Seven Reasons Why I Believe In Revival
By Ted S. Rendall
Edited from a message delivered at the "Heart-Cry for Revival" Conference near Asheville, North Carolina, May 23-27, 2000.
Sometimes I’m asked the question, "Why do you preach about revival, and teach about revival, and pray about revival, and write about revival, and talk about revival, and dream about revival?" I want to give you seven reasons why I believe in revival.
Revival Is Biblical
First and foremost, I believe in revival because it is biblical. The Bible clearly describes revival as a valid and legitimate experience for God’s people. Revival is not to be classified as something abnormal or subnormal. Revival is based solidly on biblical teaching. Once we’ve established that fact, we can see in the Bible pictures of revival, patterns of revival, promises of revival, prayers for revival, principles of revival, and even prophecies of revival.
Pictures of revival in the Scripture. Let’s look first of all at revivals in the Old Testament. There was a wonderful revival in the time of Samuel (1 Samuel 7:2-13). Samuel called for the people to repent before the Lord, and there followed a blessed time of returning to the Lord. In the time of Elijah the prophet, there was a remarkable revival (1 Kings 18). On that occasion the fire of the Lord came from heaven and burned up the sacrifice and the altar of sacrifice.
In the time of Asa the king, there was a wonderful time of returning to the Lord (2 Chronicles 14 and 15). Again, in the time of King Joash there was another time of revival (2 Chronicles 24). One of the most outstanding times of revival in the Old Testament was in the time of King Hezekiah, king of Judah. The account of that revival actually covers 2 Chronicles 29-32.
In the time of Josiah, the young king, there was a time of discovering the law of God and turning back to Scripture (2 Chronicles 34 and 35). Then when God’s people came back from Babylonian captivity there was a blessed time of renewal and revival in the time of Ezra. These are seven of the Old Testament revivals.
I want to give you a key to the study of these Old Testament revivals. Each revival has a leader, and each leader stresses a particular aspect of revival. For example, Samuel stressed repentance. Elijah the prophet stressed the repairing of the altar of God and the fire of God coming down from heaven consuming the sacrifice. Asa stressed seeking the Lord in humility and in brokenness. Joash stressed giving to the Lord. We could call it "project temple." He encouraged God’s people to give liberally.
Hezekiah is the king who stressed the cleansing of the temple. When we consider ourselves as the temple of God today, this particular passage (2 Chronicles 29) has a lot to say about cleansing the temple for God. Josiah led God’s people in reading and obeying God’s law. In the time of Ezra he stressed the confession of sin. As you study these Old Testament revivals, you can approach them from these different aspects.
There are also pictures of revival in the New Testament. In the time of John the Baptist there was a remarkable movement of God’s people returning to God in repentance. In John 4, there is an amazing movement of God through one woman, the woman we call "the woman of Samaria." She went back to her town and shared what Jesus had done for her, and that triggered a great awakening in the city of Samaria. Then on the day of Pentecost there was a wonderful revival that spread out from Jerusalem into Judea and Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth. A revival is like dropping a stone in a lake and seeing concentric circles of blessing going out to the ends of the earth.
Patterns of revival. Revivals that are described in the Scriptures have a pattern of what takes place during a revival. For example, the cleansing and the consecrating of the temple in the time of Hezekiah give us a pattern as to how we should go about cleansing the temple. Our hearts are God’s temple; the Church is God’s temple. We need to know how to undertake the cleansing of the Lord’s temple.
Promises of revival. Let me give you just one of the precious promises of revival: "For this is what the high and lofty One says, he who lives forever whose name is Holy; I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite" (Isaiah 57:15). There is only one qualification to being revived, and it’s right here--lowly and contrite in heart.
Prayers for revival. "Wilt Thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?" (Psalm 85:6). That tells you the whole reason for praying for revival. It’s not simply to see our churches blessed, our missionaries sent out, or a witness being taken to the ends of the earth. The reason for revival is that we might rejoice in God. He’s the goal of revival. He’s the one in whom we need to rejoice, not simply in the results of revival.
Principles of revival. Many of the passages in the Old Testament concerning revival in their original context were given to Israel. We must learn to identify the underlying principles of these promises given to God’s people, and then apply them to our own situation, to the Church today.
Prophecies of revival. In Acts 3:19 there is a promise and prophecy of revival. Peter is speaking to God’s people, and he says, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out...." When God deals with sin, what comes after that? "...That times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you--even Jesus."
Do you want a definition of revival? Here is one: revival is a time of refreshing from the Lord. The Greek word for refreshing carries the idea that after a really hot day, a cool breeze springs up and you feel refreshed by the cool breeze. That’s the word that Peter uses--"times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord." That’s revival! That’s what we ought to be praying for--times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.
Revival Is Historical
Second, I believe in revival because revival is historical. Notice the order here. It’s biblical. It’s historical. If it were only historical, then we would need not to believe in it, but because revival is biblical, we believe. That’s the basis of our faith that God is a God of revival. Just as there is in the Bible a doctrine concerning Jesus Christ, and a doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit, there’s a doctrine of revival. We need to base all that we have to say about revival on God’s Word. Then we can look at revival as being historical.
I’ll give you a list of great revivalists in Church history. Even before "The First Great Awakening," with which I will start, there were reform movements, revival movements in the Church. I think the Reformation was a revival movement. I think that some of the streams of the Anabaptist movement were revival movements.
But in the study of more recent revivals we usually start with what is called "The First Great Awakening." Some of the personalities who were involved in that first great awakening were people like George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley. John was the preacher, and his brother was the hymn writer. I’m told that Charles Wesley wrote ten thousand hymns, or spiritual poems. John and Charles Wesley ministered largely in Great Britain, while Whitefield preached on both sides of the Atlantic.
Jonathan Edwards and Theodore Frelinghuysen, the Dutch Calvinist, were greatly used in revival in the American colonies. Another wonderful revival leader was called Gilbert Tennent. All of these men ministered in what was known as the colonies in those days. That was the First Great Awakening. It set the pattern for revival after that time.
The second wave of revival came in 1792 and continued for a few years after that. We know it as "The Second Great Awakening." Among the personalities in North America, the president of Yale College, Timothy Dwight, was greatly used in revival at Yale. He preached a whole series of chapel messages. God moved in and scores of students got converted on campus.
In my home country of Scotland, there were two brothers from a very wealthy family, James and Robert Haldane, who were used in revival. In Norway there was a man called Hans Nielsen Hauge, who was used mightily in revival in his home country. In Germany there were great preachers like the Krummacher brothers and Neander and Tholuck. These are some of the men who carried the banner of revival in the German Pietist movement.
In 1840 came the third wave of revival in the United States. There was Charles Finney and another man whose name is not known as well as Finney’s name, Asahel Nettleton. In Scotland there was a saintly man of God, minister of the Church of Scotland, named W. C. Burns. Another man whose name is still fragrant in Scotland is Robert Murray McCheyne. He died at just thirty years of age from typhus fever, but he made an impact on the city Dundee, and in all of Scotland.
In 1857, and for the next few years into the 1860’s, there was a remarkable prayer movement issuing in revival and evangelism. In 1857 a layman in New York City, named Jeremiah Lanphier, had a burden for revival. He went to the board of his church and he said, "I would like to start a noonday prayer meeting." He put up a notice that on a certain day there would be a noonday prayer meeting. Anybody was welcome to come. It was in an upstairs room. He went at twelve o’clock to lead the prayer meeting. At twelve o’clock there was nobody there. About twenty minutes after twelve he heard footsteps on the stairs. A few people came in and they had a little prayer meeting. The next weeks there were more attending.
When the room filled up, Lanphier had to go to the church board and say, "There are so many people coming that I need the sanctuary." The church sanctuary filled up. Then other churches in the city of New York began noonday prayer meetings. Up and down the Eastern seaboard there were literally scores of noonday prayer meetings started, where lay people, business people, came together and prayed for revival. Soon the fire of revival was spreading across the country. In every daily paper on page one there was a list of the prayer meetings in the various cities.
That revival swept across the United States and into Canada. Dr. J. Edwin Orr claims that over one million converts were added to the church in several years! Times of revival are times of harvesting! We cannot stop at normative methods, such as our church services, our Sunday school work, our young people’s meetings, our camps in the summer, etc. If we settle for normal methods, we’ll get normal results. If we believe God for revival, we’ll receive a great ingathering, a great harvesting of people. That’s why we need to be committed to praying for revival. Ask God to send revival in His own way. It might come again as a prayer movement because there’s no great name attached to the 1857 revival. It was a layman’s movement of prayer meetings.
I want to challenge you to start prayer meetings with the support of your pastor. Don’t do it behind his back, but get his approval. If you don’t have a prayer meeting for revival, get a prayer meeting started that’s specifically praying for the revival of God’s people. Let’s believe God that the fire will spread across the United States.
I’m from Scotland. The 1857 revival fire jumped across the Atlantic and went to Northern Ireland, to England, to Wales, and it came to Scotland. In a matter of two or three years, there were 300,000 people added to the churches in Scotland, at a time when there were only three million people in the whole of Scotland. One-tenth of the entire population got right with God because of that revival. There’s no great name attached to that awakening in Scotland. It was lay people getting their hearts right with God. Open-air meetings became immensely popular.
As a boy growing up in Scotland, I touched the fringe of that revival, for some of its features lasted right on into the forties of the 20th century. There were open-air meetings in various parts of Edinburgh. They have all but died out now, but those open-air meetings owe their origin to that awakening in 1858-59 in Scotland. We’re not talking about something that’s purely local; we’re talking about something that spread across the whole country. When the fire begins to burn in our hearts, it can burn across our nation. In 1857 it started with prayer for revival.
Let’s go on to another period of awakening with some names you’ll probably know. It started about 1882 and we can call this the period of evangelists. Dwight L. Moody is one of the best known names of this period. Dr. Wilbur Chapman and a southern evangelist named Sam Jones, who was the counterpart to Moody in the northern states, were other men whom God used greatly in evangelism during this period.
I mentioned my being from Scotland. D. L. Moody came to Scotland and had campaigns. He came to my home city of Edinburgh, and he was told about a group of Christians who were very faithful in having evangelistic meetings and open-air meetings. One night he went to see how they were operating. There they were out on the street preaching Christ, and then they went back to a little hall.
D. L. Moody said, "They ought to have a much better center for their ministry." In one day he went around to wealthy Scottish business men and raised all the money to build a large auditorium in the very center of Edinburgh called Cattubber’s Close Mission. That’s where I got converted and that’s where I was discipled. It all goes back to D.L. Moody having an influence in Edinburgh, Scotland, through his ministry when he raised money and built that large building, an auditorium seating about 1200 people with various smaller halls. This was due to D. L. Moody having a vision and a burden and a passion for evangelism in the city of Edinburgh. Then I went to Glasgow Bible Training Institute. That was also influenced by D. L. Moody. So I’m a product of Trans-Atlantic evangelism, of D. L. Moody coming to minister in Britain.
In 1946 the first Youth for Christ team came to Britain. The president of Youth for Christ was Torrey Johnson. His assistant was Billy Graham. The song leader was a man called Stratton Shufelt. On March 31, 1946, as a young boy, I heard these men in Cattubber’s Close Mission. I opened my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ, and Stratton Shufelt led me to the Lord.
Years passed by and Mr. Shufelt never had any touch with me. He came to the city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for a crusade as the soloist. I invited him to come and sing in the chapel at Prairie Bible College in Three Hills, Alberta, Canada. He didn’t know who I was and when I met him I asked, "Do you remember leading a little boy to the Lord in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1946?" I described my "typical British school uniform."
"No," he said, "I don’t remember that."
I said, "Well, I’m that little boy whom you led to the Lord in 1946, and God has kept me. God’s hand has been upon me. Here I am serving at Prairie Bible College." He put his arms around me, and the tears flowed down his cheeks as he thought about God’s keeping power. You never know when you lead a boy or a girl to the Lord how it is going to end.
In 1904 in the nation of Wales, there was a marvelous awakening in revival. The best known personality during this period was a young man called Evan Roberts. God often uses young men in revival. As someone who’s approaching seventy, I think I know why God often sets us aside and uses young men in revival. We’re so accustomed to our own methods and our own techniques. Someone calls them "ruts" that we’re in--"rutualism." It’s not ritualism with us; it’s rutualism. God sets the older ones aside and puts His hand on a young man like George Whitefield, who was twenty-one years of age when God began using him in revival. Evan Roberts was twenty-six years.
If you ever visit Edinburgh and you ask, "Where should I go for church on Sunday?" you’ll probably be referred to Charlotte Chapel. That’s the church where Alan Redpath and Sidlow Baxter and Graham Scroggie and Joseph Kemp were pastors. In 1905 Joseph Kemp was pastor of Charlotte Chapel, but things were in sad shape spiritually. It didn’t seem that the church was going to survive. He went by train down to Wales, experienced the Welsh revival, came back, preached the message of revival, and God met His people. The chapel has been the leading evangelical church in Edinburgh ever since. All due to what? A pastor meeting God in revival and bringing the flame of revival back to the church in Edinburgh.
Revivals in non-English speaking countries have not been written up the way that revivals in Britain, Canada and the United States have been. We don’t have many resources to talk about revivals in India or South America.
Between World Wars I and II, there were a number of remarkable revival movements. For example, in England in the area called East Anglia, there was a revival that impacted a young Scotsman named Jock Troup. He returned to Scotland and God mightily used him among the fisher folk in the northeastern part of Scotland. I was privileged to know Jock when he was an older man, and he still had the flame of revival burning in his heart in the late 40’s.
On another island there was a remarkable man called W. P. Nicholson who ministered in the same period. Nicholson was not a highly educated man but he was mightily used by God. He had an amazing ability to relate to laborers. He led a campaign that touched the lives of shipbuilders in Belfast. These men so met God in revival that they began returning things they had stolen over the years from the owners of the great shipyard, Harland and Wolff. The company put up a shed and all of the stolen equipment was put in the shed. When the shed filled up the company had to say, "Men, don’t bring any more equipment back because we don’t have room for it."
That’s what we call restitution. When we have taken that which is not ours, and have cheated on our employer, when we meet God in true repentance, there will be restitution. Often you can measure the intensity of revival by the intensity of restitution. Unsaved people begin asking questions when that happens. They say, "What’s the explanation of this? Why is this happening? Why are people paying their debts and returning these stolen things?"
Then comes the explanation, "It’s because we’re meeting God." That’s how revival spills out into a community and a community becomes awakened for God. This happens when God’s people meet God at the depth of confession and restitution and reconciliation between brothers and sisters who are not on talking terms.
There was a remarkable revival in Africa in the 1930’s that took place especially among the Church of England congregations. Roy Hession and others from England were influenced by this particular form of revival. As a result, Roy and Revel, his wife, wrote a very heart-searching book, The Calvary Road.
Finally, there have been some revival movements since World War II. You may have heard of the Hebrides Revival called after the Hebrides Islands off the west coast of Scotland where it took place. It didn’t influence much of Scotland otherwise, but people met God in the Hebrides Islands.
Since the end of World War II there have been various campus revivals both in Canada and in the United States. Wheaton College, in Wheaton, Illinois, has had a series of wonderful awakenings. We have had several at Prairie Bible College. Let me describe very briefly what took place on Prairie campus.
In the fall of 1977 we began prayer meetings for revival. Students and staff and community friends would come on a Friday night at 9 o’clock to pray for revival. Sometimes we would have 200 people in the room, most of them on their knees. We would pray until 12:00 for revival on campus. In January of 1978 I began a series of messages on revival under the theme, "Lord, Do It Again!" I preached a whole series of messages until March.
In chapel one morning one of the faculty members was sharing how she had met God afresh in her own experience. When she finished sharing I said to the students gathered together for chapel, about 800 of them, "If anybody wants to share what God is doing for you, then come up to the microphones." Just like popcorn there were students standing all over the auditorium. These students shared, one after the other. It was approaching eleven o’clock by now and the next class started at eleven. I had to make a decision. Would I let them go to class or carry on in the chapel? We carried on in the chapel. It came to twelve o’clock. The dinner was ready in the dining room. I had to make another decision--shall we carry on or let them go to the dining room? I made the decision to stay. We went right through till five o’clock. We had a few breaks, but we didn’t have a meal break until supper.
We started again after supper and went until midnight. We cancelled classes Thursday and Friday. All those days were filled with students and staff and community people sharing what God was doing in their hearts. There were times of praise and singing. We went through from Wednesday morning until Sunday night at midnight. God was meeting students.
I have a very dear friend who at that time was Dean of the Bible school men. He said, "Ted, more has been accomplished in these five days in the hearts of our students with regard to basic issues in their walk with God, than from September through March."
That’s God’s work! That’s the harvest that I’m talking about --when the whole process is accelerated and we reap a harvest suddenly when God moves as He did on our campus. Pray! Pray for our schools as they start again in August or September, that God will give revival.
Then there was a revival in 1971 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, that spawned the Canadian Revival Fellowship. There have been local church revivals. Could I fail to list the phenomenal growth of the Church in China? Some people put the numbers as high as 50 million Christians in China. During the years since the missionaries had to leave when the communists took over, God has revived His Church. Now there is a tremendous number of believers in China and that work is still going on.
Revival Is Deeply Spiritual
My third reason for believing in revival is that true revival is something deeply spiritual. Let me explain my use of that word.
There are some people who believe that revival is purely an emotional experience, and we know settings where the emotions of people are appealed to primarily. That is always dangerous. On the other hand there are those people who believe that revival is an intellectual adventure: study the Bible; study Church history; believe in the reality of revival and that’s enough. It’s an intellectual thing, they believe. Then there are those who imagine revival is a social experience, people bonding themselves together in order to seek revival, perhaps in a time of crisis, and precipitating the very thing that they want.
But true revival never comes that way. True revival is the product of the Holy Spirit of God. Remember Ezekiel 37--the vision of the valley of dry bones. Ezekiel saw a valley of dry bones. Before his watching eyes he saw the bones joining together. He saw flesh and sinews and skin coming on those skeletons. Then he said, "There is no life in them." God said, "Pray for the breath of heaven to come," which Ezekiel did, and the breath, the wind, the Spirit of God came. Those skeletons clothed with flesh and sinews and skin came to life, we’re told. They stood up on their feet, an exceeding great army.
What was the secret? The Holy Spirit! True revival is the product of the Spirit of God--not emotion; not even intellect; and not some social experience. Revival is the product of the Holy Spirit working in our hearts.
Revival Is A Personal Experience
Fourthly, I believe in revival because revival is an intensely personal, individual experience. There was an evangelist named Gypsy Smith. He belonged to a Gypsy encampment in England and was converted to Christ and became an evangelist. He was preaching one night on revival. A young man came to him at the end of the meeting and said, "Mr. Smith, I want to get in on what you’ve been talking about. How can I experience revival?"
Gypsy Smith said, "I want you to go home and stand on your kitchen floor with a piece of chalk in your hand and draw a circle on the floor with that piece of chalk. Then stand inside that circle and pray this prayer, ‘Lord, revive everything inside this circle,’ and you’ll experience what I’m talking about."
Revival Is Communal
Revival is intensely personal and individual. But more than that, it’s also a glorious communal experience. A whole congregation, a whole community, in fact, a whole nation can experience the blessings of revival. It’s not just individual. It’s a communal, collective experience as well.
Revival Is Essential
I believe in revival because it’s essential to restore the Church to normal Christian living. I owe that phrase to Watchman Nee. He wrote a book called The Normal Christian Life. The quality of Christian life most of us are living is not normal; it’s subnormal. We need to get back to God’s norm. We need revival to impact a society around us. Revival doesn’t begin in the state; revival doesn’t begin in the nation. Where does it begin? It begins in the Church. We’ve got to be salt and light in society. Revival starts with us. It will impact society, but it starts with us Christians.
We need revival to raise up a new missionary force to face the demands of our times. After the Second World War, in the late 1940’s and the 1950’s, there were hundreds of young men and women who entered our Bible schools. They took their training and went to the mission field. Hundreds of them are now retiring. The question is, "Who is going to take their place?" Do we have schools preparing young men and women to go out to the fields? There are tremendous challenges. There are new forms of mission work, new methods, all demanding new workers. Where’s the work force going to come from? I believe that when revival comes to us it will provide the new missionary force for the next hundred years.
Revival Is Effectual
Finally, I believe in revival because revival is effectual. Revival restores God’s people to abundant living. Revival historically has made an impact on society. Revival regularly results in new missionary vision, dedicated recruits, generous giving, and I might add, new agencies for the fulfillment of the great commission.
Yes, I believe in revival for these seven reasons. But let’s remember, revival is the Reviver Himself in action (Norman Grubb). The Lord Jesus is the Reviver. If we lose sight of Him, and lose sight of His preeminence, revival becomes a mirage on the horizon that you never enter into and experience. You’re always talking about it. Indeed you can enjoy talking about it, but you never experience it. So remember, revival is the Reviver Himself in action. It’s a personal relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not just to be a mirage out there on the horizon, as preachers describe it for us, and we say, "Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be enjoying that?" We may fail to enter into it, but we can enter into it through our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Reviver.
– Ted Rendall is former editor of Prairie Overcomer, and former president (now Chancellor Emeritus) of Prairie Bible Institute in Alberta, Canada. He is the author of Fire in the Church (Moody, 1974), now out of print.