Thursday, December 10, 2009

2009 Westminster Conference Report (3): Stephen Clark on 1859 - A Year of Grace

1859 - A Year of Grace
Stephen Clark
It fell to Stephen Clark to break the Conference's concentration on Calvin to give an account of the 1859 Revival.
The Revival began in America in the wake of a severe financial crash in October 1857. In the September of that year the famous Foulton Street prayer meetings began. These meetings began in a small way, but soon 100's of prayer meetings had been set up throughout New York. Churches were revived and many lost sinners were saved.
Similarly in Ireland, four concerned believers started praying and soon large crowds of 3,000 people gathered for outdoor prayer meetings in all weathers. Many were prostrated under deep conviction of sin. Notorious sinners in Protestant and Roman Catholic camps were converted. Sectarianism waned as converted Protestants showed a new love for their Roman Catholic neighbours.
The 1859 Free Church of Scotland's annual assembly made mention of a remarkable work of grace. Many were converted under the preaching of Brownlow North.
'Land of Revivals' since the 1730's. There were around fifteen powerful revivals from 1735 to the early 1850's. Clark sketched out the course of the 1859 revival in Wales, but I won't recount that here. See this earlier series of posts.
Leading characteristics
1. Remarkable conversions.
Many people from 'Hell Corner' in the USA converted. T. C. Edwards converted under David Morgan's preaching in Wales. Sceptical intellectuals as well as prostitutes saved.
2. Powerful preaching
Preachers were empowered by the Spirit to preach with great effect. For example, see David Morgan here.
3. Consequences
Revival of the church. Awakening and conversion of sinners. Social impact - crime and drunkenness cut. Some areas pronounced crime free. Magistrates were presented with white gloves as they had no cases to try. Prostitution outlawed. The poor helped. Beginning of Dr. Bernardo's orphanages. Spiritual impact: In the wake of the 1859 Revival there was a work of the Spirit amongst students in Oxford and Cambridge that led to the eventual founding of the IVF (now UCCF) and via IVF the publishers, IVP . Hudson Taylor was joined by converts of the '59 Revival when he returned to China in 1865 - start of China Inland Mission.
4. Aftermath
Churches damaged by Liberalism in the 1880's
5. Lessons
1) The work of God's kingdom is advanced by 'special seasons of mercy' like the 1859 Revival. Jonathan Edwards, “It may here be observed, that from the fall of man, to our day, the work of redemption in its effect has mainly been carried on by remarkable communications of the Spirit of God. Though there be a more constant influence of God’s Spirit always in some degree attending his ordinances; yet the way in which the greatest things have been done towards carrying on this work, always have been by remarkable effusions, at special seasons of mercy”.
2) We need to pray for such 'special seasons of mercy' - 2 Thessalonians 3:1.
3) We should not be parochial, but have a world-wide vision. The '59 Revival led to renewed interest in mission.
4) We should not confuse results with causes. Trying to replicate the prayer meetings of the 1850's will not guarantee revival. Those special meetings were themselves the result of an outpouring of the Spirit. God is sovereign and revival cannot be created on demand. Beware of old Plymouth Brethren teaching that since the Spirit was given at Pentecost we need not pray for further outpourings of his grace. Views of Moore College similar. Danger of overreaction against Charismatic excesses. The risen Jesus is able to pour out the Spirit in fresh power and we should urgently seek him for this.
5) ? - skipped due to time constraints
6) Our contemporary situation is different to that of 1859. Religious pluralism, the presence of other faiths, strident atheism. We must engage in apologetics, 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, Acts 17:22-34. But what we need above all else is the demonstration of the Spirit and power in our preaching - 1 Corinthians 2:1-4.
I didn't stop for the discussion as I had a train to catch and the paper ran a little over time. I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to the Westminster Conference for many years. Stimulating papers. Good discussion. Nice to have fellowship with old friends. The event was spolied a little by a poor, muffled sound system and some strange noises off. The papers for both days will be made available in printed form - keep an eye on the website for details.
I was only presnet at the Conference on Tuesday so that's it for my reports. But my good friend, Gary Brady has posted some notes on Wednesday's papers:

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