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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

In his book, The Revival and its Lessons, Dr. James W. Alexander is careful to point out that every work of revival has its own “peculiarities…arising from acknowledged diversities in the sovereign dispensation of the Spirit.”  In the case of the revival which took place in New York, it “was not the result of human project, concerted arrangement, or prescribed plan.  It was not an excitement foreseen, predicted, and made to order.”

Equally incontestable is it that this great interest in things divine and eternal did not “come with observation.”  There had been no pomp of preparation.  Indeed the foregoing season was one of remarkable aridity and dearth; so that multitudes of the younger professing Christians had never seen what is called a Revival.  And even when the holy elevation of feeling was at its height, it was, in the circle open to our survey, entirely free, on one hand, from the machinery of religious maneuver, and, on the other hand, from manifestations of an unruly enthusiasm.  An exception here and there, out of thousands, lamented, suppressed, and never propagating itself, in no degree impairs the force of the assertion just made.  Decorous stillness, reverent waiting upon God, and a tender sense of the heavenly presence, have marked many of these delightful assemblages.

Another unique feature of this revival is that it was not connected to any one man’s ministry. “The observation has been often made, and with the greatest truth, that among the instruments of this awakening no prominence has been given to particular men, or distinguished gifts of learning and eloquence.” It originated with lay people and never had any kind of clerical dominance directing its course.  “But there has not been the slightest tendency, so far as appears, to magnify any special human agency, or to lean upon what is often alleged to be the inordinate strength of public exhortation.”

“Two great truths have been made exceedingly prominent, in every stage of the revival,”

Alexander said, “the influence of the Holy Spirit, and free salvation through the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.”   Alexander proceeds to compare and contrast revivals which have taken place throughout history:

“The rumor of what God has done for us has gone into other lands, and believers there have inquired with eagerness into the state of the facts, the means which have been used, and the likelihood of benefit from adapting our means to their condition.  Our brethren abroad have probably been prone to ascribe to our churches an absolute advancement in piety much beyond the truth.  The principles should never be forgotten, that while the great laws of the divine government and the dispensation of grace remain the same, the Supreme Giver varies his modes of bounty, with reference to differences of country and period.  Apostolic awakenings were in some things unlike those of the Reformation day.  The quiet, spring-like renewal of vital godliness, under Spener, Francke, and the Pietists, bore little external resemblance to the prodigious revolution under the Wesleys, Whitefield, Edwards, the Tennents and the Blairs.  The very remarkable awakening in which Dr. Nettleton and his friends were instrumental differ again from the times of refreshing in which we live.  Let us not limit the Holy One of Israel.”

A final feature Alexander comments upon is the visible unity it created among Christians of different denominational persuasions:

“That fraternity which had been sought with less success by separate means, was here seen to flow naturally from concert in prayer; under the influences of the Holy Spirit; thus indicating it may be the source from which we are to expect the sublime unity of a coming day. Except where some unscriptural and exclusive pretensions have been trampled on, it has not been heard that any branch of the Christian Church has uttered complaint.  There has been no compromise of tenets, except as to the utterance of disputed points upon the common ground.  In our country at least there has never been so open an acknowledgment of varying Christians by one another…”


Biblical revival is a small foretaste of the heavenly glory that awaits every child of God.  It is a work of grace in an individual’s life that finds expression in large numbers of people at the same time; it is both a quickening of spiritual life in those already regenerated and the birthing of that life in those still strangers to grace.  Its effects are personal and corporate; churches and communities alike become its beneficiaries.  Faith lays hold upon the promises of God’s Word, and prayer carries our requests to our Heavenly Father whose power brings “seasons of refreshing” known as revival. May God be pleased to bring such a revival in our generation!!  

James M. Garretson
Ministry Director at Harvard Law School