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Friday, June 15, 2012



A treatment of the great epochs of the history of the Christian Church could give the impression that revivals have been limited to these periods. As we move from the Reformation to the Great Awakening we pass through years in which the Spirit of God was mightily at work. The Puritan era as a whole is in effect the result of the Reformation revival. It represents a period of doctrinal application in which the New Testament doctrines of the Reformation were implemented in the life of the Church. The Puritan era (1558-1662) was not without its own more localized revivals. There was the work of God through John Rogers of Dedham in the early seventeenth century, and that amazing regeneration of Kidderminster under Richard Baxter during the years 1647-1660. Scotland had some remarkable visitations in the 1620s and 1630s; at Stewarton under David Dickson, from 1625 onwards; at Kirk o' Shotts under John Livingstone in 1630; and also under the godly ministries of Welsh, Bruce, Blair, Rutherford and others. These were turbulent days, but God was at work subduing sinners under His mighty hand. In Ireland too, especially in 1625, God visited His people and gave 'grace and glory'.

By 1660 the spiritual power of the Puritan revolution seemed spent. Profound changes came over the Church. It was an age of scientific investigation and intellectual enquiry, one in which the fascination of human philosophies began to woo the Church from her true love. The bride of Christ defiled her holy garments. The authority of the Word of God was not denied so much as ignored. Intellectual enquiry in terms of man's reason embarrassed the Church. Failing to realize that the most unreasonable request of human reason is to demand a reason for everything, and rejecting the authority of the Holy Spirit, the Church sought to justify its existence in human terms. But the attempt to prove the supernatural by the natural made the Church seem doubly foolish in the eyes of men. Its authority and prestige was certainly not enhanced.

Apologetics are no substitute for a proclamation of the infallible Word. Bishop Butler failed to stem the tide, and the Boyle lectures fared no better. The age of reason had engulfed the Church in a dark night. Men sought to apprehend God by inference instead of aspiring to commune with Him face to face. He became the necessary conclusion of a series of 'proofs'. This failed to impress the unbelieving mind, and gave no comfort to the devout. It was true that the evidences adduced for Christianity were weighty, but none of them were so powerful as the "demonstration of the Spirit" by which sinners had been convicted and convinced in days of revival. Even the unbeliever expects a supernatural authentication of a divine message. In the age of reason God withheld it. A moral theology of lofty dimensions was developed, but law proved no substitute for grace. Frequent appeals to what were called 'natural laws' as evidence of the Creator's wisdom only served to encourage man in the notion that the world could manage very well without Him. Deism was the apologetic of spiritual death, and had no power to impart resurrection life. The evident reasonableness of Christianity failed to persuade the darkened minds of a fallen humanity.

Such was the apostacy of the Church before the Great Awakening: revelation had been rejected in favour of reason; the supernatural had given way to the natural. The familiar biblical principles were only too well illustrated. The unbelief of the Church had placed her under the shadow of God's wrath once more. Calvinism was in eclipse. A theology of absolute dependence upon God is unpalatable in a day of absolute dependence upon man. Rationalism reigned and the Church bowed admiringly before the prestige of the Cambridge Platonists, the Latitudinarians, John Lock and others. The Deists did not deny that this was God's world; they believed in God, as an irrelevancy. The new generation of scientists unlike their predecessors had departed from the faith. A book published in 1696 by John Toland bore a title which accurately defined the state of the Church not only in England but also on the Continent and in the New World: 'Christianity Not Mysterious'.

The effect of rationalism and Deism proved disastrous. The Churches were poorly attended and the common people lost all interest. They had neither the taste nor education for the intricacies of human philosophy. So they became ignorant and immoral; and in England the gulf between the poor and rich widened with alarming prospects of civil war. The upper-class were casually indifferent to the needs of the working classes. The clergy were friends of the pleasure seeking rich and had little inclination to spend time or effort on the poor. Such was the condition of England between 1700 and 1739. Violence and lawlessness was rampant and few ventured out after dark unless they were armed. They were a few godly Evangelical preachers such as Doctors Watts, Guyse, and Doddridge, but these men were themselves affected in some measure by the philosophical and Deistic climate of their day. God's favour was withdrawn, the people were given up to their sins, and many thought, as the Deists taught, that God had left the world to continue in its own ways.

When everything appeared hopeless God acted. He delights to demonstrate His power when man is at the end of his resources, "that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." God worked in a most wonderful way on the Continent, in the British Isles and in the New World. One is staggered by the breadth and variety of the manifestations of His power. The whole world which God so greatly loves began to feel the tremor of His quickenings.

In Germany the movement of the Spirit became evident in the Moravian fellowship, especially at Herrnhut from 1727 onwards. The mighty outpouring of the Spirit in Northampton in 1734 under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards ushered in an era of revivals in which North America rejoiced for twenty-five years. The work of David Brainerd from 1745 onwards with the Red Indians, over whom he had wept tears of love, "was an amazing season of 'power' among them, and seemed as if God had 'bowed the heavens and come down'. So astonishingly prevalent was the operation upon old as well as young that it seemed as if none would be left in a secure and natural state, but that God was now about to convert 'all the world'. I was ready to think 'then', that I should never again despair of the conversion of any man or woman living, be they who or 'what' they would".¹ Such was Brainerd's testimony to 'the day of God's power'.

France and Holland also experienced times of refreshing in the mid-eighteenth century. John Gillies² records extracts from letters of a Dutch pastor, G. Kuypers, who tells of the Work of God in Holland from 1750-54. Writing about the beginning of the work in Niewkerk he observed: "The houses were filled with prayers and supplications. I was sent for from all comers, and my own house was continually full of such as come anxiously enquiring for counsel and direction in their miserable state. When in the evenings, or in the silent night, we were walking along the streets, everywhere was heard the voice of prayer of these mourning doves; or of psalms and praise, in the houses where formerly nothing was heard but profaneness, carnal mirth, and wicked noise. But not to lengthen out the account needlessly, it is enough to tell you that the number of those who were desirous of salvation increased daily; amongst which were some of all kinds and ages. Some boys and girls; a great many youths; men and women in the flower of their age; and also persons far advanced in years."

The dark night of Deism and nationalism in England was broken by the dawn of the Evangelical Awakening in 1739. The manner in which God raised up His servants, George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers is well known. Instruments of divine power must first themselves be touched with the burning coal from off the holy altar. God's work through these men in turning multitudes from ungodliness and unrighteousness was such that the history of England would have been vastly different if He had left the land to continue in its own unbelieving ways. Historians readily admit that the Evangelical Awakening saved our land almost certainly from bloodshed and civil war. The extent of the Awakening and the number of divinely anointed men used to further the Gospel is not always fully appreciated due to the concentration of interest in Whitefield and Wesley. William Grimshaw of Haworth in a letter written to the Rev. John Gillies in 1754 gives a most interesting and concise survey of the movement of the Spirit in the North of England. The letter was published by Gillies in his 'Historical Collections'³ on revivals of religion and is printed at the end of this article on account of its value.

Powerful movements of the Spirit took place in Scotland and some of the most memorable were those in Nigg parish under John Balfour from 1730-39, in Cambuslang 1742, and in Kilsyth 1740. Wales was especially favoured, and the names of men like Howell Harris, Griffith Jones, Daniel Rowland, Thomas Charles and others come to mind. The quickenings of spiritual life began in 1735, and a feature of the work of God in Wales was the large number of local revivals with which God blessed His people

More in two or three days.

Sam Drucker


1. Works of Jonathan Edwards, 1834. Vol.2, p.404.
2. Historical Collections, 1845, pp.497-501.
3. ibid. pp.506-508.

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