What is Revival?
By Rev. Gabriel Gan
As our Church’s theme this year is: “Revive Us O Lord,” it is important that we understand the meaning and the nature of revival.
The term “revival” is one which is grossly misunderstood. In many quarters today it is employed to describe evangelistic meetings. Thus a church may announce it is going to hold revival meetings on a number of evenings during a certain week. Now, while the salvation of sinners and the restoration of backsliders are to be desired, revival is not a set of church meetings. In seeking to find an answer to the question, “What is revival?” I take the liberty of quoting freely from several authorities who have written on the subject.
William B. Sprague says: “Wherever you see religion rising up from a state of comparative depression to a tone of increased vigor and strength; wherever you see professing Christians becoming more faithful to their obligations, and behold the strength of the Church increased by fresh accessions of piety from the world; there is a state of things which you need not hesitate to denominate a revival of religion.”
Charles G. Finney defined revival as “nothing else than a new beginning of obedience to God. Just as in the case of a converted sinner, the first step is a deep repentance, a breaking down of heart, a getting down into the dust before God, with deep humility, and a forsaking of sin.”
Joseph W. Kemp, in a presidential address to the Baptist Union of New Zealand, declared:
“Revival, strictly speaking, means the reanimating of that which is already living but in a state of declension. It has to do principally with the Church as a whole and Christians as individuals. Evangelism, in our usage of the word, as well as in its derivative sense, refers primarily to the proclamation of the gospel to the unsaved. To make evangelism a synonym of revivalism is untrue to the teaching of the New Testament. The Church is responsible for evangelism and not for revival. We are summoned to evangelism; for revival we are cast upon the sovereign grace of God.” (Emphasis in italics, mine)
G. J. Morgan put it this way: “It is reviving humanity, strictly speaking, to the sense of God—through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit—to reanimate the life of the believer, not to the unregenerate, as they are ‘dead in trespasses and sins’. There can be no reviving, as there was no life to revive. But whenever Christians are revived, there will always be the conversion of men. It has a twofold meaning, implying the revival of spiritual life and vigor among Christians and the conversion of sinners. It is God manifesting Himself through human life, His redeeming power bursting forth in fruits of righteousness and holiness, in the constitution of His Church, the reproduction of spiritual life, a fresh incarnation of the gladness, the rapture of the gospel of the Galilean fields, of the anguished cry of Pentecost rising into a doxology of redeeming love.”
J. Edwin Orr, who has written so extensively on revival, and whose notable work on the Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain should be read by all, sums up our theme in this fashion: “The best definition of revival is the phrase, ‘Times of refreshing…from the presence of the Lord.’ ”
Geoffrey R. King in a booklet entitled, Rend the Heavens, summarizes the concept of revival in these words: “Revival is a sovereign act of God upon the Church whereby He intervenes to lift the situation completely out of human hands and works in extraordinary power.”
We gather, then, that revival is that special and sovereign work of God in which He visits His own people, restoring, reanimating and releasing them into the fullness of His blessing. Such a divine intervention will issue in evangelism though, in the first instance, it is a work of God in the church and among individual believers. Once we understand the nature of heaven-sent revival we shall be able to think, pray and speak intelligently of such “times of refreshing…from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).
If you’re not a Christian you don’t need revival, you need regeneration. But if you are a Christian there is a good chance that during the course of your Christian life you will need a few revivals. Nowadays I think that God’s church is so subnormal that normal seems abnormal. As a result, I think that in a very real sense, God’s church is like a sleeping giant. And Satan’s motto is to let sleeping saints sleep. Therefore, in order for the church to function as the body of Christ, God has to bring revival to his church.
Revival happens when God visits His people and He wakes them up spiritually. And it can happen in many different levels. For example, Revival can happen at the group level, at the individual level, at the community level, and even the national level.
Now, when revival comes, some great things will happen. God’s people will have a new passion for prayer and for worship and for God’s Word and you are not going to have to beg them to come to church. When revival comes you are going to see a renewed confession, even a ruthless confession, of sin and a real, renewed commitment to holiness. And a lot of the things God’s people used to tolerate they won’t tolerate in their lives anymore. Then you are going to see an increased burden for the lost and an emphasis on evangelism. Revival is almost always followed by great numbers of people coming to Christ. But the amazing thing about revival is that it cannot be manufactured. If it could, I would have already bought the kit and we can have it right away. But revival is heaven-sent and not man made! “Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?” (Psa. 85:6).