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General Bible Courses > Living by the Book > Revival by the Book

Chapter 4: 19th and 20th Century Revivals


IN THIS CHAPTER, you will discover:       

·   The amazing story of D. L. Moody.       

·   The origins of the Pentecostal movement.       

·   The implications of the Welsh Revival.    

AS A RESULT, you will be able to:       

·   Have a commitment and passion for revival.       

·   Believe for the power of the Holy Spirit to come in revival.       

·   Open yourself to God’s call to ministry.  

D.L. Moody and Ira Sankey

Key Scripture: “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit — just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 John 2:27).

Revival does not just happen, but usually results from faithfulness to intercessory prayer. Through this strong foundation, revival occurs. Likewise, the foundation for the revival of 1857 was laid by many persistent intercessors on their knees. One of these praying saints was Jeremiah Lamphier, who had been converted under Charles Finney’s ministry in New York. After his conversion Lamphier became known as an exhorter and a man of prayer. His first prayer meeting on September 23, 1857 had only 3 persons in attendance. But Lamphier did not look at numbers — he was looking to God. Within six months the number grew to 1,000. Out of these meetings 10,000 conversions occurred in New York alone as the revival spread. By the following May, nearly 100,000 people had been saved.

Two months after Lamphier’s first meeting, John Bliss began a noon prayer meeting in Philadelphia. By May the meeting had grown in number to 2,500. And 3,500 others, influenced by Bliss, began to meet elsewhere. In Chicago around 2,000 men met at noon for prayer with D. L. Moody as one of its leaders. Prayer meetings increased in number from city to city, each further establishing the foundation. Revival was inevitable.

Dwight L. Moody

Dwight L. Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts to Betsy and Edwin Moody. His father was an alcoholic bricklayer, who died when Moody was only four. His mother, driven into poverty by her husband’s debts, was helped financially by the local Unitarian pastor. Strong-willed Betsy and her eight children managed to survive on the family farm. But their financial plight provided only a sporadic education for young Dwight. He tried farming, but had no inclination toward it. Then he attempted printing, but was subsequently discharged. As a last resort, his uncles offered him a job in their shoe store in Boston. So in 1854 Moody left home to seek his fortune.

Because his uncles insisted that he attend church, Moody joined a Sunday school class taught by Edward Kimball. Concerned for Moody’s salvation, Kimball went to the shoe store to witness to him. As a result of his teacher’s commitment, Moody was converted in 1855 but had to wait a year for church membership. Church leaders considered him totally ignorant of Scripture. In 1856 Moody moved to Chicago to work in another shoe store. He had a real knack for selling and could easily have become wealthy. But Moody became interested in a religious revival going on at the time. In response, he felt that God had called him to teach a Sunday school class. The church would only agree, however, if Moody recruited his own students. So he went out into the streets and found eighteen children willing to come to Sunday school. At first they met in an abandoned railway car. Then Moody found a dance hall that was available on Sundays.

The next decade brought new directions for Moody. In 1860 he gave up his sales career to run a children’s mission in the slums and to work for the newly built Y.M.C.A. His salary dropped from a generous $7500 to a meager $300 a year. When the Civil War broke out, Moody volunteered and actually served on the front lines in Tennessee. In 1862 Moody married Emma Revell. English-born Emma was cultured and refined in contrast to the unpolished Moody. His family — Emma, their two sons, and daughter — later provided a secure base from which he could launch his own campaigns. On a trip to England with his family, Moody met Harry Moorhouse. This pickpocket turned evangelist taught him to preach God’s love rather than his wrath. He also gave Moody important pointers for planning a revival meeting. Moorhouse instructed him in (1) building a theme for his sermon, (2) accompanying it with Scripture, and (3) reading Scripture publicly as people followed along in their own Bibles.

In 1870 Moody met Ira Sankey, who became an integral part of his life over the next thirty years. Moody soon became an important evangelist in the Midwest, but the Chicago Fire in 1871 destroyed the churches, the Y.M.C.A., in fact, everything Moody had helped to build. So he went to New York to raise funds for rebuilding. But New York provided more than financial help for Moody. Two ladies living there prayed through until Moody was baptized in the Holy Spirit, filling him with more power than he had ever dreamed possible.

Two years later Moody was off to England again. He preached in several meetings, but his real breakthrough came in Scotland. About 3,000 were converted in Edinburgh and 3,000 more in Glasgow. Moody’s preaching inspired smaller evangelistic campaigns. Churches of various denominations cooperated closely with Moody in preparing for his campaigns. Moody believed that he was responsible for getting them saved; the church was responsible for caring for the converts. An important addition to Moody’s meetings was an “after meeting” or inquiry room. There converts met in smaller groups after the revival meeting. Moody also held special meetings for children.

Large cities in the United States welcomed Moody as well. His pre-planning worked wonders. Advance agents visited the city first, enlisting Christians to pray. The agents organized visitation to individual homes and found a central location for the big meeting. Once, using the World’s Fair as a drawing card, he arranged for ministry in several districts around Chicago. As a result, nearly 2 million people were in the audiences.

It would be difficult to describe Moody’s appeal as a speaker. His voice had a nasal twang, and his grammar was incorrect. Yet he possessed a magnetic, persuasive personality. Although Moody’s voice could be heard for a long distance, he gave the impression that he was chatting with a friend in the front row. His message, although plain, always reflected the integrity of the man. Moody’s immense faith and dedication have been difficult for succeeding revivalists to live up to. During his lifetime he is said to have initiated 750,000 decisions.

Revival Timeline

Dwight L. Moody   The World
Born at Northfield, MA 1837  
  1846 Irish potato famine
Converted in a shoe store 1855  
Organizes Sabbath school 1858  
  1859  Darwin’s Origin of Species
Works with Civil War soldiers 1862   
Missionary of Y.M.C.A. 1863  
  1864 Pasteurization invented
New endowment of power 1871 Great Chicago fire
First campaign in England 1873  
  1876 Telephone invented
  1878 Salvation Army begins
  1880 Edison’s electric light
Student Volunteer Movement 1886  
Bible Institute opened 1889  
  1890 Worldwide flu epidemic
  1895 Invention of X-rays
  1896 First modern Olympics held
Dies at Northfield home 1899  

Ira Sankey

Ira Sankey was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a banker. Prior to fighting in the Civil War, he was a clerk in his father’s bank. When the war ended, Sankey entered the civil service as a tax collector. He served as a Methodist choir director and a Sunday school superintendent.

Ira Sankey met D. L. Moody at an Indianapolis Y.M.C.A. convention in 1870. This began a working relationship that lasted almost three decades. Moody appreciated Sankey’s fine singing voice and asked him to lead singing at the Independent Church in Chicago. Later Sankey accompanied Moody to Liverpool, England. They discovered that although the English were very religious, many of them possessed spiritually hardened hearts. But when Moody preached and Sankey sang, these hard hearts were softened. Sankey’s gospel songs were the perfect complement to Moody’s preaching. He possessed an exquisite baritone voice, rich in expression and volume, and audiences sat spellbound when he sang.

Sankey made revival singing popular, and many felt that his evangelistic ministry was equal to Moody’s. Singing had been a part of public worship since the Protestant Reformation. But the congregational singing introduced by Sankey was designed to wake up the sinner, melt hardened hearts, and to point the way to Jesus Christ. Some of Sankey’s well-known gospel songs include: “The Ninety and Nine,” “I’m Praying For You,” “Hiding in Thee,” “A Shelter in the Time of Storm,” and “Faith Is the Victory.”

Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos and Gospel Hymns brought in more than a million dollars in royalties by 1900. Moody and Sankey could have become rich, but the money was placed in a trust fund. The Northfield School for Girls and the Mount Hermon School for Boys were founded from this trust. After his evangelistic campaigns with Moody ended, Sankey became the president of Biglow and Main, the publishing company that had published many of his gospel songs and hymns.

Life Application: Education is no prerequisite for success in ministry. Moody’s life testifies to that fact. Has your lack of a degree or formal training prevented you from launching into ministry? As you emulate Moody’s commitment to evangelism, who can you win to the Lord today, this week, this month?

The Azusa Street Revival

Key Scripture: “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:6).

The Reformation reestablished the doctrines of salvation by faith, the authority of Scripture, and the priesthood of all believers. With the advent of the Pentecostal movement in 1901, however, two new doctrines were restored. These doctrinal distinctives, which set them apart from their predecessors, were the baptism in the Holy Spirit (separate from salvation and sanctification) and divine healing. The early Pentecostal movement was characterized by traveling evangelists and emotion-packed meetings. Three of its most outstanding leaders were Charles Parham, William J. Seymour, and Frank Bartleman, the latter two being influential in the Azusa Street Revival.

Charles Parham

Charles Parham was born in Muscatine, Iowa in 1873. Because of his weak physical condition as a boy, he spent a lot of time reading the Bible. Young Parham was converted in a Congregational church at the age of thirteen. Later his ordination at sixteen in the Methodist Episcopal Church made him the youngest pastor in the denomination. While at a Bible college in Topeka, Kansas, Parham prayed for the healing of his clubfoot; and his birth defect was miraculously healed. As a result, he resigned from his church and became a member of the Holiness movement. That incident was the beginning of a chain of events that culminated in the Azusa Street Revival.

Parham went on to found the Bethel Healing Home for sick persons too poor to pay for care and housing. He never solicited funds, and, like George Muller, prayed that God would meet their needs. Food and supplies were provided supernaturally, and many of the residents were healed. In 1900 Parham founded a Bible college. He moved it and the Bethel Healing Home to a two-story mansion in Topeka, Kansas, which he rented for only forty dollars a month. The college, like the home, was run on faith. Students were not required to pay for either tuition or lodging.

In late December 1900, Parham left the school for a speaking engagement. He asked the students to study the biblical evidence in the book of Acts for the baptism in the Holy Spirit while he was away. On New Year’s Eve, 1901 — the eve of the twentieth century — a student named Agnes Ozman was baptized in the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues. Parham returned to find a Holy Ghost revival starting at the school. Over the next few days Parham and many of his students were also baptized in the Holy Spirit and began to speak in tongues.

The events at the school were highly publicized, with resulting criticism from both the press and organized religion. No one would allow Parham or his followers to speak in their church. The group then moved to Kansas City. But because they found no refuge, they moved on. In 1903 Mary Arthur, who suffered from many illnesses, was healed through Parham’s prayers. She invited him to Galena, Kansas to hold meetings. Then when her friend was healed of cancer, people began to look at Parham and his group with more respect. They held tent revival meetings where hundreds of people were saved, baptized in the Holy Spirit — and healed.

They traveled to Houston, Texas, where Parham followers claimed that 25,000 were influenced by the revival in the winter of 1905-6. Parham opened yet another Bible school in Houston. It was there that he met William J. Seymour. Parham was so impressed with Seymour that he allowed the black man to listen to the lectures at the Bible school. This gesture was exceptional because at the time the school was segregated. Later Parham bought Seymour’s ticket to Los Angeles where he was to accept a position as an associate pastor. Through his acceptance of and his assistance to Seymour, Parham paved the way for the Azusa Street Revival. Parham continued to carry his pentecostal message to the world. By the time he died, Parham is said to have been responsible for 200,000 conversions.

William J. Seymour

In March 1906, while studying in Houston with Charles Parham, William J. Seymour was approached by Neely Terry, a black woman from Los Angeles. She suggested that he would make a good associate pastor for her home church, the Nazarene Church of Santa Fe Avenue. She then returned to Los Angeles to recommend Seymour, convincing her pastor and elders to hire him. She was successful, and Seymour traveled to Los Angeles. For his initial sermon, Seymour spoke on the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Assuming that everyone in the church spoke in tongues, he declared that without tongues, there was no baptism. His first sermon proved to be his last, for the female pastor did not speak in tongues. When he showed up for the afternoon service, Seymour found the church door bolted.

But Neely Terry’s relatives invited Seymour to speak in their home on Bonnie Brae Street. News traveled quickly that miracles were taking place. Such a large group crowded into the house that the floor caved in. But that didn’t stop the revival. Seymour started using the front porch as a pulpit and the yard as the auditorium. Because they needed more space, Seymour and his followers moved to an old two-story frame house on Azusa Street. At various times the house on Azusa Street had been a church, a stable, and a warehouse. Since it had fallen into disrepair, the group had to refurbish the building before it could be used. They improvised seats with planks laid across nail kegs. Seymour’s podium was made of two boxes stacked on top of each other.

Seymour held services three times a day with an integrated congregation. The segregation prevalent in the established church had no place in this revival. And unlike the established church, there were no bulletins, hymnals, or order of service. The spontaneous meetings consisted of unplanned sermon topics and singing without accompaniment. Healing miracles were everyday occurrences as evidenced by the crutches and canes covering the walls. The blind left seeing; the deaf walked away hearing; and the lame leaped with joy. Constant praise for God’s miraculous power rang in the rafters. And the good news could not be contained within the building’s four walls at Azusa Street. People came from across the nation and around the world to watch God at work. This revival begun in 1906 by a preacher born to former slaves was the beginning of the Pentecostal renewal of the twentieth century.


In 1906 Parham was invited by Seymour to preach at Azusa Street. Although he had completely supported Seymour in the beginning, he felt that the revivalist had allowed spiritual abuse to creep into the revival. When Parham attempted to correct the abuses in a sermon, he was perceived as criticizing Seymour and the whole movement. Therefore, he was asked to leave. This caused a permanent schism between Parham and Seymour. Despite the break in the two men’s relationship, there was no doubt that the Azusa Street revival had impacted the world for all time.

Life Application: The Azusa Street revival illustrates how barriers of race and sex are torn down when the Holy Spirit is poured out. Do you have any prejudices against certain groups that you need to repent of? Divisions in the body of Christ hinder revival. How can you become a minister of reconciliation in your church and community to facilitate revival?

The New Century Awakening

Key Scripture: “"But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come"” (John 16:13).  

Evan Roberts  

Evan Roberts was born into a coal miner’s family with thirteen children in 1878. At that time Glamorgan, Wales was a coal mining center. When the elder Roberts injured his foot, Evan had to go down into the mines in his place. Only twelve at the time, Evan was forced to leave school. Then at the age of twenty-four he was apprenticed to his uncle, a blacksmith.  

But Roberts believed that God was calling him into the ministry. For several months he had experienced the presence of God, who appeared to him nightly. Soon after entering school, however, the visitations stopped. But during that first year of training, God’s presence returned to him. After a spiritual retreat in 1904, Roberts was convinced that he had been anointed to revive Wales from its spiritual deadness. He left the academy, taking his savings with him. Roberts had a prayer meeting on October 31, 1904, and three people were converted. Later he held nightly meetings in the Moriah Church in Loughor. Revival had started and Wales was beginning to awaken.  

Roberts’ meetings were characterized by praise, singing, and freedom in the Spirit. He became famous for his four-point sermon, which consisted of the following: (1) put away unconfessed sin, (2) give up doubtful habits, (3) obey the Spirit promptly, and (4) confess Christ publicly. Since Roberts was an exhorter, his revivals were often criticized for excessive emotionalism. But the positive results could not be denied. The Welsh Revival produced open confession of sin, the restoration of stolen goods, the cessation of swearing and gambling, and a drastic decrease in the sale of alcoholic beverages. The Welsh Revival affected the world as Evan Roberts had predicted. Its effects spread throughout Europe, the Far East, Africa, Latin America — and the United States and Canada.  

Billy Sunday  

William (“Billy”) Sunday was born in Ames, Iowa in 1862 during the Civil War. His father was a Union soldier who died before Sunday was born. His mother remarried, and with his two brothers he went to live with their grandfather. In 1874 the boys were sent to a Christian orphanage. Later they went back to live with their grandfather. Sunday left the farm at age fourteen and became a stable boy for a well-to-do landowner. His employer took a special interest in the young man and made sure that he graduated from high school. One of Billy’s chores was to exercise race horses. As he ran alongside them while they exercised, Sunday developed into an extremely fast runner.  

Later Sunday was playing amateur baseball when he was discovered by a scout for the Chicago White Sox. The scout was looking specifically for a fast runner — and Sunday could circle the bases in less than fifteen seconds. After joining the team, he ended up in Chicago. There at the Pacific Garden Mission Sunday was converted. As he became involved in lay evangelism, he refused to play baseball on the Lord’s Day. Sunday continued to play professional baseball for eight years before leaving to work for the Y.M.C.A. In 1893 Sunday began to assist evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman. During his two-year apprenticeship Sunday learned the details and techniques of revival meetings. When Chapman left evangelism, he launched out on his own.  

Sunday attracted great crowds through his preplanning and his penchant for publicity. He told stories, using the slang he had used as a ballplayer. Sunday often took off his coat and emphasized his points with dramatic gestures. For a decade he preached in a tent. But after losing a tent in an accident, he began to use temporary tabernacles built with a wooden floor at the site of each evangelistic campaign. Because he used sawdust to deaden the sound on the wooden floor, those who went down to the altar to accept Christ were said to walk the “sawdust trail.”  


Evan Roberts began an impressive career as a revivalist during the Welsh Revival. Because of his commitment to the vision God had given him, Roberts was instrumental in the conversion of a country. But his career ended tragically when he withdrew from the public eye after severe criticism. He never preached again publicly but spent his time in intercession. Conversely, Billy Sunday continued preaching in spite of a decline in popularity, financial troubles, and the death of two of his children. Unlike Roberts, Sunday died while preaching. It is believed that over 21 million people walked the sawdust trail during his campaigns.  

Life Application: The message of Evan Roberts’'s four-point sermon is still appropriate:

  • Put away unconfessed sin.
  • Give up doubtful habits.
  • Obey the Spirit promptly.
  • Confess Christ publicly.

Do you need to respond in one or more of these areas? If so, you will be personally revived and receive the same spiritual benefits experienced by the participants in the Welsh 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. When Moody began his ministry, he was a __________.


Shoe Salesman

2. Moody concerned himself solely with evangelism rather than the material needs of people.



3. Moody's lack of an education prevented him from speaking at universities such as Cambridge.



4. True revival __________ changes the moral climate of a community.



5. __________ is the preacher often associated with the Azusa Street revival.



6. The Azusa Street revival maintained a segregated congregation.



7. Azusa Street is a key not only for church renewal but also for social __________.



8. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit during the first part of the 20th century was restricted to Great Britain, the United States, and Wales.



9. The best-known and farthest-felt happening of the New Century decade was the __________.

Second Great Awakening

Welsh Revival

10. Awakenings in China and Burma proved nationals were better equipped culturally and traditionally to evangelize their own peoples.



11. During the 1905 Awakening, the mayor of Denver declared a day of prayer, during which the public schools and the Colorado legislature closed.



12. It was said of Evan Roberts: his strength is his __________ sanctified by communion with the invisible.



13. As is often the case, the Welsh Revival began among the __________.



14. The Welsh Revival was referred to as 'nothing less than' a __________ revolution.



15. Evan Roberts claimed his calling to preach revival was due to his dedication to the Scriptures.



16. In his preaching Evan Roberts personified __________.

Joy and happiness

Depression and doubt

17. The revival personified what must have occurred in the early church in the first century of the Christian era in scope and power.



18. One of the main characteristics of the Welsh Revival was the theatricality and thoroughness of Roberts' preaching.



19. Roberts advocated public __________ of Christ as Lord is a requirement of God’s visitation.



20. Evan Roberts was so full of the Spirit that God turned even his greatest enemies into his most ardent supporters.



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