We finished our previous thoughts on this subject with the question, “What are the reasons for the wariness with which godly men and women listen to messages on this theme of revival? I suppose there are numbers of answers:
1. Revivals are illusive. For the church member sitting in the pew, revivals never seem to be here and now. The men talking even authoritatively about them have never experienced them. They have read about them in books, and these revivals always appear to be events that happened a hundred years ago or that will occur some time in the future; or, if they are occurring now, they are 10,000 miles away from where the church member lives. So the Christian gets restless at sermons on revival, believing that it is better to confront the reality of today rather than be overwhelmed with nostalgia for the past or with longing for a future he may never see. I feel there is some kind of betrayal of living New Testament Christianity in the revival illusion. We wouldn’t accept the work of the Holy Spirit, true prayer or gospel preaching to be20illusive, or in other words, to be occurring in the past or future, or to be found on another continent, and not existing here and now. There is the real danger of living vicarious Christian lives through what we imagine revival to have been, and we dare not do that.
ii] Revival sermons, instead of being inspiring, can be depressing. They begin with long descriptions of how horrible the times are in which we live, with bleak statistics underlining a nation’s bankruptcy, moral decline and ecclesiastical collapse. We hearers then never recover from this long encounter with today’s darkness. We do not enjoy our noses being rubbed in the follies of a fallen world because we see that each day. Maybe at the end of the sermon our feelings are back to where they were before the sermon began, but often they are not. The theme, “things are terrible and we need a revival,” is not the most reviving experience. It can bury us.
< i>iii] Gospel messages are better than revival messages. What we long for week by week is the gospel being preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. We want Jesus Christ to be exalted and sin to be exposed as exceeding sinful. Nothing can satisfy our souls except this, and series of messages on revival or the second blessing or the baptism of the Spirit actually detract from that; we have found this to be true. It is not the work of Jesus to give glory to the Spirit. It is the work of the Spirit to glorify Christ, and so that must be our work. That is why the announcement of such a sermon as this on “The Holy Spirit and Revival” may raise questions, but we are glad when the theme of the sermon brings Jesus to us in the power of the Sovereign Spirit, and our hearts again burn within us as we hear of him whom our souls love.
iv] True revivals make us afraid, though we may be reluctant to admit it, and so we would rather not be confronted with them. We 21st century disciples of the Lord Jesus are comfy in our routines; we think the godliness we have attained in life is our limit. Do20we really want a confrontation with God the Holy Spirit which by the Word breaks our pride and increases tenfold our zeal for serving Jesus Christ? Do we want the next months of our lives to be filled, night after night, in counseling guilty, troubled sinners, pointing them to the Saviour, helping them gain assurance of salvation and seeking for them when they start to fall away? It would be a very demanding time; there would be many meetings each week which would have to be stewarded; we would often be out of our depth in personal encounters; it would take us away from pleasant evenings at the fireside with our families. We want church growth, but not something that makes demands on our souls, our lives and our all. Are we anxious to feel our helplessness, that we are sinners in the hands of an angry God? Are we truly committed to knowing today a mighty work of God in our home town? Do we want the rushing mighty wind? There will be a cost in time, and energy, and a bruising of our personalities.
Then why do we ever speak of the Holy Spirit and revival? Because this is a biblical theme which can be very encouraging. True God-fearing congregations are shrinking and increasingly marginalized in our own society.
– to be continued
– Geoff Thomas