Vance Havner on Revival

Michael Catt

This article originally appeared as one of my articles in the Sherwood Communicator.

Vance Havner was a prophet of the 20th Century. He was a revivalist, more than an evangelist. He was a God-called man who was used to stir the saints. He was sent by God to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Here are a few of his thoughts on revival.

A revival, a visitation from God, will not accomplish everything that some people expect. Pentecost did not convert Jerusalem. Jerusalem went on to judgment. Pentecost accomplished God’s purpose. God is not out to convert the world but to call out a people for Himself. Revival furthers that purpose.

In my meetings through the years, I have discovered that most of the members of any church do not think it important to attend a ‘revival.’ If there is to be another revival, it will come in an upsurge among God’s people of every connection, born-again believers in Jesus Christ. Some of us are willing to pray for a revival in our denomination, but who would think of praying for a revival in the church across the street?

Real revival does not begin with joyous singing. Evangelistic meetings may and should so begin, for we are declaring good news, but revival begins with conviction and repentance on the part of Christians. Bunyan says that when God tunes the instrument He begins with the base. We try to make God’s house a delightful place when first it may need to be a dreadful place. Repentance must precede rejoicing.

Our Lord is knocking at the door of the Laodicean church today. He is the Divine Disturber. The church is in her robe and slippers and easy chair with a PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door.

It does little good to wring our hands and lament the inroads of television, ball games and other attractions on our church attendance. If we do not have enough vitality to compete with all this, maybe it doesn’t matter much whether we have our meetings or not. If the gospel means so little to us that it can be sidetracked by every sideshow that blows into town, it wouldn’t mean much if such people did gather to go through the hollow motions of a dead faith. It is certain that the answer does not lie in stubbornly holding on to the form when the power has departed. We seem to be preaching and promoting something while most of its adherents wouldn’t miss it much if they lost it! There is something frightfully wrong when we have to beg most of our crowd to come to church to hear about it.

If I were a non-Christian and dropped into the average church during a so-called revival, and saw a fraction of the membership trying to get more recruits for the army of the Lord when most of the outfit had already gone AWOL, I would conclude either that Christianity is not what it is supposed to be or else we have been sold a cheap and easy brand – inoculated with a mild form until we are almost immune to the real thing.

When I was a boy, preachers used to talk about ‘holding a revival.’ What we really need is somebody who will turn a revival loose!

A revival is not an evangelistic campaign. It s not a drive for more church members. It is not a temporary stir of stepped-up activity among church members or a week of ‘protracted meetings’ with an aisle parade of cheap rededications. A revival is a work of God’s Spirit among Christians whereby they get right with God, with themselves, and with others. It means conviction of sin on the part of Christians; repentance and confession of sin; reconciliation and restitution; getting right with others; separation from the world; submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and being filled with the Spirit. Such a revival precedes and will produce effective evangelism, for when the joy of salvation is restored, transgressors shall be taught God’s ways and sinners will be converted to Him.

Finney said, ‘Whereas mind and conscience may assent to the truth, when revival comes, obedience to the truth is the thing that matters. Revival is nothing less than a new beginning of obedience to God.’ Ezekiel’s listeners heard his words but did them not. If we hear and do not, we deceive ourselves, says James. Our Lord summed it up: ‘If you know these things, happy are you if you do them’ (John 13:17). Our Lord makes Himself real to those who have His commandments and keep them (John 14:21). Revival comes when Christians begin to obey God. Obedience, like repentance, is a lost word in our Christian vocabulary. Church members despise the prophet who preaches obedience to God.

Everybody will agree on the first verse of the song, ‘The Way of the Cross Leads Home.’ Nobody will argue against the proposition that we must go home by the way of the cross, for there is no other way but this. The trouble comes in the last verse: ‘Then I bid farewell to the way of the world, to walk in it nevermore.’ Dwell on that subject before the average Sunday-morning congregation, and you are in for trouble! But one cannot travel two roads at once – the way of the cross and the way of the world. We are not going to see much revival until we decide which road we are going to travel.

If America is ever laid to waste, much of the blame will lie at the doors of the churches. We have the Answer and, like the children of Issachar, we should have an understanding of the times to know what Israel ought to do.