When Revival Comes1
What happens when revival comes? What might we reasonably expect, or is it unwise to assume that in every revival the same things occur? My study of history seems to indicate that no two revivals are precisely the same. There are varying points of emphasis and God appears to enjoy doing new and unexpected things each time he chooses to visit us with his manifest presence.
But one thing typically occurs in every revival: souls are saved. During the first phase of the First Great Awakening (1734-35), Jonathan Edwards observed that there was something of a pattern in how the Spirit brought conviction of sin and the ultimate salvation of those who were the objects of his saving operations. In his treatise, A Faithful Narrative of Surprising Conversions (written between 1737 and 1739; it went through three editions and twenty printings), Edwards noticed that genuine conversions entailed at least two distinct but related stages.
There appeared to be a pattern only in this regard, that conversion entailed two stages:
First, there was always a deep conviction of sin. With some this occurred suddenly, whereas others experienced it gradually. The results were quite tangible and life-changing. According to Edwards, they “quit their sinful practices; and the looser sort have been brought to forsake and dread their former vices and extravagances” (23). The recipients of God’s saving mercy also began to seek the “means of salvation, reading, prayer, meditation, the ordinances of God's house” etc. (24). “The place of resort,” writes Edwards, “was now altered, it was no longer the tavern, but the minister's house that was thronged far more than ever the tavern had been wont to be” (24). There was also variation in both the degree of fear experienced and the duration of it. Says Edwards:
“Some few instances there have been, of persons who have had such a sense of God's wrath for sin, that they have been overborne; and made to cry out under an astonishing sense of their guilt, wondering that God suffers such guilty wretches to live upon earth, and that he doth not immediately send them to hell” (25-26).
Second, there was consistently a sense of God's love, mercy, saving grace in Christ. Edwards explains:
“It was very wonderful to see how person's affections were sometimes moved – when God did as it were suddenly open their eyes, and let into their minds a sense of the greatness of his grace, the fullness of Christ, and his readiness to save . . . Their joyful surprise has caused their hearts as it were to leap, so that they have been ready to break forth into laughter, tears often at the same time issuing like a flood, and intermingling a loud weeping. Sometimes they have not been able to forbear crying out with a loud voice, expressing their great admiration” (37-38).
Much to the dismay of those who questioned the authenticity of the revival, this overwhelming assurance of saving love had varied effects on the people. Again, Edwards explains:
“Some persons having had such longing desires after Christ, or which have risen to such degree, as to take away their natural strength. Some have been so overcome with a sense of the dying love of Christ to such poor, wretched, and unworthy creatures, as to weaken the body. Several persons have had so great a sense of the glory of God, and excellency of Christ, that nature and life seemed almost to sink under it; and in all probability, if God had showed them a little more of himself, it would have dissolved their frame. . . . And they have talked, when able to speak, of the glory of God's perfections” (45).
“Many, while their minds have been filled with spiritual delights, have as it were forgot their food; their bodily appetite has failed, while their minds have been entertained with meat to eat that others knew not of’” (46).
Edwards describes the “unparalleled joy” of many (46), which often expressed itself in “earnest longings of soul to praise God” (47). Others expressed a new love for the Bible: “Some, by reason of their love to God's word, at times have been wonderfully delighted and affected at the sight of a Bible; and then, also, there was no time so prized as the Lord's day, and no place in this world so desired as God's house” (47). Again, “never, I believe, was so much done in confessing injuries, and making up differences, as the last year. Persons, after their own conversion, have commonly expressed an exceeding great desire for the conversion of others” (47).
If ever there were a time in the history of our country (and the same most likely applies around the world) when revival such as this was needed, it is now. Even so, come Holy Spirit!