Revival and the Destiny of America
by Lonnie Lane
Right in the middle of all the intellectualism that gave birth to the Enlightenment, with its high regard for the minds of mankind and his own ability to reason as the highest form of knowledge, a revival of great magnitude referred to as “The Great Awakening,” began changing the hearts of men and women. The First Great Awakening, beginning around 1730, initially appeared in the Mid-Atlantic colonies, then spread to New England and then culminated in the south. The colonies had been largely populated by people who wished to live out their Christianity without oppression and functioned under Biblical principles. But the new ways of thinking had sparked a reaction to the growing skepticism against Christianity as they had known it, which was causing those now imbued with Enlightenment thinking to turn away from their previous religious lifestyle.
The preaching revivalists, men such as Jonathan Edwards in America and George Whitfield who began his ministry in England and then came across to the Colonies, or the Wesley brothers, brought a powerful force to counter the new ideas. Their focus was not on man’s intellect as the Enlightenment emphasized but on his conscience, and an inner “emotional” ability to understand the truth of needing to be accountable to God who is holy; man cannot save himself by his own logic, but man can use his mind to repent from his sins, which is the only way he can be saved from the wrath of God. We don’t preach much about being saved from the wrath of God these days but they sure did then, with profound and lasting society-changing results.
The revivalist’s preaching brought a powerful conviction of sin which carried a deep call to the hearts of people moving them to repentance to holy God and consequently to an experience of the release and joy of regeneration which brought the Believers into a moving and emotional involvement with their faith, rather than passively listening to an intellectual discourse in a detached manner. They began to study the Bible at home and were experiencing God on their own, in their own way. God became personal to them! Further, it was an open door to salvation for “whosoever wills,” and not just the prominent members of the established churches. The revival welcomed the poor, the slaves and the Native Americans. God welcomed all who would turn from their sins and come to Him. While they would have agreed in theory with the equality, the emphasis on God and the Bible was entirely antithetic to the premise of the Enlightenment.
Neither was it welcomed by all Protestants. Not all warmed to this revival and a division developed among the Protestants between those involved in the revival called “The New Lights” and those who preferred to maintain the status quo who were known as “The Old Lights.” It seems revivals always have that affect of bringing separation. As it has been said, “It’s often the last move of God that persecutes the next move of God.” I had a pastor tell me that years ago. I have considered it worth remembering when “new” moves of God have occurred. As revivals can be somewhat unruly from a human point of view, even true Believers can discount it as not being from the Lord because it wasn’t what they expected of God, 1 Cor 2:14 notwithstanding.
“I am the light of the world.”
- John 8:12
The Revival was a real “awakening” at a time when faith in God seemed to have gone to sleep. It emphasized that Yeshua, not men’s minds, is the true “light of the world” Jesus said of Himself, “I am the light of the world. He who believes in me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12. Also see John 1:9; 3:19; 9:5; 12:46). He also said of his followers, “You are the light of the world; a city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14) and that is what the Revivalists aimed to be. It seemed everyone, no matter what side you were on, was seeking “light” the New Lights, the Old Lights and the Enlightenment! It’s interesting to me that satan is called the “angel of light” which means that he attempts to shine a light of lies, not truth.
One of the controversies about the Revival was people’s physical and emotional experiences under the power of the Holy Spirit, as ”divine visitations overpower the body” as Jonathan Edwards wrote, under whose leadership the Revival flourished. Many considered these “bodily effects” as true evidence of conversion. Edwards saw them as incidental though he considered them as Scripturally valid, his wife experiencing them on a regular basis. What Edwards saw as more noteworthy than the “effects” was the great moral improvement the Revival was bringing to the country. To Edwards, it was “conduct” that was the sole test of conversion.
While much is reported of subjective encounters with God in the Revival, the focus was not on people’s personal experiences but on what the “Awakeners” were trying to reveal to the world around them. Their desire was to bring to awareness the reality of God and the truth of the Bible as the Word of God to whom we must be accountable. The motive of the Awakeners was to bring a Christian “light” to a world that was turning away from God.
Those outside of the church looked either to man’s mind or sought mystical experiences and “revelation,” but in fact both were seeking “knowledge” outside of the Bible in a subjective way. The Revivalist Whitefield referred to the seeking of knowledge apart from God as a Gnostic “spirit of Antichrist.” It is Gnostic because it’s based on a quest for knowledge and is antichrist because it refutes that Christ (Messiah) has anything to do with the knowledge that is sought. This same spirit had been a problem for the church almost since the beginning. Here it was again.
And once again, this same spirit is with us today in our “Post-Modern” society and the New Age movement. Haven’t we identified ourselves as the “information generation?” Is that not about obtaining knowledge? Is this info-quest not co-habiting in some measure with mysticism that is (not so) slowly permeating our society today? What kid (or adult), just to name one “for instance,” doesn’t know about Harry Potter and his medieval kind of magic? What about the various expressions of New Age, Scientology or other “ologies”? Psychics now advertise, something that would never have been tolerated a generation ago. Are people not seeking the mystical to “know truth” and to try and gain some control in the unpredictability in their own lives in this crazy world in which we live today? Is all this knowledge, however it is sought, not considered to be the “salvation” of humankind?
“The New Light” ministers were encouraged to read more of the Bible in their sermons rather than add their own interpretations and philosophy. With the vast numbers of people who were saved during the Awakening and the impact the Revival had on society, might we not consider their example for our own day? I just wonder, would bigger doses of the Bible itself not bring conviction on its own to each of our hearts as is relevant to us personally by the Holy Spirit rather than just using it as a jump-off point for a sermon? Is it possible that we give more time and emphasis to the interpretation or explanation than to the Word itself? What do you think? Perhaps you might like to conduct an experiment: Get together with some friends and read the Bible to one another and see what God does with it. See what He opens up to you and what revelations and insights into His Word He gives you. You never know; maybe this idea is even from God!
This is not to speak against preaching; heaven forbid. Paul tell us “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21). It was the Revivalists’ exegetical preaching that brought about the Revival. Exegesis means to critically explain or interpret the text whereas Eisegesis (pronounced ice-eh-geesis) means interpreting the existing text by introducing one’s own ideas. Exegesis draws out the meaning of the text while Eisegesis occurs when the speaker reads their interpretation into the text. I have found that a valuable distinction to be aware of with all the input we get or for that matter, what I myself teach.
What the Revivalists were concerned with was “sound knowledge,” not just knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Their intention was to provide true “enlightenment” against the Enlightenment which they saw as false “light.” They sought to provide absolute truth, a “light” that would never go out and that could light the way for all men always. Without that light the “New Light” revivalists knew that the world would once again return to darkness like that of the Middle Ages.
While our high-tech world today is far from the Middle Ages, we do have a creeping anti-Messiah, anti-God-as-the-Bible-portrays-Him move toward an expectation that the minds of mankind will figure out just what we need to become … what is it we are trying to become? Maybe …like God? Where have I heard that before? In a Garden somewhere maybe?
Mankind seeks to be invincible, all knowing, and all powerful. We’ve pretty much overcome the limitations of time and space. We can talk with anyone anywhere and even see them on our computer screens; we can fly anywhere in the world in a day or less isn’t that a feature of being omnipresent? Present anywhere or everywhere? The Internet is the master mind that can pretty much tell you anything you can think to ask it. I wonder what Benjamin Franklin would do with that? That’s almost like being omniscient, knowing everything. We’re now concerned with Iran blowing up a good bit of the world, or maybe we’ll blow them up first. The point being that we have the power to do this. We have power to do what mankind could never have even conceived of a generation ago. So is that leaning toward being omnipotent? All powerful? Those were terms that only could be ascribed to God until now.
Well, we’re not God nor ever will be and thank God, He’s always going to be, and this is His world! And while He may let us play out what we think we can do, in the end, He will be God and we who are His will worship Him in humble adoration. I like it that way personally. I love it when God shows Himself to be God! Not everyone does.
We live in an unprecedented time in the history of mankind. We’ve just seen how the ideas of men move whole societies in one direction or another. We see that God moves in to bring correction and adjustment and some heed it and some don’t. Thank God again that He is faithful not to abandon us, but will always provide input that allows us to cling to Him. We can learn from history or, as the saying goes, we will be bound to repeat it. Our national destiny will be determined by whether we seek God or rely on our own abilities and capabilities. Our individual eternal destinies are thus affected by our dependence or independence from God. As for history, these verses seem to apply:
Surely we are closer to the “ends of the ages” than Paul was when he wrote those words. It is our prayer that the Revival that has begun in Lakeland, Florida, will be a society-changing revival, one that will stand against the anti-Messiah spirit that exalts itself in the minds of men who erroneously seek “truth” apart from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as He can only be known through His Son, Yeshua. It seems right to end this article with these precious words from John 8:12:
Reprints of this article is permitted but must include: Reprinted by permission of Messianic Vision, www.sidroth.org, 2008
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.