Editor’s Introduction -- By: John H. Armstrong
RAR 4:3 (Summer 1995) p. 9
Between the years 1725 and 1760 a series of local and widespread visitations of God’s Spirit touched the Protestant churches of the American Colonies. Historians refer to this period as The Great Awakening. Some limit the time of this full-scale movement to the years 1735–42, but evidence suggests that the general work came in various movements, both localized and widespread, which cover the course of several decades. There can be no doubt of this—God marvelously added multitudes to the churches, and great spiritual interest came to the fore in these seasons of refreshment.
Historians since the eighteenth century have debated the actual effects and fruit of these effusions. They have concluded differently regarding them, often depending upon their presuppositions regarding revival in general. This was also true in the 1700s. Some theologians opposed the revival for its emotional excesses, while others felt that the normal course of things, developed slowly and gradually over many years, was a healthier and sounder pattern for the church. Others, who gladly embraced the various movements of this time, saw them as the answer for every ill in the church. Some proponents went to extremes in promoting the Spirit’s work.
The first revivals of this era seemed to cluster in one area, the Raritan Valley of New Jersey, and among one group of people, the Dutch Reformed congregations. These churches had been greatly influenced by the preaching of Theodore J. Frelinghuysen. By 1726 the early movement reached its peak when Gilbert Tennent, a Presbyterian in New Brunswick, began to preach in a manner that brought about great conviction, often a mark of such a visitation.
Later, in 1734–35, the revival broke out in Northampton, Massachusetts, under the ministry of the pastor, Jonathan Edwards. Interestingly, Edwards was preaching a series of sermons in the fall of 1734 on the greatest truth of the Protestant Reformation, Justification by faith alone.
Historians may not all agree on details of this period, but
RAR 4:3 (Summer 1995) p. 10
they do agree on this: The one man who linked these various awakenings into a larger movement of God was the British itinerant preacher George Whitefield. Whitefield, who crossed the Atlantic Ocean thirteen times, was a catalyst for the widespread movement of God in the Colonies as well as in Britain.
Whitefield traveled about in the Colonies, calling upon men and women to repent and lay hold of Christ in saving faith. He preached sound doctrinal sermons that breathed life and urged unbelievers to look to Christ alone. God mightily used his labors.
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