Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lessons from South Lancaster

As I have studied Ellen White’stestimony from the meetings that were held in South Lancaster, Massachusetts, in 1889, there are a number of elements that jump out at me in relation to revival. For a few years I have used her testimony from these meetings as a barometer by which to judge other experiences. This is true not only in experiences I have encountered and been a part of personally, but in other “revival” movements that appear on the Adventist landscape.

This South Lancaster experience helps us in two arenas: it helps us, first of all, see what the root of revival was and then, secondly, what the fruit of that revival was. Regarding the second, it seems to me that if the fruit is not witnessed as a result of these various movements within Adventism, then we can be fairly confident that they are not true revivals.

Of course, this is not to say that good cannot come from such movements, but, at the very least, if it is not true revival, then optimal good will not result. At the same time, we must always be careful when it comes to “judging” anything because we do not see what God sees and we are not the final arbiters. Nevertheless, Jesus does say that “by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:20). So we should ever ask the Holy Spirit to give us humble discernment when it comes to such.

Similarly, there are many who can easily fall into the other ditch, confusing fruit with root. Instead of spending time on the root and allowing the fruit to come as a response to the root, the fruit is either dwelt upon, urged, or thought to be the root. This we must guard against, by God’s grace. The “middle man” (the Holy Spirit, working through the proclamation of the root) cannot be taken out of the equation, else the fruit will not be true fruit but man-powered and temporary. This, far too often, is what happens in many revival movements.

Based on my study of Ellen White’s testimony, these are the observations I have made that help inform any potential revival movements. The first category are root observations, which include both methodological approaches (both positive and negative) and theological emphases. Whether these root elements are or should be normative is perhaps another discussion, but they are at least noteworthy. The second category is the fruit that resulted from the root. Both categories are listed in chronological order, speaking nothing of normative priority.

The Root of Revival

  1. Supplication. “Our hearts were drawn out in earnest supplication to God that he would work in our behalf,” Ellen White says in the first paragraph. This, no doubt, means that time was spent in prayer, inviting the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon the attendees and presenters.
  2. Urging obedience to the law of God. Ellen White spent Sabbath afternoon talking about the “necessity of obeying the law of God,” and how it is not “enough to say that we believe.” God’s righteous standard was lifted up as the goal to attain.
  3. Social meetings. After a number of the discourses, “social meetings” were held where attendees could internalize the messages they had heard.
  4. Christ was presented as a Savior who is “not afar off, but nigh at hand.” This was specifically mentioned as being emphasized during the first social meeting. Christ’s identification with humanity was lifted up in its beauty.
  5. Christ was presented as a “sin-pardoning Saviour, and the sanctifier of the soul.” This was seen as the “truth as it is in Jesus,” which was a “light which they had never before viewed.”
  6. Christ’s blood “alone” can be trusted in the full assurance of faith to cleanse from all sin. This was urged upon attendees as the experience of resting upon Christ.
  7. The paternal love and care of God for his children was dwelt upon. Ellen White says, “The knowledge of God’s love is the most effectual knowledge to obtain.” She adds that Jesus “leads us as children to take views of his goodness, mercy, and love,” and that He “ever directed the minds of his disciples to God as to a loving Father,” educating his followers to “look upon God with confidence and love.” We see the “Father revealed in the Son, for God is love.”
  8. There was no undue excitement, urging, inviting, or calling forward. This seems to mean that presenters were free from fanaticism or arm-twisting.  

The Fruit of Revival

  1. Conviction of souls of need for God’s grace and love. This a result of the “social meetings,” where it is said that the “Lord came very near.”
  2. Confession of sin, and restitution of wrongs. This, too, was borne out of the “social meeting” experiences.
  3. Repentance by confessing to one another how he/she had wronged the other by word or act. Repenting and confessing to one another results from the “Spirit of God” working upon the heart.
  4. Avoidance of “wild, clamorous cries and exercises.” Ellen White says these behaviors are “no evidence that the Spirit of God is at work.” Thus, this is somewhat of a “negative” fruit and therefore these behaviors do not prove that God’s Spirit is the root of such actions.
  5. The presence of peace; believing that God is able to do what He has promised. Souls are able to rest in Jesus’ work, rather than trying to establish their own righteousness.
  6. Attendees wanted more. Ellen White says that “the meetings continued a week beyond their first appointment.” When revival takes place, people want more and more of what they have been getting. School was even “dismissed” and “all made earnest work of seeking the Lord.” Later on, Ellen White says that the testimonies would have “continued hours longer, if it had been allowed to run its full course.”
  7. Joy in recognition that Christ had forgiven their sins. The attendees were able to joyfully proclaim of the assurance that Christ had forgiven their sins.
  8. Hearts overflowing with thanksgiving and praise to God. In addition, “sweet peace was in their souls.”
  9. Love for one another, as well as resting in God’s love.
  10. They breathed in the “very atmosphere of heaven.” Ellen White says that “angels were hovering around” and “the Lord had visited His people.” These realities could be seen, perhaps, as both a root and a fruit!
  11. Everyone had a testimony to bear. This was seen in the social meeting, where everyone seemed to have something to share.
  12. Ellen White lost sleep. She said that, as a result of the Spirit’s movings at the meetings and the revival that took place, she says she was “not able to sleep that night until nearly day.”
  13. Convicted as being sinners. Ellen White says that many “testified . . . they had been convicted in the light of the law as transgressors.”
  14. Realization that they were trusting in their own righteousness, and trusting and working in their own strength. In light of God’s love, attendees recognized that they were trying to save themselves; trying to overcome sin in their own strength and power.
  15. Pride was subdued, self was crucified. Ellen White says that when people come to Jesus, confess their sins and cast their helpless souls upon the compassionate Redeemer, then pride is subdued and self is crucified.


Based upon an analysis of Ellen White’s testimony from South Lancaster, this is the basic conclusion that I draw as it relates to what took place. Revival took place because the meetings were bathed in prayer, the law and the gospel were presented in conjunction with one another, the attendees opened their hearts, and personal work—by way of the social meetings—was carried out. Ellen White specifically says that “The knowledge of God’s love is the most effectual knowledge to obtain.” God was presented as a loving Father, and Christ was seen to be a Savior who is not “afar off, but nigh at hand.”Attendees were pointed to the law as the standard of righteousness and were reminded that it was only through Christ’s power and strength that they could reach such a high standard. At the same time, emotionalism and fanaticism were avoided, which would have resulted in false revival.

Because of the root, people saw their sinfulness. They were convicted not only of their guilt, but also their inability to attain righteousness in their own strength. Instead of becoming guilt-laden, however, they rejoiced and embraced the forgiveness and love of God and rested upon God’s promise that He was able to do what He said He could do. Self was crucified. Testimonies were borne; hearts were grateful and appreciative to God. Confession toward one another took place. Love was poured forth towards all. Heaven came down to earth and they breathed its atmosphere. Everyone wanted more and more of what was being presented and the allures and responsibilities of the world lost their appeal.

Lastly, attendees recognized that they were to “manifest to the world the character of God.”

Oh, that such revival would take place among us again!

1 comment:

Frank Z. said...

Very interesting.

This was the time of the 1888 message, and what that message revived was the everlasting gospel.

It was the same message that William Miller brought (since the first angel's message is the everlasting gospel). We tend to think of Miller's message as a bunch of prophecies, but the prophecies were only the vessel. The real treasure was the gospel. What the prophecies showed was the urgency with which the people needed to make peace with God. They did not have a lifetime, just a few short months. It woke them up from carnal slumber.

The 1888 message did the same work. The people had been resting on a false hope: their supposed "faith" in Christ, which was just a nominal belief in doctrines and prophecies; combined with "works", which were mostly just Ishmael...their own efforts to try to satisfy the Law.

The 1888 message showed them the absolute perfection of the righteousness of Jesus, and that this must be possessed and lived by those who would face the judgment of the living and the final events. The offer of this kind of righteousness, so much more beautiful than what the people had possessed so far, was immensely appealing to the souls who "hungered and thirsted" for it, and many reached out and grasped it.

But the leading men, whose pride was hurt as they were exposed as misguided shepherds of the flock, opposed this work and even though there were some repentances later, that message was never heartily embraced and supported.

This has been a subject of debate in the church. But compare the way the early church embraced the message of Jesus as the crucified Messiah. They said boldly, "there is no name given under heaven by which we must be saved except the name of Jesus." This is what real heartfelt acceptance and appreciation of God's message looks like.

But there is always a cross involved, and this cross means giving up the old ways, the old ideas of what religion looks like, the old Ishmael works (which are often very elaborate). It means admitting that we were entirely wrong, and missed the way; that when we thought we were serving God and were moved by His Spirit, we were quite mistaken. It means dismantling the things that have been built up with the wrong foundation.

As long as the devil lives, you will never see such a work go forward without opposition, stubborn resistance, digging in of heels, slander, and persecution...mostly from religious folk (for it was, after all, religious people who crucified Christ).