This 133rd episode of CS is titled Awakening.
It’s time again for the Podcast Awards. Voting is only from April 15-30, 2016. The rules are a bit different this year, which I won’t bore you with. But please note if you want to nominate CS, you have to do so no later than April 30th. You can only nominate once and one show per category. CS will be in the Society & Culture category. The only podcasts that will make it to the finals are those who receive enough nominations. Then, once that list is made, regular voting will begin. We did well at year & want to see how we’ll do this year.
So if you want, head over to podcastawards.com and nominate CS in the Society & Culture category. Thanks.
The tide of Pietism that swept portions of Europe in the 17th C, arrived in N America in the 18th. Like the Charismatic Movement of the 1960’s, Protestant denominations were split over how to respond to Pietism. Presbyterians were divided between those who insisted on strict adherence to the teachings of Westminster and those whose emphasis was on having an experience of saving grace. The 2 sides eventually re-united, but not before the contention became so sharp, it led to a rift. That rift reached its zenith, or nadir, might be a better descriptive, during The Great Awakening.
As we saw in our last episode, the Half-Way Covenant of New England churches was the result of the collision of the Pietistic requirement of having a conversion event in the believer’s experience with the Reformed commitment to being a Covenant Community. It came over the tension between the necessity to baptize infants so they could be members of the covenant community, but the recognition that baptism was supposed to mark personal faith subsequent to a believer’s profession of faith in response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, something infants can’t do. The Half-Way Covenant allowed people to be members of the Church, without being saved. And that was a formula for disaster!
The Half-Way Covenant, along with the assault of pseudo-intellectualism infiltrating N America from the European Enlightenment, resulted in a growing spiritual lethargy among the churches of the English colonies. Jonathan Edwards, who became one of the main luminaries of The Great Awakening, remarked before it began that the spiritual condition of New England was abysmal.
The first stirrings of revival began as movements in local churches 5 to 10 years before the Great Awakening. There’d even been some minor revivals in Northampton, during the time of Jonathan Edwards’ grandfather, Solomon Stoddard in the 1720’s.
Theodore Frelinghuysen was a Dutch Reformed pastor who’d come to N America to pastor 4 churches in New Jersey. Frelinghuysen was what’s called a Precisionist. That term is the Dutch equivalent of the English Puritan. Puritanism had been exported to Holland by a minister named William Ames where it was referred to as Precisionism.
Pastor Frelinghuysen discerned a general spiritual malaise in all 4 of his congregations there in NJ; an appalling lack of piety & convictions. So he decided to embark on a program of reform. He started visiting people in their homes. He enforced church discipline and he preached fervent evangelistic sermons. A few opposed these innovations, but he persevered and the churches began to grow with genuine conversions that resulted in a warming up of the entire congregation in their fervency for the things of God. It was the first stirrings of revival, which spread to other Dutch Reformed churches. By 1726, Frelinghuysen was recognized as a leader of revival.
The Presbyterians of NJ saw what was happening among their Dutch neighbors & soon joined the revival under the work of the William & his son Gilbert Tennent.
But when it comes to The Great Awakening, the name most closely associate with it is Jonathan Edwards.
Edwards is considered by many to be one of the most brilliant minds in American history. He wasn’t just a great theologian. He was a top-rank philosopher and scientist. Edwards is sometimes presented as a fiery preacher in the Puritan vein. The popular notion of him is that he was a revivalist-preacher of a mien similar to George Whitefield. His most famous sermon was titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. The title alone gives one the impression of a wild-eyed & crazy-haired pulpit-pounder. But that image is very far from what Jonathan Edwards was really like. He was reserved and tended toward shyness. He was more at home in his study among his books than in the pulpit. Edwards spent 10 hours a day studying. His messages will filled with theology & their delivery was not the kind of fire & brimstone preaching many assume. His style was to virtually read his messages. This is not to say his delivery was wooden; but descriptions of it remarked on the lack of gestures or inflection. Flamboyance was nowhere in sight when Edwards spoke. Edwards trusted in the eloquence & logic of his message to persuade, rather than by affecting a dramatic persona. If there was grandeur in his message, it was due to WHAT he said, rather than in HOW he said it.
Edwards was a PK; a pastor’s kid. His father Timothy was a minister in the town of East Windsor, Connecticut. By the age of 13 he’d master Greek, Hebrew & Latin. He wrote essays on scientific matters and penned one on the behavior of insects that became famous. As a teen, he read and consumed the ideas of Sir Isaac Newton. He graduated from Yale at 17.
It was during his college years that his relationship with God deepened into a rich intimacy. All of that grew out of the time he spent studying the nature & character of God.
Edwards added 2 more years of post-graduate studies then took a pastorate at a small church in New York for only a couple months. That was followed by a stint as a tutor at Yale for 2 years. In 1727, he became an assistant pastor to his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard at Northampton, Mass. It was also at that time that he married Sarah Pierpont.
When Edwards took up his ministry at Northampton in 1727, he found the church to be spiritually dull, even though it had been the scene of some earlier stirrings of the Spirit under Stoddard’s leadership. When Stoddard died in 1729, Edwards stepped into role as senior pastor.
Edwards decided to address the spiritual apathy of the congregation by preaching a series of 5 sermons on justification by faith. He rightly diagnosed the real problem at Northampton wasn’t laziness or moral sloppiness; it was an absence of good theology. Instead of preaching the need of repentance and obedience, he focused on the glory of God in the Gospel of Christ. Sure enough, a season of renewal came as people recommitted themselves to follow Jesus in 1734-5. The messages weren’t calculated to elicit an emotional response, but they did. People responded with a remarkable moral & spiritual change, often with intense emotion.
After several months, the movement spread out thru Mass & swept Connecticut. After 3 years it began to diminish. But the memory of revival endured so strongly, many hoped to see it renewed.
In 1737, Edwards decided to pen a chronicle of what had happened over the previous 3 years. It was titled, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundreds of Souls in Northampton. That’s the title; not the actual text of the whole thing. The Narrative as it’s more conveniently referred to, is what established Jonathan Edwards as the main person associated with Revival.
In 1739, George Whitefield visited New England. Though Edwards & Whitefield represented different flavors of the Faith, they were both deeply committed to the Preaching of the Gospel. Edwards helped arrange Whitefield’s campaign through the area of Boston then on to Northampton where Edwards turned his pulpit over to the great preacher. The winds of renewal that had waned a few years before strengthened once more.
Then Edwards was invited to speak at the church in Enfield, Conn in 1741. His message was titled, Sinners in the Hands of nan Angry God. Reading the text of the sermon today one might assume it was delivered in the ham-fisted, “fire & brimstone” manner of a fanatic. But as we’ve seen, that was not Edward’s style. Nor did he deliver it in the monotone some later reporters suggest. He spoke as a man convinced of his topic; urging his listeners to make sure they’d embraced the Grace of God. The sermon pains a terrifying picture of eternal damnation; something Edwards calculated to make clear. Because as historian George Marsden says, Edwards didn’t preach anything new to his hearers. They well knew the Gospel remedy. The problem was getting them to seek it.
While revival was already building, Edwards’ sermon at that church in Enfield was a crystalizing moment in The Great Awakening. If the coals had been getting hot they now burst into flames that spread all over New England and to the other colonies, and across the Atlantic to settle in England & several other nations of Europe.
As welcome as The Great Awakening might have seemed, some ministers opposed it. Their opposition stemmed from their resistance to the emotionalism that became a mark of the Revival. People wept in repentance then shouted for joy at being saved. Some were so emotionally wrought over the process of their conversion, they fainted. A few who were psychologically fragile exhibited what can only be called bizarre behavior.
Such reactions led the enemies of the Great Awakening to accuse its leaders of undermining the solemnity of worship, and of substituting emotion for scholarship. Since it’s the tendency to stick labels on movements, supporters of the Awakening were called New Lights, while those who opposed it were called Old Lights.
Edwards made clear in his writings that he believed emotion was important. But emotion, including the intense experience of conversion, should never eclipse doctrine and orderly worship.
At first, Baptists opposed the Awakening, labelling it frivolous and superficial. But so many of the new converts were inclined to agree with Baptist positions that they ended up becoming Baptists. When the Baptist saw all these new members, their opinion of the Revival changed. Most notable was the conviction among the new converts that baptism ought to be of those who profess faith in Christ, not infants. Entire Congregationalists & Presbyterian congregations became Baptists.
The Great Awakening sent Baptists & Methodists to the Western frontier. Settlers continually pushed the Frontier westward. It was Methodist and Baptist missionaries who took up the task of preaching to them & planting frontier churches. So those 2 groups became the most numerous out West.
It’s difficult to estimate how many conversions took place during the GA, but gauging by pretty accurate church records taken over that time indicate a conservative number of 10% across the board, and in some communities much higher than that. Keep in mind that that was in the midst of a society that already considered itself thoroughly Christian.
Besides the obvious spiritual effects of the Great Awakening, it had a notable political impact in the British colonies of N America. It was the first movement to include all 13 colonies. A new sense of commonality developed in which the emerging unique identity as Americans, as opposed to British, took root alongside the idea that to be an American meant to be a Christian of Protestant stripe.
The GA propelled a wave of missionary activity. David Brainerd, Jonathan Edwards, and others preached to the Indians, and some effort was made to reach blacks with the gospel. Among the colleges birthed at that time were Princeton, Rutgers, Brown, & Dartmouth. Dartmouth was a trained Indians to serve as missionaries to their own people.
Edwards continued in his role as pastor till 1750 when a controversy saw him removed.
Edwards believed Communion ought to be given only to those church members who’d demonstrated a genuine conversion experience, as per the Pietistic belief. His grand-father, who’d been the previous pastor, had relaxed the traditional Puritan practice and allowed what we’ll call ‘unconverted church members’ to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Stoddard regarded Communion as a “converting experience.” He thought regular attendance at the Lord’s Table would be something the HS could use to bring conviction & salvation to a needy soul. Edwards differed and viewed Communion to be open only to those who were converted; and that of course, meaning they’d known a conversion experience.
Well, by 1750, Edwards had come to a position on all this that departed from the practice of the church at Northampton. When he tried to implement a change in practice, they released him. Yep, they canned him. It was then that he embarked on his mission of taking the Gospel to the Indians at Stockbridge, Mass. It was while engaged in that work that he wrote his most famous work – Freedom of the Will.
I want to share a little story from the life of Jonathan Edwards that may give us some insight into the man. After 14 years of marriage, in Jan, 1742, something happened to his wife Sarah. She had an intense religious experience. Some historians go so far as to call it a nervous breakdown. Edward was away on a preaching tour. His pulpit was being filled by Samuel Buell who gave a series of sermons that had a profound impact on Sarah Edwards. She was overwhelmed to the point of fainting. Her condition was such that she was unable to take care of her children, who were sent to stay with neighbors till John returned a few weeks later.
The town was abuzz with the nature of her condition. Was it some kind of spiritual ecstasy or an emotional breakdown? When John returned, he of course immediately went to her to see what was wrong. She related to him that she’d experienced God’s goodness as never before; even more, as she didn’t even know was possible. She said the joy & security she now had was so intense it was at times debilitating.
John’s reaction was interesting. He affirmed that she’d had a visitation from God. Now – keep in mind that we’re talking here about hard-core, strict Calvinists; not Pentecostals or even the more mild version – Charismatics.
After a few weeks, Sarah recovered & returned to the normal activities of life. But John said from then on Sarah maintained a peace & joy that transformed her. In writing about the effects of the revival, while Edwards doesn’t name his wife, it’s clear some of what he chronicled were things he witnessed in his own wife when she was filled with the Holy Spirit in 1742.
In 1757, Edwards was appointed president of Princeton, known at that time as the College of NJ. A short time later, he volunteered to be a test subject for a small pox vaccine. Which instead of inoculating him against the disease, claimed his life in 1758.
One of my favorite teachers is J. Edwin Orr. When Orr died in 1987, he was recognized by many as the 20th C’s foremost expert on Revival, and spent his last years living just a few miles from where I am now, in CA. My good friend and fellow pastor David Guzik befriended Orr’s widow, who passed many of Dr. Orr’s books, writings, and recordings on to him for posterity’s sake. David has faithfully made that material available online at www.jedwinorr.com.
The eminent NT scholar FF Bruce said, “Some men read history, some write it, and others make it. So far as the history of religious revivals is concerned, J. Edwin Orr belongs to all three categories.”
Orr tells remarkable stories of the impact of revival on society. The many revivals he chronicles don’t merely add a bunch of new church members; they have an astounding impact in moral revolution. Orr shares that during some revivals, because there was no crime, the Police organized singing groups to sing in churches because they had nothing else to do. There were a number of business failures; pubs and other enterprises that thrive on vice folded.
One unforeseen effect during the Welsh Revival was that there was a work stoppage in the coal mines of Wales. For years, the mules that pulled the coal carts were used to hearing the miners curse at them. But when so many miners converted during the Revival, they refused to curse anymore and the mules no longer heard the profane commands telling them to move. Work in the mines stalled till the mules were retrained to respond to the now clean speech of the joyous miners.
If you’re interested in more such interesting stories, I encourage you to head over to the jedwinorr site.
And I want to also encourage you to check our David Guzik’s website at enduringword.com.
David is one of the premier Bible expositors online today. His commentaries are used by many thousands of pastors, professors, Bible teachers & students all over the world.