The Birth of Modern Revival – Puritan Preaching in Scotland

16th Century Scottish Reformer, John Knox
16th Century Scottish Reformer, John Knox

Iain Murray, in his classic, ‘The Puritan Hope’, points out that the Puritan era was a period of many local revivals. He writes,

‘Following as it did so closely upon the Reformation it is not surprising that the Puritan movement in England believed so firmly in revivals of religion as the great means by which the Church advances in the world.’ (The Puritan Hope, Iain Murray, Banner of Truth, p.3)

16th Century Breakthrough

In 1559 a general revival broke out in Scotland. The conversions were so rapid that John Knox wrote, ‘God did so multiply our number that it appeared as if men had rained from the clouds.’ (ibid p.5)

Describing the spiritual hunger of the Scottish people he adds, ‘Now forty days and more, hath God used my tongue in my native country, to the manifestation of His glory…The thirst of the poor people, as well as of the nobility here, is wondrous great…’ (ibid p.5)

One Scottish church historian writes ‘in Scotland the whole nation was converted by lump; and within ten years…there were not ten persons of quality to be found in it who did not profess the true reformed religion, and so it was among the commons in proportion. Lo! Here a nation born in one day!’ (James Kirkton, The Secret and True History of the Church of Scotland, p.21-22)

The promise of Revival in the Seventeenth Century

This amazing receptivity of the people to powerful gospel preaching did not die out in the century to follow. A fairly compelling example of what we might call ‘revival’, or at least ‘revivalistic, is captured by a description of a powerfully anointed sermon from 1630.

Arthur Fawcett quotes James Robe as saying,

‘The omission of our worthy Forefathers to transmit to posterity a full and circumstantial account of the conversion of 500 by one sermon at the Kirk of Shots in the year 1630…I have heard much complained of and lamented.’ (Arthur Fawcett, The Cambuslang revival, Banner of Truth p.5)

Clearly Scotland, in the generation following the mighty John Knox and the many other ‘Scots Worthies’, was ripe for the gospel. Multitudes were swept into the Kingdom of God and the culture of the nation was definitively shaped by the Bible.

For more on Revival click here

Read the next post, The Pentecostal Power of the Puritan Movement

You can purchase Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope’ here

© 2009 Lex Loizides


4 thoughts on “The Birth of Modern Revival – Puritan Preaching in Scotland

  1. Alastair April 15, 2009 / 7:18 pm

    A fascinating showdown (in Prof. Geddes McGregor’s bio called “The Thundering Scot”) and turning point in the history of the reformation in Scotland, was when Marie (her French spelling, I guess) Queen of Scots arraigned Knox before the land’s nobles (many of whom had fallen under the spell of her charm and beauty). It was over a public letter, generally published by Knox to summons the people to Edinburgh to protest Marie’s attempt to sentence to death 2 citizens who resisted the Mass (banned by parliament)being said in Marie’s palace.In his pamphlet he called the people to prevent the Queen performing an act of “cruelty” by permitting the re-introduction of papalism. When put to the vote twice, the nobles voted unaimously both times that Knox was innocent. She never recovered support after this and was soon deposed.God was so with his humble and fearless servant!

  2. Phil Moore April 16, 2009 / 12:56 pm

    Great comments about the Protestant Reformation in Scotland under John Knox. I hadn’t realised just how widespread and near universal the revival was.
    I have recently been studying Revelation 11:7-13. Its message seems to me to be that God employs a deliberate strategy of allowing the Church to decline, then reviving it, then allowing it to decline, then reviving it, etc. Through this plan He is able to save more people over AD history than He would just through a steady state within the Church.
    This encourages me that God has a great Plan in store for the UK and for Europe – one which will make years of decline the prelude to wonderful revival :-)

  3. Ian C. January 31, 2013 / 5:42 am

    Thank you for the amazing story of the extremely powerful and influential spread of the Protestant Reformation. It truly amazes me to see just how quickly and how completely revolutionary the reformation really was.
    I think your quote about how the people of Scotland were converted “by lump” is truly more accurate than it may seem at first. I was fascinated by how quickly Protestantism spread in Scotland and decided to look up more details on John Knox. It is amazing how Knox and a handful of missionaries could write up and approve a confession of faith in four days, and then in one week, completely abolish the established jurisdiction of the Pope, forbid having mass, and condemn all non-reformation ideas. It is even crazier to realize that these institutions had been established for centuries and could be overturned so quickly.
    This also shows how powerful preaching to the right crowd can be. As Iain Murray states, the desire to learn more definitely played an important role in the quick spread of Protestantism. Furthermore, because there was support for this change both by the nobility and the poor, as stated by Murray, I believe this cooperative effort was a major reason for the longevity of the reformation in Scotland, and not simply a quickly burnt-out mania. The longevity of Scotland’s Protestant Reformation can definitely be seen as 70 years after the beginning of the revival, 500 people were still converted by just one sermon.

  4. Riccardo January 18, 2015 / 9:26 pm

    Great blog! May God keep your heart eager for revival!

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