The Second Evangelical Awakening (1859–1862) had a deep and lasting impact on the Church in the UK and Ireland, yet today it seems largely forgotten.
One million new members were added to largely evangelical, nonconformist churches, and a huge impulse given to missionary activity. This can be seen in some of the famous names and organisations that came out of, or were heavily influenced by, the Revival movement: Tom Barnardo and the (Dr) Barnardo’s Homes; Evan Hopkins, a founder of the Keswick movement; William Booth and the Salvation Army; Josiah Spiers and the Children’s Special Service Mission (now Scripture Union); and the Inter-Varsity Fellowship of Christian Unions (now UCCF) can all trace their origins to this incredible move of God in answer to united prayer that marked the UK-wide Revival of 1859.
When Hudson Taylor returned from his first seven years in China in 1860, he urged the existing, traditional mission agencies to expand their work into China’s inland provinces, now officially open to missionary activity since the Treaty of Tianjin in 1858 ended the Second Opium War. Increasingly he saw the need for a new agency, channelling a new type of missionary to China, and that God was calling him to lead it. Eventually, on 25 June 1865, he prayed on Brighton beach for ‘24 willing, skilled workers for the inland provinces of China’ and the next day opened a bank account in the name of the China Inland Mission. He raised awareness through his influential pamphlet ‘China: Its Spiritual Needs and Claims’ – which ‘stirred the evangelical churches of Britain to their missionary duty as no document had done since William Carey’. He was introduced to the developing holiness movement, and invited to speak at the Perth and Mildmay Conferences. These revival meetings are seen as forerunners of the Keswick Convention Movement for the Deepening if the Spiritual Life (at which Hudson Taylor frequently spoke). The early history of the CIM is marked by its connection with the Revival movement not only of 1859, but also with the better-known Moody and Sankey revival of 1875.
Like the Revival movement, which found its roots in united, interdenominational prayer meetings, the CIM took an inter-denominational approach to mission. Some claim that Taylor was an ordained Baptist, despite this he had strong Brethren connections and was well known by all nonconformist denominations and by many key evangelicals within the Church of England.
Tracing the early missionaries’ church connections reveals a wide variety of churches, both Anglican and nonconformist, such as St Judes, Mildmay Park (minister Rev William Pennefather); Brook Street Chapel (Brethren chapel patronised by the Howard family); Regents Park Baptist Chapel (Rev William Landels – closed in 1922, now part of Middlesex Hospital); Westbourne Grove Chapel (Rev William Lewis); and of course Charles Spurgeon of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. When we examine the background of the early CIM missionaries we see that the influence of Revivalism resulted in a different type of missionary – a real mix of working class men, blacksmiths, carpenters and drapers assistants, together with ladies’ maids and governesses. These men and women did not so much see themselves as being sent by their individual churches, they saw themselves as being united and part of the greater revival movement.
What relevance does this historical reflection have for today’s church? As we begin a year celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the China Inland Mission it is helpful to reflect on the state of the UK Church today in comparison with the UK of 1865. The impact of revival in converting close to five per cent of the national population in 1859, and the consequent huge increase in churches being built, is a great challenge to us now. What role does Revivalism have today?
One key lesson to learn is that it was united, interdenominational prayer in any given area that led to revival. What good examples of church unity do we see in our towns and cities today? Where can we encourage a united prayer effort in crying out for the lost in our own land, let alone those in East Asia? What new examples do you see of inclusive and innovative mission in your area today? How can you advocate for innovative approaches to intercultural mission locally and globally? Whom do you see as being excluded from involvement in church and mission – are we too male, white and middle class? Do our structures and our intellectualism serve to exclude the working class from our churches and our church leadership? Most of our cities have excellent evangelical churches in the city centres, and yet there are vast housing schemes across the land with no evangelical witness among a people less mobile, and firmly tied to their estates. Where are the innovators, the great men and women of faith who both see what is needed with the eyes of faith, and get up and get on with it with the work of their hands? Perhaps we need a revival of the heart.