By Stephen A. Seamands —
In his profound reflections on revival, based on his experiences in 18th century colonial New England, during what historians refer to as the First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards said this: “God hath had it much on his heart from all eternity, to glorify his dear and only begotten Son; and there are some special seasons that he appoints to that end, wherein he comes forth with omnipotent power … and these are times of remarkable pouring out of his Spirit, to advance his kingdom.”
Revivals then, according to Edwards, are special times and seasons when God the Father reveals, glorifies, and exalts his Son through the power of his Spirit. And in such clear-cut, powerful, demonstrable ways that you can’t miss it – because he wants the whole world to know who his beloved son is.
That’s what Edwards saw happening right before his eyes. The members of the congregation he pastored had all grown up Christian, but during the Awakening, it was as if the veil was pulled back and they glimpsed Jesus for the first time. They were seized by a revelation, captured by what Edwards called “the divine excellency of Christ.” And after that their lives were never the same. I love the way he describes it in his quaint 18th century way:
“By the sight of the transcendent glory of Christ, true Christians see him worthy to be followed; and so are powerfully drawn after him; they see him worthy that they should forsake all for him: by the sight of that superlative amiableness, they are thoroughly disposed to be subject to him, and engaged to labor with earnestness and activity in his service, and made willing to go through all difficulties for his sake.
“And it is the discovery of this divine excellency of Christ that makes them constant to him: for it makes a deep impression upon their minds, that they cannot forget him; and they will follow him whithersoever he goes, and it is in vain for any to endeavor to draw them away from him.”
This is what happens in true revivals. People get seized, gripped, overwhelmed by the divine excellency of Christ.
As a result of being captured by his love, his “superlative amiableness,” as he puts it, they fall in love and stay in love with Jesus in such a way that their lives are never the same, the church is never the same, the world is never the same.
These first hand revival experiences, convictional experiences, divine encounters – grip us so profoundly, transform and shape us so deeply that they set us on a trajectory that continues for the rest of our lives.
Like Paul’s encounter on the Damascus road, they impart to us such a profound awareness, such a revelation of the risen, exalted Jesus, such an experience of his presence in us through the Holy Spirit, such an unswerving commitment to his mission, that standing in chains before King Agrippa decades later, he would declare, “No matter what happens, I simply can’t be disobedient to such a heavenly vision.”
Revivals produce Christians who are faithful, bold, and unapologetic. Christians who find their joy and satisfaction in God. Christians with a love passion for holiness, who will gladly lay down their lives for Jesus, who are looking, not for a prosperity gospel, but in Amy Carmichael’s words, “a chance to die.”
Revivals cause the church to move forward in purity, power, and unity; in boldness and confidence to be his witnesses. As a result God’s people are able to withstand cultural pressures to conform and compromise. They refuse to be seduced by the gods of their culture.
I think Jonathan Edwards had it right. We need revivals because we need more of Jesus. Through revival God raises up a generation, a people, a church which gets focused on Christ. As the characters in Narnia would say: “Aslan comes in sight.” So we discover things about him that we never knew before. He truly becomes the pearl of great price. Ultimately, revivals are about “the divine excellency of Christ.”
Stephen A. Seamands is Professor Emeritus of Christian Doctrine at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. He served as the Professor of Basic Christian Doctrine at Asbury Seminary for close to 40 years. In addition to that class, he taught Introduction to Spiritual Warfare, Introduction to Healing Prayer, and a class studying the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dr. Seamands has authored numerous books, including Wounds That Heal, Ministry in the Image of God, and The Unseen Real: Life in the Light of the Ascension of Jesus.
Photo: Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University, February 10, 2023. Photo by Sarah Thomas Baldwin. Used by permission.