When the Spirit of God brings bona fide spiritual revival to the Church it is often not only an astounding but also an overwhelming experience for those who are part of it. During times of spiritual awakening God’s Spirit works so powerfully in people’s lives that previously-careless non-Christians become intensely convicted of their sins and cry out to God for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Christians, too, earnestly repent of their sins and are tremendously quickened in every area of their spiritual lives—worship, prayer, study of Scripture, holy living, evangelism, service and more.

Such periods of revival have sometimes been so overwhelming that they have not always been neat and orderly. But because genuine revival is the work of God’s Spirit it always produces truly spiritual results (like those just named) that are in keeping with God’s will as revealed in His Word.

Andrew Murray at age 28
Andrew Murray at age 28

Andrew Murray was still a young pastor when revival came to South Africa in 1860-1861. He actually needed to learn to loosen his grip on the reins over his congregation and to realize that he could not control how the Spirit of God carried out His powerful, reviving work in the lives of people. Murray did indeed learn those lessons and was therefore used of the Lord to help promote the awakening. Here’s the first of a three-part miniseries on Andrew Murray’s experiences and lessons learned concerning revival. We can learn much from his example.

In 1857-1858 what became known as the Prayer Meeting Revival swept across the United States (see my July 6, 2015, Perspective on that revival). That mighty working of God’s Spirit next ignited powerful revivals in Ireland and Wales in 1859, then brought widespread spiritual awakening to South Africa beginning in 1860. After the revival’s dramatic beginning in Montagu, South Africa (see my July 25, 2015, Perspective), it spread to Worcester, where Andrew Murray, at thirty-two years of age, had recently been called as pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church.

Historic Dutch Reformed Church in Worcester, South Africa
Historic Dutch Reformed Church in Worcester, South Africa

The awakening there actually began on the farm of David Naude in the rural Breede River ward of the Worcester parish. Three individuals— Naude’s son Jan, Jan’s cousin Miss Van Blerk and an old native farmhand named Saul Pieterse—had been faithfully meeting weekly for several months to pray for revival. Miss Van Blerk taught the servants on the farm and was particularly distressed over their spiritually-needy condition. She became so burdened for them that she prayed almost continuously for a week. Then one evening shortly thereafter, God’s Spirit moved suddenly and mightily on a meeting she was holding for the servants. The spiritual distress of the people became so great that she ran from the meeting place to seek help with the situation.

The emotional strain of the sudden, ongoing awakening soon overtaxed Miss Van Blerk, and she retreated to Worcester for a week. Upon her return to the farm, the workers came out, singing, to greet her. Reportedly nearly everyone on the farm was converted.

As news of these developments quickly spread, people from neighboring farms—“young and old, parents and children, white and colored”—promptly began streaming to the previously-neglected prayer meeting. According to one person’s description, the people who gathered there were “driven by a common impulse to cast themselves before God and utter their souls in cries of penitence.”

Murray came to lead one of the meetings not long after the revival first broke out. But after giving his careful instructions and inviting individuals to pray one at a time, the whole group immediately burst into simultaneous prayer, pleading for mercy and forgiveness. At that point old Saul jumped up, faced Murray and Naude, and challenged them, “Try now to throw a dam wall around if you can!” By that he basically meant, “Just try to contain the work of God’s Spirit if you think you can.”

Members from other parts of the parish and even from other congregations began to arrive at the Naude farm in carts and wagons. For three months the Naudes needed to suspend their farming activities to assist the many people coming to seek salvation.

Not long after Murray officiated at the prayer meeting at David Naude’s farm, the awakening flamed to life in the town of Worcester. (To be continued …)

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Andrew Murray by Vance Christie

A full account of the revival in South Africa is recorded in chapters 11 and 12 of my comprehensive biography on Murray entitled Andrew Murray, Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa. Much spiritual encouragement and instruction can be gained through the consideration of his outstanding life of service for Christ Jesus.

Copyright 2019 by Vance E. Christie

Andrew Murray

Andrew Murray

The mighty prayer meeting revival movement that swept across the United States in 1857-1858, next ignited powerful revivals in Ireland and Wales in 1859, then brought widespread spiritual awakening to South Africa in 1860-1861. After the revival’s dramatic beginning in Montagu, South Africa (see my July 25, 2015, Perspective), it next spread to Worcester, where Rev. Andrew Murray, Jr., had recently been called as pastor.

The awakening there actually began on the farm of David Naude in the rural Breede River ward of the Worcester parish. Three individuals— Naude’s son Jan, Jan’s cousin Miss Van Blerk and an old native farmhand named Saul Pieterse—had been faithfully meeting weekly for several months to pray for revival. Miss Van Blerk taught the servants on the farm and was particularly distressed over their spiritually needy condition. She became so burdened for them that she prayed almost continuously for a week. Then one evening shortly thereafter, God’s Spirit moved suddenly and mightily on a meeting she was holding for them. Within a week nearly everyone on the farm was converted.

As news of these developments quickly spread, people from neighboring farms—“young and old, parents and children, white and colored”—promptly began streaming to the previously-neglected prayer meeting. Members from other parts of the parish and even from other congregations arrived at the Naude farm in carts and wagons. For three months the Naudes needed to suspend their farming activities to assist the many people coming to seek salvation.

Historic Dutch Reformed Church in Worcester, South Africa

Historic Dutch Reformed Church in Worcester, South Africa

Not long after the initial awakening at the Naude farm, the revival spread to Worcester itself. God’s Spirit so moved on a Sunday evening youth meeting that all sixty young people in attendance suddenly started praying simultaneously. The sense of God’s presence was so powerful that some of the youth felt compelled to kneel down to pray.

J. C. de Vries, a young man who witnessed the Worcester revival, later related: “After that the prayer meetings were held every evening. At the commencement there was generally great silence, but after the second or third prayer the whole hall was moved as before, and every one fell to praying. Sometimes the gathering continued till three in the morning. And even then many wished to remain longer, or returning homewards, went singing through the streets. The little hall was soon quite too small, and we were compelled to move to the school building, which also was presently full to overflowing, as scores and hundreds of country folk streamed into the village.”

On the first Saturday evening in the larger meetinghouse, Murray led the prayer meeting. After reading a passage of Scripture and making a few observations on it, he prayed. When he invited others to pray, everyone again began praying aloud all at the same time. Murray thought such praying disorderly, so descended from the platform and moved among the people, trying to quiet them.

That evening a stranger had been standing at the door from the beginning of the meeting. That unknown individual quietly approached Murray, gently touched him and said: “I think you are the minister of the congregation. Be careful what you do, for it is the Spirit of God that is at work here. I have just come from America, and this is precisely what I witnessed there.”

Throughout the remainder of that year and continuing into 1861 revival continued to spread across South Africa. In all, nearly three dozen parishes experienced dramatic spiritual awakening. The church leaders at Wellington reported that their parish had made greater moral and spiritual progress in recent weeks than throughout its entire previous history of nearly two decades. The Stellenbosch leaders enthused of revived spiritual conditions in their community, “The whole of society has been changed, yes, turned literally upside down!”

God is still able to work in these dramatic ways today. Are we willing to diligently seek such transformative blessings from Him in fervent prayer?

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Andrew Murray by Vance ChristieA full account of South Africa’s 1860 revival is recorded in chapters 11 and 12 of my forthcoming biography, Andrew Murray: Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa. That volume is to be released in the U.S. this August.

Copyright 2015 by Vance E. Christie

After the Prayer Meeting Revival swept across the United States in 1857-1858 (see my July 6, 2015, Perspective), it was carried by God’s Spirit across the Atlantic to Britain. There powerful, prayer-based revival ignited in both Ireland and Wales in 1859.

Historic Dutch Reformed Church in Montagu, South Africa

Historic Dutch Reformed Church in Montagu, South Africa

Hearing of these developments, churches of various denominations in South Africa began earnestly praying that God would be pleased to bring revival to their country as well. Dramatic spiritual awakening first came to the village of Montagu, located about 115 miles east of Cape Town, in May, 1860.

At the time Montagu did not have a resident minister and prayer meetings had become rare. But suddenly a spirit of prayer and expectation started to grip Montagu. So many people began streaming to prayer meetings that former locations for those gatherings were unable to accommodate all who wished to participate. Separate prayer meetings were held daily for men, women, boys and girls; prayer meetings multiplied and convened up to three times daily.

Servaas Hofmeyr

Servaas Hofmeyr

Rev. Servaas Hofmeyr had been called as Montagu’s pastor but did not arrive and begin his ministry there until the end of September. He later reported: “Extraordinary scenes were witnessed in those days. Anxious cries were uttered, heavy with fear. Heart-rendering testimonies of conversion were heard. Visions were seen and troubled dreams dreamt. Here in corporate prayer, elsewhere in quiet dwellings, even behind bushes and rocks, on mountains and in ravines, men, women, grayheads, children, gentlemen, servants – all kneeling on the same ground crying for mercy. And none of this expected by anyone, nor prepared by anyone, nor worked up or preached by anyone – it was all the Spirit of God; and not for a few hours or days, but months long.”

Nicolaas Hofmeyr

Nicolaas Hofmeyr

Nicolaas Hofmeyr, a professor at the Stellenbosch Theological Seminary, conducted his brother’s installation service at Montagu. Professor Hofmeyr testified of the revival there: “In Montagu, especially, where I had ample opportunity to speak to many of those who had been awakened, I was firmly convinced that a powerful work had been carried out by the Spirit of God. When I was there, the feeling of anguish and distress had generally subsided. The soul had been able to appropriate to itself the offered pardon in the blood of Christ. Love had banished fear. But some had still to carry on a hard conflict caused either by their wavering faith or by their outbursts of native depravity.

“For two or three weeks, when the awakening was in full strength, cases of heartfelt conversion occurred daily. A pious man told me that during that time the awakened were so much increased in number, and felt so anxious for spiritual advice, that he could scarcely allow himself bodily rest.

“Scarcely a house in the village is to be found where the awakening of God’s Spirit has not been felt by one or more individuals. The religious indifference for which this place has been known has given way to a tone of earnestness, which is diffused throughout society. The aspect of this place is entirely changed. Even those who do not approve of the revival have told me that the general improvement in the conduct of the inhabitants, within a few months, has been quite marvelous.”

The revival was not long in spreading to Worcester, nearly fifty miles northwest of Montagu, where Rev. Andrew Murray, Jr., had recently been called as pastor. (To be continued …)

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A full account of South Africa’s 1860 revival is recorded in chapters 11 and 12 of my forthcoming biography, Andrew Murray: Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa. That volume is to be released in the U.S. next month.

Copyright 2015 by Vance E. Christie

Prayer Meeting Revival 1857-1858Many Christians in the U.S.A. are deeply concerned about the troubling spiritual and social conditions of our country. All the best efforts of political leaders, social service organizations and churches seem powerless to stop our nation’s relentless moral decline and all the horrific consequences that decline produces. But we can gain helpful perspectives from America’s Prayer Meeting Revival (also called the Businessmen’s Revival) of 1857-1858.

In the 1840s and 1850s the United States experienced thirty-five-percent population growth. Much of that explosive growth was due to immigration and led to work shortages and race riots. America’s unresolved slavery issue was splitting the country and some Christian denominations right down the middle. The stock market crashed on October 10, 1857. Bank runs and failures occurred in New York City, Philadelphia and Chicago.

Jeremiah LanphierJeremiah Lanphier, the neighborhood missionary to poor immigrants for the North Dutch Church in New York City, became burdened about such concerning conditions in that city and the country. On September 23, 1857, he launched a weekly noon-hour prayer meeting for businessmen in a third-floor classroom of the North Dutch Church. No one showed up for the first half hour; six men straggled in to pray the second half hour. Twenty people came to pray the next week, and more than thirty attended the weekly prayer meetings the following month.

Religious papers began to publicize the Fulton Street Prayer Meeting late in October. By early November it had become a daily prayer gathering with some 200 people from a wide variety of denominations attending each day. Other prayer meetings sprang up across New York City, and by the following April 10,000 people were gathering daily for prayer in NYC. These developments proved to be so significant that even the secular press started publishing regular updates of the blossoming prayer movement and its spiritual and social benefits.

Similar prayer meetings and genuine spiritual revival quickly spread through cities, towns and villages all across the United States. Countless people participated in thousands of daily prayer meetings throughout the country. The revival continued to be marked by highly orderly prayer meetings, remarkable trans-denominational unity, innumerable conversions, definite easing of interracial tensions and a significant drop in crime rates.

Fulton Street Prayer Meeting

Fulton Street Prayer Meeting

One of the primary focuses at the prayer meetings was praying for the conversion of specific relatives and friends. Christians put legs to their evangelistic prayers by conversing with their unsaved acquaintances about their need for the Lord, by sharing Gospel literature with them and by inviting them to church or to visit with a Christian minister. Many non-Christians attended the prayer meetings to request intercession for their own spiritual needs and were thus led to saving faith in Christ. Conservative estimates are that nearly one million individuals (in a nation then numbering thirty million) were converted to Christ in less than two years. That would be the equivalent of almost eleven million U.S. residents being converted in the same length of time today!

The convicting work of God’s Spirit became so strong during the Prayer Meeting Revival that there were several instances of pressing conviction falling upon ships’ crews and passengers before they even reached American shores. Pastors were sometimes called out to sea to minister to those aboard the ships who were overwhelmed with distressing conviction.

As many as ninety college revivals took place across America between 1857 and 1859, including at a number of prominent universities. In 1859 God’s almighty reviving work leaped across the Atlantic and swept through Ireland where 100,000 people were converted. That same year the revival spread to Wales and the following year to South Africa.

God graciously brought the Prayer Meeting Revival to the U.S.A. just before the country was plunged into a cataclysmic Civil War (1861-1865). Many revitalized believers and new converts from the recent revival played a vital role in the rarely-reported ongoing spiritual developments that took place during that war. Some historians estimate that upwards of two million soldiers confessed faith in Christ during revivals in Union and Confederate military camps.

We modern Christians need to realize that we cannot depend on government, social service organizations or business-as-usual church ministries to arrest and correct the crying spiritual and social needs of our country and the world. Instead, we need to fervently seek a nationwide, even international, spiritual revival from the Lord. We also need to recommit ourselves, with God’s help, to more actively carry out Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8), even as we await His society-transforming revival blessings.

For fuller sketches of the Prayer Meeting Revival, see: chapter 4 of Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge, A God-Sized Vision, Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir (Zondervan, 2010);  chapters 16-17 in Wesley Duewel, Revival Fire (Zondervan, 1995).

Copyright 2015 by Vance E. Christie

Korean Christian praying for revival. (Note the reference to the 1907 Korean revival on the tee shirt in the background.)

Korean Christian praying for revival. (Note the reference to the 1907 Korean revival on the t-shirt in the background.)

In the opening decade of the twentieth century an astounding international revival began in Wales and spread to America, Scandinavia, India, Korea and China. In September, 1906, a group of Korean missionaries meeting in Seoul heard stirring accounts of mighty revivals that had recently taken place in Wales and India. More than twenty Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries returned to Pyongyang, Korea’s capital at the time, and began praying together at noon each day that God would pour out similar revival blessing on their city and country.

After about a month, one of the missionaries suggested they stop their daily prayer meetings since a lot of time had been invested in them and nothing unusual had happened as a result. But the majority of missionaries decided to continue meeting daily for prayer. They actually switched the time to four in the afternoon so they could feel free to pray even longer, till supper time, if they desired. One of the results of those prayer meetings was that the missionaries stopped thinking of themselves as Methodists and Presbyterians, and realized that they were all one in Christ.

Following three more months of prayer, the Pyongyang churches began 1907, as they did each new year, with a week of daily prayer services. But when they came to the final Sunday evening service, after eight consecutive days of special prayer services, there had been no exceptional blessing received from the Lord. They wondered if God was going to withhold the reviving influence of His Spirit that they had so diligently sought.

About 1,500 people gathered in the Central Presbyterian Church for that final prayer service. As the meeting progressed, all were astonished when the leading Elder of the church suddenly stood up and publicly confessed: “I am an Achan. God can’t bless because of me. About a year ago a friend of mine, when dying, called me to his house and said, ‘Elder, I am about to pass away. I want you to manage my affairs; my wife is unable.’ I said, ‘Rest your heart; I will do it.’

“I did manage that widow’s estate,” the elder continued, “but I managed to put 100 dollars of her money into my own pocket. I have hindered God. I am going to give the 100 dollars back to that widow tomorrow morning.”

Instantly the hindering barrier to the Lord’s blessing was removed, and conviction of sin swept across the audience. The church service, which had begun at 7 p.m., continued till 2 a.m. Throughout that time dozens of people at once were standing, weeping, as they awaited their turn to confess their transgressions.

In the days that followed, special daily services continued for prayer and confession. Many serious secret sins were publicly confessed and promptly forsaken. When possible, Christians made restitution to those they had wronged. As news of these dramatic developments spread, many curious people crowded into the ongoing church services. Some came to mock but fell under conviction themselves and were converted.

When the Spirit's Fire Swept Korea

When the Spirit’s Fire Swept Korea by Jonathan Goforth

In less than two months some 2,000 individuals came to faith in Christ in Pyongyang. One of the Pyongyang missionaries commented: “It paid well to have spent the several months in prayer. For when God the Holy Spirit came, He accomplished more in half a day than all of us missionaries could have accomplished in half a year.” From 1906 to 1910 80,000 converts were added to the Church throughout Korea.

Inspiring summaries of the Korean revival are found in Jonathan Goforth’s booklet When the Spirit’s Fire Swept Korea and in chapter 5 of Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge’s book A God-Sized Vision, Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir. If we twenty-first century Christians were to desire and seek true Heaven-sent revival with the earnestness of the early-twentieth-century Korean Christians, God might very well bring dramatic spiritual Awakening to our churches, communities and even entire countries.

Copyright 2015 by Vance E. Christie

John Blair Smith

John Blair Smith

John Blair Smith (1756-1799) graduated as valedictorian of the class of 1773 at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). At age nineteen he was called to be a tutor at the new Hampden-Sydney College, a Presbyterian institution located in south central Virginia. Four years later he became the school’s president.

While serving at the college, Smith simultaneously pastored a few Presbyterian churches in and around Prince Edward County. Smith called the elders of his churches to prayer, and those times of intercession developed into prayer circles “in different parts of the congregations where a few could assemble.”

Of the nearly eighty students at Hampden-Sydney College in the fall of 1787, only one was definitely known to be a Christian while two others were earnestly seeking after Christian truth. Those three began to meet for prayer on Saturday afternoons, but in the woods some distance from campus so they would not be discovered by their fellow students.

Hampden-Sydney College SealOne afternoon rain threatened, so the trio met in one of the college rooms. After locking the door, they began to sing and pray quietly, not wanting to be overheard. But they were found out, and a large group of students quickly gathered in the hallway, banging on the door, yelling, swearing and threatening if the trio did not cease and desist all such spiritual exercises at the college.

Two professors arrived at the scene of the ruckus and ordered all the students back to their rooms. That evening the entire student body was called together, and President Smith demanded to know the cause of the disturbance and who had led it. The leaders confidently stepped forward and stated that they had found a few of their fellow students “carrying on like the Methodists” and they were “determined to break it up.” Rather than condemning the participants in the small prayer group, Smith publicly commended them and invited them to hold their prayer meeting in his parlor the following Saturday.

People were greatly surprised when one week later Smith’s parlor was completely filled by the number of people who attended the prayer meeting. Surprise turned to amazement when just one week after that nearly the entire student body and many neighbors from around the college showed up for the prayer meeting, overflowing the parlor and other rooms of Smith’s home! As more neighbors heard of what was happening at the college, they all wanted to attend subsequent Saturday prayer gatherings. Those needed to be held in the large College Hall, which was filled for the weekly prayer sessions.

The widespread results of this sudden mighty moving of God’s Spirit were truly remarkable. Within two weeks fully half of the college students fell under heavy conviction of their sins, and many eventually came to faith in Christ. Deep spiritual impressions and concern spread throughout the surrounding neighborhood. Prayer meetings multiplied and Smith devoted himself entirely to preaching in the college and in his congregations.

One testified of this revival:  “Every other business appeared for a time forgotten in the all-absorbing interests of religion. The awakening in the congregations received a great impulse in every direction … By the commencement of the year 1788, there was a general awakening in Prince Edward, Cumberland and Charlotte counties. The professors of religion awaked as from sleep and put on the armor of godliness; some declared themselves convinced that their former profession had been a lifeless one and professed conversion anew.”

John Smith’s father Robert, himself a minister from Pennsylvania, visited his son during this revival and reported in part: “The half was not told me of the display of God’s power and grace among them; no not the tenth part. I have seen nothing equal to it for extensive spread, power and spiritual glory, since the years 1740-1741 [the first Great Awakening in America]. The work has spread for an hundred miles … Not a word scarcely about politics; but all religion in public and private. They run far and near to sermons, sacraments and [praying] societies.

“The blessed work has spread among people of every description, high and low, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, orthodox and heterodox, sober and rude, white and black, young and old; especially the youth, whom it seems to have seized generally. 225 hopeful communicants have been added to the Lord’s table among John Smith’s people, in the space of eighteen months, chiefly of the young people.”

Surely the God who worked so mightily in these ways in the 1700s is capable of working similarly in our own time and places. May we be encouraged to start (or continue) seeking such God-wrought revival in our own churches and communities.

A fuller account of this revival under John Blair Smith’s ministry is recorded in Iain Murray’s excellent book Revival and Revivalism (published by Banner of Truth), pages 95-99. That volume contains much helpful, inspiring material on the subject of revival, especially during America’s Second Great Awakening.

Copyright 2015 by Vance E. Christie

Samuel Blair's church buildingWhile George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards have come to be considered the primary human instruments used by God in America’s First Great Awakening, numerous other ministers were privileged to have a significant role in that widespread revival as well. One of those “lesser lights” in the Great Awakening was a Presbyterian pastor named Samuel Blair.

Blair was born in Ireland in 1712 and emigrated to America at a young age. After completing his education at William Tennent’s Log College, Blair served as pastor of two Presbyterian congregations in New Jersey for six years. Late in 1739 he was called to be the pastor of Fagg’s Manor Presbyterian Church in New Londonderry (present-day Cochranville), in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania.

Blair was aware that many professing Christians in that region were depending on their own religious works to make them right with God rather than understanding their need to trust solely in Christ for salvation. Accordingly, throughout his first winter in Pennsylvania his preaching was “mainly calculated for persons in a natural unregenerate state.”

Londonderry, PA, rural landscape

Londonderry, PA

When Blair needed to be away from his pulpit the first two Sundays of March, 1740, a neighboring minister who was “earnest for the awakening and conversion of secure sinners” preached a searching sermon on the parable of the unfruitful fig tree in Luke 13. As the guest speaker emphasized the unfruitful tree’s imminent danger of being cut down, “there was a visible appearance of much soul-concern among the hearers; so that some burst out with an audible noise into bitter crying, a thing not know in these parts before.”

Similar responses occurred when Blair returned and resumed his preaching ministry to his congregation. “I desired them, as much as possible, to restrain themselves from making any noise that would hinder themselves or others from hearing what was spoken … I advised people to endeavor to moderate and bound their passions [emotions], but not so as to resist or stifle their convictions.”

The powerful convicting work of God’s Spirit in the church and surrounding area increased: “Our Sabbath assemblies soon became vastly large; many people from almost all parts around inclining very much to come where there was such appearance of the divine power and presence. I think there was scarcely a sermon or lecture preached here through that whole summer, but there were manifest evidences of impressions on the hearers; and many times the impressions were very great and general. Several would be overcome and fainting; others deeply sobbing, hardly able to contain; others crying in a most dolorous manner; many others more silently weeping; and a solemn concern appearing in the countenances of many others.”

As Blair privately counseled those individuals, he found that, for the vast majority of them, their apparent concern in public was not just a temporary qualm of conscience or a fleeting emotional unsettledness. Rather, their spiritual concern resulted from “a rational, fixed conviction of their dangerous perishing estate.”

This widespread awakening soon produced other obvious results: “The general carriage and behavior of people was soon very visibly altered. Those awakened were much given to reading in the Holy Scriptures and other good books. The subjects of discourse almost always, when any of them were together, were the matters of religion and great concerns of their souls. All unsuitable, worldly, vain discourse on the Lord’s Day seemed to be laid aside among them. There was an earnest desire in people after opportunities for public worship and hearing the Word.”

In time, many of those who had been distressed over their sinful, perishing state “afforded very hopeful, satisfying evidence that the Lord had brought them to true closure with Jesus Christ, and that their distresses and fears had been in a great measure removed in a right gospel way, by believing in the Son of God.”

For no apparent reason, the revival in New Londonderry seemed to end as abruptly as it had begun: “Towards the end of that summer, there seemed to be a stop put to the further progress of the work as to the conviction and awakening of sinners; and ever since there have been very few instances of persons convinced.” Some who had experienced greater or lesser degrees of concern over their spiritual condition during the revival quickly returned to being spiritually complacent or confident in their own good deeds to give them a good standing with God.

“But,” observed Blair, “through the infinite rich grace of God (and blessed be His glorious name!) there is a considerable number who afford all the evidence that can be reasonably expected and required for our satisfaction in the case, of their having been the subjects of a thorough saving change … Their walk is habitually tender and conscientious, their carriage towards their neighbors just and kind, and they appear to have an agreeable peculiar love one for another, and for all in whom appears the image of God.”

Wouldn’t it be tremendous to see God’s Spirit work in such mighty convicting and converting fashion in our own day? I definitely believe we could see such awakenings if we will begin (and continue!) to prayerfully, earnestly seek them from the Lord to His glory.

Joseph Tracy’s The Great Awakening, A History of the Revival of Religion in the Time of Edwards and Whitefield (republished by Banner of Truth in 1976) relates a fuller account of the revival that took place under Samuel Blair’s ministry in Pennsylvania. Tracy’s work chronicles numerous revivals that God brought about (and many of the privileged human instruments He chose to use) during that time of widespread awakening.

Copyright 2015 by Vance E. Christie

The Second Great Awakening, the second major period of widespread revival in America, started in the 1790s and continued through the opening decades of the 1800s. From the intellectual Northeast to the wild and wooly western frontier (Kentucky and Tennessee at the time), the entire nation was hugely impacted by the revival. As a result, the Northeast was delivered from the godless, humanistic philosophy then threatening to engulf it while the frontier was rescued from the lawlessness and immorality sweeping across it. In all parts of the country Christ’s kingdom work was mightily advanced rather than diminished.

Timothy Dwight

Timothy Dwight

In this Perspective I will focus more narrowly on the first season of revival that came to Yale College during the Second Great Awakening. The college’s president at that time was Timothy Dwight, grandson of Jonathan Edwards. When Dwight assumed the reins of leadership at Yale in 1795 the college “was in a most ungodly state,” and only about ten percent of its 125 students publicly professed to be Christians.

Lyman Beecher, who went on to become a famous New England minister, was a junior when Dwight arrived as Yale’s president. Beecher reported of spiritual conditions at the school: “The college church was almost extinct. Most of the students were skeptical, and rowdies were plenty. Wine and liquors were kept in many rooms; intemperance, profanity, gambling and licentiousness were common. That was the day of the infidelity of the Tom Paine school. Boys that dressed flax in the barn read Tom Paine and believed him … [M]ost of the class before me were infidels and called each other Voltaire, Rousseau, D’Alembert, etc.”

Original Yale College Building

Original Yale College Building

Under the influence of the Enlightenment’s anti-Christian philosophy, the students had come to doubt the reliability of Scripture. Shortly after Dwight’s arrival at Yale, he accepted the seniors’ challenge to debate the question, “Are the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament the Word of God?” Dwight invited the students to mount the strongest case they could against the Bible, promising not to assume they personally believed everything about the arguments they set forth for the purposes of debate. After hearing them out, he then proceeded to systematically and meticulously demolish their case and to capably construct “a well-reasoned defense of the Bible’s accuracy.” For six solid months Dwight preached a series of weekly sermons on the issue of biblical authority and accuracy. “From that moment Infidelity was not only without a stronghold, but without a lurking place,” Dwight’s son Sereno afterward related.

A little over a year later twenty-five students founded the Moral Society of Yale College, pledging to hold each other spiritually accountable in small groups similar to the Wesleys’ Holy Clubs at Oxford. Just one year earlier only ten students were willing to publicly profess their Christian faith, and eight of those were seniors who had since graduated.

Then in 1802 full-fledged revival swept across the campus. For several months a small group of students met weekly to pray that God would bring spiritual awakening to Yale as He had been to the country’s western frontier. After a well-known senior professed newfound devotion to Christ, the campus revival spread rapidly. That year one-third of the Yale student body, which then numbered 230, professed saving faith in Jesus Christ, and fifty-eight students joined the college church.

A student later reported: “The whole college was shaken. It seemed for a time as if the whole mass of the students would press into the kingdom. It was the Lord’s doing, and marvelous in all eyes. Oh, what a blessed change! It was a glorious reformation.”

Timothy Dwight

Timothy Dwight

Dwight testified: “Such triumphs of grace, none whose privilege it was to witness them, had ever before seen. So sudden and so great was the change in individuals, and in the general aspect of the college, that those who had been waiting for it were filled with wonder as well as joy. And those who knew not what it meant were awe-struck and amazed. Wherever students were found in their rooms, in the chapel, in the hall, in the college-yard, in their walks about the city, the reigning impression was, “Surely God is in this place.” The salvation of the soul was the great subject of thought, of conversation, of absorbing interest; the convictions of many were pungent and overwhelming; the “peace in believing” which succeeded, was not less strongly marked.”

Thirty students, half the revived senior class, entered pastoral ministry. While only thirteen graduates had become ministers in the four years preceding the revival, in the four years that followed the awakening, sixty-nine graduates went on to pastor local churches.

Subsequent periods of revival came to Yale in 1808, 1812-1813, 1815 and 1831. New Haven, CT, where Yale was located, shared in the awakenings. In the 1831 revival, 104 students became members of the college church while 900 others in New Haven were converted.

For further inspiring information on the revivals that took place at Yale during the Second Great Awakening, see chapter 3 (“God and Men at Yale”) in Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge’s excellent book A God-Sized Vision, Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir. May the Lord use accounts such as these (1) to help us believe that bona fide spiritual revival is possible in our own day as it was in the past and (2) to earnestly seek it from Him.

Copyright 2015 by Vance E. Christie

 

 

 

 

 

Psalm 85:6
Currently I am devoting considerable study and teaching time to the theme of bona fide God-sent revival. I’m finding such a focus incredibly inspiring and instructive. In some of my future Perspectives I’d like to share summaries of remarkable revivals that God has brought about in the past for His glory and the immeasurable good of innumerable people. May God use these accounts to increase (1)our awareness of how He has sometimes worked dramatically in the past and (2) our desire and faith that He would work similarly in our own day.

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards

In 1726 twenty-three-year old Jonathan Edwards became the associate minister of the church in Northampton, Massachusetts, which his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, had pastored for nearly sixty years. At that time Northampton had some 200 families and around 1,300 residents.

During his long, beneficial tenure at Northampton, Stoddard had witnessed five “harvests,” exceptional periods when considerable numbers of people came to faith in Christ. But spiritual and moral conditions in Northampton had become quite careless and compromised in Stoddard’s latter years and in the opening years of Edwards’ ministry there.

Stoddard died in February, 1729. Of that period Edwards testified: “Just after my grandfather’s death, it seemed to be a time of extraordinary dullness in religion. Licentiousness for some years prevailed among the youth of the town; they were many of them very much addicted to night-walking, and frequenting the tavern, and lewd practices, wherein some, by their example, exceedingly corrupted others. … There had also long prevailed in the town a spirit of contention between two parties, into which they had for many years been divided; by which they maintained a jealousy one of the other, and were prepared to oppose one another in all public affairs.”

In the years that followed, under Edwards’ earnest ministry, spiritual conditions began to improve somewhat. Following the sudden deaths from illness of a young single man and a young married woman in the spring and summer of 1734, many of the town’s young people became much more concerned about their own spiritual state.

That fall, at Edwards’ suggestion, first the young people, then older people following their example, began to meet on Sunday evenings for spiritual fellowship and edification. Prior to that, they had customarily gotten together on Sunday nights for merely secular and often inappropriate socializing. In the end of December five or six individuals were suddenly and definitely converted, including one of the formerly loosest, most careless young women in town.

Edwards describes the mighty moving of God’s Spirit that then took place, transforming individuals, families, the church and the entire community: “Presently upon this, a great and earnest concern about the great things of religion and the eternal world, became universal in all parts of the town, and among persons of all degrees and all ages. … All other talk but about spiritual and eternal things, was soon thrown aside; all the conversation, in all companies and upon all occasions, was upon these things only, unless so much as was necessary for people carrying on their ordinary secular business. Other discourse than of the things of religion would scarcely be tolerated in any company. The minds of people were wonderfully taken off from the world, it was treated amongst us as a thing of very little consequence. …

“The only thing in their view was to get the kingdom of heaven, and every one appeared pressing into it. The engagedness of their hearts in this great concern could not be hid, it appeared in their very countenances. It then was a dreadful thing amongst us to lie out of Christ, in danger every day of dropping into hell. What persons’ minds were intent upon was to escape for their lives, and to fly from wrath to come. All would eagerly lay hold of opportunities for their souls, and were wont very often to meet together in private houses, for religious purposes. And such meetings when appointed were greatly thronged. …

“This work of God, as it was carried on, and the number of true saints multiplied, soon made a glorious alteration in the town: so that in the spring and summer following, 1735, the town seemed to be full of the presence of God: it never was so full of love, nor of joy, and yet so full of distress, as it was then. There were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house. It was a time of joy in families on account of salvation being brought unto them …

“The goings [actions, progress] of God were then seen in His sanctuary, God’s day was a delight … Our public assemblies were then beautiful: the congregation was alive in God’s service, every one earnestly intent on the public worship, every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister as they came from his mouth. The assembly in general were, from time to time, in tears while the word was preached; some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for the souls of their neighbors. …

“Those amongst us who had been formerly converted were greatly enlivened, and renewed with fresh and extraordinary incomes of the Spirit of God … Many who before had labored under difficulties about their own state, had now their doubts removed by more satisfying experience, and more clear discoveries of God’s love.”

Northampton

Northampton

Edwards, ever reticent to pronounce too quickly that individuals had been truly converted, conservatively estimated that more than 300 people in Northampton (nearly one-quarter of the town’s population!) came to saving faith in Christ in half a year’s time. At the height of the revival, in March and April of 1735, around thirty people per week were being saved. Most of those being converted were young people, although fifty of them (one in six) were in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. Several Afro-American slaves in the community were also converted.

During that same time period dramatic revival took place in dozens of other towns in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey. Some communities were aware that spiritual awakening was taking place in other towns simultaneously. Still other communities were completely unaware of that at the time, thinking that the mighty moving of God’s Spirit was unique to their own locale.

Copyright 2015 by Vance E. Christie

A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch And StirLast year I had the privilege of teaching a ten-lesson course at the church I pastor on the topic of “Revival – Past and Present.” As the primary resource for the class (other than the Bible) we used Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge’s book A God-Sized Vision, Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir (Zondervan, 2010).  I highly recommend the book and encourage you to read it for the following reasons:

1. The authors are well qualified to write on the topic of revival. John Woodbridge is the esteemed research professor of Church History at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, having taught there for over forty years. Collin Hansen is the capable editorial director for the Gospel Coalition.  Both of them have published best-selling books and numerous articles in various journals and magazines. They’ve obviously done their homework for writing this book. Each chapter includes a list of endnotes, referencing several published works that can be consulted for further study on that chapter’s subject.

2. Hansen and Woodbridge handle the complex and sometimes controversial topic of revival with balance and grace. While acknowledging that some of what has been called revival doubtless was not, they nevertheless believe that revival is a legitimate, biblical phenomenon that has occurred repeatedly in Church History and that Christians today do well to prepare for and seek. The authors are of the persuasion that bona fide revival is something that God graciously brings about rather than something that people work up on their own. But unlike some books on revival, Woodbridge and Hansen are gracious in how they speak of and represent proponents of the opposite view from their own.

3. The first chapter of this work does an excellent job of laying out a biblical foundation of revival, introducing the two main camps of thought on revival (sovereignly brought about by God or initiated by man), and defining what true revival actually is. Genuine revival is shown to have its roots in Bible times, not just in subsequent Church History.

4. Chapters 2-8 of the book describe a number of major revivals that have taken place in various parts of the world during the past three centuries:

  • The First and Second Great Awakenings in North America (1730s-1740s and 1790s- 1840s).
  • The Prayer Meeting Revival in the United States, Northern Ireland and South Africa (1857-1860).
  • The Global Awakening in Wales, India, Korea and North America (1900s).
  • Revivals in China and Manchuria (1900s-1930s).
  • The East Africa Revival (1920s-1970s).
  • North America’s Evangelical Boom (1940s-1950s).

I was delighted to learn much more through this book about how God has worked in mighty reviving power not only at different times in my native country but also in other parts of the world.

5. This volume presents these revivals in an engaging and manageable fashion. The book provides a popular-level overview rather than a detailed scholarly analysis of these periods of significant spiritual awakening. Each chapter moves along at a brisk pace, with plenty of fascinating personal narratives (involving various key players in the revivals) and helpful statistical summaries to keep the reading interesting.

6. The book’s Conclusion suggests several practical ways we contemporary Christians can prepare for and seek a God-wrought revival in our own day. Doing so will strengthen our current “routine” service for the Lord even as we look for an exceptional stirring of His Spirit among us.

7. Many modern Christians know very little about the mighty revivals that God has brought at various times and places in the past. This volume is a handy way to gain an overview of those extraordinary spiritual awakenings and to be encouraged by them.

8. Some may be tempted to think that revival cannot take place today because conditions in society and the Church have reached such a low moral and spiritual ebb.  This book reminds us that’s precisely when revival has often come in the past – when conditions had become excessively dark and discouraging. Such desperate circumstances motivated God’s people to cry out to Him for a gracious, mighty moving of His Spirit that would address and correct the overwhelming difficulties being faced.

I think you’ll receive, as I have, significant spiritual encouragement and benefit from reading A God-Sized Vision, Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir.

About the Authors:

Collin Hansen

Collin Hansen

Collin Hansen (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is editorial director for the Gospel Coalition. Formerly an associate editor for Christianity Today, he is the author of Young, Restless, Reformed and co-author with John Woodbridge of A God-Sized Vision. He has written for Books and Culture, Tabletalk, Leadership, and Christian History and Biography. He has appeared as a commentator on Fox News, and his work has been featured in Time magazine.

Follow Collin’s blog at The Gospel Coalition.

John Woodbridge

John Woodbridge

John Woodbridge (PhD, University of Toulouse, France) is research professor of Church History and History of Christian Thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, where he has taught since 1970. He was previously a senior editor of Christianity Today and is the author of Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal and coauthor of Letters Along the Way. He is the editor of Great Leaders of the Christian Church and coeditor of works including The Mark of Jesus. Woodbridge is the recipient of four Gold Medallion Awards.

Copyright 2013 by Vance E. Christie