The Awareness and Impact of God's Presence in Revival
Revival is a work of grace. Wherever and whenever it occurs, invariably the prime mover of this distinctively divine activity is revealed to be God the Holy Spirit. In his account of the 1904 Revival in Wales, David Matthews begins with these words:
Divine movements have their birthplace in the heart of Deity”
While that may seem to be an obvious and thus unnecessary expression, regrettably there are many who have the idea today that we can originate Revival, hence the many foolish and outrageous imitations—and the sad lack of true spiritual discernment by leaders who have embraced what is patently false as being true, leading many trusting souls to inevitable disillusionment and, in some cases, utter spiritual disaster!
When examining the accounts of Revival in both biblical and Church history, such seasons of spiritual refreshing from the presence of the Lord are seen to emerge in the providence of God, and so often at such a critical time when the spiritual condition of God’s people is in evident decline, the Word of the Lord is scarce, and the lamp of God burns low in the land cf. 1 Samuel 3:1-3.
What a description of the present condition of the Churches across our nations.
However this does not mean we just wait impassively to see IF God will visit us. Rather, our concern for the spiritual state of Churches, generally speaking, and that of our respective nations, must drive us to our knees to “seek the face of the Lord” for His merciful favours and sovereign intervention cf. Psalm 4:6; 27:8; 80:3,7,19; 105:4. This should be the constant disposition of God’s people, in general and of His ministers (servants) in particular.
It is the prompting of the pious heart so as to know His nearness, adore His person, discern His will, and always to obey His voice. And this is not just the act of the individual believer but it must be a corporate act too. Regrettably, in many churches today the prayer arena is deserted ground. We need to recover the prayer meeting! How challenging are these words of C.H. Spurgeon:
How can we expect a blessing if we are too idle to ask for it? How can we look for a Pentecost if we never meet with one another, in one place, to wait upon the Lord? Brethren, we shall never see much change for the better in our churches till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians.
We will only get to the prayer closet, of course, when we have a true sense of the prevailing need, and a preparedness to enter upon times of desperate intercession. David Matthews, writing about Revival, says that whenever God predisposes the inauguration of a period of blessing intended for the uplift of humanity, His Church in particular, multitudes of His chosen ones
… become mysteriously burdened with the birth pangs of a new era. Intercessions are stained with the crimson of a splendid agony. Undoubtedly at such a time, God’s people pass through their Gethsemane.
When Isaiah pleaded with God in such anguish of heart, “Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1) he was very much aware that we cannot have a visitation of God on our own terms! God never lowers His standards to accommodate us. It is GOD who rends the heavens; it is WE who rend our hearts, overcome with true repentance for our sins and backslidings, throwing ourselves upon His mercy and grace to forgive, cleanse and restore us, and to vindicate His Holy Name! This is what we may find too difficult to do. Oh, what an urgent need we have for a people who know how to cry to God, like Isaiah that He will “rend (tear open) the heavens and come down”.
I recall the late Donald Gee once saying, “We have lost the art of waiting on God!” Sadly, we must now add that we have also lost the art of supplication. I feel sure that if we had a greater appreciation for the nature, privilege, and ministry of prayer we would engage all the more in it.
We need the urgency and fervour of Isaiah. His prayer grips and moves me, as at first he asked God to “LOOK DOWN from heaven” (63:15). How humbling that God is unfailingly mindful of our hopeless misery! Something more, however, was needed. Hence the anguished cry: “Oh that You would rend the heavens and COME DOWN” (64:1). Isaiah evidently knew that nothing was more urgent or affecting than the Presence of God, for he knew that “mountains flow down at (His) Presence” (63:7-15), as Israel had known in its turbulent history.
That God “looks down” is rightly assumed, thus seeing all things in their truest light; but that He will “come down” is fervently pleaded, to mercifully address what He sees is needed.
Revival has been defined in many ways, but maybe in the simplest of expressions it is God ‘rending the heavens and coming down.’ Rev. John Bonar of Larbert, Falkirk, Scotland (1696-1752), writing on the source of Revival observed:
A “revival of religion” (is) an unusual manifestation of the power of the grace of God in convincing and converting careless sinners, and in quickening and increasing the faith and piety of believers… It is the life-giving, light-imparting, quickening, regenerating and sanctifying energy of the Holy Spirit, converting the hardened sinner, and reclaiming the backsliding or dormant Christian.
Such a confrontation with Infinite Holiness is no trifle; it is no amusing or light thing. It is always most discomforting when one is subjected to, and searched by, the inescapable rays of Him whose eyes are “as a flame of fire” (Rev. 1:14 cf. 19:12). That is no fun time! When God came down at Sinai in the sight of His people it was truly terrifying (Exodus 19). When God manifested His Presence in the early Church it was accompanied by “great power”, “great grace”, and “GREAT FEAR” (Acts 2:43; 4:33; 5:11). And in the great Revivals of Church history it was just like that. R.B. Jones, the renowned Welsh preacher of the last century, as an eyewitness and one used of God in the 1904 Revival in Wales, recalled something of the glory of it:
A sense of the Lord’s presence was everywhere. It pervaded, nay, it created the spiritual atmosphere. It mattered not where one went the consciousness of the reality and nearness of God followed. Felt, of course, in the Revival gatherings, it was by no means confined to them; it was also felt in the homes, on the streets, in the mines and factories, in the schools, yea, and even in the theatres and drinking saloons. The strange result was that wherever people gathered became a place of awe, and places of amusement and carousel (revelry) were practically emptied… The pit-bottoms and galleries became places of praise and prayer, where the miners gathered to worship ere they dispersed to their several stalls. Even the children of the Day schools came under the spell of God.
We dare not underestimate or fail to acknowledge this remarkable feature of the ‘04’ and other wonderful spiritual awakenings in Wales, when the Lord “came down”. Many have been the times when the Church needed a divine visitation to rouse her from spiritual apathy, backsliding, and worldliness; from her materialism and carnality; from her lack of God-fearingness and Christ-centeredness; and to restore her to the place where God’s presence and power were again evident in her midst, in order that His purposes for and through her might be realized. In his new book just published, Dr. David Jeremiah comments on the growing irrelevance of the Christian church in the eyes of our society. He says that while society may be biased, the Church needs to ask itself whether, by its impassivity and lack of zeal, it has lost the right to be heard. That is one of the reasons why I say we are in need of a Divine awakening.
I am filled with gratitude that the history of the Church encourages me through its wonderful evidences of God graciously coming again and again in renewing grace to an apostatising, declining Church. It is comforting to note past divine visitations taking place against the background of a spiritless, dormant and unconcerned Church. This was the case in Wales prior to the Revivals, as David Allen notes in his book:
Though ‘Chapel’ still played an important part in the lives of the vast majority of people in Wales, things were not quite what they used to be. The spiritual lamp had burnt low; and many of the chapels had become preaching locations at best and thinly disguised social clubs at worst.
How glad I am that God is so faithful that He should respond to the heart cry of concerned people who prayed about such prevailing situations—and ‘came down’! This gives me hope amid the deteriorating moral and spiritual culture in which we live, as well as the evident intensifying of spiritual conflict taking place around us. Only God can change the situation locally or nationally.
R.B. Jones recalled the meetings during the 1904 Revival, where he himself was ministering in Amlwch, on the Isle of Anglesey in North Wales. He had been preaching from Isaiah 6, and wrote of the evident transforming power of God manifest in those gatherings as the Holy Spirit bore witness to the truth being faithfully proclaimed.
Conviction of sin, and of its terrible desert, was so crushing that a feeling almost of despair grew over all hearts. So grievous a thing was sin; so richly and inevitably did it deserve the severest judgment of God that hearts questioned, Could God forgive? Could God cleanse? Then came the word about the altar, the tongs, and the live coal touching the confessedly vile lips, and the gracious and complete removal of their vileness. After all, there was hope. God was forgiving, and He had cleansing for the worst.
The following is a description of a meeting during an earlier visitation experienced in the Principality of Wales—the 1859 Revival—under the humble ministries of Humphrey Jones and David Morgan, whom God blessed so mightily, when an estimated 110,000 souls were added to the Churches during that remarkable outpouring. This is the account of a prayer meeting:
It was in its terrors that the Eternal became a reality to them first. They seemed plunged into depths of godly sorrow … For some weeks it was the voice of weeping and the sound of mourning that was heard in the meetings. The house was often so full of the Divine Presence that ungodly men trembled terror-stricken; and at the close, sometimes they fled as from some impending peril
I wonder if we are prepared for such a revelation of the Holy One, and a like spiritual shaking. Would we really want to see such a manifestation of God’s Presence? Further questions are prompted to my heart: Can we truly be satisfied with anything less than such a manifestation of the Presence of Divine Holiness? Can we possibly be content with the superficiality, carnality, and materialism in our churches that never seem to be boldly challenged and corrected? What might be the impact of God ”rending the heavens” and ”coming down” among US? Isaiah gives us some idea of the impact of the Divine Presence. Observe what he says in chapter 64:1-3:
Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence, as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil, to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
So, what takes place when ‘God comes down’?
1. Defiant Mountains of Resistance Flow Down
Like the impact of God descending on Sinai, when the mountain “quaked greatly” (Exodus 19:10-18) all resistance is vanquished. The prophet Micah also saw the Lord coming forth threateningly, saying,
For behold, the LORD is coming out of His place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains will melt under Him, and the valleys will split open, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place…” (Micah 1:3-4, ESV).
That is the description of God coming in His judicial might.
The context in Isaiah 64, of course, is also one of judgment, God coming to deal with enemies who seemed to be unrelenting, so that He might vindicate His people. The desire is that God would come in His marvellous providence, manifesting Himself both to His people and for them, in their behalf—not in judgment but in restoration. For our present thoughts on ‘Revival’ it is the principle that is taken from this, so as to see God coming down to His Church and for His Church, not in judgment but that she might be recovered from the desolate place she has been in. Mountains represent what is solid and strong on the face of the earth, things that seem so unflinching and persistent; and so imposing it appears nothing can change their situation. I admit I have wept as I have pondered if there is a way back for the Church, a Church that seems to have gone so far astray from the “old paths” of truth and righteousness (Jer.6:16). However, Isaiah encourages me to believe for such ‘mountains’ to flow down at His Presence, at least at the local church level. I believe we can know the blessedness of spiritual renewal in our local fellowships, whatever may be taking place elsewhere. It is God’s prerogative as to what He might do in His sovereign purposes beyond what is local, as in past times of Revival when He touched the entire nation.
I am sure that Evan Roberts did not fully anticipate what God would do so powerfully throughout the Principality, and well beyond, when God came down at his home church, Moriah Chapel in Loughor, South Wales. He was twenty-five years old when the 1904 Revival broke out in that small Welsh community. It must be said that as a boy he was unusually serious and very diligent in his Christian life, daily attending the Chapel. It is worthy of note that he believed emphatically, and proclaimed fearlessly, his faith in the inerrancy and inviolability of God’s holy Word. All his service was built upon this elevated understanding of divine truth. The Bible had been his inseparable companion since early childhood days. It was not surprising that even at 13 years of age he began to develop a heart for a visitation from God. He later wrote,
I said to myself: I will have the Spirit. And through all weathers and in spite of all difficulties I went to the meetings … for ten or eleven years I have prayed for Revival. I could sit up all night to read or talk about Revivals. It was the Spirit who moved me to think about Revival.
And God does come in answer to prayer! What He did for and through young Evan Roberts, He can do today—with the mountains of apathy, unfaithfulness and general barrenness; mountains of superficiality and worldly compromise among us in the Church, all needing to be urgently addressed. God alone knows how deeply entrenched are the inroads of idolatrous sin and corruption in our societies at this time. But as surely as GOD ‘came down’ so mightily in times past, He can come yet again into our current situation: into our lives, homes, Churches, communities, and even our nation, and bring about the needed change so that HE might be glorified. Nothing abides His all-consuming Presence! Well might we pray – ‘O God, come down!’ It is the only answer.
2. God's Name Becomes Known To All
…to make Your name known to Your adversaries…” Is. 64:2.
His ‘name’ represents the sum of all of His glorious perfections i.e. all that He is.
First of all, we must recognize that it is time for the Church itself to come to a true knowledge of God. This means that God’s servants must not fail to constantly reveal some measure of His glory through sound expository teaching and preaching; that which magnifies His greatness, supremacy and sovereignty. We must know God for who He IS and not be sufficed with mere ‘notions’ concerning Him, whether such notions are the product of how He is enunciated from shallow pulpit preaching or (God forbid) the invention of our own deficient imagining.
I concur with John Piper’s assessment of things in the Church today, when he says that our people are starving for the greatness of God. He states our people need to hear ‘God-entranced preaching’! Preaching that does not have the aroma of God’s greatness may entertain for a season, but inevitably it will fail to satisfy the heart’s cry to see God’s glory. Seeing God in His awesome splendour has to start in the church. Then we must believingly pray to behold Him arise in His majesty and might and see conditions changed and lives transformed. Dr. A.W. Tozer was so right when he wrote:
The gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always, the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech… Among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any other is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on His character. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is—in itself a monstrous sin—and substitutes for the true God one made after its own likeness… A god begotten in the shadows of a fallen heart will quite naturally be no likeness of the true God.
We must get it right about the God we profess to know and serve. Yes, God IS with us – and may we never deny nor despise ‘the day of small things’ (cf. Zechariah 4:10). But, O for that revelation of GOD, first to us as His people, and then to see our communities impacted through us as we faithfully make known His excellences in our Gospel witness. Programs originating in the minds of men, with their presentations that merely inflate the human ego, will never achieve that. God’s manifest Presence alone will prove sufficient to confront and conquer those sinister forces that are at work in shaping our society! And NO adversary can stand before HIM when he ‘comes down’ in His glory.
What must never be forgotten is the fact that ‘Revival’ must be fervently sought, and primarily stemming from a passion for the honour of His name. It is the answer to our prayer, as Jesus taught us to pray: “Hallowed be Your name!” Or, to paraphrase it, “Let Your name be celebrated, venerated, and esteemed as holy everywhere, and receive from all people proper honour.” It is not without significance that this is the first element in the Lord’s Prayer, and all that follows is grounded in the revelation of who God the Father is, the Holy One in whom essential and moral perfection is inherently found. He himself must be glorified, held everywhere in proper adoring reverence! God himself insists:
Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the LORD - Ezekiel 38:23. See also Isaiah 37:20.
This is what is apparent in times of spiritual awakening. It was so in the Welsh Revivals. All reports uniformly tell of churches everywhere not only aflame with passionate religious enthusiasm but the fact that this derived from an incredible unveiling of the majesty of God in their midst, and the indisputable signs of His matchless grace being poured forth on the people.
It is worth noting that the 1904 Revival reached almost every nook and corner of the Principality—whilst the ministry of Evan Roberts, whom God used mightily, was, with little exception exercised within only one of its counties at that time. Revival fires burned brightly in places God’s servant did not visit, and, in other places he was invited, the fire was already burning before he arrived.
It was NOT man; it was GOD—and God in His glory and for His own honour ‘coming down.’ The disgusting lauding of men in our times—men who profess to be ‘specially anointed’ for the claimed but false ‘Revivals’ of the past couple of decades, and thus blasphemously celebrated like Hollywood stars—must be utterly grievous to the blessed Holy Spirit!
3. A Shaking Takes Place of Extraordinary Extent
… that the nations may tremble at Your Presence – Isaiah 64:2.
The cynical challenge put before the Church by the world today is, “Where is your God?” (Psalm 42:3 cf. verse 10). When David was confronted by that question, he said that such mocking provocation was “like a sword in my bones”. (Psalm 42:10). But, today, WHO CARES that the godless seem to be at the helm, dictating even to the Church with their utter disregard for God and His righteous Law cf. Psalm 2:1-3. And things are predicted to get even worse! Who knows that with the increasing apostatising evident around us we might well experience severer persecution—even from within the ranks of Christendom—because of our love for and faithfulness to the Truth, and our stern refusal to compromise? There are churches and leaders who want to sink differences, stress the points on which they are agreed, and unite – a unity based on compromise not conviction, one that is organizational and not organic. Such an ecumenical hotchpotch disturbs no demons, embarrasses no government, and will never cause our decaying generation to sit up and take note of GOD Almighty. It’s the whore of Revelation 18. How fearful the description (verses 2-3):
the habitation of demons … and the prison of every foul spirit … a cage of every unclean and hateful bird… For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.
We need Revival, to save churches and leaders from being partakers of her sins and of the plagues she will suffer in end-time judgment (verses 3-8). In one hour she is going to be made desolate (verse 19).
After all is said and done, our task is not to patronize our society but to confront it with GOD, and with His Holy, infallible, and unbending law; to proclaim a pure and uncompromised Gospel of grace, so as to see souls turned from the very jaws of hell. And that can only be accomplished by a restored and renewed Church, true and righteous and holy. Unless we see the return of the true fear of the Lord in our churches, we will not see it in the streets of our towns and cities, or in the seats of our governments.
Dr. Eifion Evans, in a published lecture he gave in 1960 on Revivals, said that—
…the Revivals of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries came to an apostate, declining, expiring Church, while those of the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries took place against the background of a dormant, listless, and unconcerned church. The former situation witnessed the emergence of particular, leading doctrines and outstanding figures, while the latter situation was radically altered by invigorated prayer together with a return to the apostolic preaching of the whole counsel of God.
In a day when there appears to be a fever for the spectacular, the quest for what is showy, sensational and sensual, we need to be reminded that all true Revivals reveal God consistently using the ordinary means of grace to procure and promote Revival – fervent prayer and the faithful preaching of the Word of God, just as Dr. Evans clearly recounted. He went on to say that when the churches had been thus led to pray, the preaching of the Word became more powerful, and the substantial truths of the Gospel, presented plainly and earnestly, and applied closely and personally, were signally used TO THE RECOVERY OF MULTITUDES OF MEN.
Our lands are filled with darkness, but precious souls are not beyond the reach of Divine grace. Joel saw them, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision” (3:14); tumultuous masses driving blindly onward to their own destruction. Yet the Church does not seem to care, being so taken up with itself, complacently content with its reputation and riches and human resources—its ‘Laodicean’ religion and its corrupt pretence at worship? Could it be some even deem the situation beyond recovery, or perhaps are baulked by the personal cost involved in doing something to resolve the situation?
As I review the works of God in the great Revivals of the past, I clearly see that while such hopeless moral and spiritual chaos prevailed in a locality and in a nation, GOD “came down” in His sovereign grace and divine pity to “bring a clean thing out of an unclean” (cf. Job 14:4) far beyond human competence or contrivance. David Matthews tells of what took place when God came down:
Down in the bowels of the earth, miners not only discussed the services but actually sang boisterously the grand old hymns taught them in their childhood and almost forgotten through sin. Everything sprang into new life. Former blasphemers were the most eloquent, both in prayer and praise. These men appeared to be making up for lost time—“the years that the locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25). Drunkards forgot the way to the saloons, which in fact were empty in a few nights. All the former inebriates were worshipping… It was the young people who responded with greatest eagerness to the searching challenge of absolute surrender and consecration to the service of the Lord. Wherever they went, the very air became vibrant with songs of praise.
Can God do it again? Of course He can! Well, end times are upon us! The day of grace hastens to its close. We desperately need God to “come down”, for with His dreadful Presence alone will we see a nation tremble before Him, and sinners brought to Him in true repentance and saving faith! IF we do not see GOD come down in spiritual renewal, then our nations will be left to His coming down in severe retribution, that which is solemnly predicted in Revelation. Swiftly they will come to naught. Does not this stir us to seek the Lord?
4. Awesome Things Occur By God's Sovereignty
… You did terrible things that we did not look for – Is. 64:3
It seems that in genuine Revivals, God’s coming to His Church always carries with it ‘the unexpected’, the amazing, that which is truly awesome. I do not mean the bizarre! His holiness precludes that. But everything now appears to be so predictable. The spontaneity of Spirit-controlled gatherings is rare, for everything is directed and orchestrated to follow out some plan. The ‘dummy run’ during the week before the Sunday services, and the ‘polishing’ of the music program, is all to secure effectiveness. Amateurs are trying to be professional – as if GOD is interested in our slick, sophisticated presentations!
There has never been so much talk of “the anointing” and yet never so little of its true experience and dynamic expression. The vain profession to such renewal and fullness of the Holy Spirit is such an insult to the true character, power and objectives of Pentecost. What Dr. A.W.Tozer had to say about conditions in the Church half a century ago is just as relevant today:
How empty and meaningless is the average Church service today … the form of godliness is there, and often the form is perfected till it is an aesthetic triumph. Music and poetry, art and oratory, symbolic vesture and solemn tones combine to charm the minds of the worshipper; but too often the supernatural afflatus is not there … In the average service the most real thing is the shadowy unreality of everything.
Please don’t brush that off, as though it applied only to (what we might call) the mainline denominational churches; it well describes a lot of the neo-Pentecostal scene. O, God help us!
Ah, in those times of true spiritual renewal, holy men, by any Scriptural measure, when confronted by the Holy One were overpowered within their own beings, smitten as with a sword, and often prostrated in awe before Him; for no flesh can abide, let alone glory, in His Presence. God was never familiar and gatherings never an entertainment. Maybe this is why we have few who will “stir themselves to lay hold of God” (Is. 64:7) to plead for Him to truly “rend the heavens and come down”. It’s too terrible! But there is no other answer to our need. O God, please come down!
Will you consider the present desperate situation, generally speaking and seek the Lord as never before. This is a challenge to the whole Church today. It’s crucial. We must have Revival, and if we seek the Lord I dare to believe He will rend the heavens and come down.But there’s a price to pay.
I purpose to address this and the crucial matter of ‘Prayer and Revival’ in my next article.
About the Author
AERON MORGAN and wife Dinah have served the Lord for more than fifty years. They are Welsh and have pastored churches in the UK and Australia, where they now reside. Aeron served on the National Executives of the British and the Australian AoG fellowships. He was the first General Superintendent of the British AoG, and was Principal of the Australian National Bible College for twelve years. He was also an adjunct faculty member of the South Pacific Bible College in Suva, Fiji. Now retired from active pastoral ministry he fulfils an extensive itinerant ministry in many countries speaking at churches, Conferences, ministers' seminars, and short-term teaching in Bible Schools. Aeron has a website - www.aeronmorgan.org
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