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It is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means--as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means. There may be a miracle among its antecedent causes, or there may not. The apostles employed miracles, simply as a means by which they arrested attention to their message, and established its Divine authority. But the miracle was not the revival. The miracle was one thing; the revival that followed it was quite another thing. The revivals in the apostles’ days were connected with miracles, but they were not miracles.

I said that a revival is the result of the right use of the appropriate means.

Those are the words of Charles Finney from his Lectures on Revivals of Religion.

I say that Finney is dead wrong. Dangerously wrong.

But Finney’s words here serve as the philosophical precursor to countless church growth strategies today and the prevailing church growth framework in general. As a sort of churched version of “If you build it, they will come,” this approach to the expectation of revival renders the supernatural natural and the providential pragmatic. Finney and his many modern spinoffs conflate the work of the preacher with the work of the Word. They confuse the minister’s required work with the Lord’s free prerogative. It is God who says, “I will cause breath to enter you” (Ezek. 37:5), and that, when he does, “You shall know that I am the LORD” (v. 6). When the result is worship of God, the credit does not go to the leader but to God. The entire leadership enterprise, the entire purpose of revival, is the knowing of God and the enjoying of his sovereign lordship.

By way of contrast to Finney, enter the wisdom of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

A revival is a miracle. It is a miraculous, exceptional phenomenon. It is the hand of the Lord, and it is mighty. A revival, in other words, is something that can only be explained as the direct action and intervention of God. It was God alone who could divide the Red Sea. It was God alone who could divide the waters of the river of Jordan. These were miracles. Hence the reminder of God’s unique action of the mighty acts of God. And revivals belong to that category. . . . These events belong to the order of things that men cannot produce. Men can produce evangelistic campaigns, but they cannot and never have produced a revival. (Revival, 1987)

This knowledge ought both to humble us and also to embolden us.


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7 thoughts on “How Do You Get a Revival?”

  1. I certainly prefer the Doctor’s views over Finney’s. But I don’t think we do Finney justice when we don’t explain what he means by using “means”.

    Things like understanding the proper use of the law of God for plowing up the fallow ground of a rebellious heart. Or if we fail to understand the incredible Importance of Being filled with the Holy Spirit before We presume to speak and minister in Christ’s name, we are not using appropriate means. Again, if we teach and preach all kinds of topics but never truly proclaim the kerygma…. Well, Finney would say, “No wonder you don’t have revival. You will never have revival until you’re faithfully using the proper means God has given.”

  2. Ali says:

    This knowledge ought both to humble us and also to embolden us.

    And cause us to earnest pray together for what only He can accomplish’

    ..Joining through prayers so that thanks may be given by many persons for the favor bestowed through the prayers of many.

  3. Jeff Rickel says:

    Hi Mr. Wilson.
    I appreciate your efforts in church planting and your interest in revivals and your interest in the men who have been central in those revivals. I also do not mean any disrespect in general to you or most of your work, so these comments are more directed to this one article.
    “Since I have been here, my position at home and my observation abroad,
    have given me peculiar advantages for judging of the expediency and
    inexpediency of certain measures. I have seen powerful revivals in this
    place, from time to time, now for about ten years, and indeed the state of
    things has generally been such here as would elsewhere have been
    considered a revival state. Scarcely a week, or even a day, has passed
    without more or less cases coming under my observation of manifest
    Divine influence. I have had an opportunity to witness the results of
    revivals in their influence over young men preparing for the ministry, over
    ministers themselves, over the community at large, and for years after their
    occurrence. I have marked with the deepest interest their rise, their
    progress, their temporary decline, and again their revival, the various types
    they have taken on, and the occasion of these modifications….. ”

    Charles Finne, from Letter 1 Revival Fires: http://www.ccel.org/f/finney/fire/formats/fire.txt

    see also Letters to professing christians http://www.ccel.org/ccel/finney/toprofessingchristians.i.iii.html

    and Power from on High
    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/finney/power.i.html

    Please Read Lectures on Revivals of Religion and, Power From On High and comment on whether you agree with President (Of Oberlin College) Finney that the methods outlined would as he would say make it Reasonable For God to bring forth revival as a result and why and where you would or would not disagree with him.

    There are certain subjects we can broach, and certain areas we know not what we speak. Charles Finney had as much right to make the statement at the top as Henry Ford had to comment on making automobiles. If you have not been involved with revivals you really cannot comment with the same authority as those who have what is or isn’t or what produces or does’t produce a revival.

    I believe that Martyn Lloyd Jones would be in a position to discuss revivals so we should compare the two.

    We should also go over the range of what could or could not be considered a Miracle. Lloyd Jones and Finney both agree that it is a supernatural occurrence of God. What the difference might be is it something unusual. Finney would state that if people are doing certain things (including repentance and deep personal and public prayer, and dying to self, and witnessing and using wisdom in methods and timing etc and submitting their lives more and more to the Holy Spirit, it might be perfectly natural for God to bring about a revival. And the same God we saw in the early chapters of Acts could do the same again. There is nothing Lloyd Jones says to contradict it. All Lloyd Jones is saying that revival is something supernatural God is doing. Finney agrees with and never argued with this.

    Finney never said it was people that produce revivals, he just says that there are certain states we can achieve, individually and corporately in our relationships to God which might make it more likely to see more of God’s hand in what we are doing. He also made it clear that revival starts and ends with God. It is just when God starts something we should quick to follow along and align ourselves with what God is doing.

    I apologize if you have more personal experience with revival or have studied Charles Finney’s life and teachings more than it appears on the surface you have. I also apologize if I am making a quick judgment about you because while I know a lot about Charles Finney all I know about you is just what is on the web page.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      I also apologize if I am making a quick judgment about you

      Well, you only wrote 7 paragraphs, so.

  4. This is the second time in two weeks I’ve noticed Finney being referenced in blogs on TGC. I find it quite interesting how his name still tends to resurface in conversations about revival, even among the reformed. It seems like we should put Finneyism on the shelf where it belongs. He was not part of revival but rather New School theology and the acceptance of existentialism by the Church.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      William, you noticed I was not quoting him favorably, right?

      1. Yes. I was not clear that I was agreeing with you. I should have said that. Other folks have been mentioning him just as some kind of contrast to what appears in reformed circles as a lack of zeal for evangelism. As you said he was dangerous. Sorry for the confusion.

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Jared C. Wilson


Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, director of The Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. You can follow him on Twitter.

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