Several years ago, while preaching through the book of Romans, I determined to read through Martin Lloyd-Jones’s eight volume set of commentaries on the first eight chapters of that great epistle. While I did not always agree with Lloyd-Jones, I found the first seven volumes covering Romans 1-7 rich and rewarding. He constantly hammered home the importance of grounding everything in Scripture rather than following the fads and wisdom of the times. Shockingly, in his commentary on chapter eight, Lloyd-Jones reversed course, substituting eisegesis for exegesis. This is because he allowed his particular view on revival to shape his understanding of the workings of the Holy Spirit. And Lloyd-Jones’s view of revival has been shaped by his take on church history rather than Scripture.
In Revival we see the same pattern, just a little more comprehensively. The book is based on several Old Testament stories and some of the most misguided exegesis imaginable. Taking passages out of context and superimposing upon them what he wants them to say Lloyd-Jones manages to develop a misshaped doctrine on revival. Revival is defined as a unique outpouring of the Holy Spirit in which “unusual blessing and activity [take place] in the life of the Christian church” (p. 99). But to actually be able to explain a revival, he insists, is not possible (p.112).
Biblically the Day of Pentecost, as described in Acts chapter two, is the pattern and expectation for revival according to our author. If the Holy Spirit fell on people once with supernatural manifestations, empowering saints and winning multitudes for Christ, then we should apparently expect the same today. To prove his case Lloyd-Jones constantly refers to what he would consider the big three of revivals: the Reformation, the Evangelical Revival under Wesley, Whitefield and Edwards, and the 1859 Revival (Revival was dedicated to the centennial of this latter one), with an occasional nod toward the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905.
While constantly paying lip service to the sovereign nature of revivals, the whole book is dedicated to the means whereby we can hasten revival in our time (e.g. recognizing our spiritual poverty, prayer, longing, preaching, etc). Perhaps the most tragic aspect of Lloyd-Jones’s understanding of revival is the concept that God does almost all of His real work during such times. This reduces God’s people to maintaining the status-quo while waiting for an extraordinary out-pouring of the Spirit. We are biding our time, accomplishing very little, hoping and praying that God will ultimately “show up.” But by Lloyd-Jones’s definition God has not shown up since at least 1905. For over a century we have been twiddling our thumbs waiting for a revival that has not come (see pp. 127-129, 210).
How sad if this were true – but this is not the teaching of the New Testament. Never once are we instructed in the epistles to ask for revival, or even look for one. Instead we are told to preach the Word, evangelize, persevere, and serve the Lord and the body of Christ. The emphasis of Scripture is to live mightily for Christ under the power of the Holy Spirit. Nowhere does the Bible teach what Lloyd-Jones claims concerning revival. To base our understanding of any doctrine on a select few biblical examples and our interpretation of church history and stories of individuals is a recipe for disaster. Sadly, this is what Lloyd-Jones has done.
Revival is Lloyd-Jones at his worst. A man who dedicated his life to the careful exposition of Scripture inexplicably twists Scripture to fit his theology, which itself is founded on extrabiblical sources (p. 282). Perhaps Revival’s greatest contribution is to serve notice to all of us that once we leave the sure foundation of Scripture there are no limits to our self-deception.