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The Azusa Street Revival (1906-1909) in Los Angeles and the African-American pastor of the Azusa Street Mission, William Seymour, have become iconic symbols of the Pentecostal movement. However, historians and participants in the revival point to a lesser-known Baptist pastor and graduate of Spurgeon’s College, Joseph Smale, who helped prepare Los Angeles for the revival.
The immediate catalyst for the Azusa Street Revival came in the summer of 1905 when Smale, pastor of First Baptist Church of Los Angeles, returned from a visit to Wales. He had attended meetings during the great Welsh Revival, during which entire towns experienced an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Smale witnessed countless people repent of sin and turn toward God, and he prayed for God to do a similar work in Los Angeles.
Smale opened up his church for daily intercessory prayer meetings. Spiritually hungry people came from across Los Angeles and cried out to God for revival – praying specifically for a new “Pentecost.”
The prayer meetings attracted large numbers of people. However, some Baptist leaders opposed the spontaneous character of the prayer. They forced Smale to resign as pastor. He formed a new congregation, The New Testament Church of Los Angeles, which became a hub for people who committed themselves to pray for revival.
In the fall of 1905, Smale preached a series of sermons titled “The Pentecostal Blessing.” He encouraged believers to seek a restoration of the spiritual blessings described in the New Testament. Under Smale’s ministry, countless people developed a great hunger for God and engaged in deep prayer and Bible study.
When William Seymour came to Los Angeles in the spring of 1906 and began encouraging believers to seek biblical spiritual gifts, he found fertile ground for his message. People from varied backgrounds and from numerous churches – including Smale’s church – crowded into the Azusa Street Mission to experience the modern-day Pentecost for which they had been praying.
Historians have long known that Smale’s sermon series, “The Pentecostal Blessing,” played a pivotal role leading up to the Azusa Street Revival. The sermons were a manifesto on the importance of recovering the spiritual life of the early church. They convicted and persuaded many to seek for a greater outpouring of the Holy Spirit. However, it appeared that Smale’s sermons had been lost to history. No copies apparently survived.
Then the unexpected happened. Several years ago, someone bought a copy of Smale’s sermons at a garage sale in Oklahoma. He was not aware of their significance and showed them to Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center director Darrin Rodgers, who immediately discerned their importance. The sermons were deposited at the Heritage Center, where they are safely preserved for posterity.
Importantly, Gospel Publishing House has just republished The Pentecostal Blessing, which was officially released as part of its “Spirit-Empowered Classics” series on Oct. 3, 2017. The book includes a series foreword by noted Azusa Street Revival historian Cecil M. Robeck Jr. and a biographical sketch of Smale by his biographer, British Baptist educator Tim Welch.
The sermons that prepared Los Angeles for the Azusa Street Revival – long thought to be lost – are now available to 21st century readers.
The Oct. 7, 1962, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel includes an article by Stanley Horton about the Azusa Street Revival, which begins by describing Smale’s role in the revival.
Read Stanley Horton’s article, “Pentecostal Explosion: Once the Spirit Fell at Azusa Street the Waves of Pentecostal Power Quickly Spread throughout the Religious World,” on pages 8-9 of the Oct. 7, 1962, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
* “Ecumenicity: False and True,” by Frank M. Boyd
* “Tribes, Tongues, and Triumphs,” by Marion E. Craig
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.