Prayer Meeting Promoter

by Bernard R. DeRemer

It all began so inauspiciously. On Sept. 23, 1857, only six showed up for a scheduled prayer meeting. But Jeremiah Lanphier was determined and would not be discouraged; he continued inviting and urging others to attend. Next month "the crowd of praying businessmen had overflowed into a neighboring church. Within a few months 20 noonday meetings convened daily throughout [New York City]."1 Thus began one of the most famous of all such gatherings, the great Fulton Street prayer meetings.

Born at Coxsackie, N.Y., in 1809 (the same year as Abraham Lincoln's birth), Lanphier was long engaged in the New York City mercantile business. He trusted Christ as Savior in 1842 at the Broadway Tabernacle Church.

Burdened to reach the unchurched, he was employed by the Old North Dutch Church, at Fulton and Williams Streets, as a lay missionary. Diligently he distributed tracts, preached, and visited door to door, with special attention to hotels and boarding houses. Realizing the enormous spiritual challenge of the vast urban multitudes, Jeremiah claimed Paul's promise, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil. 4:13).

But he needed reinforcements to reach the perishing thousands, so he started the noon lunch-hour prayer meetings, which were especially for businessmen. The program included singing, prayer, and exhortation. "Any speaker who passed a five-minute time limit would be interrupted by the quiet ringing of a bell."

Soon outside factors were to figure mightily. On Oct. 14, a financial panic gripped the city. It swept over the Northeast, "collapsing an overextended economy into a brief but severe depression." (Some authorities would call it a recession.) The great revival of 1857-58 resulted.

The New York Tribune and its rival, the New York Herald, "issued streams of revival news and editorials. In April, 1858, the Herald released a revival edition,' to report what had become the city's biggest news."

"Within six months, 10,000 businessmen were gathering daily in New York City for prayer and within two years a million converts had been added to American churches. The Fulton Street prayer meeting continues daily to this present day, holidays excepted."2

According to one commentator, "The great revival in the times of Wesley, Whitefield, Edwards, and the Tennants was marked by powerful preaching; the present [1857-58], by believing, earnest prayer."

The 1857-58 outpouring gave new life to revivalism. The "union prayer meetings" of Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists anticipated the city-wide revivals of D. L. Moody and Billy Graham. Prayer brought together black and white Christians, prominent businessmen and lowly laborers. The YMCA "became an institutional channel for revival energies, offering both physical shelter and spiritual direction to urban newcomers."

Strangely, Lanphier later withdrew into such obscurity that the date and place of his death are unknown. Nor can a picture of him be found. But he was a choice, dedicated servant of the Lord, who labored faithfully and fruitfully.

References:

1.  "What Wilt Thou Have Me to Do?" by Margaret Bendroth, in More Than Conquerors, 1992, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; excerpts used by permission.

2. J. Edwin Orr, The Second Evangelical Awakening in Britain, 1949.

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