Revival Started By Prayer
This is a record of something God did 130 years ago in New York City. It illustrates how God has started every harvest time in history, through the concerted prayer of his people. Toward the middle of the last century the glow of earlier religious awakenings had faded. America was prosperous and felt little need to call on God. But in the 1850s …
Secular and religious conditions combined to bring about a crash. The third great panic in American history swept the giddy structure of speculative wealth away. Thousands of merchants were forced to the wall as banks failed, and railroads went into bankruptcy. Factories were shut down and vast numbers thrown out of employment. New York City alone having 30,000 idle men. In October 1857, the hearts of people were thoroughly weaned from speculation and uncertain gain, while hunger and despair stared them in the face.
On 1st July, 1857, a quiet and zealous business man named Jeremiah Lanphier took up an appointment as a City Missionary in down-town New York. Lanphier was appointed by the North Church of the Dutch Reformed denomination. This church was suffering from depletion of membership due to the removal of the population from the down-town to the better residential quarters, and the new City Missionary was engaged to make diligent visitation in the immediate neighbourhood with a view to enlisting church attendance among the ﬂoating population of the lower city. The Dutch Consistory felt that it had appointed an ideal layman for the task in hand, and so it was.
Burdened so by the need, Jeremiah Lanphier decided to invite others to join him in a noonday prayer-meeting, to be held on Wednesdays once a week. He therefore distributed a handbill:
How Often Shall I Pray?
As often as the language of prayer is in my heart; as often as I see my need of help; as often as I feel the power of temptation; as often as I am made sensible of any spiritual declension or feel the aggression of a worldly spirit.
In prayer we leave the business of time for that of eternity, and intercourse with men for intercourse with God.
A day Prayer Meeting is held every Wednesday, from 12 to 1 o’clock, in the Consistory building in the rear of the North Dutch Church, corner of Fulton and William Streets (entrance from Fulton and Ann Streets).
This meeting is intended to give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers, and business men generally an opportunity to stop and call upon God amid the perplexities incident to their respective avocations. It will continue for one hour; but it is also designed for those who may ﬁnd it inconvenient to remain more than ﬁve or ten minutes, as well as for those who can spare the whole hour.
Accordingly at twelve noon, 23rd September, 1857 the door was opened and the faithful Lanphier took his seat to await the response to his invitation …. Five minutes went by. No one appeared. The missionary paced the room in a conﬂict of fear and faith. Ten minutes elapsed. Still no one came. Fifteen minutes passed. Lanphier was yet alone. Twenty minutes; twenty-ﬁve; thirty; and then at 12.30 p.m., a step was heard on the stairs, and the ﬁrst person appeared, then another, and another, and another, until six people were present and the prayer meeting began. On the following Wednesday, October 7th, there were forty intercessors.
Thus in the ﬁrst week of October 1857, it was decided to hold a meeting daily instead of weekly ….
Within six months, ten thousand business men were gathering daily for prayer in New York, and within two years, a million converts were added to the American churches ….
Undoubtedly the greatest revival in New York’s colourful history was sweeping the city, and it was of such an order to make the whole nation curious. There was no fanaticism, no hysteria, simply an incredible movement of the people to pray.—From J. Edwin Orr, The Light of the Nations pp. 103-105
The Layman's Prayer Revival, 1857-58
Hell Corner, New Hampshire was a stronghold of sin. The Layman’s Prayer Revival sweeping all over America invaded this wicked village and turned some hardened sinners to God. America’s moral recovery was under way.
In 1858 in great cities and small towns all over America, people were assembling every night for prayer. In fact, you could travel by horse and buggy from Omaha, Nebraska to Washington, D.C. and expect to ﬁnd churches packed for prayer wherever you might stop for the night. This prayer movement began in the fall of 1857 and was known as the Layman’s Prayer Revival because there were businessmen (rather than ministers) who were leading.
This movement of prayer invaded even the village of Hell Corner, New Hampshire. Prayer, of course, was unheard of in this stronghold of sin. However, one day a man unleashed a volley of profanity so outrageous that even the citizens of Hell Corner were shocked. Jokingly, somebody said, “We need a prayer meeting here in Hell Corner.” To everyone’s amazement plans got underway for a village prayer meeting. Finding someone to lead it proved to be quite a challenge. One notorious backslider tried to lead, but he broke down while praying. So they went to a nearby town and found a deacon who came to lead a prayer meeting in this citadel of evil. God answered prayer and four hardened men became Christians. Soon prayer gave birth to a group of godly believers proving that the gates of hell cannot prevail against the fervent prayers of people who trust the Almighty.
This prayer movement had its roots in 1856 when a Methodist named William Arthur published a book of ﬁery sermons which closed with a prayer pleading with God to “Crown this nineteenth century with a revival of pure and undeﬁled religion…greater than any demonstration of the Spirit ever vouchsafed to man.” His prayer was answered when the greatest revival in American history began the next year.
Before the prayer awakening there was a major spiritual decline. Churches were sliding downhill. Thousands of Americans were disillusioned with Christianity. William Miller, a New England farmer, had captured nationwide attention with his prediction that Christ would return on October 22nd, 1844. When nothing happened, many abandoned their faith.
American’s moral recovery began when Jeremiah Lanphier, a concerned layman, started a noon prayer meeting for New York businessmen. Only six people came to the ﬁrst prayer meeting on September 23, 1857 on the third ﬂoor of the “Consistory” of the Old Dutch Reformed Church on Fulton Street. By spring daily prayer meetings sprang up in many locations and daily attendance grew to 10,000. America’s greatest spiritual awakening was underway.
During the Layman’s Prayer Revival, the owner of a hardware store in New York urged businessmen at the Fulton Street prayer meeting to always set a holy example. A well-known manufacturer followed him to his store and confessed that he had cheated him for years and wanted to pay back all he had stolen.
When the news spread that there were daily prayer meetings where sinners were welcomed, prayed for, and encouraged to turn to Christ, some hardened criminals were saved. A notorious criminal nicknamed “Awful Gardiner” surprised everyone when he found Christ through the prayer meetings. He was not alone.
Hundreds of people who had always spent their nights in the gates of hell came to the prayer meetings that had begun in the evenings. Thousands forsook crime and became devoted follows of Christ. Crime and vice drastically declined. Wealthy people generously helped the poor whom they regarded as their brothers and sisters.
Ships coming into New York harbor came under the power of God’s presence. On one ship a captain and thirty men were converted to Christ before the ship docked. Four sailors knelt for prayer down in the depths of the battleship North Carolina anchored in the harbor. They began to sing and their ungodly shipmates came running down to make fun, but the power of God gripped them and they humbly knelt in repentance.
“Do you have to stop business at noon and go to a prayer meeting?” A customer from Albany asked a New York City merchant. “Yes, I must. Why don’t you go with me?” The customer went with him and received Christ. He returned to Albany and started prayer meetings there.
In March of 1858 a religious journal reported that “The large cities and towns from Maine to California are sharing in this great and glorious work. There is hardly a village or town to be found where ‘a special divine power’ does not appear displayed.”
In Chicago 2,000 men met at noon for prayer in Metropolitan Hall. In Jayne’s Hall in Philadelphia 4,000 were meeting. An elderly philanthropist named John Crozer wrote in his diary, “I have never, I think, been present at a more stirring and edifying prayer meeting, the room quite full, and a divine inﬂuence seemed manifest. Many hearts melted, many souls devoutly engaged.”
In December of 1857 in Utica, New York attendance at a weekly union prayer meeting increased so rapidly that by the third meeting the main ﬂoor and the balcony of the First Presbyterian Church were ﬁlled with deeply burdened people. Then daily prayer meetings were started each morning.
One night when Dr. John L. Giradeaux dismissed the prayer meeting for spiritual awakening at Anson Street Presbyterian Church in Charleston, South Carolina, no one left. The congregation stayed until midnight while the Lord powerfully worked. Eight weeks of nightly meetings followed reaching crowds numbering from 1,500 to 2,000. Many turned to the Lord.
The New York Observer published a report from Waco, Texas of a mighty moving of God. “Day and night the church has been crowded during the meeting… Never before in Texas have we seen a whole community so effectually under a religious inﬂuence … thoroughly regenerated.”
The power of prayer touched every aspect of business. There had never been a higher tone of honor. The Bible became the standard. Any business that injured the community was regarded as wrong. People in every kind of business began to be more honest, truthful and conscientious.
At least three thousand came to Christ in Newark, New Jersey. In many smaller towns scarcely any unconverted people remained. In Haverhill, Mass., the Spirit deeply moved the crowded daily prayer meeting. Sometimes half of the assembly silently wept. One pastor found at least one person in every home in his congregation deeply concerned about their relationship with God.
An unsaved man went to the prayer meetings on Fulton Street in New York hoping someone would help him. But none did. Then one day he heard a mother’s request for her son’s salvation. He discovered that note was from HIS OWN mother! Soon afterwards he found Christ. In Kalamazoo, Michigan a woman turned in a request for her husband’s salvation. One man responded, “Pray for me. I’m that man.” Four more men did likewise. A wealthy young New Yorker was born again at a noon prayer meeting. Upon returning home he read from the Bible and knelt to pour out a fervent prayer for his wife and sister. His wife and his sister knelt beside him and wept as they also received Christ. One man disowned his daughter when she confessed Christ. However, when he fell deathly sick, he sent for her and asked her forgiveness. She shared Christ with him. Within three days her father, mother, two brothers, and a sister entered the family of God.
March of 1858 the voice of prayer and praise to God was heard beginning at 8:30 every morning in the halls of the New York state capitol. Six people began a prayer meeting for the Legislature. By the ﬁfth day two rooms were ﬁlled and interest was growing.
In 1858 in Louisville, Kentucky 1,000 attended the daily union prayer. One writer exclaimed, “The Spirit of God seems to be brooding over our city, and to have produced an unusual degree of tenderness and solemnity in all classes.” An amazing work of grace was changing the city.
Some of the leading business men of Boston were attending prayer meetings. An unusual number of people who had lived wicked lives also came. One writer said, “’Publicans and sinners’ are awakened, and are entering the prayer meetings of their own accord. Some of them manifest signs of sincere repentance.”
Published by Bible Prayer Fellowship
P.O. Box 810718
Dallas, TX 75381
Copyright 1998. All rights reserved. Used with permission
The Outcome (1858)
March - New York, America (Jeremiah Lanphier) At the beginning of 1858 that Fulton Street prayer meeting had grown so much they were holding three simultaneous prayer meetings in the building and other prayer groups were starting in the city. By March newspapers carried front page reports of over 6,000 attending daily prayer meetings in New York, 6,000 attending them in Pittsburgh, and daily prayer meetings were held in Washington at ﬁve different times to accommodate the crowds.
Other cities followed the pattern. Soon a common mid_day sign on businesses read, ‘Will re_open at the close of the prayer meeting.’
By May, 50,000 of New York’s 800,000 people were new converts. A newspaper reported that New England was profoundly changed by the revival and in several towns no unconverted adults could be found!
In 1858 a leading Methodist paper reported these features of the revival: few sermons were needed, lay people witnessed, seekers ﬂocked to the altar, nearly all seekers were blessed, experiences remained clear, converts had holy boldness, religion became a social topic, family altars were strengthened, testimony given nightly was abundant, and conversations were marked with seriousness.
Edwin Orr’s research revealed that in 1858-59 a million Americans were converted in a population of thirty million and at least a million Christians were renewed, with lasting results in church attendances and moral reform in society.