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None of us particularly likes re-runs. We tend to pay less-than-perfect attention when a point is being re-hashed.
Forgive me for repeating myself, but we really recoil from reiterations of recently recited returns. Nevertheless, there is not only a time for everything, but there is another time for everything—a time for everything again.
We are considering this month the subject of revival (and lest you think we’re giving you a repeat, next month we will look at revivalism, a decidedly different thing). Understood literally, the word revival means “new life.” But for there to be new life, there first must be old life. “To revive” is not merely to make life, but to remake it. One cannot have life again without having life first. And there is but one source for life, both the old and the new.
We make a distinction in theology between what we call the ontological Trinity (pertaining to the being of the Trinity) and the economic Trinity (pertaining to the work of the Trinity). In the former, we affirm that each of the persons of the Trinity is equal to the others in power and glory. They are the same in substance. There is nothing you can predicate about one person of the Trinity that you cannot predicate about the others. The Father is no more sovereign than the Son, the Son no more loving than the Father, and the Spirit no more omnipresent than either of Them. When we speak of the economic Trinity, however, we are speaking about the calling or role of each person of the Trinity. It is the Father who elects, not the Son. It is the Son, not the Father, who becomes incarnate. It is the Spirit, not the Father or the Son, who regenerates the souls of the elect. It is the Father and the Son who send the Spirit, not the other way around.
There is some overlap in the economic Trinity, activities that all members participate in in one way or another. This is perhaps most clear in Creation. Scripture begins with these pregnant words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). We all have a tendency to think that in the Creation it was God the Father who served as the Creator. There is truth in that, but not in such a way as to exclude the Son and the Spirit. In John’s gospel we are reminded, “All things were made through [Christ], and without Him nothing was made that was made” (John 1:3). And back in Genesis 1 we also see the Spirit’s activity: “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (1:2). The Spirit of God was active, taking that which was formless and giving it form, that which was void and making it bring forth fruit. The Psalms likewise speak of the Spirit as the giver of life to the plants of the field. It is perhaps for this reason that when the Nicene Creed speaks of the Spirit it affirms, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life.” There is life in the Spirit.
However, the Spirit, like the Father and the Son, was not finished with His work at the end of the Creation. The Fall, as we know, brought death to the creation, most powerfully to man. It is the Spirit who takes that which was alive and became dead, and revives it in His work of regeneration.
Revival, then, is principally a work of the Holy Spirit. And Scripture tells us that the Spirit brings revival when and where He will. Jesus says, “ ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit’ ” (John 3:5–8). Jesus, here addressing Nicodemus, is speaking in the clearest terms about the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit preceding faith. He reminds this teacher of the law that the flesh profits nothing. It is the Spirit who gives life.
Our understanding of the sovereignty of God in regeneration must drive our understanding of the sovereignty of God in revival. We cannot at the same time affirm that it is the Spirit who gives life and that we can bring revival to pass through human effort. Jesus takes great pains to put to rest the notion that we can even plan for revival or seek to harness it in some way. The Spirit, like the wind, blows where He will.
To be sure, faith comes by hearing. I am not advocating a hyper-Calvinism that would be silent in pronouncing the Good News. God ordains and works through means to accomplish His ends. I am, however, advocating true Calvinism, in which we affirm our utter dependence upon the power of God, and, in this instance, our inability to predict the weather patterns of the work of the Spirit. We are called to proclaim the Gospel boldly, faithfully, and accurately, but we are to do so with all humility, dependent upon the Spirit that gives life.
Revival is not something we do to ourselves. Neither is it something a revivalist does to or for us. It is not something we schedule. It is not even something with which we cooperate. To even think otherwise is to claim the power of the wind and to offend the Spirit. God the Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of life.
If we want revival, and we do, our only option is to concede that we have no options, that the wind will blow where it will. Our only calling is to pray with fervor that the wind will blow. Our only hope is that the Lord and Giver of new life will hover over the preaching of the Word and make it not void but fruitful. And when He does, our only response is this: Non nobis Domine sed nomine tuo da gloriam—“Not unto us, O Lord, but unto Your name be the glory.”
There is a season for the wind to blow. Pray that it will come soon.