The Resurgence of 1830 onward

J. Edwin Orr

J. Edwin Orr as a young man

J. Edwin Orr as a young man

This is a transcript of a lecture given by J. Edwin Orr at the Church on the Way, Van Nuys, California in 1981. 

The introductions are so kind that I have to tell you, when I was in New Zealand, a man came up and said to me, you know, Mr. Orr, it must be a great benefit to your ministry that people are so disappointed when they see you first.

I wasn’t sure what I should say, so I said, really? ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put it that way. I mean that after people read your books or heard about you, and then they see you for the first time, they realize that only God could use you.’

Now, I’m not here to talk about myself, but about the wonderful works of God. We heard a moment ago that people never learn from history, that they’re condemned to live history again. But, it’s because they don’t study history, that’s why, and this is particularly true of the 1970s and 80s, when we’re in the middle of what you call the ‘now generation,’ when they find that history is not relevant, they can’t be bothered. And so they have to learn all over again.

Some people find history a bore. I find people who find history a bore, a bore. For example, in the 1830s, the total number of believers in Hawaii was 500. In 1835, the missionaries, largely Congregational, met for prayer. They sent an appeal to the United States, their home base, asking that they would pray there’d be an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Hawaii. They promised they would pray for the rest of the world. In 1838 came the revival.

One church in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii took in 7,501, after six months probation, they took in over 1500, on one Sunday. There was such a movement all over Hawaii, that little children would get up early in the morning to run out to the sugarcane fields to pray.

It was a vast movement of prayer. Now, this was among the Polynesian Hawaiians, before the entry of the Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and other races. But so sweeping was that revival that King Kamehameha III declared the country a Christian kingdom and gave them a Bill of Rights.

20 years later, they found that more than 19,000 of the converts were still standing in the churches. How many people know that? Of course, some may say, well, why is Hawaii not completely Christian today? Because the immigrants who came in to take the place of the Hawaiians who died off because of Western diseases, measles and smallpox and the like. They were Buddhist, largely, but even so, by 1860, the Hawaiians had their own missionary societies to evangelize the rest of the Pacific, and the churches are still thriving.

Now, the big question has come up. Does the tide have to go out completely before it comes in again? I find that you cannot say so. I told you about the Great Awakening, 1727 onwards, that laid the foundation of this country, the Awakening in the days of Whitfield and Wesley and Jonathan Edwards and others of like rank. Anyone who studies American history knows that the Great Awakening, as it’s called, laid the foundation of this country.

There’s no question about that. But last time I spoke, I spoke of the revival of 1792. I had told how the tide had gone out completely. The churches had their backs to the wall and then they started what was called the ‘Concert of Prayer.’

They set aside one day every month to pray for a spiritual Awakening and when that revival came, it swept multitudes into the kingdom of God and did untold good socially, such as the abolition of the slave trade, the beginning of monitorial schools for the poor, the foundation of the Bible Societies and all the denominational missionary societies.

But does the tide have to go out first before it comes in? No. In 1830, I found, to my amazement, it seemed almost too good to be true that another general awakening of phenomenal power swept the United States 1830-1831, and continued for a dozen years.

Now you will find, if you go to theological seminaries, that those who hate the Gospel, who run down evangelism and revival, speak of revivalism as if it were a frontier phenomenon. In other words, something of extravagance happens among the uneducated people on the frontier. But the revivals did not begin on the frontiers. This great revival of 1830 began in late spring in Charleston, Massachusetts, across the Charles River from Boston, and it spread throughout the country.

At that time, a young evangelist called Charles Finney was holding forth in Rochester, New York, and they had a local revival of great power so much so that it affected even the number of arrests of criminals for the next 20 years. It cut it down so much. But lots of people have exaggerated that movement. I was speaking at a prayer congress at San Jose when one of the speakers, with great enthusiasm, said, ‘Think of Finney’s revival at Rochester, in which a quarter of a million people found Christ.’

I said to him after the service, ‘That poses a problem for me, because the population of Rochester was only 10,000. How could you have a quarter of a million converts?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I’m glad you told me.’  He said, ‘I must have got my figures mixed up a little bit.’ So he went back to his notes, and when he saw me again, he said, ‘I was quite wrong. It wasn’t a quarter of a million. It was only 100,000.’ ‘I said, that still poses a problem for me.’ How could you have 100,000 converts in a town of 10,000 in those days when the fastest you could travel was the speed of a horse galloping? They couldn’t fly in for a big explo or something of that type.

But Finney’s reputation as a national evangelist was made in December of 1830, in the great revival at Rochester, but the movement was already underway throughout the rest of the country.

Now Bishop Asbury the leader of the Methodist, told his preachers, ‘We must attend to camp meetings, they make our harvest time. Very interesting that the Methodist Episcopal Church thrived in the 1830s and 1840s. Now, perhaps some of you remember there was a program recently called Key 73.

In 1972, a very godly Methodist scholar wrote an article for the Methodist and other denominational papers saying, ‘We as denominations must get behind this, otherwise the Lord will bypass us and he’ll raise up the Jesus people,’ or something like that. Well, he had a point, but I wrote to my secretary, ‘He said in his article, ‘We must not forget that the last great awakening in the United States ended in 1820.’ I was amazed. I wrote to him and said, ‘What about the revival of 1830, which lasted twelve years? And in the last two years, your own denomination increased from 580,098 members to 1,171,356. They doubled, in two years.’ He didn’t answer me, so I went down to the public library in West Los Angeles and I got his private address and wrote to him at home, repeating the same letter.

I didn’t get an answer, so I said to one of my Methodist colleagues at Fuller Seminary, ‘How do you make a scholar answer a serious letter?’ He said. ‘Publish, man. Publish.’ But I was reluctant to do that. I wouldn’t like somebody to publish any time I goof. I like to be given a chance to correct. So, I prepared it as if it were going to be published. I wrote on the top of it, ‘Not yet published’, and then he answered with a two-page letter.

Do you know what his defense was? ‘What does it matter whether it was the first, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or whatever revival?’ Now, if President Reagan said our country is unprepared, the tragedy of American military strength is that the last war we ever fought ended in 1814, what would you think of him? You’d say, ‘What about the Mexican War? What about the Civil War? What about the Spanish American War? What about World War I? What about World War II? What about the Korean War? What about the Vietnam War?’

Apparently, so many of these scholars don’t know that God worked in such ways in 1830, 1850, 1905. They think the last Great Awakening ended 1820. That’s what they’ve been taught. Actually, what they teach our students is that these were movements unstructured, we would say, of the Holy Spirit. They say, unstructured, unorganized movements. And then Finney came along and organized them, and then Moody urbanized them, and then Billy Sunday made them big business, and now we’ve got Billy Graham. That’s the way they teach. In other words, that the Holy Spirit stopped working except through famous evangelists, and that is not true.

Now, this great revival spread throughout the United States, lasted until about 1842. Then, after that came serious division. You know that the Baptist North and South split. The Methodist North and South split. The Presbyterians North and South split. The Episcopalians were smaller, and they held on to their unity. And the same was true of some of the Lutherans, who were still a minority. But the major denominations split, chiefly over the issue of slavery, and spirituality went down again for a while.

Now, this revival of 1830 was also effective in Great Britain.  It raised up a man called James Caughey. That’s spelled C-a-u-g-h-e-y. In Ireland, we’d call that ‘Cocky,’ with a guttural, but most Americans can’t say ‘Cocky,’ so they say, ‘Coffee.’ He was born in Ireland, emigrated to the United States, was converted in the revival and went back and won thousands of people all over Great Britain, also in Ireland, in Dublin and elsewhere.

By the way, one of his converts was a young fellow called William Booth, who founded the Salvation Army. Now, there are great revivals also in South Wales first and then North Wales in the 1830s, and then a movement stirred Wales again in the 1840s.

In Scotland, there were great revivals. There was a very godly man called William Burns, who was pastor of a church at Kilsyth in Scotland. That’s where Whitfield had tens of thousands attending his meetings in a great movement of a revival in an earlier day.

And W. H. Burns was very much concerned over the spiritual condition of his parish. There was so much drunkenness, so much violence, so much downright unhappiness and sin. His son, William Chalmers Burns, who was going out to be a missionary, came to Kilsyth and preached in his father’s parish church, and so great was the power of God in that meeting, that the prayers and crying of the congregation drowned out the voice of the preacher. And this was the beginning of the great revival of 1839 that spread throughout Scotland.

At the same time, in Ireland, a country in which there’s nearly always some trouble, there was such an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit that the bishops of the Church of Ireland, that’s Anglican, Episcopalian, talked about a second Reformation. Alas, most of their converts were lost because, when the great potato famine followed about ten years later, many of the converts, if not most of them, emigrated to United States, Canada and Australia and other places.

One other interesting thing is that out of these movements came several renewal movements, restoration movements. First of all, in Ireland, there started what was called ‘a breaking of bread’ that became finally known as the Christian Brethren, we call them the Plymouth Brethren. That movement developed at that time of revival to try and restore apostolic practice.

In the United States, a similar move began under Alexander Campbell and others. We call them the Disciples of Christ. They wanted to get back to apostolic practice. There was another movement, a charismatic movement that started 1830 under the preaching of a great Scottish Presbyterian called Edward Irving, and he decided to try and restore apostolic practice.

But I found that that work was wrecked from within. It was charismatic. There were healings, tongues, trances, visions. But some very determined men used the gift of prophecy, or maybe I should say abused the gift of prophecy, in trying to get their own way. You say, now what do you mean by that? Well, I was talking to a good friend of mine who went to a certain big charismatic gathering in United States a few years ago and someone there decided he needed straightening out, but decided to do it by a word of prophecy, as if the Lord were speaking. And he stood up and said, behold, my servant Patrick has done wonderful things in my name and he shall have his reward, but he has yet many things to learn if he will but listen and so on. I said to my friend, ‘Were you impressed?’ He said, ‘Not a bit.’ He said ‘If that were the Holy Spirit speaking to me, he would know that my name is not Patrick, my nickname is Pat. So there was somebody faking. They were faking to try and bully him, you see. And sometimes within a charismatic movement you find faking of that type. And the leaders of this movement actually used the gift of prophecy to get rid of Edward Irving himself, their great leader, got rid of him.

To show you what I mean by false prophecy, they prophesied that they would be appointed twelve apostles and that Christ would come before the last one died. And so they did that, and the last one died in 1899 and the church died shortly afterwards. So we’ve got to be very careful because, whenever there’s a movement there are always opportunists trying to have their own way. By the way, the Catholic Apostolic Church as it was called, was not only charismatic but liturgical.

They were as more liturgical and Anglican or Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox. You know that in the Roman Catholic Church the priest wears vestments. So do those who help him at the altar, but not the common people. But in the Catholic Apostolic Church everyone wore vestments. They were all dressed like priests. But that movement died away.

Now there’s a man called George Scott went from Scotland to Sweden in the 1830s. He was chaplain to the British workmen who built the first railways in Sweden. The British were the first with railroads. He was not allowed to preach. It was against the law to preach anywhere outside a church of Sweden congregation, a Lutheran congregation.

But he got around that one of the noblemen had a chapel and so Scott began preaching there. He learned Swedish very quickly and there started a great movement that swept the whole of Sweden. They drove Scott out of Sweden but was succeeded by a great man of God called Karl Oluf Rosinius.

Now there were also reactionary movements. In Germany a great leader arose and said God has spoken to us in these last days by his servant Martin Luther. What need have we of the other denominations? So they became very exclusive and we have that movement among Lutherans to this day in this country.

In Holland there was another man who stood up and said God has spoken to us in these last days by his servant John Calvin. What need have we of these other denominations. They are outside the true faith. And so they started an exclusive Reformed denomination. And then also in England, there were some arose in the Church of England who said we are the true church. They went back beyond the Reformers to their early councils and thus was strengthened the Tractarian Movement which was high church or Anglo-Catholic. And even the United States, among the Baptists, of all people, there was one of these hyper-confessional movements. One man preached this famous landmark sermon which said, ‘We are the true church, other people may get to heaven, but they’re not in the true church.’

In other words, they taught that the First Baptist church was built on the banks of the Jordan and that anyone outside that was not in proper lineage. These were reactions against revival. But what was most encouraging about the revival of 1830 onward was in 1834 there began a phenomenal work in the kingdom of Tonga in the South Seas.

Now our friends are going down to New Zealand. The people there, the original people, are Maori’s. They’re Polynesians, a bit like the original Hawaiians. Tonga is of the same race and a chief in Tonga called Tapa Aho. He’s better known as George. It’s much easier to say George than Tapa Aho, was wonderfully converted. He decided that he had to do something about it. His people were all pagans. They worshiped the demons. So what he did was, he got a banana palm stock, which is rather soft wood, wouldn’t kill anyone, could hurt them, and while the priestess was under demonic power, he took this and knocked her out. The people were frightened.

They thought the heavens would open and fire would fall on this man and that would be the end of him, but nothing happened, and the reign of the gods had ended. They saw they were phony. His cousin Phenau, on another island in Tonga, took a different tack.

He asked the people to bring all the gods before him, all these totems and wooden gods and the like. And he spoke to them in Tonga. He said, ‘I’ve brought you here’, he said, ‘to the gods, to put you to the test, and so that you have every chance, I’m going to tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to burn you. So if you’re really gods, run for it.’ And they all sat there, of course. So Phenau ordered them to be burned. It took several days, because the weather was damp, but the people were so frightened, they didn’t go to work for days. They were so frightened. But nothing happened. Someone tried to poison the chief, but the missionaries helped him with medicine. The reign of the gods had entered. Now, that was early, but in 1834, a visitation came from above.

You see, these people had been converted from idols to serve the true God, but they didn’t know the gospel properly. So after 15 years of preaching and teaching, the baptism from above came and it made the Tongans into the missionaries of the South Pacific.

I could tell you the same sort of things about Fiji. Fiji was the haunt of cannibalism. It’s rather horrifying to read the records. For instance, King Tanoa was such a cannibal that when one of his own cousins offended him and fell at his feet asking forgiveness, the hard-hearted king refused, and before the eyes of his courtiers, chopped off the man’s arm and began to eat it in front of him. And when he gave the signal, they fell on him and tore him apart. That was Fiji before the gospel, but it was the Tongans who brought the Gospel to Fiji.

There were also wonderful revivals in Grahamstown in English-speaking, South Africa. You’ve all heard of David Livingstone. His father-in-law was Robert Moffatt and he saw a great in-gathering Botswanaland, further west.

Same time, pioneers were entering into the Gold Coast that’s now called Ghana and Nigeria, and freed slaves went back to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Not only that, but another interesting thing happened, and that is that the churches sent out missionaries to the ancient churches of the east, to Egypt and Iran, Persia and Iraq and Turkey, and worked among the native Christians there and saw great revivals.

Now, one man that arose from this great movement in the United States was Charles Finney. I’ve already mentioned Finney to you before. As a gospel tactician, he’s second to none. His advice is good to this day. For instance, I remember I’ve never been able to forget, he says, when the children of God exaggerate the work of grace in their midst, the Spirit of God is commonly grieved. That’s good advice, but he’s full of instruction like that. But I think he was quite mistaken when he said ‘Revival is nothing more than the right use of the appropriate means.’

Now, you might say, what permanent results were there out of this time of revival in the United States?

In 1846 was founded the Evangelical Alliance. They believed in divine inspiration, authority, the sufficiency of Holy Scripture, the unity of the Godhead, the Trinity of three persons, in the utter depravity of human nature, the incarnation of the Son of God, justification of the sinner by faith alone, the work of the Holy Spirit and conversion and sanctification, the resurrection of the body, the judgment of the world by Jesus Christ, the eternal blessedness of the righteous and the eternal punishment of the wicked.

That was the foundation, the sheet rock as it were, of the evangelical movement. And so you’ll find to this day, those who are considered evangelicals adhere to this. It goes right back to 1846. Now, this awakening came to land about 1842 in this country, maybe 1848, on the other side of the Atlantic.

And then there came a time of Great Depression. But when I next speak to you, I’m going to tell you of the greatest and most wholesome awakening of all time that swept this country from coast to coast, filled every church with praying people, and filled every downtown hall or theater with people to pray at noon.

That was the great revival of 1858. Let’s take these lessons to heart, because as our friend said, ‘Those who won’t learn from history have to go through the whole thing again.’