On Revival

Recently in Church, our senior minister commented on how two of the hymns sang had been penned by people who had lived during the period of the 1859 Revival. A quick scan through the hymn book showed that a huge number of of our traditional hymns originate from that period.

If a work of revival results in such a volume of verse being produced, then perhaps it is not too far a leap to suggest that the so called “problem” with modern worship music is that having not originated during a period of revival the words and music are not inspired of the Holy Spirit in the same way. There may be a degree of truth there but I first I feel that it’s necessary to look back to various times of revival so that we can properly define the term, before making such judgements.

What is Revival?

The Bible show records multiple accounts of revival although not necessarily using that word; the repentance of Nineveh and the day of Pentecost being two that spring immediately to mind.

“And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God” Jonah 3:4-5

How bad were these nations but God still worked with them? Well Jonah was so afraid and hated the people of Nineveh so much, that he ran from God’s instruction and the Jews on the day of pentecost were the city that just crucified Jesus. Both times a wicked and rebellious generation were miraculously turned to the things God.

Wikipedia defines Revival as “a term that generally refers to a specific period of increased spiritual interest or renewal in the life of a church congregation or many churches, either regionally or globally.” Church history paints events such as the 1859 Revival, the American Awakenings or the Welsh Revival as joyous and blessed times when the Lord worked in power and people were saved. Indeed that is what happened, and then some. It would be naive of us to assume that a such a massive working of God happened during the periods mentioned and then outside of that time period life returned to normal. No, instead revival is a continual working of the Holy Spirit throughout the course a generation. Reports of the 1859 revival in Ireland show how society was turned upside down by the people coming to God; it was those lives who were touched by the revivals of the 19th Century that went on to pen these great inspired hymns.

At this point, I should mention that Wikipedia should almost never be used as a source when trying to make a serious point, but if you bear with me it does actually fit very well into my train of thought. On the page regarding revival it says

“Coincidentally, the very month that Jeremiah Lanphier began his prayer meeting in New York, four young Irishmen began a weekly prayer meeting in the village of Connor near Ballymena.” 

Clearly the work of a historian rather than a believer, you may say, as the word “coincidentally” should in fact read “providentially.” But on a topic such as the 1859 Revival, in Ireland, primarily in the North , it’s very likely that the person adding it to Wikipedia would be a Christian and if so then therein lies our problem. We might be remembering back to the days of revival and praying that God would send another, but we the Christian church, don’t actually believe it will happen!

The Digital Revival

There’s finally been a great move in the last few years towards all kinds of digital media, online broadcasts and use of social networks. As times change, it’s important the the techniques we use to deliver the message of the gospel change with them. As the printing press revolutionised how Bibles and books are published and distributed so the internet has and is changing things yet again. We should always remember however that as the means of the delivery changes, the message should not; a pitfall that the contemporary church has fallen into; marketing Jesus as a brand to rival other lifestyle choices.

It goes without saying that care and accountability should always be exerted when using new technology, but on top of that we need to consider how it is actually used. A new church website is all well and good, especially if aims to draw in and inform sinners, but if it is designed to please members and existing christians who can stand back and say “wow, that’s a great website” then it really is missing the mark.

Their Foot Shall Slide

In his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" Jonathan Edwards quotes Deut 32:35 "Their foot shall slide in due time." He talks about a people who despite God's previous blessing "remained void of counsel, having no understanding in them"

For all we know revival could be underway right now, somewhere else. It could even be happening as a result of the message being sent out digitally. Just because it is not happening where we are does not mean that it is not a revival. Has our foot slipped? Is God no longer working us because we no longer have a true understanding of the Gospel. What we need to pray against is that our longing for the past would get in the way of the gospel message for the future, lest God’s blessing would move on to somewhere else. In the past it has been seen that revival has arrived as almost a direct response to corruptness, indifference or false teaching in established churches and has resulted in new churches and denominations forming.

For example just because God worked in Northern Ireland in the 1950s, it does not mean that he will automatically bless the work a few generations later. Unless we stay true to the Bible and continue to reach out to the unsaved around us with Biblical love and humility; not just preaching sola fide, sola gratia, solo Christo but also Semper Reformanda.

  • ”Faith alone by grace alone, through Christ alone” & “Always reforming”




Andrew Gribben @grib