Yet another article by Chalmers W. Alexander.
Do We Really Want A Great Revival?
By Chalmers W. Alexander
Ruling Elder in the First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS.
[THE SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL, 15 January 1949, page 9.
Click here for a brief biography of Chalmers W. Alexander, plus links to all posted articles by him.]
There was a time when I would readily have answered yes, but in recent years I have begun to have my doubts. And I have talked with many other laymen who hold this same view.
We Southern Presbyterians have been saying for many years that we have wanted a great revival (using the word revival in its popular sense, to include both the saving of the lost and the re-awakening of the saved), but such a revival has not occurred in our denomination in recent years.
It has become the custom in many of our churches to hold a “revival” of approximately a week’s duration, in the fall or winter of each year. The course of events usually runs somewhat like this: Committees are appointed and preparations are begun; some prayer meetings are held prior to the week’s services; notices are put in the local newspapers and cards announcing the special meeting are printed and distributed. Then the visiting preacher (whose own church often needs a revival as badly as does the church in which he is about to preach) comes from a distance and delivers some especially prepared sermons. As the meeting draws to a close, a few persons may come forward at the invitation time for the purpose of accepting Christ as Saviour, or of rededicating themselves, or of joining the church. Then a written report is forwarded to headquarters, and things in that church settle back into their normal routine. Thus another yearly “revival” has come to a close and a similar one will take place next year, in all probability.
Now do not for one moment misunderstand me. If, during such a meeting, only one soul is saved, if only one wavering Christian is truly re-dedicated, then that meeting is more than worth all of the effort and preparation connected with it.
But no one will contend that such a meeting can be called a great revival.
What is the matter? Where does the fault lie? Surely, sin is as prevalent as ever, and the unsaved are all around us. The Gospel is still the dynamite of God. The Holy Spirit is still as able and willing to convict and to convert as in New Testament times, and He is continuously among us. Then what is wrong? Why has there been no great revival in our churches? In the opinion of many of us laymen, the fault lies in the “we” group, and not in the “they” group. In discussing the reasons why an evangelical, effort fails to produce a revival, how often we use the word “they”! If, during the week of the church’s evangelical meeting, those men with their names on the church roll who come to worship services occasionally for conscience-salve purposes but whose real interest is almost exclusively in making money and in being prominent in civic affairs; if those society ladies who are church members, and who sent their children to Sunday School because it is the thing to do, but who never come to church themselves except at Easter and at Christmas and for weddings; if those cultured, attractive people who belong to no church and who seem indifferent to the claims of Christ, but who nevertheless live decent and respectable lives; if those in the community who are not only totally indifferent to Christianity but who shamelessly indulge in drunkenness, or in sexual impurity, or in gambling, or in some of the other grosser forms of sin—if only “they” could be brought into the church during the week’s special evangelical effort, what a great revival meeting there would be! So we have been thinking.
Now no doubt the week’s evangelical meeting would do some of these people a great amount of good, and perhaps a few might be converted.
But it is very, very doubtful whether a great revival would result.
For the reason why there has been no great revival in the Southern Presbyterian denomination in recent times lies not with the “they” group, but with the people who are now active in the church, the “we” group. Although there are some exceptions to this statement, to be sure, taken as a whole the fault lies with the ministers (including the seminary professors), with the elders, with the deacons, with the men who are not church officers, with the ladies, and with the young people in our denomination.
The plain, blunt truth is that we church people, year after year, slowly but surely, have been compromising more and more with worldliness until the Holy Spirit simply does not see fit to use us as the human instruments through which to bring about a great revival in the church. Recently I saw a tile drain which had been dug up because it no longer drained water properly: the trouble was readily apparent — some very small roots from nearby shrubs and plants had gradually ground through the joints of the tile pipe and had formed such an obstacle that water could no longer pour through freely. Now worldliness and self-indulgence have so clogged the lives of us church people that the Holy Spirit simply does not pour through us with great power. He only does that through dedicated vessels, fit for the Master’s use.
We church people have deluded ourselves into believing that we could have our cake and eat it, too; that we could hold on to the world with one hand and to the Lord Jesus Christ with the other. We have believed that, in spite of living lives of compromise and indulgence, we could nevertheless be used of the Lord in effective revival work.
During World War II, I served as an officer in the Air Corps in China. No one there would ever have thought for one moment of attempting to take off from a run-way in an airplane which was known to be so over-loaded with cargo that it simply could not fly. Before trying to fly the plane, the excess cargo first would have been removed.
Yet we in the Southern Presbyterian denomination have been trying unsuccessfully, year after year, to fly an over-loaded airplane, speaking from the viewpoint of evangelism, without showing any willingness whatsoever on our part to remove any of the excess cargo; in fact, through the process of rationalizing, we have almost succeeded in convincing ourselves that it is perfectly all right for all of the cargo on the airplane to remain exactly where it is. In our efforts at revival we have been like a man who tries to drive his automobile with the emergency brake half-way on — a lot of energy has been expended, but not much forward progress has been made. We have attempted to hold a revival each year without first paying the price and fulfilling the necessary conditions. We have tried to conduct evangelical meetings and at the same time we have insisted on maintaining the usual “status quo” in our churches; we have become so used to our customary status of being moral and respectable (without, however, being fully dedicated or deeply spiritual) that we have been unwilling to break with Presbyterian complacency in order to make a fuller self-surrender to Christ. We have flatly refused to lead separated lives. We have wanted to hold a great revival without first repenting of our own worldliness.
Worldliness is deeply rooted among us at the present time. And it is not confined to the people in the back pews only, for it abounds among the top leaders in our churches. Recently one of the most prominent and able ministers in our denomination remarked: “Worldliness is rampant both among the ministers and the elders.” Another outstanding Presbyterian minister, who has been very active in opposing some of the recent tendencies toward Modernism in our denomination, stated a few weeks ago: “I have long since been convinced that one of the great things we need to fight in our church today is worldliness in every form. Certainly, we want to expose false doctrine. However, some of our men who are preaching the right doctrine and who are exposing false doctrine are not ready to fight worldliness in our churches.”
Now one of our nation’s leading evangelists once remarked that the ship’s place is in the water, but the water’s place is outside the ship. If you ever let the water get inside the ship, it plays havoc with the ship. Similarly, he said, the church’s place is in the world, but the world’s place is outside the church. If you let the world get inside the church, it always plays havoc with the church. Today there is a desperate need for the Southern Presbyterian denomination to get the world out of its churches, and then get its churches out into the world, with a consistent Christian testimony and a burning zeal to win the lost for Christ.
Do we really want a great revival in our churches? If so, we can have one, and we can have it now. There is no mystery about how it can be accomplished. Many sane, sensible evangelists who have been mightily used by the Holy Spirit in effective revival work have indicated how to proceed. Their statements may have differed as to wording, but the substance of their statements has always been the same. Perhaps no one in recent years has indicated the proper procedure with more clarity and brevity than did the late Dr. R. A. Torrey, D.D. Dr. Torrey, who was educated at Yale University and at the Universities of Leipzig and Erlanger in Germany, was used powerfully by the Holy Spirit in successful evangelical work in this country, in Great Britain, on the Continent, in the Australian area, in Japan, in China, and India, during the closing years of the recent century and the first quarter of the present one.
Dr. Torrey once outlined in very clear and simple language the conditions which must be fulfilled in order to have a great revival. He stated:
“I can give a prescription that will bring a revival to any church or community or any city on earth.
“First, let a few Christians (they need not be many) get thoroughly right with God themselves. This is the prime essential! If this is not done, the rest that I am to say will come to nothing.
“Second, let them bind themselves together in a prayer group to pray for a revival until God opens the heavens and comes down.
“Third, let them put themselves at the disposal of God for Him to use as He sees fit in winning others to Christ. That is all!
“This is sure to bring a revival to any church or community. I have given this prescription around the world. It has been taken by many churches and many communities, and in no instance has it ever failed; and it cannot fail!”
Are we Southern Presbyterians willing to try, in all earnestness and sincerity, Dr. Torrey’s recommendation or some similar plan for revival?
May God’s own Holy Spirit so move our hearts that everyone of us will be willing to pray: “Lord, send a great revival, in Jesus’ name! And let it begin with me!”
For more on the subject of revival, see Gardiner Spring’s sermon, “Something Must Be Done!” [.pdf file]
For an extended treatment on II Chronicles 7:14, see the six sermons by John Preston under the title The Golden Sceptre