Theodore Frelinghuysen, a Dutch reformed Pietist, began to see revival signs of conversions following his ministry in New Jersey in The fire leapt over to the Baptists of Pennsylvania and Virginia before the extraordinary awakening that began in Northampton, Massachusetts, under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards in December Family government did too much fail in the town. Then, two well-known young people died untimely deaths in the spring of This had a remarkable sobering effect on the whole town and people began to ask questions about the meaning of life, life after death, eternity and other spiritual matters.
In tandem with this, the small and ineffective church was praying for God to move, calling out to God for the souls of their neighbours. In the next six months of the 1, population were converted. Revival had come. There was scarcely a single person in the town, either old or young, that was left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world …The town seemed to be full of the presence of God…it never was so full of love and full of joy.
God was served in the beauty of holiness.
In New England alone ten percent of the total population of , were added to the churches between and Total converts to Christianity reached 50, out of a total of , colonists in New England. The increase of Baptist churches in the last half of the century, was still more wonderful, rising from 9 to upwards of in number, with a total of thirty thousand members.
There was a similar growth in the Presbyterian and other churches. Nine Christian university colleges were established in the colonies. This bibliography primarily catalogues texts associated with the First Great Awakening. Edwards recounted the religious excitement and conversion of his congregants in a personal letter that he eventually expanded for publication in London, which provided a template of successful, community-wide religious revival for English preachers, such as John Wesley and George Whitefield. Both became famous for preaching in the open air, where crowds numbering in the thousands would come to hear them speak.
Many of the converts in those crowds experienced the emotional roller coaster of the new birth and sanctification by the Holy Spirit physiologically; these new believers moaned, shrieked, and shook their limbs uncontrollably. Social groups at the margins of colonial religious culture, including youth, women, impoverished families, and people of color, embraced this form of Christianity, in which they could participate with fewer restrictions.
Critics of the revivals, commonly known as Old Lights, verbally attacked supporters of the revivals, or New Lights, for these emotional excesses. The most radical revivalists—men like James Davenport and Andrew Croswell—justified their defiance of social and religious conventions by appealing to the Holy Spirit, claiming that it caused and, therefore, excused the unusual behavior of their congregants.
Prominent preachers, such as Edwards and Whitefield, denounced the behavior of Davenport and other radicals, aligning themselves with moderate revivalists, such as Benjamin Colman and Jonathan Dickinson. In response, many radical evangelicals left the coalition of Congregational and Presbyterian churches at the crux of the North American revivals to become Baptists. This schism both marked and, in part, caused the end of the First Great Awakening. The Third Great Awakening began with the — holiness revival and was characterized by the social gospel movement, a push to combat social problems, such as poverty, racism, substance abuse, and crime, with Christian activism.
The Fourth Great Awakening is a period whose dates are still contested. Some scholars, however, have pointed to a sustained period of elevated evangelical conversion rates between and as empirical grounds for identifying beginning and end points for the Fourth Great Awakening. Others have identified the early 20th-century ministries of Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson as an earlier, fifth period of awakening. Although many books addressing one of the four commonly identified Great Awakenings have appeared, relatively few writers have attempted a comprehensive account of the three-hundred-year history of these recurring religious revivals.
Sweet is one of the earliest attempts and predates the lateth-century revivals some have identified as a Fourth Great Awakening. Balmer is a history of evangelicalism, not an account of the Awakenings, but the two topics overlap so frequently that this text is a suitable introduction for the general reader. Hardman approaches the topic biographically.
Blumhofer and Balmer places the American Awakenings in an international context, whereas Taves examines 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century explanations for the physiological and supernatural excesses associated with revival. Ahlstrom, Sydney E. A Religious History of the American People. A comprehensive history of American Christianity that provides a single narrative linking the first three Great Awakenings and situating these periods of revival with respect to other periods and movements in American religious history. In his funeral sermon, Edwards warned that even those in the prime of life could die at any moment.
Unless they were spiritually born again by accepting Jesus in their hearts, he preached, they would surely fall into the eternal fires of hell. Edwards spoke calmly, but intensely, and the young people listened.
Some cried out, wept, and fainted at his words. Soon, Edwards was holding prayer meetings just for the young people of the town. The Christian idea of being born again through a conversion process had its roots in the Protestant Reformation in Europe. The Reformation occurred years before the time of Jonathan Edwards. John Calvin, a Protestant Reformation leader in Switzerland, taught that God had already decided predestined who would go to heaven and who would go to hell.
No one, however, could be sure of his or her fate. Even so, Calvin believed that people might receive signs that God had saved them from eternal damnation. Calvin thought that one such sign was the conversion of a sinner. Calvin believed that it would probably take a lifetime for a person to become converted. Around , some Puritans and others began to preach that a sinner could be converted, born again, and saved from hell in one spiritual moment.
Known as evangelicals, these Puritans emphasized not only sudden conversion, but also a strict reading of the Bible and dramatic preaching as well as moral behavior. In , most American ministers were religious scholars who used reason to instruct their church members.
These Christian awakenings, also called revivals, had taken place before in Europe and America. Evangelical ministers like Jonathan Edwards expected a massive Christian awakening similar to the Protestant Reformation. They thought this revival would start in America and sweep the world. Both scholarly and evangelical ministers believed colonial America in the s was ripe for a spiritual revival.
A majority in many churches remained unconverted.
Jonathan Edwards: Writings from the Great Awakening | Library of America
In the spring and summer of , Jonathan Edwards was leading the Northampton awakening, which was rapidly spreading to other towns. Hundreds from all classes and ages stepped forward to be born again and saved from hell. Edwards wrote a stirring account of the Northampton awakening, which inspired evangelical ministers in both America and England.
Meanwhile, a recent mass migration of Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from Northern Ireland fueled another awakening in the Middle Colonies. Gilbert Tennent, an evangelical Presbyterian minister in New Jersey, had experienced a sudden conversion as a youth on his voyage to America. Soon, hundreds of Presbyterians along with Lutherans, Baptists, and other Protestants were converting to save their souls. Tennent discovered an ironic secret among many Protestant pastors.
- Library of Congress!
- The Great Awakening and the American Revolution.
- Jonathan Edwards Collection | Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library;
He told his listeners to leave these ministers and seek out converted ones. Thus, in the s, two separate awakenings were underway—one in New England and another in the Middle Colonies. But they were not connected, and the South remained untouched by any awakening. Another evangelical, George Whitefield, helped spread the awakening throughout the colonies.
Whitefield grew up in England, the son of an innkeeper. At age 21, he had a conversion experience and joined the emerging evangelical movement. He became an ordained preacher of the Anglican Church, the official church of England. Whitefield revolutionized evangelical preaching in England. He preached to large crowds in open fields and city streets. He delivered sermons without reading them. He moved about the countryside, ignoring the parish boundaries of the Anglican Church.
More than anything else, Whitefield spoke with deep emotion in a loud and riveting voice about the need for sinners to convert to Christ in order to save their souls. His listeners often screamed, rolled on the ground, and fainted when he described burning in hell forever. Whitefield promoted his preaching by putting up posters and placing notices in newspapers in advance of his speaking.
He even had a press agent. In , at age 25, the now famous Whitefield made a well-publicized tour of the American colonies to unify and expand the local awakenings. Benjamin Franklin reported in his newspaper that Whitefield preached to thousands in Philadelphia with stunning effect. Whitefield then traveled to other Middle Colonies and into the South. He preached every day to men and women of all Christian faiths, ages, and classes, even to slaves.
Almost everywhere he went, his emotional sermons about the love of God and the horrors of hell produced hundreds of conversions. He preached to 20, people on Boston Common. In , Whitefield reignited it. The Great Awakening was now occurring throughout most of the colonies. Only the South and frontier areas lagged behind in the religious excitement. Toward the end of his spectacular revival tour of America, Whitefield joined with Gilbert Tennent in criticizing unconverted ministers.
This issue would ultimately undermine the good feeling that Whitefield had brought to the revival. As they traveled about, these New Light preachers often held their meetings in competition with the regular town ministers. James Davenport was probably the most famous enthusiast preacher of this time. He even imitated the agony of Christ on the cross.