“Unction is God’s knighthood for the soldier-preacher who has wrestled in prayer and gained the victory” (p. 18). This really sums up the message of Ravenhill’s signature classic Why Revival Tarries. That is, the Holy Spirit will fill the man who strives against his lazy flesh and fights his way through hours of intercession for lost souls. The school of thought that he is coming from is that of E. M. Bounds, as expressed in his Power Through Prayer. Its also evident that William Booth was a huge hero to Ravenhill, who’s spiritual influence stood in a fairly close proximity to his family while growing up in early Salvation Army meetings in England. This was a military type of approach to Christian spirituality; and it seems fitting that Ravenhill served as a chaplain for a while, when Teen Challenge was just starting out, offering a firm sense of discipline to gang members and drug addicts. Ravenhill’s brand of spirituality was one that required toughness and discipline; a manly “get on your knees and pray it through!” attitude. Smith Wigglesworth, with his curt, gruff expressions, often had the same approach towards sin and the flesh.
While he hops around a lot on the nature of revival, it is clear that more than anything, Why Revival Tarries is a book about intercessory prayer. He asks the reader with the title, “Why does revival tarry or delay from coming?” Eventually his answer is, “Revival delays because prayer decays” (p. 83). By the word prayer, he usually means one thing: solitary, fervent, holy intercessory prayer for lost souls to be saved–the prayer of an evangelist (p. 16). He saw Jonathan Edwards’ The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, as the perfect biography of a missionary, whom had exemplified the prayer life that Ravenhill is preaching about in this book. What Ravenhill was aiming at by topics and chapters, David Brainerd’s life story had already fleshed out by application (pp. 84-86). Ravenhill does not really preach about contemplative prayer, although he hints at it in Tried and Transfigured, even quoting from Evelyn Underhill’s The Mystic Way. Ravenhill fixates on private intercessory prayer for lost souls to be saved from sin and Hell. He was not at all like Richard J. Foster, who enumerates 21 different ways of praying in his book on Prayer. Ravenhill was really serious about PRAYING, PRAYER, and PRAYER WARRIORS or intercessors. To him there was really only one kind of prayer: INTERCESSION and only INTERCESSION that was Spirit-led, Spirit-filled, and FILLED WITH GRIEF OVER THE POWER OF SIN IN OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES. You could call it prophetic intercession: the prayer of a prophet, a go-between, a Christlike man to stand in the gap between God and lost sinners, an intercessor, a pastor, and an evangelist; a man who prays fervently, and seriously, and sorrowfully for the souls he is going to preach the true Biblical Gospel to in the next 24 hours. He sees demons attacking them, he sees emaciated spiritual beggars, he sees these poor people just hanging by a thread over the fire of Hell. To take prayer in this direction, accented by burden bearing, travailing (laboring), and genuine sorrow producing crying, weeping, and tears, is to GET ON THE CROSS and experience UNION WITH JESUS IN HIS DEATH AND RESURRECTION. Thereby embodying the very principle of salvation within oneself, and becoming a REVIVALIST, a carrier of the spirit of salvation, a power that is built up in private prayer, and then publicly released by evangelistic sermons, and sparking revivals.
My personal experience with reading this book during a time of spiritual dryness was one of personal revival. I had truly supernatural moments where I was filled and led by the Holy Spirit to pray for others to be delivered from sin and demons, with genuine grief and feeling. I believe Why Revival Tarries is an inspired book, in a non-canonical kind of way, not on the level of the Bible; but a book that was just bathed in the spirit of prayer and the Holy Ghost. Its hard to read it and not be spiritually affected in a good way. There are not many Christian books I can say that about; books that made me feel God’s presence or made me see angelic lights while reading them. Books that have really increased my faith in God. I can only put a few in this category: Kenneth J. Collins’ Wesley on Salvation, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Martin Luther’s Commentary on Romans, A. W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God, and Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God.
Leonard Ravenhill preached against sin and heresy. This will translate to a hatred of sin the more you muse on it; and the hatred of sin was a virtue to him. Hebrews 1:9: “Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity.” If he hated sin while he prayed, to be sure he hated sin while he preached. To hate sin is to love God. To hate sin is to love mankind. To hate sin is to fear Hell and love Heaven. To hate all sin, and to shine a blazing light on its hideous ugliness, is to be a Biblical preacher. To most people today, Ravenhill’s sharp and denunciatory preaching against Catholicism’s idea of Mary as a mediatrix, cult members, antinomians (easy-believism people, p. 58), cessationists, dispensationalists, lukewarm fundamentalists, communists, universalists, greedy materialists, liberal theologians, agnostics, science-worshipping atheists, gamblers, drunkards, and the sexually immoral, would be considered “hate speech.” But for him it was just preaching the Gospel, preaching holiness, and preaching against sin. Preaching the doctrine of repentance: turning away from sin. The only real antidote to backsliding. As in ch. 4, he saw the task of a revivalist as one like Elijah or John the Baptist, ready to publicly preach against the false prophets of Baal and the Pharisees. The man was a demon hunter. This was his view of the ministry:
In the light of the judgment seat, we had better live six months with a volcanic heart, denouncing sin in places high and low and turning the nation from the power of Satan unto God (as John the Baptist did) rather than die loaded with ecclesiastical honors and theological degrees and be the laughing stock of Hell (p. 104).
God-gripped prophets of old had a sensitive awareness of the enormity and unpopularity of their task (p. 151).