Below you will find short interactions with classic theological literature to help introduce you to some of the giants upon whose shoulders we stand. There will also be irregular posts formed out of sermons, Bible studies, or coffee after 5:00pm.
Revival is understood by different people in different ways. Some traditions host revivals for a week or two in the summer time with a more evangelistic tenor. The preaching is squarely designed to fall on the ears of the lost. Those are good endeavors, but what's being revived? Spiritual revivals are intended not to reach the lost but to revive the Spirit of God in believers. Hence, revival.
But we should not make a distinction without a difference. We were all at one time lost and perishing, and through hearing the word of God, believed. So evangelistic preaching should not be relegated to a time of the year but should be done at all times. God's people need the gospel preached to them as much as the lost.
Today I want to turn to a book called Revival and Revivalism by Iain H. Murray. Murray states quite clearly that he has written this book to “encourage prayer for another great outpouring of the Spirit of God.” But he intends to show that God acting in greater force than what is considered normal is never prompted by any action or intent of man.
Many have tried to use peculiar tactics to force God’s hand or convert people in their own power. These things do not manipulate the sovereign God of the universe. On the contrary, a mighty fall of God’s Spirit is always accompanied or marked by the normal means of grace—the faithful preaching of his Word and the unceasing prayer of his people. True revival will always be an act of God.
Murray blends history with critical evaluation of the events that transpired and the people involved. Not every minister receives equal weight, but instead he focuses on those whose preaching and ministry were outstanding in their day. He also interprets and applies both lessons from revivals and warnings from revivalism to today. These are perhaps his greatest contributions.
Murray begins by highlighting important moments in the life of Samuel Davies. Davies was converted at age 15 and went on to study for the ministry at the log college of Fagg’s Manor. Davies was instrumental also in the beginning of the College of New Jersey, the forerunner to Princeton Theological Seminary. He would later serve as its president. Davies’ relationship to revival was based on faithfulness and allowing God to work.
Murray says of Davies, “In speaking of the meaning of revival it is also essential to note that what Davies and his brethren believed about revival was not something separate from, or additional to, their main beliefs; it was, rather, a necessary consequence.” Davies saw revival as a result of faithful preaching and mighty prayer.
Murray turns his focus to Virginia once again in the late 1700’s. Baptists were now gaining influence in the new world. The change took place because of the “caliber of the preachers and by the lives of those converted under their ministry.” The Church of England was persecuting Baptist preachers (who were not allowed to preach in the colonies), so they held “the status of reformers.”
Baptists also found success by being able to cooperate with ministers of other denominations. Christians of all persuasions, however, are tempted to mistake excessive emotion for true conversion. Despite the success of however many denominations, Murray reminds those who would misjudge a person’s confession that “a winnowing season generally follows revival.” The chaff often quickly falls away after harvest.
“The Great Revival” took place between 1787-1789. What marked this period was a desire for spiritual experiences, devotion to prayer, and acts of charity. Many denominations experienced revival during this time, but it was the Presbyterians who experienced the greatest resurgence of saving faith. Murray introduces us to Archibald Alexander and several other prominent Presbyterian ministers of the period. Presbyterians were able to remain a force for good because of their willingness to plant schools and colleges for young ministers in ways that other evangelical denominations were not.
A number of denominations began to see decline toward the end of the eighteenth-century due to inward controversies. However, Murray writes that much of what is known about this decline is exaggerated. Many others considered this time period to be “the age of Bibles and missionaries”. This is the period known as the Second Great Awakening, generally agreed to have lasted from 1800-1825.
Not only did the Second Great Awakening outlast the first, but it also spread among more denominations. Murray makes four observations about this period: it was widely agreed upon that the only means necessary for the spread of the gospel in this period were the means which God had instituted from the beginning: the preaching of the Word and prayer; denominations became more active as a result; the Awakening had major impacts in institutions of learning; and preachers sought to help their congregations notice the presence of God in ways that did not involve exaggerated passions.
After Kentucky became a state, many of the earliest settlers were Baptist and Presbyterians. Kentucky ministers faced their own issues in a new state. Congregations could not be established as quickly as the land was being settled. This led to a different sort of revival from the eastern states. The most peculiar distinction was the use of “camp meetings.” What began as a Scottish Presbyterian custom due to the infrequency of receiving the Lord’s Supper quickly became an event that would have lasting influence among many denominations.
“All awakenings begin with the return of a profound conviction of sin.” Murray notes that while revivals begin under these conditions, they often find themselves qualified by “emotional excitement.” The fears of many ministers were that the results would be profound disorder and greater overall resistance to the gospel while others found no reason to condemn such practices if some fruit was being produced.
Murray then notes five of the most influential pastors/leaders during the time of the Second Great Awakening: Lyman Beecher, Edward Payson, Edward Griffin, Asahel Nettleton, and Gardiner Spring. Murray includes them because “the lives of these men show the clear difference between knowing revival and being a ‘revivalist.’” These five leaders chose to faithfully preach the Word and to devote themselves to prayer and so trust God to reap the harvest. They noted that long periods of time could take place between the planting of the Word in a man’s heart and the harvest of conversion. These men recognized the danger in urging people simply to make decisions when no sense of the indwelling of the Spirit of God is present.
Murray introduces Charles Grandison Finney as the standard-bearer of the “new measures.” Finney was initially a missionary to the west but would up in New York. Finney felt compelled to use provocative measures to prompt revival which caused controversy between him and many of his contemporaries in the Presbyterian church. Several publications denounced these measures as unfounded and irregular, read, unbiblical.
While Finney was not the instigator of these measures, he finally came to the conclusion that they were the “essence of revival” and “the whole controversy became personalized around himself.” Finney’s main point of contention was with the Calvinistic doctrines of human depravity. He believed that man’s will, not his nature, was the hindrance to conversion. This Arminian stance put him at odds with the orthodoxy of his day. Murray argues that “it is clear that belief about conversion will determine what men believe about revival."
The new measures divided many congregations by calling into question the effectiveness of those ministers who refused to use them. If a minister wasn't using the most effective, pragmatic tactics, what good was he? Archibald Alexander and others in Princeton worked diligently to keep these new measures from further infiltrating the Presbyterian church. New divisions were formed in the old school and new school, and each was accusing the other of heterodoxy.
Murray spends significant time interpreting the change that democracy brought to the understanding of revival. Because democracy gave the common man a voice, “traditional positions and offices stood for far less, and half-educated, fast-talking speakers, claiming to preach the simple Bible, and attacking the Christian ministry, were more likely than ever to find a hearing.” The definition of ministerial success devolved from a standard of faithfulness to God’s Word to large numbers of converts. By the 1830’s, the Second Great Awakening was ending. The new measures were unable to maintain what doctrinal preaching had begun. Finney’s only rationale for this lack of success was that others opposed him and his methods too harshly.
Baptists were committed to establishing congregations wherever there were people. They were willing to cooperate with those of other denominations who shared similar doctrinal commitments. Perhaps the secret to the power of early American Baptist life was that they made certain to know the power of the doctrine they were teaching. Minister/preachers such as James Manning and Isaac Backus were examples of the doctrinal vibrancy of Baptist churches.
There were, however, those who were determined to see the same influx of Arminian doctrine into the Baptist churches that infiltrated other denominations. On the other extreme, forms of Hyper-Calvinism were also finding their way into Baptist teachings. There were of course those who stood by well-worn patterns of biblical preaching. Many preachers were convinced that ignoring the issue of sin in preaching would never convict the sinner and never comfort the believer (326-27).
James Alexander, son of Archibald Alexander, ministered during the awakening of 1857-1858. Although he initially opposed Calvinism, viewing it as a “hindrance to evangelism,” he eventually believed as his father did—that Calvinism is far more doctrinally vibrant and truer than any other. He lamented that “the Gospel is not attractive enough for people now-a-days. Ministers must bait their trap with something else. The old-fashioned topics are seldom heard.” Most of his work was to undo what had been done. He preaching orthodox doctrines and made no room for “excesses of mere excitement.” By this time the definition of revival had become so convoluted that no two people agreed on its meaning.
Murray concludes by noting once again the patterns of revival and the differences from revivalism. Revivals are the works of God; revivalism is an attempt by man to do God’s work. Revivals are always closely connected to God’s Word and always inspire greater devotion to the Bible. We find that revivalism is marked by “a low view of doctrine as such and […] the idea that efforts to advance the faith were for more important than the need to understand and believe it in its fullness.”
The differences in methods were ultimately theological. Murray notes that the controversy rested in confusion over public behavior equating with true assurance of salvation. But Murray does concede that even where error is found, revival is still possible. However, revival is not a necessary component of kingdom work; indeed, “slow and gradual growth is the norm in his kingdom.”
So should the church seek revival? Absolutely. At all times. But what kind of revival? Shouldn't revival be the constant state of the church if we understand revival to be the work of the Spirit?
Join us next week as we seek to answer these questions!
As we conclude our time in the Lord's Prayer with John Calvin, the giant from Geneva, we turn to the final phrase of the prayer, often termed the doxology. A doxology is a term describing any attribution of glory to God, often at the end of a prayer or a teaching of some kind.
Many, if not most, contemporary English translations do not actually include this line in Matthew 6:13, which ends with, "but deliver us from evil." But if you ever memorized this prayer or if it's recited in worship and you're a Protestant, you more than likely included this line. At the end of this post, we'll look at why some Bibles do not include this line and why some churches still recite it in worship.
There is debate on the historicity of the doxology of the Lord's Prayer. Regardless, we are able to discern great truth from it.
"For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen."
What power do our prayers have? We often talk about "the power of prayer." What do we mean? Do we change God's mind when we pray? If we do, doesn't that mean God is capable of change and is therefore not actually unchanging? And if he's changeable, who's to say someone else's prayers wouldn't undo what I did?
Scripture nowhere teaches that our prayers change God's mind. While God's "repentance" is a topic for another day, God is yet unmoving and unchanging. So why do we pray? What power is there in prayer?
Calvin reminds us, "For if our prayers were to be commended to God by our worth, who would dare even mutter at all in God's presence?"
So why do we even bother to pray? Our prayers aren't really all that powerful, so why does Jesus even teach his disciples to pray? That actually gives way to the good news. Our prayers aren't powerful, but the God who "knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6:8) is! Because the Almighty hears our prayers, Calvin writes, "we will yet never lack a reason to pray, never be shorn of assurance, since his kingdom, power, and glory can never be snatched away from our Father."
Because of who God is, we always have a reason to pray. We can always go before him to worship him and bring our deepest needs before him. We can always cast "our anxieties on him, because he cares for [us]" (1 Peter 5:7).
We go before his power and glory assured that he hears us and cares for us. As his children, we are invited into his presence to speak to him. All of this loving communication is assured to be heard because of the eternality of his kingdom. What a beautiful promise to such undeserving children of God!
Now let's turn to why some Bibles have this doxology and why others don't.
First, there are some general principles that guide what scholars call "textual criticism." While we might be skeptical of those trying to "critique" the Bible, textual criticism is actually all about finding the best manuscripts that are closest to the original, something all Christians can get behind. Translators and scholars apply two general principles (oversimplification of the century) when trying to find the oldest manuscript:
1. Which manuscript is the shortest?
2. Which manuscript is the most difficult to interpret?
As copyists did their work, they would often add marginal notes to define a term or phrase. They might also insert words or phrases from other passages of Scripture to clarify the way they would interpret a particularly difficult passage. As we get to the medieval era, many manuscripts have these simple additions.
It's important to note that it is extremely obvious where most of the additions are made. Translators and scholars don't really see these as "changes" to the text. To be upset at these additions wouldn't be much different than getting upset at notes you've made in your own Bible.
Also, there are two categories of translations: Alexandrian and Byzantine. The Byzantine tradition was the most well-known up until the 1800s, and it included the doxology. At that time, more copies of the Alexandrian tradition were found, which did not include the doxology. The King James Version is based off of the Byzantine text, so it includes the doxology. Contemporary translations, even revisions of the KJV, either remove the doxology or put it in a footnote.
Perhaps the most perplexing fact is that while the earliest manuscripts we have of Matthew do not include the doxology, there is a book that does. It's called the Didache, and it's a book or a guide to worship from no later than A.D. 90 used by churches in the west (what predates the Roman Catholic Church). That's around the time John wrote Revelation, and the church was already organized enough to see the need to have guides for worship! And when the Didache had the people recite the Lord's Prayer, it includes the doxology!
This is an issue that clearly should not divide the church. The theology of the doxology is sound, and it has a nearly 2000-year history of use. But sometimes, it's just neat to see the history of God's Word in action! Seeing that our brothers and sisters in the east, we are reminded that Christ's church is bigger than we might be aware of on a daily basis.
As we continue our walk with Calvin through the Lord’s Prayer, we come to the second round of petitions. The first round dealt squarely with God’s glory and his majesty in heaven and on earth (“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”). Of primary importance in the Christian life is the recognition of God’s kingdom over our own and the promise that his kingdom will be established upon Christ’s return.
But as our Father, the Lord is not unconcerned with the regular, physical needs of his children. In the second round of petitions, Jesus Christ teaches us how to go before our Father and make our requests known to him. In teaching us how to pray, Christ also teaches us what we need. Calvin elucidates the meanings behind each of the following petitions.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” Within the request for daily bread are “all things in general that our bodies have need” and “everything God foresees to be beneficial to us.” How often do we trust God for our priceless salvation but worry over whether or not our stomachs are full, or our cars start in morning, or we’ll be able to make our student loan payment this month? Calvin reminds (and reprimands) us, “So much more does the shadow of this fleeting life mean to us than that everlasting immortality!”
But let’s not pretend that our daily concerns are not real and true. As finite creatures, we do not know what tomorrow holds. And since history proves that tremendous changes can take place from day to day, it is little wonder that we have equally tremendous anxiety. But while our salvation takes great faith in a great God, so does the materialization of our daily bread. “It is, then, no light exercise of faith for us to hope for those things from God which otherwise cause us such anxiety.”
Within this petition is the tacit recognition that if God gives us something or provides in some way, it is because we have need of it. If God removes something or does not provide, it is because it is better for us that we do not have it. Why do we at times have every need met and an abundance of kindnesses bestowed to us? Because it is for our good and for God’s glory. Why do some Christians suffer in more visible ways that others? Because it is for their good and for God’s glory.
In asking for “daily” bread, “we are taught not to long with immoderate desire for those fleeting things.” In an age of affluence and expeditious technological advancements, we can feel entitled to what we don’t currently have. In our psychological age, we base personal satisfaction off of our feelings. And when we get a dopamine hit because of something new and shiny, we can no longer feel satisfied with our daily bread.
But Calvin reminds us that pray to God with “this certain assurance, that as our Heavenly Father nourishes us today, he will not fail us tomorrow.” We do not need to hoard and store in barns out of selfishness or anxiety. “What is in our hand is not even ours except insofar as he bestows each little portion upon us hour by hour, and allows us to use it.” Hour by hour! Fleeting moment by fleeting moment!
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Why the use of the debtor language? “We call sins ‘debts’ because we owe penalty or payment for them to God, and we could in no way satisfy it unless we were released by this forgiveness.” We cannot overstate the debt we owe to the One who is holiness in and of himself, free completely from the stain of sin. And he requires no stain of sin in his creatures.
We have no merits in ourselves apart from those imputed to us from Christ by the Holy Spirit in our new birth. In our futile attempts to please God on our own or to earn our salvation by our deeds and behavior, we mock him. “Therefore,” says Calvin, “those who trust that God is satisfied with their own or others’ merits, and that by such satisfaction forgiveness of sins is paid for and purchased, share not at all in this free gift.” Our best good deeds and our lifestyle are as filthy rags before the one, true, perfect holy being.
Now what does Christ mean by “as we forgive our debtors”? Are we only forgiven by God to the extent that we forgive those who have harmed us? Calvin reminds us that forgiveness is granted only by God; humanity’s forgiveness of each other is yet different. “Not that it is ours to forgive them the guilt of transgression or offense, for this belongs to God alone!”
Instead, the forgiveness that man offers to man is the “willingness to cast from the mind wrath, hatred, desire for revenge, and voluntarily to banish to oblivion the remembrance of injustice.” Why should we seek forgiveness from God if we hold the guilt of those who’ve harmed us against them? Is this not the intended message of the servant whose massive debt was forgiven who then refused to forgive a lesser debt owed to him?
And neither is it that we deserve our Father’s forgiveness because we have forgiven others in this way. “Rather, by this word the Lord intended only to comfort the weakness of our faith. For he has added this as a sign to assure us he has forgiven our sins just as surely as we are aware of having forgiven those of others, provided our hearts have been emptied and purged of all hatred, envy, and vengeance.” Forgiving others is a sign of our own forgiveness, as well.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” We are tempted by both the enemy and our own “inordinate desires” as well. Calvin uses the warning of Proverbs 4:27 to guide his interpretation, which says, “Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”
The right might be considered “riches, power, and honors, which often dull men’s keenness of sight by the glitter and seeming goodness.” And the left might be considered “poverty, disgrace, contempt, afflictions and the like. Thwarted by the hardship of difficulty of these, they become despondent in mind, cast away assurance and hope, and are at last completely estranged from God.”
These two extremes often pull the true believer into times of despair. However, the Father always provides a way out of these temptations. While we might think of temptations more in terms of adultery, pornography, or financial greed, we must not come to think we are immune from other temptations. But our hope is that we “may by the Lord’s power stand fast against all hostile powers that attack us.” Overcoming sin is simply not in our power, especially when we so often are unaware of what tempts us and why.
To those who think themselves able to fight sin in their own power, Calvin writes, “Obviously those who prepare for such a combat with self-assurance do not sufficiently understand with what a ferocious and well-equipped enemy they have to deal.” Satan is all too real of an adversary. And he is unrelenting. Even if he cannot steal your salvation, he will do what he can to make you stumble. But, “For let it be enough that we stand and are strong in God’s power alone.”
Amen and amen.
Next week, we’ll look at both the end of the Lord’s Prayer and a little bit of the history of manuscript transmission. You’ll notice that some Bibles are missing “For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever.” Why is that?
Stay tuned to find out!