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The Basics of Revival

Understanding Revival

It was nearly a decade and a half ago that I first tried to find the word ‘revival’ in a Bible concordance and did not find it. I had read a few books on the subject and knew that revival was clearly revealed through Scripture and documented throughout church history, but I quickly realised that the majority of Bible translations in the English language did not use the words ‘revival’ or ‘awakening,’ but the Scriptural concept of reviving individuals, communities and nations is found in the Old Testament and abounded in the New Testament.

God is a God of revival and all through the Holy Bible we can see accounts of people where they turned or returned back to the Lord. Revival is essential for the life and well-being of the Church. Revival glories God, uplifts Jesus, gives the Holy Spirit His rightful place in the Church, raises the high and holy standard of the body of Christ and saves sinners who become part of the Church.

Revival Verses Evangelism

Revival should not be confused with evangelism or successful soul winning, though on occasions revival does break forth during evangelistic campaigns. In evangelism, the focus is on the evangelist or preacher, and many who profess Christ soon fall by the wayside. But in revival, the focus is on God, and the vast majority of those who profess Christ stay true to Him as abiding fruit.

J. Edwin Orr, twentieth century evangelist, revivalist and world renown revival historian said, “In times of evangelism, the evangelist seeks the sinner, in times of revival the sinners comes chasing after the Lord.”

Selwyn Hughes wrote: ‘Evangelism is the expression of the Church; revival is an experience of the Church. Evangelism is the work we do for God; revival is the work God does for us.’

What is Revival For and who Benefits?

Revival, first and foremost is for the glory of God and the honour of His name (Leviticus 10:3 and Isaiah 48:11). It is then for the Church (the body of Christ and its individual members) so that they can be revived and brought back into a true and correct relationship with God and each other - fellow brothers and sister in the Lord. Thirdly, revival is for those who are outside of the Church, for the unsaved, that they come under deep and abiding conviction of sin and that they call upon the name of the Lord who saves them.

Revivals from the Old Testament

The Old Testament has at least fourteen accounts of revival whereas the New Testament has a minimum of twenty, largely from the book of Acts. In the Old Testament we see a returning to God under a judge (ruler), prophet, priest or king; the only exception being when Jonah went to Nineveh and told them to “repent” to avert impending judgment - and they did.

King Asa became king of Judah and did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He banished the male and female prostitutes and removed all the idols that his father had set up. King Asa also commanded his people to seek the Lord God of their fathers and to observe the Law and the commandments (1 Kings 15:9-15 and 2 Chronicles 14:1-15).

The prophet Elijah had a spiritual battle on Mount Carmel. Once the true altar was prepared, a complete offering was given, Elijah called upon his God and the fire fell. The people fell on their faces crying out, “The Lord, He is God! The Lord He is God!” (1 Kings 18:20-40).

Jehoiada the priest made a covenant between the Lord, the king and the people that they should be the Lord’s people. They tore down the temple of Baal and broke in pieces its altars and images. King Joash was just a child when he came to the throne and it was Jehoiada, a godly man who advised the king and in effect ruled the kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 11:17-18, 2 Chronicles 23:16-21 and 2 Chronicles 24:2). King Hezekiah of Judah and King Josiah also saw revival.

Revivals from the New Testament

John the Baptist called the people to a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins and told them to bear fruits worthy of repentance. They came to him for baptism and confessed their sins and He told them of the One who was to come (Mark 1:4-5 and Luke 3:1-19).

Jesus was the promised Messiah. He preached the Kingdom of God with signs and wonders following confirming the message and thus proving He was the Promised One (Matthew 11:2-5 and Luke 8:25). The people flocked to hear His teaching (and to be healed) and many followed Him from city to city so that Jesus had periods of perpetual revival.

The first revival after the resurrection was on the Day of Pentecost; the Holy Spirit was poured out; Peter began to preach and about three thousand people were cut to the heart under conviction of sin and the Church was birthed (Acts chapter 2). The following year Philip went down to the city of Samaria and multitudes became followers of Jesus Christ (Acts 8:5-8). Eight years after the Day of Pentecost, Peter and some brethren went to Caesarea to meet Cornelius the centurion; Peter preached to him, his relatives and his friends and the Holy Spirit fell upon them (Acts 10:23-48).

In Ephesus, after hearing and seeing the power of God working through the apostle Paul, fear fell on the Jews and many who had believed on Jesus Christ publicly confessed their sins and those who had practised magical arts publicly burned their expensive occult and magic books (Acts 19:11-20).

Revival Related Scriptures

There are many revival related Scriptures which have been prayed and pleaded through church history to see the Holy Spirit poured out; not including our Scriptural responsibilities and obligations to offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) and to live holy (I Peter 1:16 and Psalm 24:3-6), to put away sin, to seek God (Hosea 10:12), to take up our cross daily and abide in the Vine (John 15) and to humble ourselves and to look to God.

The five most prominent revival Scriptures are:

‘If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land’ (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Thus says the Lord: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; and also on My menservants and My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29).

Thus says the Lord: “For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your descendants and My blessing on your offspring” (Isaiah 44:3).

‘Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down! That the mountains might shake at Your presence…to make Your name known’ (Isaiah 64:1).

‘O Lord, though our iniquities testify against us, do it for Your name’s sake; for our backslidings are many, we have sinned against You’ (Jeremiah 14:7).

Pyongyang Great Revival (1907-1910)

On the 2 September 1866, Rev. Robert Jermain Thomas, the first protestant missionary to Korea was martyred along the riverbank outside of Pyongyang. Two decades later in 1886, the first Protestant Korean was baptised. Korea saw its first revival in 1903 and it was known as the Wonsan Revival Movement and both the Presbyterians and Methodists reaped large harvests as they were united to exalt Jesus Christ.

In 1907 the Korean Church (Presbyterian) was to become independent of its American Board of Foreign Mission which had been practically self-supporting for several years. In August 1906 the Pyongyang missionaries met for a week of Bible study and prayer. They invited Dr. R. A. Hardie, to lead them, whose public confession and repentance in Wonsan in 1903 was the beginning of the Wonson Revival Movement (1903-1906) which saw around 30,000 profession of faith.

Their text book for the meeting was the first Epistle of John. The apostle John wrote that everything depended upon fellowship with God, and that divine fellowship was conditional upon love and righteousness. The missionaries poured out their hearts before Him, and searched their own hearts while seeking to meet the conditions. Before the meeting had ended the Spirit showed those present that the way of victory is the way of confession, of broken hearts and bitter tears.

They decided to pray for ‘a great blessing’ a revival amongst their Korean brethren and especially amongst the annual Pyongyang Bible-study classes for men which would take place in January 1907. They left those August meetings realising as never before that nothing but the baptism of the God’s Spirit in mighty power could fit us and our Korean brethren for the trying days ahead. They knew that the Korean Church needed to repent of hating the Japanese and needed a clearer vision of all sin against God because many had professed Christ as their Saviour without great sorrow for sin because of its familiarity.

In September 1906, Dr. Howard Agnew Johnston, of New York, whilst in Seoul, informed a group of missionaries and Korean Christians about the Khasi Hills Revival, (1905-1906) in India. Jonathan Goforth, a missionary to China and Manchuria wrote that because of this more than twenty missionaries from Pyongyang Presbyterian and Methodist missions resolved to meet together to pray daily for ‘greater blessings.’

A Bible colporteur from Kan Kai Church along the Yalu River, of 250 believers was also in Seoul. He heard Dr. Johnston and encouraged his church to meet for prayer at 5am through the autumn and winter of 1906-1907. For six months they prayed until the Holy Spirit came as a flood.

The Pyongyang General Class of one thousand began on the 2 January 1907, it would last for two weeks and representatives came from as far away as one hundred miles. The evening meetings began on Saturday the 6th and 1,500 attended. Missionary, William Newton Blair preached on 1 Corinthians 12:27 (members of the body of Christ), and exhorted those present to get right with one another, as discord in the Church was like sickness in the body. After the sermon a number with sorrow confessed their lack of love for others, especially for the Japanese and many testified to a new realisation of what sin was. The Sunday meeting was dead, but on Monday the missionaries met and cried out to God in earnest, they were bound in spirit and refused to let go till He blessed them. As the people entered the church at 7pm God’s presence was felt. After a short sermon, missionary Graham Lee led the meeting in prayer and soon, the whole audience began to pray out loud together.

Jonathan Goforth, missionary to China and Manchuria visited eight chief mission centres in Korea for three weeks during June 1907. He stated that Elder Kil of the Central Presbyterian Church was the catalyst of the revival when he confessed his sin of ‘Achan’ (see Joshua 7:1, 20-21) in front of 1,500 people. He was later known as the Rev. Sun Joo Kil. He had promised a dying man to look after his estate because his wife was unable to, but in the process he had taken one hundred dollars for himself. After confessing this sin he returned the money to the widow the following day.

Soon the prayer turned to weeping. Graham Lee wrote: ‘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.’ The meeting went on till 2am. On Tuesday afternoon the whole community assembled to give thanks to God. The previous night, Elder Kang You-moon, of the Central Church confessed his hatred of Elder Kim, who was William Newton Blair’s assistant in the Pyongyang Church. Elder Kim sat silent. At the noon prayer meeting on Tuesday they prayed for Elder Kim. In the evening meeting, Elder Kim stood behind the pulpit and confessed his hatred not only of Elder Kang, but also of William Blair himself and asked for Blair’s forgiveness. William Blair began to pray, “Father, Father” and got no further. William Blair wrote: ‘It seemed as if the roof was lifted from the building and the Spirit of God came down from heaven in a mighty avalanche of power upon us.’ William Blair fell at Elder Kim’s side and wept and prayed as never before. Some prostrated themselves before the Lord while hundreds stood with arms outstretched towards heaven. The cry went over the city until the heathen were in consternation. The missionaries had prayed for an outpouring of the Spirit and it had come – Korea would never ever be the same again.

William Newton Blair wrote: ‘Every sin a human being can commit was publicly confessed that night. Pale and trembling with emotion, in agony of mind and body, guilty souls, standing in the white light of that judgment, saw themselves as God saw them. Their sins rose up in all their vileness, till shame and grief and self-loathing took complete possession; pride was driven out, the face of men forgotten. Looking up to heaven, to Jesus whom they had betrayed, they smote themselves and cried out with bitter wailing, “Lord, Lord, cast us not away for ever!” ’

Mr Swallen was one of more than twenty missionaries in Pyongyang. He said, “It paid well to have spent the several months in prayer, for when God the Holy Spirit came He accomplished more in half a day than all of us missionaries could have accomplished in half a year. In less than two months more than two thousand heathen were converted.” Jonathan Goforth wrote: ‘It is always so as soon as God gets first place; but as a rule, the Church, which professes to be Christ’s, will not cease her busy round of activities and give God a chance by waiting upon Him in prayer.’

God is unchanging and has promised to pour floods on the dry ground and to quench him who is thirsty, but have we asked, pleaded, and humbled ourselves before Almighty God?

Much of what has been written within this article has been drawn from Revival Fires and Awakenings 150 Years of Revival and Understanding Revival by Mathew Backholer

Recommended DVD: Great Christian Revivals