Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen (1691-1747): Precursor of The Great Awakening Joel Beeke -- By: Cornelis Pronk

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 11:4 (Fall 2002)
Article: Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen (1691-1747): Precursor of The Great Awakening Joel Beeke
Author: Cornelis Pronk


Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen (1691-1747): Precursor of The Great Awakening
Joel Beeke

Cornelis Pronk

Major historical movements, whether religious, political, or social, are the product of a period of fermentation. Spokesmen for these movements often seem to appear suddenly on the scene, but in most cases lesser-known individuals pave the way for great leaders. Thus Martin Luther and the Reformation cannot be understood apart from forerunners like John Wycliffe and Jan Hus. Similarly the Great Awakening, while associated with such great leaders as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, had its precursors. One was Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen, whom Whitefield referred to as “the beginner of the great work.” Who was this relatively unknown harbinger whose ministry made such an impact that many church historians trace the seeds of the revivals of the 1740s to him? Why did Frelinghuysen create so much controversy? What can we learn from him today?

Family And Educational Background

The Frelinghuysen family supported the Reformation from the sixteenth century. Theodorus’s great-grandfather pioneered the Lutheran Reformation in the German village of Ergste. His grandfather introduced the family to the Reformed tradition in 1669; they joined a small Reformed church in nearby Schwerte. His father, Johan Henrich, became pastor of

a newly established German Reformed church in 1683 at Hagen, Westphalia, an area adjacent to the eastern part of the Netherlands. Shortly after Johan was ordained, he married Anna Margaretha Bruggemann, daughter of a Reformed pastor. He baptized their fifth child, Theodorus Jacobus, on November 6, 1692.

God blessed the solid Reformed education Theodorus received at home and school and brought him to conversion. After Theodorus became a communicant member of his father’s congregation at age seventeen, he attended the Reformed gymnasium at Hamm for two years to study philosophy and theology. The faculty at Hamm imbibed the teachings of Johannes Cocceius (1603–1669), a Bremen-born linguist and biblical theologian who taught at Franeker and Leiden, and whose covenant theology emphasized the historical and contextual character of specific ages. Upon completion of his pre-seminary education at Hamm, Theodorus enrolled at the University of Lingen for theological study. The faculty there adhered to the theology of Gisbertus Voetius (1589–1676), a professor at Utrecht who promoted a Reformed blend of knowledge and piety. Voetius represents the mature fruit of the so-called Nadere Reformatie (usually translated as the Dutch Second Reformation)—a primarily seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century movement that paralleled English ...

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