Updated: Dec 2, 2021
By 1539 an estimated 50,000 copies of Tyndale’s New Testament were circulating secretly in the British Isles. You could be put to death for owning just a page or two of those translations – and numbers were. How do we explain the willingness of so many to put their lives at risk in this way?
Iain Murray, former assistant to Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones and much-loved revival historian, is in no doubt that the events of the 16th century defy natural explanation.
Deftly he traces the main events of the century – the love life of a king, the avarice of a Pope, the spiritual hunger of a nation. “Here was a movement that was spreading, advancing, not by any support from the leadership of the nation but in spite of it – and was progressing at a remarkable rate. It was a spiritual awakening. The reformation occurred in England in spite of Henry VIII, not because of him.”
The occasion is Westminster Seminary’s sixth annual Newcastle conference; the address, ‘Reformation as Revival’; the speaker, Iain Murray. At 90 he has lost none of his vigour; speaking without apparent reference to notes, he holds his audience spellbound.
“Every true revival begins with a rediscovery of the word of God… The power of the Holy Spirit accompanies the word… God becomes a reality to people as he makes himself known in the Lord Jesus Christ as the saving God.”
The word ‘revival’ has been trivialised, its supernatural connotations lost. To conference speakers Geoff Thomas, Ian Hamilton, Brian Edwards, Jeremy Walker, Peter Naylor, Maurice Roberts and Warren Peel, as for Murray, true revival occurs when God sovereignly intervenes to magnify the impact of the word of God and prayer; the result is an otherwise-inexplicable explosion of life. Nation after nation has seen revival: Geoff Thomas memorably retold the 1904 Welsh Revival through the eyes of his parents and grandparents; Ian Hamilton took us to New England under Jonathan Edwards, Maurice Roberts to M’Cheyne’s Scotland.
What do such times have in common? God raises up leaders: men of conviction, emotions engaged, willing to suffer for the gospel; prayer-soaked preaching becomes a weapon for the pulling down of strongholds; God becomes holy, Christ is exalted, there is a dependence on the Spirit. The impact is a transformed church: devotion replaces entertainment; wonder and awe characterise worship; unity, the people of God. And thousands are added to the church.
Westminster’s 2021 Revival Conference was a joyful occasion, delegates coming in person from the UK, Europe and America, and joining online from as far away as Australia. The conference closed with a call for the church to pray for, long for, and expect revival in our own day. May that prayer be answered!
The next Autumn Conference of Westminster Presbyterian Theological Seminary takes place on 20-22 October 2022, in Newcastle upon Tyne. The subject is ‘Christ’s Mission for the Church’. An international speaker line-up includes Alistair Begg, Warren Peel and Geoff Thomas. For more information visit our 2022 conference website.