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In the Day of Thy Power: 1. What Is Revival?

By Arthur Wallis

      "God came. . . His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of His praise. . . He stood, and measured the earth; He beheld, and drove asunder the nations: And the eternal mountains were scattered, the everlasting hills did bow; His goings were as of old" (Hab. 3:3).

      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. To some prejudiced or misinformed people the term is synonymous with excessive emotionalism and mass hysteria. It is to be hoped that the following pages will be a sufficient answer to such a slander on the work of the Holy Spirit.

      Others use the word to describe a successful evangelistic mission. When they tell us that their church is "having a revival", we understand them to mean that a gospel campaign is being conducted there. This use is possibly a relic of days when the Spirit was working widely, and one had only to arrange such a mission to witness a quickening amongst the believers and an ingathering of the lost. Today it is otherwise, but in any case to use the term thus is misleading.

      Some, adhering closely to the etymology of the word, use it to describe a personal reviving of the believer by the Holy Spirit. If an individual or group is quickened in holiness and brought into a place of blessing, that is what they call "revival", even if there is little extension of the work. Similarly others, whose emphasis is more on a definite experience of the Spirit, will claim that when an individual or group has been filled with the Spirit they have "got revival", regardless of whether there are any repercussions outside their circle. In so far as revival always involves the reviving of individual believers these views are true, but as definitions of revival they are inadequate.

      We cannot go to the Bible to see how the word "revival" is used, for it is not found there, although it contains many examples and types of revival, and unfolds all its principles. The nearest Scriptural equivalents are "revive" (or quicken), and "reviving", but these may be applied to individual quickening, and are not always synonymous with what has come to be called, by common consent down the centuries, "religious revival".

      It might be well if those who wish to describe what is simply a quickening work amongst believers would use those Scriptural expressions, "revive" and "reviving", and distinguish them from "revival", which includes and yet exceeds them. Revival is more than big meetings. It is more than religious excitement. It is more than the quickening of the saints, or their being filled with the Holy Spirit. It is more than a great ingathering of souls. One may have any one of these without revival, and yet revival includes them all.

      There is a wealth of difference between missions or campaigns at their best and genuine revival. In the former man takes the initiative, it may be with the prompting of the Spirit; in the latter the initiative is God's. With the one the organization is human; with the other it is divine. There is no intention here of disparaging the work of missions, or of denying that God has owned them to the conversion of multitudes, but it must be made clear that they do not constitute revival. Missions may be a part of the continuous programme of evangelism which is the task of the church, but revival is a thing of special times and seasons. Revival may of course break out during a mission, but when it does so certain features will appear which are peculiar to revival, and certain features will disappear which are characteristic of missions.

      However, while revival tarries, the normal evangelism of the church must continue, but let us keep the distinction clear.

      The meaning of any word is determined by its usage. For a definition of revival we must therefore appeal to the people of God of bygone years, who have used the word with consistency of meaning down the centuries, until it began to be used in a lesser and more limited sense in modern times. Numerous writings on the subject that have been preserved to us will confirm that revival is 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.

      The God of the Old Testament saints and prophets was the God of revival. In chapter 63 of his prophecy, Isaiah, recalling how God's people had rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit (verse 10), longs for a manifestation of His zeal and mighty acts (verse 15). He looks upon the downtrodden sanctuary and cries out, "Oh that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might bow down at Thy presence. . . to make Thy name known to Thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at Thy presence! When Thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, Thou camest down. . ." (Isa. 64:1-3).

      Habakkuk also, living in a day when God's judgments were already being poured out upon His people for their sin, pleads for revival, "O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy"(3:2). Then in vision he perceives the answer to his prayer; he sees God on the move (verse 3), manifesting His power and glory (verses 3-6). He sees the tents of Cushan in affliction, and even nature itself moved at the divine presence (verses 7, 10, 11) as the Lord marches through the land in indignation, going forth for the salvation of His people (verses 12, 13).

      At the end of the Old Testament story we find God still pleading with the remnant through His servant Malachi, and promising revival at this eleventh hour if His people would pay the price: "Bring ye the whole tithe into the storehouse. . . and prove Me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it" (3:10).

      One might refer to Zechariah, to Joel, and to many another prophet, who brought to dark days a ray of hope in the promise of revival. How many saints in that bygone age could have testified to the value of this great expectation that filled their lives, in the words of David: "I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living" (Ps. 27:13).

      In the New Testament the true motive-force of revival is seen in clearer light as we find it associated with the pouring out of the Spirit. In its historic setting as the birthday of the church, Pentecost was unique, and there were factors in that remarkable event that have never been repeated. But as a specimen outpouring of the Spirit, Pentecost was unique only in being the first.

      Peter declared on that memorable day, "This is that which hath been spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts 2:16). It is to be noted that Peter, speaking under inspiration, was led to alter the Joel prophecy (2:28) from "it shall come to pass afterward" to "it shall be in the last days". This wonderful promise relates then to a period of time, "in the last days", not just to a moment of time, such as the day of Pentecost. It is equally clear from the words that Peter quotes that the prophecy had but a partial fulfilment on that day. There was evidently more to come. All the years of the church's history have been "in the last days", and thus it has pleased the Lord down those years at special seasons to fulfil this prophecy.

      There is further evidence in the New Testament that God never intended to confine the outpouring of the Spirit to one historic day. In Acts 10 verse 45 the remarkable event at Caesarea is described by Luke as an outpouring of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Paul writing to Titus uses the same word as did Peter when quoting Joel: "the Holy Spirit, which He poured out upon us richly" (Titus 3:5, 6).

      True revivals have ever been marked by powerful and often widespread outpourings of the Spirit. Many many times the preaching had to cease because the hearers were prostrate, or because the voice of the preacher was drowned by cries for mercy. Who will deny that these were outpourings of the Spirit? Who could find a more appropriate description of such scenes than the words of Luke: "The Holy Spirit fell on all them which heard the Word"? (Acts 10:44).

      David Brainerd recorded the beginning of the wonderful movement among the American Indians in 1745 thus: "The power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly 'like a rushing mighty 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 scarce one was able to withstand the shock of this surprising operation."

      Revival can never be explained in terms of activity, organization, meetings, personalities, preachings. These may or may not be involved in the work, but they do not and cannot account for the effects produced. Revival is essentially a manifestation of God; it has the stamp of Deity upon it, which even the unregenerate and uninitiated are quick to recognize.

      Revival must of necessity make an impact upon the community, and this is one means by which we may distinguish it from the more usual operations of the Holy Spirit. The marks of revival will be considered more fully in a later chapter.

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See Also:
   Foreword by Duncan Campbell
   1. What Is Revival?
   2. A Sign Spoken Against
   3. The Latter Rain Of Promise
   4. This Is The Purpose
   5. Distinctive Features
   6. Distinctive Features
   7. The Prepared Heart
   8. The Praying Heart
   9. Lifting Up Holy Hands
   10. The Dynamics Of Prayer
   11. Wielding The Weapon
   12. Preparing The Way
   13. Paying The Price
   14. The Sound Of Marching
   15. The Solemn Alternative


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