The term revival means different things to different people. It is not uncommon in the United States to hear of evangelistic services being advertized as a “revival.” In this sense revivals are scheduled. They are organized and planned by men. Others define revival as a restoration of the supernatural gifts to the church. This line of thinking equates revival with speaking in tongues and with the gift of healing. A third use of the word emanates from South Africa and a movement known as “Transformations Revival.” This involves a dangerous charismatic and unbiblical approach to the gospel under the premise of extraordinary spiritual warfare. The word is perhaps most commonly used to describe a gracious and often sudden work of the Holy Spirit in which He revives, restores, and refreshes His own people. Usually associated with this is the salvation of a large number of unconverted persons.
When Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones spoke of God’s reviving His work this is what he had in mind. He said, “It is an experience in the life of the church when the Holy Spirit does an unusual work. He does that work primarily amongst the members of the church; it is a reviving of the believers. You cannot revive something that has never had life, so revival, by definition is first of all an enlivening and quickening and awakening of lethargic, sleeping, almost moribund church members.”
This definition stresses another important aspect of revival. When the Holy Spirit revives God’s people He does not do an altogether new work in them. He does not dispense with the old in order to usher in something new. It is an unusual work but only in the sense of magnitude and scope. In his book Revival and Revivalism Iain Murray wisely observes, “What happens in revivals is not to be seen as something miraculously different from the regular experience of the church. The difference lies in degree, not in kind. In an outpouring of the Spirit, spiritual influence is more widespread, convictions are deeper and feelings more intense, but all this is only a heightening of normal Christianity.”
This truth will have a threefold impact upon the believer. It will enable him to try the spirits whether they are of God (1 John 4:1) and to make a careful judgment of events that may be described by some as revival. It will help him to pray intelligently, requesting God to revive His work in the midst of the years, and it will also encourage him to rejoice when he sees evidence of God working in genuine revival.
Since revival is a heightening of normal Christianity there are certain characteristics that will accompany it. First, true revival always exalts the person and work of Jesus Christ. The apostle John explains this in 1 John 4:2 when he states, “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.” In other words, one of the fruits of a genuine work of the Holy Ghost is that Christ will be confessed or spoken of as He really is. When the Spirit moves, people will think rightly of Christ. He will receive the pre-eminence and be honored and reverenced as the God man. Our Lord Jesus assured His disciples that when the Comforter would come He would testify of Christ (John 15:26). This is the Spirit’s particular work. He reveals Christ and therefore it stands to reason that when the Spirit’s work is seen in a greater degree, as it is in revival, Christ will be greatly exalted.
Jonathan Edwards, the theologian of revival asserted, “If the Spirit that is at work among a people is plainly observed to work so as to convince them of Christ and lead them to him; to confirm their minds in the belief of the history of Christ as he appeared in the flesh and that he is the Son of God and was sent of God to save sinners; that he is the only Saviour, and that they stand in great need of him; and if he seems to beget in them higher and more honorable thoughts of him than they used to have, and to incline their affections more to him; it is a sure sign that it is the true and right Spirit.” Revival gives Christ the pre-eminence.
Second, true revival always exposes the sinful dangers of this evil world. Prior to any revival the church is usually overcome by a spirit of worldliness. Sin is excused. Worldly habits are accepted. Sinful pleasures are embraced. There is a loose approach to the subject of sin. Revival always brings a heightened sensitivity to offending God. Holiness becomes important again. The revived church is concerned with sanctification and readily recognizes that while this is a work of God’s grace it is also a duty incumbent upon every believer (1 John 4:3–5; Hosea 5:15–6:2)
Third, true revival always emphasizes the importance of the Scriptures. Times of revival see a tremendous change of attitude towards the preaching of the Word. The Scriptures take on a whole new importance. The preaching of the Word is not viewed with dread or as an unpleasant duty but with delight and desire. There is a hungering and thirsting after the ministry of the gospel. The preacher is revived and is empowered by the Holy Spirit to expound the Word and apply it to the hearts and consciences of his congregation. He studies with zeal, prays over his work with zeal, preaches with zeal, and looks for blessing upon the Word. At the same time the congregation has a new heart for the preaching of the Word. They pray in preparation, listen with anticipation, and obey with expectation. The Spirit who gave this word heightens the desire for it when He works in revival blessing!
Fourth, true revival always encourages a deeper love among the saints. Iain Murray notes, “If love is the gift of the Spirit, it follows that an eminent degree of the Holy Spirit’s working will be marked by eminent degrees of love between Christians.” Since love is listed among the fruit of the Spirit we can expect that where the Spirit of God moves in revival blessing there will be a greater sense of unity, harmony, and love among God’s people. This is not compromise with apostasy but a healthy, biblical sense of the unity of the saints in Christ Jesus.
Fifth, true revival always endeavors after the salvation of the lost. This is the part we often think of most: souls being reached with the gospel and saved through grace. The reason for that is simple. In revival Christ is exalted and when Christ is lifted up He will draw men unto Himself.
This kind of revival is what the church of Christ needs more than anything else. This is worth more than money, organization, or human effort. When the Spirit of God is poured out in revival, a genuine and lasting work is done that lifts the church into a realm above the ordinary and beyond mere human efforts. Men will know that it is arm of the Lord at work.
Rev. Colin Mercer is the minister of Faith Free Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina.