Is Iain Murray a Revivalist?

(In what follows I am not endorsing any one revival.  I largely agree with Clark’s analysis.  I think the 2nd Great Awakening sowed dangerous seeds and the 1st Great Awakening had wacky moments that its supporters do not account for.  Of other revivals such as the 1859 Ulster one, I simply do not have the expertise to comment on that).

Clark’s larger argument is that we should be suspicious of those who claim that we should have spiritual experiences outside the divinely-established means of grace and preaching of the Word. Admittedly, this is a fair point. Clark’s antagonist is Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ). MLJ repeatedly urged for a “revival” to come, understanding revival as an experimental outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Clark, 79). Clark rebuts him, noting that MLJ is advocating Calvin’s doctrine without Calvin’s sacramental piety. Clark does admit, though, that MLJ never used “revival” to manipulate his own people (81).

Clark takes issue with Iain Murray’s distinction between “revival” and “revivalism.” In the first category would be Reformed evangelists like Edwards and Whitefield. In the latter category we have the horror of today’s evangelicalism. Clark accuses Murray of using providence to justify revivals he likes but ignoring providence on revivals he doesn’t like (81-82). Clark concludes his critique of Murray by asserting on Murray’s gloss what unites true Christianity is “experience, not doctrine” (82).

Clark does a good job in pointing out some weaknesses in individual Reformed evangelists and in some of the more inane happenings in the First Great Awakening. He also points out what many are now beginning to realize: Jonathan Edwards departed from the Reformed confession on a number of key philosophical points. Clark also establishes that Harry Stout’s narrative of Whitefield cannot be easily dismissed. There are some inconsistencies and factual errors in Clark’s analysis, though. Murray does not simply lump the Arminian and Calvinistic revivals in the same category. He is very critical of the Second Great Awakening towards its end. Further, Murray does not promote experience over doctrine as the basis of unity. Murray is specifically arguing, however, that the communions in North America shared a common, if somewhat broad, doctrinal agreement on soteriological concerns. I would probably side with Clark on this one, since Murray’s account downplays important ecclesial issues, but it is not the case that Murray simply compromised doctrinal agreement. Most importantly, however, is that Clark does not come to grips with Iain Murray’s distinction between revival and revivalism. The latter is not merely hoping for the Spirit of God to be poured out as an alternative to the means of grace. It is more properly seen as “whooping and hollering” until the decisions come. Revival, on the other hand, is when God sovereignly displays his power among his people in an unusual way. Further, Clark seems to grant that distinction with regard to MLJ (Clark, 81) but not with Murray.

I suspect MLJ overplayed his hand on the importance of revival. Clark is correct on one point: the church’s sanctification is through the means of grace and discipline. That is the established norm. I think I can also argue, though, that MLJ’s views can be modified and accommodate some of Clark’s concerns on this point. MLJ strongly argued “that the New Testament appeal to sanctification is always an appeal to the reason of the believing man” (Murray, The Fight of Faith, 173). Of course, one would need to supplement this statement with a discussion on the Lord’s Supper, but it is a good start.

While Clark is correct that MLJ probably doesn’t represent good Reformed ecclesiology, MLJ’s exegesis is not so easily dismissed. Perhaps MLJ’s understanding of the 1859 revival doesn’t rest on exegesis (with that I agree with Clark), but MLJ’s understanding of the nature of revival and even the continuation of spiritual gifts (and I know this is uncomfortable with many) does rest upon carefully-reasoned exegesis (cf. MLJ, Prove all Things, 32-33; Joy Unspeakable, p. 21, 23; The Sovereign Spirit, p. 26, 120, pp. 31-32). In any case, MLJ does encourage his congregation to delight in the day of small things and to be careful in seeking “phenomena.” That at least must be granted. I agree with Clark that MLJ was perhaps a bit too dismissive of anyone who disagreed with him. That was not helpful on the latter’s part.

“Conclusion”

I have some questions about Clark’s analysis. I think I have demonstrated that it is incomplete. I agree with his overall vision for the Reformed church’s sanctification through Word and Sacrament and that those who constantly seek revival downplay this. Further, I agree with all of his criticisms of Edwards and most of his criticisms of Whitefield. That said, however, Clark’s analysis really can’t account for the fact that God indeed does refresh his church in powerful ways from time to time. Admittedly, we are interpreting facts at this point, but they are still facts. While we shouldn’t sit on our hands waiting for revival to come, that does not mean that when God sovereignly displays his power in our lives we should say to him, “No God, this isn’t how you work.” (Of course, I don’t think Clark is saying that).

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6 comments on “Is Iain Murray a Revivalist?

  1. Benjamin P. Glaser says:

    Have you read MLJ’s book “Revival”?

    • Benjamin P. Glaser says:

      I pressed enter too quickly. In a lot of ways Murray’s “real” book on revival is “The Puritan Hope” which shows the way in which the foundation of the 1st GA was laid in the Puritan movement in England/Scotland. Also Samuel Rutherford (along with other Scots) say some things about the moving of the Spirit that makes folks like Clark a bit queasy.

      • Angela Wittman says:

        To add my two cents worth – I struggle with some of the accounts of the movement of the Holy Spirit stated by the Scottish Covenanters. For example – Elizabeth Melville’s (Lady Culross) account of another godly woman receiving a word from the Lord regarding Lady Culross’ concern that she was neglecting her family by attending too many conventicles. The word received was the good Lord was perfectly able to attend to her family. (This is my paraphrase, so please be sure to read the account of Lady Culross as found in the Ladies of the Covenant e-book posted at Electric Scotland.) Also, I’ve read “Ane godlie Dream” by Lady Culross which is a bit mystical.

      • Also see where Richard Cameron and Donald Cargill specifically prophecied certain events, and in Cargill’s case the accuracy was almost chilling.

        WHat helps me is seeing the nature of prophecy: even granting that prophetic gifts continue, and I am open on that point, in no way does prophecy, even if accurate, does not bind in the sense that God’s word does. Agabus correctly prophesied that Paul would be bound if he went, and Paul went anyway and it wasn’t disobedience.

        Also we are told to test and judge prophecies; something we ar enever told to do with God’s word.

  2. reformedcovenanter says:

    “Murray does not simply lump the Arminian and Calvinistic revivals in the same category.”

    You need to distinguish between Finneyite and other Arminian revivals; Iain Murray speaks very highly of Methodist revivalism.

    “Revival, on the other hand, is when God sovereignly displays his power among his people in an unusual way.”

    To me, this is the crux of the problem – although it depends on how one is defining the term “unusual”. Revivalism [in all its forms, for the distinction between good revivals and bad revivalism is chimera in my mind] is driven by a desire for something other than the ordinary means of grace which God has given. So instead of honouring the everyday pastors who faithfully laboured among their flocks, we look to show-man itinerant preachers to do something special (think George Whitefield, Billy Graham, et al). We have a lot of problems with itinerant revivalists in Northern Ireland, who swan in and swan out of other men’s parishes and leave a trail of destruction in their wake.

    “Of other revivals such as the 1859 Ulster one, I simply do not have the expertise to comment on that”

    ROFL … who does?

    “In a lot of ways Murray’s “real” book on revival is “The Puritan Hope” which shows the way in which the foundation of the 1st GA was laid in the Puritan movement in England/Scotland.”

    Revivalism and evangelicalism appropriate certain aspects of Puritanism, but 18th century evangelicalism was a new movement. The work of David Bebbington, even if it is overstated a bit, is useful on this point.

    “Also Samuel Rutherford (along with other Scots) say some things about the moving of the Spirit that makes folks like Clark a bit queasy.”

    True, though there was not precise agreement among the Scots on these things. Keep in mind, however, that Seceders and Covenanters were also some of George Whitefield’s fiercest opponents, even though his movement tapped into a certain latent credulity which manifested itself from time to time among Scottish Presbyterians.

    This thread has made for a refreshing break as I am waiting for manuscripts to arrive in the British Library at London. Well worth a visit if you are over here.

    • You raise good points and this is a question I still struggle with. My sympathies lie with MLJ. That said, I do have some problems with Whitefield and larger (though more philosophical) ones with Edwards.

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