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10/7/97 Theological renewal, prayer fueled 18th-century renewal, speaker says

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Only after Baptists changed their theology and practices could they experience the revival of the late 18th century, Michael Haykin told an audience Oct. 4 at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo.
Haykin, professor of church history at Heritage Baptist College and Theological Seminary in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, applied the lessons learned by British Particular Baptists in the 18th century to modern-day Baptists during a Conference on Revival sponsored by the Midwestern Center for Biblical Revival.
According to Haykin, British Baptists in the 17th century had experienced a phenomenal rate of growth, despite popular and official persecution. Under the reign of Charles II, Haykin said, Baptists were not allowed to graduate from college, become military officers, live inside established towns or have a meeting with more than five adults present.
“Anyone outside the Church of England was a second-class citizen,” Haykin said. “To be a Baptist was to close yourself off from a host of advancements in the England of that day.”
Still, Baptists grew from seven Baptist churches and a few hundred members in 1644 to around 300 Baptist churches with 20,000 to 25,000 members by 1689.
However, Haykin said the next hundred years were a time of decline for Baptists, such that by 1750 there were only 120 Baptist congregations with about 10,000 members. Haykin quoted the prominent Baptist theologian of the period, John Gill, who lamented what he termed to be the “twilight” of Baptist churches in England. Yet elsewhere God was moving in revival, Haykin said, noting under the preaching of George Whitefield in the 1730s, the New England colonies saw the conversion of 40,000 to 50,000 — nearly one-seventh of the population.
Haykin attributed the decline among Baptists during the same period to several causes. Because of a change in laws in the late 1600s, Baptists were allowed to meet in houses. However, they could not evangelize outside the walls of their churches. As a result, Haykin said, Baptists poured their money into the construction of buildings in large towns, instead of reaching out to the outlying communities.
Theological perspective also contributed to numerical losses, Haykin said. He explained while Gill had preserved orthodox theology for Baptists, his eschatology led him to believe that little could be done to win the lost until the end times. Furthermore, Baptists began to develop what Haykin termed a “high Calvinism,” which held that it was futile to preach the gospel to any who might not be the elect of God.
Finally, while Baptists were aware of the revival taking place around them, Haykin said they were skeptical of non-Baptist preachers such as Whitefield and John Wesley who did not adhere to Baptist theology and polity.
“Baptists expected that when revival comes, it will produce churches just like ours,” Haykin said.
When revival finally did come to Baptists in the 18th century, it began with theological revival, a factor Haykin said modern-day Baptists have lost sight of.
“When God comes in revival, he always comes as the Spirit of Truth,” Haykin said. “In this century, we have lost sight of the fact that the Spirit’s purpose is to revive, renew and reform.”
This theological reform led Baptists to realize the gospel was to be preached freely to all men, Haykin said, noting the importance of the writings of Andrew Fuller and Robert Hall Sr. in this regard. Fuller also contributed an optimistic eschatological view to Baptist thinking, Haykin said, and encouraged Baptists to actively share the gospel. Fuller also called Baptists to repentance and to the earnest prayer that is so crucial for revival, Haykin said.
“If there is anything that is crucial for revival, it is prayer,” Haykin said. “There will not be a revival without prayer, but prayer does not guarantee a revival.”
Haykin described how Jonathan Edwards’ “A Humble Attempt” led Baptist John Sutcliff to encourage fellow ministers in his association to issue a call to prayer. Issued in Northhamptonshire, England, in 1784, Baptist ministers asked congregations to meet once a month for one hour of earnest prayer for revival. Haykin described the call to prayer as a recognition of the need for revival, yet an acknowledgment that human efforts could not produce it. The call was missionary in its emphasis, scriptural in its foundation and universal in its appeal to all evangelical Christians, Haykin said.
In the years after the prayer call, Baptists continued to decline, Haykin said. But as the prayer meetings continued, revival began to come to Baptists so that by the 1790s they experienced phenomenal growth. These prayer meetings, which lasted at least into the 1820s according to Haykin, were attended sometimes by thousands. Such prevailing prayer has its origins in the heart of God, Haykin said, calling attention to Ezekiel 36:37, which was quoted by the framers of the prayer call.
“God promises to do,” Haykin said, “but he stirs people to pray for what he is about to do.”

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  • Clinton Wolf