Summaries of Revivals
The Great Awakening
and Evangelical Revivals
1. Eighteenth-Century Revivals: Great Awakening & Evangelical Revivals
2. Early Nineteenth-Century Revivals: Frontier and Missionary Revivals
3. Mid-nineteenth Century Revivals: Prayer Revivals
4. Early Twentieth Century Revivals: Worldwide Revivals
5. Mid-twentieth Century Revivals: Healing Evangelism Revivals
6. Late Twentieth Century Revivals: Renewal and Revival
7. Final Decade, Twentieth Century Revivals: Blessing Revivals
8. Twenty-First Century Revivals: Transforming Revivals
The powerful revivals of the eighteenth century spread through Europe, especially England, and to North America. They became known as the Evangelical Revivals in England and the Great Awakening in America. They grew out of the outpouring of the Spirit of God on small communities of refugees which has suffered severe persecution in Europe.
1727 – August: Herrnhut, Saxony (Nicholas Zinzendorf)
1735 – January: New England, North America (Jonathan Edwards)
1739 – January: London, England (John Wesley, George Whitefield)
1745 – August: Crossweeksung, North America (David Brainerd)
1781 – December: Cornwall, England
1727 – August: Herrnhut, Saxony (Nicholas Zinzendorf)
No one present could tell exactly what happened on the Wednesday morning of the specially called Communion service. The glory of the Lord came upon them so powerfully that they hardly knew if they were on earth or in heaven. The Spirit of God moved powerfully on those three hundred refugees in Saxony in 1727. One of their historians wrote:
[Church history] abounds in records of special outpourings of the Holy Ghost, and verily the thirteenth of August, 1727, was a day of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We saw the hand of God and his wonders, and we were all under the cloud of our fathers baptized with their Spirit. The Holy Ghost came upon us and in those days great signs and wonders took place in our midst. From that time scarcely a day passed but what we beheld his almighty workings amongst us. A great hunger after the Word of God took possession of us so that we had to have three services every day, at 5.0 and 7.30 a.m. and 9.0 p.m. Every one desired above everything else that the Holy Spirit might have full control. Self love and self will, as well as all disobedience, disappeared and an overwhelming flood of grace swept us all out into the great ocean of Divine Love.
Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700-1760), the benefactor and 27-year-old leader of that community, gave this account at a meeting in London in 1752:
We needed to come to the Communion with a sense of the loving nearness of the Saviour. This was the great comfort which has made this day a generation ago to be a festival, because on this day twenty-seven years ago the Congregation of Herrnhut, assembled for communion (at the Berthelsdorf church) were all dissatisfied with themselves. They had quit judging each other because they had become convinced, each one, of his lack of worth in the sight of God and each felt himself at this Communion to be in view of the noble countenance of the Saviour. …
In this view of the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, their hearts told them that he would be their patron and their priest who was at once changing their tears into oil of gladness and their misery into happiness. This firm confidence changed them in a single moment into a happy people which they are to this day, and into their happiness they have since led many thousands of others through the memory and help which the heavenly grace once given to themselves, so many thousand times confirmed to them since then.
Zinzendorf described it as “a sense of the nearness of Christ” given to everyone present, and also simultaneously to two members of their community working twenty miles away.
The Moravian brethren had grown from the work and martyrdom of the Bohemian Reformer, John Hus. They suffered centuries of persecution. Many had been killed, imprisoned, tortured or banished from their homeland. This group had fled for refuge to Germany where the young Christian nobleman, Count Zinzendorf, offered them asylum on his estates in Saxony. They named their new home Herrnhut, ‘the Lord’s Watch’. From there, after their baptism of fire, they became pioneering evangelists and missionaries.
Fifty years before the beginning of modern missions with William Carey, the Moravian Church had sent out over 100 missionaries. Their English missionary magazine, Periodical Accounts, inspired Carey. He threw a copy of the paper on a table at a Baptist meeting, saying, “See what the Moravians have done! Cannot we follow their example and in obedience to our Heavenly Master go out into the world, and preach the Gospel to the heathen?”
That missionary zeal began with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Zinzendorf observed: “The Saviour permitted to come upon us a Spirit of whom we had hitherto not had any experience or knowledge. … Hitherto we had been the leaders and helpers. Now the Holy Spirit himself took full control of everything and everybody.”
Converted in early childhood, at four years of age Zinzendorf composed and signed a covenant: “Dear Saviour, be mine, and I will be Thine.” His life motto was, “Jesus only”.
Zinzendorf learned the secret of prevailing prayer. He actively established prayer groups as a teenager, and on finishing college at Halle at sixteen he gave Professor Francke a list of seven praying societies he had established.
The disgruntled community at Herrnhut early in 1727 criticized one another. Heated controversies threatened to disrupt the community. The majority belonged to the ancient Moravian Church of the Brethren. Other believers attracted to Herrnhut included Lutherans, Reformed, and Anabaptists. They argued about predestination, holiness, and baptism.
Zinzendorf, pleaded for unity, love and repentance. At Herrnhut, Zinzendorf visited all the adult members of the deeply divided community. He drew up a covenant calling upon them to seek out and emphasize the points in which they agreed rather than stressing their differences.
On 12 May, 1727, they all signed the ‘Brotherly Covenant’ dedicating their lives, as Zinzendorf had dedicated his, to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Moravian revival of 1727 was preceded and then sustained by extraordinary personal and communal, united prayer. A spirit of grace, unity, and supplications grew among them.
On 16 July Zinzendorf poured out his soul in a prayer accompanied with a flood of tears. This prayer produced an extraordinary effect. The whole community began praying as never before.
On 22 July many of the community covenanted together on their own accord to meet often to pour out their hearts in prayers and hymns.
On 5 August Zinzendorf spent the whole night in prayer with about twelve or fourteen others following a large meeting for prayer at midnight where great emotion prevailed.
On Sunday, 10 August, Pastor Johann Rothe, a Pietist friend of Zinzendorf and minister of the Berthelsdorf parish church, was overwhelmed by the Spirit about noon. He sank down into the dust before God. So did the whole congregation. They continued till midnight in prayer and singing, weeping and praying.
On Wednesday, 13 August, the Holy Spirit was poured out on them all at the specially arranged communion service in the Berthelsdorf church. Their prayers were answered in ways far beyond anyone’s expectations. Many of them decided to set aside certain times for continued earnest prayer.
On Tuesday 26 August, twenty-four men and twenty-four women covenanted together to continue praying in intervals of one hour each, day and night, each hour allocated by lots to different people.
On Wednesday, 27 August, this new regulation began. Others joined the intercessors and the number involved increased to seventy-seven. They all carefully observed the hour which had been appointed for them. The intercessors had a weekly meeting where prayer needs were given to them.
The children began a similar plan among themselves. Those who heard their infant supplications were deeply moved. The children’s prayers and supplications had a powerful effect on the whole community.
That astonishing prayer meeting beginning in 1727 lasted a century. Known as the Hourly Intercession, it involved relays of men and women in prayer without ceasing made to God. That prayer also led to action, especially evangelism. More than 100 missionaries left that village community in the next twenty-five years, all constantly supported in prayer.
One result of their baptism in the Holy Spirit was a joyful assurance of their pardon and salvation. This made a strong impact on people in many countries, including the Wesleys. Their prayers and witness profoundly affected the eighteenth-century evangelical awakening.
1735 – January: New England, North America (Jonathan Edwards)
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the preacher and scholar who later became a President of Princeton University, was a prominent leader in a revival movement which came to be called the Great Awakening as it spread through the communities of New England and the pioneering settlements in America. Converts to Christianity reached 50,000 out of a total of 250,000 colonists. Early in 1735, an unusually powerful move of God’s Spirit brought revival to Northampton, which then spread through New England in the north-east of America. Edwards noted that
a great and earnest concern about the great things of religion and the eternal world, became universal in all parts of the town, and among persons of all degrees and all ages; the noise among the dry bones waxed louder and louder; all other talk but about spiritual and eternal things, was soon thrown by….
The minds of people were wonderfully taken off from the world; it was treated among us as a thing of very little consequence. They seemed to follow their worldly business, more as a part of their duty, than from any disposition they had to it….
And the work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner, and increased more and more; souls did as it were come by flocks to Jesus Christ. From day to day, for many months together, might be seen evident instances of sinners brought out of darkness into marvellous light … with a new song of praise to God in their mouths…
Our public assemblies were then beautiful: the congregation was alive in God’s service, every one earnestly intent on the public worship, every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister as they came from his mouth; the assembly in general were, from time to time, in tears while the word was preached; some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for the souls of their neighbours….
Those amongst us who had been formerly converted, were greatly enlivened, and renewed with fresh and extraordinary incomes of the Spirit of God; though some much more than others, according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Many who before had laboured under difficulties about their own state, had now their doubts removed by more satisfying experience, and more clear discoveries of God’s love.
Describing the characteristics of the revival, Edwards said that it gave people
an extraordinary sense of the awful majesty, greatness and holiness of God, so as sometimes to overwhelm soul and body; a sense of the piercing, all seeing eye of God, so as sometimes to take away the bodily strength; and an extraordinary view of the infinite terribleness of the wrath of God, together with a sense of the ineffable misery of sinners exposed to this wrath. … and … longings after more love to Christ, and greater conformity to him; especially longing after these two things, to be more perfect in humility and adoration. The flesh and the heart seem often to cry out, lying low before God and adoring him with greater love and humility. … The person felt a great delight in singing praises to God and Jesus Christ, and longing that this present life may be as it were one continued song of praise to God. … Together with living by faith to a great degree, there was a constant and extraordinary distrust of our own strength and wisdom; a great dependence on God for his help … and being restrained from the most horrid sins.
1739 – January: London, England (John Wesley, George Whitefield)
When the New England revival was strongest, George Whitefield (1714-1770) in England and Howell Harris (1714-1773) in Wales were both converted at 21 in 1735. Both ignited revival fires, seeing thousands converted and communities changed. By 1736 Harris began forming his converts into societies and by 1739 there were nearly thirty such societies. Whitefield travelled extensively, visiting Georgia in 1738 (the first of seven journeys to America), then ministering powerfully with Howell Harris in Wales 1739 and with Jonathan Edwards in New England in 1740, all in his early twenties.
At the end of 1735, John Wesley (1703-1791) sailed to Georgia, an American colony. A company of Moravian immigrants travelled on that vessel. During a storm they faced the danger of shipwreck. John Wesley wrote in his journal for Sunday 25 January 1736:
At seven I went to the Germans. I had long before observed the great seriousness of their behaviour. Of their humility they had given a continual proof by performing those servile offices for the other passengers which none of the English would undertake; for which they desired and would receive no pay, saying, “It was good for their proud hearts,” and “their loving Saviour had done more for them.” And every day had given them occasion of showing a meekness, which no injury could move. If they were pushed, struck or thrown down, they rose again and went away; but no complaint was found in their mouth. Here was now an opportunity of trying whether they were delivered from the spirit of fear, as well as from that of pride, anger and revenge. In the midst of the Psalm wherewith their service began, the sea broke over, split the main sail in pieces, covered the ship and poured in between the decks, as if the great deep had already swallowed us up. A terrible screaming began among the English. The Germans calmly sung on. I asked one of them afterwards: “Were you not afraid?” He answered, “I thank God, no.” I asked: “But were not your women and children afraid?” He replied mildly: “No, our women and children are not afraid to die.”
Back in England in 1738 after John Wesley’s brief and frustrating missionary career, the Wesleys were challenged by the Moravian missionary Peter Bohler. In March 1738 John Wesley wrote:
Saturday 4 March I found my brother at Oxford, recovering from his pleurisy; and with him Peter Bohler, by whom (in the hand of the great God) I was, on Sunday the 5th, clearly convinced of unbelief, of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved.
Immediately it struck into my mind, “Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?” I asked Bohler whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered, “By no means.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”
Monday, 6 March I began preaching this new doctrine, though my soul started back from the work. The first person to whom I offered salvation by faith alone was a prisoner under sentence of death. His name was Clifford. Peter Bohler had many times desired me to speak to him before. But I could not prevail on myself so to do; being still a zealous assertor of the impossibility of a death bed repentance.
Both John and Charles were converted in May 1738, Charles first, and John three days later
on Wednesday 24 May. He wrote his famous testimony in his Journal:
In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the 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 an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.
Later that year John Wesley visited the Moravian community at Herrnhut. He admired their
zeal and love for the Lord, and he prayed that their kind of Christianity, full of the Holy Spirit, would spread through the earth. Back in England he preached evangelically, gathered
converts into religious societies (which were nicknamed Methodists because of his methodical procedures), and continued to relate warmly with the Moravians. Evangelical revival fires began to stir in England and burst into flame the following year.
1739 saw astonishing expansion of revival in England. On the evening of 1 January the Wesleys and Whitefield (recently back from America) and four others from their former Holy Club at Oxford University, along with 60 others, met in London for prayer and a love feast. The Spirit of God moved powerfully on them all. Many fell down, overwhelmed. The meeting went all night and they realised they had been empowered in a fresh visitation from God.
Mr Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hitchins, and my brother Charles were present at our lovefeast in Fetter 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, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were 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.”
This Pentecost on New Year’s Day launched the revival known later as the Great Awakening. Revival spread rapidly. In February 1739 Whitefield started preaching to the Kingswood coal miners in the open fields near Bristol because many churches opposed him, accusing him and other evangelicals of ‘enthusiasm’. In February about 200 attended. By March 20,000 attended. Whitefield invited Wesley to take over then and so in April Wesley reluctantly began his famous open-air preaching, which continued for 50 years.
He described that first weekend in his Journal:
Saturday, 31 March In the evening I reached Bristol, and met Mr Whitefield. I could scarce reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields, of which he set me an example on Sunday; having been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order, that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church.
Sunday, 1 April In the evening, I begun expounding our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount (one pretty remarkable precedent of field preaching) to a little society in Nicholas Street.
Monday, 2 April At four in the afternoon I submitted to be more vile, and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to almost three thousand people. The scripture on which I spoke was “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.”
Sometimes strange manifestations accompanied revival preaching. Wesley wrote in his Journal of 26 April 1739 that during his preaching at Newgate, Bristol, “One, and another, and another sunk to the earth; they dropped on every side as thunderstruck.”
He returned to London in June reporting on the amazing move of God’s Spirit with many conversions and many people falling prostrate, a phenomenon he never encouraged. Features of this revival were enthusiastic singing, powerful preaching, and the gathering of converts into small societies called weekly Class Meetings.
Initially, leaders such as George Whitefield criticized some manifestations in Wesley’s meetings, but this changed. Wesley wrote on 7 July 1739:
I had opportunity to talk with Mr Whitefield about those outward signs which had so often accompanied the inward work of God. I found his objections were chiefly grounded on gross misrepresentations of matter of fact. But the next day he had opportunity of informing himself better: for no sooner had he begun (in the application of his sermon) to invite all sinners to believe in Christ, than four persons sank down, close to him, almost in the same moment. One of them lay without either sense or motion; a second trembled exceedingly; the third had strong convulsions all over his body, but made no noise, unless by groans; the fourth, equally convulsed, called upon God, with strong cried and tears. From this time, I trust, we shall all suffer God to carry on His own work in the way that pleaseth Him.
Both John Wesley and George Whitefield continued preaching outdoors as well as in churches which welcomed them. Whitefield’s seven visits to America continued to fan the flames of revival there.
Revival caught fire in Scotland also. After returning again from America in 1741, Whitefield visited Glasgow. Two ministers in villages nearby invited him to return in 1742 because revival had already begun in their area. Conversions and prayer groups multiplied. Whitefield preached there at Cambuslang about four miles from Glasgow. The opening meetings on a Sunday saw the great crowds on the hillside gripped with conviction, repentance and weeping more than he had seen elsewhere. The next weekend 20,000 gathered on the Saturday and up to 50,000 on the Sunday for the quarterly communion. The visit was charged with Pentecostal power which even amazed Whitefield.
1745 – August: Crossweeksung, North America (David Brainerd)
Jonathan Edwards published the journal of David Brainerd (1718-1747), a missionary to the North American Indians from 1743 to his death at 29 in 1747. Brainerd tells of revival breaking out among Indians at Crossweeksung in August 1745 when the power of God seemed to come like a rushing mighty wind. The Indians were overwhelmed by God. The revival had greatest impact when Brainerd emphasised the compassion of the Saviour, the provisions of the gospel, and the free offer of divine grace. Idolatry was abandoned, marriages repaired, drunkenness practically disappeared, honesty and repayments of debts prevailed. Money once wasted on excessive drinking was used for family and communal needs. Their communities were filled with love.
Part of his journal for Thursday 8 August reads:
The power of God seemed to descend on the assembly “like a rushing mighty wind” and with an astonishing energy bore all down before it. I stood amazed at the influence that seized the audience almost universally and could compare it to nothing more aptly than the irresistible force of a mighty torrent… Almost all persons of all ages were bowed down with concern together and scarce was able to withstand the shock of astonishing operation.
On November 20, he described the revival at Crossweeksung in his general comments about that year in which he had ridden his horse more than 3,000 miles to reach Indian tribes in New England:
I might now justly make many remarks on a work of grace so very remarkable as this has been in divers respects; but shall confine myself to a few general hints only.
1. It is remarkable that God began this work among the Indians at a time when I had least hope and, to my apprehension, the least rational prospect of seeing a work of grace propagated amongst them. …
2. It is remarkable how God providentially, and in a manner almost unaccountable, called these Indians together to be instructed in the great things that concerned their souls; how He seized their minds with the most solemn and weighty concern for their eternal salvation, as fast as they came to the place where His Word was preached…
3. It is likewise remarkable how God preserved these poor ignorant Indians from being prejudiced against me and the truths I taught them…
4. Nor is it less wonderful how God was pleased to provide a remedy for my want of skill and freedom in the Indian language by remarkably fitting my interpreter for, and assisting him in, the performance of his work…
5. It is further remarkable that God has carried on His work here by such means, and in such manner, as tended to obviate and leave no room for those prejudices and objections that have often been raised against such a work … [because] this great awakening, this surprising concern, was never excited by any harangues of terror, but always appeared most remarkable when I insisted upon the compassions of a dying Saviour, the plentiful provisions of the gospel, and the free offers of divine grace to needy distressed sinners.
6. The effects of this work have likewise been very remarkable. … Their pagan notions and idolatrous practices seem to be entirely abandoned in these parts. They are regulated and appear regularly disposed in the affairs of marriage. They seem generally divorced from drunkenness … although before it was common for some or other of them to be drunk almost every day. … A principle of honesty and justice appears in many of them, and they seem concerned to discharge their old debts. … Their manner of living is much more decent and comfortable than formerly, having now the benefit of that money which they used to consume upon strong drink. Love seems to reign among them, especially those who have given evidence of a saving change.
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1781 – December: Cornwall, England
Forty years after the Great Awakening began the fires of revival had died out in many places. Concerned leaders called the church to pray.
Jonathan Edwards in America had written a treatise called, ‘A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth‘. It was reprinted in both England and Scotland and circulated widely.
John Erskine of Edinburgh persisted in urging prayer for revival through extensive correspondence around the world. He instigated widespread combined churches monthly prayer meetings for revival called Concerts of Prayer.
An example of the prayer movement was the effect in Cornwall in the 1780s. On Sunday, Christmas Day 1781, at St. Just Church in Cornwall, at 3 a.m., intercessors met to sing and ray. The Spirit moved among them and they prayed until 9 a.m. and regathered on Christmas evening. By March 1782 they were praying each evening until midnight.
Two years later in 1784, when 83 year old John Wesley visited that area, he wrote, “This country is all on fire and the flame is spreading from village to village.”
The chapel which George Whitefield had built decades previously in Tottenham Court Road, London, had to be enlarged to seat 5,000 people, the largest in the world at that time. Baptist churches in North Hampton, Leicester, and the Midlands, set aside regular nights for prayer for revival. Methodists and Anglicans joined them. Converts were being won at the prayer meetings. Some were held at 5 a.m., some at midnight. Some unbelievers were drawn by dreams and visions. Some came to scoff but were thrown to the ground under the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes there was noise and confusion; sometimes stillness and solemnity. But always there was that ceaseless outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Whole denominations doubled, tripled and quadrupled in the next few years. The number of dissenting churches increased from 27 in 1739 to 900 in 1800, 5,000 by 1810 and 10,000 by 1820. It swept out from England to Wales, Scotland, United States, Canada, and to some Third World countries.
That eighteenth century revival of holiness brought about a spiritual awakening in England and America, established the Methodists with 140,000 members by the end of the century, and renewed other churches and Christians. It impacted the nation with social change and created the climate for political reform such as the abolition of slavery through the reforms of William Wilberforce, William Buxton and others. John Howard and Elizabeth Fry led prison reform. Florence Nightingale founded modern nursing. Ashley Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury, reformed labour conditions.
The movement grew. William Carey, Andrew Fuller, John Sutcliffe and other leaders began the Union of Prayer, calling Christians to pray together regularly for revival. By 1792, the year after John Wesley died, this Second Great Awakening (1792 1830) began to sweep Great Britain and America.