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.
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?
* * *
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. this August.
Copyright 2015 by Vance E. Christie