Billy Sunday (1862-1935) preached before perhaps 80 million people during what is popularly known as the Second Great Awakening. An itinerant revivalist, he was a driving force behind the Prohibition movement. Whether he was a shaping influence on conservative American Protestantism or a reflection of it, that influence or that reflection persists today in fundamentalist and evangelical churches. We will take Sunday Fridays to let him speak for himself as we consider his legacy.
Today’s message is not for “hog-jowled, weasel-eyed, sponge-columned, mushy-fisted, jelly-spined, pussy-footing, four-flushing, charlotte russe Christians.” We’ll start with the definition of a revival then consider whether revivals are mysterious or predictable; we’ll need a baptism of horse-sense to do it. After considering when revivals may be expected, we’ll conclude with a paragraph on whether we have the right to question the means of a successful revival.
THE NEED OF REVIVALS
Somebody asks: “What is a revival?” Revival is a purely philosophical, common-sense result of the wise use of divinely appointed means, just the same as water will put out a fire; the same as food will appease your hunger; just the same as water will slake your thirst; it is a philosophical common-sense use of divinely appointed means to accomplish that end. A revival is just as much horse sense as that.
A revival is not material; it does not depend upon material means. It is a false idea that there is something peculiar in it, that it cannot be judged by ordinary rules, causes and effects. That is nonsense. Above your head there is an electric light; that is effect. What is the cause? Why, the dynamo. Religion can be judged on the same basis of cause and effect. If you do a thing, results always come. The results come to the farmer. He has his crops. That is the result. He has to plow and plant and take care of his farm before the crops come.
… Religion needs a baptism of horse sense. That is just pure horse sense. I believe there is no doctrine more dangerous to the Church today than to convey the impression that a revival is something peculiar in itself and cannot be judged by the same rules of causes and effect as other things. If you preach that to the farmers—if you go to a farmer and say “God is a sovereign,” that is true; if you say “God will give you crops only when it pleases him and it is no use for you to plow your ground and plant your crops in the spring,” that is all wrong, and if you preach that doctrine and expect the farmers to believe it, this country will starve to death in two years.
You sit in your pews so easy that you become mildewed. Such results will be sure to follow if you are persuaded that religion is something mysterious and has no natural connection between the means and the end. It has a natural connection of common sense and I believe that when divinely appointed means are used spiritual blessing will accrue to the individuals and the community in greater numbers than temporal blessings. You can have spiritual blessings as regularly as the farmer can have corn, wheat, oats, or you can have potatoes and onions and cabbage in your garden. I believe that spiritual results will follow more surely than temporal blessings. I don’t believe all this tommy-rot of false doctrines. You might as well sit around beneath the shade and fan yourself and say “Ain’t it hot?” as to expect God to give you a crop if you don’t plow the ground and plant the seed. Until the Church resorts to the use of divinely appointed means it won’t get the blessing.
… When may a revival be expected? A revival may be expected when Christian people confess and ask forgiveness for their sins. When you are willing that God shall promote and use whatever means or instruments or individuals or methods he is pleased to use to promote them. Yes. The trouble is he cannot promote a revival if you are sitting on the judgment of the methods and means that God is employing to promote a revival. The God Almighty may use any method or means or individual that he pleases in order to promote a revival. You are not running it. Let God have his way. You can tell whether you need a revival. You can tell if you will have one and why you have got one. If God should ask you sisters and preachers in an audible voice, “Are you willing that I should promote a revival by using any methods or means or individual language that I choose to use to promote it?” what would be your answer? Yes. Then don’t growl if I use some things that you don’t like.