The Great Awakening

The Great Awakening: Documents on the Revival of Religion, 1740-1745

Edited by Richard L. Bushman
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  • Book Info
    The Great Awakening
    Book Description:

    Most twentieth-century Americans fail to appreciate the power of Christian conversion that characterized the eighteenth-century revivals, especially the Great Awakening of the 1740s. The common disdain in this secular age for impassioned religious emotion and language is merely symptomatic of the shift in values that has shunted revivals to the sidelines.The very magnitude of the previous revivals is one indication of their importance. Between 1740 and 1745 literally thousands were converted. From New England to the southern colonies, people of all ages and all ranks of society underwent the New Birth. Virtually every New England congregation was touched. It is safe to say that most of the colonists in the 1740s, if not converted themselves, knew someone who was, or at least heard revival preaching.The Awakening was a critical event in the intellectual and ecclesiastical life of the colonies. The colonists' view of the world placed much importance on conversion. Particularly, Calvinist theology viewed the bestowal of divine grace as the most crucial occurrence in human life. Besides assuring admission to God's presence in the hereafter, divine grace prepared a person for a fullness of life on earth. In the 1740s the colonists, in overwhelming numbers, laid claim to the divine power which their theology offered them. Many experienced the moral transformatoin as promised. In the Awakening the clergy's pleas of half a century came to dramatic fulfillment.Not everyone agreed that God was working in the Awakening. Many believed preachers to be demagogues, stirring up animal spirits. The revival was looked on as an emotional orgy that needlessly disturbed the churches and frustrated the true work of God. But from 1740 to 1745 no other subject received more attention in books and pamphlets.Through the stirring rhetoric of the sermons, theological treatises, and correspondence presented in this collection, readers can vicariously participate in the ecstasy as well as in the rage generated by America's first national revival.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1126-6
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-2)

    The persistence of revivals in the United States, down to our own time, may easily distort our understanding of the Great Awakening of the 1740s. The obvious similarities in eighteenth- and twentieth-century revivals, while somewhat helpful in recovering the past, can be misleading. It is true that in both centuries preachers condemned their audiences for slighting God, warned them of terrible punishments, and urged them to rely on Christ for salvation. In both times hearers experienced intense personal anguish as they confronted their guilt and equally intense exaltation when grace brought relief. It may even be argued that in both...

    (pp. 3-18)

    THE New Light ministry themselves created the picture of the pre-Awakening years which has prevailed down to our time. Thomas Prince, Jr., of Boston, the first historian to compile documents on the revivals, in hisChristian Historyof 1744 and 1745 described the previous seventy years as a time of religious declension. Like Cotton Mather before him and Perry Miller afterwards, Prince believed that piety had deteriorated as the saintly men of the first generation passed from the scene. The people continued to go through the motions of religion without partaking of its power and joy. Admonitions from the clergy...

    (pp. 19-65)

    THE Great Awakening began in earnest with the tour of George Whitefield (1714–1770) through the colonies in 1740 and 1741. Whitefield (pronounced Whitfield) was not an unknown when he arrived in America. Although a young man who had only taken his degree at Oxford in 1736, he was already widely admired in England for his eloquent preaching of the new birth and also deeply resented for his abuse of less fervent ministers. At Oxford he had undergone conversion himself and became closely associated with the Wesleys, Charles and John, and the budding Methodist movement. At their instigation he spent...

    (pp. 66-84)

    AT the heart of the Awakening was the new birth. It was the culmination of the revival preacher’s efforts, the point toward which he drove his listeners, the moment of release for those awakened to the terrors of the Lord. Not narrowly religious by any means, conversion released deep psychological and social forces which understandably affected colonial life at many levels. The disturbances in the churches, the theological controversies in the press, and spates of social turmoil all followed from the vision of life opened in conversion.

    The Spiritual Travels of Nathan Cole (b. 1711), the guileless autobiography of a...

    (pp. 85-108)

    WELL before the Awakening, Gilbert Tennent and the other Log College graduates were discontented with the dominant faction in the Synod of Philadelphia. Looking to Scotland or Ulster for their models, most of these conservatives valued rigid orthodoxy and a traditional education over piety and spirited preaching. They disparaged the training William Tennent gave his students and resented their intensity and aggressiveness. In a move to exclude Log College men, the synod in 1738 required that all candidates for a preaching license present a degree from Harvard, Yale, or a European university. To prevent Tennent’s men from capturing vacant congregations...

    (pp. 109-132)

    MOST of the Calvinist ministry welcomed Whitefield and the revival in 1740. The Awakening was a fulfillment of their hopes for many years past. Especially in New England few dared speak against him for some months. The Anglicans were the first to object. They knew Whitefield’s reputation among the English clergy and they disliked his cavalier disregard for Church conventions. He slighted the ecclesiastical differences between Anglicans and dissenters, which Churchmen stressed in their competition with Presbyterians and Congregationalists, and instead concentrated entirely on the new birth. Joining the Anglican clergy in this hostility were Gilbert Tennent’s enemies among the...

    (pp. 133-172)

    A FEW ministers had grown dissatisfied with traditional Calvinism well before the Awakening stirred up controversy about the way to salvation. In the 1730s Robert Breck, a young man suspected of Arminian leanings, offered himself as a candidate for a pulpit in Springfield, Massachusetts. Jonathan Edwards and other Connecticut Valley clergymen did all in their power to block his ordination, but a number of prominent ministers, unabashed by Breck’s dilution of Calvinism, supported him and thus implicitly sustained his beliefs. In these same years Jonathan Parsons of Lyme frankly confessed to being an Arminian. More commonly, ministers who had never...

    (pp. 173-174)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 175-175)