There is an ever increasing sense among Christians that the Church of today is not where it is supposed to be. They read in the book of Acts that "the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." They read that on one occasion three thousand were saved, and with the continual preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified the number grew to five thousand men. They also see haw Paul preached so effectively that "a great number...believed." They read of how Paul had daily discussions for two years, causing all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia to hear the word of the Lord. And then they look at the Church today, where in some places churches are closing and being sold for secular uses or even to anti-Christian religions, and those churches that have not closed have a very small membership.
Then Christians hear of what went on in the past. They read of times when people so wanted to get to church that they would close up their businesses early lest they be locked out of the church building; they read of when judges were given white gloves because they had no cases to try. They hear how evil people fall to their knees confessing their most heinous sins lest the floor open up and swallow them down to hell. They hear how people fall down as though dead under the conviction of sin, until after weeks or months an entire town is enveloped in the presence of God and love. Then they turn to their own churches, even to their own lives, and see the sin that is so prevalent within them, with no fear of God and no power of holy living seen in the community.
They are told that in 1905 over 8,000 people were saved in one section of India in a few months time. In Wales in 1904, within a two month period, 70,000 turned to the Lord. In Korea in 1907, 50,000 were brought to Christ. They hear that during one period of time in the United States there were 50,000 souls being saved each week. And then they wonder why their church hasn't seen one soul saved in the past year.
So what happens? The Church begins talking about revival: How great it would be for God to send one; how excellent it would be to see souls saved, a hundred or thousand per week; how the moral atmosphere of the community would improve; how well behaved the youth would become. But that is all they do. Talk. Nothing else.
In some cases they want to do something, only they don't know what to do. But, more times that not, they believe that there is nothing for them to do, except hope that God will in His sovereignty see fit to pour out a blessing upon them in His own time. They do not see that when the Holy Spirit puts a desire within the Church for revival, He expects the Church to pray that revival into being, and to prepare for it in any other practical way that He leads.
In times past, when Christians said that revival was a sovereign act of Almighty God and there was nothing they could do to promote it, Charles Finney replied:
"No doctrine endangers the church more than this, and nothing is more absurd. Suppose someone preaches that doctrine to farmers. He kindly explains to them that God is sovereign, and will give them a crop only when it pleases Him. Plowing and planting and laboring as if they expected to raise a crop is very wrong. It takes the work out of the hands of God, interferes with His sovereignty . . .Now suppose the farmers believed such a doctrine. We would starve!"
"But I think there are fewer cases of failure in the moral than in the natural world. I have seldom seen anyone fail when he used in a right manner the means for fostering revival pointed out in the Word of God. I believe we can labor to promote revival with as reasonable a prospect for success as we could find in any other line of work. We can enter the endeavor with the same anticipation as the farmer who rightly expects a crop when he sows his grain. I have seen success under the most forbidding circumstances conceivable."
Though many may point out flaws in Finney's thinking, they cannot disprove that the principles which Finney laid out in his book, Lectures on Revival, have done much good to the advancement of the Kingdom of God on earth. Within a short time of its first publication, it had been translated into French and Welsh, which resulted in revivals in Wales.
Seventy years after its first printing, a Canadian Presbyterian missionary in China was given a pamphlet that contained some extracts from Finney's books, and Jonathan Goforth vowed, "If Finney is right, then I'm going to find out what those laws are and obey them, no matter what it costs." As the Holy Spirit taught Goforth, the missionary began to see remarkable scenes of revival in China, with much confessing of sin from both saint and sinner. Later in life he was able to write,
"Our reading of the Word of God makes it inconceivable to us that the Holy Spirit should be willing, even for a day, to delay His work. We may be sure that, where there is a lack of the fulness of God, it is ever due to man's lack of faith and obedience. If God the Holy Spirit is not glorifying Jesus Christ in the world today, as at Pentecost, it is we who are to blame. After all, what is revival but simply the Spirit of God fully controlling in the surrendered life? It must always be possible, then, when man yields. The sin of unyieldedness, alone, can keep us from revival."
So what happened when Finney put his beliefs into practice? Revival broke out. The following extracts from his Memoirs of the revival in Rochester, New York, in 1830, will show how these laws, put into practice, will promote a revival:
"Among others a pressing invitation was received from the Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester to go there and supply them for a season. I inquired into the circumstances, and found on several accounts it was a very unpromising field of labor at that time. There were but three Presbyterian churches in Rochester. . .and religion was in a low state. . .I had many praying friends. . . [who] were unanimous in the opinion that Rochester was too uninviting a field of labor. . .
"But after I retired to my lodging the question was presented to my mind under a different aspect. Something seemed to question me -- "What are the reasons that deter you from going to Rochester ?" I could easily enumerate them; but then the question returned--"Ah! but are these good reasons? Certainly you are needed at Rochester all the more because of these difficulties. So you shun the field because there are so many things which need to be corrected, because there is so much that is wrong? But if all was right, you would not be needed." I soon came to the conclusion that we were all wrong; and that the reasons that had determined us against my going to Rochester, were the most cogent reasons for my going. I concluded that I was more needed at that time in Rochester than in any of the fields that were open to me. . .
"On my arrival I met my cousin [who in the next few days] exerted himself to bring about a good understanding between the Pastors and Churches and a great change soon manifested itself in the attitude and spiritual state of the Churches.
"There were very soon some very marked conversions. . .
". . . and it was soon seen that the Lord was aiming at the conversion of the highest classes of society. My mettings soom became thronged with that class. The lawyers, physicians, merchants, and indeed all the most intelligent class of society, became more and more interested, and more and more easily influenced to give their hearts to God. . .
"The work continued to increase. . .The Spirit of the Lord had taken hold of the work in earnest, and nothing seemed to stay it.
". . .Christians of every denomination generally seemed to make common cause, and entirely united in their efforts, and went to work with a will to pull sinners out of the fire. . .
"The revival made a great change in the moral state and subsequent history of Rochester. The great majority of the leading men and women in the city were converted. . .
" I have not said much as yet of the spirit of prayer that prevailed in this revival. . . The Spirit of prayer was poured out powerfully, so much so that some persons stayed away from public services to pray, being unable to restrain their feelings under preaching. . .
"There were good many cases in Rochester in which people were exercised with this spirit of agonizing travail of soul. I have said that the moral aspect of things was greatly changed by this revival. It was a young city, full of thrift and enterprize, and full of sin. The inhabitants were intelligent and enterprizing in the highest degree; but as the revival swept through the town and converted the great mass of the most influential people both male and female, the change in the order, sobriety, and morality of the city was wonderful.
"[A lawyer who was made thoroughly acquainted with the history of crime in that city, later told me], 'I have been examining the records of the criminal courts, and I find this striking fact, that whereas our city has increased since that revival three-fold, there is not one third as many prosecutions for crime as there had been up to that time.'
"'Thus crime,' he says, 'has decreased two thirds, and the population has increased two thirds. This is,' he said, 'the wonderful influence that that revival had had upon the community.'
". . .The means used for the promotion of this revival were precisely the same that had been used in all revivals that I had witnessed before."
In Lectures on Revival, Finney gives the principles that he believed would bring a revival to any place where the people would put them into practice. Remember that Finney felt that these were the principles that people were to put into practice after the Holy Spirit had put within them a desire to see revival. Do you desire to see revival? Then read Lectures on Revival, and put these principles to work in your life and in your church and see what the Holy Spirit does.