THE AZUSA STREET REVIVAL (1906-07)
Compiled by Guido Kuwas
A. Before the Revival
1. Frank Bartleman
William J. Seymour and Frank Bartleman are the two names that are most often
recognized as those who were used to start the Azusa Street Revival. They
were different in many ways, but they were both young men who had an
uncommon desire to know the Lord and see His power restored to the church.
Seymour was the unquestioned leader of the revival, and he had the authority
on earth, but Bartleman was the intercessor who had authority with God.
1904/05: Bartleman began to yearn for more power. A great burden came upon
him to see the kind of revival that he had heard about in Wales, which
changed not only individuals, but entire cities. The more he worked, the
more he travailed in prayer for such a move of God.
In Los Angeles, as well as in many other parts of the world, hearts were
being prepared just like Bartleman's. In God's time they would come together
in the little run-down mission on Azusa Street. Together they were to form a
spark that would one day set nations on fire.
This was one of the unique elements of the Azusa Street Revival it wasn't
just centered around one man. As Paul couldn't be released into his calling
as an apostle until Barnabas came and got him, our own destinies are often
dependent on our humility to seek out those we need to be joined to in His
purposes. Even Jesus submitted Himself to the ministry of John the Baptist
before proceeding with His own calling. The Lord has so composed His plan
that we will all need each other. The more we can humble ourselves to be
joined to others, the more fruit we will ultimately bear.
On the first of May 1904, a glimmer of revival broke out at the Lake Avenue
Methodist Episcopal Church in Pasadena. Intercessors had been praying for
revival to come to Pasadena, and the Lord answered their prayers. Bartleman
visited the church and was deeply touched. The altar full of seeking souls
encouraged his resolve to see the Lord move that way in Los Angeles.
That night he made a prophetic notation in his journal. He began listing the
future dangers that would surely try to sidetrack the great coming revival,
which he believed was already near. He wrote that
revival would pass many churches by because they were satisfied
Ultimate success or failure, he wrote, would depend on their staying humble
enough to seek the grace of God. He felt that if those who were used in the
revival became caught up with a sense of their own importance, this great
spiritual opportunity would be lost.
Bartleman wrote that, "God has always sought a humble people. He can use no
other . . . There is always much need of heart preparation, in humility and
separation, before God can consistently come. The depth of any revival will
be determined exactly by the spirit of repentance that is obtained. In fact,
this is the key to every true revival born of God."
Bartleman then read S.B. Shaw's book, "The Great Revival in Wales," and the
fire in his heart could no longer be contained. Giving up his secular
employment to devote himself full-time to the ministry, he was at the point
where he would either perish or see revival. He hungered so much for it that
he even lost his appetite for food. "Man shall not live by bread alone," he
declared to those who were concerned about him.
In his heart Bartleman had determined that it would be better to die than to
miss the opportunity of a great move of God. He had so abandoned himself to
the Lord that he had nothing to fall back on if God did not move. Since the
calling of Jesus original disciples, such has been the nature of the pillars
upon which He has built His church.
All day long, Bartleman would visit with people, giving them G. Campbell
Morgan's pamphlet on the revival in Wales. The pamphlet deeply moved many
others. Bartleman was able to enlist some of these to pray for a mighty
outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the city. He was becoming so focused that
he even began to wake up in the middle of the night shouting praises to God.
"I was now going day and night, exhorting myself to have faith in God for
mighty things," Bartleman wrote in his journal. "The spirit of revival
consumed me. The spirit of prophecy came upon me strongly also. I seemed to
receive a definite gift of faith for revival. We were evidently in the
beginning of wonderful days to come, and I prophesied continually of a
"Meetings were not just running day and night, but often through the night.
People had an almost uncontrollable passion for the Lord, and it was
continuing to spread. Another Pastor in Los Angeles (Smale) also began to
prophesy of wonderful things to come, including "the speedy return of the
apostolic gifts to the church." People began to feel as if Los Angeles was a
type of Jerusalem, where the Spirit first came to dwell in men. By June
1905, the prayers had changed from praying for another revival like the one
in Wales to praying for "another Pentecost."
On July 3, Bartleman and his prayer partner Boehmer were praying in a hall
in Pasadena when the burden became nearly unbearable. They cried out like
women giving birth. When the burden finally lifted, they just sat for a
while, enjoying the calm that enveloped them. Suddenly the Lord Jesus
revealed Himself, standing between them. They did not dare to move. Love
swept over them and they felt as if a burning fire went through them. As
Bartleman later wrote:
.. . . my whole being seemed to flow down before Him, like wax before the
fire. I lost all consciousness of time or space, being conscious only of His
wonderful presence. I worshipped at His feet. It seemed a veritable Mount of
Transfiguration. I was lost in the pure Spirit. The Lord had said nothing to
us, but only overwhelmed our spirits by His presence. He had come to
strengthen and assure us for His service. We knew now we were workers with
Him, fellow shippers of His sufferings, in the ministry of soul travail.
Real soul travail is just as definite in the spirit as natural human
birth-pangs. The simile is almost perfect in its sameness. No soul is ever
born without this. All true revivals of salvation come this way.
The burden for intercession now so possessed Bartleman that he fasted and
prayed until his wife began to fear for his life. Even so, he could not be
persuaded to stop. He felt as if he were in Gethsemane with the Lord. The
travail of his soul was so intense that he thought he might die before
seeing the answer to his prayers. But still he continued.
Some began to believe that Bartleman was losing his mind. Few could
understand what he was going through. Yet this was the apostolic
intercession that compelled Paul to risk his life; to fast, pray and give
himself to "watchings" (all night prayer); to submit himself to beatings,
stonings or anything else required to advance the gospel. Paul explained to
those concerned about all he was going through: "I do my share on behalf of
His body . . . in filling up that which is lacking in Christ's afflictions"
(Colossians 1:24). These words increasingly came alive to Bartleman.
To the "natural man," such a radical commitment looks foolish, for it is
based on "things of the Spirit" which such a person cannot comprehend.
Selfish people are unable to understand sacrifice. However, Bartleman was
gripped by the challenging words of Jesus, that "whoever wishes to save his
life shall lose it" (Matthew 16:25). And: "Unless a grain of wheat falls
into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it
bears much fruit" (John 12:24). He did not care if he had to die, he now
wanted revival more than he wanted life.
Bartleman then wrote another article that was to stir even more fervor. He
concluded it with a prophecy that was soon to be fulfilled: "Heroes will
arise from the dust of obscure and despised circumstances, whose names will
be emblazoned on heaven's eternal page of fame. The Spirit is brooding over
our land again as at creation's dawn, and the decree of God goes forth: Let
there be light! Brother, sister, if we all believed God, can you realize
what would happen? Many of us here are living for nothing else. A volume of
believing prayer is ascending to the throne night and day. Los Angeles,
Southern California, and the whole continent shall surely find itself before
long in the throes of a mighty revival, by the Spirit and power of God" (Way
of Faith, November 16, 1905).
After a service at the New Testament Church (with pastor Smale) in February
1906, Bartleman and a few others were led to begin praying for the Lord to
pour out His Spirit speedily, "with signs following." They did not have
"tongues" in mind, and later asserted that at the time they had not even
heard or thought of such a thing.
2. William J Seymore
Without question, William J. Seymour was the central figure of the Azusa
street revival and will always be remembered as the vessel chosen of the
Lord to spark the worldwide Pentecost revival. Yet, little that he wrote has
been preserved for posterity.
In 1906 our hero Seymour received an invitation to preach in a black
Nazarene church in Los Angeles pastored by a woman preacher, Reverend Mrs.
Huchinson. When he arrived in Los Angeles in the spring of 1906, Seymour
found a city of some 228,000 which was growing at a rate of 15 percent a
year. Many strange religions and a multiplicity of denominations occupied
the religious attentions of the city. Los Angeles was a melting-pot
metropolis! with large numbers of Mexicans, Chinese, Russians, Greeks
Japanese, Koreans, and Anglo-American inhabitants.
The religious life of the city was dominated by Joseph Smale, whose large
First Baptist Church had been transformed into the, "New Testament Church"
due to the effects of the Welsh revival which were being felt in Los Angeles
at the time. Another important religious influence in the city was Phineas
Bresee, who had founded the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene in 1895 in an
attempt to preserve the teaching of holiness which he felt was dying out in
the Methodist Church, a denomination in which h had served as a leading
minister for some thirty years.
Starting his work at the Peniel Mission in the very poorest section of the
city, Bresee was repeating Wesley's work of a earlier century in England by
ministering to the disinherited of Los Angeles society. His Nazarene
followers were rapidly becoming the largest holiness church in America.
In the black community, a rich social and religious life had developed
during the last years of the century with numbers of Methodist, Baptist, and
holiness churches located in the black community that centered around Bonnie
The theory that forced Seymour out of the Nazarene church was new to
holiness circles in Los Angeles in 1906. Simply stated, it is that one
cannot say that he has been "baptized in the Holy Spirit" without the
"initial evidence" of speaking in tongues (as the church had done on the Day
of Pentecost). This was an offensive and revolutionary teaching, since
practically all Christians claimed to be baptized in the
Spirit--evangelicals at the time of conversion and holiness people at the
time of their "second blessing" or "entire sanctification." The teaching of
a glossolalia-attested Spirit baptism became the centerpiece of Pentecostal
teaching, with Seymour as the apostle of the movement.
Although he had not yet spoken in tongues at the time he was locked out of
the Nazarene church, Seymour did soon thereafter in the Asbury home. Home
prayer meetings soon gave way to front-porch street meetings which drew
hundreds of eager listeners to hear Seymour and his tongue-speaking
followers. Soon the crowds became so large that larger quarters were needed
for the fast-growing group. That?s when they moved to the building in Azusa
B. WHEN THE FIRE FALLS...
1. The Azusa Street Revival
On Sunday morning, April 15, 1906, a black sister from Seymore's front-porch
meetings, attended the service at Smale's New Testament Church and spoke in
tongues. It created a great stir. Almost like the first outpouring of the
Spirit at Pentecost, the people gathered in little companies on the sidewalk
after the service, inquiring what this might mean. The little front-porch
group had been tarrying earnestly for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
On April 9, the Spirit had come at the front-porch meetings in a way similar
to the original Day of Pentecost. When Bartleman heard of it that Sunday
morning, he immediately went to these meetings, where he found God mightily
at work. He later wrote of that day:
"We had been praying for many months for victory. Jesus was now "showing
Himself alive" again to many. The pioneers had broken through for the
multitude to follow."
There was a general spirit of humility manifested in the meeting. They were
taken up with God. Evidently the Lord had found the little company at last,
outside as always, through whom He could have His way. God had not chosen an
established mission where this could be done. They were in the hands of men;
the Spirit could not work. Others far more pretentious had failed. That
which man esteems had been passed by once more, and the Spirit born again in
a humble "stable" outside ecclesiastical establishments.
Like most of the great moves of God in history, when the Pentecostal revival
began very few understood the true significance of what was happening few
even of those who had been used to prophesy its coming. It did not start as
a mass movement, but as a little prayer meeting.
This points to part of the wonder and awe of being a Christian. When you are
relating to Almighty God, the One who created the world with a word,
anything He decides to breathe upon can have consequences far beyond any
human comprehension. Because He is God, He can take the most humble prayer
meeting and use it to shake the world. Because He delights in using the
humble, the weak, and even the foolish, the most humble meeting can have
However, the Lord usually does such things only after a time of preparation.
At the Azusa revival He used men and women who, like Frank Bartleman, had
such a passion for the Lord and His purposes that they imparted it to
others. When the fire was finally lit, it quickly jumped all humanly imposed
boundaries and moved beyond human control.
Every pioneer who has been used to ignite great spiritual advances has, at
least at first, appeared as reckless and dangerous to the church he is sent
to awaken. Bartleman and Seymour were no exceptions to this. They simply
wanted God so much that they did not care what anyone else thought about it.
They could not live within the existing limits of their times, so they were
used to push those limits back. This spiritual abandon was used to benefit
multiplied millions who would follow.
Seymore's little prayer meeting had to move from Bonnie Brae Street
("front-porch") to 312 Azusa Street because of the growing number of
visitors. Here they had rented an old frame building, formerly a Methodist
church, in the center of the city but now a long time out of use for
meetings. It had become a receptacle for old lumber, plaster, etc. They had
cleared space enough in the surrounding dirt and debris to lay some planks
on top of empty nail kegs, with seats enough for possibly thirty people.
These were arranged in a square facing one another.
Word spread "like fire in a dry wood" about what had happened at Seymour's
little prayer group. This was probably caused by the remarkable ministry of
Frank Bartleman, who had written a stream of articles and tracts, and
constantly moved about the city exhorting churches and prayer groups to seek
the Lord for a revival. He longed to see the Lord do in Los Angeles what He
had recently done in Wales. After a time, Bartleman began to sense that what
was to come to Los Angeles would be different from what was happening in
Wales, and began to boldly prophesy the coming of "another Pentecost."
Bartleman's zeal for the Lord at this time was so great that his wife and
friends began to fear for his life. He missed so much sleep and so many
meals in order to pray that they did not think that he could last much
longer. His response to their pleas for moderation was that he would rather
die than not see revival.
2. Where the Spirit Is, There Is Liberty
There is another aspect to Seymour's remarkable leadership at Azusa. It was
his ability to discern and trust the Holy Spirit's leadership, and give Him
the freedom that He requires, if we will know His fulness. In spite of
almost constant pressure from world-renowned church leaders, who came from
around the globe to impose what they perceived to be needed order and
direction on the revival, for over two years Seymour held the course and
allowed the Holy Spirit to move in His own, often mysterious, ways. Like
Evan Roberts, who was at the same time leading the great Welsh Revival,
Seymour's greatest leadership quality was his ability to follow the Holy
Seymour and Roberts both believed that the Holy Spirit required the freedom
to move through whomever He chose, not just the leadership. They both
resolved to allow anyone to be used by the Lord, even the most humble
believers. This sometimes brought embarrassment, but more often it allowed
the Holy Spirit to do marvellous things among them. If we really want the
Holy Spirit in our midst, we must allow Him to be the leader. He is, after