FULTON STREET – REVIVAL IN NEW YORK CITY
In the middle of September 1857, in New York City, a tall man “with a pleasant face, and affectionate manner . . . shrewd and endowed with much tact and common sense” began passing out handbills that read: “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, earthly spirit . . . In prayer, we leave the business of time for that of eternity, and intercourse with God.”
And on the reverse side:
“A day Prayer-Meeting is held every Wednesday from 12 to 1 o’clock in the Consistory building of the North Dutch Church, corner of Fulton and William Streets. This meeting is intended to give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers and businessmen generally an opportunity to stop and call on God amid the perplexities incident to their respective avocations. It will continue for one hour; but it is designed for those who find it inconvenient to remain more than 5 or 10 minutes, as well as for those who can spare a whole hour. Necessary interruption will be slight, because anticipated. Those in haste often expedite their business engagements by halting to lift their voices to the throne of grace in humble, grateful prayer.”
The man was Jeremiah Lanphier, a 48-year old businessman turned lay city missionary, and he was beginning the prayer-meeting on behalf of the North Dutch Reformed Church. Shortly before noon on September 23 he opened the doors of the church. Out of a population of over a million, only one man showed up for the beginning of the meeting — Lanphier!
At 12:30, he heard the footsteps of one man climbing the stairs. Within a few minutes, a total of six men had joined Lanphier to pray. The next Wednesday brought 20; the third week was attended by between 30 and 40 men. The meetings were so encouraging that it was decided that they should meet daily. The next day, the crowds had again increased. By the following Wednesday, October 14, the day of the market crash, “over 100, many of them not professors of religion but under conviction of sin and seeking an interest in Christ” were attending.
By mid-November, the two lecture rooms had to be used, and both were filled. Within six months time, these noon-time prayer-meetings were attracting over 10,000 businessmen who were “confessing sin, getting saved, [and] praying for revival.”
A Boston journalist gives a picture of what the early meetings were like:
All sects are here: the formal, stately Churchman and the impulsive Methodist who cannot suppress his groan and his “amen;” the sober, substantial Dutchman and the ardent Congregationalist, with all Yankee restlessness on his face; the Baptist and the Presbyterian, joining in the same chorus and bowing at the same altar.”
By mid-February, Fulton Street was holding three simultaneous, standing room only prayer meetings on three floors. This caused editor James Gordon Bennett to begin exploiting the prayer meetings in his New York Herald. Soon, his rival, Horace Greeley gave friendlier editorials in his New York Tribune. In April, Greeley dedicated an entire issue to the Revival. Other papers across the nation quickly followed suit.
In a two column editorial on March 20, the New York Times had this to say about the revival:
“The great wave of religious excitement which is now sweeping over this nation, is one of the most remarkable movements since the Reformation . . . Travelers relate that on cars and steamboats, in banks and markets, everywhere through the interior, this matter is an absorbing topic. Churches are crowded; bank-directors’ rooms become oratories; school-houses are turned into chapels; converts are numbered by the scores of thousands. In this City, we have beheld a sight which not the most enthusiastic fanatic for church-observances could ever have hoped to look upon;–we have seen in a business quarter of the City, in the busiest hours, assemblies of merchants, clerks and working-men, to the number of some 5,000, gathered day after day for a simple and solemn worship. Similar assemblies we find in other portions of the City; a theatre is turned into a chapel; churches of all sects are open and crowded by day and night.”
As the noontime prayer meetings increased, attended predominately by the male workers of the city, the effect in the city was tremendous. Many ministers began having nightly services in which to lead men to Christ. A chain reaction of church after church began to hold morning, afternoon, and evening meetings for both prayer and the counseling of those concerned about their souls.
The same scenes were soon reported from all over the nation, from New York to California, Florida to Maine. It affected judges and college students, businessmen and housewives. At times, schools had to close in order to pray and seek God. People across the nation prayed, and churches filled.
Though it peaked in 1858, it did not stop there. Throughout the Civil War, camps had great revival meetings–over 150,000 were converted in the Confederate army alone. It also crossed the oceans. In England, close to a million people joined the church due to the revival that originated in New York. This revival was a layman’s revival. Though ministers helped to counsel people, it was the laypeople that carried it.
The Results of the Awakening
Churches benefitted greatly from the Revival. At its peak, there was an estimated 50,000 converts per week. During a two year period, 10,000 were joining churches weekly, and Sunday schools flourished. The Awakening of 1857-1858 brought over one million new converts into the American Church, and revived the over four million members present before the Revival. The new life within the churches was shown most dramatically by the resurgence of evangelism.
Under the First Great Awakening, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards sparked a mass movement of evangelism. This was also seen during the Second Great Awakening under the ministries of Charles Finney, Peter Cartwright, and others. These two movements were mostly led by the ordained clergy. Under the Third Great Awakening of 1858, it was the laymen who moved out to evangelize. The famous D.L. Moody began his ministry during the Revival, yet he was never ordained. Even though he founded a Bible college and pastored churches, he always remained a layman.
This new wave of evangelism became a “specialized evangelism,” where specific groups were targeted: lawyers, sailors, the poor, drunkards, and prostitutes. It wasn’t only the churches which benefitted from the Awakening. Businessmen began to pay off honest debts, and “places of debauchery and taverns by the hundreds” closed down. There was also an increased concern in helping the needy and destitute, with great growth in volunteer work, and the financing of the work.
Though the Revival of 1857-1858 is barely remembered by secular historians today, it was probably the greatest of the three Great Awakenings experienced by the United States of America. Can we birth a Great Awakening today? Yes!
Point to Ponder: “We can do nothing without prayer. All things can be done by importunate prayer. That is the teaching of Jesus Christ”. – E. M. Bounds