Revivals are characterised by sinners being mightily convicted by the Holy Spirit and turning towards God in faith and obedience.
There is a huge difference in doctrine between what the revival preachers taught and what most modern evangelicals of the 20th and 21st century teach.
The greatest revival in the history of the world after the days of the apostles was possibly the Methodist revival under John Wesley. This revival utterly transformed England and brought the blessing of God on England, something which lasted for almost a couple of centuries. Thousands of people gathered to hear Wesley preach in the open air, and people shook in their boots with the conviction of sin that God brought. Wesley did more than preach to large gatherings. He organised converts into class meetings – small groups for the purpose of creating accountability and encouragement amongst those who had begun to follow Jesus seriously.
Like so many revivals the Methodist one resulted in a denomination of churches which slowly but steadily departed in many ways from the basic principles of its founding leaders. Nevertheless the churches which exist are one testimony to the power of the movement in the early days.
The Pentecostal revival of Azusa Street went beyond the Wesleyan revival in many ways – restoring to the church the knowledge of the miraculous power of God in the Body of Christ. This revival was led by people like William Seymour and John G. Lake who were rooted in Wesleyan theology and holiness teaching.
When I read the sermons of Wesley many years ago I was shocked. He preached things that are totally out of step with the modern gospel preached today. The central difference is around the issue of sanctification and its vital importance. Wesley believed and preached that "without holiness no one will see the Lord" (in salvation, that is). Modern preachers teach that holiness of heart and life is an optional extra for serious Christians and rarely if ever attained. John Wesley preached that obedience to the Sermon on the Mount was the true way of salvation by faith. If you don't think this is true, just google Wesley's 53 sermons and start reading.
The Character of Much Modern Evangelical Preaching
The general tenor of what is considered to be faithful evangelical preaching goes something like this: "God made the world good, but mankind rebelled against God. Expressions of this rebellion include but are not limited to abortion and sexual sin. You are a sinner, because all have sinned. The wages of sin is death. But God sent his Son into the world to die for us to pay for our sins. He rose again." Thus far everything is true. Now comes the question of what God requires. At this point opinions diverge in many directions. Almost all churches, including even Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, would agree with the statements made above. But different organised churches answer the question of what God requires DIFFERENTLY, and so different church groups arise.
Modern Evangelical preaching also diverges somewhat, but the consensus viewpoint goes something like this: "Christians are those who have accepted Christ as Savior. You just pray a prayer asking Him to come in, and He will. From there, all your sins are forgiven. You are saved. You don't have to be too concerned about what you do after this, because God doesn't impute your future sins to you. But it would be nice if you stayed away from sexual sin like adultery. And we really think you ought to come to church regularly and hear us preach and put your tithes and offerings in the plate. But its not like your salvation depends upon it." Some add: "you should get baptized in water". Concerning sin and sanctification the following thoughts are added: "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven." "We are not under the law (translated meaning: we don't have to obey God to be righteous)". "Jesus paid for all your future sins, and Jesus already obeyed the moral law of God so you don't have to". I could add others, but I think you get the idea.
The Character of Revival Preaching
I challenge you to find such phrases as I just mentioned in the preaching of ANYONE who led a significant awakening movement. When you look at the preaching of those who stirred men and women to change, it was entirely different.
Revival preaching represents God as totally good and righteous, and totally just in giving commandments to his creatures. Revival preaching shows men how sinful and wicked they are (as does some evangelical preaching of the law c.f. teachings of Ray Comfort), but revival preaching goes further by presenting the promises and gifts of God as sufficient for our own personal transformation. Thus under revival preaching we are not "off the hook" if we want to continue on with our pet lusts and sins. Modern evangelical preaching makes people feel they are basically "off the hook" while they go on sinning, and this leads people to live the kind of lives we see in the church today. Some are more or less moral, some are not – but few are characterised by the hungry passion for God and extreme devotion which causes people to give up a year's salary just to anoint the body of Jesus. People are taught to feel safe in sin, as if this was the "Good News" Jesus came to deliver.
I refer you back to the Bible, especially the New Testament, to see which model of the gospel is more faithful to what is written. But please, just for once, put your commentaries aside and deal with what the Bible actually says, not what it is explained away to mean.