The Holy Spirit

The Outpouring of the Holy Ghost

“…when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord”             (Acts 3:19)

Our final study focusing upon the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, examines the work of the Holy Ghost in Reviving Christ’s Church.

1:         The Terminology for Revival

While our text is found in the New Testament, when the Church was in the throes of the Pentecostal Awakening, the Biblical terminology defining these seasons of refreshing is rooted in the Old Testament:

“For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground:  I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring”            (Isaiah 44:3)

“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

“And I will make them and the places round about my hill a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season; there shall be showers of blessing.” (Ezekiel 34:26)

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:   And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.”  (Joel 2:28-29, fulfilled at Pentecost, Acts 2:16-21).

The metaphor of “pouring” indicates that this is a work of the spirit that is corporate as opposed to being private. Regeneration, sanctification, assurance and infilling describe the Spirit’s progressive work in the lives of the elect, whereas “outpouring” concerns a dramatic spontaneous work of the Holy Ghost upon an entire congregation of believers which in turn impacts either a community or a whole nation.

It is important to stress that Revival is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. Ordinarily He moves gradually adding souls to the Church and building up believers.  We are not to despise “the day of small things” because even this gradual, and at times imperceptible, work of the Holy Ghost is miraculous.  The Holy Spirit, however, has set times, when He works extraordinarily, pouring Himself out with dramatic and unprecedented results, in order that the Church might be strengthened for future times:

“Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Zion: for the time to favour her, yea, the set time, is come.” (Psalm 102:13)

2:         The Times of Revival

Old Testament

Revival is no new phenomenon.  As many of the definitions of this work of the Spirit are found in the Old Testament so there are a multitude of examples discovered in it’s ancient histories as the following examples illustrate:

“And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.”  (Genesis 4:26)

“And the people believed: and when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel, and that he had looked upon their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshipped.”   (Exodus 4:31)

“And it came to pass, when the angel of the LORD spake these words unto all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voice, and wept.” (Judges 2:4)

“And Hezekiah rejoiced, and all the people, that God had prepared the people: for the thing was done suddenly.” (2nd Chronicles 29:36)

“Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me; I have even heard thee also, saith the LORD.” (2nd Chronicles 34:27)

New Testament

The words at the head of the study were preached when the Church was enjoying the Revival at Pentecost.  In many respects the Church lived in the enjoyment of this blessing during the ministry of all the Apostles.  For well nigh seventy years the cause of Christ advanced on the strength of this great work as Churches were established throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Pentecost was the formative work, the first giving of the Spirit to the Church and as such, is the pattern for Revival in every age of the Church; for the information regarding the distinction between the Holy Spirit under the Old and New Covenants read the following blog; THE HOLY GHOST’S MOVEMENTS IN THE OLD TESTAMENT; The Trinity (13)

Writing in 1843 Scottish theologian, James Buchanan traced a short history of awakenings in Scottish and Ulster Presbyterianism in the years 1623-1641, 1742, 1749, 1798, 1812 and 1824.  The first period is of particular interest to Ulster-Scots because it concerned the early Scottish settlers in the northern province of Ireland.  From all accounts they were an ungodly group of people who indulged in wild and excessive living.  At Sixmilewater, however, in Co Antrim, hundreds were broken by the power of the Spirit and many were converted under the ministries of Robert Blair, John Livingstone and Josias Welsh.  This revival spread to Scotland and was preparatory to the signing of the National Covenant in 1638, and the raising of the standard around which the Covenanters would gather throughout the 17th Century and which many would seal with their blood.

Another event is more deeply ingrained in the memory of the Ulster Presbyterianism; the 1859 Revival which is sometimes called “The Year of Grace”.  On June 19th 1859, Rev Hugh Hannah delivered a message in Berry Street Church, defending the work of the Spirit of which he had been a witness. He writes about the spiritual decay which necessitates a work of revival, a decay which we can empathise with in these dark times:

“The killing frost of an ungodly world nipped the blossoms and the boughs, and the corrupt influences of the world displayed their mischievous action in the corruption of the goodly tree.   Soon it was stripped of its fruit and foliage, and stretched out its naked branches into the wintry air.  Life seemed almost extinct.  Religion decayed, was on the point of perdition.  But God once again advanced to the rescue.  He took His cause vigorously in hand. And when God sets to work the cause He undertakes is sure to prosper.  The gates of hell were broken, the power of Satan laid under arrest, the cause of God flourished, and a grateful Church sang the joyful songs of deliverance.”

Rev Hannah proceeded to describe what he had witnessed in the weeks prior to delivering this sermon, one cannot be helped but be moved by the power of his language, a man experiencing the heart of the greatest work of the Spirit that Ulster has ever witnessed:

“The strongholds of Satan are still numerous and stoutly defiant of God.  But God has levelled many of them.  Tens of thousands now crowd with eagerness, to hear the gospel; thousands hear it seriously who, but a few weeks ago, could hardly have been persuaded to enter the house of God.  The difficulty now is not in filling churches, but in getting room for the thousands who throng to them.  And God is wonderfully answering prayer.  God is provoking His church to prayer…This is the day of merciful visitation.. The Holy Ghost is descending. The firmament is overcast, and the clouds are distilling grace upon the world.  Hearts are changed – melted – broken.  God is busy now for the salvation of men…”

James Buchanan in his publication, “The  Office and Work of the Holy Spirit”, defines revival as consisting of two things:

(a)                “A general impartation of of new life, vigour, and power, to this who are already of the number of God’s people..”

(b)                “…a remarkable awakening and conversion of souls who have hitherto been careless and unbelieving…”

Mr Buchanan proceeds on the basis of this to issue a challenge, by the way of several questions,  that we should both expect and pray for such a time of refreshing in every generation:

“Can it be doubted by any professing Christian, either that such a revival is possible, or that it is desirable?  Why, what is the end of Christian ministry? What is the great design of our Sabbaths and our sanctuaries?…Do we not all pray for these things?  And is it not our privilege to expect, that for these things our prayers will be heard and answered?”

 “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him”. (1st John 5:14-15)

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