Friday, 5 February 2010

Revival – some questions

I would like to ask some basic questions about revival that affect us in the Scottish Highlands in particular?

First, can revival come to a Christian community that is divided (as the church in the Highlands is)? Obviously, division is not desirable, but does its existence automatically prevent revival coming? The answer from church history is that it does not. For example, the Erskine brothers, who had separated from the Church of Scotland, disagreed strongly with George Whitefield’s practice of preaching in evangelical Church of Scotland congregations and spoke harsh words against him. The disagreement resulted in an open breach. Yet both Whitefield and the Erskines continued to enjoy periods of revival through their preaching.

This is not to say that divisions will not produce aspects that mar the beauty of a revival, such as believers not praying together for converts or rejoicing together over converts. Nor does it means that God-sent revival will not result in unity being restored eventually. In fact, to maintain a wrong spirit in times of revival is a dangerous response from a Christian. Nevertheless although we live in a divided Christian community, we should not be discouraged from praying for revival.

Second, can revival come to a community that is diminished in population (as many parts of the Scottish Highlands are)? Sometimes the impression can be given that revival only occurs in places where there is a large number of people. When we picture in our minds a congregation experiencing revival, what do we imagine? We think of the vast crowds that listened to Whitefield and Wesley or that used to gather at communion seasons in the Highlands during the years of revival. What we forget is that often these crowds were swollen by large numbers who often travelled long distances. The reality is that the presence of revival in a small community can only be gauged by the effects in that area. And if every person in that area was converted, it would still not be a large number. So revival does not need large numbers to be called a revival; it all depends on whether a sizable percentage in a community is converted.

Third, what would be the point in God giving a revival to small congregations in communities with a declining population? There are many possible answers to this question. Here are three:

A first answer concerns the glory of God: revival in a small congregation shows that progress is not by human might or power, but by the Spirit; Jesus is to be honoured in small communities as well as larger ones.

A second answer concerns the present state of the church: revival can raise up in a small community a group of Christians that would be mighty in prayer, not just for its immediate community, but for the entire nation, and for the spread of the gospel throughout the world.

A third answer concerns the future: revival in a small congregation should ensure that there will be a Christian church for the foreseeable future in that community; it should also maintain the existence of Christian families from who may come individuals who will be used by the Saviour decades from now, long after we are no longer here.

Fourth, what methods will bring revival to us? There are several spiritual blessings that may be known without revival being experienced. These include dedicated Christian living (many believers have lived devoted Christian lives without seeing revival), harmonious church experiences (sense of God’s presence in the public meetings of his people), biblical preaching in content and manner, hearty witnessing to one’s faith etc. The reality is that revival comes primarily through earnest, insistent, reverent, communal prayer to God that King Jesus would send the Holy Spirit in gracious power.

Encouragements for prayer for revival are many: the purpose of God (often he uses revival to achieve conversions), the promises of God (there are many promises concerning revival in the Bible), and records of previous revivals (I can understand why many Christians do not like to read heavy theological literature or books of sermons or ponderous biographies, but I cannot understand a Christian who would not enjoy reading accounts of the great days of spiritual blessing of the past; reading them expands our estimation of what God can do in our communities today).

I have been reading about a three-year revival in GlenLyon in Perthshire that happened in the second decade of the nineteenth century. Glen Lyon was hardly the centre of national life at that time, yet its experience of revival had both widespread and long-term effects. They were widespread in that many of those blessed during the revival moved elsewhere, including abroad, and took its influence with them; also other parishes in the country were encouraged to pray for revival and, for all I know, that revival may have been a catalyst for the country-wide spiritual movement that preceded the Disruption. The effects were long-term because I noticed that several biographies of nineteenth-century ministers that I have read recently (selected without me knowing the connection) ministered to a spiritually healthy congregation in that out-of-the-way community.

Of course, this leads to one more question: when did the effects of that revival die out, or perhaps they are still being felt somewhere in the world?

1 comment:


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God bless you