The Spirit of Revival (Part 2 of 6)

from R.C. Sproul

Continued from Part One

The Cultural Context

We live on the far side of a watershed in American history. Our nation has gone through two mighty revolutions since Edwards wrote his treatise. The first revolution was that which yielded the foundation of the United States into an independent republic. Edwards labored before the Revolutionary War that won the independence of the American colonies from the British crown.

In the eighteenth century the western world witnessed two major revolutions—the American Revolution and the French Revolution. The two have often been compared and contrasted by historians. The chief difference between the two may be seen in the root causes of the conflicts.

In the case of the French Revolution, the objective of the revolutionaries was to bring a radical change to French culture including the political institutions, customs, mores, and ethos of the old order. In a sense it was a revolt against the status quo and deeply entrenched traditions. The conflict was one of profound bloodshed accompanied by a reign of terror.

By way of contrast, the American Revolution was not fought to overthrow or destroy the old order but to preserve it. The colonists resisted changes enacted by Parliament that threatened the established American way of life.

Sometimes we tend to forget that America did not begin as a nation at the end of the eighteenth century. The settlers began the task of colonization of America in the early years of the seventeenth century with the Jamestown settlement in 1607 and the Massachusetts settlement in 1620. We tend to forget that between 1607 and the inauguration of George Washington, more than 175 years of time elapsed, only slightly less time than has transpired between George Washington and William Jefferson Clinton. We tend to telescope our history to the extent that we see Miles Standish and Thomas Jefferson as virtual contemporaries.

The point is, the time that elapsed between the beginning of colonial America and the Revolutionary War was ample time to establish an American way of life with its own traditions, customs, mores, and cultural ethos. Those elements were not suddenly and dramatically overthrown by the American Revolution. Indeed, as is the case with all cultural customs, they were exposed to gradual changes and adaptations—but without radical over- throw until the Second American Revolution.

When I speak of the Second American Revolution I am thinking of the cultural revolution that took place in the decade of the sixties and early seventies. This revolution was far more drastic in its consequences for American life than was the first Revolution. It ushered in a new order that has left our culture gripped in an ongoing cultural war that has a nation divided and fragmented over issues of sexual morality, the relation between church and state, the collapse of the family unit, the emergence of a drug culture, and a radical change in the customs of polite speech. A culture that once embraced normative ethics has given way to an ethos of relativism. The impact on education, law, the press, and virtually every societal institution has been enormous. Clearly we are living in a new order, which some, including myself, view as a new disorder.

It is this cultural context we must keep in view when we speak of spiritual revival and/or reformation. It is this present order, including the state of the church, that we must understand when we seek to find relevance or application for Edwards’s work to our own time.

During the same time that the cultural revolution was in high gear, significant events were unfolding within the church. During the decade of the sixties we saw the explosion of the charismatic movement that spread far beyond the confines of Pentecostal churches and penetrated mainline denominations. Subsequently it has become a major force within contemporary evangelicalism. In the years since the sixties we’ve also seen a large decline in the membership of liberal churches and a corresponding rise in membership in conservative and evangelical churches. Polls indicate a marked increase in the adherents of evangelicalism since 1960.

During the same period we have witnessed a rising involvement of people in occult practices and the advent of New Age philosophy and religion. A new fascination with supernaturalism has slowed the tide of the creeping naturalism so entrenched in the secular culture.

The Relevance of Edwards’s Distinguishing Marks

What do these trends signify? Are we in the midst of a major revival? Or are we seeing spurious marks of revival? Here is where the revisiting of Edwards’s Distinguishing Marks can be most helpful. For us to discern the presence of an authentic revival, we need to know what such a revival would look like.

When signs of revival appear on the landscape of history, one of the first questions that is raised is that of authenticity. Is the revival genuine, or is it a mere outburst of superficial emotion? Do we find empty enthusiasm backed by nothing of substance, or does the enthusiasm itself signal a major work of God? In every recorded revival in church history, the signs that follow it are mixed. The gold is always mixed with dross. Every revival has its counterfeits; distortions tend to raise questions about the real. This problem certainly attended the eighteenth-century Great Awakening in New England, in which Jonathan Edwards was a key figure. His Distinguishing Marks provides a careful analysis of that revival, noting its substance as well as its excesses. But the Puritan divine’s study of the matter has more relevance than its application to that singular awakening. It provides a map to follow for all such periods of revival and for that reason is of abiding value for us today.

Continued in Part Three

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Excerpted from R.C. Sproul’s Introduction to The Spirit of Revival, edited by Archie Parrish.

The Spirit of Revival (Part 1 of 6)

from R.C. Sproul

The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God by Jonathan Edwards is one of the great classics of revival literature. A key figure of the Great Awakening, Edwards wrote this important discourse in 1741 just after the revival had reached its peak. In 2000 R.C. Sproul wrote an Introduction to a version of this classic work that had been edited and modernized by Archie Parrish. This Introduction effectively compares Edwards’s nineteenth century to our society and explains the importance of Edwards’ treatise.

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Revival and Reformation

Post tenebras lux … “After darkness, light.” So read the motto of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. The titanic theological struggle of that era was a fight to bring the Gospel into the full light of day after years of being consigned to obscurity to the point of eclipse beneath the umbra of the sacerdotal supplanting of it by Rome.

With the rescue of the Gospel from darkness and distortion, a revival was evoked that transcended any revival of faith witnessed either by previous or subsequent periods of Christian history. The Reformation was not merely a Great Awakening; it was the Greatest Awakening to the true Gospel since the Apostolic Age. It was an awakening that demonstrated the power of God unto salvation.

It is noteworthy that this period in history is commonly referred to as the Reformation and not the Revival. What is the difference between revival and reformation? As the etymologies of the words suggest, revival describes a renewal of spiritual life, while reformation describes a renewal of the forms and structures of society and culture. It is not possible to have true reformation without first having true revival. The renewal of spiritual life under the power of the Holy Spirit is a necessary condition for reformation but not a sufficient condition for it. Therefore, though it is not possible to have reformation without revival, it is possible to have revival without reformation. Why is that the case? There are at least two reasons. The first is that revival brings with it the conversion of souls to Christ, who are at the moment of conversion spiritual babes. Infants have little impact on the shaping of cultural institutions. It is when vast numbers of converted people approach maturity in their faith and sanctification that the structures of the world are seriously challenged and changed. If vast numbers of people are converted but remain infantile in their spiritual growth, little impact is made by them on society as a whole. Their faith tends to remain privatized and contained within the confines of the arena of mere religion.

The second reason concerns the scope and intensity of the revival. If the revival is limited in scope and intensity, its impact tends to be restricted to a small geographical area and also tends to be short-lived. Yet it may have rivulets of abiding influence into future generations. Such a rivulet is the work of Jonathan Edwards presented and discussed in this book. The Great Awakening that occurred in New England in the mid-eighteenth century has left an indelible mark on America, though that mark has faded dramatically over time. No one would today confuse New England with a mecca of vibrant gospel faith. Nor is there any danger of the works of Jonathan Edwards pushing any contemporary authors off the New York Times’s list of best sellers.

Nevertheless, the influence of Edwards as well as that of the magisterial reformers Luther and Calvin continue to this day. Their words are still in print, and there is a cadre of Christians who devour their writings. The things of which those men of God wrote maintain a vital relevance down to our own day.

William Cooper’s original preface to Edwards’s The Distinguishing Marks describes the state of the church prior to the Great Awakening. It could just as well serve as a commentary for our own times.

Continued in Part Two

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Excerpted from R.C. Sproul’s Introduction to The Spirit of Revival, edited by Archie Parrish.

Revival: A Divine Visitation – A.W. Tozer

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. –1 Cor 3:1

I believe that it might be well for us if we just stopped all of our business and got quiet and worshiped God and waited on Him. It doesn’t make me popular when I remind you that we are a carnal bunch, but it is true, nevertheless, that the body of Christians is carnal. The Lord’s people ought to be a sanctified, pure, clean people, but we are a carnal crowd. We are carnal in our attitudes, in our tastes and carnal in many things. Our young people often are not reverent in our Christian services. We have so degraded our religious tastes that our Christian service is largely exhibitionism. We desperately need a divine visitation-for our situation will never be cured by sermons! It will never be cured until the Church of Christ has suddenly been confronted with what one man called the mysterium tremendium-the fearful mystery that is God, the fearful majesty that is God. This is what the Holy Spirit does. He brings the wonderful mystery that is God to us, and presents Him to the human spirit.  The Counselor, 66-67.

“Oh Lord, deliver me from carnal attitudes, actions, and desires. Give me this morning a divine visitation to purify and cleanse me. Let me sense today the majesty and awesomeness of the ‘mysterium tremendium’ as I wait upon You. Amen.”

Humanism and True Christianity

Following are excerpts from the sermon “Ten Shekels and a Shirt”, by Paris Reidhead

Humanism is, I believe, the most deadly and disastrous of all the philosophical stenches that’s crept up through the grating over the pit of Hell. It has penetrated so much of our religion. And it is in utter ant total contrast with Christianity.

I’m afraid that it’s become so subtle that it goes everywhere. What is it? In essence it’s this! That this philosophical postulate that the end of all being is the happiness of man, has been sort of covered over with evangelical terms and Biblical doctrine until God reigns in heaven for the happiness of man, Jesus Christ was incarnate for the happiness of man, all the angels exist in the…, Everything is for the happiness of man! AND I SUBMIT TO YOU THAT THIS IS UNCHRISTIAN !!! Isn’t man happy? Didn’t God intend to make man happy? Yes. But as a by-product and not a prime-product!

Do you see? Let me epitomize, let me summarize. Christianity says,”The end of all being is the glory of God.” Humanism says, “The end of all being is the happiness of man.”

And one was born in Hell, the deification of man. AND THE OTHER WAS BORN IN HEAVEN, THE GLORIFICATION OF GOD!

Why should a sinner repent? BECAUSE GOD DESERVES THE OBEDIENCE AND LOVE THAT HE’S REFUSED TO GIVE HIM! Not so that he’ll go to heaven. If the only reason he repents is so that he’ll go to heaven, it’s nothing but trying to make a deal or a bargain with God.

So the reason for you to go to the cross isn’t that you’re going to get victory, you will get victory. It isn’t that you’re going to have joy, you will have joy. But the reason for you to embrace the cross and press through until you know that you can testify with Paul “I am crucified with Christ” (Gal 2:20), it isn’t what you’re going to get out of it, but what He’ll get out of it, FOR THE GLORY OF GOD!

You can find the entire text of the sermon, as well as a downloadable mp3 file, here.

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing – What IS the Gospel?

In an earlier post here at The Battle Cry, it was stated that “God doesn’t need people to save anyone – you, me or anyone else. It’s our Great Privilege to take the good news to the world around us.” In fact, it’s this author’s opinion that sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Greatest Privilege our great God has bestowed upon His children. This is the first in a series ofposts that will address the critical issue of presenting the right message.

What IS the Gospel?

In the first chapter of the book of Romans the Apostle Paul states:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” – Romans 1:18

Here Paul tells us that the power of the gospel is what is used by God to save anyone in the lost mass of humanity that would believe it. So what exactly was it that Paul was not ashamed of, that he declared to people everywhere he traveled and even to those who despised him, stoned him, arrested him, and cast him in to prison? Speaking to believers in the church he founded at Corinth, Paul has this to say:

“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” – 1 Corinthians 15:1-5

Note that Paul is reminding those believers of what he had previously preached, what he had previously received (from Christ), and what was of first importance. Paul them presents two points; that Christ died for our sins, and that He was resurrected. He also pointed out that the death and resurrection of Christ were both according to the scriptures and validated by the historical facts of Christ’s burial (validated His death), and His having been seen by many of His followers (validated His resurrection).

This then is THE gospel; that Christ physically died for our sin, and was physically raised from the dead SO THAT those who would believe in Him would be saved!!

It is not difficult at all to remember Paul’s definition of the gospel, but if we are to share these simple truths we must first be able to what it means that “Christ died for our sins.”, for it is in the explanation of that statement that we so often miss the point. That is partly our fault for not having read, studied, and believed what is plainly written in the pages of scripture; but we are also fed a diet of watered down scripture and postmodern teaching that either incorrectly defines, or omits entirely, what the Apostle Paul emphatically emphasized as being “of first importance”!

Approximately fifty years ago, A.W. Tozer had this to say:

“In many churches Christianity has been watered down until the solution is so weak that if it were poison it would not hurt anyone, and if it were medicine it would not cure anyone!”

If we are to be faithful to our calling to share the gospel, there are three things we need to understand and be able to explain solely from the standpoint of inspired Scripture, and not merely according to the opinions and viewpoints of popular preachers, speakers, authors, and evangelists. We must to be able to:

(1) properly define OUR sin,

(2) explain what it means that Christ died for OUR sin, and

(3) communicate what it means to believe that Christ died for OUR sin.

Those will be topics of posts to follow. . .

Essential Characteristics of Genuine Revival by Erroll Hulse

1. The sense of God’s nearness and especially an awareness of His holiness and majesty.

This first feature is vital. It consists of what is sometimes referred to as the ‘Shekinah glory’ of God’s presence. In Exodus 40:34 and II Chronicles 7:1 we read of the cloud of the Lord’s presence filling the tabernacle and the glory of the Lord filling the temple. There may not be any visible cloud, but in all true revival, the presence of the Lord is sensed in an awesome way.

This phenomenon is important because it focuses on the fact that revival is God coming down on mankind, with the result that they are humbled. There are religious movements in Africa which involve huge numbers of people who sing in a very impressive way. One can easily get the impression that a great revival is in progress. But it is always essential for us to use our minds and analyze what is going on (Rom. 12:1,2). Some consider such questioning to be sinful, but it is not. I do not mean that we should be censorious, rather, that we are duty-bound to test everything by Scripture.

When there is great emotion, we need to ask ourselves about the source of that feeling. Is it some- thing that has been worked up by manipulators who are experts in controlling crowds, or is it something which is from heaven? Is there a glorying in patriotism, or nationalism, or tribalism? Often religion is used as a veneer to cover what is, in essence, idolatry.

Many modern-day religious movements are characterized by a strong emphasis on the emotions. In mass meetings, there is sometimes a deliberate attempt made to bring great crowds to a high point of excitement and exuberance. This is emotion worked up from within, whereas revival is the Holy Spirit coming down. When He comes down, there is a prostrating effect; the awesomeness and glory of God’s holiness are felt in an overwhelming way.

We see this illustrated in the personal experience of the patriarch Jacob when the Lord met with him at Bethel. Jacob’s response was expressed in these words: ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven’ (Gen. 28:17).

An awareness of the nearness of God is the chief characteristic of all true revivals (Ps. 80; Isa. 64; John 14:17; I Cor. 14:24,25).

At Pentecost everyone was filled with awe (Acts 2:43). A realization of the holiness of God is also one of the hallmarks of revival. The initial experience of fear of God and conviction of sin is followed by intense joy and love.

The felt sense of the presence of God is reflected by this description of the revival at Northampton in 1735. Edwards writes, ‘Presently upon this, a great and earnest concern about the great things of religion, and the eternal world, became universal in all parts of the town, and among persons of all degrees and all ages. The engagedness of their hearts in this great concern could not be hid; it appeared in their very countenances. It then was a dreadful thing amongst us to lie out of Christ, in danger every day of dropping into hell.’

This sense of the fear of God is a vital element of true revival. It is the feature which is missing from contemporary evangelicalism.

2. A greatly intensified work of the Holy Spirit in conviction of sin and giving repentance and faith.

The second essential characteristic of genuine revival points us to the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration.

This is illustrated by the description given by Edwards of the revival in Northampton: ‘There was scarcely a single person in the town, old or young, left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world. Those who were wont to be the vainest and loosest, and those who had been most disposed to think and speak slightly of vital and experimental religion, were not 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, by flocks come to Jesus Christ.’

Yet by no means all who in times of revival profess to have faith and repentance prove to be genuine. Time alone proves whether they are or not. Satan seeks to counterfeit revival, and he is very active in genuine revivals to sow false seeds and promote false professions. Having witnessed revival, first in his own church in 1735, and then later, on a wider scale in the Great Awakening of 1740, Jonathan Edwards realized the need to provide principles by which we can distinguish the true from the false. He wrote two crucial works on this theme: the first, a short work, was called The distinguishing marks of a work of the Spirit of God, and the second, a much fuller and more detailed book, was entitled The Religious Affections. The latter, which is regarded as his best work and the most profound book ever written on the subject, is really an enlargement of the first. Edwards proceeds in a straight- forward way to describe what are not signs of true revival and then goes on to show what are the signs which characterize a true work of God.

In brief, Edwards shows that none of the following are true signs of a work of God: great emotions; great effects on the body, such as tears, groanings, loud cries; agonies or prostrations; an appearance of love, joy, or great excitement; much time and zeal spent in duty; great expressions of praise or moving testimonies. Edwards observed that people can exhibit all kinds of emotions and yet fall away after the true revival. So what then are the true signs?
A true sign of a work of God is a delight in the excellency of God, His holy character and His truth. True religious affections are attended by what Edwards calls ‘evangelical humiliation.’ The believer has a sense of his own utter insufficiency and the hateful nature of his own sin, from which he turns, coming to depend on God’s provision of righteousness. One of the true signs is a change of nature, the new birth, the creation of a new disposition which has the likeness of Jesus. A vital sign is fruit in Christian practice.