He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour. – Titus 3:5&6
Here is a picture not of a few drops of rain, but of a downpour drenching the land. Paul is describing his experience of the work of God in his generation. He is a Jew and he is writing to a man from Greece, Titus, who is evangelizing and pastoring on the island of Crete; Paul is saying that the experience of all of them was that God in Damascus, Greece and Crete, had been pouring out generously the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Many people had been converted; cities and nations had been changed; churches had been planted everywhere ; Christians had e xperienced firm assurance of their interest in the Saviour’s blood and the fear of God had fallen on communities. This is what I understand as a revival.
The history of the church has been characterized by some very great personalities and memorable spiritual breakthroughs that have changed the history of nations. Think of Patrick and his ministry in Ireland in the fifth century, and David with his ministry in sixth century Wales. Patrick broke the power of heathenism in Ireland, and David did the same in Wales. In 8th century England, Bede and his followers preached and he translated the Gospel of John into Anglo-Saxon. In the 14th century John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English and his followers, the Lollards, preached across the land. Many of them were imprisoned and some were burnt at the stake with their Bibles tied around their necks. Savonarola preached in the 15th century Italy and many people turned to God.
The greatest outpouring o f the Holy Spirit since the time of the apostles was the 16th century Reformation. The next century was the Puritan period with Bible translation and John Bunyan and many anonymous preachers taking the gospel to the ordinary people of North America and Great Britain. The following century was the period we call the ‘Great Awakening’ in Wales, Scotland, England and America under Howell Harris, John & Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. The 19th century saw the birth of the modern missionary movement and the gospel spreading across the South Seas and into India. The 20th century then witnessed an awakening in South Korea in which many turned to Christ, but there has been no similar revival in China, although millions there have come to a knowledge of the living God.
I wonder whether Jonathan Edwards was right when he claimed that the work of the gospel has been most advanced by revivals? Consider America today; it is the strongest Christian nation in the world with vast numbers of gospel congregations, growing seminaries, Christian colleges, a network of Christian schools, publishing houses, radio networks and thousands of missionaries going i nto the world. Liberal modernistic Christianity has consequently declined in the USA, and all this in the 20th century has been achieved without a revival. There has simply been regular harvests rather than those years of drought which Europe has known after which we’ve been left longing for an enormous harvest.
We have lived through a century of decline here in Wales in which we have seen in Sandfields, Port Talbot, under the ministry of Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the 1920s and 1930s, a conspicuous work of God in one church. We have, though, also seen a network of gospel churches planted across the Principality. We can do much without a great awakening, and yet if we are to make any impact on our community for Jesus Christ, there has to be a mighty work of God.
Why is it that the hearts of many Christians sink when they hear that the sermon or even a sermon series is going to be on the subject of revival? Why is a message on revival such a tur n-off for people who actually believe in great awakenings and who long for a new work of t he Holy Spirit in our land? Why are we merely interested in Lloyd-Jones’s studies on the baptism of the Spirit, when we’ve often been revived by his preaching on the great themes of the gospel? The truth is that those latter sermons have indeed raised us up and re-motivated us in a way that no sermons on revival ever did.
What are the reasons for the wariness with which godly men and women listen to messages on this theme? I suppose there are numbers of answers and we will begin to gives those next time. – to be continued
– Geoff Thomas