Monday, June 09, 2008

The power of the pulpit, and this work of the Holy Spirit

As one looks at the Protestant Churches in Britain and America in the second part of the nineteenth century, the impression given is one of abounding vitality. It was as an age when rationalism and scepticism were spreading... nevertheless, for the mass of the people, loyalty to the gospel call and to the Church was a notable feature of the time. It was an era of great theologians and great preachers, and the churches were excellently attended. It is questionable whether the power of the pulpit on such a wide scale was ever so marked in the English-speaking world as it was in the years from 1840-1890. There were, indeed, giants in those days... [Spurgeon taking up the mantle from Charles Simeon. Simeon's legacy in part leading to the birth of the gospel-centred student-witness of the UCCF...]

...it has never been adequately realised, however, how much this period owed to the great revival movements which took place. This was particularly true of the 1857-1860 revival. As a result of this work of the Holy Spirit, at least one million coverts were received into the Church of God in the United States alone... from America to Ulster and then to England and Scotland.... The tremendous effect of this can scarcely be exagerated. It came to many congregations as life from the dead.

...the effect produced upon William Booth and his wife led to the founding in 1865 of the Salvation Army...it was through the influence of the revival that Thomas Barnado was converted in 1862. The story of the establishing of his orphan homes is typical of the great upsurge of philanthropic activity during this period which derived its vitality and earnestness from the evangelical convictions of those who shared in it...

Its most remarkable feature was the way in which [Moody's ministry in 1873] affected men and women of all classes, educated and illiterate, rich and poor.

... the revival was started not by special revivalists but in ordinary services... Businesmen, deeply troubled by an economic recession that has caused a spate of bankruptcies, crowded to the midday prayer meetings, timed to last exactly one hour and compatible with a full diary.... it was marked by dedicated prayer, evangelical cooperation... instances of physical prostrations associated with conviction of sin....

Not only were there many thousands of conversions; there was also a distinct quickening of the pace of global efforts to spread the gospel. Between 1860 and 1884 some 12% of total spending by Anglicans of all church parties was on foreign missions: the proportion among Evangelicals was undoubtedly far higher.... there was a surge of interest in overseaswork from the mid-1880s, much of it in response to the stirring news that a groupof gifted young university men, the Cambridge Seven, had undertaken service with the China Inland Mission. [Fuller's support of Carey and Simeon of Henry Martyn having preceeded this by a couple of generations]

Extracts from Renwick & Harman, The Story of the Church, chapter 21.
and David Bebbington, The Dominance of Evangelicalism, p100ff.

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