FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS,
volume 13, number 20, May 15, 2014
Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me, Psalm 50:15.
After the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658 the Puritan Commonwealth quickly began to unravel. Oliver’s son, Richard, was made the Lord Protector in place of his father, but he lacked the leadership skill of Oliver and lasted only nine months in that role. The Puritan army was not behind him. The pro-royalist populace saw an opening and quickly brought back Charles II from exile. He was restored to the throne in 1660 and quickly began to undermine the Puritan revolution. He was, perhaps at even this early stage, a closet Roman Catholic; and he sought to bring his subjects in Presbyterian Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as in England and Wales into conformity with the Book of Common Prayer. This was the so-called Act of Uniformity of 1662. Charles demanded that the churches acknowledge him as head of the church. None of the Puritan pastors would submit to such a requirement. Consequently Charles II had them removed from their pulpits in August,1662. Two thousand preachers lost their jobs and livelihood. Presbyterians in Scotland bore the brunt of much of the persecution. This suffering and persecution reached its zenith after the death of Charles II in February,1685. Within a few days Roman Catholic James II, brother of Charles II, was made king. He immediately began a severe persecution of the Covenanters in Scotland. The Covenanters were highly principled and patriotic Scottish Presbyterians who had supported the Puritans of England against the Royalists. They had earlier in 1643 signed the Solemn League and Covenant, which swore them to fidelity to the Westminster Confession of Faith (the Westminster Assembly met from 1643 to 1647). Now, less than forty years later, James II was zealous in eradicating the mortal enemy of Romanism. The Killing Times, as the Covenanters called them, while beginning in the early 1660’s, reached its zenith at the coronation of James II in February 1685. By the fall of that year at least 13,000 Presbyterians had been murdered by James II and his armies.
And yet the Covenanters did not become bitter. They gave themselves over to prayer, asking God to remember them, to keep His covenant and lovingkindness forever. Most of those living in 1685 never saw a true revival, but they prayed for one nonetheless. Fifty years later in January, 1735, in Northampton, Massachusetts, thirty-two year old Jonathan Edwards began to notice that the town folk had a much greater awareness of sin and eternity. When a notorious and scandalous woman was soundly converted people were amazed. Many more like her also called on the name of the Lord. Even Sarah, Jonathan’s wife, was deeply impacted by the preaching, and was enabled to overcome her propensity for “melancholy”. The conversions kept coming for the first half of 1735, as many as twelve to fifteen per week. So many, in fact, that an observer wondered if all of Northampton had been converted.
Meanwhile in England, young George Whitefield of Oxford University, a contemporary of John and Charles Wesley, all three being members of the despised “Holy Club” as they were mockingly called, was experiencing an emotional and physical breakdown. The twice per week fastings, the restricted diet, the hard core regimen to which he and the Wesleys submitted themselves, had finally taken its toll. Whitefield was in bed for six months. Finally in the spring of 1735 “the light” went on. He saw that salvation was fully of grace, and he called on the name of the Lord. His soul and guilty conscience were set free. Almost immediately he began to preach and England had never heard anything like it. He had the “anointing” of the Holy Spirit on him. To be sure Whitefield had amazing natural, oratorical gifts, but these alone are not the secret to his power. As Arnold Dallimore has observed, ” . . . the set time had come and in raising up Whitefield, God had granted upon him and his ministry ‘a mighty effusion of the Holy Ghost,’ and it was this, the Divine power, which was the first secret of his success.” At the same time in Wales twenty-one year old Howell Harris, a school teacher was converted after hearing the preaching of Pryce Davies. A few weeks before, in announcing a communion the service the following week, Harris’ pastor said, “Some of you choose not to attend church when we observe communion, and that’s because you are not ready for communion, and if you are not ready for communion then you are not ready to live, and if you are not ready to live then you are not ready to die.” God used this powerfully to move Harris to the Savior. And at almost the identical time as Whitefield and Harris, Daniel Rowland, a young preacher, was also converted by the preaching of Griffith Jones. Whitefield, Harris, and Rowland were all mighty instruments of the Great Awakening in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. So, fifty years after the “killing times” the prayers of the saints were heard in a powerful fashion.
In 1857 the Dutch Church on Fulton Street in Manhattan, near Wall Street, had fallen on hard times. Most of the church members had relocated to other parts of the city and the membership was in severe decline. Fifty-six year old businessman, Jeremiah Lanphier, was deeply burdened for his home church and sought to do something about it. He began to go door to door around the church, inviting people to church and seeking to evangelize them. After a few weeks Lanphier was severely exhausted and discouraged. He finally realized that all he could do was pray. So he printed flyers and distributed them in the neighborhood, announcing a one hour Wednesday prayer meeting from noon to 1 p.m., beginning September 23, 1857. At noon on the 23rd Lanphier waited for people to join him for prayer. No one came at first, but then, at 12:30 p.m. five people showed up. They prayed for thirty minutes and went back to work at 1 p.m. They agreed to meet the next week as well. On September 30 around ten people came. They were encouraged. On August 30 the bubble of the stock market had burst and consequently forty thousand men in New York City were out of work. The people were desperate. By early October Lanphier sensed that God was up to something significant so the people agreed to meet daily to pray for revival, confessing sin, asking for conversions, and the comforting presence of the Spirit on those who were without work. Soon the revival prayer movement spread to many others churches in New York City. At least ten thousand people were gathering daily to pray. By November thousands were praying daily in Philadelphia, then Boston, then throughout the United States. At one point an estimated 10,000 per week were being converted. Historians believe one million people came to Christ as a result of this revival. As only one example, in 1857 the Trinity Episcopal Church, Chicago, had one hundred members. Two years later there were twelve hundred members. The revival jumped the Atlantic Ocean and did a mighty work in Wales and the Glens of Antrim in Northern Ireland. It lasted until 1863, sweeping through the Southern armies of the Confederacy, with vast numbers of conversions in the Army of Northern Virginia commanded by Robert E. Lee.
What is the common denominator in these mighty movements of God? Clearly the answer is revival prayer. The people were desperate. They could no longer bear their circumstances. Instead of grumbling against God’s providence, instead of looking to personalities or celebrities as we are want to do, they humbled themselves under the mighty hand of God. They called on the name of the Lord. They were in trouble and they knew it. They called on the Lord in their day of trouble and He heard them, delivering them. They, in turn, glorified Yahweh, proclaiming His excellencies to all who would listen.
Spending two days recently street preaching with twenty of my brothers in the Lord at Churchill Downs in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby, and seeing the depravity and debauchery of so many there, was another not so subtle reminder that our task is an impossible one. None seek for God. All have turned aside. There is none righteous, not even one . . . There is no fear of God before their eyes. Our gospel is veiled to the unbelieving. We are to shine the light into the darkness but only the Holy Spirit’s convicting, arresting, and converting power will do. Only the Spirit, through faithful, fervent, and anointed preaching will awaken people from their deathly slide into perdition. Ask, and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and the door shall be opened to you.
1. George Whitefield: The Life and Times of the Great Evangelist of the Eighteenth Century Revival,
Volume One, Arnold Dallimore, Banner of Truth Trust, page 117.