Songs and Praise in Times of Revival

It is very evident from the Bible that there will be much praise given in Heaven to God. The Psalms are full of worship. When God came down to Earth as Jesus Christ, there was an explosion of heavenly praise, witnessed by some of the shepherds of Bethlehem (see Lk.2:13-14).

Revival can be like that too, causing people to praise God, even for hours on end.
John and Charles Wesley saw the great value of singing during what is now called the Evangelical Awakening in the eighteenth century. Some outstanding songs of praise can still be sung with gusto today, such as ‘Oh for a thousand tongues to sing’. The Wesley brothers realised that singing was also a great way to learn and revise biblical teaching.

It seems as though every revival since then, and much church life in between, has had its fair share of singing and the composition of new songs.

Some languages seem to be especially made for singing. Italian is one such language and Welsh is another.

In the years that followed the Evangelical Awakening, smaller and more local revivals happened in Welsh places like Beddgelert, in what is now Gwynedd. Many people reported hearing the massed choirs of heaven singing overhead. It was a taste of more to come.

In Bontuchel, in Denbighshire, an intense revival broke out in 1821 after the singing of a moving Welsh hymn. Wales became known as the land of song, and even today Welsh singers have a special place in UK culture.

Congregational singing has been much loved in all parts of the British Isles. The ex-slave trader John Newton was inspired to write the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, which is one of the most famous of English-language hymns sung widely today.

Following the 1859 Revival, the Salvation Army was formed. It is difficult to imagine the Salvation Army without its distinctive music and song.

One of the most notable features of the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905 was its singing. There were organs in many of the churches, but they were not used at the time. Hymn books were there but not given out. There were no massed choirs, but it was all choir in the churches
and chapels. One of many observers from England said that the Welsh abandoned themselves to singing. Christians sang hymns together for hours. ‘Here is love’ is known now as the love song of the revival.

The spontaneity with which an entire congregation could unite in song, often started by women, led to heavenly sounds. It was said by witnesses that what they heard was unimaginable beforehand and, when heard, was indescribable. Singing took place daily underground in Welsh mines as part of end-of-shift Christian meetings, in which many came to faith.

The Charismatic Movement in the twentieth century gave first place to worship. I remember Sunday meetings in the early 1980s where the worship would take up much of the first hour. I can remember counting how many times we repeated some songs, and it was fairly common to get up to six times if the worship leaders felt that God was speaking through the song. An outsider might find that hard to relate to even then, but the songs successfully reinforced truths that were being taught at the time (e.g. the beautiful song ‘There is a Redeemer’ by Melody Green).

Even if we cannot yet be singing together in 2021 as we did in the past, some very good songs have been written recently about revival. In the United States, Melissa Helser, of Bethel Music, tells on YouTube how she was inspired by a personal revival in her family to see how whole cities could get flipped upside down in the love of God. She spontaneously started composing ‘Revival’s in the Air’.

In Brighton, UK, some of the worship team Bright City at St. Peter’s Church started thinking what it would be like on their streets if people were as responsive to God as in Bible times. An outcome was the song and album called ‘Change’. The two revival songs can be heard on YouTube. They were each written in autumn 2019, before the pandemic began, which makes their lyrics all the more powerful to take in now.

Nigel Paterson