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The Interceders Encourager No. 31

Defining Revival and Awakening

1. Introduction

In 1956, Arthur Wallis wrote, "There was never a day in which the term revival needed to be more carefully defined. It has come to be used in relation to spiritual things so widely and so loosely that many are perplexed to know what it does mean." If that was true in 1956, how much more is it necessary to define the word now, as not only do churches in America still call a series of evangelistic meetings a revival, but since then we have had the Charismatic movement, with many offshoots and organizations promoting themselves as revival ministries. The word has become debased.

For a true definition, as Wallis says, "we must appeal to the people of God of bygone years who used the word with consistency of meaning down the centuries until it began to be used in a lesser and more limited sense in more modern times. Numerous writings on the subject that have been preserved for us confirm that revival is a divine intervention in the normal course of spiritual things. It is God revealing Himself to man in awful holiness and irresistible power. It is such a manifest working of God that human personalities are overshadowed and human programmes abandoned. It is man retiring into the background because God has taken the field. It is the Lord making bare His holy arm, and working in extraordinary power on saint and sinner." That is the best definition of revival and awakening that I have ever found, though there have been many other descriptions given.

"Revival is an extraordinary movement of the Holy Spirit, producing extraordinary results."
(Richard Owen Roberts)

"Revival is an invasion from heaven that brings a conscious awareness of God."
(Stephen Olford)

"Revival is the inrush of the Spirit into a body that threatens to become a corpse."
(S.E.Wirt and K. Beekstrom)

"A revival is not merely the stirring of people’s emotions, but a mighty manifestation of the power of God in turning men and women…from their sins to a life of God glorifying and wholehearted sacrifice and service."

"True revival is that divine moment when God bursts upon the scene and displays his glory. The glory comes when God takes over. He fills the Church with His presence and power, and when He takes over, all the credit goes to Him. (Del Fehsenfeld Jr.)

"Revival is God purifying His Church. (Erwin Lutzer)

"Revival is the Church on its knees. (R.B.Jones)

"It is God’s method to counteract spiritual decline, and to create spiritual momentum; in order that His redemptive purposes might be accomplished on earth. (Arthur Wallis)

"An awakening is a going of God among His people, and an awareness of God laying hold of the community." (Duncan Campbell)

"A revival is about God; His people meeting with him and the nation being confronted with Him. (Colin Urquhart)

"Revival is God realization." (Duncan Campbell)

"An awakening is a community saturated with God. (Duncan Campbell)

"Revival is God’s major means of extending His kingdom. (Jonathan Edwards)

"A revival is a return to Apostolic Christianity. (John Morgan)

"Revival is the Christian Church going back to the God given norm. ((Selwyn Hughes)

"Revival is stepping into line with the spiritual life and law of God, for God is an eternal revival in Himself. (G.D.Morgan)

We should note that the word revival can be applied only to the Church, for to revive means to reanimate the life that has become weaker and is in danger of dying. Unbelievers, who are unregenerate, obviously cannot be revived, as they have no spiritual life, not having been born again. They are ‘dead in trespasses and sins,’ so there is no life to be revived. They need to be regenerated from spiritual death or awakened from spiritual sleep. This is why the overflow of a revival from the church into the world is called an awakening, which is, of course what God wants, for that has been His intention ever since His power upon the Church was first seen on the Day of Pentecost, where the outpouring of the Spirit upon the 120 in the upper room was not for their benefit, but to reveal His power and grace to a world of sinners, to bring them to repentance and salvation, and from darkness into His marvellous light.

2. Illustrations of Revival and Awakening

a) Lewis, Scotland 1949 "..a crowded church, the service is over; the congregation, reluctant to disperse, stands outside the building in a silence that is tense. Suddenly, a cry is heard from inside the building; a young man, burdened for the souls of his fellow men, is pouring out his soul in intercession. He prays until he falls into a trance, and lies prostrate on the floor. But heaven has heard, and the congregation, moved by the power of God, comes back into the church, and a wave of conviction sweeps over the gathering, moving strong men to cry for mercy. This service continued until the small hours of the morning, but so great was the distress and so great was the hunger which gripped men and women that they refused to go home, even though others were assembling in another part of the parish. A number of those who now made their way to the church were moved by a power they had not experienced before. Others were deeply convicted of sin, and crying for mercy in their own homes before coming near the church. None who were present at that early morning visitation will forget the moving scenes, some weeping in sorrow and distress, others with joy and love filling their hearts, falling upon their knees, conscious only of the presence and power of God, who had come in revival blessing. Within a matter of days, the whole parish was in the grip of a spiritual awakening. Churches became crowded, with services continuing until three o’clock in the morning. Work was largely put aside as young and old were made to face eternal realities." (Duncan Campbell)

b) Kilsyth, Scotland, 1839 "After pleading with the unconverted to close with God’s offer of mercy immediately,….the power of the Lord’s Spirit became so mighty on their souls as to carry all before it, like the rushing, mighty wind of Pentecost. Some were screaming out in agony, others, (and among these were strong men), fell to the ground as if they had been killed." (William Chalmers Burns)

c) Delaware, U.S.A. "The power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly ‘like a mighty rushing wind,’ and with an astonishing energy, bore down all before it. I stood amazed at the influence that seized the audience almost universally, and could compare it to nothing more aptly than the irresistible force of a mighty torrent. Almost all persons of all ages were bowed down with concern together, and scarcely one was able to withstand the shock of this surprising operation." (David Brainerd)

d) Sodom, near Antwerp, New York, U.S.A. "An awful solemnity seemed to settle upon the people. The congregation began to fall from their seats in every direction, and cry for mercy. If I had had a sword in each hand, I could not have cut them down as fast as they fell. I was obliged to stop preaching." (Charles Finney)

e) Sheffield, England. "I had not discoursed long when the congregation melted into tears. This abated for a few minutes, till a little boy about seven or eight years of age cried out exceedingly piteously indeed, and wept as though his little heart would break. I asked the little boy why he was crying. "My sins," he said. I then asked him what he wanted. He answered, "Christ." Others were so concerned for their souls, and their earnest crying obliged me to stop, yet as I prayed over them, I saw their distress and agony increase. Oh the distress and anguish of their souls! Oh the pains that were upon them! Many others were deeply affected, and were groaning and sobbing, with great mourning." (William Bramwell)

f) Ulster, 1859. The most amazing description of conviction of sin was penned at the time of this awakening. "When the conviction, as to its mental process, reaches its crisis, the person through weakness, is unable to stand, and either kneels or lies down. A great number of convicted persons in this town and neighbourhood, and in all directions where the revival prevails, are smitten down suddenly, and they fall as nerveless and paralysed and powerless as if killed instantly by a shotgun. They fall with a deep groan, some with a wild cry of horror, the greater number with an intensely earnest plea, ‘Lord Jesus, have mercy on my soul.’ The whole frame trembles like an aspen leaf; an intolerable weight is felt upon the chest; a choking sensation is experienced, and relief from this found only when the loud urgent prayer for deliverance is answered and confidence in Christ is found.

Then the look on the face, the tone of voice, the gestures, instantly change. The anguish and despair is changed into gratitude and triumph and adoration. The language, the looks, the terrible struggles, the loud, desperate cries of hopelessness, speak of the fact that they have been in deadly conflict with the old serpent. The perspiration rolls off the anguished victims, even the hair is moistened. Some pass through this exhausting conflict many times. All appetite is taken away. Many will eat nothing for days. Sleep is also denied them, even though they may lay down with their eyes shut."

g) Lewis, Scotland 1950. In one parish, Duncan Campbell conducted four services nightly for five weeks. At the same time, desperate praying took place. People could not sleep. Houses were lit all night. People walked the streets in great conviction. Others knelt by their bedsides, crying for pardon. Within 48 hours, the drinking house was closed, nearly every young person between the ages of twelve and twenty had surrendered to Christ, and every young man between the ages of 18 and 35 could be found in the prayer meetings. That is true awakening.

h) Northampton, Massachussetts, U.S.A. 1735. "This work of God soon made a glorious alteration….The town seemed to be full of the presence of God. There was scarcely a person in the town, either old or young, that was left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world." (Jonathan Edwards)

i) Gaspar River, Kentucky, U.S.A 1800. "Many travelled as far as 100 miles to get to the camp meeting. At the close of John Magee’s sermon on Sunday, the power of God seemed to shake the whole assembly. Crowds of worshippers remained at the meeting house all night. People struggled in the pangs of the new birth, ready to faint or die for Christ, almost upon the brink of desperation. Others told of the sweet wonders they saw in Christ."

j) U.S.A. 1857. "The influence of the awakening was felt everywhere in the nation. It first captured great cities, but it also spread through every town and village and country hamlet. It swamped schools and colleges. It affected all classes without respect to condition…The number of conversions reported soon reached the total of fifty thousand weekly."

3) Characteristics of revivals and awakenings.

We have been made aware that every revival/awakening will have certain characteristics.

We can list these as follows;

1. The awareness of the awesome presence of a holy God.

2. Conviction of sin, with people crying out for mercy.

3. The things of eternity, especially the facts of heaven and hell, becoming more real than the things of time.

4. Deep and overflowing joy and delight in the Lord for those brought out of conviction of sin to faith in Christ.

5. A reverence for God and a fear of Him, so that people are afraid to sin.

6. Great concern for the salvation of sinners, with people pleading to stop others going to hell.

7. The lives of those awakened are radically altered, with worldly lifestyles renounced.

8. People become enthusiastic to pray and study the Bible and meet wherever possible.

9. Because those converted have a much deeper conversion experience than those ‘converted’ in a non revival situation, they stay true to the Lord far longer.

10. The church’s priorities change, and become much more spiritual; the Bible is honoured, read, obeyed and shared; prayer becomes the church’s passion; and as the Holy Spirit is given His rightful place, holiness becomes paramount.

A genuine revival/awakening will have these characteristics, so any claim to revival that is not centred on holiness, and does not emphasise the sinfulness of sin, is not from the Holy Spirit.

4) Biblical Descriptions.

It can also be seen that the definitions and descriptions of revival and awakening that we have noted, correspond to the verses in the Bible that have been quoted in previous Encouragers as promptings, provocations, promises and prayers of Scripture in relation to revival. We can set these out as follows;

God holding back His judgment. (Is.48:9)

God putting away His indignation towards us, and reviving us. (Ps.85:4-6)

God remembering mercy, and renewing His deeds. ((Hab.3:2)

A restoration of God’s favour. (Ps.102:13)

God bringing His salvation near. (Is.46:13)

God answering our prayers with awesome deeds of righteousness. (Ps.65:5)

God stirring up his strength, and coming to save His people. (Ps.80:2, Is.51:9)

God rending the heavens and coming down. (Is.64:1)

A divine visitation. (Ps.80:14-15)

An outpouring of the Spirit. (Joel 2:28)

God displaying His power, His zeal and His might. (Ps.77:14, Is. 63:15, Hab. 3:4)

The Holy Spirit coming in convicting power. (Jn. 16:8)

The Lord girding His sword, and riding forth victoriously. (Ps.45:3-5)

God defending his cause, and taking the field. (Ps.74:22)

God coming with vengeance. (Is.35: 4)

The Lord laying bare His holy arm. (Is.52:10)

The fire of God coming to devour sin. (Ps.50:3, Is.64:2)

God appearing in His glory. (Ps.90:16, Ps.102:16)

God coming and not keeping silent. (Ps.50: 3)

God coming like a rushing river. (Is. 59: 19)

God coming down and working. (Ps.144:5-6, Hab.3:3)

God reviving His work. (Hab.3:2)

God reviving his people. (Ps.80:18,etc.)

The time for God to show His favour. ( Ps.102:13)

The breath of God coming upon His people so that they live. (Ez.37:9-10)

God taking away the reproach of His people, and making them the praise of the earth.(Joel 2:17, Is.62: 7)

God’s face shining upon His people. (Ps. 80:3)

The year of the right hand of the Most High. (Ps.77:10)

God showing Himself strong on behalf of His people. ( Hab.3:13)

God subduing his enemies. (Ps.81:14)

The pride of man being brought low, and the Lord alone being exalted. (Is. 2:11)

God making people tremble. (Is.64:2, Hab.3:16)

God making His name known to His enemies. (Is.64:2)

God rising up and scattering His enemies. (Num.10:35, Ps. 9:19-20, Ps. 68:1)

God pouring water on the desert, and floods on the bare ground. (Is.35:6, 44:3,etc.)

God coming as the former and latter rains, pouring down righteousness. (Is.45:8, Hos. 6:3)

God raining righteousness upon His people. (Hos. 10:12)

God causing righteousness and praise to spring up before the people. (Ps.85:10-11, Is.61:11)

God making spiritual deserts like the garden of the Lord. (Is. 51:3)

God healing the land. (2 Chron.7:14)

God’s glory dwelling in the land. (Ps. 85:9, Hab. 3:3)

God’s glory being seen. (Is.60:2)

The manifest presence of God. (Is. 64:2)

The earth being full of His praise. (Ps. 85:6, Hab. 3:3)

5. The results of true revivals and awakenings.

a) "When God rends the heavens and comes down on his people, a divine power achieves what human effort at its best fails to do. God’s people thirst for the ministry of the Word, and receive it with tender meltings of soul. The grip of enslaving sin is broken. Reconciliation between believers is sought and granted. Spiritual things, rather than material things, capture people’s hearts. A defensive, timid church is transformed into a confident army. Believers joyfully suffer for their Lord. They treasure usefulness to God over career advancement. Communion with God is avidly enjoyed. People who had been indifferent to the gospel now inquire anxiously. And the movement draws in not just the isolated straggler, but large numbers of people. A wave of power and grace washes over the Church, and spills over into the world. And this is just the beginning of what happens when God comes." (Raymond C. Ortlund)

b) "We have seen in a business quarter of the city, in the busiest hours, assemblies of merchants, clerks and working men, to the number of 5000, gathered day after day for simple and solemn worship. Similar assemblies we find in other portions of the city; a theatre is turned into a chapel, while churches of all sects are opened and crowded by day and night." (The New York Times, March 20th 1858)

c) "During the seasons of revival in the 1770s in Virginia, membership of the Methodist churches increased 1400%, while the general population grew at just 200%. Among Baptists in Virginia, every church had meetings that lasted five to six hours, often all night. During the three summer months of 1770, in three counties, there were recorded 800,1600 and 1800 conversions, and these were just small counties."

d) "The First Great Awakening in America in the 1730s and 1740s had tremendous results. The number of people attending services multiplied. Denominational barriers broke down. There was a renewed concern for missions. Princeton, Rutgers, Brown and Dartmouth Universities were all established as a direct result of the move of God."

e) Other results of an awakening include;

People work harder. Productivity rises dramatically.

People become more honest and frugal. They stop wasting money on drink, on smoking,

on sport and gambling; and pay back long standing debts.

Family relationships improve. Men become better husbands and fathers.

People’s habits are changed. They stop drinking alcohol, and pubs close down.

People’s minds and mouths are cleaned up. They stop swearing and cursing.

People’s priorities are changed, as Jesus comes first in their lives.

People become more caring, towards people and animals.

Christian workers are raised up, including ministers and missionaries.

f) "A day of the full ministry of the Spirit would bring many rare and rich blessings along with it, such as discoveries of the Redeemer’s glory, convictions of the evil and vileness of sin, and many souls brought to the Lord as crowns of victory to Christ. Gospel light would shine clear, error would vanish...sinners would be awakened, dead souls would live, hard hearts would be melted, strong lusts subdued, and many sons and daughters born to God. Such a day would heal divisions, cement breaches, make us all of one heart and mind, and bring heaven down to earth. This would redress our grievances, remove our complaints, and unite Christ’s scattered flock. It would make the Church and holy persons to be in esteem, vice to be in disgrace, and iniquity ashamed to hide its face. Sundays and communion days would be days of heaven, while prayer and praise, spiritual conversation, talking of Christ would be our chief delight. O then, pray for such a time." (John Wilson: The Balm of Gilead, 1742 ) His words have all proved to be true on many occasions.

6. The Differences between Evangelism and Revival/Awakening

Evangelism can often change into revival, as the great revival preachers have proved, but there are basic differences between the two, especially evangelism as it is practised today.

1) Evangelism today seeks to entice people to meetings or activities by appealing to their interest in sport or food or children or personalities or something else, but in revival, this does not happen. Revival is centred on God and people’s need of Him. It is noticeable that the apostle Paul never used entertainment to attract people, even though there were plenty of entertainers around. At that time, there were singers, actors, musicians, poets, circus clowns, stilt walkers, gladiators, chariot drivers, sports heroes, but there is no record of the first evangelists ever attempting to attract people in this way.

2) Evangelism today often centres on music groups, which are very forcibly advertised to attract people to attend. In complete contrast, in times of revival, musical accompaniment either plays a very small part or is non existent.

3) Some evangelistic meetings today major on entertainment and big gatherings. People come to enjoy a performance and to be part of a crowd. In revival, people come to have dealings with God.

4) In evangelism, churches seek to draw people in by advertising the events. In revival, there is no advertising. God draws the people by His power, as He did on the day of Pentecost.

5) In evangelism, pressure is put on people to make decisions for Christ. In revival, no pressure is put on people to ‘make decisions,’ only to respond to the Holy Spirit.

6) In evangelism, people are invited to come and get. In revival, people are told to submit to God.

7) In evangelism, people are urged to ‘accept Christ.’ In revival, after the greatness and the holiness of God, and the sinfulness of man have been made clear, people are told to repent of their sins.

8) In evangelism, people have to be persuaded to decide for Christ. In revival, it is the other way round; people seek Christ for salvation.

9) In today’s evangelism, those who decide to become Christians, see it as an addition to their worldly lifestyle. They are not told they have to give up anything. In revival, people are convicted of all their sins by the Holy Spirit, and know they have to be separated from them. Consequently, their lives are radically changed.

10) In today’s evangelism, the lives of those who decide for Christ are still centred on this world. In revival, those who are converted live in the light of eternity, and their priorities completely change.

11) In today’s evangelism, most of those who decide for Christ, fall away quite quickly. In revival, the converts stay firm for Christ for far longer, usually permanently, if it is a word centred revival.

12) With today’s evangelism, even if people make decisions for Christ, the world around them carries on in its sin and rebellion. In an awakening, the community is impacted by the presence of a holy God; crime decreases, places of sinful pleasure close down, debts are repaid, moral standards are raised, swearing decreases, standards of honesty rise, families are reunited, etc.

7) The Need for Genuine Revival

"A revival of religion is the only possible thing that can wipe away the reproach which covers the church….Without a revival, this reproach will cover the church more and more until it is overwhelmed with universal contempt." Moreover, "a revival of religion is indispensable to avert the judgments of God from the church." (Charles Finney)

"Nothing short of an outpouring of God’s Spirit will revitalize and empower an impotent and anaemic Church to display once again His glory to a lost world." (Del Fehsenfeld Jr.)

"How many today are really prepared to face the stark fact that we have been out manoeuvred by the strategy of hell, because we have tried to meet the enemy on human levels by human strategy? In this, we may have succeeded in making people church conscious, mission conscious or even crusade conscious, without making them God conscious." (Duncan Campbell)

"How seldom is the Holy Spirit given His rightful place in the Church which He established? How often is He grieved and hindered because the people of God prefer human organization and the methods of the world to that which costs more than money to secure, His own gracious presence and power?" (Arthur Wallis)

"May the God of revival deliver us from contentment with the ordinary while He stands ready to do the extraordinary." (Richard Owen Roberts)

"There is no true, deep, real spiritual hunger for revival, no heart searching after God. The things that pass away fill out vision. Let us call upon God to create hunger, be it by catastrophe, by war, by depression, so that we have the hunger without which there can be no genuine revival." (Oswald J. Smith)

"An old fashioned revival is the medicine for these times. Such a revival is not a momentary outburst of excitement, not a temporary manipulated stir, not a mere reformation, but a real awakening, a profound and awful conviction of sin by the eternal Spirit of God. For such a revival we ought to pray with our whole souls; pray like Jacob, till the day dawns and the blessing comes; and pray like Elijah, till the answer by fire comes, till heaven is unlocked and pours out its treasures." (E.M. Bounds)

"God is calling out: ‘Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion’. (Is. 52:10) When the voice of the Lord has awakened the Church, the voice of the Church, saying: ‘Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord. Awake as in the days of old,’ (Is.51:9) will awaken the Lord, and the power of God will be manifested in the saving of sinners." (Arthur Wallis)

"Arm of the Lord, awake, awake.
Thine own immortal strength put on;
With terror clothed, hell’s kingdom shake,
And cast Thy foes with fury down.

As in the ancient days appear;
The sacred annals speak Thy fame.
Be now omnipotently near,
To endless ages, still the same."
(Charles Wesley)