I hope to demonstrate that it is so, when we turn to such accounts as we have in the Scriptures and in the subsequent history of the Church of what can surely best be termed “revival”. But first a word or two about the complete title.
Revival AND Reformation. Not just our text, but the whole Bible demonstrates that they are rightly linked together; but what of the order? We might have thought there was good reason for putting reformation first. Nevertheless, I think the order is right, stressing rather the sovereignty of God than the responsibility of man, although the two must plainly be held in scriptural balance. If it is true that the Church must fulfil certain conditions before God will send revival, it is just as true — if not more so — that the Church will only fulfil such conditions when God constrains her to do so. Hence, again, our text, “I am afflicted very much; quicken me, O LORD, according to thy word.” For the biblical truth is that God acts in judgment on His own as at other times He acts in mercy. He is active both in revival and retribution. He acts in judgment against His backslidden and rebellious people to bring them to cry out to Him for revival, “We are afflicted very much; quicken us O LORD, according to thy word.” Such is the testimony of both Scripture and subsequent church history, to which we must now turn. Indeed, in one sense, “revival and reformation” is really the complete history of the true people of God. Certainly it was in the biblical history of Israel!
I. “REVIVAL AND REFORMATION” IN THE BIBLE
Our starting point here is necessarily the record of how God first gave the written Word to His people, which we find in Exodus, chapter 24. In the law revealed and recorded by Moses is clearly stated the divine principle in respect of “revival and reformation”. The principle is most fully stated in Leviticus 26, beginning at verse 3: “If ye walk in my statutes” — it is God speaking — “and keep my commandments, and do them; (verse 4) then I will give you rain . . . increase . . . fruit . . . (verse 5) ye shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely . . . (verse 7) ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword . . . (verse 12) I will walk among you and will be your God, and ye shall be my people . . . (verse 14) but if not . . . (verse 15) if ye will not do all my commandments, but ye break my covenant . . . (verse 17) I will set my face against you and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you . . . (verse 19) I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron and your earth as brass . . . (verse 23) And if ye will not be reformed by me (note that!) by these things, but will walk contrary to me; Then I will also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins . . . (verse 32) I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it. And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: your land shall be desolate, and your cities desolate (verse 40) If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers . . . (verse 41) if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled . . (verse 42) Then will I remember my covenant . . .”
The principle was soon seen in operation in the history of God’s people: the one half, God’s judgment on their rebellion through retribution, in the wilderness experience, so that only two of the generation that came out of Egypt ever entered the promised land. The other half, to do with “revival and reformation”, was experienced by the new generation, due no doubt to the prayers and faithfulness of Moses. Listen to him praying — you will find it in Exodus 32:31 and 32 — “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” Listen to him faithfully teaching that new generation the same divine principle, as recorded in Deuteronomy 28 from verse 1: “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God to observe and do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee . . . (verse 15) but it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee and overtake thee . . .”
God graciously granted that new generation a man of His Word and a man of prayer, as we know from the book that bears his name, notably in Joshua 1:8 and 7:8-9. Having learnt their lesson the hard way through the sin of Achan at Ai, they therefore possessed the promised land, as recorded in Joshua 21: 43, “the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which he sware to give unto their fathers; and they possessed it, and dwelt therein . . . (verse 44) and there stood not a man of all their enemies before them . . . (verse 45). There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass.”
As a matter of fact the experiences of these first two generations epitomise the whole experience of Israel in the succeeding centuries, particularly during the period of the Judges. The last of the judges and the first of the prophets best summarises those two and a half centuries, in 1 Samuel 12, from verse 8: “When Jacob was come into Egypt, and your fathers cried unto the Lord, then the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, which brought forth your fathers out of Egypt, and made them dwell in this place. And when they forgot the Lord their God, he sold them into the hand of Sisera . . . and into the hand of the Philistines, and . . . of Moab, and they fought against them. And they cried unto the Lord, and said, We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord . . . but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve thee. And the Lord sent Jerubaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and ye dwelled safe.”
Early in the days of the Monarchy, that Samuel was then instituting, the same divine principle was restated. You will find it in 2 Chronicles 7, from verse 13, where God is recorded as saying to Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, “If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, or if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people;” (the previous chapter tells that God would do this only when His people sinned and disobeyed Him) then “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” — that is, they will experience revival. (verse 19) “But if ye turn away, and forsake my statutes and my commandments . . . (verse 20) Then will I cast them out of my sight and will make it a proverb and a byword among all nations. And this house, which is high, shall be an astonishment to every one that passeth by it . . .”
The fulfilment of both parts of this principle in the subsequent history of Judah is for all to read in the following chapters of 2 Chronicles; sometimes both parts being worked out in the lifetime of a single king, as for instance in the reign of Asa recorded in chapters 14-16; until finally the nation was carried off into exile in Babylon. During those centuries there were really three great revival periods in Judah — under kings Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah — in each of which penitent prayer and a return to obedience to God may be clearly traced; but, between these times, periods when God acted in retributive judgment against His people because of their pride, disobedience and apostasy.
Whether enjoying divine revival or enduring divine retribution God’s people were constantly being reminded by the prophets during these centuries, and subsequently, of this same divine principle. One example must suffice here too; that of Isaiah. Listen to him pleading with the nation for God in Isaiah 1:2, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me . . . (verse 10) Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom (i.e. Jerusalem!); give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah . . . (verse 18) Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat of the good of the land: but if ye refuse and rebel ye shall be devoured with the sword . . .” Hear him, too, pleading with God for the nation: in Isaiah 63:15, “Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory: where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies toward me? are they restrained? . . . (verse 17) O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear? Return for thy servants’ sakes the tribe of thine inheritance . . . (64: 1) O that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence . . . (verse 5) Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou wast wroth because we sinned and continued long therein . . . (verse 7) thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities . . . (verse 9) Be not wroth very sore, O Lord, neither remember iniquity for ever: behold, see, we beseech thee, we are all thy people.” “But (63: 10) they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore God was turned to be their enemy and he fought against them”, delivering them into captivity.
Even there the prophets were present: men of the Word and of prayer. There was Ezekiel, and there was Daniel — read Daniel chapter nine and see a man of God concerned for the people of God, pleading with God on the basis of His promises to do a revival work for His people. And then, of course, God heard that prayer, and there was revival blessing again under Ezra. What a man of the Word and of prayer was he! In Ezra 7:10 we read he “had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments”; and in Nehemiah 8:1 all the people “spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded to Israel . . . (verse 4) And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood” and, with others (verse 8) “read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand . . .” and to obey, as the record goes on to assure us. Thus began a custom that enabled James to tell the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:21) that “Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day.” Of course the fact that the people obeyed the Word of God as Ezra taught it them was not least due to Ezra’s praying as we see from chapters 9 and 10. (9: 6) “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown unto the heavens ... (verse 10) And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? for we have forsaken thy commandments.” Chapter 10 tells us the result of such praying. In deep repentance the people declared (verse 3) “let it be done according to the law.”
If only they had during the half-millenium that was to elapse before “the fulness of time was come and God sent forth his Son”, whose redeeming work was to usher in the greatest biblical revival of all. He was the Man of the Book. As Luke especially makes clear that was how He sought to convince His disciples that He must go to the cross. He told them so on the last journey to Jerusalem, recorded in chapter 18, and so, also, He told the two disciples on the Emmaus Road. But, too, He was the man of prayer, as the same Gospel again emphasises. Think of Gethsemane; or think of that selfless prayer from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Such was the preparation for those years of continuing revival recorded in the Acts. No wonder the Word of God was so central to it, as was prayer also! It commenced among the Jews with a ten-day prayer meeting and a sermon preached on the day of Pentecost that was more than two-thirds the quoting or expounding of Scripture. Of its continuing, Acts 4:31 reports, “. . . when they had prayed . . . they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.” And after God had dealt with sin in the Church, “believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.”
Then through persecution it spread to the Samaritans, as Acts 8:4 and following tells us, “they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word . . . (verse 14) Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: who when they were come down, prayed for them . . . (verse 17) . . . and they received the Holy Ghost.”
Finally it overflowed to the Gentiles, with prayer and the preaching of the Word again to the fore ! It was after the prayers of Cornelius and Peter (Acts 10:2 and 9) that the Gentiles first had the gospel savingly preached to them through “the word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ” and so even the Gentiles shared in revival blessing. And so it continued, through prayer and the word of God, as successive chapters in the Acts record.
Which naturally brings us to turn from “revival and reformation” in the Bible to:
II. “REVIVAL AND REFORMATION” IN CHURCH HISTORY
Here, of course, it should not really surprise us to discover that as in the history of the people of God in the Bible, so too in subsequent church history, we find God active both in mercy and judgment, both in revival and retribution.
How crystal clear that became to me recently when I was reading Jonathan Edwards’ great book, The History of Redemption; in which he also traces the many stratagems employed by Satan in the succeeding centuries to undo the revival flowing from Calvary, the empty tomb, and Pentecost. First he stirred up the Jews, who had crucified the Christ, to persecute the infant church, until the judgment of God fell upon them for their apostasy and persistent rejection of Christ and His people — their sacred city suffering terrible destruction. Thereafter, for the next two and a half centuries Satanic opposition was manifested in ten successive general persecutions, backed by the whole might of Rome, whereby it was hoped to destroy the Christian Church. But not for the only time “the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church”, the Church thriving and expanding — instead of dying — under persecution. So Satanic tactics changed again when in the fourth century A.D. Constantine became the Roman Emperor and officially embraced Christianity. For what Satan had failed to accomplish by state persecution he largely succeeded in doing by state patronage!
For the best part of a thousand years the light of gospel truth became all but extinguished, as heresies were introduced, pagan practices within the church flourished and an unscriptural ecclesiastical hierarchy arose slowly snuffing out “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ”. During this millenium there was no major revival. It was the dark night of the Church! Century after century went by with only splutterings of light until the Christian Church had become but a caricature of the New Testament church.
And then God “commanded the light to shine out of darkness”. Hallelujah! The first light of dawn appeared, as we now realise, when God raised up the gospel light amongst the Waldensians so that from the twelfth century onwards, despite fierce papal persecution, the simple message of the gospel sent light into many a dark corner throughout every country in Europe. Until, in the fourteenth century, “the morning star of the Reformation” as John Wycliffe has been called, appeared above the horizon, presaging the full light of “reformation mom”. As Merle d’Aubigne declares in his enthralling account of the English reformation: “Wycliffe is the greatest of English reformers: he was in truth the first reformer of Christendom! The work of the Waldensians, excellent as it was, cannot be compared to his. If Luther and Calvin are the fathers of the Reformation, Wycliffe is its grandfather.” All his work and witness centred around the Bible through the study of which he had himself been savingly converted in 1348 at the age of 19. For him Scripture was the rule of truth and had to be the rule of reformation. Every doctrine and every precept which didn’t rest on that foundation had to be rejected. Hence his fearless opposition to Rome, because he perceived that Rome had transferred the ground of infallibility from the Scriptures to the Pope; hence, too, the sending forth of his “poor priests”, the Lollards as they came to be called, to preach to the common people, from the Word, the message of life; and hence also his circulation of the Bible which he himself had translated into the common tongue. These were the harbingers heralding the full light of “reformation day!”
It is, of course, the immediate beginnings of that work of reformation that we especially remember now. Not that Martin Luther could have appreciated the vast repercussions that were to follow the nailing up of his 95 Theses attacking indulgences, nor that in them were specifically stated what we now regard as two of the chief pillars of the Protestant Reformation. For in those theses was no specific mention of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone nor of the sole authority of Scripture, though plainly enough to us these were their underlying principles. Nevertheless, his attack on indulgences flowed from his own personal experience of the one — justification by faith, born of deep soul travail — and inevitably led him on to the other, the sole authority of Scripture.
It was probably in the spring of 1513 that the then Professor of Biblical Studies at Wittenberg University, Martin Luther, felt himself, as he described it, “to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise”. Yet it would seem that his firm grasp of the doctrine we now describe as “justification by faith” came to him only gradually and subsequently by growing perception. However, by 1520 he was writing his tract, The Liberty of the Christian Man, a brief but clear statement of the priesthood of all believers as a consequence of the fact of justification by grace through faith alone. So, too, in respect of the sole authority of Scripture. It was from his study of the Bible that Luther reached a saving experience of Christ; yet it seems that he finally asserted the authority of the Bible over against the authority of the Pope, only through having to maintain his position in the debates that followed his attack on indulgences. Thus at the Diet of Worms in 1521 Luther boldly affirmed, “I do not accept the authority of Pope and Councils . . . my conscience is captive to the Word of God.
But what has all this about the Reformation to do with revival, you may ask. Let me, then, ask you a question! Why was it that, though no major revival took place in the millenium preceding the Reformation, yet, there were three such major revivals in the three and a half centuries thereafter? The answer I am persuaded lies in what we normally refer to as “the Reformation”, which was not just a revolution in men’s thinking concerning the nature and organisation of the Church. How much better then, to refer to it, as “the Reformation Revival”! For there was then a glorious outpouring of the Spirit of God in revival power and blessing that freed multitudes from bondage to the superstition and ritualism of an apostate papacy and converted them to God and true godliness. Of course! For the re-discovery of the sole authority of Scripture led to a new obedience to God and His Word, just as the re-discovery of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone led every true believer into direct and personal contact with the God of revival.
Thus the Reformation itself was a revival, grounded not only in the Word of God, but in prayer also, as each previous and each subsequent revival has been. Luther himself prayed hours every day. Once a spy followed him to his lodgings. The next day he reported that Luther had prayed nearly all night, and that no one could conquer one who prayed like that!
Not that Luther was alone in this. As Spurgeon once so graphically described it, “Think not that Luther was the only man that wrought the Reformation! There were hundreds who sighed and cried in secret, `O God, how long?’: in the cottages of the Black Forest, in the homes of Germany, on the hills of Switzerland, in the palaces of Spain, in the dungeons of the Inquisition and the green lanes of England.” No wonder God worked so mightily when behind this great movement there were the agonising prayers of numberless hearts, much preaching of the gospel doctrines and, through the invention of printing, a wide distribution of the Scriptures.
Before we turn to consider the first of the two post-Reformation revivals it would be wise to remark that a concentration upon the history of major revivals in the Christian Church, such as we alone have time for, must not blind us to the phenomena of more localised revivals such as were a recurring feature in all four countries of the British Isles in the hundred years between the mid-sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries.
But the first great awakening after the Reformation was the one which occurred in the eighteenth century in both America and Britain with which are associated the names of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and the Wesleys. In Britain the force of the Puritan movement was spent by the turn of the century and religion was at a dangerously low ebb. Many of the clergy were corrupt, even licentious, and the common people largely godless, immoral and blasphemous, when God again visited His people with revival — a revival once more grounded in prayer and the Word of God whereby the great doctrines of grace were again savingly proclaimed. John Wesley spoke for all the leaders of this great revival when he declared he was “a man of one Book” and that he and his helpers were resolved “to preach with all their might plain, old Bible Christianity” and to “follow no other rule whether of faith or practice, than the Holy Scriptures”. And certainly so far as he was concerned it all began in prayer — at a love-feast on New Year’s Day 1739 when, as John Wesley described it, “about three in the morning, the power of God came mightily upon us”. Of that memorable night of prayer Whitefield said, “It was a Pentecostal season indeed” adding, concerning other such meetings, “whole nights were spent in prayer”.
How God glorified Himself in those great days of revival and yet, even in the midst of so great a spiritual harvest, the evil one was sowing the tares of apostasy, so that, as the revival of the eighteenth century began to wane, the influence of Arianism — at heart a denial of the doctrine of the Trinity, the divinity of Christ and the Holy Ghost, and therefore a minimising of the supernatural — greatly increased. Until in sovereign grace and mercy God again visited His people in revival.
The story of the `59 Revival in the nineteenth century is probably as well known to us as any. Suffice to say it too was grounded in the Word of God and in prayer. Edwin Orr asserts, “There was nothing new in the theology of the 1859 Revival. All of its teachings were derived from the New Testament and many of its strong points were doctrines recovered in the Reformation and re-emphasised in the Evangelical Revival of the eighteenth century.” Indeed in Ulster the revival was preceded by doctrinal controversy, the orthodox Henry Cooke gaining a decided victory over his Arian opponents; whilst both in America and Britain the revival can be traced back to God setting His people a-praying! This Edwin Orr and other writers makes so clear: one of them declaring of those who started the Kells prayer meeting to which the Ulster Revival may be traced, “They believed in the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit, the sufficiency of Holy Scripture and the secret of holy supplication. These three great truths not only characterised the Kells prayer meeting but the whole subsequent revival movement.”
And yet the Church seemed intent, like Israel of old, on not learning its lesson! For as with the eighteenth century awakening, so with that of the nineteenth century! The Church has suffered a serious decline in spiritual life and there has been no major revival since. But is that any wonder, in the light of its overall apostasy from the Word of God, its resulting refusal to see its parlous condition as being the direct result of God acting in judgment against it and its wilful rejection of the biblical principle that revivals are essential for its true well-being? Indeed where localised revivals have been witnessed in the last one hundred years — for example, in Wales at the turn of the century, and in the Hebrides more recently, to speak only of Britain — they appear to have been experienced where the inroads of apostasy had made least headway, and their lasting effect to have been proportionate to adherence to biblical truth.
Here indeed is the heart of the matter. The history of the people of God, both biblical and post-biblical, is a story of divine revival or divine retribution. It is His-story! God acting in judgment against His people’s rebellion, thereafter in sovereign mercy restoring them by revival and reformation. This surely is the biblical standard to be applied to our contemporary scene as finally we turn to consider and face the challenge of:
III. “REVIVAL AND REFORMATION” TODAY
Oh! How great is the need for this in Britain today! For must we not admit, in the light of historical precedents, that we are today witnessing, if not the decline and fall of a civilisation, then of a nation, the British nation.
On every hand we have tragic evidence pointing to the moral collapse of our nation. As witness the pungent words of the Rev. C. D. Alexander in a recent article in The Christian. I quote it because I could not possibly better it! Here are his opening sentences, “We are living in days of infamy and shame, and there are alarming tendencies in politics, religion and society. We are getting religious rot — the rot of unbelief — in the great religious denominations. We are getting social rot in the community as the full effects of two generations without faith are being felt in Parliament and people, with bad and shameful laws being passed, and the way of the transgressor, the sodomite, the murderer, the bandit, the violent and the vicious made increasingly easy. We are getting moral rot everywhere as the influence of the Word of God dies out of the nation. The Sabbath is no longer observed. Drink and tobacco are absorbing £3,000,000,000 a year of the nation’s substance, leaving behind a legacy of disease, violence, and sudden death. Gambling is costing the nation in cash alone, the sum of £200,000,000 annually (a very conservative estimate), and the Mafia is moving in, the knife gang, the torture gang, the protection racketeer. London is becoming the gambling and vice capital of the world. Drugs are taking the place of faith. `God through acid’ is the latest craze. Mystical experiences (psychedelic, they call them) are giving to sinful nobodies and easy-living and crazy public idols, a pantheistic paradise from which they emerge with weakened faculties, with drivelling and dribbling notions of God and heaven, and a delusion that all is well with their souls, and anything goes for faith and morality, with no other guide than hemp.”
Make no mistake about it; that is a fair assessment and a description of the moral collapse of a nation, our nation. And, as the writer affirms, back of it all lies the failure and guilt of the Christian Church which for a century or more has abandoned in practice the sole authority of Scripture and encouraged folk to believe that man is inherently good and God a God of love, who will condone and forgive man’s sins in the end, come what may! By and large, the Church no longer declares to men, “Ye must be born again”, nor pronounces God’s wrath and condemnation over a sinful and adulterous generation, as Jesus once did. How could it, when it is itself under such divine condemnation for its apostasy (the Greek word literally means “rebellion”) and worldliness, its own parlous condition being itself the outworkings of God’s wrath and consequent retribution.
For that very reason it searches and seeks out in vain for any solution to its problems, currently pinning all its hopes on the reunion of the churches. Seemingly no price will be too great to pay for that; not even submission to and reunion with Rome! And so in the 450th anniversary year of the start of the Protestant Reformation what is it we witness? The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Ramsey, declares that he forsees the day when Christendom will be united in one church, possibly with the Pope as presiding bishop, and further stating that there would be a lot of variety in customs and form but “agreement of basic doctrines”! The Protestant Reformation issue of the Methodist Recorder has a front-page headline, “RCs and Methodists find much in common. Rome talks give urgency to search for unity” and in December 150 representatives (three from each Methodist Synod) are joining in a “Get Together” in Westminster Cathedral on the personal invitation of Cardinal/Archbishop Heenan — and among those to be present will be one of the four dissentients to the original report on the conversation between the Anglicans and Methodists as well as the assenting member of the Anglican/Methodist Unity Commission supposedly appointed to it to represent Evangelicals! And in celebration of today’s historic significance the British and Foreign Bible Society invite a practising Roman Catholic layman to write an article on Martin Luther in which, of course, no reference is made to the great distinctive doctrines of the Reformation. For they must be deprecated, if not disowned, as a disruptive, divisive force in the life of a Church intent on reunion at the expense of truth.
Here, then, is our contemporary scene in which the British people have been betrayed by a church which refuses to acknowledge she is inevitably under God’s active wrath and condemnation and even in her desperate plight will not yet bend the knee in repentance, confession and a calling upon God for Him to do for her what only He can do.
Oh! How great is the need for revival in Britain today! At this particular time God is surely calling us to heed the great lessons, and abide by the fundamental principles of what I have already called “the Reformation Revival”. God is certainly challenging us to adhere both in belief and behaviour to the supremacy, the sufficiency, the finality of the Bible and to avail ourselves of that high privilege open to those “justified by faith”: access into the very presence of God, there to plead that even in our day and generation He might yet truly glorify Himself in revival blessing. For these are the means God chooses to use to that end. How patiently He has sought to teach some of us that!
The Methodist Revival Fellowship was founded just after the last war and following a shaky start became for a time essentially a revival prayer fellowship. But it was not long before we discovered we could not effectively pray together for revival unless we were agreed as to the supreme authority of Scripture and stood together on the principles and promises of God’s Word. As we prayed and discussed together on that basis, we further came to see that the Holy Spirit is not likely to be poured out upon those who are grieving Him by disobedience to His truth.
Some have expressed surprise, even disappointment, that after seven years as chairman of that fellowship I should have resigned from the Methodist ministry. Yet it was these very convictions to which God had brought us as a fellowship that forced my decision when, two years ago, the Methodist Conference denied its own basic Evangelical standards — viz. the supreme authority of Scripture, justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers — by refusing to apply them in practice to the specific question of closer relations with the Church of England. I, for one, was not willing to sell my Evangelical birthright for a mess of ecumenical pottage. Believing the price of revival to be obedience to the will of God revealed in His Word, I could do no other than I have done.
Then, some ten years ago, a small group of ministers working in the Principality met Duncan Campbell in conference in North Wales. A few of us asked God’s servant what more could we do in preparation for revival than pray (as if any of us knew much about that!). I recall very vividly how, in answer, he urged us to preach and teach the Bible. There, he thought, lay the great difference between Wales and the Hebrides where God had been pleased to grant revival. The Word of God had been faithfully taught — albeit often in a dead and orthodox way — in those northern isles, and just as in the Welsh Revival of 1904, the fire of revival had fallen on the fuel of the Word of God.
Finally, some years later, I read a copy of W. B. Sprague’s Lectures on Revivals. I found the reading of it a much needed corrective to Finney’s emphasis that man’s use of means must lead to revival. Following Sprague’s lecture on “Divine agency in revivals” is another on “General means of producing and promoting revivals” in which he lists the means God uses to that end. The first two of the six means he lists are “the faithful preaching of God’s Word” and “private and social prayer”, from which his other four really spring.
So I conclude by reiterating that “revival and reformation” are in God’s purposes, seemingly inextricably interwoven. And since, pending our Lord’s return, nothing short of a God-sent, heaven-born, Holy Ghost revival can meet our desperate contemporary need, God is surely looking today for men of the Word and men of prayer. But where are the Isaiahs, the Daniels, the Ezras of today? My friends, let us, in the quiet of our own rooms, do business with the God of revival! Let us open our Bibles, read Isaiah 63 and 64, Daniel 9 and Ezra 9. Then let us seek for God’s enabling to pray and go on praying as if revival depended solely on God, but also to live as if it depended solely upon our obedience to His Word.
Oh, let us make the psalmist’s prayer our own, “I am afflicted very much; quicken me, O Lord, according to thy word.” But remember, he didn’t only pray it once. Listen to his testimony. By God’s grace may it be ours! It is in verses 145-149 of this 119th Psalm, “I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord: I will keep thy statutes. I cried unto thee; save me, and I shall keep thy testimonies. I prevented (anticipated) the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word. Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word.” Whole nights of prayer for revival! “Hear my voice according to thy lovingkindness: O Lord, quicken me, according to thy judgment.”
“I am afflicted very much; quicken me, O Lord, according to word.” Then may God, in sovereign grace, yet have revival mercy on us all! Only He can do it — not for our sakes, but for His holy Name’s sake.
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