Book Review: Pentecost – Today? The Biblical Case for Understanding Revival

11 November 2022

8.8 MINS

An excellent exegesis of how Scripture speaks to us of the conditions in which revival may flourish, as well as what may impede the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Amongst many conservative Protestants today — be they Reformed, Evangelical or even Pentecostal — the topic of “revival” has fallen out of vogue. Very few Christian pastors preach on it, and even fewer call on the Lord’s people to ask for it in prayer. One of the best, as well as most balanced, examinations of the subject is by Iain H. Murray, Pentecost — Today? The Biblical Case for Understanding Revival (Banner of Truth, 1998).

While I’d been meaning to get around to reading it since it was first published (almost twenty-five years ago) I’ve only managed to do so recently. If only I had done so earlier! Significantly, most books on the subject describe what happens during a revival, rather than deal with what they are from a Biblical basis.[1] As Murray quotes one author, “We need to think more about certain questions raised by revivals rather than read more about more revivals. What is revival? The question of definition is fundamental.” [2]

Murray goes on to explain how to understand revivals Biblically, without resorting to certain proof texts, such as the well-known 2 Chronicles 7:14, which he believes confuses the continuity between the Old and New Testaments. The reason why Murray says this is because a) The unique ‘internal’ nature of the promised Holy Spirit (see Joel 2:28; Ezekiel 47:1-10) in the new covenant age compared to the ‘external’ influence in the Old [3] and b) the now defunct role of the Promised Land in the saving purposes of God. As Murray helpfully explains:Pentecost Today

‘In the New Testament, the church of Christ ceases to be connected in any theocratic manner with any land. Ours is ‘the Jerusalem above’, ‘the heavenly Jerusalem’ (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 12:22). Certainly, communities and nations are often blessed because of the gospel, but that is a very different thing from making God’s promise to Solomon the grounds for believing that if Christians repent and humble themselves there will be a national healing and a national revival. Many thousands of believing Israelites were living obediently to the gospel in the first century but, far from securing for them the promise, ‘I will heal their land’, they saw the utter destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.’ [4]

God’s Sovereignty versus Human Responsibility

According to Murray, revivals are brought about first and foremost, by the divine initiative and sovereign intercession of Christ Himself in Heaven. And then, flowing out of this, the humble and obedient response of His people on earth. This is because the experience of Pentecost is not a one-off event — as some people wrongly claim — but an ongoing reality for every disciple of Jesus. For while the Spirit was given permanently on the day of Pentecost, it was not with the same degree. For example, the same persons present in Acts 2:4 are said to be [again] “filled with the Holy Spirit” in Acts 4:31. What’s more, the New Testament points to believers being continually filled with a greater measure of God’s Spirit (e.g. Ephesians 1:17; Philippians 1:19; Luke 11:13).

One of the most helpful aspects of Murray’s approach to the topic though, is how he explains the Biblical interplay between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Murray is aware of both the unbiblical fatalism and spiritual passivity of the so-called ‘hyper-Calvinists’, as well as the unorthodox beliefs of especially someone like Charles G. Finney.[5] I’ll leave it to the interested reader to follow up on Murray’s explanation of the ‘tension’, but he dedicates at least two chapters of his book to examining the two extremes.

Why Aren’t We Experiencing Revival Today?

The really crucial question though, is why don’t we experience a greater outpouring of God’s Spirit today? One of the most important sections in Murray’s book is chapter 6, Hindering Revival: Evangelical Fanaticism. The opening paragraph is worth reproducing in full:

We have already considered what place is left for human responsibility if revivals come by the sovereign will of God. We saw that the Bible teaches both man’s total dependence upon God and the voluntary nature of His own actions. In a manner hidden from us, the divine and human agencies are conjoined in events in such a way that the will of God comes to pass while men remain fully accountable for all sin and failure.

Not a single success in the kingdom of God is ever achieved without the predetermining purpose of God (Acts 15:8), yet we are confronted in Scripture with the real danger that we may hinder the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 9:12). This is true in general and it must remain true with regard to revival. [6]

Often during times of revival, an individual person’s sins are confessed publicly, but even here Murray wisely urges caution. This is because we can be tempted — even in confession of our guilt in temptation — to glorify the darkness of sin rather than magnify the light of Christ’s love (i.e. Eph. 5:12). That said, Murray goes on to insightfully outline at least seven distinct ways in which followers of Christ Jesus can grieve the Holy Spirit and hence be a “potential hindrance to revival”. (see Eph. 4:29-32)

a) Unbelief

The Scriptures clearly teach: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6)

Significantly, the Gospels teach that is was because of a lack of faith in His hearers that Jesus sometimes did not do many miracles (Matt. 13:58; Mark 6:5). If this is true while Christ was on earth, then it also remains relevant now He is in heaven, from where He calls on us to believe that we will receive what we have asked (see Mark 11:24). Is maybe one of the reasons why we are not seeing a greater degree and measure of God’s Spirit simply because we have not asked in faith? (i.e. Luke 11:13)

b) Pride

C.S. Lewis rightly referred to pride as being “the great sin”,[7] because through our human hubris we dethrone God, putting ourselves in His place. This is why the Scriptures repeatedly warn that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (e.g. Prov. 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5-6).

Is the church today guilty of relying more on marketing strategies and human ingenuity rather humbling ourselves before the LORD in prayer? If so, then it is little wonder we don’t see a great outpouring of the Spirit’s power, for we may well be depending on our own.

c) Impurity

While this can come in all manner of different forms, the most ubiquitous danger today — thanks to the internet — is pornography. Where previous generations had to expend consider thought and effort to acquire it, the opposite challenge today is avoiding it.

Sexual immorality is everywhere. From social media, the streaming services, to mainstream advertising. Sex sells. But in exchange for its free offer of illegitimate lust, is a deadening of one’s spiritual vitality. Revival must first and foremost start with us as individuals. And a sure sign of Christ’s quickening grace is a hunger and thirst for both His kingdom and His righteousness (Matt 5:6).

By flirting with (rather than fleeing from) sinful desires, we are repeatedly warned about experiencing God’s holy discipline (Heb. 13:4; 1 Thess. 4:1-8). And this is often expressed through a withdrawal of His blessing and favour (Rev. 2:19-24).

d) Moral laxity

Closely following on from the previous point is the challenge to be holy in all we do. In warning the church in Ephesus about the danger of grieving the Spirit of God (Eph. 4:30), the apostle Paul immediately goes on to write:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph. 4:31-32)

Are these not aspects of our characters which we all need to repent of? How many churches are currently suffering from broken relationships and fractured fellowship because of the unresolved hurt — and accompanying unforgiveness — which has allowed the Devil to get a foothold? (Eph. 4:25-28) Where such division exists, the kingdom of God cannot flourish, let alone stand (see Luke 11:18).

e) Prayerlessness

Prayerlessness is not just a symptom of unbelief (see point a) but also of spiritual laziness. Jesus rebuked His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane for not even being able to keep watch for one hour (Matt. 26:40). But then He issued them with the following challenge: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt. 26:41)

All of us may desire revival, but re we willing to expend the spiritual “sweat” of seeking the LORD in prayer? So often in Scripture — in both the Old and New Testaments — believers are called on to seek God with all our hearts (e.g. Jer. 29:13; James 4:7-10) and to be especially committed to prayer (Col. 4:2-6).

Perhaps the most obvious reason we don’t see more dramatic movements of God’s Spirit is because we are simply not prepared to devote ourselves to prayer. As Thomas Watson once said — in relation to the miraculous events relayed in Acts 12 — the angel fetched Peter out of prison, but it was prayer that fetched the angel! How difficult is it today to organise a prayer meeting? And when we do, why do so few people come?

f) Unfaithfulness to Scripture (or ‘erroneous beliefs’)

It should really go without saying that the Spirit will never bless those who are unfaithful to His Word. This is because the Comforter’s role is not to speak on His own, but only what He hears, and thus bring glory to Jesus (John 16:12-14).

To be unequally yoked with false teachers is to not only grieve God’s Spirit, but also incur a loss of God’s favour and blessing (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). Indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself solemnly warns the church at Pergamum that if they do not repent in this regard, He will soon come to them and will fight against them with the sword of His mouth. (Rev. 2:16)

g) Contention between brethren

One of the most beautiful signs of revival is the unity of Christian believers, especially across multiple congregations, and even, denominations (Psalm 133). This is a beautiful realisation of the prayer which Jesus Himself prayed in John 17 when He asked the Father to make us one.

Significantly, the reason behind this request for being brought to complete unity is “to let the world know that You sent me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:23) There is something profoundly evangelistic about genuine spiritual unity. It testifies to the truth and power of the Gospel, when we who were formerly estranged to God are now reconciled also to one another. There is a direct parallel here which is often overlooked. To remain divided, then, is to obscure the work of the Gospel and thus hinder a greater manifestation of the Holy Spirit. (see 2 Cor. 2:11)

Revive Us, O LORD!

Just like the theological designation for God as Trinity, so too is the noun revival nowhere to be found in the Bible. But that doesn’t mean the truth of both spiritual truths is not clearly taught. Iain Murray helpfully observes, “Not until the time of Cotton Mather (1663-1728) did it begin to come into currency in the English language.”

Putting together all of the inferences of Scripture, the reality of revival has to do with the Person and work of the Holy Spirit. Whether it’s through a virgin birth, inspiration of Holy Scripture, bringing people to experience spiritual regeneration, transforming believers into the image and likeness of Christ, or raising God’s people’s physical bodies from the dead, Murray rightly says, “at every point, His work runs far beyond our comprehension”.

What is needed today — as in every age — is for a greater filling of the Holy Spirit. An event that begins with a sovereign act of Christ Jesus in Heaven and results in a faithful human response on earth. As Rob Smith writes in his modern-day chorus:

Revive us, O Lord
Send forth your Spirit
Unsheathe your sword
And break through our chains
By the power of your word
Revive us, revive us, revive us, O Lord!


[1] A notable exception is Max Turner, “’Revival’ in the New Testament”, in On Revival: A Critical Examination (Paternoster Press, 2003), pp. 3-22.

[2] Reviving Australia: Essays on the History and Experience of Revival and Revivalism in Australian Christianity, eds. Mark Hutcheson and Stuart Piggin (Sydney: Centre for the Study of Australian Christianity, Robert Menzies College, 1994), p. 6.

[3] For an excellent examination of this aspect see James M. Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments (Broadman, 2006).

[4] Murray, Pentecost — Today? p. 15.

[5] In this regard, Charles Finney infamously wrote in his book, Revivals of Religion, or Lectures on Revival, ‘A revival is as naturally a result of the use of the appropriate means as a crop is of the use of its appropriate means’ and thus, if one continued to employ the right means, then ‘revival would never cease’. However, as has often been pointed out, Finney’s approach not only gives sinful human beings much credit, but also undermines the awesome and divine majesty of the Holy Spirit. Someone Whom the Lord Jesus Christ says is so mysterious, powerful and uncontainable as to be like a mighty wind (John 3:7-8).

[6] Murray, Pentecost — Today? p. 134.

[7] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, chapter 8.


Photo by Artem Podrez.

We need your help. The continued existence of the Daily Declaration depends on the generosity of readers like you. Donate now. The Daily Declaration is committed to keeping our site free of advertising so we can stay independent and continue to stand for the truth.

Fake news and censorship make the work of the Canberra Declaration and our Christian news site the Daily Declaration more important than ever. Take a stand for family, faith, freedom, life, and truth. Support us as we shine a light in the darkness. Donate now.

Leave A Comment

Recent Articles:

Use your voice today to protect

Faith · Family · Freedom · Life



The Daily Declaration is an Australian Christian news site dedicated to providing a voice for Christian values in the public square. Our vision is to see the revitalisation of our Judeo-Christian values for the common good. We are non-profit, independent, crowdfunded, and provide Christian news for a growing audience across Australia, Asia, and the South Pacific. The opinions of our contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of The Daily Declaration. Read More.