The Perennial Revival. William B. Riley Books


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William B. Riley Books


A Plea for Evangelism


William B. Riley


















William B. Riley Books

PREFACE. William B. Riley Books

For full twenty-five years evangelism was on the decline in this country. In the early ministry of Mr. Moody “soul-winning was his watchword, and the results were more pronounced and satisfactory than ever appeared after this mighty man of God turned his attention to the correction of churchianity. In recent years the cry of “evangelism” has been taken up again, and the hope of a wide-spread revival is giving expression to prayers and shape to plans. The cry is worthy “the Church of God.” If this volume adds aught to the realization of “A Perennial Revival” the writer will be most content with his reward. To make a contribution to such a result is cooperation and companionship with Him who came “to seek and to save that which was lost.”

William B. Riley


Evangelism is, at this moment, the watchword of the churches. For the first time in many decades the watchword is worthy the followers of the Nazarene. With a strange unanimity conservatives and critics alike have accepted the term, and with one voice are calling for evangelism.

Do not ask what we mean by the term; that would divide our forces instantly into many factions. It is not to be expected that the verbal inspirationist and the destructive critic will accept common definitions of any theme. And yet even these may agree in their desire for a revival of the religion of Christ which shall be potent and permanent, provided the word “revival” is kept strictly to its original meaning. It is not to the term itself, but to the uses to which it has been put, that many object. They say it often describes a condition of unreasonable excitement produced by appeals to the emotions of men, and destined to end in little or no lasting good.

Occasions of complaint at this point have not been wanting. When we make only a mechanical appeal to the feelings of men, stirring in them more of physical ex­citement than of spiritual vision, our efforts result only in fanatical actions, transient professions, and newspaper puffs; but few sinners are saved, and no saints are refreshed.

And yet, as against this fact, it remains true that the state of perennial revival is the normal state for the church of Jesus Christ. The men who oppose that idea set themselves against apostolic religion and criticize the apostolic church, since the centuries have known few revivals such as that in which the church of Jesus Christ originated. It is little wonder that people have always prayed, and continue to pray, for a duplicate of Pente­cost. Adding to the church day by day those that are being saved is the ideal state.

In discussing “The Imperative Need of a Perennial Revival,” it may be necessary to spend a moment on


Revival!  What do we mean by it? Let the Standard Dictionary speak: “A renewal of special interest in and attention to religious services and duties and the subject of personal salvation; a religious awakening.” Who can object to the definition? Is not that exactly what the Psalmist meant when he cried: “Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?”

Many years ago we knew a church which had been without preaching for months; it had worshiped only occasionally in a hired hall, while divisions between of­ficial brethren distracted the forces of the institution which had once been God’s agency for saving men. A pastor was secured; a house was erected; services be­came regular; brotherly love displaced the old hatred and healed the differences; at the end of six months conver­sions began, and every communion witnessed new ac­cessions to the organized body of believers. The pastor’s salary was doubled and paid with greater promptness; offerings to missions multiplied many fold; the “twice-a-month ” preaching gave way to the employment of a pastor for all of his time; the little body which had, for a long season, been without prestige in its association be­came one of the most influential. That was a revival!

Perennial!  “Continuing through the year or through many years; unfailing; unceasing; as, perennial springs.” The dictionary’s figure, “as perennial springs,” is a most happy one when applied to the problem of the church. Those of us who were brought up in the hill-country of the South appreciate the difference between the wet weather and the perennial spring. Many a time in the rainy season we have driven our knees into the black loam of a newly cleared hillside and drunk from a vein, full to-day, but destined to fail tomorrow. The water was always sorry stuff, and was always used as a makeshift of indolence, since the perennial spring was at the foot of the hill, and to enjoy it imposed a walk in going and work in returning. And yet the cold, re­freshing draught from the latter always sent one back to his service with a sense of compensation. The springs of revival which have characterized recent centuries have been too much after the wet-weather sort; they have opened only at a certain season and remained in action for a very short time. Our fathers in the faith behaved as if they believed the streams of salvation were closed the rest of the year; and one man, at least, brought up in a church where that idea of a revival obtained, will never forget the utter disappointment, the despair akin to that which must characterize the damned, when the annual meeting of two weeks had closed and left him unsaved. He was like the man in the Bethesda porch. He had seen the waters troubled at a “certain season” and others stepping in to be made whole, while he must remain in his paralysis; for the waters grew quiet, and he knew that it would be a twelvemonth before the opportunity would return. Strange to say, his seniors seemed also to forget that Jesus was at hand, and could work the miracle of healing out of season. We believe that the very bitterness of that experience gave origin to the idea of this book, and emphasis to a ministry which, for thirty years, has sought as assiduously to reach men’s souls in the dog-days of August as in the appointed season of January.

Perennial! Is not that the word upon which we are to lay emphasis if we are rightly to interpret the injunc­tion of Paul to Timothy: “Preach the word. Be urgent in season, out of season”?

With this definition of the perennial revival before us, let us pass on to the discussion

William B. Riley Books


The very word “necessity” removes us from the realm of argument. There are voices, more eloquent than ever were heard upon platform, pleading this neces­sity; there are silences more urgent than the voices of angels.

The prayer of the saint pleads it.

It is a blessed fact that regenerate men are ill-content to lead a languid Christian life, or to see their churches experience the same. William Cowper’s hymn is now seldom sung in the sanctuary, but we believe it is often repeated in the closet:

Oh, for a closer walk with God,

A calm and heavenly frame,

A light to shine upon the road

That leads me to the Lamb!

Where is the blessedness I knew

When first I saw the Lord?

Where is the soul-refreshing view

Of Jesus and his word?

What peaceful hours I then enjoyed!

How sweet their memory still!

But they have left an aching void

The world can never fill.

Return, O Holy Dove, return,

Sweet messenger of rest;

I hate the sins that made thee mourn,

And drove thee from my breast.

The dearest idol I have known,

Whate’er that idol be,

Help me to tear it from thy throne,

And worship only thee.

William B. Riley Books

There are men and women in our churches—thank God for them—who feel that there is something wrong with them when soul-winning ceases and the church be­comes content in her barrenness. It is claimed that when Tully was banished from Italy and Demosthenes from Athens they were never able to look toward their home­lands without bursting into sobs—such was their desire to be in their fatherlands again. There are men and women to whom the presence and evident favor of God is dearer than fair Italy’s skies and landscapes were beau­tiful to her native-born, and for whom the thought of his lost love is more difficult to bear than was banishment from the streets of the world’s most intellectual city. If one wants to feel the necessity of a revival, let him go with such into their closets of prayer and listen while they cry to God: “Wilt thou be angry with us forever? Wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations? Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?”  ‘

But we have said there are silences more eloquent still. Think of the sanctuaries, in country places and at the centers of great cities, which were once crowded with ardent worshipers, but now reveal to the Sabbath-travel­ing public closed doors or discouragingly small congrega­tions. Think of the churches, better filled, but Spirit- deserted and dead. Charles Spurgeon says: “Have you ever read ‘The Ancient Mariner’? I dare say you thought it one of the strangest imaginations ever put together, especially that part where the old mariner rep­resents the corpses of dead men rising up to man the ship. Dead men pulling the ropes, dead men at the oars, dead men steering, dead men spreading the sails! I thought, What a strange idea! And yet I have lived to see that. I have gone into churches where there was a dead man in the pulpit, a dead man reading the notices, a dead man rendering the solos, a dead man taking the collection, and the pews were filled with the dead.” Spurgeon has spoken no exceptional experience. What an appeal for the necessity of the perennial revival!

There are other arguments concerning this necessity that are eloquent enough. The steady decrease in the accessions to the great denominations, in proportion to their numbers, which has characterized recent years; the cry for retrenchment that has smitten the very souls of missionary secretaries and treasurers, the compromise with worldliness by which the ambitious have hoped to keep up appearances and increase the local church ex­chequer ; the introduction of sensationalism into the pul­pit; the parading of so-called new theology in baiting for Athenians; the turning of men from church to lodge, and of women and children from sacred meetings to matinees and picture shows—all these, and more that might be mentioned, emphasize this necessity. No orator could do it so well. No angel from heaven could affirm it so eloquently. To the man who has an ear capable of receiving divine messages these things are nothing else than the voice of God announcing the great need of the church—a genuine revival, and a revival that shall be perennial. .

If he cries to us from heaven, “Turn ye, turn ye,” why should we not confess our helpless estate, and yet express our faith in his ability to better us by answering back, “Turn us, O God, of our salvation”? Albert Midlane felt and voiced this necessity when he wrote:

Revive thy work, O Lord,

Create soul thirst for thee,

And hungering for the Bread of Life,

Oh, may our spirits be!

William B. Riley Books


Calling attention to defects is a cruel work unless one is able to suggest a remedy and is willing to lend his best endeavor toward bringing it about. If it be conceded that the perennial revival is the long-needed remedy, the question remains, “Whence is it to come?” The answer to this question is valuable only in proportion as it is scriptural. The man who seeks to solve the problem of successful evangelism outside of what the Scriptures say deals in pure speculation, deceives himself, and des­troys others. Turning to the Book for the answers to our question, we draw on the source of true wisdom.

Probably no one will dispute the statement that the first and second chapters of the book of Acts present a sample revival. The earnest study of these chapters reveals the source of the true revival:

It originates with the Holy Ghost.

The promise of the ascended Lord to his disciples was this: “Ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you.” “When the day of Pentecost was fully come ” Peter explained his own ability and that of his brethren by reminding his auditors of Joel’s re­mark : “ It shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit ”; and Peter declared they were experiencing its fulfilment. The revival did not originate with Peter, then; he was only the spokes­man. The real source was higher yet, namely, in the Holy Ghost.

This very fact often explains the revival, the origin of which non-spiritual men cannot understand. In 1828, in Oswego County, N. Y., a work of grace began on a barren field. In midsummer one hundred and fifty souls were saved and added to the country church. People were at a loss to account for it. But wonder was at an end with the godly when it was learned that two old men, living a mile apart, had selected a point midway, in a cluster of trees, and there at the going down of the sun had met for months to pray for the outpouring of the Spirit of God. Dr. S. F. Smith knew why he wrote the words:

Spirit of holiness, descend,

Thine ear in kind compassion lend,

Let us thy mercy see.

Behold, thy wearying churches wait

With wistful, longing eyes.

Let us no more lie thus bereft,

Oh, bid thy light arise.

Spirit of Holiness, ’tis thine

To hear our feeble prayer,

Come, for we wait thy power divine,

Let us thy mercy share.

William B. Riley Books

The Holy Ghost works through human agencies.

Peter was the principal in the first Pentecost, and from that day the Holy Spirit has commenced every consid­erable work of grace with the more consecrated. Those were wise women who prayed for Mr. Moody first and for the people afterward. The first night after Father Chiniquy was converted he spent the entire night in prayer. The next day he preached, and a thousand souls were saved. Some time ago the author received a letter from an evangelist at work in Colorado. The city was a popular resort and famed for its worldliness, and yet in the first night of the meeting souls were saved. The evangelist attributed this to the fact that one woman in the town had long prayed for just such a work, and at the beginning of these meetings declared her faith that the time for God’s answer was at hand.

Several summers ago, at a lake resort in northern In­diana, we had to watch against prairie fires. One night, after our lawn had been cleaned and grass and brush burned, we went out before retiring and poured water over the embers until not a spark was visible, and then went off to bed, believing that the fire had been utterly extinguished. But, ere the morning, the wind had risen and stirred a slumbering ember into a rolling flame, which fed itself upon the adjacent fuel, and threatened the whole prairie and the woodland near at hand. We knew not what stick had the coal that, touched by the wind, burst into flame and fired the contiguous fuel. It may have been a large stick, but quite as likely a small one. No matter; the material together, the wind at work, a live coal accounted for all. So, in spiritual things, a spark of love in one heart may not excite apparent promise, but when the divine breath blows upon that, others catch the fire, and a revival often follows that sweeps the church and, going beyond, spreads into the dead, dry tinder of sin-slain souls, and converts them into glorious light.

Why, then, should one criticize his brethren when a revival is lacking, since a question should be raised with reference to his own life—why is it the Holy Ghost has not done such a work in and through me? Concerning the church in Laodicea, Christ said: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Some man, some woman will be doorkeeper to let the Lord in. Why should not I be that one?

The Holy Spirit would gladly enlist all saints in this soul-winning service.

One of the most remarkable things in that second chapter of the book of Acts is in the eighth verse; every man heard the gospel on that day in the tongue wherein he was born. Peter, then, was not left to work alone. The whole company of the disciples must have taken part. Jerusalem never saw a greater crowd in her streets; her people never heard such a sermon as Peter preached; but the most marvelous thing, that day, was the personal work done. The average church now has a larger number of disciples of Jesus than were in Jerusalem at that time, and yet not a man escaped them. What a suggestion! Why should not laymen receive it? While your pastors preach, will you not engage to speak to men in an intel­ligible tongue? Will you not federate your forces, and take a solemn pledge that the unsaved shall not pass from the sanctuary without a personal appeal? Why should the voice of one saved man be silent before such oppor­tunities? Why should God find in his family one dumb child? Joseph Parker says: “We have heard of the great musical director, who was conducting a rehearsal by four thousand performers. All manner of instruments were being played, and all parts of music were being sung. In one of the grand choruses, which sounded through the vast building like a wind from heaven, the keen-eared conductor suddenly threw up his baton and exclaimed, ‘Flageolet!’ One of the flageolet players had stopped. Something was wanting, therefore, to the completeness of the performance, and the conductor would not go on, Jesus Christ is conducting his own music. There is indeed a vast volume of resounding harmony rolling up in anthems that fill the heavens; yet if one voice is missing, he knows it. If the voice of one little child has ceased, he notices the omission. He cannot be satisfied with the mightiest billow that breaks in thunder around his throne, so long as the tiniest wave­let falls elsewhere. Flageolet, where is thy tribute? Pealing trumpet, he waits thy blast! Sweet cymbals, he desires your silvery chimes! Mighty organ, unite thy many voices in the deepening thunder of the Saviour’s praise! And if there be one among us who thinks his coarse tones would be out of harmony, let him know that Jesus revises every tribute offered in love, and har­monizes the discords of our broken life in the music of his own perfection.” Love him, and bring unto him your best.

William B. Riley Books


There is a growing disposition to ask for the evidences of revival, and the question is not impertinent. Revival without apparent results is commonly a term without a corresponding fact.

Let us make mention of some of the results that will surely appear if the word be worthily employed.

First, the refreshing of the saints.

The Psalmist cried: “Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?” Oh, the joy among God’s sons and daughters when the times of refreshing are really on! The sweetest singing is. Done by the people of the perennial revival. The most effective prayers are poured out in the midst of soul-winning; the most ener­getic service is rendered, the most liberal offerings are made, the most extensive and genuine sympathy with the sinful and sorrowing is then evidenced. One of the sad things of bleak winter is that the birds so seldom sing. In winter the perfume of flowers fails, the fruits are more scarce than evergreens. But what a trans­formation comes with spring! Then the air is bursting with song, laden with perfume. All the earth is rich in blossoms—promise of harvest-time; and spring is nature’s revival! But sweeter than the songs of birds is the song of the saint; and he does not sing, he can­not sing, except when refreshed in soul:

In vain we tune our formal songs;

In vain we strive to rise;

Hosannas languish on our tongues,

And our devotion dies.

On the old farm in Kentucky the large lawn was filled with evergreens and fruit trees, together with a beau­tiful maple or two. In March the song-birds were in the cedars, unseen, but with music sweet. The new green twigs putting out were gracious to the smell, and ere the month of May was gone, the cherry fruit reddened to ripeness. Songs, sweet savors, and luscious fruit! That is what nature’s revival brings! But God’s revival of grace fills the soul with sweeter strains, and causes it to breathe out upon the air a purer breath, and gives to it a richer fruit! The happiest man, the holiest man, the man most helpful under heaven, is that Christian man compassed about with the grace of God. No wonder David said: “Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?”

When saints are revived, sinners are saved. Our religious newspapers sometimes report protracted meet­ings as having resulted in great revival to the church, although no conversions occurred. That is quite impos­sible! When Paul and Silas sang, the prisoners heard them and grew penitent. When a Pentecost came to the apostles and disciples, the streets of Jerusalem were full of penitent sinners, inquiring, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Years ago, when Dr. Alexander Black­burn was pastor at Lafayette, Ind., certain pastors in that State were oppressed by the reports of the churches, and agreed to meet and pray in certain centers for a re­vival of the churches located there. When four or five of them came to Lafayette, to pray with the pastor, no public announcement was made of their coming; no news­paper made mention of it; but during the day about a dozen members of the church, scarce knowing why, dropped into the chapel to pray, and lo, the pastor and his associates were on their knees. When night came, with­out any announcement except what these people had made, the chapel contained an audience. Afterward they were crowded into the main church, and some weeks later about a hundred converts had sought the Lord, and Doctor Blackburn administered such a baptismal service as the church had never seen before, nor has it seen such a service since. When the saints are refreshed sinners are saved.

Then also, the church receives accessions. The Holy Ghost husbands the results of his work.

It is distressing to report concerning a revival that a thousand, fifteen hundred, three thousand, or thirty thousand have been converted, when the most diligent after-search brings but a bagatelle of that number into the churches. The time ought to pass when men con­sider as converts those who have held up their hands “to count.” When men’s names are written in the Lamb’s book of Life they will naturally seek membership with the church of which that Lamb is the Head. Have we not been impressed with the fact that the three thousand converts in Jerusalem were “added together,” or asso­ciated themselves in the visible organization? When one says, “I am a Christian, but I do not think it necessary to be a church-member,” does he not raise a question concerning his regeneration? Of what worth is a secret disciple to the church, or to Christ?

We regard him as having been a wise old man, who, ‘falling in with young Allyn as he went from Cincinnati to Philadelphia to embark in business, asked, “Are you a Christian?” “Yes,” said Allyn. “Have you any letters of commendation?” “Only two.” “None others?” asked the old man. “Only my church letter.”

“Ah,” said the old man, “that is what I wanted to hear. Put it into a church as soon as you get into the city. I am an old sea-captain. I have sailed the world around, and I have found on reaching port it was best to tie up to the wharf. It has cost me something, but it has kept me from going down before the storm.”

William B. Riley Books


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