CHARACTERISTICS OF THOSE WHO BROUGHT REVIVAL
We often reject the revivals God sends our way because we don’t like the revivalist He uses. We end up scrutinizing every aspect of their lives, as if we are looking for something to object to. In the life of John the Baptist, even his clothing and diet were carefully studied. Wouldn’t it be something if we were so used of God that even the smallest details of our lives preached to people?
As I studied Church history, one thing that surprised me was the fact that God used young people to bring about many of His revivals or reforms. Some of them were only in their early twenties. Many were young converts, too. When you look at the old engravings and portraits of these people and see them with long gray beards and bald heads, you have to remember that this is how they looked years after they were in the ministry, not when they started.
I think we underestimate young people in the Church today. If we saw their true potential, we would invest in them, give them more opportunity, and expect God to give our young men visions, even as He gave us dreams.
- Spurgeon heeded the call of God on his life at age fifteen, was pastoring his first church at age seventeen, and by age nineteen he had become the pastor of the largest church in London. He went on to great fruitfulness, pastoring of the largest independent congregation in the world.
- Finney was only twenty-nine years old when he became a believer, and he was only two years old in the Lord when he was commissioned as a missionary.
- Patrick was twenty-two when he began to conquer Ireland.
- William Tyndale was about twenty-five years old when he received his call to translate the English Bible, which was considered to be an act of treason.
- George Fox was twenty-three years old when he began to lead a major movement.
- Count Zinzendorf was age ten when he started the “Mustard Seed Club.” He was only twenty-two when he started Herrnhut. He was about twenty-nine when a revival there had started.
As we look to the great harvest, which I believe is at hand, we should not despise our youth but invest in them, trust them, and most of all, give them opportunity to serve the Lord now. Let’s not wait until they are old and indifferent. We need their zeal, vision, and strength, and they need our wisdom, guidance, and encouragement.
Here are some other interesting facts that I have observed while studying the lives of those whom God has greatly used throughout Church history:
- They were not from within the religious system:Many men that God uses, from the time of John the Baptist until now, don’t come from the ranks of men who hold positions of power or influence. This was clear from John’s own case in Luke 3:1-2. Charles G. Finney certainly did not come from within the religious system. In fact, he did not even come from a Christian home. The first prayer he ever heard offered in his parent’s home was his own. Yet, when he met Jesus in a real and powerful way, he labored to bring others into the same experience.
- They had to learn to stand alone:Those whom God mightily used throughout Church history usually stood alone for what they believed. The general spiritual conditions in Luther’s and Wesley’s day made it difficult for God to work within the system. Someone needed to swim against the current. Finney did not wait for the rest of the church to get behind him before he did something for God. Most of his opposition came from within the church itself. Others joined in to support him, but only after he took a different course. This does not mean that he did not have encouragement from others. Finney writes warmly of an elder in his church, who came alongside at just the right times. This old man would sit up late at night listening to the new convert share his discouragement and frustrations. Then, he would walk home late at night, praying the entire three miles for young Finney. Others supported Finney as well, but in the early days, he faced a lot of opposition alone.
- They didn’t always have the “proper” training: When Finney stood before the local presbytery as a candidate for the ministry, the older ministers urged him to go to Princeton. They even offered to pay his way. Charles declined their offer but would not say why. When they pressed him for an answer, he finally said, “I would not put myself under such an influence as you have been under. I am confident that you have been wrongly educated and are not ministers that meet my ideal of what a minister of Christ should be[JM1] .” He told them this reluctantly but could not honestly withhold it. So, they appointed his pastor George Gale to oversee his studies. Later in his ministry, Finney wrote, “that to straddle a young man with such a religious education would be like David wearing Saul’s armor[JM2] .” He was more effective because he tried to deepen his knowledge of the Lord rather than the knowledge of men.
- They held faithfully to the Word of God:Fidelity to God’s Word was the preeminent factor in the young men’s decision to take a stand for the Lord, regardless of what others were teaching. Young Finney often differed with his pastor’s liberal views. Pastor Gale thought the young convert was just being obstinate. Finney was simply trying to take God’s Word at face value and to act on what it said.
- Their wives were willing to make great sacrifices with them:When you read about the efforts of young reformers, you cannot help but notice that their wives were often a strong influence in their effort. Lydia Finney, for example, not only suffered right along with her husband, but also ministered with him. She often held meetings for ladies and reached out to the poor.
- They were rarely balanced:The movers and shakers throughout Church history were rarely balanced people. Their zeal often blinded them to many things that needed to be changed. This was as true for Martin Luther as it was for Finney. In Finney’s case, he sometimes handled people rather roughly. His preaching and theology were sometimes based on reaction rather than revelation. Through time and trouble, both became more polished and pointed. To the chagrin of some, God did not wait until he had all his theology together before He used him. I am not sure that Finney never got his theology all together, but you cannot deny the results from when Finney preached the simple gospel message to sinners.
Here is a brief list of other observations about those whom God has used to bring about revival or reformation:
1. All of them changed history, even though that was not their goal.
2. Their goals were modest. The consequences of what might happen were not as important as the immediate steps they were required to take.
3. One of the major motivations, which caused these now great men to do what they did, was a concern for the common man. The target group was almost always the poor. Consider this in light of Wesley, Luther, Wycliffe, or Finney. They wanted to teach or give God’s Word to the poor and oppressed. They didn’t wait for others to do it, nor did they just sit around praying about it all they time; they went out to meet the needs of others.
4. Throughout all Church history, whenever the enemy tried to stop the man of God or his work, the chief weapons he used were intimidation, false accusation, and slander.
5. They feared God more than they feared men.
6. They didn’t bring others to repentance without having tasted it in full measure themselves. Their story can always be traced back to a personal encounter with God’s written Word.
7. With only minor exceptions, the greatest source of persecution they suffered came from religious people.
8. Each reformer or revivalist had been influenced by the grace and ministries given to men from previous generations.
9. Those who are part of the current revival or reform tend to reject those in the next movement.
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Who will you reject?
2. What do you want?
3. What are you expecting?
4. What are you praying for?