By Jeff Ziegler and Jay Rogers
IN A PREVIOUS ISSUE OF The Forerunner (Nov./Dec. 1991), revival was defined as a recovery of the Lord’s testimony in a particular generation of the Church. This definition would obviously imply a tarnishing or loss of testimony among the saints, which would need to be regained if the Church were to have an impact upon society.
Such reviving takes place with the application of immutable biblical principles within the context of organized prayer on a congregational level. Thus the fostering of such awakenings, along with all of their accompanying holy grandeur, are not dependent upon certain cultural conditions being favorable toward revival, or by periodic evangelistic campaigns.
Also noted previously, was the symbiotic relationship of revival in the Church and the corresponding effect the revived Church has upon society, termed “spiritual awakening.” Spiritual awakening generally sees large numbers of converts being added to the Church in a very short period of time, and as a result of such harvest, a reformation of culture takes place to some degree.
Having reviewed our progress thus far, it is now time to look at the historical impact of revival upon the Church. This impact is progressive in nature, corresponding with each successive wave of revival, and should not be viewed as an event which occurs on a random basis in history. Thus, whether we are discussing the Reformation period, the First and Second Great Awakenings, or the Holiness Revivals at the turn of the century, we are examining different episodes of a continuum which are divinely orchestrated to advance the Church and with it the Kingdom of God, to a plane of triumph at the time of Christ’s second coming.
We will confine our examination of historical revival mainly to a 500 year time period beginning with the Reformation, and concluding with our generation’s opportunity to complete the Great Commission. We will try to concentrate on the area of the Lord’s testimony recovered in each movement, rather than on the personalities of the men involved.
The Early Church
In dealing with the subject of revival, we must define Christianity in its most primitive terms. If we were to number all the denominations, all the sects, all the various movements within the Church over the last 2000 years, we would find that Christianity is indeed the most influential movement in history. From this broad perspective, the Christian movement could be defined as the world’s most successful religion. But when we speak of revival, we are dealing with something much more essential.
Revival is a return to a Book of Acts experience of Christianity. It is an emphasis more on the power of God than on the form of religion. It is more of an emphasis on the recovery of the Lord’s testimony among His people, than on the total number of Christians in any given movement.
Acts 1:8 describes the essence of revival:
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
We read of the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:1-4, speaking of Jesus’ disciples:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Let’s look at this experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit. The main result of this incredible event was twofold: the sudden appearance of the power of God; and the recovery of the Lord’s testimony (both had been missing among God’s people for centuries). The baptism in the Holy Spirit meant something much greater to the disciples than merely speaking in tongues. “Baptism” means overwhelming. “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” means immersion in the Holy Spirit, an overwhelming. The baptism in the Holy Spirit is the power of revival. On the day of Pentecost the Lord’s testimony was proclaimed publicly and 3000 souls were added to the Church in one day.
The Middle Ages
Sometime during the early centuries of the Church, the power of the Lord’s testimony was tarnished. Revival speaks of the recovery of something that was once lost. We can see this principle working throughout history. During the Middle Ages Christianity did not cease to spread. The Church was the great civilizing force of the Western world. However, the experience of the Church of the Middle Ages was far removed from the experience of the first century disciples.
Sporadically, powerful revival preachers, such as St. Francis of Assisi, would appear and the common people of Europe would once again receive the power of the Lord’s testimony. But the attempts to restore the experience of the first century disciples gradually became lost amidst the pageantry and formalism of the medieval church. Time and time again revival preachers would appear to condemn the excesses of the Roman church hierarchy.
Girolamo Savonarola, a fifteenth century Italian friar, charged the church of his day with idolatry in sermon after sermon: “In the primitive Church the chalices were of wood, the prelates of gold; in these days the Church has chalices of gold and prelates of wood.” With fiery oratory, Savonarola likened the Roman hierarchy to the “wood, hay and stubble” that the Apostle Paul had warned the first century Church about: “This is the new church, no longer built of living stones; but of sticks, namely, of Christians dry as tinder for the fires of hell.”
More often than not, preachers of reform, such as Savonarola and the Bohemian preacher Jan Hus, were put to death by church authorities. It became evident even to the common people that the Roman church was corrupt; the deaths of the great martyrs only rallied sympathy for their cries for reform.
For the people of the Middle Ages, the restoration of revival power had lacked one essential ingredient: the written Word of God. Ever since the time of St. Jerome, the fifth century monk who translated the Greek Septuagint and the Greek New Testament into vulgar Latin, the Word of God had remained obscured from the common people.
It wasn’t until the invention of moveable type by Johannes Gutenberg in the late 15th century that the Bible became available in mass quantities. The invention of the printing press now set off a revolution in Germany. Now, every scholar could own a copy of a book or some type of printed material. The Latin editions of the Gutenberg Bible proliferated among the nobility and the church leaders of northern Europe.
Ironically, Gutenberg’s livelihood came mainly from the printing of indulgences: one page documents which were paid for by Catholic parishioners in order to obtain pardon for their sins after receiving the sacrament of penance. German priests grew rich from the sales of these indulgences. Only the intellectual elite could benefit from the printing of the Gutenburg Bibles, since they were only available in Latin. If you happened to be a scholar or a nobleman, the print revolution might have affected you spiritually; but as for the common people of the fifteenth century – the masses – there was little benefit in terms of reform.
Reform was a slow process occurring over the space of centuries. The Bible was painstakingly translated into the common tongue of each nation. The common people of Europe had to become literate before mass revival was to take place. This was a long struggle won with the blood of the martyrs.
The Reformation Period
The Reformation of the Church in the 16th century marked the end of the Middle Ages, a time in which the Church had been mired in every wretched, vile depravity known to man. Under the weight of papal abominations, sexual promiscuity, financial scandal, and sweeping ignorance of God’s Word, the Church had lost the testimony of Christ’s character. In the midst of such carnal chaos, the Lord began a process of restoring truth, order, and vitality to the Church.
Men such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli were used of the Lord to recover foundational truths of the Christian faith which had been lost for nearly a millennium. God chose rough hewn men of conviction, intelligence, and spiritual depth to carry the day, and win the fight for Christ’s testimony in their generation.
The mechanism for reform in the beginning was not as spiritual as we would like to imagine. King Henry VIII spawned the reformation in England a generation before Luther when the pope failed to recognize his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Henry separated the Church of England from the Church of Rome for purely selfish reasons. There was little reform in the Anglican Church in the area of Christian doctrine or experience.
Martin Luther, on the other hand, appearing just a few years later, championed a rising dissent coming from every political, social and religious sphere in Europe. Moved more by genuine spiritual motives than selfish political desires, Luther protested the many abuses of the Roman Catholic Church. Having been one of the elite who had studied the Latin Bible, Luther realized that there were many areas of official church doctrine which did not align with the teachings of the Word of God.
When Luther posted his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenburg, he was merely calling his colleagues to a theological debate: a common practice in his day. In the controversy that ensued, church officials demanded that Luther recant his theses, although they were not willing to debate the stocky German friar concerning his knowledge of scripture. The soldiers who came to arrest Luther did so only after Luther refused to recant his theses. His immortal words were the galvanizing force of Protestant Reformation of the 16th century: “Here I stand; I can do no other; God help me. Amen.” It was only the assistance of the armies of Frederick the Wise which kept Luther from the same fate as prior reformers.
Meanwhile in Zürich, Switzerland, a young priest named Ulrich Zwingli began to push for reforms which went beyond those of Luther. In 1523, Zwingli, with the full support of the civil authorities, came out against monastic vows, clerical celibacy, the intercession of saints, the existence of purgatory, the sacrificial character of the mass, and the teaching that salvation can be obtained by good works.
Twenty years later, in Geneva, Switzerland, John Calvin published his Institutes of the Christian Religion. In it, he outlined a comprehensive theology for Protestant Christianity, something Luther had failed to do. He articulated and implemented a plan of church government separate from the rule of bishops and popes. His theology emphasized the ultimate sovereignty of God and the idea of divine election as being the necessary prerequisite for salvation.
This period of reform saw the following areas of doctrine restored:
A) Justification by faith alone.
B) God’s sovereignty over all men and nations as an already established fact.
C) Christ’s work in His death and resurrection as finished, complete and this great victory communicated to the church.
D) All believers comprise the priesthood and each may approach Christ without a human mediator.
E) The Church as the visible demonstration of the Kingdom of God in the Earth.
F) The Bible may be read by the common man and can be applied to all areas of life.
The impact of the Reformation upon Western Civilization is nothing less than astounding. The invention of the printing press during this time made the Bible, and with it reformed theology, widespread throughout the German states, Switzerland, the Scandinavian countries, and eventually Britain. These recovered doctrines spawned large movements of evangelistic exploits, along with great Christian optimism.
Thus the Church, with a fresh biblical worldview began to effect every sphere of culture including work, art, music, and most significantly the realm of government. The reformed Church became the engine for progress, not only in the West, but also in a missionary sense, making Christianity coextensive with the whole inhabited world.
The Contribution of the Puritans
By the end of the 16th century, the nations of northern Europe had broken the bonds of the political-ecclesiastical system which had tied them to Rome. But what effect did this tumult have on the economic, political, and moral state of the common man? Many a peasant still lived in the medieval shadow of a manor house or castle laboring to sustain the demands of his lord or baron. He had to pay a fixed percentage of all he produced to his lord as rent and was legally bound to personal service on his lord’s domain. Between the numerous wars, unemployed mercenary troops roamed the countryside plundering the peasant villages. All men carried swords or knives to defend themselves whenever they ventured from their homes.
The moral life of the peasant was as lax as the times were cruel. Undernourished and overworked, the peasant consumed as much as a gallon of beer or wine on an average day. Weddings and holidays were occasions for drunken revelry; huge festivals and frolics were held which gave peasants the opportunity to engage in every sort of crude behavior. The Reformation was really only the threshold of a longer reform process. The effects on the political landscape were not clearly defined until the end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648. The economic and moral state of the common man awaited further reform.
The Puritans – whose name was originally used as a term of derision, given because they shunned the frolics of the common people – arose in England in the 1560s. They were a group of radical nonconformists who believed that the Elizabethan Reformation had retained too many Catholic ways and wished to purify the Church of England. The Puritans were repressed by Queen Elizabeth who deplored their Calvinist practice of lay participation in Church affairs, for she foresaw that a voice in the Church would lead to to a voice in the state and thus threaten the monarchy.
Despite the derision of fellow citizens and repression by the monarchy, the Puritans were widely influential in England. More than any other group of reformers, they stressed individual responsibility and duty. The Puritans held to a “Reformation Worldview” concerning every sphere of societal life. They studied the Bible to isolate biblical principles which could then be applied to specific areas of human life. Every human activity described in the Bible (i.e., marriage, government, economics, art, agriculture, science, etc.) was viewed as an “Institution” ordained by God to be reformed according to biblical principles.
In the 1600s, James I harassed the Puritans with laws requiring conformity to the Church of England. During his reign, the most radical Puritans, unwilling to compromise their reform efforts, fled to the New World in a mass exodus. The Puritans who came to America saw the New World as an unconquered kingdom in which to advance the gospel. They saw the world as the property of Christ to be cultivated and cared for by men. They became convinced that even as they had been reborn as individuals, now whole societies might do the same. It was in America that the Reformation worldview attained its highest ideal. American society was unique in that it was the first culture in the world (with the exception of ancient Israel) to have biblical precepts as the sole basis for its laws and civil government.
Seventeenth century America saw great strides of reform in the areas of civil government, law, history, and literature. The following reformed institutions were features of 17th century America, were founded by the Puritans, and have since been imitated all over the world:
- CIVIL GOVERNMENT – The Puritan experiment with civil government began at Plymouth Plantation. Since only 27 of the 100 persons aboard the Mayflower were Puritans, the leaders of the group decided to require the signing of a “compact” or “covenant” (see 1 Samuel 23:18) to quell any dissent among the unconverted passengers, who had previously made discontented and mutinous statements. They chose a governor from among the “elect” (i.e., the converted – hence the word: election) to rule for a term of one year as the civil authority. The signing of a mutual agreement or “compact” became the foundation for constitutional government and was a model for the later documents most closely associated with the American republic.
- LAW – The sole basis for law among the Puritan settlers was the Bible. All civil laws had their basis in biblical principles. Governor William Bradford, the second governor chosen from among the Puritans, relates the following incident: When the first marriage was to be performed in the New World, the Pilgrims chose a civil magistrate rather than a minister to perform the ceremony. They reasoned that this custom was consistent with the Scriptures (see Ruth 4). This law or decree about marriage was agreed upon since no passage in the Bible describes the pronouncement of marriage to fall within the duty of the minister as a part of his office.
- HISTORY – The Puritans saw all of human time as progress toward the fulfillment of God’s design on earth. Pre-Christian history was read as the preparation for Christ’s entry into the world. They believed that God’s hand was present in every human event and that success or failure of both the individual and of nations was a sign of God’s approval or condemnation. God’s design was seen in every event no matter how small. When, for instance, a sailor aboard the Mayflower mocked those Puritans who were sick, Governor Bradford, recounting the incident in his History of Plymouth Plantation, found it fitting that the sailor should succumb to a “grievous disease.”
- LITERATURE – Perhaps the most highly literate society of modern times was the Massachusetts Bay colony, which succeeded the Plymouth colony. The American colonies by the time of the mid-1700s had scarcely one million inhabitants, yet this period is rich with literary classics. The high literacy rate among the Puritans was due to their emphasis on responsibility of the individual before God to both read and understand the Bible. Some Puritan writers who are still included in American literature courses of today include: William Bradford, Anne Bradstreet, Mary Rowlandson, Edward Taylor, Sarah Kemble Knight, Cotton Mather, and Jonathan Edwards.
The contribution of the Puritans included the following areas of restored truth:
A) Reformation worldview & the idea that all spheres of human life are Institutions given by God and subject to reform.
B) Emphasis on the laity as having a voice in church affairs.
C) Individual responsibility and duty & a spirit of enterprise and initiative translating into republican government and the free market system.
D) Covenants and compacts as the basis for church and civil governments.
The First Great Awakening
The First Great Awakening of the 18th century could be considered the first sweeping revival to take place since the time of the apostles. While confined geographically to Great Britain and colonial America, the effect of this awakening would eventually bring revolutionary changes to the world at large. While this awakening recovered more of the Lord’s testimony within the Church, it was not at the expense of the foundational truths which were set forth in the prior Reformation period. Rather the First Great Awakening was incubated and birthed in reformed doctrine and then went on to build upon that foundation.
While we are concentrating on the truths which were restored in each successive wave of revival, if we did not mention the major vessels of kingdom glory which God used so mightily in this period, we would be remiss. From America came its greatest theologian Jonathan Edwards. At the same time Britain boasted a stable of apostolic power unequaled since the time of the early Church. Men such as John and Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield are some names connected with the advance of this awakening.
Fittingly, the roots of the First Great Awakening were in Germany, where the Reformation left off, and where a man named Count Nikolaus Ludwig Von Zinzendorf founded a community called Herrnhut (The Lord’s Watch) in 1724 in the province of Moravia. The Moravian’ society was a move of the Holy Spirit; Zinzendorf and his disciples began a prayer meeting that lasted 100 years, 24 hours a day! They committed time periods throughout the day to pray for the unconverted within the folds of the Church and the unconverted in the world. The Moravians sent out two types of missionaries; those to win the lost, and those to win the Church.
In the meantime, Jonathan Edwards, a Northampton, Massachusetts pastor, began to pray for his unconverted congregation and for the unconverted of North America. His efforts to promote revival enjoyed huge success in his village church as early as 1734. Edwards’ passion was for the glory of God, and for the kingdom to be advanced among the lost:
My heart has been much on the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world. The histories of the past advancement of Christ’s kingdom have become sweet to me. When I have read histories of past ages, the pleasantest thing in all my reading has been to read of the kingdom of Christ being promoted. And my mind has been much entertained and delighted with the Scripture promises and prophecies of the future glorious advancement of Christ’s kingdom on earth.
Edwards vividly described the onset of the awakening as “A Divine and Supernatural Light” which had invaded western Massachusetts from heaven. The revival occurring among his own congregation was the first in a series of revivals which spread from Maine to Georgia. Hardly a person in Northampton remained unaffected by the revival. The news soon spread among the surrounding villages. Those who came to Edwards’ church to inquire about this phenomenon, returned to their towns greatly convicted and soon the revival spread – in the small New England towns of Sunderland, Deerfield, Hatfield, Hadley, Longmeadow, Springfield – throughout the county.
The onset of the awakening did not occur solely among the religious, but according to Edwards “the worst persons in the town seemed to be suddenly seized with a great degree of concern about their souls.” Within the next seven years the awakening had seized the colonies. Church records of this time period indicate that as much as one-third of the population of the American colonies had had a salvation experience. The magnitude of the awakening caused Edwards to wonder aloud whether the millennial reign of Christ was not descending on the earth. If another 20 years of awakening passed unabated, Edwards extrapolated, there would be no one left to save.
Across the Atlantic, the deplorable social conditions set the stage for the revival efforts of John Wesley and George Whitefield. The Puritans had left their mark on America, but in England Puritanism had been rejected with the restoration of the monarchy. James II ferociously persecuted the remaining Puritans and they were forbidden to preach under severe penalties. The poor were unspeakably wretched – gin had made the people cruel and inhuman. There were the spetacles of daily public hangings applauded by men, women and children; prisons were unimaginable nightmares; mothers were forced to scavenge for scraps of food to keep their children from starving. By 1730, life in England was morally corrupt and deeply crippled by spiritual decay.
Into this world, John Wesley was born in 1703 to ministering parents. In 1709, their parsonage burned, with a very close call for John who was asleep in the upper chambers. In a dramatic rescue, young John was coaxed to leap from the upper story into his father’s arms. Moments later the building collapsed. Wesley’s mother, Susanna, believed her son’s life to be a “flaming brand plucked from the burning” to serve some great purpose of God. Wesley was trained from childhood for the ministry and he later attended Oxford.
In 1736, John Wesley travelled to Georgia in hopes of seeing Indians converted to Christ. After two years of frustrating failure he met the disciples of Von Zinzendorf on the voyage home to England. The Moravians showed a “great seriousness” and were calm during the winter storms that buffeted the ship, while Wesley was afraid for his life. On his return journey to England he began to doubt his salvation:
I went to America, to convert the Indians; but O! who shall convert me? who, what is he that shall deliver me from this evil heart of mischief? I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well; nay, and believe myself, while no danger is near; but let death look me in the face, and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say, “To die is gain.” I who went to America to convert others, was never myself converted to God. “I am not mad,” though I thus speak; “but I speak the words of truth and soberness.”
Although he preached holiness, Wesley was uncertain of his own salvation. Wesley was convinced of his unbelief and finally resolved to leave preaching, “How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?” He asked a Moravian missionary friend, Peter Boehler, whether or not he thought he should leave preaching. Boehler answered, “By no means.” Wesley then asked, “But what can I preach?” Boehler then gave him the advice that would change his life and affect the destiny of all England: “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”
Two months later, Wesley very unwillingly went to a society in Aldersgate-street, where someone was reading Luther’s preface to Romans:
About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and that an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death … And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often conquered; now, I was always conqueror.
Soon Wesley was preaching in the open places to tens of thousands of sinners who never frequented a church building. Wesley preached like a great apostle, carefully laying out the foundations of the faith in the hearts of his hearers. Previously he had failed to reach a single soul in America, yet now he reaped a great harvest.
George Whitefield, a colleague of Wesley, had also come to the same state of spiritual crisis a few years before. But Whitefield’s background was quite different than Wesley’s. He was raised in a gin house – a hotel tavern run by his parents – and served the highway robbers who planned their attacks around the tables. Here, Whitefield developed a vivid imagination and an expressive speaking voice as he imitated and entertained the tavern guests.
By the sovereign grace of God, Whitefield was offered a chance to attend Oxford at age 17. Whitefield began to reevaluate his life and met Charles Wesley, who invited him to attend the “Holy Club.” Whitefield came under tremendous conviction and made several legal attempts to be a better person. He subjected himself to rigorous discipline which almost drove him insane. Then, after receiving a revelation of grace, Whitefield preached his first sermon as a newly ordained minister. The results?
When I came into the pulpit, I could have chosen to be silent rather than speak. After I had begun, however, the Spirit of the Lord gave me freedom, and at length came down like a mighty rushing wind, and carried all before it. Immediately, the whole congregation was alarmed. Crying, weeping, and wailing were to be heard in every corner; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and many were to be seen falling into the arms of their friends.
During his lifetime, Whitefield visited almost every town in England, Scotland and Wales, crossed the Atlantic seven times, preached in the cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and many other towns on the eastern seaboard of America. His life was like a meteor streaking across the sky – “a bright and shining light” – magnificent yet brief. He died in Newburyport, Massachusetts the young age of 56. Having returned to his parsonage from preaching with an illness, he paused on the staircase before retiring to bed, when some visitors begged him to remain with them for a while longer. Whitefield preached his last sermon from the staircase until the candle on the bannister burned down, flickered and went out. With the drama of a great actor, Whitefield retired to bed and died.
Wesley, in contrast to Whitefield, had great staying power. This undaunted determinism was a supernatural gift from the Holy Spirit. He was undiscouraged by controversy and being barred from preaching in many churches. Once, openly confronting this unfortunate situation at his father’s church in Epworth, he stood upon his father’s tombstone in the churchyard and made it his pulpit. A huge crowd gathered to hear him preach, and ultimately the pastor of his father’s former parish was converted! He was able to calmly face mobs who were ready to stone him or beat him to death. Later in life, however, he became immensely popular. He preached before parliament and continued his ministry until a few months before he died at age 88.
Wesley’s life is awe-inspiring. Historians testify that it was John Wesley’s Methodists that provided the moral ballast that kept England from sliding into the same bloody tragedy that was experienced just a short distance away in the French Revolution of 1789. At the end of his life he had trained 750 preachers in England and, through his student Francis Asbury, 350 in America. At his death there were 76,968 Methodists in England and 57,621 in America. His brother Charles wrote hundreds of hymns which are still well known and sung today.
The Methodists continued in a move of the Holy Spirit keeping up their fervor until the latter part of the 19th century. Wesley’s work significantly affected the theology of American churches during the Second Great Awakening in the early 1800s. Many revival preachers, such as Charles G. Finney, taught a modified Wesleyan doctrine of holiness which energized revivalism in America.
By the 1770s, at the onset of the American Revolution, the thirteen colonies had become radically transformed. Believers from seperate denominations shared a common spiritual experience. And all felt an internal spiritual unity which naturally led to an external union. It was the Great Awakening, begun in Jonathan Edwards’ church which led to the emancipation of America, both spiritually and politically.
The major truths recovered in this period include:
A) Concerted prayer meetings with the fixed purpose of reviving the Church and for the salvation of the heathen nations.
B) Power evangelism, mass scale conversions and spiritual awakening on a national scale.
C) The sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit to enable believers to live victoriously over known sin.
D) Judgment within the Church purging unconverted ministers.
E) Spiritual prosperity and liberty translating to societal righteousness and governmental liberty.
The Second Great Awakening
While it may not seem desirable to run together all of the various revival movements of the 19th century under one heading, the Second Great Awakening can be understood as a series of revivals – beginning in the late 1790s in the sparsely populated western frontier states, to the Great Revival of 1857, and ending with the Holiness revivals and the Pentecostal revival at the turn of this century – a continuum built upon the mounting momentum of the previous reforms.
Even as the First Great Awakening was waning, the seeds of revival were again being planted. Upon George Whitefield’s death in Newburyport, Massachusetts, the Methodist followers of John Wesley in England and sent missionaries to America. The revivals of the 1700s centered around the villages and cities of the east coast, but the work of the Second Great Awakening began in the sparsely populated frontier. The major personalities of this period include the Methodist circuit riders Francis Asbury and Peter Cartwright.
In August of 1801, the Cane Ridge Revival meeting occurred. The scenario is a six-day camp meeting attended by 20,000 people! It was a remarkable event, since this occurred in the sparsely populated frontier. Among the thousands who were converted was a young skeptic, James B. Finley, who wrote this account:
The noise was like that of Niagara. The vast sea of human beings seemed to be agitated as if by a storm. I counted seven ministers, all preaching on stumps, others in wagons and one standing on a tree which had in falling, lodged against another…. Some of the people were singing, other praying, some crying for mercy in the most piteous accents, while others were shouting most vociferously. While witnessing these scenes, a peculiarly strange sensation such as I had never felt before came over me. My heart beat tumultuously, my knees trembled, my lips quivered and I felt as though I must fall to the ground. A supernatural power seemed to pervade the entire mass of mind there collected…. I stepped up on a log where I could have a better view of the surging sea of humanity. The scene that had presented itself to my mind was indescribable. At one time I saw at least five hundred swept down in a moment as if a battery of a thousand guns had been opened upon them and then immediately followed shrieks and shouts that rent the very heavens.
This was the beginning of the Second Great Awakening. America’s early westward movement was characterized by true Christianity. The figure who dominated America’s revivalism during this period was Charles G. Finney. A young lawyer who had become convicted by the Holy Spirit after having read the book of Romans as a part of his legal studies, Finney’s ministry began with the following experience:
Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without the recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in such a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings. No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart.
I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over and over me, one after the other, until I cried out, ‘I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.’ I said, ‘Lord, I cannot bear any more;’ yet I had no fear of death.
Finney’s early ministry took place in western New York State, a region known as the “Burnt Over District” because of the area’s frequent revivals. Finney’s preaching sometimes resulted in entire towns being converted. The focus of Finney’s revivalism centered on social reform. He attacked every vice known to society and insisted that societal sin in every form be done away with completely. The roots of virtually every social reform movement of the 1800s can be traced to Finney’s revival meetings.
The Prayer Meeting Revival took place in 1857-1858 and was the height of the Second Great Awakening. In less than one year, nearly 20% of the American population was swept into the Kingdom of God. Then in 1861, judgment fell in the form of the Civil War. The revival continued, however, on both sides of the camp with both union and confederate soldiers being converted by the thousands.
The latter half of the century gave the world such great revivalists as, D.L. Moody, William and Catherine Booth, Hudson Taylor, George Mueller and many great theologians such as Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield. They and many others helped to make this century an age of optimism and explosive missionary activity.
The Holiness revivals in England and America of the late 1800s, stressed personal and social holiness. A theology of sanctification was developed and an emphasis on the infilling of the Holy Spirit was stressed as being necessary to live a holy life. These revivals were a natural precursor to the Pentecostal revival which followed at the turn of the century.
This period of restoration saw the following areas of testimony restored:
A) Large movements of missionary activity unprecedented in the history of the Church.
B) Social sanctification as a result of an activist Church.
C) Optimistic worldview and faith to complete the Great Commission.
D) Greater emphasis on spiritual gifts within the Church and mission field.
The Pentecostal Revival
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Pentecostal movement carried the torch of revival to the nations of the world. The largest missionary movements in the world today have come from within the Pentecostal movement which began as a sporadic manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in places as diverse as California, Kansas, Wales, Eastern Europe, India, and Korea.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit appeared at Azusa Street, the sight of a 1906-1908 revival in Los Angeles. Prophecies, tongues, words of knowledge and miracles all occurred at Azusa Street, but there was an emphasis on the gift of speaking in tongues, believed to be the “evidence” of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
The charismatic movement of the 1960s and 70s brought the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the traditional denominational churches. The neo-Pentecostal and charismatic movements can be understood as extensions of the Pentecostal outpouring of the turn of the century. Thus the 20th century move of the Holy Spirit (while not nearly approaching the magnitude of past awakenings) can be understood as a revival of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
As we approach the year 2000, we are poised on the brink of another awakening, this time global in focus and likely to bring the fulfillment of many end time prophecies concerning the glory of God, a victorious Church, and world evangelization.
The “Three R’s” of Christianity
In order to form a comprehensive understanding of revival and spiritual awakening, we must begin with our initial definitions about the nature and purpose of revival and then add each of the restored doctrines and areas of testimony since the time of the Reformation. We must start with the framework of historical orthodoxy and then build upon this foundation with the subsequent principles and doctrines emphasized in each successive revival.
In addition to defining revival, we must also incorporate the definitions of spiritual awakening’s accompanying fruits, namely: reformation and restoration. Let’s define the three foundational tenets of revival theology:
REVIVAL – This begins with a recovery of the Lord’s testimony in a given generation. The resulting effect of the revived Church on society with large numbers of people being converted is termed a spiritual awakening.
REFORMATION – This is defined as the corresponding effect of a spiritual awakening on a particular society. Great social reforms occur due to the sanctifying power of a revived Church acting as a redeemer to its culture.
RESTORATION – This occurs as each successive wave of revival restores great truths which were part of the normal experience for the early Church of the apostolic age, but had been lost during the time of the Middle Ages.
These three great forces, working together throughout time, have brought us to a crucial juncture in history. We desperately need to understand what God has accomplished in the past and to examine the current state of affairs. The purpose of such understanding is to create an atmosphere within the Church of our generation which is conducive to yet another wave of revival which will reform the nations and complete the Great Commission.
As we begin to understand the mechanism through which God was worked in the past, we will be able to ask the following questions and give some answers about the future:
- What are the chances another revival of the magnitude of the First and Second Great Awakenings occurring in our generation?
We should first mention that there is revival happening all over the world today. There is spiritual awakening which has swept hundreds of millions of people into the Kingdom of God within the last decade. There is revival in Africa, South America, the former Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, the South Pacific Islands, and Southeast Asia. The sheer volume of this “World Awakening” not only rivals but even surpasses what happened in America in centuries past. As we turn to our own nation and Europe, we see that the supposedly “Christian” nations of the world today are freaks in terms of revival experience. Nevertheless, in times of great darkness in America’s past revival has dawned bringing new light and hope. So we can hope and pray for a Third Great Awakening in America which will surpass all past experience.
- What will be the effects of future awakenings on the societies of the world in terms of reformation of culture?
The most obvious effect of revival in the past decade was in dealing a death blow to communism – the dreaded enemy of liberty and Christian culture. Although the secular press has not presented this fact, the Church was more instrumental in bringing the downfall of many communist governments throughout the world than any other single force. In our own nation we can see that the coming awakening will bring an end to abortion – America’s number one social issue. Reform efforts of a revived Church will also overthrow ungodly influences in art, music and the sciences. We can expect that lewd homosexual art, rock music, and the theory of evolution will be targets of the awakened Church. The plethora of social problems our nation now faces – sexual immorality, AIDS, racial problems, economic woes – are reformation tasks for the Church of the new awakening.
- What great truths are there left to be restored to the Church?
We can understand what is next on the agenda by examining God’s end time promises to his Church, especially those found in Isaiah 60 and those found in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). God will bring about a spirit of unity through prayer which will be the impetus for an awakening of global proportion. Walls which separated denominations and movements will be let down, or in some cases violently destroyed in order to allow a “flowing together” of the Body of Christ for the purpose of intercessory prayer. The fruits of this prayer will be the fulfillment of the following biblical promises:
A) Signs and wonders akin to the experience of the New Testament Christians. (The dead will be raised, highly specific prophecies will be given, etc.)
B) All the nations will be discipled in fulfillment of the Great Commission. (In some cases whole ethnic groups will be converted, in many nations at least one-third of the country will be converted with many Christians occupying the highest seats of government.)
C) Poverty, hunger, disease will all but be eliminated as Third World nations are evangelized.
D) Great wealth will come into the Church which will be used in the reformation of international political, economic and social problems.
E) Israel will become a respected nation in the world as the majority of ethnic Jews living within its borders are converted.
Thank you very much for this article. It has been very helpful and comforting to me.
I have been praying for a mighty revival for many years, but the burden for revival is getting heavier and heavier. That is my most fervent prayer.
Your words “Neverthe-less, in times of great darkness in America’s past revival has dawned bringing new light and hope. So we can hope and pray for a Third Great Awakening in America which will surpass all past experience.”
Will the Lord have mercy on us and grant the revival we so desperately need? I pray so! He is our only hope!
This information I have received is a sure answer to prayer. I have been a journey of studying the great awakenings and some of the great men and women of God that he has used to usher in great revivals. The Spirit of God spoke told me years of ago that He would use my husband and mightily in this next great awakening that is on the verge of breaking out once again. Through dreams and just great words of knowledge through others confirming what He spoke to us we still had many questions. However after reading this information we have received awesome revelation and full of the faith and power of GOD to just continue to flow in where the Spirit of God is ushering us into.. We are ever so greatful and will continue to pray for you and the work you are doing for the Kingdom!! Shalom
Great article on the history of Revival. Signs, wonders and miracles have been occurring increasingly in New England. A three day Revival broke out at a Baptist Church in Waldoboro, ME, last month (August 2010) in a town that hadn’t seen revival in 50 years! In Keene, NH, we’re waiting upon the Lord on Tuesday nights much like the Azusa St. meetings. Others are having similar meetings/experiences.
Thanks for the great work of Revival. I serve with Revival Ministries Lira Northern Uganda as a Senior Pastor, pray for us and come to bless this Region for the Lord with the awakening messages.
This piece of information was a great help to me. I strongly belief a great outcome of revival is going to break out. God is doing in me His revival task. The air we breathe, The food we eat, The water we drink has the revival
It is my prayer to see the spiritual revival sweeping to the uttermost of the world.