Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting portions of a book that I wrote a few years ago on the subject of revival; the book is called Consuming Fire. The great need of the day is revival in the church and an awakening in the nations. I pray that these posts will somehow be used by God to that end.
Will There Be Another Great Awakening?
As we look at certain events occurring in the United States and around the world we may wonder—where is it all heading? In the West, we see a growing hostility toward the Christian faith and its standard of morality. We see the promotion of a new and militant form of atheism. We see continued opposition to the idea of God as the Creator. We see the attempted normalization of behaviors that have always been considered wrong and sinful. The world certainly seems ripe for judgment as it attempts to rule the God of the Bible out of its affairs.
We may ask ourselves—how much longer can it go on? How much worse can it get? These circumstances could easily lead us to the conclusion that God’s patience has run out and judgment is just around the corner. But, there is another possibility, and that is the possibility of revival in the church and a spiritual awakening in the nation.
It may be hard to believe that a spiritual awakening could happen at this stage, but a quick overview of American history will reveal that as bad as the moral climate is right now, it has been bad in the past.
America has experienced two (some say three) major spiritual awakenings. They are referred to as “Great Awakenings” because they were movements of the Spirit of God that impacted the very core of the nation and actually altered the course of our history.
In addition to the two Great Awakenings, there have been several smaller moves of the Spirit of God that have impacted local area or even regions of the country. Yet, some might say, “We’re just too far-gone. There’s no way we could see another spiritual awakening in light of the spiritual condition America is in right now!” That might be true, but there are a few things we need to remember when considering whether judgment is imminent or mercy is still possible. We need to remember God’s nature and we need to remember His interaction with men and nations throughout world history.
Judgment Is God’s Strange Work
When considering whether judgment is at hand, we need to first remember that according to Isaiah 28:21, judgment is the Lord’s strange work. History testifies to the fact that judgment is something God is reluctant to do.
Think of all the wickedness that has marred human history. Think of all the sin and disregard for God and His laws, and how few times God has intervened with judgment. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God said, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (33:11). When Israel was at the height of wickedness, God would plead with the people and say, “O, turn Israel, turn O backsliding daughter” (see Jeremiah 3:14, 31:22–23). So we see that God is reluctant to judge.
Second, we need to remember that, according to Micah 7:18, God delights in showing mercy.
One definition of mercy is not getting what one deserves. Now, do we deserve to be judged as a nation? Does the world itself deserve judgment? Absolutely! But, though we deserve it, we cannot finally draw the conclusion that judgment is imminent. It could be that God would choose to show mercy.
Many times in the history of the nation of Israel, it seemed as if they had come to the end; that the people were on the brink of extinction because of their sin. The Book of Judges, for example, covers an approximately 335-year period of time—a time of great moral confusion. Throughout the Book, we are repeatedly told, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).
Sound familiar? Toward the end of the book, the fate of the Jews seemed hopeless. It appeared as if nothing could happen to alter the course of Israel’s history. Yet, we find that God wasn’t finished with His people. The book of Judges closes with the reign of Samuel as prophet, and ultimately with David ascending to the throne, providing a new day of mercy and grace upon the Jews. So where judgment seemed inevitable, we see that God’s intention was to extend mercy to His people.
The history of Judah tells a similar story. Under the reign of Ahaz, an extremely wicked king who turned the temple in Jerusalem into a place of idolatrous worship, it seemed that life couldn’t get any worse for the Jews. However, when Ahaz died, God, in His mercy, raised up Hezekiah, one of the most righteous kings of Judah, and revival broke out. Later, during the reign of Manasseh, a 55-year reign of wickedness, again it seemed that nothing good could come from it. Then Josiah ascended to the throne and through Josiah, God once again brought a time of renewal.
As we follow the history of Israel out to the New Testament period, how much darker could things have gotten than to have Herod the Edomite ruling as king over the Jews at the time of the birth of Christ? This, no doubt, must have seemed like the lowest point in Israel’s history. Yet, it was during that dark, dark hour that Jesus Christ came. And following the coming of Jesus Christ was the Day of Pentecost—the single greatest outpouring of God’s Spirit upon His people.
Now if we were to follow history from the Day of Pentecost until the present, considering various regions and nations, we would find similar stories of God’s incredible grace and mercy. We see these things illustrated in the history of the United States of America.
America’s Forgotten History
The general mindset among Christians today is that until modern times, America was a solidly Christian nation with high moral standards, originally established by godly Founding Fathers, and only recently weakened by the infiltration of humanistic thinking. I believe this somewhat inaccurate view of history can undermine our hope in the possibility of God doing a great work in our day.
You see, if we think it’s as bad as it’s ever been, and because it’s so bad, nothing good can happen in the future, then we are not going to be looking forward in faith to the possibility of God doing something fresh and new in our time. If we concede that all is lost, it is because we don’t have a totally accurate view of America’s history. Believe it or not, there have been times in the past that were in many ways similar to the times we are living in today.
The Revolutionary period was one of those times. In the late 1700s, many Americans were greatly influenced by the writings of humanists like Voltaire and Rousseau in France, and Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen in America.
Ethan Allen, in his treatise, Reason, the Only Oracle of Man, wrote, “… the doctrine of the Trinity is destitute of foundation, and tends manifestly to superstition and idolatry.”1 As to the atonement, Allen declared, “… there could be no justice or goodness in one being’s suffering for another, nor is it at all compatible with reason to suppose, that God was the contriver of such a propitiation.”2
Thomas Paine, in his book, Age of Reason, said, “… it is impossible to conceive a story more derogatory to the Almighty, more inconsistent with his wisdom, more contradictory to his power, than this story [the Bible] is.”3 The third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson was a great admirer of Thomas Paine, and he held to many of the same views.
Finally, a man named Elihu Palmer, who was more or less a disciple of both Paine and Allen, stated in Principles of Nature, “The simple truth is, that their pretended Saviour is nothing more than an illegitimate Jew, and their hopes of salvation through him rest on no better foundation than that of fornication or adultery.”4 He went on to say that the Bible is a book, “… whose indecency and immorality shocks all common sense and common honesty.”5 Such was the thinking of the day.
The moral and social conditions at the time of the nation’s founding were not as wholesome as we’d like to think. According to the late revival scholar, Dr. J. Edwin Orr, “Drunkenness became epidemic. Out of a population of five million, 300,000 were confirmed drunkards; they were burying fifteen thousand of them each year. Profanity was of the most shocking kind. For the first time in the history of the American settlement, women were afraid to go out at night for fear of assault. Bank robberies were a daily occurrence. ...
“The Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote to the Bishop of Virginia, James Madison, that the Church ‘was too far gone ever to be redeemed.’ Voltaire averred, and Tom Paine echoed, ‘Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years.’”6
Orr reported that colleges were bastions of infidelity. A poll taken at Harvard unearthed the dismal fact that there was not one believer in the whole student body. Princeton boasted only two believers and only five students who didn’t belong to the “filthy speech movement” of the day. Students rioted, held a mock communion at William’s College, and put on anti-Christian plays at Dartmouth. In New Jersey, students took a Bible from a Presbyterian church and burned it in a public bonfire.
Christians were so few on college campuses in the 1790s that those who did claim allegiance to Christ met in secret and kept their minutes in code so no one would know to whom they belonged.7 Church historian Kenneth Scott Latourette wrote, “It seemed as if Christianity were about to be ushered out of the affairs of men.”8
What happened to change things? It was during the 1790s that the Second Great Awakening began. (The First Great Awakening spanned the decades from the 1730s to the 1770s.)
The Second Great Awakening broke out first in Connecticut, and then in Massachusetts and all the seaboard states before spreading to the frontier.
The modern missionary movement was born out of this Second Great Awakening. Along with it came the abolition of slavery, popular education, Bible societies, Sunday school, and countless other social benefits.9
The influence of Christianity upon our national life is not due primarily to our Founding Fathers, although some of them were indeed Christians, but rather to these mighty outpourings of the Spirit of God.
Although the world’s circumstances look bleak and it perhaps seems that once again Christianity could be ushered out of the affairs of men, I believe there is the possibility that God in these days might want to work in a special way, pouring out His Spirit, bringing revival to the church and an awakening to the nations. Both history and the character of God ought to cause us to hope and pray for such things.
1 Keith J. Hardman. The Spiritual Awakeners. Moody Press, Chicago, Illinois, 1983, p. 112.
3 Thomas Paine. Age of Reason. US History webpage, <http://www.ushistory.org/paine/reason/reason3.htm>, (April 15, 2003).
4 Elihu Palmer. Principles of Nature. Reproduced by Steve Dowell and Jay Boswell from a photocopy of the original 1819 text. October, 2002. <http://www.deistnet.com/princnat.htm>, (April 15, 2003).
6 J. Edwin Orr. “The Role of Prayer in Spiritual Awakenings.” Oxford Association for Research in Revival, Los Angeles, California, 1976, p. 1.
7 Ibid, p. 2.
9 Ibid, p. 3.