The Great Awakening, which found its beginnings in 1740, was the first event to effectively influence all of the British colonies. In recent years religion had become complacent, and many people were going to church, but not really benefitting from the teachings. Going through the motions and acting like they were gaining something out of it was the main thought of the time. During this time, strong minded evangelists emerged and began preaching with fire-and-brimstone on their tongues; declaring the only way to find salvation was through conversion. This spirited revival became what is known as the Great Awakening. The Great Awakening empowered people to begin thinking on their own, making their own decisions, which brought them closer in relationship with God. The Great Awakening is believed to be one of the reasons the colonists lost favor with the British Empire, and gave rise to the beginnings of the American Revolution. The Great Awakening
The Great Awakening had its beginnings in the American colony of New Jersey. Frelinghuysen and Gilbert Tennent are recognized as the first to organize the Awakening. Frelinghuysen, a Dutch pastor raised in the Dutch reformed churches, began teaching the necessity of deep transformation in the 1720’s. Tennent followed his father when he continued organizing the “log colleges” where many young evangelists received their start in ministry. The works of these two men caused the spark, which ignited the great rivals of the 18th century. In 1734, the Great Awakening continued to spread into the Massachusetts, where a young preacher named Jonathan Edwards pursued it with a passion. Edwards became a well-known pastor, and through his intense sermons the Holy Spirit caused the conversion of many of his followers and non-followers.
Another well-known preacher was a young man named George Whitefield. He arrived in the colonies in 1738, and by 1739 began his powerful preaching. Between 1739 and 1741 he began his most noteworthy and powerful ministry in the Americas. He had a voice that reached thousands, and his sermons led many to rise from their seats weeping and convulsing. Many achievements owe its foundation to the Great Awakening. The Great Awakening made it possible for young men to pursue their life’s quest in the ministry of God. It allowed people to think on their own and make decisions based on their own reasoning causing people to remember the exact time and date they were converted. Another major outcome of the Great Awakening was its profound effect on education.
Many well-known universities, Princeton and Dartmouth for example, came into being through the works of the great evangelists. In the wake of all the good the Great Awakening accomplished, many controversies arose too. Many of the clergy condemned many ministers who were considered unconverted, and this included people of the congregation as well. Many of their differences caused denominations to split, especially when the new age evangelists collided with the old age. The Great Awakening continued to thrive until the onset of the revolution. Baptist and the First Great Awakening
During the Great Awakening the Baptists arrived late, partly because of the New England establishment of churches they belonged to. The two main figures responsible for the Baptist accepting the Great Awakening was Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall. In 1755, the Stearns and Marshall families traveled to the Colony of North Carolina and established the Sandy Creek Baptist Church, which became the mother for some forty additional churches in the region. In 1755, all were committed to the enthusiastically religion of the Separate Baptist, or Go-spellers, with its emotional preaching and religious experience. The Marshalls laid the ground work in ministry, especially when it came to the Native Americans. Following Daniel Marshall’s ordination, many Baptists refused to participate in their ideals because they believed that women were allowed to assemble and conduct public prayer meetings when men were present.
In 1770, a woman by the name of Margret Meuse Clay was among many Baptists arrested and put on trial for unlicensed preaching. While the men were whipped for their guilt, Margret was pardoned when an unknown man paid her fine. Another Baptist group emerging from the Great Awakening was the Regular Baptist. They originated in Charleston, SC, and they were among the social elite. They believed in orderly worship and educated ministry. Both groups believed in experiencing conversion, but their views differed on acceptance. The Separate Baptist believed in enthusiastic outburst, while the Regular Baptist believed this to be confusing, and God disapproved on confusion. The Baptist continued to grow and expand out West where they participated in many revivals growing churches out of mass conversions. Fathers of the Great Awakening
The Great Awakening introduced many evangelists to the scene but it was Theodorus Frelinghuysen, who is credited with starting the Great Awakening. He grabbed the reins and ran, assuming the lead role in the middle colonies. Frelinghuysen was born in 1691 and was the son of a Dutch reformed pastor. He is credited with beginning new congregations in the American colony of New Jersey, and by the mid-1700s, his congregation grew to be the second largest next to the Presbyterian Church. He was a firm believer in institutionalizing school systems, largely for the illiterate and the frontier families.
He was an early advocate of reform within the church, and when he delivered his first sermon in America, he upset a few of his parishioners and a petition was signed seeking his removal from the church. Frelinghuysen stood up to the charges and defeated them. He continued to inspire the religious awakening within the church causing the Great Awakening to explode. Frelinghuysen preached on the basis of emotional experience and a conversion of personal faith. It is not known when Frelinghuysen passed away, but as for the Great Awakening, he is credited for being the instrument of faith that led other reformers in establishing themselves as great evangelists. George Tennent
Born in Ireland in 1703, George Tennent was a key leader in the development of the Great Awakening. He preached on religious conversion based on personal experiences. Tennent, after receiving advice from Frelinghuysen on how conversion saves the soul, made evangelism the centerpiece of his ministry. In the 1730s, he continued his father’s work with the “Log College,” and by doing this, secured many young men into devoting their lives to the work of ministry. In 1735, Tennent met and began traveling with George Whitefield, and they set off on a preaching tour of New England. By the end of 1739, Tennent and Whitefield parted ways but Tennent continued his one-man crusade preaching throughout New Jersey and Maryland.
By the 1740s, Tennent acquired the reputation as being a powerful preacher. Whitefield contacted Tennent again in the late 1740s, and asked him to preach in front of his congregation. This time Tennent was a seasoned minister and atop on his career, so he gladly accepted, and for three months straight he delivered intense sermons, placing so much fear in the minds of the congregation, especially when he spoke of the eternal damnation. Tennent was often ridiculed by church officials, and he gladly responded to them by comparing them to Scribes and Pharisees of the New Testament. Tennent died in 1764, as pastor of the 2nd Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards was one of the most influential evangelists of the early colonial times, his fiery sermons of the 1730s and 1740; still have remarkable influence on the evangelist of today. Edwards was born into a deeply religious family in the year 1703, and his family background is one of great importance. His grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, was a stern fire-and-brimstone type evangelist. In 1677, Stoddard founded a congregation that was eager to listen to his words and moved the church into a different direction. He extended the scope regarding infant baptism, and began allowing anyone to partake in the Lord’s Supper regardless of their faith. Solomon Stoddard had a great influence on his grandson that would last his entire life.
Edwards, in his essay “Personal Narrative,” traced his religious background to when he was nine or ten years old. During this time, he became very concerned with the soul’s salvation. This concern allowed him to seek solitude where he prayed and meditated and sought the company of other boys who had the same likeness he had. In 1716, at the age of thirteen, his interest, for religion grew, and he was accepted to the Collegiate College of Connecticut. His classes were very challenging, but in 1720 he graduated. The following years were very troubling for Edwards, and he began keeping a diary of his everyday life. In 1723, he made a notation describing his feeling toward his walk with God. He felt he was not living as a born-again Christian, and decided to rededicate his life to God. In 1729, Solomon Stoddard passed away, and Edwards inherited his congregation, but the church had strong ties with Stoddard, and Edwards found himself in a spiritually declining church.
He decided to redirect the spiritual interest of the church, and found himself criticizing his grandfather, which led to his removal. By the 1730s, Edwards career was in full swing. He found his calling through the gospels, and he set off devoting himself to awakening North Hampton to its true spiritual origin. Edwards delivered such powerful sermons such as “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” which emotionally impaired the congregation, raising them from their seats and crying hysterically. In a sermon describing eternal damnation, many people contemplated suicide rather than facing their own sin. Within a few years, the results of his devotion would permanently change America’s religious history. Edwards began hearing about the teachings of George Whitefield, and in 1740 invited him to North Hampton. When Whitefield met Edwards, he described him as weak in the body but spiritually sound.
Edwards did not believe Whitefield would be accepted, but during his first sermon, which described the town’s feelings, the entire congregation wept including Edwards. Following Whitefield’s departure, Edwards saw a profound change in the town’s attitude and wrote Whitefield telling him of this transformation. Edwards saw intense conversions from people, who used to struggle with the Spirit of God, but through their faith found peace with God. In 1751, Edwards took a position in Stockdale as a missionary to the Mohawk Indian Tribe. Though he was met with numerous attacks, he succeeded in his duties, and the Indian School stabilized under his leadership.
During the final years of the 1740s, Edwards began focusing on the doctrine of original sin, which his views caused great discernment with fellow New England clergymen. In his book, “Freedom of the Will,” he commented on the evil men do, but they also do good. Edward’s views on sin were greatly expressed when he compared a man’s sinful heart with removing a candle from a lighted room. Jonathan Edwards died on March 22, 1758, following a vaccination for small pox. He last words were, “Trust in God, and Ye need not fear”(Gura).
George Whitefield was a charismatic preacher, who began touring the American colonies in 1740. His sermons attracted huge crowds, leaving no space for people to sit down. He was the founder of the emotional revival tradition that changed the course of the religious history in the United States. George Whitefield was born in Gloucester, England in the year 1714, and by the time he graduated college he was ordained a deacon with the Church of England. He was closely associated with John and Charles Wesley and became very passionate of their missions in the colony of Georgia, but when the Wesley’s left the colonies, Whitefield vowed nothing was going to keep him from doing God’s work in the colonies, so he left England on the first of several trips to the American colonies. After a year-long absence, he returned to England and was ordained a priest, which would give him more prestige when he returned to Georgia.
Trouble began for Whitefield when the Bishop of England, Edmund Gibson, began criticizing him for his beliefs in Divine Guidance and his judgment of others. Whitefield responded to these charges by denouncing the Anglican Clerics as lazy and pleasure-seeking. Following the attacks by Gibson, Whitefield traveled back to the colonies and began his most successful evangelical tour. He traveled up and down the east coast, and everywhere he went large crowds followed, and his reputation as a God sent messenger preceded him. In 1740, one of his biggest followers, Jonathan Edwards, wrote him a letter inviting him to North Hampton to speak to its citizens. Whitefield’s sermons were so passionate the townspeople began weeping in their seats. Following his departure, Edwards saw a dramatic change occur within his congregation and wrote a letter to Whitefield telling him of the transformation.
Between the years of 1739 and 1741, Whitefield’s sermons began a powerful movement known as the Great Awakening, and several denominations cooperated with his teachings, except for his own Anglican colleagues. During this time, he began publishing several journals attacking those closest to him. In 1741, he attacked Wesley by publishing a journal criticizing the Arminianism manifest in John Wesley’s sermon “Free Grace.” Even though he criticized John Wesley, they maintained a close friendship.
Whitefield continued in his revival, and thousands came from the British Isles and American colonies to hear his fiery sermons. He was a supporter of many charitable causes, and in 1740, he established an orphanage in Savannah, GA and a school for African-Americans; in doing this he hoped to awaken all of Christendom to a great and sweeping Christian revival. George Whitefield died of heart failure following an open-air sermon on September 30, 1770. Conclusion
The First Great Awakening did more than just cause people to fall into the church aisles or prompt them to coming forward to an alter call. It filled evangelicalism with a strong social and missionary impulse. It brought an end to the Puritan conception of society as a beneficial union of ecclesiastical and public life. The leaders called for purity in the churches, even if it meant destroying the close union of church and state.
The Great Awakening brought increase in church membership, and created a more democratic spirit within the townships and communities. It took on various humanitarian duties as well. It helped in the development of numerous colleges such as, Princeton and Dartmouth Universities. It preserved the relationship between the American colonies and the Native Americans. The Great Awakening will be one of the biggest turning points in American history, and be felt for generations to come.