The Prayer Call of 1784: A Cause for Revival

Close study of the history of revivals and their causes leads to the following affirmation: prayer is nearly always central to the origin and progress of revival. An excellent example of this truth is the revival of the English Baptists at the close of the eighteenth century that not only led to the fourfold growth of this community in the space of forty years—from some 350 churches to nearly thirteen hundred—but also witnessed the central involvement of the Baptists in the modern missionary movement (the justly famous William Carey was a product of this awakening).

Despite pockets of spiritual health, especially in the West Country of England, by the 1770s and 1780s the Baptist community in England was in desperate need of renewal. As Andrew Fuller, who played a critical role in this revival, put it: had the decline gone on much longer, “Baptists would have become a perfect dunghill in society.” This is very strong language, but truth. A key event that prevented such a disastrous turn of events was the decision in the spring of 1784 by the Baptist churches in Northamptonshire Association to devote one hour on the first Monday evening of every month to pray “that the Holy Spirit may be poured down on our ministers and churches, that sinners may be converted, the saints edified, … and the name of God glorified” and that, as result, there might occur the “spread of the gospel to the most distant parts of the habitable globe.”

Although it was not until the 1790s that real growth was apparent, the faithful participation of these churches for nearly fifty years in these monthly prayer meetings led to what one writer in the early 1840s, F.A. Cox, called “copious showers of blessing from on high.” Later historians would describe this period of blessing as the Second Evangelical Awakening (1790s–1830s). And some of them have rightly traced the human origins of this remarkable time of spiritual awakening to the monthly prayers for revival that began among the Baptists in 1784.