The Second Great Awakening: The Watershed Revival -- By: Robert H. Lescelius

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 06:1 (Winter 1997)
Article: The Second Great Awakening: The Watershed Revival
Author: Robert H. Lescelius


The Second Great Awakening: The Watershed Revival

Robert H. Lescelius

The Great Awakening was followed by the Revolutionary War and the founding of the new nation. The young nation found itself in troubled waters economically, internally, politically and internationally. Yet it was also an expanding nation, as the frontier moved west into Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky. The United States was coming of age.

Religiously and philosophically it was a watershed period, for classic Christian and Enlightenment worldviews clashed in mortal combat. A time of general spiritual and moral declension came, to the dismay of many in the church. Then God visited again in mercy. The Second Great Awakening erupted as a deluge of blessing from heaven on the parched earth.

We will look at this season of revival blessings in its historical and worldwide setting, its overall movement in the United States and its immediate and long-term results. Mark Noll calls it “the most influential revival of Christianity in the history of the United States.” 1

Its Context

1) The Historical Context

The Second Great Awakening, as it is generally denoted by historians, has been variously dated from 1795 to 1810 into the 1840s. It has also been called the 1800 Revival. Many historians see two distinct phases to the overall movement, prompting some to identify two separate awakenings. Earle Cairns writes of the Second Awakening (1776–1810) and the Trans-Atlantic Revival (1813–46). 2 The late J. Edwin Orr designated them as the Second Evangelical Awakening (1792–1822) and the Third Evangelical Awakening (1830–42). 3 Both historians dated them as global movements.

2) The Religious Context

Spiritually, conditions had

waned in the United States after the Revolutionary War. War itself has a denigrating effect on a people. The great migration of people to the West also had a negative effect on the morality of the populace. Masses of people pulling up roots to go to a wilderness to carve out an existence, the lack of social structure, the scarcity of ministers and churches, the democratizing spirit of independence, later issuing into the Jacksonian era and the “rise of the common man,” all gave way for man’s innate depravity to express itself. For instance, Logan County, Kentucky, was called “Rogues’ Harbor,” because it was a refuge for lawbreakers from the East to come to escape the punishment of the law. Things got so bad that law-abiding citizens took up arms...

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