It is a historic fact that God has brought redemption to great amounts of people through revival. Here is just a brief outline of revival in history.
Revival in the Old Testament. Revival through the Old Testament was always on-and-off. In the days of the judges, periods of spiritual decline would be followed by seasons of quickening. In the days of the kings, revival swept across the land of Israel under David and Solomon. Then, after the nation was split, no revival at all was seen in northern Israel, but in Judah revival came to some degree under Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah as they turned the people to the Lord.
Sadly, Judah again, with Israel, backslid into idolatry and God sent them into judgment by the hand of the Babylonians. Then once again God sent revival, this time through Nehemiah and Ezra; they led the people back to their land to restore Jerusalem and the Temple, and they taught the people God’s ways (Ezra 7:10).
Revival in the New Testament. The New Testament period is all about Jesus. He brought revival to the people of His day and remains the basis of revival throughout the rest of the history of the world. (Read Isaiah 61:1 ff. and observe the revival Jesus was sent to give us.)
Revival from Pentecost to the present. After several days of faithful and continuous prayer (Acts 1:14), the church was born in revival fire at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4), which was then, and has continued to be the sole work of the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, as members of the church have continued throughout history to pray for revival, the Holy Spirit has been at work to bring it.
Revival in the church age has been much like revival in the Old Testament: there is a period of decline followed by a period of revival. And though there have always been small pockets of revival here and there, we have also seen larger and much more visible waves of revival. Wesley Duewel has suggested that there have been four such waves.
John Wesley and George Whitefield led the first wave, along with other preachers such as Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, Samuel Davies in Virginia, and Jonathan Edwards. This movement of about thirty years long, from 1726 to about 1756, brought about 40,000 people to Christ forming 150 new churches in the New England states alone. Thousands more came to Christ in the southern and middle colonies.
The second large wave of revival was led by Charles Finney, which continued from 1821 till 1840. This period of revival, though perhaps shorter in length, was more extensive then the first wave probably because, under Finney’s leadership, it was more organized. For Finney had proven ways of promoting revival; and he, in fact, published a book in 1834 entitled Lectures on Revivals of Religion, which spelled out these proven ways. Later, in 1846, his Lectures on Systematic Theology was published, presenting a theology of revival. His many methods of revival soon came to be widely accepted and copied; and he led many followers who successfully put his methods to work.
After reading about Charles Finney I can’t tell you how impressed I became with his great leadership and influence. He would ride into a town, hold a few meetings, and nearly the entire town was saved. Sometimes after speaking in a church the people would be under such conviction of sin that they would all break down and weep. Charles Finney was so used by the Holy Spirit that sometimes, by merely passing by, people would see him and be moved to repent.
From about 1840 to 1858 there was a period of spiritual decline. Then from 1858 to 1859 a nationwide revival swept into the churches. “Daily prayer meetings, often at unusual hours, and lay leadership were features of this great peak in revival history.”
The fourth wave of revival was from 1904 to 1909. Says Duewel, “… [This period of revival] was probably preceded by prayer and hunger on a more international scale than any previous revival. God’s blessing was poured out in more nations than in any previous revival movement.” It began in Wales under the prayers and leadership of Evan Roberts, where some 100,000 were converted within 6 months. Eventually the revival fire touched England, Ireland and the United States. It leaped over to India, had an effect in South Africa, and was preparatory to all missionary work in South America.
Since 1909 there has not been such sweeping revivals as these four just mentioned, however, there have been many smaller evidences of revival forces scattered here and there, which taken together has made up a mighty and effective force for God.
Here are some of the areas where God has been at work to bring revival:
1. In the last ninety years God has given us several great evangelists such as Billy Graham whom He has used to awaken masses of people to the gospel. The response to the presented gospel has demonstrated that people are definitely hungry for God.
2. The work of the Gideons and of various national Bible Societies in the distribution of Bibles has been accepted enthusiastically all around the world, which gives evidence that people everywhere, are hungry for God’s Word and for revival.
3. In the last eighty years or so, when the church seemed to be somewhat lacking to bring revival, God went to work and raised up several para-church groups such as The Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ, Intervarsity, Young Life, Youth for Christ International and Youth With a Mission. These groups have proven to be a powerful force in evangelism and discipleship, especially among the youth.
4. Some local churches have also in recent years been at work to promote evangelism and revival. Such efforts as Evangelism Explosion, began in 1967 by D. James Kennedy, have proved to be a great resource to help people witness for Christ.
5. Missionaries are continuing to labor as servants in Bible translation, evangelism, and discipleship. Without the work of the Christian missionary, revival would simply be nonexistent. Furthermore, the reason why the world has not seen more revival and the sweeping revivals of the seventeen and eighteen hundreds, is because there has not been as much missionary effort and not as much prayer. Thus, the more missionary service we bring and the more prayer we offer the more revival God will bring.
6. The Holy Spirit has been at work in many Colleges and Universities. A recent article I read, in Herald of His Coming, by David T. Perry, tells all about a revival that broke out on February 3, 1970, in a regular chapel service at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky. On this day, the dean of academics was scheduled to preach, but he felt God directing him to open the time for students to witness for Christ. Well, as David T. Perry wrote, “When the chapel was about half over, God walked in!” The chapel service continued, not for its usual fifty-five minutes, but for seven days and seven nights without a break. People kept coming to the auditorium from all over the state of Kentucky to see what was happening; God touched all who entered and many were saved.
This post is an excerpt from my book Purpose of Prayer.