What comes first – judgment or revival?
In the mid-1800’s during the days of Charles Finney America had sunk into great spiritual poverty, which led to a steep economic collapse. Uncannily, much like today, there were five contributing factors to that collapse.
1. Greed: The gap between prosperity and poverty widened attributing greatly to the increase of violent crime.
2. Occultism: Hungry for the supernatural the nation turned to spiritualism.
3. Immorality: Hard to believe that this was true way back then, but the playboy philosophy of “‘free love” was endorsed and embraced by many.
4. Political and commercial corruption: National laws legalized the cruel use of slavery and bribes and illegal business practices were rampant.
5. Atheism: Agnosticism, apathy, and indifference toward God and spiritual things abounded on every hand.
This spiritual decline in our nation touched four main areas: Spiritual, moral, political, and social. Judgment came as secular and spiritual conditions combined to unravel one of the most severe economic and social crashes our nation has ever experienced. Thousands of merchants lost everything as banks failed and the railroad industry went into bankruptcy. Multitudes of people lost their jobs as factories shut down. In New York city alone there were some 30,000 men who were idle on the streets. By 1857 people were no longer looking to financial thrive and get ahead but only to eat and survive.
Many prognostics are predicting a similar crash in the very near future right here on our shores. Truly the conditions are ripe for it.
How did America recover from such tumultuous times? It was through the great 1857 revival which not only helped America to recover but also laid the groundwork and set the stage for the revivals of the 20th century and that which I believe is still to come. How did it happen?
Led by inarguably the greatest evangelist and revivalist of our time, Charles Finney, and his fiery converts, these three elements helped pave the way.
1. A burning desire to implement the message of personal and social holiness. They preached and stressed a complete consecration to God that included your spouse and children, possessions and reputation, and the willingness to preach publicly.
2. A spreading everywhere of benevolent responsibility which flowed from personal holiness and sanctification. The revivalists linked true conversion and spiritual growth directly to the alteration of society and the culture. They never believed that isolating yourself and living in a hole would make one holy. They had a large vision of a mighty revival that would spread throughout the world and prepare mankind for the coming of the Lord.
3. A hunger for an experience that would ‘make Christianity work’. The leaders of this revival were not mystic dreamers. Finney believed and preached that the theme of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was not only the secret of pulpit power but it was the fountain of energy that would evangelize the entire world.
In December of 1857 a convention on revival was called by the Presbyterians. About 200 ministers and many laity gathered, as much of the time was spent in prayer. Baptist and Methodist pastors in New York set aside one day a week for all day prayer and intercession for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. By the beginning of 1858 messages on revival were preached all over the East. Prayer was such a key to the 1857 Awakening that it has been called the Prayer Meeting Revival, led, organized, and conducted by many laity, which was another key element of the revival.
Seeing the desperate situation in the city and country, ads for a noon day prayer meeting on Wednesday were passed out in downtown New York. The meetings began with few in attendance but grew steadily until they decided to meet daily instead of weekly.
Within 6 months over 10,000 businessmen were meeting every day in similar meetings, confessing sin, getting saved, and praying for revival. People met in stores, company buildings, and churches. Doctrinal controversies and jealousies were put to the side as churches began to pray and work together as one.
The amazing result was that America came back from the dead as in just two years time one million converts were added to all denominational churches. The social and ethical effects continued for almost half a century. This revival spread across the ocean to Great Britain, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales with approximately two million converts added to the churches in those nations.
Some of the great ministries of recent time were birthed during this period of time and era of revival. Such examples included the blossoming ministry of D.L. Moody and Ira Sankey, William and Catherine Booth and the Salvation Army, Hudson Taylor’s revival based concept of interdenominational missions, the China Inland Mission, and many others.
What can we learn and glean today from this great revival and awakening? We can be encouraged that true revival can change the moral climate of a community and a nation. When God finds a people who have the will and spirit to pray, the courage to preach, and live a life of consecration and holiness combined with compassion He can really begin to work. The hand and touch of God on ordinary people wholly consecrated to Him can make a huge difference.
Some might be of the persuasion that it’s too late for America. It’s too dark; it’s too far gone; it’s too sick. But let me remind of a great principle of revival and compare it to a hurricane.
Meteorologists can forecast the strength of the winds in a developing hurricane by the atmospheric pressure. The disparity of atmospheric pressure between the sea and the air creates a vacuum. The greater the vaccum the more violent will be the winds and the greater the water evaporation. For every one inch reduction in atmospheric pressure 13 more inches of water are lifted up by the hurricane as it acts as a vaccum cleaner. The water and the winds are what create devastation and destruction in a hurricane.
There is a great vacuum of death, despair, and darkness in our culture right now. There is a great God vacuum of true spirituality, which means hope springs eternal for an intense spiritual hurricane. Be encouraged.
Let it begin with you.