How do you maintain a revival once you have one? The question is relevant, because most of the revivals in history have been very short-lived. Not many revivals last more than a year or two; some last only a day or two. Who wants to go through years of prayer to obtain something from the Lord only to have it dissipate?
I will come to the specific issue of vows and covenants in a moment, but first some background is needed. Years ago I spent time seeking the Lord on this important question – because my heart’s desire was to see a revival that would span multiple generations.
One of the conclusions I came to is that revival fades and disappears off the scene because of what its leaders do, rather than because of what God does.
Another conclusion I came to was this: We maintain a revival the same way we obtain a revival. A revival is given by grace, and needs to stay in the way of grace – but this is often departed from once a revival has been established. Therefore, we must conclude, the spiritual means that had to be in place to obtain it, must remain in place to maintain it.
The way we usually go about looking to God for revival is by passionately and importunately seeking God, and we move more towards revival as we create a dependence on God, and believe. Being totally dependent on God is a big factor in obtaining revival. We do a lot of praying and believing, and listening and waiting, until we come to the place where we do not trust ourselves – neither do we attempt to control God’s people, or hinder or control what God wants to do. These are all important elements in obtaining the revival. They then become important elements in keeping it.
When praying and asking the Lord for answers to the question, I felt led to a book I had, but have since lost (through lending I think), by Jonathan Edwards on revival, and found in it some things that really surprised and shocked me. Jonathan Edwards was a truly great man, highly respected by John Wesley, and considered to be the father of the Great Spiritual Awakening, a revival which took place in the 1730s and 1740s.
Three of his articles were published in this one book. One is called A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, another The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, and the third, An Account of the Revival of Religion in Northampton in 1742.  The articles have amazing stories of things God had done among them, including examples of what today we call manifestations of the Spirit. It needed great theologians like Jonathan Edwards to defend in his day what God was doing, because there were many who said it was the devil.
Edwards had a great heart and very ordered mind, and he observed and understand many things to do with grace, and sin, and human nature, and society life, etc. In these articles is to be found a great deal that is very heart-moving. However, there are also accounts of things that happened where no relationship of cause and effect is observed. It is possible for us to look at these accounts and see some cause and effect at work beyond Edward’s observations, but bear in mind, we have had 300 years more experience to aid us.
There are wonderful stories of how the Spirit of God fell on people and changed them completely, often transforming whole towns and communities. The presence of God was all encompassing, and people wanted to sort out their salvation and seek God, and to worship and pray. Communities in which there had been immorality and drunkenness became filled with light and rejoicing.
After recounting these stories, he conveyed the following: About the same time there were two remarkable instances of persons led away with strange enthusiastic delusions.
‘Enthusiasm’ was a word used to describe the motive of people who were considered ‘flaky’, ‘super spiritual’ as we would say, or ‘over the top’. These were people very eager about religion but assumed to be running in the way of the flesh rather than the way of the Spirit. So when we read the word ‘enthusiasm’ in some of these old writings, it is referring to a spirituality driven by the flesh. This is what they thought about the two mentioned here. What exactly was their fault?
That which has made the greatest noise in the country was the conduct of the man at South Hadley. His delusion was that he thought himself divinely instructed to direct a poor man in depression and despairing circumstances to say certain words in prayer to God as recorded in Psalm 116:4 for his own relief.
In modern English, this was a brother who thought the Lord had impressed on him to tell another brother, one who was really struggling, to pray according to Ps 116: 4, and God would help him. Ps 116: 4 says, “Lord save me.” The “strange enthusiastic delusion” referred to was simply that an ordinary member of the congregation thought he heard from God that he should give a word of encouragement to a brother.
If this leaves you shaking your head, remember we are living in different times. Can you see how far the church has come? Edwards goes on:
The man is esteemed a pious man (in other words, he is a godly Christian). I have seen this error of his, had a particular acquaintance with him and I believe that none would question his piety who had known him. And he gave me a particular account of the manner of how he was deluded which is too long to be here inserted. But in short, he had exceedingly rejoiced and was elevated in his heart (in other words he was very joyful) with the extraordinary work of God that was being carried on in the country and came to hold an opinion that it was the
beginning of the glorious times of the church spoken of in Scripture. He read it as the opinion of some theologians that many in these times would be endued with extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit and he embraced that idea, although previously he had no false apprehensions that anyone except a minister would have such gifts.
The man’s ‘delusion’ was, having read that in the last times the Holy Spirit would give gifts to all believers and not just to ministers, he thought, because of the revival, the time must have come, and so he believed God. However, his leaders thought it was delusion. The finale is this:
He exceedingly laments the dishonour he has done to God and the wound he has given religion and has laid low before God and man for it.In other words, he humbled himself and repented from thinking he could be used by the Holy Spirit.
This is the end of part one - continue reading part two.