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Gospel-Driven Anglicanism: The Evangelical Revival

Gospel-Driven Anglicanism

By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles

The Evangelical Revival 

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Church of England was in a parlous state and nationally the biblical gospel appeared to be increasingly marginalised110. The Bishop of Oxford, Thomas Secker wrote: 

“In this we cannot be mistaken that an open and professed disregard of religion is become, through a variety of unhappy causes, the distinguishing character of the age. Such are the dissolutions and contempt of principle in the world and the profligacy, intemperance and fearlessness of committing crimes in the lower part, as must, if the torrent of impiety stop not, become absolutely fatal. Christianity is ridiculed and railed at with very little reserve and the teachers of it without any at all.”

However the lamp of God had not yet gone out. 

The eighteenth Century witnessed a great Revival that impacted the whole nation: 

“….a religious revival burst forth…which changed in a few years the whole temper of English society. The Church was restored to life and activity. Religion carried to the hearts of the people a fresh spirit of moral zeal, while it purified our literature and our manners. A new philanthropy reformed our prisons, infused clemency and wisdom into our penal laws, abolished the slave trade and gave the first impulse to popular education.”112 

The most prominent figures in the Revival were George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, all of whom were Anglicans. 

The fire of the Revival spread throughout the nation. Whitefield and the Wesleys had a largely itinerant ministry, but countless others impacted by the Revival saw their parishes transformed by the power of the gospel. John Newton writes of the ministry of William Grimshaw of Haworth. He went to a: 

“people wild and uncultivated like the mountains and rocks which surrounded them’. But through the power of the gospel the lives of the people were lifted to a new level. They enjoyed their religion. Worship and spiritual conversation were a delight. Homes devastated by alcohol and cruelty were restored. ‘Families in which sin had made the most miserable havoc and in which all the comforts of life were destroyed, now were made happy in the fear of God’. This transformation affected every part of their lives bringing significant social and moral change to the town.” 113 

The stories of the most prominent and gifted leaders of the Revival are well known but it is important also not to miss the impact of the Revival upon countless ‘ordinary’ gospel ministers whose faithful ministries up and down the country in due course were greatly significant: 

“…even though they were a small group with little ecclesiastical status, the foundation for the Evangelical upsurge in the late 18th and early 19th C‘s had been well laid in the previous pioneering period. Despite many failings and shortcomings the Evangelical achievement had been considerable. By their example and by their teaching the few scattered Evangelical clergy had according to Lecky, ‘gradually changed’ the whole spirit of the English Church. They infused into it a new fire and passion of devotion, kindled a spirit of fervent 

philanthropy and raised the standard of clerical duty and completely altered the whole tone and tendency of the preaching of its ministers”.114 

There are many more examples we could cite, but the point is simply this– the God who raised up a Samuel, a Luther, a Latimer, a Whitefield, a Simeon and countless others besides, who were God’s instruments to revive his Church, is the same God we worship today. 

Furthermore, it seems to me that there is also something of great significance in this that we so easily miss or overlook. 

In his book “Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in Revival”115 (Evangelical Press 2005) Michael Haykin writes these extremely telling words concerning the Evangelical Revival: 

“Now it is an amazing fact that when the revival for which prayer longs actually came to Great Britain, it did not originate among the fellow Dissenters of Watts and Guyse. Though biblical orthodoxy had by and large been kept alive by these heirs of Puritanism, it was from within that body which had actually persecuted the Puritans, namely, the Church of England, that revival broke forth.”116 

Why so telling? On the one hand, it is a perfectly understandable comment. We would expect revival to come from those who were diligently concerned for biblical faithfulness and we would not expect revival to come from a denomination that had lost its way. 

However, on the other hand, reading the Bible and Church history, and knowing something of the character of our God, it seems this is precisely the kind of thing that He is prone to do and really ought not to surprise us. 

The God of the Resurrection, it seems, loves to bring to life that which is dead, rather than leaving it to rot and starting again with something new. He loves to renew and recreate rather than give up and start again. He loves to seek and find that which is lost rather than letting it perish and switching his attention elsewhere. When darkness casts its all-encompassing gloomy shadow, he loves to break in with light. 

Excerpted from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism, Pickles, Mark; pages 122 – 124, 2017.