CAN WE KNOW AWAKENING IN OUR DAY?
By John Aldworth
They called it the ‘Great Awakening’, or rather the three ‘Great Awakenings’ in America. First in the 1600s under Jonathan Edwards, then in the 1700s under Whitefield, then again in 1800s and through into the 1900s.
In Britain it was also called ‘awakening’ and through the ministry of Charles and John Wesley millions were brought to faith and life in Christ. But did you know that between 1824 and 1845 the ‘Greatest Awakening’ or 'revival', as some wrongly call it, of all (per head of population, that is) took place in New Zealand and largely among the natives?
According to a study of revivals in New Zealand by Jenny Sharkey the New Zealand population in 1840 was 80,000 natives (collectively known as Maori) and 2050 non-Maori. Now the Welsh revival of 1904 saw at most 150,000 (according to some estimates) converted out of a population of 1.4 million (i.e. 10 per cent).
However, in New Zealand well over 40 per cent of the population was converted to faith in Christ in a similar two-year span. In fact by 1840 the total number publicly worshipping the Lord in New Zealand was calculated at over 30,000. Arguably, then the revival in this ‘Far Off Land’ was the greatest per head of population awakening yet known anywhere in the world. What a sad contrast to what we find today. In New Zealand as elsewhere there has been a huge departure from faith in Christ. One measure of that is that 30 years ago half of all New Zealand children attended Sunday School. Today very few do. For sure, New Zealand needs another awakening.
And awakening is the right term for it, not revival. It is what happens when people awake out of unbelief to realise God is at work in their lives already saving them from sin by grace (Eph. 2:8-9). Awakening then is what occurs when sinners suddenly awake to faith in the God they once despised and hated.
Indeed, such awakening is why the Apostle Paul, whose word as an apostle sent by Christ Himself is infallible, commands all people in Eph. 5:14:
Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
Being dead here refers to the state of spiritual death described in Eph. 2:1-3 and 5 where all people are described as being ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ and walking ‘according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air (that is, the devil)’. Indeed, until converted to true faith in Christ all of us, even subsequent believers, are ‘children of wrath even as others’ (vs3).
But just how does one rise from the dead? Surprisingly, it is achieved by suddenly realising God has in fact already awakened you, that unawares to you God has been showing his love and grace, speaking to you, and working within you all along. And we are clearly told in scripture that already God the Father has already made us alive unto Him:
Eph. 2:1 And you hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.
Actually, this ‘quickening’, is what the all-important ‘preaching of Jesus Christ according to the revelation of the mystery’ as commanded by the Father in Romans 16:25-26 is all about. You see, the word ‘mystery’ in the Bible means a secret long hidden but now made known. Thus the ‘mystery’ was made known for the first time through the ministry of the Apostle Paul after being unknown to man for thousands of years. As the Bible puts it ‘from the beginning (it was) hid in God who created all things by Jesus Christ” (Eph. 3:9).
And when it was revealed to the Apostle Paul, God also made clear that this new message, this new gospel, was for all men, not just Jews or Gentiles saved by being baptised into Israel. That is why Col. 1:26-27 describes this wonderful new act by God as ‘the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles’ and as ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’.
You see, awakening happens when a person suddenly grasps for the first time that although they are dead in trespasses and sins God has already quickened them, that is, made them spiritually alive, by placing Christ within them. As scripture puts it, He has ‘’quickened them together with Christ (by grace ye are saved)’ (Eph. 2:5).
But don’t you have to repent of your sins, turn over a new leaf, or at least get water baptised, I hear someone ask? No, you don’t. There is no longer any need to be water baptised into Israel in order to be saved as there was during the gospels in the Acts period.
True, the Saviour Jesus was first sent to the children of Abraham but in Romans 11 and Acts 28:28 we learn that by the time the Apostle Paul found himself ‘the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles’ (Eph. 3:1), already the chosen nation had been cast away and ‘salvation’, in the person of the risen Saviour Christ Jesus, was ‘sent to the Gentiles and that they will hear it’ (Acts 28:28).
Today then God’s message of salvation is not to the nation Israel but to ‘Gentiles’, that is to all nations, indeed, to all people, including Jews. This new gospel of the grace of God declares that when Christ was ‘quickened’, that is his spirit was made alive again after dying for our sin, all people were quickened together with Him whether they actually know it or not.
At this point it’s important to ask: When was Christ quickened? Why, at his resurrection from death. And when were we quickened (that is made alive unto God)? Why, also when Christ was quickened as He rose from the dead? Indeed, we rose with Him (Col. 2:12).
Fact is the only thing that stops this quickening, this being made spiritually alive unto God, being a reality we feel and experience in our hearts and lives is unbelief on our part that it has already happened. And what changes the situation is faith.
History teaches that awakening comes when faith comes. Thus faith was the catalyst for the great awakenings of history. Methodist history says that Charles Wesley was taught by the Moravians to ask God for faith and to ‘keep asking’ until he got it. Having faith then is what Paul meant when he said ‘awake and rise from the dead’ (Eph. 5:14).
You see God has already done all the work necessary to save anyone, indeed to save everyone. It’s a marvelous biblical truth that, without even asking our permission, He has already revived very person’s spirit that each of us put to death through sin by quickening our spirit with Christ’s. For Wesley revival began when he did as he was told to keep praying, to ‘give Christ no peace until he answers your prayer and gives you faith in your heart’.
The breakthrough came when suddenly he found his heart was ‘strangely warmed’ and what had been religious self-effort to please God succumbed to a God-empowered glorious belief that God had already saved him. Notice in his hymn ‘And can it be?’ that Wesley’s personal conversion came about as a result of this quickening – or awakening of faith. The hymn was penned a few days after his conversion:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
Notice there is not a word about the supposed 'Holy Spirit', not a word about the 'Spirit moving'. That wasn't the driving power behind the 'Great Awakening'. The Word of God in written form and preached was. And that Word was made real to many by preaching that God had already quickened 'all men' from spiritual death in trespasses and sins by placing 'Christ in you, the hope of glory' in every human heart' (Col. 1:27). Such preaching was in fact the 'quickening ray' God diffused (that is, spread abroad to every heart) and such preaching of the Word brought about faith. But what kind of faith?
Well, in 2 Kings 4 we read that the Shunamite woman had faith that in God her son was not dead though actually he had just died on her knees. She told her husband and even the servant of the Prophet Elijah that ‘all is well’ despite her son having been laid out dead in the prophet’s bed.
I believe God set that story in the Bible as a type of awakening to the quickening God has already accomplished in each one of us. What’s more the resurrections Jesus performed during his earthly ministry are also a type of the spiritual quickening from death in sin, in which God, ’for his great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (Eph. 2:4). And folks, that's a done deal; it's already happened; it took place nearly 2,000 years ago.
No wonder the verse goes on to say: ‘By grace are ye saved’. What a pity so many church attenders are told they have to be water baptised, repent, have hands laid on them, receive absolution from a priest, or take communion before they can know they are fully forgiven and saved. All the above functions are works that men do but only God actually saves.
When a person comes to know that, he or she can truly sing, All is well with my soul’ as the hymn has it. Looking again at the resurrections Jesus performed we note that ‘all was well’ with the soul of a young man, the only son of his widowed mother as he was being carried out of the city on Nain on a bier to be buried, even while was he was dead.
You see, as in the case of Lazarus and that of Jairus’s daughter the Lord refused to accept the fact of their physical death. Fact is, Jesus never attended a funeral without wakening the dead and thus bringing the weeping to a halt. For example, He told his disciples, 'Lazarus is sleeping but I go to awake him'. To mourners bewailing the death of Jairus' daughter He said, 'The maid is not dead but sleepeth'.
Similarly, today God simply refuses to accept people are irrevocably dead in trespasses and sins. On the contrary, He says that He has already quickened them them, all of them. That is, He has made and is still making spiritually alive all human beings from Paul's time until now and ongoing. Note that Col. 1:27-28 describes how this quickening is at the very heart of the mystery in the form of:
Christ in you, the hope of glory ... whom we preach, warning every man and teaching every man.
So, God says to all of us: Wake up. Know what I have already done in you. Believe and know that Christ is in you and that He will show you light’.