The eighteenth & nineteenth century revivals in Britain

The eighteenth century revival

In this period there was a great turning back to God in our nation as multitudes responded to the preaching of people like John Wesley and George Whitefield, and they had a big impact on Edinburgh. It was found that the old style of music in the church did not relate to the people of those times, so some Christian composers began to write wonderful hymns expressing biblical truths in a contemporary style. Today such giants as Isaac Watts, who wrote the beautiful hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace, and Charles Wesley, who wrote Hark the Herald Angels Sing! and Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, were at the forefront of this movement. And yet again many church leaders opposed such ‘worldly’ hymns and music and refused to sing them. Today in Edinburgh and Scotland Amazing Grace is a national treasure, even if it was written by an Englishman.


The nineteenth century revival

The Great Awakening of the nineteenth century brought millions to Christ and triggered off global mission to impact the lives of countless more millions for Christ. As with Luther, Watts, Newton and Wesley, before them, the hymn writers of this period sought to reach the masses with biblical words to popular tunes. The evangelists at the forefront of this movement, such as Charles Finney (1792-1875), D.L. Moody (1837-1899), and William Booth (1829-1912), the founder of the Salvation Army, had hymn writers working with them in producing scriptural words with contemporary tunes. Moody stated:

If you have singing that reaches the heart, it will fill the church every time… Music and song have not only accompanied all scriptural revivals, but are essential in deepening the spiritual life. Singing does at least as much as preaching to impress the Word of God upon people’s minds. Ever since God first called me, the importance of praise expressed in song has grown on me.

Biography of Gospel Song and Hymn Writers, T.H. Hall, pp 198-199, New York: AMS Press, 1971

Rev Horatius Bonar, a minister in the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh, became well-known as a hymn writer and yet the church elders rejected his hymns as worldly, preferring instead the tradition of psalm singing only. As Rev Henry Davenport Northrop wrote in 1899:

The introduction of hymns into Scottish worship was fought, tooth and nail, as if they were productions of the devil and would overthrow all evangelical religion.

Life and Labors of Dwight L. Moody, Henry Davenport Northrop, p. 94, Philadelphia, National, 1899

William Booth’s Salvation Army work saw a great breakthrough amongst the working classes who never went to church, and who could not relate to the worship style there. Booth wrote:

Music has a divine effect upon divinely influenced and directed souls. Music is to the soul what wind is to the ship, blowing her onwards in the direction in which she is steered… Not allowed to sing that tune or this tune? Indeed! Secular music, do you say? Belongs to the devil does it? Well, if it did, I would plunder him of it, for he has no right to a single note of the whole gamut. He’s a thief!… Every note and every strain and every harmony is divine, and belongs to us… So now and for all time consecrate your voices and your instruments. Bring out your harps and organs and flutes and violins and pianos and drums and everything else that can make melody! Offer them to God and use them to make all hearts about you merry before the Lord!

The History of the Salvation Army, Robert Sandall, vol. II, p.112, Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1950