Jonathan Edwards, And The Great Awakening -- By: Ezra Hoyt Byington

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 055:217 (Jan 1898)
Article: Jonathan Edwards, And The Great Awakening
Author: Ezra Hoyt Byington

Jonathan Edwards, And The Great Awakening1

Ezra Hoyt Byington

The publication of a new book on the religious life of New England, by Dr. George Leon Walker of Hartford,2 will lead to a fresh study of that section of our history. The third part of this rich and stimulating book is entitled “The Great Awakening and its Sequels.” The materials for this period in the history of New England were already abundant, but Dr. Walker has incorporated in his volume some papers never before published, and has presented some of the facts in a new light.

A high standard of piety was maintained in the Pilgrim and Puritan churches for thirty or forty years. The second generation fell below the standard of the fathers. We have the well-known statement of Thomas Prince, that a little after 1660 there began to appear a decay in the spiritual life of the people; that this decay attracted more attention among devout people during the next ten years, and that it was much more evident in 1680, when but few of the first generation of colonists remained. This state of things led to the calling of the Reforming Synod, which met in 1679. This Synod, after a careful examination of the religious condition of the people, set forth a statement,

which, as we read it now, in the pages of Cotton Mather, is simply appalling. They lamented the neglect of public worship, the desecration of the Sabbath, the lack of family government, the alarming increase of worldliness among the people, accompanied by dishonesty in trade, lying, intemperance, profanity, extravagance, and a general decay of godliness in the land.

The plain dealing of the Synod led to an earnest attempt,, under the lead of the General Court, to secure a return to the better way. The decline of religion was checked for a time, and yet there was no radical and thorough change during the next half-century. There were occasional revivals of religion in the churches. We have an account of a remarkable religious work in Taunton in 1704, and of a number of revivals in Northampton during the ministry of Rev. Solomon Stoddard. The list might easily be extended. But, on the whole, the ministers and churches of New England had departed very far from the ways of the fathers, during the second half of the first century of our history. The Half-way Covenant had brought into the churches large numbers of people who were not, even in their own judgment, converted persons. The doctrine of regeneration was not made prominent in the preaching of that time. The ministers were preaching morality, and the people were becoming more immoral every year. Men were trus...

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