Based on a Sermon. Part 1 of 5.
“What is a revival?” Answers to this question are essential if you want to understand the rationale for the Church Growth Modelling project. The first in this series of five articles comes from a sermon I have preached in many churches.
In 1800, a man by the name of John Farquharson arrived in the village of Killin in the Breadalbane area of Perthshire, Scotland. He had been training in a school for evangelists run by an independent minister, Robert Haldane, based in Edinburgh. Sadly, Farquharson did not make the grade, so he was sent out under the auspices of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel at Home to “read scripture to the poor Highlanders”.
Although being a reader precluded him from preaching, Farquharson nevertheless went from house to house exhorting people from the scriptures. Not surprisingly, he was largely rejected. Eventually, he was ejected from the parish church at Killin, where he had been based. Despite these setbacks, he had attracted sufficient followers to set up a mission station some miles away at Ardeonaig on Loch Tay. Numerous converts followed, and by 1802, he had a church of 100 people, now based in nearby Acharn. These events marked the start of the Breadalbane revival.
By 1804, the now large church fell out over matters of church government, and John Farquharson left for the Isle of Skye and became involved in a revival there. The church he founded continued, and by 1810, a new minister, Robert Findlater, took charge of the work at Ardeonaig and Lawers. Helped by James Kennedy, the independent minister in Aberfeldy, the revival restarted and continued for another ten years.
This account gives a flavour of the revival:
The men of Glenlyon were particularly assiduous in their attendance, for the revival had its stronghold among them for as long as it lasted. When the fervour had to some extent passed away, it was reckoned that only 5 or 6 families in the whole glen had been left untouched. During September and October of 1816, few remained at home who could face the rough road between them and Loch Tay. “One hundred persons might be seen in one company, climbing the hill separating these two districts of the country, having to travel a distance of from 9 to 15 miles, and some even farther.” 1
In those days, the Breadalbane area was highly populated, even though rural. By 1820, it was reckoned the bulk of the Glen Lyon area was converted. A dramatic change from its largely unconverted state in 1800.
Breadalbane experienced revival! It is this phenomenon I hope to examine in this series.
There are at least two dangers when approaching the subject of revival. Firstly, there is a tendency to use romantic stories of great revivals as the primary evidence of the nature of revival. Such stories get Christians excited – and sometimes even get them praying! However, these historical narratives are often sanitised and, more importantly, do not carry the same authority as scripture. I will use the Bible to define and describe revival and keep historic church revivals as illustrations of scriptural teaching.
Secondly, there is a serious danger of not presenting Jesus Christ and his power to save. Often, I have heard speakers give the Holy Spirit a good mention and his effects on people but forget our Lord. The whole of the Bible is about the Lord Jesus, Son of God, so any discussion of revival must exalt Him! So, no apologies for aiming to do this on a science website.
I will be using this passage to examine revival along. It may be a good idea to go and read it now.
I always like a text. Verse 8 is very appropriate:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.Acts 1:8
But I will be using other texts, especially from the Acts of the Apostles. I am aware this text does not mention Jesus! Another important text will be:
Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.Acts 2:33
The “he” in “he has received from the Father” is the Lord Jesus. Notice how wonderfully trinitarian this passage is, Father, Son, Holy Spirit – one God. I digress!
The Book of Acts
Acts is written by Luke and follows on from his gospel as a sort of “part two”. Both are addressed to a man named Theophilus, of whom nothing is known. But he must have had a working knowledge of the Christian life, judging by the material in the first few chapters of the gospel. For example, in Acts 1:15, Luke refers to John The Baptist as one who will be filled with the Holy Spirit from before he was born. Yet, he does so without explaining what “filled with the Holy Spirit” means! Theophilus likely understood this expression by experience because he was a believer in Jesus himself.
The book of Acts describes the first few decades of the new Christian church. Luke makes it clear that the events were not just the acts of people, whether apostles or not, but of the risen and ascended Jesus Christ. Luke opens the book by saying: In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach (Acts 1:1). Here he implies that Acts concerns all that Jesus continued to do and teach. He is the Lord of the church, and the Lord himself directs its “acts”. This fact will be crucial for understanding revival.
Luke’s purpose in writing the book is more than historical; he constructs it as a defence of Christianity in general and the ministry of the apostle Paul in particular. It is as if Theophilus needs to know more about the background of Christianity, the life of Jesus, and that of the early church, perhaps to help him defend Christianity in some public debate. Indeed, I have heard it suggested that Theophilus may have been Paul’s defence lawyer, representing Paul in Rome before Caesar and his Jewish opponents. But that is speculation. Clearly, the Lord does not want us to know the precise reason why Luke wrote the book!
Armed with this background, we can move into a detailed understanding of revival. I will do it under four headings that answer the question: What is revival?
- Revival is a Work of God
- Revival is the Lord’s way of growing his kingdom
- Revival involves the Presence of God
- Revival is an Exceptional Work
I will tackle each of these answers in four subsequent posts. Remember, revival is real; it is historical, and if you’re a Christian, it involves you! I agree with the view of the late Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones that there is no future for the Christian church unless it involves the Lord reviving his church3. Understanding revival is essential if you want to see church decline turned into growth.
- UK Wells. https://ukwells.org/wells/glenlyon. See also Lennie T. (2015). Land of Many Revivals. Christian Focus.
- This Holy Spirit stained glass window is at the front of St Mungo’s Church, Balerno, Scotland.
- Lloyd-Jones D.M. (1986). Revival. Marshall Pickering