When “enthusiasm is an unknown luxury”: Spurgeon on the Nature and Need of Revival
Few have written with such clarity and passion on the subject of revival as has Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon parted company with many who have reflected on this topic by arguing that the term itself “can only be applied to a living soul, or to that which once lived. To be revived is a blessing which can only be enjoyed by those who have some degree of life” (“What is Revival”?). Continue reading . . .
Few have written with such clarity and passion on the subject of revival as has Charles Spurgeon. Spurgeon parted company with many who have reflected on this topic by arguing that the term itself “can only be applied to a living soul, or to that which once lived. To be revived is a blessing which can only be enjoyed by those who have some degree of life” (“What is Revival”?). Thus, as far as Spurgeon was concerned, we misapply the term when we speak of revival as primarily concerned with the salvation of souls. In other words, “those who have no spiritual life are not, and cannot be, in the strictest sense of the term, the subjects of revival.”
This is not to say that the unconverted do not experience a multitude of blessings when genuine revival comes. But revival per se can come only to those who already possess, even if now in only marginal degree, some measure of spiritual life. “There must be vitality in some degree,” he insists, “before there can be a quickening of vitality, or, in other words, a revival.”
So who are those most in need of God-sent revival? Spurgeon describes them in these terms. They are those in whom
“the eye of faith is dim and overcast, and seldom flashes with holy joy; the spiritual countenance is hollow and sunken with doubts and fears; the tongue of praise is partially paralyzed, and has little to say for Jesus; the spiritual frame is lethargic, and its movements are far from vigorous; the man is not anxious to be doing anything for Christ, a horrible numbness, a dreadful insensibility has come over him; he is in soul like a sluggard in the dog-days, who finds it hard labour to lie in bed and brush away the flies from his face. If these spiritual consumptives hate sin they do it so weakly that one might fear that they loved it still. If they love Jesus, it is so coldly that it is a point of question whether they love at all. If they sing Jehovah’s praises it is very sadly, as if hallelujahs were dirges. If they mourn for sin it is only with half-broken hearts, and their grief is shallow and unpractical. If they hear the Word of God they are never stirred by it; enthusiasm is an unknown luxury.”
It is genuinely a sad thing “when Christians fall into this state; then indeed they need reviving, and they must have it, for ‘the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint.’ Every lover of souls should intercede for declining professors that the visitations of God may restore them; that the Sun of righteousness may arise upon them with healing beneath his wings.”
So how does revival come? Under what conditions? What is our responsibility? Spurgeon believed it must result “from the proclamation and the receiving of living truth.” Vital godliness, he insisted, “must subsist on vital truth. Vital godliness is not revived in Christians by mere excitement, by crowded meetings, by the stamping of the foot, or the knocking of the pulpit cushion, or the delirious bawlings of ignorant zeal; these are the stock in trade of revivals among dead souls, but to revive living saints other means are needed.”
Needless to say, Spurgeon’s insights are greatly needed today, especially among those who think that revival is something that can be worked up from below, from human effort and religious antics. But no, it must be prayed down from above and is brought to bear on languishing souls when the Word of God is faithfully proclaimed and understood. Said Spurgeon:
“Intense excitement may produce a revival of the animal, but how can it operate upon the spiritual, for the spiritual demands other food than that which stews in the fleshpots of mere carnal enthusiasm. The Holy Ghost must come into the living heart through living truth, and so bring nutriment and stimulant to the pining spirit, for so only can it be revived.”
The only conclusion to be drawn from this is that
“if we are to obtain a revival we must go directly to the Holy Ghost for it, and not resort to the machinery of the professional revival-maker. The true vital spark of heavenly flame comes from the Holy Ghost, and the priests of the Lord must beware of strange fire. There is no spiritual vitality in anything except as the Holy Spirit is all in all in the work; and if our vitality has fallen near to zero, we can only have it renewed by him who first kindled it in us. We must go to the cross and look up to the dying Saviour, and expect that the Holy Spirit will renew our faith and quicken all our graces. We must feed anew by faith upon the flesh and blood of the Lord Jesus, and so the Holy Ghost will recruit our strength and give us a revival.”
God protect us from “the machinery of the professional revival-maker”! Even so, come, Holy Spirit!