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Seven Marks of True Revival

Article by Ajith Fernando

Revival means many things to many people. I mean it to describe a situation where large numbers of people are fired up to seek God fully, yearn for obedience, confess sin in their life, and experience the joy and freedom of walking with God.

History shows us that there is no exact prescription for revival. It is an act of the sovereign God, and we can’t dictate what he should do and when he should do it. I have been praying for revival in Sri Lanka since 1975. Only once, while attending a conference, have I seen something close to revival. But I continue to pray that, in my lifetime or after, the Lord would send his showers of blessing upon our people through revival.

Seven Marks of Revival

While we cannot dictate to God what he will do, history shows us that there are some things that happen before and when revival comes that are worth noting.

1. Faithful Preaching

As all the revivals in the history of the church show, the preaching of God’s word is a key ingredient. The Holy Spirit often lights the flames of revival when pastors systematically and faithfully preach the word. Often, pre-revival preaching is characterized by a call to total commitment to God, repentance, and the extolling of the beauty of holiness.

2. Unceasing Prayer

The great historian of revival J. Edwin Orr has made famous the statement, “No great spiritual awakening has begun anywhere in the world apart from united prayer — Christians persistently praying for revival.” This is what the disciples of Christ did before the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14). People with a burden recognize others with a similar burden, so they join in and pray. Many of the great revivals were preceded by united, persevering prayer by people who shared a similar burden for revival.

3. Precious Unity

Unity is often the trigger for revival, and sometimes the result of revival. Once, when Ugandan Bishop Festo Kivengere was preaching in South India, his interpreter, Samuel Ganesh, felt convicted of the need to make peace with a person in the audience. He took leave from the preacher, went to the audience, and made peace. This triggered a process of person after person making peace with each other. Revival had come; there was no need to complete the sermon. Bishop Festo left room for the Spirit to do his work.

The Bible speaks of the urgency of believers being united (John 17:21, 23; Ephesians 4:1–3). One of the most important callings of leaders is to yearn and pray for unity and do all they can to facilitate it. The Holy Spirit can use a leader’s yearning to trigger revival. Those who pray for revival should make sure that they have done all to be at peace with others.

4. Earnest Seeking

The famous revival prayer, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (Psalm 85:6) suggests a tone of earnest desire. Revival is preceded by people seeking God with all their heart and wanting to see God’s glory among his people.

My favorite example of such praying is the students at Pandita Ramabai’s school in India. The students prayed fervently, and God answered by reviving them and many others through them. The young Evan Roberts, whose ministry triggered the Welsh Revival, often prayed, “Bend me, O God.” We are open to whatever it takes for God to be totally in control of our lives!

5. Pervasive Repentance

Some so-called revivals have been characterized by exotic experiences without much emphasis on repentance. People go like tourists to such places to see what is happening. I wonder whether we could call that revival. After the revival at Asbury College and Seminary in 1971, many students came to the bookstore to return things that they had taken without paying. That is a powerful sign that they had become right with God.

Preaching against sin before the revival often contributes to revival and influences what sins are confessed. In the history of the church, there were times when some sins were neglected in revival preaching — like sexual impurity; exploitation; and race, class, and caste prejudice. This has resulted in revived churches perpetuating sins that the revival should have addressed. In other revivals, like the eighteenth century Wesleyan revival in the UK, revival helped influence social reform and attack injustice.

For Marks 6 and 7…

The event that has become known as the Great Awakening actually began years earlier in the 1720s. And, although the most significant years were from 1740-1742, the revival continued until the 1760s.
What was the Great Awakening? Know the Facts & Summary

Many of the early Puritans and pilgrims arrived in America with a fervent faith and vision for establishing a godly nation. Within a century the ardor had cooled. The children of the original immigrants were more concerned with increasing wealth and comfortable living than furthering the Kingdom of God. The same spiritual malaise could be found throughout the American colonies. The philosophical rationalism of the Enlightenment was spreading its influence among the educated classes; others were preoccupied with the things of this world.

When Theodore Frelinghuysen, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, came to begin his pastoral world in New Jersey during the 1720’s, he was shocked by the deadness of the churches in America. He preached the need for conversion, a profound, life-changing commitment to Christ, not simply perfunctory participation in religious duties. Presbyterian Gilbert Tennent was heavily influenced by Frelinghuysen and brought revival to his denomination. Tennent believed the deadness of the churches was in part due to so many pastors having never been converted themselves. His book On the Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry caused quite a stir!

Origins of the Great Awakening

The event that has become known as the Great Awakening actually began years earlier in the 1720s. And, although the most significant years were from 1740-1742, the revival continued until the 1760s.

Many of the early colonists had come to the new world to enjoy religious freedom, but as the land became tamed and prosperous they no longer relied on God for their daily bread. Wealth brought complacency toward God. As a result, church membership dropped. Wishing to make it easier to increase church attendance, the religious leaders had instituted the Halfway Covenant, which allowed membership without a public testimony of conversion. The churches were now attended largely by people who lacked a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Sadly, many of the ministers themselves did not know Christ and therefore could not lead their flocks to the true Shepherd. Then, suddenly, the Spirit of God awoke as though from an intense slumber and began to touch the population of the colonies. People from all walks of life, from poor farmers to rich merchants, began experiencing renewal and rebirth.

The faith and prayers of the righteous leaders were the foundation of the Great Awakening. Before a meeting, George Whitefield would spend hours–and sometimes all night–bathing an event in prayers. Fervent church members kept the fires of revival going through their genuine petitions for God’s intervention in the lives of their communities.

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“In the Irish Revival of 1859, people became so weak that they could not get back to their homes. Men and women would fall by the wayside and would be found hours later pleading with God to save their souls. They felt that they were slipping into hell and that nothing else in life mattered but to get right with God… To them eternity meant everything. Nothing else was of any consequence. They felt that if God did not have mercy on them and save them, they were doomed for all time to come.”

~ Oswald Smith

“History is silent about revivals that did not begin with prayer.”

~ Edwin Orr

This year evangelicals around the world are rightly remembering the tercentenary of the birth of the transatlantic evangelist George Whitefield. However, in most of the commemorations, another anniversary is in risk of being overlooked. Howell Harris, who with Daniel Rowland and William Williams Pantycelyn led the evangelical revival in Wales, was also born in 1714.

Situated on the western side of the British Isles, with England along one border and the Irish Sea on the other, Wales has long been overshadowed by its much larger and more powerful eastern neighbor. Ever since the Victorian compilers of the Encyclopedia Britannica included as their entry for Wales, “See England,” Welsh historians have struggled to make their voices heard outside their own country. Few know that Wales has its own distinct spiritual story.

Harris was born at Trefeca, a small village near Brecon in southeast Wales. While working as a schoolmaster for Griffith Jones, Harris experienced a profound evangelical conversion. That experience, during Easter 1735, was soon eclipsed by what he called his “baptism of fire.” He recorded his experience recorded in minute detail in a diary he began to keep during these months. He continued to write it for the rest of his life: almost 280 diaries survive—a unique, often excruciatingly honest account of Harris’s inner life.

Almost immediately after his conversion, Harris began to visit his neighbors, reading to them from godly books. He was driven, he wrote in his diary, by “some insatiable desires after the salvation of poor sinners; my heart longed for their being convinced of their sins and misery.” Before long he had stopped reading from other people’s books and begun preaching himself, or what he preferred to call “exhorting.” By 1736 he had organized his first group of converts into a small seidau (“societies”), what we would call cell groups, and within a few years he had established a network of more than 50 such groups throughout southeast Wales.

Unknown to Harris, Daniel Rowland was undergoing a similar conversion experience at the same time. An Anglican curate at Llangeitho, a small west Wales village, Rowland was transformed, and he was soon attracting larger than average congregations when he preached in his parish church and the surrounding area. In 1737 Harris and Rowland met for the first time and began pooling their resources, effectively creating the Welsh Methodist revival. At this first meeting they shared their thoughts on their reading of Jonathan Edwards’s recently published account of the 1735 Northampton revival, and Harris excitedly declared, “Surely the time here now is like New England!”

Partnership with Whitefield 

Soon, others joined the Welsh revival. Some sympathetic dissenting ministers were drawn in, and with the addition of Howell Davies and William Williams, the latter converted while listening to Harris preach from the top of a gravestone, the four Anglican leaders of the revival were all in place. At the end of 1738, Harris received an unexpected letter from George Whitefield, written as he was traveling back from the American colonies. Harris replied with a letter packed full of details about the revival underway in Wales, and within a couple of months, Whitefield was in Wales witnessing events for himself. Wales, he said, was a “noble soil for Christianity,” and the Welsh seemed “much readier to receive the gospel” than the English. Impressed with Harris, Whitefield jealously wished “to catch some of his fire.” Before long he was preaching regularly in the open air just like his new friend.

So impressed was Whitefield with Harris that he took him back to London, where Harris stayed for the next few months. Whitefield taught him basic Calvinist theology, plying him with Puritan books, while Harris made the acquaintance of the Wesley brothers and some of the leading Moravians, all at that time still held together in fragile unity at Fetter Lane. It was the start of a new pattern; for much of the 1740s Harris divided his time roughly equally between Wales and England. In England he played an enormously influential role, not least acting as a peacemaker as the various factions of the English revival—Wesleyan, Calvinist, and Moravian—began to fragment.

Flaws Surface

Harris was especially skilled as an organizer. As the initial fervor of the revival in Wales began to wane in the early 1740s, Harris devised an organizational structure to manage the 70 societies that had been established in south Wales by that point. It marked the height of Harris’s influence as he formally linked Welsh Methodism to the English Calvinistic Methodist movement, which had come into being following the division between Whitefield and John Wesley over predestination in 1741. Whitefield was appointed moderator of English and Welsh Calvinistic Methodism, and Harris was “General Superintendent or Father of all the work in Wales,” effectively Whitefield’s deputy. It was a well organized and rigorously managed movement, Presbyterian in all but name, and for a time it proved to be a realistic alternative to the Wesleyan Methodist movement. Harris was its chief architect.

Harris took on the heavy burden of the leadership of English Calvinistic Methodism, especially while Whitefield traveled to America between 1744 and 1748. Yet he was not able to prevent its fragmentation, and soon there was also disquiet about Harris himself. By the end of the 1740s he had been traveling incessantly for more than a decade, preaching numerous times a day and shouldering the burden of the English and Welsh revivals. He was close to complete exhaustion and breakdown. And he was sounding more and more like a Moravian, using almost erotic language about the blood and wounds of the crucified Christ, and confusing language about the Trinity. He began referring to the death of God at Calvary.

Relations in Wales were also under increasing strain. Harris and Rowland had always been rivals, and Harris labored under a sense of inferiority because he was not an ordained clergyman. To compensate, Harris claimed primacy in the movement. At times his working relationship with Daniel Rowland reached a breaking point. The final crisis arrived in 1749 when Harris became friendly with Sidney Griffith, the estranged wife of a squire from Caernarvonshire in north Wales. Confiding in his diary that God had revealed to him the imminent death of his wife, clearing the way for his marriage to Griffith, Harris began to invest her with prophetic gifts and insight. With rude songs being sung about him in parts of Wales, Harris began bringing Griffith to Methodist Association meetings, demanding that she be given a place of special prominence. At that point a parting of the ways was inevitable. Whitefield was the first to act, dismissing Harris from the Tabernacle Society in January 1750. Rowland, with the assistance of William Williams, kept the majority of the movement under his control, while Harris with a small group of his most devoted followers retreated to his home at Trefeca.

Awakening Wanes and Waxes 

Without Harris the Welsh revival experienced a temporary hiatus. The 1750s were quieter for Harris. Reconciled to his longsuffering wife, Anne, after the death of Griffith in 1752, Harris devoted himself to rebuilding his home at Trefeca and creating a religious community similar to that founded by August Herman Francke at Halle in Germany. Called Y Teulu (“The Family”), it included about 100 of “Harris’s people” at any given time, all living a highly regulated and disciplined life under Harris’s ever-watchful eye. The site included a large house, chapel, orchards, bakery, print shop, and various workshops. Harris’s innovative experiments in agricultural improvement earned him election as an honorary member of the Breconshire Agricultural Society in 1756. During the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) he joined the county militia and traveled throughout much of East Anglia as a recruiting agent for the Protestant struggle against Catholic France.

Harris’s reintegration into the Welsh revival followed the outbreak of another wave of revival in Wales in 1762. This revival, centred on Llangeitho and sparked by the publication of a new hymnbook by William Williams, was more powerful than the revival of 25 years earlier. For a time the old camaraderie between Harris and Rowland returned, but in reality the Welsh Methodist movement had moved on without Harris. It was now under Rowland and Williams’s control; Harris was a shadow of his former self. There were a number of important developments in these years, however, which owed much to his efforts; Wesley, Whitefield, and the Countess of Huntingdon began to revisit Wales once again. Harris worked closely with the countess on the founding of a college to train Calvinistic Methodist preachers at Trefeca in the late 1760s.

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“This is revival from Heaven!–When men in the streets are afraid to speak godless words for that God’s judgment will fall! When sinners, aware of the fire of God’s presence, tremble in the streets and cry out for mercy! When, without human advertising, the Holy Spirit sweeps across cities and towns in supernatural power and holds people in the grip of terrifying conviction. When every store becomes a pulpit, every heart an altar, every home a sanctuary, and people walk carefully before God–this is revival.”

~ Wesley Adams, The Fire of God’s Presence, 13.

 

Billy Graham: America Just as Wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah, but Prayer Can Turn the Tide of History
“We have come to a place where we regard prayer in our national life simply as a venerated tradition.”

In a commentary in the October 2014 edition of Decision magazine published by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Rev. Billy Graham boldly compared the U.S. to Sodom and Gomorrah, deserving of the judgment of God but able to be saved by hearts made pure by Christ and willing to pray for the nation’s protection.

“Down through our history our nation’s leaders have carried their plans and hopes to God in prayer,” Graham wrote. “Yet today we have come to a place where we regard prayer in our national life simply as a venerated tradition. We have no sense of coming to grips with God; we simply use prayer as a formality. … One of the reasons the United Nations has become so ineffective in handling world situations is that there is no prayer, no recognition of God. Unless the leaders of nations turn to God in prayer, their best plans will fail, just as did the plans of those who built the tower of Babel.”

Graham went on to give numerous examples of the faithful “turning the tide of history” by seeking God in prayer, beginning with Christ Himself, then moving to Abraham, Hezekiah, Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, Paul and Peter. He went on to list more modern examples of how saints like John Knox, John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards changed the world on their knees.

“In this modern age in which we live, we have learned to harness the power of the atom, but very few of us have learned how to fully develop the power of prayer,” Graham pointed out.

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“Since our generation has never witnessed a nation-wide spiritual awakening, we have little understanding of the magnitude of the impact of God’s presence among us, which hinders our motivation to pray earnestly for it”

~ Rhonda Hughey, Desperate For His Presence, 2004, p. 26.

“The Western world hasn’t experienced a sweeping revival for almost one hundred years”

~ Rhonda Hughey, Desperate For His Presence, 2004, p. 26.

 by Alvin Reid

Should We Pray for Revival?

When do you think the following observations were made?

  • Ministers today seem more concerned with political power in society than spiritual fervency in the church, while pop culture contributes to the moral decay among the youth.
  • While marked by an increasing ethnic diversity and various religious beliefs, the nation’s established religious groups –– particularly Protestants –– demonstrate a sterile spirituality. One pastor bemoans the obsession with gambling and rudeness, while churches are attended at convenience.
  • College campuses teem with students chasing after the latest philosophies, the more unbiblical the better. The more educated a person you find, the less likely you are to discover a Christian. Meanwhile, churches are filled with people who listen to pastors preach then contradict the sermon by the way they live.

You may think these descriptions came from the blog of some concerned Christian commenting on our time. But the first one comes from Great Britain just before the preaching of John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, and others who were used by God to lead a great revival there. The second comes from the American colonies prior to the First Great Awakening. The final came around 1800, with college campuses in the newly formed United States influenced by Voltaire, Rousseau, and others, at the dawn of the Second Great Awakening.

Ours is not the first generation to recognize the spiritual declension among us, or to see the need for God to awaken his church and touch our land. From the saints of the Old Testament to leaders in our time, prayer for revival has marked believers who understand the need for the Spirit surpasses our ability and intelligence.

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