At some point this last week I felt led to go find in my office my copy of “Revival Fire” by Wesley Duewel sensing my own need for “revival fire” to be stirred up in my spirit. God has done some amazing things in this country that at a number of times in its history seemed bent on self destruction. Wesley does a great job of chronicling many of these revivals and awakenings as well as the significant ones in other nations. I struggled over which account to record for you. What struck me about the one I chose is first it was mostly layman led and inspired; and second Wesley speaks twice of an “unusual spirit of prayer” as he lays out his account of what some call “The Layman’s Prayer Revival”. Might this be the year when this “unusual spirit of prayer” is rediscovered in America? I hope you are stirred as I was by what God did in such a short time through ordinary men and women. May He do it again in our day.
JEREMIAH LAMPHIER IGNITES A FLAME “A quiet, zealous forty six year old businessman in New York was appointed on July 1, 1857, as a missionary in downtown New York at the Dutch Church. Jeremiah Lamphier had been converted in 1842 in Broadway Tabernacle, Finney’s church that was built in 1836.
Lamphier felt led by God to start a noon-time weekly prayer meeting in which business people could meet for prayer. Anyone could attend, for a few minutes or for the entire hour. Prayers were to be comparatively brief. Lamphier’s group met on the third floor of the old North Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street in new York. Lamphier printed some handbills announcing the prayer meetings with the title, “How Often Should I Pray?” He left these in some offices and warehouses. He also put one on the door of the church on the street side.
The first day, September 23, 1857, Lamphier prayed alone for half an hour. But by the end of the hour, six men from at least four denominational backgrounds joined him. The next Wednesday there were twenty. On October 7 there were nearly forty. The meeting was so blessed that they decided to meet daily. One week later there were over one hundred present, including many unsaved who were convicted by the Holy Spirit of their sin.
Within one month pastors who had attended the noon prayer meetings in Fulton Street started morning prayer meetings in their own churches. Soon the places where the meetings were held were overcrowded. Men and women, young and old of all denominations met and prayed together without distinctions. The meetings abounded with love for Christ, love for fellow Christians, love for prayer, and love of witnessing. Those in attendance felt an awesome sense of God’s presence. They prayed for specific people, expected answers, and obtained answers.
Newspapers began to report on the meetings and the unusual spirit of prayer that was evident. Within three months similar meetings had sprung up across America. Thousands began praying in these services and in their own homes. In New York, gospel tracts were distributed to those in attendance, with instructions that they pray over the tracts and then give them to someone God brought to mind.
The three rooms at the Fulton Street Church were filled beyond capacity, and hundreds had to go to other places. By early February a nearby Methodist Church was opened, and it immediately overflowed. The balconies were filled with ladies. By March 19 a theatre opened for prayer, and half an hour before it was time to begin, people were turned away. Hundreds stood outside in the streets because they could not get inside. By the end of March over six thousand people met daily in prayer gatherings in New York City. Many churches added evening services for prayer. Soon there were 150 united prayer meetings each day across Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Meetings began in February in Philadelphia. Soon Jayne’s Hall was overfilled, and meetings were held at noon each day in public halls, concert halls, fire stations, houses, and tents. The whole city exuded a spirit of prayer.
PRAYER MEETING FERVOR Almost simultaneously noon prayer meetings sprang up all across America in Boston, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Richmond, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, New Orleans, Vicksburg, Memphis, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago, and in a multitude of other cities, town, and in rural areas. By the end of the fourth month, prayer fervor burned intensely across the nation. It was an awesome but glorious demonstration of the sovereign working of the Holy Spirit and the eager obedience of God’s people. America had entered a new period of faith and prayer. Educated and uneducated, rich and poor, business leaders and common workmen – all prayed, believed, and received answers to prayer. Even the president of the United States, Franklin Pierce, attended many of the noon prayer meetings. This was not a revival of powerful preaching. This was a movement of earnest, powerful, prevailing prayer.
All people wanted was a place to pray. Sinners would come and ask for prayer. Someone would individually pray for them, and in minutes the newly saved person was rejoicing in Christ. Prayers would be asked by name for unconverted friends and loved ones from all over the country. In a day or two, testimonies would be given of how the prayers had already been answered. In some towns, nearly the entire population became saved.
Six months previous to Lamphier’s prayer meeting boom, few would have gathered for a prayer service. But now a spirit of prayer occupied the land, as though the church had suddenly discovered its real power. The majority of the churches in most denominations experienced a new dimension of prayer. The Presbyterian Magazine reported that as of May there had been fifty thousand converts of the revival. In February, a New York Methodist magazine reported a total of eight thousand conversions in Methodist meetings in one week. The Louisville daily paper reported seventeen thousand Baptist conversions in three weeks during the month of March And according to a June statement, the conversion figures stood at 96, 216 – and still counting.
P. 128-130 of “Revival Fire” by Wesley Duewel (published by Zondervan).