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Is revival a non-starter?

July 2003 | by Des Frost

Said Spurgeon, ‘If we do not honour the Holy Spirit, we cannot expect him to work with us, for he will be grieved, and leave us to find out our helplessness’ (adapted from sermon No. 1151). We do well to take these words to heart.

The longer we perpetuate a DIY principle in our Christian work (see previous articles), the longer we shall have to endure the spiritual wilderness we are now in – and the greater the possibility that evangelical Christianity in the UK will, in the near future, become virtually extinct.

So what will it take to reverse this trend, and motivate us to put matters right?

Attending to the world to come

Because we emphasise instrumentality rather than ‘that which God does’, it might well be that the Almighty has already left us alone to discover our helplessness.

The decline in the vitality of the Evangelical church, and the reducing numbers of genuine conversions, will lead inevitably to smaller congregations. We will be forced to admit defeat – unless the Almighty brings to bear another strategy, as in times past.

It is no coincidence that the 1857 revival in America commenced at a time when there was a serious downturn in the economy, which, said Spurgeon, ‘left behind it the wreck of many mighty fortunes’.

‘Many folk’, he continued, ‘who were once financially well established, have now become beggars, and people have learned the instability of all things human, and their minds, thus weaned from the earth by terrible and unexpected panic, seem prepared to receive tidings from a better land, and to give fixed attention to the world to come’ (adapted from sermon No. 185).

Addicted to affluence

At present, in the UK, we enjoy an affluent lifestyle, and there is no reason why it should not continue. But if this is why we lack the motivation to seek the face of God – to plead with him to ‘rend the heavens and come down’ – then that very affluence could well come under attack.

No one wants a return of the financial hardships of the 1920s. But recent years have seen such things as high unemployment, a collapse in pension values, and the repossession of mortgaged homes. We should not be so foolish as to believe these things will never return in the future.

However, although future judgement might well come upon our nation because we are addicted to affluence, the hand of the Lord is already heavy upon us.

Acknowledging weakness

The Evangelical church in the UK is, even now, under the worst kind of judgement possible – the Almighty has withdrawn his special presence.

He has not abandoned us, because that is something he has promised he will never do. But in every area of our individual and communal lives, his response toward us – his blessing and the demonstration of his power – is being kept to a minimum.

The same thing happened in the life of the Israelite nation, as they travelled towards the Promised Land. Pleading for the situation to be reversed, Moses cried: ‘If Your presence does not go with us, carry us not up hence’ (Exodus 33:1-6,14).

Our wisdom therefore, must be to acknowledge that, to a large degree, the glory of the Lord has departed.

We must bow the knee right now, in repentance that we have got things wrong in the past. We must to submit to God’s will and confess, with Jehoshaphat of old: ‘We have no might to stand against this great company that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you’ (2 Chronicles 20:12).