Revival and Revivalism – Samuel Davies, Part One


For those who have been waiting for too long for the continuing discussion of Revival and Revivalism, I offer my sincere apologies. Fall in Fairbanks (which started in the middle of August) is always extremely busy. Besides all the summer/pre-winter projects to be done, planning training for Native leaders and searching for an airplane for ministry has taken up any time I might have had to write blog articles. Even though I haven’t written, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the men whom God used during the great revivals in our country. It is a particular challenge and encouragement to me that God is more interested in molding me into His image than in me executing my plans and programs. May God move beyond our programs and plans and work in our hearts to bring about a revival in our land, for the praise of His Glory!

For ease of digestion, I have broken up the article on Samuel Davies into two sections.  The first part, posted here, deals with Recognizing True BelieversThe second, which will be posted soon, deals with Recognizing the True Work of the Spirit.

Samuel Davies, Part One of Two

In my senior year of high school, I began to be influenced by this 18th century preacher by way of the hymn Great God of Wonders.  Samuel Davies wrote the words to this great hymn of praise and John Newton composed the music, which includes an incredible rolling bass part that thrills the soul, especially when sung by a congregation where almost every man pours his heart into the refrain, “Who is a pardoning God like Thee?  And who has grace so rich and free?”  Be warned:  turn off the power point and pick up a hymnal and find a good pianist or organist, because your praise band likely cannot do this song justice.  And the men will learn to follow the music with their eyes and their voices.  Once the technical aspect of learning the part is accomplished, you will be blessed by the amazing richness of this song.  (This video of a choir in Ghana captures well the spirit of Davies’ ministry.)

Samuel Davies, though passing from this life at the age of only thirty-seven, left a great imprint on American life and culture.  Davies’ preaching was molded by the preaching of the First Great Awakening, and he saw revival come as a result of his ministry in Hanover County, Virginia, that was separate from the Great Awakening. At age twenty-nine, in 1752, Davies answered the request of the Presbyterian Synod of New York to accompany Gilbert Tennant to Great Britain on a deputation to raise funds for a permanent home for the College of New Jersey in the town of Princeton.  Now called Princeton University, the College of New Jersey was specifically established to train men in the ministry to meet the needs of congregations whose growth was the result of the Great Awakening.   Davies raised funds in Great Britain for 19 months and returned to the United States in February 1755.  Following Aaron Burr, Sr. and the Great Awakening preacher, Jonathan Edwards, Davies became the fourth president of Princeton University in 1759. After only eighteen months of service at Princeton, Davies died February 4, 1761. Would that God would use each of us even a fraction of what He did in Davies’ short life.

In telling of Davies’ life, Murray makes several observations and conclusions about the nature of revival:


1) A call from nominal to real Christianity

In his early days of preaching, Davies drew men “from nominal to real Christianity. They had heard and come to believe the Hanover preacher who said that lukewarm religion which did not make God the end for which men lived would take no one to heaven” (p. 11). We sometimes speak of Christians who “have made Christ Savior but not Lord.” Davies called upon these type of Christians to examine themselves. He asked, “Is there any fire and life in your devotions? Or are not all your active powers engrossed by other pursuits?” (p. 11). Holiness and piety were the marks of a real Christian. He said, “I know of nothing in the world that would have a more efficacious tendency to propagate Christianity through the nations of the earth than the good behavior of the professors” (p. 13). Davies saw this piety working amongst both “gentlemen and slaves” who were the majority audience of his preaching. He would host dozens in his own home and would wake, sometimes at three in the morning, to the sound of “sacred harmony” pouring from his kitchen where they were gathered. One correspondent wrote, “When I go amongst Mr. Davies’ people, religion seems to flourish; it is like the suburbs of heaven: it is very agreeable to see the gentlemen at their morning and evening prayers, with their slaves devoutly joining with them” (p. 13). Morning AND evening prayers?! Imagine how Christian homes would be changed if fathers led their families in even one time of worship each day!

2) Connection with true followers of Christ despite denominational differences

When Davies arrived in England to raise funds for the college, he found support, not from the Presbyterians, but from the Methodists. The Presbyterians had drifted from their Calvinistic theology, and this proved to be a barrier to support. The Baptists and Congregationalists, though in agreement theologically, did not have the means to finance such a work. Davies found that most of his financial support came from the Methodists, “including John and Charles Wesley, despite differences in theology.   ‘The despised Methodists, with all their foibles, seem to me to have more of the spirit of religion than any set of people in this island’” (p. 15).

Murray will discuss the results of some of these theological distinctions later in the book. It is clear that he is not dismissing the importance of a proper view of God for the continuing growth of Christians and Christianity. For now, though, it is important to note that God can and does truly work in people whose hearts are toward Him. All of our theology might not be perfect, but He pours out His Spirit on those who seek Him.

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