• youtube

Revival – 5 – Spiritual Conditions in America 1620-1720

What occurred among the New England Puritans between 1620 and 1660 is a remarkable story that began with a rag-tag band of beleaguered separatist Puritans (Pilgrims) that landed on the shores of a vast wilderness in 1620. By the end of that decade many of the prosperous, well-educated members of the Church of England also began immigrating to New England. Unlike the Pilgrims, they still considered themselves to be members of the Church of England, although separated from their corrupt brethren that remained in their homeland. Known as Puritans, they formed the great migration to the Massachusetts Bay Colony which by 1640 had grown to a population of twenty-six thousand. For these Protestant Puritans who strongly followed the teachings of John Calvin, religion was the beginning, center, and end of all social and political life. The Puritan adventure in their New England colony began as a theocracy, but the Massachusetts Puritans were not alone in their religious affections. Religion and religious liberty were the fundamental reasons for the founding of most of the original thirteen colonies, and nearly all were founded upon various social and religious experiments.[1]

However, none were so well organized or advanced in their religious practices as the New England colonies, particularly the Puritans of Massachusetts. Not only was New England the most studied portion of early colonial America history, the region was also the foremost center of revivalist activity prior to and at the beginning of The Great Awakening. As early as the 1670s, Puritan leaders recognized the need for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit because churches and towns were spiritually languishing and in need of corporate renewal.[2]

The seeds of the Puritans’ early spiritual decline were found in both the Catholic and Reformed churches’ practice of infant baptism. If one had not been baptized and confirmed or had been excommunicated, they were excluded from the Lord’s Table. In early New England, excommunication meant the loss of certain civil rights (e.g., voting and holding office) and could lead to punishment by the civil government. “Under such laws, the Lord’s table must be open to all who have been baptized, who have learned the creed and catechism, and have not committed any crime which a civil court would judge ‘scandalous’.” Although the bishop could require additional evidence of regeneration, this practice was rarely followed. Subject to the foregoing conditions, all young people and adults baptized as infants were considered to be members of the church in full communion.[3]

Clergymen were reluctant if not loathed to withhold participation in the Lord’s supper for to do so would inflict civil injury. Claims of wrongful denial of church membership or participation in the Lord’s supper made the clergymen liable for prosecution and, if found guilty, subject to punishment.[4] The only safe option for clergymen was to treat every one as a real convert and hope that regeneration had occurred even if no apparent change was present in the life of the professing Christian. Because of such a mindset within the clergy, their preaching was greatly restricted and diminished. As to the unconverted, they could only hope that somehow the heretofore undetected regeneration would mysteriously occur through participation in the Lord’s table.[5]

But the New England Puritans would have none of this. Irrespective of their baptism of infants, they still believed that if a man was “born again,” a change occurred which was observable by both the person and others. There was a difference in the unregenerate and regenerate in which the latter would exhibit good qualities through their thought, feeling, and conduct. All who did not give evidence of Christian piety would be considered unregenerate, and they would admit none to their communion unless considered regenerate. These beliefs were very different from those of their English cousins. So strong were these beliefs and practices that they were set forth in the preface to the Puritans’ Cambridge Platform published in 1648.[6]

Puritan church records of that time contained a list of those considered to be on the road to heaven and therefore full participants in the ordinances of the church. It also contained a list of those names who by common consent were “…to be regarded and addressed as persons in the road to hell.” Consequently, the New England clergy were not hesitant to assail their listeners with argument and entreaty aimed at prompting regeneration of those in the church known to be in a spiritually lost condition.[7]

But erosion of the high standards of the Puritan churches of New England began at the Puritans’ Synod of 1662. It was decided that the children of parents who were avowedly unregenerate and excluded from the Lord’s table could be baptized if the parents were otherwise qualified. Those other qualifications and requirements were that the parents had to have been baptized in infancy, understood the doctrine of faith and publicly confessed their assent thereunto, did not lead a scandalous life, agreed to give themselves and their children to the Lord, and submitted themselves to the government of Christ in the Church. This practice was immediately adopted over vehement protests and became the new standard for many churches.[8] This new practice was called the Halfway Covenant of 1662 and allowed New England churches to be filled with “substantial numbers of pseudo-members waiting for their conversion.”[9] Sherwood Eddy describes the inevitable outcome of this fateful decision.

There was a gradual loss of the sense of sin, and the idea of God’s sovereignty became a means of oppression by the ecclesiastical oligarchy…The children of the hardy pioneers became softer and more worldly. The unregenerate second generation was allowed to remain in the church as members though not in full communion. Thus originated the halfway covenant with a mixed membership of a more all-inclusive church that had lost the purity of a separated regenerate sect. The genteel churches turned from the difficult gospel of election and regeneration to “societies of Christians by mutual agreement” who avoided “scandalous sin.”[10] [emphasis added]

Other compromises followed. Solomon Stoddard, the pastor of the Northampton church, published a sermon in 1707 whose message stated that sanctification (to set apart, make holy) was not a necessary qualification for participation in the Lord’s supper and that “the Lord’s supper is a converting ordinance.” In other words, those desiring the full advantages of church membership, even though they did not have “a Saving Work of God’s spirit on their hearts,” were eligible to partake of the Lord’s supper. This practice at Stoddard’s Northampton Church was vigorously opposed by some, but given the general high esteem held for the prominent pastor and the general desire of many halfway covenanters to enjoy the benefits of church membership, the practice was adopted and spread extensively to churches in other parts of New England.[11]

The outworking of these practices adopted by the New England churches tended to destroy church discipline. Why should the unconverted be concerned with conversion when they are not held accountable by the church for their unregenerate heart and disobedient ways?[12] These beliefs and practices must inevitably lead to confusion as to the true meaning of conversion and thus undermine the redemptive work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of the lost. Writing over 175 years ago, Joseph Tracey described the eventual course that the resulting confusion would take after the loss of a biblical understanding of conversion.

What must it teach the unconverted church member to think of himself, and of his prospects for eternity?…And what must he suppose conversion to be? Not a change by which a man begins to obey God; for he had already begun to obey him, as he supposed, and yet was unconverted. Not a change righteously required of him at every moment; for God had given him something to do before conversion, and he was doing it. He must have thought it some mysterious benefit, which God would, in his own good time, bestow on those for whom it was appointed…Being thus deceived with respect to the very nature of conversion, all his desires and prayers and labors for it would be misdirected.[13]

Stoddard and other New England pastors hoped to counteract the dangers of their beliefs on conversion and sanctification by faithfully and forcefully preaching the Word so as to compel conversion. But as Tracey so ably points out, “…in the end, the doctrines on which a church is seen to act, will prevail over those which are only uttered; and the state of feeling among the members, and ultimately the preaching itself, will conform to the theory on which the church is governed and the ordinances are administered.”[14] Put another way, doctrines which are observed and practiced will inevitably prevail over those that are merely preached.

There were a number of revivals that occurred before the recognized beginning of The Great Awakening in America. One of the first to preach the essence of true revival was Samuel Torrey, pastor of the Weymouth, Massachusetts church. Torrey may be considered the first evangelical in New England for by 1674 he had begun preaching the need for revival among pastors and congregations. Torrey emphasized the “Work of Reformation.” He believed that the churches’ would not be revived through moral efforts but only an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This would occur only when each person experienced a “Heart-reformation, or making of a new heart.” This would occur when God would pour “out [an] abundance of converting grace, and so revive and renew the work of conversion.” Torrey preached his greatest sermon on revival in 1695. In “Mans Extremity, Gods Opportunity,” Torrey preached that the sin of New Englanders had grown to such an extent that an ordinary reformation was not possible. God must unilaterally intercede, but that “We must follow God mourning…Such a mourning is the certain effect of the saving dispensation of the Spirit and converting grace.”[15]

Covenant renewals had begun occurring in the late 1600s. Typically, in covenant renewal ceremonies, pastors reminded all church members of their promises to God and to each other. Full covenant members could consider if their relationship with God was truly right. Halfway members could seek conversion and admission into full membership in the church. These ceremonies were generally followed by preaching on salvation for a period of several weeks. Samuel Willard led a covenant renewal in 1680 at Boston’s Old South Church. Early in the renewal, several children publicly embraced their responsibilities of their baptismal covenant. This sparked the whole church to go through renewal and recognition of their baptismal covenant with many becoming members in full communion.[16]

A covenant ceremony was led by Samuel Danforth Jr. in 1705 at Taunton, Massachusetts. Thomas Kidd in his book The Great Awakening – The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America gave an account of the events that occurred.

Danforth reported in February 1705 that “we are much encouraged by an unusual and amazing Impression, made by GOD’S SPIRIT on all Sorts among us, especially on the young Men and Women.” The young people had become sober as a result of the meetings and some “awful Deaths and amazing Providences.” He hoped that their sobriety was not temporary and asked for “Prayer that these Strivings of the SPIRIT, may have a saving Issue.”…“We gave Liberty to all Men and Women Kind, from sixteen Years old and upwards to act with us,” and three hundred people added their names to a list forsaking sin.” Later that month Danforth reported that he had no time for his regular pastoral duties because of his constant visits from young people seeking salvation.[17] [emphasis in original]

There were many such outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the late 1600s and early 1700s, and the frequency of these revivals grew in New England during the 1710s and 1720s. Out of these early stirrings came a renewal movement called evangelicalism that fundamentally changed many churches and denominations and helped birth the First Great Awakening. Those churches that embraced evangelicalism emphasized a revivalist style of preaching, personal conversion, personal devotion and holiness, and individual access to God which de-emphasized the importance and authority of church government.[18]

Heretofore, our emphasis has been on Puritan revivals that preceded The Great Awakening. However, in addition to the English stream of evangelicalism there were two other streams that fed the rising river of revival fervor: Scots-Irish Presbyterianism and Continental Pietism.[19]

Pietism contributed an intense focus on the heart, often in conflict with the decayed state of formal, established religion. Scots-Irish Presbyterianism supplied legions of pious immigrants, who often came expecting revival to occur…The Pietists and Presbyterians of those colonies had begun striving for awakenings well before the Grand Itinerant George Whitefield came on the scene.[20]

Pietism stressed Bible study and personal religious experience and was a reaction to formalism and intellectualism. Reformed Pietism primarily focused on heart religion and Christian practice whereas Puritanism focused on doctrinal and ecclesiastical purity.[21]

We have examined the dire circumstances and conditions that led to the various revivals throughout the American colonies prior to the beginning of The American Great Awakening during the late 1720s. In the next chapter we shall examine the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in various revivals that comprised The Great American Awakening, the course of these revivals, and their long-term consequences for both the nation and the churches therein after the revival fires had subsided.

Larry G. Johnson


[1] Sherwood Eddy, The Kingdom of God and the American Dream, (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1941), pp. 48-49, 74.
[2] Thomas S. Kidd, The Great Awakening – The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America, (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2007), p. xvi.
[3] Joseph Tracy, The Great Awakening – A History of the Revival of Religion in the Time of Edwards and Whitefield, Public Domain. Facsimile edition reproduced from original documents, pp. 1-2. Originally published in Boston, Massachusetts by Tappan and Dennet, 1842.
[4] Ibid. p. 2.
[5] Ibid., p. 3.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., p. 4.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Kidd, The Great Awakening, p. 3.
[10] Eddy, The Kingdom of God and the American Dream, p. 55.
[11] Tracey, The Great Awakening, pp. 4-5.
[12] Ibid., pp. 5-6.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid., p. 6.
[15] Kidd, The Great Awakening, p. 1-3.
[16] Ibid., p. 4.
[17] Ibid., pp. 4-5.
[18] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2004, 2005), pp. 253, 256-257.
[19) Kidd, The Great Awakening, p. xvi.
[20] Ibid., p. 39.
[21] Ibid., p. 25.

Revival – 4 – The British Great Awakening

Conditions in England 1688-1739

As discussed in Chapter 3, the Catholic Church and the various branches of the Protestant Church were in great turmoil from the beginning of the Reformation in 1517 until 1648 when the peace agreement at Westphalia substantially ended the Catholic-Protestant wars on the continent of Europe. However, the conflict would not end in Great Britain until the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the triumph of Protestantism under William III.

All wars invariably lead to post-war periods in which the Christian faith is neglected which leads to a general decay of national morality. This was the condition in which the British people found themselves at the end of the seventeenth century. Not only had the opposing camps of Christianity fought among themselves, but England had been involved in almost constant civil and international warfare for almost two centuries by the end of the 1600s. As a consequence there existed a significant decline of morality and the general religious impulse within the nation. This decline was deepened by the ascendance of competing Enlightenment philosophies and deism in the late 1600s and all of the 1700s throughout Europe and Great Britain. By the time the British Great Awaking began in 1739, England, Scotland, and Wales were in a deplorable state. Mathew Backholer described the depths to which the moral breakdown of English society had sunk just prior to the awakening.

Across Britain, before the Great Awakening, there was a rise in deism, a decline of Christian observances, a massive rise in gin consumption and other alcoholic beverages which led to poverty and abuses within families. Every sixth house in London was a grogshop (where spirits were sold, gin, rum, etc.) and you could get drunk for a pence and dead drunk for two pence…In 1714, two million gallons of spirits were distilled; by 1742, it was seven million gallons, and by 1750, it was more than eleven million…Only four or five members of Parliament were regular attendants at church.

This was the land and age of highwaymen in the countryside, burglars in the cities, profanity, bear-baiting, bull-baiting, prize-fighting, cock-fighting – the amusements of all classes were calculated to create a cruel disposition. It was the age of mobs and riots and the state of the criminal law was cruel in the extremes. There were no fewer than one hundred and sixty crimes for which a man, woman, or child could be hanged!

In 1736, Archbishop Secker, the Bishop of Oxford, said, “That an open and professed disregard to religion is become…the distinguishing character of the present age; that this evil is grown to a great height of the nation and is daily spreading through every part of it.”

Parliamentary life was rotten through and through…There was a growing neglect of Sunday observance among the ruling elite. Cabinet dinners and even cabinet councils were constantly being held on that day. Sunday concerts and card parties were common. Drunkenness was almost universal, and the drunkards walked unashamed.

In the higher ranks the young “Bloods” (nobility) often banded themselves together and paraded the streets in search of victims for what they were pleased to call their wit. Many a man and many a woman died in their hands, in consequence of their ferocious treatment.[1]

Great moves of God within a nation generally start with small beginnings, and so it was with the British Great Awakening. In 1728, a student at Oxford University started a Holy Club. That student was Charles Wesley who became a preacher but is better known as one of the greatest hymn writers of all time. Because of his methodical habits in study, Charles was called a “Methodist.” Leadership of the Holy Club would soon pass into the hands of John Wesley, Charles’ older brother.[2]

By 1733, Charles was a junior tutor of Christ Church at Oxford University. He and the other members of Holy Club had noticed the thin young man’s attendance at a weekday church service which was most unusual behavior for a lowly and poor freshman. It was through a chain of events that eventually led Charles Wesley to send word to the eighteen-year-old student at Oxford’s Pembroke College to visit him. It was to be a providential meeting that October morning between the twenty-six year old Master of Arts tutor and George Whitefield who came to Wesley’s rooms at Christ Church. Charles fed him coffee and breakfast as he coaxed his life story from him. He had come from Gloucester the year before. Being from a very poor family, Whitfield earned his way at Pembroke by becoming a servitor to the gentlemen students in the upper social strata. Servitors were the lowest rank of undergraduate and at the opposite end of the scale to those noblemen who resided at the top.[3]

But the members of the Holy Club were being observed by Whitefield long before the club members had noticed him. At the start of the term Whitefield had watched and admired the members of the Holy Club as they passed through a crowd of hostile mocking hecklers when attending Holy Communion at the University Church. Being poor and lacking any form of social status, Whitefield stood afar off, fearing public rejection by associating himself with the Holy Club’s members. Whitefield confessed his cowardice to Wesley at that first meeting, but Wesley comforted Whitefield with good advice, kindly encouragement in his spiritual journey, and an invitation to the next meeting of the Holy Club. As he walked back to Pembroke College Whitefield was “happier than he had been since coming to oxford.”[4] This meeting eventually would have an incalculable impact on both England and America.

The British Great Awakening 1739

The British Great Awakening is also known by several other titles: Evangelical Revival, the Methodist Revival, and the Wesleyan Revival. Just over five years after that fateful first meeting between Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, the Methodist Revival was birthed by a powerful move of the Holy Spirit which is the definitive signature of all revivals. The incontrovertible fact of the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit is confirmed by a reading of excerpts from the January 1, 1739 Journal of John Wesley.

Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutchins, and my brother Charles, were present at our love-fest in Fetters Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, in so much that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His Majesty, we broke out with one voice, “We praise thee, O God, we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.”[5]

George Whitefield also wrote of the events of that evening at Fetter’s Lane in London and other meetings to follow that led to the beginning of the British Great Awakening on February 17, 1739.

It was a Pentecostal season indeed, sometimes whole nights were spent in prayer. Often we have been filled as with new wine, and often I have seen them overwhelmed with the Divine Presence, and cry out, “Will God, indeed, dwell with men on earth? How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven!”[6]

On January 14th, Whitefield was ordained a priest in Church of England. Apart from his meeting with fellow Methodists, all was not heavenly for Whitefield before the revival broke forth on February 17th. There began to develop among some of the clergy strong opposition to the message of Whitefield and the two Wesleys. Some clergymen argued against the “despised Methodists’” understanding of the “new birth” which their critics believed was a “pretending to special effusions of the Holy Ghost.” The essence of the arguments was that those opposed to the Methodist message believed only in an outward Christ and denied that Christ must be “inwardly formed in our hearts also.” These clergymen began to influence others to close their pulpits to Whitefield and the Wesleys. False accusations about Whitefield were spread among the clergy.[7]

Having been refused the pulpit in Bath on February 14th, he stayed with his sister and her husband in Bristol. Following two more rejections for permission to preach at Bristol churches, Whitefield knew of one place he would be allowed to preach. The Corporation of Bristol had a jail chapel but not a chaplain. The jailer had become a convert through Whitefield’s preaching two years earlier and wholeheartedly welcomed his request to preach to the prisoners that Saturday morning. Following the chapel service, an aged Dissenter invited Whitefield to lunch at his home in Kingswood, just two miles or less from the closed walls surrounding Bristol and near the forest coal mines. It was here that a people lived in a world far more distant from the respectable people of Bristol than a mere two miles might suggest.[8] Whitefield’s biographer John Pollock described the plight of the coal miners and their families.

Respectable citizens were afraid of them; they caused violent affrays and had shocked even the hard-bitten sailors by digging up the corpse of a murderer whose suicide had cheated them of a public execution to hold high festival round it. They were totally illiterate. Their shacks, like the mines lay on the far boundaries of four different parishes so they were ignored by the clergy of all. Gin-devils, wife beaters, sodomites – the Bristol world had not a good word for the colliers (coal miners) of Kingswood, and considered that they illustrated perfectly the dictum of Thomas Hobbes: “No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”[9]

Over dinner Whitefield talked to his host of how, “My bowels have long yearned towards the poor colliers, who are very numerous and are as sheep having no shepherd.” They could only be reached in the open air for no church would welcome them. To preach in the open air was an idea that he once mentioned to John Wesley but who called it a “mad notion.” To do so was to defy church law and risk being prosecuted or at least shunned by the clergy and gentry for disorderly conduct.[10]

Whitefield, the two friends, and his host went out for a walk about the time the coal miners left the pits. The four men had climbed a little hill about a hundred yards from a group of miners walking toward them. Whitefield called out to them in clear voice, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see the kingdom of heaven!” The miners immediately stopped and stared at the strange spectacle before them – a young “parson in a cassock, gown, and bands holding a book and audible at a hundred yards.” Pollock vividly described the scene.[11]

The crowd grew until perhaps two hundred were clustered around Hannam Mount. George Whitefield spoke of hell, black as a pit, about “Jesus, who was a friend of publicans and sinners and came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” He spoke of the cross, and the love of God, and brushed tears from his eyes. On and on he went, in dead silence except for this own voice and the slight stirring of wind through the bare trees behind him.

Suddenly he noticed pale streaks forming on grimy faces, on that of a young man on his right, and on an old bent miner on his left, and two scarred, depraved faces in front: more and more of them. Whitefield, still preaching, saw the “white gutters made by their tears down their black cheeks.”[12]

Sunday morning Whitefield was reluctantly invited to preach at a local church. However, on the following Tuesday Whitefield was summoned to appear before the Chancellor of the diocese who threatened to excommunicate him if he continued to preach false doctrine. The Chancellor further prohibited Whitefield from preaching anywhere in the diocese without a license. But a little over twenty-four hours later a young coal miner called upon Whitefield and asked the young preacher to come and preach to the coal miners at a set time. He did not hesitate, and on a relatively warm February day at Kingswood, Whitefield preached for an hour to a crowd of two thousand coal miners, their families, and a number of townspeople. He would preach in open spaces to the coal miners on three additional occasions. On March 25th Whitefield preached at Hannam Mount to the largest crowd yet. Twenty three thousand reverent and tear-stained faces listen as Whitefield for nearly an hour delivered Jesus’ message that “…except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God!”[13]

Whitefield called on his friend John Wesley to come to Bristol to preach and shepherd the converts with organizing skills Whitefield did not possess. But Wesley would have to abandon his reluctance to preach in places other than Church of England pulpits. On April 1, 1739, Wesley joined Whitefield at Bristol’s Bowling Green, at Rose Green in Kingswood, and at Hannam Mount. As a result Wesley was also banned from many Church of England pulpits. His great offense was not just that he preached outside the sanctioned churches but that his fiery sermons preached “justification by faith.” Wesley continued to preach elsewhere. In June he preached at Blackheath to a crowd estimated to be between twelve and fourteen thousand, Upper Moorefield to six or seven thousand, and to fifteen thousand at Kennington Common.[14]

As he rode around the countryside, revivals broke out. Wesley began traveling four or five thousand miles per year throughout England, sometimes preaching at 5 AM to crowds exceeding twenty thousand. Wesley’s work eventually established one hundred preaching circuits attended by three hundred ministers and thousands of local lay preachers. Both Whitefield and Wesley took Methodism’s message to North America where the ideas of religious independence from the Church of England merged easily with the North American’s growing ideas of political independence from England.[15]

The British Great Awakening began on Hannam Mount in Kingsford on February 17, 1739, not as a revival but an evangelistic meeting. The Holy Spirit’s stirring in the hearts of those lost men would soon stir and revive the hearts of the British Christians and change the course of a nation. The British revivals that sparked the Great Awakening would subside as all revivals eventually do. However, the blessings that flowed from the “awakening” in the church and society in general in England, Scotland, and Wales would continue for decades.

From 1739 to 1791, it is estimated that the British Great Awakening had caused one-fourth of the population, about 1.25 million, to be converted to Christ. Over the course of time many towns, villages, and other places were so completely transformed that the character of the nation was changed. Some historians credit the awakening for preventing a revolution in Britain similar to the bloody French Revolution of 1789.[16]

This remarkable transformation of these nations by the effects of the Great Awakening was attested by many. Isaac Taylor said, “No such harvest of souls is recorded to have been gathered by any body of contemporary men since the first century.”[17] C. Grant Robertson wrote,

Wesley swept the dead air with an irresistible cleansing ozone. To thousands of men and women his preaching and gospel revealed a new heaven and a new earth; it brought religion into soulless lives and reconstituted it as a comforter, an inspiration and a judge…Aloof alike from politics and the speculations of the schools, Wesley wrestled with the evil of his day and proclaimed the infinite power of the Christian faith based on personal conviction, eternally renewed from within, to battle sin, misery and vice in all its forms. The social service that he accomplished was not the least of his triumphs.[18]

In 1922 British Prime Minster David Lloyd George said that the Methodist Movement was “probably the greatest religious movement in the past 250 years at least. Its influence, just like that of the Reformation – its indirect influence was probably greater than even its direct influence. That is the story of all great religious reformations.” In 1887, E. Paxton Hood in Vignettes of the Great Revival wrote, “There was a deeper upheaving of religious life…A change passed over the whole of English society…In the course of fifty years…a sense of religious decorum, and some idea of religious duty, took possession of homes and minds…[19]

Both Whitefield and Wesley took Methodism’s message of “justification by faith” to North America colonists, and it is to the story of the spiritual decline and subsequent revival of these transplanted Englishmen to which we turn our attention in the next chapter.

Larry G. Johnson


[1] Mathew Backholer, Revival Fires and Awakenings-Thirty Six Visitations of the Holy Spirit, (ByFaith Media, 2009, 2012), pp. 29-30.
[2] Ibid., p. 30.
[3] John Pollock, George Whitefield – The Evangelist, (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1973), pp. 11-12.
[4] Ibid., pp. 15-16.
[5] Backholer, Revival Fires and Awakenings, pp. 30-31.
[6] Ibid., p. 31.
[7] Pollock, George Whitefield – The Evangelist, pp. 82, 85-86.
[8] Ibid., pp. 88-91.
[9] Ibid., p. 91.
[10] Ibid., pp. 91-92.
[11] Ibid.,
[12] Ibid., p. 92.
[13] Ibid., pp. 93-98.
[14] Ibid., p. 99.
[15] Backholer, Revival Fires and Awakenings, pp.31-32.
[16] Ibid., pp. 29, 32.
[17] Ibid., p. 37.
[18] Ibid.
[19] Ibid., pp. 37-38.

Revival – 3 – Purifying the Reformation – England and America

To understand the origins and nature of the great awakenings and revivals beginning in the eighteenth century, we must first look at the history of God’s people in England and the American colonies following the Reformation. Much of their history presented in this chapter is drawn from Chapters 6 through 9 in Evangelical Winter-Restoring New Testament Christianity.[1]

Although the reformers readily affirmed their allegiance to “the scriptures alone” as the authority of the church and living the Christian life, it was a far more difficult matter to shed centuries of the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church that conflicted with or undermined faithful adherence to the Scriptures. Therefore, implementation of reforms in the new Protestant churches often carried with it many of the old Roman Catholic ways of doing the business of church.

By 1550, the church in the West had settled into three branches of state religion: papal Catholicism, Lutheranism (Christianity allied with the state), and Calvinism (theocracy).[2] The Protestant branches were similar in that each was a compulsory religion, had strong ties with the state in one way or another, retained certain unbiblical elements of Catholic orthodoxy, and attempted to use the state to impose a religious monopoly. The false teachings and practices carried over from the Catholic Church would not be effectively challenged on a broad scale within the Protestant churches until the birth of the evangelical arm of the church in the great revivals that arose in England and the American colonies in the early eighteenth century.

Protestant Reformation – 1517

The Church of Jesus Christ had traveled a tortuous path through 1500 years of persecution, victories, corruption, triumphs, and tragedies. Along the way the universal church had accumulated an inordinate amount of wealth, excess doctrinal baggage, and a large measure of worldliness. But in spite of the faults and corruptions within the church, the sustaining inerrant truth of the New Testament and its doctrines were the church’s life preserver to which a faithful remnant clung, however tenuously, for a millennium and a half. The Reformation was a time of casting off of much of the church’s excesses, failures, and worldliness, but it would be a painful and imperfect parting for both Catholic and Protestant churches.

When Luther nailed the ninety-five theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church on October 31, 1517, he called into question certain practices of the church and sought to change them. Initially his actions were not meant to divide the church but to rid it of the practices that many in the church felt were doctrinally contrary to the tenets of the New Testament. What many define as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in 1517 may be more correctly viewed as a step (although the last major one) in a centuries-long process that eventually led to the irrevocable separation of the Protestants from the Roman Catholic Church.[3]

Following the break from the Catholic Church, the years between 1520 and 1562 were a time of bloody martyrdom for the Protestants. But the worst was to come between 1562 and 1648 when Protestants fought for their very survival.[4] In a belated and half-hearted effort to reunite the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestants, Pope Paul III called for a council to consider reforms within the Catholic Church in the little town of Trent in the mountains of northern Italy. With two interruptions of several years each, the Council of Trent lasted from 1545 until 1563. The council developed a creed and a new catechism (religious instruction) for the church. The religious abuses that had caused much of the trouble for the church were corrected, and provision was made to better educate the clergy. Although significant reform had been accomplished within the Catholic Church, the essential character of the church remained unchanged which was considered a triumph for the preservation of the papacy.[5]

The efforts of the Catholics at Trent revitalized the church following the shock of the Reformation and spurred its efforts to stamp out Protestantism. Between 1562 and 1618, the Calvinistic Protestants suffered the greatest martyrdom. In 1618, the Lutherans were also dragged into the conflict with the Catholics. The Catholic-Protestant wars throughout the European continent eventually ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia which substantially fixed the boundaries of Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism in Europe to the present day.[6]

England – 1517 -1688

The progress of the Reformation and rejection of papal authority generally was a grass roots affair in every country as most rulers were aligned with the Catholic hierarchy. But the Reformation in England was unique in that it became the first nation-state to reject papal authority but not the church’s doctrines or forms of worship.

Henry VIII was eighteen when he became king of England in 1509 and ruled for thirty-eight years until his death in 1547. Henry became embroiled in a controversy with the papacy because of his desire to divorce his long-time first wife and marry Ann Boleyn (second of six marriages) with the hope of producing a male heir to inherit the throne. Failing to receive a timely reply from the Pope that Henry be allowed to divorce his wife, the powerful monarch took matters into his own hands and pushed the Parliament to rubber-stamp the necessary legislation which decreed that Henry was the supreme head of the Church of England. His actions were not meant as a rejection of Catholicism for he had previously rejected Luther’s concept of the church. But Henry’s proclamation of royal supremacy over the church effectively separated the English church from Rome and led to the dissolution of monasteries and the confiscation of church property which Henry sold to the aristocracy and gentry. Henry’s view of the Church of England (also called the Anglican or Episcopal Church) was that it was still Catholic in doctrine but now rested on the supremacy of the king and his descendants.[7] Although Henry thought Luther a heretic, many Protestants believed Henry’s rejection of papal authority was a step, however feeble, in reformation of the church.[8]

From Henry’s death in 1547 until 1688, the quest for domination of the religious order in England was a free-for-all among the Henry’s heirs, competing challengers for the throne, and Parliament, all of whom chose sides in championing the cause of Catholicism or the Church of England. Others dissenting Protestant groups felt the wrath of both as they defied the Roman church and the Church of England, depending on who was in power at the moment. These religious wars came to an end when William III and Mary came from Holland in 1688 and drove James II from the throne in what was known as the Glorious Revolution. Church historian B. K. Kuiper states that, “William had saved England, Holland, and America for Protestantism and liberty against the Catholicism and despotism of Louis XIV of France and James II of England.” Although the Episcopal Church of England remained the established and endowed church of the land, in 1689 religious toleration was granted to religious dissenters including Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Quakers. The only exceptions were Roman Catholics and those denying the Trinity.[9]

As we have seen, the English Reformation was the result of royal intrigues and politics of kings, queens, and Parliament. Therefore, reformation is perhaps too strong a word for what had occurred in England. The Church of England considered itself neither Protestant nor fully Catholic for the changes were more political and organizational than religious and doctrinal. As a result, unrest and desire for freedom from the strictures of the Church of England continued for a long time after the Reformation had run its course and become settled in other countries. Those members of the Church of England who pushed for a more thoroughly purified church were called Puritans. They objected to the rites, ceremonies, and episcopal form of government of the Church of England, but they wanted to remain in the church and work for reform from within. Separatists were those who believed the process of reforming the Church of England was hopeless and chose to separate from the church altogether. The Separatists were called Congregationalists or Independents. These were the Pilgrims who eventually founded the Plymouth Colony in 1620. Nine years later the Puritans followed and establish a reform-minded outpost of the Church of England in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.[10]

America – 1620-1640

It all began as a tiny ship approached the shores of a primitive continent called America. Historian Paul Johnson in his massive A History of the American People called the Pilgrim’s arrival on an old wine ship at New Plymouth on December 11, 1620, “…the single most important formative event in early American history.” The Mayflower contained a mixture of thirty-five English Calvinist Christians including some who had lived in exile in Holland to escape religious persecution in England. All were going to America for religious freedom. They were Separatist Puritans who had despaired of reforming the Church of England, its episcopal form of government, and the heavy influence of Catholic teaching. They were accompanied by sixty-six non-Puritans. The two groups contained forty-one families.[11]

The men and women that came to the American colonies at the beginning still considered themselves Englishmen and were in agreement with much of English law, politics, and social customs. Yet, the major motivating force that caused them to leave England was their differences concerning the nature of the Christian. The notion of consulting the Scriptures as opposed to the practices of the English clergy was expounded by a small group of separatists in the north of England. This small group who joined together in voluntary fashion believed in the authority of the congregation in the choice of ministers, i.e., self-government.[12]

The Separatists disdained the papacy, the Church of England, and also the Puritans of southern England (whom they believed had compromised their faith). In attempting to separate themselves from the world, they defied the efforts of King James I to make all worshipers conform to the practices of the Church of England. The Pilgrim Separatists were a humble people and often viewed as radicals because of their desire to separate from the Church of England as opposed to most Puritans who wanted to stay in the church and reform it from within.[13]

While crossing the Atlantic on the tiny Mayflower and fearing anarchy because of the larger number of non-separatists, they formed themselves into a political body similar. The Mayflower Compact established a government by consent, similar to their church covenant, with governing authority lying in the entire adult male body with no distinctions as to class, wealth, or church membership. Thus, the compact representing one-third separatists and two-thirds of the voyagers from London with other motives was signed by all adult male members including four servants. The separatists landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in November, far north of their Virginia destination, and became known as the Pilgrims. Years of harsh existence lay before them, but they were free to “establish once more on earth the Church of Christ in its pristine purity.”[14]

We must distinguish between the separatist band of outlawed Pilgrims that fled across the Atlantic on the Mayflower and the influential Puritans who would soon follow. The English Puritans had arisen about 1560 within the Anglican Church and sought reforms to bring about “a pure and stainless religion.”[15] But almost seventy years had passed since their origins, and the Church of England had rejected their efforts to reform the church. If the Puritans could not reform the church in England, they would bring the church to America and change it to their liking. This was not intended to be a separation from the Church of England but a separation from its corruption. This second group formed the great migration of English Puritans that began in 1628 upon the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Many were able men with wealth and social position. An astounding twenty thousand had made the harrowing voyage across the Atlantic and settled in the Salem area by 1640.[16]

Sherwood Eddy called those early years when colonial Puritanism was at its highest “…the finest expression of spiritual life that Britain or America or Continental Europe had at that time.”[17]

Larry G. Johnson


[1] Larry G. Johnson, Evangelical Winter – Restoring New Testament Christianity, (Owasso, Oklahoma: Anvil House Publishers, 2016).
[2] Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997) p. 288.
[3] B. K. Kuiper, The Church in History, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950, 1964, p. 157.
[4] Ibid., p. 244-245.
[5] Ibid., pp. 233-234.
[6] Ibid., pp. 244-245.
[7] J. M. Roberts,The New History of the World, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 579-580; “Henry VIII,” Encyclopedia Britannica. (accessed August 10, 2015).
[8] Kuiper, The Church in History, pp. 223, 229.
[9] Ibid., pp. 253-257.
[10] Ibid., pp. 249-251.
[11] Johnson, A History of the American People, pp. 28-29.
[12] Evans, pp. 186-188.
[13] Kuiper, The Church in History, pp. 327-328.
[14] Sherwood Eddy, The Kingdom of God and the American Dream, (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1941), pp. 40-41.
[15 Ibid., pp. 48, 56.
[16] Kuiper, The Church in History, p. 328.
[17] Eddy, The Kingdom of God and the American Dream, p. 56.

Revival – 2 – What is true revival?

What is true revival?

Ask twenty Christian lay men and women under the age of fifty and you will likely get twenty different answers, and most of them will be incorrect. The same may said of many in the clergy. Very simply put, revival means to bring the church back to life. Noah Webster’s dictionary of 1828 lists four definitions that are helpful when applied to revival in the biblical sense.

1. Return, recall or recovery to life from death or apparent death; as the revival of a drowned person.
2. Return or recall to activity from a state of languor; as the revival of spirits.
3. Return, recall or recovery from a state of neglect, oblivion, obscurity or depression; as the revival of the letters or learning.
4. Renewed and more active attention to religion; an awakening of men to their spiritual concerns.[1]

Here we see that revival is actually being defined as the opposites of death or apparent spiritual death, languor, neglect, oblivion, obscurity, and depression. Put another way in a spiritual or religious context, revival is spiritual life instead of death, vigor instead of languor, attention instead of neglect, awareness instead of oblivion, prominence instead of obscurity, and joy instead of depression. But, a return to spiritual life in these areas is the result or outcome of true revival, but the terms do not define the true meaning or essence of revival.

The difficulty in defining true revival is that much of the modern evangelical church has never experienced or has forgotten what true revival is and how it occurs. As a consequence, many in the church attempt to artificially stimulate the opposites of spiritual decline which results in a form of godliness that does not rely on the true source of revival—the Holy Spirit. In other words, the church is using the world’s methods to achieve an imitation of revival while remaining oblivious to the true source, nature, and purpose of revival. Jim Cymbala called this “icing, but no cake.”

The exaltation of church growth formulas or denominational names over the power of the Holy Spirit is deeply distressing, and we are no better than the Babylonians making sacrifices to the tools of our trade.

Here is the critical question: What if the things sold to us as solutions over the past two decades—“we’ve got the answer” conferences, leadership books, high-profile pastors with big personalities, and new models of doing church—are really the problem and not the answer?

First, many of the techniques are not found in Scripture. We don’t need more technicians; we simply need more of God.

It is likely that we are seeing a fulfillment of those perilous times that Paul told Timothy about when men would have a form of godliness, but deny the power.

That’s why our churches are so often powerless and Christianity is in decline. God’s answers for us have been replaced by human intelligence, leaving us as dim lights in an increasingly dark world.

The only answer to a lukewarm church or struggling Christian is the same as ever—the fire of the Holy Spirit![2] [emphasis in original]

What happens when the Holy Spirit brings revival?

The Holy Spirit is the source of true revival. But how does true revival occur? Dr. J. Edwin Orr said, “The key factor in revival is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit results in the revival of the church.”[3] Revival is an amazing, unusual, and extraordinary visitation of the Spirit within the church, and these special visitations of God have been provided by His divine providence over the course of the history of His church. But it is also important to understand that individual Christians, apart from a group or church setting, may experience the blessings of revival from an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.[4]

What happens when the there is a visitation of the Spirit in the church or an individual’s life? For an answer we look to the words of Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones from his book Revival. Lloyd-Jones was describing the extraordinary happenings that occurred in a revival held by the great eighteenth century evangelist George Whitefield.

God came down. Oh yes, they had been enjoying the presence and blessing of God before, but not like this, something wonderful had happened. God was in the very midst, God came down. That is exactly what happens during revival.

What does this mean? Well, we can describe it like this. It is a consciousness of the presence of God the Holy Spirit literally in the midst of the people. Probably most of us who are here have never known that, but that is exactly what is meant by a visitation of God’s Spirit. It is all above and beyond the highest experiences in the normal life and working of the Church. Suddenly those present in the meeting become aware that someone has come amongst them, they are aware of a glory, they are aware of a presence. They can not define it, they can not describe it, they can not put it into words, they just know that they have never known anything like this before. Sometimes they describe it as ‘days of heaven on earth.’ They really feel that they are in heaven – they have forgotten time, they are beyond that, time has no longer any meaning for them, nor any real existence, they are in a spiritual realm. God has come down amongst them and has filled the place and the people with a sense of his glorious presence.

And, always, of course,…it is also a manifestation of the power of God, not only the glory and the radiance of God’s presence, but especially his power…[5]

We can now define true revival as a sovereign act of God which brings life back to the body of Christ through an extraordinary visitation of the Spirit of God among His people. Simply put, it is God in the midst of His people. More specifically, revival can be said to produce an awakening of the evangelical religion. Sometimes the word “revival” is also “…used to explain the amazing results of an outpouring of the Spirit of God, a visitation of the Holy Spirit, when Christians are revived, sinners are saved, and communities are changed and become God-fearing.”[6]

But revivals invariably bring controversy. Opposition comes from both inside the church and the enemies of Christ outside the church. Satan and his minions will always attempt to infiltrate revivals and hinder the moving of the Holy Spirit. Physical phenomena inevitably occur during revivals when the Holy Spirit touches someone with His convicting power or they experience some other supernatural manifestation of the power of God. Opportunists and exhibitionists (some may be foolish Christians) will be used by Satan in an attempt to imitate the genuine through excesses and deceptions that bring unbelief or reproach to the work of the Holy Spirit. This occurs in all revivals, but the Christian must focus on the glory of God and not the counterfeit excesses and unbiblical practices.[7]

The purposes of God’s special visitations

Lloyd-Jones listed four reasons why God sends revival. First, God sends revival and blessings upon the church for the glory of God. He does this so that all people of the earth may know the hand of the Lord is mighty. His miraculous blessings attract the attention of the saint and sinner alike. We see this in the Old Testament when Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan on dry ground. The Israelites alone represented God, and all other nations were pagan. He did this miracle in order that those unbelievers on the outside who scoff and deride God’s kingdom and His people may be astonished, apprehended, and chastened.[8]

A second reason for revival is that His people will fear the Lord their God forever. When the season of revival has run its course, people have been wonderfully reminded that the living God in all of His power and glory dwells among them. But over time these special visitations of God tend to be forgotten by many in the body of Christ. They begin to see the church as nothing more than an institution or organization. Such a view leads Christians toward an attitude of casualness in their relationship with Him and with casualness comes loss of the fear of the Lord and with loss of fear comes disobedience. This disobedience stems from less reliance on God and greater self-reliance through scholarship and learning, organizing skills, and activities and busy-ness.[9] The loss of fear of the Lord is a particularly distinguishing trait of the modern American church. In other words, they have lost their consciousness of God who dwells among them. When God is no longer feared, the church also loses its reverence for His majesty, power, and holiness. With loss of fear of the Lord, His nature becomes merely utilitarian tool, a part of the furniture of the church that is summoned into service as needed.

The third reason for revival is that when Christians dwell in the full power and presence of God, they are no longer fearful of men. Revival takes the fear of men away from God’s children. They no longer fear the giants in the land when they realize that the living God resides amongst them. Lloyd-Jones described the church’s fear of man in a 1959 sermon, also recorded in his book Revival.

The church is so afraid. She is afraid of organized sin, and her argument is, “We must be doing something because look at the world. It is attracting the young people, it gives them a happy pleasant Saturday night, entertains them, teaches them how to sing and do this and that. Well now we must do the same thing…” The church is so afraid they are going to lose their young people they feel they must do the same. Oh, what a tragedy, what a departure from God’s way…So we trim and modify our gospel, because we are afraid of learning and of knowledge and of science…

There is no need to be afraid of any of these powers…There is nothing new about all of this. The Christian Church has always had to fight the world and the flesh and the devil. And the church has often quaked and feared, but never when there has been revival, because then they know that the living God is among them…[10]

Fifty-eight years after Lloyd-Jones preached this message, we still see the same fear of man gripping the church, but we have substituted today’s seeker for yesterday’s youth of six decades ago. The church now says, “We must be doing something because look at the world. It is attracting the seekers, it gives them a happy pleasant Saturday night, entertains them, teaches them how to sing and do this and that. Well now we must do the same thing…” To avoid offense, the seeker-friendly church offers an ever changing array of attractions and activities for seekers to sample until they find something they like. This is done in lieu of a forthright presentation of the uncompromised Word of the living God and reliance on the convicting power of the Holy Spirit in reaching the lost and dying seeker-sinners in the church’s midst.

The fourth reason for revival is that it delivers us from our enemies. And in every revival that has ever been, deliverance always means praise, adoration, worship, and thanksgiving to God, and an enjoyment of God’s riches by His people.[11]

Revivals in the Old and New Testaments

As described in Chapter 1, the pattern of sin and falling away from God followed by repentance, revival, and restoration of His people is a recurrent theme in the history of God’s dealings with the Israelites in the Old Testament. This pattern is illustrated in Psalm 80 as the author pleads with God to once again revive and restore His chosen people.

Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! Watch over this vine, the root your right hand has planted, the son you have raised up for yourself. Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish. Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself. Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name. Restore us, O Lord God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved. [Psalm 80:14-19. NIV] [emphasis added]

Revival historian Mathew Backholer points out in his book Revival Fires and Awakenings that both the Old and New Testament do not use the term “revival” to describe a spiritual renewal. However, a special visitation of the Holy Spirit that leads to a spiritual renewal can clearly be defined as a revival through “inspired inference” in the light of numerous instances of rebellion, decline, and renewal clearly presented by the events and lives of many individuals and groups in the Bible.”[12]

In the Old Testament, the occurrence of revival was shown by God’s glory coming down such as when King Solomon dedicated the temple (1 Kings 8:10-11 and 2 Chronicles 5:13-14). Old Testament revivals were characterized by mass repentance under God’s conviction and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Backholer listed eight examples of revivals in the Old Testament, all recorded in the books of Genesis, Kings I and 2, and 2 Chronicles. These revivals were generally led by various leaders, prophets, or kings under the influence and direction of the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit fell en masse on His people beginning at the Day of Pentecost. Backholer recorded twenty examples of New Testament revivals.[13]

Awakening and Revivals in Church History

One of the great failings of the church during the last one hundred years is its tendency to view the swelling tides of moral and cultural decline in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries as something quite new and unique in the history of the church. But as mentioned above, this view occurs because of the church’s fear of organized sin which has led the church to believe that it must develop new techniques and methods, soften the gospel’s message, make certain accommodations for the sinner, and employ modern business practices to meet the world’s challenge on its own terms. But in the words of Martyn Lloyd Jones, “…the man who experiments in the midst of crisis is a fool.”[14]

As a result of this misguided thinking, these modern churchmen ignore the rich history of the church’s past which they believe has nothing to teach them in the modern age. Worse yet, they even ignore the basic teachings of the Bible in their quest to redefine the church and employ the latest and greatest solutions to win the lost. This is self-reliance spoken of above and is the mother of disobedience.

As previously noted, the church is in desperate need of revival, and the nation is in desperate need of a general spiritual awakening which can only come through a revived church. Given the importance of the church’s history of revivals and awakenings during the last three hundred years, that history will be surveyed in the next several chapters.

In American history we can count four revivals that rise to the level of awakenings that spread over many parts of the nation and to other parts of the World. Here we must briefly clarify the difference between a revival and an awakening. Revivals tend to be localized events (church, village, town, or city). An awakening affects a much larger area (district, county, or country), can last for years or decades, and significantly affects the moral standards of a society. Some awakenings continued to be known as revivals such as the Businessmen’s Revival of 1857-58 and the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905, but they still are considered to be broad awakenings.[15]

Although the focus will be on the history of recorded revivals and awakenings, there are many thousands of other revivals and lesser awakenings that have come, run their course, and wonderfully infused life into the affected churches and their congregations for years afterward. The vast majority of these revivals may have been forgotten and have never been recorded in the history books of men, but their eternal consequences have been faithfully written in the annals of heaven.

Larry G. Johnson


[1] Noah Webster, “revival,” Noah Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language 1828, Facsimile Edition, (San Francisco, California: Foundation for American Christian Education, 1967, 1995 by Rosalie J. Slater).
[2] Jim Cymbala, Storm-Hearing Jesus for the Times We Live In, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2014), pp. 26-28, 79.
[3] Mathew Backholer, Revival Fires and Awakenings-Thirty Six Visitations of the Holy Spirit, (ByFaith Media, 2009, 2012), p. 15.
[4] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1987), p. 213.
[5] Ibid., p. 306.
[6] Backholer, Revival Fires and Awakenings, p 11.
[7] Ibid., pp. 9, 13.
[8] Lloyd-Jones, Revival, p. 119.
[9] Ibid., p. 122.
[10] Ibid., pp. 126-127.
[11] Ibid., p. 128.
[12] Backholer, Revival Fires and Awakenings, p. 19.
[13] Ibid., pp. 20-24.
[14] Lloyd-Jones, Revival, p. 24.
[15] Backholer, Revival First and Awakenings, p. 7.

Revival – 1 – The only hope for the Church and America.

Revival – 1 – The only hope for the Church and America.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the most gifted preachers of the twentieth century. In addition to preaching as the minister of Westminster Chapel in London for twenty-five years, he preached extensively in Europe and the United States. In 1959, Dr. Lloyd-Jones preached a series of sermons commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the Welsh Revival of 1859 which had a powerful and profound impact on Wales, England, the United States, and other parts of the world as well. He did so because he saw the appalling condition of the church of his day and the need for revival as exceeding urgent. These sermons eventually became a widely acclaimed book titled Revival.[1]

Dr. Jones saw a profound and perilous difference between the conditions of the church in 1959 England and America than that which existed in one hundred years earlier. The kinds of problems facing the church in 1959 were far deeper and more desperate. The problems in 1859 were not ones of general denial of the Christian truth but of apathy toward Christ and the church. Correction was a matter of awakening and arousing the church from their lethargy. But in 1959, the moral and spiritual landscape had dramatically changed. Dr. Lloyd-Jones saw the modern-day problems as not just apathy but a “complete unawareness, even a denial of the spiritual altogether…the whole notion of the spiritual has gone. The very belief in God has virtually gone.”[2]

It has been fifty-eight years since Lloyd-Jones preached those sermons at a time when the Christian nations and individual Christians were far more sensitive, agreeable, and desirous of a divine move of the Holy Spirit in their midst, that is, a quickening divine visitation. Now, the church is in far more serious condition than that of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ day. Many church leaders and their congregants are oblivious to their great spiritual sickness and disastrous departures from biblical truth, doctrines, and holy lifestyles. The church has become acclimatized to the rising tide of secularism and humanism that has inundated the Western world.

As the spirit of the world invaded the church over the last six decades, there has been a corresponding displacement of the irreplaceable power and presence of the Holy Spirit within the church. Without the centrality of the Holy Spirit, the efforts, actions, and programs of the church are merely be a form of godliness but which denies the power thereof. Rev. Pierre Bynum has stated that because of the rebellion of the church, America is ripe for destruction.

The Evangelical Movement in this country is characterized by an arrogance that is almost beyond belief. The neglect of prayer, the involvement in Philistine methodology, the moral evils, the doctrinal corruptions that characterize the Movement are sufficient to cause the people of Sodom to wonder at God’s justice in destroying their city while sparing the United States.[3]

Conditions that demand revival of the church

Revival is the only event that can avert spiritual disaster for the church and turn a nation back to God. But God always sends men and women to warn of these approaching disasters. These modern-day watchmen on the wall are godly leaders and faithful intercessors who recognize the signs of the times and are calling attention to the woeful condition of both the church and the nation. They have sounded the alarm since the end of World War II to the present day. Here we quote just a few of these watchmen and their warnings that span the last seven decades.

…without revival in the church there is really no hope for the Western world at all.[4] [J. I. Packer summarizing the thrust of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his series of sermons in 1959 marking the 100th anniversary of the Welsh revival.]

Jesus Christ has today almost no authority at all among the groups that call themselves by His name. By these I mean not the Roman Catholics nor the liberals, nor the various quasi-Christian cults. I do mean Protestant churches generally, and I include those that protest the loudest that they are in spiritual descent from our Lord and His apostles, namely the evangelicals.[5] [A. W. Tozer, The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches, 1963.]

However much opinions of the realities involved may differ, no one can deny that there is widespread discussion of the decline of Western culture.[6] [Richard M. Weaver, Visions of Order – The Cultural Crisis of Our Time, 1964.]

Imperceptibly, through decades of gradual erosion, the meaning of life in the West has ceased to be seen as anything more lofty than the “pursuit of happiness… the West’s own historical evolution has been such that today it too is experiencing a drying up of religious consciousness…Here again we witness the single outcome of a worldwide process, with East and West yielding the same results, and once again for the same reason: Men have forgotten God.[7] [Nobel laureate, Orthodox Christian author, and Russian dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in his address, given when he received the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in May of 1983, in which he explained the process of alienation of the people of God and traditional Christian morality and beliefs through secularism and humanism.]

Truth demands confrontation. It must be loving confrontation, but there must be confrontation nevertheless…Here is the great evangelical disaster—the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this—namely accommodation: the evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age.[8] [Francis A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, 1984.] [emphasis in original]

Conformity to the spirit of the times appears to characterize the clergy as well as the laity…religion is declining because those identified with it do not actually believe in it…It is difficult to say that religion even exists if it keeps giving up its tenets to appease its members and critics…The first question, then, is why belief evaporated, why the West has become so rapidly secularized.[9] [Robert H. Bork, Slouching Toward Gomorrah, 1996.]

After two hundred years of earnest dedication to reinventing the faith and the church and to being more relevant in the world, we are confronted by an embarrassing fact: Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant.[10] [Os Guinness, Prophetic Untimeliness, 2003.]

Western civilization is over. Everybody knows it…Following centuries of pride, schism, compromise, synthesis with humanism, and general hard-heartedness, God may be withdrawing His grace from the Western nations—at least for the time being. Nevertheless, there is always mercy for those who seek and those who are humbled before the almighty God. (Romans 11:20).[11] [Kevin Swanson, Apostate – The Men who Destroyed the Christian West, 2013.]

Rebellion, decline, and renewal of God’s people in the Bible

The pattern of sin and falling away from God followed by repentance, revival, and restoration of His people is a recurrent theme in the history of God’s dealings with the Israelites. In the Old Testament there were at least twelve instances of revival,[12] and seven of these cycles are found in the first sixteen chapters of Judges. Preceding each of these revivals there were at least four common elements present:

• A spiritual decline among God’s people.
• A righteous judgement from God – While varying from revival to revival, God’s judgement led to prayer, brokenness, repentance, and a desperate seeking of God’s face. Sometimes God’s judgement led to the deaths of the wicked.
• The raising up of an immensely burdened leader or leaders who had a heavy burden of the moral and spiritual needs of God’s people and the nation.
• Extraordinary actions were taken, the most common of which was a call for a Solemn Assembly of the people who humbled themselves, sought the Lord, wept, fasted, mourned, prayed, confessed and repented of their individual and national sins, and who committed themselves to leading a Godly life and separation from all unrighteousness of the nations.[13]

Revival – The only hope for the church and America

Revivals have been the sustaining lifeblood of the Protestant evangelical churches since they emerged just prior to and during America’s First Great Awakening in the early 1700s. The quest for revival was discarded by the liberal churches more than one hundred years ago, and revival most certainly was never sought after or tolerated in the Roman Catholic Church. Nevertheless, revivals remained the central source of renewal and power of evangelical churches through the early 1960s and for some churches into the 1980s.

Beginning in the 1960s, the leadership in evangelical churches, seminaries, and other Christian organizations increasingly appear to have ignored the lessons of the Israelites’ rebellion, decline, and renewal in the Old Testament and have relegated revival to the dusty and forgotten shelves of church history. America’s pulpits became noticeably silent on matters of revival, and revivals virtually disappeared from the evangelical landscape along with the itinerant evangelists that held one and two-week revival meetings (longer if the Holy Spirit was moving upon the hearts and lives of those attending). As a result most of the laity under the age of fifty have little remembrance of revival meetings or have never experienced an extraordinary powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a local church.

Revival – Two opinions

One of the reasons for the absence of revivals is that they are controversial. Revivals are a supernatural work of the Spirit of God, and this supernatural aspect instills fear in the hearts of many Christians. Some claim revivals are “of the devil” or a form of mass hysteria. Others fear the supernatural manifestations of revival. Still others are opposed to revivals because they fear loss of control over the church life. That occurs because revivals are a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit and cannot be controlled or directed by men. Revivals always challenge the status quo, upset the comfortable forms of godliness, and shine the light of God’s Word into the dark corners of the church where the spirit of the world often resides.

Others dismiss talk of revival and revival meetings as not being relevant to the needs of the church or compatible with the popular methods and techniques of doing church in these modern times. For most American evangelical pastors, revival is passé, out-of-date, archaic, unfashionable, obsolete, and an inconvenience in our fast-paced modern lives. It would be safe to say that the vast majority of evangelical churches haven’t sought revival or held a revival meeting in a quarter of a century. Revivals have been replaced by new ways of doing church. We are told that the modern Christian does not have the patience, time, or inclination to attend revival meetings. As previously stated, the subject of revival is missing from the preaching of most evangelical pastors in America. The focus has switched from revival to building the church through Church Growth methods and techniques that are seeker-friendly.

But there is another group. They are the contrite and lowly in spirit. It is to them that God said, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” [Isaiah 57:15. NIV] [emphasis added] These Christians are in great sorrow as a result of the vapid fare that now passes for Christianity in many churches. They are distraught by the casualness and carelessness with which many Christians approach church life and the things of God. They are crushed by the reality of a spiritually bankrupted nation that is being sucked into the vortex of a moral cesspool that threatens to engulf their children, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They are the spiritually hungry and know that God has more for them than what they are receiving from the great majority of evangelical churches today. They want more than just programs, entertainment, activities, and playing church. They hunger for more of God—a life-changing, soul-drenching deluge of the manifest presence of God. What they seek is God’s promise of revival!

The purpose of this book is to call the leadership of America’s evangelical churches to teach, preach, and seek revival in their churches. Lay men and women are called to pray unceasingly for a divine manifestation of God’s presence in their midst. Given the significant ignorance of revivals and matters pertaining thereto among both pastors and the laity, many aspects of revival will be examined and considered in this book. These include:

• Need for revival
• History of revivals and awakenings since the early 1700s
• Meaning of revival
• Purposes of revival
• Hindrances to revival
• Characteristics and happenings in revival
• Prerequisites for revival
• Seeking revival


It has been over one hundred years since the last significant revival of the American evangelical church followed by a general moral and spiritual awakening in America. The condition of the Western church is vastly more spiritually barren and destitute than any time since immediately before the Reformation. As a consequence, a large part of the American evangelical church is sick, and without a course correction very soon it may be a sickness unto death. The symptoms are many—powerlessness, apathy, worldliness, biblical ignorance, false teachers, false doctrine, rebellion, and apostasy to name just a few. Yet, the majority of its pastors and congregations are oblivious to their spiritual condition and imminent peril.

America’s only hope is the church, and the only hope for the church is revival. But before revival will come, the church must recognize its spiritual barrenness, its great need of revival, and the necessary prerequisites that make revival possible.

Larry G. Johnson


[1] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1987), pp. iv-v.
[2] Ibid., p. 13.
[3] Rev. Pierre Bynum, Family Research Council Prayer Team, April 19, 2017. (accessed April 20, 2017).
[4] Lloyd-Jones, Revival, p. vi.
[5] A. W. Tozer. The Waning Authority of Christ in the Churches, (Nyack, New York: Christian and Missionary Alliance, 1963), pp. 4-5.
[6] Richard M. Weaver, Visions of Order – The Cultural Crisis of Our Time, (Wilmington, Delaware: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1964), p. 3.
[7] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “Men have forgotten God” – The Templeton Address, May 1983, The Voice Crying in the Wilderness, July 5, 2011. (accessed October 13, 2017).
[8] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster, (Arcadia, California: Focus on the Family, 1984), p. 27.
[9] Robert H. Bork,Slouching Towards Gomorrah, (New York: Regan Books, 1996), pp. 280-281.
[10] Os Guinness, Prophetic Untimeliness, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2003), p. 12.
[11] Kevin Swanson, Apostate – The Men who Destroyed the Christian West, (Parker, Colorado: Generations with Vision, 2013), pp. 13, 19.
[12] Bynum, Family Research Council Prayer Team, April 19, 2017.
[13] Ibid.