I will illustrate the necessity for a revival of religion in the present condition
of the church, pointing to facts and circumstances humiliating to the believer and
condemnatory of the church.
When is a Revival Required?Wherever there are the proofs
of spiritual death in, or around, the professing church; wherever there is an actual
decay or dormancy in the energy or activity of its members; or wherever there is
the absence of a progression in those habits and feelings and principles that distinguish
the divine life there is a necessity for a revival. If, among the professors of a
holy faith, we find a growing conformity to the world in its passions, its policy,
or its practices a want of sensibility to the claims of God, to the glory of Jesus,
or to the imperishable interests of immortal souls a deadness in devotion, a lack
of spirituality in sentiment and feeling a willingness to parade a dwarfed and shrivelled
Christianity before the world, as if it were the healthful and full-grown impersonation
of a living and energetic faith we say a revival is necessary; and this notwithstanding
any scattered and splendid exceptions of almost apostolic zeal, or seraphic fervour,
that may give lustre or dignity to the age or the church with which they are connected.
There is no difficulty in determining when a revival is necessary in the world of
nature: let winter protract her reign through the months of spring, and spread her
mantle of snow, like a spotless winding sheet over the fields that were wont at that
season to be green and gladsome; let the time for the singing of birds roll around,
and no music be heard in the leafless groves; let the sower fill his hand with the
precious seed, but be denied the opportunity of scattering it over the earth; and
although we may witness here and there the snowdrop rearing its head, as the harbinger
of vernal beauty amid the ungenial snows, we at once conclude that a revival is necessary.
We long for the genial breeze, the refreshing shower, the invigorating sunbeam, that
earth may escape from the blight of a long winter, array herself in all the bridal
loveliness of an opening spring, and give forth the promise of a rich and luxuriant
harvest. The same conclusion forces itself upon us when a cold and withering summer
succeeds an early and promising seedtime, checking the advances of a needed vegetation,
and almost quenching the hopes of the husbandman. The half-opened flower-bud that
bends on its weakened stalk seems to plead for the reviving sunbeam to develop its
hidden loveliness, and throw the blush of summer beauty on the faded cheek of a drooping
It is similar in the world of grace, in the great spiritual garden. When the
winter of worldly conformity seems either to retard the buds of promise, or to check
their growth after indications of vitality have appeared, we say that a revival is
necessary. Or, to drop all metaphor, when there are few conversions under the ministrations
of the church, and souls are perishing around her, unpitied and unhelped; when there
is an evident suspension or withdrawal of those spiritual influences that are alone
efficient to convince or to comfort; when there is a visible defection from acknowledged
principle, or from attained piety, and a lukewarm formality usurping the place of
a generous, devoted, living Christianity we say a revival is required.
That Render Revival Necessary. Let us consider the specific circumstances of the
church today that render revival necessary. The first proof is the limited extent
of the visible church in the present days. If we examine the dimensions of the church,
either as laid down in the covenant made with Emmanuel, or as described in the clear
language of holy prophecy, we find that these are immeasurably vast, when compared
with the limited territory that owns and acknowledges the sway of the Redeemer: In
the one, all the kingdoms of the world are delineated as filled with the knowledge
of God, kissing the sceptre, and proclaiming the praises of an adored Saviour His
dominion is from sea to sea, and from the river to the end of the earth; in the other,
the territorial extent occupied by the professing church of the Lord is very inconsiderable
Second, the want of zeal in the church for Emmanuel's glory, the feebleness
of what has admirably been termed "the evangelistic spirit," and the lethargic unconcern
with which the perdition of immortal souls is regarded, establish that a revival
is necessary. Such a charge may, at first sight, appear scarcely admissible in this
bustling and active age amid the numerous institutions in vigorous operation for
the conversion of the world, and the splendid array of names and contributions that
annually attract the public eye, and the dazzling eloquence with which every triumph
on foreign shores is heralded from pulpits and platforms. It might be imagined that
intrepid zeal and endless sleepless activity were the undoubted characteristics of
this excited age.
But when we calmly consider the amount of energy put forth, as
a means to an end as the devised and existing machinery to convert the world to Christ
as the effort which is put forth in answer to the claims of God and the calls of
a perishing world, we feel as if we would require to blot out such terms as sacrifice
and self-denial from the Christian vocabulary altogether. If we take the Saviour’s
command as our rule, His kingdom as the sphere of our appointed operation, the zeal
of His apostles as the model of our own, we cannot fail to be humbled and ashamed.
We must be persuaded and convinced that a mighty impulse must be given to the sluggish
Christianity of the times, that there must be an increase of what is called benevolence,
both in spirit and in act that in fact a revival is necessary.
A third remark is
that the divisions in the church demonstrate the necessity of a revival, before the
Church can regain her shattered strength, and become beautified with that brotherly
love which is the bond of perfection. While controversy is not always a symptom of
a weak or decayed Christianity, the present contentions have been within the church
itself; and its holy unity has been rudely rent by trivial disputes. Must not unauthorized
schism provoke His displeasure, quench His Spirit, and result in the withholding
of the grace without which the church must wither and weaken and decay?
the languor of the devotional spirit in the church proves the necessity for a revival
of religion. It is one of the strange anomalies of these times, that we meet with
a ready assent to all that can be urged or argued on the omnipotence of believing,
importunate prayer, and yet rarely are brought into contact with the thing itself.
The theory is universally accredited the act is generally neglected; just as if the
clear statements of Scripture regarding the potency, the almost miraculous efficacy
of prayer, were designed as a pillow on which the church might slumber, rather than
as a mighty stimulus to rouse to heroic achievements and urge on to glorious efforts
in the cause of the Redeemer. Ah! There is need for a revival here, that which alone
will be produced by the outpouring of the Spirit, the Spirit of grace and supplication.
The Remedy of Revival. Gather up these scattered thoughts: the abridged sphere of
the church's efforts, and the feebleness of these efforts themselves her divided
condition, and her lifeless piety and say, is there not a necessity for a revival?
Shall we believe that when God's Spirit is poured out from on high, His graces, like
tides of molten silver, shall first enrich His chosen ones and then roll out to the
whole earth to aggrandize and ennoble its impoverished children? Shall we believe
that when a revival takes place on a scale commensurate with the Church's necessities,
that she shall awake from her slumber, put on her beautiful garments, and, rich in
all the graces wherewith the Saviour so plenteously adorns His chosen Bride, go forth
in His name to speak peace unto the nations? Shall we believe that when a revival
is produced, that the hearts of Christians shall become almost visibly the habitation
of God through the Spirit, and be irradiated with all the moral glory of His Divine
Shall we not plead for such a time? The purest faith demands that we shall
cry aloud and spare not, yea that we mourn and lament because that day is delayed.
Oh, if the Church were but alive to this urgent necessity if she but felt how much
of guilt attaches to her because the blessing is withheld if she but considered how
her unbelief and prayerlessness stands in the way, as it were, of Jehovah's sweetest
promises it would humble her to the very dust because of her sin, and her acknowledged
guiltiness would be the harbinger of the day of love.
Ye children of the covenant
go, weep amid the graves of perished millions weep amid the graves of buried graces
weep amid the ruins which your own lifelessness has caused in the church and around
it; and when the teardrop of contrition has filled the eye of the soul, look through
it to a wounded Saviour, and say, "O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years
in wrath remember mercy."
John MacNaughtan was minister of High Church in Paisley
Scotland. His complete article is found in Lectures on the Revival of Religion (ch.
XIII), originally published in 1840. A reprint of this book may be acquired from
Richard Owen Roberts, Publishers, Box 21, Wheaton, IL, 60189. The excerpts were selected
and edited by Lowell D. Yoderfor Godliness (The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life)
(chs. 3 & 19).