Historical Foundation


Not only were solemn assemblies a common feature of Biblical revivals, but they also played an important role in the life of believers in America’s formative years. The Sprague Collection of Early American Pamphlets at the Weidener Library at Harvard University bears witness to this, boasting a large collection of sermons that were preached on days of fasting and solemn assemblies. In stark contrast to the general decline of true Christianity that characterized twentieth-century America, these assemblies were called frequently and earnestly attended by all believers.

Our forefathers believed that God was offended by sin. They were deeply troubled, both by the existence of sin in their own lives and by the presence of unconfessed corporate sins in the churches and in their nation. They regarded natural calamities as manifestations of God’s displeasure and allowed such events as earthquakes, fires, volcanoes, epidemics, floods, and droughts to prompt them seek God’s face in fasting, prayer, and corporate repentance. They sought the Lord in solemn assemblies, particularly when faced with wars and surges in murders, rapes and other crimes, believing such outbursts of wickedness to be directly correlated with the general decline of moral and spiritual life in the church.

Misuse of the Solemn Assembly

Like any other God-ordained means of grace, the solemn assembly has the potential of being corrupted. The severe denunciations of Isaiah 1:10-15 clearly show God’s contempt for solemn assemblies that have lost their heart and have become mere form and ritual: “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, their incense is an abomination to Me. New moons and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies – I cannot endure iniquity and the Solemn Assembly. I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts. They have become a burden to Me, I am weary of bearing them…”

But we must not think professing American Christians have abandoned the solemn assembly because of its perpetual misuse and abuse. More accurately, by downgrading God to a being scarcely a half inch bigger than man, humans have assumed gigantic proportions in their own eyes. Unschooled in the long history of the Christian church in America, many have become indifferent, feeling at liberty to and indifferent neglect major portions of Scripture. Consequently, the solemn assembly has fallen into oblivion at the hands of a proud people who refuse to acknowledge their own corporate sins – especially those “sins of the heart—” unbelief, arrogance, and rebellion. Such factors have created a nation ripe for destruction.

Getting the Foundation in Place

One’s view of the solemn assembly will be affected to a large degree by his understanding of the righteous judgment of God. As noted above, all Old Testament revivals have been preceded by some form of judgment. It must be understood that these righteous judgments are the result of unconfessed corporate sins. When the people of God sin against Him and do not repent, they incite judgement. While some forms of judgment are final (such as death or destruction), remedial judgement consists of the withdrawal of certain evidence of God’s manifest presence, and merciful favors. In the absence of God’s manifest presence, there is always an immediate and extensive increase in iniquity. This can be likened to the effects on a city when the police force goes on strike. It is the visible manifestation of law and order embodied in policemen, police cars, etc., that keeps crime somewhat restrained. When the police are on strike, if they are known to be corrupt themselves, or when arrests become meaningless because of judges’ laxity, a community must anticipate a tragic increase in crime. In the same way, when God withdraws evidence of His manifest presence from a people, there is always a horrendous increase in iniquity and decline in spirituality.

That there has been a very great increase of immorality, and decrease in true biblical spirituality in America in recent years, is a fact beyond controversy. Why has such a great change taken place? Is it because the devil has grown more powerful, or because God is somehow less able to defend Himself, His people and His church from wickedness today? Certainly not. It is because God has brought remedial judgement to America by withdrawing certain manifestations of His gracious presence and mercy.

As soon as this increase in immorality/spiritual decline becomes evident, the Church that is biblically sound and spiritually alive will not foolishly blame the world, but will recognize its own complicity. The Church must first repent, for the righteous judgment was not against the world but against the Church. Therefore, in times of spiritual declension and moral decadence, it is the firm duty of every Christian to both discover those sins that have caused judgment and to put them away by the method God has chosen— i.e. the solemn assembly. In this setting, corporate sin must be dealt with by corporate repentance, according to divinely ordained methods.

Practical Suggestions

1.   A Solemn Assembly is to be a time when all regular daily work is set aside. This is clearly the instruction given in Leviticus 23:34-36, Numbers 29:35 and Deuteronomy 16:8. While Scripture is certainly in favor of hard work, the Word also makes it absolutely clear that all work must be subjugated to spiritual concerns. Just as man is to labor six days, and six days only, and then rest on the seventh, so also man is to labor in times of spiritual and moral advancement. In times of righteous judgement, however, he is to set aside his usual daily work in order to seek the face of God.

2.   Solemn Assembly is a time when the entire body of people affected by the righteous judgment are required to be in attendance. This is clear in the several passages pertaining to Old Testament revivals noted above, but nowhere more so than in the book of Joel, where even the honeymooners had their honeymoon revoked, and the mother with an infant at her breast was required to be present (Joel 2:16). Part of the corporate sin that must be put away is that spirit of rebellion that exists in many professed Christians that causes them to believe that no spiritual leader can order them about. Such wicked sinners would do well to observe the severity of the denunciations against rebellion and stubbornness recorded in I Samuel 15:23.

3.   A Solemn Assembly is a time of fasting. Rather than wondering about the physical significance of fasting, professed Christians would do well to recognize its immediate spiritual importance. Ordinarily, we realize that the proper care of our bodies is a responsibility we assume before God. But there are issues vastly more important than the care of our bodies. When a believing people undertake a fast, they are acknowledging before God that urgent spiritual concerns take precedence over the normal concerns of the physical. In short, fasting is an outward means of demonstrating inward humility before God, acknowledging the discovery of all sins that have provoked His judgment. The believer who fasts in a solemn assembly demonstrates by their actions that they are putting away these sins, and that doing so in an orderly, corporate manner is of vastly greater consequence than the feeding of the body.

4.   A Solemn Assembly is a time for sacrifice. Numerous Old Testament passages dealing with the Solemn Assembly make clear that solemn assemblies involve some form of sacrifice (see Numbers 10:10 and 15:3). One of the greatest blessings God has given to mankind is the gift of time. What sacrifice could be more significant than the sacrifice of our own time, in order to participate fully in God’s commanded method of reversing a righteous judgment against a church or nation?

5.   A Solemn Assembly is of protracted duration. While most professing Christians may content themselves with hour-long “worship” services, the call to a Solemn Assembly is a call to spend an extended period of time seeking God’s face. In many of the passages where Solemn Assemblies are described, the assembly met for days on end – even for seven or fourteen days. On other occasions, however, it would appear that a full day was sufficient. In 2 Chronicles 7:8-9, it is noted that the feast was observed for seven days and then on the eighth day a Solemn Assembly was observed. It was at this Solemn Assembly that God said, “If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (verse 14). No Solemn Assembly would be worth the name if it did not allow at least an entire day for the great task of humiliation, prayer, repentance and worship.

6.   A Solemn Assembly is a season of earnest prayer. Churches in general allot little time to prayer. Sufficient time may be allotted to present our requests to God, but often precious little time is given corporately for God to present his requests to men. Not only should much time be allocated to prayer at a Solemn Assembly, but ample time should also be devoted to prayer in the preparation leading up to a Solemn Assembly. If the Solemn Assembly is to be held on a Saturday, for example, the people of a church would do well to devote considerable time to prayer, throughout each day in the week, prior to the assembly.

7.   A Solemn Assembly is a mandatory occasion for corporate repentance. In preparation for the people to repent, the catalogue of sins to be corporately confessed and put away should be prepared in advance. Some churches have solicited the involvement of the entire congregation in this catalogue. Various entities within the fellowship are asked to prepare lists the offenses (both against God and man) that they know the church has never corporately repented of. The leaders then review the lists and compile them into a catalogue. The intent is not to manufacture wrongs, but to seriously investigate any matters that may have contributed to the righteous judgment.

8.   A Solemn Assembly includes preaching the Word. It provides the opportunity for Spirit-led, anointed preaching, and for searching the truths of Scripture to deeply touch afresh the lives of God’s people. In Solemn Assemblies where a single day is allocated, it is not uncommon to have at least one or possibly two such sermons preached. These messages should be specifically aimed at the issues of the day, at assisting the people to fulfil their responsibilities, and to grasp the opportunities the day presents.

9.   A Solemn Assembly involves the family unit. It is a most wonderful opportunity for children to see their parents and elders demonstrating Christianity at its deepest corporate levels. Since the entire family is summoned, the youth and older children have the special privilege of being touched by the solemnities of the day. In some churches, outside baby-sitters are hired to look after infants and the smallest children, so that parents can devote their full attention to the work of the day.

10.  A Solemn Assembly is about hearing from God. A solemn assembly opens the way for God to respond to His people at a level He cannot possibly do when they are living in neglect of His Word or in direct violation of His commandments. Historically, God has responded to Solemn Assemblies by sending fresh waves of blessings, both into the personal and corporate lives of believers, and, on some occasions, glorious revivals have even resulted.

(an excerpt from The Solemn Assembly by Richard Owen Roberts)