I. Is a Revival Necessary?
Some weeks ago a panel at one of our seminars discussed the question of revival, but because of lack of time had to close their excellent presentation leaving the following question unanswered: "Does this denomination need a revival?"
Because this question, with various ramifications, arises frequently in these significant times, it is appropriate that we discuss it. The basic question, as it was raised, is answered very simply by the servant of the Lord. She says: "A revival . . . is the greatest and most urgent of all our needs."—Christian Service, p. 41.
To take any other position would be to take the side of Satan in this Christian warfare. Inspiration says, "If Satan had his way, there would never be another awakening, great or small, to the end of time."—Selected Messages, book 1, p. 124. "Satan will do his utmost to keep . . . [God's people] in a state of indifference and stupor." —Christ Our Righteousness, p. 124.
II. What Is a Revival?
Logically we should consider first, What is a revival? A revival is a renewal of spiritual life, a quickening of the powers of mind and heart, a resurrection from spiritual death. A revival is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit upon the hearts of men. The natural heart of man is incapable of knowing or appreciating righteousness. His heart is evil and he is alienated from God. Sin not only separates the soul from God but it destroys in us both the capacity and the desire for knowing Him. Unless something outside of man takes hold of his heart, man is doomed to death. It takes a revival to bring him to his senses. When the Holy Spirit has succeeded in awakening the human heart to a sense of sin, to a knowledge of God and the reality of the judgment, he may respond to the work of revival which the Holy Spirit has brought, or he may reject it.
Revival in a Mass Meeting
Revival is generally thought of as only a moving upon the multitudes in some great religious gathering, such as on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached that effective sermon under the power of the Spirit, causing those who heard to be "pricked in their heart." They were moved to say "unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized . . . , and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:37, 38). Not everyone accepted the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but of those who did, it is written, "They that gladly received his word were baptized. . . . And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine" (verses 41, 42).
In the Family Circle
However, a revival does not have to be experienced in a large mass meeting. The Holy Spirit brought a revival to a family in Philippi under a combination of circumstances. Paul and Silas had been thrown into the lowest dungeon and held fast in stocks. Notwithstanding the extreme torture of their painful position they did not murmur but encouraged each other with words of prayer and songs of praise. The other prisoners, and the jailer himself, were deeply impressed with the conduct of these Christians. Later that night when the Lord visited the prison with an earthquake and burst open every cell, the prisoners followed the restraining counsel of Paul and Silas and remained in their places instead of fleeing for freedom, which would have left the jailer liable for their escape and exposed to execution for his neglect. As the whole truth dawned on the jailer that his prisoners were still there and his life was safe, he flung himself before these unusual men and asked how he could have peace, integrity, and salvation. The Word says, "He called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, . . . and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Acts 16:29, 30).
This man responded to the revival power of the Holy Spirit and the instruction of Paul and "was baptized, he and all his, straightway" (verse 33).
Paul preached a revival to another family—Felix and Drusilla—but with far different results. As Paul "reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled" (chap. 24:24, 25). He was brought under conviction but answered, "Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." Felix rejected the revival and never again did he listen to the voice of God. Though "he sent for. . . [Paul] the oftener, and communed with him," it was not for divine enlightenment. Having rejected God, he followed the dictates of his natural heart by seeking of Paul a bribe "that he might loose him" (verse 26).
In an Individual
A revival may come to an individual without a living preacher or even the facilities of a church, as in the case of the prodigal son. In the desperate desolation of his circumstances, the prodigal responded to the enlightening influence of the Holy Spirit. "He came to himself." Then suddenly realizing his father's resources and his goodness, he submitted to the Spirit's appeals "and he arose, and came to his father" (Luke 15:17, 20).
III. Why Is the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Need of Revival?
I think of five reasons why a revival is needed among us. First, our own poor hearts and lives testify to that need. When we take inventory, when we take time to reflect as the Holy Spirit unites with us in exposing the roots of our affection, we must confess our selfishness. We see our hardness, our wont to criticize, our indifference; and we must acknowledge, "I need a revival."
Second, because of the conditions in some of our homes. How we need a new birth of love in our homes! At a camp meeting a girl came up to one of our ministers and said, "What's the use of my trying to be a Christian? My home is impossible. All I hear is bickering and quarreling. Father and mother went to the early meeting this morning. They took their Bibles and took down notes in their notebooks. But as soon as they returned to the tent they had a row. They are fighting there in the tent now. What's the use of trying to be a Christian?"
Third, because God says so. Revelation 2:4 states, "I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love." God caused this text to burn with fire before Ellen G. White, and she wrote: " 'I am instructed to say that these words are applicable to Seventh-day Adventist churches in their present condition. The love of God has been lost, and this means the absence of love for one another. Self, self, self is cherished, and is striving for the supremacy.'" —Christ Our Righteousness, p. 120.
Only the reviving power of God can change such a situation, for the tragedy is that we do not sense the seriousness of our condition. We are led to believe that things are much better than they are and we are offended when someone suggests that all is not well in Zion. "Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:17).
"'We need the Holy Spirit in order to understand the truths for this time; but there is spiritual drouth in the churches, and we have accustomed ourselves to be easily satisfied with our standing before God.' "—Ibid., p. 119. "'The slumbering church must be aroused, awakened out of its spiritual lethargy, to a realization of the important duties which have been left undone.' "—Ibid., p. 118.
Fourth, the conditions in the church demonstrate it. The lack of zeal for evangelism, the indifference toward the multitudes who are without Christ, the inconsistency, the fanatical pursuit of amusements, all testify to our need. "Lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God" is applicable to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. We can pack the house with an entertainment of some kind, but hardly a corporal's guard appear for prayer meeting. "The church has turned back from following Christ her Leader and is steadily retreating toward Egypt. Yet few are alarmed or astonished at their want of spiritual power. Doubt, and even disbelief of the testimonies of the Spirit of God, is leavening our churches everywhere."—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 217.
Finally, we need a revival because it is imperative. Without this the church would become so apostate that God could not claim her as His own. "'God calls for a spiritual revival and a spiritual reformation. Unless this takes place, those who are lukewarm will continue to grow more abhorrent to the Lord, until He will refuse to acknowledge them as His children.-- Christ Our Righteousness, p. 121.
IV. Isn't Such a Bold Emphasis Dangerous?
Isn't such teaching apt to run into fanaticism and extremes? Of course it is dangerous. But do you know of anything of great potential power that is not dangerous? Electricity is a dangerous thing, but I am not ready to give up the convenience and blessing of electricity because someone gets killed once in a while by unwarranted contact with it.
Every true revival from the time of the apostle Paul has had to contend with fanaticism. But in spite of the extremes, I am thankful those revivals and reformations came, aren't you? The prince of evil contests every inch of the advance of God's people in their heavenward journey. Reformation history testifies that no revival is carried forward without meeting serious obstacles.
Whether you consider the days of Luther, the Wesleys, William Miller, the Whites, or others, every true reformer who blessed the world with his faith and influence was beset not only from without the church but more particularly from within, where two groups developed. On the right hand, they encountered at every step the wiles of Satan in pushing overzealous, unbalanced, and unsanctified ones into fanaticism of every kind. On the left were the cold formalists who, remaining aloof from the work of reform, pointed their finger at the reformers who were laboring untiringly against extremes and charged these stalwarts of God with all the evils of fanaticism.