Ripe for Revival — Reflections on “Great Southland Revival”

It will probably come as a surprise to many people that the word ‘revival’, like the term ‘Trinity’, does not occur in any reputable English translation of the Bible.

However, while the word can’t be found anywhere, the concept can be seen everywhere.

Its origins are simple. It derives from the Latin infinitive revivere, which means to live (vivere) again (re). Basically, it means ‘new life’.

Biblical Beginnings

Paul tells us in Romans 6:4, that we were buried with Christ by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. He writes elsewhere of being made alive in Christ; of living a life by faith towards God; of experiencing new life (2 Corinthians 3:6; Galatians 2:19-20; Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 2:13).

The Psalmist celebrates the pathway of life (Psalm 16:11) and the promise of everlasting life (Psalm 119:50; 133:3). To summarise: to walk in newness of life is to walk in revival. To be in Christ is to be in a state of revival.

This leads us to the inescapable conclusion that revival is — or ought to be — the everyday experience of followers of Christ. Leo Harris, the pioneer of the CRC churches, described it simply as living out the New Testament.

Geoffrey Bingham, biblical expositor and author, used to remark that revival is basically giving attention to ‘the bread and butter’ issues of life — prayer, Bible study, faith, hope, love, forgiveness, kindness, reliability, steadfastness, integrity and so on.

Biblical revival affects every aspect of what we do and how we behave. This is why the apostle talks of ‘walking’ in newness of life. Walking is steady, ongoing action. It is not explosive or dramatic. Sometimes not even exciting. Missionary hero William Carey attributed whatever success he had experienced to this.

‘I am a plodder,’ he once wrote. ‘I can plod. To this I owe everything.’ Decades of ministry have persuaded me of the same reality. I used to drum into my students a simple, short phrase: ‘Plod with God.’

Arise

What we commonly call revival can be seen as the outcome of two direct scriptural terms, ‘awakening’ and ‘visitation’. Frequently, the prophets called people to wake up (Isaiah 26:19; 52:1; Joel 1:5), as did both Jesus (Mark 13:33-37) and Paul (Eph 5:14).

When the people of God become sleepy, they need to be aroused. Such awakening includes the idea of action. Lazarus may be well and truly alive, but he still needs to get up and walk. He is not resurrected to stay in the grave.

Similarly, the Bible frequently refers to times of visitation, when God drops in, as it were, to demonstrate his power. Sometimes, he visits us with judgement (Exodus 20:5; Psalm 59:8; 89:32); more often, he visits us with blessing (Genesis 50:2 4-25; Psalm 106:4; 1 Samuel 2:21). The greatest visitation of all was the coming of Jesus (Luke 1:68; Acts 15:14).

Divine visitations remind us of how things ought to be. Stuart Piggin has written of revival being an intensification by Jesus of the Holy Spirit’s normal activity. For this reason, it is often relatively short-lived. It may also be unexpected. Jonathan Edwards called the initial phases of the Great Awakening ‘a surprising work of God.’

Martin Luther, the premier pioneer of the Reformation, the greatest visitation since the days of Christ, was as surprised as anyone when it began. It is self-evident that awakenings and visitations are necessarily the work of God, initiated by Him. They do not originate as the result of human effort. We cannot awaken or visit ourselves.

God’s Hand Throughout History

It is appropriate to speak of such manifestations as revivals so long as we recognise that they have a purpose beyond themselves. And this is where this book, Great Southland Revival, is so important. The authors make it clear that their aim was not to write another study of the nature of revival, but rather to record how and when revival has been experienced in the past, so that we can be pointed to
possibilities for the future. And they have accomplished this purpose admirably. The book is prophetic.

It is particularly gratifying to read accounts of divine visitation that have been buried, ignored or simply unknown to contemporary Christians. There are many surprises to be enjoyed. It is enlightening to read of the work of the Spirit in apostolic and medieval times; it is heart-warming to see how the Wesleyan revival touched so many lives; it is exciting to observe the impact of the Great Awakening and the Pentecostal outpouring; it is invigorating to trace the Evangelical roots of Australian society.

Many readers will be astonished to learn of the 1902 Simultaneous Mission in Victoria and New South Wales which led to tens of thousands of professions of faith and remarkable social transformation. The best example was the visitation in Mount Kembla — similar to the impact of the Welsh Revival, but predating it by three years.

Or of the astonishing move of God in the mining town of Moonta in 1875, where the whole community was deeply touched by God’s Spirit. Or of the powerful effect of Evangelicalism on the founders of Australian Federation.

Renewal

This volume offers hope and encouragement to people everywhere, and to Australians in particular. This is not to say we will suddenly all be perfect. It is salutary to be reminded that the congregation at Ephesus, one of the best New Testament churches, included people who had to be instructed not to abuse their families, get drunk, tell lies or steal. Even so, they had been ‘made alive’, that is, revived, and were now far from the darkness that once held them in thrall. They were ‘walking’ in revival (Ephesians 2:10; 4:1; 4:17; 6:2, 8, 15).

It all began with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, followed by months of patient preaching of God’s Word, whereupon God worked unprecedented signs and wonders and the name of Jesus was held in high honour throughout the city (Acts 19:1-17). Idolatry was shattered and inevitably, persecution followed (Acts 19:18-41).

If this is a template of revival, it is salutary to ask where Australia stands on the continuum. Mahlburg and Marsh give us plenty of reasons to ask the question — and to pray for a visitation from on high.

As journalist and Christian apologist Greg Sheridan pointed out in late 2022, Australia has unashamedly taken a position as a pagan nation and is, therefore, like Corinth, another New Testament city, not fit for destruction but ripe for revival. I look forward to the day when a later edition of Great Southland Revival will chronicle that story.

NOTE: To purchase your own copy of Great Southland Revival, click here.

Thank the Source

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