‘Wilt Thou not Thyself revive us again that Thy people may rejoice in Thee.’ – Psalm 85:6.
On January 20 the USA witnessed the swearing in ceremony of Donald J. Trump to become the forty-fifth President of the United States of America. While I am expectant of economic progress for all due to President Trump’s economic policies, while I believe the new President will strengthen our military and thus stabilize our foreign policy, and while I believe he will nominate a conservative, constitutionalist judge to the Supreme Court; I am not living under any pretense that these moves will change the moral fiber of our nation.
Psalm 85 is a post-exilic Psalm. So when the Psalmist is asking God to revive us again, to no longer be angry with us, to prevent us from returning once again to our folly he is reviewing the sad history of a covenant people who consistently and flagrantly turned their backs upon their great God of mercy and grace. Israel needed another revival. God gave it to them at Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:4).
God, would you please revive us again? There is historical precedent. By the time of George Washington’s first inauguration in 1789 the glorious benefits of the first Great Awakening of 1735 to 1745 were a distant memory. America was imbibing deeply of the Jacobin, Enlightenment philosophy of the Marquis de Sade, Voltaire, and Jean Jacques Rousseau. The new nation, founded on the Puritan vision of “A City on a Hill”, was adrift in ungodliness, perversion, and crime. Of the five million American citizens in 1789, three hundred thousand were confirmed drunkards and fifteen thousand were dying annually from their alcoholism. Bank robberies were a daily occurrence. For the first time ever, women were afraid to go outside alone at night. Whole counties in Kentucky were bereft of law and order. Ordinary citizens formed vigilante groups in order to protect their property and lives. The Methodist church was losing more members than she was taking into the church. The Lutherans and Episcopalians considered combining their denominations because of their mutual decline. Presbyterians at their General Assembly passed a resolution deploring the nation’s ungodliness. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall wrote James Madison, lamenting that the church was too far gone to be redeemed. Voltaire and Thomas Paine rejoiced, saying that Christianity would be forgotten in thirty years. Polls showed that Harvard and Princeton had only one Christian each in their colleges. Students at Harvard rioted, forcing the resignation of the President. Students at Princeton burned down Nassau Hall. Only five students there were not part of the filthy speech movement. Dartmouth students put on an anti-Christian play. Students at Williams College observed a mock communion service. A Bible was taken from a church near Princeton and burned publicly in a bonfire. The few Christians at the colleges gathered in secret for their meetings, keeping their minutes in code, lest they be discovered and mocked. Students at Hampden Sydney College overheard two students praying and stormed their room, threatening to beat them.
But earlier, in October, 1748, Jonathan Edwards in Northampton, Massachusetts, after hearing that John Erskine, a Presbyterian minister in Edinburgh, Scotland was calling people in his country to pray together for revival, was moved to action. He wrote a short tract (nearly two hundred pages) entitled A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of all God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, Pursuant to Scripture Promises and Prophecies. Believers, across denominational lines, ethnicities, and nationalities began praying together weekly, often on Saturday nights or before church on Sunday mornings. This persisted regularly, unabated in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, England, and the United States. And then in 1792, the year after John Wesley’s death, the Holy Spirit began to bring conviction, conversion, and sanctification to millions of people. Whenever revival comes, it brings at least three results. First, believers are revived and strengthened in their faith. Often this is preceded with times of conviction, contrition, and repentance, resulting ultimately in great joy and boldness. Second, many unbelievers are genuinely converted. For a season, ten thousand per week were coming to Christ in New York City alone in 1858. In 1857 Trinity Episcopal Church, Chicago, had 125 members. Three years later the church had 1400 members. By 1860 the U.S. population was thirty million people. One million had been born again in three years. And third, revival always brings societal impact. The second Great Awakening brought hundreds of Christian colleges and seminaries, Christian boarding schools, the abolition of slavery, the modern missionary movement, and the amazement of Alexis de Tocqueville who in his Democracy in America directly relates the prosperity, liberty, and freedom in America to her strong Christian foundation.
Do you feel as though all hope is gone? As bad as things are in the western world, as bleak as they look, we have seen worse days; and God brought revival then. Why can’t He do it again? But will He? I don’t know, but surely we ought to take the posture of King David when his son, by means of adultery with Bathsheba, was languishing near death (2 Samuel 12:15ff). David prayed, fasted, and went sleepless for seven days, beseeching God to spare his son. He gave all he had in prayer and vigilance. In the end, however, God chose not to heal his son. He died. When David knew his son was dead, he got up, washed his face, anointed his body, changed his clothes, and went into the house of the Lord to worship. His servants also put food before him and he ate (2 Samuel 12:20). What does this mean? David sought God earnestly and fervently for a miracle. He gave all he had to see this mighty movement of God, but when God said, ‘No,’ David went on with his life, rejoicing, trusting, living in a renewed sense of God’s grace upon his life, in spite of his sin and its horrific consequences.
Surely this is instructive for us. The church of Jesus is languishing in the west. When homosexuals ‘came out of the closet’ the evangelicals went into it. The bold advance of Christ and His church in the nineteenth century is now in full retreat. But political action groups did not change nineteenth century America. Neither did congressional legislation. Heaven sent revival was the catalyst that altered the direction of our nation. With Habakkuk, the prophet who saw the gathering storm clouds of the Babylonian invasion, who at first was dismayed and confused by it, came to see God’s mighty holiness and vindication of His great name (see also Ezekiel 36:22-23). He beseeches God to revive His own mighty work in the midst of the years, in the particular time and place of the prophet and the covenant people of Judah. He further prays, ‘In Thy wrath, remember mercy,’ (Habakkuk 3:2). God, please be merciful to us. Will you please revive us again?