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Asbury: 200 Years of Revival

Updated: May 30

The Holy Spirit has been moving at Asbury University for much longer than just the last week.

Events taking place at Asbury University in Wilmore, Kentucky are far from isolated. Several notable moves of the Holy Spirit have occurred on Asbury’s campus, including a 6-day revival in 1970.

However, the university’s revival roots go back much further — over two centuries, in fact — to the school’s namesake, Methodist revivalist Francis Asbury (1745–1816).

The Story of Francis Asbury

Francis Asbury’s fascinating story is told on the Asbury University website:

Francis Asbury was born August 20, 1745, in Hamstead Bridge, Staffordshire, England, to Methodist parents. He began preaching at age 18 and traveled to America in 1771. (He was the only Methodist minister to remain in America during the American Revolution.) In 1784 John Wesley called on Asbury and Thomas Coke to establish the Methodist Church in America. Under Asbury’s leadership, the Methodist Church in America grew from 1,200 people to 214,000 members and 700 ordained preachers. Thus Asbury became known as the “Father of American Methodism”. In 1790 Asbury established Bethel Academy in central Kentucky. The Methodist school, the first of its kind west of the Allegheny Mountains, was located three and a half miles south of the present day town of Wilmore, Kentucky. This local connection, the fact that Bethel Academy was founded exactly one hundred years before, and most importantly the theological similarities, led to the Kentucky Holiness College being renamed Asbury College in 1891. Francis Asbury is believed to have preached over 16,000 sermons and traveled over a quarter of a million miles as a circuit-riding evangelist. Asbury died in Spotsylvania, Virginia, and is buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Venue Where Revival Broke Out

The present-day Asbury Revival began when some 30 students remained after chapel last Wednesday to pray and seek the Lord. (Watch the chapel service that launched the Asbury Revival here).

In the days since, thousands of people from across the United States have streamed into the Hughes Auditorium at Asbury University. Some have carried the fire of worship, repentance and radical humility back to their own churches and university campuses, where round-the-clock services have also begun.

Hughes Auditorium, the venue where the revival broke out, is named for John Wesley Hughes (1852–1932), a Methodist revivalist who went on to found Asbury University. Hughes’ purpose in establishing the college was to teach students “to live daily a consecrated, holy life” and “build up the Kingdom of God”.

The Story of John Wesley Hughes

John Wesley Hughes’ biography is also featured on Asbury University’s website:

John Wesley Hughes was born May 16, 1852, in Owen County, Kentucky. He was converted at the age of sixteen in a Methodist revival meeting in an old schoolhouse. Immediately he felt a call to ministry. He received education at Kentucky Wesleyan College in Millersburg, Kentucky, and served as a pastor in the Kentucky Conference of the Methodist Church before pursuing further education at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. On July 28, 1881, Hughes married Mary Wallingford. Under much conviction for a deeper work of grace, Hughes was wholly sanctified at Chaplin, Kentucky, on December 30, 1882, and committed himself to furthering the Wesleyan message of Scriptural holiness. After twelve years as a pastor and one as an evangelist, Hughes felt the Lord leading him to establish a distinctly religious college where students could receive a thorough college education under the direction of a faculty wholly consecrated to God. Hughes stated, “We will endeavor, as a faculty, to do all in our power to lead our students to the Biblical experiences of regeneration and entire sanctification and to live daily a consecrated, holy life with warm hearts and cool heads, always endeavoring to tear down the works of the devil and to build up the Kingdom of God.” The Kentucky Holiness College opened in September 1890 at Wilmore, Kentucky. Feeling that the name seemed pretentious, Hughes changed the name of the school to Asbury College, in honor of Bishop Francis Asbury…

Revival: the Engine of History

The history of nations like the United States of America simply cannot be told without reference to revivals.

Passionate to tell of the profound transformation God has wrought through revivals, Warwick Marsh and I have just released our latest book, Great Southland Revival. In it, we explain the role revivals play in shaping history:

God’s revival fires do more than change the contours of His church. They transform the landscape of entire nations. This is what led Archibald Mackray, a Sydney preacher, to call revivals “those great periodical Religious movements which form the chief landmarks of history”.[i] The 18th-century evangelicals likewise believed that “revival is the engine of history, the most powerful gift of God for… the renovation or reform of human society”.[ii]

The revivals that have changed history persisted for longer than seven days, which is how long the Asbury Revival has lasted so far. The First, Second and Third Great Awakenings each lasted for several years running and saw up to 10 per cent of Britain’s and America’s respective populations swept into the church. The moral tone of these nations was palpably changed as a result.

Even so, what has begun in Asbury has the potential to spread and rival the revivals of old. God is as alive as He has ever been. Gen Z — the generation of students who are leading the Asbury Revival — face a culture far darker than any we have known in living memory. It is the perfect backdrop for a sovereign, mighty and lasting move of God.

Where it ends only history will tell.


[i] Archibald N. Mackray, Revivals of Religion: Their Place and Power in the Christian Church (Sydney: John L. Sheriff, Publisher, 1870), 30.

[ii] Stuart Piggin, Firestorm of the Lord: The History of and Prospects for Revival in the Church and the World (England: Paternoster Press, 2000), 3.


Originally published on The Daily Declaration.

1 comment

1 Comment

Mar 13, 2023

I've been following the recent revival at Asbury so thank you for this extra historical information. May this revival Spirit flow to our Great Southland!

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