By Bryan Purtle
There is a well known book among those who read of historic Christian revivals entitled “I Saw the Welsh Revival”, by David Matthews.
It’s an eyewitness account of the remarkable outpouring of God’s Spirit in Wales, 1904. It was a time like no other, and there is ample literature and documentation available for those who would look for it.
The wise will do so.
I was not alive in 1904 (!), nor even in 1949, when the praying sisters in the New Hebrides and that great voice Duncan Campbell were witnesses to a true moving of God’s Spirit that transfigured the moral and spiritual climate of those islands off the west coast of Scotland. Campbell would later describe the revival as a time when “God stepped down, and was at work amongst men.”
We need to be aware of what the Lord has done throughout Christian history, and learning more from these revivals- among many others- will kindle a flame of hunger and faith for a mighty work of His hand in our day.
We must make note of more modern works of God’s Spirit as well, and among the many, I aim here to share my own experience in what came to be known as the Brownsville Revival in Pensacola, Florida, 1995-2000. Men have criticized this moving of God’s Spirit, as is always the case in times of revival, and often the criticism came from those who had little or no understanding of what really occurred during those last years of the 20th century. To be sure, no revival is without flaws (as Wesley famously noted), but we err tragically if we permit the shortcomings of men to eclipse the glory of God’s work.
Prayer Leading Up to the Revival
The revival, unlike the Welsh or Hebrides revivals, was poured out upon a Pentecostal congregation, the Brownsville Assembly of God. Though the denominational roots differed, God was clearly at work in similar ways. He transcends our affiliations and responds to hearts that hunger and thirst after Him. You may have heard only negative accounts about Brownsville, but if you’ve studied past revivals as I have, it will be clear to you that the fires of revival were burning for those 4 or 5 years at the end of the 20th century.
In 1993, Senior Pastor John Kilpatrick changed the order of the Sunday night gatherings from the standard service where the congregation often heard from guest speakers, to a night of prayer for revival in the Church and in the nation. Evangelist Stephen Hill, principally used of the Lord to preach in the revival, later shared a journal entry from one of his earlier visits on these Sunday night prayer meetings:
If the Lord is going to pour out His Spirit anywhere, it will be at Brownsville.
He testified of seeing children prostrate before the Lord, some of them with fingernails sinking into the carpet, weeping and interceding over the condition of their unsaved loved ones. It was “deep calling unto deep” in the heart of the Pastor, and in the hearts of those in the congregation. A spontaneous, unusual moving of God’s people unto prayer has always preceded remarkable seasons of Holy Spirit outpouring.
“When God is about to do a mighty new thing, He always sets His people praying.” -Jonathan Edwards
“When God Stepped Down”
On Father’s Day, June 18th, 1995, Stephen Hill visited to preach. He was a 41-year old evangelist who had labored abroad in America, Europe, Russia, and Argentina. At age 21, he was dramatically saved from a life of sin, including drug addiction and multiple crimes that led felony convictions. He went through Teen Challenge and on to Twin Oaks for biblical training. This formative time, in ministries established by David Wilkerson, helped shape the manner of man that would make him a voice in the revival. His class on prayer in Bible school was taught by Leonard Ravenhill, whom he later developed a close relationship with. These influences undoubtedly marked him, and I am convinced that the revival itself was partly the fruit of brother Ravenhill’s tears in prayer for revival, as well as his fervent prayers for Stephen Hill and Michael Brown. He knew and prayed often for both of them in the latter years of his life. (It is an interesting coincidence that the revival commenced on what would have been his 88th birthday.)
Stephen’s insatiable burden for lost souls, which often drove him to tears while preaching a message of repentance and forgiveness, spread like an uncontrollable flame through the hearts of men in the revival meetings.
That Father’s Day in 1995, after the congregation had contended for revival in prayer for 2 years, witnesses testified that an unusual measure of the Lord’s presence and power came into their midst. What followed was a remarkable season of revival, wherein multiplied tens of thousands came to repentance and faith in Christ. The Spirit of the fear of the Lord gripped men’s hearts, ministers were quickened to prayer, a burden for the unsaved permeated the atmosphere, and “times of refreshing” came “from the presence of the Lord.” Within 5 years time, more than 200,000 souls had cried out to the Lord for salvation and mercy, over 200 laborers had gone overseas for long-term missionary labors, and countless Christians- believers and leaders- had responded afresh to the call unto a life of holiness, worship, prayer and evangelism. The Lord had heard the cries of His people for an outpouring of the Spirit, and the fruit of His answer was both glorious and historic. The fires of heaven-sent revival were burning.
Professor Vinson Synan, a leading Pentecostal historian and the Dean of the Regent University School of Divinity, has called it “the largest local church revival in the history of America,” writing that, “Brownsville, with its emphasis on conversion and people weeping over conviction of sin, seems to be a revival in the long tradition of American native revivals dating back to the preaching of Jonathan Edwards. There’s heavy preaching on sin, repentance, conversion, and holiness. And there’s a lot more weeping and wailing over sin than there are the so-called exotic manifestations.”
As with all historic revivals, there were unusual happenings, controversy, and various manifestations. But the overall tenor and message of the revival was in a continuum with all true revivals of yesteryear. Revival will glorify Jesus Christ, not a man or a peripheral doctrine, and the outbreak of rejoicing that occurs will be the result of His redemptive work in the midst of the people. The joy will not issue from the faddish buzz of a new emphasis or movement, but from the awareness of mercy that springs up from souls who have beheld the cross, experienced redemption, and who are thus overflowing with praise and thanksgiving to the Lord for “so great a salvation.” Such was the case at the Brownsville Revival. And this will be the case in all true revivals, great or small.
My Own Experience
In July of 1996, over a year into the revival, I was a 17 year-old atheist, regularly doing drugs, toting guns, given to drunkenness, filled with rage and bitterness, and battling suicidal thoughts.
My great-grandfather was an AG pastor, a man of holy living, and an intercessor. I had been raised in the Assemblies, but at the age of 17, I had not yet been born from above.
The youth pastor at my parent’s Church was planning a missions trip to a poverty stricken area in Medart, FL. His intentions were to stop for a day at the revival on the way down. My parents asked him if I could go along, and his response was, “It’s a missions trip. He’s not even saved!” He agreed to pray about it, and the Lord impressed him to bring me along.
We arrived in Pensacola on July 20th, 1996, and showed up at Brownsville AG at about 1 p.m. Already, nearly a thousand people were gathered in a large bunch near the door, waiting for the meeting which began at 7 p.m.! As an unbeliever, I thought, “What is wrong with these people? They’re nuts! Why are they so excited to get into an AG Church?” I remember spontaneous hymns of praise rising from the throng while we waited outside in the hot Florida sun. “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” and several others. Passers-by on the street (the Church met in the poorer area of the city) were hearing songs of praise to the Lamb of God, and this has been common in times of revival over the course of history. O, that every city would hear again of the glory of Christ, through the revived hearts of His people! But here I was, in the midst of the crowd, totally detached from their joy.
My hardened heart grew curious when the doors opened, as I saw men, women and children moving quickly and earnestly for a seat in the building. As I walked into the building, even as a hardened sinner, I began to sense a difference in the atmosphere. A strange pull began to affect me. I felt increasingly uncomfortable about my sin, but there was an unspoken yearning for truth, reality, and salvation rising in my soul. I watched the people engaging in fervent and sincere worship and praise which lasted well over an hour, and a conviction of my sinfulness was intensifying. I attempted to put a wet blanket over it, even turning to the young man next to me and speaking in jest about the people worshipping around me. But I could not evade or circumvent the fact that something, or Someone, as real as He was invisible, was moving in the midst of this people.
The evangelist then brought up several women from South Korea, who had come to America to pray and street witness at the Atlanta Olympics. “What did you come to Brownsville for, dear sisters?” “To receive the Holy Spirit,” they replied. Upon praying for them, they collapsed in a heap on the platform, with tears flowing copiously, crying out, “Oh God! Save souls in Atlanta…. Souls…. Souls….” The prayer went on for some time, and when it subsided, the evangelist began to preach. It was a passionate call to repentance, a cry to humble ourselves, turn from sin, have faith in the work of the cross, and receive the free mercy of Jesus Christ. I later discovered that this was his message every night at the Brownsville Revival, but on that night, I felt I was alone in a room with the preacher and the Holy Spirit.
The word was like a hammer that shatters the rock, and I could not resist the Spirit any longer. I understood clearly that I had to “flee from the wrath to come” and receive a new heart from the God of mercy. I was undone in my sin, and overcome with the revelation of the cross of Christ. I was gloriously born from above that night, and nothing has been the same since. Glory to the Lamb that was slain!
When I went back to high school the next semester, 27 students called on the name of the Lord as a result of the transformation they saw in my life. I was immediately freed from the grip of drugs, alcohol, suicidal tendencies, and rebelliousness toward my teachers and parents. One day, I even jumped in my ’89 Thunderbird and ran over more than 250 of my music CD’s that were filled with immoral themes and profanity. What else could I do? I had experienced the cleanness of a forgiven heart for the first time, and I could not engage in that which contradicted it. I began preaching in youth gatherings, bearing witness to the Gospel on the streets, and leading prayer meetings.
In August of ’97 I went back to Brownsville to attend the ministry school (at which Dr. Michael Brown was the President), from which I graduated in May of ’99. It has been a remarkable journey with the Lord, and it all began on that day when I passed from the kingdom of darkness, into the kingdom of His glorious Light. This was the experience of many thousands of souls who came to the Lord through the Brownsville Revival. We were witnesses of this for years, as we saw souls from every background- prostitutes, wealthy businessmen, thugs, and even preachers- bowed low before a holy God, crying out for mercy over their sin, having found that they were in need of cleansing as “God stepped down” in the midst of the gathering. Many souls, like myself, entered through the doors in unbelief, “dead in trespasses and sins”, and were born anew of the Spirit of God, saved to the uttermost by the power of the Gospel.
I remember many meetings when the fear of the Lord would grip the whole congregation of 4 or 5 thousand souls. Unbelievers were screeching and crying for mercy, intercessors weeping and wailing, and many throughout the crowd calling out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord….” Sometimes hours would go by in this manner, and you were gripped with the sense that brings to mind the words of an elder in the Hebrides revival:
“Tread lightly, for God Himself is hovering over us!”
I used to meet with a brother for prayer before our Bible school classes, and I recall pulling up to the school property in March of ’98, where the student’s morning prayer meeting was moved upon by the Lord in a profound way. When I pulled into the parking lot, students were prostrate all over the campus, laying in the grass or on the sidewalks, groaning with hunger for God, and asking Him for mercy on behalf of our nation. Strong men were broken before the Lord, trembling and weeping in prayer, and everywhere in these times the hearts of God’s people seemed fixed on His throne. You were directed heavenward merely by being there. I felt as if I had stepped out of my car and into another world, where the earth was permeated with God Himself! O, that every community of saints would be marked with this kind of reality, for the glory of Christ!
True revival will not necessarily look the same in form, cultural expression, or style of worship. But when God is at work in the midst of His people, Jesus will be glorified, the “pure celestial fire” will burn in the hearts of men, the preaching will be marked with conviction, brokenness and holy authority, the burden for the lost will break out, heaven and hell will become real to men’s hearts, a passion for the Scriptures will increase, the Spirit of prayer and intercession will be kindled and will spread, the joy of the Lord and the fear of the Lord will mark the Church in a remarkable way. These are some of the fruits of authentic revival, and it ought to alarm our souls that they are so scarcely seen in the Church of our day.
When the Lord is at work in your midst, it won’t be identical to Brownsville, Wales, the New Hebrides, the Great Awakenings, or any other historic moving of His Spirit. But the reality of God, which purifies and revives the hearts of His people, exalts the Lord, and turns transgressors into saints will soon be evident. Do you long for Him to come to your community, dear Christian, or are you cool and content with the gravitation toward moral blurriness, prayerless Christianity, and a low view of the majesty of God?
We are in radical need as the Church in these days, particularly in Europe and America. As the moral tone of society continues to decline, as the saints find themselves more and more distracted by technological advances and novel forms of ministry, as strange doctrines and fraudulent gospels are introduced to the religious landscape of our nation, we are in need of true revivals again. O, that a cry would ignite in the hearts of His people! O, that the fire of God would again fall! O, that conviction would grip the house of God! O, that the tide of prayer and worship would rise again! O, that repentance and mercy would flow again in a watershed revival!
We’ve got to give ourselves to prayer, saints, that the Lord would quicken and awaken our hearts and our churches, that our cities would know something of His reality. I don’t know about you, but I’m dusting off my old revival books, and “remembering the deeds of the Lord.” I am not content merely to read about them. I want to weep and pray, repent of my own sin, respond to the Lord in obedience, turn to Him afresh, and cry out for an outpouring of mercy, “waters upon the dry ground.” He is stirring His people afresh in these days. Prayer is increasing, and something is happening in many hearts. We must take the “ancient paths” of prayer, worship, and obedience. We must pursue the knowledge of God, contending for revival and a recovery of foundations.
…. It is one thing to shout it, it is one thing to sing it, it is one thing to talk about revival, but give me a people on their faces, seeking to be rightly related with God, and when that happens, we will soon know the impact of God-realisation in our country.
God is not going to respond to a feeble fleeting wish.
If you want revival, get right with God. If you are not prepared to bring the “last piece”, for God’s sake stop talking about revival….
It is about time we got into the grips of reality. Are we thirsty?
“I hunger and I thirst,
Jesus, my Manna be.”
-Duncan Campbell (The Price & Power of Revival)