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Le Réveil

Literally, “The Awakening,” it was an evangelical revival which began in French-speaking Switzerland in the early nineteenth century and spread to France and the Netherlands by 1825. It shook the state churches of Geneva and Vaud, spawned free churches in those two cantons, deeply touched the French and Dutch Reformed communities, and complemented contemporary revivals in the British Isles and the United States. Le Réveil was basically a reaction against the rationalism and materialism which the Enlightenment* had brought to the established churches of the Continent. Its leaders reemphasized historic Reformed doctrines, especially biblical authority, the sovereignty of God, the lost condition of man, justification by faith in Christ, and the necessity of personal conversion.

The revival began as early as 1810 with the formation of a society of “friends” in Geneva which began to study the Scriptures in search of spiritual renewal. A number of outside influences stimulated the awakening, including visits from Scottish evangelicals Robert Haldane* (d. 1842) and Henry Drummond* (d.1860). However, the movement was not a mere reflection of British revivalism, but developed its own distinctive character under the able leadership of César Malan* (d.1864), François Gaussen* (d.1863), and Merle d’Aubigné* (d.1872) in Geneva; Alexandre Vinet* (d.1847) in Vaud; Felix Neff (d.1829), Henri Pyt (d.1835), Adolphe (d.1856) and Frédéric (d.1863) Monod* in France; and Willem Bilderdijk* (d.1831), Isaak da Costa* (d.1860), and Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer (d.1876) in the Netherlands. By the end of the century, Le Réveil had won over a majority of the Venerable Company of Pastors of Geneva, permeated the French Reformed Church, and rejuvenated hundreds of Dutch congregations.