When the First Great Awakening occurred in the 1730s and 1740s, Americans experienced a great outpouring of the Spirit of God. Many cried out in terror from a deep awareness of their sins. Many more wept for joy as they experienced genuine forgiveness and the power of the Spirit giving them new life.
Concurrent with these works of God, many false professions were also reported. While the Spirit “awoke” many from their spiritual tombs, Satan also manifested himself as an angel of light by deceiving many into believing they had experienced God when, in fact, they had not (cf. 2 Cor 11:14). As pastors of the era observed, many reported having heavenly visions while others heard God speak sweet words to them. Yet, what made these experiences prove false was the way that such people showed no corresponding change in behavior (i.e., holiness towards God and love towards others), nor was there explicit trust in Christ’s death and resurrection.
What does revival look like?
This was the question being asked in that era. And today, we ask it from another angle: How would we know revival if it came? Would it merely increase religiosity in our culture? Would it mean less crime, better families, or improved race relations? Or is there something more Christ-centered, even cross-centered, that must be seen? These are vital questions when considering revival and perhaps the best answer can be found from the Great Awakening itself.
Jonathan Edwards on The Religious Affections
One of the most thoughtful observers of the Great Awakening was also a major participant. Jonathan Edwards was a pastor in Northampton, Massachusetts from 1727–51; he was an influential theologian and later a missionary to the Mohican Indians. As his preaching stirred the embers of the Awakening, he also wrote to describe its effects and guard against its excesses.
In 1737 he wrote A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton. Seven years later, he wrote on the nature of The Religious Affections.
To date, no volume in the English language has done more to understand and explain the nature of saving faith. Quoting at length from the Bible, it explains how the new birth creates an inner relish for the things of God and that such inner passion may often produce emotional outbursts and physical effects. At the same time, such outward signs (in and of themselves) are not sufficient to confirm the authenticity of someone’s conversion.
Instead, salvation must consist of a genuine trust in the explicit gospel of Jesus Christ—a faith that centers on Christ, his atoning work, the forgiveness of sins, and the future glory of eternity in heaven. Genuine salvation must also be accompanied by genuine emotions that arise from delight in the glory of God and the grace of the gospel. By themselves, neither cool-headed belief in Bible doctrines, nor hot-blooded ecstasy in spiritual things is sufficient to confirm salvation.
Rather, as 1 Peter 1:8 teaches, genuine salvation includes a true knowledge of God through the gospel and joy unspeakable in the God of that gospel. Saving faith includes a deep awareness of and hatred for sin and a passionate love for God and the work of Christ. Moreover, such salvation shows the marks of the Spirit—namely an increasing desire and ability to walk in holiness and a love for others, especially those who are unlovely or offending. In the estimation of Edwards, these marks are both the fruit of genuine salvation and the signs that genuine revival is occurring.
Passion in the Bible
But let’s not take Edwards’ word for it. Edwards himself tests the spirits (cf. 1 John 4:1–6) by means of Scriptural proofs, and so should we. The following verses (of which many are enumerated by Edwards) are a brief concordance of texts pertaining to the religious affections. From this list we learn that all who are born again will of necessity fear the Lord, hope in the Lord, love God (and others), hate evil, desire more of God, rejoice in God, grieve over sin, show mercy to others, and be zealous for good works. More could be added, too.
As thanksgiving approaches, imagine how fruitful it would be to read these verses. (Tomorrow, I will put up the whole Scriptures). In reading over them, ask God to examine your heart. If these traits are present, give thanks to him. There is nothing better to thank God for. Then ask him to increase them and to make them abound more and more.
At the same time, if these traits are lacking and you discover your knowledge of God lacks fear, hope, love, joy, zeal, etc., ask him to forgive you. Cling to the cross of Christ as your only saving grace and plead for him give you what he promised in Ezekiel 36:26–27: a new heart and a new Spirit. Indeed, such a new heart is the source of all true affections, and it alone (as a gift of God) can walk in God’s power, love, and self-discipline—the fruits of true revival.
Fear – Pss 19:9; 25:14; 111:10; 130:4; Prov 1:7; Matt 10:28; Luke 1:50; Acts 9:31; 2 Cor 7:1; Eph 5:21; Phil 2:12
Hope – Pss 31:24, 33:18; 146:5; 147:11; Jer 37:7; Hos 6:19; 1 Cor 13:13; Rom 8:27; 1 Thess 5:8; 1 Pet 1:3
Love – Deut 6:4; 10:12, 30:6; Mark 12:29-30; Jn 13:34-35; 1 Jn 4:7-12
Hate – Pss 97:10, 101:2-3, 119:104, 139:21 Prov 8:13
Desire – Pss 27:4, 42:1-2, 63:1-2, 84:1-2, 119:20; Isa 26:8, 55:1-3; Matt 5:6; Rev 21:6
Joy – Pss 16:11; 32:4, 11; 33:1; 97:12, 119:14; 149:2, Matt 5:12; Gal 5:22; Phil 3:1, 4:4; 1 Thess 5:16; 1 Peter 1:8
Sorrow – Pss 34:18, 51:17; Isa 57:15, 41:1-2; Matt 5:4
Mercy – Pss 37:21, 26; Prov 14:31; Isa 57:1; Hos 6:6; Mic 6:8; Matt 5:7, 23:23; Col 3:12
Zeal – Rom 12:11; Titus 2:14; Rev 3:15, 16, 19
As you read these verses, pray that God would revive your hearts and that he would pour out his Spirit on his church. For more on the history and nature of revivals, see A God Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir by Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds