The Great Awakening
There have been hundreds of revivals over the centuries, some personal, some affecting entire churches and some touching whole localities and nations. But there have been six massive movements of the Holy Spirit since the sixteenth century Reformation which have affected the global Christian community simultaneously. These are commonly called ‘Worldwide Revivals’ or ‘Great Awakenings,’ because of their universal scope and influence. They all began with Christians experiencing God in a new and powerful way, becoming more passionate in their love for God and in their desire to serve Him in their world. Subsequently, the Holy Spirit used them to invade in the non-Christian world, resulting in masses of conversions, huge social changes and a better world to live in. Jonathan Edwards, in his book ‘The History of Redemption’ states his view that “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…”
The first of these ‘Great Awakenings’ began in about 1727 in a Moravian community called “Herrnhut” (the Lord’s watch) in Saxony, (modern Germany) later spreading to Britain and America. This was not the greatest revival in numerical growth or geographical scope. Nevertheless, it well deserves the name because it was the first discernible occasion that God’s Spirit was outpoured simultaneously across different nations.
The Moravians were the spiritual descendants of the fifteenth century Hussite movement who had settled on the estate of Count Nicholas Zinzendorf. They began a community dedicated to following the teaching of Christ in simplicity, holiness and truth. Soon, others from various church traditions joined Herrnhut, which grew into a small town. Understandably, major religious disagreements emerged and by the mid 1720’s the disgruntled community was deeply divided and highly critical of one another.
Zinzendorf was appalled at this blatant display of ungodliness and pleaded for unity, love and repentance. He visited all the adult members of the community and drew up a covenant calling them ‘to seek out and emphasise the points in which they agreed,’ rather than stressing their differences. On 12th May 1727, they all signed an agreement to dedicate their lives, as he dedicated his, to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. They gave themselves afresh to God and promised to bury their disputes for ever. Many of them decided to set aside certain times for continued earnest prayer.
The beginnings of revival
On 16 July, Zinzendorf poured out his soul in a public prayer accompanied with a flood of tears. His prayer produced an extraordinary effect. The whole community began praying as never before.
During those days they were deeply affected by the Word of God and the power of the Blood of Christ. Their hearts were set on fire with new faith and love towards the Saviour and a similar pure and burning love towards one another. They began to grow together into a holy union among themselves, banding themselves together into small groups of two or three to discuss their spiritual state, to exhort, reprove and pray for each other.
One historian records, ‘On the Lord’s day, the 10th of August, the minister Rothe was seized, in the midst of the assembly, with an unusual impulse. He threw himself upon his knees before God, and the whole assembly prostrated themselves with him under the same emotions. An uninterrupted course of singing and prayer, weeping and supplication, continued till midnight. All hearts were united in love.’
On Wednesday, 13th August, the Holy Spirit was poured out on whole assembly. During the communion service, loud weeping drowned out the singing. An electric anointing flowed through all those present with inexpressible joy and love as they all shared the bread and wine, knowing they were baptised into one Spirit. The scene was so moving that the pastor could hardly tell what he saw or heard.
The revival continues
A few days after the 13th of August, a remarkable revival took place among the children at Herrnhut and Bertholdsdorf. On the 18th of August, all the children at the boarding school were seized with an extraordinary impulse of the Spirit, and spent the whole night in prayer. From this time, a constant work of God was going on in the minds of the children, in both places. No words can express the powerful operation of the Holy Spirit upon these children, whose lives were so transformed.
On the 25th of August the brethren began the ministry of 24 hour-a-day prayer which continued for over a hundred years. They considered that, as in the ancient Temple the fire on the altar never ceased to burn, so in the Church, which is now the Temple of God, the prayers of the saints ought always to ascend to the Lord.
The wider results
In January, 1728, the brethren held their first missionary meeting. ‘This meeting was celebrated by meditations on different portions of Holy Scripture, and fervent prayers; in the midst of which the church experienced a remarkable enjoyment of the presence of the Spirit.’ In the next 25 years they sent out 100 radical missionaries from that small community, a figure that rose to 300 in 65 years. What is remarkable is that there were 226 Moravian mission stations before William Carey, (who we now call ‘the father of modern missions’) was born! He began his life in 1761 and set sail as a pioneer missionary to India in 1793, after the Moravians had seeded the world with the gospel.
Moravian Missions began in 1731 and the first places they went to begin revival work was here in the West Indies and in Greenland. Our islands were at the very top of God’s agenda for salvation! In the years that followed missionaries were sent to Labrador, North America, South America, South Africa, Asia, Australia, and many other islands of the sea. They were a mighty force in the evangelisation of thousands in those years, planting Christian churches on every continent.
They taught slaves to read, cared for widows and orphans, nursed the sick, translated the Scriptures and other Christian literature into other languages, leaving behind a trail of blessing and hope wherever they went.
Who knows if the same revival spirit could invade our Islands again if we dedicate ourselves to God, repent of our bad attitudes and hostility to one another and seek the Lord in prayer like these mighty believers did?
The Moravians’ revived German Pietism was powerful in it’s own right but was also destined to influence two other great harvest fields, which were on God’s agenda for that time – England and America. We will pick up their story in the next article.