1859: An Outpouring of the Spirit of God Then and Today

In 1859, an evident movement of the Spirit of God brought an awakening to the area of Fordington in England, and other areas as well. This was during the powerful ministry of C. H. Spurgeon in London. Handley Moule said of the event:

Surely it was divine. No artificial means of excitement were even dreamed of; no powerful personality, no D. L. Moody came to us. A city missionary and a London Bible woman were the only helpers from a distance. Up and down the village the pastor and the faithful helpers, as they went around, they found those who were anxious about their souls. And the church was filled to overflowing, as was the large school room, night after night throughout the week.

The very simplest means carried with them a heavenly power. The plain reading of a chapter of Scripture often conveyed the call of God to men and women, and they ‘came to Jesus as they were’. I do not think I exaggerate when I say that hundreds of people at that time were awakened, were in awe, and were made conscious of eternal realities. And a goodly number of these showed in their life afterward that they were indeed new creatures.

– Handley Moule

The encouraging reality about the promise and hope of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit is this– it is not dependent on Christians preparing enough, praying enough, becoming serious enough, or ‘paying the price’ to see it happen. Indeed, all believers are to be seeking God, praying and walking in obedience. But revival occurring is not based upon ‘preparationism’– “if we can do things well enough, repent enough, increase our obedience enough, and pray enough, then God will answer.”

This is simply wrong; it is not only wrong, but such a view, if believed consistently, will result in either spiritual pride (thinking we have earned God’s blessing somehow by our obedience), frustration, or bondage and defeat. There have been many sincere preachers, as well as Christians in general, who burned out on the message of revival because they sincerely tried to do all they were told to do over a period of time, only to see no results in terms of a revival coming. This genders unbelief, or at best, an abandoning of any hope that revival can happen.

The clear truth in history is this– at set times and according to His sovereign and gracious purposes, God suddenly arises in power and pours out the power of the Holy Spirit in places where He chooses. The church cannot earn it, deserve it, and neither can the church ever prepare enough for it to happen.

“And the Lord, whom you seek, shall SUDDENLY come to his temple” – Mal. 3:1

“SUDDENLY there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind”- Acts 2:2

The basic fact which must govern all views of revival, is that God really is absolutely sovereign in His ways regarding when and how He pours our His Spirit. The preparation and obedience of the church are the result and fruit of the drawings of the Spirit, not the cause of the coming of the Spirit.

But immediately someone will say: “Well, if God really is sovereign in the matter of revival, then you are saying we ought to just lay back and do nothing”, to which I reply, “I have said nothing of the kind nor do I believe that.” Here is where we become faulty in our thinking. Even if some say they believe God is sovereign, they still believe somehow revival lies within our responsibility by our sanctified efforts. This is a wrong position that has poisoned our understanding of the historic view of revival. Revival is not the church’s responsibility, but rather is God’s responsibility. Our responsibility is to live the Christian life, preach the gospel, and walk in obedience to Christ fully. God can then send a revival anywhere He chooses.

The truth is, every true Christian is seeking to obey the Lord, desires and prays for revival, and wants to walk with God. All believers are to do all those things all the time with a sincere and obedient heart. But an increase of these areas of sanctification, which are the normal Christian life, will not at all necessarily cause a revival to come. What A. W. Tozer said years ago is certainly true: “There is so much prayer for revival among believers widely in America, that if it depended on the quantity of prayer, we would see revival break out widely this next Sunday; there is no shortage of concern or even prayer for revival.”

Two godly and powerful preachers, who were traveling together for one month several years ago in a ministry preaching tour, were discussing the need for revival. One said to the other, “If believers became more serious, more prayerful, would truly repent of all known sin, and would concentrate in prayer completely, then we would see God move in revival power”, to which his friend said, “All right; if that is true, then why don’t we go rent a motel room, and not leave there until revival has come? We will cancel everything for weeks, stay here and pray until we see it happen.” His friend thought a moment and then said, “Well, the real issue is, we must consider what the will of God is in such a decision.” They decided they were not supposed to take that action.

Exactly. It is not God’s will always to be sending a revival everywhere or at all times. It may come where God suddenly chooses to move or it may come where a people have been earnestly seeking God to pour out His Spirit. If it really does come down to the church’s increased obedience, brokenness, and increased praying, then everyone who believes that ought to stop everything they are doing literally, ministry wise, and do nothing but pray for 10 hours a day or longer until revival comes because they have to believe, if they are consistent with their views, that revival depends on them.

Every Christian is to be walking with Jesus Christ daily in such a way that everyone around them knows they are real. But the hope for revival is not in our preparation, nor our readiness, nor our godliness, our obedience, nor anything else. All of these things believers are to be walking in because that is the real Christian life. The real hope about revival coming is the wonderful fact and sovereign promise of God that anywhere, anytime, Christ can suddenly pour out His presence in reviving grace and when He does, revival happens. It often and usually comes suddenly, unexpectedly, and everyone is surprised.

So what are we to do? Love Christ, seek Christ, preach a doctrinally pure and Spirit-anointed gospel regularly, diligently walk with Him, believe His promises, be faithful in church attendance, and walk in obedience. That is not the revived life–that is the normal Christian life. And then we especially and always ought to be asking God to send the promise of the Father–the outpouring of His Spirit, as Luke 11:13 encourages us.

– Mack Tomlinson

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