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Alex's Blog - October 17, 2009 - What Comes First - Repentance or Revival?
By Alex Dodson
If we all repent as Christians, will this bring revival to our land? We might also ask, "Will revival bring repentance to our land?" Which comes first? Will our repentance bring down revival upon us or will revival bring repentance upon us? These are interesting questions to ponder. Actually, we should always be repenting of our sins as Christians. This is a part of our daily lives. God always calls us to repentance. If we all live better Christian lives, will this then cause revival to break out? We could also ask that if God sends revival will it not cause all Christians to live better Christian lives? If we think that by our repenting that God will send revival, we may have the cart before the horse.
What is revival anyway? Iain Murray in his book Pentecost - Today? gives this definition for revival: "A revival is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, brought about by the intercession of Christ, resulting in a new degree of life in the churches and a widespread movement of grace among the unconverted. It is an extraordinary communication of the Spirit of God, a superabundance of the Spirit's operations, an enlargement of his manifest power." (p. 23-24) By this definition, it seems that revival has it's origin in God and that the result of sending revival is that repentance breaks out among both believers and unbelievers. It also indicates that revival is extraordinary and results in widespread evidence of its presence.
Alexander Moody Stuart in 1840 wrote, "While the Holy Ghost is always present in his church, there are times when he draws manifestly nearer and puts forth a greater energy of power. Every believer is conscious in his own soul of changes corresponding to this; for the Spirit is always with him, abiding in him, and yet there are times of unusual communion and far more than ordinary life. And as the Spirit draws near to an individual, so does he draw near to a land, and then religion is revived, spiritual life is revived, spiritual understanding, spiritual worship, spiritual repentance, spiritual obedience." (quoted by Iain Murray in Pentecost-Today? p. 24-25) When true revival comes, spiritual repentance comes. It comes as a result of the revival not as a prerequisite. It is a fruit of the revival and comes because God has sent the revival. Now, we are talking about repentance on a large scale by a multitude of people resulting from a pouring out of God's Spirit on that people.
In old times, revivals were called awakenings. They came from God and were sent to wake up a people to their spiritual condition bringing about great conviction of sin and widespread repentance. So, we have the First Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening in America. They did not come because the Christians had all repented and brought on the Awakening. On the contrary, the Awakenings came as a surprise and brought repentance with it. Iain Murray writes, "The sheer unexpectedness of such events bears equally against the view that revivals are conditioned by the preceding actions and efforts of Christians. Those who believe that a certain line of conduct or prayer must secure revival have history against them. Revivals come unheralded. They are, as Edwards witnessed in Northampton in 1735, 'the surprising work of God'. Of the Great Awakening of 1740 it is said that 'it broke upon the slumbering churches like a thunderbolt rushing out of a clear sky'."
(Pentecost-Today? p. 22-23)
What about 2 Chronicles 7:14? This verse says, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." This has been a very popular verse for the last forty years or so which has been commonly put forth as a formula for revival in the land. If all the evangelical Christians in America do what this verse says, will revival come? So far it hasn't happened. First, all the evangelical Christians in the land have not repented and secondly revival has not yet come. This promise was given to the people of Israel concerning their nation. It was an Old Testament promise and if the people did what God asked them to do, He would surely heal their land. Today, not only do evangelical Christians need to repent of their sins but also the people of the whole nation. Such a wide scale repentance will come only when God pours out His Spirit in great convicting power on the land. Such a wide scale repentance has happened in times past such as in the First and Second Great Awakenings and again in the great revival of 1858-59. However, the people of the nation had not repented first before these revivals came. On the contrary, the revival itself caused people to repent. When such a large scale repentance happens, the land will be healed. Iain Murray makes this point concerning the above verse, "But if our actions do not determine revival what are we to make of such promises as the one given to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14?...The first thing to say is surely that what is being promised is not revival, for the promise has to be understood, in the first instance, in relation to the time when it was given. It is of Old Testament Israel and her land of which healing is there spoken. The promise cannot be of revival, for revival has to do with the abundant giving of the Holy Spirit and that giving, as Old Testament Scripture made clear, lay in the future." (p. 13, Pentecost-Today?) Well, this may be the case. However, this verse certainly describes what happens when revival comes. When God pours out His Spirit in great power, it humbles a people and causes them to repent and turn back to God. What we need to pray for is that what 2 Chronicles 7:14 says will happen in our land and that not only the Christians but the whole nation will repent and turn back to God.
A better Old Testament passage concerning revival can be found in Pslam 85:6 which says, "Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?" I like the translation in the old Geneva Bible which says, "Wilt thou not turn again and quicken us that thy people may rejoice in thee?" This verse places the origin of revival in God and not man. It is God who must quicken us that we may be changed to a people that rejoice in the Lord. If God is the one who sends revival, then it is to Him that we must plead. We must ask Him to send revival on the land. We must cast ourselves on His mercy and ask that He send what we do not deserve. We deserve judgment as a nation for our sins, but we must intercede with God to have mercy upon us and to turn us around by His mighty power. The Geneva Bible translates Psalm 85:4 like this - "Turn us, O God of our salvation, and release thine anger toward us." We need God's mercy toward us in this hour that He might turn us around that we might be a people who will acknowledge Him and rejoice in Him.
What then should we do to bring on revival to the nation? We need to humble ourselves and realize that we can do nothing on our own. We need to realize that only God can send a revival to the land and we must humbly plead with Him in prayer to send such a revival in our day. We must be like the watchmen in Isaiah 62:6-7 where it says, "I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth." We should be watchmen for our nation and call on the Lord day and night to send revival to our land and make her to be the praise of the earth. When revival comes we can be a beacon of light to the whole world. This was the hope of the early Christians who came to America such as John Winthrop who wrote, "For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us." (p. 700, America's God and Country) William Bradford wrote of his hope for the nation and the influence of the early Pilgrims when he said, "Thus out of small beginning greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise." ( p. 67, America's God and Country) Today, we need to call upon that same Jehovah who set a light in this nation so many years ago to rekindle that light and bring revival to this land. May we not rest until that light once more arises in our nation.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless indicated otherwise.
1599 Geneva Bible. Tolle Lege Press, White Hall, VIrginia,2006.
Federer, William J. America's God and Country. Fame Publishing, Inc. 1996.
Murray, Iain H. Pentecost - Today?. The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 1998.