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Chapter 2: Reformation and The Great Awakening


IN THIS CHAPTER, you will discover:       

·   The people involved in the Reformation.       

·   The legacy left by Reformation Christians.       

·   The necessity for the Great Awakening.    

AS A RESULT, you will be able to:       

·     Appreciate the suffering endured by the Reformers.       

·     Pinpoint the influence of the Reformation on your faith.       

·     Understand the Wesleys’ contribution to the church.  

Leaders of the Reformation

Key Scripture: “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear’” (Isa. 35:3-4).

Reformation or Revolution?

Historians prefer to call this great movement a revolution. Yes, the Reformation was a revolution, for it was an uprising of people against civil authority. But in this instance, the ruling authority was represented by the pope and the clergy as well as kings and queens. These brave revolutionaries followed a higher Authority who had rallied them around a divine cause — religious freedom for the common person.

Most revolutions are quickly executed, have one specific leader, and occur in a localized area. But this revolution was quite different. Leaders were called from such far-reaching places as Germany, Switzerland, France, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Scandinavia. As far back as the 1100s reformist sects had appeared, questioning authority and official church doctrines. This continued through the 1300s when the church began to struggle against the demands for reform. Because this movement culminated in the re-forming of religious laws, values, and practices, church historians refer to it as the Reformation.

The Birth of the Reformation

During the early Middle Ages, the church was the pivotal force in civilization. The Roman Empire had championed the cause of Christianity; but later, controversy with various popes had weakened the power of the emperors. The church grew in its leadership position, taking on the dual roles of government and social reformer. It collected taxes, maintained a judicial system, and established hospitals in church buildings.

Under the system of feudalism from 900-1100 all of western Europe was loosely divided into feudal states. Each state was ruled by a lord with the power of a king. But the one unifying force was the Christian church. At first, its primary function was to sanction births, marriages, and deaths. But the church grew more powerful as lords gave land in exchange for clerical services performed. All the while the church was growing in wealth and power. The ultimate threat wielded over everyone — from the lords down to the peasants — was excommunication. People viewed excommunication as an eternal death sentence, because it would keep them out of heaven.

The church reached its height of power under Pope Innocent III (d. 1216). Up to this time the church had enjoyed the sanction of all the European rulers. They believed the pope possessed both spiritual and temporal authority. The church at Rome represented the center around which daily life, as well as the political structures of Europe, revolved. But early in the 1300s, the religious climate began to change. Several factors contributed to these changes.

First was the rise in nationalism. From 1000-1200 some lords began to unite the people under a central government. As a result, the people were at peace, freeing them to think of things other than life’s bare necessities. Economic conditions improved, trade and travel expanded, and people depended less on farming. Consequently, the feudal system began to break down. Powerful kings arose providing strong national governments, armies for protection, and a system of law and justice. All the while, the church had grown very powerful — and extremely rich. Emerging national leaders began to look covetously at the church’s vast holdings.

Other factors contributing to change came from within the church itself. People began to question the unlimited authority that emanated from the church. Not only did it have religious power, but civil power as well. Furthermore, discoveries were made of abuses in the administration of the church. And immorality in the clergy (often in the popes themselves) was rampant. The people became indignant. To add to their agitation, bitter arguments arose between the church and the state — popes against kings. The church itself divided at one point over the selection of a pope. Dissatisfaction within the church increased until its influence among the general populace began to fade.

Finally, the Renaissance (1300-1600) brought a revival of learning. Heretofore, only the very rich had access to teachers and books; now universities were available where students could study the Bible. Questions began to arise concerning church policies and power. Gutenberg’s new invention, the printing press, produced books in weeks, which would have taken monks years to prepare. People were beginning to study — and to question authority.

Growth of the Reformation Movement

The Reformation did not begin as a revolt to replace the church with something new and different. It began as a desire to reform the church from within: to right the wrongs; to stop the abuse of authority and power; and to restore morality to church leaders. But the church had veered so far off course that a revolution was necessary. Many individuals throughout Europe rose up to oppose church leadership — the most well-known “heretics” being Martin Luther (Germany), Huldrych Zwingli (Switzerland), John Calvin (Switzerland), and John Knox (Scotland).

Martin Luther

Martin Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany in 1483, the oldest of seven children. Although his parents were poor, Luther’s father knew the value of an education. He sent his son off to school where the fourteen-year-old helped support himself by singing in the church choir. Luther’s plan to become a lawyer changed after he entered the University of Erfurt. A religious revival was in progress in western Europe at the time, and Luther fell under its influence. He entered an Augustinian order and was ordained in 1507. In the monastery Luther studied the Bible diligently. The young monk came to understand that the peace he so desired could not come through righteous acts or even through the church. After earning a doctorate in divinity, Luther became famous as a teacher at the University of Wittenberg. Students came from all parts of Germany to hear him speak.

In 1512 Luther succeeded his friend and mentor, John Staupitz, at the university as Professor of Theology. He remained there until his death. His great popularity as a speaker no doubt came because he based his lectures directly on the Bible and explained all technical Latin terms in his audience’s native German.

Luther had thought long and hard on what he felt was a conflict between God’s mercy and his wrath. The young scholar finally determined that right standing with God was not based on achievement but grace. Furthermore, faith comes from hearing and studying the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Most of Luther’s thinking was based on Paul’s epistles. As he read these and church history, he began to realize that the Bible was authoritative and only faith in Christ could assure salvation. And since salvation was free, Luther was particularly offended by the sale of indulgences.

An indulgence actually bought the forgiveness of sins for yourself or for another. It negated or reduced the sacrament of penance. According to the pope, indulgences could be obtained with a charitable act, a work of piety, a merciful act, or could be purchased outright with a sizeable contribution to the church. At that time, St. Peter’s Church in Rome was under construction and funds were sorely needed. The pope, hoping to gain money for the papal treasury, sent out a Dominican monk named John Tetzel to preach indulgences near Wittenberg.

Luther’s reaction to Tetzel’s unbiblical teaching was to write ninety-five statements against the corrupt practices of the church. In 1517 he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. By tacking the paper to the door, Luther was not being rebellious. He was merely inviting debate from the academic community as was the acceptable custom. But Luther received more than a debate. Without asking Luther’s permission, someone copied his statements and translated them into German. The Ninety-Five Theses were published and distributed all over western Europe.

The church viewed this as a rebellious act, causing a major uproar within its confines. In 1519 Luther was drawn into a debate with Johann Eck. Luther became the center of more turmoil when in the course of debate he was forced to deny the infallibility of the pope. Luther wrote three inflammatory pamphlets in which he addressed the important subjects of reform within the church, acceptable sacraments, and the freedom of a Christian through Christ. As a result, the pope accused Luther of heresy and excommunicated him. Moreover, he was ordered by the emperor to appear before the Imperial Diet at Worms. The Diet was a gathering of German nobles, princes, and clergy who ordered Luther to retract his statement. When he refused, the Diet determined that he be silenced.

On his return home from the Diet, Luther was kidnapped by some of his followers. To protect him, they hid Luther in the Castle of Wartburg for ten months. During this time he translated the New Testament into German from the original Greek. Since he introduced the “High German” of modern times, Luther’s translation was an important contribution to German literature.

In 1522 Luther returned to Wittenberg where he organized the Lutheran church. The movement spread throughout Germany, Holland, and Switzerland. At this time, Lutheranism could have united all these people. But a group of peasants, using Luther’s break with the church as a reason to revolt, rose up against the princes over them. At first Luther agreed with the peasants. But then he decided that Christian liberty did not justify a revolt against those whom God had appointed. When he sided with the princes, millions of people turned back to the Catholic church.

His decision to side with the magistrates was perhaps the biggest mistake of Luther’s life. Although a controversial figure throughout his lifetime, Luther leaves a great legacy. He trusted God completely, believing that justification by faith was alone necessary for salvation. Today when we think of the Reformation, Luther’s name always comes to mind first.

Revival Timeline


Martin Luther   The World
Born at Eisleben 1483  
  1487 Dias rounds the Cape of Good Hope
  1492 Columbus discovers America
  1497 John Cabot sails to Canada
Ordained as priest 1507  
  1509  Henry VIII becomes king of England
Awarded Doctor of Theology 1512  
  1513 Balboa discovers Pacific Ocean
  1515 Francis I of France captures Milan, Italy
Posts Ninety-Five Theses 1517  
Debates with Johann Eck 1519 Cortez conquers Mexico
Appears before Diet of Worms 1521  
Organizes Lutheran Church 1522  
Marries Katherine Bora 1525  
  1531 Pizarro founded Lima, Peru
Publishes complete German Bible 1534 English church separates from Roman Catholic Church
  1539 DeSoto discovers Mississippi
Dies at Eisleben 1546  


John Calvin

John Calvin was born in 1509 in northern France near Paris. His father was a well-to-do lawyer whose first vocational choice for his son was the priesthood. After beginning his theological studies in Paris, Calvin was such a successful scholar that his father changed his mind. Determined that his son should become a lawyer, he sent him to two other universities. But after his father’s death, Calvin returned to the University of Paris where his conversion occurred. He described it as a conviction of the reality of the sovereignty of God (Dan. 7:27) — and the importance of living according to God’s will. At first, Calvin’s intention was not to change the Catholic Church completely, but to reform it from within.

By helping his friend Nicholas Cop write a speech, Calvin sealed his fate with the church. The address boldly stated his evangelical views and asked for a reformation. The response of the church was so negative that the two men had to flee the city. Later he officially severed his ties with the church and went to Germany. There he wrote a treatise to comfort his evangelical friends left in France. His Institutes of Christian Religion, written at the age of twenty-seven, served as a manual for Christian doctrine and ethics and became the standard in all the Reformed churches of western Europe.

On a trip to Geneva, Calvin was asked by William Farel to help in organizing the church there. When Calvin tried to back down, Farel threatened that God would curse him if he did not help in this urgent matter. So he stayed. Geneva was a grossly immoral city, and Calvin realized that a reformation of morals had to occur before a religious reformation. In response, Calvin stressed instruction at religious educational facilities. He also published his “Genevan Catechism,” a handbook explaining the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, the Sacraments, and other tenets of the faith. A church-state was the result of the city’s reformation. Calvin’s goal was to honor God by praise and obedience, and he wanted a nurturing church that met daily. The Libertines, a humanist group, revolted at his theology, and Calvin was ordered to leave the city.

In God’s providence Calvin went to Strassburg, Germany. In his three years there, he was in the company of people with varying religious views. Because of his experiences with them, his views were broadened perceptibly. He made friends with Martin Bucer, a German whose theology bridged Luther’s and Calvin’s. Another important contact there was Philip Melanchthon, a proponent of Lutheranism.

Meanwhile, Geneva was in a state of chaos, and the people urged Calvin to come back. In spite of opposition from his old enemies, the Libertines, Calvin set up a model city using biblical principles for its political and religious government. Calvin selected presbyters, who presided over the social and cultural lives of the citizens. In time Geneva turned from licentiousness to become the cradle of Puritanism.

John Knox

John Knox, the son of a middle-class farmer, led the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. Knox was born in 1514 near Haddington. He attended Saint Andrews University and later was ordained as a priest. Perhaps because of his legal studies at the university, Knox was made a papal notary. At the same time he tutored the sons of wealthy landowners. Through them he met several Protestant families. By the year 1545 Knox had completely changed his religious views and became a Protestant.

Knox was a good friend of George Wishart, who had traveled to Switzerland and England. When Wishart returned to Scotland and began preaching the gospel, Knox became his bodyguard, wielding a two-edged sword. Although the local people approved of his message, Wishart was arrested and taken to Saint Andrews. Wishart was found guilty of heresy and ordered by Cardinal Beaton to be burned at the stake in 1546. As a result, the cardinal was murdered by Wishart’s Protestant friends, who were then forced into hiding in Saint Andrews Castle. Knox along with his pupils went to the castle where he continued teaching. Later, as minister of the garrison, he began to preach in area churches.

But his preaching career was cut short when the city of Saint Andrews was taken over by France in 1547. For almost two years Knox was a French galley slave. Even in this lowly position, Knox maintained a leadership position, probably through some friendly French Protestants. When he was finally freed in 1549, he fled to England. In Scotland leaders who resented the French influence and the Roman Catholic Church’s power in their country drove the French leaders and soldiers out of the country.

Meanwhile Queen Mary, a Roman Catholic, tried to bring England back to Catholicism. In her efforts she repealed all the lenient religious laws that had been passed by Edward VI. Mary revived every existing law against heresy. Her numerous persecutions of Protestants earned her the name “Bloody Mary.” In just five years of power, she ordered more than three hundred people burned at the stake. Knox led the English Reformation until Mary drove him out of England. Then he fled to France. In 1554 he traveled to Geneva where he served as the pastor of an English church. There he learned Greek and Hebrew and began translating the Bible. Knox used the time in Geneva to question John Calvin on such pertinent issues as whether civil authorities have the right to prescribe religion and whether the godly should obey a magistrate who enforces idolatry.

Back in Scotland, Knox preached privately for a while. The people greeted both Knox and his message warmly. To a people who had long endured the repetition of the mass in Latin, John Knox was welcome indeed. He dispensed the Lord’s Supper simply and in their own language, persuading them to stay away from mass, which he declared as idolatrous. His preaching greatly stirred the people; religious revival began to spread throughout Scotland.

Mary, Queen of Scots, the last Roman Catholic ruler in Scotland, fought an ongoing battle with Knox. When she married her cousin Henry Stuart, a Catholic nobleman, the powerful Protestant lords of Scotland revolted. But the rebellion was quickly squelched. Knox denounced the Catholic church and the queen at every opportunity. It was said that the queen was often driven to tears as Knox compared her to Nero and himself to the apostle Paul. Even though they were bitter enemies, Knox was never tried for heresy. Mary was providentially removed from his life when she became involved in a scandal. This led to her imprisonment and untimely death in 1587.

Knox courageously espoused four basic principles:

  • Holy Scripture is the only sufficient rule of faith and practice.
  • Faith alone justifies a person with God.
  • A minister is no more than a teacher, servant, and steward.
  • Congregations should take part in selecting pastors and officeholders.

Knox died in Edinburgh, Scotland on November 24, 1572. The words engraved on The Reform Monument in Geneva, Switzerland, could easily have been his epitaph: “One man with God is always in the majority.”

Luther, Calvin, and Knox all played unique parts in the birth and development of the Reformation. With varied backgrounds and differing personalities, each contributed greatly to the movement. In spite of difficulties and persecution, they opposed the established church, entrenched for centuries as the ultimate authority. In the process these men ushered in a new era of faith and worship that would have worldwide repercussions.

Life Application: Obtain a hymnbook and find the great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” written by Martin Luther. Carefully read the lyrics of the five verses. How do the words of Luther’s classic relate to the subject of revival? What new insights regarding the nature of faith and the church did you receive?  

The Reformer's Message

Key Scripture: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

Thomas Cranmer

In 1553 Thomas Cranmer became the first Protestant archbishop of Canterbury. During the reign of Henry VIII of England, he supported the king in his efforts to supersede the pope in power. When Henry died, Cranmer continued to support the king’s son Edward VI in many church reform measures. But when the Catholic Queen Mary ascended the throne, she charged him and his Protestant workers with heresy and threw them all into prison. Under duress and a weakened condition, Cranmer recanted his former actions, even submitting himself to the pope. But when the day of his execution came, it was arranged that Cranmer would publicly repudiate his former writings and make a statement of belief in the Catholic church. Publicly Cranmer acknowledged that his only mistake was in recanting in the first place. He then thrust his hand into the fire, proclaiming it as unworthy because of its offense in signing the recantations.

A contemporary of Cranmer, Nicholas Ridley was also a driving force behind the English Reformation. He helped to compile the Book of Common Prayer and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. His contemporary, Hugh Latimer, became the Protestant bishop of Worcester after the king broke with the church in Rome. Latimer later resigned because he disagreed with the Six Articles, which favored Catholicism. Both Ridley and Latimer were arrested at the request of Queen Mary and condemned to die. Latimer’s words of encouragement to Ridley before the two were burned at the stake have become immortalized: “Be of good comfort Master Ridley, and play the man. We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” The martyrdom of these Protestant leaders caused widespread sympathy for the Reformation. The message of these Reformers is clear: We must hold beliefs worth dying for and, if necessary, willingly die for them.

William Tyndale

William Tyndale was born in England near the Welsh border in 1492. He was trained at Hertford College and later at Cambridge University, where he was surrounded by followers of Luther. Here Tyndale the priest probably accumulated his Protestant views. He took a job as a tutor in a well-to-do household which was totally ignorant of the Bible. Tyndale once declared to a visiting clergyman his desire to one day see even poor plowboys come to understand the Bible.

The only English Bible available at the time was the Wycliffe translation. But this version had been translated from the Latin Vulgate and was therefore inaccurate. To rectify this, Tyndale translated the New Testament from the original Greek and Hebrew. He then attempted to obtain permission from the church to print his Bible. The bishop he approached adamantly refused his request.

So Tyndale went to Cologne, Germany and located a printing press. He had printed only a portion of his translation when tragedy struck. Because an assistant spoke too freely, one of Tyndale’s opponents attempted to destroy the whole operation. Tyndale had to flee for his life saving what he could. From Cologne he went to Worms where six thousand copies were printed. Copies of these early editions had to be smuggled into England because the established church was bent on destroying every copy. But Tyndale kept revising his translation, adding numerous notes to explain the text.

In 1530 Tyndale moved to Antwerp, Belgium, where he printed his translation of the Pentateuch. Five years later Tyndale was betrayed by a friend who lured the translator into a deserted street, where he was subsequently abducted. Tyndale was taken to the state prison in Brussels and tried for heresy. Then on October 6, 1536, he was strangled and then burned at the stake.

Thus ended the life of the “father of the English Bible.” But his influence lives on today. Miles Coverdale, responsible for producing the first complete English Bible, relied almost solely on Tyndale’s translation. Nine-tenths of the King James Version of the Bible came directly from Tyndale’s translation and three-fourths of the Revised Standard Version retain his original wording. Tyndale’s message rings loud and clear: God’s Word must be put into the hands of the common person.


The Anabaptist movement originated in 1525 with Conrad Grebel founding the first church in Zurich, Switzerland. These Swiss Brethren believed that the Reformation leaders had not gone far enough in their reforming efforts. They vehemently disagreed with them over infant baptism, declaring it invalid. Baptism, they said, should only be offered to adults who have proven themselves by their good actions in everyday life. Infants did not have the capacity to give up sin voluntarily; therefore, they were ineligible for baptism. Anabaptists means “re-baptizers,” for anyone who joined their group had to be baptized again.

The Anabaptists chose the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7 as their creed. They believed the Bible to be God’s Word; they especially followed the guidelines of the New Testament. Anabaptists believed in the separation of church and state. They were pacifists and would not hold an office that required the use of force. Furthermore, they would not swear to an oath. These pious people were persecuted by both Catholics and Protestants and forced to wander all over Europe. Some even migrated to America searching for religious freedom. The message that the Anabaptists proclaim to us today is: God requires voluntary baptism after we have repented of sin.

Menno Simons

About 1550 the Anabaptists became known as Mennonites — named for their leader, Menno Simons. Simons was born in the Netherlands in 1496. As a practicing priest he began to question the doctrines of his church. Instead of studying more church doctrine, the priest went straight to the New Testament for answers. Simons also studied the writings of other Reformers. Finally he concluded that these Reformers as well as the Catholic Church were wrong. The only people who shared his beliefs were the Anabaptists. Simons was ordained as a minister and took on the awesome task of rebuilding the Anabaptist group in Germany and the Netherlands.

The emperor, hearing of Simons’ teaching, offered a reward for the apprehension of this theological maverick. So Simons was forced to flee from one place to another. At every refuge he preached and wrote. Simons was truly a man before his time in such important areas as religious and civil liberties. He died in 1561 of natural causes — harassed to the end.

Simons is remembered today for his contribution to the Anabaptist movement. Many Christian groups, other than the Mennonites, have based at least part of their beliefs on the Anabaptists. Among them are the Amish, Quakers, Puritans, Pilgrims, Dunkers, United Brethren, and Baptists. Menno Simons’ message is one of encouragement: Wherever, whenever, and however the opportunity comes, we must share the good news of Christ.


Although the views of these Reformers varied, they shared certain foundational doctrines: salvation comes through Jesus Christ, justification is by faith, Scripture is inspired and authoritative, all believers are priests and qualified to interpret Scripture, and faith in Christ is worth persecution or even death.

Life Application: Martyn Lloyd-Jones has written, “It is the rediscovery of these cardinal doctrines that has led to revival” (Revival, p. 63). What new emphases in the church today are serving as harbingers of revival? Praise? Worship? Spiritual gifts? To what extent have you personally experienced these neglected doctrines?

The First Great Awakening

Key Scripture: “"Therefore, O king, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue"” (Dan. 4:27).  

Betwixt and Between  

Between the Reformation (1500s) and the First Great Awakening (1700s) was a period of global exploration and colonization. People migrated to America for various reasons. Some loved the adventure — the idea of vast open areas waiting to be explored. Others saw the New World as an escape from poverty. (One popular myth was that gold could be picked off the ground in Virginia.) Several groups came for religious freedom — the Pilgrims and Puritans to New England, the Quakers to Pennsylvania, and the Catholics to Maryland. In America and Europe Reformation fires had died down to embers, and the Protestant revival had become institutionalized. Moral and spiritual life was at a low point. The world was ready for a fresh awakening, and the Lord used several godly men to fan the coals into flame.  

John Wesley  

The following accounts are quoted from Wesley’'s Journal (Moody Press). His spiritual perspective can best be seen through his own words as he faithfully wrote in his diary over a span of fifty-five years.  

His call from God to go everywhere preaching the gospel was expressed thus:  

I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation. This is the work which I know God has called me to; and sure I am that His blessing attends it (p. 74).

People always reacted to his preaching, some even violently, but could not remain indifferent to either Wesley or his message.  

I preached on the righteousness of the law and the righteousness of faith. While I was speaking, several dropped down as dead and among the rest such a cry was heard of sinners groaning for the righteousness of faith as almost drowned my voice. But many of these soon lifted up their heads with joy and broke out into thanksgiving, being assured they now had the desire of their soul — the forgiveness of their sins (p. 99).  

Wesley’s gospel was practical. He tried to meet physical as well as spiritual needs of the people he met.  

I reminded the United Society that many of our brethren and sisters had not needful food; many were destitute of convenient clothing; many were out of business, and that without their own fault; and many sick and ready to perish; that I had done what in me lay to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to employ the poor, and to visit the sick; but was not, alone, sufficient for these things; and therefore desired all whose hearts were as my heart:

1. To bring what clothes each could spare to be distributed among those that wanted most.  

2. To give weekly a penny, or what they could afford, for the relief of the poor and sick.         

My design, I told them, is to employ for the present all the women who are out of business, and desire it, in knitting.

To these we will first give the common price for what work they do; and then add, according as they need.

Twelve persons are appointed to inspect these and to visit and provide things needful for the sick.

Each of these is to visit all the sick within her district every other day and to meet on Tuesday evening, to give an account of what she has done and consult what can be done further (p. 89).

Some years ago four factories for spinning and weaving were set up at Epworth. In these a large number of young women, and boys and girls, were employed. The whole conversation of these was profane and loose to the last degree. But some of these stumbling in at the prayer meeting were suddenly cut to the heart. These never rested till they had gained their companions. The whole scene was changed. In three of the factories, no more lewdness or profaneness was found; for God had put a new song in their mouth, and blasphemies were turned to praise (p. 378).

I preached the condemned criminals’ sermon in Newgate. Forty-seven were under sentence of death. While they were coming in, there was something very awful in the clink of their chains. But no sound was heard, either from them or the crowded audience, after the text was named: “There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, that need not repentance.” The power of the Lord was eminently present, and most of the prisoners were in tears. A few days after, twenty of them died at once, five of whom died in peace (p. 393).

Because of his powerful revivals, Satan evidently recognized Wesley as a worthy adversary. Following is an account of Wesley encountering a demon-possessed girl:  

A violent rain began just as I set out, so that I was thoroughly wet in a few minutes. Just at that time the woman (then three miles off) cried out, “Yonder comes Wesley, galloping as fast as he can.” When I was come, I was quite cold and dead and fitter for sleep than prayer. She burst out into a horrid laughter and said, “No power, no power; no faith, no faith. She is mine; her soul is mine. I have her and will not let her go.”

We begged of God to increase our faith. . . . We betook ourselves to prayer again and ceased not till she began, about six o’clock, with a clear voice and composed, cheerful look: “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow” (p. 82).

Wesley in defending his multiple uses of a sermon wrote:  

. . . I heard a good man say long since — “Once in seven years I burn all my sermons; for it is a shame if I cannot write better sermons now than I could seven years ago.” Whatever others can do, I really cannot. I cannot write a better sermon on the Good Steward than I did seven years ago; . . . nay, I know not that I can write a better on the Circumcision of the Heart than I did five-and-forty years ago. . . . I may have read five or six hundred books more than I had then, and may know a little more history, or natural philosophy, than I did; but I am not sensible that this has made any essential addition to my knowledge in divinity. Forty years ago I knew and preached every Christian doctrine which I preach now (p. 363).

To the very end, Wesley continued to praise his Lord. The day before his death, he raised up from his bed and with supernatural strength declared:

I’'ll praise my Maker while I’'ve breath,
And when my voice is lost in death,
Praise shall employ my nobler pow’'rs;
My days of praise shall ne’'er be past,
While life, and thought, and being last,
Or immortality endures (p. 418).

Revival Timeline


John Wesley   The World
  1704 Britain takes Gibraltar
Birth 1705  
  1708 William Pitt, statesman
Saved from fire 1709  
  1722 Patriot Samuel Adams born
  1732  George Washington born
Holy Club at Oxford 1733  
Traveled to Georgia 1735  
Conversion 1738  
Formed Methodist societies 1739  
First Methodist conference 1744  
  1748 Discovery of Pompeii
  1769 First mission in California
Arrested in Edinburgh 1774  
  1776 Declaration of Independence
Sends Dr. Coke to U.S. 1784  
  1789 French Revolution begins
  1790 District of Columbia formed
Death at age 88 1791  
  1794 U.S. Navy created


Charles Wesley  

Charles Wesley was born in 1707 and died in 1788. While at Oxford, Charles invited a few of his friends to meet two times a week for the purpose of Bible study and prayer. They celebrated communion once a week, and fasted and prayed two days a week. The group was nicknamed “"The Holy Club”" by the other students. When John came to Oxford, he joined the group and quickly became its leader. Their name was changed to Methodists because of their methodical approach to the meetings.

Both Charles’' life and work were closely tied to his brother John. He accompanied him to Georgia as a missionary but returned to England a year later. Charles, the more conservative of the two, appealed to his audiences to strive for a deeper Christian life. It is said that Charles had the ability to lead someone to a decision for Christ in an instant. But his greatest talent was in writing hymns. Charles was able to say in song the same truth that his brother preached. By the end of his life, Charles had composed over six thousand hymns. At least four hundred of them are still sung today. Charles has perhaps left the largest legacy of any revivalist in his storehouse of hymns.  

Francis Asbury  

Francis Asbury was born in 1745 near Birmingham, England. Not much is known of his family or early life, but we do know that he had a religious experience at the age of thirteen. Thirteen years later he volunteered as a missionary to America. Asbury literally lived on horseback as he traveled thousands of miles every year. He was the first circuit rider — — preaching at one settlement before riding on to the next. This went on for several years until the Revolutionary War broke out between Great Britain and the colonies. Since he was a British citizen, someone accused him of spying for the enemy. Asbury was forced to hide out in Delaware from 1777-78.

In 1784 Dr. Thomas Coke, who had been a presbyter in the Anglican Church, was sent to America by John Wesley. Coke organized a conference of the Methodist societies in America. At this time, Francis Asbury was ordained and appointed as joint superintendent with Coke over the American Methodists. During his lifetime Asbury saw the beginning of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. With Thomas Coke, he founded Cokesbury College in Baltimore, Maryland. After traveling over 300,000 miles preaching, Asbury saw the number of Methodists increase from 15,000 to 200,000 members.

Today Methodists are represented by many separate branches in both America and England. The largest are the Wesleyan Methodist Connection in England and the United Methodist Church in the United States. In theology Methodists lean toward the Arminians (counter to Calvin’s predestination teaching). In doctrine, their main denominational difference is their emphasis on sanctification and personal free will. Heirs of the Methodist movement are the Disciples of Christ, Nazarenes, Churches of God, Holiness churches, Evangelical United Brethren, various Pentecostal churches, and the Salvation Army.  

Jonathan Edwards  

Jonathan Edwards was born in East Windsor, Connecticut in 1703. His Puritan family educated Jonathan at home. In 1720 he was sent to Yale University, where he was converted at the age of seventeen. As he read “"Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen"” in 1 Timothy 1:17, Edwards described his conversion as an overwhelming sense of God’'s glory. This experience led him on a lifelong mission of proclaiming and defending the gospel. Edwards graduated from Yale in 1720.

In 1729 he became pastor of the Congregational Church at Northampton, Massachusetts. Previously this church had been pastored by his grandfather. Edwards possessed superior intelligence and was therefore an outstanding theologian and scholar. Although he upheld Calvinistic doctrines such as predestination, he insisted that humans have the freedom to choose alternative courses for their lives. Edwards believed that personal sin is an affront to a holy God—and there is a need for divine grace through Christ.

A religious revival came to the church in 1734. Edwards preached from carefully prepared sermons, based on the Bible and church doctrine. His Puritan background made him appeal to the conscience of his listeners as he urged them to put their faith into practice. Although Edwards felt that biblical doctrine was established by the authority of the Bible, he also used philosophical argument to appeal to human reason. Edwards pointedly preached to young people concerning discipline. He chastised them for reading immoral literature.

Edwards also took a stern stand on the subject of communion. During the pastorate of his grandfather, the congregation decided that anyone who had been baptized could take communion. A personal profession of faith in Christ was not necessary. The church had come to see communion as having conversion powers. Edwards wanted to go back to the original doctrine in which only those who had been saved could take communion. After much controversy with the congregation, Edwards was forced to leave in 1750.

Edwards went to Stockbridge, a frontier post where he served as a missionary to the Indians. The seven years he spent there certainly benefitted the Indians. But even more beneficial was the opportunity for him to think and write. His most famous book from this period was The Freedom of the Will. In 1757 Edwards was invited to become the president of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton). At first he declined, but later relented, becoming president in January. His term was short-lived because he died just two months later. When Jonathan Edwards died, the world lost the greatest philosopher/theologian of its day. For along with his superior intellect, he had the unusual ability to integrate heart with head. Edwards’ writings have proven a treasured legacy to the church yet today.

David Brainerd

David Brainerd was born in 1718 in Haddem, Connecticut. After being licensed to preach in 1742, Brainerd served in Massachusetts as a Presbyterian missionary to the Indians. Young Brainerd was to have married one of Jonathan Edwards’' daughters, but circumstances prevented it. In 1745 he went to New Jersey as a missionary, but his life was cut short by tuberculosis. He continued to minister to the Indians, but died of the disease later that year at the home of Edwards. His Journal  inspired many to labor on the mission field, especially among the Native Americans.


The Great Awakening stirred hearts as never before. Revivalists such as Whitefield spoke in great open fields to thousands. For decades Wesley and Asbury traveled on horseback mile after mile, taking the gospel to out-of-the-way places as well as to the large cities. Edwards pricked the hearts of those whose hearts had been hardened by the dull religion of the eighteenth century. Charles Wesley wooed the complacent into a personal relationship with Christ through his numerous inspiring hymns. And David Brainerd literally preached until he dropped dead, but his legacy of faith remained among the Indians he ministered to. God had chosen his servants well; each contributed over and above what was humanly possible: “It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them” (Ps. 44:3).  

Life Application: Charles Wesley demonstrated the importance of music in revival. Find a hymnal and read (sing, if possible) such favorites as "“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”" or “"And Can It Be.”" What effect did the words have on you? Why do you think these hymns made such an impact during the Methodist revival?


Take the quiz

Quiz Instructions

Test your knowledge by taking this short quiz which covers what you just read. Select the correct response based on the lessons and concepts of this chapter.

1. There were no true revivals before the Reformation.



2. __________ of Assisi was a twelfth-century monk who founded an order that forsook material possessions.



3. __________ was a Swiss Reformer who emphasized that following the will of God was central to the Christian life.

Huldrych Zwingli

Adolf Hitler

4. __________ was the German priest who in challenging the church in Rome led the Protestant Reformation.

Saint Frank

Martin Luther

5. One aspect of Luther'’s reforming efforts was to produce a German translation of the Bible.



6. The Reformers affirmed that people are justified by __________.



7. __________ was the French Reformer most famous for his Institutes of Christian Religion.

John Calvin

Huldrych Zwingli

8. True revival never brings any doctrinal disagreement.



9. Spurgeon saw revival as attended with clear evangelical instruction upon cardinal points of __________.



10. Spurgeon believed that the Reformer’s ecclesiastical improvements in and of themselves brought revival.



11. Lloyd-Jones believed that it was the rediscovery of cardinal __________ that led to revival.



12. Two major contributions of the Reformers were the recovery of Scripture and the priesthood of __________.


All believers

13. The 'Evangelical Revival' of the 1700s is often called "The Great __________ ."



14. A group called __________ prayed for revival for one hundred years.



15. __________ was the 18th-century English revivalist who travelled some 250,000 miles and preached over 40,000 sermons

John Wesley

Martin Luther

16. __________, a comrade of the Wesleys, was likewise a great preacher who had tremendous results in America.

Von Zinzendorf


17. Early revivalists like Wesley and Whitefield labored only occasionally, preferring to let the Holy Spirit do the work supernaturally.



18. __________ was the great 18th-century American Puritan revivalist who later became president of Princeton.



19. Revival, according to Edwards, instills an aversion to judging other professing Christians.



20. Edwards described revival as an extraordinary sense of the __________ of God.



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