Sermons at Salvation Temple

The Laws of Revival - James Burns















Revivals, the Law of Awakening

When these elements of preparation, timing, and leadership fall into place, the awakening occurs. The people that walked in darkness see a great light. They fling off the garments of despair and celebrate life.

In each movement there is something incalculable. New forces, long preparing under the surface, burst into being. The revival's tide rolls on from an unseen continent and moves with a fathering, unresisting momentum. Yet while each is individual, there is uniformity. Each revival is characterized by the extraordinary swiftness with which it spreads. Once the first words of the new message are spoken, mysterious forces arise, like the wind, and carry them from place to place. The revival spreads like an epidemic. It bursts out in places that have not been in contact with other Infected places, and individuals are moved in multitudes. Luther's nailing of the 98 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg seemed to be of little importance, but it was a spark to a dry forest, and the fire that it began has yet to be put out. When Wesley stood up in the open air to address a crowd of illiterate miners, no one knew that it would be the beginning of one of the largest Protestant churches in the world. The rapidity with which revivals spread is an indication of the silent preparation which goes on beneath the surface long before the revival itself takes place. It shows how God's Spirit is always active.

Everyone who studies the phenomena of revivals is struck by the similarity of the effects produced upon those who are touched by them. Two of these stand out with startling vividness and are common to all.

First of all is the deep conviction of sin. In the intense spiritual light, the sin and guilt of the awakened soul stand out in terrifying blackness. Not only are their sins laid bare, but the convicted see themselves as in a mirror. Every sin, seemingly minor, confronts them. Their sin drags them to judgment. Terror seizes them as the conviction of sin burns like fire. Yet this terror of the Lord is not the terror of punishment. It is inspired by a sense of having rebelled against God. Under this agony of conviction, men and women openly confess their sins. Their one intense longing is to cast their sins forever from them, to be brought into reconciliation and peace with God. Even those who are only attracted by curiosity feel the irresistible power dragging them to confession. Some, though totally ignorant of spiritual things, are brought to conversion.

The dulled conscience has permitted many things to creep within the Church's doors. They might not be wrong in themselves, but lend to dull the edge of its spiritual life. When the inner fires cease to glow with love for Christ, there is nothing left to defend the Church from the world. In many cases, divisions arise or worship is reduced to cold formalities. Worldly practices are permitted in order to maintain interest. Although they are condemned by many, there is not the power to eject them. The Church becomes worldly, selfish, and almost Christless.

With a revival, all this is changed. The Church's long defection ends. Anew consciousness of sin is awakened in the Church as well as in the individual. There passes over the Church a wave of deep conviction and shame. Then follows a time of reformation, of purging the Impurities. It seeks by united prayer and Intense zeal to bring to Jesus those who do not know Him. This reformation of the Church is not sudden. The Church absorbs those large masses affected by the revival and fresh life is poured back into the hearts of its members. Actually, the fresh winds of revival may break outside the boundary or walls of the organized church, and become the spiritual fire to ignite the church, and the divine detergent to cleanse and refresh its ministry.

The second characteristic produced by a revival movement is its joy. When the night is passed, and with it the agony of conviction and the grief and terror of sin, there breaks upon the humbled heart the peace of forgiveness. No joy on earth compares with this that awakens in the forgiven heart. People have exhausted language in trying to describe it.

At such times, Isaiah's description of the mountains and hills breaking forth into singing and all the trees of the field clapping their hands does not appear excessive. To those caught in the revival's flood, all the world seems changed. Their hearts are light, and their faces glow.

This joy is not limited to those newly converted. It fills the hearts of those who are already followers of Christ. It sweeps into the Church, making all its worship pulse and glow with spiritual fervor. This is the effect of revival, wherever it appears. It leaves in its wake numberless men and women whose faces glow with a new light and whose hearts throb with an intense and pure joy.

This new gladness characteristically finds an outlet in song. Song is the natural expression of the jubilant heart. It is the escape valve for feelings which are too exhilarating to remain silent. Most of the great leaders of revival have been poets, and the revival is born along the wings of praise. Singing has been a prominent feature in most revivals.

The conditions for revival are timeless. There are no 20th century shortcuts. In 1904, all Wales was aflame with revival. The nation had drifted far from God, and spiritual conditions were at the lowest. Church attendance was pitiably poor and practices of immorality and sinful indulgence abounded on every hand. Suddenly, through the power of prayer, like an unexpected tornado, the power of God moved in and swept over the land. Churches were crowded with three services every day lasting from 10 a.m. to 12 midnight. Evan Roberts was the human instrument God used to turn the tide of revival.

There was little preaching —mostly singing, testimonies, and prayer. There were no hymnbooks, no offerings, no advertising —but everybody sang. History records there were more songs composed than sermons delivered. Nothing had ever come over Wales with such mighty, far-reaching results.

Infidels were converted. Drunks, thieves, and thugs by the hundreds were born again. Multitudes of the most respected and socially prominent were converted. Old debts were paid, theaters and pubs closed, and the mules in the mines refused to work, being unused to the transformed attitudes of the workers, nor were they thereafter required to work on the Lord's Day.

Whatever the expression, the gladness itself is never absent. In many, it becomes so extreme that it can be dangerous. Almost every revival is accompanied by outbursts of excitement and by startling physical phenomena. Outbreaks of physical anguish are followed by outbursts of uncontrollable joy. The effect of these extreme emotions on unstable people is often disastrous. A revival's value is not to be based on these exceptions. Many who are looking for reasons to point a finger at the movement use these cases to justify their criticisms. Those whose minds are fixed on the trivial and hearts are void of spiritual life miss the true impact of the revival on the individual soul.

All revivals affect large masses of the community. They leave a permanent influence for good behind them and create a new era in progress. All revivals start from the bottom. Their leaders are almost entirely of the people. Their greatest influence is on the poor and upon those neglected by the Church. When faith is waning, the Church loses its spirit of sacrifice. It becomes self-seeking. It uses its influence over its members to obtain comfort and ease. As a consequence, those masses of the community who are unattractive because of their ignorance and poverty are neglected.

When the news of redeeming love is proclaimed with passionate joy and conviction, the poor are reached. It is the common people who hear it with gladness. They live in poverty, neglected and uncared for by those who ought to give their lives for them. Having found little to satisfy their hunger for love, their hearts are drawn to the message of God's love. Drawn into Christianity, their hearts are uplifted by pure emotion. Their whole lives are changed, and they become an asset to the wealth of a nation. Thus a revival means the recreation of large portions of the community, a segment that once seemed to be a deficit to society. In the light of this fact, it would be trite to say that the next revival will be an ethical one. All revivals are ethical. They move, if authentic and sent from above, not merely in the realm of emotion but in the sphere of the conscience and the will. They leave behind them not merely joyful, but changed lives. The chains of addiction are broken. Revivals implant a new set of emotions within the heart. They inspire men and women to develop their characters and enrich their lives through education, self-discipline, and especially prayer.

The effect of a revival upon the Church is no less profound and far-reaching. For while the word "revive" literally means "to bring to life again," the word in its religious context includes the awakening of those who were dead and rejuvenating those who were alive but slumbering.

Every revival exposes the spiritual decay of the Church, with its worldliness and hypocrisy. This spiritual decay seems to move along two different lines.

The first tendency is for the doctrine of the Church to lose its power to convict the conscience, convince the mind, or move the mind. After a time of immense theological interest, that interest begins to wane. People's minds are attracted by fresh discoveries in other fields. Thus, theology fails to keep pace with the fresh thought of the age. It is outdated and treated with contempt by other areas of human thought, which are on the cutting edge of progress.

In addition, each age requires a restatement of truth. The truth does not change, but our comprehension of it does. We are taught to see it from new angles and with an altered perspective. Thus, there is the necessity for a new statement, for a reinterpretation of the old words in terms of the new. For words are like coins, of full value fresh from the mint, but capable of being defaced and robbed of their full value. In spiritually dead times, preachers continue to use the old words. Once so full of power, now they have no impact. This is partly because the language has changed, but also because the words have become the mere jargon of the pulpit. Preachers mumble out their cliches that have no impact on the conscience or the heart, because they themselves have ceased to be moved by them.

The Church passes through a period of skepticism. Unbelief chills its vital fires, and hypocrisy leaves its message powerless.

With the first pronouncement of the leader's living message, all this passes away. A new aspect of truth is declared, or an old and forgotten truth is restated, and suddenly people's hunger is appeased. They are fed again with the bread of life.

The second tendency in spiritual decay is for worship to become formal. The pulpit exalts ritual until the spirit is crushed. Religion is represented, not as a response of the soul to God, but as a rigid performance of outward observances and ceremonies. Ritual forms of worship, even when elaborate, are not evil in themselves. Some people find their spiritual life enriched by them. They are not dangerous to the general worshiper as long as the spiritual life of the church is intense, and the form is the expression of the spirit. It is when the spiritual fire departs that the danger appears. The form then becomes an end in itself. Strict obedience to it becomes religion and is coldly offered to God in lieu of spiritual worship. At such times, outward observance increases rather than diminishes. The self-righteous are given opportunity to display their zeal, while they impose heavy burdens upon the hearts of the humble and the ignorant. This shift of focus, from inner life to outward observance, divorces religion from morality.

At such a time, the pastorate degenerates. The love of wealth, ease, and power appears. Ministers become the object of scorn to the skeptical and indifferent.

An example of this is the condition of Israel at the time of Christ. When the Israelites returned from the captivity, the rulers of die people turned to the Law with passionate devotion. While this devotion remained, the spiritual life of Israel was maintained. No sooner did it diminish than the minute observances of the Law became intolerable bondage. Their religion, emptied of its spiritual content, became a worship of externals. So bankrupt of spiritual discernment did the people become that the hypocrite became the popular ideal of the religious person. They had become so dead that they not only failed to recognize the Messiah, but crucified Him as a heretic.

Christ had lamented over such people— "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37, NKJV).

This despiritualizing of religion, this worship of the form rather than of the spirit, is a constant threat to the Church. However, the moment the first breath of revival touches the heart of the Church, the chains which bind it are broken. With a new joy, it returns to simplicity of worship and intense sincerity of life.

©1993  World Wide Publications