This entry is part 19 of 21 in the series: Revival
- The Biblical idea of revival
- Divine and human agency in revival
- Examples of revival
- Conditions prior to revival
- Experience of God in revival
- Repentance and revival
- Prayer and Revival
- The Word of God and revival
- Preaching and revival
- Results of revival
- Physical and emotional phenomena of revival
- The miraculous element in revival (I)
- The miraculous element in revival (II)
- Demonic Activity in Revival
- Problems associated with revival
- Evaluating Revivals
- Pentecostalism, baptism in the Spirit and revival
- Prospects for Revival
- ‘Lord, I have heard of your fame’ – stories of revival
- ‘Renew them in our day’ – prospects for revival
Notes of the first of two talks given in July 2018. These were based on the earlier and more detailed work written up on this site.
Habakkuk 3:2 – ‘Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.’
‘From the fall of man to our day, the work of redemption has mainly been carried on by remarkable communications of the Spirit of God. Though there be a more constant influence of God’s Spirit always in some degree attending his ordinances, yet the way in which the greatest things have been done towards carrying on this work, always have been done by remarkable effusions, at special seasons of mercy.’
Edwards, Works, I, 539.
Others who, like Edwards, had seen and experienced revival at first hand had no doubt as to its power and influence. A minister who had witnessed a series of revivals during the Second Great Awakening testified:-
‘I owe too much of what I hope for as a Christian, and what I have been blessed with as a minister of the Gospel, not to think most highly of the eminent importance of this spirit [of genuine revivals]…Whatever I possess of religion began in a revival. The most precious, stedfast and vigorous fruits of my ministry have been the fruits of revivals. I believe that the spirit of revivals…was the simple spirit of the religion of Apostolic times, and will be, more and more, the characteristic of these times, as the day of the Lord draws near.’
In Sprague, Lectures on revivals, App. 98.
‘A general impartation of new life, and vigour, and power, to those who are already of the number of God’s people; and a remarkable awakening and conversion of souls who have hitherto been careless and unbelieving: in other words, it consists in new spiritual life imparted to the dead, and in new spiritual health imparted to the living.’
James Buchanan, The Holy Spirit, 227 (1842)
The Protestant Reformation (1517 onwards)
The Puritans in England, the Covenanters in Scotland, the Huguenots in France, and the Calvinists in Switzerland.
‘The Great Awakening’, 1725-1760
‘The Second Great Awakening’, 1790-
The 1859 revival, which began in the United States, and spread to Ulster, Wales, Scotland, and England.
The 1903/4 revival
‘The Forgotten Revival’ of 1921 which affected the fishing towns of Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth, and also a variety of ports on the east coast of Scotland.
1927 East African revival
Various (including the island of Lewis) in 1949.
In this talk, I want to ask the question: “What are some of the leading features of revival?” In order to keep within manageable boundaries, I will focus on the revival of 1859.
‘Scripture bears continuous testimony to this essential prelude to revival, from the days of Enos, [when] men began ‘to call upon the name of the Lord’ (Gen 4:26) down to the period prior to Pentecost when the apostles ‘all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren’ (Acts 1:14), waiting for the promise of the Father. One instance out of the many will suffice to illustrate the necessity of prayer to revival. A careful scrutiny of the Book of Judges will yield the evidence for no less than five seasons of awakening. And in every case we read that beforehand ‘the children of Israel cried unto the Lord.’
Wood, Baptised with fire, 33.
In the late 1850s a man named Jeremiah Lanphier was appointed as a City Missioner in down-town New York. Burdened by the problem of depleted church attendance and other indications of spiritual decline:-
‘[he] decided to invite others to join him in a noon-day prayer-meeting, to be held on Wednesdays once a week…Accordingly at twelve noon, 23rd September, 1857, the door was opened and the faithful Lanphier took his seat to await the response to his invitation…Five minutes went by. No one appeared. The missionary paced the room in a conflict of fear and faith. Ten minutes elapsed. Still no one came. Fifteen minutes passed. Lanphier was yet alone. Twenty minutes; twenty-five; thirty; and then at 12.30 p.m. a step was heard on the stairs, and the first person appeared, then another, and another, until six people were present and the prayer meeting began. On the following Wednesday, October 7th, there were forty intercessors.
‘…Within six months, ten thousand business men were gathering daily for prayer in New York, and within two years, a million converts were added to the American churches.’
Orr, The light of the nations, 103.
The prayer meetings held during the revival could seem transcend the ordinary passage of time, as in Wales in 1859:-
‘Many prayer meetings were held underground at Frongoch Mine. Not an oath was heard within the confines of the mine…One morning a prayer meeting was commenced as usual on reaching their work as six. Heaven penetrated into the pit and earth was forgotten. When the worshippers awoke from that sacred trance, they found it was two o’clock in the afternoon.’
Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 56.
From the same revival comes this lovely story:-
‘A child convert at Rhosesmor was heard to pray, “My father is ungodly; I am afraid to go home because of his swearing. O! come and save him, Lord! Thou hast knocked at his door many times; compel him to open, and if he refuses, take the door off its hinges, Lord!”‘
Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 104.
2. The Experience of God
Hab 3:3f ‘God came…his glory covered the heavens, and his praise filled the earth. His splendour was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden.’
Arthur Wallis comments on the passage just quoted:-
Only two words, but they touch the heart of the matter – ‘God came’. Taking the inspired prophet as our guide, we may say that revival is a visitation of God and the characteristic features are ‘His glory’, ‘His praise’, ‘His hand’ (symbolic of the Holy Spirit), ‘His power’.
Wallis, Rain from heaven, 15.
James. A. Stewart asserts that this experience is the great test of genuineness in revival:-
‘The acid test of all true revivals is the powerful presence of the majestic Christ known and felt in all his beauty and glory. Thus thousands of saints are drawn together for no other reason than that he is in the midst.’
Stewart, Opened windows, 20.
An example from the Welsh revival of 1859 shows that the experience of the presence of God in revival can seem overwhelming:-
‘In South Wales, in August, 1859, an early morning prayer meeting held in the open air was attended by 18,000 people. At the close, Thomas John, of Cilgerran, was walking in a field, lost in reverie:- ‘A friend stopped him, and said, “What a glorious sight that was, when the thousands were engaged in silent prayer…Did you ever see anything like that, Mr John?” He answered solemnly, “I didn’t see one of them: I saw no one but God. I am going home,” he said suddenly. “How terrible is this place! It is too terrible for me. My flesh is too weak to bear this weight of glory.”‘’
Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 90.
David Morgan was one of the leading figures in the same Welsh revival. He, too knew of experiences which defied description:-
On the last day [of 1858] he had to travel from a preaching engagement over a lonely mountain upland in the direction of his home: ‘He was on this mountain for hours; whether in the body or whether out of the body, he hardly knew. Beyond a doubt he went through experiences unspeakable and full of glory…On this strange night on the hill he grasped and clung to the furze-bushes, because he seemed to feel some mystical forces lifting him, as it were, body and soul from the earth. We cannot but think that One whose Name is Wonderful came out of the darkness to meet him…When he let go the Divine Sojourner, and awoke to his terrestrial surroundings, his puzzled beast was standing by him. Giving it the reign, he arrived hime with a countenance so strange, and garments so spoiled, that his people hardly recognised him. When questioned, he replied, “I have been wrestling for the blessing, and I have received it.”‘
Evans, Two Welsh revivalists, 40f.
Isa 6:1ff ‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple…”Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”’
Richard Owen Roberts writes:-
‘When revival comes, an intense spirit of conviction will be felt immediately. Conduct that has always seemed acceptable will appear unbelievably wicked. Prejudices that have characterised professing Christians for decades will be revealed for the grievous sins that they really are. Private indulgences upon which a person has looked with favour for years will suddenly seem to merit all that wrath of God poured out forever. Prayerlessness, ignorance of Scripture, sins of omission, and failure in good works will no longer be defended by a myriad of excuses, but will be laid open before the God ‘with whom we have to do.’
Roberts, Revival, 23.
Individuals and groups of people can be suddenly overcome by conviction of sin, as in Wales in 1858:-
‘On October 3rd, 1858, Humphrey Jones preached at Ysbyty Ystwyth. The preacher’s message was based upon Amos 6:1, and it was delivered with a sense of urgency and solemnity but the atmosphere was cold and the congregation unresponsive. [In the church meeting which followed] the preacher complained bitterly of the frigidity of the religious atmosphere, and turning to the elders, said, ‘Not one of you helped me with so much as an “Amen”.’ One of them…rose, and replied, ‘It is very difficult for a man, when the ministry condemns him, to cry “Amen” with it.’ Overcome by sudden feeling, the old man burst into tears, and fell into his seat as if in a swoon. He was a man of undoubted piety, and unfailing faithfulness in all departments of Christian work; and when he was heard acknowledging his guilt in the face of the sermon, the entire church was struck by an overwhelming wave of emotion, and, as if by a simultaneous impulse, every face was bowed low and bathed in tears.’
Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 53.
The Psalmist pleads: ‘Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?’ (Psalm 85:6)
In revival, sorrow does frequently give way to joy:-
‘The 1859 revival in Wales was characterised by frequent outbursts of praise. The outbreak in a Carmarthenshire town is recorded thus: ‘One Sunday morning, an elder rose to speak, and his first remark was that the God they worshipped was without beginning and without end. ‘Amen!’ exclaimed a young girl in the highest notes of a lovely voice. ‘Blessed be his name forever.’ This cry might be compared to the touch of the electric button that shivers a quarry into a thousand hurtling fragments. Scores of people leaped from their seats, and, gathering in the vacant space in the centre, they gave vent to their pent-up emotions in outcries that were almost agonizing in their ardour and intensity.’
Orr, The light of the nations, 144.
4. The word of God
According to Walter Kaiser:-
‘Every revival in the Old Testament rested solidly on a new and powerful proclamation of the Word of God. The most obvious evidence of this characteristic can be seen in the revival under Josiah, when the book of the law was found and read with great response in the presence of the king. In the revival that took place under Jehoshaphat, the Levites ‘taught throughout Judah, taking with them the book of the law of the Lord’ (2 Chron 17:9). No less central was the Word of God in the revival under Ezra and Nehemiah, for Ezra read from it from daybreak until noon (Neh 8:3) for seven days (Neh 8:18), ‘making it clear and giving the meaning (Neh 8:8).’
Kaiser, Quest for renewal, 19.
A renewed interest in the Word of God leads ordinary Christians to relish Bible study and biblical preaching:-
‘Revived individuals are…marked by their great interest in the Word of God. Most professing Christians are content to let their pastors or Bible teachers do the digging for them in the Word of God, but revived individuals find themselves desiring the ‘sincere milk of the Word as newborn babes.’ They soon learn to relish the strong meat of the Word and to delight in lengthy, deep, reverent, practical, and searching teaching and preaching. Even more, they will be moved to diligent personal study of the Bible and to faithful application of its wonderful truths to their lives.’
Roberts, Revival, 26.
The following charming anecdote comes from the Welsh revival of 1859:-
‘One morning at eight, little children held a prayer meeting on behalf of an aged sinner of eighty-four…That same day in the afternoon service the old rebel yielded, conquered by love divine and human…He was absolutely illiterate, but as a new-born babe he desired the sincere milk of the Word. He obtained it in halfpenny-worths by giving coppers to any children who would read a chapter to him.’
Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 104f.
J.C. Ryle, writing in the mid-1860s about the Christian leaders of the previous century, says they:-
‘taught constantly the sufficiency and supremacy of Holy Scripture…the total corruption of human nature…that Christ’s death upon the cross was the only satisfaction for man’s sin…the great doctrine of justification by faith…the universal necessity of heart conversion and a new creation by the Holy Spirit…the inseparable connection between true faith and personal holiness… God’s eternal hatred against sin, and God’s love towards sinners.’
Ryle, Christian leaders of the 18th century, 26ff
The young C.H. Spurgeon had already seen remarkable gospel success in the years leading up to 1859. But that year was perhaps the most fruitful of all. At the end of the year, he wrote:-
“The times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord have at last dawned upon our land’.
No church building was large enough to accommodate his congregation, so he preached to approximately 8,000 souls in the Surrey Gardens Music Hall. Among the topics he dwelt on were:-
The Story of God’s Mighty Acts – Psalm 44:1.
The Blood of the Everlasting Covenant – Hebrews 13:20
The Necessity of the Spirit’s Work – Ezekiel 36:27
Predestination and Calling – Romans 8:30
Love – 1 John 4:19
Free Grace – Ezekiel 36:32
In the Book of Acts, we note the ‘steady progression’ of converts from 120 (Acts 1:15) to 3,000 (Acts 2:41) to 5,000 (Acts 4:4) to “many thousands” (Acts 21:20).
‘Half a million were estimated to have joined the Protestant churches of North America in the remarkable years 1857-59. Northern Ireland in 1859 had an increase of around 100,000 in the number of Christians. Wales in the same years saw some 50,000 added to the churches.’
Murray, Necessary Ingredients of a Biblical Revival, 5.
Buildings sprang up which remained as silent witnesses to the harvest of souls during the revivals:-
‘Travellers in Wales could notice testimonies in brick and stone across the country – churches and chapels with foundation-stones marked ‘Built 1860, enlarged 1905,’ citing the dates of the years following the revivals.’
Orr, The Light of the Nations, 234f.
Nor was England forgotten. In September, 1859, The Times reported that Newcastle-upon-Tyne ‘has become the scene of a religious “Awakening,” which bids fair to rival anything which has occurred either in America or Northern Ireland.’ In Liverpool, a solicitor named Reginald Radcliffe felt God’s call to evangelise and began a series of Sunday evening meetings in the Concert Hall. He also engaged in open-air preaching and was listened to attentively by miners and dock-workers. With a fellow-evangelist Radcliffe also conducted a series of mission services in Suffolk.
[J.C.] Ryle was in favour of any movement to deepen the spiritual life of God’s people, provided it was based on sound, biblical principles, and he invited the missioners to address a meeting in the Corn Hall, Stradbroke.
Russell, That man of granite with the heart of a child, p112f
That meeting had a deep and lasting effect on a number of parishioners.
True revival will result not only in large numbers of converts, but in deep and lasting effects on the moral life of those converts.
Here is an example from Wales in the 1859 revival:-
‘In an evening service, a coarse and callous farmer was strangely affected. In the morning he was alarmed by the consciousness of a mysterious and revolutionary change in himself. He was unable to swear. He said to himself like Samson, ‘I will go out as at other times before, and shake myself.’ But his evil strength had departed, and he was weak and was as another man. He sought his servants at their work, imagining that he would there find sufficient reasons for the exercise of his cherished habit, but for the life of him he couldn’t rap out a single oath. Then he realised that his ailment required a drastic remedy, and thought, as a last resort, that if he could see some neighbour’s sheep trespassing on his pasture the lost faculty would be recovered. So he climbed a hill that was near, but nothing availed. He began to tremble in every limb. ‘What is this?’ cried he. ‘I can’t swear; what if I tried to pray?’ He fell on his knees among the furze-bushes, and continued a man of prayer as long as he lived.’
in Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 96.
The health of the wider society benefits profoundly from the ripple-effects of revival. In 2 Chron 7:14 we overhear the words of the Lord to Solomon:- “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
The social reforms of Lord Shaftesbury span the period we are focussing on, although they probably grow out of the Second Great Awakening and the work of the Clapham Sect.
Lord Shaftesbury described himself as “an Evangelical of the Evangelicals,” and his spiritual experience led him into a crusade for human betterment which was an unparalleled demonstration of Christian love…harnessed to the improvement of the lot of the working poor.
Before Lord Shaftesbury’s reforms, workers were caught in a treadmill of competitive labour, which served to keep them straining for sixteen hours a day. Shaftesbury and his friends put an end to that by legislation limiting the operation of the factories to ten hours a day, introducing a Saturday half-holiday, as well as abolishing all unnecessary Sunday labour.
Shaftesbury’s Mines and Collieries Act made impossible any further exploitation of women and children in coal mines…His Chimney Sweep acts prohibited the vile use of little boys to clean narrow chimneys of soot…Shaftsbury, by his Lunacy Acts, transformed the lot of the insane from that of abused prisoners to protected patients.
Shaftsbury promoted public parks, playing-fields, gymnasia, garden allotments, workmen’s institutions, public libraries, night schools, choral and debating societies, and other self-help. Not only did Shaftsbury accomplish the work of ten men in social reform, but he also kept busy in evangelical ministry, being president of the Ragged School Union, the World YMCA, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the Church Pastoral Aid Society, the Religious Tract Society and many others – so many, in fact, that at his memorial service in Westminster Abbey in 1885 no less than two hundred religious, social and philanthropic organisations were represented by officials, with all of which Lord Shaftesbury was more or less directly concerned.
Orr, The light of the nations, 90.
6. Unusual phenomena
One feature which is often notable in revival, is the presence of a variety of unusual phenomena, ranging from physical prostrations to (real or apparent) prophesyings, visions, and miraculous healings.
Joel 2:28/Acts 2:17 ‘And afterwards, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.’
David Morgan exercised unusual abilities for quite a short period during the 1859 revival in Wales. He had been seeking revival for some years, and had become very unhappy with the state of his own ministry. One Tuesday night, he went to bed as usual:-
‘He awoke about 4 am, and was instantly conscious that some strange, mysterious changes had come over him. He became aware with awe of a marvellous illumination of his faculties, especially of his memory. “I awoke about four in the morning,’ said he himself, ‘remembering everything of a religious nature that I had ever learnt or heard.”‘
Evans, Revival Comes to Wales, 54.
This enhancement of mental faculties gave Morgan an unusual facility when dealing with enquirers:-
‘All the converts who ‘stayed behind’ with the church members would be invited to come forward to the front seat. Here the Revivalist would converse with them individually, inquiring with friendly interest about their family connections and responsibilities, and after winning their confidence he would proceed, like a skilful surgeon, to probe their spiritual wounds, and administer the cordial of corrective which his diagnosis of the case enjoined as necessary. Then he would kneel and commend the converts to God, individually and by name however numerous they might be, his petitions moulded with minuteness and detail upon his conversations with them.’
in Evans, Two Welsh Revivalists, 42.
Here is another example from David Morgan’s ministry:-
‘In the middle of his sermon, he startled his audience by suddenly exclaiming, ‘If any of you here tonight deny the deity of the Son, I have nothing better to tell you than what Morgan Howell, Newport, shouted on Lampeter bridge, “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor. He became poor when he came to Bethlehem; tell me, when was he rich?”‘ This remark was utterly irrelevant to the preacher’s subject-matter, and no one could conjecture whence it came, and whither it went. The mystery was solved in the after-meeting, for among the converts were three Unitarians…whose presence in the service was quite accidental, and certainly unknown to the preacher.’
Evans, Revival comes to Wales, 63.
We remember past revivals not out of merely antiquarian interest. We do so in order to say with Habakkuk:-
Habakkuk 3:2 – ‘Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known.’
Jonathan Edwards claimed:
‘It has been found by experience, that the tidings of remarkable effects by the power and grace of God in any place, tend greatly to awaken and engage the minds of persons in other places.’
(Edwards, Works, I, 429f.)
There have been a number of instances when learning about a previous revival has prompted the prayer, ‘Lord, do it again!’ So it was in 1839, when W.C. Burns, who was later to become a pioneer missionary in China, told a congregation in Kilsyth about the revival which took place in that place a century before. Their hunger for God was so great that the telling of the story produced the same conviction of sin as before, and many souls were converted. (Orr, The light of the nations, 62.)
Likewise, tidings of a revival in another part of the world has often lead to the prayer, ‘Lord, do it here!’. A man named Humphrey Jones had emigrated to the United States, and had witnessed the revival there (1858). He returned to his native Wales full of revival fire, and became one of the first human agents to be involved in the great revival which swept the Principality at that time.
So may these stories of revival stimulate us to think, study, and pray regarding the prospects for revival in our own day. And it is to a consideration of this that I shall turn in my second talk.