Revival! A People Saturated with God

by Brian H. Edwards

We Need to Reclaim "Revival" from Its Lesser Latter-day Meanings

Edwin Orr, one of our greatest authorities on the subject of revival, reported having seen two churches in a town in America both advertising revival meetings. One displayed a board saying, Revival here every Monday night,' whilst the other promised: Revival here every night except Monday'! If nothing else, that reminds us how loosely the word has been used.

In America, "revival" has often been used in place of the word "mission" or "campaign." It is something a church arranges, men organize, and God may or may not bless it. But on this (British) side of the Atlantic the word "revival" has been displaced by words like "renewal" and "restoration." But "revival" swallows up all other words as the shark swallows the shrimp. So, historically, what does "revival" refer to?

The church historian James Buchanan defined revival as "the imparting of life to those who are dead, and the imparting of health to those who are dying." But that does not take us far enough. Jonathan Edwards, who saw revival in his church in America 250 years ago, explained it as "God's major means of extending His Kingdom," and more recently Edwin Orr defined these outpourings of the Spirit as a "movement of the Holy Spirit bringing about a revival of New Testament Christianity in the church of Christ and its related community."

One thing is clear: almost as soon as you try to define the word revival, you find yourself describing what a revival is. This at least shows that revival is nothing theoretical. It is certainly not a theological idea for academics and historians to play with; revival is intensely practical and it always has drastic results for the church. Duncan Campbell, who was himself involved in revival this century, described it simply as "a community saturated with God." and I am not sure that we shall ever get closer to the heart of it than that.

In Isaiah 62 the prophet declares that he would go on preaching until the city that is now indistinguishable from the surrounding nations becomes a "crown of splendour in the Lord's hand (v. 3) and her righteousness becomes so attractive that the nations long for it (v. 2), and until "her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch" (v. 1).

There will be no hope for revival until the evangelical churches of our nation recognize and admit that Isaiah is preaching to us. Outwardly there may be many good things in the churches today, but beneath it all there is the rottenness of worldliness, carelessness, a lack of deep commitment and a triviality about holy things. Our churches are divided and quarrelsome; our leaders are proud of their reputations and hard-working to build their own empires. Generally speaking, Christians think and behave like the world and are afraid to act differently.

In spite of our pretense to the contrary, we are hardly making any impact upon our society, and our churches are not growing vigorously by regular, life-changing conversions. Of course, some churches are growing and some sinners are being converted, but by and large we have become expert at simply shuffling the pack, as dissatisfied or grumbling Christians move from church to church. Revival is not when the churches exchange members, but when the Holy Spirit changes lives. Revival is needed, not because of the state of the world, but because of the state of the church. Only when we realize this can there be any hope of God sending us revival.

Taken from Revival! A People Saturated With God by Brian H. Edwards, Evangelical Press, Faverdale North Darlington DU OPH, England.

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