The Great Awakening Revival Movement of the Eighteenth Century

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), known as the Puritan prince, is still considered to be the best theologian in the United States, the main leader of the American Great Awakening Revival Movement in the 18th century, and also regarded as the pioneer of philosophical thinking in the United States. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, when rationalism was rising (which brought about naturalism). The rational supremacy blocked the spiritual life of the church. Edwards was able to combine spiritual life with rational thinking. And lived out the life that was both rigorous and energetic. He also injected his passion into the orthodox theology that was ice cold at that time, so that theology really became the driving force for the renewal of the church. In his ministry, we saw that theology and spiritual life were complementary and inseparable. Faith and life, theology and the Holy Spirit, reason and passion were not mutually exclusive or extreme. Through Edward’s life, revival movement and theological thoughts, we have a lot to meditate on. Edward was born on October 5, 1703 in Connecticut on the east coast of the United States, ranking fifth among eleven brothers and sisters. Both parents were born in a Puritan family: the father was the pastor of the Congregational Church; he was greatly influenced by religious education at home.

In 1716, he entered Yale College and received a rigorous humanities training. He was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. In theology, he was particularly interested in the ideas of Newton and Locke (the 17th-century British philosopher, Locke’s parents were Puritans), and these two had become tremendous influence in his future. After graduated from college in 1720, he continued to study in theology at school. On January 12, 1723, he made an important confession before God. He said, “I solemnly dedicated myself to God and recorded this event. I gave up myself and everything I have and gave it all to God; From then on, no matter what, there is no self; In everything I do, no matter what, I have no right for myself. I solemnly swear that my whole body and mind and happiness are in the hands of God; Beside Him,  there is nothing else in the world that can be my happiness.” When he graduated from the Institute in 1724, he ranked first in the class. Yale University invited him to return to school as a teaching assistant. In 1727 he had a spiritual experience, recognizing the absolute authority of God and the dependence of man on God.

Revival fire

In 1729, he was appointed as the pastor of the Northampton Anglican Church (position formerly held by his grandfather). He and other local pastors felt that the church was lethargic. Not only in the life of faith, and also in moral life. He was so worried about the human soul that he wanted to reform this situation many times. So he started the reformation with sermons. In 1733, Edwards’ two sermons: “The Holy Spirit directly shines the light of God’s supernatural light on the heart” and “justification by faith”, had caused great resounding effect among believers. It was a reflection of one’s own spiritual conditions, and the power of the Holy Spirit began to work in the heart. In 1734, two young people died in the town, but before their death, they were completely enlightened by the Holy Spirit, and they began to witness the grace of God before they passed away. Because of this, Edwards encouraged everyone to participate in the gathering and engage in talking about faith, instead of wasting life in entertainment or vain talking. In less than a few months, more than 300 people in his congregation acknowledged the name of Christ and began to show signs of revival. And the influence spread to all parts of the East, town after town  experienced revival. This was the beginning of the Great Awakening.

In 1735, the phenomenon of revival cooled down slightly to brew a wave of greater waves, but the spiritual influence began to deepen, so he had time to record this movement in detail, and to reflect on theology. He believed that revival was God’s Grace manifested in the renewal  of both body and heart. In 1737, he finally wrote and reported on the spiritual revival phenomenon, the book titled “Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God”, which was published in London and Boston. By the end of 1738, it had been republished many times. This book had been widely read and prepared for another wave of “Great Awakening Movement.”

One of the record in the book reads: “There is almost no one in the town, whether men, women, old and young, not consider the important issue of eternal life. The most vain and most debauchery in the past, and those who are the most contemptuous and disdainful about the vitality and faith of spiritual life, now they all surrendered to the Great Awakening Movement. The work of convicting people to repent and convert is the most amazing. More and more each day, people received Jesus Christ in groups. Day after day, for months, we could clearly see sinners being brought out of darkness, into the glorious light; out of the horrible pits, and the miry clay and placed on the solid rock. They sang new songs praising God.

As the work of God continued, the number of true saints multiplied, and soon the town experienced magnificent changes; therefore, in the spring and summer that followed 1735, God seemed to have come to town personally: people was full of love, joy like never before, but also full of repentance. God could be seen working in almost every home. Many families were filled with joy because of receiving salvation; parents rejoiced in their children’s salvation; husbands and wives rejoice in the salvation of their spouse ”

Great awakening movement

Because of Edward’s book on the revival movement, this influence not only reached United States but also into the United Kingdom. In 1740, the evangelist George Whitefield (1714-1770) came from United Kingdom to the east coast of the United States for evangelical tours. The fire of the revival was rekindled. When The news of his preaching came out, and the workers within 10 miles radius immediately put down their tools in the shops and in the farm fields to come to the meeting. There were thousands of people in the audience. The church building couldn’t accommodate it. The preaching were mostly done outdoors. People come in groups to accept Jesus Christ. The Great Awakening Movement reached its peak in 1740, and Northampton became the center again. Edwards also became a central figure.

On July 8, 1741, he preached his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in Enfield, Connecticut. The fire of revival that Whitefield ignited has burned all over New England. This sermon was extremely powerful, but Edward was preaching in a peaceful and steady way not an emotional scream, he put his left hand on the podium. Read the sermon in his right hand, the scripture in his sermons are in Deuteronomy 32:35: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them

At that moment, the Holy Spirit began to move greatly. The congregation could not control their emotions and began to confess, repent and wept. Some rolled on the floor, and some held on to the seats or the pillar of the church. Obviously at that time, they felt their feet were slipping into hell. Their cries sometimes even drowned the voices of the speakers. They called on the mercy of God. For the whole night, the entire town of Enfield Seems to be facing a great enemy. Great cries can be heard from almost every house, pleading for God to save them.

For the “Great Awakening Movement”, some rationalists hold the attitude of ridicule and negation. They maintained their cold etiquette, boring sermons, and not interested in revival; the other was extremes, excited emotions, and out of order. Unrestrained noise, which brought a bad name to the Great Awakening Movement and opposition. Edwards needed to face situations on both sides. On one hand, he needs to make theological defense for revival as fact. On the other hand, he has to deal with the misunderstanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in the revival movement. His greatest contribution lies in his experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit and the gift of the Holy Spirit, providing a theological basis and pastoral guidance, freeing the church from the doctrine of keeping the doctrine but being lifeless, challenging the balance of believers of the importance of spiritual experiences and sentiment of faith.

On June 22, 1750, the Northampton Anglican Church dismissed Edward Edward Pastor by 230 votes against  23 votes. Because he decided that only those who is truly born again and who have good moral character can be qualified to receive the Holy Communion (and at that time the church allowed the unsaved people to participate in the Holy Communion), because of the persistence of Edwards some of indulged youths were being accused, their parents felt they had lost face and those opposed him, took the opportunity to stir things up, causing the dismissal of a pastor that had served the Lord for 24 years. Later he moved to the church in another town to evangelize the Indians. In 1757, he was appointed as the principal of Princeton University. He took office in January 1758. At that time, the plague broke out in Princeton, unfortunately he was infected with the measles by injecteing the vaccine. He died on March 22 at the age of 56.

Edward’s life exalted God’s supreme sovereignty, human original sin and corruption, God’s grace and glory. He valued the knowledge of the truth, but also valued religious experiences . He was convinced that a person who is truly saved must have the Holy Spirit as the mark in his heart. His external life behavior will certainly reflect the reality of his inner life.

The Great Awakening Movement had a positive impact, but there were also very fierce oppositions. Some people thought that the revival was just an show of emotional fanatic, especially the physical reaction in the revival; they thought that some people were imitating others, the revival phenomenon was nothing but a collective hysteria; or think that the preacher described the scene of hell so terrible to scare the people. Therefore, Edward replied to the above misunderstandings with the “Religious Sentiment” and proposed the basis for the Bible to prove the work of the Holy Spirit.

  • Concerning strong emotional expression: even if our emotions are strong, we cannot prove that it is spiritual or not. Some people blamed every strong emotional expression. They were biased against anyone who had strong emotions toward God or spiritual things, thinking that such people were deceived. However, emotion does play a big role in the true faith. If there is a rich and true faith in our human life, inevitably, it will produce rich emotions. Love is an emotion. Can any Christian say that we should not feel deep hated and grief towards sin? Or should we not thank Him deeply for the compassion of God? Or should we not be eager in pursuing God and holiness? I Peter 1:8 ‘, “Filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,” which expresses strong emotions; indeed, the Bible often requires us to have strong emotions. In the first and the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30) . The Bible also commands us to rejoice greatly ” But May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful ” (Ps 68:3) . When the Bible records the experiences of believers, they often express their strong emotions. The author of psalm: “How I love Your law” ( Ps .119:97 ). It is proven that high religious feelings are not necessarily a manifestation of fanaticism. Therefore, if we only accuse someone of being a fanatic because of strong emotions, that will be serious mistakes. But on the other hand, our passionate feelings do not prove that they are really spiritual. The Bible shows that some people who are not really saved will be very passionate about religion. For example, in the Old Testament, when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea in the Egyptian exile, their emotions were greatly arose, so they sang praises to Him then, which is recorded in Exodus15:1-21; but soon they forget His deeds.
  • Concerning special reaction in the body : We must not judge by the “human body reaction” to determine whether or not God is working. Because even if our body reacts greatly by emotions, we cannot prove that it is spiritual or not. Emotion has influence on the body because of the intimate connection between the body and the soul, the flesh and the heart. Therefore, it is not surprising that strong emotions have a great impact on the body. However, strong emotions may come from the flesh or the spirit. Therefore, a physical influence cannot prove that the experience is only physical, or really spiritual. But a strong and profound spiritual emotion can indeed have a great impact on the body. The psalmist said: “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;  my heart and my flesh cry out to the living God.” (Psalm 84:2) , it also shows that there is a clear distinction between soul and body. There are many records of the glory of God in the Bible, and a strong physical influence on those who see the glory of God. For example, Daniel said,“So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; and I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless” (Den. 10:8) . This is also the reaction of the apostle John when he saw the vision: ” When I saw Him, I fell at His feet, as though dead” (Rev. 1:17).
  • Concerning the message about hell: If the preacher often preached sincerely and gently about God’s law being so awesome and holy, and thus bring revival, some say that this revival came because the preacher used the lake of fire in hell to intimidate the congregation. This argument is not without reason. If there is pain and suffering that will never cease, and if there is hell, and if many people are very likely go to hell, then of course they need to be warned! If most people, even those in the so-called Christian countries, will eventually go to hell, then it is necessary to warn them! We must tell them the truth as much as possible. In a worldly crisis. people can not take it lightly.
  • Verification of the work of God : If one is more respectful and admires Jesus, it is a clear sign of the work of the Holy Spirit. For example, a person: 1) is convinced that he needs Christ and is brought before Him; 2) believes that Christ has appeared in human history; 3) is more convinced that Christ is the Son of God and is sent by God to save sinners; 4). Recognize that He is the only Savior and a sense of great need for Him; 5). Devote in Him more and admire Him more than before. We are certain that this is work of the Holy Spirit.

(Source: Christian Revival Story Collection)