By Arthur Wallis
"The tree is known by its fruit" (Matt. 12:33).
There are yet further features of this Pentecostal outpouring which may help us to recognize outpourings of the Spirit today.
This mark of revival is suggested by the phrase, "they began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:4). Of course, strictly speaking all the operations of the Spirit are supernatural. The most ordinary conversion of a sinner is a supernatural work, but it may not be manifestly so. Here is meant that which is in the eyes of men manifestly supernatural, and which can be accounted for in no other way. It is that which produces in the hearts and minds of onlookers the reaction described here, "they were all amazed, and were perplexed, saying one to another, What meaneth this?" (verse 12).
In considering this particular manifestation of speaking with tongues it is needful to avoid unhealthy extremes. Some who expound the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost are careful to avoid any mention of this strange phenomenon, as though it had no real significance. Others, however, can see nothing else in the chapter; to them it is the be-all and the end-all. Some insist that this gift of tongues is now extinct, others that it is the indispensable proof of the filling of the Spirit.
Neither view is supported by Scripture or by history. It was not the only proof of the filling of the Spirit in apostolic times (Acts 8:14-17; 9:17-19; 1 Cor. 12:30); it is not the only proof today. At the same time God has never withdrawn this or any other gift. It is true that tongues with prophecies and knowledge are to cease, but not till "that which is perfect is come" (1 Cor. 13:8-10).
Revival always seems to bring with it a temporary return to apostolic Christianity. Never is the church nearer to the spirit and power of the first century than in times of revival. An eyewitness described the New England Revival of the 18th century thus: "The apostolical times seem to have returned upon us." Thus we must not be surprised to discover that God uses such times to restore spiritual gifts which many have thought were confined to the days of primitive Christianity. Such a conservative work as the Devotional Commentary contains this note on the verse "Quench not the Spirit" (1 Thess. 5:19): "In the early church the influence of the Holy Spirit in the utterances of individual believers was fully recognized. He is set before believers as the source of various gifts (1 Cor. 12), and conspicuously of gifts of utterance (Acts 2:4).
In times of spiritual blessing these gifts are more especially manifest. It has been so in every great revival from the days of Wesley and Whitefield to the days of Evan Roberts. Such gifts, coming indeed from the Spirit, are not to be quenched, put out, like a lamp no longer needed or a fire that meant danger. Nor must such utterances - 'prophesyings', not necessarily predictive, but claiming to be of divine impulse - be despised. They are, indeed, commended by St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:1, 39). They are to be received with respect and yet with intelligent discrimination."
It is not suggested that the exercise of such supernatural gifts is confined to times of revival; nor is it maintained that God only bestows them during such seasons, for the facts are otherwise. It is only asserted, as a fact beyond dispute to those who accept the testimony of history, that the renewal of such gifts, together with various other signs and wonders, are a prominent feature of revival. God is sovereign in all these things. Let the creature beware of imputing folly to the Creator, or of dictating to Him how He shall conduct His work. If God- sent revival is characterized by elements altogether new to our experience and which we can not understand, if there are dreams and visions, tongues and interpretations, revelations, prophesyings and healings, let us remember that God said that "signs" would accompany the outpouring of the Spirit (Acts 2:17-19), and that it has almost always been so.
God uses such signs as a divine authentication of the truth of the gospel, even as Nicodemus said to Jesus, "We know that Thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these signs that Thou doest except God be with him" (John 3:2). Thus it was with His disciples who "went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word by the signs that followed" (Mark 16:20). "God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders, and by manifold powers, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will" (Heb. 2:4).
We would do well to ponder that last phrase, for it emphasizes that such matters rest solely in the hands of God. Nevertheless the fact remains that during those early days it pleased God to employ signs and wonders in nearly every great ingathering of souls to bring the people together and prepare their hearts for the truth. The first recorded prayer of the church was that "signs and wonders may be done" (Acts 4:30). This was an invincible weapon against persecution. It may be that God will consummate this age as He commenced it.
Perhaps the most common sign in times of revival has been the prostration of convicted souls.
It was common in the Wesley-Whitefield Revivals. Lady Huntingdon wrote to Whitefield regarding the cases of crying out and falling down at the meetings, and advised him not to remove them, as had been done, for it seemed to bring a damper on the meeting. She wrote: "You are making a mistake. Don't be wiser than God. Let them cry out; it will do a great deal more good than your preaching." Wesley in his journals dated July 7th, 1739, recorded a conversation with Whitefield on this subject, whose objections were evidently founded on misrepresentations of fact. "But the next day he [Whitefield] had an opportunity of informing himself better: for no sooner had he begun. . . to invite all sinners to believe in Christ, than four persons sunk down close to him, almost in the same moment. One of them lay without either sense or motion. A second trembled exceedingly. The third had strong convulsions all over his body, but made no noise, unless by groans. The fourth, equally convulsed, called upon God, with strong cries and tears.
From this time, I trust, we shall all suffer God to carry on His own work in the way that pleaseth Him."
In the 1860 Revival in Tinevelly, South India, the main instrument God used was a native evangelist called Aroolappen, a disciple of A. N. Groves. The movement began in the Brethren assemblies in which he had laboured, later spreading to other communities.
Aroolappen wrote of the beginning of the movement as follows: "From the 4th May to the 7th the Holy Spirit was poured out openly and wonderfully. Some prophesied and rebuked the people: some beat themselves on their breasts severely, and trembled and fell down through the shaking of their bodies and souls. . . . They saw some signs in the air. They were much pleased to praise God. Some ignorant [uninstructed] people gave out some songs and hymns that we never heard before. . . . All the heathen marvelled, and came and saw and heard us with fearful minds." This man of God wrote again later, "In the month of June some of our people praised the Lord by unknown tongues, with their interpretations. In the month of July the Spirit was poured out upon our congregation at Oleikollam, and above 25 persons were baptized. They are steadfast in prayers. . . . Some missionaries admit the truth of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The Lord meets everywhere one after another, though some tried to quench the Spirit."
Henry Groves, son of A. N. Groves, writing in the Indian Watchman for July, 1860, gives a fuller account of this movement, and of how two poor native women received visions which led to days of deep conviction of sin, after which they found peace. The husband of one of them bitterly attacked his wife while she was under conviction, and accused her of being demon-possessed. Soon after he himself fell into a trance while out in the fields in which someone appeared to him and told him to read Revelation 1 and to tell others "I am coming quickly". He returned to the house weeping and under deep conviction, soon afterwards finding peace. These converts went forth to tell their neighbouring heathen what God had done for their souls.
Henry Groves continues his account: "The day following when Aroolappen was engaged in prayer, he says, the spirit of prophecy was given to some there, and a little boy said that in a certain village, which he named, about a mile distant, the Spirit of God had been poured out.
Within a quarter of an hour, some men and women came from that village, beating their breasts in great fear and alarm of conscience. They fell down and rolled on the ground. This continued a short time; they all asked to have prayer made for them, after which they said with great joy, 'The Lord Jesus has forgiven our sins', and clapping their hands together, in the fulness of their hearts' gladness, they embraced and kissed one another.
For nearly three days this ecstatic joy appears to have lasted. They ate nothing, except a little food taken in the evening, and passing sleepless nights, they continued the whole time in reading of the word, in prayer and in singing praises to the Lord. Of some it is said, 'they lifted up their eyes to heaven and saw blood and fire and pillars of smoke, and, speaking aloud, they told what they had seen.' Several missionaries, at first sceptical or even opposed to the movement, were won over when they saw the fruit of it, and were compelled to acknowledge that the work was of God, though some remained dubious of the revival phenomena. One declared, "I do not know that there has been one single case, where one, whom my dear native brethren and myself have considered really influenced, has fallen back." Another wrote, "What God is now doing in the midst of us was altogether beyond the expectations of missionaries and other Christians: who can say what manifestations the Spirit of God will or will not make of His power?"
It is strange, yet all too often true, that when the Spirit of God is working in supernatural power in revival, unbelievers will often be more quickly convinced that this work is wrought of God, than some believers. No doubt there always have been and always will be the prejudiced and sceptical among the people of God, who in unbelief would limit the Holy One of Israel; who cannot bear to think of the Almighty working outside the range of their own finite understanding, or beyond the bounds of their own limited experience. They would have revival, but only if it comes along the quiet orderly lines of their own preconceived ideas.
Where it is otherwise they will attribute the work to the flesh, or where this does not provide adequate explanation, to the Devil. Of course there is always the possibility of satanic intrusion, or of the admixture of the flesh in such times of blessing, but this calls for a spirit of discernment, not a spirit of prejudice; the ability to "prove the spirits, whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1), not the wholesale, out-of-hand condemnation of them, which must often result in quenching the Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). There is a general tendency to err on the side of prejudice, suspicion and unbelief; and this attitude is nowhere countenanced in the New Testament. Where there is doubt, let there be a patient waiting upon God until the true character of the work is manifest, for the tree will be known by its fruit. Let all take heed. If we indulge in hasty criticism we may be speaking against the Holy Spirit; if we oppose we may "be found even to be fighting against God".
Finally, let us ponder these words from the Church Missionary Intelligencer (1860) on the Tinevelly Revival, written after the work had revealed its true character: "We believe that an unreadiness to recognize the extraordinary operations by which the Holy Spirit is now revealing Himself here and there, is too much a characteristic of the church generally. There are thousands in the ministry of the Church of England, there are multitudes in other denominations, whose conceptions of the work of the Holy Spirit are greatly narrowed, in consequence of their not having given due attention to the admirable accounts on record of the various revivals enjoyed, since the days of the Reformation, in Europe and America. A very peculiar responsibility is resting upon all at this day, in consequence of the many proofs afforded of the readiness of the Holy Spirit to do things transcending the narrow limits of our ordinary experience. When the Son of Man cometh shall He find faith on the earth? When He is prepared to bless the church with unwonted tokens of His nearness, with new discoveries of His majesty and grace, will He be met by a proportionate faith?...
"Let us not put our views of decorum and of order above the mighty operations of the Spirit.
When He comes forth in His glory, it is as it were a judgment day; there is an overwhelming revelation of sin and of danger; and we can no more expect men to act under such circumstances in accordance with ordinary rules of decorum, than we could expect men aroused from their beds by an earthquake to avoid every demonstration of a noisy or alarming character. Perhaps it behoves us all to surrender our very imperfect views of the power and majesty of the Holy Spirit, and prepare for something grander, more awful and more revolutionary than we have yet witnessed."
"And when this sound was heard, the multitude came together" (verse 6). In chapter 37 of his prophecy, Ezekiel records his vision of the valley of dry bones, over which he was commanded by God to prophesy; he says, "I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise. . . and the bones came together. . ." (verse 7). Similarly at Pentecost there was a divine magnetism at work, and the "dry bones" were drawn irresistibly together to where God was working in power. On this occasion God used the supernatural manifestation as the magnetic agent, "when this sound was heard", and this is very often the case in seasons of revival. Sometimes, however, this strange drawing is apparent even where there is no outward manifestation. This would seem to have been the case when Paul and Barnabas visited Antioch-in-Pisidia, when "almost the whole city was gathered together to hear the word of God" (Acts 13:44).
During the early days of the recent Lewis Awakening, there was a remarkable movement in the village of Amol. There had been no response during the first few meetings, and a time of prayer was convened in a house at the close of an evening meeting. As one man was praying all present became aware that prayer had been heard, and that the Spirit of God was being poured out upon the village. They left the house to discover that the villagers also were leaving their cottages and making their way, as though drawn by some unseen force, to one point in the village. There they congregated and waited, and when Mr. Duncan Campbell commenced to preach, the word took immediate effect. In a few days that small community had been swept by the Spirit of God, and many souls had been truly converted to God.
It is constantly the complaint of the evangelist that the unconverted, pleasure-loving masses will not come to hear the gospel. Although there have been exceptions, it is still true that many city-wide campaigns attract but a small proportion of those they are designed to reach, and though one rejoices that some do come and that some are saved, the needs of the masses remain largely untouched. The majority of those converted in such meetings are those with church connections or who have been interested by Christian friends.
One must admire the energy and thoroughness with which attempts are made to alter this situation. Large sums are spent on advertising and publicity of every kind. Witness marches are conducted through the streets. The meetings themselves are not lacking in varied items and features calculated to appeal. If all this did not reach the godless masses the time before, then it is only ground for trying again with greater thoroughness or more imagination. If it is found that the proportion of spurious decisions is high, then it must be reduced by more careful training of the inquiry room workers, and by greater diligence in following up each case.
There is no intention here of destructively criticizing such evangelistic drives. Rather let us thank God for all that they achieve in making Christ known and leading souls to repentance.
Though God blesses and uses them according to the proportion that faith and prayer are exercised, it is important to realize their limitations. As we survey the situation, we may well inquire with Gideon, "And where be all His wondrous works which our fathers told us of?" (Judges 6:13). Is this all that God can do in the face of the appalling need on every hand? Are we for ever shut up to the obvious limitations of modem evangelism? Must we never hope to see that mightier working that truly touches the masses at every level and compels them to face the implications of the gospel? Shall there never be a day of God's power, when our organization, and publicity, and inquiry room technique shall be superseded by the resistless power and faultless control of the Holy Spirit?
Of course God expects us to do our part in drawing souls under the sound of the gospel. It required no outpouring of the Spirit to bring Simon Peter to Jesus, it needed only the invitation of Andrew, his brother (John 1:41, 42). But where the normal means are failing to achieve the necessary end, it is of no avail to adopt the extra special means. If the natural means do not succeed we must look to the supernatural.
On Carmel Elijah's fervent pleading left the people unmoved. "How long halt ye between two opinions?" was his challenge; but "the people answered him not a word" (1 Kings 18:21). But when God answered by fire instantly the people were on their faces. What the strivings of man cannot achieve is but the work of a moment to the outpoured Spirit. We may be sure that when God begins to work the people will be there, drawn not by invitation or persuasion, but by that divine magnetism that operates in revival.
It may be necessary for us to cease from our own endeavours in order to enlist the mighty intervention of God. It is possible to be so busy with what we are doing, that we are oblivious of that mightier work that God is waiting to do, if we will but give Him the opportunity.
When we are brought to seek His face, and acknowledge, as did Jehoshaphat, "We have no might against this great company. . . neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee", then we may expect Him to answer us likewise, "the battle is not yours, but God's. . .
Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the Lord with you" (2 Chron. 20:12-17).
"But Peter. . . lifted up his voice, and spake forth unto them" (verse 14). When we speak of "apostolic preaching" we do not mean that of apostles only, but the kind of preaching that was characteristic of that first century, and of revivals down the years. Although many souls are saved in revival apart from preaching, such times have nearly always been characterized by the powerful proclamation of the truth. Sometimes the outpouring has come through such preaching; at other times, as here, the preaching has come through the outpouring.
There is a rugged grandeur about the apostolic preacher which recalls the fearless prophet of Old Testament days. They were clothed with the same power and impelled by the same boldness, for their torches were lit from the same holy fire. Neither was popular, but both were mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.
"When a prophet is accepted and deified, his message is lost. The prophet is only t useful so long as he is stoned as a public nuisance calling us to repentance, disturbing our comfortable routines, breaking our respectable idols, shattering our sacred conventions" (A. G. Gardiner).
Of such a character was the apostolic preacher. Peter's address on this occasion reveals all the main features of apostolic gospel preaching.
The primary design was to lead souls to repentance. A glance at the message of the New Testament preachers, John the Baptist, the Lord Himself, and the Apostles, will confirm that "repent" was one of the great words in their gospel vocabulary. They were not out merely to obtain many decisions" but rather to "turn... many to righteousness" (Dan. 12:3). The difference in emphasis is important. The true index of their success was not in the counting of heads or hands, but in the revolutionizing of lives and even communities, men and women turned "from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God" (Acts 26:18). Since repentance was to them the fundamental condition of conversion, they did not set out at once to "get results" but to produce conviction of sin, without which there could be no solid foundation for a soul-saving work.
Under the ministry of these early preachers people did not decide to become Christians simply because this was a desirable or respectable thing to do, or because Christianity appeared more attractive, and to offer better dividends than living for the world. There was no suggestion that salvation was just a course of expediency, an insurance policy for eternity, or a good bargain that any sensible man ought to make with his God. No, indeed; they were led to repent because they saw their desperate plight. They were convicted of their shameful rebellion against God, Whose laws they had broken and Whose Son they had crucified. They were indeed "weighed in the balances and found wanting". They were lost and undone and more than ready, when a loving Saviour was presented to them, to flee to Him for refuge against the wrath of a holy God.
There is so much emphasis today on believing, receiving, deciding, and so little on the vital step of repenting. We need to beware of reducing conversion to a technique, for a person can be persuaded to go through the motions of accepting Christ while the conscience remains unawakened, the will unmoved, and so the heart unchanged. If the soil is shallow the seed may germinate, but it will be without root, and so "he endureth for a while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway he stumbleth" (Matt. 13:21). The apostles felt that their labour was in vain if their converts did not stand fast (1 Thess. 3:5-8).
How was it that this apostolic preaching produced such deep and abiding results? Because these men dealt faithfully with the question of sin, that the conscience might be aroused (Acts 2:23, 36). Because they urged upon their hearers the imperative necessity of immediate repentance to God (verse 38). Because they preached baptism in accordance with their commission from Christ (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:16), as that which was to accompany and seal that act of repentance (verse 38). And because they demanded that all this should be followed by "doing works worthy of repentance" (Acts 26:20). With the exception of the controversial question of baptism, these features have always characterized revival preaching.
"It was, I believe, a precept of John Wesley's to his evangelists, in unfolding their message, to speak first in general of the love of God to man; then, with all possible energy, and so as to search conscience to its depths, to preach the law of holiness; and then, and not till then, to uplift the glories of the gospel of pardon and of life. Intentionally or not, his directions follow the lines of the epistle to the Romans" (Moule on Romans).
It was said that Charles Finney in dealing with souls had a fixed principle never to tell a man how to get right with God until he could no longer look him in the face. Only when his conscience had been so thoroughly awakened that he hung his head in shame over his sin, did he consider that he was ripe to be told the way of salvation. We may say that Finney went too far, but do we go far enough? It is vain to urge men to go to the Physician so long as they remain unconvinced that they are dangerously ill. A Puritan writer, Thomas Goodwin, remarked in this connection, "Traitors must be convicted and condemned ere they are capable of a legal pardon; as sentence must be pronounced before a legal appeal can be made." When we try to foist a pardon on the rebel who has not been apprehended or convicted, we invite him to trample it underfoot.
Bearing in mind this design, to produce conviction with a view to repentance, let us notice four characteristics of apostolic preaching revealed in Peter's address.
It was spontaneous preaching, as spontaneous as the outpouring that produced it. Christ had promised, when they should have to stand before governors and kings, "It shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you" (Matt. 10:19, 20).
This word seemed to have a fulfilment in the seizing of many other unexpected opportunities of preaching Christ. It is remarkable that this masterly address of Peter that led to the conversion of three thousand souls, should have been impromptu. No one would deny that there is a place for the prepared and deliberate presentation of the gospel, but too many have lost sight of that unpremeditated, inspirational preaching which is so characteristic when the Spirit of God is working in power.
Charles Finney wrote in his autobiography: "For some twelve years of my earliest ministry, I wrote not a word; and was commonly obliged to preach without any preparation whatever, except what I got in prayer. Oftentimes I went into the pulpit without knowing upon what text I should speak, or a word that I should say. I depended on the occasion and the Holy Spirit to suggest the text, and to open up the whole subject to my mind; and certainly in no part of my ministry have I preached with greater success and power. If I did not preach from inspiration I don't know how I did preach. It was a common experience with me. . . that the subject would open up to my mind in a manner that was surprising to myself. It seemed that I could see with intuitive clearness just what I ought to say; and whole platoons of thoughts, words, and illustrations came to me as fast as I could deliver them." Recounting the revival at Evan Mills, Finney wrote: "I had not taken a thought with regard to what I should preach. The Holy Spirit was upon me, and I felt confident that when the time came for action I should know. As soon as I found the house packed I arose and, without any formal introduction of singing, opened upon them with these words: 'Say ye to the righteous that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe to the wicked! it shall be ill with him; for the reward of his hands shall be given him.' The Spirit of God came upon me with such power, that it was like opening a battery upon them.
For more than an hour the word of God came through me to them in a manner that I could see was carrying all before it. It was a fire and a hammer breaking the rock, and as the sword that was piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit. I saw that a general conviction was spreading over the whole congregation."
Although God has His times for this mightier work of the Spirit, as Matt. 10:19 suggests, the vision of it needs to be recaptured. The gift of spontaneous preaching enables the evangelist to seize unexpected opportunities, as did Peter here at Pentecost and at the Temple Gate (Acts 3:12); also Paul on Mars Hill (Acts 17) and on the steps of the castle in Jerusalem (Acts 22); and it gives maximum scope to the Spirit of God to produce conviction and lead to repentance. Far from encouraging laziness, such a manner of preaching demands incessant prayerfulness and constant meditation and feeding upon the word. Clearly, it is only possible "in the Spirit", and this anticipates our next feature of this apostolic preaching.
It was anointed preaching. Peter was "filled with the Spirit"; there was the explanation of his power. This feature has already been considered, and we need only touch on it now in its relation to public preaching. Christ had promised His followers that through the coming of the Spirit they would receive power to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8), and that the Spirit would work through them to convict the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment. It is strange, in view of the explicit promise of Christ, that many busily engaged in the preaching of the gospel seem to have no concern that they do not see that power operating in their ministry, nor any desire to seek and obtain it.
Apostolic preaching is not marked by its beautiful diction, or literary polish, or cleverness of expression. It has laid aside "excellency of speech or of wisdom"; it has no confidence in "persuasive words of wisdom" but operates "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power", so that the faith that it kindles in the heart does "not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (1Cor. 2:1-5). It was said of Savonarola, the great Italian Reformer, that "nature had withheld from him almost all the gifts of the orator", and yet he was mighty through the power of the Spirit. Said A. J. Gordon of him: "When we read of his intense and enrapt communion with God, his unconquerable persistence in seeking the power of the Highest, till 'his thoughts and affections were so absorbed in God by the presence of the Holy Spirit, that they who looked into his cell saw his upturned face as it had been the face of an angel', we are not amazed at the character and effects of his preaching - so pathetic, so melting, so resistless that the reporter lays down his pen with this apology written under the last line - 'Such sorrow and weeping came upon me that I could go no further.'"
There can be no substitute whatever for the anointing of the Spirit; it is the one indispensable factor for the effective proclamation of God's message. The apostolic preacher is first and foremost the man who can say with his Master, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel" (Luke 4:18).
It was also fearless preaching. This feature is directly related to that which we have just considered. "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spake the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31). These first Christians had been wonderfully liberated from "the fear of man that bringeth a snare". They gave their hearers the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
There was no watering down the stern demands of divine holiness, no modifying the eternal severities to appeal to the natural man. The apostolic preacher was like Noah "a preacher of righteousness". He did not shun to set forth the changeless laws of a holy God, because he knew that "by the law cometh the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:19, 20), and that this is the instrument that the Spirit of God uses to reveal that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (verse 23).
Whitefield said of Griffith Jones, a Welsh evangelist of his day, that his preaching possessed "a grasp on the conscience". Such a ministry requires a proclamation of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin, and such a fearless application of the divine law as probes the conscience and leaves the hearer standing guilty before God. Such preaching does not generalize about sin and sinners, but focuses on the individual conscience and fearlessly declares, "Thou art the man". It was said of Gilbert Tennent, a contemporary of Jonathan Edwards, and mightily used in the New England Revival, "He seemed to have no regard to please the eyes of his hearers with agreeable gesture, nor their ears with delivery, nor their fancy with language; but to aim directly at their hearts and consciences, to lay open their ruinous delusions, show them their numerous, secret, hypocritical shifts in religion, and drive them out of every deceitful refuge wherein they made themselves easy, with the form of godliness without the power.
. . . His preaching was frequently both terrible and searching" (Prince's Christian History).
Here Peter charged his hearers with the crime of crucifying their Messiah. They may not have been personally present, but they were personally responsible, for they had consented to His death. Emphatically he spoke of "This Jesus Whom YE crucified" (verse 36). Little wonder that we then read, "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart." Fearless preaching like this was calculated to produce conviction, or to stir up the bitterest animosity.
It usually did both. Many preachers today are so tactful, so careful lest they should offend, that they achieve little or nothing. How different were the "shock tactics" of the apostolic preacher, as we listen to his burning words in temple court (Acts 3:13-15) or Jewish Council (Acts 4:8-11; 7:51-53); well might he say, "I truly am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin" (Mic. 3:8). Such preaching, by making indifference impossible, sets the hearers in on of two camps. It is calculated to produce a revival or a riot.
Finally, it was Christ-centred preaching. Having explained to the astonished multitudes that this which they saw and heard was the outpouring of the Spirit promised in Joel, Peter took them at once to "Jesus of Nazareth". He did not at once assert His deity, but found a common basis in what they already knew and believed concerning Him, in facts which were beyond contradiction - "a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs."
It was a principle of these apostolic preachers to find common ground with their hearers and to work from that. They commenced with what was assuredly believed and accepted, and from that basis they argued their case, point by point, persuading the multitudes that this Jesus was the Christ.
In the story of the Ethiopian eunuch we read that Philip "preached unto him Jesus" (Acts 8:35) He did not preach about Jesus, he preached Jesus; his message was a proclamation, a setting forth of the person of Jesus the suffering Messiah, yet Son of God. Paul's determination was ever to know nothing among men "save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2), and so vividly had he set Him forth to the Galatian churches that he could remind them - "before your very eyes, Jesus Christ has been portrayed, crucified" (Gal. 3:1, Darby).
The risen Lord had explained to His disciples before He ascended into heaven why it behoved "the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory" (Luke 24:26). He had opened their minds to the full significance of the cross and the resurrection in the plan of redemption, "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His Name unto all the nations" (Luke 24:45-47), and so in these aspects they set forth Christ in their preaching.
The very corner stone of apostolic preaching, however, was the witness to the resurrection.
Everything hinged on the fact that the Crucified One was alive. If He had indeed risen all His claims to be the "Sent One" of God, the long-promised Messiah, were authenticated and beyond dispute, and men found themselves under a cloud of divine wrath, guilty of the greatest crime of all time. "Ye denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted unto you, and killed the Prince of Life" (Acts 3:14). "The Righteous One; of whom ye have now become betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7:52). It was the light from the empty tomb that explained the enigma of the Cross; it was this that transformed apparent defeat into actual victory, and tragedy into triumph. The resurrection was God's masterstroke to prove beyond all doubt and for all time the deity of Jesus, for He was "declared to be the Son of God with power. . . by the resurrection of the dead" (Rom. 1:4).
Apostolic preaching cannot of course be limited to the ministry of the evangelist, separated for this special work. In revival it is common to witness widespread evangelism through numbers of believers possessed with the spirit of the first Christians, who when "scattered abroad went about preaching the Word" (Acts 8:4). Paul wrote similarly to the believers of the Thessalonian church, "From you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth; so that we need not to speak anything" (1 Thess. 1:8). This explains the rapid and prodigious progress of Christianity in the first century; and the same thing in lesser degree has accompanied and followed almost every great movement of the Spirit.
It is said of the Moravian Revival, that in the thirty years following the outpouring of the Spirit on the congregation at Herrnhut (1727), the Moravian evangelists, aflame for God, had carried the gospel not only to nearly every country in Europe, but also to many pagan races in North and South America, Asia, and Africa. Dr. Warneck, German historian of Protestant Missions, wrote, "This small church in twenty years called into being more missions than the whole evangelical church has done in two centuries." More than one hundred missionaries went forth from this village community in twenty-five years.
Of the 1860 Revival in South India, the Indian Watchman observed: "As in Ireland [Ulster Revival - 1859], so here, the recent converts, seized with irresistible spirit of evangelization, were the means of carrying the wondrous influence from one place to another." A missionary wrote, "There were indisputable marks of a revival among the people, brought about by the influence of five men who had come voluntarily to preach the gospel to heathen and Christians. . . . The effect of their proceeding hitherto has been extraordinary. The heathen listen to them attentively. Their doctrine is sound and pertinent, exhibiting a right practical understanding both of law and gospel." Another says, "It is indeed a new era in Indian Missions, that of lay converts going forth without purse or scrip to preach the gospel of Christ to their fellow-countrymen, and that with a zeal and life we had hardly thought them capable of."
It will be seen that these features constantly emphasize what has already been remarked, that revival does not lead us forward to fresh stunts or unexplored methods to make the gospel more attractive and acceptable, but back to the old and often disused paths of apostolic evangelism. Would we be ready for revival? - then let us "ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein" Jer. 6:16). Where the Spirit of God in complete control there is an inevitable return to the simple methods of the first century, and great is the surprise of many to discover that they not only still work, but that they still work the best. They are in fact the only channels capable of carrying the mighty rivers of blessing let loose in revival.
We shall now see how great those rivers can be.
"And there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls" (verse 41). "And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved" (verse 47). "But many of them that heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand" (4:4). "And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (5:14). "And the number of the disciples multiplied. . . exceedingly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith" (6:7).
So reads the record of Pentecost and the days that followed. Here then is a further distinctive feature of revival, super-abundant blessing. God had indeed fulfilled the promise of Malachi 3:10; He had opened the windows of heaven and poured out such a blessing that there was not room enough to receive it.
If these recorded results of that outpouring of Pentecost were not part of inspired Scripture, we might have wondered whether the accounts were not exaggerated. Down the years, however, there have been seasons of revival when the blessing was, numerically at least, comparable with Pentecost. One wrote out the midst of the New England Revival (eighteenth century), "The dispensation of grace we are now under is. . . in some circumstances so wonderful, that I believe there has not been the like since the extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit immediately after our Lord's ascension." Space does not permit giving here statistics of the great revivals of the church, even if accurate information were available. However, a few figures will be quoted, remembering that they are only estimates, but made when modesty and reserve in these matters were much more prominent than they are today.
It is estimated that 30 000 souls were converted through Whitefield's revivals in America. Of the revival in the same country in 1830 Dr. Henry Ward Beecher remarked to Charles Finney, "This is the greatest revival of religion that has been since the world began." It is computed that 100 000 were converted that year in the United States. In the great 1858 revival, conversions numbered 50 000 per week, and over the whole of the United States there could not have been less than 500 000 conversions, according to Finney's estimate in 1859, when the revival was still spreading. "In the year 1859 a similar movement began in the United Kingdom, affecting every county in Ulster, Scotland, Wales, and England, adding a million accession to the evangelical churches" (J. Edwin Orr).
Far more significant to thoughtful minds than massive statistics is the estimate of what proportion of a community or district is savingly affected in these extraordinary seasons of blessing. Of the New England Revival (eighteenth century) Conant wrote: "It cannot be doubted that at least 50 000 souls were added to the churches of New England out of a population of about 250 000. A fact sufficient to revolutionize, as indeed it did, the religious and moral character, and to determine the destinies of the country." In Acts 9:34, 35 there is the account of the healing of a palsied man which resulted in the wholesale turning to the Lord of a town, Lydda, and a populous district, the Sharon. Many similar instances could be given of communities swept by powerful revivals when it was most difficult, if not impossible, to find a single unconverted soul.
Of the revival in Northampton, Mass. (1735) Jonathan Edwards wrote: "There was scarcely a single person in the town, either old or young, that was left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world. Those that were wont to be the vainest and loosest, and those that had been the most disposed to think and speak slightly of vital and experimental religion, were now generally subject to great awakenings. And the work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner, and increased more and more; souls did, as it were, come by flocks to Jesus Christ." Similarly Finney wrote of the revival in Rome, N. Y.: "As the work proceeded, it gathered in nearly the whole population." Of the 1858 Revival in Sweden, an English minister resident in Stockholm reported, "I should be disposed to consider that at least 200 000 persons have been awakened out of a population not exceeding 3 millions." This would mean one out of every fifteen people. Another wrote of the same revival: "The awakening is so extensive that there is scarcely a town, a village, or a hamlet, where there is not a little company of believers united together, and edifying one another in love." Revival commonly leaves behind such groups, meeting on the simple ground of oneness in Christ, as did the early church. This leads us to the last feature of the outpouring of Pentecost.
"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and they sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all, according as any man had need.
And day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they did take their food with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people" (verses 42-47). In those early days, the manner of life of the believers, their church order and fellowship were marked by divine simplicity and spiritual power. As faith and spirituality waned the power of the Spirit was gradually withdrawn. Soon it became necessary to substitute human arrangements, which could be worked without the Spirit's power, for the divine arrangements, which were dependent on that power. Thus by degrees the simple apostolic pattern ordained by the Spirit was abandoned in favour of the complex ways of man, and those concerned with the building up of the churches forgot the exhortation of God to Moses concerning His house, "See that thou make all things according to the pattern." Some asserted that God had revealed no pattern; others that the pattern did not matter, that every man could do that which was right in his own eyes. Since revivals bring a renewal of the power of the Spirit, they are commonly accompanied by a return to the simple apostolic pattern.
It is significant that many of the revivals of Old Testament days were characterized by a return to the divinely ordained worship of the house of the Lord. Asa, for example, "renewed the altar of the Lord", and "brought into the house of God the things that his father had dedicated" (2 Chron. 15:8, 18). Similarly Josiah sent men "to repair the house of the Lord" (2 Chron. 34:8). Hezekiah also "in the first year of his reign. . . opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them" (2 Chron. 29:3). He then ordered the Levites to "carry forth the filthiness out of the holy place" (verse 5), which was of course essential to any further progress; but this was not all, for the rest of the chapter describes how "the service of the house of the Lord was set in order" (verse 35). It is needful, if the blessings of revival are to be preserved and maintained, that the cleansing of the house from sin, worldliness, and unbelief, be followed by the re-establishing of its order in divine simplicity. This passage in Acts 2 reveals that the outpouring of the Spirit was followed by steadfast continuance on the part of the believers in the four matters essential to their corporate life.
Firstly, there was the apostles' teaching. All the great movements of the Spirit that have affected the course of history have been accompanied and consolidated by spiritual teaching.
Where this is not the case it is possible for a good movement to go off into error, peter out, or be dissipated in extravagance and fanaticism. The outpouring of the Spirit was never intended to be a substitute for such teaching, but rather to stimulate it. The one provides the dynamic and impetus; the other ensures that the power released continues to flow along the right channel. A missionary wrote of the converts of the 1860 Revival in South India, "One thing is very marked, their intense reverence for the word of God, and desire to be conformed to it in all particulars." What can do more to produce a hunger for God's word, foster a love for "sound doctrine", and check heresy of various forms than a mighty outpouring of the Spirit? Said R. A. Torrey, "A genuine, wide-sweeping revival would do more to turn things upside down and thus get them right side up than all the heresy trials ever instituted."
Secondly, there was the apostles' fellowship, in which they continued steadfastly. Not until the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost, and these believers were fused into one body, the church, do we have this first mention of "fellowship", a sharing together; for though our fellowship is with the Father and Son, it is ever "the fellowship of the Holy Spirit", affected and maintained by Him. This fellowship of the early church was not only related to their spiritual experiences, but also to their material possessions, for they "had all things common" (verse 44).
In this connection the following report from the 1860 Revival in South India is significant: "There are now in Christian Pettah alone, about one hundred who are bound together in the ties of Christian fellowship, and in the district of Arulappatoor there is about the same number, and very many more scattered about elsewhere. Sunday they make a day of special fasting and prayer, abstaining often from food till after the partaking of the Lord's Supper, which is partaken of every Sunday evening at 8. They appear to be living in much real simplicity, having all that they have in common, and working together for the common support" (Henry Groves).
Steadfast continuance in fellowship involves the diligent cultivation of the corporate life, in which there is no provision for the freelance or the "lone wolf". Here everything is sacrificed for the common good, and the unity of the Spirit is diligently preserved. Here the believers "consider one another to provoke unto love and good works" (Heb. 10:24). Such a fellowship can only be maintained at the price of ceaseless vigilance, but it is characteristic of times of revival.
Thirdly, there was the breaking of bread in which they also continued steadfastly. The Lord's Supper was prefigured in Old Testament times by the Feast of the Passover, and it is significant that three outstanding revivals in the history of Israel were marked by a widespread return to the keeping of the Passover, under. Hezekiah (2 Chron. 30), Josiah (2 Chron. 35), and Ezra (Ezra 6: 19). It is therefore not surprising to discover that revivals have ever quickened the desire of the church to obey the Saviour's command, "This do in remembrance of Me." Many a time the outpouring of the Spirit has coincided with the gathering of the saints to keep this simple ordinance. The glorious revival at Cambuslang, near Glasgow (1742) under the minister, William M'Culloch, culminated in two great communion seasons. Under the preaching of Whitefield, supported by that of this parish minister, the word was attended with remarkable results. Tens of thousands gathered on the hillside to hear the word of God, many being smitten down and carried into the surrounding houses. Thousands came to the communion tables, "sitting down by companies upon the green grass, as in Galilee of old". On both occasions the voice of prayer and praise could be heard throughout the night, mingling with the mourning of stricken hearts.
We read of the first communities touched by the Revival in South India, "They were very anxious to enjoy the Lord's Supper - every day if they could have it." Thus it was immediately after Pentecost, when the Lord's Supper was taken in the believers houses in conjunction with the daily food: "breaking bread at home, they did take their food with gladness" (Acts 2:46). It was in this manner that the Lord had inaugurated this simple ordinance in the upper room, and revival ever tends to bring us back to the apostolic pattern, divesting these things of the cloak of ecclesiasticism, and delivering us from the twin perils of ritualism and tradition. A modern writer has done well to remind us, "It is possible to reject traditions a thousand years old, and yet be slaves to traditions of scarcely fifty years standing" (W. W. Fereday).
Finally, there was steadfast continuance in prayers. As revivals are born out of prayer, so are they maintained by prayer; without it they cannot continue in purity and power. Soon after the outpouring at Herrnhut (1727) that commenced the Moravian Revival, it was determined that the voice of prayer should never be silent, neither by day nor by night, just as of old the fire was ever to be kept burning upon the altar. Twenty-four brethren and the same number of sisters divided the twenty-four hours between them into prayer watches. The number of intercessors increased, a spirit of prayer being poured out even upon the children. That prayer meeting went on without intermission, day and night, for 100 years, and was the source of power of the Moravian Missions.
When the revival in Adams, N. Y., that commenced with his own conversion, began to decline, Charles Finney read an article entitled, A Revival Revived. "The substance was, that in a certain place there had been a revival during the winter; that in the spring it declined; and that upon earnest prayer being offered for the continued outpouring of the Spirit, the revival was powerfully revived." He suggested to the young people that they should each pray in their rooms at sunrise, at noon, and at sunset for one week. Before the week was out a marvellous spirit of prayer was poured out on them, some lying prostrate on the floor during these seasons, praying for the outpouring of the Spirit. "The Spirit was poured out, and before the week ended all the meetings were thronged."
Prior to Pentecost it is recorded that the believers "continued steadfastly in prayer" (Acts 1:14) ;after Pentecost the young church "continued steadfastly. . . in prayers" (Acts 2:42); and when the rivers of blessing were flowing far and wide, and the work was so extensive that the apostles could no longer cope with it, we hear their solemn resolve, "We will continue steadfastly in prayer" (Acts 6:4). Let it be burned upon our hearts by the Spirit of God that this mighty movement that turned the world upside down was not only born out of prayer, but that it brought forth prayer, and was maintained by prayer. Such praying, costly but indispensable, has ever characterized the great revivals of the past.
How simple were the channels along which the rivers of that first outpouring flowed. The corporate life of the first church maintained by no methods or devices more complex than teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. These means were simple, but they were sufficient. When the Spirit of God is poured out again it will be seen that nothing more is needed. Other expedients are only called for when the power of the Spirit begins to wane. The local church is the only visible society that can adequately meet the varied needs of the believer, young or old. This is the design of God, though He raises up and uses other organizations when the local churches have failed. It is vital that the living stones quarried in times of revival shall not be left lying about, but shall be built into the house of God, and share the corporate life of the church. Therefore the form and condition of that local body are of great importance.
It is surely right that a soul converted in revival, when the Spirit was in complete sway, should be brought into a fellowship where, in the simplicity of apostolic church order, the Spirit continues to control and where there is scope and liberty for each member of the body to exercise his or her spiritual gifts to the blessing of all. How often the flames of revival have been extinguished by the very structure in which it broke out. After the first inrush of the Spirit, the doors and windows were shut by the iron hand of ecclesiasticism, formalism, and tradition; the flame was suffocated; the Spirit quenched.
The outgoings of revival are a key to the continuance of the work. If factory wheels are arrested by some outside agency, either the motive power is also arrested and all movement ceases, or else the link that joins the power to the wheels is broken. In a mighty movement of the Spirit sometimes the link is snapped, and the revival movement is severed from the old machinery and linked to new that is fit to receive and use the fresh output of power. It is the old principle of new wine causing the old wine-skin to burst so that the wine is spilled (Matt. 9:17). New wine requires new wine-skins, and if the old are not prepared to be renewed and remodelled by the Spirit of God to meet the new situation, God has no alternative but to reject them.
A movement of the Spirit can only be contained by the organization of the Spirit, and that organization is characterized by simplicity. As we scan that distant horizon, and watch the sun rising over that first church as it moved forward in the power of the Spirit, we are compelled to exclaim with Cowper,
"Oh, how unlike the complex works of man
Heaven's easy, artless, unencumbered plan!
. . . . Majestic in its own simplicity.