Christians need to come to a common agreement regarding revivals. John Piper writes to substantiate a desire and need for seasons of God-given revival. He also urges us to seek God through fasting, knowing that humility precedes God’s mighty works for His people.
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The following article was written by John Piper.
There was a Presbyterian minister in Albany, New York, who died in 1876. He had been the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Albany for 40 years. His name was William Sprague (1795-1876). His life spanned the time of the Second Great Awakening when hundreds of churches were awakened in the early years of the 19th century and thousands of men and women were converted.
Sprague wrote a book called Lectures on Revivals in 1832. Charles Simeon, the evangelical leader in England at the time, and pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, wrote in the fly leaf of his copy of Lectures on Revivals, "A most valuable book .... I love the good sense of Dr. Sprague." And when it was republished in 1958 by the Banner of Truth, Martin Lloyd-Jones of the Westminster Chapel in London was so full of thanks that he wrote the Foreword and said,
I am profoundly convinced that the greatest need in the world today is revival in the Church of God. Yet alas! the whole idea of revival seems to have become strange to so many good Christian people... [This] is due both to a serious misunderstanding of the scriptures, and to woeful ignorance of the history of the Church...
My prayer is that as we read it and are reminded of "Our glorious God," and of His mighty deeds in times past among His people, a great sense of our own unworthiness and inadequacy, and a corresponding longing for the manifestation of his glory and His power will be created within us. His "arm is not shortened." May this book stir us all to plead with Him to make bare that arm and to stretch it forth again, that His enemies may be confounded and scattered and His people's hearts be filled with gladness and rejoicing.
Why Pray All Day?
If I understand correctly, that is what this day of prayer is all about. We believe that the Lord's arm is not shortened and that he has appointed this day for pleading with him to stretch it forth again to confound his enemies and awaken the joy and power of his church for the evangelization of the world.
I agree with Lloyd-Jones that revival in the church is the greatest need in the world today. But I doubt that very many people know what Lloyd-Jones means when he speaks of revival. The use of the term in our century for a brief evangelistic crusade has made the original meaning almost inaccessible to most Christians.
This is why an old book like Sprague's Lectures on Revivals is so tremendously helpful. One of the great things about the book is the 165 pages of correspondence it contains. For example, there is a letter from Francis Wayland which is of great interest to us Baptists when we want to know what our forebears from 150 years ago thought about revivals.
Francis Wayland was an outstanding Baptist pastor and president of Brown University in Rhode Island. He was a great admirer of Adoniram Judson, the Baptist Missionary to Burma, and he wrote the first major biography of Judson. He was born in 1772 and flourished through the first half of the 19th century (1772-1849).
In 1832 he wrote a letter to Sprague about revivals. Let's try to get a flavor of what he means by revival and the means God uses to bring it.
I believe in the existence of revivals of religion, as much as I believe in any other fact, either physical or moral. By revivals of religion I mean special seasons in which the minds of men, within a certain district, or in a certain congregation, are more than usually susceptible of impression from the exhibition of moral truth...
[For example] ministers are more than usually desirous of the conversion of men. They possess, habitually, an unusual power of presenting the simple truths of the gospel directly to the consciences of their hearers, and feel a peculiar consciousness of their own weakness and insufficiency, and at the same time a perfect reliance upon the efficacy of the gospel, through the agency of the Spirit, to convert men.
Christians, during periods of revival, are characterized by an unusual spirit of penitence, of confession of sin, and of prayer, by a desire for more holiness, and specially by a tender concern for the salvation of souls.
Unconverted persons are more desirous to hear the gospel, and particularly the plainest and simplest exhibitions of it; they readily listen to conversation on the subject and seem to expect it. Truths which they have frequently heard with total unconcern they now hear with solemn and fixed attention; and in many cases, for days together, scarcely a sermon will be preached, or an exhortation offered, which is not made effectual to the conviction or conversion of one or more souls.
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