Does the poor condition of churches stop revival?
Does a depraved and godless society stop revival?
Revival does not mean that all things are new, but being revived includes a freshness and looking back at the old truths…
We look at the example of George Whitefield who was one of the main people in the English 18th Century Revival.
1. Does the church need revival?
Some are quite content to see the same group of people turning up at church every time.
This can happen if the church has become stuck in doing services, running Bible groups, home groups, etc., and it becomes a dry routine.
Yes, it would be good for something ‘new’ to happen!
Another church can be grasping for the newest Bible course, the latest songs, and the most contemporary ways to worship, but even in all that activity it can seem hollow.
Others may be hoping for more people to come into the church, but more than that – for unchurched people to find God and be saved.
Why aren’t we seeing lives changed, why aren’t we experiencing revival?
Perhaps we think that revival only happens in third-world countries.
I’ve been in situations where a church group has been trying to move on and experience new growth.
Often a verse will be quoted when people are looking for revival:
Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”
Which is often interpreted as the ‘new’ is good, but the ‘old’ is now out of date.
This is not helpful, see the next section as to why…
2. Revival is not all about being ‘new’.
I like Harold Martin’s definition of revival:
The word ‘revival’ means ‘to make fresh and strong again; to bring back to a good condition.’‘Steps to Revival in the Church’ By Harold S. Martin. Bible Helps. 1
Revival is the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s own people, whereby they turn to a closer walk with God and with each other.
It is the nature of all created things to wear out and wind down.
It is the nature of a fire to go out; of sheep to wander; of love to wax cold; of the church to drift; and of people, to forget.
Therefore, from time to time, all of us need to be revived, and restored to the early devotion we had for Jesus.”
But that does not mean that ‘new’ is good and that ‘old’ is out of date.
The thought of looking at something that is ‘old’ may send you into a spin.
But why do so many people look down on anything old these days?
The problem is that everything is ‘improved’ and ‘new’.
Why is that, because these things couldn’t have been perfect to start with!
But God’s work is perfect.
He can’t be improved, neither can His works.
We can be such an arrogant generation!
All the modern technology does not change people’s hearts.
People are the same inside as they were thousands of years ago.
God’s message can’t be improved. (But methods must be changed to suit the generation).
God’s message is the perfect medicine for the disease of sin and death.
See the article: What should the Gospel message be?
Now I know that people can get stuck in the past.
They seem to spend their time looking back at how good things were when they were younger and this is often not very healthy.
So what do I mean?
3. Get revived by looking back at revival!
Many people have been revived by reading an old book about someone experiencing God in a new way.
John Wesley had started preaching but hadn’t experienced salvation for himself.
But when he heard a book being read, that was nearly 200 years old, it was the final piece of the jigsaw for John to be saved:
Wesley made contact with members of the Moravian Church led by August Gottlieb Spangenberg.‘First Great Awakening’ Wikipedia 2
Wesley was impressed by their faith and piety, especially their belief that it was normal for a Christian to have assurance of faith.
The failure of his mission and encounters with the Moravians led Wesley to question his own faith.
He wrote in his journal, ‘I who went to America to convert others was never myself converted to God.’
Back in London, Wesley became friends with Moravian minister Peter Boehler and joined a Moravian small group called the Fetter Lane Society.
In May 1738, Wesley attended a Moravian meeting on Aldersgate Street where he felt spiritually transformed during a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.
Wesley recounted that ‘I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’ “
If we look back in a correct way, it can challenge and enrich our faith.
I have found the life of George Whitefield inspiring.
God used this man to bring true, lasting revival to the United Kingdom in the 18th century (along with the Wesley’s and others).
4. How was George Whitefield revived?
He was thirsty for more of God and he probably would not have defined it as ‘looking for revival’.
George Whitefield was reading a book from a century before him: ‘The Life of God in the Soul of Man’ by Henry Scougal and it alarmed him, he wrote:
God showed me that I must be born again, or be damned!‘George Whitefield – The life and times of the great evangelist of the 18th century revival’ by Arnold Dallimore. 4
I learned that a man may go to church, say his prayers, receive the sacrament, and yet not be a Christian.
How did my heart rise and shudder, like a poor man that is afraid to look into his accounts-books, lest he should find himself bankrupt.
Shall I burn this book? Shall I throw it down?
Or shall I search it?
I did search it; and, holding the book in my hand, thus addressed the God of heaven and earth:
‘Lord, if I am not a Christian, or if I am not a real one, for Jesus Christ’s sake, show me what Christianity is that I may not be damned at last!’ “
He was beginning to dig for the truth.
Jesus’ words were life-changing and he wanted to experience that.
The things that the apostles wrote about in their letters to the churches were far deeper than just history and stories and facts.
George Whitefield wanted to know and experience the ancient life-changing teachings.
You could say that he was asking for the ancient paths and asking where the good way is:
Stand at the crossroads and look;Jeremiah 6:16 NIV
ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”
He read Matthew Henry’s commentary on the Bible which opened his mind to the wonder of God’s Word.
He prayed over the Bible passages and the Holy Spirit opened his mind to Biblical Truth.
Yes, revivals start by looking back at what God has done in the past and by returning to the Word of God.
I would also recommend looking at Matthew Henry’s Complete Bible Commentary which was originally written in 1706 in six volumes (not the Concise one volume).
It still has insights to ignite our faith in the 21st Century.
Here is a potted history of George Whitefield’s life:
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5. Last thoughts on revival from the Bible:
Many Christians fall into two traps regarding revival and the society they live in:
- Society’s standards are seen as being acceptable and clean living, apart from the few bad thieves, murderers, rapists, etc.
- Or, it is seen as being too bad and beyond redemption, that no one cares and their only focus is self-gratification, etc.
The first viewpoint neglects to see that any life that is lived without God is actually turning its back on Him.
The second viewpoint believes that this will stop the Lord, but as we can see in what Archbishop Seeker wrote in 1738 about the condition of society at that time, which was leading up to the English Revival, it did not stop the Lord at all:
In this we cannot be mistaken, that an open and professed disregard to religion is become, through a variety of unhappy causes, the distinguishing character of the present age.Archbishop Seeker 5
This evil has already brought in such dissoluteness and contempt of principle in the highest part of the world, and such profligate intemperance and fearlessness of committing crimes in the lower, as must, if this torrent of impiety stop not, become absolutely fatal.”
The state of our society, however depraved, will not stop God from moving.
The condition of the churches, surprisingly, will also not stop the Lord from moving, as in George Whitefield’s day they were in a deplorable state with many ministers who were not even Christians!
Revival is in God’s hands, according to His timing and who He has chosen as His messengers.
We need to get on with being faithful, and spreading the good news of Jesus, and believe that He is still a God of miracles who can break into the most desperate situations.
The Psalmist wrote:
I recall all you have done, O LORD;Psalm 77:11-14 NIV
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
They are constantly in my thoughts.
I cannot stop thinking about them.
O God, your ways are holy.
Is there any god as mighty as you?
You are the God of miracles and wonders!
You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations.”
Notice the Psalmist is looking back at God’s mighty deeds, but he also says “You ARE the God of miracles…”
He doesn’t live in the past, His God NOW is a Holy God of power who works miracles.
References and credits – open in new tabs:
Works by Thomas Seeker (Porteus and Stinton ed) Vol 5 p306. ↩