The Spirit of Revival (Part 5)
Next Edwards turns to the positive marks or biblical signs of true revival. The first positive mark is seen in the elevated level of people’s esteem for Jesus. Edwards follows the Reformation’s emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit in the application of the work of Christ in our redemption. It is the chief ministry of God the Holy Spirit to bring people to God the Son and apply His work to them. In a true outpouring of the Holy Spirit people are never led to a unitarianism of the Third Person of the Trinity. A preoccupation with the Holy Spirit without a view of Christ is not the desire of the Holy Spirit Himself. Edwards remarks:
The person to whom the Spirit gives testimony and for whom He raises their esteem must be Jesus—the one who appeared in the flesh. No other Christ can stand in his place. No mystical, fantasy Christ! No light within—as the spirit of Quakers extols—can diminish esteem of and dependence upon an outward Christ. The Spirit who gives testimony for this historical Jesus and leads to Him can be no other than the Spirit of God.
In his epistle John is keenly concerned to distinguish between Christ and antichrist. The concept of antichrist is often misunderstood in our day. We tend to perceive the image of antichrist simply in terms of those who vehemently oppose Christ. We use the Greek prefix anti almost exclusively to mean “against.” But the “anti” of antichrist can also be translated to mean “in place of.” To be sure, anyone who is a substitute for Christ is at the same time one who stands against Christ.
Here we see something of the subtlety of the spirit of antichrist. It can be disguised as an angel of light, garbed in the clothing of piety. Almost daily we hear the dictum “No creed but Christ” or “I don’t need to know any doctrine. All I need to know is Christ.” These words can formulate the creed of antichrist. The Holy Spirit is the Author of the Book that informs us of the identity of the real, historical Jesus. Scripture works hard to set forth the real Christ. The creeds are merely attempts to preserve this biblical portrait and to protect it from distortions. When a person says, “All I need to know is Jesus—doctrine isn’t important,” we should immediately ask in reply, “Who is Jesus?” The moment a person begins to answer that question, the person is inescapably involved with doctrine.
To the Christian, doctrine is unavoidable. Ours is never a choice between doctrine and no doctrine, but between sound doctrine and false doctrine. This is nowhere more urgent than when we are talking about the Christ, who is the object of our faith. It is not only liberal scholarship that has turned away from the historical Jesus by viewing the quest for Him as a fool’s errand and giving us in His place an existential Jesus, a Marxist Jesus, or a mere teacher of ethical values. “Evangelical” religion can also replace the biblical Christ with a Savior who is not also Lord or a caricature that bears the image of the vested interests of particular institutions, religious organizations, or religious subcultures.
True revival under the impetus of the Holy Spirit cuts through the fantasies and drives us to the biblical and historical Christ— and never to a substitute. Any substitute Jesus, no matter how dripping in piety, is never Christ but is always antichrist.
The second mark Edwards describes is that the Holy Spirit operates against the interests of Satan’s kingdom. In simple terms this means that the Spirit works against sin. No revival has ever eliminated sin, but all true revivals check and curb sin. The Spirit convicts us of sin and leads us into sanctification. In this convicting operation the consciences of people are awakened from dogmatic slumber. Satan desires that the consciences of people be seared. When the conscience is awakened, the interests of people turn away from lusts and are inclined afresh to the things of God.
Some polls have indicated that in major ethical areas of concern, there is little if any discernible difference in the behavior patterns of professing Christians in America and those of the secular culture with respect to such matters as divorce, abortion, pre- and extramarital sexual relationships, etc. If these polls are accurate, they would indicate that we are far removed from revival.
The third mark is that the Holy Spirit causes greater regard for the Holy Scriptures. Edwards argues that a spirit of delusion will not incline people to seek direction at the mouth of God.
Perhaps there has never been a time in the history of the church when the Bible has been subjected to greater attack and criticism than it has in the past 200 years. The higher criticism that reached such wide proportions in the nineteenth century has left its mark on the contemporary Christian community. Near the turn of this century the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper remarked that biblical criticism had degenerated into biblical vandalism. Virtually every Protestant creed has affirmed confidence in the divine origin and authority of Scripture. This was the direct fruit of the Reformation principle of sola scriptura. Yet this uniform conviction of historic Protestantism has been all but abandoned in the so-called mainline churches of American Protestantism. Indeed, many of the splinter groups that have divided from mainline denominations have done so precisely over the issue of biblical authority.
However, though we see strong affirmations of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible in evangelical churches, there are many evidences of defection from the historic view of Scripture even there. The controversy chronicled by Harold Lindsell in his book The Battle for the Bible is still being waged within evangelicalism.
Perhaps what is even more alarming is that even within churches and organizations that still profess a high view of Scripture, there is an alarming ignorance of the content of Scripture. For many, being “led by the Spirit” means being led by some inner light or impulse rather than by the Spirit’s testimony to the written Word of God. Edwards says, “And accordingly we see it common in enthusiasts who oppose Christ that they depreciate this written rule and set up the light within their souls or some other rule above it.”
Edwards gives as his fourth mark “the words used in addressing the opposite spirits.” Appealing still to 1 John 4, he speaks of the sixth verse: “The Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” We recall that before Pontius Pilate Christ declared: “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.” In light of these words of Jesus, it is clear that His cause is the cause of truth. One cannot be enrolled in the cause of Christ and despise truth. The devil works for the cause of the lie, and as the father of lies he works on behalf of falsehood and error. No true revival can lead Christians to a cavalier attitude toward the truth of God. Luther insisted that whenever the Gospel was clearly proclaimed, controversy would surely follow. The only way to avoid controversy is to avoid the Gospel.
Francis Schaeffer frequently spoke of the necessity of antithesis in the Christian life. That is, for every truth there is a corresponding falsehood. A Christian is known not only by what he believes or affirms, but also by what he rejects and denies. This posture of antithesis is on a collision course with modern theories of relativism. A revived Christian Church will be marked not only by what it affirms but also by its courage to deny truth’s antithesis.
The fifth mark is that the Spirit produces a spirit of love to God and to man. In this mark we encounter vintage Jonathan Edwards. His entire ministry was captured by a concern for true religious affections. As cerebral as Edwards was, in the final analysis his relationship to Christ was expressed as an affair of the heart. He never tired of speaking of the “excellency” of Christ as the chief object of the believer’s delight. It is the Spirit of God who awakens within our souls a true love for God. Speaking of this work of the Holy Spirit Edwards writes: “He makes the attributes of God as revealed in the Gospel and manifested in Christ delightful objects of contemplation. He makes the soul long after God and Christ—after their presence and communion, acquaintance with them and conformity to them; and to live to please and honor them is the spirit that quells contentions among men. He gives a spirit of peace and goodwill.”
Here Edwards sees the fulfillment of the reality announced by angels to the shepherds of Bethlehem. This is not the mutual bonds of affections by which heretics and cultists are drawn to mutual admiration among themselves, like honor among thieves, but rather the love that is born in the souls of wretched sinners who know their own wretchedness and cleave to the grace of God whose fellowship they enjoy.
Excerpted from R.C. Sproul’s Introduction to The Spirit of Revival, edited by Archie Parrish.