By D. M. PANTON, B.A.
Joel, the first of the Jewish Prophets, held up the immense beacon-light of the descent of the Holy Ghost and for eight centuries it remained unfulfilled - until Pentecost, but meanwhile revival after revival* swept through Israel. Generations came and went, and prophets greater than Joel arose, and passed; vast religious upheavals and political revolutions, followed by fresh violence and atheism, came and went, in the seething ocean of human history. Exactly so is it now. Nineteen centuries have passed since the First Shower: we await the Second, to be accompanied by the portents with which it was originally identified (Joel 2: 30); nevertheless, revival after revival has swept through the Church of God for nineteen centuries, and such may be repeated at any moment. "When the waves of the last agony of a submerging world break, yet once more, and louder than ever, goes forth the call of a vast and infinite compassion"
[* It is well to keep carefully in mind the distinction between a revival and a mission: a mission is a humanly organized effort to reach souls with the Gospel, which can be gloriously God-used; a revival is a mysterious movement of the Spirit, blowing through a district or even through an entire country, such as no human power can evoke or limit or prolong.]
is a fresh inrush of Divine life and power into a body threatening to become a
corpse. It is heaven coming to the
desperate need of earth; and therefore the fearful spiritual lapse of a
generation may, in the love of God, be a ground of hope rather than of despair.
The revival under Hezekiah (2 Chron.
29.), as wonderful a movement as ever swept a land or transformed a
generation, arose upon a moral midnight. Pentecost was God’s enormous gift of blessing
time of the Reformation it had been said: “A priest
might live a sensual life, and yet be
very well liked, if not very greatly respected; always providing that he
was not grasping. That is the unpardonable sin. The priest who is avaricious (greedy)is
hated. … They took fees for all occasional duty, and sometimes enforced the fees with great brutality. They would hold as many benefices as they
could get, and perhaps reside in none of them.
Priests sometimes held ten to
fifteen livings. In the register of
Archbishop Winchelsey (1293-1313) there is a case of
a priest holding twenty three livings.”
… “All the small houses were dens of iniquity.”
THE PRESENCE OF DEITY
The cause of revival is also its explanation. Revival - as was supremely shown at Pentecost - is the arrival at a given spot of a Person of the Godhead. It was vividly so revealed in the Welsh Revival. “A sense of the Lord’s presence,” Mr. R. B. Jones writes, “was everywhere. It mattered not where one went the consciousness of the reality and nearness of God followed. It was by no means confined to the revival gatherings; it was felt in the homes, on the streets, in the mines and factories, in the schools, yea, and even in the theatres and drinking saloons. The strange result was that wherever people gathered became a place of awe, and places of amusement and carousal were practically emptied. Many were the instances of men entering public-houses, ordering drinks, and then turning on their heels leaving them on the counters untouched. The sense of the Lord’s presence was such as practically to paralyse the arm that would raise the cup to the lips. Football teams and the like were disbanded; their members finding greater joy in testimony to the Lord’s grace than in games. The pit-bottoms and galleries became places of praise and prayer, where the miners gathered to worship ere they dispersed to their several stalls. Even the children of the day-schools came under the spell of God.”
The consequence is inevitable: the Divine presence rocks souls like an earthquake, and shakes the whole human to its foundations. Whitefield thus describes what he constantly saw:- "Their bitter cries and tears were enough to break the hardest heart. Some were struck pale as death, others lying on the ground, others wringing their bands, others crying out almost as if they were in the sharpest agonies of death. They seemed like persons awakened by the last trump, and coming out of their graves to judgment. I myself was so overpowered with a sense of God’s love, that it almost took away my life."
Revival is invariably the Bible coming alive again in human hands. The whole revival under Josiah (2 Chron. 34: 14) centred in a re-discovery of the Book. "Previously," says a Welsh minister, "the young people were given wholly to reading novels, and the older people confined themselves to the newspapers; but now, thank God, it is all Bible. Bible-reading has become a passion."* "They believed this Book," says Mr. M. Holyoak, "all those who were converted, from cover to cover. There was no doubting whatever. That was the feature of the Welsh Revival, everybody reading his Bible. In houses where no Bible had been at all, they were buying the Bible and reading it." An Indian missionary wrote :- "Three days ago we were in a bazaar where there were certainly not less than 2,000 people gathered together. They seemed never to have heard the Story of Love before. We preached many times while the bazaar lasted, and the people followed us in crowds from place to place, and literally fought for our Christian books, and threw the money at us to obtain them. In an hour our whole stock was exhausted! They followed us so that we had the greatest difficulty in trying to reach as many new ears as we could with the Gospel."
[* This is one reason for rejecting the Oxford Group Movement as one of the historical Revivals. It has no passion for the Scriptures. The Spirit’s presence is disclosed by the flash and thrust of His sword. And special truths in the Book leap to light in revivals. The truth the Reformation stressed was justification by faith; Methodism, the new birth; Brethrenism, the Second Advent; the 1860 revivals, the wrath to come. We are not sure what single truth (if any) the revivals of this century have specially emphasized.]
But a warning is needed. As the demons dogged the steps of Christ, so the intense emotionalism of revival provides a very dangerous possible foothold for the evil supernatural. Of the Indian Revival we read:- "There has been a great deal of dancing in some of the services, many have fallen into a kind of trance, and some have essayed to prophesy." One missionary wrote (Life of Faith, Mar. 21, 1906):- "One rolled on the floor as if in agony, and knocked against me. I dared not touch her, but soon I found her lying on her back insensible, rolling her head, shaken from within in a kind of spasm, hands cold, and feet. You can imagine in what an agony of mind I prayed for Jesus to heal her. It would be such a hindrance to His work. Suddenly He told me it was a possession of the Devil. In a moment, forced from me by an uncontrollable power, were the words in English, ‘In the name of Jesus I command thee to leave her.’ I never heard such a command. Shortly she became conscious. She said she had seen a blaze of light, and knew no more. The fiendish laugh of another case of possession - our own Indian boy- I shall never forget."*
[* So after the Reformation came the Camisards, or ‘French prophets,’ and the Shakers and (as the name equally implied) Quakers; after Methodisim, Joanna Southcote; after Brethrenism, Irvingite ‘prophets,’ and Mormons (who also had ‘tongues’), followed by the whole burst of Spiritualism; after the revivals of 1860, Theosophy; and after the revivals in the dawning century, Pentecostalism. In some of these there have been devout Christians, but the supernatural in all of them has been demonstrably evil.]
Revival’s fundamental dealings with the heart are very wonderful. A member of the staff of a Welsh Theological College wrote thus:- "After a few prayer-meetings there came a sense and confession of defects and sins which made you feel, with a sudden cheek and awe, that you were looking at the very sources of all that is earnest. Men became like children, in simplicity, in appeals for help, in a divine sincerity, and in prayers, like the publican’s, in which they, as it were, beat their breasts, and sought, and sought, and sought with confidence, and with shame, and with a perception of Christ which was like the sight of an illuminating radiance, and the taste of a surpassing sweetness." Of the Indian Revival an eye-witness says:- "I have noticed three stages in this revival. First the spirit of repentance, and along with it agonizing prayer; then the Lord opens their mouths, and they confess their sins; then the Spirit of power comes upon them, when there is joy unspeakable." In the Chinese Revival the medical students at one hospital spent the whole night in prayer, and next morning the Spirit acted in great power: for a whole week the students scarcely ate or slept for joy.
because they are the visits of God, can therefore only be occasional. Exactly on the principle that God cannot
constantly appeal to the consciences of the unsaved, or the over-struck nerve
dies, so revivals, if continually repeated, would cease to revive. Moreover, only God can time His visits, for He alone knows what sections of His Church
at any given moment He intends to revive, and exactly in what spot are
multitudes of His elect not yet born again. Therefore prayer alone can never produce
revival, while yet revival never comes into being without prayer. The specific prayer which, emanating from God,
produces revival, appeared vividly in the movement of 1859-60 in
This was the beginning of the
permanence of the fruits can be seen in the Welsh Revival. At the close of the first twelve months, the
Welsh Churches reported that 93 per cent. of the
converts were standing. In 1911, or some
five years later, Mr. J. Cradoc Owen wrote:- "During the two years immediately following the Welsh
Revival, it will be remembered that the increase in church membership of the
four chief denominations was 87,762. Subtract
the total decrease during the past four years, 27,086, and there still remains
an increase of 60,696. The average
increase of the four denominations previous to the Revival was about 3,000 per
annum. In six years the total normal
increase would be 18,000. Subtract that
number from the net increase referred to - 60,696 - and you have an increase of
42,696 as the direct and glorious result of the Welsh Revival. When these facts are remembered, we cannot own
‘that for whatever reason, the converts in