In a sense, revival is just many people in the one region becoming soundly joined to Christ. Jonathan Edwards famously described Northampton in 1735 as “full of the presence of God”. This was multifaceted in that it was full of love and yet full of distress. It is something that the church must pray for but which she cannot bring about. The more she has tried to manufacture a revival, the worse the situation has become. Inertia or fanaticism can easily take over. In the 18th century James Kershaw prophesied that “all the Methodists are to go over to America in the belly of a whale”. Delusions can be encouraged, such as those fostered by the “new methods” of Charles Finney and his ilk. People can be assured that they are Christians just because they have walked forward or put up their hand at a meeting, or even a concert.
It is surely obvious that the West stands in dire need of revival. Even basic common sense seems to be beyond the understanding of most leaders and gurus in the community. It is not just that the six o’clock news reports sin, but it either trivializes or lauds it. In a Nazi prison cell in May 1944 Dietrich Bonhoeffer predicted renewal by the word of God, and added: “Till then the Christian cause will be a silent and hidden affair, but there will be those who pray and do right and wait for God’s own time.” We are still at such a time.
In revival, the Spirit and the Word come with irresistible power. William B. Sprague wrote: “It is when the law of God is exhibited in all its extent and spirituality, and the gospel in all its grace and glory, that we may expect to see men brought to a sense of guilt, and believing on the Lord Jesus Christ that they may be saved.” There is something beyond our usual programs and day-to-day labours. God visits His people, as Habakkuk prayed: “O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy” (Hab.3:2). Well might we sing – and pray – with William Cowper:
Oh rend the heavens, come quickly down, And make a thousand hearts Thine own.