What is it that genuinely brings about a change in a person’s attitudes, behavior, speech, and thoughts? In short, it is the application of the gospel of Jesus Christ to a person’s life that makes all the difference. Perhaps you are thinking, the gospel can be widely preached, yet many listeners don’t seem to understand or experience any real lasting change. Why?
Jesus addressed this particular situation in the Parable of the Soils (see: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). Jesus noted that the same seed is sown by the farmer in all types of differing soils. In one the seed falls onto the hard path where it is immediately eaten up by birds. In another situation the seed falls into rocky soil so that it quickly springs up only to be withered by the scorching sun. In another the seed falls into the midst of thorns and it is choked out. Lastly, the seed falls into the good soil where it springs up and sends down a deep root. In time it bears forth fruit thirty, sixty, and a hundred times its capacity. Jesus concludes his parable by saying “He who has ears, let him hear.” (vs. 9)
The main point of Jesus’ parable is that true revival is brought about by God alone, and not merely by the will of man. There are many varying types of soil, but it is only the good soil that brings forth a profitable yield. Some Christians wrongly think that certain men are good and others are not, hence the gospel bears fruit in those few “good men” (i.e. who have the desire and the will to believe). This, however, is far from the truth. The Bible asserts that no man is good in and of himself (see: Jeremiah 17:9-10; Romans 3:9-23; Ephesians 2:1-3). It is only God who brings forth life from the seed. Man cannot produce life; only God can give life and he gives it as a free gift (See: Psalm 31:1-2; Romans 3:24-26; Ephesians 2:8-9). Our Lord clearly taught that,
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where its goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:3, 5-8
Hence, we see that true revival is not something that human beings can engineer or plan for. God is the only one who gives saving faith to a fallen man or woman. God is the only one who changes hearts so that what was once dead is now alive (See: John 10:10; Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:17).
Rev. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) witnessed this same truth in the 1730’s during the Great Awakening. He didn’t change his pulpit style so that people would be drawn by enthusiastic preaching, nor did he seek to hold a special revival service where people might become emotionally-charged so that they would make a decision for Christ. Neither did he assume that people were already Christians because they attended his church or behaved in a Christian manner. Instead, he simply preached the Bible and trusted his sovereign Lord to bring about true and lasting conversions. He described this spiritual awakening with these stirring words,
And then it was, in the latter part of December, that the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to…work amongst us. There were, very suddenly, one after another, five or six persons who were, to all appearance, savingly converted, and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner… Presently upon this, a great and earnest concern about the great things of religion and the eternal world became universal in all parts of town and among persons of all degrees and all ages. The noise of the dry bones waxed louder and louder…Those that were wont to be the vainest and loosest, and those that had been the most disposed to think and speak slightly of vital and experimental religion, were not generally subject to great awakenings. And the work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner and increased more and more; souls did, as it were, come by flocks to Jesus Christ…
God’s work of conviction and conversion during this spiritual awakening was not limited to a few individuals here and there. It gained in momentum and in numbers. Jonathan Edwards describes it in this way,
This work of God as it was carried on and the number of true saints multiplied, soon made a glorious alteration in the town, so that in the spring and summer following, Anno 1735, the town seemed to be full of the presence of God. It was never so full of love, nor so full of joy…there were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house. It was a time of joy in families on the account of salvation’s being brought unto them, parents rejoicing over their children as new born, and husbands over their wives, and wives over their husbands. The goings of God were then seen in his sanctuary, God’s day was a delight and his tabernacles were amiable. Our public assemblies were then beautiful; the congregation was alive in God’s service, everyone earnestly intent on the public worship, every hearer eager to drink the words of the minister as they came from his mouth; the assembly in general were, from time to time, in tears while the word was preached; some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for their neighbors. There were many instances of persons that came from abroad, on visits or on business… [who] partook of that shower of divine blessing that God rained down here and went home rejoicing. Till at length the same work began to appear and prevail in several other towns in the country. (Edwards, “A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God,” in Jonathan Edwards: Basic Writings, Ola Elizabeth Winslow, ed., pages 99-103)
On one eventful Sunday over one hundred new converts were received into church membership in Edward’s church in Northampton, Massachusetts. He called this period of awakening “the work of God,” for he did not see this as a passing excitement nor something brought about through the efforts of man—it was an outpouring of God’s divine Spirit regenerating hardened human hearts. This is the true revival that we should pray for—a work of God that brings many people to an awareness of their sin and a gives them a desire to be rightly related to God through the Savior, Jesus Christ. Your country needs this. Your state needs this. Your local community needs this. Your family needs this. And if you do not know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then you need this. True revival is the work of the sovereign God and it always bears fruit as an evidence of the Spirit’s saving work (see: Matthew 7:15-20; John 15:8; Ephesians 2:10). Let us pray to this end—that God will bring true revival and demonstrate his power amongst us (Psalm 85:6).
–Pastor Marcus J. Serven