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FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS, volume 9, number 7, February 18, 2010

These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, Acts 1:1
4.

Normative Church Life

David Brainerd was born in April, 1718 in Haddam, Connecticut and was converted
just prior to enrolling at Yale in September, 1739. He was deeply and profoundly
affected by the preaching of George Whitefield at Yale in the fall of 1741 at t
he height of a remarkable visitation of the Holy Spirit in New England. Later th
at fall Whitefield would join Jonathan Edwards at his church in Northampton, Mas
sachusetts where there was a steady stream of conversions. Brainerd was dismisse
d from Yale due to harsh things he said about a tutor, saying off handedly that
he had no more grace than a chair. He sought to be reinstated but to no avail. H
e began his missionary work among the Indians of the Kaunaumeek tribe, who resid
ed halfway between Stockbridge, Massachusetts and Albany, New York in November,
1742 and saw little fruit from his efforts. At this juncture, Brainerd’s circums
tances—extreme physical deprivation of hunger, illness, and isolation, coupled w
ith a deep conviction of his own sin and unworthiness—drove him to prayer. He sp
ent long hours in the woods, in isolation, pouring out his heart to God in praye
r, confessing his sin, delighting in the glory of Christ and the grace of the go
spel, beseeching God for the salvation of the poor, heathen Indians. He traveled
in the spring of 1744 to the forks of the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and ag
ain saw little openness to the gospel among these pagan and primitive people. Ma
ny had been hardened by white men who called themselves Christians but who lived
godless, debauched lives. However in the summer of 1745 at Crossweeksung in New
Jersey, Brainerd began to find the Indian tribe there melted by his and William
Tennent’s preaching. They found quiet weeping and sobbing, a profound awareness
of their sin, and what they believed to be an earnest desire to be saved. Brain
erd, through his interpreter, went from house to house, daily preaching Jesus; a
nd he continued also daily with public meetings where he proclaimed the simple m
essage of the cross, calling them to flee to Jesus to be saved. Indians from as
far as forty miles were coming to the meetings, falling under conviction of thei
r sin, and calling on Christ to be saved. Brainerd never mentions how many he th
inks were converted but by noting his references to how many attended various me
etings, it seems safe to say that several hundred were wonderfully born again du
ring August, 1745. These conversions continued unabated into the next year.[1]

Later Brainerd writes in his diary of the societal impact conversion had on the
Indians of Crossweeksung. He says,

“The effects of this work have likewise been very remarkable. I doubt not that m
any of these people have gained more doctrinal knowledge of divine truths since
I first visited them in June last, than could have been instilled into their min
ds by the most diligent use of proper and instructive means for whole years toge
ther, without such a divine influence. . . Their pagan notions and idolatrous pr
actices seem to be entirely abandoned in these parts. . . They seem generally di
vorced from drunkenness, their darling vice, the “sin that easily besets them,”
so that I do not know more than two or three, who have been my steady hearers, t
hat have drank to excess since I first visited them . . . As their sorrows under
convictions have been great and pressing, so many of them have since appeared t
o “rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory,” and yet I never saw anythin
g ecstatic or flighty in their joy. . . some of them have been surprised at them
selves, and have with concern observed to me, that “when their hearts have been
glad,” which is a phrase they commonly make use of to express spiritual joy, “th
ey could not help crying for all.”[2]

Is the Book of Acts a mere aberration or is it to be the benchmark, the gold sta
ndard, as it were, of Christianity? What should characterize the church in our d
ay, in any time of history? James Boice says that the church today rarely unders
tands the far reaching impact of the early church, how they had taken the gospel
to the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire, if not further, within two hundred
years of Pentecost.[3] Acts is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy where
the promised Holy Spirit was to come upon the covenant community and empowers he
r to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord.[4] I suggest the Acts of the Apos
tles is normative for the church in any age. I am not speaking of tongues and mi
racles. These are not the focus of Luke’s writing. The unmistakable theme is the
expansion of the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the utter most parts
of the earth, (Acts 1:8).

So, what characterized the church in Acts and what ought to characterize us toda
y? What would revival look like in our day? There seem to be at least ten marks
of revival present in Acts, and there is an order to them. One cannot miss these
marks in the ministry of David Brainerd, as noted briefly above. First, in the
Acts of the Apostles, there is clear evidence of mighty prayer. The one hundred
and twenty were gathered together in the upper room for ten days of prayer, afte
r Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:12-14). For what were they praying? No doubt they wer
e praising God for the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus. Sur
ely they were giving thanks to God for opening their eyes to see the truth as it
is in Jesus. Can there be little doubt that they were also confessing sin, bein
g reconciled to one another. No doubt they each had sin to confess in denying Je
sus and losing track of His demands on their lives. And certainly they were aski
ng for the promised Spirit to come upon them in order to empower them for His Gr
eat Commission. Mighty prayer, as seen in the prayers of Ezra (Ezra 9:5ff ), Neh
emiah (1:4ff, 9:5ff ), and Daniel ( 9:4ff) is always characterized by an intoler
able burden for the glory of God to dwell in the land (Psalm 85:9), for Jesus to
be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6), for God’s face to shine on His people
(Psalm 67:1), for multitudes to taste of Christ’s fullness (John 1:16). Mighty p
rayer induces an indomitable hunger for Christ, getting to the place where we ca
n say with the Psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And besides Thee, I de
sire nothing on earth, (Psalm 73:25).

Mighty prayer, however, always leads to mighty preaching—what we may also call r
evival preaching. This is clearly present in the books of Acts. The preaching of
Peter, Stephen, Paul, and the rest of the Apostles is fueled by the mighty pray
er which brought the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In revival prea
ching the preacher clearly comprehends his God-given authority and he proclaims
Christ crucified to his hearers, giving the sense that God is the judge and jury
, that all must stand before His awesome judgment seat and give account of their
lives. It preaches for a verdict, calling people to act upon the word just prea
ched. He combines law and gospel, using the former to bring conviction of sin, a
nd the latter to bring healing, redemption, and holiness. David Brainerd reports
that the revival preaching at Crossweeksung evoked weeping and deep concern, no
t so much from the terrors of the Law but from the sweetness and goodness of God
in salvation through Christ.[5]
Mighty prayer and mighty preaching always give way to mighty conversions. Every
major revival witnesses millions of conversions in a one to two hundred year per
iod. This happened in the Roman Empire in the first two hundred years of the New
Testament church. It happened in Europe in the sixteenth century under Luther,
Calvin, Zwingli, et al. It happened in the seventeenth century Puritan awakening
in England and the American Colonies. It happened in America, England, Scotland
, and Wales in the eighteenth century Great Awakening. It happened throughout th
e ever expanding American continent in the nineteenth century, as well as in Eng
land and Northern Ireland. It continues to happen in East Africa through the Eas
t African revival which began in the early 1950’s. It is happening today in Chin
a, South America, and in many Muslim nations like Iran, Iraq, and Algeria.

Mighty prayer, mighty preaching, and mighty conversions always gives way to migh
ty assemblies. In Acts 4:31 we are told that the church gathered together and pr
ayed and was filled with the Holy Spirit. Consequently the place where they were
gathered was shaken and they spoke the word of God with boldness. Peter told th
e Sanhedrin when they forbid him to speak any longer in the name of Christ that
he could not stop speaking what he had seen and heard, (Acts 4:20). A mighty ass
embly is the gathering of God’s covenant people on the Lord’s Day when a heart f
elt sense of the Spirit’s presence falls upon the congregation like the Shekinah
of Old Testament times (Exodus 40:38). A mighty assembly always results in Psal
m 2 worship, “Worship the Lord with reverence, and rejoice with trembling, (Psal
m 2:11). A sense of awe overcomes the people of God.

Brainerd, in reporting on the mighty movement of God among the Indians at Creekw
eeksung, writes, “Divine truth fell with weight and power upon the audience, and
seemed to reach the hearts of many. . . the word seemed to be accompanied by di
vine influence, and made powerful impressions upon the assembly in general.”[6]
Throughout church history mighty assemblies have resulted in the unbeliever’s c
uriosity being aroused, leading him to public assemblies, often ending in his co
nversion.[7]

And mighty assemblies lead to mighty holiness. Paul commends the Thessalonians f
or their faith, stating how they had turned from idols to serve the true and liv
ing God, (1 Thessalonians 1:9); and he also commends the Macedonians, saying tha
t they had given out of their poverty to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, (2 C
orinthians 8:2). Neither a church nor its community is experiencing true revival
if the level of morality and holiness is not raised. Simply put—Christians are
to be different from the world, and holiness is that difference.

Mighty holiness leads to mighty grass roots evangelism. In Acts 8:1ff we read th
at the people were disbursed from Jerusalem due to persecution, that they contin
ued going about evangelizing (the actual Greek word in Acts 8:4 is evangelize).
Evangelism is not left to pastors and missionaries when revival is in the air. T
he whole church engages in her God-given responsibility—to make disciples of all
the nations. Brainerd had little response among the Indians at the forks of the
Delaware River, but after those at Crossweeksung were converted, he took them t
o the Delaware River and they bore witness to God’s mighty work among them, movi
ng the formerly hard hearted and scoffing Indians to listen and embrace Christ.[
8] The church is the base of operations for evangelistic outreach. She is to eng
age in it. Anything less is an incomplete picture of gospel holiness. Personal e
vangelism is a mark of one’s personal holiness.

Mighty holiness leads to mighty generosity or compassion. Believers in Macedonia


and Achaia were giving out of their poverty to those in Jerusalem. Barnabas gav
e his property to the Lord’s work (Acts 4:36-37), and the people held all things
in common, meeting the practical needs of all the brethren in Jerusalem (Acts 4
:32-34). For the Macedonians to give out of their poverty is like a village of T
eso Christians in Uganda giving from their meager resources to ease the pain of
the Haitians after the January, 2010 earthquake.

And mighty compassion always leads, sooner or later, to mighty societal impact.
Do we not see that in Ephesus in Acts 19 when a riot breaks out at the hands of
the silversmiths who are angry because the populace no longer buys their silver
trinkets related to the worship of Diana, because they have turned from their id
ols to serve the living God! The eighteenth century Great Awakening prevented th
e bloodshed of the French Revolution from coming to America. The second Great Aw
akening in nineteenth century America resulted in the abolition of slavery. The
1904 Welsh revival resulted in Barbershop Quartet music. That’s because the poli
ce had nothing to do (crime had all but ended), so they offered to spend their t
ime by singing in churches.

And mighty societal impact results in mighty leadership. God brings forth pastor
s, teachers, evangelists, elders, and deacons when revival comes to a church and
community. Leaders are necessary to propel a congregation out into the world to
evangelize, speak the truth in love, and to serve the needy both within and wit
hout the congregation. Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in every city (Ti
tus 1:5), and Paul was constantly including men on his missionary tours, prepari
ng them for leadership roles in the work of Christ’s church (Acts 13:13, 15:36,
40, 18:1-3, 19:9, 20:1-6, 17, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus).

And finally, mighty leadership always results in mighty combat. The devil is a r
oaring lion, seeking to devour whomever he may, (1 Peter 5:8). When the gospel b
egins to attack the societal and cultural depravity prevalent in any culture, th
en the forces of evil do not take it sitting down. They rise up and bring an ons
laught of persecution, lies, and division upon the church. Revival heightens thi
s spiritual conflict. The devil is in the details of ministry. How many times ha
ve we all seen a ministry threatened because someone did not follow through with
the details, that some make faulty assumptions, that expectations were not real
ized, and all manner of distrust arose.

Oh, how we ought to long for revival in our nation and world! The Acts of the A
postles is normative. This is the benchmark for the church. Anything less is fai
lure. Merely “being faithful” is not enough. These ten marks ought to be readily
apparent and growing in intensity in our ministries. If they are not, then we a
re woefully inadequate. May God cause us to weep over our impotence, driving us
to repentance and the pursuit of Biblical holiness! The church in the western wo
rld is languishing in unbelief, carnality, and worldliness. We have become milqu
etoast. May God stir us up to spend and be spent for the sake of the gospel, not
only to save our western world, but more importantly, to show the world the glo
ry of our great Christ, the Savior of sinners, the Lord of all the nations!

[1] The Life of David Brainerd, compiled by Jonathan Edwards, pages 144ff.
[2] Ibid, pages 190-191.
[3] Acts: An Expositional Commentary, Boice, page 22.
[4] See Joel 2:28-29 Ezra 9:8-9 (a little reviving), Luke 24:49, John 14:16-17,
16:5-11, Acts 1:8.
[5] The Life of David Brainerd, page 215ff.
[6]Ibid, pages 198-199.
[7] The Welsh revival beginning in 1735 is a good case in point. On more than on
e occasion Howell Harris’ life was threatened by evil doers, who in the end atte
nded the meetings and were soundly converted. See The Calvinistic Methodist Fath
ers of Wales.
[8] The Life of David Brainerd, pages 219ff.

FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS is a weekly devotional by Reverend Al Baker, pastor


of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
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