REVIVAL: THE MANIFEST PRESENCE OF GOD
By way of an appetizer, here’s an eyewitness account of something that happened at Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1906, as told by the pastor. “It was at a late prayer meeting, held in the evening at 9:30 that the fire of God fell. There was nothing, humanly speaking, to account for what happened. Quite suddenly, upon one and another came an overwhelming sense of the reality and awfulness of His presence and of eternal things. Life, death, and eternity seemed suddenly laid bare. Prayer and weeping began, and gained in intensity every moment...One was overwhelmed before the sudden bursting of the bounds.... Friends who were gathered sank on their knees. Each seemed to sing, and each seemed to pray, oblivious of one another. Then the prayer broke out again, waves and waves of prayer; and the midnight hour was reached. The hours had passed like minutes... One who was present says, ‘I cannot tell you what Christ was to me last night. My heart was full to overflowing. If ever my Lord was near to me, it was last night.’”
Let me read you some descriptions and definitions of revival both from those who have studied it, and from some who were involved in a revival.
“When you read the history of the past, you find that there have been periods in the history of the Church when she has been full of life, and vigour, and power. The statistics prove that people crowded to the house of God, whole numbers of people who were anxious and eager to belong to the Christian Church. Then the Church was filled with life, and she had great power; the Gospel was preached with authority, large numbers of people were converted regularly.... Christian people delighted in prayer. You did not have to whip them up to prayer meetings; you could not keep them away. They did not want to go home, they would stay all night praying. The whole Church was alive and full of power, and of vigour, and of might. And men and women were able to tell of rich experiences of the grace of God, visitations of His Spirit, a knowledge of the love of God that thrilled them, and moved them, and made them feel that it was more precious than the whole world. And as a consequence of all that, the whole life of the country was affected and changed.”
“You hear of people talking about these communications, and about their dealings with God and with the Lord Jesus Christ, the realisations of his presence, the manifestations of his love; of being almost overwhelmed by a sense of the nearness of the Lord Jesus Christ, of being filled with a sense of God’s glory and of his love.”
“Revival is not when the churches exchange members, but when the Holy Spirit changes lives.”
“Revival is a going of God among His people, and an awareness of God laying hold of the community...moving men and women who until then had no concern for spiritual things, to seek after God.”
The end result of revival is, “a community saturated with God.”
Wouldn’t you like to see something like that? I read those things, and my heart just yearns within me: O Lord, do it again! It’s been over 100 years since God visited this state with that kind of revival, and my prayer is that of Habakkuk 3:2, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.”
Revival is not a program; it’s not a series of meetings or a special speaker. It is something only God can do. We can prepare the way, but we cannot produce it. If there is any other explanation for it, it is not revival. In Germany in 1727, Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf described it this way, “Hitherto we had been the leaders and helpers. Now the Holy Spirit himself took full control of everything and everybody.”
During revival, nothing really new happens – it usually includes all the same elements that should be a part of normal church life–prayer, worship, preaching, evangelism, etc. But they happen more suddenly, spiritual growth is accelerated, and there is much greater intensity to everything.
Revivals are often known for their effects in the broader community, but they always start in the church. A revival implies that there is some life there to begin with. Once God’s people begin to be changed by the Lord, it then spreads to affect the whole community or nation, as it did after Pentecost.
II. The Manifest Presence of God Matthew 18:20; Acts 2:1-4
We believe that whenever Christians meet together, in church, or in homes, or at work, God is there. Jesus promised us, Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” So we can say confidently that Jesus Christ Himself is right here this morning in our sanctuary. But in Acts 2, the Spirit of Christ came among the disciples in a way that everyone knew it. They experienced His presence, rather than simply affirmed it as a point of doctrine like I just did. The same kind of thing happens in revival.
I have heard it said that we should not seek religious experiences, and there is some wisdom in that, because there are so many different religions, and they all offer some kind of experience. Early in the last century, William James wrote a book called The Varieties of Religious Experience, in which he describes religious experiences from around the world that will both challenge your theology and curl your hair. But to say that Christianity or Christ is not to be experienced is a serious mistake. That leads to what we might call “dead orthodoxy”, where people have all their theological t’s crossed, and i’s dotted, but do not have a living relationship with the living Christ. Yes, we want to have right doctrine; but we also want a real relationship with the God who is here! In revival, God manifests Himself to us, He makes Himself more real to us than ever before. It’s as though the veil that separates this world from the spiritual dimension becomes translucent or even transparent, instead of opaque, and we begin to see the spiritual realities much more clearly.
Brian Edwards has written an outstanding book called Revival! (see outline) in which he analyzes some of the characteristics that have been common to revivals throughout the centuries. Here are some of the main things he says we can expect when revival comes. They are all based on the character and nature of God, because revival is essentially the manifest presence of God.
When God manifests His presence, when He makes Himself real to us,
A. His holiness convicts of sin Isaiah 6:3; 40
This is almost always the first impression people have of God when He comes in a revival. Certainly that was true for Isaiah, when he saw the Lord, high and lifted up, with the angels flying around and singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord Almighty!” (Is 6:3). The Hebrew word for holy (qadosh) comes from a root that means to cut or separate, so it means that God is separate from His creation. He is not like us. Pascal said God created man in His image, and ever since then we have been trying to return the favor by making Him in our image. But as God so pointedly asked Isaiah, Isaiah 40:25, “‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.” No one is anything like God. He is absolutely unique in all the universe. He is set apart from all that is ordinary, or common. One of the primary things that makes Him so different is His absolute purity and righteousness. That is what strikes fear into the hearts of those who see Him in His holiness. God is holy...
A1 ...so we repent
Isaiah’s response to the holiness of God is instructive: Isaiah 6:5, "Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." When he saw the holiness of God, he was immediately impressed with his own unholiness. He was suddenly convicted deeply of his sin, and knew that he was in desperate trouble in the presence of such a holy one.
In revival, Christians weep over the sins that at present they casually tolerate. They see these things as the offenses that they are against a holy, pure, and righteous God, and they are deeply grieved, often to the point of tears. In January, 1907, God was moving in a powerful way in North Korea, and a western missionary recalled one particular scene: “Man after man would rise, confess his sins, break down and weep, and then throw himself to the floor and beat the floor with his fists in perfect agony of conviction...And so the meeting went on until two o’clock a.m., with confession and weeping and praying... Some threw themselves full length on the floor, hundreds stood with arms outstretched toward heaven. Every man forgot every other. Each was face to face with God. I can hear yet that fearful sound of hundreds of men pleading with God for life, for mercy.” We hear something like that, and we are likely to be put off by the outward display of emotion, but folks, that wasn’t something the missionaries or the pastors drummed up; it was a completely unself-conscious and absolutely appropriate and necessary response to the holiness of God.
When God manifests His presence, we see that
B. He is glorious Isaiah 6:1-4
David Brainerd, a missionary to the American Indians in the early 1700s, wrote this in his journal: “As I was walking in a dark, thick grove, unspeakable glory seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul. I do not mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing,...but it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God, such as I never had before.... I stood still, wondered and admired! I knew that I had never seen before anything comparable to it for excellency and beauty....it appeared to be a Divine Glory. My soul rejoiced with joy unspeakable to see such a God, such a glorious Divine Being, and I was inwardly pleased and satisfied that He should be God over all for ever and ever. My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellency, loveliness, greatness, and other perfections of God that I was even swallowed up in Him.”
Jonathan Edwards had a similar experience of God’s glory at about the same time: “I had a view that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God as Mediator between God and man, and His wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. This grace that appeared so calm and sweet, appeared also great above the heavens. The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception....”
Story after story is told of similar experiences of individuals and groups who came face to face with the glory of God. They remind us of the powerful experience Isaiah had, which he described in chapter 6, Isaiah 6:1-4, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’  At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”
God is glorious,
B1 ...so we worship Him
Revival is all about the glory of God. He brings revival, not so we can have more fun as Christians, but so that He can get the glory He deserves, both from the Church, and the world, as people everywhere are forced to acknowledge who He is.
In revivals, worship services seem to go on and on, because the people don’t want to leave the beautiful presence of God. One pastor in Wales wrote in 1904, “I cannot leave the building...until twelve and even one o’clock in the morning—I have closed the service several times, and yet it would break out again quite beyond the control of human power.” People often gather spontaneously at the church every night of the week. They come early, before the appointed time of the service, unlike many of us, who tend to arrive fashionably late. All the other programs of the church are put on hold because Jesus is the center of attention. The singing is usually the same songs that congregation used to sing, but now there is a special quality to the singing. People put their hearts into it; the words are more meaningful; the music moves their emotions. The manifest presence of God moves people to spontaneous worship of His glorious person.
I often wonder what we would do if Jesus appeared in a visible way to us here in church. If the president walked in, we would all stand as a sign of respect for his office. But if Jesus manifested Himself, I suspect we might find ourselves on our faces in worship. That is certainly what has happened time and again in revivals. People are overwhelmed with the sense of God’s glory, and they have to express that in some physical way.
When God manifests His presence, we realize
C. He is available and real Genesis 28:16-17
When revival comes, everyone is impressed with the fact that God is here, and He is real. The reality of God makes all the difference. They are like Jacob when he awoke from his sleep and thought, Genesis 28:16-17, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”  He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” We know God is here now; but when we know it experientially, we will pray as never before.
C1 ...so we pray
Here’s a report from Ulster, Ireland in 1859, “Our congregational prayer meeting was attended by some fifty persons ordinarily. During the three months past, whether held four times or seven times a week, it is attended by more than twenty times that number.” That would be a thousand people at a prayer meeting! Our Sunday evening prayer meeting averages about 20 people, so if we were to see twenty times that, we would have more like 400 each week. In revival, prayer becomes a delight and a joy, rather than a burden. That’s not to say it is easy; there is a spiritual battle to be waged in prayer. But the reality of God’s presence makes it obvious to everyone that we can, and should, pray.
Sometimes, a burden of prayer has so overwhelmed a congregation that everyone prayed at once. “In Korea in 1907, the missionaries felt a tension as if everyone longed to pray. One of them said, ‘If it helps you to all pray together, then pray in that way.’ Then a tide began to sweep through the church. There was no confusion; it was a single harmony of prayer, as if all the voices of all the praying congregation merged together to form a single cry to God. There was not the slightest disorder.”
When God manifests His presence,
D. He speaks through His Word
Every revival in history has included powerful preaching of God’s word. The men who preach in revivals are always unafraid and urgent. They are conscious of the fact that the eternal destinies of their hearers hang in the balance, and are passionate about pressing people to get right with God. The cross of Christ is always at the center of revival preaching, because this is at the center of the good news that God has for mankind. Christ died for you—that’s the central message.
But beyond that gospel message, believers hear God speaking through His Word addressing all sorts of areas of their lives, and they get serious about their obedience.
D1 ...so we obey
The repentance that I mentioned earlier is followed by a compulsion to obey God in the smallest matters. People who have tolerated and even joked about their sins are now horrified that they would do so, and go to great lengths to make things right. In 1953, in what was then the Belgian Congo, a revival had this remarkable effect: “Many had stolen from the state, and the Christians...wanted to make restitution. So many things were being returned to the Belgian Office that an embarrassed official wrote to [the missionary], “Mr Davies, I’ve no time to handle all this. Tell them to come to your mission and fill a truck and you bring a load down.”
When God manifests His presence,
E. His sacrifice for us becomes precious
The message of the gospel becomes something entirely different from dry doctrine. It literally becomes “good news”, which is what the word gospel means. We’ve all heard the story so many times that it becomes “old hat”. Our emotional response to it is virtually nil. But in revival, it becomes much more meaningful. Then we realize in a powerful way that Christ died for us! It’s like a cancer victim reading of a cure for cancer that is available to everyone. It’s the news for drought victims in Africa that a water tanker is coming, and they can drink all they want. It’s a last-minute reprieve for a convicted murderer on death row. This is really good news!
E1 ...so we spread the good news
The result is that people want to spread the good news to everyone they know, and even people they don’t know who need to hear it. So now the nuclear reaction that has been building in the church explodes outward, and the entire community is affected. Stories abound of the town drunk, or the hardest man in the village, coming weeping to the altar, begging people to pray for them. People that no one ever thought would darken the door of the church are there every night, seeking mercy.
Evangelism in our local community, with our friends and family, is the weakest part of our church life right now. But in a revival, it won’t be a burden, or something that the leadership has to try to push, pull, and drag people into; it will be a desperate concern on the part of everyone. We will be passionate about telling people this good news. There’s a contemporary Christian song out now that has the line in it, “Wake the neighbors, get the word out!” and that is pretty much what happens in revival. We’ll no longer be so concerned about what people may think of us, because we will be much more concerned about what they think of Jesus. In revival, both those who are sharing and their hearers feel the horrors of hell and the glories of heaven, and it results in many people being saved.
E2 ...so people are saved
First, in the church. People who have attended church all their lives are brought face to face with the fact that they do not have a saving relationship with Christ. They know the stories; they memorized the Apostle’s Creed; they have been active in the life of the church. But they are lost! In a revival, this realization dawns on many church-goers.
Then it spreads outside the church, and hundreds of thousands, even millions of new believers, pour into the churches. In Wales in 1904, over 100,000 were converted and brought into the churches in a three month period of time; in the Great Awakening in New England, perhaps 7% of the total population was saved. Think what it would be like if that happened today —7% of the current U.S. population of 296 million is 20,700,000 people who would be converted. Do you think that would affect the social and spiritual climate of the country?
It certainly has in other times and places when revival came. In Wales in 1904, the judges were presented with white gloves: they had no cases to try. No rapes, no robberies, no murders, no burglaries, no embezzlements, nothing. The District Consuls held emergency meetings to discuss what to do with the police, now that they were unemployed. Drunkenness was cut in half. The illegitimate birth rate dropped 44% in two counties within a year of the beginning of the revival.
Born-again Christians comprise maybe 40% of the United States population, but we have a minuscule effect on the culture. In a revival, the Church becomes God’s agent of cultural transformation. How do you change the culture? Not through legislation, or getting the right person on the Supreme Court, but by one person at a time coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
III. What Will You Do?
In a revival, God makes His presence felt in a powerful way. It is no longer just an affirmation of faith, but a real, life-changing experience. People become aware of His holiness, and are moved to genuinely repent of things they usually don’t even think about. A vision of His glory moves them to heartfelt, enthusiastic worship. The reality of His presence calls people to pray like never before. God speaks through His Word, calling His people to a more conscientious and instantaneous obedience. And the blessed hope of the gospel, the good news of God, grips their hearts and moves them to spread the good news, with the result that hundreds, thousands, and even millions are saved.
Oh, friends! I want this! I need it for myself; I want it for us; I want it for Loveland. Will you join me in this quest? Will you seek His face until you find Him? You may not be the up-front leader; you might be the person who lays hold of the throne of God and calls down the power of the Spirit. Will you be the one who believes and prays and seeks until God pours out His Spirit on our church and our city?