The Calvary Road and Roy Hession’s Quiet Revivalism

“For long I had regarded revival only from the angle of some longed for, but very rare, sudden outpouring of the Spirit on a company of people.”

In 1947, an evangelist named Roy Hession held a conference in England. He invited several missionaries who had been a part of what was called the East African Revival. Hession wanted to learn from them about revival.

He was surprised:

“What they had to say was very different from much of what I had associated with Revival. It was very simple and very quiet.”

Hession and his wife began publishing articles sharing what they were learning. In 1950, they collected ten of these articles into a pamphlet, The Calvary Road.

A Challenge to “the Common Conception of Revival”

Hession’s invited guests challenged what he had always thought about revival. Below is the definition of revival that he had been working with. We will then see three points on which Hession found this definition challenged:

“The common conception of Revival is usually that of a spectacular religious awakening, in which large numbers of the unconverted are convicted of sin and brought to Christ amid a good deal of excitement. Such a visitation of God’s Spirit, while greatly to be desired, is thought to be largely unaccountable. It is something for which one can only pray and we must wait for it in God’s good time. Meantime we must go on being defeated and the Church must somehow contrive to continue her witness without New Life. Some of us are finding in actual fact that true revival is often the very reverse of all this.”

Misconception #1 – Revival Is Known by Its Spectacular Nature

When Hession began to teach the ideas he was learning and see them bear fruit, what struck him about it was the quietness of it all:

“…an ever-increasing number of lives are being quietly influenced and blessed by the movement of Revival in this country now.”

It’s not that God didn’t do great things worthy of attention. Spectacular things were happening in the East African Revival. That’s probably why Hession invited those missionaries to his conference.

Yet he found that his guests downplayed that side of things, not because they were embarrassed, but because they thought it would obscure their message.

That message was this: The work of personal transformation happens in daily life and is marked by an unspectacular dying to self.

“Revival need not be spectacular at all (it is certainly no spectacle to the one who is facing up to his sins in the light of the Cross!). Indeed where there is evidence of the spectacular, it is often the least important part of revival. Our missionary friends seemed studiously to avoid reference to the spectacular side of what they had been through, lest it might obscure the real challenge of what God was saying to us.”

Misconception #2 – Revival Is for the Lost, Not for the Already Converted

Hession pointed out that this idea overlooks the simple meaning of the word “revival”:

“Then, too, revival is not something that God does firstly among the unconverted, but among His people. Revival simply means New Life, and that implies that there is already Life there, but that the Life has ebbed. The unconverted do not need revival, for there is not any life there to revive. They need vival.

For this reason, revival is a humbling experience. Christians must first recognize that they need revival:

“It is the Christians who need revival. But that presupposes that there has been a declension. You only revive that which has grown weak. And they only are candidates for revival who are prepared to confess that there has been a declension in their lives. And the more specific the confession, the more definitely will God revive.”

Misconception #3 – There Is Nothing We Can Do but Pray and Wait

This was part of Hession’s definition shared above. Let me share it again. It was this idea that The Calvary Road spent so much time correcting:

“Such a visitation of God’s Spirit, while greatly to be desired, is thought to be largely unaccountable. It is something for which one can only pray and we must wait for it in God’s good time.”

The Calvary Road is about what else we can do. There is very little in the book about praying and waiting on God, or about preaching.

It’s not that Hession now considered these things unimportant. They were already part of his previous understanding of revival. In The Calvary Road, he was sharing the new concepts he had learned. He was focusing on what revival looks like behind closed doors, in the privacy of the home, and in quiet intimacy of one’s conscience.

Mostly it’s about the attitude of the heart. So Hession’s introduction to the book ends with this advice:

“One last thing needs to be said about the necessary attitude of heart of the reader. If God is to bless him at all through these pages, he must come to them with a deep hunger of heart. He must be possessed with a dissatisfaction of the state of the Church in general, and of himself in particular–especially of himself. He must be willing for God to begin His work in himself first, rather than in the other man.”

The Calvary Road is about the quiet things we can work on that lead to revival. In the rest of this post, I would like to share three of these things:

  1. Initial Brokeness and Maintained Fellowship with the Holy Spirit
  2. Healthy Relations with Others
  3. The Disposition of the Lamb

“To be broken is the beginning of Revival. It is painful, it is humiliating, but it is the only way.”

According to The Calvary Road, revival begins with a with a brokenness over something specific. The Holy Spirit will convict someone of a self-centered attitude or pattern of behavior. It’s not that this is the only thing wrong. There’s probably a lot wrong, but conviction has to start somewhere.

“He will show us, to begin with, just one thing, and it will be our obedience and brokenness on that one thing that will be the first step into Revival for us.”

The Holy Spirit will convict you of other things along the way. You just need to repent as He shows you things and you will stay on what Hession calls “the highway of holiness.”

This means you will have to call sin, sin. But you will have to go further than that even. You will have to call sin, hate.

This seems more severe. If we experience a little envy or resentment toward someone, we may be ready to confess the sin before we would admit to hating that person.

Here is how Hession explained it:

“How ‘easily provoked’ we are! How quick to be irritated by something in the other. How often we allow the unkind thought, the resentful feeling over something the other has done or left undone! Yet we profess there are no failures in love in our homes. These things happen every day and we think nothing of them. They are all of them the opposite of love, and the opposite of love is hate. Impatience is hate, envy is hate, conceit and self-will are hate, and so are selfishness, irritability and resentment! And hate is SIN. ‘He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother, is in the darkness even until now.’ What tensions, barriers and discord it all causes, and fellowship with both God and the other is made impossible.”

You have to be ruthless. You can’t spare yourself.

Despite this, your focus will not be on sin, but on peace. Allow the Holy Spirit to convict you and then quickly repent. This will not make you too sin-conscious; it will make you peace-conscious.

“People imagine that dying to self makes one miserable. But it just the opposite. It is the refusal to die to self that makes one miserable. The more we know of death with Him, the more we shall know of His life in us, and so the more of real peace and joy.”

As you become accustomed to living in the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit, you will become more sensitive to the absence of that peace and joy:

“Colossians 3:15 says, ‘Let the peace of God rule in your hearts.’ Everything that disturbs the peace of God in our hearts is sin, no matter how small it is, and no matter how little like sin it may at first appear to be. This peace is to ‘rule’ our hearts, or (a more literal translation)  ‘be the referee’ in our hearts. When the referee blows his whistle at a football match, the game has to stop, a foul has been committed. When we lose our peace, God’s referee in our hearts has blown his whistle!”

So your focus will not be on sin as you walk the highway of holiness. Neither will your focus be on yourself. In fact, you will begin to see that to be focused on yourself is to be focused on sin, for self-centeredness is an endless source of sin:

“Anything that springs from self, however small it may be, is sin. Self-energy or self-complacency in service is sin. Self-pity in trials or difficulties, self-seeking in business or Christian work, self-indulgence in one’s spare time, sensitiveness, touchiness, resentment and self-defence when we are hurt or injured by others, self-consciousness, reserve, worry, fear, all spring from self and all are sin and make our cups unclean.”

So your focus will not be on yourself or on your sin. Neither will your focus will not be on the sins of others:

“Let us remember that at the Cross there is only room for one at a time. We cannot say, “I was wrong, but you were wrong too. You must come as well!” No, you must go alone, saying, “I’m wrong.” God will work in the other more through your brokenness than through anything else you can do or say.”

So, one key aspect of Roy Hession’s quiet revivalism is Initial Brokeness and Maintained Fellowship with the Holy Spirit.

Another is maintaining Healthy Relations with Others.

“If I want my own way rather than God’s, it is quite obvious that I shall want my own way rather than the other man’s. A man does not assert his independence of God to surrender it to a fellow man, if he can help it.”

Healthy relations with other begin in the home. As Hession points out, a revival that stays in the church isn’t really a revival at all:

“It was into the home that sin first came. It is in the home that we sin more than perhaps anywhere else, and it is to the home that revival first needs to come. Revival is desperately needed in the church–in the country–in the world, but a revived church with unrevived homes would be sheer hypocrisy. It is the hardest place, the most costly, but the most necessary place to begin.”

This will mean having such trust in God’s providence that we can believe He is using the immaturity of others to make us more mature:

“We shall have to accept another’s ways and doings as God’s will for us and meekly bend the neck to all God’s providences. That does not mean that we must accept another’s selfishness as God’s will for them–far from it–but only as God’s will for us.”

Whatever other people do to us, they cannot take away our peace with God. They may be at fault for their own sin, but we are responsible not to sin in reaction to the sins of others:

“We do not lose peace with God over another person’s sin, but only over our own.”

The third aspect of Hession’s quiet revivalism that I would like to point out is that we must Cultivate the Disposition of the Lamb.

It is the gentleness and humility of Christ that always attracts the Holy Spirit:

“When the eternal God chose to reveal Himself in His Son, He gave Him the name of the Lamb; and when it was necessary for the Holy Spirit to come into the world, He was revealed under the emblem of the Dove. Is it not obvious, then, that the reason why we have to be humble in order to walk with God is not merely because God is so big and we so little, that humility befits such little creatures–but because God is so humble?”

“How clear, then, that the Holy Spirit will only come upon us and remain upon us as we are willing to be as the Lamb on each point on which He will convict us!”

The nature of the Lamb is what the Holy Spirit looks for and it is what the Father looks for on earth:

“Humility, lamb likeness, the surrender of our wills to God are what He looks for supremely from man. It was to manifest all this that God ever created the first man. It was his refusal to walk this path that constituted his first sin (and it has been the heart of sin ever since). It was to bring this disposition back to earth that Jesus came. It was simply because the Father saw this in Him that He could say, ‘My Son, in Whom I am well pleased.’ It was because the shedding of His Blood so supremely expressed this disposition that it is so utterly precious to God and so all-availing for man and his sin.”