The first great revival of Christian history had its origin on the human side in a
ten-days prayer-meeting. We read of that handful of disciples, These all with one
accord continued steadfastly in prayer. (Acts 1:14, R.V.) The result of that prayermeeting
we read of in the 2nd chapter of the Acts of the Apostles,
They were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues,
as the Spirit gave them utterance. (v.4) Further on in the chapter we read that there
were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls. (v.41,R.V.) This
revival proved genuine and permanent. The converts continued steadfastly in the
apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers.
(v.42,R.V.) And the Lord added to them day by day those that were being
Every true revival from that day to this has had its earthly origin in prayer. The
great revival under Jonathan Edwards in the
18th century began with his famous call to prayer. The marvelous work of grace
among the Indians under Brainerd had its origin in the days and nights that Brainerd
spent before God in prayer for an enduement of power from on high for this work.
A most remarkable and widespread display of Gods reviving power was that
which broke out at Rochester, New York, in 1830, under the labors of Charles G.
Finney. It not only spread throughout the State but ultimately to Great Britain as
well. Mr. Finney himself attributed the power of this work to the spirit of prayer
that prevailed. He describes it in his autobiography in the following words:
When I was on my way to Rochester, as we passed through a village, some
thirty miles east of Rochester, a brother minister whom I knew, seeing me on the
canal-boat, jumped aboard to have a little conversation with me, intending to ride
but a little way and return. He, however, became interested in conversation, and
upon finding where I was going, he made up his mind to keep on and go with me
to Rochester. We had been there but a few days when this minister became so
convinced that he could not help weeping aloud at one time as we passed along the
street. The Lord gave him a powerful spirit of prayer, and his heart was broken. As
he and I prayed together, I was struck with his faith in regard to what the Lord was
going to do there. I recollect he would say, Lord, I do not know how it is; but I
seem to know that Thou art going to do a great work in this city. The spirit of prayer
was poured out powerfully, so much so that some persons stayed away from the
public services to pray, being unable to restrain their feelings under preaching.
And here I must introduce the name of a man, whom I shall have occasion to
mention frequently, Mr. Abel Clary. He was the son of a very excellent man, and
an elder of the church where I was converted. He was converted in the same revival
in which I was. He had been licensed to preach; but his spirit of prayer was such,
he was so burdened with the souls of men, that he was not able to preach much, his
whole time and strength being given to prayer. The burden of his soul would
frequently be so great that he was unable to stand, and he would writhe and groan
in agony. I was well acquainted with him, and knew something of the wonderful spirit of prayer that was upon him. He was a very silent man, as almost all are who
have that powerful spirit of prayer.
The first I knew of his being in Rochester, a gentleman who lived about a mile
west of the city, called on me one day and asked me if I knew a Mr. Abel Clary, a
minister. I told him that I knew him well. Well, he said, he is at my house, and
has been there for some time, and I dont know what to think of him. I said, I have
not seen him at any of our meetings. No, he replied, he cannot go to meeting, he
says. He prays nearly all the time, day and night, and in such agony of mind that I
do not know what to make of it. Sometimes he cannot even stand on his knees, but
will lie prostrate on the floor, and groan and pray in a manner that quite astonishes
me. I said to the brother, I understand it: please keep still. It will all come out right;
he will surely prevail.
I knew at the time a considerable number of men who were exercised in the
same way. A Deacon P-, of Camden, Oneida county; a Deacon T-, of Rodman,
Jefferson county; a Deacon B-, of Adams, in the same county; this Mr. Clary and
many others among the men, and a large number of women partook of the same
spirit, and spent a great part of their time in prayer. Father Nash, as we called him,
who in several of my fields of labor came to me and aided me, was another of those
men that had such a powerful spirit of prevailing prayer. This Mr. Clary continued
in Rochester as long as I did, and did not leave it until after I had left. He never, that
I could learn, appeared in public, but gave himself wholly to prayer.
I think it was the second Sabbath that I was at Auburn at this time, I observed
in the congregation the solemn face of Mr. Clary. He looked as if he was borne down
with an agony of prayer. Being well acquainted with him, and knowing the great
gift of God that was upon him, the spirit of prayer, I was very glad to see him there.
He sat in the pew with his brother, the doctor, who was also a professor of religion,
but who had nothing by experience, I should think, of his brother Abels great power
At intermission, as soon as I came down from the pulpit, Mr. Clary, with his
brother, met me at the pulpit stairs, and the doctor invited me to go home with him
and spend the intermission and get some refreshments. I did so.
After arriving at his house we were soon summoned to the dinner table. We
gathered about the table, and Dr. Clary turned to his brother and said, Brother Abel,
will you ask the blessing? Brother Abel bowed his head and began, audibly, to ask
a blessing. He had uttered but a sentence or two when he broke instantly down,
moved suddenly back from the table, and fled to his chamber. The doctor supposed
he had been taken suddenly ill, and rose up and followed him. In a few moments he
came down and said, Mr. Finney, brother Abel wants to see you. Said I, What
ails him? Said he,
I do not know but he says, you know. He appears in great distress, but I think
it is the state of his mind. I understood it in a moment, and went to his room. He
lay groaning upon the bed, the Spirit making intercession for him, and in him, with
groanings that could not be uttered. I had barely entered the room, when he made
out to say, Pray, brother Finney. I knelt down and helped him in prayer, by leading his soul out for the conversion of sinners. I continued to pray until his distress passed
away, and then I returned to the dinner table.
I understood that this was the voice of God. I saw the spirit of prayer was upon
him, and I felt his influence upon myself, and took it for granted that the work would move on powerfully. It did so. The pastor told me afterward that he found that in
the six weeks that I was there, five hundred souls had been converted.
Mr. Finney in his lectures on revivals tells of other remarkable awakenings in
answer to the prayers of Gods people. He says in one place, A clergyman in
Wn told me of a revival among his people, which commenced with a zealous
and devoted woman in the church. She became anxious about sinners, and went to
praying for them; she prayed, and her distress increased; and she finally came to her
minister, and talked with him, and asked him to appoint an anxious meeting, for she
felt that one was needed. The minister put her off, for he felt nothing of it. The next
week she came again, and besought him to appoint an anxious meeting, she knew
there would be somebody to come, for she felt as if God was going to pour out His
Spirit. He put her off again. And finally she said to him, If you do not appoint an
anxious meeting I shall die, for there is certainly going to be a revival. The next
Sabbath he appointed a meeting, and said that if there were any who wished to
converse with him about the salvation of their souls, he would meet them on such
an evening. He did not know of one, but when he went to the place, to his
astonishment he found a large number of anxious inquirers.
In still another place he says, The first ray of light that broke in upon the
midnight which rested on the churches in Oneida county, in the fall of 1825, was
from a woman in feeble health, who, I believe had never been in a powerful revival.
Her soul was exercised about sinners. She was in agony for the land. She did not
know what ailed her, but she kept praying more and more, till it seemed as if her
agony would destroy her body. At length she became full of joy and exclaimed,
God has come! God has come! There is no mistake about it, the work is begun, and
is going over all the region! And sure enough the work began, and her family were
almost all converted, and the work spread all over that part of the country.
The great revival of 1857 in the United States began in prayer and was carried
on by prayer more than by anything else. Dr. Cuyler in an article in a religious
newspaper some years ago said,
Most revivals have humble beginnings, and the fire starts in a few warm hearts.
Never despise the day of small things. During all my own long ministry, nearly
every work of grace had a similar beginning. One commenced in a meeting gathered
at a few hours notice in a private house. Another commenced in a group gathered
for Bible study by Mr. Moody in our mission chapel. Still anotherthe most powerful
of allwas kindled on a bitter January evening at a meeting of young Christians
under my roof. Dr. Spencer, in his
Pastors Sketches, (the most suggestive book of its kind I have ever read), tells
us that a remarkable revival in his church sprang from the fervent prayers of a godly
old man who was confined to his room by lameness. That profound Christian, Dr.
Thomas H. Skinner, of the Union Theological Seminary, once gave me an account of a remarkable coming together of three earnest men in his study when he was the
pastor of the Arch Street Church in Philadelphia. They literally wrestled in prayer.
They made a clean breast in confession of sin, and humbled themselves before God.
One and another church officer came in and joined them. The heaven-kindled flame
soon spread through the whole congregation in one of the most powerful revivals
ever known in that city.
In the early part of the seventeenth century there was a great religious awakening
in Ulster, Ireland. The lands of the rebel chiefs which had been forfeited to the British crown, were settled up by a class of colonists who for the most part were governed
by a spirit of wild adventure. Real piety was rare. Seven ministers, five from Scotland
and two from England, settled in that country, the earliest arrivals being in 1613.
Of one of these ministers named Blair it is recorded by a contemporary, He spent
many days and nights in prayer, alone and with others, and was vouchsafed great
intimacy with God. Mr. James Glendenning, a man of very meager natural gifts,
was a man similarly minded as regards prayer. The work began under this man
Glendenning. The historian of the time says, He was a man who never would have
been chosen by a wise assembly of ministers nor sent to begin a reformation in this
land. Yet this was the Lords choice to begin with him the admirable work of God
which I mention on purpose that all may see how the glory is only the Lords in
making a holy nation in this profane land, and that it was not by might, nor by
power, nor by mans wisdom, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord. In his preaching
at Oldstone multitudes of hearers felt in great anxiety and terror of conscience. They
looked on themselves as altogether lost and damned, and cried out,
Men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved? They were stricken into a
swoon by the power of His Word. A dozen in one day were carried out of doors as
dead. These were not women, but some of the boldest spirits of the neighborhood;
some who had formerly feared not with their swords to put a whole market town
into a fray. Concerning one of them, then a mighty strong man, now a mighty
Christian, say that his end in coming into church was to consult with his companions
how to work some mischief.
This work spread throughout the whole country. By the year
1626 a monthly concert of prayer was held in Antrim. The work spread beyond
the bounds of Down and Antrim to the churches of the neighboring counties. So
great became the religious interest that Christians would come thirty or forty miles
to the communions, and continue from the time they came until they returned without
wearying or making use of sleep. Many of them neither ate nor drank, and yet some
of them professed that they went away most fresh and vigorous, their souls so filled
with the sense of God.
This revival changed the whole character of northern Ireland.
Another great awakening in Ireland in 1859 had a somewhat similar origin. By
many who did not know, it was thought that this marvelous work came without
warning and preparation, but Rev. William Gibson, the moderator of the General
Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in 1860, in his very interesting and
valuable history of the work tells how there had been preparation for two years. There had been constant discussion in the General Assembly of the low estate of
religion, and of the need of a revival. There had been special sessions for prayer.
Finally four young men, who became leaders in the origin of the great work, began
to meet together in an old schoolhouse in the neighborhood of Kells. About the
1858 a work of power began to manifest itself. It spread from town to town, and
from county to county. The congregations became too large for the buildings, and
the meetings were held in the open air, oftentimes attended by many thousands of
people. Many hundreds of persons were frequently convicted of sin in a single
meeting. In some places the criminal courts and jails were closed for lack of
occupation. There were manifestations of the Holy Spirits power of a most
remarkable character, clearly proving that the Holy Spirit is as ready to work to-day
as in apostolic days, when ministers and Christians really believe in Him and begin to prepare the way by prayer.
Mr. Moodys wonderful work in England and Scotland and Ireland that afterwards
spread to America had its origin on the manward side in prayer. Mr. Moody made
little impression until men and women began to cry to God. Indeed his going to
England at all was in answer to the importunate cries to God of a bed-ridden saint.
While the spirit of prayer continued the revival abode in strength, but in the course
of time less and less was made of prayer and the work fell off very perceptibly in
power. Doubtless one of the great secrets of the unsatisfactoriness and superficiality
and unreality of many of our modern so-called revivals, is that more dependence is
put upon mans machinery than upon Gods power, sought and obtained by earnest,
persistent, believing prayer. We live in a day characterized by the multiplication of
mans machinery and the diminution of Gods power. The great cry of our day is
work, work, work, new organizations, new methods, new machinery; the great need
of our day is prayer. It was a master stroke of the devil when he got the church so
generally to lay aside this mighty weapon of prayer. The devil is perfectly willing
that the church should multiply its organizations, and deftly contrive machinery for
the conquest of the world for Christ if it will only give up praying. He laughs as he
looks at the church to-day and says to himself:
You can have your Sunday-schools and your Young Peoples Societies, your
Young Mens Christian Associations and your Womens Christian Temperance
Unions, your Institutional Churches and your Industrial Schools, and your Boys
Brigades, your grand choirs and your fine organs, your brilliant preachers and your
revival efforts too, if you dont bring the power of Almighty God into them by
earnest, persistent, believing, mighty prayer.
Prayer could work as marvelous results today as it ever could, if the church
would only betake itself to it.
There seem to be increasing signs that the church is awakening to this fact. Here
and there God is laying upon individual ministers and churches a burden of prayer
that they have never known before. Less dependence is being put upon machinery
and more dependence upon God. Ministers are crying to God day and night for
power. Churches and portions of churches are meeting together in the early morning hours and the late night hours crying to God for the latter rain. There is every
indication of the coming of a mighty and widespread revival. There is every reason
why, if a revival should come in any country at this time, it should be more
widespread in its extent than any revival of history. There is the closest and swiftest
communication by travel, by letter, and by cable between all parts of the world. A
true fire of God kindled in America would soon spread to the uttermost parts of the
earth. The only thing needed to bring this fire is prayer.
It is not necessary that the whole church get to praying to begin with. Great
revivals always begin first in the hearts of a few men and women whom God arouses
by His Spirit to believe in Him as a living God, as a God who answers prayer, and
upon whose heart He lays a burden from which no rest can be found except in
importunate crying unto God.
May God use this book to arouse many others to pray that the greatly-needed
revival may come, and come speedily.
LET US PRAY