The layman's prayer revival of 1857-9
The 1859 Revival was one that affected virtually the whole of the UK, and in terms of the actual numbers converted ¹ was probably the greatest revival we have ever had in this country. The amazing thing is that whilst most people will be fully aware of the Methodist Revival, the 1904 Welsh Revival, and the 1949 Hebrides Revival, very few people will be even aware that there was such a revival in this country at that time. I think that it is sometimes referred to as "the forgotten revival." It is also sometimes referred to as "the layman’s revival."
The origins of the Revival
For the origins of this revival, we need to go back to 1857 in the USA. Although there had been a moving of the Holy Spirit in Canada before this time, the event that appears to have been the catalyst for the spread of this revival was a prayer meeting commenced by a Jeremiah Lanphier, a layman with the Dutch Reformed Church in New York. Noticing that the businessmen in that city were looking downcast at the economic state of the country at that time, he decided to hold a midday prayer meeting on the 3rd floor of the church in Fulton Street for one hour, each Wednesday. At first he was the only person present, but after ½ hour a further five men joined him. The second week twenty businessmen turned up and then forty the following week. They then agreed to meet every day, and on the first day, 100 men turned up, many of whom were not Christians. After 3 months every room of that church was filled with men praying, with others on the outside kneeling together praying because they couldn’t get in the church. A further church nearby was opened for prayer, but that also became filled. A theatre was then hired for this purpose, and on the first day, half an hour before the announced time, it was packed to capacity, again with men on the outside praying because they couldn’t get in. Within six months there were 150 prayer meetings like this going on somewhere in New York City, with 50,000 gathered for prayer. This also became a means of outreach and appeals were made for people to receive Christ, and no less that 25,000 businessmen were converted. It was not uncommon to see a hundred people come down the aisle of a church at invitation time confessing their sins openly, and receiving Christ into their life. Soon a common mid-day sign on business premises read "We will re-open at the close of the prayer meeting." As time went on the movement spread to the whole of the USA and Canada, and there were actually places were not a single person was left unconverted. Along the East Coast of America there was a zone of heavenly influence that affected even ships coming in from abroad, who knew nothing of the revival, but when they came within a few miles of land God got hold of people on board the ships and in some cases the whole of the crew got converted. Thirty captains of vessels like this were converted. During the period 1857/8 no less than one million people were converted in the USA. If such a revival were to hit America today the equivalent number of conversions would be somewhere in the region of eight to nine million people.
The Revival hits the UK
News of the revival soon hit these shores, and the first place to be affected was Ulster, and a mighty revival hit that place in 1859 with somewhere around 100,000 people converted which as a percentage of the people in that country was quite staggering. About the same time and quite independently Wales also was affected and a revival brought again around 100,000 people to Christ. The revival arrived in Scotland in the north of the country and as time went on it spread down south, until it arrived in England. Around 300,000 people were converted in Scotland. The revival in Ulster, Wales and Scotland, however, was somewhat different in character to that of most of England. In the former the revival was more spontaneous, and most of the conversions occurred during the year of 1859. In England, however, the initial move was not quite as dramatic as in the other parts of the country, but within two years something different happened which resulted in large numbers of people coming to Christ. God raised up a large number of evangelists who travelled the length and breadth of the land preaching the gospel, and many thousands of people were brought into the kingdom by this means. By 1864 no less than 600,000 people were converted in England, bringing the total in the UK to over one million people.² Even parts of Southern Ireland were affected by the revival, including Dublin, Cork, and Kerry. The latter place was most blessed and the move there was known as "The Kerry Revival." Even ships travelling from Dublin to Holyhead were influenced by the move, with revival services being held on board, and many people being converted.
It is the evangelists that God used during this revival to which this website is dedicated.
1. There were actually only 76,000 members connected with the Methodist Church at the time of Wesley’s death. The population was of course much smaller then.
2. The second Evangelical Awakening in Britain by Dr. J Edwin Orr p.263