Pre-1700 Revivals

John Knox

John Knox

In studying the broad sweep of revival histories it is not difficult to concur with the eighteenth-century evangelicals’ view that ‘revival is the engine of history,’ the most powerful gift of God for the expansion of His church and for the renovation or reform of human society.

To quote Jonathan Edwards’, the first ‘theologian of revival,’ “Indeed, it is true to say that seasons of revival have always been the major means that God has employed to advance His cause and the cause of the church in the world.”

“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 has been by remarkable effusions of the Spirit at special seasons of mercy…”

Students of revival today agree with these views but their conclusions are similarly based on historical records from the post-reformation period through to modern times. But what about the period between the first and the seventeenth century? Revival records before the Reformation appear scant and rare, not having the same impact and extensive influence as their later counterparts.

This scarcity of material may easily be explained. During the first four centuries the church was very often under siege from Roman persecutors and much Christian literature was hidden, lost or destroyed. After this the church entered what has become known as the Dark Ages for a thousand years, until the dawning of the light which led to the Reformation. There had been a widening rift between the Spirit-filled religion of Jesus and an alternative Christianity which married various philosophies and pagan ideas to a ritualistic and clergy-dominated organisation. The spiritual fire simply went out!

Nevertheless, during this dark period there were ‘seasons of refreshing’ which occasionally fanned the embers of authentic Christianity. Though literature is in short supply there is sufficient data in the writings of the early church Fathers suggesting there were significant moves of God in the first five centuries, details of which can be found elsewhere on this site. There are occasional references to outpourings of the Spirit during the Dark Ages and the literature becomes more common as the light began to dawn in the 16th century. We plan to put much of this later material on the site soon.