PREPARING FOR REVIVAL
by J. Edwin Orr
"THIS is holy ground," said Billy Graham. We were standing in the little bedroom in Lincoln College where John Wesley and his fellow-students had begun the Holy Club, and on the wall was a picture showing the Wesleys, Whitefield, and others in session.
That day was spent in visiting Oxford University's halls of learning, but the North Carolinian evangelist did not only want to see the sights, but to talk about the hope and prospect of another great evangelical awakening such as Wesley experienced.
A couple of years later in his office in the Northwestern Schools in Minneapolis, we were together with two young Californians, Dunlap and Franck. It was close to one in the morning, but we knelt and prayed. The previous October, 1948, Armin Gesswein and I had shared a prayer conference with sixty Minneapolis ministers, and there was outpoured a spirit of confession and consecration which transformed many a life. Three months later, the same group of ministers experienced another stirring of the Spirit at Camp Iduhapi, where we shared with them a vision of revival in the Christian colleges of the Twin Cities. "God grant it," said Billy Graham in that prayer meeting in April.
Within a week, a student revival described by President Wingblade as "unprecedented" had broken forth at Bethel College across Mississippi in St. Paul, all science, arts and theology classes being abandoned in favor of prayer, confession, restitution and decision. Reviving in varied degree was felt in half dozen other colleges, and more than two thousand students testified of personal reviving, restoration or regeneration through the Spirit's impact. The United Spiritual Advance movement
in a report by Paul Rees, Victor Nelson, and Wallace Mikkelson, co-chairman of the ministerial fellowship pointed out that "equally amazing is the fact that Christians . . . have agreed unanimously that the student campaign has been an outpouring of the Spirit from start to finish. The Lord alone knows what will follow this work of preparation."
Billy Graham was in Los Angeles preparing for his fall campaign when Dr. Wingblade telephoned him to announce the outpouring of the Spirit at Bethel. Seven weeks earlier, we had flown from Montreal to Los Angeles to engage in a month of meetings calculated to deepen the spiritual life of Christians in Los Angeles in preparation for the Billy Graham campaign. The series was under the auspices of the same Christ for Greater Los Angeles committee planning the Graham effort, and they kept us busy in sixty or more meetings in churches and other groups.
By far the most outstanding gathering was the Ministers' conference for prayer for revival organized by Armin Gesswein at Pacific Palisades Conference Grounds. Several hundred ministers, evangelists, missionaries, and their wives, shared in another extraordinary outpouring of the Spirit, and the evening sessions continued until long after midnight. Pastors from historic and traditional Protestant denominations participated freely with pastors from the younger denominations and independent groups.
There was a confession and restitution of a striking nature, but the details were forgotten as the Heavenly Father pulled the curtain of forgiveness across the place. There was blessing also in ministerial, congregational, and organizational meetings throughout greater Los Angeles. The Lord blessed the Word, and many were convinced that, as was said by Matthew Henry, "when God intends great mercy for His people, He first of all sets them a-praying."
Just as Armin Gesswein's work among ministers culminated in an outpouring of the Spirit in 1949, so Henrietta Mears' work
among students had the same effect. Two years previously, there had been a flash flood of unusual blessings at a student conference at the beautiful Forest Home Conference Grounds a mile high in the San Bernardino Mountains. The 1947 movement was so sudden and unexpected that not all its results were conserved, but it made all participants thirsty for another revival. So, in 1949, the Young Adult Conference in July was greatly owned of God, not the least of the fruitage being the surrender of a young radio star who immediately became burdened for the spiritually needy stars in the world of radio, television, stage, and screen. A direct outcome was a weekly gathering of a group of famous people in Beverly Hills. This group soon became self-governing, the direction gladly being turned over to the stars themselves.
Blessed as was the July Conference, it was nothing compared to the September Student Briefing Conference at Forest Home. No less than 500 students from a dozen universities and many colleges attended. The ministry was shared by a team of leaders, David Cowie, "Dad" Elliot, Louis Evans, Bob Ferguson, Dick Halverson, Bob Munger, Miss Mears, Billy Graham and myself. Billy Graham brought inspirational messages in the morning meetings at 11; in the evening meetings we had the privilege of giving doctrinal and challenging messages. The topics were, in sequence: God and Students; Revival, the Work of God; How God Forgives Sins; the Searchlight of God; Sanctification, Imputed, Critical and Progressive; the Filling of the Spirit; the Impact of Revival.
There was blessing in all the meetings, but the climax was reached on the Wednesday evening when the meeting continued in power until midnight. Much confession was made, but all of it under the restraint of the Spirit, with not a regrettable utterance. Reviving of believers, restoration of backsliders, regeneration of sinners proceeded in such a remarkable way that the veteran student evangelist, "Dad" Elliot, declared that it
was the most unusual meeting of his experience since the glorious days of the Student Volunteers last century.
The overflow from this conference had its effect on many a campus on the Pacific Coast, and even provoked a revival in a church in far-away Colorado. Enthusiasm was boundless, and yet there was no emotionalism, the order of the Spirit's impact seeming to be first intellectual, then volitional, then emotional; tears sometimes following conviction, and joy following the cleansing of sin. Perhaps the most significant thing was the emphasis that the confession of sin and consequent cleansing were only preparatory to appropriating by faith a sanctified and Spirit-filled life. For many it meant abandoning a life on a lower plane, with occasional excursions to higher levels by balloon, for living on a plateau of higher Christian life, feet planted on the solid ground of the promises of God.
Undoubtedly the direct instrument under God in the bringing of Billy Graham to Los Angeles and the sustaining organization in the success of the meeting was the Christ for Greater Los Angeles committee. Cliff Smith and Claude Jenkins and many another leader in the committee had been stirred by the Pacific Palisades Conference in March, and were tiptoe in expectancy of real revival. The committee worked together in the campaign most harmoniously, and once the movement was under way the committee was possessed by a holy enthusiasm. The Christ for Greater Los Angeles Committee drew its main support from the National Association of Evangelicals constituency, but there were others from affiliations to the right and left of the NAE position helping loyalty without giving up their opinions and co-operation. The officers of the Christ for Greater Los Angeles committee were deeply spiritual men, a sort of advance guard in the reviving.
The story of the Los Angeles Big Tent Campaign is now well-known. For eight weeks, in the last quarter of the year, an unreasonable heat-wave persisted with the daily temperatures hovering in the eighties. November was warmer than June. At
a critical point, a Pacific storm threatened to break up the fine weather spell, but following a prayer meeting, the storm moved out to sea again and missed the city. Without this extraordinary weather, the Big Tent Campaign would have been handicapped. The Graham campaign was followed by the worst fogs of Los Angeles history, dislocating traffic for weeks.
The Big Tent seated six thousand, and soon began to fill up. Night after night for the first two weeks, Billy Graham preached repentance to Christians. In the third week of October, a revival of the Bethel College pattern swept Northern Baptist Seminary in Chicago, where the chapel was crowded with students until midnight. The same week the Big Tent Campaign moved into high gear.
Without doubt, the 1949 Big Tent Campaign was the greatest of its kind in California history. An aggregate of 400,000 people attended the eight weeks' meetings, and 4178 decision cards were turned in by the personal workers in the inquiry room. Of these, 2703 were first-time decisions. The Christ for Greater Los Angeles committee handled the distribution of the cards, sending cards to the pastor of any church specified, or to the nearest co-operating evangelical church if no denomination were specified.
The success of the campaign quickened the hope of revival throughout America. Already, with the extraordinary revival of pastors in March, churches were reporting the doubling of prayer meetings and increased soul-winning up and down the Pacific Coast. The Graham campaign accelerated the movement, and the end is not yet.
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