The first great awakening is best be described by historians as a religious revival that swept through the American colonies.
This happened between 1730 and 1745. This revival was a part of the wider movement that was taking place in other regions of the world such as in European regions of Scotland Germany and England. A new age of faith was coming up quickly countering the enlightment age.
This was the period that religious faith was being reaffirmed where it mainly meant trusting someone heart instead of the head, this meant feeling were to be more important than thinking.
Biblical revelations were to be the guiding tools for the life of human being to be prosperous. This discouraged use of human reason in solving issue related to faith. The first signs of the awakening were seen as early as 1679 following the sermons delivered by Solomon Staddord in Northampton Massachusetts. Periodic revivals occurred after this period but they were usually dying out due to the strong influence of the enlightment age. Jonathan Edward, William Tennent and his family and George Whitefield played a great role in spreading the word and in bringing revival to this region.
They are noted for the role they played in initiating religious revivals in the colonies as well as establishing the seminaries where the clergymen would be trained. These clergy people were used to convert people bringing them in to Christianity. (Wallis,J 2008 23) William Tennent has been described a the father of the great awakening, the soldier of Christ and the old grayed disciple of Christ are some of the names that he was given to recognize the role he played in reviving Christianity in the American colonies.
He is attributed to the spreading of the fire to many parts of the colony including Ohio and Carolina. He established churches as well as training schools where he trained young men as pastors to help in the spreading of the word. He is accredited for starting the first training camps for the clergy who served in the revival of religion in this part of the world. William stressed on the need for man to seek personal salvation with God, he advocated for the people to repent as they will be convicted of their sins. This made him controversial as the other Presbyterian preachers wanted him to stick to the traditions.
He ignited a fire that was carried by his students far and wide to the regions far away helping in the awakening of religion. (Lambert,F 1999 46) The religious enthusiasm spread from the Presbyterians to the purists and Baptists of New England. The clergy were conducting revival employing the strategies used by William Tennent. Jonathan Edwards delivered powerful sermons which ignited a kind of fire never seen before. In his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” he described how people will be destroyed if they did not turn away from their current state.
He stated clearly through his sermons what awaited those who are sinners. Just like William he played a great role in spreading revival teaching to different areas as well as training young men who did a great job in this course. George Whitefield who came to be known as the great itinerant Traveled far and wide preaching the revival message. He emphasized on the need of living as Christians rather as divided people. His eloquent manner endeared many whom he helped to convert. The English preacher together with other preachers formed a movement whose aim was to reform the Church of England.
He drew very large crowds everywhere he went such that he mostly opted to preach outdoors. (Tracy, J. 1997 145) The great awakening led to conversion of many Americans, this is shown by the number of people who joined the church, and this increased greatly at around this period. The sermons delivered by the preachers were powerful such that they touched many of whom decided to convert. The major effect was the rebellion against the authoritarian rule which was characteristic in the religious field. The charismatic personalities Edwards, Tennent and Whitefield played a great role in delivering the right messages challenging the status quo.
The helped the people to see the light. The necessary reforms were carried out in the church making it more responsive to the salvation needs of the people. The message was not well received by all there are those who wanted thing s to remain the same, they wanted to advance the traditions they questioned the move of the preachers as they condemned the local clergy on the way they conducted the affairs. The great awakening left these preachers sharply polarized as they could not agree with some of the things being propagated by the revival preachers.
The first great awakening left the colonials divided along religious lines. (Heimert, A 1966 68)The Anglicans gained from this movement as its membership increased greatly. This membership was drawn from those people who did not approve the revival excesses. Baptists on the other hand gained from the radical converts. The great portion of believers remained in the Presbyterian and congregational denominations but they were divided along the lines of those who supported the revival and those who were opposed to it, the so called new and the old lights.
New lights represented those who approved the revival while the old lights are those who favored the status quo. The colonial government was not left out too, in the colonies where the main steam churches were supported by the authorities the other churches lobbied for enactment of the laws which would end the favoritism along religious lines. (Kidds,T 2007 104) The great awakening brought changes in the American church changes that lasted for a long period and continue to be felt up to this time.
It is a period when the church became stronger as it gained more members especially those who were converted at around this time.
Wallis,JThe Great Awakening,HarperOne( 2008) Lambert,F.
Inventing the Great Awakening Princeton: Princeton University Press, (1999)
Tracy, J. The Great Awakening: A History of the Revival of Religion in the Time of Edwards and Whitefield,Banner of the Truth (1997) Heimert,
A Religion and the American Mind, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, (1966) Kidds,T.
The Great Awakening:Abrief History with documents,Bedford/St Martins(2007)