Revival Prayer Ignites Revival Fire
By Wesley L. Duewel (1916 – 2016)
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 theater 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, Cincinnati, Memphis, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and in a multitude of other cities, towns, 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.
The Awakening Spreads
The great awakening of 1857-59, which had begun in the cities, soon spread to towns, villages, and rural areas. It brought revivals to colleges and schools. For six to eight weeks during the height of the revival, some fifty thousand people were converted weekly. The average for two whole years was ten thousand new converts joining the churches each week.
The Washington National Intelligencer reported that in several New England towns not a single unconverted person could be found. State after state reported sweeping revival. In some places church bells daily summoned people at prayer times.
Among the daily prayer meetings reported were: 150 towns in Massachusetts, 200 in New York, 60 in New Jersey, 65 in Pennsylvania, 200 in Ohio, 150 in Indiana, 150 in Illinois, 50 in Missouri, and 60 in Iowa. Of the thirty million people living in the United States, nearly two million were won to Christ during the revival. The moral change was so great across the country that the Louisville, Kentucky, daily paper reported that the millennium had arrived.
The revival of 1857-59 boasted no organized movement, structure, or “revival promoters.” There was no coordination between the various prayer meetings. No revival evangelists apart from Finney operated in the New England area. It was not a movement planned by or guided by people.
It was a laymen’s movement. Many pastors attended and were present whenever possible, but they did not lead the meeting. Bishops encouraged and attended the meetings but did not preside. Anyone could lead in brief, specific prayer, could request prayer for a friend, could start a verse of a hymn. It was a movement of Spirit-prompted, Spirit-guided prayer. People did not attend to see or be seen. They came to pray.
– Quoted from Revival Fire by Wesley L. Duewel. Copyright © 1995. Used by permission of the Duewel Literature Trust, Inc., Greenwood IN. Dr. Duewel’s books may be purchased by calling (317) 881-6751 Ext. 361.