Search This Blog

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


This is the final instalment of Paul E. G. Cook's second essay on Revival in History published in the July 1962 edition of the Banner of Truth journal. Note that reference to the last hundred years covers the mid Nineteenth to mid Twentieth Century. My apology for the length - I preferred not to break up Cook's segments.


Our historical survey of revivals has been carried out mainly to show that the true life and growth of the Christian Church is simply a history of revivals and their effects. Apart from these divine visitations the Church has floundered in the impotence of human energies. The Church has languished under the influence of naturalistic religion as expressed in teaching denying the essential grace of the Gospel and originating in the minds of men. In this condition the Church has suffered the chastisement of God's wrath from which it has been delivered only when God in His grace and sovereignty has been pleased to visit His people with power from heaven. Pentecost saved God's people out of moralism; the Reformation delivered the Church from superstition; the Great Awakening released it from the grip of rationalism and Deism; and the early nineteenth century revivals brought the Church out of the deadening influence of Arianism. This is undoubtedly a simplification of the history of revivals, and a focussing of attention on the main epochs of Church history, but it does serve to illustrate the biblical principles of revival.

The Church has passed through years of strenuous activity and serious decline since the revivals of 1859. There has been a great expansion of missionary and evangelistic work, but also an alarming deficiency of true godliness. The numerical growth and spread of the churches has been accompanied by a failing spirituality. The situation in England has been clearer than elsewhere, for here the spiritual impoverishment of the churches has been matched by a continuous numerical decline over the last sixty years; whereas, in some countries, like the U.S.A., the spiritual bankruptcy of the Church has been veiled by a phenomenal increase in membership.

There have been relatively few revivals in the last hundred years. God has worked in Uganda (1893), Wales (1904), India (1905), Korea (1906), Manchuria (1908), Ruanda (1927 onwards) and in other parts of the world. Except for the Korean revival, solid biblical doctrine has been conspicuous by its absence, and in consequence excess and damage has resulted. The effects of the revivals have been less than expected. The Welsh revival of 1904 has only to be compared with the 1859 revival and its deficiencies are at once evident. It is true that the work of God is beyond criticism, but 'man' is involved in revivals, and Satan too is not inactive.

The influence of Finney and the development of nineteenth century holiness teaching has so confused the sovereign work of God with the energies and organization of man that many of those involved in these 'modern' revivals have been unable to evaluate them. The documents upon which we depend for a report and interpretation of these revivals are coloured by a doctrinal outlook contradicting the biblical doctrine of revival, however paradoxical that may seem. It is extremely difficult at times to assess the genuineness of what have been sometimes called 'revivals'. Doctrinal thinking failing to give full glory to God and pre-eminence to the work of the Spirit in the Church has not only led to false interpretation of revivals, but also to a shortening of their duration.

Most of the books and pamphlets published in this century on the subject of revival reflect the influence of Charles G. Finney and his book. 'Lectures on Revivals of Religion'. They say little that is new, but go on repeating what Finney taught. Finney was himself converted in a great revival which swept the west of America in 1815 and lasted for several years. The very doctrines of grace preached in the revival were the ones Finney most strongly resisted after his conversion! He was
placed under his pastor, the Rev. George W. Gale for teaching and guidance. He took little notice of him, but instead relentlessly criticized his views, preferring to be guided more by his own rational thought than the doctrines of revelation found in God's Word. He rejected the sovereignty of God in revival, as he also did the biblical doctrine of man's moral inability in sin. In our first article we made reference to his Pelagian system of thought. Finney did not believe that revivals were supernatural; he taught that they were natural expressions of man's innate religiousness. Christians may have a revival whenever they want it, and in his 'Revivals of Religion' he lists the measures by which one may be promoted and obtained. A full analysis of his teaching is found in 'Perfectionism' by B. B. Warfield.¹

According to Finney, he had proved his own methods with telling effect in the 'Finney revivals' of 1824-34, but he later admitted the failure of his work to produce abiding results²; and Warfield quotes a letter from one of Finney's co-workers, James Boyle, written to Finney in 1834 in which he says: "Let us look over the fields where you and others and myself have laboured as revival ministers, and what is now their moral state ? What was their state within three months after we left them? I have visited and revisited many of these fields, and groaned in spirit to see the sad, frigid, carnal, contentious state into which the churches had fallen - and fallen very soon after our departure from among them".³

Finney's influence can be detected repeatedly in the interpretation of revivals since 1859, and in the revivals themselves. Jonathan Goforth is an example of this influence. He was stimulated to a close study of the work of the Holy Spirit by reports reaching him in China of the 1904 Welsh revival. In 1907 he visited Korea and had direct contact with revival. God used these circumstances in the wonderful blessing which followed his tour of the Scottish Presbytery in Manchuria in February 1908. But Goforth had been reading Finney and by the time he returned to China in 1908 to begin tours of Shensi he was already adopting some of Finney's methods. The work in Manchuria bore unmistakable evidences of genuine revival; the tours in China though humanly successful do not appear to be so much a work of God as of men. Many other examples of Finney's influence could be cited if space permitted.

The most obvious refutation of Finney's whole position is that his teaching does not work in practice. When sincere believers have tried to promote revivals using Finney's instructions they have failed in frustration and spiritual exhaustion. The last hundred years have been lacking in true revivals of religion; and Finney's book, far from helping to promote them, has had the effect of hindering the work of the Spirit. The Church used to believe that revivals were 'essential' for the progress of the Gospel. Now they are looked upon as a luxury. Their absence has not given rise to the desperate cries of a repenting Church; but rather, to the feverish intensification of human effort. Finney taught the Church to rely upon technique and human methods, and not upon the sovereign visitations of the Spirit. Confidence is placed in great evangelistic campaigns using the technique of Finney's 'mercy seat' by which many 'decisions for Christ' are recorded. Another powerful influence upon revivals and their interpretation since 1859 has been the Higher Life movement. The year 1859 is remembered for the publication of Darwin's 'Origin of Species' and God's reply to that book in the Ulster Revival. It also marks the publication of a book called 'The Higher Christian Life' written by an American, W. E. Boardman. If Finney's writings on revivals have influenced most subsequent works on that subject, then Boardman's book has certainly influenced most of what has been written since then on sanctification. Boardman is not so well known as those he influenced, such as Mrs. Hannah Whitall Smith, whose book 'The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life', first published in 1875, has had a fantastic circulation. The main inspiration behind her husband. Robert Pearsall Smith, was Boardman, and their popular ministry in England during 1874 and 1875 provided the somewhat dubious foundation upon which the Keswick Convention came into existence. The Convention has continued through the years for the declared intention of propagating this message of the 'Higher Christian Life'. It has been subject to some change and variation through the years, but its basic emphases remain the same.

The design of Boardman's work is to show 'that full trust expresses the sole condition full salvation'.⁴ It is not the work of Christ which fully secures a believer's salvation, but his faith. A complete trust secures a 'full' salvation. What this amounts to is entire sanctification by perfect faith, and as such it is a form of perfectionism. Faith is not dependent upon grace. It is proportionate to the willingness of the believer to surrender 'all'. Faith is dependent upon the will of the believer, and so this perfectionism is a Pelagian perfectionism. Boardman makes a vain attempt to show that Luther, Baxter, Edwards, d'Aubigne, M'Cheyne and other great saints in the Reformed tradition testified to two distinct experiences: one in which they were justified by faith and the other in which they accepted their sanctification by faith. "The way of freedom from sin is the very same as the way of freedom from condemnation"⁵, observes Boardman. And this way is a step of faith.

In the preface to the 1866 edition of W. E. Boardman's 'The Higher Christian Life' an attempt is made to explain the 1859 revivals of America, Ulster, Scotland, England and Sweden as a practical demonstration of his doctrine. Few revivals since that time have escaped a similar attempt. Finney's doctrine of man's ability to obey God at will finds a kindred spirit in Boardman's teaching of sanctification as a step of willing faith. It is not to be wondered at that the doctrines of revival and sanctification have been confused: that is to say, Finney's and Boardman's doctrines. A well-known speaker at a Keswick Convention some time ago declared that the Convention had been established to promote holiness of life: and 'that' was revival. He went on to say that this holiness is received by a step of faith. "If I would receive this gift of a holy life, I must give up my struggle to live it, and take my inability and lay it where I laid my sin - at the feet of Jesus Christ." Like Boardman, he is saying we either have this gift of a holy life - the higher Christian life - or we are without it, and then we know only the lower Christian life. But since this gift is also said to be revival and may be received by a step of faith there appears to be no reason to pray for revival"; all we need to do is to take the step of faith! The speaker a few sentences earlier had expressed the view that the need of the hour was "a mighty outpouring from on high", reviving the Church and bringing glory to Christ. Here is a strange contradiction: one moment he is saying revival is an outpouring of the Spirit and, presumably, a sovereign work of God, and the next moment he is saying it is something received by taking a step of faith. We have the Scriptures, Finney and Boardman compressed within the compass of two paragraphs! It is hardly surprising that since 1859 there has been confusion in the Church on the subject of revival.

The Great Awakening was also associated with perfectionist doctrines of holiness, and in particular the teaching of Wesley and Fletcher. These doctrines were not at first advanced as an explanation of the revival; they were 'added' to it. Wesley and Fletcher would have agreed as readily as Whitefield that the Awakening was due to a sovereign work of the Spirit of God, though later their perfectionist ideas influenced their understanding of the revival. The modem tendency, however, is to 'explain' revivals in terms of holiness teaching, detracting from the supernatural.

The teaching of Finney and Boardman and its subsequent influence has encouraged Christians to look to themselves for revival. Christians have been given to believe that if only they were holy enough revival would surely result. They have failed to appreciate that great holiness is more usually the 'result' and not the cause of revival. The key factor, according to the Scripture, in the absence of revival is the wrath of God. Our attention needs to be directed to God and not man. It may be said reverently that the real problem when revival is absent is God, and His anger toward His people. We must direct our pleadings to Him, for not until He looks with favour upon His people will revival come. By maintaining that revival is a sovereign and supernatural work of God the use of means is not thereby despised. Finney taught that man's use of means can lead to revival, whereas the Bible teaches that it is God's use of means which results in revival. Means are therefore not irrelevant.

In this historical survey of revival in history the glorious visitations of God have been reviewed. They reaffirm the essential supernaturalism of the Christian faith in contrast to the naturalism of all false religion. The phenomena of true revival are beyond psychological explanation. because they are the activity of God in contrast to that which is of human origin. God's grace has triumphed where man's works have failed. "Certainly it becomes us, who profess the religion of Christ, to take notice of such astonishing exercises of His power and mercy, and give Him the glory which is due."⁶

I hope readers appreciate the bird's eye view of the activity of God, man and Satan in the life of the Church. I hope to make some comments in a few days.

Sam Drucker


1. Perfectionism, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co. (Obtainable from the Craig Press Agency, 20, Heather Drive, Acklam, Middlesborough, Yorks.)

2. Lectures on Systematic Theology, 1851, p. 619.

3. Quoted in Perfectionism, p. 26.

4. The Higher Christian Life, W. E. Boardman, 1866 edition, p. XLVI.

5. ibid. p. 70.

6. From the preface by the first editors. Dr. Isaac Watts and Dr. John Guyse, to Edward's Narrative, when first published in England.

No comments: