REVIVAL—[from revive.] Return, recall or recovery to life from death or apparent death; an awakening of men to their spiritual concerns.
—American Dictionary of the English Language,
Noah Webster 1828
If there is anything we need in America today it is REVIVAL—a fresh outpouring of God’s life-giving Spirit upon the people of our nation. We do not need revival in just one church, one city, or one state—we need a widespread revival in every corner of our country. We need a return to the life-giving faith of our Founding Fathers—a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
It has happened before—twice to be exact. These times of overwhelming outpourings of God’s Spirit upon Americans have often been referred to as the First and Second Great Awakenings. Prior to revival, prosperity in the nation was at an all-time high, and the general climate of the culture was materialistic, self-centered, sexually immoral, and out-of-control.1 It was so hard to find the influence of the Christian church that some have referred to these periods as the “Great Asleepening.”
However, once revival hit, people began to change. Thousands upon thousands of people came to know and accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord. It was not unusual to see whole towns come to Christ through the powerful preaching of people like George Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Finney.2 These two Great Awakenings lasted for many years and brought many social reforms in their wake.
The First Great Awakening
It took place in the mid 1700s, just before the Revolutionary War, and it strengthened the American colonists to be ready for the struggles that would soon be upon them. The effects of revival were felt everywhere. They were so obvious, Benjamin Franklin stated:
“It seemed as if all the world were growing religious. One could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung by different families on every street.”3
Franklin was so impressed that he built a meeting
hall able to accommodate crowds of over 30,000 people that his friend, the Reverend Jonathan Edwards, regularly spoke to. Edwards was also amazed by the revival’s impact. In describing one city, Edwards stated:
“This work of God, as it was carried on…soon made a glorious alteration in the town, so that in the spring and summer following, Anno 1735, the town seemed to be full of the presence of God. It never was so full of love, nor so full of joy…[T]here were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house. It was a time of joy in the families on the account of salvation being brought unto them, parents rejoicing over their children…, husbands over their wives, and wives over their husbands.”4
Amazingly, people separated by hundreds of miles and differences in theology began to see themselves as brothers and sisters in a common cause. By the time of the American Revolution, it is estimated that 99.8 percent of the American colonists claimed to be believers in Christ.5 This First Great Awakening drew the people back into sincere devotion to God and to each other. It also prepared them with the inner strength they would need to break free from the tyranny of England.
The Reappearing Pitfall of Success
With independence won, great prosperity swept our newly formed nation. God showered blessing after blessing on America. This success, however, led to a mindset of independence from God and dependence upon themselves. Generally speaking, people began to see their prosperity as a result of their own efforts and not the blessings of God. In time, the country began drifting away from its deep devotion to God, and by the turn of the century, many were involved in the same sins that were prevalent before the revival.6
It was during this time that our second president, John Adams, was in office. He had personally experienced the First Great Awakening and also lived through the ravages of the Revolutionary War. He was a well-seasoned man who loved God, and out of that love he called our nation to a National Fast Day, April 25, 1799. He requested that each citizen
“...call to mind our numerous offenses against the most high God, confess them before Him with...(
|sincerest penitence, implore His pardoning
mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past
transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit, we may be
disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous
requisitions in time to come…that He would make us deeply sensible that
‘righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people’
Although there were some sporadic “lightning strikes” of revival scattered across the country, it wasn’t until the 1820s to 1830s that a second full-fledged revival began sweeping the nation. During this season, preachers like Charles Finney saw hundreds of thousands of Americans give their lives to Jesus Christ.8 By the end of the 1850s, historians estimate that at one point 50,000 people across the country were dedicating their lives to the Lord each week.9
More and more, people were becoming aware of God’s great displeasure of slavery. Historian and Pulitzer-Prize winning author James McPherson wrote about how the Second Great Awakening affected slavery. He said:
“This evangelical enthusiasm generated a host of moral and cultural reforms. The most dynamic and divisive of them was abolitionism…. [Reformers] urged converts to abjure sin, and worked for the elimination of sins from society. The most heinous social sin was slavery....”10
Just as with the First, the Second Great Awakening drew multitudes of Americans back into sincere devotion to God and each other. It also prepared the people with the inner strength they would need to face the bloodiest war our country has ever been through—the Civil War. As John L. Girardeau, a minister of the period, put it, the revival was, “the Lord’s mercy in gathering His elect for the great war that will soon sweep so many into eternity.”11
History Does Repeat Itself
Time passed, prosperity set in, and again men’s hearts drifted from God. But just as God did before, He again raised up leaders to call our nation back to Himself. In 1943, during the national and worldwide crisis of World War II, thirty-first president, Herbert Hoover, along with a group of other national leaders including Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Mrs. Grover Cleveland, and others, issued the following joint statement:
“Menaced by collectivist trends, we must seek revival of our strength in the spiritual foundations which are the bedrock of our republic....”12
Then again in 1980, Ronald Reagan, the fortieth president of the United States, declared:
“The time has come to turn to God and reassert our trust in Him for the healing of America…our country is in need of and ready for a spiritual renewal….”13
Twenty-four years have passed since President Reagan made that statement, and still we find ourselves in desperate need of revival. It is wonderful and necessary to have godly men and women in positions of leadership in our government to help bring about change. But it is equally essential for the people of the nation to have a heart hungry for God and open to helping their fellow man. This is what President John Adams meant when he said:
“We have no government armed with [the] power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”14
History confirms that wonderful things happen when men and women of God begin to pray and fast for revival. Would you like to see and experience God’s presence in every city and home in America? Would you like to see families accept Christ, become reunited, and experience true love, joy, and peace—parents rejoicing over children, husbands over wives, and wives over husbands? Will you be willing to repent and pray for God’s merciful hand of revival to touch us again? It can happen, and you and I—God’s people—hold the key (see 2 Chronicles 7:14).
My prayer is that this look into the pages of the past will set ablaze a deep desire for God’s holy fire of revival in your soul and in our country. It is only through true repentance that revival will come and bring the life-changing freedom we desperately need.
1 William J. Federer, America’s God and Country, Encyclopedia of Quotations (St. Louis, MO: Amerisearch, INC., 2000), p. 388. 2 See note 1, p. 540. 3 See note 1, p. 540. 4 See note 1, p. 541. 5 See note 1, p. 538. 6 See note 1, p. 539. 7 See note 1, p. 589-590. 8 See note 1, p. 528-529.
|Dave Meyer is a veteran of the United States Army and held a career in engineering prior to joining Joyce in full-time ministry. He is the ministry’s business administrator and has been married to Joyce for over thirty-six years. With a deep conviction to pass on the understanding of our rich Christian heritage to the next generation, Dave passionately shares his knowledge of our unique blessing of liberty and is actively involved in community, social, and political action.|