The rise or fall of nations has often depended upon fidelity to the one true God, and the act which most characterizes this faithfulness is the spirit of dependence exemplified by a habit of prayer. When Israel turned from its sin and sought God in prayer, God heard and answered from heaven. America now faces a moral and social darkness unknown since the end of the American Revolution when pastors and lay leaders had surrendered their lives for the birth of a new nation, resulting in a dark spiritual and moral vacuum for the fledgling nation. In the absence of strong spiritual leadership, French deism and agnosticism—brought to America by Frenchmen fighting along side the colonists—nearly swallowed the Christian theological foundation that birthed the American Revolution.
England and France Compared
Only fifty years separated England from the bloody massacre of the French Revolution and a New Year’s Eve prayer meeting that continued well into the early morning hours of January 1, 1739. Churchmen and historians have believed that this prayer meeting was part of a larger collage of spiritual life that saved England from the French Revolution and its bloody “Reign of Terror.” It is believed that the same blood-letting that occurred in France against the monarchy, the church, and nobility would very likely have occurred in England had it not been for the Evangelical Awakening in England which was realized most vividly in the lives and ministries of the Wesley brothers and their companions. The love-feast and prayer meeting of Sunday evening, December 31, 1738 and opening hours of Monday morning, January 1, 1739 served as a spiritual inauguration for the public ministry of the Wesleys and Methodism for 1739.
The Wesleys Spare England
For years, John Wesley and his brother Charles had attempted to make themselves acceptable to God through their good works—which would put to shame most contemporaries who profess a saving knowledge of God. They had visited prisons, diligently studied Scripture in the original languages, received the Lord’s Supper several times a week, and ardently pursued conformity to external spiritual expectations, but they did not receive the witness of God’s Holy Spirit that they were accepted into God’s favor. Following graduation from Oxford and entrance into the Anglican ministry, the Wesley brothers ventured to America at the invitation of General James Edward Oglethorpe, founder of the Georgia Colony. Discouraged and disappointed, both men returned to England by January, 1738, but without spiritual peace. Under the influence of the Moravians in route to America as well as following their return to England, both Charles and John experienced their evangelical conversions through a living faith in Christ Jesus as Savior—only days apart from each other in May of that same year. Later in 1738, John traveled to Germany to the estate of Count Zinzendorf (Moravian patron), the center of the Moravian fellowship, to witness their spiritual life.
By the close of 1738, John Wesley had returned to England from Germany and his visit to the Moravians, and in the closing hours of that year, Wesley gathered with others at Fetter Lane to pray and participate in a love-feast. Throughout his life, Wesley kept a journal, and he recorded the events of that meeting in the entry for January 1, 1739:
Mr. Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield, Hutchins, and my brother Charles, were present at our love-feast in Fetter-Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we were recovered a little from that awe and amazement at the presence of his Majesty, we broke out with one voice, “We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.”
Many may wish to interpret this experience in charismatic terms, but they are completely unjustified in doing so. The Wesleys’ lives and ministries from this point forward increased in power and usefulness, extending to all the British Isles, and through the Methodists, to America. From the beginning of Methodism in the late 1720s, while the Wesley brothers were still at Oxford, to the end of their days, the Wesley’s believed that God had raised them up to “spread scriptural holiness across the land.” In nineteenth-century America, the message of Christian purity established Methodism as the largest Protestant denomination in the land. Not since the early Christian Church had such evangelical stress been placed upon the need for Christian purity, as was emphasized by the Methodists of those early generations. As a result, eighteenth-century England witnessed a remarkable spiritual awakening that historians believed saved the British Isles from a bloody revolution similar to that which the French experienced at the hands of the deists, agnostics, and atheists.
Great movements of God have nearly always been preceded and accompanied by great moments of prayer. In America, the American Revolution was preceded and established upon the First Great Awakening, and when pastors and church leaders had given their lives upon the battlefields of the Revolution and a spiritual vacuum resulted, the Second Great Awakening (1790s and following) gave new life to the Christian Church in the newly-birthed nation—because of prayer. The Revival of 1859 removed the spiritual tarnish from the hearts of many Americans and was the reason for revival in the British Isles later in that same century and the early twentieth century.
For many of us, we have never witnessed our nation in a darker moral or spiritual era than that which we presently experience. This darkness has laid its cold grip upon America and many other portions of the globe. If America is to be saved, Christians must find once again what Wesley and the other congregants of Fetter Lane found on December 31, 1738 and the opening hours of January 1, 1739—the primacy of prayer! England was spared the darkness and devastation of a French-styled revolution, but America will not be if the Church fails to turn and pray!