J. C. Harrison
What Hinders Revival?
Why do we not behold stronger and wider indications of the presence and power of God?
Hindering Factors: Lack of Faith
One great reason, perhaps the great reason, is want of faith. What was said of Nazareth may with equal truth be said of many of our Churches, “He did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” We dwell too much on the inherent inefﬁciency of human instrumentality, as judged of by the past, instead of dwelling on the omnipotent grace of God. A true revival must in any case be a Divine work-the work of the Holy Spirit,-and “is any thing too hard for the Lord?” Can He not give power to the faint? Can He not waken up thought in the heedless multitude? Can He not make the dry bones live? And if we cannot doubt this-nay, if He has promised this- why should we not pray for it with the assurance that what we ask we shall receive? Let us but believe that God is willing to revive us, that He is waiting to be gracious, and then we shall implore His quickening grace with expectant hearts-looking eagerly for the answer to our prayers, and “He will open the windows of heaven, and pour us out such a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
Hindering Factors: Mistaken Views
Another reason is probably to be found in the mistaken views which are entertained respecting the nature of a revival, and the means by which it is to be attained. Many think of revival as something altogether differing from ordinary Church life, semi-miraculous in its character, the result of an immediate act of Divine Sovereignty. Many more look upon it as having little to do with the Church at all, but as being a general earnestness or thoughtfulness respecting religion in the population at large. Such persons consider it altogether independent of any act of the Church, or any prior preparation whatever. And yet, in reality, a state of revival is simply a state of spiritual health in the Church; it is the result of the truth acting with its legitimate and intended force through the agency of the Holy Spirit; it is full, vigorous spiritual life as compared with sickliness or decay; it is power to inﬂuence and conquer those around-to excite in them the same feelings, views, hopes, desires, as exist in ourselves. In every case it has been preceded by much thought and much prayer-not formal prayer, but wrestling, importunate, believing supplication-on the part of the whole Church, or separate groups, or devout individual members. In a word, revival is only that condition of things which ought to be abiding;-not a transient ecstasy produced by an occasional ﬂood-tide of spiritual power, but a quiet, healthful, perennial glow, resulting from the employment of scriptural means in humble dependence on the Divine promises. The prayerfulness and seal of the members of the Church, the eagerness with which they seize every opportunity of expostulating with their undecided neighbors and friends, the consequent awakening of the hitherto unthinking world around, the numerous conversions that take place on every side, are all the effect of this revival -the signs of deep, full, overﬂowing life in the Church, the proofs that God is there. . And surely these ought not to be exceptional, but permanent conditions in any Church, if that Church is to realize the scriptural ideal.
Hindering Factors: Lack of Desire
Another obstacle in the way of revival is the absence of any strong desire for its advent. There are too many who are quite content with things as they are. They do not wish to be aroused from their slumber, or summoned to new exertion. They bear the name of Christians, they are members of a Christian Church, but they are altogether ignorant of such things as “self-denial” or “self-sacriﬁce:” and hence they look with dread on the prospect of being called to part with their comfortable quiet, and to plunge into earnest evangelistic work. There are others also, who, while they really wish for the fruits of revival-zest and animation in public worship, and numerous additions to the Church- yet shrink from the steady, enduring labor, and the change of religious habits which it would involve. In plain terms, not a few are shrewd enough to see that ease and worldliness are quite incompatible with revival-that they must give up much which they now cling to, if “times of refreshing” are to come; and while, on the whole, they would like a season of prosperity, would wish to see souls converted to God, yet, when they remember all that revival implies, they cannot say from the bottom of their heart, that they desire that, they cannot pray without mental reservation, “whatever it may require us to abandon, whatever it may require us to do, at all costs, and without condition. Save now, we beseech thee, O Lord; O Lord, we beseech thee, send now prosperity.”
Hindering Factors: Lagging Behind
And this reminds me of another hindrance to revival, if indeed it be not implied in the one I have last mentioned; it is this,-Christians do not improve the talents already given than, do not act up to the light which they already enjoy. The great rule of our Savior’s kingdom, expressed in His own words, is, “To him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.” In other words, improve the privileges which you have received, be faithful to the trust consigned to your care, and still more grace shall be given you; but show yourselves unfaithful stewards, waste or misuse your advantages, and you shall fall from the position you have already attained. Is it not the case, that professed believers, in too many instances, resemble the servant who “hid his talent in a napkin”? Arc they not often niggardly in their contributions when imperative claims without, and conscience within, urge them to be bountiful? Do they not neglect opportunities of usefulness which are so obvious as to force themselves on their notice? Do they not allow talents for teaching or preaching, for planning or for executing, to lie absolutely dormant from false timidity, or indolent selﬁshness? Do they not exhibit much inconsistency in their families, much inconsistency in the world, for which their heart condemns them, but which they have not the resolution to strive against and overcome? Above all, while they acknowledge the worth of prayer, profess their belief in the power of prayer, assert in the strongest terms, that the well-being of the Church, and the conversion of the world, are dependent on the reality and importunity of prayer, are they not themselves restraining prayer before God-cold and negligent in the fulﬁllment of that duty on which, according to their own confession, they ought to concentrate all their power. Is it then wonderful that, when there is so little ﬁdelity manifested in the use of knowledge and gifts already bestowed, “the heaven above should be brass,” and there should be no more “showers of blessing”?
Dear brethren, let us most seriously ask ourselves, whether these hindrances exist amongst us; and if so, let us prayerfully and conscientiously labor for their removal; that so “the dayspring from on high” may visit and revive us. And then, should we enjoy such a visitation, let us take heed how we welcome it.
Welcoming Revival with Awe
“We should welcome it with reverential gratitude. It is a sign of God’s presence, the effect of God’s beneﬁcent power, and should therefore be regarded with awe. “When Moses beheld at Horeb a signal manifestation of the Divine glory, and with hasty step drew nigh to look at it too curiously, the heavenly voice said to him, “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” And surely when God is working by His Spirit, not indeed to call a nation of slaves out of bondage, but to quicken spiritual life in the feeble, and to impart spiritual life to the dead, we behold a sight much more wonderful than that which Moses saw-a sight in which Divine love is much more prominently interwoven with Divine power, and which is therefore calculated to call out gratitude as strongly as awe. The inﬂuence of revival is not superﬁcial, it does not play on the surface of the Church, but reaches to her very heart;-it is not temporary, ending with the circumstances which gave it birth, but produces results which last as long as eternity itself. Surely, if such a revival visit us, we should be grateful for so rich a boon-reverent before so august a power.
Welcoming Revival with Holy Discrimination
We should welcome it, moreover, with holy discrimination. As a matter of course, wherever there is strong feeling or great excitement, there is a good deal of what is spurious mingled with that which is genuine. The same rich soil and fruitful showers which cause the corn to grow, give strength also to the weeds. And the same condition of earnestness which fosters healthy life in the Church, lends energy to fanaticism, to superﬁcial emotion, to false hopes and joys. Now, if the spurious is mistaken for the genuine, and is as warmly welcomed, much injury is done both to the Church and to the world. The Church receives into its bosom elements of corruption or discord; the world, forming its estimate of the whole from a part, laughs the work to scorn. Great judgment is therefore required to discern between the seeming and the real, the genuine and the counterfeit, if the full beneﬁt of a revival is to be enjoyed.
Maintaining Secret Communion
Still further, in times of revival we should be careful to maintain calm, secret communion with God and His truth. The commencement of revival is often connected with extraordinary public services, in which pungent and stimulating addresses are delivered, and much feeling is called out. Now, at such times, there is always a danger of substituting the public act of worship for private communion with God. The exercises of the closet appear ﬂat after the excitement of the chapel, and are therefore neglected or abbreviated. Wherever such an effect is produced by a seeming revival, that revival is so far unreal; a curse and not a blessing. Only then do the extraordinary means connected with revival produce a right effect, when the services of the sanctuary give new zest to the private study of God’s word, impart a fresh glow to secret prayer, and awaken an irrepressible longing to be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man. The intercourse of the individual soul with the Eternal,-human desires conveyed by prayer to God, Divine thoughts communicated from the Word through the Spirit to man,-this is the essence of religion; and it is only as any external conditions or stimulants promote this, that they are truly valuable.
Maintaining a Corresponding Practical Life
Once more: in times of revival we must take care that the elevation of our practical life corresponds with the elevation of our feeling; because at such times the eye of the world is eagerly turned on the proceedings of the Church. Much thought is awakened, discriminating observations are made, the character of the work is narrowly scanned, the lives of professors are keenly watched. Now, if strong feeling is unaccompanied by corresponding effects on practice; if members of Churches talk with unction on religious subjects, delight in religious services, and yet fail to exhibit the holy fruits of religion; if temper is not sweetened, integrity and truthfulness are not maintained, love and gentleness are not manifested, inconsistencies are not cast off, and besetting sins are not conquered,-then will the world not only pour contempt on the particular movement, but will form an erroneous opinion of the scriptural idea of religion itself, as if it merely affected the feelings and not the life. “Little children,” says the Apostle John, “let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous.” And again, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” And therefore that we may not deceive ourselves, or dishonor God, or prejudice the world, let us see to it that consistency ever keeps pace with profession, and that exalted feeling is invariably accompanied by exalted practice.
Giving Our All
Finally, when revival appears in the Church, we ought to he prepared to do whatever the occasion demands. If money be required, we should give it to the extent of our means; if service of any kind be needed, we should render it with all our heart; if sacriﬁce be called for, we should yield it with cheerfulness, yea, with thankfulness. We should place our very selves on the altar of God, and consecrate time, talent, money, inﬂuence to the work, which His prospering grace now renders indispensable.
J. C. Harrison, Taken from the Evangelical and Missionary Chronicle, March, 1860.