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Prayer Meeting Revival: America in 1857 to 1858
The years leading up to the Civil War were tumultuous, to say the least. Religious fervor had declined from its peak during the long-lasting, multifaceted Second Great Awakening of the early 1800s. Church growth was no longer keeping pace with America’s booming population. A stock market crash brought hardship upon many homes. Ethnic and racial tensions began to tear the nation apart. But at this time, God blessed churches in the United States with a national revival. Between 1856 and 1859, Protestant denominations added 474,000 members. Methodists and Baptists led the way, accounting for more than three-fourths of these new members.
Previously, the unconverted showed scant interest in Christianity, and even the Christians lacked fervor.
Historians often focus on the prayer meetings in New York City when businessmen by the thousands spent their lunch hours singing hymns, reading Scripture, and interceding with God for one another. But revival also broke out in other locations across the country. Leaders in the City of Brotherly Love, representing a wide swath of Protestant denominations, testified to the Lord’s work in an 1859 booklet, Pentecost or The Work of God in Philadelphia. These pillars of the community staked their reputations on this compilation of “authentic facts” about God’s work among them.
Delivering God's message
One of the revival’s most dynamic leaders was Dudley Tyng, a 29-year-old Episcopalian. More than 5,000 turned out to hear him preach over the noon hour at the downtown YMCA on March 30, 1858. He preached from Exodus 10:11, “Go, the men among you, and serve the Lord.” More than 1,000 heeded the call to follow Christ delivered by the fervent speaker. “I must tell my Master’s errand, and I would rather that this right arm were amputated at the trunk than that I should come short of my duty to you in delivering God’s message,” Tyng told the men.
"Stand up for Jesus"
The words proved tragically prophetic. As he visited a farm the next week, Tyng caught his shirt sleeve in a corn threshing machine. He suffered a deep laceration and died from massive blood loss due to a severed artery. As he died surrounded by other ministers and friends, he told them weakly, “Let us all stand up for Jesus.” These words became the YMCA motto. The entire evangelical clergy of Philadelphia officiated Tyng’s funeral together. As evident in Tyng’s life and death, revival united churches and burdened Christians with passion to introduce the lost to Jesus Christ.
If you pray, they will follow
In some cases, the revival built upon earlier local outbreaks. John Broadus became a founding professor of New Testament and Preaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1859. But earlier that decade, he served as pastor of Charlottesville Baptist Church, then as chaplain for the University of Virginia. Revival broke out in Charlottesville in 1852. Previously, the unconverted showed scant interest in Christianity, and even the Christians lacked fervor. Broadus and others believed nothing but prayer for God’s intervention could bring revival from malaise. Indeed, a number of women responded to the call for fasting and early morning prayer.
An unexpected conversion
God sent revival again in 1858. Broadus convened evangelistic meetings for the male and female students in town. The women prayed for one student they figured would never show. To their shock, Lottie Moon attended the meetings, if only to mock the Christians. But the Spirit unexpectedly moved her. Moon professed faith on December 21 in the Baptist church. Soon she was leading prayer meetings and sharing Scripture with fellow female students.
A revival's lasting impact
When Broadus issued a call for students to consider serving as missionaries, Moon responded. At age 33, Moon headed for China, where her sister was a missionary. Lottie led hundreds to the Lord, and inspired Southern Baptist women back home to serve the missions cause. As she expended herself for the Chinese, racked by war and disease, Moon withered away, weighing only 50 pounds before she died in 1912.
The devotion to Christ that started with a revival in Charlottesville had reached the world and transformed a whole denomination. Still today, the annual Christmas offering named in Moon's honor brings in the biggest portion of Southern Baptist money for missions. Revival may last for only a season, but the effects endure for eternity.
Collin Hansen is the co-author with John Woodbridge of A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories That Stretch and Stir.