Notable Christians: Leonard Ravenhill

Some of the great saints of recent times need to be spiritually bathed in more than merely written about. Reading their books and hearing their sermons is often far superior to just reading a written report about them. This is certainly true about the great Leonard Ravenhill. He was known especially for three things: a life of prayer, the work of evangelism, and a passion for revival.

The only full length biography of him that I am aware of is the 600-page volume by Mack Tomlinson, In Light of Eternity, The Life of Leonard Ravenhill (Free Grace Press, 2010). So it is from this volume that I draw much of my material.

Image of In Light of Eternity, The Life of Leonard Ravenhill
In Light of Eternity, The Life of Leonard Ravenhill by Tomlinson, Mack (Author) Amazon logo

He was born in Yorkshire, England in June 1907, and was influenced by his godly mother and grandmother, and later by his father who was eventually converted when Leonard was just five. It was sometime in 1907 when he was 14 that he himself was soundly converted.

Early on he became active in street evangelism, and he spent round nine months from 1930 to 1931 at a ministry training school, Cliff College near Sheffield. That was the only formal theological training he had. In 1937 he was ordained as a Methodist preacher.

His real passion was evangelism and he saw many conversions during almost three decades of ministry in the UK, as well as many churches planted. He married an Irish woman, Martha, in 1939, and had three sons. In 1951 he went to Chicago to preach at A. W. Tozer’s church.

He nearly died when a fire broke out in his hotel there, and a three story fall meant he suffered pain for most of the rest of his life. While recovering in hospital for months he especially learned that “Prayer is preoccupation with our needs. Praise is preoccupation with our blessings. Worship is preoccupation with God himself.”

In 1958 the Ravenhill family moved to the US. He preached, evangelised and ministered throughout America, and also did many overseas ministry trips, including Australia and New Zealand in 1960-61. They lived in Minneapolis for six years, then New York for a few years.

His last two decades was spent in Texas, where he lived near and ministered to a number of Christian leaders, ministries, and movers and shakers, including Keith Green, Agape Force, Teen Challenge, David Wilkerson, the Second Chapter of Acts, Winkey Pratney and many others.

After preaching, teaching and praying for revival for more than seventy years, he passed away on November 27, 1994.

He had a huge impact on so many Christian leaders, including Green, David Wilkerson, Michael L. Brown, Charles Stanley, Paul Washer, and Ravi Zacharias. Ravi said this about the man: “Ravenhill’s writing, more than any other single influence during my Bible college years, shaped my thinking about prayer, preaching and the importance of getting near to God.”

He was very close to other great preachers like Vance Havner, and was especially in a mutually, spiritually powerful relationship with A W Tozer, until he died in 1963. Tozer said this about the man:

Those who know of Leonard Ravenhill recognize in him the religious specialist, the man sent from God to battle the priests of Baal on their own mountain top, to shame the careless priest at the altar, to face the false prophet, and to warn the people who are being led astray by him. Such a man as this is not an easy companion. He insists on being a Christian all the time and everywhere. That marks him out as different. Why do we have men of such fiery swords as Ravenhill? They are sick inside when they see the children of heaven acting like the sons of earth. To such men as these, the church owes a debt too heavy to pay.

He loved and collected books, with over 3000 volumes. He especially relished biographies, autobiographies, hymnals, and all the great classic Christian writings, whether of Baxter, Brainerd, Gurnall, Pink, Chadwick, Owen, Edwards, Tozer and Packer. Commentaries, theology, and Christian history were all parts of his staple diet.

He was known as a man of prayer, and it was common for him to pray as much as four, six or eight hours a day! Deep, sustained and soul-agonising prayer was the key to his life and ministry. His view was, “Little prayer – little power; more prayer – more power; much prayer – much power.”

He was an anointed and powerful preacher, who emphasised repentance, holiness, revival and evangelism. Because of his uncompromising and no-nonsense messages, he often offended his audiences, and many times he was never invited back for a second time. One woman called him arrogant and unanointed for saying that missionary candidates without a prayer life should not go to the mission field!

He was of course not perfect, and he could at times be overly harsh and critical of others. But he was one of the greatest men of God we had last century, and not many people come close to this spiritual giant. All up he wrote seven books and compiled an eighth. They are:

-Why Revival Tarries (1959)
-A Treasury of Prayer (writings of E. M. Bounds, edited by Ravenhill – 1961)
-Meat for Men (1961)
-Revival Praying (1962)
-Tried & Transfigured (1963)
-Sodom Had No Bible (1971)
-America is Too Young to Die (1979)
-Revival God’s Way (1983)

Says Tomlinson, Ravenhill was “a better preacher than a writer” while Tozer was “a better writer than a preacher”. Various editions of his books are still available, and many of his audio sermons (and even a few videos) can also be found online.

Let me finish by offering a few quotes from this champion of the faith (and there are just so many to choose from):

“Many pastors criticize me for taking the Gospel so seriously. But do they really think that on Judgment Day, Christ will chastise me, saying, ‘Leonard, you took me too seriously’?”

“If Jesus had preached the same message that ministers preach today, He would never have been crucified.”

“There is a terrible vacuum in evangelical Christianity today. The missing person in our ranks is the prophet. The man with a terrible earnestness. The man totally otherworldly. The man rejected by other men, even other good men, because they consider him too austere, too severely committed, too negative and unsociable.”

“A popular evangelist reaches your emotions. A true prophet reaches your conscience.”

“Many believers live as if this world were a playground instead of a battleground.”

“The only reason we don’t have revival is because we are willing to live without it!”

“The trouble today is that we have too many dead preachers giving out dead sermons to dead people.”

“I get calls from all over the world, everyone wants my anointing and mantle… but nobody wants my sackcloth and ashes.”

“Today’s church wants to be raptured from responsibility.”

“The greatest thing that God can do on earth is to take a sinful man out of this sinful world and make that man holy and put him back into that sinful world and keep him holy.”

“If weak in prayer, we are weak everywhere.”

“How can you pull down strongholds of Satan if you don’t even have the strength to turn off your TV?”

“Nobody stood by Jesus. Maybe nobody will stand by you. It’s a lonely life but it’s a glorious life.”

“You never have to advertise a fire. Everyone comes running when there’s a fire. Likewise, if your church is on fire, you will not have to advertise it. Everyone around will already know it.”

“Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for?”

“A sinning man stops praying, a praying man stops sinning.”

“There’s one thing we need above everything else; it’s something we don’t talk about these days. We need a mighty avalanche of conviction of sin.”

“You can’t say, ‘Christ is all I need,’ until Christ is all you have.”

“God pity us that after years of writing, using mountains of paper and rivers of ink, exhausting flashy terminology about the biggest revival meetings in history, we are still faced with gross corruption in every nation, as well as with the most prayerless church age since Pentecost.”

“The reason we have so many pygmies in our pews is because we have so many puppets in our pulpits.”

“Each of us are as godly as we want to be.”

“The Bible is either absolute or obsolete.”

“One of these days some simple soul will pick up the Book of God, read it, and believe it. Then the rest of us will be embarrassed.”

“The Church used to be a lifeboat rescuing the perishing. Now she is a cruise ship recruiting the promising.”

“My main ambition in life is to be on the devil’s most wanted list.”

“The only people who want to change the gospel are those who are unchanged by it.”

“If Jesus had preached the same message that ministers preach today, He would never have been crucified.”

“Entertainment is the devil’s substitute for joy.”

“Holiness is not a luxury it’s a necessity. If you’re not holy, you’ll never make it to heaven.”

“I’d rather have ten people that want God than 10,000 people who want to play church.”

“Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for?”

[1555 words]

14 Replies to “Notable Christians: Leonard Ravenhill”

  1. Thank you Bill for the reminder of what it means to be truly committed to Christ.
    It seems to me Ravenhill was so severe in his Christian ministry because he was predisposed to the principles espoused in the doctrines of the “sinful nature” and “inherent sin” that we received from the council of Nicea. These are beliefs that come not from scripture, but from the minds of men who were Manichaeans with some Gnosticism mixed in.

    They place so much focus on sin(being naughty) that, like Peter when he began to sink in the water, we take our eyes off of Jesus. This causes the severity, because we only see our failings instead of Jesus’ victory.

    My favorite quote here is “Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for?” A question we should ask ourselves every day of our lives.

    Again thank you,
    And blessings:-}

  2. Sorry Edward but you are not only dead wrong on the sin issue, but you clearly know little about what you just said. Nicea of course only mentioned ‘sin’ once, and that had to do with “the remission [or forgiveness] of sins” which of course is 100% biblical (see Luke 24:47; Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 9:22; and Acts 2:38 for starters).
    The Manichaeans were a diverse and heretical group that claimed matter was evil, among other things – a totally unbiblical position. Gnosticism was even a much broader and more diverse movement, which insisted on special knowledge (gnosis) for salvation, etc.
    None of that has anything to do with the issue of sin, which Scripture everywhere takes fully seriously. No one reading the Bible can escape that truth. Consider just a few texts on the pervasive and entrenched nature of sin in all humanity. Because of indwelling sin (which Christ came to set us free from) we are:
    Luke 5:31-32 spiritually sick
    Luke 15:11-32 rebellious children
    Luke 19:10 lost
    Acts 20:18 in darkness
    Acts 20:18 under the power of Satan
    Rom 6:22 slaves to sin
    2 Cor 4:4-6 spiritually blind
    2 Cor 5:18-19 God’s enemies
    Eph 2:3 objects of wrath
    Eph 2:5 dead
    Eph 4:18 darkened in their understanding
    Eph 4:18 separated from the life of God
    Col 1:13 in the dominion of darkness
    Col 1:21 alienated from God
    Col 1:21 his enemies
    1 Thess 1:9 idol worshippers
    1 Peter 2:10 not a people who had not received mercy
    1 Peter 2:25 sheep going astray
    There is no salvation and there is no Christian life without first beginning with our sinful condition, and the ongoing struggle all believers always have with sin (see Romans 7, eg.). To try to pull sin out of Christianity is to deny the very heart of it. Christ came for sinners, and we are to deal daily with sin in our lives. That is the biblical teaching of holiness and sanctification which is also everywhere taught in Scripture.

  3. What great quotes.
    Thanks for sharing Bill and teaching us about this man.

    God bless you

  4. Good review! Ravenhill’s book “Why Revival Tarries” impacted me deeply and I’d rate it in the top 5 books I’ve ever read. We need men of his calibre today, who call a spade a spade. Paul Washer & Matt Chandler strike me as being Ravenhill-like.

  5. I remember Leonard well as I went to several meetings where Leonard was the guest speaker. He was a cut above the rest.

  6. Oh, don’t we need another like him nowadays? I was convicted by his sermons, and he really is a hero of the faith!

  7. Great quotations from a great preacher. Luckily, there are still some wonderful biblical teachers today in these dark times.

  8. Bill,
    My mistake. Trent was the council I intended to say. But, it was mainly Augustine that developed the notion that man has a sinful nature. From wiki-“According to his contemporary, Jerome, Augustine “established anew the ancient Faith.” In his early years, he was heavily influenced by **Manichaeism** and afterward by the **neo-Platonism of Plotinus**. After his baptism and conversion to Christianity in 387, Augustine developed his own approach to philosophy and theology, accommodating a variety of methods and perspectives. Believing that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom, he helped formulate the **doctrine of original sin** and made seminal contributions to the development of just war theory.”

    His ‘original sin’ theory is not found in scripture. In fact it is rejected by Rom.5:14. According to this verse not all sinned in Adam. And according to vs.12 sin is the result of man being born under death’s power. The preposition eph ho should be translated ‘because of which’. Which refers to death, not Adam several clauses away.

    I did not say sin doesn’t exist. Or even that man does not sin. I said the doctrines of “original sin” and the “sin nature” are not biblical. Rom.2:14. If Gentiles could as Paul says, do by their ‘nature’ what the law required, then they did not have a sin nature. It is as simple as that.

  9. Thanks Ed, but sorry, you seem to be only digging yourself further in a hole with each new comment here. The fact that you could not even distinguish between Nicea and Trent (held a full 1200 years later, and by the Catholics!) shows you really don’t know much about what you are talking about. Indeed, you first said the council of Nicea (now, Trent) introduced the teaching of original sin. Yet now you are claiming it was Augustine. Trent began in 1545, while Augustine died in 430, 1100 years earlier. So which is it!? Or will you just keep making things up as you go along?

    And please, forget about relying on dodgy, secular wiki articles, and just start reading the Bible instead. It will do wonders for your biblical literacy.

    And everything else you say is unfortunately so very wrong and foolish with all due respect. Augustine of course did not invent the idea of original sin: he got it from the Apostle Paul and the rest of scripture. It is one of the most solid and undeniable biblical doctrines we have. Just examine these few passages for starters:

    Genesis 8:21
    Job 15:14-16
    Psalm 14:2-3
    Psalm 51:5, 10
    Psalm 58:3
    Psalm 143:2
    Proverbs 22:15
    Isaiah 64:6
    Jeremiah 17:9
    John 1:13
    John 3:6
    John 5:42
    John 6:44
    John 8:34
    John 15:4-5
    Romans 5:12-21
    1 Corinthians 15:22
    Ephesians 2:1-3
    James 3:2
    1 John 1:8-10
    1 John 5:12

    And the Romans 5 passage is arguably the strongest support text for original sin found anywhere in all of Scripture. Yet incredibly you want to use it to deny it? Romans 5:14 of course says nothing about all NOT sinning in Adam – it says, in context, the exact opposite. Read it for yourself for heaven’s sake! All Paul is saying in v. 14 is that the law did not come until Moses, while death through sin has been going on since day one – since Adam. He nowhere says a thing about it stopping after Moses. His point is the law did not introduce death – sin did, and we all die because we all sin. As v. 18 makes perfectly clear, “just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all”.

    Sorry, but can I suggest you ease up on the comments for a while and actually do some careful Bible reading and study.

  10. Hi Bill: I read a great deal of your writings and find them informative and helpful and encouraging.

    I have been thinking of all that is happening in the world and how we (Christians) will be affected. That’s what John Haller’s message was about today.

    We need to expect that we will be persecuted and be prepared for it. Do you agree?

    We need to be strong in the Lord.

  11. Thanks Roberta. Yes I have long said that believers can expect increasing persecution, just as Jesus and the disciples warned. We are foolish to think we can escape it. And I think things in the West will have to get worse before they get better.

  12. Thank you for sharing the ministry, life and quotes of Leonard Ravenhill with others. He has a signifigant impact on my life and opened me up to seeing godly men from Church history.

  13. Bill, I really appreciate this reply to another person, “Sorry, but can I suggest you ease up on the comments for a while and actually do some careful Bible reading and study.” I have been through seminary, read a lot of books, I understand a lot of arguments and doctrines of church history. I can say a lot of fancy words to describe theological concepts. I am grateful for my education, nonetheless, prayer and Bible reading has increased my Christian life significantly. Thank you Holy Spirit for your mighty work through Ravenhill.

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