Revive Our Hearts Podcast

— Audio Player —

1857 Prayer Revival, Day 2

Leslie Basham: How does revival spread? Here’s how it happened in 1857, starting with a prayer meeting in the nation’s largest city.

Kevin Adams: A lot of people would pray for New York, and as they traveled to different places, they took the idea with them.

Jonathan Brownson: There were people hearing about this all over the country.

Man: This was new.

Man 2: Northward to Boston and southward to Philadelphia.

Man: We’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Man 2: Westward to Cleveland and across the United States.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Friday, September 23, 2016.

This month, Nancy’s been in a series on the Lord’s Prayer. She’ll finish that study next week. But we’re taking a break to mark a special anniversary, marking a prayer revival that spread across our nation. Here’s some of what we heard yesterday.

Jonathan Brownson: September 23, 1857 was the first prayer meeting that was held under Jeremiah Calvin Lanphier’s leadership.

Kevin Adams: He waited there half an hour and nobody turned up, but by the end of the hour, five people turned up and begin to pray.

Jonathan Brownson: It didn’t take long for the meeting to multiply.

Kevin Adams: The week after that a few more people turned up.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: In God’s Providence, the explosion of this prayer meeting coincided with the country’s financial troubles.

Jonathan Brownson: People in the city now had time to pray because they had lost their jobs.

Man: Soon after that, a week later, the Fulton Street prayer meetings in New York met every day rather than once or twice a week.

Nancy: In fact, those prayer meetings spilled over the noon hour and ultimately the churches of New York City were crowded with people praying from early in the morning until late at night through all hours of the day.

Kevin Adams: Not only were people praying for people, but non-Christians were coming into the prayer meetings and actually being converted in the prayer meetings. They began to seek God.

Leslie: And Nancy, we’re asking the Lord to do it again in our day. And we’ll be praying for that in a dramatic way in just a matter of hours.

Nancy: Tonight is the night we’ve been waiting for for so long. I’m asking the Lord to bring together at least 100,000 women in prayer for the Cry Out! simulcast. We’ll be seeking the Lord for our families, our homes, our churches, our nation, and our world. We chose this date—September 23—while working out a lot of logistics. Once it was set, I realized that the date fell on an important anniversary. It was on September 23 in 1857 that a New York City businessman and a few others gathered to pray. That was the launching point of became a nationwide prayer revival. Yesterday, we heard how that initial prayer meeting, just a handful of people,  spilled over until finally, weeks later, people were meeting for prayer every day all throughout the city every day at noon. These prayer meetings were primarily led by lay people.

The meetings were very orderly and prayer requests were turned in on prayer cards. Those who led out in prayer were allowed to pray for a maximum of five minutes each and thousands did in meetings all across New York City beginning in the fall of 1857 and continuing in cities throughout the nation into the early part of 1858.

If you missed yesterday’s program where we talked about how that revival began, you can order the CD or listen online at Today we’re going to find out how God took these prayer meetings in New York City and spread the fire of revival all across the country.

Man: New York Times, March 20, 1858, Merchant’s Theater, Chambers Street.

In this city we have beheld a sight which not the most enthusiastic fanatic for church observance could ever have hoped to look upon. We have seen in business quarters of the city during their busiest hours assemblies of merchants, clerks, and working men to the number of 5,000 gathering day after day for a simple, solemn worship.

Nancy: Early on newspapers began covering the large prayer gatherings in New York City.

Man: "Similar assemblies we find in other portions of the city. A theater is turned into a chapel. Churches of all sects are open and crowded by day and night."

Nancy: Newspapers from other cities were also covering the story. When readers in other big cities read about what was happening, the revival began to spread.

Jonathan Brownson: Because these accounts were coming out in the paper, people would see that and say let’s start our own prayer meeting in our city.

Nancy: This is Jonathan Brownson, prayer minister for the Reformed Church in America.

Jonathan: You get a sense that in a grass-roots way, there are people hearing about this all over the country.

Nancy: People didn’t just read about the revival in the newspaper. They were also hearing eyewitness accounts.

Kevin Adams: A lot of people would pray for New York, and as they traveled to different places, they took the idea with them.

Nancy: Kevin Adams is a pastor and a historian of revival.

Kevin Adams: They didn’t just take idea, of course. They took the fire of the idea, so the fire of the idea spreads from New York throughout the states.

Nancy: One of the first cities to experience revival was my hometown of Philadelphia. Groups of believers there had been consistently praying for revival for years. Their prayers were answered when a young man who had attended the Fulton Street prayer meetings in New York City returned home to Philadelphia and began a prayer meeting. By March of 1858, it had moved to a theater called Jaynes Hall.

Man: The Philadelphia North American.

The scenes of the occasion yesterday were awe-inspiring and impressive. The audience was comprised mainly of businessmen, clerks, and ladies, and many appeared to have stepped in from a motive of curiosity for they carried bundles.

Yet in a whole vast audience, we did not witness the smallest demonstration of levity or thoughtlessness after the brief and solemn opening prayer had been made. The prayer closed. Two verses of a hymn were sung to an old, familiar Methodist tune that we have not heard before since our childhood.


Be of sin the double cure;
Save from wrath and make me pure

Nancy: Philadelphia wasn’t the only city experiencing revival. One account illustrates the way prayer meetings were springing up across the country. Here’s Kevin Adams.

Kevin Adams: There’s a famous quotation of a certain gentleman speaking up at the Boston prayer meeting, and he stands up and uses these words:

I’m from Omaha, the capitol of Nebraska. On my journey east I found a continuous prayer meeting all the way.

In the 2,000 miles that he traveled, he could visit prayer meetings all along the way because it was spreading. It had spread.


I must come to Thee for grace.

Nancy: Although the original prayer meetings were designed for businessmen, the revival was spreading to other types of people as well.

Dr. Lyle Dorsett: It’s a misnomer to call the 1857–1858 revival the businessman’s revival.

Nancy: This is Dr. Lyle Dorsett, professor of Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College.

Dr. Dorsett: It’s called that, often labeled that, but at these prayer meetings where businessmen went there were a lot of women that went there, too. Some of them were working women, but others were just middle class women who would just go to these prayer meetings.


Help us look to Thee for grace.
Foul I to the fountain fly;
Wash me Savior, or I die.

Jonathan Brownson: Jeremiah Lanphier, when he began the prayer meetings in 1857, intended for them to be prayer meetings for businessmen. What happened was in addition to inviting businessmen, Jeremiah also made it clear that the single most important ingredient to the noontime prayer gatherings was the presence of the Spirit.

My sense and conviction is that when he invited the presence of the Spirit, he was inviting the presence of the Spirit’s people and that certainly would include women and minorities of the day.


Rock of ages, cleft for me;
Let me hid myself in Thee.

Nancy: A New York newspaper described one of the prayer meetings this way.


The neighborhood has a large colored population, many of whom attend and who, to the astonishment of some very Christian church members, take seats among their white neighbors and are treated with equal respect and attention. A general awakening like that which now exists has never occurred in the city, and its progress is watched with increasing interest every day.


Safe from wrath, and make me pure.

Nancy: To understand how radical this was, remember, slavery was still fully established in the South and churches in the North had been segregated. Tensions had been high in New York as waves of immigrants continued to arrive.

Jonathan Brownson: So what is happening is that God is bringing together people for prayer that would never be sitting next to each other in a pew normally. In the process of corporate prayer, there is social transformation taking place. You have men sitting beside women. You have African-Americans sitting beside Dutch-Americans like Jeremiah.


Foul I to the fountain fly;
Wash me Savior, or I die.1

Nancy: Revival not only brought people together in the North. It also spread to slaves in the South.

Dr. Dorsett: The majority of African-Americans who were in bondage were much more God-reliant and much more Spirit-filled than any of their white owners because they are an example of people who had nothing to lean on but God.

Nancy: Richard Owen Roberts agrees. He’s the president and a founding director of International Awakening Ministries.

Richard Owen Roberts: I think that their true faith in Christ enabled many of the slaves to put up with circumstances that were evil and to do so with a grace that a non-Christian would not likely have had.

Nancy: Again, here’s Dr. Lyle Dorsett.

Dr. Dorsett: There was more spirit of revival and joy and closeness to God among a lot of slaves than there was say among free blacks in the North and than there was among the whites. The revival of 1857–58 exacerbated some of the tensions among people over issues like slavery.

Now good, solid Christians prior to this revival had been anti-slavery. You see this in the work of a lot of abolitionists and anti-slavery people. But when this revival comes, a number of people fell under conviction and began to support the anti-slavery movement.

Kevin Adams: That was splitting the church itself between the North and the South, people who were for and against.

Dr. Dorsett: I don’t think that one could argue that this revival turned people around—most of them around. What it did is accentuated some of these differences.

Nancy: This might lead one to think the prayer revival primarily stayed in the North.

Richard Roberts: No, it spread to the South and to the West. It pretty well covered the nation.

Nancy: You have to wonder, how could two groups be experiencing genuine revival, as it appears they were, yet engaged in the worst civil conflict our nation has ever seen? That’s a complicated question. Even Richard Owen Roberts who’s been studying this revival for decades says:

Richard Roberts: I don’t know that anybody could give a satisfactory explanation to that.

Nancy: Here’s Bob Bakke.

Bob Bakke: I’m certain it was never in the mind of God for people who in fact were enslaving others that the Lord would not want them to awaken to the notion that this violates everything that God represents and that is in His character.

Nancy: Lyle Dorsett:

Dr. Dorsett: It’s amazing how many people could in the South continue to see slavery as justified biblically.

Nancy: As slaveholders were truly being converted, why didn’t they immediately free their slaves?

Dr. Dorsett: Not everybody who gets saved and revived changes overnight all of their views. I think it would be—we’d like to say, “My goodness, if somebody came to Christ, wouldn’t they immediately see the sin of slavery and racism?” The truth is, no, they don’t.

We tend to grow after we’ve been born again. We don’t just see everything at once. I don’t even think God immediately convicts us of all of our sins immediately because I don’t think we could handle it. I think we’d be almost in despair.

Nancy: The start of the Civil War effectively brought the daily noon prayer meetings to a close, but not necessarily the revival.

Dr. Dorsett: There was a great revival going on during the Civil War in southern armies, as well as in northern armies, and yet they totally disagreed on slavery.

Kevin Adams: God is even working through the horrors of the Civil War and people are being converted. It’s happening in the North. It’s happening in the South, between both sides. It’s an awful state of affairs with all the things happening, and yet in the midst of it, in the midst of that, there are people responding to God.

Dr. Dorsett: I mean there were massive, massive movements of the Spirit throughout the confederate armies. This was also true in the North.

Kevin Adams: Here is another crisis in our very imperfect, evil world and that brings a number of people to think again about God.

Nancy: So a lot of people got together before the Civil War and prayed. Did it really make a difference? Here’s Lyle Dorsett.

Dr. Dorsett: The long-term effects of the revival are many-fold. I would stress that first of all you’ve got local churches growing.

Kevin Adams: The churches kept meeting. They had evangelistic meetings—meetings to bring people in. The preachers felt an anointing from above. The preaching continued.

Richard Roberts: There was a remarkable increase of the numbers of people applying for church membership. The primary effect appears to have been the number of profound conversions.

Mac Pier: The number of conversions in about eighteen months was a million people. About 3% of the population was converted during that time.

Nancy: This is Mac Pier.

Mac Pier: Historians describe the next sixty years as the evangelical social awakening where protestant churches began to be involved in mercy ministry. Organizations like the Salvation Army, the Christian Missionary Alliance, the Bowery began to do a lot of street ministry.

That same period, 1865–1900, was after the Emancipation Proclamation and a lot of missionaries were involved in teaching freed slaves how to read. There were more African-Americans that came to faith during that 1865–1900 period than any other ethnic group in church history.

Kevin Adams: Not only did it influence America, it spread worldwide.

Dr. Dorsett: I think that this prayer revival has a huge impact on what will break out into the post-Civil War era of a great outpouring of Americans to go into foreign missions.

Mac Pier: Part of the legacy of the revival when you look at that sixty-year period is the Student Volunteer Movement which started in New York City in 1888. Out of that movement, there were 25,000 young people that went overseas in forty years. If you look over time, a tremendous impact in India, Korea, China. The Korean church traces its roots to a missionary that was sent forth out of the revival.

Nancy: D. L. Moody was another businessman deeply affected by the revival.

Dr. Dorsett: He’d already been a Christian, but he’s really stirred by these prayer meetings that went on during the daytime and at night, and he ends up getting a call to full-time ministry. He was active working with both Southern and Union troops during the Civil War. He’d go to prison camps and work with southerners who were prisoners of the Union and he’d go out on the field and minister to guys in hospitals regardless of what color uniform they wore.

Moody himself planted churches. He planted schools, and he worked hard to help equip people for home and foreign missions. I mean you can just take one guy like Moody and look at what that revival did to him and see that it has international implications over the decades. And you could do this with a lot of people.

Nancy: Moody is just one life changed during the prayer revival. There was also John Wannemacher and others who were used by God in great ways after experiencing His presence in revival. These lives prove that the revival was about much more than popular noon meetings.

Dr. Dorsett: I’m much more interested in do lives get really changed because I really don’t care what people say is going on. I want to look at what’s happened in their lives. I really don’t care what people tell me they believe. I want to see how they act on it.

I think it’s much more remarkable to see that a guy like D. L. Moody gives up his love for making money and replaces it with a desire to care for people’s souls and see lost people come to Christ and to train others to go out and do the same thing.

Nancy: Perhaps one of the greatest effects of the revival was the war that supposedly brought the revival to an end. Here’s Jonathan Brownson.

Jonathan Brownson: Well, I believe what happens to the church in 1857 is what happens to Jesus at the beginning of His earthly ministry. As He goes into the wilderness and prays for the Spirit, tempted by the devil and prays for the Spirit, He is filled with the Holy Spirit when He goes to Nazareth.

When He gets there, stands up, reads the passage out of Isaiah saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is on Me and has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the jubilee year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18–19 and Isaiah 61:1–2, paraphrased). So Jesus’ ministry is one of setting at liberty those who are oppressed.

It’s what the Holy Spirit empowers Jesus to do, and I believe it is what the Holy Spirit empowered our country to do in 1857 in leading up to what I would call our year of jubilee when President Lincoln set the captives free. So I see a strong connection between the prayers of God’s people and the liberation of those were enslaved.

Nancy: That liberation, that setting free of the captives though, did not come immediately on the heels of the prayers.

Jonathan Brownson: That’s right.

Nancy: There was a period of suffering and bloodshed and price to be paid.

Jonathan Brownson: Exactly. It did not come without a cost. Our prayers for revival never come without a cost. If we are to engage in civil prayers, we may at times find ourselves in the middle of civil wars. Instead of everything coming together when we pray, everything may fall apart before it comes back together. Those listeners out there who have prayed earnestly and persistently know what that’s about. To choose a ministry of intercession is oftentimes to choose a difficult life.

Nancy: I think back to that day—Wednesday the 23rd of September, 1857, when Jeremiah Lanphier called for that first prayer meeting there at the North Dutch Reformed Church in New York City. I think how disappointed he must have been during the first thirty minutes when no one showed up for that prayer meeting. Then how he must have wondered if God was really going to do anything significant when finally just a small group of six people showed up that first time.

Well, we don’t know what he was thinking, but what we do know is that God was planning to pour out His Spirit in an extraordinary way, not only on New York City, but throughout the United States, in a revival whose impact was felt around the world. Jeremiah Lanphier had no way of knowing that the hard work of intercession was going to affect millions and millions of people around the world. Over a million people in this country of over thirty million at that time would come to faith in Jesus Christ over those next several months.

There’s no way for you or me to know how God will use our prayers today. God is sovereign and He alone knows when and how He will choose to move in another sweeping revival. But we can be sure that the prayers we sow as God’s people today will not be in vain, that God does hear those prayers and He will answer in His way and in His time.

Tonight we will be joining together to pray at Cry Out! A National Prayer Gathering for Women. About 7,000 of us are meeting in Indianapolis as part of the True Woman '16 conference. And thousands of other groups will be joining us tonight by simulcast. If you haven’t made plans yet, it's not to late. You can still join us and cry out to the Lord on behalf of our needy world. Get all the details at You’ll find the exact start times in your time zone and instructions on how to connect with this free simulcast online. You can also watch the True Woman Conference Livestream all day today. Again,  there is no charge for that. You’ll find details at

Please join me as together as we pray and ask the Lord for His hand and His blessing on this day's events. 

Oh Lord, we've been preparing for this day for a long time, but I'm glad to know that Your appointment calendar in heaven in eternity past, You set aside this day for the True Woman Conference and for the Cry Out! Prayer Simulcast tonight. Thank You, Lord, for the thousands of groups that will be meeting together in homes, in churches, in schools, in civic auditoriums all across this country and some in other nations as well as we cry out together to you.

Lord, Your Word says that when the righteous cry out, the Lord hears and the Lord answers. So I pray that You would put a hedge of protection around this gathering—all the technical aspects of it, the people who are coming together to pray. Lord, might we join hands and link our hearts together in crying out to You . . . the wailing women coming together to pray and say, "We need You. Our eyes are upon You. We don't know what else to do, but we are crying out to You to do what only You can do in our day, for such a time as this."

Lord, come. Be glorified. May Jesus Christ be lifted up. May Your name be honored. May Your kingdom be advanced.

Leslie: On Monday we’ll return to the series, “The Lord’s Prayer.” Your mind will be challenged when Nancy describes God being forever and ever. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

1"Rock of Ages." Augustus M. Toplady.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

Support the Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Darkness. Fear. Uncertainty. Women around the world wake up hopeless every day. You can play a part in bringing them freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness instead. Your gift ensures that we can continue to spread gospel hope! Donate now.

Donate Now

About the Teacher

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love for Christ and His Word is infectious, and permeates her online outreaches, conference messages, books, and two daily nationally syndicated radio programs—Revive Our Hearts and Seeking Him.

She has authored twenty-two books, including Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free, Seeking Him (coauthored), Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, and You Can Trust God to Write Your Story (coauthored with her husband). Her books have sold more than five million copies and are reaching the hearts of women around the world. Nancy and her husband, Robert, live in Michigan.