Revivals as a Transformer of Society
This is one of the most important aspects of the impact of revivals upon the world, and it offers one of the most interesting and instructive areas of learning for the child of God.
The ability of the Christian gospel to transform arises firstly from the merit of Christ's death upon the cross, in making an atonement for human sin, and secondly through the power of God, by which the Holy Spirit makes Christ's death effective in the lives of individuals.
From another point of view, there are three paths by which revivals can transform society. The first is the power of the "new birth", by which qualities of character within an individual are changed and improved by God. The second is the vitality and fruit of the Holy Spirit which describe the new personal characteristics which God injects into the person by the power of the new birth. The third path is that God has the power to do creative things in the world Himself, in order to achieve new, positive things which were neither thought of nor planned by any human agent. God Himself is able to make new, creative, positive changes in society, as the gospel spreads.
God said, "Behold! I am making all things new."
The New Testament shows us that God's new creation of all things is bound up in His purposes in Jesus Christ, and is to be fulfilled through Christ.
We have the privilege of experiencing a foretaste of the new creation in this life, and its fulness in the world to come.
Saint Paul said, "If anyone is in Christ Jesus he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Everything has become new." This new kind of life is one of the tests of a true Christian.
The Protestant theological doctrine of the new birth (or, regeneration) teaches us that God works this change in a person who is "in Christ Jesus", so that the person's qualities of character are being changed by the Holy Spirit, on a very wide front, into a greater likeness to Christ.
There will be a change of heart, of will, of feeling, of principle, of motive, of direction. There will be new desires, new affections, new sources of happiness, new purpose and goals, new friends and new memories. Everything becomes new in Christ. Yet this newness is also a growing, maturing thing. It is not all achieved in one hit, or even in this one lifetime.
In this paper, we are even more concerned with a second aspect. This change is not simply a personal one, but includes changes in society also, in order to make society and culture more like God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven. More information about both of these aspects is available in the book "Evangelical Revivals in New Zealand". You are encouraged to consult it.
So, part of our knowledge about the new creation comes from the Bible, and from Christian theology.
The other source is to embark upon an historical search of the revivals in the past, especially in the modern revivals, about which we have a good deal of information, to find out how, in what ways, and to what extent, God has transformed societies in the past. In some cases, the revivals were only one factor of many that were operating at the time. In other cases, the revival was the primary factor in causing change in a society, and we can see to what extent these changes were good, or bad. If some of the changes were good, perhaps we can see where such changes might be needed again in the future, and we can pray for the changes to happen. If the results were bad, perhaps we can see why the bad aspects arose, and seek to avoid the bad features in the future.
Another helpful approach is to look at our modern society, and compare it with the vision of the Kingdom of God in the New Testament. Then we can pray for God to work in those ways, so that our society will be changed into a greater degree of closeness to God's kingdom on earth, and with His will being a little more nearly done on earth as it is in heaven.
In that way we can recognise specific changes which impress us as being greatly needed, and we can make these into a prayer list to bring to God.
Learning from the Past
The following examples of the occasions and ways God has transformed a society are intended simply to open up possible areas for study in the future, and to reveal what immense possibilities there are in what God can do.
Regrettably, the books which appear on the following lists are less likely to be readily available than those listed on our pamphlet about the History of Revivals. In this present pamphlet, a modest number of the books are available new. Some others can be seen in libraries. Others will be difficult to locate. But, if you persist, they are all well worth the effort.
(a.) The Moravian Revival of 1727
This revival was a great landmark in the story of the so-called "Pietist" movement in Lutheran Germany. Pietism also had an influence in many countries. Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf invited many Protestant refugees from persecution to live and work on his estates, hoping that they would live in Christian harmony. But the newcomers indulged in personality clashes and bitter arguments over theological details. The Count turned to God, and in answer to his many prayers, a great outpouring of the Spirit occurred which transformed the community into a praying, missionary organisation. While most published details are probably in German, some are available in English.
Some helpful books are:-
- John Greenfield "Power from on High."
- A. J. Lewis. "Zinzendorf, the Ecumenical Pioneer."
- Edward Langton. "History of the Moravian Church."
- F. E. Stoeffler. "Continental Pietism and Early American Christianity."
(b.) England, Before and After Wesley
This was the name of a famous Methodist study, published early during the Second World War. The American edition was called "This Freedom - Whence?" The author, Dr. J. Wesley Bready, portrayed the moral decay, filth and violence in much of English society in the early 1700s, then described the rise of Methodism throughout the British Isles, and the social changes which were either the direct or indirect result of this spiritual movement. It makes most interesting reading. This book was only one of what is now a vast range of studies on this general area. There was a later, second phase of this revival, amongst the Anglicans.
Helpful sources of information are:-
- J. W. Bready. "England, Before and After Wesley."
- R. Wearmouth. "Methodism and the Working Class Movements of England."
- Ian C. Bradley. "The Call to Seriousness."
- Leslie F. Church. "The Early Methodist People."
- Leslie F. Church. "More About the Early Methodist People."
- Arnold Dallimore. "George Whitefield." (2 vols.)
- John Wesley. "Journal."
- John Wesley. "Forty-four Sermons."
- Rupert Davies. "Methodism."
- W. H. Daniels. "Illustrated History of Methodism."
- A. Dallimore. "A Heart Set Free." (Charles Wesley)
- N. Pibworth. "The Gospel Pedlar." (John Berridge)
- Helen Knight. "Lady Huntingdon and her Friends."
- J. H. Overton. "The Evangelical Revival in the Eighteenth Century."
- R. E. Davies. "I Will Pour Out My Spirit." (an excellent outline.)
- Thomas Harris. "A Memoir of the Rev. William Bramwell."
- William Carvosso. "A Memoir." (edited by his son, Benjamin Carvosso)
(c.) Welsh Methodism
The English Methodist movement was part of an international movement, called "The Great Awakening". The Welsh phase of this actually began before the English movement, triggered by the several Welsh preachers, and boosted by George Whitefield. The Welsh preachers were Griffith Jones of Llanddowror and Daniel Rowlands (both Anglicans), and Howell Harris, who was an early Methodist preacher. But the Great Awakening in Wales was basically a Methodist movement, although Calvinistic in theology, and created the Calvinistic Methodist Church. It transformed the social structure of the country in a number of ways, developing something of a cultural renaissance.
The best book (sadly, very expensive) is:-
- Derec L. Morgan. "The Great Awakening in Wales." Others are:-
- Eifion Evans. "Daniel Rowland and the Great Awakening in Wales."
- D. Jones. "Life and Times of Griffith Jones of Llanddowror."
- Richard Bennett. "Howell Harris and the Dawn of Revival."
- William Williams. "The Experience Meeting."
- H. Elvet Lewis. "Sweet Singers of Wales."
(d.) Effects of the Great Awakening in America
(in New England.)
- Joseph Tracy. "The Great Awakening."
- E. S. Gaustad. "The Great Awakening in New England."
- Marilyn J. Westerkamp. "Triumph of the Laity."
- Cedric Cowing. "The Great Awakening and the American Revolution."
- Richard L. Bushman. "From Puritan to Yankee."
- Charles H. Maxson. "The Great Awakening in the Middle Colonies."
- Dietmar Rothermund. "The Layman's Progress."
- Keith J. Hardman. "Seasons of Refreshing." (a good outline.)
- Rhys Isaac. "The Transformation of Virginia."
- George Pilcher. "Samuel Davies: Apostle of Dissent in Colonial Virginia."
- Wesley M. Gewehr. "The Great Awakening in Virginia."
- Albert J. Raboteau. "Slave Religion."
(e.) The Impact of the Second Great Awakening in America
- J. Edwin Orr. "The Eager Feet."
- Charles Cuningham. "Timothy Dwight."
- J. F. Thornbury. "God Sent Revival." (Asahel Nettleton.)
- John B. Boles. "The Great Revival. 1797 - 1805."
- J. Edwin Orr. "Campus Aflame."
- Iain H. Murray. "Revival and Revivalism."
- Gilbert Barnes. "The Anti-Slavery Impulse."
- Charles Cole. "The Social Ideas of the Nortern Evangelists."
- Michael Barkun. "Crucible of the Millenium."
- Clifford S. Griffin. "Their Brothers' Keepers."
- J. Edwin Orr. "The Role of Prayer in Spiritual Awakening." (film or booklet)
- Peter Cartwright's "Autobiography."
(f.) Pacific Island Awakenings and Revivals
- J. Edwin Orr. "Evangelical Awakenings in the South Seas."
- A Harold Wood. "Overseas Missions of the Australian Methodist Church."
- Volume One. Tonga and Samoa.
- Volume Two. Fiji.
- Arthur T. Pierson. "The New Acts of the Apostles."
- A. Birtwhistle. "In His Armour." The story of John Hunt.
- Alison Griffiths. "Fire in the Islands."
- William Williams. "Christianity Amongst the New Zealanders."
What About the Future?
As mentioned earlier, studies of what God has done in the past, so far as social transformation is concerned, can give us an idea as to what God may do in the future. And this can guide us in our prayers.
We can, indeed, pray for any improvement which comes under the general heading of God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven. But, from a practical point of view, we can ask for God to do today anything that He has done before.
God may place a special concern upon our minds for the needs of a certain area of society, or for certain people. This concern can be an indication of what God desires to do amongst us.
Things which we ought to pray for regularly, and in depth and length, are such things as:-
(a.) that a Christian world-view should be strongly influential in our society;
(b.) that a high percentage of the population should be converted to Christ;
(c.) for the great growth in holiness of all who presently are Christians;
(d.) for radical and thoroughgoing practice of the "new birth";
(e.) for the fruit of the Spirit to abound in every area of society;
(f.) against specific serious problems in the work of God;
(g.) for a growing prayer movement expressing 1st Timothy 2:1 - 6;
(h.) for similar blessings in every other country in the world.
A Second Approach.
Another possibility is to make a list of all the areas of society you can think of, and to use this as a prayer list, praying for God to raise up people who are truly born again, and whose lives are filled with the fruit of the Spirit, to work in each of these areas of society, and to transform that area by their spiritual influence.
This list could include such areas of society as government, party politics, the practice of law, police work, prisons, education up to secondary levels, university and academic life, research and scientific development, industry and business, protection of the environment, the national economy, art and literature, the military services, care for the aged, medicine, psychiatry, food production and agriculture, care for the poor, refugees, international relations, the production and sale of arms, family life, divorce, the drive against all forms of corruption and untruthfulness, etc.
Each one of these areas of society which are suggested in the list above can be developed into a detailed praying programme. It is especially possible if we have some involvement in that area, so that we feel the need, and understand more fully what the blessing is that we are asking for. A long list of detailed matters for prayer can be made about each area of society.
In praying for spiritual growth throughout all of the churches, and right across the nation, and the world, such matters could be prayed about as the following:-
(a.) a widespread sense of awe at the presence of God;
(b.) deep awareness of God's holiness, causing sinners to tremble;
(c.) deep conviction of sin, and contrition;
(d.) widespread repentance and restitution;
(e.) a great thirst for God, and to know the Bible;
(f.) an humble and teachable spirit, but able to discern cult teachings;
(g.) a new depth in praise to God;
(h.) vast numbers of conversions, with thorough regenration;
(i.) the raising up of many gifted and empowered pastors and evangelists;
(j.) a renewed missionary thrust;
(k.) the spread of the gospel to every tribe, nation and language;
(l.) the transformation of society according to the gospel;
(m.) the raising up of gifted Christian academics and intellectuals who will humbly serve the gospel;
(n.) the creation of Christian world-view philosophies, and their great and lasting influence upon the world;
(o.) the fostering and deepening of world-wide prayer for revival, and the outpouring of the Spirit, and of every effort to enhance world-wide intercessory prayer of every kind.
The Fruit of the Spirit.
Another approach is to study each of the fruit of the Spirit, mentioned in Galatians 5:22, and to pray for that quality of character to grow mightily through every aspect of the life of the nation. The corollary of that prayer is to watch out for people who are good examples of that personal quality, and to thank God for that fruit, and for the way God has produced that fruit in the particular person. Each fruit is of great value. Remember the list - Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control.
To this better-known list should be added other fruit of the Spirit. Some are mentioned in Romans 12. But, some of these extra fruit of the Spirit are of enormous importance. Such as Humility, Meekness, Truthfulness, Teachableness, Self-denial, Wisdom, Willingness to live sacrificially, Desire for Justice, and Desire for happiness only as found in God. Many other candidates could be suggested for the list, as well.
Saint Paul used continually to give thanks for the converts and church members to whom he wrote his letters. They were the fruit, seal and proof of his work. He saw the work of God developing in their lives. So he gave thanks for them. We should be thankful for others in the same way. It is the work of God's Spirit in the lives of His people which makes them beautiful in His sight.
A list of personal qualities such as that, provides us with a very adequate tool to challenge ourselves, and to bring repentance into our own lives, but also is a key to blessing sought for any other person in the world.
A Wise Tradition of Revivals in Your Country.
One of the very great blessings we can seek for our country, or in any country for which we are concerned to pray, is that there should develop a wise, balanced tradition of revivals through the land. This has been written about also in the book "Evangelical Revivals in New Zealand."
What a blessing it would be to any country for there to be a long series of deep and powerful revivals, over a period of many years, converting one generation of people after another, developing the fruit of the Holy Spirit through many levels of the society and culture, deepening the spiritual qualities and moral fibre of the nation, and making the nation a blessing to other nations. Wonderful spiritual foundations for the future can be laid in this way.
With much prayer and wisdom, such revivals might have a minimum of "fleshly" features, poorer qualities and human mistakes mixed with them.
The basic point being emphasised in this pamphlet is that, to be wise, we need the gift of discernment from the Spirit of God. Although we can ask for this gift, it will often be experienced only after must study, prayer and thought, and by listening to the wisdom and discernment of others who know God better than we do.
Thus we see the value of learning as much as we can about the positive lessons from previous revivals. But we need to recognise mistakes made in the past, so that we can be wise when such things happen again.
We need not only to profit from this ourselves, and learn to be wise, but we need to pray that others will appreciate wisdom and discernment, and will take the steps to profit similarly. This wisdom can then more easily become part of the heritage of the nation.
So, in our prayers, we need to ask God to grant a widespread interest in revivals amongst Christian people, and much deep desire for more of the outpouring of the Spirit on every aspect of life, and on all types of people.
We need penetrating insight and perception to recognise and turn from "false fire", from false doctrine, from faulty understandings of the Bible, from people being misled by strong but unstable personalities. We need ability to recognise the real work of the Spirit.
The study of the great works of God, such as we are encouraged to do in these leaflets, is one very small part of what is needed to make such a wise tradition into a reality.
Prepared by Rev. Robert Evans OAM