Revival, Reformation & Romans

Over the course of this past year, Living Stones Church has dedicated itself as a community to prayerfully asking God to bring a revival to Northern Nevada. As a refresher, what do we mean when we say revival?

"We can define it as a period of unusual blessing and activity in the life of the Christian Church. Revival means awakening, stimulating the life, bringing it to the surface again." - Martyn-Lloyd Jones, What is Revival?

As we move into the fall, our anticipation and desire for revival continue as we begin our fall series moving through the first seven chapters of Romans: Semper Reformanda, alongside the 500 year anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation that continues to this day.

But how does Romans connect to revival? More than we'd think! Throughout church history, God has used Paul's letter to the church in Rome and it's message of justification (the declaration of sinful humans as righteous) through faith alone as the spark that ignites the fire of revival!

Here are a few examples of this historical truth:

One of the main vehicles sparking the first awakening in Northampton, Massachusetts was Edwards’ two sermons on Romans 4:5, “Justification by Faith Alone,” in November, 1734. For both John Wesley and George Whitefield, the main leaders of the British Great Awakening, it was an understanding of salvation by grace rather than moral effort that touched off personal renewal and made them agents of revival. Lloyd-Jones taught that the gospel of justification could be lost at two levels. A church might simply become heterodox and lose the very belief in justification by faith alone. But just as deadly, it might keep the doctrine “on the shelf” as it were and not preach it publicly in such a way that connects to people’s hearts and lives.
In America, there were effectively no Arminian awakeners.
— Kidd, Whitefield, 117
Many are unaware that Jonathan Edwards was preaching a series on justification by faith alone when revival came to New England, or that the many of the Scottish revivals, for instance, were precipitated by the preaching of series on regeneration, or that the highly doctrinal book of Romans has an illustrative history as a tool of great revival of the kind I am speaking. Sound doctrine was at the core of revival. But sadly, too large numbers of evangelicals, it doesn’t seem to make any difference what we believe, only that we are feeling something or enjoying any number of the other substitutes for biblical Christianity.
The greatest evangelists and missionaries of Protestant era have been Calvinistic or Reformed. That is, they have embraced and preached the doctrines of grace. Whether it is Bunyan or Spurgeon, Carey or Nettleton or Whitefield or Duff or Stott that you are talking about the Baptist tradition, the Congregational tradition, the Anglican tradition, the Presbyterian tradition and so on find the hall of fame evangelists and missionaries and you’ll find folks who live, breathe, teach and preach the doctrines of grace.
— Dr. Ligon Duncan, T4G blog, Feb 28, 2006
And then further, that I may clear up these points and leave the less rubbish for my brethren to wheel away, we have sometimes heard it said, but those who say it ought to go to school to read the first book of history, that we who hold Calvinistic views are the enemies of revivals. 

Why, sirs, in the history of the Church, with but few exceptions, you could not find a revival at all that was not produced by the orthodox faith. What was that great work which was done by Augustine, when the Church suddenly woke up from the pestiferous and deadly sleep into which Pelagian doctrine had cast it? What was the Reformation itself but the waking up of minds to those old truths? 

However far modern Lutherans may have turned aside from their ancient doctrines, and I must confess some of them would not agree with what I now say yet at any rate, Luther and Calvin had no dispute about Predestination. Their views were identical and Luther, On the bondage of the will, is as strong a book upon the free grace of God as Calvin himself could have written. Hear that great thunderer while he cries in that book, Let the Christian reader know then, that God foresees nothing in a contingent manner; but that he foresees proposes, and acts, from his eternal and unchangeable will. This is the thunder stroke which breaks and overturns Free Will. Need I mention to you better names than Huss, Jerome of Prague, Farrel, John Lennox, Wycliffe, Wishart and Bradford? Need I do more than say that these held the same views, and that in their day anything like an Arminian revival was utterly unheard of and undreamed of.

And then, to come to more modern times, there is the great exception, that wondrous revival under Mr. Wesley, in which the Wesleyan Methodists had so large a share, but permit me to say, that the strength of the doctrine of Wesleyan Methodism lay in its Calvinism. The great body of the Methodists disclaimed Pelagianism, in whole and in part. They contended for man’s entire depravity, the necessity of the direct agency of the Holy Spirit and that the first step in the change proceeds not from the sinner, but from God. They denied at the time that they were Pelagians. Does not the Methodist hold as firmly as ever we do that man is saved by the operation of the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost only? And are not many of Mr. Wesley’s sermons full of that great truth, that the Holy Ghost is necessary to regeneration? Whatever mistakes he may have made, he continually preached the absolute necessity of the new birth by the Holy Ghost, and there are some other points of exceedingly close agreement, for instance, even that of human inability.

It matters not how some may abuse us, when me say men could not of himself repent or believe, yet, the old Arminian standards said the same. True, they affirm that God has given grace to every man, but they do not dispute the fact, that apart from that grace there was no ability in man to do that which was good in his own salvation. And then, let me say if you turn to the continent of, how cross the falsehood, that Calvinistic doctrine is unfavourable to revivals. Look at that wondrous shaking under Jonathan Edwards, and others which we might quote. Or turn to what shall we say of M’Cheyne? What shall we say of those renowned Calvinists, Dr. Chalmers, Dr. Wardlow, and before them Livingstone, Haldane, Erskine, and the like? What shall we say of the men of their school, but that, while they held and preached unflinchingly the great truths which we would propound to-day, yet God owned their word, and multitudes here saved.

And if it were not perhaps too much like boasting of one’s own work under God, I might say, personally I have never found the preaching of these doctrines lull this Church to sleep, but everwhile they have loved to maintain these truths, they have agonised for the souls of men, and the 1600 or more whom I have myself baptized, upon profession of their faith, are living testimonies that these old truths in modern times have not lost their power to promote a revival of religion.
— C. H. Spurgeon, Exposition of the Doctrines of Grace, #385, April 11, 1861


May we continue in our earnest and prayerful pursuit of revival as we spend this fall diving into the book of Romans, which the great reformer Martin Luther called:

The chief part of the New Testament, and is truly the purest gospel. It is worth not only that every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, but also that he should occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul. We can never read it or ponder over it too much; for the more we deal with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes
— Martin Luther, Introduction to Commentary on Romans
Ryan Smith