As we look at the Scriptures and at the experiences of the Church over the last 2000 years, it seems that there are specific times when God "visits" a people and a place and reveals something of His glory.
"As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, 'If you, even you, have only known on this day what would bring you peace - but now it is hidden from your eyes because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you" Luke 19:41-44.Jesus wept over Jerusalem because they had "missed the day of their visitation" (KJV). God had been in their midst. God had revealed His glory to them through Jesus. But they had missed it.
Space will not allow us to tell of all the visitations of God that are known through history. Neither is our purpose here to give the historic details of the background and events of these visitations. We will mention just a few. Our desire is only to highlight examples of His visitation and its effect.
"The "strangely warmed" heart John Wesley embraced in Aldersgate was translated into fire by the 1st January, 1739, Fetter Lane meeting, where he and his original band of Methodists called on God for power to live lives of holiness and effective service.
'Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutchins, and my brother Charles were present...with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, inasmuch that many cried out for exceeding joy and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of His majesty, we broke out with one voice, 'We praise Thee, O God, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord'' (Journals of John Wesley, Vol. II, p.125). (Pratney - Revival - p. 124).George Whitefield stood on a hill in February 1739 and began to speak to about one or two hundred coal miners on "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). He said of them:
"Having no righteousness of their own to renounce they were glad to hear of Jesus who was a friend to publicans and came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. The first discovery of their being affected was the sight of the white gutters made by their tears which fell plentifully down their black cheeks as they came out of the coal-pits.""The word spread. The next audience was two thousand, then audiences multiplied and expanded - ten thousand, fourteen thousand, twenty thousand! Shortly, he would be preaching to up to thirty thousand people at one time. Thousands came to hear him preach at 6.00 a.m. in the snow; whole cities turned out to hear the young man with the golden voice and a supernatural authority from heaven."
George Whitefield describes with a sense of awe what he saw God doing:
"Sometimes when twenty thousand people were before me I had not in my own apprehension a word to say either to God or them. But I was never totally deserted...The open heavens above me, the prospect of the adjacent fields with the sight of thousand some in coaches, some on horseback, and some in the trees and at all times affected and in tears was almost too much for me, and quite overcame me." (Whitefield, Journals, p. 225). (Pratney -"Revival" - p.82,83).The visitation of God through George Whitefield and John Wesley saved England from what could have been the same blood bath as the French Revolution.
"At the same time God had raised up Whitefield and Wesley, He was doing something unusual in the United States. His instrument was...
A "great and earnest concern" about eternity and spiritual things gripped all social classes and ages. It accelerated rapidly until souls came, as it were, "by flocks to Jesus," about three hundred in six months. Edwards noted:
In the spring and summer following 1735, the town seemed to be full of the presence of God as it never was so full of love, nor so full of joy, and yet so full of distress as it was then...Our public assemblies were then beautiful; the congregation was alive in God's service, every one earnestly intent on the public worship, every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister. The assembly...from time to time in tears while the Word was preached; some weeping with joy and distress, others with joy and love - still others in pit and concern for the souls of their neighbors. (Fischer, Reviving Revivals, p. 158).It was the beginning of the "most far-reaching and transforming event of the eighteenth-century religious life of America"; the revival that became known as the Great Awakening...The wave kept spreading through other communities and towns...ultimately affecting over a hundred towns." (Pratney - Revival - p.86,88,89).
David Brainerd described how revival began amongst the American Indians in 1745:
'The power of God seemed to descend on the assembly like a rushing mighty wind and with an astonishing energy bore all down before it. I stood amazed at the influence that seized the audience almost universally and could compare it to nothing more aptly than the irresistible force of a mighty torrent...Almost all person of all ages were bowed down with concern together and scarce one was able to withstand the shock of the astonishing operation.' (Edwards, The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, PP. 142-143). (Pratney - Revival - p.).Charles Finney (1792-1875) describes in his autobiography a manifestation of Jesus he experienced:
"There was no fire, no light in the room; nevertheless it appeared to me as if it were perfectly light. As I went in and shut the door after me, it seemed as if I met the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. It did not occur to me then, nor did it for some time afterward, that it was a wholly mental state. On the contrary, it seemed to me that I saw Him as I would see any other man. He said nothing, but looked at me in such a manner as to break me down right at His feet...it seemed to me a reality that He stood before me and I fell down at His feet and poured out my soul to Him. I wept aloud like a child, and made such confessions as I could with a choked utterance. It seemed to me that I bathed His feet with my tears, and yet I had no distinct impression that I touched Him." (Finney, Autobiography, p.21)."For a long time, Finney continued in this state. Eventually he broke off the interview and returned to the front office, where the fire had nearly burned out. As he was about to take a seat by the fire, he received, his own words,
'in a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such things for me, without any recollection that I had ever hear the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended on me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed, I could not express it any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recall distinctly that it seemed to fan me like immense wings.
No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me and over me and over me, one after the other until I recollect I cried out 'I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.' I said, 'Lord I cannot bear any more; yet I had no fear of death' (Finney, Autobiography, p.22)." (Pratney - Revival - p. 96,97).
The noise was like the roar of Niagara. The vast sea of human beings seemed to be agitated as if by a storm. I counted seven ministers, all preaching at one time, some on stumps, others in wagons and one standing on a tree which had, in falling, lodged against another...Some of the people were singing, others praying, some crying for mercy in the most piteous accents, while others were shouting most vociferously. While witnessing these scenes, a peculiarly-strange sensation such as I had never felt before came over me. My heart beat tumultuously, my knees trembled, my lips quivered, and I felt as though I must fall to the ground. A strange supernatural power seemed to pervade the entire mass of mind there collected...I stepped up on a log where I could have a better view of the surging sea of humanity."The American frontier was set ablaze...The frontier was radically transformed. Instead of gambling, cursing and vice, spirituality and genuine Christianity characterized the early Westward movement."
The scene that then presented itself to my mind was indescribable. At one time I saw at least five hundred swept down in a moment as if a battery of a thousand guns had been opened upon them, and then immediately followed shrieks and shouts that rent the very heavens." (Mendell Taylor, Exploring Evangelism, p. 142).
"The first manifestation of phenomenal revival occurred simultaneously among Boer prisoners of war in places ten thousand miles apart as far away a Bermuda and Ceylon. Missionaries and national believers in obscure places in India, the Far East, Africa, and Latin America seemed moved at the same time to pray."He records...
"...extraordinary praying, faithful preaching, conviction of sin, confession, and repentance, with lasting conversions and hundreds of enlistments for missions."
"A wonderful revival is sweeping over Wales. The whole country, from the city to the colliery underground, is aflame with Gospel glory. Police courts are hardly necessary; public houses are being deserted, old debts are being paid to satisfy awakened consciences, and definite and unmistakable answers to prayer are being recorded." ('Ram's Horn').One man and his daughter read about what was happening and decided to visit. On finding out from the porter at the station which train to catch they then enquired about which way to go once they were off the train. "How will we know?" they asked. "You'll feel it on the train," he replied. "Go down that road and you'll feel it down there".
"The scene is almost indescribable. Tier upon tier of men and women filled every inch of space. Those who could not gain admittance stood outside and listened at the doors. Others rushed to the windows where almost every word was audible. When at 7:00 the service began...two thousand people must have been present. The enthusiasm was unbounded. Women sang and shouted till perspiration ran down their faces, and men jumped up one after another to testify. One told in quivering accents the story of a drunken life. A working collier spoke like a practised orator; one can imagine what a note the testimony of a converted Gypsy woman struck when, dressed in her best, she told of her reformation and repentance. At ten o'clock the meeting had lost none of its ardor. Prayer after prayer went up...time and again, the four ministers who stood in the pulpit attempted to start a hymn, but it was all in vain. The revival has taken hold of the people..." (A report by a visiting Journalist).
Orr in Evangelical Awakenings records the effects of the Welsh Revival on the society of the day:
With less than a score of intercessors when it burst, the churches of Wales were crowded for more than two years; one hundred thousand outsiders were converted, drunkenness cut in half, and many taverns driven into bankruptcy. Crimes were so diminished that judges were presented with white gloves signifying there were no cases of murder, assault, rape, robbery, or the like to consider. The police became "unemployed" in many districts. Coal mines stopped work with transport difficulties. The pit ponies didn't understand commands anymore. They couldn't recognise their owners' redeemed language!Space does not allow to tell of more, but down through history it continues...accounts of God revealing His glory as He visits needy men and women in His love and mercy...right to this point in time. Reports come of great visitations of the Lord in Africa, South America, China, and amongst many tribal groups.
Jonathan Edwards wrote much to describe the First Great Awakening:
"The highest transports I have been acquainted with, where the affections of admiration, love and joy, so far as another could judge, have been raised to the highest pitch, the following things have been united:Extraordinary views of Divine things and the religious affections were frequently attended with very great effects on the body...The person was deprived of all ability to speak. Sometimes the hands were clenched and the flesh cold but the sense remaining. Animal nature was often in a great emotion and agitation, and the soul so overcome with admiration and a kind of omnipotent joy, as to cause the person unavoidably to leap with all their might with joy and mighty exaltation.
A very frequent dwelling for some considerable time together in view of the glories of the Divine perfections and Christ's excellencies...the soul has been, as it were, perfectly overwhelmed and swallowed up with light and love, a sweet solace, and a rest and joy of soul altogether unspeakable. The person has more than once continued for five or six hours together without interruption in a clear and lively sense of the infinite beauty and amiableness of Christ's Person and the heavenly sweetness of His transcendent love...The heart was swallowed up in a kind of glow of Christ's love coming down as a constant stream of sweet light, at the same time the soul all flowing out in love to Him: so that there seemed to be a constant flowing and reflowing from heart to heart. The soul dwelt on high, was lost in God and seemed almost to lose the body...
Nearly three years ago they greatly increased upon an extraordinary self-dedication, renunciation of the world and resignation of all to God; which were made in a great view of God's excellency in high exercise of love to Him and rest and joy in Him...All that is pleasant and glorious and all that is terrible in this world seemed perfectly to vanish into nothing and nothing to be left but God, in whom the soul was perfectly swallowed up as in an infinite ocean of blessedness.
This great rejoicing has been with trembling, i.e. attended with a deep and lively sense of the greatness and majesty of God and the persons own exceeding littleness and vileness. Spiritual joys...were never attended with the least appearance of laughter or lightness either of the countenance or the manner of speaking; but with a peculiar abhorrence of such appearance in spiritual rejoicing. These high transports, when past have had abiding effects in the increase of sweetness, rest and humility which they have left upon the soul; and a new engagedness of heart to live to God's honor and watch and fight against sin." (Edwards, Works of Jonathan Edwards, P. 301). (Pratney - Revival - p. 90-91).
We recommend Winkie Pratney's book "Revival, It's Principles and Personalities"
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Copyright 1997, Alexandra Collins, Fountaingate Christian Foundation