[b]Revival Born In A Prayer Meeting[/b]
It was exactly 12 noon on September 23, 1857a
little more than 100 years ago. A tall, middle-aged
former businessman climbed creaking stairs to the
third story of an old church building in the heart of
lower New York City.
He entered an empty room, pulled out his pocket
watch and sat down to wait. The placard outside
read: Prayer Meeting from 12 to 1 oclockStop 5,
10, or 20 minutes, or the whole hour, as your time
admits. It looked like no one had the time. As the
minutes ticked by, the solitary waiter wondered if it
were all a mistake.
For some three months he had been visiting
boarding houses, shops, and offices, inviting people
to the eighty-eight-year-old Old Dutch North
Church at Fulton and Williams streets. The church
had fallen on slim days. Old families had moved
away. The business neighborhood was teeming with
a floating population of immigrants and laborers.
Other churches had gotten out. Many thought
that Old Dutch should throw in the towel. But the
trustees determined on a last ditch stand. They decided
to hire a lay missionary to conduct a visitation
The man they picked was Jeremiah C. Lanphier,
a merchant who had no experience whatsoever in
church visitation work. At forty-nine Lanphier gave
up his trade position to knock on doors for a salary
of less than $1,000 a year.
The going was slow. A few families came. But often
Lanphier returned to his room in the church
consistory weary and discouraged. At such time he
spread out his sorrows before the Lord. And he
never failed to draw new strength from his time of
While going his rounds of visitation, the idea occurred
to him that businessmen might
like to get away for a short period of prayer once a
week while offices were closed at noon. With permission
of church officials Lanphier passed out
handbills and put up the placard. When the day of
the first meeting came, he was the only one on hand
[b][i]Six Come to Pray[/i][/b]
He waited ten minutes, then ten more. The minute
hand of his watch pointed to 12:30 when at last he
heard a step on the stairs. One man came in, then
another and another until there were six. After a
few minutes of prayer the meeting was dismissed
with the decision that another meeting would be
held the following Wednesday.
That small meeting was in no way extraordinary.
There was no great outpouring of the Spirit of God.
Lanphier had no way of knowing that it was the
beginning of a great national revival which would
sweep an estimated one million persons into the
kingdom of God.
Looking back, historians can see that conditions
were ripe for revival. The Revival of 1800 began a
golden age of religious interest. But by 1843 a nation
intent upon getting and spending had lost interest in
religion. The West had opened up. Gold was discovered
in California. Railroad building was a craze.
The slavery issue was hot. Fortunes ballooned. Faith
Lanphier did not know much about such things.
All he knew was that men stood in need of prayer.
Twenty men came to his second noon-hour meeting.
The following Wednesday, forty. Lanphier decided
to make the meeting a daily event in a larger
That very weekon Wednesday, October 14
the nation was staggered by the worst financial
panic in its history. Banks closed, men were out of
work, families went hungry.
The crash no doubt had something to do with the
astonishing growth of Lanphiers noon meeting (by
now called the Fulton Street prayer meeting). In a
short time the Fulton Street meeting had taken over
the whole building with crowds of more than 3,000.
Lawyers and physicians, merchants and clerks,
bankers and brokers, manufacturers and mechanics,
porters and messenger boys all came. Draymen
would drive up to the curb, tie up their horses and
come in for a few minutes.
Rules were drawn up. Signs were posted. One
read: Brethren are earnestly requested to adhere to
the 5-minute rule. Another: Prayers and Exhortations
Not to exceed 5 minutes, in order to give all an
It seemed that the Fulton Street meeting had
touched a nerve. The revival-prayer impulse flashed
from coast to coast.
On November 5, 1857, a New York newspaper
carried the story of a revival in Hamilton, Ont.,
Canada, in which 300 to 400 people were converted
in a few days. Accounts of local revivals began to
appear in religious papers in November. And in December
a three-day Presbyterian convention was
held at Pittsburgh to consider the necessity for a general
revival. Shortly thereafter a similar one was
called in Cincinnati.
[b][i]New York Bows in Prayer[/i][/b]
Within six months 10,000 businessmen (out of a
population of 800,000) were gathering daily in
New York City for prayer. In January 1858 there
were at least twenty other prayer meetings going
full tilt in the city. Many of them were sparked by
the Young Mens Christian Association. Other cities
had them too.
By January of 1858 newspapers were sending reporters
to cover the meetings. The Progress of the
Revival became a standing news head. Remarkable
cases of awakening were detailed at length. And
there were many.
One time a man wandered into the Fulton Street
meeting who intended to murder a woman and
then commit suicide. He listened as someone was
delivering a fervent exhortation and urging the duty
of repentance. Suddenly the would-be murderer
startled everyone by crying out, Oh! What shall I
do to be saved! Just then another man arose, and
with tears streaming down his cheeks asked the
meeting to sing the hymn, Rock of Ages, Cleft for
Me. At the conclusion of the service both men
Another time an aged pastor got up to pray for
the son of another clergyman. Unknown to him, his
own son was sitting some distance behind him. The
young man, knowing himself to be a sinner, was so
impressed at hearing his father pray for another
mans son that he made himself known to the meeting
and said he wanted to submit to God. He became
a regular attender at the prayer meeting.
A prize fighter nicknamed Awful Gardiner
was a prayer-meeting convert. He visited his old
friends at Sing Sing Penitentiary and gave his testimony.
Among those who were converted was a
noted river thief, Jerry McAuley, who later founded
the Water Street Mission. It was one of the first missions
On March 17, Burtons Theater, on Chambers
Street, was thrown open for noonday prayer meeting.
Half an hour before the first service was to begin,
the theater was packed from the pit to the roof.
By the summer of 1858, news of the prayer meeting
had crossed the Atlantic. In August two Presbyterian
ministers from Ireland came to see what it
was all about. We have connected with our synod
500 churches and congregations, they said. And
we have a strong desire that the same gracious
dispensation which has blessed you here be bestowed
upon all our churches at home. They asked
for the prayers of the Fulton Street prayer meeting.
[b][i]Eyewitness Describes Meeting[/i][/b]
The Fulton Street prayer meeting may well be the
model for effective prayer meetings today. How was
the early meeting conducted? Why did it have such
Fortunately, an eyewitness account, published in
1858, has come down to us. You feel that you too
are there as you read:
We take our seat in the middle room, ten minutes
before 12 oclock noon. A few ladies are seated in one
corner, and a few businessmen are scattered here and
there through the room. Five minutes to 12 the room
begins to fill up rapidly. Two minutes to 12, the leader
passes in, and takes his seat in the desk or pulpit. At
12 noon, punctual to the moment, at the first stroke of
the clock the leader arises and commences the
meeting by reading two or three verses of the hymn,
[i]Salvation, oh the joyful sound,
Tis pleasure to our ears;
A sovereign balm for every wound,
A cordial for our fears.[/i]
Each person finds a hymnbook in his seat; all sing
with heart and voice. The leader offers a prayer
short, pointed, to the purpose. Then reads a brief
portion of Scripture. Ten minutes are now gone.
Meantime, requests in sealed envelopes have been
going up to the desk for prayer.
A deep, solemn silence settles down upon our
meeting. It is holy ground. The leader stands with
slips of paper in his hand.
He says: This meeting is now open for prayer.
Brethren from a distance are specially invited to take
part. All will observe the rules.
All is now breathless attention. A tender solicitude
spreads over all those upturned faces.
The chairman reads: A son in North Carolina
desires the fervent, effectual prayers of the righteous of
this congregation for the immediate conversion of his
mother in Connecticut.
In an instant a father rises: I wish to ask the
prayers of this meeting for two sons and a daughter.
And he sits down and bursts into tears, and lays his
head down on the railing of the seat before him, and
sobs like a broken-hearted child.
A few remarks followvery brief. The chairman
rises with slips of paper in his hand, and reads: A
praying sister requests prayers for two unconverted
brothers in the city of Detroit; that they be converted,
and become the true followers of the Lord Jesus
Another, Prayers are requested of the people of
God for a young man, once a professor of religion, but
now a wanderer, and going astray....
Two prayers in succession followed these
requestsvery fervent, very earnest. And others who
rose to pray at the same time, sat down again when
they found themselves preceded by the voices already
engaged in prayer. Then arose from all hearts that
beautiful hymn, sung with touching pathos, so
appropriate too, just in this stage of this meeting with
all these cases full before us,
[i]There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuels veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.[/i]
Then followed prayer by one who prays earnestly for
all who have been prayed for, for all sinners present,
for the perishing thousands in this city, for the spread
of revivals all over the land and world.
It is now a quarter to one oclock. Time has fled on
silver wings ....
... There arose a sailor, now one no more, by reason
of ill-health, but daily laboring for sailors. He was
converted on board a man-of-war, and he knew how
hard it was for the converted sailor to stand up firm
against the storm of jeers, and reproaches, and taunts
of a ships crew. Now I am here, he said, to
represent one who has requested me to ask your
prayers for a converted sailor this day gone to sea. I
parted from him a little time ago, and his fear is, his
great fear, that he may dishonor the cause of the
blessed Redeemer. Will you pray for this sailor?
Prayer was offered for his keeping and guidance.
Then came the closing hymn, the benediction, and
the parting for twenty-three hours.
[b][i]Revival Hits Front Pages[/i][/b]
For the first time modern means of communication
spread revival news. Prayer meetings exchanged
telegraph messages. Newspaper coverage and
printed propaganda made it impossible for anyone
not to know about the revival. One man who came
to the Fulton Street meeting said he had been given
a handbill advertising the meeting six months before
while standing on the west bank of the Mississippi
River, 1,000 miles away.
But mostly, the revival spread by means of people
with changed lives.
One of the six at the first Fulton Street meeting
was a twenty-one-year-old Philadelphian. Why not
a prayer meeting in Philadelphia? he thought. He
and some of his fellow members of the YMCA asked
for permission to hold a meeting in the Methodist
Episcopal Union Church.
The start was dismal. Only about forty came. The
meeting was moved to another building more centrally
located. Still the crowd stayed around sixty.
But suddenly there was a change. On March 8,
1858, 300 people were present. On Wednesday,
March 10, 2,500 people jammed into a larger auditorium.
Seats were set up on the stage. After that,
not less than 3,000 people attended the meeting every
dad. In May a tent was put up. Within four
months 150,000 people had prayed in the tent.
Meetings sprang up in other parts of the city. It is
estimated that there were 10,000 conversions in
Philadelphia in 1858. One denomination received
3,000 new members.
In Boston, where Evangelist Charles G. Finney
was preaching, a prayer meeting was held in historic
Old South Church and in Park Street Church. At
least 150 Massachusetts towns were moved by the
revival, with 5,000 conversions before the end of
March. The Boston correspondent of a Washington
newspaper wrote that religion was the chief concern
in many cities and towns of New England.
Newspapers everywhere thought the revival was
front page news. Headlines similar to these might
have told the story:
New Haven, Conn.Citys Biggest Church Packed
Twice Daily for Prayer.
Bethel, Conn.Business Shuts Down for Hour Each
Day; Everybody Prays.
Albany, N. Y.State Legislators Get
Down on Knees.
Schenectady, N. Y.Ice on the Mohawk
Broken for Baptisms.
Newark, N. Y.Firemens Meeting Attracts 2,000.
Washington, D. C.Five Prayer Meetings Go Round
New Haven, Conn.Revival Sweeps Yale.
Early in 1858 the revival power poured over the Appalachian
Mountains and into the West. Every major
town fell before itCleveland, Cincinnati,
Detroit, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Chicago, St.
Louis, Omaha and on to the Pacific Coast.
In Chicago, where 2,000 showed up for prayer in
the Metropolitan Theater, a newspaper commented:
[i]So far as the effects of the present religious movement
are concerned, they are apparent to all. They are to be
seen in every walk of life, to be felt in every phase of
society. The merchant, the farmer, the mechanicall
who have been within their influencehave been
incited to better things; to a more orderly and honest
way of life. All have been more or less influenced by
And everywhere, it was a revival of prayer. There
was no hysteria, no unusual disturbances. Just
[i]There is such a general confidence in the prevalence
of prayer, that the people very extensively seemed to
prefer meeting for prayer to meeting for preaching.[/i]
The general impression seemed to be, We have had
instruction until we are hardened; it is time for us to
In a church in the Midwest twenty-five women got
together once a week to pray for their unconverted
husbands. The pastor traveled to the Fulton Street
meeting to testify that on the Sunday he had left the
last of the twenty-five husbands had been received
into the church.
At the very first union prayer meeting held in
Kalamazoo, Michigan, someone put in this request:
A praying wife requests the prayers of this meeting
for her unconverted husband, that he may be converted
and made an humble disciple of the Lord
At once a stout, burly man arose and said, I am
that man. I have a pious, praying wife, and this request
must be for me. I want you to pray for me.
As soon as he sat down, another man got up
and said, I am that man. I have a praying wife.
She prays for me. And now she asked you to pray
for me. I am sure I am that man, and I want you to
pray for me.
Three, four or five or more arose and said, We
want you to pray for us too. That started a revival
that brought at least 500 conversions.
Requests for prayer came to the Fulton Street
meeting from all parts of the country and Europe.
Some were addressed to New Yorks mayor, who
forwarded them to the meeting. A ledger was filled
with the requests. Requests such as this:
[i]For pitys sake, lend me your prayers for a first-born
son. He curses me, his widowed mother; and, with a
demon scowl, has turned his back on me for life... For
Gods sake, pray for Willie that he may be a minister
of Christ. For this I dedicated him before his eyes
opened on this sinful world.[/i]
[i]The prayers of the Christians of the Fulton Street
meeting are earnestly implored by a young lady who
has been once a backslider from God, and who, in the
midst of peculiarly harassing temptations, is now
endeavoring to return fully to her former rest. Do not
do not forget her.[/i]
[i]I am a little girl, and scarcely know how to write to a
perfect stranger on so important a subject. But oh! I
want to be a Christian so much; and I have been
asking God for a long time to make me one, but He has
not answered my prayer yet... I am afraid that I have
not asked Him in the right way.[/i]
[b][i]Prayer Requests Flood In[/i][/b]
These earnest requests weighed deeply on those
who attended the Fulton Street meeting. Some
feared that a kind of superstitious feeling might be
encouraged in those who send these communications
and a sense of self-complacency be engendered
in those who received them.
They feared that the meeting would become the
meeting, the panacea for all spiritual troubles. However,
it was decided that no request could be refused.
All they could do was to pray in humility. A
flood of letters proved that many of their prayers
The revival rolled on into 1859 and 1860. There is
no telling how long it might have lasted if the Civil
War had not broken out. Some writers say that it
carried right through the war. It was maintained
that 150,000 Confederate soldiers were converted
and that at wars end more than one-third of the officers
and soldiers of the Confederate Army were
There is disagreement on how far the revival penetrated
the South. A Methodist bishop reported that
the Southern Methodists gained 43,388 members as
a result of the revival.
When the revival was at high tide through the
nation, it was judged that 50,000 persons a week
were converted. And the number who joined the
churches in 1858 amounted to almost 10 percent of
the countrys total church membership! If the estimate
of one million converts is correct (some say the
number is closer to 300,000), that accounts for onethirtieth
of the total United States population of that
timeand almost all in one year! The revival also
had repercussions in the awakening which swept
the British Isles.
Statistically, the greatest gainers were the Methodist
churches. In 1858 the northern churches received
135,517 new members. Between them, the
northern and southern wings of Methodism garnered
12 percent of their membership from the revival.
The second largest denominational group, the
Baptists, gained 92,243 members in 1858 10 percent
of their total membership. The Presbyterians,
the Congregationalists, the Episcopalians also
How did this revival of 1857-58 compare with
preceding revivals? It may not have had the spiritual
depth of the Great Awakening of 1735 with its theological
overtones. It may not have had the pervading
and longlasting influence on the life of the nation
that the Revival of 1800 had. But certainly it was the
most intense and fastest-spreading of the great revivals.
Three things stand out about this spiritual awakening.
It was a laymens movementalmost entirely. Except
for Finney and a few others, ministers were on
the sidelines. It began an era of lay participation in
the general work of the church, the Sunday
school, and the YMCA.
It was nonsectarian. At the first Fulton Street
meetings, of the six persons present one was a
Baptist, one a Congregationalist, one a member of
the Dutch Reformed Church, and one a Presbyterian.
It was the same thing wherever the revival
struck. Denominational differences were forgotten
in a concern for peoples souls.
As pointed out before, it was a revival of prayer.
Never, since that time, have Americans bowed
before the Lord so unitedly.
What lesson does this revival teach this generation?
Certainly it demonstrates again how God can use
one dedicated life to work out His purposes.
Jeremiah Lanphier is an inspiration to all unsung,
seemingly unappreciated church workers everywhere.
Surprisingly little has been written about
him. He was still connected with the Old Dutch
Church twenty-five years after the meeting was
founded. At that time (1882) someone wrote of him:
[i]Out of that solitary consecration to the service of
Christ, who can tell what results have come?... [He]
has been most richly blessed in personal work with
persons who have attended the service. He quickly
recognizes a stranger, and seems instinctively to know
the man whose heart is sore. Many a visitor has
wondered when he has been greeted and addressed in
words that only a tried soul could fully appreciate,
How do you know that I am in trouble?... Men under
the deepest conviction have come here, and the
missionary [Lanphier] has taken them to his study,
there to pray with them, and to point them to the Lamb
Lanphiers dedication to the work came only after a
struggle and total surrender to God. He testified:
[i]The subject was laid upon my heart, and was a matter
of constant consideration for some time. At last I
resolved to give myself to the work, and I shall never
forget with what force, at the time, those words came
home to my soul:
Tis done, the great transactions done,
I am my Lords, and He is mine;
He drew me, and I followed on,
Charmed to confess the voice divine.[/i]
The Fulton Street prayer meeting became a permanent
institution. It meets today. In September  its onehundredth
anniversary will be commemorated.
The Revival of 1857-58 was the last great national
revival. But it by no means closes the story of
revival in America. Revivals blazed before and after
this awakening. The story of these revivalsin
many respects just as significant in the history of our
nation as the nationwide revivalsmust be told
through the lives of the faithful men of God who labored
throughout the nineteenth century and into
[url=http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/sites/www.cslewisinstitute.org/files/webfm/knowing_doing/RevivalPrayerMeeting.pdf]Revival Born In A Prayer Meeting[/url]