Lecture 1:
What A Revival Of Religion Is

Text: "O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy" (Habakkuk 3:2).


It is supposed that the prophet Habakkuk was contemporary with Jeremiah, and that this prophecy was uttered in anticipation of the Babylonian captivity. Looking at the judgments which were speedily to come upon his nation, the soul of the prophet was wrought up to an agony, and he cried in his distress, "O Lord, revive Thy work;" as if he had said, "O Lord, grant that Thy judgments may not make Israel desolate. In the midst of these awful years, let the judgments of God be made the means of reviving religion among us. In wrath remember mercy."

Religion is the work of man. It is something for man to do. It consists in obeying God. A "Revival of Religion" presupposes a decline. Men are so spiritually sluggish, there are so many things to take their minds off religion, and to oppose the influence of the gospel, that it is necessary to raise an excitement among them, until the tide rises so high as to sweep away the opposing obstacles.

I. What a revival is not:

It is not a miracle. A miracle has been defined to be a Divine interference setting aside or suspending the laws of nature. They are neither suspended nor set aside in a revival.

Another definition of miracle is something above the powers of nature. But religion consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature. Revival is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means—as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means.

There has long been an idea prevalent that promoting religion has something very peculiar about it, not to be judged by the ordinary rules of cause and effect. No doctrine is more dangerous, and more absurd. Suppose a man were to go and preach this doctrine among farmers, about sowing their grain. Let him tell them that God is sovereign and will give them a crop only when it pleases Him; and that for them to plow and plant and labor as if they expected a crop is very wrong. Suppose the farmers should believe such a doctrine. They would starve the world to death.

II. What a revival is:

It is the renewal of the first love of Christians resulting in the awakening and conversion of sinners to God. It presupposes that the Church is sunk in a backslidden state. It always includes conviction of sin on the part of the Church. Backslidden Christians will be brought to repentance and have their faith renewed. It breaks the power of the world and of sin over Christians.

When the churches are thus awakened and reformed, the reformation and salvation of sinners will follow. The worst parts of human society are softened and reclaimed, and made to appear as lovely specimens of the beauty of holiness.

III. The agencies employed in carrying a revival forward:

Ordinarily there are three agents and one instrument employed in the work of conversion. The agents are God, some person who brings the truth to bear on the mind, and the sinner himself. The instrument is the truth.

  1. The agency of God is twofold: by His Providence and by His Spirit.
    By His providential government, He so arranges events as to bring the sinner's mind and the truth in contact. It is often interesting to trace the manner in which God arranges events so as to bring this about.
    By His Holy Spirit, knowing infinitely well the whole history and state of each individual sinner, He employs that truth which is best adapted to his particular case, and then sets it home with Divine power.
  2. The agency of man is commonly employed. Men are not mere instruments in the hands of God. Truth is the instrument. Man acts; he is not a mere passive instrument.
  3. The sinner himself is an agent. The conversion of a sinner consists in his obeying the truth. It is therefore impossible it should take place without his cooperation.

Remarks

  1. For a long time it was supposed that a revival was a miracle, an interposition of Divine power which man had nothing to do with, and which man had no more agency in producing than he had in producing thunder, or a storm of hail, or an earthquake. Revivals are to be promoted by the use of means designed and adapted specially to that object.
  2. Mistaken notions concerning the sovereignty of God have greatly hindered revivals. They have supposed it to be such an arbitrary disposal of events, and particularly the gift of His Spirit, as precluded a rational employment of means for promoting a revival. There is no evidence in the Bible that God exercises any such sovereignty. God has connected means with the end, in nature and in grace.
  3. You see the error of those who are beginning to think that religion can be better promoted in the world without revivals. In the present state of the world, religion cannot be promoted to any considerable extent without them.

For Discussion—Lecture 1

  1. Finney declares that a "revival of religion presupposes decline." What are the evidences of such decline in the Church today? In your local church/corps/congregation?
  2. Discuss Finney's comparison between the evangelist and the farmer.
  3. What does he mean by his statement: "Revival is not a miracle"?
  4. Using his definition of a revival under II., discuss how this can be brought about in your local congregation.
  5. Finney lists three "agencies" employed in conversion. Which of these is most often missing in the work of revival today?
  6. Have you (or your congregation) ever been involved in the kind of revival described in this chapter? If so, what brought it about? If not, what hindered it?
  7. Habakkuk agonized over the judgment to come upon his nation because of its sins (e.g. 1:4; 1:13; 2:5, 6, 8, 10, 15, 17, 19). From this scriptural context, draw parallels between the evils he describes and the evils that are apparent in our day.