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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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June 26, 2014 

History Could Happen AgainJonathan Edwards wrote a number of books that became famous, even during his own lifetime. One of his lesser-known works was a 1746 book titled An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer, For the Revival and Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth. Edwards wrote the book after learning about a group of Scottish ministers who circulated a “memorial” in 1744 calling for seven years of prayer in anticipation of God’s coming kingdom on earth.

In An Humble Attempt, Edwards argued for all believers to engage in monthly “concerts of prayer” for worldwide revival and the conversion of the unreached peoples of the earth. As a postmillennialist, Edwards believed the salvation of the nations was one of the final signs that the millennium would soon begin. His prayer was that the transatlantic revivals that had occurred off and on for a generation would “go viral” and cover the entire earth.

Though its topic was inspiring, An Humble Attempt was not very influential during Edwards’s lifetime. It did not sell as many copies as The Diary of David Brainerd, did not influence theologians like Freedom of the Will, and did not define authentic spiritual experience like Religious Affections. Nevertheless, some scholars argue that Edwards could be considered the “grandfather” of the modern missions movement among English-speaking evangelicals because of how the Lord used An Humble Attempt in the generation following Edwards’s death.

The Missionary Awakening

In 1784, an English Particular Baptist pastor named John Sutcliff received a box of books from a pastor friend in Scotland. Included among the books was a copy of An Humble Attempt. After reading the book, Sutcliff began to circulate An Humble Attempt among his fellow Baptist pastors. Inspired by Edwards, Sutcliff and his friends issued a call for the pastors of the Northamptonshire Baptist Association to set apart the first Monday evening of every month for prayer for the heathen and the coming kingdom. The concerts of prayer became popular among the younger pastors in the association and continued well into the 1790s. Sutcliff eventually published a British edition of An Humble Attempt in 1789 and wrote an introduction to the treatise.

When the Evangelical Awakening began in Britain in the 1730s, few Nonconformists were vital participants. Most of the “Methodists” were revived believers in the Church of England who were influenced by the Wesley brothers, George Whitfield, or a host of less-famous preachers in England and Wales. Calvinistic Dissenters such as the Particular Baptists were often skittish about the Evangelical Awakening due to a variety of reasons such as class differences between Nonconformists and Anglicans, concerns about the Arminian theology of the Wesleys, and the deadening influence of High Calvinism, especially among London Particular Baptists. It was not until the next generation when revival finally came to British Nonconformists in the form of what I call the Missionary Awakening.

Several of the pastors who answered Sutcliff’s prayer call became early leaders in the Missionary Awakening. Robert Hall Sr. and Andrew Fuller wrote influential treatises against High Calvinism and argued for an evangelical view of Calvinism influenced by Jonathan Edwards. John Ryland Jr. became the principle of Bristol Baptist Academy; many of Ryland’s students became strong supporters of missionary advance. Most famously, William Carey authored his influential treatise An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, wherein he argued that the Great Commission is a binding command on every Christian in every generation. In 1792, these men formed the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS). Fuller served as secretary of the BMS for over twenty years and Carey became its most famous missionary.

The Spreading Flame

From this small missions-minded “band of brothers,” the Missionary Awakening spread to other believers. Over the next decade or so, most of the Particular Baptists who had been influenced by High Calvinism rejected these views and owned the Great Commission as their own. The missions-minded Edwardsean Calvinism of Fuller and Carey became commonplace among most Particular Baptists. The Arminian Baptists also got in on the action. The recently revived General Baptists, led by the Baptist Wesleyan (!) Dan Taylor, formed their own mission society in 1816.

The Missionary Awakening also spread beyond the Baptist fold. In 1795, missions-minded Anglicans and Nonconformists formed the non-denominational London Missionary Society. Evangelical Anglicans associated with the famous “Clapham Sect” also formed the Church Missionary Society in 1799. Early leaders in the CMS included John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce. The CMS version of William Carey was Henry Martyn, who, like Carey, also served as a missionary to India and inspired many others to become missionaries.

By the early 1800s, the Missionary Awakening had crossed the Atlantic. Between 1800 and 1810, numerous local missionary societies were formed in the Northeast; many of these societies either supported the various British mission societies or focused on evangelizing Native Americans. In 1810, Congregationalists in New England formed a foreign mission society, followed by the Baptists in 1814. Adoniram Judson, the Congregationalist-turned-Baptist, was the central figure in the formation of each of these mission societies. In 1820, American Methodists established the Methodist Episcopal Church Missionary Society.

It Could Happen Again

Those who followed Jonathan Edwards advanced his original vision for prayer, spiritual awakening, and missionary advance. Between 1780 and 1820, entire denominations experienced revival, sound doctrine overcame soul-deadening error, numerous new benevolent ministries were launched (I have only referenced the mission societies), and English-speaking evangelicals became passionate about fulfilling the Great Commission. It could happen again.

Knowing how God has worked in the past can help us ask some key questions of ourselves in the present. Are we praying for revival in our own spiritual lives? Are we praying for the salvation of the nations? Are our churches setting aside a specific time for focused — even extraordinary — prayer for a global awakening through the advance of the gospel? Do we long for the Lord to move among us as he moved among those who came before us?

Like Edwards and his spiritual children, we should pray for global revival through the worldwide advance of the gospel.

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Prayer and Revival

A Compilation taken from materials found on the web, arranged and edited.

J. Edwin Orr

Dr J. Edwin Orr was a leading scholar of revivals who published detailed books about evangelical awakenings. His research discovered major spiritual awakenings about every fifty years following the great awakening from the mid-eighteenth century in which John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards featured prominently. This article, based on one of Edwin Orr’s messages, is adapted from articles reproduced in the National Fellowship for Revival newsletters in New Zealand and Australia.

There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.

Dr A. T. Pierson once said, ‘There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.’ Let me recount what God has done through concerted, united, sustained prayer.

Not many people realize that in the wake of the American Revolution (following 17761781) there was a moral slump. Drunkenness became epidemic. Out of a population of five million, 300,000 were confirmed drunkards; they were burying fifteen thousand of them each year. Profanity was of the most shocking kind. For the first time in the history of the American settlement, women were afraid to go out at night for fear of assault. Bank robberies were a daily occurrence.

What about the churches? The Methodists were losing more members than they were gaining. The Baptists said that they had their most wintry season. The Presbyterians in general assembly deplored the nation’s ungodliness. In a typical Congregational church, the Rev. Samuel Shepherd of Lennos, Massachusetts, in sixteen years had not taken one young person into fellowship. The Lutherans were so languishing that they discussed uniting with Episcopalians who were even worse off. The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York, Bishop Samuel Provost, quit functioning; he had confirmed no one for so long that he decided he was out of work, so he took up other employment.

The Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote to the Bishop of Virginia, James Madison, that the Church ‘was too far gone ever to be redeemed.’ Voltaire averred and Tom Paine echoed, ‘Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years.

Take the liberal arts colleges at that time. A poll taken at Harvard had discovered not one believer in the whole student body. They took a poll at Princeton, a much more evangelical place, where they discovered only two believers in the student body, and only five that did not belong to the filthy speech movement of that day. Students rioted. They held a mock communion at Williams College, and they put on antiChristian plays at Dartmouth. They burned down the Nassau Hall at Princeton. They forced the resignation of the president of Harvard. They took a Bible out of a local Presbyterian church in New Jersey, and they burnt it in a public bonfire. Christians were so few on campus in the 1790’s that they met in secret, like a communist cell, and kept their minutes in code so that no one would know.

How did the situation change? It came through a concert of prayer.

There was a Scottish Presbyterian minister in Edinburgh named John Erskine, who published a Memorial (as he called it) pleading with the people of Scotland and elsewhere to unite in prayer for the revival of religion. He sent one copy of this little book to Jonathan Edwards in New England. The great theologian was so moved he wrote a response which grew longer than a letter, so that finally he published it is a book entitled ‘A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of all God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth, pursuant to Scripture Promises and Prophecies…’

Is not this what is missing so much from all our evangelistic efforts: explicit agreement, visible unity, unusual prayer?

1792-1800

This movement had started in Britain through William Carey, Andrew Fuller and John Sutcliffe and other leaders who began what the British called the Union of Prayer. Hence, the year after John Wesley died (he died in 1791), the second great awakening began and swept Great Britain.

In New England, there was a man of prayer named Isaac Backus, a Baptist pastor, who in 1794, when conditions were at their worst, addressed an urgent plea for prayer for revival to pastors of every Christian denomination in the United States.

Churches knew that their backs were to the wall. All the churches adopted the plan until America, like Britain was interlaced with a network of prayer meetings, which set aside the first Monday of each month to pray. It was not long before revival came.

When the revival reached the frontier in Kentucky, it encountered a people really wild and irreligious. Congress had discovered that in Kentucky there had not been more than one court of justice held in five years. Peter Cartwright, Methodist evangelist, wrote that when his father had settled in Logan County, it was known as Rogue’s Harbour. The decent people in Kentucky formed regiments of vigilantes to fight for law and order, then fought a pitched battle with outlaws and lost.

There was a ScotchIrish Presbyterian minister named James McGready whose chief claim to fame was that he was so ugly that he attracted attention. McGready settled in Logan County, pastor of three little churches. He wrote in his diary that the winter of 1799 for the most part was ‘weeping and mourning with the people of God.’ Lawlessness prevailed everywhere.

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