Asahel Nettleton: The Forgotten Evangelist -- By: James Ehrhard
RAR 6:1 (Winter 1997) p. 67
Asahel Nettleton: The Forgotten Evangelist
The year was 1812. America had just declared war on Great Britain in June and lost its first battle in October. In the midst of that climate, a young, unimpressive minister on his way to an assignment in New York stopped at a church in the community of South Britain, Connecticut. 1 When he was invited to preach, no one could have anticipated the impact his ministry would have, not only on this small church, but also on all the East Coast over the next three decades.
As this visiting preacher spoke, the congregation became aware that something unusual was happening. His probing questions seemed to penetrate each heart, peeling back layer after layer, showing the reality of their sin. Many in the congregation wondered how he knew them so well. As he continued, he warned the audience of their desperate need for repentance and the danger of any delay. Many in the congregation were brought to a deep conviction of sin.
After the message, the congregation dismissed without any formal invitation. They returned home to deal with God regarding their sin. During the week, conversion came mightily to many. 2 The revival that began that week spread throughout New England, spilled over into New York, and resulted in a deep work of Regeneration that lasted until the mid-1800s. During that span of time, God graciously used this man to bring more people to Christ than any man since George Whitefield came to America half a century earlier. Who was this man?
Mention the names of Finney, Moody, Sunday, or Graham, and visions of great evangelistic ministries are brought to mind. But mention Asahel Nettleton and few will have any idea who you are talking about. Except for being remembered as the one who opposed Finney at the New Lebanon Conferences, even most histories fail to tell of the work of
RAR 6:1 (Winter 1997) p. 68
revival under Nettleton.
Asahel Nettleton is a significant figure in the history of revivals who has been sadly forgotten. Yet his ministry might have been one of the most effective ever. Though he never pastored a church, never wrote a book, or led an evangelistic organization, Nettleton’s preaching led directly to the conversion of well over 30,000 people 3 at a time when our entire nation’s population was only nine million. Those figures, though large by comparison to most evangelists, are even more startling when one considers that his ministry encompassed little more than Connecticut and its bordering states. According to John Thornbu...
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