The First Great Awakening in the American colonies is often dated 1740-43. Like other great revivals, the spiritual climate of the churches had reached a low point. Practices like the Half-Way Covenant brought many into church membership without requiring any indication of saving faith. Consequently, churches were a mixture of believers and unbelievers. The vitality of the Christian testimony was watered down by its mixture with the world.
Far Reaching Results. Traveling evangelists like George Whitefield and Gilbert Tennent were used by God to quicken the spirits of His people. Through their preaching many church members and even preachers came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and realized that they had never been converted. They were greatly distressed until they had made their salvation sure. Historians estimate that 25, 000 to 50,000 persons were added to the churches in New England alone. New churches were started in record numbers, and colleges like Dartmouth and Princeton began to train missionaries and ministers to carry the gospel to the lost world. This revival also laid the foundation of cooperative relationships between denominations. The religious liberties guaranteed in the new republic had their birth in this revival.
Revival at Northampton. Sometime around 1734 revival began to occur in several locations in New England. God used these early revivals and awakenings to prepare the soil of New England for the sowing of the gospel that would follow. Northampton, Massachusetts, was the site of a citywide awakening in 1734-35. Jonathan Edwards was pastor of the Congregational Church. Prior to the revival the town experienced a “degenerate time” with a “dullness of religion.” According to Edwards, the young people were addicted to tavern drinking, lewd practices, and frolics among the sexes the greater part of the night.
In a nearby village two young people died in the spring of 1734. People began to think soberly about spiritual and eternal matters. In answer to the prayers of His people, God began to move. In the fall Edwards preached on justification by faith alone. In December of 1734, five or six persons were converted. One of them was a young woman who was “one of the greatest company keepers in the whole town.” Her life was so radically changed that everyone could tell it was a work of God’s grace. During the following six months, 300 people were hopefully converted in this town of 1,100.
Edwards said, “God has also seemed to have gone out of his usual way in the quickness of his work, and the swift progress his Spirit has made in his operation, on the hearts of many”. “There was scarcely a single person in this town, either old or young, that was left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world…The town seemed to be full of the presence of God: it never was so full of love, nor so full of joy. …It was a time of joy in families on the account of salvation being brought to them… Our public assemblies were then beautiful; the congregation was alive in God’s service, everyone earnestly intent on public worship …our public praises were then greatly enlivened. God was then served…in the beauty of holiness.”
Would you like to see God sweep our city and church like that? Would you be willing to pray: “God whatever it takes for you to bring revival to your people, please do it”?
This account has been adapted from “Narrative of Surprising Conversion” by Jonathan Edwards in The Works of President Edwards, New York: Levitt & Allen, 1857 (pp.231-272); and The History of American Revivals by Frank Granville Beardsley, 1912 (pp. 20-83).
P R A Y E R F O C U S
• Pray that you and your family will seek first His Kingdom in every area of life (Mark 6;33).
• Pray for the gift of faith as you pray for your family, our congregation, our state, and for this nation. “Lord, arise!”
By Pastor Dotty Schmitt