Many Christian revivals drew inspiration from the missionary work of early monks, from the Protestant Reformation (and Catholic Reformation) and from the uncompromising stance of the Covenanters in 17th century Scotland and Ulster, that came to Virginia and Pennsylvania with Presbyterians and other non-conformists. Its character formed part of the mental framework that led to the American War of Independence and the Civil War.
The 18th century Age of Enlightenment had a chilling effect on spiritual movements, but this was countered by the Methodist revival of John Wesley, Charles Wesley and George Whitefield in England and Daniel Rowland, Howel Harris and William Williams, Pantycelyn in Wales and the Great Awakening in America prior to the Revolution. A similar (but smaller scale) revival in Scotland took place at Cambuslang, then a village and is known as the Cambuslang Work.
A new fervor spread within the Anglican Church at the end of the century, when the Evangelical party of John Newton, William Wilberforce and his Clapham sect were inspired to combat social ills at home and slavery abroad, and founded Bible and missionary societies.
In the American colonies the First Great Awakening was a wave of religious enthusiasm among Protestants that swept the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s, leaving a permanent impact on American religion. It resulted from powerful preaching that deeply affected listeners (already church members) with a deep sense of personal guilt and salvation by Christ. Pulling away from ritual and ceremony, the Great Awakening made religion intensely personal to the average person by creating a deep sense of spiritual guilt and redemption. Historian Sydney E. Ahlstrom sees it as part of a “great international Protestant upheaval” that also created Pietism in Germany, the Evangelical Revival and Methodism in England. It brought Christianity to the slaves and was an apocalyptic event in New England that challenged established authority. It incited rancor and division between the old traditionalists who insisted on ritual and doctrine and the new revivalists. It had a major impact in reshaping the Congregational, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, and German Reformed denominations, and strengthened the small Baptist and Methodist denominations. It had little impact on Anglicans and Quakers. Unlike the Second Great Awakening that began about 1800 and which reached out to the unchurched, the First Great Awakening focused on people who were already church members. It changed their rituals, their piety, and their self-awareness.
The new style of sermons and the way people practiced their faith breathed new life into religion in America. People became passionately and emotionally involved in their religion, rather than passively listening to intellectual discourse in a detached manner. Ministers who used this new style of preaching were generally called “new lights”, while the preachers of old were called “old lights”. People began to study the Bible at home, which effectively decentralized the means of informing the public on religious matters and was akin to the individualistic trends present in Europe during the Protestant Reformation.
United States 1800–1850
In the U.S. the Second Great Awakening (1800–30s) was the second great religious revival in United States history and consisted of renewed personal salvation experienced in revival meetings. Major leaders included Asahel Nettleton, James Brainerd Taylor, Charles Grandison Finney, Lyman Beecher, Barton Stone, Alexander Campbell, Peter Cartwright and James B. Finley.
Rev. Charles Finney (1792–1875) was a key leader of the evangelical revival movement in America. From 1821 onwards he conducted revival meetings across many north-eastern states and won many converts. For him, a revival was not a miracle but a change of mindset that was ultimately a matter for the individual’s free will. His revival meetings created anxiety in a penitent’s mind that one could only save his or her soul by submission to the will of God, as illustrated by Finney’s quotations from the Bible. Finney also conducted revival meetings in England, first in 1849 and later to England and Scotland in 1858–59.
In New England, the renewed interest in religion inspired a wave of social activism, including abolitionism. In western New York, the spirit of revival encouraged the emergence of new Christian denominations such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and movements such as the Restorationist and the Holiness Movement.
In the West (now Upper South) especially—at Cane Ridge, Kentucky and in Tennessee—the revival strengthened the Methodists and Baptists. The Churches of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) arose from the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. It also introduced into America a new form of religious expression—the Scottish camp meeting.
In North America the Third Great Awakening began from 1857 onwards in Canada and spread throughout the world including America and Australia. Significant names include Dwight L. Moody, Ira D. Sankey, William Booth and Catherine Booth (founders of the Salvation Army), Charles Spurgeon and James Caughey. Hudson Taylor began the China Inland Mission and Thomas John Barnardo founded his famous orphanages.
Representative was Rev. James Caughey, an American sent by the Wesleyan Methodist Church to Canada from the 1840s through 1864. He brought in the converts by the score, most notably in the revivals in Canada West 1851-53. His technique combined restrained emotionalism with a clear call for personal commitment, coupled with follow-up action to organize support from converts. It was a time when the Holiness Movement caught fire, with the revitalized interest of men and women in Christian perfection. Caughey successfully bridged the gap between the style of earlier camp meetings and the needs of more sophisticated Methodist congregations in the emerging cities.
Subsequently the period 1880–1903 has been described as “a period of unusual evangelistic effort and success”, and again sometimes more of a “resurgence” of the previous wave. Moody, Sankey and Spurgeon are again notable names. Others included Sam Jones, J. Wilber Chapman and Billy Sunday in North America, Andrew Murray in South Africa, William Irvine in Ireland, and John McNeil in Australia. The Faith Mission began in 1886.
1857–1860 Revival in America
On 21 September 1857 Jeremiah Lanphier, a businessman, began a series of prayer meetings in New York. By the beginning of 1858 the congregation was crowded, often with a majority of businessmen. Newspapers reported that over 6,000 were attending various prayer meetings in New York, and 6,000 in Pittsburgh. Daily prayer meetings were held in Washington, D.C. at 5 different times to accommodate the crowds. Other cities followed the pattern. Soon, a common mid-day sign on business premises read, “We will re-open at the close of the prayer meeting”. By May, 50,000 of New York’s 800,000 people were new converts.
Finney wrote of this revival, “This winter of 1857–58 will be remembered as the time when a great revival prevailed. It swept across the land with such power that at the time it was estimated that not less than 50,000 conversions occurred weekly.”
The final Great Awakening (1904 onwards) had its roots in the holiness movement which had developed in the late 19th century. The Pentecostal revival movement began, out of a passion for more power and a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In 1902 the American evangelists Reuben Archer Torrey and Charles McCallon Alexander conducted meetings in Melbourne, Australia, resulting in more than 8,000 converts. News of this revival travelled fast, igniting a passion for prayer and an expectation that God would work in similar ways elsewhere.
Torrey and Alexander were involved in the beginnings of the great Welsh revival (1904).
In 1906 the modern Pentecostal movement was born in Azusa Street, in Los Angeles.
Later hymns were written in a movement called “revivalist” (1850–1920). Songs such as “Washed in the blood of the Lamb” came from Moody and Sankey’s Hymn Book. The churches which promoted these songs were generally followers of literal interpretations of the Bible, temperance-inclined and often Baptist, Methodist, or Holiness and what are called Conservative Mennonites today.