Revivals that make a major impact on a nation aren’t always associated with great preachers like George Whitefield, D. L. Moody or Billy Graham. Sometimes God uses a relatively unknown person who is a committed follower of Christ to bring about change.
First in a two-part series
NEW YORK CITY – Revivals that make a major impact on a nation aren’t always associated with great preachers like George Whitefield, D. L. Moody or Billy Graham. Sometimes God uses a relatively unknown person who is a committed follower of Christ to bring about change.
On September 23, 1857, one of those lesser-known figures, Jeremiah Lanphier, opened the doors to the Old North Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in New York City for prayer. In a matter of weeks, the Spirit of God was blowing the winds of revival out of the doors of one church to directly impact more than one million people in the United States, and, with media and word-of-mouth coverage, to spread world wide.
Jeremiah Lanphier wasn’t a great preacher. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t really a preacher at all. He was a small town boy who moved to New York to seek his fortune. For 20 years, he owned a mercantile, a retail shop.
The Old North Church on Fulton Street in New York City had fallen on hard times. People were moving out of the rapidly growing area of lower Manhattan for a more serene lifestyle and the church was in major decline.
The Consistory, the congregation’s governing body, asked church member Lanphier to become a lay missionary because of his spiritual gifts and his abilities.
“He is intelligent, and eminently fitted for the position,” the board later wrote. They asked him to continue the work of the church in this transitional neighborhood.
It was going to be a hard task, because the nation as a whole was in spiritual decline. One would scarcely know a time of great revival had passed just a little over a decade previously. The Second Great Awakening (1797-1843) saw a time of camp meetings, college revivals and foreign missions agencies begin. The preaching of Charles Finney influenced the world. Thousands were saved.
The nation, in the first half of the 19th century, was in a time of prosperity. In two decades, people experienced an amazing time of new inventions and incredible expansion. Modernized farm equipment, sewing machines and sulphur-tipped matches were available. The railroad system had expanded to about 9,000 miles of track. Even attempts were made at laying a trans-Atlantic cable for communications. The nation, yearning for personal rewards, turned its back on spiritual things.
In spite of the situation, Lanphier enthusiastically accepted the challenge given him by the Old North Church leaders in June 1857. He attacked it with a commitment to personal evangelism, street preaching and door-to-door witnessing.
He prayed, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”
It wasn’t long before he noticed the expressions of the businessmen who were walking by him everyday. These men were downcast; the stress of their work could be seen in their faces. The pressure and competition to succeed in business in New York City was every bit as great as today. Lanphier’s heart was broken over New York’s spiritual condition.
Lanphier recalled in his journal the moment he felt led to start a prayer meeting.
“Going about my rounds in the performance of my duty one day, as I was walking along the streets, the idea was suggested to my mind that an hour of prayer … would be beneficial to businessmen.”
He decided to advertise a noontime prayer meeting, designed specifically for the business community. The meeting was to start immediately at noon and end promptly at one o’clock. The idea was that businessmen could spend their lunchtime in prayer. He even went so far as to organize the meeting so men could come and go as their schedule allowed.
Lanphier sent out approximately 20,000 pamphlets advertising the prayer time, and on September 23, at exactly noon, he opened the doors of the Old North Church on Fulton Street for the prayer meeting … and no one was there.
For thirty minutes he prayed by himself. Finally, he heard the shuffle of footsteps as one man wandered in, and 30 minutes later, the first prayer meeting ended with six men in attendance.
They agreed to meet again the following Wednesday.
(Next week: The revival breaks out!)