Knowing the Spirit of revival has to do with the personal reception of the Holy Spirit. It is a matter of the mind, first of all, and then of the heart. The mind is confronted by the Word of God and the heart believes.
You may ask why the mind is placed before the heart? The reason is found in Romans 10:17. “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.” Before we can believe we must hear. Under normal circumstances, prior to the changing of the heart, the mind has to be challenged. We do not wish to separate the work of the Holy Spirit in the mind and the heart. The two are so closely related. However, in fairness to the Biblical balance and logic itself, we present this order.1
We continue our reflections on the work and person of the Holy Spirit as revealed in the Gospels. In this section we place special emphasis on that work in us.
THE HOLY SPIRIT’S PREPARATION OF THE BELIEVER
John 3:3: “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Regeneration, causing people to be born again, can only be done by God. God accomplishes that by the Holy Spirit. Calvin states: “By the phrase born again is expressed not the correction of one part, but the renovation of the whole nature.”2
Revival will be blessed by regeneration of people. Unless the Spirit causes new birth, there can be no belief, true repentance, spiritual life and eternal hope.
Historical revivals, such as occurred among the Reformers, the Puritans, and in the Great Awakening, were associated with the Calvinist doctrines of the total depravity of natural man and the complete salvation through faith in Christ alone based on the grace of God. They understood that regeneration precedes faith. This is also the example which the Gospel of John presents to us. Let us take a closer look at John 3 and 4, where we have the parallel accounts of Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.
Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are presented in a parallel context. Nicodemus is a covenant person, the Samaritan woman is not. Both have to be born again by the Spirit of God.
Let us first observe what is said about Nicodemus. He was a covenant person. He was in the old covenant God had made with Israel. He was a leader. He was a teacher as well as a ruler among the Jews. He was orthodox. He believed in God, in miracles, that Jesus came from God, and he saw the need to seek the truth. Why, he could have become a member in many of our churches! Usually we simply ask people to affirm the truthfulness of certain statements and they can become a member, office bearer and even a pastor. However, are they born again? Nicodemus was not. as we see from his inability to understand what Jesus was saying.
The Samaritan woman was the opposite of Nicodemus. She was not a covenant person. In fact. the covenant people traditionally despised the Samaritans because they had been part of the covenant but had left it. They were former “church” members. She was not a leader but had servant status. Anyone familiar with ancient cultures would recognize that only children and servants carried water. She had been married; she was advanced in age and yet she had to carry her own water. She did not have children or servants to do that. Nor was she orthodox. Her lifestyle was in shambles. Five marriages, divorces, and living common law with a man whom the Lord said was not her husband.
Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman had one thing in common: they were both spiritually dead. Both replied in the same way to the teachings of Jesus about spirituality. They did not know what Jesus was talking about.
The response of Jesus to both persons was according to their need. Jesus rebuked Nicodemus for being a teacher of Israel and not knowing about the need for spiritual rebirth. He pointed Nicodemus to the crucified Christ for salvation. Nicodemus did not really submit to that until Jesus was crucified. We have no record that he received the baptism of John. However, we do know he identified with the crucified Savior at the time of His death.
While Nicodemus was reprimanded for being a teacher of Israel and not knowing about spiritual rebirth, the Samaritan woman’s marital life was exposed. However, it was the Samaritan woman who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, and she witnessed to the villagers. Nicodemus and the Pharisees did not submit to the baptism of John, but Jesus stayed with the Samaritans for several days speaking about the kingdom. The Samaritan woman entered the kingdom prior to Nicodemus.
John 3:5: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” John Calvin rightfully indicates that the inward working of the Holy Spirit is the purification of continual repentance. “By water, therefore, is meant nothing more than the inward purification and invigoration which is produced by the Holy Spirit.”
Revival is not only a knowledge that the Spirit exists but the fruits of repentance and transformation are to be evident.
The Roman Catholic view, according to John Gerstner in Primer on Roman Catholicism, is that regeneration starts at the time of water baptism. But invisible regeneration based on liturgical correctness or theological presuppositions is notconclusive. “By their fruits you shall know them,” says the Lord. Nicodemus had all the covenantaland external religious qualifications to assume rebirth…but he was not reborn until he was reborn. The Samaritan woman confessed that Jesus had told the truth about her life and she confessed Christ as Savior.
John 3:6: “That which is born of Spirit is spirit.” Only the Holy Spirit can make us spiritual. Non-Christian religions have highjacked the term spirituality and identify it with spiritism, supernaturalism and religiosity. Revival can only be identified with true spirituality.
When spiritism, supernatural occurrences and religious behavior which is counter-Biblical occur, they must not be identified with revival. For that reason, revivalists such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield spoke against the excesses which occurred during revivaI times. For that reason, Christians are reasonably wise not to add a lot of human emotion, custom and personal opinion to worship and Christian service. Christian living, in all of its dimensions, must be true spirituality.
Is everything that happens in revival meetings from the Spirit? Of course not. Martin Luther, and the Reformed Confessions say that when the Spirit is at work, so is the flesh, the world and the devil. Therefore, we must always be discerning. The three-fold triad will always appear. The mere fact that it does appear does not disqualify a church or a revival movement from being authentically spiritual. An authentic spiritual movement however, will practice discernment and discipline in relationship to the three-fold triad3
John 3:8: “The wind blows wherever it pleases, You hear its sound, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” He knows best!
Revival cannot be identified with human beings seeking to manipulate human emotions, wills and minds. To announce that we are going to have a great revival is to know the secret will of God. To pray for and wait for revival is to depend on the sovereign workings of God. How beautiful is the sovereign work of the Lord in a sinner’s heart. Augustine of old, the greatest theologian in the early church, was prayed for by his mother for 32 years. One day, as he was coming home from yet another drunken bash, some children were playing a game that included the words: “Tolle,lege” which means, “Take up and read.” He picked up the Bible and read Romans 13:13, 14: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife or envyings, but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, to fulfill the lusts thereof.” Then he goes on to say: “By a light as it were of severity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.”4
Martin Luther struggled with the law and fell into the legalism of the Roman Catholic Church. His confessors grew tired of his confessions. There were days when he confessed for hours simply the sins of the day. Yet it was when he was reading Romans 1: 17, “The just shall live by faith,” that his heart was reborn by the Spirit of God. “Sola fide” (by faith alone) would change the course of the church and the history of the world.5
The Wesley brothers, John and Charles, were in the mission service of the gospel in the Anglican church. When they came home, disappointed by their visit in the Americas, they met some Moravians on board of the ship. The Moravians preached and witnessed about the assurance of salvation. Charles continued to search, and after reading Luther’s commentary on Galatians, he found peace with God. Three days later, John experienced a similar occurrence at Aldersgate Street chapel. “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”6
Yet, more miraculous than the conversion of men who later lived and learned to tell about it, is the conversion of the sinner’s heart who cannot tell the time or date, but confesses that he believes! That the vile Augustine, a legalistic Luther, the slave-trading Newton and Anglican Wesleys were converted is impressive, but what about the Christians who did not live such rebellious lives? Regardless of who we are, we will find out that in the presence of a holy God, “all our good deeds are but glorious sins.” It is God who must abide in us and work through us to His honor and glory.
John 3:34: “God does not give the Spirit by measure.”
God either gives His Spirit or He doesn’t. We receive different gifts but no one receives half measures of the gifts. It is probable that we do not exercise the gift as we ought, but we cannot blame God for half-gifts. There are no half-filled Christians (which places the emphasis on God not doing His part), but there are many “less than spiritual” Christians (which places the emphasis on our lack of exercising spirituality). We grieve the Holy Spirit or resist Him, due to our own sin, not because God has shortchanged us.
Revival will not increase the measure of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives but rather, by God’s grace, the extent of God’s working is broadened to include others.
Rarely do you hear of a one-person revival although revival has to happen in every single person involved. Billy Graham is said to have prayed: “Lord, let there be reformation, and may it start with me.”
Truth and Spirit are Joined in Worship
John 4:24: “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The Spirit is not to be separated from the Word nor the Word from the Spirit.
Revival will be conducive to worship in which the Spirit uses the Word of God to cause His people to truly worship. Revival without Biblical preaching and practice is a Spiritless exercise.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes: “What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or a Revival? It is renewed preaching…A revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the Church…As that was true in the beginning as described by the book of Acts, it was also true after the Protestant Reformation. Luther, Calvin, Knox, Latimer, Ridley — all these men were great preachers. In the seventeenth century you had exactly the same thing—the great Puritan preachers and others. And in the eighteenth century, jonathan Edwards, Whitefield, the Wesleys, Lowlands and Harris were all great preachers.”7
A greater miracle than the presence of great preachers is the mUltiplication of great hearers. Are our churches filled with members and visitors who hunger and thirst for God’s Word, or do they have itchy ears to hear what they want to hear? “What do you believe?” someone was asked. “I believe what the church believes,” was the answer. “What does your church believe?” “The church believes what I believe.” And so, multitudes go where they hear their own philosophies pontificated.
Where must you go to find great hearers? I suggest that we go among people who most experience the misery of sin. After all, the Samaritan woman and her community responded with more joy than Nicodemus and his fellow Pharisees.
The Spirit Gives Life
John 6:63: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”
Revival must be centered around the Biblical message of Christ and the life which He offers. Fleshly attempts to produce revival are counter to the Spirit of God.
Christians are to be well-trained in discerning the work of the Spirit. We do that with our eyes and Bibles open. Let us be careful not to quench the Spirit.
A childhood friend of mine went off to the army and after living a less than desirable lifestyle, was soundly converted to Christ. When he came home, he excitingly shared his conversion experience with the local church elders. They said that it was of the devil. Disappointed, the young man joined another church and now 25 years later, he continues to serve the Lord with much spiritual fruit. The church elders have not publicly expressed their repentance although it would be Biblically proper if they would.
The Benefits of Christ
John 7:39: “The Holy Spirit was not yet given because jesus was not yet glorified.” The giving of the Spirit is based on the finished work and heavenly reign of Christ.
Revival causes us to be dependent on the heavenly reign of the glorified Christ rather than the earthly reign of men.
The Reformation was a great Revival. One can discern the sovereign will of God, especially in hindsight. Luther had made his confession at the Diet of Worms in 1520 and he was ready to give his life for the cause. He knew that when he made his confession that he could only follow the Word of God and his conscience, there was a price on his head. However, as he traveled through the forest, he was kidnapped by friends and taken to the Castle of Wartburg. There he translated the German New Testament in a record 19 days. It was the translated Word which spiritually radicalized Germany. God intervened in His sovereignty. Luther did what his conscience dictated according to the Word of God, and God did the rest. God would have been glorified in the martyrdom of Luther or in keeping him alive.
God chose to use the “wild boar” and his incredible energies to further equip the saints in Germany.
We will pause at this important juncture. Scripture and Christ Himself have been teaching us that the primary work of the Holy Spirit is to witness to and apply the benefits of the salvation we enjoy in Christ jesus. This is the sign of true revival, when the glorified Christ shows forth His rule and reign, His kingdom glory.
Revival, in order to be revival, must be directly representative of and bear witness to the Biblical and glorious King.
1. R.C. Sproul et ai, Classical Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984).
2. John Calvin, Harmony of the Evangelists (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984)
3. R.C. Sproul, Pleasing God (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1988)
4. Frank Farrell, “Augustine’s Early Life and Conversion: A Woman’s Prayer” TableTalk (June, 1996). pp 5–7.
5. John Dillenberger, Martin Luther (New York: Anchor Books, 1961)
6. John Woodbridge (ed.1. Great Leaders of the Christian Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988). p. 291
7. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preachers and Preaching (London Lowe and Brydone, 1981).
Dr. Neal Hegeman is Associate Pastor of the Cornerstone United Reformed Church in London, Ontario, Canada. He also serves as Executive Director of Ligonier Ministries of Canada.