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Revival and Recovery
by Arthur Wallis
“Remember not the former things nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Isaiah 43:18,19 RSV
In relation to this theme of revival and spiritual recovery, let us first survey the past, then view some of the significant trends of the present, and finally say a word about the prospects of the future.
If we are to understand what God is doing in these days—if we are to perceive His “new thing” for our day—we need to study the past. Not merely from history books, with their limited human viewpoint, but we must study history as we have light cast upon it by the Spirit through God’s Holy Word.
Let us take a brief panoramic survey of the work of God’s Spirit in the years that are past. As we scan the centuries let us try to discover the principles on which God has been operating. What has He really been after during the years of the Church’s history? This is important, for what God is doing today can only be rightly understood as we grasp the pattern of what He has been doing down through the centuries.
Obviously this is a large subject which could occupy volumes, but here we wish simply to point out what has been the master-strategy behind the successive quickenings of the Spirit that have blessed the Church in the past. In a word, we want to show that every wave of spiritual blessing has not only had in view the immediate renewal of spiritual life in that generation, but also the recovery of spiritual truth. That is, that in all the great spiritual movements through the years, the Lord has been seeking to recover lost truth and bring His people back to original Apostolic Christianity.
This reformation, or “recovery,” aspect of God’s moving through the centuries is unmistakable—and usually has been a balancing thrust in one or the other of two directions. Since truth and experience are inseparable and must be in balance if either is to reach its divine objective, we see the Lord moving either to emphasize doctrine and principle, or and fullness of life and power.
But whatever may be the emphasis or particular truth or phase of experience involved, in the mind and purpose of God there has always been but one final objective in view. That objective is a Church—washed by the water of the Word of God—which shall fully experience and fully express Christ, not only in the earth but in the whole universe.
But let us go back and trace through history this principle in action.
THE EARLY CHURCH
In the New Testament we have a clear picture of the early Church. It wasn’t a perfect church because it was composed of human beings and they are never perfect. However, the early Church was perfect in constitution, perfect in the revelation of God’s mind, received through His holy apostles and prophets. They had complete light and thus had no need to progress into fuller revelation in the ensuing centuries.
Through the apostles the early Church received in that first century a complete revelation of the mind of God. This revelation is, of course, contained in our New Testament. But also, as they walked in the light of this revelation, not only the revelation but they themselves became a model of God’s intention.
But alas, they did not always walk in the light that they had received, and things oftentimes went wrong. However, when this happened the situation was dealt with in a way directed of God, and that also constitutes a pattern for restoration. Thus, not only in doctrine and principle but also in practice, we have been given a perfect guide in the pages of the New Testament.
As the years went by the Church which had been born in persecution thrived in persecution. As with Israel of old, in bondage in Egypt, the more the Church was persecuted the more she flourished and multiplied. The blood of the martyrs was then, and ever has been, the seed of the Church.
THE FOURTH CENTURY
Finding that this persecution was hastening God’s purpose, the Devil changed his tactics. In the fourth century A.D. Constantine became the Roman Emperor. He officially embraced Christianity. Whether he was genuinely converted to Christ seems doubtful, but nevertheless Christianity became the legalized and accepted religion of the Roman Empire.
Instead of suffering the persecution of the state, the Church now enjoyed the patronage of the state. She was taken off her guard. The people of God who had been watchful, prayerful and faithful in the time of opposition, were now lulled into a false sense of security.
Without doubt imperial favor brought the world into the Church, and what Satan had failed to do by persecution he achieved by patronage. As Dr. Edwin Orr has said, “It is one thing for the ship to be in the sea, but a different matter when the sea gets into the ship!” It is one thing for the Church to be in the world, but when the World gets into the Church a spiritual decline has set in.
Thus the “conversion” of Constantine, with the changes that this brought about—the introduction of practices of pagan origin, the rise of an ecclesiastical hierarchy based on the world system rather than Scriptures, etc.—led to a swift decline. The Church descended into the “dark” Middle ages, and the light of true Christianity was almost extinguished.
However, even through those dark centuries, as E. H. Broadbent shows in The Pilgrim Church, the light of testimony was kept burning here and there. A few men, like Francis of Assisi, arose as mighty giants of life and revelation, but the refreshing glow of their lives did not change the basic structure of things. There was no widespread movement, no general turning of the tide; and century after century, for a whole millennium, the tide of spiritual life continued to recede.
THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY
A thousand years from the time of Constantine brings us to the birth of a man destined to be one of the first great instruments in the turning of the tide. He was an Englishman, and his name was John Wycliffe. In the fourteenth century, when England’s only Bible was the Latin Vulgate, and the common people, utterly ignorant of its contents, were living in abysmal spiritual darkness, this brilliant Oxford scholar gave to England a version of God’s Holy Word in the tongue of the common people.
This was God’s first strategic move to bring back His Church to New Testament faith and practice. A return to Apostolic Christianity must of necessity be a return to the Word. Thus the foundation was laid.
With Wycliffe there began that stirring of opposition to the power of Rome, to the authority of the Pope. A great preacher as well as a great scholar, Wycliffe soon made his voice heard. His position and influence gave him the ear of the people as he began to question the unscriptural practices of the church of that day. In the providence of God a mighty wave of spiritual life began to roll in upon the shores of Christendom—the Recovery had begun!
THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY
Following Wycliffe we have the spiritual movement known as The Lollards. They were the “poor priests” that Wycliffe sent out to take the simple message of the Gospel from place to place. They were humble itinerant preachers, and in the century following Wycliffe so successful was this movement that at the height of its power 50% of the population of England were either Lollards or in sympathy with them—a remarkable movement of the Holy Spirit.
The Word preached, whatever may have been its shortcomings, contained the message of life, and hungry people received it. Opposition to Rome was thus increasing, for the Lollards were more outspoken even than Wycliffe. God was paving the way for the great movement that took place in the following century.
THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
The sixteenth century saw the raising up of Martin Luther, John Calvin and other great leaders. Under these Reformation giants the Church arose from its awful bondage, shook off the shackles of Rome, and set herself free from the ecclesiastical tyranny of centuries.
The glorious Reformation broke over Europe bringing into clear light the great truth of justification by faith. People began to understand the genius of the Gospel of God’s grace which had so long been obscured by a doctrine of salvation by works.
The work of reformation, however, was by no means complete. Although the reformed Churches had broken free from the tyranny of Rome and had abandoned much that was plainly contrary to Scripture, they still retained very much which was traditional—things that belonged more to the Romanism from which they had been delivered than to the New Testament Christianity towards which they were groping.
THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
In the century following the Reformation we have the great Puritan movement. God raised up expositors, men mighty in the Scriptures. They expanded and exploited the light that had come through the Reformation. The emphasis, of course, was on the importance of believers being well-grounded in the great doctrines of Scripture.
The hearts of God’s people were expanding as God was giving them more truth, more light and more understanding. More things that belonged to the past were away, and earnest hearts began to grope forward again to a truer position in the light of the teaching of God’s Holy Word.
Out of the Puritan Revival came two strategic Church movements which were significant developments in the move back to Apostolic Christianity.
The Congregational Movement was a reaction against interference in the affairs of the local Church from an ecclesiastical hierarchy. They had recovered the truth of the autonomy of each local Church, its right to order its own affairs under the direct Headship of Christ.
The Baptist Movement, which was closely connected, also stood on this ground, while going a step further in emphasizing the truths involved in the believer’s baptism by immersion.
THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
The force of the Puritan movement was spent as the eighteenth century dawned, and things seemed to be going from bad to worse. Too much emphasis on doctrine had no doubt caused a neglect of the “life” factor, and death was once again setting in. Religion was at a dangerously low ebb. Those who were supposed to be spiritual leaders had become corrupt and licentious; the common people were immoral and blasphemous.
It was then that God raised up two great men. They were Anglican clergymen; one, John Wesley, the other, George Whitefield. They were the two instruments in His hands for the great evangelical awakening that saved England from the horrors of the French Revolution.
The emphasis of the Methodist Revival, as it has sometimes been called, was at least threefold:
First, a bold assertion of instantaneous salvation by faith, accompanied by the inner witness, or assurance, of the Holy Spirit. This was followed, then, by a strong emphasis on the subjective side of the Christian life—holiness of heart and life. God was bringing His people back to the doctrine of heart purity and sanctity of walk.
Thirdly, there was the recovery of the truth—startling to the people of those days—that it was not necessary for a man to be formally educated and “ordained” to preach the Word. Any man who knew the commission of Heaven could go forth as God’s ambassador.
The requirements of a “consecrated building” in which to preach was also exposed as a dead tradition— why not preach in the open air as the Master did?
Thus Whitefleld, Wesley and their followers, under the open canopy of heaven, preached to vast throngs, and multitudes were swept into the Kingdom. Another great step in the Recovery was consummated!
THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
But by the turn of the next century this wave also had spent itself, and again the spiritual tide had receded. The need of revival was great. Here and there in the early part of the century there were stirrings and outpourings of the Spirit, but in 1858 God mightily poured out His Spirit in the United States, followed the next year by a similar outpouring in Ulster and in Wales almost simultaneously.
The revival in Ulster spread quickly to Scotland and soon was making its impact felt in different parts of England. God had again come in gracious power.
This century witnessed a number of significant movements in the great purpose of God to bring His people back to Apostolic Christianity. One preceded the mid-century revival by a number of years, others were the products of it. How different these movements were, and yet each made its own contribution to the progress of spiritual recovery.
The first was the Brethren Movement, commencing about 1830, emphasizing the sufficiency and not merely the infallibility of the Book. They recovered the truth that the Bible reveals all that we need to know for both our daily walk and the ordering of our Church affairs. They saw that the truth of the one Body of Christ, as composed of all true believers, was the antidote to sectarianism. They also recovered the practical implications of the truth of the priesthood of all believers. Here was a serious attempt to return fully to New Testament Christianity.
Unlike many of the other recovery movements, the Brethren, to a very large extent, embraced all that had previously been recovered, besides adding the deeply significant points listed above.
However, again there came to be too much emphasis on doctrine, and out of the great revival of ‘58 and ‘59 there came further sweeping waves of refreshing heavenly life. These could be viewed as a divine reaction to the Brethren tendency to over-emphasize objective teaching, thus supplementing the objective truth of what we are positionally, with the subjective truth of what we should be experientially.
The ‘59 Revival in England brought a great wave of evangelistic fervor and missionary enterprise. Believers broke through denominational barriers and demonstrated in home evangelism and missionary outreach the oneness of the body that the “Brethren” were teaching.
In the midst of this wave of evangelism the Salvation Army was born. A child of Methodism, the Salvation Army re-emphasized Wesley’s teaching on holiness and grasped what most of God’s people had missed—the social implications of the Gospel. They had a concern for the under-privileged, the down-and-out, the underdog. With dauntless courage, heroic zeal and challenging self sacrifice, they preached the simple Gospel of God’s grace and ministered to all who were in need.
Another wave of heavenly life focused on developing the great truths governing the personal victorious life, and especially the emphasis on the New Testament doctrine of the believer’s life-union with Christ in death and resurrection.
The Keswick Movement was no doubt the principal expression of this life-giving wave of blessing, as is ex pressed in the writings of Hannah Whitall Smith, Andrew Murray, Jesse Penn-Lewis and a host of others.
FAILURE IN UNITY AND BALANCE
Both this Keswick, inner life, emphasis and the emphasis on the fervent preaching of the Gospel to all classes, with a practical ministry to the needy, were a vital supplement to the waning Brethren Movement— though, sad to say, all these were never fully integrated.
As so often before, prejudice, sectarian pride, with its bondage to tradition, coupled with ignorance of the Divine over-all strategy, again prevailed to limit God and keep the one Body of Christ broken up into variant doctrinal emphases and phases of Christian experience.
As expressed in the Apostle Paul’s heartcry, “All things are yours—whether Paul, Apollos, or Cephas …”
God intended that all these waves of Recovery blend together into one glorious whole with a balance of truth and a dynamic of life, but instead there was limitation of vision, each thinking that the part he held was the whole.
THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
The present century commenced with a gracious movement of God’s Spirit in the principality of Wales—the great 1904 Revival—and out of that revival came the worldwide Pentecostal Movement with its special emphasis upon the fullness of the Holy Spirit as a distinct experience and its affirmation that the supernatural “gifts” of the Holy Spirit bestowed at Pentecost have never been permanently withdrawn from the Church. This movement we could view as another supplementary reaction to the great recovery principles of the Brethren Movement.
Although orthodox in doctrine and successfully evangelistic from its inception, certain excesses and separatist tendencies in its early years alienated the movement from the main body of evangelicals.
One regretful result of this alienation—strengthened greatly by the early Pentecostal tendency to substitute special enduement and revelation for thorough Bible study—has been a lack of depth, both in the rich “Keswick” deeper-life teaching, as well as the Brethren emphasis on thorough Bible exposition, which had been carried over into general evangelical circles.
This lack of depth, however, had nothing to do with the basic doctrines of the movement. It was the natural result of separation from the deepening influences of the rest of the Body of Christ.
It is true that a sort of “Pentecostal” pride—based on a sense of superior revelation and experience—played its part in the separation from other aspects of truth; but this also was not the fault of the new Recovery itself, but due rather to the Pentecostalist’s application of the truth involved. Most reformation movements have had their share of this weakness.
It is needful to stress this point, for it is still being much used of the enemy to discredit what the Lord has done in this recovery wave, which is even now washing the shores of evangelical Christianity.
To illustrate this: The Anglican Church was a product of the Reformation. The fact that it tends towards a ritualistic and at times Romanish form of worship does not discredit the great Reformation principles which gave it birth and which are still enshrined in its charter, “The Thirty-nine Articles.” There was a vital, even if only partial, recovery despite the atmosphere and accompaniments of its worship. These latter were a result of what they did not receive, and do not nullify what they did receive. Even so with the Pentecostal movement.
At any rate, many of these excesses have been corrected, and thoughtful Christians who are not blinded by prejudice are coming to recognize increasingly that the Pentecostal Movement, in the providence of God, has come to make its special contribution to the great unfolding of God’s truth.
It may be a surprise to some to know that the Pentecostals have the fastest expanding missionary movement in existence today. Their churches are springing up all over the world. One of their missionaries, associated with the founding of the Congo Evangelistic Mission, reports the establishing of a thousand assemblies of simple, baptized believers in the Congo. We cannot discount a movement that has been so manifestly blessed of God, though it may have been accompanied by blemishes—what movement has not?
OUR PRESENT POSITION
As we see what God has done in past centuries, it becomes obvious that we should not think that any movement has recovered everything, or has consummated the process. The attitude of “we have got it all” has all too often characterised the more enlightened of God’s people. In fact, the more light we have, the greater the danger of falling into this trap. This is spiritual pride and inevitably results in the halting of further spiritual progress. We must see each movement as part of a Divinely instituted spiritual process that must go on till the consummation of the age. Our attitude should be that of John Robinson, who said in his farewell address to the Pilgrim Fathers on their departure for New England in the Mayflower:
“If God reveals anything to you by another instrument, be as ready to receive it as ever you were to receive any truth by my ministry; for I am persuaded that the Lord has more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word.”
In the midst of all the decay and confusion around us, both in the world and the Church, may God help us to look Heavenward and catch sight of His great purpose—even a Church in the purity, power and principles of New Testament Christianity!
When we turn from the Church as we generally know it today and re-examine that stirring record of the early Church, we seem to be in another world and to breathe another atmosphere. Does not the zeal, the courage, the power, the authority, the effectiveness and the simplicity of those early Christians challenge us? What a long way we still have to go! Yet there are significant signs today that God is working—and Satan too. Let us notice two significant trends.
THE MOVEMENTS TOWARDS UNITY
THE FALSE: There is a trend which one feels to be dangerous. It has come to be known as the ecumenical movement, a movement towards unity among the Churches. It is being hastened on by the threat of Communism and an easy-going attitude towards Biblical doctrine and practice.
Church leaders of differing communions are begin-fling to talk like this: “We may not agree about many things, but at least we must face the facts: Communism and the cults are rapidly advancing in a world in which we make no progress. Let us sink our differences, emphasize the points on which we are agreed, and unite against the common foe. Unity is our only hope of survival.”
Therefore, we are seeing a coming together of denominational leaders, the activity of the World Council of Churches, a movement towards union with Rome. The danger of this trend is that it is encouraging a unity which is based on compromise instead of conviction, a unity that is organizational instead of organic.
There is a spiritual unity, of course, that the New Testament teaches. We do not have to create it—God does that. We have only to “preserve” it. It is an organic unity, a unity of life, a unity of the Spirit that vitalizes the body.
This man-made organizational unity may well lead to what the Word of God predicts in Revelation 17, even a harlot Church, that travesty of the pure virgin who is to be the bride of the Lamb. She is depicted as a woman riding a Scarlet Beast and is called “Babylon the great, the mother of harlots.
Under the terrible pressures of the end times, with Christendom fighting for its existence, the meek and tolerant ecumenism of today could quickly harden into a religious despot. A modern “Act of Uniformity” could force uncompromising evangelicals out of their churches. Apostate Christendom may then become again, as down the centuries, the greatest persecutor of the true Body of Christ.
THE TRUE: God, however, has anticipated this stratagem of Satan. “Behold, I am doing a new thing will you not receive it?” Yes, a new movement is underway. Though at present it appears to be divided into two distinct aspects, seemingly unconnected, it is in fact one move of God’s Spirit in line with His principles of recovery.
First, He is stirring hearts all over the world with vision and faith for a true unity—even that spiritual unity of the one Body of Christ—and at the same time He is also moving in nearly every circle of Christian life creating a thirst for Himself, for revival, for the Holy Spirit.
In regard to the aspect of the movement emphasizing spiritual unity, little needs to be said here. Voice publications itself is a testimony to this growing vision among God’s people today. Like the Brethren Movement of old, the vision is the spiritual unity of the One Body, encompassing all the various truths and experiences already recovered in past centuries.
Although still rather scattered and obviously in a formative stage, several amazing demonstrations of the strength of this movement are demanding the serious attention of the Christian world. Many firmly believe that it will not be too long before the eyes of thousands of restless, thirsty Christians the wide world over will be opened to see the significance of what God is doing and a sweeping Revival of New Testament Christianity will burst upon us.
Perhaps one of the important factors needed to detonate this glorious explosion is the blending of the two aspects of this movement. At any rate, let us consider the other aspect now.
THE THIRST FOR THE SPIRIT
“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst, for they shall be filled.”
This is exactly what God is doing today all over the Western world. He is filling His hungering and thirsting ones, as He said He would. Many are coming into a new experience of the Holy Spirit. They may have known His gracious work in their hearts and lives for years, but they have come to a strange state of spiritual dissatisfaction— a state surely created by the Spirit Himself.
These are beginning to long for something more than they have yet known. They notice that the early Christians knew a liberty, a joy, a power, an authority, a fruitfulness and an effectiveness that seem in these days to be more rare than the “gold of Ophir.” They say to themselves: “Whydoesn’t my experience at least approximate to what these men knew in the Book? God hasn’t changed, nor have the resources of the Divine Spirit been expended. The difference must be in me, in my hardness of heart and unbelief!”
Perhaps we have been brought up to believe that “we had it all when we got converted.” However, it is clear from the New Testament that the Apostles and the early Christians did not have it all when they were converted. When we start to study this question in the Word with open minds and hearts, we discover that this being filled with the Holy Spirit of which the New Testament speaks is something definite and dynamic. It is something that makes a revolutionary difference in a person’s life and witness. He knows when he has it, and very soon other people know also. How different from this rather vague and mystic thing that so many people think is being filled, with the Spirit of God.
Brethren, God wants to restore to the Church all that she knew in New Testament times of His grace and His power. What we see in the New Testament is surely available to us. But are we open for it?
We may be interested in revival. We may believe that revival is the only hope of the Church today. We may even be praying for it. But are we ready for what God may be about to do? Are we saying, “Lord, I want Revival; but not revival with that?”
How would we feel if a gracious movement of the Holy Spirit should break out in our midst that was marked and attended by signs and wonders? What would we think if the Spirit of God was poured out as at the beginning, and there were tongues and prophecies and healing? “Oh, we want revival, Lord, but not that!”
Beloved, who are we to tell the Almighty how He should do His work? The Sovereign Lord works as He will. Of course we must test the spirits. Of course we shall want to be sure that what comes is truly from heaven. But we can be cautious without being critical. We can be discerning without being destructive. Oh, let us have an open mind lest we be among those who cling to tradition and miss God.
God is meeting with Christians today from churches and independent fellowships having no connection with the Pentecostal movement. He is filling them with His Spirit as in Apostolic times. Many testify to the transformation of life and service through the experience which God has given them.
We do not insist that supernatural signs are an essential ingredient of this fullness, but we are saying that God is sovereign. He works as He will, but we need to recognize the way He is working and be open and ready for Him to do what He will.
What does the future hold? We know it holds the blessed Hope and glorious consummation of the age and the return of the Savior from Heaven; but before that the Church should be prepared for two things: revival and persecution. As in Apostolic times these two went together, so surely it will be in these end times. And to the prayerful and watchful there are significant signs that both are on the way.
It is certain that at present we could not stand bitter or prolonged persecution. The Church today would crack. It is only a revived, strong Church that could be entrusted to withstand this fiery ordeal. Let us not hoodwink ourselves by thinking that it will never come to us—many of God’s saints are going through it right now in Communist-controlled countries.
Surely we must believe that God will revive us before we are called to go through the furnace of affliction. And believe me, brethren, in that hour we shall need all the grace and depth of life and all the power and gifts of the Holy Spirit that God is willing to give.
One significant difference between the early Church and the Church today is this—they believed in the Holy Spirit while we are afraid of the Holy Spirit; they knew the Holy Spirit experientially while we so often only know Him theologically and theoretically. Will we at last let Him have His way? This is the pathway to revival.
Before closing, may I ask is your life making an impact where God has put you? Are you a channel through which the rivers of living water are flowing day by day? If the answer is “No,” are you willing for it to become true? Are you prepared to get on your knees and say, “Lord, whatever it may involve, make my life a channel for those rivers of living water! Continue to recover Thy Church, according to Thy great purpose, and let me be a living part of that glorious recovery!”
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On the far reef the breakers
Recoil in shattered foam,
Yet still the sea behind them
Urges its forces home;
Its chant of triumph surges
Through all the thunderous din—
The wave may break in failure,
But the tide is sure to win.
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O mighty sea, thy message
In changing spray is cast:
Within God’s plans of progress
It matters not at last
How wide the shores of evil,
How strong the reefs of sin—
The wave may be defeated,
But the tide is sure to win.
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Taken from Another Wave of Revival by Frank Bartleman. Copyright © 1982 by Whitaker House.
Use by permission of Whitaker House. http://www.whitakerhouse.com.
Revival and Recovery – by Arthur Wallis (…and how God used it to change my life over thirty years ago.) – The post introducing this resource, with a personal testimony included.