Preaching: The Means of Revival -- By: John R. de Witt

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 01:4 (Fall 1992)
Article: Preaching: The Means of Revival
Author: John R. de Witt


Preaching: The Means of Revival

John R. de Witt

The word revival sometimes has unfortunate connotations. When it is used, people frequently think of emotion-drenched, protracted meetings, aimed at inducing a kind of spiritual excitement which may then be identified as a moving of God’s Spirit. Such excitement quite possibly has nothing whatever to do with God’s Spirit, for God is not the author of confusion but of peace.

It would be difficult to improve upon Charles Hodge’s description of the nature of revival:

It is a familiar fact that religion in the soul is sometimes in a lower and sometimes in a higher state. The passage from the one to the other is more or less rapid. So in a church or community there are periods of decline and periods of refreshing. So under the Old Testament dispensation. So in the time of Christ. So in the time of the Reformation, in the time of Edwards and since. The phrase here has acquired a conventional sense. It is confined to a sudden change from general inattention to a general attention to religion, to those seasons in which the zeal of Christians is manifestly increased and in which large numbers of persons are converted to God.

In this definition Hodge stresses perhaps too much the suddenness of revivals, but he is surely correct in underscoring the key ideas: increased zeal among Christians and large numbers of conversions.

Perhaps the finest book on the subject of revivals is that by William B. Sprague, once exceedingly well known among the ministers of this country. His Lectures on Revival was reprinted some years ago by the Banner of Truth Trust. A revival of religion, Sprague says,

Is a revival of scriptural knowledge, of vital piety, of practical obedience. ... Wherever you see religion rising up from a

state of comparative depression to a tone of increased vigor and strength; wherever you see professing Christians becoming more faithful to their obligations, and behold the strength of the church increased by fresh accessions of piety from the world; there is a state of things you need not hesitate to denominate a revival of religion.

How does a revival come about? Answers to this question have been different, depending upon who was responding. Charles Grandison Finney, the well-known nineteenth-century evangelist, held that revival can be produced by the right use of appropriate means. Many have felt—I think that they are right—that Finney’s teaching here and at other points was exceedingly deficient. It amounted to revival by manipulation. It downplayed the necessity of the divine operation of the Holy Spirit. Generally, however...

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