Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You? (Ps. 85:6)

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Reformation and Revival Fellowship

 

R. R. F. Conference 2011

 

Well, another RRF Conference is over, sadly. But what a time of blessing! Let me whet your appetite and then you can go on to the page at pastconferenceaddresses.html where you can listen to or save the addresses, as well as enjoy more material on the subjects of Reformation and Revival. Alternatively, CDs are available for each session at £2.50 each from: Jim Lawson, 12 Rutherglen Walk, Eaglescliffe, Stockton-on-Tees, TS16 9HE Tel.: 01642 648512 Email: jim.lawson@ntlworld.com

 

The Conference started with a Conference Sermon from Geoff Thomas, who drew our attention to Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 7:11. He reminded us that affections ought to be stirred in revival as well as understanding increased when people hear the Word of truth. A resulting holiness should inevitably follow repentance when the Spirit works in the heart. He highlighted seven marks such new affections rouse.

1. 'What earnestness' (v.11). This is not fanaticism that burns people at the stake or sends them on crusades or initiates people into cults. Rather it is taking God seriously so that He affects their behaviour and how they impact others.

2. 'What eagerness' (v.11). Paul's correct assessment of their cynical indifference to sin and grieving of the Holy Spirit was heeded and acted upon! They acted with eagerness to clear it out of the life of the church. The Spirit of God motivated them through a letter - and the effect was a purified church that honoured God.

3. 'What indignation' (v.11). Geoff asked Q.89 of the Heidelberg Confession and the answer could have been spoken by the Corinthians as they realised the immensity of the sin that was accepted in the church. They were angry with the son who took his father's wife, with the woman for breaking her marriage vows, and themselves for tolerating it and even being proud of the church for accepting it. “The great sin of rejecting Jesus Christ as Saviour is often repeated”. Feel the indignation of God.

4. 'What alarm' (v.11). The Greek word is the root of our word phobia, fear, or alarm. They were asleep spiritually and the alarm has woken them. The fear of God has come upon them. Here, in Corinth, was a local religious awakening, when the Holy Spirit worked powerfully in the church with long-lasting results. The presence of the Lord causes worship and awe (Acts 9:31). This is what we are praying for!

5. 'What longing' (v.11). Similar to homesickness, the Corinthians have that longing for that close relationship with God. No longer is He outside the church but is the Guest and Head. Are  our churches full of activity and no-one has noticed the Lord has left? Where is the longing for Him that only a spirit-filled preacher of the Word satisfies as he presents the crucified, risen, ascended and exalted Lord Jesus?

6. 'What concern' (v.11). Paul is speaking of their zealous concern to be real Christians. Once they were lukewarm but now they want to be living sacrifices, to be filled with the Spirit and involved in the warfare. So it must be with all Christians: we should be alive with the new life of Christ and bring glory to God in all things.

7. 'What readiness to see justice done' (v.11). This is to do with vengeance, but not that of the vigilante gang going through the congregation. Rather they accused themselves, as Paul had done when he cried out “O wretched man that I am ...”. What an example of this we find in Zacchaeus who made reparation and restoration for his sins. We, too, should be ready to see justice done in the Church where Christ reigns!

 

Here are seven signs of revival in the church at Corinth. The Spirit and the Word brought it then. May they do so to us today.

 

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Kenneth Stewart's first session began with a question, “What do you think of when you hear the word 'Reformation'? Most Christians would point to 'The Reformation' of the Sixteenth Century affecting doctrine, worship and church government. But there were national reformations (including revival) in the Bible under Hezekiah and his grandson Josiah.

 

He took us through 2 Chronicles chapters 29-32 over four sessions, beginning with 29:3-19. We were shown how God prepared king Hezekiah to lead the way in bringing the nation under God's rule, for his father, king Ahaz had led them into spiritual apostasy. Hezekiah lived for the Lord from his earliest days and he took his faith to work with him. He believed God and obeyed His Word, therefore he knew God's presence and power. By it he and his nation prospered. Note though, we are not promised that everything will go well (remember Joseph in the dungeon in Egypt?) But God loves those who trust Him.

 

Hezekiah didn't have it easy, even though he was king. When he acceded to the throne, the nation was in cultural bondage, much like our nation with its secular bias in television, political ideology, and educational philosophy. Even the church is sick because it has absorbed the prevailing world-view. It cannot bring God's message to the world because there is no power, no life, no truth, and no conviction. But things can change! The priests should have been teaching the people the Word of God but at one stage the “Levites were more conscientious” than the priests (29:34). We are to fulfil the calling the Lord has given us conscientiously and steadfastly, like Archippus in Col 4:17.

 

Hezekiah only reigned for 29 years, a reminder that God's men and women of faith can accomplish a lot in a short time! His early progress was commended in 2 Kings 18:5 but sadly, he also finished poorly. We are to serve God with all our hearts, and make sure we finish well. Don't worry about what others think of us, what's God's verdict on us?

 

In our second session we looked at 2 Chronicles 30:22 – 31:5. Hezekiah was greatly used by God because his aim in life was to  “believe, cleave and obey.” Before he came to the throne there was no worship of the true God in the temple at Jerusalem, even though they were the people of God. No sin offerings, no burnt offerings and no thank offerings had been made for years. The nation had sinned and God's hand was heavy upon it. Hezekiah recognised the problem and set about rousing the Levites and priests to action, to cleanse the temple. What about us? Do we recognise the problem and are we interceding with God, that He might cleanse His church, glorify His name and spare our apostate nation? How did Sodom become like Sodom? Sinful behaviour was left unchecked, then tolerated, and even propagated, much like our nation now, resulting in God's heavy hand upon us.

 

Hezekiah's devotion meant he wanted to worship God according to His directions. He didn't want to repeat the mistake of Aaron's sons or David with the Ark. The worship used the words of David and Asaph (v30). Any reformation today must deal with worship, to bring it into conformity with New Testament practice.

 

Once the temple was cleansed, Hezekiah called for the Passover to be kept by the people. But not everyone was able to keep it because not enough priests had consecrated themselves. So Hezekiah uses the provision in Deuteronomy that allows for a second Passover and even Israel is invited, but while the messengers were generally ridiculed, some responded. So it is with us today: many might be “taken away” in their sin like the Northern kingdom, but others will respond. Whether our contacts are “warm” with some previous spiritual input, or “cold”, not all will reject the message. So keep on praying.

 

Note the zeal of the people (30:15). The priests and Levites were rightly ashamed because they'd let the people down. But there's a spiritual hunger among their people (v23), just as there is among ours and we, likewise, should address it. Revival does that. When God comes in power you want to extend it and prolong the time together worshipping God. A small zealous prayer group can turn a nation. Does it not challenge us to pray?

 

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In the third of Mr Stewart's addresses our attention was drawn to 2 Chronicles 30:1-8, with reference made to 2 Kings and Isaiah. Hezekiah, we were told, used all he was and possessed for God's glory; so what was he like as a man and what effect did the reformation he instigated have on the lives of his people?

 

At this point in history Hezekiah was 39 years old and had reigned fourteen years during which the spiritual condition of the nation had greatly improved. But it's a life-changing year for him because he is told to put his house in order as he is going to die. In response to his supplication (Isa. 38:17-18) God gives him an extra fifteen years.

 

It's also the year the Assyrians invade his kingdom. In fact they invaded twice but the first time he 'bought them off' - which incurred God's chastisement because Hezekiah hadn't sought Him over it. We too can expect the same response when we do wrong (Heb. 12:7 -10). Sometimes the higher up you are, the greater the chastisement e.g. Moses. Sadly, we can lose ground so easily, having worked so hard to gain an inch. Hezekiah compromised with the world, but did he really think a one-off payment would keep evil at bay? Hezekiah's response to God's chastisement was in direct contrast to how his father Ahab had reacted.

 

When the Assyrians came a second time, Hezekiah knew how to react – showing the chastisement had worked. Hezekiah acted practically by stopping up the springs, thereby denying fresh water to the enemy, by reinforcing the existing wall and building a second wall. He acted spiritually in that he encouraged his captains by pointing to the Lord and telling them to fight because God was on their side. “God doesn't do numbers” we were told; He often works through minorities. The state of our nation will not be changed by normal Christian living but by extraordinary prayer and fasting. King Sennacherib sends Rabshekah with a message for Hezekiah, who promptly relays the message to Isaiah. Hezekiah is fearful the people don't have the faith to stand against the Assyrians. Isaiah's response is found in 2 Kings 19:6-7. Sennacherib needs to meet a threat from Egypt and, trying to frighten Hezekiah into submission, sends a letter which Hezekiah takes into the Temple and spreads before the Lord. God's response to this dependence on Him is for the Angel of the Lord to go through the Assyrian camp killing 185,000 men resulting in the withdrawal of the Assyrians. This Angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus, the One before whom we tremble in reverential fear. We need to be a people who believe in God and trust in the salvation He has provided through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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Having looked in the third session at the man behind the reformation and how was chastised and recovered from a terminal illness, our fourth session centred around 2 Chronicles 32.31. The Assyrian threat had gone but a Babylonian envoy came in response to the amazing recovery Hezekiah had made and the astronomical phenomenon God had provided in response to Hezekiah's request. God had prospered Hezekiah in every way but now tested him with the Babylonians. Note: Babylon will always come back; it was there in Genesis and is there in Revelation. God withdrew from Hezekiah in order to test him. Out of pride Hezekiah shows this envoy everything, and when Isaiah comes to ask the who, what and why, his response is found in Isaiah 21. He tells Hezekiah that the Babylonians will take all this wealth and even his as-yet unborn children into captivity. Why? Because self-exaltation is an ugly thing in the sight of God, taking credit for what God has done for us. It was Satan's downfall.

 

And pride is an ugly thing in Christians – it was found in the Corinthian church, confronted and dealt with. That is also why new Christians should not be leaders. We are to “beware when all speak well of us.” The antidote is self-examination and is all-important in the Christian life. Whether God blesses us in the physical realm with wealth or in the spiritual realm with spiritual fruit and many converts we must be careful to give the credit to Him. “Vanity is pride on display.” God through Isaiah showed him his fault and it was dealt with (2 Kings 20:19).

 

What could have protected Hezekiah from this – a more careful walk, proper gratitude, cultivated thankfulness for getting what we don't deserve. And do it every day. Hezekiah promised he would walk carefully all his days – but it didn't last. We should seek God's help to hate pride over everything else.

 

Some are critical of Hezekiah but 2 Chronicles describes him as good, meaning just, fair, and right. Our sins have consequences on others: David's illicit child with Bathsheba and Eli's sons. Hezekiah took the bad news knowing that God was acting justly, but also knowing the work of God will go on. Hezekiah, under God, brought thirty years of reformation. It may not seem a lot but “if God brings thirty years of spiritual reformation today, I'll take it!” May God grant it for His glory and honour.

 

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In the first of Philip Eveson's papers on Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' thoughts on revival, he said revival was vital because spiritual forces of wickedness have captured the minds of the young and old, and the times are desperate. He called for earnest supplication to Almighty God. The title of his first paper was 'Revival - an obsessional trait?'. It was his response to the psychological analysis made by Gaius Davies  who argued that Dr. Lloyd-Jones over-emphasised revival on account of a obsessive-compulsive disposition. Davies' conclusion was that Dr. Lloyd-Jones was obsessed by revival. Philip would readily admit Dr. Lloyd-Jones was certainly concerned for revival, in line with the Bible's concern (Is.62:6-7). But this concern was never at the expense of his normal, weekly activities in the local church or his many interests in evangelistic and missionary agencies, both in the UK and overseas.

 

Philip related some of the background that influenced Lloyd-Jones' burden for revival:

1) His Calvinistic Methodist roots;

2) The 1904-5 revival in Wales;

3) The Works of Jonathan Edwards;

4) His personal experiences of God's glory e.g. in 1925 and 1949;

5) His ministry at Sandfields, Port Talbot, “where they experienced a glimpse of the glory”.

 

Philip said the Doctor was very concerned that evangelical churches were putting lots of faith and effort into organising big evangelistic campaigns, with true revival teaching either ignored or opposed. Dr. Lloyd-Jones also saw that only a special intervention from God could change the desperate state of the nation and called men to fervent, importunate prayer. From all his reading and preparation, Philip was convinced that the Doctor's belief in revival and its necessity was a settled conviction throughout his ministry and not something that came to him in fits and starts or through any late development in his thinking. May it be so with us.

 

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Philip's second paper was entitled “Lloyd-Jones' Theology of Revival”, however he admitted it was difficult to formulate.

1. What is Revival? Dr. Lloyd-Jones was certainly concerned about revival early in his ministry and once he'd arrived at a Biblical view of it, there was very little development over the years. Peter Master's says he abandoned orthodox views but Tony Sargeant says there is a remarkable consistency. According to Dr. Lloyd-Jones every person born again of the Spirit of God has the Spirit in them but there are further, sometimes extraordinary, experiences of the Spirit that are subsequent to conversion. To the Doctor, the baptism of the Spirit was not regeneration but an experience of the glory, reality and love of the Father and the Son. The filling of the Spirit was that enabling, or power for service (Acts 2 and 4) that can be often repeated. Revival was a sovereign act of God whereby He poured out His Spirit to awaken His church. This tremendous outpouring on numbers of believers at the same time is the greatest need of the church today. At first he didn't distinguish between the actions of the Holy Spirit in Acts and what was commanded in Ephesians 5:18. But he later said that we are responsible for being filled with the Spirit and we cannot be filled by the Spirit without being baptised by the Spirit. He referred to the way the Holy Spirit came upon Howell Harris and Jonathan Edwards in a quite exceptional way. Lloyd-Jones was not using the term Baptism of the Spirit in the same way as later Pentecostals used it but he was constantly concerned about Christians quenching the Spirit, for we need this baptism of power or we fail!

2. General Characteristics of Revival. They may vary in how and when they start, who is involved, the context (prayer meeting, evangelistic outreach, etc.,) the physical phenomena, and the impact (local or countrywide). What never changes is the arousing of God's people to the power of spiritual realities. The sense of sin, the love of God, and zeal to pray and evangelise follow upon such an outpouring.

3. The Significance of these Characteristics. Lloyd-Jones maintained that such characteristics cannot be produced by humans or explained by humans, except that it is miraculous. In fact when revival comes, God uses unlikely people and acts sovereignly in time and place and circumstances. In this he counteracted Finney's teaching that you can produce revival if you fulfil certain criteria.

4. Results of Revival. Lloyd-Jones was particularly thinking of the effects of revival on the world. In a sermon on Acts 2 he said the amazement of the world was due to them seeing the mighty hand of the Lord at work. Revival might be accompanied by strange happenings but we should fix our sights on higher things and leave the phenomena to God. Explanations of the phenomena included brainwashing (but failed to explain the beginning – how they started); mass hysteria (which again fails to explain the origin) and the work of the devil (refuted by Jesus). The Doctor warned that intellectualism can be a barrier to accepting such things are from God.

5. The Purpose of Revival. In his sermon on Joshua 4:21-24 Lloyd-Jones gives two reasons for revival: i) the Glory of God and ii) that God's people might fear the Lord. Revival makes people more aware of God and humbles them.

6. The Hindrances to Revival. From Genesis 26:17ff the Doctor points out that just as Isaac had to clean out the wells to get the water, so in revival God cleans out the rubbish and the dross in the doctrine and practice of His church. He believed that evangelicals at that time were so confident of their ability to organise the big evangelistic campaigns that they didn't depend on God. His firm belief was that all preaching should promote revival.

7. Desiring Revival. The church has not realised it is too self-confident so the power is not there. The desperate need of power and prayer in the church hasn't been recognised or taken up. Prayer is vital and urgent and any burden for revival ought to result in God's people meeting together to pray.

 

Conclusion.  Lloyd-Jones was always stressing the importance of history. He saw the basic problem for the church as unbelief and opposition to God in the world, and self-dependence in the church that meant there was little power or prospect of evangelical renewal. He always believed that nothing but a great outpouring of the Spirit of God on the Church (which is what he meant by revival) could retrieve the situation. Recognising this ought to drive the church to pray to God for revival.

 

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