2nd Great Awakening: America, Revival and Revivalism

After the end of the first great awakening, the ministers who were of a revival bent continued ministering after the awakening in much the same manner. They just didn't get the same effects.This is another mark of revival - if the same efforts, all of a sudden get much more success, or in this case they no longer get the same effects. Here and there there may have been isolated cases of the moving of the Spirit in revival, however the general revival was definitely over. Even preachers of the stature of Whitefield never had the same success as they did in those short years.

It was not until the end of the 18th century or the beginning of the next that we see such happenings again. In both revivals, the modus operandi was that a preacher, either itinerant or settled, would preach and people would be saved and changed. Revival revolved around meetings either the normal worship and other meetings of the church or special meetings such as we presently see arranged for visiting speakers.

One of the big differences between the two revivals was the sheer length of time of the second compared with the first. While the first lasted around 5 years, the second was around 30 years. Thirty years sounds a short time if you say it fast but it is a complete generation.

This together with the inroads of armenianism or even pelagianism, completely changed the understanding of salvation and revival. Calvinism puts the activity of Salvation and even the ability to be willing to accept salvation in the hands of God. Further, because of the omnipotence and omniscience of God there were those Christ died for and those alone and all of those will be saved

Pelagianism states that a person can choose to become a new creature at any time ie the responsibility and ability to become regenerate is in the hands of the person.

Armenianism suggests that Christ died for all and that any can take up the free gift that is offered.

Through the late 1700s there were a succession of Methodists involved in ministry in the United States. (It is interesting to note that that both Johnson and Marsden the first chaplains to Australia were accused of being enthusiasts ie Methodists) The Methodist method was to itinerate and so a relatively small number of ministers could cause a large if passing effect.

One significant revival between the two awakenings was the revival among the Baptists at James River in 1785. One historian describes the revival in this manner:

Mr. Benedict, in his Abridgment of the History of the Baptists, on page 345, speaking of the great revival that began among them, on James River, in 1785, says, "During the progress of this revival, scenes were exhibited somewhat extraordinary. It was not unusual to have a large proportion of the congregation prostrate on the floor, and in some instances they lost the use of their limbs. . . .


Screams, groans, shouts, hosannas, notes of grief and joy, all at the same time, were not unfrequently [sic] heard throughout their vast assemblies. . . . It is not unworthy of notice, that in those congregations where the preachers encouraged them to much extent, the work was more extensive, and greater numbers were added. It must also be admitted, that in many of the congregations, no little confusion and disorder arose, after the revival had subsided. Even then, among the old fashioned Calvinistic Baptists of the Old Dominion these strange bodily agitations obtained; and many of the preachers 'fanned them as fire from heaven,' and the excitement and confusion that pervaded their vast assemblies well nigh fills Mr. J. L. Waller's measure of a 'New Light Stir' in Kentucky"(pp. 356-357). (quoted in Riss Quake p2)


Another influence leading up to the second great awakening was the beginning of the Shakers. The shakers were started by James and Jane Wardley in response what they perceived as a lessening in the prophetic spirit among the Quakers. They were strongly influenced by the French prophets who were also into strange manifestations. A typical meeting of the shakers went like this:

One of the Quaker customs followed by James Wardley was to assemble his Society together for silent meditation, but it did not end with that. After sitting for a while the congregation began to tremble "and, at times, they were affected with the power of God with a mighty shaking; and were occasionally exercised in singing, shouting, or walking the floor, under the influence of spirited signs, swiftly passing and repassing each other, like clouds agitated by a mighty wind." It was from these strange exercises that the name Shakers was derived (ibid, p. 3).(riss quake p1)

The Shakers were soon established in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky and took a major part in the initial scenes of the second great awakening.

The beginning of the second great awakening is considered to be in Kentucky and Tennessee in 1800. It should be noted that not only is Cane ridge that Pratney mentions near Paris Kentucky but Barton Stone, the minister there in around 1801, was one of the founders of the disciples of Christ that I believe is the forerunner of Churches of Christ and others.

These first years saw the birth of a new phenomena the camp meeting. Originally they were a form of Presbyterian communion service. Presbyterians tend to celebrate communion rarely and make a special occasion of it. With the small populations and the wide distances, the camp meeting was a solution. People traveled for long distances and then they stayed for four or five days enjoying the hospitality of their hosts.

As time went on the numbers of people attending grew and the only way to house and feed the numbers was by them camping in tents and wagons and doing their own providing. Soon the meetings became interdenominational. The best remembered was at Cane Ridge in 1801.

At Cane Ridge, eighteen Presbyterian as well as Methodist and Baptist ministers took part in a week of services (cf Murray p152). It is estimated that between 10,000 and 21,000 people attended. One eyewitness account:

I arrived there on Saturday about 10'oclock: I then began to note some of the extraordinary particulars: I first proceeded to count the wagons containing families, with their provisions, camp equipage, etc to the number of 147: at 11 o'clock the quantity of ground occupied by horses wagons, etc was about the same size as the square between Market, Chestnut, Second and Third streets, of Philadelphia - there was at this place a stage erected in the woods, about 100 yards from the place of the meeting-house, where there were a number of Presbyterian and Methodist ministers; one of the former preaching to a crowded audience - at the same time another large concourse of people collected about 100 yards in an east direction from the meeting-house, hearing a Methodist speaker - and about 150 yards in a fourth course from the house was an assembly of black people, hearing exhortations of the blacks, some of whom appeared deeply convicted, and others converted. The number of communicants who received tokens were 750, nor was there a sufficiency of them - these tokens are small pieces of lead, the size of a five-penny bit, with the letter A or B impressed thereon, and a re distributed by ministers to the members of the several churches, not excluding the Baptists who apply for them. (John Lyle, quoted Murray p153)

Murray comments that the discrepancy between the 750 communicants and the numbers attending demonstrate that a large number of the people attending were not church members

For an account of the sin in the camp meetings check out the hostile book - Slaying in the Spirit the telling wonder by Nader Mickail.

Murray also comments on the numbers. At another communion season, 8000 attended and 350 were communicants. At the same time in 1800 Lexington Kentucky's largest town had a population of 1797 of which 439 were slaves. The sheer size of the meetings are a good indication of the extent to which the revival was reaching. In the words of Robert Davison:

Business of all kinds was suspended; dwelling houses were deserted; whole neighborhoods emptied; bold hunters and sober matrons, young men, maidens, and little children, flocked to the common center of attraction; every difficulty was surmounted every risk ventured, to be preset at the camp meeting. (Murray p153)

The numbers of new Christians who came into the churches during this time were staggering. The Elkhorne association in Boone county Kentucky had 1642 members in 1800. The minutes of 8/8/1801 showed a gain of 3011 members. One witness, McGready reported 330 persons in 1800, and another 144 that he knew in the first ten months of 1801. He had scarcely any doubt of their true conversion. (cf Murray p 156,157)

Manifestations were well known in the meetings. Barton Stone reports of the Cane Ridge revival:

The scene to me was new and passing strange. . . . Many, very many fell down, as men slain in battle, and continued for hours together in an apparently breathless and motionless state-- sometimes for a few moments reviving, and exhibiting symptoms of life by a deep groan, or piercing shriek, or by a prayer for mercy most fervently uttered(p. 12). (Riss Quake p3)

A paraphrase of another witness Richard McNemar:

Then the tumultuous bodily 'exercises' began. Along with the shouting and crying, some began falling. Some experienced only weakened knees or a light head (including Governor James Garrard). Others fell but remained conscious or talkative; a few fell into a deep coma, displaying the symptoms of a grand mal seizure or a type of hysteria. Though only a minority fell, some parts of the grounds were strewn like a battlefield(p. 13). (riss quake p3)

The heady emotion and manifestations were taken as a pointer to the facility of camp meetings by the Methodists. Both the Baptists and the Presbyterians stopped using them shortly after 1800, however by 1812, it was estimated around 400 camp meetings were being held by the Methodists annually (cf Murray p183)

The Methodists believed that the lesson from Kentucky was that camp meetings with their large numbers, emotive community singing were very conducive to a response to evangelism. It has been suggested that the Calvinists realized from the New Testament that no techniques could produce conversion and left the field to the Methodists. It must be noted that the theology of the Calvinists would tend to look askance at any emotionalism because it would confuse the issue, and thus Old style Calvinism would be a hindrance and opponent to mass meetings (Murray p184)

The Methodists had also begun just prior to this to record the number of supposed conversions in meetings, a practice avoided by both Wesley and the Calvinists. Soon they had people positioned to count the number that fell, believing the figure an indication of permanent results. However soon they moved on to another method - that of inviting mourners to the front, or to the altar.

While initially, it was not a means of conversion, rather an opportunity to pray with those touched by God, soon the very coming to the altar became confused with conversion (cf Murray p186). As coming forward became the alternative to being lost, the success of the preachers grew incredibly:

The invitation was no sooner extended than the mourners came pouring forward. The enclosure was so much crowded that its inmates had not the liberty of lateral motion, but were literally hobbling en masse Five hundred persons pressed forward Exhortation and singing were renewed; and it was proposed that [visiting preachers on the platform] should go down and pass among the people for the purpose of conversing with them and inducing them to come forward. (Murray p187)

Soon there was little distinction between numbers of those converted and those coming forward at the altar call. As I said, the Presbyterians soon left the use of mass gatherings to the Methodists - they continued their ministry in small meetings in churches. In one thing though they shared a method with the Methodist. They retained itinerant preachers.

Two of the itinerant preachers of this time I have already mentioned - Asahel Nettleton and Charles Grandison Finney. Nettleton was the most famous of the preachers of the early part of the era. Finney appeared in the latter part of his ministry.

Nettleton was of the old school, a Calvinist and great preacher. His methodology was to preach and attempt to awaken his hearers to their peril. For those convicted, he would visit them and counsel them, help them to understand their need of God. Nettleton would pray that God would convert them. And once they had made a commitment he would wait for the proof of the conversion in changed lives

He was itinerant however he largely preached in the north east of the states. His reputation was such that he was welcome in most places. His ministry was in support of the like minded ministers in residence. The only time anything bad was said about him was when his opponents created a rumor that he had been indiscreet in his conduct with women - a laughable accusation but one that dogged him the rest of his life especially when he moved into areas where he was less well known. (cf Thornbury p86)

Thornbury describes his ministry as bringing, at a conservative estimate 25,000 conversions. In the 1820s the population was only 9 million. Thirty years after his death, very few of the conversions had proved to be spurious. (Thornbury p 233) Yet a mere fifty years after his death, his name is virtually unknown. At most he is remembered as the antagonist of the righteous Finney.

During the first great awakening there was Davenport who was involved in a very strange and divisive ministry. His meetings were loud and emotive, he was continually attacking the settled ministers and dividing churches. Nettleton was active in the very same area of country fifty years later and was even then dealing with the mess left. These were described as the burnt over regions. the metaphor was that of a field of stubble, the fire burnt fast and furious but was soon gone, leaving nothing left of religion.

Nettleton saw the similar methods in use by Finney and his cohorts. This was the first point of disagreement between the two factions. Soon however the debate moved on to the underlying theology.

The lives and ministries of the two overlapped, Nettleton died in 1844 and Finney was ordained in 1824.

There is no doubt that Finney was mightily used in the revivals. in 1825 he preached successively in Rome and Utica. In Rome a town of 4000, 500 were added to the churches. In 1827 a pastoral letter was released by the ministers of the congregational churches of Oneida the area of the new measures revivals. It rebukes some of the things that the new measures included:

Condemning in the gross, of approving in the gross; Making too much of any favorable appearance; Not guarding against false conversions; Ostentation and noise; The hasty acknowledgment of persons as converted; ,(The strength of a church does not consist in its numbers, but in its graces... We fear that the desire of counting numbers is too much indulged, even by good people.); Suffering the feelings to control the judgment; Talking too much about opposition; Censuring, as unconverted, or as cold, stupid, and dead, those who are in good standing in the visible church; Praying for persons by name, in an abusive manner; Denouncing as enemies of revival those who do not approve of everything that is done; Taking the success of any measures, as an evidence that those measures are right, and approved of by God. (Murray p235)

Nettleton commented on the controversy and his part in it when invited to come to a convention aimed at settling the debate:

I have been compelled by ministers to talk and exhaust all my strength and to spend nearly all my time, for about eight months on this subject. I have done all I can; and have been greatly blamed by many for what I have done. I have resigned the subject entirely to the management of settled pastors, whose business alone it is to determine the question, what measures shall be introduced into their churches... (Murray 235)

It should be noted that Nettleton put himself under the authority of the settled minister ie any preaching that he did was in cooperation with the settled minister. Most of the new measures ministers did not.

While Finney has been given the name of the one who innovated these changes. As I have shown they were the logical progression of both the first great awakening and the practice during the camp meetings and just prior. It should also be noted that while Finney was heavily involved in the new measures, there was a whole host of younger itinerant imitators.

These new measures were:

The encouragement of physical responses to preaching (such as falling to the floor); women speaking in worship; meetings carried on through long hours and on successive days (protracted meetings); and, above all inviting individuals to 'submit to God' and to prove it by a 'humbling' action such as standing up, kneeling down or coming forward to 'the anxious seat' (Murray p242)

The issue came down to a discussion of the place of emotion and excitement in revival. While the old school believed that emotion was natural and the normal result of anointed preaching, the use of measures to increase emotion and thus the number of "converts" was considered highly doubtful. One of the old school, William R. Weeks, stated:

We complain that the whole system of measures seems to be adapted to promote false conversions, to cherish false hopes, and propagate a false religion; and thus, ultimately, not only destroy the souls of those who are deceived by it, but to bring revivals, and experimental religion itself, into discredit. (Murray p243)

Underlying the debate was of course a different understanding of revival and a different understanding of conversion. The Old school saw revival as a miraculous gift of God, a greater outpouring of the grace of God bringing greater results to the same efforts. it The New school was working on a very different understanding. It came to be seen that if you went through the correct process, in other words did the right things in the right order, then revival would ensue, automatically.

Finney wrote in his revival lectures exact instructions at a time when the second great awakening was already waning putting him to the lie. The very length of the second great awakening was what allowed this misconstruction. After 20 years, it may well seem that the process was correct and revival could be had at any time.

Finney arguing from the concept of the justice of God, suggested that God would be unjust to require people to do something they were unable to do. Thus a God who required a person to turn to Christ who was unable to turn to Christ because of their sinful nature, was not a just God. Having said this, it is just a small step to saying that anyone can turn to Christ and be regenerated on the decision of the person. The very decision was regeneration, brought about by argument.

As Finney described it:

Instead of telling sinners to use the means of grace and pray for a new heart, we called on them to make themselves a new heart and a new spirit and pressed the duty of instant surrender to God... Such teaching as this was of course opposed by Man, nevertheless it was greatly blessed by the Spirit of God. (Murray p285)

Once you push this idea a little further, you find that any method that can be used to cause that decision, the outward show of which was in the altar call or another similar measure, was valid. Jedidiah Burchard, a probable mentor of Finney, is described thus:

After repeated prayers and appeals, by which he almost compelled multitudes to repair to the anxious seats, he asked again and again if they loved God. They were silent. 'Will you not say that you love God? Only say that you love or wish to love God.' Some confessed and their names or numbers were written down in a memorandum book, to be reported as so many converts. It was enough to give an affirmative to the question: but many were not readily, and without continual importunity and management, induced to the admission. He would continue - 'Do you not love God? Will you not say that you love God?' Then taking out his watch, - 'There now, I give you a quarter of an hour. If not brought in fifteen minutes to love God, there will be no hope for you - you will be lost - you will be damned.' A pause and no response. 'Ten minutes have elapsed, five minutes only left for salvation! if you do not love God in five minutes, you are lost forever!' The terrified candidates confess - the record is made - a hundred converts are reported. (Murray p287)

Asa Mahan a contemporary comments about the evangelists involved in the new measures:

I cannot recall a single man, brother Finney and Father Nash excepted, who did not after a few years lose his unction and become equally disqualified for the office of evangelist and pastor (Murray 288)

Joseph Ives Foot looking back on Finney's ministry in 1838 wrote:

During ten years, hundreds, and perhaps thousands were annually reported to be converted on all hands; but now it is admitted, that his [Finney's] real converts are comparatively few. It is declared even by himself, that 'the great body of them are a disgrace to religion' (Murray p289)

What points can be made about the two awakenings and the move from revival to revivalism:

1) It is God who brings revival and there is no way to create or cause revival.

2) Strange manifestations may or may not accompany the working of the spirit. Manifestations or other responses are not an indication of the successful work of the spirit. The success of the work of the spirit is dependent on the continued decision of the workee.

3) Salvation goes beyond anything we can do, there is the regeneration that is a miraculous work of God.

4) Causal ministry doesn't work ie ministry is not about doing things to cause something to happen, it is about communicating God so that things may happen

5) All moves of the spirit are mixed in that there will be some good things and some bad.

Discussion Questions:

1) What are the differences between our understanding of salvation and those of the second great awakening?

2) What are the key features of the understandings of salvation according to the theologies labelled: Calvinism, Armenianism and Pelagianism?

3) How would you describe your theology of salvation? What are its strengths and weaknesses?

4) What are the differences between the understandings of revival in the first and second great awakenings? What do we believe today? What is correct?

5) How do you deal with the kind of controversies recounted above?


This essay was developed as a lecture and so the references are not as good as they should be. As far as I am aware the material was based on the following books:

"Revival: Principles to change the world" by Winkie Pratney (Whitaker House1983)

"The Manifestations Throughout History" St. Louis CATCH THE FIRE Conference, May 3-6, 1995 by Richard M. Riss (From Rohn Price WWW Blessing Page),

"Revival and Revivalism" by Iain H. Murray (The Banner of Truth Trust 1994)

"God Sent Revival" J.F. Thornbury (Evangelical Press 1977)

1st Great Awakening: America, Revival and Revivalism


Charles Grandison Finney is a key figure mentioned whenever revival is discussed. Students of Revival still devour his works as a key method of understanding the process of Revival. There is no doubt that the ministry of this man had and has great effect however it is important to understand the background. It is important to bring some balance to the interpretation of history.

Asahel Nettleton, during his time, was a figure of equivalent stature. However today, where mentioned, is often portrayed as the wicked enemy of Revival.

Thornbury in "God sent Revival" writes

"To modern students of revivalism in America, he [Nettleton] is generally known as an antagonist of Finney, who is credited with being the "Father of Modern evangelism". All serious studies of American Church History devote some place to his ministry, but few credit him with contributing much to the evolution of religion. He is considered part of a bygone age and culture, a kind of roadblock in the path of progress." p227

This underplaying of Nettleton to the star of Finney is a result of the change in the way revival is seen between the first and second great awakenings.

The term revival came into vogue in the 1740's - ie the midst of the first great awakening. It was used only ocaisionally before then, however the general understanding of revival was well known before then (cf Murray Revival and Revivalism p19)

Jonathan Edwards described periods when:

The work of God is carried on with greater speed and swiftness, and there are often instances of sudden conversions at such a time. So it was in the apostle's days, when there was a time of the most extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit that ever was! How quick and sudden were conversion in those days... So it is in some degree when there is an extraordinary pouring out of the Spirit of God; more or less so, in proportion to the greatness of that effusion (quoted in Murray p20)

Revival, in the first great awakening, was seen as something God did, a greater annointing, a greater work of the Spirit, a greater moving on the people convicting of Sin. Whitefield described 1739-1740 'as an earnest of future and more plentiful effusions of God's Spirit in these parts.' (ibid)

Note they were emphasising two things - a continuity with normal ministry and an increase in response. In their normal ministries they saw the move of God in bringing people to salvation. However when revival came, the same efforts that had brought a trickle then brought a flood.

This definition of Revival very much revolves around evangelism. The effect of revival was to bring sinners into knowledge of their God. A revival of Religion implied that those outside the church would begin to take the church seriously.

It is also important to realise the theology of conversion in the churches of the American first great awakening. They were true calvinists in that a person could only become a christian through the working of the Spirit. The person had to be changed, regenerated, reborn. The decision of the person, the praying of the sinner's prayer, coming out the front had no effect without the action of the Spirit.

They talked of the hopefully converted - who knew whether the Spirit had truly worked regeneration in a person's life unless you could see the fruit of the change of life. Just as no-one could cause conversion, no one could cause revival. Indeed, they noted:

The different success of the same means of grace, in different periods of the church, sufficiently shews the necessity of gracious influences to render them efficacious...it is not by power, nor by might, but by the Spirit of the Lord of Hosts that the interests of Religion are carried on, Zech 4:6. Our own experience and observation furnish us with many instances in which this great truth has been exemplified. Sometimes the reading of a sermon has been the means of awakening careless sinners, when at other times the most solemn and argumentative preaching has been in vain. Sometimes we have seen a number of sinners thoroughly awakened, and brought to seek the Lord in earnest; while another number, under the very same sermon, and who seemed as open to conviction as the former, or perhaps more so, have remained secure and thoughtless, as usual. And whence could this difference arise, but from special grace? We have seen persons struck to the heart with those doctrines which they had heard a hundred times without any effect (Davies quoted in Murray p22)

There was no difference in their activity but a difference in the activity of God. There was no way of causing or even predicting these special graces. It was God's grace that began and carried through revival - the unmerited favour of God. As such was rare and precious

Whitefield wrote to a friend in 1749:

"I should be glad to hear of a revival at Cambuslang, but, dear Sir, you have already seen such things as are seldom seen above once in a century" (Quoted Murray p23)

Further Murray suggests that the key to revival was not a restoration of the spiritual Gifts - this really had no place in their model - "Thus Davies and his brethren repudiated the idea..." (p23) Rather "they brought salvation to large numbers of the lost and gave christians a greater conception of the glory of their redeemer" (p23)

In this model, an increase in love for Christ and a love for souls is more than adequate proof of revival.

Davies, an American minister of the time, wrote:

Because he loves him he longs for the full enjoyment of him... Because Christ is precious to him, his interests are so too, and he longs to see his kingdom flourish, and all men fired with his love. Because he loves him, he loves his ordinances; loves to hear, because it is the word of Jesus; loves to pray, because it is maintaining intercourse with Jesus; loves to sit at his table, because it is a memorial of Jesus; and loves his people because they love Jesus. (Murray p24)

The proof of revival is thus an increase in the christian fruits - grace, love and caring. Especially love for Christ. They would be fervent in spirit and express the love of God

Love is naturally productive of Love; it scatters heavenly sparks around, and these kindle the gentle flame where they fall... Let a minister of Christ ascend the sacred desk, with a heart glowing with the love of souls, and what an amiable, engaging figure does he make... Love gives a smooth, though sharp edge to his address. Love animates his persuasions and exhortations. Love breaths through his invitations and renders them irresistible. Love brightens the evidence of conviction and sweetly forces it upon unwilling minds...(Murray p25)

This love was demonstrated in three directions - a love for God, a love for souls and finally a love for the brethren. There was no place for what Murray describes as a narrow party spirit. Denominational interests have no place in the heart of the christian when the Spirit is on the move.

However because of the activity of the minister's of God, there could be nothing other than some contention due to jealousy and misunderstanding. The two main churches at this time were the Church of England and the Presbyterians. The Presbyterians were those who were involved in revivals. The names of the major players I have concentrated on in the first great awakening were Samuel Davies, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and David Brainerd.

Jonathan Edwards was the leading theologian of the period. Whitefield was an Englishman and the greatest calvinist preacher of the time. A close friend of Wesley, completely different in theology. Davies was a well known minister of the time and Brainerd was an evangelist to the indians. Under his ministry a great revival started. Though to read Brainerd's journal you would think that he spent most of his time depressed.

One of the more radical of the players was a man by the name of Davenport. He was an itinerant minister who succeeded in splitting most of the churches in which he preached. His first effort was to preach to his congregation continuously for 24 hours before collapsing in exhaustion. A few people were saved and the die was set.

Davenport was also well known as the man who could tell immediatly whether a person was saved or not. The elect he addressed as brother or sister, the rest he addressed as neighbor or Mr and Mrs. Needless to say, most who opposed him were mere neighbors

In 1741 he held a series of meetings in Stonington. The Minister of Stonington had seen revival in his ministry. Davenport, it seems, decided that Fish, the minister, was spiritually dead and proceeded to undermine his ministry. Fish seems to have resented this uninvited interloper and soon there was real rivalry between the two men. Soon the church polarised around the two men and a split was inevitable. Davenport calling on his supporters to leave the church.

Shortly after 91 members of the church left to form a new church with their families and friends of around 400, Davenport left for other parts. Other members left for other denominations or no church at all. The bad feeling persisted until Asahel Nettleton visited the area in the early 1800s. This process was repeated as Davenport gained a reputation as a fanatic and divider of churches, referring to ministers as the unsaved leading their congregations to hell.(cf Thornbury p48ff)

Other ministers were not so reckless. For this discussion it is important to understand their method of working. When we think of evangelistic meetings we think of a camp meeting liturgy. You sing some songs, have some prayers, some bible readings and then you preach. After preaching, you have some form of alter call to allow people to make a response to the conviction that the Spirit has brought. You then may pray for them individually or as some do, lead them all in the sinners' prayer. If you are intent on building your church, you might also get their names and addresses on membership cards. Then you may have some kind of followup.

This was totally alien to their method of working. The form of service may have been the same but there was no way in which sinners could gain salvation. They couldn't become a christian simply by saying a prayer and coming out the front, rather they had to travail under the conviction of sin. Then God may deign to extend his grace to them so that they could come through into salvation.

The aim of the preacher was to awaken the sinner to an understanding of their situation. If the conviction of God came upon the congregation then the preacher met privately with any to further instruct them. If there were a great many, the preacher may organise separate tarrying meetings - a kind of salvation assembly line. Until the sinner received God given peace, forgiveness and knowledge of salvation they were not saved. In fact, those who felt themselves saved were referred to as hopefully converted. As Thornbury writes:

"The great voices that called men to God during this period such as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent saw thousands converted, but they first made their professions of faith in private, as they counselled with pastors who discussed with them their experiences." (Thornbury p200)

Wherever there is revival there is sure to be controversy. With the activities of Davenport, it was easy to see that there would be considerable concern about the activities of the revival. Just as the men who were in leadership during the revival were prone to the same failings as anyone, the revival exhibited similar mixed results and effects.

One point of controversy, that seems general in every revival, is the manifestations of the activity of the Spirit. In this revival, on the one side, accepting of manifestations, was Edwards, Tennent and Whitefield and on the other Charles Chauncy.

Pratney describes the activity in a single service that Edwards led. Chauncy describes another:

The meeting was carried on with what appeared to me great confusion; some screaming out in distress and anguish; some praying; others singing; some again jumping up and down the house, while others were exhorting; some lying along on the floor, and others walking and talking: the whole with a very great noise, to be heard at a mile's distance, and continued almost the whole night. (riss p3)

This kind of activity within meetings was too much the same stamp as Davenport. It was to much the enthusiast, too much of the flesh, as such there was no difference between Davenport and the others. Davenport insisted that bodily manifestations MUST accompany any true conversion to Christ.

Edwards position though was that manifestations were neither here nor there. It is the change in people's lives that is important - a new discipleship, love for God, the outworking of christian maturity:

A work is not to be judged of by any effects on the bodies of men; such as tears, trembling, groans, load outcries, agonies of body, or the failing of bodily strength. . . . It is no argument that a work is not of the Spirit of God that some who are the subjects of it have been in a kind of ecstasy, wherein they have been carried beyond themselves, and have had their minds transported into a train of strong and pleasing . . . visions, as though they were rapt up even to heaven, and there saw glorious sights. I have been acquainted with some such instances, and I see no need of bringing in the help of the devil into the account that we give of these things. (riss fproph p2)

There were also manifestations in the ministry of Whitefield:

[In Derby, outside of Philadelphia,] he had not spoken long before he perceived numbers melting; as he proceeded the influence increased, till at last, both in the morning and afternoon, thousands cried out, so that they almost drowned his voice. 'Oh, what strong crying and tears,' he says, 'were shed and poured forth after the dear Lord Jesus! Some fainted, and when they had got a little strength, they would hear and faint again. Others cried out in a manner almost as if they were in the sharpest agonies of death. And after I had finished my last discourse, I myself was so overpowered with a sense of God's love, that it almost took away my life. . . .'(riss fproph p5)

On the other side of the ocean the Wesleys had long experienced these type of manifestations in their ministries:

Journal on July 7, 1739:

I had an opportunity to talk with him of those outward signs which had so often accompanied the inward work of God. I found his objections were chiefly grounded on gross misrepresentations of matter of fact. But the next day he had an opportunity of informing himself better: for no sooner had he begun (in the application of his sermon) to invite all sinners to believe in Christ, than four persons sunk down close to him, almost in the same moment. One of them lay without either sense or motion; a second trembled exceeding; the third had strong convulsions all over his body, but made no noise, unless by groans; the fourth, equally convulsed, called upon God, with strong cries and tears. From this time, I trust, we shall all suffer God to carry on His own work in the way that pleaseth Him. (riss wesley1 p1)

The activities of the Moravian missionaries were however too much even for Wesley:

Molther set forth his views in extravagant language, which soon filled Wesley with horror. . . . Four times a week, in broken English, he preached to growing crowds. At first he [Wesley] was utterly shocked by what he saw. "The first time I entered the meeting," he says, "I was alarmed and almost terror-stricken at hearing their sighing and groaning, their whining and howling, which strange proceeding they call the demonstration of the Spirit and of power."

(J. E. Hutton, in A HISTORY OF THE MORAVIAN CHURCH, 2d ed. (London, Moravian Publication Office, 1909) quoted in Riss wesley1 p 2)

Even Holy laughter was known - one of the key marks of the Toronto Blessing:

In the evening such a spirit of laughter was among us that many were much offended. But the attention of all was fixed on poor Lucretia Smith, whom we all know to be no dissembler. . . . Most of our brethren and sisters were now fully convinced that those who were under this strange temptation could not help it. Only Elizabeth Brown and Anne Holton were of another mind, being still sure any one might help laughing if she would. This they declared to many on Thursday; but on Friday the 23rd God suffered Satan to teach them better. Both of them were suddenly seized in the same manner as the rest, and laughed whether they would or no, almost without ceasing. Thus they continued for two days, a spectacle to all; and were then, upon prayer made for them, delivered in a moment (John Wesley's JOURNAL, June 21, 1740 quoted in Riss wesley1 p2)

Wesley in this case attributed the laughter to Satan, however others were not so sure:

In 1749, George Lavington wrote:

Though I am not convinced that these fits of laughing are to be ascribed to satan, I entirely agree with Mr. Wesley, that they are involuntary and unavoidable, and don't in the least question the facts. Physical writers tell us, that laughing-fits are one species of a delirium, attending on some distempers and particularly on the hypochondria, or spleen (the principal ingredient of enthusiasm) called by some the organ of laughter, whence laughing people are said to vent their spleen.(Riss Wesley1 p3)

The activities of the Spirit have a tendency to cause questioning.

The first great awakening thus died a with a wimper. The controversies over Davenport and manifestations left churches split. In the popular mind of the day, the big hero was of course Chauncy who opposed all manifestations. The revival only truly died though once God ceased moving in that way. In this case very abruptly. While the great awakening in the US was over by around 1745, the methodist revival under Wesley continued in Britain.

What are the key aspects of Revival that come out of the first great awakening:

1) Revival is the sovereign moving of God

2) Revival is a greater blessing of the normal ministry of the Church

3) Manifestations may or may not follow the moving of the Spirit

4) The key to recognising both the moving of the Spirit and Salvation is the change in people's lives.

5) every revival is mixed - some things are of God and others not. Small wonder that Satan will be very active where the Spirit of God is if only to bring the work of the Spirit into disrepute.

Discussion Questions:

1) What are the differences between our understanding of salvation and those of the first great awakening?

2) What are the good points and bad points of each position?

3) What are the differences between their understanding of revival and ours?

4) What do their understandings add that are positive to ours?

5) How do you deal with the kind of controversies recounted above?


This essay was developed as a lecture and so the references are not as good as they should be. As far as I am aware the material was based on the following :

"The Manifestations Throughout History" St. Louis CATCH THE FIRE Conference, May 3-6, 1995 by Richard M. Riss (From Rohn Price WWW Blessing Page),

"Revival and Revivalism" by Iain H. Murray (The Banner of Truth Trust 1994)

"God Sent Revival" J.F. Thornbury (Evangelical Press 1977)


1517 - 1560  
Huldrych Zwingli 1484 - 1531 Leader of Swiss Reformation
Martin Luther 1483 - 1548 Leader of German Reformation
John Calvin 1509 - 1564 Leader of Swiss Reformation

1st Great Awakening

1740 - 1745  
Howell Harris 1714 - 1773 Welsh Calvinist Methodist
John Wesley 1703 - 1791 Armenian founder Methodists
George Whitefield 1714 - 1770 Calvinist founder Methodists
Jonathan Edwards 1703 - 1764 Calvinist Preacher/Theologian
David Brainerd 1718 - 1747 Calvinist Missionary
Samuel Davies 1723 - 1761 Calvinist Preacher

2nd Great Awakening

1798 - 1832  
Cane Ridge Revival


Charles Finney 1792 - 1875 Leader of Revivalism
Asahel Nettleton 1783 - 1844 Calvinist Preacher
Lyman Beecher 1775 - 1863 Supporter - Nettleton & Finney
Duncan Matheson 1824 - 1869 Scottish Itinerant

Prayer Meeting Revival


Jeremiah Lanphier   Leader of Revival??
D.L. Moody 1837 - 1899  
James W. Alexander 1804 - 1859 Old School minister
Gardiner Spring 1785 - 1873 Old School minister
John Hall   Old School minister

Ireland, Scottish, British & Welsh Revival



New Century Awakening

1904 - 1912  

Welsh Revival


Evan Roberts


Leader of Welsh Revival
Rees Howells   Worker in the Revival

Pentecostal Revival


(Asuza St)
"W.J. "Daddy" Seymour"   Minister at Asuza St
Frank Bartleman   Documentor
Aimee Semple McPherson   Noted Evangelist
Smith Wigglesworth   Noted Evangelist

Hebridean Revival



Healing Revival

1947 - 1958  
William Branham   Itinerant Speaker
Oral Roberts   Itinerant Speaker
Kathryn Kuhlman   Noted healer

Indonesian Revival

1964 - 1970s  
John Sung   Evangelist
Andrew Gih   Evangelist
Pak Elias   Evangelist

Charismatic Revival

1967 - 1973  

Asbury Revival



Toronto Blessing


Rodney Howard-Browne   Itinerant Evangelist
John Arnott   Pastor Toronto Vineyard

Campus Revivals



George Whitefield

Approaching the vast field of revival history and heritage, one is at a loss to know which or where to start. There are a vast number of definitions of revival and each writer, each biographer, each historian and current practitioner operates with a different definition. One problem with these definitions are that they tend to define revival as an event rather than as a process. What is clear is that this thing that we call revival is a process that involves the move of God in his spirit in a vast number of different ways that have certain similarities.

If we define revival as a process then we see a series of events and consequences. The challenge to the student of revival is to define this process but further to begin to discuss the consequences and the requirements for revival. The greatest need in any move of God is for discipled trained and annointed leaders that God can use in the revival process.

As we begin to examine the history of revival we find that there are a series of characters thrown up by events. Some of these leaders are greatly gifted in organisation, others end their ministries deeply in debt to the tax office because of their approach to financial management. Some work very hard to maintain relationships across boundaries of ministries and theology. Others are very difficult to get on with. We find people who have owned slaves, we find people who are divisive in the Church, we find people whose theology is highly suspect. What is the unifying aspect that allows God to move through their ministries? Ultimately we find that they were people who were not satisfied with what was happening in their churches at the time. And were prepared to seek God for changes in themselves and in their Church. So a prime requisite is to be available and more than available to be actively seeking God for his move in your life and the church.

The actual term revival was coined in the mid-seventeen hundreds. According to Iain Murray the term was used to describe an increase in the grace of God in Ministry. This was in the context of the calvinistic Presbyterian Church current in America at the time. Perhaps a good place to start then is the first great awakening. At this time let us dip into the lifeof one leader of revival during the first great awakening in Britain also known as the Methodist revival.

Immediately the word Methodist is used there is an association with the name of Wesley. However the Wesley brothers were not involved in the start of this revival. Rather their friend and colleague George Whitefield is generally considered to be the person that God used to start this revival. George Whitefield was a man of great heart. Frequently he walked away from his interests for the sake of unity and to avoid discord. Probably the greatest preacher that history can provide. Certainly he is the greatest preacher before the advent of public address systems. He could preach to crowds that today we would consider impossible without vast amplification and sound systems.

George Whitefield worked his body into the ground under the task of evangelism. He covered the whole of Britain preaching on average several times a day. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean several times preaching up and down the length of America. John Wesley in his funeral sermon stated "have we read or heard of any person who called so many thousands, so many myriads of sinners to repentance?" (Armstrong p16) it is difficult to number the times which George preached. He preached over 18 thousand times in formal sermons. This is only the small part of what he did though. At any opportunity be preached! If we include these occasions then it was well over 30 thousand times. At times he was actually speaking for over 40 to 60 hours per week. This was in addition to his letter writing and administration of his vast Ministry concerns. Dallimore records how he used to preach in the morning for several hours come home and be prostrated from the strain, gather his strength and return to preach again in the evening.

George was born in a Tavern in 1714 in Gloucester, England. He began school at St Mary's when 12. By 15, however be returned home to help in the family business due to family problems. Although his schooling was interrupted, it should not be construed that he was un- educated. By 16 he was reading the Greek New Testament and had done significant work in Latin. George lived in an environment that could only be described as broken. Besides the Tavern environment, George's parents had marital problems. His father had died previously, and at the age of 15 his mother separated from his step father. During his childhood at the bell Inn, George was exposed to the stage and this childhood interest carried over in his ability to draw vivid illustrations in his sermons.

George matriculated to Pembroke College, Oxford in 1732, as a servitor. A servitor was a student who to pay their bills, acted as servant to other richer students. It was during this time at Oxford that George came in contact with the famous holy club. The Holy club had been started by Charles Wesley in 1728. It should not be considered as a part of the revival at this stage. These students had gathered together to practise a greater depth of religion. This meant in practice the reading of spiritual classics, the taking of the sacraments every month and the visiting of the sick and prisoners faithfully. While scholarship was encouraged by these men, they knew little of what we consider to be the essentials of the Christian faith. Armstrong comments that they knew next to nothing of the new birth. (Armstrong P 23). They had yet to hear of the principle of by faith alone are we justified and even the concept that the only authority for the Christian is scripture, was unknown. Scripture was placed on an equal footing as the writings of the Church fathers.

Dallimore writes: the Methodism of Oxford was destined to die away with the disposal of its members in 1735; the Methodism of the revival was to be born in 1737 and 1739 under Whitefield flaming Ministry, and thereafter to be assisted by the Ministry of the Wesleys.

While the Methodism of the Oxford group was not the Methodism of the revival, it was in this context that George became a Christian. Challenged by the requirements of a holy life, George began to seek God. From the holy club he had learned to practise a type of mysticism that we would find strenuous and destructive. His family in Gloucester was alarmed and the master of the college threatened to expel him. As Armstrong writes:

Students actually threw dirt at him while, "others took away their pay" for his servitor's services. He fell into very deep emotional distress. We would refer to it as a significant depression... He prayed, wept, fasted, sought and agonised all the more ...these trials continued for months. In 1735, near Lent they became more intense. He was now in a weakened and sickly frame of mind and body... He listed his sins, confessed them one by one, and laboured for rest every morning and evening. Finally, in the kindness of God he came to the end of his human efforts and resources. He came to see that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that he could do for salvation that had not already been done. In the darkness our God revealed himself in the gospel. Whitefield wrote:

God was pleased to remove the heavy load, to enable me to lay hold of his dear son by living faith, and by giving the the spirit of adoption, to seal me even to the day of everlasting redemption. (Armstrong p25)

the cost of his conversion on his body and mind was significant. Whitefield returned home for a period of rest. He found this a dreary time with no mental or spiritual stimulation. Almost to avoid the boredom, Whitefield begins to evangelise choosing to begin to reach out to a lady that he had known since childhood. The conversion was the first of several and soon there was a society of believers formed in Gloucester.

Since he had left Oxford, his financial resources had dried up. He began to rely on God to meet his needs. Eventually the financial resources were made available for him to return to Oxford. At this time he struggled with the idea of becoming an Anglican Minister. As the then leader of the holy club, it was the continuing burning urgency the felt to preach the gospel that decided him in the end to seek ordination.

he was ordained a Deacon on Sunday, June 20, 1736 by the Bishop of Gloucester. This was the beginning of a fruitful ministry within London. Over the next few months he preached to overflowing crowds at the chapel of the Town and Ludgate prison. Even from these earliest days, Whitefield had the drawing power to pack the venue that he used. These overflowing crowds were a mark of his ministry until his death some 34 years later. At this time he was only 21 years old.

Although Whitefield was becoming very popular he was still desperately poor. He received several invitations to come and be a settled Minister. At the same time he received an invitation from John Wesley to come and minister with John in Georgia. he chose Georgia and for this reason, became one of the greatest evangelist and itinerant preachers of all time. Even as he was preparing to leave for Georgia, his ministry and popularity was increasing. Everywhere that he went he was in demand to preach and God blessed his preaching with large results.

During the months before his departure, he was preaching on average 9 times a week. a contemporary wrote:

On Sundays before daybreak the streets were to be seen in a bustle with people going early in order to secure good places, with lanterns in their hands, and conversing with each other about the things of eternity. (Armstrong P 30).

Despite the criticism of Whitefield: called a spiritual pickpocket, others a special charm to move people, others demonic or hyper - spiritual power, it is clear that the response to George's preaching goes well beyond the possibilities of natural talent. It is clear that George was an annointed minister at the time of a great moving of God across England. It was God that achieved the results of George's ministry.

As the time for George's leaving for America drew near, the response of people grew even more extreme:

Thousands and thousands of prayers were put up for me. They would run and stop me in the alleys of the churches, hug me in their arms and follow me with wishful looks. (Armstrong P 31)

In Georgia his reception was similar. It was at this time that he began to work on an institution that would take some of his attention for the rest of his life. He began to promote the idea of an orphanage within Georgia. Despite the long journey to get to Georgia, he found himself leaving after only four months. His parishioners were keen to see him confirmed as a full Anglican priest.

On his return, after 11 months, Whitefield was received with the same welcome by the people. His popularity with the churches however was increasingly low. He found that more and more churches were closed to him. On a visit to Bristol, he found no church that would allow him to preach. Even the prison was closed to him due to the wrangling of the mayor.

Eventually Whitefield was forced to step well outside the bounds of proprietary and begin to preach in the open air. Whitefield was refused the Abbey Church at Bath and so returned to Bristol. There he was also refused and so went to the poor coal mining district of Kingswood. He stood on a hill called Hanham mount near Bristol and preached on the text of Matthew 5 verses 1-3. Describing the responces to his continued ministry among the coal miners:

Having no righteousness of their own to renounce, they were glad to hear of a Jesus who was a friend to publicans, and came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. The first discovery of their being affected was to see the white gutters made by their tears which plentifully fell down their black cheeks as they came out of the coal - pits. Hundreds and hundreds of them were soon brought under deep convictions which (as the event proved) happily ended in a sound and thorough conversion ( Armstrong P 33)

after these experiments in ministry in the open air, Whitefield extended his ministry into Wales and then returned to London. It was Whitefield who introduced John Wesley to open air preaching that became such a key mark of this revival. Armstrong is keen to point out that revival had already broken out in America by this time. On his return to London he failed to find any Church that would allow him to preach. He began his work in Moorfields. There he preached to pleasure seekers, the crowds were estimated by some at over 30 thousand. Whitefield described it thus:

The wind, being for me, carried the voice to the extremist part of the audience. All stood attentive and joined in the psalm and the Lords prayer most regularly. I scarce ever preached more quietly in any church... All agreed it was never seen in this wise before.

It was not long before Whitefield was compelled to return to Georgia. Whitefield would cross and re-cross the Atlantic preaching in America some five times during his ministry. Leaving England he left the care of the Ministry that he had founded in both Bristol and Moorfields to the care of his friends the Wesleys.

When Whitefield arrived, he met Benjamin Franklin. This was the beginning of a life long friendship with this key American Scientist. As soon as he had arrived, Whitefield found that he was again preaching. The churches welcomed him and the crowds were as big as ever.

Whitefield and Franklin disagreed over the plan to found a orphanage in Georgia. Franklin felt that the perfect place was Philadelphia. Because Whitefield didn't agree Franklin refused to donate any money to the cause. However the following incident occurred:

I happened soon afterwards to attend one of his sermons, in the course of which I perceived he intended to finish with a collection, and I silently resolved he should get nothing from me. Yet I had in my pocket a handful of copper money, three or four silver dollars, and five in gold. As he proceeded I began to soften and concluded to give the copper. Another stroke of his oratory made me ashamed of that and determined me to give the silver, and he finished so admirably that I emptied my pocket into the collection dish, gold and all (Armstrong p38)

During this time Whitefield made an important friendship with the Tennant family. This family was instrumental in the founding of what is now Princeton and were also very active in the revival movement of the time. Despite Whitefield being an ordained Anglican priest, it was the Presbyterians that welcomed him and the Anglicans refused him their Churches.

After a month in Philadelphia ministering, Whitefield left to travel south to Georgia. Every place that he travelled through, crowds gathered and beseeched him to stay and Minister amongst them. After preaching the gospel to them he moved on. Everywhere that he went the left a trail of new Christians, powerfully converted by his ministry.

It took him two months to get from Philadelphia to Georgia. This basically sums up the Ministry of Whitefield. He travelled from place to place, preaching, and everywhere the crowds followed and numbers were converted. In addition to this ministry, there were a number of ministries and locations that came under his wing. Foremost among these was the orphanage in Georgia. He was continually fund raising for this institution because at that time Georgia didn't have the population to support the orphanage themselves. In addition all materials were expensive because of the distances they had to be transported.

He did significant work in the area of Bristol. He particularly worked with the coal miners of the Kingswood area. This work bloomed and required a meeting place. He also preached at MoorFields and eventually founded a church there. The work at MoorFields and also in the Bristol area was begun before this trip to America. Whitefield left these ministries in the capable hands of the Wesley brothers. By the time Whitefield returned, the Wesleys had consolidated these ministries.

It is important to realise that there were significant differences in theology between Whitefield and the Wesleys. John Wesley was Armenian in outlook. He was also very mystic in his approach to Christian revelation. From the Moravians he had accepted the practice of casting lots. Whitefield totally rejected these kinds of practices. Whitefield was also a calvinistic in theology. He believed that it was only by a direct act of God that someone could be saved and regenerated. It was God who allowed sinners to repent and become Christians. Wesley on the other hand emphasised a person's free will in choosing to follow Christ.

While the Wesley brothers and Whitefield were the leaders of the Methodist revival, their differences in approach to ministry and also their differences in theology made a controversy inevitable. It was about this time that the controversy came into the open.

While Whitefield was still in America, John Wesley circulated a sermon entitled free grace. It attacked the doctrine of election as taught by Whitefield. They were also beginning to teach their doctrine of perfection. This doctrine suggested that people were able to achieve perfection during this life. Fuel was added to the fire when a letter written to John Wesley by Whitefield protesting such options and practices, was published by the calvinistic faction without the permission of either Wesley or Whitefield. Wesley led a large crowd as he symbolically and literally tore the letter into pieces.

By the time Whitefield returned, Wesley held the deeds to the meeting rooms in Bristol. He had built a church and the Moorfields congregation was meeting in that church. He had also warned that congregation to have nothing to do with Whitefield. The Wesleys were very popular in England, and any opposition that Whitefield made only reduced his ability to continue in ministry as churches were closed to him and he lost popular support. Armstrong quotes Belden:

When he (Whitefield) took his stand under the trees at MoorFields, the crowd passed him by with scorn and mockery, putting their fingers in there ears! Every Church was closed to him, whilst his publisher, James Hutton, whose consistent principle it was to publish only what he believed to be in accordance with the word of God, refused any longer to print for him because of his calvinism. (Armstrong p46)

Throughout this time the orphanage in Georgia was a great financial burden. Another preacher and great friend of Whitefield called Seward was killed by an angry mob at this time. Another bill for the orphanage was presented for £350 leaving Whitefield in debt to the sum of one thousand pounds and him with no money whatsoever.

It has always amazed me the way Whitefield simply walked away from his rights in ministry and proceeded to solve the controversy by expressing greater grace and greater love. The MoorFields problem was solved by simply building another Church building that became, as much as anywhere, the home church for Whitefield. Whitefield proceeded to continue his itinerations covering England and Scotland and Wales. He went to great lengths to heal the breach in relationship between him and the Wesleys. It was out of this great heart, this desire for peace with the Wesleys that the significant quote in Pratney comes. Pratney writes:

One censorious Professor of religion, knowing the sharp theological differences between them, asked if Whitefield thought he would see John Wesley in heaven. "I fear not," he said, "he will be so near the throne and we at such a distance that we shall hardly get a sight of him." (Pratney p96)

Due to this kind of attitude, even though Methodism was increasingly sharply defined across the split between calvinism and arminianism, the relationship between the Wesleys and Whitefield was eventually restored. Whitefield returned to his central calling, that of itinerant evangelist, and left the field of church planting to Wesley.

I don't think we really appreciate the size of the Ministry that Whitefield had. In 1742 Whitefield returned to Scotland. In June Whitefield described the following saying:

At noon I came to Cambuslang, the place which God had so honoured. I preached at two o'clock to a vast body of people, again at six in the evening, afterwards at nine. Such a commotion was surely never heard of, especially about 11 o'clock at night. it far outdid anything I ever saw in America. For about an hour and a half there was such weeping, so many falling into deep distress, and manifesting it in various ways, that description is impossible. The people seemed to be smitten in scores. They were carried off as if brought from a field of battle. Their agonies and cries were deeply affecting. Mr McCulloch preached after I had done, till past one o'clock in the morning, and even then the people could scarcely be got to retire. Throughout the whole of the night the voice of prayer and praise might still be heard in the fields. (Armstrong p51)

This was part of a significant revival in Cambuslang. The numbers of people that Whitefield was preaching to was awesome. On July the 9th Whitefield preached to twenty thousand people. The next day the crowd was all of thirty thousand people. The location of these sermons is now called the preaching braes.

Whitefield continued his efforts to raise money for the orphanage during this time. For this reason the secular press attacked him for the large sums of money that he was raising. The Church hierarchy attacked him for the association's that he had made. Because Whitefield would work with anyone who would allow him to bring people to Christ, he worked with people from both ends of the spectrum. Free church as well as the church men.

Whitefield had married and he soon had a new child. Because he had very little money, be sent his wife and new child to live in Wales. The mother and child got as far as Gloucester, when the child died. This was the child that he had hoped would become a great preacher bringing the gospel to thousands.

With the trials of this personal tragedy, opposition on all sides, he received calls to return to America. This was the middle of the first great awakening. Whitefield on his previous visit had been greatly used to encourage revival through large tracts of America. Now he found that the revival was still in full swing. But he also found confusion and division in many of the churches.

Both Dallimore and Armstrong portray Whitefield as being highly anti-emotionalism and anti-response. I am unsure to what extent this is an imputation from the writer to Whitefield. Armstrong states that one of the problems that Whitefield met on his return was that of an expectation of wild and rowdy response to preaching. Because the spirit was moving in revival, often the congregation's response to preaching was loud or to quote Armstrong: "the spirit of God had created deep and profound impressions which resulted in strong measures of conviction leading many to cry out and weep openly." (Armstrong P 55)

Because these reactions were an indication of the spirit moving, some ministers were now expecting and desiring these effects. This led to ministers cultivating these responses. This is a common issue in all ministries. To what extent are outward responses due to the real activity of God and to what extent on they due to the expectations, or even manipulations of the congregation and the minister.

A second issue was that division or rather competition between lay exhorters and established ministers. This is also an issue which any move of God. With the beginning of revival there is a raising up of people in ministry, either from established ministeries or from the congregation's. At the same time there are some churches that are slower in seeing the effects of revival or who see the revival in a different form.

The response of a established Minister to someone from a revival coming to bring that revival to their Church may indeed be cool. This may not be indicative that this Minister is not interested in revival, rather it may simply mean that they wish to avoid destroying their Church in the process. It is these kinds of issues that the second problem revolve round. There was a perception by certain lay exhorters that because established ministers rejected their ministry, that they were cold and thus the lay exhorters proceeded to minister in a highly divisive manner. they entered a town, proceeded to preach and included denunciations of the established Minister.

The most notorious of these exhorters was James Davenport. To quote Armstrong:

This practice, fostered especially through the problematic ministry of an evangelist named James Davenport, had worked havoc in many places. Davenport, who had previously suffered a mental and emotional breakdown, was undoubtedly used of God in the American awakening, but he was also the cause of considerable division, especially through his "direct revelations". Convulsions, faintings, crying out - all of these regularly attended Davenport meetings. He would sometimes encourage people to throw their clothes, religious books and other possessions into a raging fire. Sadly, some began to associate Whitefield ministries with these excesses. He had to spend considerable time during this particular visit putting out the fires of excess and defending the good name of true evangelism. (Armstrong p56)

After four years of Ministry in America, and uncounted numbers of new converts, Whitefield returned to England. He found that his congregation at Moorfields had outgrown its accommodation. Together with itinerant ministry he entered into a building plan. He was beginning to find that his strength was not equal to the tasks be had before him.

The remainder of his life was largely a continuation of what we have seen so far. The tasks and opportunities simply got larger while his body got weaker and weaker. Towards the end of his life he was forced to more and more curtail his travelling due to sickness. In 1753 he wrote:

Thus far but no further am I as yet advanced on my way to Scotland, and was I to comply with the pressing invitations of the Yorkshire people, I know not when I should get there. The fields are exceedingly white unto harvest, but by preaching thrice a day to great multitude my poor tabernacle is enfeebled, and I have such a cold that I cannot write much. (Armstrong p58)

He was still preaching to congregation's or gatherings of thousands sometimes even up to 20 thousand. Another quotation from this period further emphasizes his steadily worsening state:

Many were filled with new wine; and as for myself I scarcely know whether I was in heaven or on earth. On Tuesday morning, though we had drunk plentifully before, yet Our Lord kept the good wine till the last. We had a glorious parting blessing. At York I preached four times. Twice we were disturbed; and twice we had seasons (of quiet). A good work was begun there. The prospect all around is so glorious I almost repent that I have engaged to go to Scotland. God willing, I shall come back as quickly as possible. What a pity it is I have but one body, and that a very weak one to! Lord, magnify thyself in my weakness, and send me where thou wilt. (Armstrong p59)

Whitefield died while in America. His last public sermon was considered by many to be the best they had ever heard. His weakness was clear from the time he stepped into the pulpit. For several minutes he was unable to speak and then said "I will wait for the gracious assistance of God"

From God he must have received the help he sought for he continued and preached for two hours. He went from the field to a Presbyterian manse and rested. Feeling ill, he left the family dinner table and went up to rest. Tradition says that later on the way to bed, his friends requested that he preach. Stopping on the second landing he turned, with candle in his hand, and complied with their wish. He preached until the candle burnt down and went out before continuing on to bed. He died next morning probably due to asthma.

Discussion Questions:

1) Why was preaching in the open air so improper? What things are equivalent in our society? How do they provide opportunities to extend the kingdom?

2) What is the role of theology in revival? What does this say about our deepest held convictions?

3) What is the role of character in revival? What does this say about our lives?

4) How would you describe the leadership demonstrated by Whitefield?

5) What does the action of Whitefield walking away from MoorFields and Bristol and restoring relationship with the Wesleys say about the importance of completing the work for God?


This essay was developed as a lecture and so the references are not as good as they should be. As far as I am aware the material was based on the following books:

"Revival: Principles to change the world" by Winkie Pratney (Whitaker House1983)

"Five Great Evangelists" by John H. Armstrong (Christian Focus Publications 1997)

"Revival and Revivalism" by Iain H. Murray (The Banner of Truth Trust 1994)

"George Whitefield" (unabridged, 2vol) Arnold Dallimore (Banner of  Truth Trust)

The Revival Cycle

The revival cycle is a model that can be used to interpret church history, the faith journey etc. The church or person goes through stages in a clockwise direction. It is descriptive rather than normative - not all steps will always be gone through but it does help our understanding. It is most clearly seen in the Bible in the book of Judges.


Revival Theoretical Model

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