Martin Luther’s Life: A Short Biography

By Albrecht Beutel (Translated by Katharina Gustavs)

Years As A Student

From the outside, Luther’s life passed by simply and steadily. With few exceptions, his whole life took place within the territories of Thuringia and Saxony, mostly in Wittenberg, the electoral capital at the Elbe river, and its surroundings. Only a few journeys led Luther beyond this small sphere of life: on behalf of his order to Rome (1510/11), to Cologne (1512) and Heidelberg (1518); later on behalf of a Reformation consensus to Marburg (1529), and also on his own behalf to Augsburg (1518) and Worms (1521). Equally, with regard to his profession, Luther’s was a remarkable and steady character. From entering the monastery through to his last moment, Luther always remained a man of the word: as a preacher, professor and writer (In addition to all the standard published “lives of Luther,” see also Helmar Junghans, Martin Luther: Exploring His Life and Times, 1483-1546, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998).

During Luther’s life the horizon of world history and humanities was in the process of becoming radically changed. The following names must stand for many others representing this era: the two emperors Maximilian I and Charles V, the popes Leo X, Clemens VII and Paul III (Council of Trent), as well as the names of such artists as Raphael, Michelangelo, Durer, Copernicus and Paracelsus. However, as far as Luther is concerned these changes could be deceptive because his childhood and youth had not been touched by the spirit of humanism or of the Renaissance. Limited to the provincial surroundings of his hometown, Luther grew up as a typical child of the late Middle Ages — just like thousands of other boys around him.

On November 10, 1483 Luther was born as the eldest of probably nine sisters and brothers at Eisleben in what was then the county of Mansfeld. The next morning he was baptized and named Martin after the saint of that day. Coming from a Thuringian family of farmers, his father Hans Luder, not being entitled to inherit, sought his luck in one of the most advanced business opportunities: the copper mines of Mansfield. During the course of his life he was able to gain a well-respected economic and social position through enormous hard work and thrift. We know only a very little about his wife Margarethe, Luther’s mother. She came from a family named Lindemann, resident in Eisenach. As the wife of a venturesome entrepreneur and as a mother of her large family, she had to work hard throughout her whole lifetime. Martin Luther was well aware of that fact that, as he put it, the bitter sweat of his parents had made it possible for him to go to the university.

Their parenting principles were strict, but not unusual for that time. Luther does not seem to have come to any harm. In fact, he honored the memory of his parents with love and respect. The devotional life at home also followed common church practices. Luther lived most of his life away from his parents’ home after he turned fourteen.

Between abut 1490 and 1497 Luther attended the town school in Mansfeld. Thereafter his father sent him to Magdeburg, probably because one of his friends also changed to the cathedral school there. Luther found accommodation with the “Brethren of the Common Life,” a modern religious movement emanating from the Netherlands. Once a year later he moved to the parish school of St. George in Eisenach. Closeness to his mother’s relatives may have played a role in this decision. Later Luther criticized the rigidity in late medieval schools. At any rate he owed them his proficiency in the Latin language, his familiarity with ancient Christian culture and his love for poetry and music.

In the spring 1501 Luther enrolled at the University of Erfurt. He stayed at a hostel, whose life followed strict monastic rules. To the prerequisite studies of liberal arts, which were mandatory for any prospective theologian, lawyer, or medical doctor, Luther devoted himself passionately. And after four years, in the shortest time possible, he graduated with excellent. When he was awarded his master’s degree in spring 1505, he took second place out of seventeen candidates.

Then Luther turned toward the study of law, as was his father’s desire. After having visited his parents, Luther got caught in a summer thunderstorm nearby Stotternheim on his way back home on July 2, 1505. A lightning bolt, which struck right behind him, scared him to death and caused him to vow: “Help me, Saint Anna, I will become a monk!” That Luther entered the monastery, but not before another fifteen days had passed, shows that he did not act under the effect of mere emotions, but that he became a monk only after careful self-examination. We will have to see his decision against the background of a deep existential fear, whose resolution he tried to force but whose dramatic expression it only became, since even in the Erfurt convent of the Augustinian Hermits, he was barred from the religious peace for which he had longed.

Luther’s father was outraged by his son’s unexpected turn: All the plans he had made for his eldest son’s life and career seemed to be thwarted. This conflict would cast a shadow over the relationship between father and son for many years to come and only in 1525 when Luther got married was it finally resolved.

During his first year as a novice, Luther subjected himself to an intense study of the Bible. He also familiarized himself with the rules and regulations of the monastic life. The strict way of living, which was predominant there, did not pose any problems to him. But soon it became apparent that even the most painstaking obedience to the three monastic vows Luther had taken at his profession (obedience, poverty, chastity) did not lead to the inner peace for which he had longed. An excessively pursued practice of confessing did not help either. It only increased his religious distress. Thus it was no coincidence that Luther got stuck in the high prayer during the first mass he had to read as a newly ordained priest. The young man who all of a sudden found himself facing God so closely was left speechless in his fear. Filled with awe of the sacred he tried to run away from the liturgy but his teacher admonished him to stay and finish mass.

In the figure of the pantocrator—the ruling and judging Christ—Luther’s fear of God became symbolically intensified. The anxieties and melancholies that haunted Luther throughout his entire life were fed from this image of the Judge of the World, so real for him during his early years. Yet Luther never lost himself to his religious anxieties. He rather felt spurred on to study the Bible more intensely. Unlike the approach of the scholastic tradition, Luther would not read the Scriptures for intellectual purposes but for existential meditation. Even later the professors at Wittenberg were always quite impressed by their young colleague’s outstanding knowledge of the Bible. The fact that Luther felt at home in this book more than any other became the characteristic trademark of his theology. No matter what he read from the fathers and teachers of the church, he would always relate it to the Bible and compare it with its original message.

In 1507, the same year he was ordained as a priest, Luther was selected by his superior to study theology. In Erfurt the Augustinian Hermits had established a general course of studies for their members. As a doctor of theology the respective chair had to fill the professorship of theology at the university as well. Through the works of Gabriel Biel, also von Ockam, Duns Scotus, Petrus of Ailly and Thomas Aquinas, Luther was introduced to Christian dogmatics. However, Augustine was the figure who became of utmost importance to Luther. Having studied his works most diligently, Luther preferred him over all other scholastics, turning him King’s evidence for his reformational renewal. In addition to these scholastics, he also came in contact with Aeropagitic (Dionysios, Gerson), the Roman (Bernard von Clairvaux) and the German mysticism (Tauler) as well as the German humanism (Reuchlin, Wimpfeling), though in a more limited, philology oriented manner.

At that time Johannes von Staupitz served as vicar general of the German monasteries of the Augustinian Hermits. Today there is still very little known about his theology, which was highly influenced by Augustine. He attached great importance to the study of the Bible in his monasteries. To Luther he became an important supported and father confessor, seeking to alleviate Luther’s fear of punishment and eternal damnation by pointing out that God only intends to punish the sinful nature in humans but seeks to win the person of the sinner for himself. In a somewhat modified manner this distinction can also be found later in Luther’s writings. At one point Luther tormented himself with an almost maniacal urge to confess, when von Staupitz, a pastor of high standing, objected that he could not even produce any real sins, but just hobbling stuff and puppet’s sins.

From fall 1508 to fall 1509 Luther was sent to the newly established university in Wittenberg where the Augustinian Hermits from Erfurt were in charge of one of the teaching positions. Due to a temporary vacancy Luther had to fill in as Master of Arts, reading about the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle. After this interim in Wittenberg, Luther returned to the monastery in Erfurt. From there he accompanied an older fellow friar on a trip to Rome in winter 1510/11, where the latter was engaged by his order to settle business with the curia. Only in the late summer of 1511 did Luther move for good into the city which would make history through him and in which he himself would make history.

As his very own creation Elector Frederick the Wise had established a new university in Wittenberg in 1502, for which the imperial privilege had been granted whereas papal confirmation of the university was not given until 1507. Georg Spalatin, electoral court chaplain and tutor of the princes, became the crucial intermediary between court and university. Though Spalatin also cherished other theological ideas at first, Luther did not have much trouble in winning him for his own opinions. The bond of friendship that grew immediately between them turned out to be an essential cornerstone of the Reformation, lasting through the storms of decades.

In Wittenberg the two converts of the mendicant orders were each engaged with a professorship in theology. For the Augustinian hermits von Staupitz was the one giving the lectures. However, he wished to free himself from this responsibility and it was obvious he built Luther up into being his successor right from the start. Under his spiritual guidance Luther graduated through all levels of theology studies up to and including his doctorate — and all that within the shorter time frame possible, as five years of study were the minimum requirement.

On October 18 and 19, 1512 Luther was solemnly awarded his doctor of theology. The required fee of fifty guilders was paid by the elector himself. With the doctorate came the right of independent academic work. Anyone with a doctoral degree was entitled to voice his own opinion, which could then be heard in theological disputes—of course this was only as long as it resonated with the asserted teachings of the church. Even though at first Luther was most reluctant to pursue the academic career intended for him, it did not take long to adjust and he would refer to his doctoral degree without reservation whenever his authority was questioned, be it toward the papal legate Cajetan, the elector Albert of Mainz, or the pope himself.

With his promotion Luther entered a stage of his life which was characterized by extremely intense academic and spiritual work. Beside his academic responsibilities, he already faced an enormous workload as sub-prior and chairman of the general course of studies in Wittenberg, adding even more duties when he became district vicar of his order in 1515.

A Time Of New Departures (1512-21)

Luther’s series of early lectures — first on Psalms (1513/14), then on the Letters to the Romans (1515/16), Galatians (1516/17) and Hebrews (1517/18) — is an invaluable source of information for understanding Reformation theology. Those lectures document an exciting and far-reaching process during whose course of discoveries Luther got out of the rut of conventional theology more rigorously with each new insight: He interpreted the passages not with a scholastic’s eye any more, but from the Bible’s perspective, not on the background of traditional interpretations by the church authorities, but within the framework of the whole biblical tradition. The debate as to whether Luther experienced his Reformation breakthrough in 1514/15 or somewhat later, in 1518, which has not been settled as of yet, loses more and more of its importance when Luther’s Reformation theology is not looked at as a sudden event, which might even have occurred overnight, but rather as a complex developmental process spreading out over several years, furthering sudden insights on a continuous basis. Without a doubt the most famous discovery of all is about God’s righteousness (Rom. 1:17) — which is not based on demanding but on giving, not on the law but on the gospel.

Luther’s early lectures seemed to make a fundamental reform of the theological course of studies absolutely necessary. His criticism of Aristotelian prerequisites for thinking grew steadily into a criticism of the entire scholastic theology. The call for a new reform of the theological study course was the inevitable consequence: away fro Artistotelianism and the interpretation of the Lombard’s Sentences toward a study of the Bible and, with a proper distance, the church fathers as well. Luther’s criticism found its preliminary peak in his —partly harshly termed — disputation theses “Against Scholastic Theology,” which were published in September 1517, only two months before his famous Ninety-five Theses “On the Power of Indulgences” were announced, triggering a snowball effect. Strangely enough, at this time everything appeared to remain largely calm on the outside (WA 1, 224-28 [Disputatio contra scholasticam theologiam; 1517]. Luther’s writings are quoted hereafter according to Weimarer Ausgabe {Weimar Edition}, the only complete critical edition of his works, letters, table talks and Bible interpretations: D. Martin Luther, Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Weimar: H. Bohlau, 1883-1993 {abbr, WA}).

Beside his academic work Luther had also assumed responsibility for the parish of Wittenberg as a preacher. In their inseparable connectedness these two, lectern and pulpit, formed together the decisive continuum of Luther’s theological existence. No later than 1514 he must have already filled in the preaching position at the town church of Wittenberg. Some of his sermons Luther sent immediately to press. However, the majority of his sermons — in the end somewhat over 2,000 – were handed down to us in form of shorthand transcripts. As a preacher Luther preferred a homiletic approach, which would closely follow the Bible passage. His interpretations were crafted in a down-to-earth manner without rhetorical pathos, but full of experiences from real life and faith. Beside the interpretation of individual passages of the Bible, Luther also liked to teach about central texts such as the Ten Commandments or the Lord’s Prayer. Those catechistic series of sermons formed the basis from which, later, the two catechisms grew.

The turning point in society, which Luther brought about not as an act of daring but unintentionally, was kicked off by his criticism of the widespread canonized practice of selling indulgences. By means of indulgences the church offered an opportunity to compensate for one’s untoned sin and punishments through money. Pope Leo X had reissued a plenary indulgence in 1515 for, among other territories, the church province of Magdeburg, near to Wittenberg. Many members of Luther’s parish made eager use of this opportunity, lulling them into a false sense of religious certainty. First of all, Luther voiced his pastoral concerns from the pulpit. On October 31, 1517 he presented his critique of the indulgences in a concerned letter to Margrave Albert of Brandenburg, who was at the same time Archbishop of Mainz as well as of Magdeburg. His Ninety-five Theses “On the Power of Indulgences” were also enclosed in this letter. In his writing he called repentance a lifelong attitude expected of Christians. He expressed his particular disapproval of the fact that humans were more frightened of punishments set by the church than of sin whose forgiveness lies in God’s power alone. Thus Luther’s criticism of the indulgences aimed at the church’s instumentalization of Christian repentance (WA 1, 233-38 [Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum; 1517).

Whether Luther actually posted his Ninety-five Theses on the castle church of Wittenberg remains uncertain — Melanchthon at least talks about that only decades later. However, it is beyond any doubt that his theses spread throughout all Germany in no time and launched a meteoric development after they had been released at the end of 1517 and explained in German by Luther in March 1518. This marks the beginning of Luther’s unprecedented writing activities. At the end of April 1518, when he visited his orders chapter in Heidelberg, he was already a famous man. With his theses of the “Heidelberg Disputation,” in which he gave the theology of the cross as promoted by him a distinct image, he won some of his most important connections in southern Germany, among them Johannes Brenz, Martin Buber, and Erhard Schnepf (WA 1, 243-46 [Ein Sermon von Ablab und Gnade {A Sermon on Indulgences and Grace}; 1518).

In summer 1518 Rome opened a trial for heresy against Luther. The situation appeared to be hopeless: The ban of the church would most certainly be followed by the ban of the empire. Luther asked his territorial ruler, Elector Frederick the Wise, to lend him his support with the emperor’s consent so that the whole cause could come to negotiations in Germany. Frederick complied with his request, and because Rome had political reasons to reach an agreement with Frederick, Luther was indeed examined by a papal legate on German soil in October 1518, following the Diet of Augsburg. The interrogations were led by the papal legate Cajetan, a highly educated Dominican, who had the authority to readmit Luther to the community of the church if he would recant, but also to excommunicate him if need be. Through it all Luther remained steadfast. Therefore Cajetan demanded that Luther be extricated to Rome. That of course was flatly declined by Frederick the Wise, who demanded instead that Luther be heard before an unbiased court of scholars. Since Rome did not intend to bargain away Frederick’s favor in view of the upcoming imperial election, no particular measures were enforced in the causa Lutheri  for the moment.

Yet the debate continued. In summer 1519 the theology professor Johann Eck from Ingolstadt sought a confrontation with Luther. In the “Leipzig Disputation” they first debated about indulgences, but soon moved on to the question of papal authority. Provoked by Eck, Luther disputed that the pope’s primacy was grounded in divine right and at the same time he also disputed the infallibility of the church councils: Those might not only err, but had certainly already erred, as with the Council of Constance (1414-18), for example, in the case of the Bohemian Jan His. The Leipzig Disputation helped clarify positions: From now on Duke George of Saxony saw his enemy in Luther. On the other hand many humanists, such as Erasmus of Rotterdam, sided with Luther or at least showed solidarity while keeping their distance.

The breathing space which the year 1520 seemed to grant was used by Luther to give his theology a more clearly defined image in writing. With the four main reformational works of this year he showed that he did not only aim at the criticism of a specific, ill-developed, practice of piety, but that he was on his way to renew the whole church and theology based on the gospel. He started out with the treatise Von den guten Werken (Of Good Works; WA 6, 202-76 {1520}). This fundamental writing of Reformation ethics Luther clothed in the form of an interpretation of the Ten Commandments. Faith alone, he stated at the beginning, is able to fulfill the first commandment. However, when a person in faith knows herself accepted by God without any contributing works of her own, she will not need to speculate about attaining God’s salvation through her own activities, but fueled by her confidence in God will feel free to do good works as the most natural thing in the world. Following this line to practice a life lived out of faith, Luther also interpreted all the remaining nine commandments. In his writing An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation von des christlichen Standes Besserung (To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Regarding the Improvement of the Christian Estate {WA 6, 404-69 {1520}), Luther encouraged the target group to make active use of their right as secular authorities to lend their active support to a reform of Christianity. And all the more, Rome would take cover behind a threefold wall against all legitimate reform efforts: First, through the unbiblical division of Christianity between priests and lay people; second, through the claim that the pope holds the supreme power of teaching; third, through the presumptuous prevention that the pope alone was allowed to convene a council.

The “Nobility Treatise,” written in German, was selling like hot cakes. Only a few days after its publication the 4,000 copies of the first printing were sold out. The Latin writing Von der babylonischen Gefanggenschaft der Kirche (On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church {WA 6, 497-573 {De captivitate babylonica ecclesiae Praeludium; 1520}), however, was geared toward a theologically educated audience. In it Luther unfolded the base line for a biblical understanding of the sacraments, which on the one hand sorted out confirmation, marriage, ordination and extreme unction, and with some reservation also repentance, as unbiblical, and on the other hand announced his fundamental opposition to the Roman Catholic understanding of the Lord’s Supper. The explosive potential of Luther’s new teaching on the sacraments can hardly be overestimated, not to mention its practical implications which, for example, would render private masses pointless. This in turn would also put many priests out of work and in general would make the separation between clergy and lay people irrelevant. Luther certainly did not have an impious destruction of the church in mind, but rather its basic Christian renewal. Yet Luther hit the vital nerve of current church practices. Erasmus commented on this writing with the laconic remark that the break with Rome could hardly be healed any more.

The best-known writing of them all explored Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen (On the Freedom of a Christian {WA 7, 20-38 {1520}). Luther portrayed Christians in their relationship to God as free, in their relationship to the world, however, as obliged to the service and compassion of their neighbor: Faith would set humans free from the compulsion for self-justification and therefore would render them free to serve their neighbors. In short, humans would be free out of faith in love.

The programmatic writings of the Reformation were hereby established. In the same year the proceedings against Luther were taken up again. As early as 1519 the two universities in Cologne as well as Lowen had already condemned Luther. On June 15, 1520 the bull threatening Luther with excommunication was finally issued, and in October 1520 it was publicly announced to have the force of law. Somehow Frederick the Wise was able to negotiate that Luther was not to be arrested at once but would first be interrogated at the Diet of Worms. On March 6, 1521 Luther was summoned before the emperor with the promise of safe-conduct.

The journey to Worms turned into a triumphal procession. Wherever Luther went, he was eagerly greeted with public interest and good will. In Leipzig the magistrate welcomed him with an honorary cup of wine, in Erfurt the rector of the university received him at the city wall with great splendor as if a prince was to be honored. Here in Erfurt Luther also preached in his order’s church. which was overfilled to the point of mortal danger. When the creaking of the wooden gallery caused panic to spread, with great presence of mind he was able to avert the danger: Please stand still, he called into the crowd, nothing evil will happen, the devil just tried to frighten us.

Finally, on April 18, 1521, his crucial appearance in Worms became reality. In front of the emperor and the imperial estates Luther refused to follow their demand of renunciation. He did not feel the slightest obligation to the authority of the pope, he stated. Instead his conscience was bound to Holy Scripture. Therefore he could not and would not recant as long as his teachings could not be refuted through Scripture or clear reasoning. With reference to his conscience as solely obliged to the word of God, Luther had denied access to human faith to the two world powers, represented by the emperor and the pope.

Though the effort was made to continue negotiations in Worms, they did not produce successful results. On April 26, 1521 Luther set out on his return trip. Shortly before, Frederick the Wise had informed Luther that he would have him kidnapped on his way home so he could be brought to safety. This is exactly what happened on May 4: To all appearances an attack was launched and Luther was taken to his new refuge at the Wartburg castle. Since Worms, Luther’s life was in danger: The Edict of Worms had placed him under imperial ban. Furthermore, all his books were to be destroyed and censorship of religious writings was to be introduced in all territories of the empire.

Soon it became obvious that the orders of the Edict of Worms defied enforcement in this form. Yet it should not be underestimated that as a legal instrument they served their purpose in the imperial religious politics until the Peace of Augsburg in 1555.

A Time Of Creative Prowess (1521-25)

Often enough Luther found his isolation difficult to bear while locked up in the Wartburg castle. An immense work schedule was his way of going about coping with it. He studied the Bible and beside numerous letters he also wrote some of his most important works such as the Wartburgspostille (Church Postil {WA 10, 1,1 {1522}) — a collection of exemplary sermons — and also an interpretation of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56 {WA 7, 544-604 {Das Magnificat verdeutscht und ausgelegt; 1521}), a broadsheet against the theologian Latomus von Lowen( WA 8, 43-128 {Rationis Latomianae pro incendiariis Lovaniensis scholae sophistis  redditae, Lutheriana confutio; 1521}), and a fundamental treatise on monastic vows (WA 8, 573-669 {De votis monasticis M. Lutheri iudicium; 1521}), whose rejection of the bonding force of the vows soon triggered far reaching practical consequences. The exodus from the monasteries began.

But above all Luther translated the New Testament from the Greek original, a first since Wulfila, at the Wartburg castle within just eleven weeks. Luther’s German translations of the Bible outshone all those before him by far: in their linguistic beauty and power, but also in their spiritual authority and theological precision. Luther’s New Testament was released in September 1522 (Septembertestament) with 3,000 copies and a rather high retail price, notwithstanding which it was out of print within a few days. By December a revised edition (Dezembertestatement) was published. Between 1522 and 1533 Luther’s New Testament saw a total of eighty-five editions. Soon after 1522 Luther set out to translate the Old Testament. This endeavor which engaged several collaborators, came to its fruition with the first edition of a complete Luther Bible in 1534. It is said that the print shop of Hans Lufft in Wittenberg sold about 100,000 copies of the Biblia, das list die gantze Heilige Schrift Deudsch (Biblia, That is the Entire Holy Scripture in German) over fifty years. The number of non-local reprints or illegal copies, however, is beyond our knowledge. From 1531 Luther presided over a revision commission, whose goal it was to improve the texts of the German Bible on a continuous basis and whose work can still come alive for us through some extant commission protocols.

During the creative break Luther had been forced to take at the Wartburg castle, the call for restructuring the church system became more and more urgent. Now it all depended on shaping this critical potential, fed from all those forces across Germany that aligned themselves with Luther’s protest, into a positive and creative power that would be able to give this new faith, which claimed to be the truly old and evangelical one, a visible and credible expression of life. That Luther met this challenge without hesitating and dedicating his entire life to it without sparing himself is what really shows his greatness and at the same time has given the cause he represented its lasting historic meaning. 

In 1522 turmoil broke out in Wittenberg. Blind enthusiasm for reform got out of hand. First Luther responded in written form only, with his Treue[n] Vermahnung zu allen Christen, sich zu hut for Aufruhr und Emporung (Earnest Exhortation to All Christians Against insurrection and Rebellion) {WA 8, 676-87 {1522}). When he realized that written encouragement would not help, he came in person. At the beginning of March 1522 Luther preached for a whole week every single day. Thus he was able to stop the radical iconoclasm, cooling down the very heated feelings. Non vi sed verbo – not through violence, but through the word alone. This was the message of the “Invocavit Sermons” he preached very eloquently. This was also the start for the reorganization of the budding church of the Reformation (WA 10, 3; 1-64 {1522}).

Luther reformed the current form of worship service cautiously but also with consequences. So that the congregation could play its active role as set forth by the new evangelical approach, Luther initiated congregational singing in the native language. As early as 1524 the first three evangelical hymnbooks could be released, with a large portion of the new hymns contributed by Luther himself.

Furthermore, the church assets had also to be reorganized. In Wittenberg a satisfying solution was quickly found. After a temporary trial of the so-called “begging ordinance,” the Gemeine Kasten (“common chest”) was established in 1522. This new institution was responsible for the finances church and school and also for the social services to be granted in support of poor local residents. The begging of foreigners was hereby prohibited.

The school system Luther regarded as an excellent object for reform work. Over and over again he complained about the lack of interest in schooling among citizens and the magistrates. In 1524 he therefore appealed An die Ratsherren aller Stadte deutschen Lands, dab sie christliche Schulen aufrichten und halten sollen (To the Councillors of all Cities in Germany that they Establish and Maintain Christian Schools {WA 15, 27-53 {1524}). A solid knowledge of the original languages of the Bible seemed to be indispensable for a preacher in Luther’s opinion, and likewise the professional skills to access the whole of education currently available. This was the only way that an evangelical preacher could fulfill his task satisfactorily, just the opposite opinion, that of a fanciful and low regard for school and academic education, would inevitably lead to a bargaining away of the cause of the church. The gospel, Luther was certain, could not be deliberately trivialized. The educational responsibility of the Lutheran Church as put forth by Luther became an essential factor in the modern history of humanities.

Not only for the history of the Reformation, but also for Martin Luther himself the year 1525 meant a deep caesura. It was marked by the Peasants’ War as well as the suspect role Luther played in it. As early as 1523 Luther noticed that Thomas Muntzer, one of his followers during the first years, began to drift further off from him: The rigoristic mysticism that Muntzer began to spread, Luther regarded as much against the gospel as was its objective, to execute the punishment of the godless through violent-revolutionary means. At the beginning of 1525 Muntzer became one of the protagonists of the peasants’ movement in Thuringia.

The Peasants’ War turned into a trial of strength for Luther’s political ethics. Luther regarded most of the peasants’ demands as legitimate. However, he disliked the fact that the peasants did not voice their concerns in a political and pragmatic manner, but rather justified their cause from the Bible, thereby revoking the secular system of laws in the name of the gospel. Luther asked for a clear distinction between law and religion. When open rebellion broke loose in Thuringia, Luther became outraged about the peasants: They had violated their obligation of allegiance and were guilty of violation of the peace as well as blasphemy. At the same time Luther admonished the princes to take up their duties as rulers, that is, to protect the system of laws and go into action against the rebellious peasants.

Of course, Luther could not hinder the rebellion. After all, we should not overestimate the influence he exerted over the course of events. However, the consequences followed really hard upon him: The Roman Catholic party sought to make him legally responsible for the uproar as its spiritual father. Among Luther’s friends there was irritation die to his hard line. The peasants were disappointed by him, and most of them remained embittered. From now on Luther kept reminding the secular authorities of their duties to be the chosen patrons of the Reformation. The Landersherrliche Kirchenregiment (territorial church government), which grew out of this development, would define the Protestant church governance in Germany until 1918.

Beside the Peasants’ War the year 1525 also brought another caesura: the break with Erasmus. Humanism and Reformation, Erasmus and Luther: They were a pair of brothers, sometimes arguing but certainly cast in the same mold. Not only in their criticism of ecclesiastical incrustations and the traditional scholastic education system were connected, but also in their philological dedication toward the original documents of the Western world and in their deep respect for the ancient languages of the civilized world.

At first Erasmus had been kindly disposed towards Luther’s appearance. No later than 1521 he considered the break between Rome and Luther as irreparable. At best he had preferred to keep silent. Yet because he was increasingly suspected of being one of Luther’s secret followers and also because he had felt hurt by some of Luther’s adverse remarks, he could hardly avoid making a public statement. In September 1524 he began to take a stand against Luther with his treatise On Free Will (Erasmus von Rotterdam, De libero Arbitrio diatribe sive collatio {1524}). The topic was chosen cleverly: It hit the core argument over which Luther had become involved in the church.

Erasmus opted for the path of the golden mean: On the way to salvation, many things would have to be ascribed to divine grace and others to human will. Luther replied with his counter-writing On the Bondage of the Will in the fall of 1525 (WA 18, 600-787 {De servo arbitrio; 1525; ET The Bondage of the Will, trans. J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston. Westwood, NJ.: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1957}). To the question whether the human will can be thought of as being free, he also answered: half and half. Unlike Erasmus he drew a line of categorical distinction: With respect to its relationship to God, the human will is totally bound. On the other hand, with respect to its dealing with worldly things, freedom of choice belongs to humans. If humans were to ascribe freedom to themselves, then, stated Luther, God’s gift of faith becomes a human effort. According to Luther, this was exactly the position toward which Erasmus was leaning. For Erasmus, human faith in God would become a moral postulate.

Erasmus responded once more with a detailed defense statement (Erasmus von Rotterdam, Hyperaspistes diatribae adversus serum arbitrium Martini Lutheri, 2 vols. {1526/27}). Luther did not react to it any more. The break between the two scholars was complete by then. The relationship between the two movements they represented did not suffer the same fate, fortunately for both.

A Time of Trials (1525-1546)

With respect to his personal life the year 1525 also meant an essential caesura to Luther. He left monkhood and entered into marriage. From the union with Katharina von Bora, a former nun, six children were born: Hans (1526), Elizabeth (1527), Magdelena (1529), Martin (1531), Paul (1533) and Margarethe (1534). Two of the girls died young: Elizabeth after eight months, Magdelena — Luther’s beloved Lenchen — in her thirteenth year.

The burden of Luther’s household was immense. In addition to his own children, he also took in children of both his deceased sister, and an aunt of his wife. Some students found also accommodation in Luther’s house as well as varying numbers of foreign guests; these alone could amount to twenty-five people. This large operation posed a continuous domestic challenge. And that Luther on the one hand was a man of warm generosity and on the other hand lacked a sense of finances did not make things easier. That Luther’s wife not only managed the domestic matters but also secured their economic survival through husbandry and agriculture, Luther always appreciated with deep gratification. The relationship between the two spouses was conducted in mutual respect and happy love. In contrast to the law of his time, Luther appointed his wife as sole heir in his last will.

Luther’s professional duties took up most his time. As a preacher, often also as a father confessor or pastor, he served the parish of Wittenberg, unflustered in his faithful and reliable devotion despite many a dispute. From 1535 Luther was appointed again permanent dean of the theology faculty. Highlights of his academic work included the second lecture series on Galatians (1531) and the great interpretation of the Book of Genesis (1535-45), which took about ten years and was worked on with many an interruption. The practice of disputations, which had come to a standstill during the disturbances of the early 1520’a, was revived in 1535. Luther had been involved in a total of fourteen circular as well as thirteen doctoral disputations. For the promotion of this literary style, bu which the Reformation had been sparked off so to speak, Luther spared neither trouble not care. Therefore nowhere else can greater examples of his outstanding writing and editing skills be found than in the series of disputation theses he drew up. As for the subject matter, he would always aim at the heart of Reformation theology: The doctrine of justification. later also Christology, the doctrine of the Trinity, as well as anthropology, were his favorite topics.

Again and again Luther emphasized the importance of disputation exercises for theological teaching and church life. In his opinion they offered prospective pastors and teachers an ideal opportunity to train their rhetorical-dialectical skills and to prepare them for all those arguments they would inevitably be confronted with owing to their profession. To Luther theology was a science of conflict par excellence: Its subject was the dispute about the truth of faith into which everybody had been baptized and into which each and every studying Christian would certainly and constantly become involved. In Luther’s opinion, theological reality would not find its expression in unconditional neutrality but in a constantly raging debate: Only in the defense of life-threatening evil would the truth of faith manifest itself in concrete terms.

After the disaster of the Peasants’ War Luther made an appeal to the elector to have visitations in the parishes carried out and to urge his villages to regard the support of schools and churches as at least as important as the maintenance of bridges and roads. Thus in 1527 the first visitation was conducted in Electoral Saxony. Luther contributed mainly in written form: the “German Mass,” (WA 19, 72-113 {Deutsche Messe und Ordnung Gottesdiensts, 1526}), a new liturgy for baptism and marriage, a prayer book for children, new editions of hymnals, a series of sermons and of course the two Catechisms (WA 30, 1; 125-425 {1529}).

Both Catechisms, the Large as well as the Small, were Luther’s way of dealing with the depressing visitation results. In view of the alarming lack of biblical and theological knowledge encountered in the pastors — not to mention the congregations — Luther set out to tackle the challenge, whose effort can hardly be overrated, of putting the essence of the Christian faith in basic sentences without trivializing or reducing it excessively. Fortunately he could draw on some groundwork he had done earlier, in particular on three series of sermons from 1528, in which he had worked through the “Principal Themes of Faith” one after the other: Decalogue, Confession, Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, and Lord’s Supper. From that source the Large Catechism was born: a handbook for pastors designed to provide them with the necessary tools of the theological trade.

The Large Catechism was published in 1529 and the Small Catechism in the same year. The Small Catechism is first of all nothing more than its superbly phrased shore form for domestic use. The one-page format made it possible for the individual pages of the entire Catechism to be put up on the wall as an educational aid for memorizing. With unsurpassed proficiency Luther knew how to summarize the heart of the Christian faith in concrete terms, always keeping his readership in mind so that its translation into the lives of those who would read and memorize the Catechism came alive with each sentence. “Your book says it all,” commented his wife Katherine. And this is exactly how it was meant to be.

Beside the Luther Bile the Small Catechism in particular unfolded an incredible sphere of activity throughout the history of Protestant piety, extending to the dawn of the present time. The scheme of having the question “What is it?” constantly repeated was meant as an encouragement to render account to each other for the mystery of faith on a daily basis.

At the Diet of Speyer in 1529 the evangelical imperial estates submitted a formal protestation. An alliance of all “Protestants” came into sight then, for which Luther assumed as inevitable an agreement on all questions of teaching. The “Schwabach Articles” (WA 30, 3; 178-82 {Ein Bekenntnis christlicher Lehre und christlichen Glaubens durch D. M. Luther in 17 Artikeln verfabt; 1529}) which he had co-authored with Melanchthon were supposed to form the foundation. The teaching on the Lord’s Supper led to an argument with the reformers from Zurich: Do we celebrate only the memory Christ — as Zwingli said; or even his bodily presence — as Luther stated? In October 1529 the “Colloquy of Marburg” was set up to bring about the indispensable theological as well as political unity. Yet no agreement could be reached. From now on each party would go their own way. The consequences caused by the separation between the reformers of Wittenberg and Switzerland have reached right into the twenty-first century.

The separation from the Roman Catholic Church also remained tormenting. For the Diet of Augsburg in 1530 the emperor had promised a peaceful settlement of the religious issue. The “Augsburg Confession,” written by Melanchthon since Luther was not allowed to leave his territory of Electoral Saxony, offered a careful and cautious summary of the Lutheran teachings. Unlike Melanchthon, Luther regarded the attempt to reconcile with Rome in theological and ecclesiastical matters utopian. Therefore he aimed at a political settlement. The “Peace of Nuremberg” (1532) seemed to offer than. However, appearances were deceptive: The political reality only took root with the “Peace of Augsburg” in 1555. Though Luther did not true the pope’s plans for a church council, in his “Schmalkald Articles” (WA 50, 192-254 {1536}) he did summarize the theological priorities of the Protestants, which ought not to be given up in the discussion with Rome. They became his theological will.

Luther’s workload, which rested on his shoulders over decades on end, was enormous. Just a glance at his written legacy, collected in over one hundred thick volumes of the complete critical Weimar Edition — equivalent to one thousand and eight hundred pages per year —, makes one stand in wonder at so much creative power. Luther always worked on the verge of exhaustion.

Hi life became overshadowed by more and more illness. An angina pectoris ailed him over decades; a severe attack in 1527 had his family fearing the worst. Among other chronic disorders were headaches as well as a stubborn kidney disorder, which almost cost his life in 1537 while on a trip to Schmalkald.

Luther devoted his last energy to the mediation of a fight over an inheritance which had divided the counts of Mansfeld. In the end they asked Luther to help negotiate between the parties. At the end of 1545 Luther had become involved with several letters and visits, but in vain.

Thus he set out for another trip to Eiselben in January 1546. This time his arbitration efforts attained their goal. On February 16, 1546  first arbitration contract could be signed. The net day Luther was unable to participate in the signing of the second contract due to acute bodily weakness. In the night of February 18 he died. Both of the friends who were with him asked the dying Luther if he would remain steadfast and intended to die in Christ and the teaching he himself had preached. Luther replied with a clear and audible: Ja (“Yes”). This was his last word.

During the two following days Luther’s body remained laid out in Eisleben. Thereafter he was transferred to Wittenberg where he was taken to the castle and university church with a solemn escort. At the funeral service Bugenhagen as the town pastor preached in German and Melanchthon representing the university spoke in Latin. Then Luther was interred next to the pulpit. When the imperial troops entered Wittenberg a year later, Charles V ordered his soldiers to leave the grave of his adversary untouched. Luther has shaped his time in an extraordinary way. Now he had become history himself.

*Adapted from Chapter One of The Cambridge Companion To Martin Luther, edited by Donald K. McKim, Cambridge University Press, UK, 2003. The author of this chapter, Albrecht Beutel, is University Professor of Church History in the Evangelisch Theologische Fakultat, Westfalische Wilhelms Universitat, Munster, Germany. He has written Martin Luther and In dem Anfang war das Wort: Studien zu Luthers Sprachverstandnis.

*REVIVAL KEYS By Ajith Fernando

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Photo by Joshua Woroniecki on Pexels.com

I was very encouraged when a small group of Christians seeking to pray for revival asked me to speak to them and give them some guidance. This is an expansion of what I shared.

Revival means many things to many people. But what I am talking about is a situation where large numbers of people are fired up to seek God fully, yearn for obedience, confess sin in their life, and experience the joy and freedom of walking with God.

History shows us that there is no exact prescription for revival. It is an act of the sovereign God and we can’t dictate to God what he should do and when he should do it. I have been praying for revival in Sri Lanka since 1975. Only once have I seen something close to revival (at a conference I was part of). But I will not give up praying. In my lifetime or after, may the Lord send his showers of blessing upon our people.

While we cannot dictate to God what he will do, history shows us that there are some things that happen before and when revival comes that are worth noting.

1. There is faithful preaching of the Word before revival comes, as we saw with the ministry of Ezra, and in all the revivals in the history of the church. The Word systematically preached can create a thirst for all that the Word teaches, and the Holy Spirit can ignite the Word with fires of revival when God’s time has come. Often pre-revival preaching is characterised by a call to total commitment to God, to repent and get right with God and an extolling of the beauty of holiness.

2. The great historian of revival J. Edwin Orr has made famous the statement, “No great spiritual awakening has begun anywhere in the world apart from united prayer—Christians persistently praying for revival.” This is what the disciples of Christ did before the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14). People with a burden recognise others with a similar burden and they join and pray. I can tell you story after story of great revivals that were preceded by such united, persevering prayer by people who recognised that they share a similar burden for revival.

3. Unity is often the trigger for revival and sometimes the result of revival. Once when Ugandan Bishop Festo Kivengere was preaching in South India, his interpreter Samuel Ganesh felt convicted of the need to make peace with a person in the audience. He took leave from the preacher and went to audience and made peace. This triggered a process of person after person making peace with each other. Revival had come; there was no need to complete the sermon. Bishop Festo left room for the Spirit do his work. The Bible speaks of the urgency of believers being united (John 17:31, 23; Eph. 4:1-3). One of the most important callings of leaders is to yearn and pray for unity and do all they can to facilitate it. The Holy Spirit can use a leaders’ yearning to trigger revival. Those who pray for revival should make sure that they have done all to be at peace with others.

4. Another revival key is earnestness (Jonah 3:8). The famous revival prayer, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psa. 85:6) suggests a tone of earnest desire. Revival is preceded by people seeking God with all their heart and wanting to see God’s glory among his people. My favourite example of such praying are the students at Pandita Ramabhai’s school in India who fervently prayed, and God answered by reviving them and many others through them. The young Evan Roberts, whose ministry triggered the Welsh Revival, often prayed, “Bend me, O God.” We are open to whatever it takes for God to be totally in control of our lives!

5. Every genuine revival I know of has been accompanied by the confession of sin (2 Chron. 7:14). Some so-called revivals have been characterised by exotic experiences without much emphasis on repentance. People go to such places like tourists to see what is happening. I wonder whether we could call that revival. After the revival at Asbury College and Seminary in 1971 many students came to the bookstore to return things that they have taken without paying. That is a powerful sign that they had got right with God.

Preaching against sin before the revival often contributes to revival and influences what sins are sins confessed. In the history of the church there were times when some sins were neglected in revival preaching—like sexual impurity, exploitation, race, class and caste prejudice. This has resulted in revived churches perpetuating sins that the revival should have addressed. In other revivals, like the 18th century Wesleyan revival in the UK, revival helped influence social reform and attack injustice.

6. Often revivals are accompanied by spectacular phenomena, especially during the start of the revival. The revivals associated with the Wesleys and Jonathan Edwards had people falling down with somewhat violent reactions under deep conviction of sin. We need to be open to God’s “surprising works” and be careful about stifling such. But we also need to remember that after some time these phenomena could become rituals that have lost their original meaning. Sometimes these phenomena could be taken to extremes that make them unbalanced and unbiblical.

7. Revivals start in different, sometimes surprising, places. In Wales it was a group of young people under a seminary student Evan Roberts, who came home from seminary to seek God sensing that he had lost his fire. Roberts started a prayer group which grew and grew and became a nationwide movement resulting in about 100,000 people being converted and joining the church. In the Hebrides Islands of Scotland, there were two single house-bound ladies in their eighties, Misses Smith, who prayed earnestly for revival. At the same time in another part of their island seven young men met regularly to prevail in prayer until revival broke. In Korea in the early 1900s God spoke to the leaders of the church and revived them first and that led to a national awakening. In an Indian girls school it was the prodding of a devout leader Pandita Ramabhai which fired up students to prevail in prayer and trigger revival. Five university students in the USA gathered at a haystack and prayed for missions and helped give birth to the great missionary movement of that nation.

8. While revivals usually result in the awakening of Christians, they are also accompanied by a powerful witness to those outside the church. Unbelievers see the power of God at work in the revived Christians and these Christians are emboldened to share their faith. The result is that large numbers of people are saved. So effective evangelism generally accompanies genuine revival.

Do not lose heart, dear friends, keep yearning for a great visitation from God. The seven young people in the Hebrides Islands made Isaiah 62:6-7 their watchword as they prayed for revival: “You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth.” Let us take no rest and give no rest to God until he sends revival to our people.

*Ajith Fernando is the teaching director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka. He served as the ministry’s national director for 35 years. He is the author of seventeen books, including Discipling in a Multicultural World, and lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka, with his wife. They have two adult children and four grandchildren.

Prayer: The Prelude To Revival by Dr. Roger Nicole

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It is in keeping with Reformed thought that revival should be grounded in prayer, because in prayer we acknowledge God’s sovereignty. God alone is the One who can dispense revival. So, revival is not something that is within the reach of human beings; it is something God alone can provide.

Sometimes people have expressed the attitude they think we ought to have in a motto which goes like this: “You ought to pray like a Calvinist and preach like an Arminian.” That is, pray as if everything depended upon God and preach as if everything depended on you. I would like to suggest a change in this formula which will improve it by fifty percent: “You ought to pray like a Calvinist and preach like a Calvinist.” Do not pray as if everything depends on God. (There is no good reason to have an “as if” in that motto, because things do depend on God. He is the One who sovereignly ordains and blesses.) Then preach like a Calvinist, because there, too, the results depend on God. Do not imagine that either prayer or preaching are activities in which we suddenly take leave of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

What Does Prayer Change?

When we consider prayer, there are questions which often are disturbing to the minds of some people. The first question is: “Do you think that you can really change the mind of God? That is, can prayer make God modify His sovereign plan?” There are people who feel that unless you are prepared to say this, there is no great value in prayer. I do not know what the reader’s particular idea on this subject may be, but I would like to say that if you believe you can change the mind of God through prayer, I hope you are using some discretion. If that is the power you have, it is certainly a most dangerous thing. Surely God does not need our counsel in order to set up what is desirable. Surely God, whose knowledge penetrates all minds and hearts, does not need to have us intervene to tell Him what He ought to do. The thought that we are changing the mind of God by our prayers is a terrifying concept.

I will be frank to confess that if I really thought I could change the mind of God by praying, I would abstain. I would have to say, “How can I presume, with the limitations of my own mind and the corruptions of my own heart-how can I presume to interfere in the counsels of the Almighty?” It is almost as if you were to introduce somebody who is utterly ignorant of electronics to a weapons plant in which, by pushing certain buttons, one might precipitate an explosion. You say, “Go ahead and push buttons. Never mind what happens.” Oh, no! There is comfort for the child of God in being assured that our prayers will not change God’s mind. This is not what is involved in prayer, and we are not in danger of precipitating explosions by some rash desire on our part.

But then people say, “If you cannot change God’s mind, what is the point of praying? If prayer does not change things, prayer is worthless.”

Here you have perhaps noticed that I have changed the formula. I did not say,”change the mind of God,” but “change things.” I never said that prayer does not change things. Prayer does change things, but it does not change the mind of God. The reason prayer changes things but does not change God is that He has appointed prayer as an effectual means for accomplishing His own purpose. This effectual means is essential for this accomplishment. When we have a right understanding of the sovereignty of God, we recognize that God has established a plan in which not only the effects but also the causes are ordained. We cannot disconnect the causes from the effects or the effects from the causes.

For example, I lift a book in your sight. Because the book has risen into the air, I am in a position to say, “God has ordained that it should get to this particular place.” He must have ordained it because that is where the book is. But notice, God did not ordain for the book to rise all by itself. He ordained that it should rise at the end of my hand. He ordained that I should have strength in my arm to lift it. He ordained that I should choose this particular book in order to illustrate this particular point. There is a connection between the book’s rising and the subject I wish to develop. All these things are tied up together. If there were no lecture, there would be no point of illustrating the power of second causes. If there were no desire to illustrate the power of second causes, my hand would have remained at my side. If my hand had remained at my side, the book would not have risen. I think we can argue in this way.

God, however, ordained that there should be this lecture, that there should be a desire to show the correlation of causes and effects in His sovereign plan, that this particular illustration should come to my mind, and that I should implement it by the strength that He has given me. One cannot say, “If you hadn’t touched it, it would have risen anyway,” because God did not ordain that it should rise anyway. He ordained that it should rise through my hand.

That is exactly the case with prayer. Prayer is an effectual secondary cause that God has related to the effects involved. Just as the activity of human beings on earth is related to the effects that are produced, just as the book rising is related to the hand lifting, so are the effects of prayer related to the prayer that is offered. So although prayer does not change the mind of God, it does change things. God has appointed change through prayer, even though the way in which the cause is related to the effect is not perfectly clear to us.

The fact that the way this happens is not clear does not give us grounds for denying the relationship. We pray for healing. If God provides healing, we cannot say, “There would have been healing whether I prayed or not; I would have gotten well anyway.” God provided healing in relation to prayer.

We pray for an increase in the knowledge of God and earnestness in His service. If God is pleased to bless our lives in this way, we cannot say, “This would have happened whether I prayed or not.” God provides His blessing in relation to the prayer.

We pray for the salvation of someone we love, someone God placed on our hearts to intercede and plead for. That person is born again by the work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot say, “This would have happened whether I prayed or not.” It is related to our prayers. God, who has appointed the salvation, has also appointed prayer as the means to that salvation. We cannot omit any link in that chain and say that the chain will exist whether the link is there or not.

A final question is: “How can I pray if I do not see how prayer works?” That is not a wise way of handling the matter, since it is God who tells us that prayer is part of His plan for us. It is not necessary that we have an understanding of the ways in which God’s purposes are implemented. God has put this means at our disposal. He encourages us to pray. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 He says, “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” To insist that we must have an understanding of how this works is a very unreasonable attitude.

Even in affairs of daily life we do not have this attitude. I am sure you have used a touch-system telephone. Do you understand how it works? Do you have that consummate knowledge of communications to know exactly what goes on when you press those little buttons? Do you know how those numbers are changed into binary code and used to track down the particular telephone you wish to call? Experts may understand this. But I must say, as far as I am concerned, when I am calling, I do not think of any of those things. I just pick up the phone and touch the buttons. I do not worry about how this happens. I am interested only in whom I am going to reach and what I will say.

It is the same with prayer. We do not have to know how it works. It is enough to know that it does work. Prayer is part of God’s sovereign plan and is an effectual means by which we can share with God in the fulfillment of that plan. When we pray, we are cooperating; we are working together with God in the work to which, in His own mercy, He has been pleased to call us.

Since prayer is part of God’s plan, we are not forcing God’s hand at any time by praying. We are not intruding our own will in a way that is disagreeable or uncomfortable to God. We do not need to fear that we are finagling with buttons about which we know nothing, which might bring disaster on ourselves and others. We are praying in line with the great purposes of God. Without prayer there are many things that would be different. It is by virtue of prayer that they are what God has planned them to be.

In Scripture, prayer is presented as a prerequisite for revival. It is a prelude. If you study the history of revivals, you will find that they are best documented not only in their effects but also in their preparatory prayer periods. This was true of the revival in New England under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. It was true in the revival in Wales under Evan Roberts. It was true of the revivals attending the ministry of Charles Grandison Finney in the United States. Revival that is worthwhile is bathed in prayer. When He wants a revival, God is pleased to lead His people· to pray that revival might be forthcoming.

(1) The prayer that leads to revival must be believing prayer. This is the point the apostle James makes in his Epistle (James 1:5-7, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord”). When we come to the Lord we must come with the expectation that He is able and will do great things. If we come vacillating, wondering whether God is able to accomplish anything, whether the situation is really so desperate that even God cannot touch it, then obviously our prayer is lacking in fervency. We are just going through the motions, as it were. We are not really praying.

God wants us to come to Him in faith. Indeed, prayer is an exercise of faith in which we are steeped in the supreme greatness and ability of God, and have our eyes fixed on the majesty of His purpose and the superlative quality of His resources. Nothing is impossible for our God. Our God is able to move mountains. He is able to transform hearts, break resistances, reach out even underneath the conscious lives of people to transform them. So we should never say, “Here is somebody beyond God’s reach. The hardness of heart is so great, the wickedness of life is so manifest, that this cannot possibly be a candidate for acceptance into the kingdom of God. We might as well give up on this person.”

In spite of the fact that the early church had seen God do many great things, it undoubtedly thought this way about Paul. The early Christians thought. “This one is lost. There is no way God will bring Paul into the kingdom. He is a persecutor, an enemy, an opponent. There is no hope for him.” When Paul tried to join the church, they gave him the cold shoulder (Acts 9:26). They said, “We can’t trust this man. He will be spying on us and then use his knowledge to annihilate the church.” It took Barnabas to reason, “God saved me; maybe He can save Paul, too.” He went close to Paul and befriended him at great danger to himself. He made sure that Paul truly was a child of God. Then he brought him to the apostles (Acts 9:27). We, too, might think, “What less likely a candidate for election than Paul?” Yet God was pleased to reach him and change him. God made him the great apostle of the Gentiles, the benefit of whose ministry is still with us to this day. We need believing prayer, prayer that does not concentrate on the obstacles. We must not say, “He is hopeless,” or “Our country has gone to the dogs,” or “Our church has gone liberal.” Prayer must recognize that God is all-powerful and can do wonders. If anyone prays and does not believe, that one is unstable (James 1:6-7). He cannot expect anything. But if we come with faith, accepting the reality of the power of God, we will experience that effective prayer which changes things in keeping with God’s purpose.

(2) The second characteristic of the prayer that brings revival is submission. It must be submissive prayer. That is, we must be prepared to submit our own ideas, aims, and ambitions to the sovereign God. We must not intrude with our outlook, pressing it on God, as it were. Rather, we must come with a desire to understand God’s outlook and subordinate our desires to what He has ordained.

Some people say, ”That kind of prayer is not really effective. If you start by saying, ‘If it be Your will … ‘you are attempting to give God an out in case He is not going to do it. You are not believing.” That is not the point at all. We do not need to give God an out. God does not need an out. What we are doing when we say, “If it is Your will … ” is articulating the principle that we are not telling God what should be done but are actually identifying with His purpose and asking to work together with Him in fulfillment of that purpose.

We have a moving example of this kind of prayer on the lips of our Lord Himself. In Gethsemane He said, “If it is possible . . . Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). This is mysterious to us, for it indicates that at that point of His human consciousness, our Lord was left in suspense as to what the will of God was. “Not as I will, but as You will.” That is the condition of effective prayer-that we should be willing to accept what God has ordained in order that His purpose might be accomplished.

Sometimes it is hard for us to pray that way, because our will is so strong, and our understanding of what God should want is so clear that we do not even feel like saying, “Your will be done.” When we pray for revival, especially, we say, “We do not need to introduce conditional clauses. The very fact that God leads us to pray is an indication that He wills that some form of revival should come.” Still, the very essence of a consecrated prayer is that it should be in keeping with the will of God.

This is what is meant by praying in the name of Jesus. To pray in the name of Christ is not simply to have a little addition to your prayer, in which you use those words almost as a magical formula to insure success. To pray in the name of Christ is to identify yourself with Christ, with His aims, His purposes, His ministry. It is to say, “I am with Jesus, I am for Him and His purposes.” The one who prays in the name of Jesus does not need to fear disappointments, because unity with the purpose of God protects him from that. There is a submission to God which acknowledges with gratitude the way in which God is pleased to answer.

This prayer must be God-centered. It must relate itself to God’s glory rather than to our private desires. Of course, God permits us to present our private desires as well. There is nothing wrong in asking God to give us good weather for mountain climbing if good weather is important for it. But here again, it would be wise to say, “If it be Your will,” because there are also people, such as farmers, who need rain. Since the desire of the mountaineer may conflict with the desire of the farmer, it would be good for both of them to be submitted to whatever God is pleased to send. God permits us to present our desires, but we must have a supreme desire, especially in the prayer for revival, to see the glory of God manifested.

Some of the most effective prayers in Scripture do this. They are even argumentative at this point.Think of the prayer of Abraham when he prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah. He even argued with God, saying, “Is it right for You to destroy those cities if fifty … forty-five … forty: .. thirty… twenty… ten righteous people live there?” (Gen. 18:24-33). God blessed that prayer. So we can say that if Lot and his family were saved, it was because of the faithful intercession of Abraham, who did not relent, even though, in the end, the number he cited was not sufficiently small to warrant ID salvation of the wicked cities.

Think of the prayer of Moses who argued, “If You destroy Your people, what will happen to Your name? Your glory is at stake. Don’t do it” (Ex.32:11-13).God blessed that glorious intercessory prayer of Moses, who disregarded his personal ambitions in order to identify with the purposes of God.

A prayer for revival should be centered, not in the desire that we should have more money for our church (because there will be more people coming), not that there should be a new Vitality in our denomination (as compared with other denominations), nor that any other of our human desires and ambitions should be satisfied, but rather that the glory of God might be manifested. We should pray that His name might be exalted, that His kingdom might be made evident, that His glorious reign might be established even more widely in the hearts of men and women.

(3) Our prayer must be persistent. The Scripture emphasizes that we ought not easily be discouraged in prayer (Luke 18:1). If we do not receive at once the answer we are looking for, we ought not to reason, “Well, God just doesn’t want me to have that; I guess I’ll give up.” There are people who have been wonderfully persistent in prayer-for husbands or wives, children or parents-and God has blessed their persistence. Do not give up too soon. Do not conclude too rapidly that God is uninterested. So long as you have a burden on your heart, keep praying.

In the church in which I am a member there is a man who has moved me profoundly in this respect. It is a wonderful church now. We have a preacher who is a wonderful expositor of the Word of God. I never attend a service there at which my soul is not blessed. But some 40 years ago this church was exceedingly small-there were about 10 or 12 people on a Sunday morning-and it was passing through a veritable desert from the point of view of biblical ministry. I understand that at one time one of the pastors was actually a practicing Christian Scientist.

Throughout this bleak period this man, Deacon George Day, was praying. He did not say, “This church gives me nothing. There is nothing to be expected here, nothing to be hoped. I am going to find another fellowship that will be more fruitful for me.” No! This man said, “This is my church. I am not going to give up. Since I do not get any spiritual nurture from the sermons, I will get it from the Bible directly. I will attend some other meetings in other places, but I am still going to be in my own church on Sunday morning, and I am going to pray for this ministry.” Deacon Day kept praying for that church for years. Now he is an old man, more than 80. There is hardly any strength left in his body. When he can come to church he uses an earphone, because he is very deaf. But there is joy in his heart which moves one to tears. Whenever I see Deacon Day, I see the power of God to answer persistent prayer. I see a warrior who did not allow himself to be defeated, but who stayed at his post, pleading for his church and asking God’s blessing upon it.

(4) Finally, the prayer that leads to revival must be consistent prayer, in which we are prepared also to do what we can to achieve what we are asking. If we pray for the conversion of our loved ones, somehow we must give out witness, too. We must witness by life and words, when they can be effectually presented. If we pray for revival, we must be prepared to open our hearts so that God may revive them. We ought never to take prayer as a means of avoiding the actions God challenges us to.

My father had an experience which I would like to relate to illustrate this point. As a young minister he had been an assistant in a large church which had only two pastors in 50 years, one ministry of 25 years, followed by another of 25 years. After having been in that church, my father became pastor of a very small church in a little village in southern France. Prayer meeting was on Wednesday evening, and there was usually a very limited attendance. One Wednesday there was a frightful storm. The wind was blowing. Rain was falling in buckets. My father thought, “There is not going to be anybody at the prayer meeting tonight. If I go, I will only drench myself. I might as well stay home.” My father was very interested in Hebrew and was studying the song of Deborah in the book of Judges. The temptation was great to stay in his cozy home and deal with that.

As my father was wrestling with this, there came to his memory a sermon given at the time of his ordination. It was on the passage which says, “Go out and make them come in” (Luke 14:23). Most of the time we think about the expression “make them come in.” But on this occasion, the preacher had focused on the phrase, “Go out.” He had said, ” ‘Go out’ means to reach out for people; it means, do not stay in the coziness of your study. You must go out and reach out.” While the gales were blowing and the wind was hitting the windows, my father remembered that and concluded, “Well, I guess God wants me to go out. I do not expect many people. I do not expect very much of anything at this prayer meeting. But if God has told me to go out, I will go out and speak at the prayer meeting;” This was the meeting in which revival started in his church!

Prayer is the prelude to revival. Do you want revival? Then be prepared to pray. “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray . . . then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.”

*This article was originally an address given at the 1982 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, Philadelphia, PA. and is adapted from Dr. Roger R. Nicole, “Prayer: The Prelude to Revival” in Reformation and Revival, A Quarterly Journal for Church Leadership (Volume 1, No. 3, Summer, 1992).

About the Author: Dr. Roger R. Nicole (1915-2010) was a native Swiss Reformed Baptist theologian and taught for many years at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary as well as the founder of the Evangelical Theological Society.

Book Review on David S. Steele’s “A Godward Gaze: The Holy Pursuit of John Calvin”

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An Exhortation to God-Centered Living

By David P. Craig

It was such a joy and delight to read this new offering from my good friend David S. Steele. I highly recommend this book four five primary reasons:

  1. It’s brevity. It’s only 68 pages long. However, upon starting and completing the book in about an hour and a half – I was refreshed, renewed and rejuvenated in my passion for our Awesome God.
  2. It’s content. It’s a tour de force theologically. In it Steele brilliantly weaves the authority of the Scriptures, the gospel, and personal sanctification in a way that my heart, mind, and affections were stirred to continue to be faithful in my calling as a Christian Pastor.
  3. It’s snapshot of John Calvin. John Calvin – may be one of the least understood theologians in Church History; and yet perhaps the one theologian-pastor that should be most admired, studied, and emulated. Steele’s brief snippets from the life and pen of Calvin – will spur on the desire of those who read this book to go to the primary sources for more of Calvin – and that’s a good thing!
  4. It’s biblically saturated. Steele bleeds bibline. Every page “oosiates” Scripture. There is an authoritative ring of truth throughout the book. Therefore, one senses the presence of and the counsel of the Holy Spirit throughout the book.
  5. It’s convicting. The subject of the entire book is based on Isaiah 66:1-2. The themes of repentance, contrition, humility, and a love for God and His Word are hammered home throughout. As convicting as I was by the Spirit, I was also exhorted by the same Holy Spirit to be renewed in my joy in Christ and His gospel through repentance and faith in following the practical steps articulated in this excellent book to help me get back on track in my God-centered gaze.

*Which Comes First – Repentance or Revival?

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If we all repent as Christians, will this bring revival to our land? We might also ask, “Will revival bring repentance to our land?” Which comes first? Will our repentance bring down revival upon us or will revival bring repentance upon us? These are interesting questions to ponder. Actually, we should always be repenting of our sins as Christians. This is a part of our daily lives. God always calls us to repentance. If we all live better Christian lives, will this then cause revival to break out? We could also ask that if God sends revival will it not cause all Christians to live better Christian lives? If we think that by our repenting that God will send revival, we may have the cart before the horse.

What is revival anyway? Iain Murray in his book Pentecost – Today? gives this definition for revival: “A revival is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, brought about by the intercession of Christ, resulting in a new degree of life in the churches and a widespread movement of grace among the unconverted. It is an extraordinary communication of the Spirit of God, a superabundance of the Spirit’s operations, an enlargement of his manifest power.” (p. 23-24) By this definition, it seems that revival has it’s origin in God and that the result of sending revival is that repentance breaks out among both believers and unbelievers. It also indicates that revival is extraordinary and results in widespread evidence of its presence.

Alexander Moody Stuart in 1840 wrote, “While the Holy Ghost is always present in his church, there are times when he draws manifestly nearer and puts forth a greater energy of power. Every believer is conscious in his own soul of changes corresponding to this; for the Spirit is always with him, abiding in him, and yet there are times of unusual communion and far more than ordinary life. And as the Spirit draws near to an individual, so does he draw near to a land, and then religion is revived, spiritual life is revived, spiritual understanding, spiritual worship, spiritual repentance, spiritual obedience.” (quoted by Iain Murray in Pentecost-Today? p. 24-25) When true revival comes, spiritual repentance comes. It comes as a result of the revival not as a prerequisite. It is a fruit of the revival and comes because God has sent the revival. Now, we are talking about repentance on a large scale by a multitude of people resulting from a pouring out of God’s Spirit on that people.

In old times, revivals were called awakenings. They came from God and were sent to wake up a people to their spiritual condition bringing about great conviction of sin and widespread repentance. So, we have the First Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening in America. They did not come because the Christians had all repented and brought on the Awakening. On the contrary, the Awakenings came as a surprise and brought repentance with it. Iain Murray writes, “The sheer unexpectedness of such events bears equally against the view that revivals are conditioned by the preceding actions and efforts of Christians. Those who believe that a certain line of conduct or prayer must secure revival have history against them. Revivals come unheralded. They are, as Edwards witnessed in Northampton in 1735, ‘the surprising work of God’. Of the Great Awakening of 1740 it is said that ‘it broke upon the slumbering churches like a thunderbolt rushing out of a clear sky’.” (p. 22-23)

What about 2 Chronicles 7:14? This verse says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” This has been a very popular verse for the last forty years or so which has been commonly put forth as a formula for revival in the land. If all the evangelical Christians in America do what this verse says, will revival come? So far it hasn’t happened. 

First, all the evangelical Christians in the land have not repented and secondly revival has not yet come. This promise was given to the people of Israel concerning their nation. It was an Old Testament promise and if the people did what God asked them to do, He would surely heal their land. 

Today, not only do evangelical Christians need to repent of their sins but also the people of the whole nation. Such a wide scale repentance will come only when God pours out His Spirit in great convicting power on the land. Such a wide scale repentance has happened in times past such as in the First and Second Great Awakenings and again in the great revival of 1858-59. However, the people of the nation had not repented first before these revivals came. On the contrary, the revival itself caused people to repent. When such a large scale repentance happens, the land will be healed. Iain Murray makes this point concerning the above verse, “But if our actions do not determine revival what are we to make of such promises as the one given to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14?…The first thing to say is surely that what is being promised is not revival, for the promise has to be understood, in the first instance, in relation to the time when it was given. It is of Old Testament Israel and her land of which healing is there spoken. The promise cannot be of revival, for revival has to do with the abundant giving of the Holy Spirit and that giving, as Old Testament Scripture made clear, lay in the future.” (p. 13, Pentecost-Today?) Well, this may be the case. However, this verse certainly describes what happens when revival comes. When God pours out His Spirit in great power, it humbles a people and causes them to repent and turn back to God. What we need to pray for is that what 2 Chronicles 7:14 says will happen in our land and that not only the Christians but the whole nation will repent and turn back to God.

A better Old Testament passage concerning revival can be found in Pslam 85:6 which says, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” I like the translation in the old Geneva Bible which says, “Wilt thou not turn again and quicken us that thy people may rejoice in thee?” This verse places the origin of revival in God and not man. It is God who must quicken us that we may be changed to a people that rejoice in the Lord. If God is the one who sends revival, then it is to Him that we must plead. We must ask Him to send revival on the land. We must cast ourselves on His mercy and ask that He send what we do not deserve. We deserve judgment as a nation for our sins, but we must intercede with God to have mercy upon us and to turn us around by His mighty power. The Geneva Bible translates Psalm 85:4 like this – “Turn us, O God of our salvation, and release thine anger toward us.” We need God’s mercy toward us in this hour that He might turn us around that we might be a people who will acknowledge Him and rejoice in Him.

What then should we do to bring on revival to the nation? We need to humble ourselves and realize that we can do nothing on our own. We need to realize that only God can send a revival to the land and we must humbly plead with Him in prayer to send such a revival in our day. We must be like the watchmen in Isaiah 62:6-7 where it says, “I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.”

We should be watchmen for our nation and call on the Lord day and night to send revival to our land and make her to be the praise of the earth. When revival comes we can be a beacon of light to the whole world. This was the hope of the early Christians who came to America such as John Winthrop who wrote, “For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill, the eyes of all people are upon us.” (p. 700, America’s God and Country) William Bradford wrote of his hope for the nation and the influence of the early Pilgrims when he said, “Thus out of small beginning greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise.” ( p. 67, America’s God and Country) Today, we need to call upon that same Jehovah who set a light in this nation so many years ago to rekindle that light and bring revival to this land. May we not rest until that light once more arises in our nation.

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Works Cited

All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless indicated otherwise.

1599 Geneva Bible. Tolle Lege Press, White Hall, VIrginia,2006.

Federer, William J. America’s God and Country. Fame Publishing, Inc. 1996.

Murray, Iain H. Pentecost – Today?. The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 1998.

About Alex Dodson

Alex Dodson serves as president of Watchmen Radio Ministries International and as a staff evangelist. He has been in the gospel ministry for over thirty years. He was ordained in 1974 and has served as both a pastor and evangelist. He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary and is presently a member of International Ministerial Fellowship. He has also done postgraduate studies at the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his wife Susan live in Portland, Oregon in the beautiful Northwest.

*Article by Alex Dodson adapted from ONEPLACE.COM

 

*Prayer: The Prelude to Revival by Roger R. Nicole

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It is in keeping with Reformed thought that revival should be grounded in prayer, because in prayer we acknowledge God’s sovereignty. God alone is the One who can dispense revival. So, revival is not something that is within the reach of human beings; it is something God alone can provide.

Sometimes people have expressed the attitude they think we ought to have in a motto which goes like this: “You ought to pray like a Calvinist and preach like an Arminian.” That is, pray as if everything depended upon God and preach as if everything depended on you. I would like to suggest a change in this formula which will improve it by fifty percent: “You ought to pray like a Calvinist and preach like a Calvinist.” Do not pray as if everything depends on God. (There is no good reason to have an “as if” in that motto, because things do depend on God. He is the One who sovereignly ordains and blesses.) Then preach like a Calvinist, because there, too, the results depend on God. Do not imagine that either prayer or preaching are activities in which we suddenly take leave of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

What Does Prayer Change?

When we consider prayer, there are questions which often are disturbing to the minds of some people. The first question is: “Do you think that you can really change the mind of God? That is, can prayer make God modify His sovereign plan?” There are people who feel that unless you are prepared to say this, there is no great value in prayer. I do not know what the reader’s particular idea on this subject may be, but I would like to say that if you believe you can change the mind of God through prayer, I hope you are using some discretion. If that is the power you have, it is certainly a most dangerous thing. Surely God does not need our counsel in order to set up what is desirable. Surely God, whose knowledge penetrates all minds and hearts, does not need to have us intervene to tell Him what He ought to do. The thought that we are changing the mind of God by our prayers is a terrifying concept.

I will be frank to confess that if I really thought I could change the mind of God by praying, I would abstain. I would have to say, “How can I presume, with the limitations of my own mind and the corruptions of my own heart-how can I presume to interfere in the counsels of the Almighty?” It is almost as if you were to introduce somebody who is utterly ignorant of electronics to a weapons plant in which, by pushing certain buttons, one might precipitate an explosion. You say, “Go ahead and push buttons. Never mind what happens.” Oh, no! There is comfort for the child of God in being assured that our prayers will not change God’s mind. This is not what is involved in prayer, and we are not in danger of precipitating explosions by some rash desire on our part.

But then people say, “If you cannot change God’s mind, what is the point of praying? If prayer does not change things, prayer is worthless.”

Here you have perhaps noticed that I have changed the formula. I did not say,”change the mind of God,” but “change things.” I never said that prayer does not change things. Prayer does change things, but it does not change the mind of God. The reason prayer changes things but does not change God is that He has appointed prayer as an effectual means for accomplishing His own purpose. This effectual means is essential for this accomplishment. When we have a right understanding of the sovereignty of God, we recognize that God has established a plan in which not only the effects but also the causes are ordained. We cannot disconnect the causes from the effects or the effects from the causes.

For example, I lift a book in your sight. Because the book has risen into the air, I am in a position to say, “God has ordained that it should get to this particular place.” He must have ordained it because that is where the book is. But notice, God did not ordain for the book to rise all by itself. He ordained that it should rise at the end of my hand. He ordained that I should have strength in my arm to lift it. He ordained that I should choose this particular book in order to illustrate this particular point. There is a connection between the book’s rising and the subject I wish to develop. All these things are tied up together. If there were no lecture, there would be no point of illustrating the power of second causes. If there were no desire to illustrate the power of second causes, my hand would have remained at my side. If my hand had remained at my side, the book would not have risen. I think we can argue in this way.

God, however, ordained that there should be this lecture, that there should be a desire to show the correlation of causes and effects in His sovereign plan, that this particular illustration should come to my mind, and that I should implement it by the strength that He has given me. One cannot say, “If you hadn’t touched it, it would have risen anyway,” because God did not ordain that it should rise anyway. He ordained that it should rise through my hand.

That is exactly the case with prayer. Prayer is an effectual secondary cause that God has related to the effects involved. Just as the activity of human beings on earth is related to the effects that are produced, just as the book rising is related to the hand lifting, so are the effects of prayer related to the prayer that is offered. So although prayer does not change the mind of God, it does change things. God has appointed change through prayer, even though the way in which the cause is related to the effect is not perfectly clear to us.

The fact that the way this happens is not clear does not give us grounds for denying the relationship. We pray for healing. If God provides healing, we cannot say, “There would have been healing whether I prayed or not; I would have gotten well anyway.” God provided healing in relation to prayer.

We pray for an increase in the knowledge of God and earnestness in His service. If God is pleased to bless our lives in this way, we cannot say, “This would have happened whether I prayed or not.” God provides His blessing in relation to the prayer.

We pray for the salvation of someone we love, someone God placed on our hearts to intercede and plead for. That person is born again by the work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot say, “This would have happened whether I prayed or not.” It is related to our prayers. God, who has appointed the salvation, has also appointed prayer as the means to that salvation. We cannot omit any link in that chain and say that the chain will exist whether the link is there or not.

A final question is: “How can I pray if I do not see how prayer works?” That is not a wise way of handling the matter, since it is God who tells us that prayer is part of His plan for us. It is not necessary that we have an understanding of the ways in which God’s purposes are implemented. God has put this means at our disposal. He encourages us to pray. In 2 Chronicles 7:14 He says, “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” To insist that we must have an understanding of how this works is a very unreasonable attitude.

Even in affairs of daily life we do not have this attitude. I am sure you have used a touch-system telephone. Do you understand how it works? Do you have that consummate knowledge of communications to know exactly what goes on when you press those little buttons? Do you know how those numbers are changed into binary code and used to track down the particular telephone you wish to call? Experts may understand this. But I must say, as far as I am concerned, when I am calling, I do not think of any of those things. I just pick up the phone and touch the buttons. I do not worry about how this happens. I am interested only in whom I am going to reach and what I will say.

It is the same with prayer. We do not have to know how it works. It is enough to know that it does work. Prayer is part of God’s sovereign plan and is an effectual means by which we can share with God in the fulfillment of that plan. When we pray, we are cooperating; we are working together with God in the work to which, in His own mercy, He has been pleased to call us.

Since prayer is part of God’s plan, we are not forcing God’s hand at any time by praying. We are not intruding our own will in a way that is disagreeable or uncomfortable to God. We do not need to fear that we are finagling with buttons about which we know nothing, which might bring disaster on ourselves and others. We are praying in line with the great purposes of God. Without prayer there are many things that would be different. It is by virtue of prayer that they are what God has planned them to be.

In Scripture, prayer is presented as a prerequisite for revival. It is a prelude. If you study the history of revivals, you will find that they are best documented not only in their effects but also in their preparatory prayer periods. This was true of the revival in New England under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. It was true in the revival in Wales under Evan Roberts. It was true of the revivals attending the ministry of Charles Grandison Finney in the United States. Revival that is worthwhile is bathed in prayer. When He wants a revival, God is pleased to lead His people· to pray that revival might be forthcoming.

(1) The prayer that leads to revival must be believing prayer. This is the point the apostle James makes in his Epistle (James 1:5-7, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord”). When we come to the Lord we must come with the expectation that He is able and will do great things. If we come vacillating, wondering whether God is able to accomplish anything, whether the situation is really so desperate that even God cannot touch it, then obviously our prayer is lacking in fervency. We are just going through the motions, as it were. We are not really praying.

God wants us to come to Him in faith. Indeed, prayer is an exercise of faith in which we are steeped in the supreme greatness and ability of God, and have our eyes fixed on the majesty of His purpose and the superlative quality of His resources. Nothing is impossible for our God. Our God is able to move mountains. He is able to transform hearts, break resistances, reach out even underneath the conscious lives of people to transform them. So we should never say, “Here is somebody beyond God’s reach. The hardness of heart is so great, the wickedness of life is so manifest, that this cannot possibly be a candidate for acceptance into the kingdom of God. We might as well give up on this person.”

In spite of the fact that the early church had seen God do many great things, it undoubtedly thought this way about Paul. The early Christians thought. “This one is lost. There is no way God will bring Paul into the kingdom. He is a persecutor, an enemy, an opponent. There is no hope for him.” When Paul tried to join the church, they gave him the cold shoulder (Acts 9:26). They said, “We can’t trust this man. He will be spying on us and then use his knowledge to annihilate the church.” It took Barnabas to reason, “God saved me; maybe He can save Paul, too.” He went close to Paul and befriended him at great danger to himself. He made sure that Paul truly was a child of God. Then he brought him to the apostles (Acts 9:27). We, too, might think, “What less likely a candidate for election than Paul?” Yet God was pleased to reach him and change him. God made him the great apostle of the Gentiles, the benefit of whose ministry is still with us to this day. We need believing prayer, prayer that does not concentrate on the obstacles. We must not say, “He is hopeless,” or “Our country has gone to the dogs,” or “Our church has gone liberal.” Prayer must recognize that God is all-powerful and can do wonders. If anyone prays and does not believe, that one is unstable (James 1:6-7). He cannot expect anything. But if we come with faith, accepting the reality of the power of God, we will experience that effective prayer which changes things in keeping with God’s purpose.

(2) The second characteristic of the prayer that brings revival is submission. It must be submissive prayer. That is, we must be prepared to submit our own ideas, aims, and ambitions to the sovereign God. We must not intrude with our outlook, pressing it on God, as it were. Rather, we must come with a desire to understand God’s outlook and subordinate our desires to what He has ordained.

Some people say, ”That kind of prayer is not really effective. If you start by saying, ‘If it be Your will … ‘you are attempting to give God an out in case He is not going to do it. You are not believing.” That is not the point at all. We do not need to give God an out. God does not need an out. What we are doing when we say, “If it is Your will … ” is articulating the principle that we are not telling God what should be done but are actually identifying with His purpose and asking to work together with Him in fulfillment of that purpose.

We have a moving example of this kind of prayer on the lips of our Lord Himself. In Gethsemane He said, “If it is possible . . . Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). This is mysterious to us, for it indicates that at that point of His human consciousness, our Lord was left in suspense as to what the will of God was. “Not as I will, but as You will.” That is the condition of effective prayer-that we should be willing to accept what God has ordained in order that His purpose might be accomplished.

Sometimes it is hard for us to pray that way, because our will is so strong, and our understanding of what God should want is so clear that we do not even feel like saying, “Your will be done.” When we pray for revival, especially, we say, “We do not need to introduce conditional clauses. The very fact that God leads us to pray is an indication that He wills that some form of revival should come.” Still, the very essence of a consecrated prayer is that it should be in keeping with the will of God.

This is what is meant by praying in the name of Jesus. To pray in the name of Christ is not simply to have a little addition to your prayer, in which you use those words almost as a magical formula to insure success. To pray in the name of Christ is to identify yourself with Christ, with His aims, His purposes, His ministry. It is to say, “I am with Jesus, I am for Him and His purposes.” The one who prays in the name of Jesus does not need to fear disappointments, because unity with the purpose of God protects him from that. There is a submission to God which acknowledges with gratitude the way in which God is pleased to answer.

This prayer must be God-centered. It must relate itself to God’s glory rather than to our private desires. Of course, God permits us to present our private desires as well. There is nothing wrong in asking God to give us good weather for mountain climbing if good weather is important for it. But here again, it would be wise to say, “If it be Your will,” because there are also people, such as farmers, who need rain. Since the desire of the mountaineer may conflict with the desire of the farmer, it would be good for both of them to be submitted to whatever God is pleased to send. God permits us to present our desires, but we must have a supreme desire, especially in the prayer for revival, to see the glory of God manifested.

Some of the most effective prayers in Scripture do this. They are even argumentative at this point.Think of the prayer of Abraham when he prayed for Sodom and Gomorrah. He even argued with God, saying, “Is it right for You to destroy those cities if fifty … forty-five … forty: .. thirty… twenty… ten righteous people live there?” (Gen. 18:24-33). God blessed that prayer. So we can say that if Lot and his family were saved, it was because of the faithful intercession of Abraham, who did not relent, even though, in the end, the number he cited was not sufficiently small to warrant ID salvation of the wicked cities.

Think of the prayer of Moses who argued, “If You destroy Your people, what will happen to Your name? Your glory is at stake. Don’t do it” (Ex.32:11-13).God blessed that glorious intercessory prayer of Moses, who disregarded his personal ambitions in order to identify with the purposes of God.

A prayer for revival should be centered, not in the desire that we should have more money for our church (because there will be more people coming), not that there should be a new Vitality in our denomination (as compared with other denominations), nor that any other of our human desires and ambitions should be satisfied, but rather that the glory of God might be manifested. We should pray that His name might be exalted, that His kingdom might be made evident, that His glorious reign might be established even more widely in the hearts of men and women.

(3) Our prayer must be persistent. The Scripture emphasizes that we ought not easily be discouraged in prayer (Luke 18:1). If we do not receive at once the answer we are looking for, we ought not to reason, “Well, God just doesn’t want me to have that; I guess I’ll give up.” There are people who have been wonderfully persistent in prayer-for husbands or wives, children or parents-and God has blessed their persistence. Do not give up too soon. Do not conclude too rapidly that God is uninterested. So long as you have a burden on your heart, keep praying.

In the church in which I am a member there is a man who has moved me profoundly in this respect. It is a wonderful church now. We have a preacher who is a wonderful expositor of the Word of God. I never attend a service there at which my soul is not blessed. But some 40 years ago this church was exceedingly small-there were about 10 or 12 people on a Sunday morning-and it was passing through a veritable desert from the point of view of biblical ministry. I understand that at one time one of the pastors was actually a practicing Christian Scientist.

Throughout this bleak period this man, Deacon George Day, was praying. He did not say, “This church gives me nothing. There is nothing to be expected here, nothing to be hoped. I am going to find another fellowship that will be more fruitful for me.” No! This man said, “This is my church. I am not going to give up. Since I do not get any spiritual nurture from the sermons, I will get it from the Bible directly. I will attend some other meetings in other places, but I am still going to be in my own church on Sunday morning, and I am going to pray for this ministry.” Deacon Day kept praying for that church for years. Now he is an old man, more than 80. There is hardly any strength left in his body. When he can come to church he uses an earphone, because he is very deaf. But there is joy in his heart which moves one to tears. Whenever I see Deacon Day, I see the power of God to answer persistent prayer. I see a warrior who did not allow himself to be defeated, but who stayed at his post, pleading for his church and asking God’s blessing upon it.

(4) Finally, the prayer that leads to revival must be consistent prayer, in which we are prepared also to do what we can to achieve what we are asking. If we pray for the conversion of our loved ones, somehow we must give out witness, too. We must witness by life and words, when they can be effectually presented. If we pray for revival, we must be prepared to open our hearts so that God may revive them. We ought never to take prayer as a means of avoiding the actions God challenges us to.

My father had an experience which I would like to relate to illustrate this point. As a young minister he had been an assistant in a large church which had only two pastors in 50 years, one ministry of 25 years, followed by another of 25 years. After having been in that church, my father became pastor of a very small church in a little village in southern France. Prayer meeting was on Wednesday evening, and there was usually a very limited attendance. One Wednesday there was a frightful storm. The wind was blowing. Rain was falling in buckets. My father thought, “There is not going to be anybody at the prayer meeting tonight. If I go, I will only drench myself. I might as well stay home.” My father was very interested in Hebrew and was studying the song of Deborah in the book of Judges. The temptation was great to stay in his cozy home and deal with that.

As my father was wrestling with this, there came to his memory a sermon given at the time of his ordination. It was on the passage which says, “Go out and make them come in” (Luke 14:23). Most of the time we think about the expression “make them come in.” But on this occasion, the preacher had focused on the phrase, “Go out.” He had said, ” ‘Go out’ means to reach out for people; it means, do not stay in the coziness of your study. You must go out and reach out.” While the gales were blowing and the wind was hitting the windows, my father remembered that and concluded, “Well, I guess God wants me to go out. I do not expect many people. I do not expect very much of anything at this prayer meeting. But if God has told me to go out, I will go out and speak at the prayer meeting;” This was the meeting in which revival started in his church!

Prayer is the prelude to revival. Do you want revival? Then be prepared to pray. “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray . . . then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and will heal their land.”

*This article was originally an address given at the 1982 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, Philadelphia, PA. and is adapted from Dr. Roger R. Nicole, “Prayer: The Prelude to Revival” in Reformation and Revival, A Quarterly Journal for Church Leadership (Volume 1, No. 3, Summer, 1992).

About the Author: Dr. Roger R. Nicole (1915-2010) was a native Swiss Reformed Baptist theologian and taught for many years at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary as well as the founder of the Evangelical Theological Society.

George Sweeting’s 7 Steps To Personal Revival

*George Sweeting’s Seven Steps To Revival:

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(1) Develop the desire to know Jesus Christ better. Develop a holy dissatisfaction. The contented Christian is the sterile Christian. Paul said in substance, “Jesus arrested me on the Damascus road. Now I want to lay hold of all that for which I was arrested by God.” Be thoroughly dissatisfied with your spiritual posture.

(2) Pray for a revolutionary change in your life. I think of Jacob wrestling with God. He wanted a blessing. He wouldn’t be denied. Throw your entire life into the will of God. Seek God’s very best.

(3) Do what you know to do. If we pray for revival and neglect prayer, that’s hypocrisy. To pray for growth and neglect the local church is absolute foolishness. To pray that you’ll mature and neglect the Word of God is incongruous. Put yourself in the way of blessing.

(4) Totally repent. “Create in me a clean heart!” David sobbed. For a whole year David was out of fellowship. But he confessed his sin; he turned away from that sin, and then he could sing again; he could write again; he could pray again.

(5) Make the crooked straight. If you owe a debt, pay it. Or have an understanding with the people you owe. Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” (Luke 19:8). As much as possible, make the crooked straight.

(6) Develop a seriousness of purpose. Keep off the detours. Let nothing deflect that magnetic needle of your calling. If there is anything that is a trojan horse in our day, it is the television set. Beware lest it rob you of your passion and purpose.

(7) Major in majors. The Christian life requires specialists. Jesus said in effect, “Be a one-eyed man” (Luke 11:34-36, “Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light”). Paul said, “This one thing I do.” Too many of us burn up too much energy without engaging in things that bring us nearer to God.

Refuse to rust out. Start sharing your faith. Make yourself available. Back your decision with your time and talent and dollars. Finally, ask God for great faith in Him. Begin to expect great things.” ~ George Sweeting

*This insight on Revival was gleaned from the book of Quotes and Illustrations called Who Said That? by George Sweeting. Dr. Sweeting was the sixth president (1971–1987) and chancellor of Moody Bible Institute. He received a diploma from Moody Bible Institute (1945), his B.A. from Gordon College and his Doctor of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Sweeting has served as a pastor in several churches, including Grace Church, Madison Avenue Baptist Church and The Moody Church and also spent nine years traveling the world as an evangelist. Dr. Sweeting has written numerous books, including The Joys of Successful Aging, Too Soon to Quit, Lessons from the Life of Moody and Don’t Doubt in the Dark. He formerly hosted the Moody Radio program Climbing Higher and is a former columnist for Moody Magazine. Dr. Sweeting and his wife, Hilde, reside in the Chicagoland area.

Book Review on Bold Reformer by David S. Steele

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Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig

I have to start out this review by commenting on the author. Dr. David S. Steele, I am privileged to say is a very dear friend with whom I am blessed to have known for close to 30 years. We met at Multnomah University (Multnomah School of the Bible) back in the mid 1980’s, where we were roommates and have remained good friends ever since. We also earned our doctorates together in the early 2000’s in Seattle. I write this to say that I am very biased in whole heartedly recommending this book because the author is one of the men I most admire and respect on planet Earth. Whether he speaks or writes – I listen! He is one of the most disciplined pastors I know. He loves God deeply, and is passionate that others would come to know Him through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We are both Lead/Preaching pastors in our respective churches (he in Washington; I’m in California); approximately the same age; and both have had our share of trials and triumphs in ministry. I believe what makes this such a great book to recommend is because Dr. Steele writes as a theologian, pastor, and practitioner. There are no theories here. What is written are biblical truths that have been forged in the trenches of ministry. Dave Steele is indeed a Bold Reformer in the ilk of men like Martin Luther, the Apostle Paul, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and other godly men who have been courageous in the trenches of ministry who preceded us.

Bold Reformer is a great book because it cuts through theories and fads and hones in on essential theological truths that are necessary whether past, present, or future. It is a book that I have now read twice, and will definitely read again. It’s especially a helpful book for pastors in the trenches and would-be pastors. In this book Dr. Steele writes about the essential foundations a pastor needs to believe and promises he can rely on through thick and thin. I am grateful for my friend, and grateful that out of his own trials he has written a helpful and encouraging book for pastors to never give up.

This year (2017) will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous nailing of the 95 Theses on the castle door at Wittenberg that sparked the Reformation. I truly believe that this book has the potential to spark a new reformation in pastors today. The same principles that Martin Luther applied are necessary today and needed desperately in order to bring about reformation and revival. I am hopeful that Bold Reformer will be used to bring about a new reformation of and for the glory of our awesome God as it is widely oread and practiced.

Jonathan Edwards on the Life of a Christian

5 Things Jonathan Edwards Teaches Us about the Christian Life

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This is a guest post by Dane Ortlund. He is the author of Edwards On the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.originally posted @http://www.crossway.org/blog/2014/08/5-things-jonathan-edwards-teaches-us-about-the-christian-life/

Jonathan Edwards for the Rest of Us

For many of us, Jonathan Edwards is a skinny white guy who never smiled, except when talking about hell. If we know anything more, it’s:

  • that he wrote a lot of really dense books

  • that he talked a lot about the glory of God

  • that he was part of the Great Awakening

  • that John Piper likes him a lot

And that’s about it.

But there are riches to be mined in Jonathan Edwards far beyond what you may have been exposed to. Reading Jonathan Edwards is not for historians and professors mainly, but for the rest of us.

Here are five things Edwards teaches us about the Christian life—your Christian life:

1. If you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically different and freshly empowered you now are.

When sinners repent and believe for the first time, it often feels as if nothing much has happened, and it often looks as if nothing much has happened. Our wrinkles don’t go away. Our Myers-Briggs personality profile doesn’t change. Our IQ isn’t improved. Our driver’s license photo looks the same after conversion as before, just a few years older and grayer.

Similarly, a foreigner who has just attained citizenship in their country of residence will not feel or look much different, upon receiving formal declaration of citizenship. Yet they now belong to an entirely new nation. More than this, they now have all the rights and privileges that belong to citizens of that nation.

Edwards teaches us that the quiet, seemingly innocuous change that takes place in the new birth is of eternal—even cosmic—significance. A fallen sinner has just become an invincible heir of the universe. The Holy Spirit has just taken up permanent residence in the temple of this soul. In new birth, Edwards writes, the Christian “is a new creature, he is just as if he were not the same, but were born again, created over a second time.”

For a Christian to wallow in sin and misery is for a butterfly to crawl miserably along the branch as if it were still a caterpillar.

2. Even if you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically fallen and blindly dysfunctional you remain.

If we understate the positive change in new birth, we also tend to understate the fallenness that remains. But Edwards knew of the strange dysfunctions that remain among all of us, including true believers. He saw it in himself.

Edwards spoke frequently, for example, of the lurking dangers of pride: “It is a sin that has, as it were, many lives. If you kill it, it will live still. If you suppress it in one shape, it rises in another. If you think it is all gone, it is there still. Like the coats of an onion, if you pull one form of it off, there is another underneath.”

We often don’t feel the weight of our sin. Why? Because of our sin. The disease is itself what prevents us from detecting the disease.

How do we get out? One answer is: read Jonathan Edwards. His sermons will do wonders to re-sharpen your blunted conscience and re-sensitize your heart to its fallenness.

3. Authentic discipleship to Jesus Christ calms and gentle-izes (not radicalizes and excites) Christians.

Edwards is famous for his hellfire sermons, but it is striking to trace the evolution of his preaching over his three decades in the pulpit. Scholars point out that the hellfire sermons were more typical of the young Edwards and gradually decreased over his career, while other themes grew increasingly strong: the beauty of Christ, the loveliness of holiness, the calmness of a justified life, the gentleness of God.

A sermon that nicely sums up the core of Edwards’ ministry is “The Spirit of the True Saints Is a Spirit of Divine Love,” based on 1 John 4:16. There we read statements like:

  • “The very nature of God is love. If it should be enquired what God is, it might be answered that he is an infinite and incomprehensible fountain of love.”

  • “He who has divine love in him has a wellspring of true happiness that he carries about in his own breast, a fountain of sweetness, a spring of the water of life. There is a pleasant calmness and serenity and brightness in the soul that accompanies the exercises of this holy affection.”

  • “God in Christ allows such little, poor creatures as you are to come to him, to love communion with him, and to maintain a communication of love with him. You may go to God and tell him how you love him and open your heart and he will accept of it.”

That, more than anything else, is the pulsating core of Edwards’ ministry. Radical godliness is not obnoxious, showy, or boisterous. It is quiet, gentle, and serene.

4. Christianity is gain, and only gain.

Toward the end of his life, Edwards was kicked out of his church by a vote of ten to one—by professing Christians, upstanding church members. This, and other trials he encountered during his life, lead me to conclude that the lofty vision of Christian living that he has left to us is not naïve idealism. He felt the pain not only of rejection, but of rejection by close friends and family members who were part of his church. And yet, having his eyes opened to present pain did not close his eyes to future glory.

Why? Because we will have God, in heaven, unfiltered, forever. Consider the following breathtaking statement:

The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or in each other, or in any thing else whatsoever that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what shall be seen of God in them.

Christians leave nothing behind when they die. All is gain.

5. Revival is not what you think it is.

When evangelicals today hear the word “revival,” we generally picture tears, loudness, animated preaching, exuberance, humiliating confession of sin, and so on. Some of these things may be present in revival, perhaps, but Edwards came to long for revival because he saw that it is not a move from the ordinary to the extraordinary so much as a move from the sub-ordinary to the ordinary. We become human again. We breathe once more.

Edwards witnessed two revivals. One was local, contained to New England, in the mid-1730s. The other, six years later, was transatlantic and became known as the Great Awakening. Edwards made the fascinating observation that, in the first revival, God’s people tended “to talk with too much of an air of lightness, and something of laughter,” whereas in the second revival “they seem to have no disposition to it, but rejoice with a more solemn, reverential, humble joy.” The first revival’s joy was real but frothy. The second revival’s joy was deeper and more calm.

Simply put, revival isn’t weird. True revival is rehumanizing. It re-centralizes not the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit so much as the ordinary fruit of the Spirit.


Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is Senior Vice President for Bible Publishing at Crossway. He is the author of several books, including Edwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God, and serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible study series. He lives with his wife, Stacey, and their four kids in Wheaton.

Should We Pray For Revival?

By Alvin Reid

 

When do you think the following observations were made?

  • Ministers today seem more concerned with political power in society than spiritual fervency in the church, while pop culture contributes to the moral decay among the youth.

  • While marked by an increasing ethnic diversity and various religious beliefs, the nation’s established religious groups –– particularly Protestants –– demonstrate a sterile spirituality. One pastor bemoans the obsession with gambling and rudeness, while churches are attended at convenience.

  • College campuses teem with students chasing after the latest philosophies, the more unbiblical the better. The more educated a person you find, the less likely you are to discover a Christian. Meanwhile, churches are filled with people who listen to pastors preach then contradict the sermon by the way they live.

You may think these descriptions came from the blog of some concerned Christian commenting on our time. But the first one comes from Great Britain just before the preaching of John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, and others who were used by God to lead a great revival there. The second comes from the American colonies prior to the First Great Awakening. The final came around 1800, with college campuses in the newly formed United States influenced by Voltaire, Rousseau, and others, at the dawn of the Second Great Awakening.

Ours is not the first generation to recognize the spiritual declension among us, or to see the need for God to awaken his church and touch our land. From the saints of the Old Testament to leaders in our time, prayer for revival has marked believers who understand the need for the Spirit surpasses our ability and intelligence.

In my own tradition of the Southern Baptist Convention, I see a growing focus on prayer for revival. New SBC president Ronnie Floyd has already led several gatherings of pastors across the nation to pray for revival. I participated in one in Atlanta with almost 400 people –– mostly pastors –– seeking the Lord. You can be sure that when revival comes, it will not just touch Southern Baptists! Revival is the work of God, not of a tradition of men. “We can define it as a period of unusual blessing and activity in the life of the Christian Church,” Lloyd-Jones observed. “Revival means awakening, stimulating the life, bringing it to the surface again.”

Five Reasons to Pray for Revival

So should we pray for revival? Let me offer five thoughts on the topic:

1. If we choose to pray for revival instead of obeying God, we should not pray for revival; we should pray a prayer of repentance.

Prayer for revival is not a bandaid cure. If we are not passionate about sharing the gospel, honoring the word, and bringing glory to God, our prayers for revival are meaningless. Note the words of Tozer: “Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late — and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work.”

2. If we see revival as God’s stamp of approval on our status quo Christianity, we may not desire the answer God gives.

Past awakenings brought fundamental changes to music and methods, for instance. Both John Wesley and Whitefield struggled mightily with the idea of preaching in the fields. They were proper Oxford men, after all! But their use of such a “profane” method helped to spur a great revival. In past revivals both gospel proclamation and social ministry converged, whereas today they are too often seen as rivals. Revival separates our preferences from unchanging truth.

3. That being said, we should pray for revival, starting with our own hearts.

I know I am experiencing a fresh touch of God when I stop confessing everyone else’s sins and start with my own. Too many of us are better at expressing our opinions on social media than focusing on what the Spirit is saying to us.

4. We pray for revival because of biblical teaching.

Psalm 85:6 and Habakkuk 3:2, among others, offer us examples of revival prayer. Michael Haykin offers insight on the apostle Paul and prayer for revival. Ray Ortlund also has a fine article on biblical revival praying.

5. We pray for revival because of our study of history.

Here are only a few examples:

It is God’s will through his wonderful grace, that the prayers of his saints should be one of the great principal means of carrying on the designs of Christ’s kingdom in the world. When God has something very great to accomplish for his church, it is his will that there should precede it the extraordinary prayers of his people; . . . and it is revealed that, when God is about to accomplish great things for his church, he will begin by remarkably pouring out the spirit of grace and supplication. (Jonathan Edwards, Some Thoughts on Revival)

Oh! men and brethren, what would this heart feel if I could but believe that there were some among you who would go home and pray for a revival: men whose faith is large enough, and their love fiery enough to lead them from this moment to exercise unceasing intercessions that God would appear among us and do wondrous things here, as in the times of former generations. (Charles Spurgeon)

When did you last hear anyone praying for revival, praying that God might open the windows of heaven and pour out his Spirit? When did you last pray for that yourself? I suggest seriously that we are neglecting this almost entirely. We are guilty of forgetting the authority of the Holy Spirit. . . . When God sends revival he can do more in a single day than in fifty years of all our organization. That is the verdict of sheer history which emerges clearly from the long story of the Church. (Martin Lloyd-Jones)

I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God’s creational intentions. (John Wesley)

G. Campbell Morgan famously observed how a sailor has no impact on the wind. But a good sailor knows the wind, and knows how to set the sails when the wind blows. Let us study the history of revival and let us gather in what Edwards called “a humble attempt to promote explicit agreement and visible union of God’s people, in extraordinary prayer” so that we will know when the Spirit moves afresh. Then we may set our sails accordingly.

Source: Alvin Reid (www.desiringgod.org – June 18, 2014)

About the Author: Alvin Reid is Professor of Evangelism and Student Ministry at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. He is the author of several books, including Firefall 2.0: How God Has Shaped History Through Revivals.