Revive Us Again, Lord! Lessons from the 1902 Melbourne Revival…

Melbourne Revival Men 1902


The Great 1902 Melbourne Revival: An Historical Account with Observations Author Unknown.


John McNeil was born in Dingwall on the North East coast of Scotland His family migrated to Australia and settled at Ballarat.

In 1871 John came to Melbourne and obtained a Bachelor of Arts at the university He wanted to study for the ministry but no funds were available so for a while he worked as a steam engine driver at Ballarat.

Next he left for Scotland to do his theological education at the Free Presbyterian College in Edinburgh. On his return to Australia he was appointed to the Jamestown Church in South Australia.

He became dissatisfied with his spiritual life feeling that it paled in comparison with that of the first Christians on the day of Pentecost. He felt that though he had the Holy Spirit, he was not filled by him so he prayed that he might surrender himself more fully that he might be more completely controlled by the Holy Spirit.

He came to believe his talents did not lie in the area of parish ministry but that God had called him to be an evangelist. From then on he conducted missions at Presbyterian churches throughout Australia He was a remarkable man who had a great rapport with ordinary people and a closeness with God

In 1889 he was at the Simpson’s Road Presbyterian Church in Abbotsford doing a stint as an ordinary parish minister but it was hard to confine him to the boundaries of one parish. He heard that lots of people went to Studley Park to have picnics so preached there in the open air over the summer months with over 5000 attending one meeting and he began a prayer meeting with 4 other Presbyterian ministers which went for 2 hours every Saturday afternoon.

They prayed for themselves, their congregations and the colony. They considered that they were living on the wrong side of Pentecost. They were not experiencing the richness of the blessing that the Bible had led them to expect and they prayed for a deeper infilling of the Holy Spirit.

The Band, as they were called, expanded to include ministers of other denominations. They began to pray for what they called “the big revival”. From then on the phrase “the big revival” was often on their lips and the longing for it deep in their hearts. They determined to pray for it no matter how long it took, sometimes spending whole nights in prayer

John McNeil sent a letter to every minister in Victoria inviting them to join the Band in prayer. The result was a day of prayer held on 3 October 1889 in the Temperance Hall in the city with 700 ministers in attendance. Then at a retreat held in March 1891 at Como near Geelong, they decided to hold a convention

It was held that September in Geelong. The theme was Apostolic Christianity. They longed to duplicate in their own lives the power and faith of those early Christians. All those who were seeking a deepening of their spiritual life and a revival of the Church of Christ were invited to be present. It was forerunner of the Keswick Conventions held every Christmas and Easter at Belgrave Heights

In 1894 John McNeil’s book “The Spirit filled life” was published. It was the fruit of his experience of and his thinking about the Holy Spirit In it he spoke of the need for our lives to be filled by the Holy Spirit.

Some of the Charismatic churches believe in a kind of two stage Christianity. First we follow Jesus then if we are particularly close to God, he gives us a second blessing when we are baptised, immersed in the Holy Spirit. This is not the teaching of the New Testament. When we accept Jesus then the Holy Spirit comes to us It is true. However as McNeil explained in his book, that we can get a second and a third and any number of fillings of the Holy Spirit. and these fillings are associated with a greater commitment to Jesus and greater power in serving him.

His book met an evident need and thousands of copies were sold It was published in America, Australia and England and in all these places it was found necessary to put out many extra editions. He died suddenly in a shop where he had gone to pick up a Gladstone bag he had repaired on the 28th August, 1896. He was just 41 years old and burnt out by his strenuous labours for Christ in many parts of the continent.

His funeral was conducted at the graveside in the Melbourne General Cemetery and the minister of Saint Cuthbert’s Rev. David Gordon was of 5 ministers who conducted the service

The members of the band sent a letter of sympathy to Hannah his widow in which they said, “What your husband was to the whole people of Australia, as a man evidently sent from God, who seemed to stand ever in full view of Eternity and was forever engaged in seeking their salvation, we know, at least, in part. They pledged themselves to continue his prayer for “the big revival”.

As well as John McNeil, another Presbyterian James Balfour longed for a renewal of the Church by the Holy Spirit. He was for many years one of the elders at Saint Cuthbert’s. He was a prominent parliamentarian and businessman in the city. In his office in 1883 27 Christians, mostly lay people, had formed the Evangelisation Society of Victoria (Now ESA).

19 years later they invited Reuben A. Torrey, an American minister, to come to Melbourne to conduct a mission. He came here with a song leader called Charles Alexander.  They arrived in Melbourne in April 2, 1902 to conduct a 4 week Mission. [Featured Photo depicts Great Meeting. Men Only. YMCA. Melbourne Exhibition. May 1902.]

The Band, John McNeil had started, was still praying and as well a Mrs Warren had previously begun 30 home prayer meetings which grew to the staggering total of 2,100 meetings attended by 15,000 people.

By the time the missionaries arrived and on the night prior to the first meeting 40,000 people were waiting on God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They held meetings at the Melbourne Town Hall while at the same time Melbourne ministers held missions at 50 centres in the suburbs including one in the Brighton Town Hall.

Every house in each district where the meetings were held was visited twice beforehand. The central meeting in Melbourne grew so large that it had to be moved to be the Exhibition Building. Attendance’s totalled a quarter of a million a week at a time when Melbourne’s population was only a I million. It was a bigger and an even more important event than Federation

Nearly 9000 people became Christians. Whole families were brought to Christ. Many lives were completely changed. The police for sometime after in some areas had very little work to do and as well the Church was renewed. The thing for which the Band had been praying happened. Many were filled with the Holy Spirit. Once things started, Christians greeted each other with the words “The Big Revival has begun, glory be to God.”

We might think it can never happen today but God the Holy Spirit is all powerful. He can do it, if he can find people he can use.

There would seem to be some preconditions…

if we want the Holy Spirit to come in greater power into our lives as individuals and as a church

It cannot happen without prayer. Prayer that God would renew us as individuals.

Before it happens more people will come to Bible Study and more people will meet together in homes and in church for prayer.

It cannot happen in a divided church, in an atmosphere of quarrelling or bickering

without a big effort to mend any relationships that have been broken between ourselves

and other people inside and outside the church

On the day of Pentecost after Peter finished his sermon he said: “Repent and be baptised every one of you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Maybe there is some sin that is cutting you off from him – Pride, selfishness, greed, some action of yours that you know is wrong but you are continuing to do You need to repent and give yourself afresh to Jesus

Our faith can become a thing of the intellect. We do not love him with all our hearts, and will and strength. We are not obeying the commands of Jesus. We are not doing what he wants us to do. You must really want God to fill your hearts, every part of you. You must be willing to surrender yourself utterly to him. And when you do the Holy Spirit will again make the potential of Jesus actual in your heart.

John McNeil drawing on his experience as an engine driver, once said: “Its not so much more of the Spirit that’s wanted, its more room for the Spirit. If I want to drive a long line of loaded trucks up an incline I don’t need more steam for the steam chest but more of the steam chest for the stream.” The Holy Spirit’s power is available. All he needs is more room in your life in which to work.

Research Link:*ignore*%7C*ignore*&fromyyyy=1901&toyyyy=1904&l-title=13&l-word=*ignore*%7C*ignore*&q=R.A.+Torrey



The 1902 Revival in Melbourne.

By Stuart Piggin


Moody never visited Australia, although a petition, inviting him to evangelise Australian cities and signed by 15,381 people, was given to him in 1899, the year of his death. The invitation to Moody, extended by the Australasian Evangelization Society established in 1891, was made the subject of prayer at the Moody Bible Institute. The president of the Institute, Reuben A Torrey, was present at that prayer meeting and he was deeply moved by the call to Australia. In April 1902 he arrived in Melbourne, heralding probably the greatest evangelistic campaign in

Australia’s history prior to the 1959 Billy Graham Crusades.


The Melbourne Mission was preceded by prayer, work, and unity on a staggering level. The evangelical churches drew together in support of the committee of seventy which organised for every house to be visited twice in Melbourne, divided the city suburbs into 50 mission centres with 50 local evangelists preaching in halls and 30 large tents, while in the city, they used the town hall, several theatres, and the 7,000 seat exhibition building. A Melbourne doctor, William Warren, reported: Within a few weeks the Spirit of God laid hold of the Christians, and there was a conscious assurance that the city and its suburbs of nearly five hundred thousand population was going to be moved as never before . . . Whole families were brought to Christ, as well as infidels, publicans, and actresses . . . A policeman averred that since the mission opened in his district, he and his fellow constables had had practically nothing to do. Theatrical managers declared that if the mission continued they would have to close their establishments . . . Do you wonder? God’s people were in earnest, the Holy Spirit was given His way and sway, and believers greeted each other with: ‘The big revival has begun. Glory to God.’


Attendances totaled a quarter of a million each week when the population of the whole of Victoria was only one million. Torrey invited Charles Alexander to accompany him as his singer. Alexander returned to Australia in 1907 and again in 1909 with J Wilbur Chapman when the four months of meetings were characterised as ‘a time of Pentecost for the whole Commonwealth’. In 1912 Chapman and Alexander held yet another campaign.


Behind Dr Warren’s reference to ‘the big revival’ above is a story of one of the most concerted prayer efforts known in Australian evangelical history, as Reuben Torrey himself explained: When Mr Alexander and I reached Australia we found that there was a group of about ten or twelve men who had been praying for years for a great revival in Australia. They had banded together to pray for ‘the big revival,’ as they called it in their prayers, to pray for the revival no matter how long it took. The group was led by the Rev John MacNeil, the author of The Spirit-Filled Life, but he had died before we reached Australia. A second member of the group, Rev. Allan Webb, died the first week of our meetings in Melbourne. He had come to Melbourne to assist in the meetings, and died on his knees in prayer. A third member of the group, even before we had been invited to Australia, had been given a vision of great crowds flocking to the Exposition Hall, people hanging on to the loaded street cars wherever they could; and

when that vision was fulfilled he came a long distance to Melbourne just to see with his own eyes what God had revealed to him before.


We also found that a lady in Melbourne had read a book on Prayer and had been very deeply impressed by one short sentence in the book, ‘pray through,’ and that she had organised prayer-meetings all over the city before we reached the place; indeed, we found when we reached Melbourne that there were 1,700 neighbourhood prayer-meetings being held every week in Melbourne. . . In the four weeks, 8,642 persons made a definite profession of having accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour. . . The report of what God had done in Melbourne spread not only all over Australia, but to India, and England and Scotland and Ireland, and resulted in a wonderful work of God, . . . the outcome of the prayer-meetings held in Chicago, and of the prayers of the little group of men in Australia.

From: “Evangelical Christianity in Australia” Stuart Piggin (Oxford)


The Great Melbourne Mission

Posted by Jason Harris on 1 April, 2008in Australian History| 1 Comment

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Revival in Australia

Revival in Australia, Part Two
By Jason Harris

It was in April of 1902 that R. A. Torrey, the well known Bible teacher and successor to D. L. Moody in Chicago, held his great Melbourne Mission. The churches of Melbourne had been a long time in preparing for the meetings. Their organisation was so strong and their preparation so thorough that every house in Melbourne had been visited twice! The city was divided into fifty sections, each division having it’s own meeting place set up with an Australian evangelist assigned to preach in that meeting. The main meetings downtown were held at first in the Melbourne Town Hall, but after a short time were moved to the great Exhibition Building which could seat 7,000 people.

The schedule was intense with up to four meetings a day being held at the main Exhibition Building throughout the campaign. Charles Alexander, who was personally selected by Dr. Torrey to organise the music for the campaign, led a choir of over 1,200 voices each evening. Alexander would sometimes arrive at the Exhibition Building two hours before the evening service only to find a large congregation waiting for him and eager to sing. He would immediately launch an impromptu song service which would continue until the service began two hours later. (A Romance of Song & Soul Winning, 53)

One man described what the Lord was doing in Melbourne. “Whole families were brought to Christ, as well as infidels, publicans, and actresses. … A policeman averred that since the mission opened in his district, he and his fellow constables had had practically nothing to do. Theatrical managers declared that if the mission continued they would have to close their establishments.” (Spirit of a Nation, 60)

As you might guess, such meetings were preceded by much prayer. Dr. Torrey described the prayer that led up to the meetings: “When Mr Alexander and I reached Australia we found that there was a group of about ten or twelve men who had been praying for years for a great revival in Australia. … We also found that a lady in Melbourne had read a book on Prayer and had been very deeply impressed by one short sentence in the book, ‘pray through,’ and that she had organised prayer-meetings all over the city before we reached the place; indeed, we found when we reached Melbourne that there were 1,700 neighbourhood prayer meetings being held every week in Melbourne.” (Spirit, 60-61)

God worked mightily in the city of Melbourne and by the time the great Melbourne Mission came to a close on 10 May, the weekly attendance was at a quarter of a million people. The population of the entire state of Victoria was only one million at this time. Dr. Torrey reported that 8,642 definite professions of faith had been made throughout the campaign (R. A. Torrey, Apostle of Certainty, 144).

There are those who suggest that it can’t happen in Australia. But it has happened in Australia. May we be stirred with that revival spirit that drives believers to submit wholly and passionately to the work of God in their lives so that God Himself will be lifted up once again in our nation. Do it again, Lord. Please. Do it again.

Revival In Melbourne!!


Over 100 years ago Revival came to Melbourne

10,000 a night at the Royal Exhibition Building May 1902

Did You Know There Was A Revival In Melbourne 100 Years Ago?

In 1898 a petition with 15,300 signatures was sent to D.L.Moody in USA asking him to come and lead a crusade. He died before he could come, but in 1902, R.A. Torrey came and led a crusade at the Exhibition Building. With the population of Melbourne then 500,000, over 250,000 people came every week!
8000 people came to Christ!

The Secret

All the Evangelical Churches in Melbourne were working together.
They held 1700 weekly prayer groups across Melbourne!
They appointed 45 evangelists to preach in every area of the city.

“The Vital Elements: Unity And Prayer”

From: “Evangelical Christianity in Australia” Stuart Piggin (Oxford)

The Many Revivals In Melbourne

  • 1843
  • 1859 Started at Brighton
  • 1879
  • 1902 The Great Revival – with R.A. Torrey and Charles Alexander
  • 1926 Sunshine Revival
  • 1959 Billy Graham Crusade was the largest, most successful evangelistic campaign in human history. 719,000 attended in Melbourne with 26,440 inquirers “More prayer has been made for the Melbourne and Sydney crusades than for any single event in the whole history of the Christian Church” Billy Graham 1958

How Did The Gospel Influence The Shape Of Australian Society?

The answer is TRANSFORMATION. Our secular historians have always said ‘rubbish’. But in 1988, our bicentennial year, a number of Christian historians demanded that the Christian contribution to Australian history be examined seriously instead of dismissed as negligible.

One such historian has demonstrated that Christianity has made ‘a magnificent and almost dominant’ contribution to the shaping of Australian society. He argues that the ‘reform of a convict colony was a social miracle, the product of the evangelical gospel’ and that universal education, trade unionism, and federation were all ‘at heart evangelical achievements’. Yet another speaks of the transforming power of the cross on a society ‘where the convict stain was dyed deep’, achieved not only through the preaching of the Gospel, but through the many institutions established by Christians such as Mechanics Institutes, savings banks, libraries, and temperance and benevolent societies. Yet a third historian, a Presbyterian from Scotland, disturbed by the absence of studies of the impact of vital Christianity on Australia’s development, conducted his own enquiries and came up with an interesting list of institutions on which Christian influence was critical: schools, newspapers (‘an honest press’), the fight against monopolies, and the securing of rights and representation.

Revival in Melbourne in our time? Will you invest in unity & prayer to see it happen?


4 Responses to Revive Us Again, Lord! Lessons from the 1902 Melbourne Revival…

  1. bron says:

    Can The Lord Jesus Christ Creator God Abba save a nation in a day ???

  2. Beth says:

    Yes prayer and unity along with surrendered hearts are what the church needs today.

    My husband attends a Men’s prayer meeting weekly but others attend same group 3 times a week for last 3-4 years praying for revival.

    In Healing Rooms and Frankston Hospital we are praying for God’s presence to transform the city of Frankston

    Also there is a group of ladies from various churches who used to meet in Mt Eliza fortnightly praying for revival – need to move to Frankston next year

    I was impressed with 1700 weekly prayer meetings in the homes

    Help us Lord to unite across the churches on the Mornington Peninsula

  3. Pingback: Prayerhouse – an online map of prayer groups. | Partners In Prayer Australia

  4. Pingback: John MacNeil the Father of Australian Revival |

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