(Dr J. Edwin Orr was a leading scholar of revivals who published
detailed books about evangelical awakenings. His research
discovered major spiritual awakenings about every fifty years
following the great awakening...)
Dr A. T. Pierson once said, 'There has never been a spiritual
awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united
prayer.' Let me recount what God has done through concerted,
united, sustained prayer.
Not many people realize that in the wake of the American
Revolution (following 1776-1781) there was a moral slump.
Drunkenness became epidemic. Out of a population of five
million, 300,000 were confirmed drunkards; they were burying
fifteen thousand of them each year. Profanity was of the most
shocking kind. For the first time in the history of the American
settlement, women were afraid to go out at night for fear of
assault. Bank robberies were a daily occurrence.
The Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote to
the Bishop of Virginia, James Madison, that the Church 'was too
far gone ever to be redeemed.' Voltaire averred and Tom Paine
echoed, 'Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years.
Take the liberal arts colleges at that time. A poll taken at Harvard
had discovered not one believer in the whole student body. They
took a poll at Princeton, a much more evangelical place, where
they discovered only two believers in the student body, and only
five that did not belong to the filthy speech movement of that day.
Students rioted. They held a mock communion at Williams
College, and they put on antiChristian plays at Dartmouth. They
burned down the Nassau Hall at Princeton. They forced the
resignation of the president of Harvard. They took a Bible out of
a local Presbyterian church in New Jersey, and they burnt it in
a public bonfire. Christians were so few on campus in the 1790's
that they met in secret, like a communist cell, and kept their
minutes in code so that no one would know.
How did the situation change? It came through a concert of prayer.
There was a Scottish Presbyterian minister in Edinburgh named
John Erskine, who published a Memorial (as he called it) pleading
with the people of Scotland and elsewhere to unite in prayer for
the revival of religion. He sent one copy of this little book to
Jonathan Edwards in New England. The great theologian was so
moved he wrote a response which grew longer than a letter, so
that finally he published it is a book entitled 'A Humble Attempt
to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of all God's
People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the
Advancement of Christ's Kingdom on Earth, pursuant to Scripture
Promises and Prophecies...'
Is not this what is missing so much from all our evangelistic efforts:
explicit agreement, visible unity, unusual prayer?
This movement had started in Britain through William Carey,
Andrew Fuller and John Sutcliffe and other leaders who began
what the British called the Union of Prayer. Hence, the year after
John Wesley died (he died in 1791), the second great awakening
began and swept Great Britain.
In New England, there was a man of prayer named Isaac Backus,
a Baptist pastor, who in 1794, when conditions were at their worst,
addressed an urgent plea for prayer for revival to pastors of every
Christian denomination in the United States.
Churches knew that their backs were to the wall. All the churches
adopted the plan until America, like Britain was interlaced with
a network of prayer meetings, which set aside the first Monday
of each month to pray. It was not long before revival came.
When the revival reached the frontier in Kentucky, it encountered
a people really wild and irreligious. Congress had discovered that
in Kentucky there had not been more than one court of justice
held in five years. Peter Cartwright, Methodist evangelist, wrote
that when his father had settled in Logan County, it was known
as Rogue's Harbour. The decent people in Kentucky formed
regiments of vigilantes to fight for law and order, then fought a
pitched battle with outlaws and lost.
There was a ScotchIrish Presbyterian minister named James
McGready whose chief claim to fame was that he was so ugly
that he attracted attention. McGready settled in Logan County,
pastor of three little churches. He wrote in his diary that the
winter of 1799 for the most part was 'weeping and mourning
with the people of God.' Lawlessness prevailed everywhere.
McGready was such a man of prayer that not only did he promote
the concert of prayer every first Monday of the month, but he got
his people to pray for him at sunset on Saturday evening and
sunrise Sunday morning. Then in the summer of 1800 come the
great Kentucky revival. Eleven thousand people came to a
communion service. McGready hollered for help, regardless of denomination.
Out of that second great awakening, came the whole modern
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon