America’s First Great Awakening

Arrayed in Splendor by Gail Vass.jpg

This beautiful water-color painting is courtesy of Gail Vass. She is an award winning artist and a signature member of the Minnesota Water Color Society. She is a Christian who loves God and desires to use her painting to bring glory to Him. If you would like to see more of her paintings, visit her web site at http://www.GladArt.net.

An Outpouring of God’s Power

By Karen Thompson

The series on Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the metal man has come to an end. So it’s time for a palate cleanser to end one topic and prepare for a new. This post is about America’s very First Great Awakening. In fact, it’s the first of a series of palate cleansers regarding America’s First Great Awakening. Christians from all over the world have been praying and believing for God to send a worldwide awakening. People of prayer (or prayer warriors, as some people call them) have been aware that God is about to do something truly extraordinary on the earth. There is an expectation for Him to pour out His power in the earth, making Himself known to every nation through miracles, signs, and wonders. And we are believing for a harvest of souls to come, in numbers we have never seen or known before. Christians are aware of and are talking about the fact that America is on the precipice of another Great Awakening. This has caused me to be curious about the former outpourings of God that took place in America, so I began to study the topic of America’s Great Awakenings. You might ask, “What do the Great Awakenings have to do with end times?” You’ll be surprised to learn how the past Great Awakenings figure into the great end time harvest of souls.

America’s First Great Awakening

Actually, it’s a misnomer to call it “America’s” First Great Awakening, because America, as in the United States, did not yet exist. The First Great Awakening in what would become the United States took place in the early 18th century. Between the 1730s and 1740s, Britain and the 13 British Colonies in America experienced what they referred to as a Great Awakening. It was a time when God poured out His power upon people in spectacular ways. By the thousands, people would assemble to hear the revivalist preachers. Often times, the churches weren’t large enough to hold the thousands that came to the meetings, so they held the services outside in the wide open fields where they could accommodate all the people who came. Massive crowds between 10 to 25 thousand people would assemble for the revival meetings. This took place at a time when the collective population of the 13 colonies in 1730 was only 629,445 and wouldn’t hit one million until 1750!

The Great Awakening took place at a time when the spiritual fire and fervor of the Puritans had grown cold. It was a time when many ministers weren’t even born again. It was common practice for ministers to read their sermons, which were dry and “theologically dense.” They even read their prayers! And as one would expect, church attendance was on a steep decline. Gilbert Tennent, one of the Awakening preachers, laid the problem of the decline of church attendance on the ministers, saying the majority of them were hypocrites, having the form of godliness but not its power. He called them scribes and Pharisees. He wrote a pamphlet about this problem called, “The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.”

Another reason for the decline in church attendance was due to the influence of the Age of Enlightenment. The Age of Enlightenment is defined as being an “intellectual and philosophical movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 18th century.” Traditionally, historians place the age of enlightenment between 1715 and 1789. Important figures of the Enlightenment were men like Beccaria, Diderot, Hume, Kant, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Adam Smith, and Voltaire. Colonial men like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison followed the ideas of the Enlightenment speakers and brought them back to the 13 colonies. There was a lot of good that came from the Age of Enlightenment, but along with the good also came the bad, such as deism (a belief that God existed but He is not interested in mankind personally); and secular humanism (a philosophy that embraces human reason, ethics, social justice, and philosophical naturalism while specifically and intentionally rejecting religious dogma); and atheism (a belief that there is no God).

There were many revivalist preachers during the Great Awakening, but the three most well-known were Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley. Their preaching was truly anointed, but there was something else that caused thousands of people to flock to these meetings. That something was an outpouring of God’s power. When God pours out His power on people, the manifestation of it can be physically expressed in all manner of ways. People would fall out under the power (or as they called it, “faint”). Many would weep, some silently and some rather loudly and uncontrollably. People experienced great joy. Others would tremble and shake physically when the Spirit of God came upon them. Many people experienced visions or trances. The testimonies of the people that experienced these physical manifestations of God’s power in their bodies all testified of a renewed inward change inside them, having greater joy and peace, or a greater love for God and people. People want to be where the presence of God is; that’s what drew thousands of people to these meetings.

The most well-known revivalist preacher attracting the largest crowds was George Whitefield. Commenting on the effects on the community after one of Whitefield’s meetings, Benjamin Franklin said he noticed a “wonderful… change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”

In August 1739, Whitefield left England to begin his preaching tour in the 13 colonies. When word of his meetings began to circulate in the colonies, it created much excitement and anticipation. When news that Whitefield was in the area for a meeting, people abandoned whatever they were doing and went directly to the meeting place. The fervor and excitement of the meetings were intense.

There was a man named Nathan Cole whose life was greatly changed during the Awakening meetings. He kept a journal, “The Spiritual Travels of Nathan Cole,” and filled it with his observations of the revival meetings. It is so descriptive that it gives the reader a keen idea of what the meetings were like. I like how his journal begins, “I was born February 15, 1711 and born again October 1741…”

The following is an excerpt from his journal about when he first heard news that Whitefield was going to be preaching just 12 miles away from his farm. Cole wrote in a fashion that provides the reader with a sense of the breathlessness that he and his wife experienced as they made their way to the meeting.

Nathan Cole’s Recollection of Attending a Whitefield Meeting

Now it pleased God to send Mr. Whitefield into this land; and my hearing of his preaching at Philadelphia, like one of the old apostles, and many thousands flocking to hear him preach the Gospel, and great numbers were converted to Christ; I felt the Spirit of God drawing me by conviction, longed to see and hear him, and wished he would come this way. And I soon heard he was come to New York and the Jerseys and great multitudes flocking after him under great concern for their souls and many converted which brought on my concern more and more hoping soon to see him but next I heard he was at Long Island, then at Boston, and next at Northampton.

Then one morning all of a sudden, about 8 or 9 o’clock there came a messenger and said Mr. Whitefield preached at Hartford and Weathersfield yesterday and is to preach at Middletown this morning [October 23, 1740] at ten of the clock. I was in my field at work. I dropt my tool that I had in my hand and ran home and run through my house and bade my wife get ready quick to go and hear Mr. Whitefield preach at Middletown, and run to my pasture for my horse with all my might fearing that I should be too late to hear him. I brought my horse home and soon mounted and took my wife up and went forward as fast as I thought the horse could bear, and when my horse began to be out of breath, I would get down and put my wife on the saddle and bid her ride as fast as she could and not stop or slack for me except I bad her, and so I would run until I was much out of breath, and then mount my horse again, and so I did several times to favour my horse, we improved every moment to get along as if we were fleeing for our lives, all the while fearing we should be too late to hear the sermon, for we had twelve miles to ride double in little more than an hour and we went round by the upper housen parish.

And when we came within about half a mile of the road that comes down from Hartford Weathersfield and Stepney to Middletown; on high land I saw before me a cloud or fog rising. I first thought it came from the great river [Connecticut River], but as I came nearer the road, I heard a noise something like a low rumbling thunder and presently found it was the noise of horses feet coming down the road and this cloud was a cloud of dust made by the horses’ feet. It arose some rods into the air over the tops of the hills and trees and when I came within about 20 rods of the road, I could see men and horses slipping along in the cloud like shadows, and as I drew nearer it seemed like a steady stream of horses and their riders, scarcely a horse more than his length behind another, all of a lather and foam with sweat, their breath rolling out of their nostrils in the cloud of dust every jump; every horse seemed to go with all his might to carry his rider to hear news from heaven for the saving of souls. It made me tremble to see the sight, how the world was in a struggle. I found a vacancy between two horses to slip in my horse; and my wife said our cloths will be all spoiled see how they look, for they were so covered with dust, that they looked almost all of a color coats, hats, and shirts and horses.

We went down in the stream; I heard no man speak a word all the way three miles but every one pressing forward in great haste and when we got to the old meeting house there was a great multitude; it was said to be 3 or 4,000 of people assembled together. We got off from our horses and shook off the dust, and the ministers were then coming to the meeting house. I turned and looked toward the great river and saw the ferry boats running swift forward and forward bringing over loads of people; the oars rowed nimble and quick, everything men, horses, and boats seemed to be struggling for life; the land and banks over the river looked black with people and horses all along the 12 miles. I saw no man at work in his field, but all seemed to be gone.

When I saw Mr. Whitefield come upon the scaffold he looked almost angelical, a young, slim, slender youth before some thousands of people with a bold undaunted countenance, and my hearing how God was with him everywhere as he came along it solemnized my mind, and put me into a trembling fear before he began to preach; for he looked as if he was clothed with authority from the great God, and a sweet solemn solemnity sat upon his brow. And my hearing him preach gave me a heart wound; by God’s blessing my old foundation was broken up, and I saw that my righteousness would not save me; then I was convinced of the doctrine of election and went right to quarrelling with God about it, because all that I could do would not save me; and he had decreed from eternity who should be saved and who not.

The End

The First Great Awakening took place in both Britain and the 13 colonies primarily between the 1730s and 1740s. During that time, there were many thousands of people that converted to Christianity. In fact, America’s First Great Awakening is also referred to as America’s first youth movement, because the majority of converts were young people!

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