Apart from a few places, such as Ruanda in Africa where revival has continued for two decades, the Church of Jesus Christ desperately needs renewal. It is gripped by pride, smug self-satisfaction, spiritual lethargy, and, certainly in America, material affluence as well.

The Word of God is neglected in many pulpits. Sometimes sermon texts become launching pads to outer space where all kinds of peripheral subjects are brought before people who long for an authentic message from the Lord. Where the Word of God is truly preached, it is too often directed to the salvation of unregenerate men several miles removed from the church door, while the sheep who sit at the feet of the shepherd languish for want of spiritual nourishment. The Bible is the world’s most unread best-seller. Midweek prayer meetings, where they are still held, attract only a meager number of those on the church rolls. Many church members are spiritually moribund at thirty; some are neither hot nor cold in their rote performance of religious duties. In one great American city last Thanksgiving season a union service sponsored by the council of churches drew fewer than two hundred on a Sunday afternoon. The church banners were there in resplendent array; the people stayed home watching television.

This present spiritual drought is due, in part, to the erosion of morality, the bewildering expansion of technical knowledge without comparable growth of spiritual wisdom, the accentuated tensions between science and religion, and a distorted emphasis that exalts the intellect and, at the same time, divorces it from a religion of the whole man.

The need for revival exists among those in the evangelical tradition, and not alone among “the others.” It is especially necessary among those who honor the Word of God and are theologically orthodox but spiritually flabby, since they share a great opportunity and responsibility.

The people of God alternate between times of mountain top renewal experiences and seasons of desert drought. They do not usually live consistently on a high spiritual level. The times of drought clearly reveal the need for spiritual quickening. Seminary and college campuses in particular need revival. They are the places where revivals have traditionally broken out, more so than the local churches. Yet many theological seminaries have not experienced revival for a hundred years. Some Christian colleges would not know what to do with revival if it came. What Christian education is today, the churches will be tomorrow.

Revival and evangelism are not identical, although the word “revival” is frequently used to designate soul-winning efforts directed toward unbelievers. Certainly revival is not hanging out a sign on the church door that reads “Revival here, April 1–8.” This imprecise use has led to misunderstanding and abuse. If some churches misuse the word “revival,” others frown upon the whole idea. Indeed some mistakenly identify revival with religious frenzy, emotional aberration, and storefront religion. Occasionally revival is equated with the charismatic gift of tongues by some who shun the former because they scorn the latter.

Some think revival is a continuous “head in the clouds” experience unrelated to the dry and dusty life of the valley. They regard revived people as rather abnormal, as the exception and not the rule. The Scriptures, however, hold out a far different view. They regard the life of revival as normative. Its glory is its endurance throughout hardship, suffering, defeat, and even the “dark night of the soul.” Paul, in the Mamertine dungeon awaiting the executioner’s axe, displayed this quality of life. Latimer and Ridley sealed their witness at the stake under “Bloody Mary.” Latimer, who had endured his long imprisonment with unbroken cheerfulness, looked toward his fellow martyr before embracing the flame and cried out: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as, I trust, shall never be put out.” That light still shines.

Revival always includes the recovery of the Word of God. Revival will revitalize God’s people. It will bring them under deep conviction of sin, lead them to repentance and restitution, and fill them with the power of the Holy Spirit. The account of the revival in Ezra’s day is instructive: he recovered the Word of God; he earnestly desired and sought for spiritual renewal; he wept and made confession of sin. The people responded by acknowledging their transgressions, repenting of them, and making restitution. Renewal has always been accompanied by like signs whether it was the spiritual quickening at Yale under Timothy Dwight during the period of the French Revolution or that at Wheaton College in Illinois as late as 1950.

Revival is not always welcome. For many its price is too high. There is no “cheap grace” in revival. It entails repudiation of self-satisfied complacency, of easy preference of the good to the best, and of idols. Revival turns careless living into vital concern. It replaces conformity to the world with obedience to Jesus Christ. It exchanges self-indulgence for self-denial. Yet revival is not a miraculous visitation falling upon an unprepared people like a bolt out of the blue. It comes when God’s people earnestly want revival and are willing to pay the price. It is always preceded by a humbling of individuals and a breaking up of the hardened ground of their cold hearts, by ceaseless praying and beseeching the blessing of God, and by an honest intention and a cheerful willingness to obey the Holy Spirit.

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There are important predictable results of revival, as well as unpredictable blessings. Certainly it would do much to alleviate ugly racial tensions in America that exist because the fruit of the Spirit is absent. It would help resolve difficulties between labor and capital when each is seeking only its own and not the other’s good. It would make for better relations even with enemies who seek to bury us. It would inspire fresh enthusiasm for missions and evangelism. Christians would gain a new concern for the lost. There would be more Spirit-filled preaching, more unashamed invitations from the pulpit to unbelievers to receive Jesus Christ. Backslidden believers would be restored and transformed and churches strengthened and undergirded by unceasing prayer. The true unity of the Church would be advanced more deeply than it can ever be advanced by committees and conventions that so often operate in fleshly energy.

Revival must begin somewhere. God is ready; men are not. If his conditions are met, revival will come.

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