The higher the temperature of revival, the stronger must be the scriptural caldron in which the medicine is prepared.

What does the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture have to do with revival? In the contemporary evangelical scene, there are those who would see little relation between the two, either because of pietistic discomfort with interconnections between Word and Spirit, or because of rationalistic dissatisfaction with the very idea of an errorless revelation. If one has such negative feelings, a good antidote is provided by a close look at the great French revival of the nineteenth century.

That movement—still referred to simply as “Le Réveil” (The Revival) in francophone Europe—swept across Switzerland, France, and Belgium more than a century ago, revitalizing formalistic, dead churches wherever it touched them. Thousands of souls were saved, lives were transformed, and missionary outreach to French colonies and settlements all over the globe became a matter of first priority. Even today, local European churches where the revival centered are palpably different from those that stood aside from it: in Strasbourg, for example, St Pierre-le-Vieux, which had little to do with the revival, is without any real dynamic, while its companion in name, St Pierre-le-Jeune, a focus of the revival, displays vital, gospel-centered preaching.

The origin of the Réveil reads like the plot of a romantic novel. (Perhaps Romans 8:28 permits the generalization that all Christian history will one day be seen as just such a romance.)

The story begins in Scotland before the French Revolution. One David Bogue (1750–1825) attended Edinburgh University while still a teen-ager and received a license as a preacher of the gospel. He later developed a plan for foreign missions that led to the creation of the London Missionary Society—among whose missionaries were Robert Moffat and David Livingstone—and was a key figure in the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Religious Tract Society. His missionary zeal stemmed very directly from his high view of the Scriptures: in 1801, he published An Essay on the Divine Authority of the New Testament; its popularity was attested by rapid translations into French, German, Italian, and Spanish. In 1815, he received an honorary doctorate of divinity from Yale, whose president at the time was the scholarly revivalist and hymn writer, Timothy Dwight (“I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord”).

Bogue had a profound personal influence on the spiritual development of Robert Haldane (1764–1842), who, after a brief time as a student at Edinburgh University and in naval service against the French, came under Bogue’s tutelage. Haldane sold his family estate to provide funds for a plan to do missionary work in India, but the East India Company refused to sanction the scheme. (Interestingly enough—again the curtains of eternity are briefly pulled aside—a massacre of Europeans later occurred on the very spot where this missionary settlement would have been located.) Haldane then devoted his inheritance to building churches and seminaries in Scotland and in conducting personal evangelistic efforts on the Continent. His three most influential publications were The Evidences and Authority of Divine Revelation, The Authenticity and Inspiration of the Scriptures, and his Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans.

Haldane’s Romans commentary had appeared first in a shorter French version. The reason has been well set forth by Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his foreword to the 1958 reprint edition of the English version:

“In 1816 Robert Haldane, being about fifty years of age, went to Switzerland and to Geneva. There, to all outward appearances as if by accident, he came into contact with a number of students who were studying for the ministry. They were all blind to spiritual truth but felt much attracted to Haldane and to what he said. He arranged, therefore, that they should come regularly twice a week to the rooms where he was staying and there he took them through and expounded to them Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. One by one they were converted, and their conversion led to a true Revival of religion, not only in Switzerland, but also in France. They included such men as Merle D’Aubigné, the writer of the classic ‘History of the Reformation,’ Frédéric Monod who became the chief founder of the Free Churches in France, Bonifas who became a theologian of great ability, Louis Gaussen, the author of ‘Theopneustia,’ a book on the inspiration of the Scriptures, and César Malan. There were also others who were greatly used of God in the revival. It was at the request of such men that Robert Haldane decided to put into print what he had been telling them.”

Thus did the Book of Romans—in the hands of one who believed every word of it—produce another great series of conversions, this time commencing with rationalistic theological students. (One thinks of Wesley’s conversion on hearing Luther’s Preface to Romans read at Aldersgate, and Karl Barth’s shift from liberalism to at least a modified orthodoxy by way of his studies of Romans.)

French clergyman Reuben Saillens refers to the Réveil as “Haldane’s Revival” and gives as one of its “main characteristics” that “it maintained the absolute authority and Divine inspiration of the Bible.” Gaussen’s Theopneustia—displaying on every page the influence of Bogue and Haldane—remains a classic treatment and defense of the inerrancy of the Bible.

Some years ago, Scandinavian Bishop Bo Giertz, long irritated by those who set personal evangelism in opposition to great liturgy, showed their compatibility—indeed, interdependence—in his essay, Liturgy and Spiritual Awakening. The time has surely come to recognize an even greater interrelation between revival and the doctrine of biblical inerrancy. It is no accident that the great revivalists (Wesley, Whitefield, Finney, Moody, Graham, etc.) have been unqualified Bible believers. The higher the temperature of revival, the stronger must be the scriptural caldron in which the medicine of immortality is being prepared. This is the overarching lesson of the French Réveil.

JOHN WARWICK MONTGOMERYAn attorney-theologian, Dr. Montgomery is dean of the Simon Greenleaf School of Law, Costa Mesa, California, and director of studies at the International Institute of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France.

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