Let us look in on an “old-fashioned revival.” The sermon is over. The “work at the altar” begins. The entire congregation enthusiastically sings a well-known and heartfelt hymn of invitation, exhortation, and comfort. The aisles were cleared to make way for awakened sinners, who are now “seekers” and forcing their way to the “altar.” The hymn is full of the fundamental truths of the Gospel. The necessity of an immediate decision is pressed upon every soul by an earnest exhorter. The opportunity is the occasion. Destinies are at stake. The line between those who are the Lord’s and those who are not is clearly defined. There is no escape. This particular kind of meeting compels decisions. Simple silence is virtual rejection. The sinner feels that it is so. That conviction silences his scoff. He knows what his position means. He has the opportunity now to act as he knows he ought to. Innocent neutrality is impossible. “Whoever isn’t with me is against me.”
Now comes the call to prayer. Everyone appears to be praying at the same time. Moans, cries, supplications, and fervent counsels to the “seekers” blend into one “weird tempest of sound.” “Preacher,” “brethren,” “sisters,” “mourners”—all engage in the scene of seeming confusion, and of real or assumed earnestness. Now and then an impulsive soul gives vent, in a loud cry, to grief or joy or an anxious struggle. Mothers weep over returning sons, wives over repentant husbands for whom they have long prayed. Some prominent infidel or blatant blasphemer, who never before entered a revival meeting, and who, perchance, came now to sneer, bends before God in prayer, and before the congregation in practical confession. It is a “remarkable triumph of grace” and, in its way, a “miracle.” Now a soul has “gotten through.” Out of the confusion of the moment sprang a shout of victory. Now a tempest of shouts rends the air. A soul is “through”—through with the struggle of surrender, through with doubt, through with serving the devil and living for himself, through with resisting God. Look at his radiant face. Did Moses’ or Stephen’s face shine more brilliantly?
What joy! What a victory! What beauty! “Isn’t it a miracle?” someone wonders. At least the gospel is not effete. It is not a dead letter. The congregation sings the Doxology. The preacher announces that “a soul has been saved.” Saints rejoice. Sinners tremble. Perhaps new “seekers” crowd the altar. It is a time of “power.” Even the cold-hearted and hypercritical believer says, “The finger of God is there.”
In modern meetings, both union and denominational, where anxious souls are invited “to rise,” “to come forward,” or “to remain for the inquiry meeting,” while there may be less “demonstration” and “confusion” of the sort described, there is the same liability to occasional outbursts of feeling, to the use of strong expressions, to the obtrusion of personal experience.
By J. H. VINCENT
Updated 2023 Nathan Zipfel