Reformation That Brings Revival (Part 1)

From Voice, May/June 2014. First appeared at Always Reforming. Used by permission.

There is no doubt that the church today needs revival. But not revival as it is sometimes defined: evangelistic tent meetings in which the Holy Spirit is scheduled to arrive on our set dates. Revivals or “awakenings” as they used to be called, mark a special time when God moves upon God’s people and there is evidence of the Spirit’s powerful work among His people and those He draws to salvation through the proclamation of the gospel message.

Today there is a lot of activity in the evangelical church—lots of money being spent, books printed, and conferences held, churches planted and sermons preached. With the technology of our day, there is more access to the Bible, sermons, and the gospel worldwide than ever before. We have in our country a majority of the world’s largest churches.

But would we say that there is revival happening in our nation or our churches? Most of us would say no, and I would heartily agree. There are victories and people are being saved but the Church today, especially in North America, is a long way from revival. Do you desire revival in our churches and our nation? I do, and I think that you do as well.

As I was preparing to preach Psalm 80 in our church, a psalm that is a prayer for God to revive Israel after the Assyrian invasion, I was interested in looking at the times in which God had brought Israel revival before. Then I compared Israel’s activities to those described by Jonathan Edwards in his work entitled A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, written in 1737 to describe what was then happening during America’s Great Awakening.

From my study I determined that four requirements of biblical reform are critical if we hope to see biblical revival in our churches and in the nations.

1. Godly leadership

2 Chronicles 17:3-6, 29:2, 31:20, 34:2-3

Second Chronicles 17 tells us that when Jehoshaphat took over the throne from his father Asa as the ruler of Judah that he made some drastic changes. Because he was a man who feared the Lord, Jehoshaphat obeyed him not only in his own personal practices of not worshipping false idols, but he also led his kingdom in holiness by taking down the places of false worship and removing the idols that led his people astray. Verse 3 tells us that this took a courageous heart, because even though he was the king, it is easy for a ruler to capitulate to the whims of the people in order to please them and make leading them easier. But Jehoshaphat was no Pontius Pilate. He stood firm and did what was right. And because of this, verse 5 tells us that the Lord established the kingdom in his hands along with bringing to him great riches and honor.

Second Chronicles 29 tells the heroic story of King Hezekiah and his reign of Judah. Even as a young man (verse 1 tells us he was 25 when he began to reign) Hezekiah walked in the ways of his forefather king David by obeying the Lord from his heart. Hezekiah longed to see the Temple restored and consecrated for worship once again. He was repulsed at the way the Lord had been treated in the Temple worship and he enlisted the Levites to help carry out his desires (2 Chron. 31). Hezekiah understood that by turning their backs on the Lord they had invited His wrath, and that the only way to reverse this and invite His blessings was to restore the Temple and repent appropriately.

In 2 Chronicles 34 we are confronted by the astounding example of Josiah, the eight-year-old king of Judah. Verse 3 doesn’t say that he began to seek the Lord after he grew older, but that even as a child he began to seek the Lord. By the time he was twenty, Josiah was so strong in the Lord that he began to once again dismantle the idolatry that had once again infested Judah. After this, Josiah cleansed the Temple, reinstated obedience to the Book of the Law, which was once again in their possession, which led to the reinstatement of the Passover and obedience to the other laws they had failed to keep.

In each and every one of these kings of Judah, we see a heart that longs not only to obey God, but also to lead God’s people into obedience. These men critically analyzed the situations that they found themselves in and compared it to the Word of God. Then with courage and strength from the Lord, they led their people into reform. Interestingly, this pattern repeated itself in New England thousands of years later.

Sometimes we have an inaccurate understanding of history that leads us to wrong conclusions. We might have the idea that the Great Awakening that began in Northampton was begun under the influence of Edwards’ preaching. But in his Faithful Narrative, Edwards tells of how under his grandfather Solomon Stoddard five “harvests” were experienced in his life. These “harvests” were the unfolding work of the Spirit within the village as well as in the church that Stoddard led.

You see, just as with the godly kings of Israel and Judah, Edwards understood that influence of leaders has long-lasting effects—for good or for evil. Stoddard was a godly man and he had a major effect in his parish and Edwards reaped many benefits from his grandfather’s groundwork in that town. But as time went by, the effects of sin began to return. And before the Great Awakening happened, many of the youth of Northampton were once again becoming more and more worldly—sound familiar?

So how did Edwards deal with this? Much like Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah dealt with it. Edwards picked up the mantle of leadership as the pastor of the church in Northampton. Edwards preached sermons to the church that demanded that the youth repent of their worldliness and carousing. And then he met with the fathers of those in his church and called upon them to take up their duty as leaders of their homes and begin to enforce godliness. Edwards wrote that his preaching fell upon those hard hearts and began to break them. And the fathers agreed. They began to see that the preached word was changing their children’s attitudes toward their sinful behavior. God had begun to move and the youth began to obey without much additional prodding by their fathers.

Many of us are preachers and fathers. If we want revival in our country, and our state and in our city and in our church it must start in our homes. We must preach for change—and for holiness. We must be godly leaders in our own homes and godly leaders require that our churches put into action what the Word of God says.

2. Respect for the Word of God

2 Chronicles 17:7-9, 30:1-27, 34:8-21

Second Chronicles 17:7-9 tells us that Jehoshaphat had a high view of the Word of God. In the third year of his reign, having cleared Judah of false worship, Jehoshaphat sent out his officials, along with a group of Levites and some priests to go throughout Judah to teach the “book of the Law of the Lord” to the people. The king knew that change is not merely an organizational or motivational agenda. He didn’t seek to write up a mission statement or cast a vision for the people. Instead, he immediately removed the clear violations of God’s Word and then proceeded to teach the people the Law so that they could see for themselves what God expected of them.

King Hezekiah understood that a respect for the Word of God is more than a mere reverence for the Book. True respect means to honor God with obedience. In 2 Chronicles 30, Hezekiah took the next step that was necessary after restoring the Temple: celebrating the Passover as prescribed in the Law. This required preparations that had not occurred for many years, including calling all of Israel to join in the feast. The priests were required to consecrate themselves in preparation for the day. With the feast and offerings came a renewed delight in God and His Word.

Josiah lived in a day when the Law had been lost. The Word of God was nowhere to be found and because of this, it was neither read nor obeyed. When the workmen assigned to restore and cleanse the Temple came across the Book of the Law it was brought before the King. As Shaphan the secretary read the Book before the king he immediately realized how disobedient Judah had been in not keeping the Law. From this reading Josiah could now understand God’s displeasure with His people and why He had poured out His wrath upon them. Straightaway Josiah sought to restore what had not been observed in the Law.

During the beginning of the Great Awakening, the people began to react to the preaching of the Word with intense passion. Societally, people were expected to attend church with the result that nominal Christians filled the pews at times. As Edwards saw the Spirit moving, he saw many of these same people respond to the preached Word with increased power and emotional response. The Word was softening the hard hearts of the people.

There is a way to pay lip service to the preaching of the Word—a mechanical way of going through the motions. But do we weep over our Bibles as we see our sinful selves reflected in the pages of Scripture (James 1:22-24)? Are we broken by the Word, allowing it to pierce into our hearts and scan our very souls (Hebrews 4:12-13)? And the man in the pulpit is no different. Many preachers lack passion in their preaching because they lack a passion in their hearts for God. Cold sermons often times come from a cold heart.

Let me ask you friend, do you think deeply about the Word of God, or do you plow through your Bible reading and devotions, excusing your quick reading as “better than nothing?” Do you think that God subscribes to the “quantity is better than quality” idea behind Bible reading?

At our churches, do we expect the Word to break hardened hearts, or are we timid, never really expecting that the Word will change much in others or ourselves? If we look at the amount of evangelism you do personally, we can see what you expect.

Opening up ourselves to be revived by the Holy Spirit will take the efforts of those who lead the church and the home. But every believer is called to have a holy reverence for the Word of God that extends beyond mere lip service.

Works Cited

Edwards, Jonathan. A Jonathan Edwards Reader. Ed. John E. Smith, Harry S. Stout, and Kenneth P. Minkema. New Haven: Yale UP, 2003.

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