A Pamphlet Concerning the Reformation of the Church

(Kuyper has begun his discussion of how a church which has deteriorated must be reformed. In the last paragraph which appeared he strongly emphasized that all reformation must be the work of God alone.) 


53. Concerning Reformation By Means Of Spiritual Awakening.

“Spiritual awakening,” reveil, or revival is a word that came into general usage for that which our fathers preferred to call “renewal of the covenant.” The church of God possesses, in the seven letters which Christ sent through His holy Apostle John to the seven churches of Asia Minor, the beautiful pattern which inspires such spiritual awakening. 

These letters, as they are found in Revelation 2 andRevelation 3, still speak to us. These letters are not directed to heathen people or to unconverted. With the exception of the church of Laodicea (brevity prevents us from discussing this letter in detail), there is presupposed in all these letters the truth that the churches to which the letters were directed stood firmly in their confession, and the powerful seal of faith shone brightly for far and away the majority of their members. Wrong elements had crept in. In part, sinful teaching sought and found an entrance. Their works were not perfect. The Lord has a few small things against them. The ideal was lacking. Nevertheless the churches as such were not yet apostate, nor corrupted, nor worldly in the sense in which we complain about our churches. They were still confessing and believing churches. Yet for all that, Christ takes hold of these churches powerfully and sharply for these small imperfections (as we would call them), so that they are warned to “conversion,” to “the strengthening of what remains, of what would otherwise die,” to a pondering of the state from which they have fallen. He calls them to perform the first work; and He does this under the stern threat that if they do not obey, “the candlestick will be removed from its place.” 

The Lord would not have sent these letters to the churches of that time nor kept them for the churches of all ages if this false security in Zion did not again and again appear in the church, and if the words of Scripture, “Awake thou that sleepest and Christ shall give you light,” were not continuously applicable for the chosen church and in her for the people of God. 

To call to repentance and conversion, to admonish to confession of sin and a holy walk, is also the calling of the minister of the Word in all the churches of God. It is a calling which must never be neglected because the Word, which is the God-ordained means, is given for crucifying and burying the indwelling sins of believers. The sound of that trumpet call to repentance must grow in urgency as frequently as the judgments of the Lord are heard from afar, or come closer, or as a plague breaking out in the places themselves where the church of God exists. 

That calling to spiritual awakening ought to take on a particular character if, by the permission of God, an unholy worldlimindedness or some specific sin clearly raises its head and painfully affects the tender consciences which are concerned for the honor of God. 

But in the fullest sense of the word these preachers of repentance arise only when it pleases God to bind overwhelmingly on the souls of His children, i.e., a few of His elect, the spiritual decline of the life of the congregation, so that they must call and cannot hold back because they, as Amos expressed it, have heard the roar of the lion. 

Then it is the acceptable time that God visits His people. He visits them with the revelation, influences, and inworking of His Holy Spirit Who penetrates the souls of His people more powerfully than has happened for a long time. Because of this a dissatisfaction with the spiritual condition of the church is born in each heart and gradually is born in larger circles. Souls again cry out from the depths. What appeared frozen, melts. Tongues are loosened. A desire for renunciation comes and the Word and prayer and Psalm singing have an inner sweetness which is thought heavenly compared to the drought concerning which complaints were made for so long. 

Such a watering of the garden of the Lord by dew from on high, such an anointing of the oppressed with fresh oil, such a glittering of the garment of praise for an oppressed spirit, is contagious. It spreads as a fire which carries itself from spark to spark. It jumps from soul to soul, from house to house, from church to church, always under the flowing of the winds of the Spirit. And the result is that again in a wider circle, much deeper than it was for a long time, the damnableness of our nature is plumbed, our impotence is confessed without reservation, the cross is seized more fully, the kingdom of Christ is enjoyed with greater blessings, and the fruits of the Spirit are multiplied more abundantly in meekness and longsuffering. 

This stream of life flows in three different riverbeds. 

It flows first of all in an enrichment of the hidden life of the heart before God. It is the mystical working of the Bible. It is the renewed discovery of the lost Comforter in our heart. The secret of the Lord is once again revealed to those who fear Him and keep His covenant. Above all, it is a blessed experience. It is a present tasting of the manna which comes from heaven. 

Distinct from this is the stream which refers to the holiness of walk. This is not (lest it become sectarian) to be thought as something unique, something higher than others can attain, but simply as a renewal of conversion; it is thus marked by a mortification of the old man. It is more and more to hate and flee from sin. It is characterized by a quickening of the new man in a hearty desire and love to live not only according to some, but according to all the commandments of God. 

To this is still added the holy passion to reveal to others the greatness of the love of Christ. Or, if one so wishes, the work of missions. The Lord Jesus wrote to Philadelphia, “Behold, I have set before thee an open door. . . . Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet.” And in a similar sense, the Lord grants to each church, which awakens spiritually from her sleep of death, power to win others for His kingdom. This is done not only by missions among the heathen, but more gloriously by the winning of those who live near the church. 

The secret of whether such a spiritual awakening shall remain pure lies in the question whether these three streams remain in proper relation to each other. If this does not happen, then the danger of sectarian deterioration arises, which results in a polite holiness in people of will power or in a superficial bustle of busyness with externals in the life of the members. 

On the other hand, if these three streams stay in proper relation, so that in the one church of God the members who live by feeling, by strong determination, or by busyness, hold each other in balance, then sectarianism is avoided, the discipline of the church is mutually sought, and the rich life of grace which blossoms in such a church is very glorious. 

All artificially motivated revivals are therefore to be condemned. They bring forth nothing but wind. And if it may please the Lord God sometimes to broadcast on the wings of this wind a seed of life, then this never happens in any other way than in spite of such an unnatural movement and it is never a natural fruit. It must, however, never be forgotten that the right to condemn such false revivals can never be made by one who does nothing; but it can be condemned only by those from whom (whether a church or its individual members) proceeds a genuine awakening which is willed by God. 

In circumstances where things have sunk too deeply, the members of the church receive the stimulus for such a covenant renewing from the shepherd, not the other way around—the shepherds from the members. The Lord does not so readily forsake His church that He does not set in office at least a few sensitive children of God, endowed with the ability to shine as light-giving stars in the middle of the darkness which has fallen upon the church. Shepherds are called to a closer fellowship with their Sender, to let their light shine in a holy walk and to bear in their priestly heart the honor of God and the salvation of souls. They are, more than others, the appointed watchers, the faithful dogs who must bark for their Lord. They must see the wolf before the sheep sense it, and woe to the shepherds who do not seize the wolf and lay down their own life for the sheep. Joshua and Josiah, Ezra and Nehemiah, are the shining examples who spur on each shepherd of God to faithful labor in his calling. And the history of Jesus’ church in the days of the New Covenant is rich with inspiring images of this sensitive life of the shepherds in the church who labor before the face of the Lord. Their cries for repentance still speak through their writings. Yet there is more. Also in our land history testifies of more than one classical gathering at which the ministers of the Word together confessed their own guilt and unfaithfulness, and together before His face promised revival in their own ministry and life. It is known that all the preachers in all the churches in London, in the year 1660, in connection with the threat of a fearful danger, announced in this large city their sins and admonished the city to covenant renewal. Even in more recent church history examples are not lacking of churches who sealed anew their covenant faithfulness. After having fallen into guilt before God, such revival was sealed by the Lord at the preaching of repentance by her shepherds, in the house of prayer, with fastings and prayers. 

Yet there are worse conditions imaginable in which the Lord God either has deprived His church almost entirely of faithful watchmen, or has withheld from these faithful watchmen whom He still allows to work, the grace to be zealous for His holiness. In such a miserable condition, the lack of zeal of the faithful or also the faithlessness of the remaining shepherds does not free any of them from the obligation of arousing God’s people to godliness. This has no other result than that the-duty of taking the initiative, which the members before had left to the shepherds, is now transferred to the members themselves. Yet the regulation of the Lord is to be honored also in this that the members never stain their zeal for God’s honor by a contempt for the office instituted by God. Thus frequently, by the Holy Spirit (for without His work all work is only a sham), children of God are seized outside the office by the conviction of communal guilt, and a fire of jealousy for the honor of God is ignited in their bosom so that they are angry with the sin of the people. However, the evidence of their zeal ought to proceed from love for the leaders. 

The first impulse for renewal ought to be directed towards the leaders. There must be no desire to do it themselves apart from the leaders, but a quiet desire and prayer, “Oh, if only they would be aroused to reformation!” And only when pressure and entreaty appear useless and the shepherds either harden themselves in their faithlessness or the faithful shepherds continue in the half-hearted lack of zeal, then the moment has come for the members of the church themselves to call the church to repentance and conversion. 

Let no one trifle with honoring God’s ordinances, nor must anyone ignore these ordinances with an attitude of self-sufficiency. One must bear in mind that all our calling to repentance and conversion can produce nothing but death unless God the Lord seizes the heart; that all called to repentance are only instruments and the glory of God alone is the One Who shakes awake; and that the invoked blessing of His Fatherhand is only forfeited and virtually banished as long as we carry on in a self-willed way and do not follow His path. 

If one tests what has happened to us with these main principles, then the following must be stated: 

1) That in the preaching of our day the call to repentance and conversion is heard much too weakly from the people of the Lord, while most of the noise comes from the wild crowds. 

2) That among the ministers of the Word both in their mutual contact and in their concern for the church of God, one can weep because of a sad lack of that spiritual awakening which does not rest until the shame of the decline of the Lord’s inheritance is turned away. 

3) That spiritual awakening which came from here and there among the members was made powerless by various weaknesses, weaknesses of which these four are the most important. First, that people bypass the office, sometimes even disdaining it. Second, that men urge toward sanctification without the conviction of guilt. Third, that men pursue either the mystical in a one-sided way, or emphasize life improvement, or are overflowing in works, and by this one-sidedness become sectarian. Fourth, that men hunt the extraordinary in place of scrubbing clean the ordinary house furnishings. 

4) That it must be said especially of Moody’s work that this has nothing to do with spiritual awakening when it aims only at the preaching of the gospel to the wild masses. We need no awakening out of indolence; but conversion out of spiritual death is necessary. In how far the lack and the neglect of duty of the church in England and America compel such a work of Moody, remains outside our judgment.¹ 

5) That the spiritual awakening to which Piersall Smith called people, went in the right direction when it was applied, not to the wild masses, but to those who were already brought into the church. But, on the other hand, it went in the wrong direction, when it evaded the ecclesiastical channels, corrupted doctrine, and sought its power in overstimulating gimmicks. 

6) That the Salvation Army, even as Moody’s work, intended no spiritual awakening, but the ingathering of the unconverted. It is, however, entirely off the track in so far as this movement moves outside the channels of the church, throws pearls before swine, and with respect to the exercise of influence, has recourse to means which run counter to the spirit of the Word. 

7) That among the people of God in our own land this spiritual awakening and covenant renewal demanded by God shall arise only if each person lays the axe at the root of his own ego; proceeds from the conversion of his own heart to the betterment of his own household; and without asking what another does, descends before his own house and family into that humility which has the unchangeable promise of grace.

¹ Moody was a well-known evangelist in the earlier part of our twentieth century who did his work here in America and who established the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.