Revival is a return to God, and a return to God is a return to his Word. Throughout the whole span of the history of revivals this can be seen repeated in the remarkable turning of men to the Holy Scriptures. That which they had lauded as authority they discarded in favor of the Bible. Revival in every epoch has retold the story of the use of Holy Writ in restoring vitality to the Church.

Probably the greatest attestation to this in the Protestant era is found in the initial movement that made the western world Protestant. It was because the leaders of his period—Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and others—focused attention upon the Bible that revival was realized. The beginnings of the Reformation were the fruits of their efforts and the result of their pleas for a pure faith springing from the dictates of God’s Word. They recognized that the Church had previously been encumbered with volumes of literature which only obstructed the clear meaning of the Book of Books. Hence they deemed it reasonable that Scripture should take first place in the thinking and reading of the people. It was when this was emphasized that the peoples of Europe felt a strange but real power of moral uplift surging throughout the continent. This was the whole aim of the Reformers and the primary drive that motivated their zeal and teaching.

Source Of Renewed Life

What they advocated they practiced themselves. They were students of the Scriptures. The whole of Europe followed their example when the Bible was placed in the vernacular of the people. Men and women of all classes gladly became students of the Word of God with them. As the Bible was deeply, sincerely and prayerfully pondered, it quietly and unerringly did its divine work in cottage and mansion. In every country multitudes were awakened out of their sleep of spiritual death, convicted and converted to God. Converts were characterized as a saintly group, possessed by a supernatural power, for through them eternity was sensed, heaven’s atmosphere felt, and the unmistakable awe of God’s majesty realized. They lived listening to the Word of God and doing its precepts. This was indeed revival, the true portrait of vital spiritual quickening that is Christ-centered.

Motivated Wesleys, Edwards

A similar pattern was in evidence in the outpouring of God’s Spirit through the Wesleys during the eighteenth century. The whole basis of early Methodism was the Scriptures. John Wesley said in 1738 that he and his colleagues “resolved to be Bible-Christians at all events; and, wherever they went, to preach with all their might plain, old Bible Christianity” (Jackson’s Works of Wesley, Vol. VIII, p. 349). Whatever effect the revival had was the result of the soul-passion of this man. He cried, “I have thought I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: Just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing—the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way; For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri. Here then I am, far from the busy ways of men, I sit down alone: Only God is here. In his presence I open, I read his book; for this end, to find the way to heaven. Is there a doubt concerning the meaning of the thing I read? Does anything appear dark or intricate? I lift up my heart to the Father of Lights: ‘Lord, is it not thy word, If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God? Thou givest liberally, and upbraidest not. Thou hast said, if any be willing to do thy will, he shall know. I am willing to do, let me know thy will.’ I then search after and consider parallel passages of Scripture, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. I meditate thereon with all the attention and earnestness of which my mind is capable. If any doubt still remains, I consult those who are experienced in the things of God; and then the writings whereby, being dead, they yet speak. And what I thus learn, that I teach” (ibid., Vol. V, pp. 3–4).

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Proclaiming The Word

Nothing less was the heart-concern of every man whom the Lord chose as his instrument for bringing about revival. In each instance it was the proclaiming of Holy Writ that brought about a God-consciousness and a sense of eternal verities in the midst of society. Jonathan Edwards, the mouthpiece of the Great Awakening, scrupulously applied himself to the same task of being a student of the Bible and then proclaiming what he had imbibed. One of his resolutions (which he read over once a week) states, “Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same” (Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. I, p. 4). An extract from his diary confirms this desire; he says on Tuesday, August 13, 1723, some years before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in abundance, “I find it would be very much to my advantage to be thoroughly acquainted with the Scriptures. When I am reading doctrinal books, or books of controversy, I can proceed with abundantly more confidence; can see upon what foundation I stand” (ibid., p. 11). He relied upon Holy Writ because he believed it recorded God’s thinking and spoke his message to men’s hearts. “In the Bible,” he wrote, “we not only have those warnings which are given by inspiration of the prophets, but we have God’s own words, which he spake as it were by his own mouth. In the Old Testament is his voice out of the midst of the fire and the darkness, from mount Sinai; and in the New Testament, we have God speaking to us, as dwelling among us. He came down from heaven, and instructed us in a familiar manner for a long while; and we have his instructions recorded in our Bibles” (ibid., Vol. VI, p. 333).

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This was the fountain that brought new life to early American Christianity. Here is the spring of that power that revivified the dying church and cleansed it of the corruption that polluted its entire ministry. A new day dawned in the history of the United States when the infant nation again grasped and accepted the truth of God’s Word. Under the biblical preaching of Edwards the country mended its ways, received stamina and grew to become a leader in international affairs. When the church was revived the nation lived a vital life.

Also On Mission Field

What wrought revival blessing in long established Christian countries also produced the same results in heathen lands. Young mission churches in pagan surroundings experienced the impact of God’s Spirit upon their work when they emphasized scriptural teaching and Bible reading. A spiritual refreshing of unusual proportions came their way when they placed the Word of God centrally in their lives as the primary avenue through which God was permitted to speak to them his message. After many years of fruitless labor, revival came to Ongole, India, because of this very fact. John E. Clough, principal instrument in that movement, later reported, “The missionaries and native preachers are doing, we have reason to believe, a good work. Thousands of village schools are taught by Christian men and women; hundreds of colporteurs, with Bible in hand, travel from village to village, and offer the word of God, and evangelical and other tracts, for a nominal price to all who will buy; while hundreds of other zealous men, as catechists or lay-preachers, go everywhere preaching Jesus” (From Darkness to Light, p. 280).

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Again the secret of success in bringing strength to a weak church, spirituality to carnal Christians, and the voice of God to deaf ears was in stressing the Bible as the Lord’s message. When constant systematic study of the Word was restored, Christians were so blessed that heaven met earth through them, heathendom was affected and thousands found salvation in the true and living God.

Modern Experience

The modern era bears testimony to the same truth. In the twentieth century there have been many notable revivals, and Holy Scripture has been shown to be the foundation of them all. One of the most extraordinary took place in Wales. Here Evan Roberts was the channel God used. He made the Bible his first concern. A contemporary biographer of his wrote in 1906, at the height of the movement, “His great book, both during the years before he became a church member and after, was the Bible. It has continued to this day to be his delight. This is proved by his extensive knowledge of the Old and New Testament by heart” (Phillips, D.M., Evan Roberts, p. 53). Whether at work or in leisure he was absorbed in the Word of God. “It will be interesting to see him at work in the smithy. Scarcely a minute passes by that he is not singing or repeating Bible verses and other good things” (ibid., p. 46). Upon leaving his place of employment he does not waste his time in gaiety, but in his home he “sits before the fire with the Bible in his hands, and reads on for hours. Losing himself completely in it, he is deaf to the chatter and clatter of the house” (ibid., p. 47). Small wonder when he became God’s man in Wales he was able to bring to that land God’s message, the sense of heaven’s presence and the touch of the Eternal. Later through his biblical preaching as a revivalist he bore in upon his hearers with telling conviction the Word of God, the “quick and powerful, and sharper than two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). As “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” the Lord used his message through his servant to speak to the people. In turn the Welsh population found God to be merciful, loving and ready to forgive.

Individual Confrontation

In every revival, individuals through personal studious and methodical contact with the Bible have seen themselves as they really are before God. Hence, each one after seeing Jehovah laments with Job, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” With intense meditation upon the Word, every revivalist has a similar experience with Isaiah. He “saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims; each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke” (Isa. 6:1–4). Upon such a sight he exclaims, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts” (Isa. 6:5).

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Such a revelation motivates the viewer to revival activity by first rectifying his own life and then appealing to his fellows to do likewise. This was the commission of Jesus Christ to Simon Peter; the apostle had just seen the power of God demonstrated by the Saviour, and in astonishment he “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). However, the Lord immediately responded with spiritual quickening when he “said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men” (Luke 5:10). Peter was thereby declared a revivalist. Divine energy was his when he humbled himself before the sinless One. It is the sight of the sovereign Lord in all of his matchless purity and glory as revealed in the Scriptures that stirs men and brings them to themselves in contrition. Only when sin is acknowledged and forsaken does revival begin. When this is accomplished in backsliding Christian lives, revival has begun. The impact will be felt among believers who under the dynamic of the Holy Spirit turn to God.

Spirit-Directed Drive

As this is an individual matter, revival must of necessity be an independent movement fostered by God. This peak experience of spiritual blessing comes to the Christian when he meets the Lord and in that meeting he is aware only of him. Stripped of all pretence and superficiality, a Christian is in the ultimate analysis alone before his God. Out on the vast expanse of eternity that has no horizon, lacking support of environment and circumstances, he is in a condition of forsakeness apart from the consciousness that the King of Eternity is near. An unbeliever may describe such an encounter with the Lord as something phenomenal, but for one regenerated by the Spirit of God and acquainted with the Lord, it is geunine. Christians assert they know the Lord of Glory from experience. He may not be seen or grasped by human hands, but nevertheless he is as real as hands and feet and closer than breathing.

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Being sensitive of such presence of God crushes one into the dust to nothingness. Knowing he is being quietly observed and read, and being certain he is under the scrutiny of God’s eye, the Christian has no other alternative but to admit his utter sinfulness and to allow the cleansing blood of Christ to make him clean and every whit whole. At that moment the Holy Spirit, who has directed this work, reoccupies the heart as sovereign and controls its every area. This is personal revival which issues in a community-wide experience. Is not this the essence of what the prophets and the apostles knew and realized in their own generation?

Broader Implication

Revival always has the broader implication, although it still possesses the traits of the personalistic contact of being subordinate only to the Lord. Whatever influence revival has, it is at the behest of God. This is noted in its corporate action in the Church. In this society of called-out ones, regenerated by the Spirit of Jehovah, the benediction of revival is shared by everyone. Each member does not realize this blessing to the same degree, but all have received some evidence of God’s grace. Each one has not the same capacity to receive spiritual power, but all know something of the outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord when he manifests himself to the Church. Under the sway of the Spirit’s brooding, the assembly unitedly rises to a new level of devotion to its Master and its members consecrate themselves severally and as one with greater purpose to propagate his truth as revealed in his Word.

Revival in its practical application brings the Christian and the Church to concert-pitch spiritually. Due to this it must be free and autonomous, for its actions are dictated by a consuming passion to obey God rather than men. No obstacle can hinder and no blockade can stop men under the direction of revival fervor. Reiteration of this is noted throughout history and can be seen in every revival. Always this has been the aspiration of the Church, even though it has been held captive at times by worldliness. It has constantly endeavored to seek God and his will through his Word, for to be in the center of his will is to be in the place of revival. This is ascertained only in God’s Word. Thus to repeat, revival is a return to God, and a return to God is a return to his Word.

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Ernest V. Liddle is a native of Northern Ireland, studied at Edinburgh University and the College of the Free Church of Scotland. He holds degrees from Asbury Theological Seminary and Northern Baptist Seminary; has been a preacher for the Methodist church in Ireland and the Free Church of Scotland, held Methodist pastorates in the U.S., became a Baptist in 1956 and is now on the staff of the Watchman Examiner, New York.

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