A RECURRING NEED IN CHRISTIAN LIFE
These lines are written at a critical time in the world’s history, when much is being said and written about revival. Many Christians are praying for revival; popular evangelists are doing their best to bring it about; leading periodicals, secular as well as religious, and even the daily newspapers, are discussing it, generally using such phraseology as “a revival of religion,” “a revival of religious feeling” or “a revival of religious faith.” Whatever the human failures involved, every true believer will thank God for the measure in which men are awakening to the need of supernatural aid in solving the grave problems that confront our generation.
WHAT IS SPIRITUAL REVIVAL?
But precisely what is true spiritual revival? This question is not too simple to ask while there are those who call almost any series of religious meetings a revival, while others confuse revival with the waves of religious feeling which sweep over the masses periodically and still others suppose that a revival is an ingathering of souls.
Actually a revival is simply a restoration to vigorous health. It relates to the living, not to the dead. The dead cannot be revived, but we do administer food and medicine to those who are faint or ill, in order to restore them to vigorous health. Thus spiritual revival is the restoration of ailing Christians to vigorous spiritual health.
A series of meetings may be used of God to produce a spiritual revival among His people, and such a revival often results in an ingathering of souls, but neither the series of meetings nor the ingathering of souls is in itself the revival. The revival is the spiritual restoration of believers.
THE NEED FOR SPIRITUAL REVIVAL
With individual believers, as with the Church at large, the need for spiritual revival is frequently not recognized until exceedingly low levels of spirituality1 have been reached. Actually, however, the need is almost continuous.
Physically most of us need to be revived at least three times a day. Hunger and weakness soon overtake us and we feel the need of food to renew our strength. Spiritually it is not less so, for “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Sad to say, however, we are by nature prone to neglect our spiritual welfare and lapse into carelessness and sin, so that repeatedly the need for spiritual revival and restoration becomes acute.
THE CAUSE OF SPIRITUAL DECLINE
Many feel that lack of prayer, failure to live separated lives, indifference toward the lost, etc., are the real causes of spiritual decline. These, however, are the effects, not the causes. The cause of spiritual decline today is always our departure from the Word of God in general and from the Word of God to us in particular. There lies the root of our spiritual ills, though comparatively few as yet recognize or acknowledge it.
With Israel it was departure from Moses’ law that constantly got her into trouble; with us it has been the departure from Pauline truth, for, remember, as surely as the dispensation of the law was committed to Moses, so surely was the dispensation of grace committed to Paul (Eph. 3:1-3) and those who have lapsed or backslidden, from his day until ours, have done so through departing from the truths committed to him for us.
In Paul’s epistles we find both the evidence and the tendency on the part of believers to depart from the path of blessing, and God’s diagnosis of the particular cause of the trouble. In every case the cause is rebellion against the apostle’s God-given authority and departure from his God-given message and program.
It was only a few short years after Paul had been sent forth with “the gospel of the grace of God” that the revolt against his authority began. The Galatians rebelled, followed the Judaizers and fell into the bondage of legalism. In his letter to them Paul takes almost two whole chapters to prove again his authority as “the apostle of the Gentiles,” calling upon them to examine thoroughly the certificate of his apostleship and warning them of the dangers of departing from his God-given message.
Dumbfounded at their sudden declension, he exclaims:
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel” (Gal. 1:6).
And he adds:
“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Ver. 8).
Challenging them as to the result of their rebellion, he asks:
“Where is then the blessedness ye spake of? for I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me” (Gal. 4:15).
“But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15).
Mark well: the Galatian believers had lost their blessedness because of their departure from God’s appointed messenger and God’s appointed message to them.
Twice the apostle charges the Galatians with disobedience (Gal. 3:1; 5:7). But why? They had sought to obey more than Paul had commanded them. They were prepared to submit to circumcision in addition to the program he had, by revelation, outlined for them. And they had Scripture for their position too. Yes, but not Scripture rightly divided. Their return to Moses and the law was a repudiation of the further revelation given through Paul: “the preaching of the cross,” which was even then bringing the Mosaic dispensation to a close. Even the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem church had recognized the Gentiles’ freedom from the law and had “written and concluded that they observe no such thing” (Acts 21:25). Thus obedience to the law now became disobedience to the truth and cost the Galatians their blessedness, bringing them into a state where they bit and devoured one another.
The Corinthians also rebelled and started rival sects among themselves, as though it were a question of who was right: Paul, Apollos, Cephas or Christ. Thus departing from the glorious revelation committed to Paul, the Corinthians fell into many other grievous errors and sins. The apostle therefore challenged them too as to his spiritual authority and warned them of the dangers of their heresy.
In Asia Minor, where the apostle had labored for “the space of two years,” the issue was again Paul and his message. In his second letter to Timothy the apostle had to write:
“This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me…” (II Tim. 1:15).
This does not mean that all the saved in the province of Asia—and there were many—were now lost, or even that they did not genuinely love the Lord. It means simply that they had turned against Paul as the one to whom had been committed the new dispensation, “the dispensation of the grace of God.”
These are but a few examples. The sacred record contains many more examples of spiritual declension since the raising up of Paul, and always the declension was brought about by a departure from one or more of the particular truths revealed through him: the truth of the “one body” and the sympathy for one another which this implies, or the truth of the “one baptism” with its death to the flesh and its identification with Christ in the heavenlies, or, perhaps, the truth of our standing in grace, with the resultant life lived for God out of sheer gratitude.
HOW TO ENJOY SPIRITUAL REVIVAL
When we recognize the fact that the old Adamic nature is still with us, it is easy to see why the most godly among us need spiritual revival almost constantly, for by that very nature we are ever prone to depart from the blessed teachings of the Pauline epistles.
This is why Paul wrote, by the Spirit, to Timothy and to us:
“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 1:13).
The Word of God, then, is of supreme importance to the spiritual well-being of every believer; not merely as a collection of beautiful and heart-warming thoughts, but as the revelation of God’s program for the ages, and especially for us today, to be studied, understood and obeyed. As food and medicine must be wisely administered to the weak and ill, so must the Word be “rightly divided” to provide the necessary benefit to those who need spiritual restoration.
How may we enjoy true spiritual revival? Can it be gained by more prayer or self-denial or confession of sin? No, these again are the products, the results of true spiritual revival, which begins with God, not with man. In spiritual revival as in regeneration, the Spirit uses the Word. There is the food and the medicine which God has given to restore us to vigorous spiritual health.
Perhaps the reader will recall the record of the revival under Ezra; how the Book was recovered for the people and how Ezra and his helpers “read…distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading” (Neh. 8:8). What a spiritual awakening resulted! How the people wept (Neh. 8:9) and rejoiced (Neh. 8:9-11) “because they had understood the words that were declared unto them”! (Neh. 8:12).
The understanding of God’s Word always revives His people spiritually. Hear the two at Emmaus from whom our Lord had just departed:
“Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32).
And if this was true in other dispensations it is particularly so in this present dispensation of grace, when the glorious secret of God’s purpose and grace has been revealed. Little wonder Paul prays so earnestly for the Colossians and for us all:
“…that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will [purpose] in all wisdom and spiritual understanding;
“That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9,10).
Little wonder he reminded them of his warnings and teachings, of his labor and strife and conflict (Col. 1:28,29):
“That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement [Gr., thorough knowledge] of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ;
“In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:2,3).
If indeed we would be spiritually revived and enjoy vigorous spiritual health; if indeed it is our desire to walk worthy of the Lord, to be fruitful in every good work, to increase in the knowledge of God, then we should be satisfied with nothing short of a clear understanding of “His will” and a thorough knowledge of “the mystery” as it is presented to us in the epistles of Paul. And as we grasp the vital and wonderful truths associated with “the mystery” the whole Word of God will prove the richer and more nourishing to us spiritually.
In these days of spiritual declension may God give us an appetite for the Word! May it be our deep desire to know God’s Word so that we may obey it, for there is probably no joy like that which comes to the believer from the knowledge that he is in the will of God.
- We do not say morality, for believers who are scrupulously conscientious about moral matters and even about their duties as Christians, may still be far from spiritual.