W.B. Sprague’s 1832 work, Lectures on Revival, is a helpful book in thinking trough the subject of revival. Charles Simeon called it, “A most valuable book…I recommend the good sense of Dr. Sprague
In his third lecture, Sprague lays out six obstacles to revival. They are as follows,
Ignorance or Misapprehension of the nature of true revivals
Essentially, the take here is this: When men think they can conjure up revival with fanaticism, or by diminishing truth, it hinders the work of true revival. It is a hindrance to revival to call things revival that are not revival.
A Spirit of Worldliness Among Professed Christians
Sprague notes, “while this spirit of worldliness mocks in a great degree the efforts of the faithful, it exerts a direct and most powerful influence upon those who are glad to find apologies to quiet themselves in sin” (p. 68).
The Lack of Proper Sense of Personal Responsibility Among Christians
Sprague writes, “True, it is, as we have already had occasion to remark, that, in a revival of religion, there is much of divine agency and of divine sovereignty too; but there is human instrumentality also; and much of what God does is done through his people; and if they remain with their arms folded, it were unreasonable to expect that God’s work should be revived.” (p. 71)
So, the point here is, we can all say “We want revival!” But if that’s just a group thing and none of us individually seek revival, then what will it amount to?
The Toleration of Gross Offences in the Church
Are Christians perfect? Of course not. But we are to have no fellowship with unfruitful works of darkness. And when we do sin we should repent and sometimes that means we need to repent to others if we have sinned against others.
Consider Sprague’s words:
“Now it is impossible to look at the state of many churches, without perceiving that there is a sad disregard to the directions of the Lord Jesus Christ, in respect to offending members. It sometimes happens that professors of religion are detected in grossly fraudulent transactions; [OR] that they take upon their lips the language of cursing, and even profanely use the name of God; not to speak of what has been more common in other days – their reeling under the influence of intoxicating [drink] – I say it sometimes happens that Christian professors exemplify some or other of these vices, and still retain a regular standing in the church, and perhaps never even hear the voice of reproof; especially if the individuals concerned happen to possess great worldly influence, and the church, as it respects temporal interests, is in some measure dependent upon them. But rely on it, Brethren, this is an evil which is fitted to reach vitally the spiritual interests of the church; and wherever it exists, it will in all probability constitute an effectual obstacle to a revival of religion.” (p. 74-75)
The Absence of a Spirit of Brotherly Love Among Professed Followers of Christ –
“Christianity never shines forth with more attractive loveliness, or addresses itself to the heart with more subduing energy, than when it is seen binding the disciples of Jesus together in the endearing bonds of sanctified friendship. Let it be said of Christians as it was in other days, ‘Behold how they love one another.’” (p. 78)
Sprague also notes, “We may exercise this spirit [of love] towards those whom we regard as holding errors, either of faith or practice, provided we can discover in them the faintest outline of the image of Christ.” (p. 82)
An Erroneous or Defective Exhibition of Christian Truth
Sprague writes, “As it is through the instrumentality of the truth that God performs his work upon the hearts of men, it is fair to conclude that just in proportion as any part of it is kept back, or is dispensed in a different manner from that which he has prescribed, it will fail of its legitimate effect.” (P. 83)
Also, “It is not at the option of God’s ministers to select one truth from the Bible and omit another, but they are required to preach the whole counsel of God; and where they neglect to do this, it were unreasonable to expect a blessing.” (p. 83)
We must preach and teach all of God’s truth in the right way and see it take its effect. “Let the naked sword of the Spirit be brought home to the consciences of men, and the effect of it must and will be felt…and sinners, in all probability, will be renewed.” (p. 85)
Another thing Sprague notes here is “that a want of directness in the manner of preaching the gospel, may prevent it from taking effect on the consciences and hearts of men. It is only when men are made to feel that the gospel comes home to their individual case, that they are themselves the sinners whom it describes, and that they need the blessings which it offers…” (p. 85)
 William B. Sprague, Lectures on Revivals of Religion, (London, England Banner of Truth Trust, 1959).