The Laws of Revival - James Burns
CONTENTSFOREWORD AND INTRODUCTION
1. LAW OF PROGRESS
2. LAW OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH
3. LAW OF PERIODICITY
4. LAW OF EBBING TIDE
5. LAW OF THE FULLNESS OF TIME
6. LAW OF ADVENT OF THE PROPHET
7. LAW OF AWAKENING
8. LAW OF VARIETY
9. LAW OF RECOIL
10. LAW OF THE THEOLOGY OF
11. LAW OF THE COMING MOVEMENT
Revivals, the Law of the Coming Movement
Let us close with a glance into the future. With the help of these stated biblical principles, we will ask what the future has in store. Before we can do this, we must first examine the present condition of the Church and read the signs of our times.
First of all, no one pretends that all is well with the Church today. When allowance is made for exaggeration, there are enough problems left to arouse deep soul searching. On every side, there is complaint of the Church's loss of spiritual power, the increasing indifference of its people, and a decrease in membership. Where I here is not decline, there is a conscious arrest of her influence, and in the world a hostility to her claims.
The Church is still active. Never was there more activity and less result. There is abundant energy, but it is not conquering energy conscious of its power, but feverish energy, conscious of its impotence. The message of the pulpit has largely lost its power to convince, and the preacher his power to lead to conversion.
When we look beneath the surface, we see much to account for this. We have been passing through an age of commercialism. Never in the history of the world have the hearts of individuals been set with such a passion upon materialism. This has deadened men's and women's hearts to the Gospel. But this is not the sole reason. The Church itself has not escaped from materialism's corruption. It has been allowed to creep in and devitalize the Church's spiritual witness.
A new conscience is arising which is judging the Church by new standards. People are growing conscious of a contradiction between Christ's attitude toward the poor and the attitude of those who profess to be Christians. There is a growing sense of social injustice. Indignation is rising because, in the presence of this, the Church has remained silent — ignoring those who need it the most.
Much of this accusation is undeserved and can be repudiated by individual congregations. But concerning the Church in general, it is impossible to deny it. Because of this, many are making sacrificial efforts to rectify their attitudes, though they know that the Church is not behind them.
Another reason for the present state of impotence arises because we have gone through an age of theological unrest. Our foundations are shifting. It is an age of transition, and such periods are ones of suffering. This unrest in the area of belief has arisen through the scientific revival which has characterized this century. The progress has been amazing. But no area of human thought has been more threatened than theology. The theory of evolution has challenged the whole Christian creed and has demanded a reevaluation of its essential beliefs. Historic research dealing with the Bible has left nothing unexamined which was once considered too holy to touch.
For many, the result of these changes has been the unsettlement of belief; for others, the loss of their faith. For all, an uncertainty regarding even the most central doctrines has arisen. These changes have introduced into the pulpit an insecurity brought about by preachers who were not quite certain of their ground. A tendency to leave many of the disputed doctrines alone and rely upon moral precepts and good living has arisen.
The result is that much, if not all, of the message of Christianity has been silenced. Passion is simulated. Energy is directed toward useless things. People in the pew are unconsciously affected by the absence of certainty, and of intense conviction. So pulpit and pew are united in a common misgiving. People find it easy to drift from the Church. Their consciences are unaffected by their relapse, because there is not the atmosphere of reality which makes neglecting the Church a sin.
If this is true, then it is a fact which should awaken the dullest heart concerned about the welfare of the world and his or her own spiritual life. Of course, a weakening Church means that the forces working against the Church are growing stronger. It makes us turn to the future and ask, "What is before us? Is the day of the Church over? Must we live on to see the decline, until it results in death?"
From such questions we can turn away with a smile. The Church is not on the eve of destruction. It is on the eve of a revival. Like the day that comes when the long night is over, so every revival comes after times of tribulation. Nothing in the world is more certain than this. The question is not "if," but "when." Regarding such a question, it would be impious to speak with authority. It is not for us to know the times which God has hidden. At the same time, there is much to give us hope.
When we turn to the present social and political conditions, it is not difficult to see that a great revolution is taking place. There is emerging a multitude of the neglected, demanding recognition, justice, and human rights. A new cry is heard today. The cry not only pierces the halls of government, but echoes like a wail in our churches. It is the cry of those who are awakening to a sense of bitter wrong and of social discontent. As crude as their cry may be, it is valid. People are coming to the recognition that the poor and deprived are men and women made in the image of God, thus having value.
All awakenings are dangerous if unattended by spiritual illumination and allowed to grow in hostility to religion. As a rule, today's leaders are often not found in the Church. They are standing outside the Church, accusing it of betraying God. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant, only this pathetic and humiliating fact of history has to be recalled: nearly every great revival has originated outside of the Church. This may not happen today, but in times of degeneracy, the Spirit of Christ is often found outside of the Church. Again, when the Spirit is freshly poured out, it is not the Church, but those outside it who make the first response. Only afterward is the Church awakened.
The Church today appears helpless to cope with its growing responsibilities. The problems are so great that the Church seems to sink under the weight of them. It is the Church's duty, not to solve the problems, but to give an inspiration. It is a flood of new spiritual life that is needed. When the heart is alive, the hardest problem becomes solvable. Love awakes and finds its own channels. It is the Church's coldness that makes problems unsolvable.
The solution is a revival of spiritual religion — a new breath which will pass over the valley of dry bones and make them live. The world is ready for this revival, whether or not the Church is. For the Church, revival means humiliation, a bitter knowledge of unworthiness, and an open and humiliating confession of sin. It comes to scorch before it heals.
This is why revival has been unpopular with many within the Church. It says nothing to them of the power they have learned to love, the ease, or success. It accuses them of sin; it tells them that they are dead. It calls them to forsake all else and follow Christ.
Is the Church today ready to hear that voice? Some doubt it. It is upon the hearts of the few that the agony falls. Revivals are not preceded by the Church becoming aware of the need, but by a few people here and there, who, feeling the need, begin to entreat God for a revival. This sense of need grows into a burden, until the cry becomes an agony. This is the cry which God cannot deny.
No revival can come from below. All attempts to create a revival fail. Nor can we bring a revival down, since prayer is not the cause of a revival, but the human preparation for one. By prayer we prepare the soil.
Is there a disposition to pray for revival? Are devout men and women everywhere becoming alarmed, not for the success of the Church, but for the glory of Christ? If not, then the night is not far spent, a deeper darkness is yet to come. For what use would a revival be, if we were not prepared for it? It would pass over us without doing its work. J. Hudson Taylor affirmed this when he wrote, "The spirit of prayer is, in essence, the spirit of revival."
But there are signs that this burden to pray is being laid upon the souls of men and women. Many are beginning to passionately long for better things and to agonize in prayer. To fail in this is to be a traitor to Christ and to the deepest need of the world around us.
Encouragement that the dawn is near comes from another side. Some have pointed out that we have been passing through an age of criticism, when much of the accepted truth has not been able to stand the test. Most careful onlookers are convinced that the worst is over. The destructive era has ended and the constructive era has begun. A great change has overcome the leaders of science and of thought. There is a new reverence for the spiritual life, and thought has drifted far from the agnostic position.
One of the most significant facts connected with this new movement is the orthodox position. Much has changed, but nothing vital in Christian belief has been lost. The old lives still in the new. With the recognition of the spiritual reality, it is possible to return to that same sense of security of belief which makes a revival of religion possible. As long as belief was uncertain and those responsible to defend the Church's faith were panic-stricken, this was impossible. With the new confidence, there is also arising a longing for a revived Church.
It is encouraging that this dryness is only local. In other parts of the world, the wave that is subsiding here is flowing in full force. In Asia, Latin America, and Africa, Christianity is spreading rapidly. But not only there is Christianity growing, but also in Eastern Europe the growth is remarkable.
Of what character will the next revival be? No one can say, but there are certain things that we can hope for; others we may regard with certainty. First of all, no revival would be worth anything if it excluded those who are alienated from the Church. Whatever the message is, it must bring the people back to their heritage within the Church. It must bring the Church back to the needs of the poor and underprivileged. Such a message will demand a greater sacrifice than the Church has been called to make since its birth. For it was not power and position which won the hearts of the poor and outcast in those days, but it was the Church's poverty and love.
The next revival will move us toward unity, which goes along with the spirit of our age. Denominationalism is breaking down around us. In the face of the complexities of modern life, the cry for unity is heard. All that is needed is the increase of love that comes with revival, to cement those unions already formed.
Whatever form the coming awakening may take, we may be certain that it will bring us back to the essentials. This is the result of every true revival. It cuts through the trappings until it gets to the core of life. It leads men and women back to simplicity. When the heart earnestly seeks God, it takes the shortest route. Above all, it will bring us back to Christ.
The day may be near. Even now He may be preparing His messenger.
"But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner's fire and like fuller's soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He. will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasant to the Lord, as in the days of old, as in former years. And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against sorcerers, against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and the fatherless, and against those who turn away an alien — because they do not fear Me, says the Lord of hosts."