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Is revival a non-starter?

June 2003 | by Des Frost

Part 2

In the first article of this short series we linked Spurgeon’s fruitfulness in the gospel with his preaching of that gospel.

If we wonder why Spurgeon was so successful, the answer lies in a phrase he once used: ‘That which God does by our instrumentality’ (adapted from sermon No. 1981). These words contain a truth of the utmost importance.

God does the work

We have been conditioned into thinking that human instrumentality is the major force to be employed if sinners are to be saved. But according to Spurgeon, something else should be given first place.

‘That which God does’ is far more important than ‘our instrumentality’. Although the work of evangelism is a ‘joint venture’ between God and his church, believers are only very junior partners.

This is because eloquence, delivery and style in the preaching of the gospel will break no one’s heart – but when God does the work the result is truly miraculous.

What amazed Spurgeon with regard to salvation was that ‘God should draw the sinner with the bands of love’ (adapted from sermon No. 1981). These words need our careful attention, because the principle of ‘drawing’ mentioned here would appear to be lost on many believers today.

It is inconceivable to the modern mind that before unbelievers can see their need of a Saviour, God has first to open their blind eyes. Nor can that mind see that hard hearts will never be softened until the Almighty applies the necessary drawing power – influencing their thinking and desires, and eventually convincing them to trust in Christ.

Human reason

Many Evangelicals today have unconsciously absorbed the notion that souls are won through the application of human logic and reason. They think human eloquence and argument can persuade unbelievers to repent and believe.

The reason for this mistaken notion can be traced to the events of our recent past.

As the twentieth century progressed, a subtle change of emphasis occurred. Outwardly, believers still held fast to Spurgeon’s view of how evangelism should be carried out. But his concept was amended, in effect, to read: ‘That which is done (not ‘what God does’) by our instrumentality’.

In other words, while evangelism was still of paramount importance, God was airbrushed out of the equation. Human instrumentality was now the major player, and this in turn had a detrimental effect.

It made it seem that conversions flowed mechanically and automatically from the preaching of the gospel. And when many people ‘went forward’ at the large evangelistic events of the 1950s, it merely reinforced this mistaken idea.

Timetable religion

No one is saying, of course, that there was no reliance on the Holy Spirit at that time, because there was. But if believers gave him the credit for bringing sinners to faith in Christ, they were not saying so very loudly.

Thus the Spirit’s role gradually developed into that of a ‘consultant’, rather than ‘chief executive’, and here lay the problem.

The wind was not being allowed to ‘blow where it will’, but was rather invited to work at specified times in specified places – namely the venues where these large evangelistic events were being held.

This is what the writers of old called ‘timetable religion’ because everything is planned in advance. The meeting is convened, and people turn up, and things are expected to happen.

Priorities

But when the Spirit of God works in awakening and reviving power, the reverse is true. People under conviction of sin turn up, and a meeting is arranged in order to give them biblical instruction.

In view of all this, the reason why revival in the UK is a non-starter at the moment is because we have not yet sorted out our priorities with regard to ‘that which God does’ and ‘our instrumentality’.

We are still clinging tenaciously to the latter at the expense of the former. All the while we do so, we make it impossible for the Almighty to bless his church abundantly.