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