“The Great Reformation”

This piece is taken from a book entitled, Revival Sketches and Manual, in two parts, written by the Rev. Heman Humphrey, D.D., published by the American Tract Society, 1859. The website from which the resource was taken cited no known copyright, which is why I share it here. My prayer is that you will enjoy reading it and possibly check it out for yourself.

Be aware, as you read, that the wording is particular to the time-frame in which it was written. As of the time of the writings of those in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, meetings such as Azusa Street had not happened. In fact, they were still trying to free themselves from the Crown and the government-backed Catholic Church of the time, which was a great persecution to many.

You will also see words like “catachism” but it is not the same as what was carried out in the Catholic churches. This is speaking of the Protestant movements in the very earliest days.

Also, what might seem to be an error in typing or grammar is simply the way the book was written. Please refer to the link above, where you will see for yourself, that these “errors” were common and printed as such.

Sixteenth & Seventeenth Centuries

During the thousand years between the fifth and fifteenth century, the annals of the true church are so illegible, so interlined and interpolated, so blotted by the grossest superstition, that it is difficult to trace her progress by any light we have. And yet, even in that long midnight of the world, the light glimmered as it were upon the tops of the mountains, and now and then broke out from the floom, illuminating the promises when it seemed as if “the mercies of God were clean gone forever.” He who was with the church in the wilderness during her forty years’ wanderings, did not forsake her, but kept the pillar of cloud and fire over her till she emerged into the glorious morning of the Protestant Reformation.

Thus the gospel was wonderfully preserved among the Waldenses of Italy and the Culdees of Brittain. In the thirteenth century there must have been great revivals, for in Bohemia alone, where the gospel had won its way, there were reckoned, in 1315, no less than 80,000 witnesses for the truth. So again in the fourteenth century, John Wyckliff, “the morning-star of the Reformation,” heralded the day-spring in our fatherland, and many turned to the Lord. So was it also in the fifteenth century, under the labors of John Huss and Jerome of Prague, and more signally still in the great religious revolution which a hundred years later shook the Papal throne to its foundations, through the instrumentality of Luther, Zwingle, Calvin, and the other illustrious reformers of that remarkable epoch.

This reformation commenced early in the sixteenth century, and so rapidly did the light of the gospel spread over the principalities and kingdoms of Europe, so mightily did the word of God grow and prevail over all opposition, that it has ever since been called THE GREAT REFORMATION; and it was no less than a wide-spread and glorious revival. It was the reappearance of the divine economy in carrying forward the work of redemption.

The night of the middle ages had been so long, that it seemed as if the day would never dawn. But the rising of the sun, glancing from land to land, proved that “God is not slack concerning his promises.” The prince of darkness could no longer hold all the nations in bondage. “The man of sin,” drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs, and “exalting himself above all that is called God and is worshipped,” received a deadly wound, of which he has never been fully healed and never will be.

The Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, under Martin Luther as the first and chief instrument, was a religious revival on a vast scale. No other word so well expresses it. “Never certainly, since the days of the early Christians,” says Rev. Dr. James W. Alexander, “was there wide-spread a concern about religion. Never were there so many conversations. The published correspondence of the reformers, and particularly of Martin Luther and John Calvin, shows that a large part of their time was employed in giving counsel to inquiring souls. All the good and great men who were the chief instruments in this amazing revival felt and avowed that it was entirely of God, and that nothing but the omnipotent Spirit would have produced the change which they observed and experienced… So rapid was the progress of it, that in less than forty years, in the face of the united opposition of the church and the empire, against all proscription, in spite of rack and fagot, the principles of evangelical religion had overspread Germany, France, Switzerland, Holland, and the British isles. It was an outpouring of the Spirit, under which the mountains flowed down at His presence; it was a converting power that was acknowledged by tribes and nations.

“The remarkable condition of religious things among our Puritan and Scottish ancestors, was the simple consequence of this reformation revival prosperously carried out and made permanent. The work of grace was upon the hearts of multitudes… North American was planted by Protestants, and largely by a race of men whose activity owned evangelical religion as its animating principle. They came out from the midst of great awakenings, and every arrival from the old country brought them news of the revivals which took place under the Bunyans and Baxters of England.

“In Scotland, religion made it progress in a kind of triumphal march… The subjugation of a whole people within a brief period to the principles of the gospel, is proof that the church was increased with rapidity, and by large accessions; in other words, that there was a great revival throughout the kingdom, in the modern sense of the term.”

Thus, in looking back, three hundred years from our present stand-point upon that mighty upheaving of the moral world, “known and read of all men” as THE GREAT REFORMATION, and making every abatement for its not having accomplished all that could have been desired, it is past controversy that it was the most remarkable Christian epoch since the days of the apostles. One of its main features was the resurrection, as it were, of the cardinal doctrine of Justification by Faith alone, which being once disinterred from the Popish rubbish under which it had been buried for more than eight centuries, the combined efforts of earth and hell have not been able to force back into the old charnel-house of penances and purgatory.

Scotland – Kirk of Shotts, 1625-8

The influence of the Great Reformation most distinctly appeared, the next century, in England, Scotland, and Ireland. In the reign of Charles I., there was a great persecution of the saints in SCOTLAND who adhered to the faith of their pious fathers. The kind and his counsellors were determined at all hazards to enforce Conformity there, as well as in England, to the national establishment. They doubtless would have prevailed, had not the Lord raised up witnesses for the truth, in the spirit of John Knox in the preceding century, and with much of his power. To all human appearance, that cruel usurpation would have been fastened upon that kingdom, but for remarkable divine interpositions, the most signal of which was the great revival of vital religion which began in Stewarton, in 1625, and lasted about five years.

“This,” says Fleming in his Fulfilling of Scriptures, “was, by the profane rabble of that time, called the Stewarton sickness; for in that parish first, but afterwards through much of that country, particularly at Irvine under the ministry of Mr. Dickson, it was remarkable, where it can be said that for a considerable time few Sabbaths did pass without some evidently converted, or some convincing proof of the power of God accompanying his word. And truly this great spring tide, as I may call it, of the gospel, was not a short time, but of some years’ continuance; yea, thus, like a spreading moor-burn, the power of godliness did advance from one place to another, which put a marvellous lustre on those parts of the country, the savor whereof brought many from other parts of the land to see its truth.”

“Another token for good to the suffering church of Scotland, occurred in the year 1628. At a meeting of the Synod of Edinburgh, in the spring of that year, it had been agreed upon to apply to his majesty that a general fast might be held all over the kingdom. The ostensible causes adduced for this proposal, were the dangerous state of the Protestant churches abroad, and the prevalence of vice and immortality at home. To these causes the Presbyterians naturally added the consideration of their own suffering state, and of the oppressive innovations imposed upon the people. Much of the searching power of the Holy Spirit seems to have been granted to both ministers and people during their solemn fast, and many felt that in humbling themselves before God and making an earnest confession of sin, both national and individual, they obtained strength not their own, a spiritual strength in preparing them for greater sufferings, and giving earnest of final deliverance.

“In no individual instance, probably, was the power of the Spirit more signally displayed than at the kirk of Shotts, on Monday, the first day of June, 1630. It appears that John Livingstone, a young man about twenty-seven years of age, who was at the time domestic chaplain of the Countess of Wigton, had gone to attend the dispensation of the Lord’s supper at the kirk of Shotts. There had been a great confluence of both ministers and people from all the adjacent country, and the sacred services of the communion-sabbath had been marked with much solemnity of manner, and great apparent depth and sincerity of devotional feeling. When the Monday came, the large assembly of pious Christians felt reluctant to part without another day of thanksgiving to that God whose redeeming love they had been commemorating. Livingstone was prevailed upon to preach, though reluctant and with heavy misgivings of mind at the thought of his own unworthiness to address so many experienced Christians. He even endeavored to withdraw himself secretly from the multitude, but a strong constraining impulse within his mind caused him to return and proceed with the duty to which he had been appointed.

“Towards the close of the sermon, the audience, and even the preacher himself, were affected with a deep, unusual awe, melting their hearts and subduing their minds, stripping off inveterate prejudices, awakened, bowing down the stubborn, and importing to many an enlightened Christian a large increase of grace and spirituality.”

“It was known,” says Fleming, “as I can speak on sure ground, that nearly five hundred had at that time a discernible change wrought on them, of whom most proved lively Christians afterwards. It was the sowing of a seed through Clydesdale, so that many of the most eminent Christians of that country could date their conversion, or some remarkable confirmation of their case, from that day.

“Mr. Livingstone, the honored instrument by which this great work was wrought, was one against whom the tyranny of the suspicious prelates had been directed. Spottswood drove him away from his beloved charge in Torphichen. But in every case of contest between right and wrong, the most politic measure will prove injurious to those who employ it. When such men as Livingstone were driven from a parish, they were compelled to extend their influence over a wider sphere than would otherwise have been possible.

“Not unfrequently, as in his case, they were received into the families of some of the nobility, where their unassuming manners and deep personal piety produced the most beneficial results, both to their protectors and the cause for which they suffered. In this manner the ejected ministers, by their fervent and widely diffused labors, did much to prepare the great body of the nation for that struggle and revulsion which was erelong to take place.”

Thus it was when, after the martyrdom of Stephen, there was a great persecution of the church in Jerusalem, the disciples “went everywhere preaching the word,” and many were turned unto the Lord who might otherwise never have been converted.

North of Ireland, 1625

In 1625, there was also a remarkable revival in the NORTH OF IRELAND.* (See Dr. James S. Reid’s History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, vol. I.) It took place under the labors of a band of faithful ministers, most of whom went over from Scotland – Brice, Glendenning, Ridge, Blair, and others.

The province of Ulster, which has ever since been the brightest spot on the map of Ireland, was, when this reformation began, in a deplorable state of ignorance and ungodliness. A great number of those who came over from England with the original proprietors and occupied their lands, were openly profane and immoral, and generally inattentive to the institutions of the gospel. The following description of the character of the population is given by Stewart.

“From Scotland,” he says, “and from England not a few, yet all of them generally the scum of both nations, from debt, or breaking, fleeing from justice, or seeking shelter, came hither, hoping to be without fear of man’s justice, in a land where there was nothing, or but little as yet of the fear of God. Most of the people were all void of godliness, who seemed rather to flee from God in this enterprise than to follow their own mercy.

“Thus on all hands atheism increased and disregard of God, iniquity abounded, with contention, fighting, murder, adultery, etc.; and as they had nothing within them to overawe them, so their ministers’ example was worse than nothing; ‘for from the prophets of Israel profaneness went forth into all the land.’ Thus it was, that when any man would have expected nothing but God’s judgment to have followed this crew of sinners, behold, the Lord visited them in admirable mercy, the like whereof had not been anywhere seen for many generations.”

This account is confirmed by Blair, who says, “The mercy (alluded to by Stewart) consisted in the band of faithful ministers who were now encouraged to take their lot in Ulster, and whose labors were remarkably blessed to the converting of many out of so profane and godless a multitude. Seven ministers constituted the first band, who labored with apostolic earnestness to remove the ignorance, formality, and profaneness which characterized the greater part of the early colonists. Possessed of the true missionary spirit, and inspired with a holy zeal to propagate the gospel, they commenced with vigor the work of evangelizing the land; and though few in number and beset with many difficulties, they were favored with an extraordinary, if not unprecedented measure of success.

“It was not long before their labors began to be visibly blessed. A remarkable improvement in the habits and demeanor of the people was speedily effected. The thoughtless were roused to serious inquiry on the subject of religion, and the careless were alarmed; the profane were in a great measure silenced, and the immoral reclaimed; while the obstinate opposers of the gospel were converted into its willing and decided supporters. This spirit of religious inquiry and reformation, which in a short time pervaded a considerable portion of the counties of Down and Antrim, was no doubt the result of that devotedness and fidelity by which the ministers in this part of Ulster were so eminently distinguished; yet it appears to have first manifested itself under the ministry of the weakest of these brethren, whose limited attainments and will-regulated zeal were providentially overruled for the furtherance of the gospel.”

“This,” says Mr. Stewart, “was the Lord’s choice, to begin with him the admirable work of God, which I mention on purpose that all men may see how the glory is only the Lord’s in making a holy nation in this profane land, and that it was ‘not by might, nor by power,’ not by man’s wisdom, ‘but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.’

“At Oldstone, God made use of him to awaken the consciences of a lewd and secure people thereabouts; for, seeing their character, he preached to them nothing by law, wrath, and the terrors of God for sin; and in very deed for this only was he fitted, for hardly could he preach any other thing. Be behold the success: for the hearers, finding themselves condemned by the mouth of God speaking in his word, fell into such anxiety and terror of conscience, that they looked on themselves as altogether lost and damned; and this work appeared not in one single person or two, but multitudes were brought to understand their way, and to cry out, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do to be saved?’ And of these were some of the boldest spirits, who formerly feared not with their swords to put a whole market-town in affray. I have heard one of them, then a mighty strong man, now a mighty Christian, say that his end in coming to church was to consult with his companions how to work some mischief; and yet at one of those sermons was he so catched, that he was fully subdued. But why do I speak of him? We knew, and yet know, multitudes of such men, who sinned, and still gloried in it, because they feared no man, yet are not patterns of sobriety, fearing sin because they fear God. And this spread through the country to admiration, especially about that river commonly called the Six Mile water, for there this work began at first.

“These religious agitations continued for a considerable time. The ministers were indefatigable in improving the favorable opportunities thus offered for extending the knowledge and influence of the gospel. The people awakened and inquiring, many of them desponding and alarmed, both desired and needed guidance and instruction. The judicious exhibition of evangelical doctrines and promises by these faithful men was in due time productive of those happy and tranquillizing effects which were early predicted as the characteristics of gospel times. Adopting the beautiful imagery of the prophets, the broken-hearted were bound up and comforted, the spirit of bondage and fear gave way to a spirit of freedom and of love, the oil of joy was poured forth instead of mourning, and the spirit of heaviness exchanged for the garments of praise and thankfulness. As the people emerged from the anxiety and alarm produced by the stern preaching of the law, and gradually experienced the hope of the gospel, they would be naturally let to maintain among themselves a closer religious fellowship than they had done; and this proved to be the case. Hence originated those monthly meetings at Antrim which afterwards attracted so much attention, and which in the mean time tended materially to strengthen and consolidate the good work that had been commenced.

The men whom God employed to carry on that great work were instant in season and out of season, laboring to instruct their people and promote vital religion, with a singleness of purpose and intensity of desire and untiring diligence, which, if ever equalled, has at least been seldom surpassed. Blair thus describes his ministerial labors and Bangor: “My charge was very great, about six miles in length, and containing above twelve hundred persons come to age, besides children who stood greatly in need of instruction. This being the case, I preached twice every week, besides the Lord’s day, on all which occasions I found little difficulty either as to matter or method. But finding still that this fell short of reaching the design of the gospel ministry, and that the most part continued vastly ignorant, I saw the necessity of trying the more plain and familiar way of instructing them; and therefore, besides my public preaching, I spent as much time every week as my bodily strength could hold out with in exhorting and catechizing them. The knowledge of God increasing among the people, and the ordinance of prayer being precious in their eyes, the work of the Lord did prosper in the place. And in this we were very much encouraged, both by the assistance of holy Mr. Cunningham and by the good example of his little parish of Holywood; for knowing that diversity of gifts is entertaining to the hearers, he and I did frequently preach for one another, and we also agreed to celebrate the Lord’s supper four times in each of our congregations annually, so that those in both parishes who were thriving in religion did communicate together on all these occasions.”

The religious sentiments of all these ministers were those usually called Calvinistic, which at this period were maintained throughout the three national churches of the empire. A delightful harmony also prevailed.

“Among all the ministers,” says Livingstone, “there was never any jar or jealousy; yea, nor among the professors, the greater part of them being Scots, and some good number of very gracious English, all whose contention was to prefer others to themselves; and although the gifts of the ministers were much different, yet it was not observed that the people followed any to the undervaluing of others. Many of these religious professors had been both ignorant and profane, and for debt and want, and worse causes, had left Scotland. Yet the Lord was pleased by his word to work such a change, that I do not think there were more lively experienced Christians than there were there at this time in Ireland. Being but lately brought in, the lively edge was not yet gone off them, and the perpetual fear that the bishops would take away their ministers made them with great hunger wait on the ordinances.”

The singular success which attended the preaching of the word at this period, is also attested by another writer, who says, “I shall here instance that great and solemn work of God which was in the church of Ireland about the year 1628, and some years thereafter, which may with propriety be said to have been one of the largest manifestations of the Spirit, and of the most solemn times of the down-pouring thereof, that almost since the days of the apostles hath been seen. Then it was sweet and easy for Christians to come thirty or forty miles to the solemn communions which they had, and there continue, from the time they came till they returned, without wearying or making use of sleep; yea, with but little either meat or drink, and as some of them professed, they did not feel the need thereof, but went away most fresh and vigorous, their souls so filled with the sense of God.”

This remarkable revival in the north of Ireland, of which I do not remember to have met with any account till lately, so strikingly resembled in all its essential features those with which I have been familiar now for more than half a century, that the narrative strikes me as a familiar acquaintance, and I cannot doubt that it was wrought by “one and the self-same Spirit.”

At the same time that God was so gloriously reviving his work in Scotland and Ireland, about the middle of the seventeenth century, he was raising up a host of mighty champions for the truth in ENGLAND. The persecution which raged so furiously against the Non-conformists, headed under the crown by such instruments as Archbishop Laud and Jeffries, and especially the “Act of Uniformity,” passed in 1662, with the “Five Mile Act,” by which two thousand godly pastors were forbidden to labor within five miles of their own churches, was a mighty struggle; but instead of crushing and silencing the witnesses, the pent-up fire broke out even in their sufferings and imprisonments into a flame that was to enlighten and bless all coming generations. The Lord was on their side, and the gates of hell could not prevail to blot out their testimony. Many of them were driven across the ocean to America, here in the wilderness to bear a prominent part in laying the foundations of civil and religious liberty, which have ever since been the bulwark and glory of our land.

It was a great Protestant Reformation, though it had not, I believe, to much extent, those distinctive revival features which marked its progress in Scotland and Ireland.

Among the noble band of confessors we find the names of Bunyan, Baxter, Owen, Bishop Hopkins, Flavel, Alleine, Howe, and others, who have not been surpassed in any age for talents, for theological learning, for deep Christian experience, and for the valiant defence of “the faith once delivered to the saint.” We hazard little in saying that for doctrinal, practical, and experimental religious instructions and authorship, it was the golden age in the fatherland. What other age has produced so many volumes of the marrow of the gospel, and indited as it were so close on the verge of heaven? What thousands have been guided in the Way of Life by Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and his “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners;” and what thousands more have had the fulness of Christ revealed to them in Flavel’s “Fountain of Life” and “Method of Grace.” What would our own land as well as Great Britain have been but for this revival period in the seventeenth century? Who can tell how much of the seed that was then sown sprung up in that great awakening which is the subject of our next chapter?

Of the labors of these persecuted ministers, we find an illustrious example in Baxter and Kidderminster, where he wrote his “Reformed Pastor,” a standard work for those who would witness the fruit of revivals in any age.

Having been separated from his people in the violent political agitations and confusion of the times, and been brought near to death, when he wrote his “Saint’s Everlasting Rest,” he at length resumed his charge at Kidderminster. In his own account of his labors among them during fourteen years, he says,

“I preached before the wars twice each Lord’s day; but after the war, but once, and once every Thursday, besides occasional sermons. Every Thursday evening, my neighbors that were most desirous and had opportunity, met at my house and there one of them repeated the sermon; and afterwards they proposed what doubts any of them had about the sermon, or any other case of conscience, and I resolved their doubts. And last of all, I caused sometimes one and sometimes another of them to pray, sometimes praying with them myself. Once a week also, some of the young, who were not prepared to pray in so great an assembly, met among a few more privately, where they spent three hours in prayer together. Every Saturday night they met at some of their houses to repeat the sermon of the last Lord’s day, and to pray and prepare themselves for the following day. Once in a few weeks we had a day of humiliation, on one occasion or other. Two days every week my assistant and myself took fourteen families between us for private catechizing and conference, he going through the parish, and the town coming to me. I first heard them recite the words of the catechism, and then examined them about the sense; and lastly urged them, with all possible engaging reason and vehemence, to answerable affection and practice. If any of them were perplexed through ignorance or bashfulness, I forebore to press them any farther to answers, but made them hearers, and either examined others, or turned all into instruction and exhortation. I spent about an hour with a family, and admitted no others to be present, lest bashfulness should make it burdensome, or any should talk of the weaknesses of others; so that all the afternoon, on Mondays and Tuesdays, I spent in this; and my assistant spent the mornings of the same days in the same way.”

“I have mentioned my sweet and acceptable employment; let me, to the praise of my gracious Lord, acquaint you with some of my success. My public preaching met with an attentive, diligent auditory. Having broke over the brunt of the opposition of the rabble before the wars, I found them afterwards tractable and unprejudiced.

“Before I ever entered into the ministry, God blessed my private conference to the conversion of some, who remain firm and eminent in holiness to this day. Then, and in the beginning of my ministry, I was wont to number them as jewels; but since then I could not keep any number of them.

“The congregation was usually full, so that we were led to build five galleries after my coming hither, the church itself being very capacious, and the most commodious and convenient that ever I was in. Our private meetings were also full. On the Lord’s day there was no disorder to be seen in the streets, but you might hear a hundred families singing psalms and repeating sermons as you passed through the streets. In a word, when I came thither first, there was about one family in a street that worshipped God and called on his name; and when I came away, there were some streets where there was not more than one family in the side of a street that did not so, and that did not, in professing serious godliness, give us hopes of their sincerity. And of those families which were the worst, being inns and alehouses, usually some persons in each did seem to be religious. Though our administration of the Lord’s supper was so orderly as displeased many, and the far greater part kept themselves away, yet we had six hundred that were communicants, of whom there were not twelve that I had not good hopes of as to their sincerity; and those few that came to our communion and yet lived scandalously, were excommunicated afterwards. And I hope there were many who feared God that came not to our communion, some of them being kept off by husbands, by parents, by masters, and some dissuaded by men that differed from us.

“When I commenced personal conference with each family and catechizing them, there were very few families in all the town that refused to come; and those few were beggars at the town’s ends, who were so ignorant that they were ashamed it should be manifest. And few families went from me without some tears or seemingly serious promises for a godly life. Yet many ignorant and ungodly persons there were still among us; but most of them were in the parish, and not in the town, and in those parts of the parish which were farthest from the town. Some of the poor men competently understood the body of divinity, and were able to judge in difficult controversies. Some of them were so able in prayer that very few ministers equalled them in order and fulness, apt expressions, holy oratory, and fervency. A great number of them were able to pray very appropriately with their families, or with others. The tempter of their minds, and the correctness of their lives, were even more commendable than their talents. The professors of serious godliness were generally of very humble minds and conduct, of meek and quiet behavior towards others, and blameless in their conversation.

“One advantage which I had was through the zeal and diligence of the godly people of the place, who thirsted after the salvation of their neighbors, and were in private my assistants; and being dispersed through the town, they were ready in almost all companies, to repress seducing words, and to justify godliness, and convince, reprove, and exhort men according to their needs; and also to teach them how to pray, and to help them to sanctify the Lord’s day. Those people that had none in their families who could pray or repeat the sermons, went to the houses of their neighbors who could do it, and joined with them; so that some houses of the ablest men in each street were filled with them that could do nothing or little in their own.

“And the holy, humble, blameless lives of the religious was a great advantage to me. The malicious people could not say, Your professors here are as proud and covetous as any. But the blameless lives of godly people shamed opposers, and put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, and many were won by their good conversation.”

Among the Puritan worthies was Blackerby, who memoirs were blessed in kindling to higher Christian zeal the eminent Andrew Fuller, who was a leading spirit in establishing the monthly concert of prayer for foreign missions, and planting at Serampore the first of modern missions to India.

If you enjoyed this reading, please stayed tuned for the next chapter in the book entitled, “The Great Awakening.”


    1. Author

      Lol… it’s not like my normal posts, I know, but I was so intrigued by it all, I had to share 🙂 I’ll be sharing other chapters upcoming. Good stuff… makes me REALLY wish I had been born a bit earlier.

      1. It is called FOMO and YOLO. No second chances. Timing can seem unfair but it ain’t.

        1. Author

          Ah, right you are, my friend. Who know, but that we were put here for just such a time as this!

          1. Hopefully God will one day show us His better-than-Spielberg version of Creation.

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