O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years made known; in wrath remember mercy. Hab. 3:2. Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee? Ps. 85:6
The question we face in this article reads: "Do these texts (quoted above) mean that we may, and should, pray for revival in the church today?"
The subject of revivals comes up again and again mainly because it is an item high on the agenda of various churches and denominations. One risks the sharpest criticism when condemning the whole modern conception of revivals. Yet it must be done, for the idea of revivals as taught in much of the church is not Biblical.
I am not going to write in detail on this question. The Covenant Protestant Reformed Church printed a speech which I gave many years ago on the subject of revivals. In that speech I express my objections to the whole concept. Our readers can obtain a copy of that pamphlet by writing to the address on the heading of this paper. If you have any questions about revivals, please write for this pamphlet.
In this article I intend to make a few observations on the subject, especially in connection with the texts which are referred to by the reader who sent in the question we now discuss.
The first comment that needs making is simply this: the two texts quoted above, while using the word "revive," have nothing to do with the current meaning of that term in revival theology. I am aware of the fact that the word "revival" can be used in any number of ways. Billy Graham's crusades are often called "revival meetings." Various fundamentalist groups regularly sponsor revival meetings in their churches in the hopes that some high-powered speaker can breath new life into a lethargic congregation.
While I have serious objections to all these so-called revivals, the term is used in a much more limited way today. It is used to refer to some special out-pouring of the Holy Spirit, often accompanied with various signs, miracles, and bizarre behavior in people, manifesting itself in 1) a sudden and usually over-whelming consciousness of sin, 2) a new joy in the Lord, 3) and a mass conversion of sinners, 4) a new spirit of cooperation between denominations or churches long at loggerheads with each other. It frequently begins with an individual or a congregation, but quickly spreads into other areas. The area affected may be very large or relatively small.
When the OT Scriptures speak of prayers that God will revive the nation or individuals, these prayers have nothing to do with modern revivalism. Every Christian knows what it means to endure periods of spiritual coldness and lethargy, when his devotional life is meager, his consciousness of God's favor weak, his assurance either non-existent or a struggling assurance. Even the Canons of Dort (I, 16 - a copy is available on request) speak of times when one does not "experience a lively faith in Christ, an assured confidence of soul, peace of conscience, an earnest endeavor after filial obedience, and glorying in God through Jesus Christ." Such times bring forth from the anxious heart of the child of God the prayer that the drought may disappear and the joy of salvation be restored. To pray that God will "revive" us is in perfect keeping with these spiritual "ups and downs" so characteristic of the life of the believer.
A second point that needs to be made is that the OT times were different from NT times. This is a crucially important point, but one not often appreciated. God limited salvation to the nation of Israel. He preserved that nation through good times and bad. He did so because it was His purpose to bring Christ from that nation. And so, the nation went through periods of differing spiritual strength. Especially in Judah, good king Hezekiah could follow on wicked Ahaz, and good king Josiah could restore the worship of God after times of terrible neglect.
Even these times of genuine godliness in the nation were not revivals in the sense in which they are spoken of today. But it is true that when a wicked king sat on the throne, the nation as a whole worshipped idols and committed all the abominations of the heathen. Yet, even then there were the 7000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. And when a good king sat on the throne, the nation as a whole served God, brought its sacrifices to the temple, and observed God's holy law. But even during those times many (often the majority) in the nation were reprobate.
I think that the life of the nation of Judah can be compared with the life of any child of God. Every saint experiences times when the new man in Christ is dominant in his life. These are times of spiritual strength, closeness to God, the joy of salvation, and fellowship with Christ. But there are also times when the old man of sin is in control, times when sin characterizes his life, when God is far away, when life seems dark and dreary, when prayers are few and unanswered. But when strong in the Lord sin is still present with us, and when weak and brought low, the life of regeneration is never lost.
But I must say a bit more about this in another article.
- Volume: 7
- Issue: 21
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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