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Great Awakening

Great Awakening

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A Key Event. The Great Awakening was the pivotal event in the eighteenth-century religious scene. It was an offshoot of a transatlantic revival of piety that arrived on American shores with George Whitefield, an evangelical itinerant preacher from England who sparked his own revivals, legitimized those of others, and publicized them all as one great awakening. It took on various emphases within the different denominations and regions, exposed existing fissures and caused others, precipitated realignments both within and among religious groups, and settled the religious landscape onto new ground. Although it affected all denominations, the Great Awakening had its greatest initial impact on the Presbyterians in the middle colonies and the Congregationalists in New England. In the northern colonies it only lasted for about three years, but its ripples continued to affect all regions throughout the century.

SINNERS BEWARE!

The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his Wrath towards you burns like Fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the Fire; he is of purer Eyes than to bear to have you in his Sight; you are ten Times so abominable in his Eyes, as the most hateful venomous Serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn Rebel did his Prince; and yet tis nothing but His Hand that holds you from falling into the Fire every moment.

O Sinner! Consider the fearful Danger you are in: Tis a great Furnace of Wrath, a wide and bottomless Pit, full of the Fire of Wrath, that you are held over in the Hand of that God, whose Wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you as many of the Damned in Hell. You hang by a slender Thread, the Flames of divine Wrath flashing about it, and ready in a Moment to singe it, and burn it asunder.

Source: Jonathan Edwards , Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God... (Boston: Printed & sold by S. Kneeland & T. Green, 1741).

Middle Colonies. Revivalistic preachers in several denominations already were engaged in attempts to awaken religious fervor among their own flocks and the unchurched when Whitefield arrived in 1739 on a preaching tour to raise funds for his orphanage in Georgia. The Presbyterian revivalists in particular had already heard of him and rushed to enlist his support. Their leader, Gilbert

Tennent, led Whitefield in a tour of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, observing closely his rousing preaching style and simple message: repent, seek Christ, and be saved by the Holy Spirit in so sensible a manner that you will have immediate and definite assurance of your salvation and that of everyone else, including your minister. This ecumenical message, which dismissed theology, denominational distinctions, and the authority of the clergy, drew crowds. Tennent and his followers accompanied Whitefield to conduct revivals around the countryside and then to Philadelphia, where he filled Independence Square. His booming voice reached them all, even Benjamin Franklin, who had come as a spectator determined to give nothing to the collection for the orphanage and ended up emptying his pockets. This tour reenergized the revivalists, especially those among the Presbyterians, who became insistent on lowering the educational requirement for ministers so that more of their followers could be ordained, take over the synod,

and silence any opposition to them. Tennent sounded the call to battle in a 1740 sermon titled The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry, in which he labeled all of his learned opponents as damned men who were leading their flocks to hell. Within a year the synod had split over this issue of the necessity of a highly educated clergy.

New England. From the middle colonies Whitefield set off for New England, making it a point to preach in the church of Jonathan Edwards, the intellectual cornerstone of the revivalists whose writings had received transatlantic acclaim. Local ministers at first welcomed the evangelist, applauding his ability to arouse the laity from their apathy and mimicking his style within their own flocks. Then he began to attack them as dead men. Itinerant preachers such as Tennent and James Davenport who followed in his wake concentrated on this theme to the extent that the Great Awakening increasingly focused more on castigating settled clergy than on inciting conversion and personal piety. Such men raised the pitch of radicalism and encouraged laymen to take the stage and preach on the horrors of damnation on every available street corner. Davenport reached new heights when, after he had already been judged as disturbed in the rational faculties of his mind and expelled from Connecticut, he returned to New London and built bonfires which consumed classical works, sermons by Puritan divines, and even the clothes shed by his followers. The resultant animosities split churches so that most communities had a regular and a Separatist congregation by 1743. Many of these Separatists later entered the Baptists fold, while some of the more formalistic joined the Anglicans. Among mainstream Congregationalists there arose a deeper concern with the spiritual life and pious conduct that revitalized that large denomination.

Opposition Arises. As the Great Awakening became more extreme, moderates in all denominations publicly dissociated themselves from these New Light revivalists and fought back. Old Light Congregationalist Charles Chauncy and Anglican Timothy Cutler in New England were joined by two Old Side Presbyterians, Francis Alison and John Thompson, and an Old Light Baptist, Ebenezer Kinnersley in Pennsylvania, in denouncing the misguided theology and un-Christian behavior of the revivalists. Many of their arguments were based on those Calvinist foundations that Enlightenment thought reinforced: man can never have absolute knowledge of anything, much less the gracious states of others that are only known to God; God had revealed his will only through the Holy Scriptures and not through impromptu rantings by humans; and humans must glorify God by developing virtuous Christian habits that are best formed in the harmonious and settled environment similar to the one in the original creation. The governments of Massachusetts and Connecticut, where the Congregational Church was established, tried to force seceding congregations to continue to pay the legal tithes to their old churches. The Connecticut General Assembly even passed laws requiring ministers to have degrees from Yale or Harvard, prohibiting itinerancy and banning lay preachers from administering the sacraments.

Fading Movement. The emotionalism that underlay the spate of revivals had already begun to die by 1743 as people experienced the single emotional event defined as conversion, felt a release, and settled down to pious lives. In New England they continued their revivalistic emphasis within Baptist congregations. In the middle colonies some revivalistic leaders such as Tennent were shocked by the consequences of their actions and recanted, settling down to minister quietly to their own flocks. The people they had aroused often gravitated to the Moravians. Others, such as John Cross, were discredited, in his case for fathering an illegitimate child. Even Whitefield, in his subsequent tours, apologized and tried to heal the wounds caused by his zeal.

Legacy. The Great Awakening left different footprints on all of the colonial denominations and sects. Its general legacy was a renewed concern with individual salvation and piety, defining religious beliefs for oneself rather than accepting them from clerical authorities, selecting a minister for his charisma and preaching style rather than for his theology and counseling, and accepting those who shared a similar style and concerns no matter what the denomination. Women became more influential in many congregations which believed that, if females were converted, they would lead their children and menfolk to salvation. Itinerancy and clerical responsibility for multiple congregations became more common among the smaller congregations that resulted from the divisions in churches. Both the Old and New persuasions formed intercolonial and interdenominational networks that helped to break down provincialism and isolation and prepared Americans for accepting the denominational pluralism that was on the horizon. Baptists and Presbyterians spread into New England and the South, which had been strongholds of established churches. Evangelicals reached out to Native Americans and Africans and encouraged others to Christianize these peoples. Smarting from charges that they were ignorant and unlettered, revivalists founded colleges for their ministers, which coincided with the general movement for widespread education that the Enlightenment and increasing commercialization were effecting. Given the centrality of the Great Awakening to the development of an American culture, some historians have gone so far as to label the Great Awakening as the key to the society that later mounted the American Revolution.

Sources

John B. Franz, The Awakening of Religion Among German Settlers in the Middle Colonies, William and Mary Quarterly, 33 (1976): 266288;

Edwin S. Gaustad, The Great Awakening in New England (New York: Harper, 1957);

C.C. Goen, Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 17401800: Strict Congregationalists and Separate Baptists in the Great Awakening (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962);

Martin E. Lodge, The Crisis of the Churches in the Middle Colonies, Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 95 (1971): 195220;

Sally Schwartz, A Mixed Multitude: The Struggle for Toleration in Colonial Pennsylvania (New York: New York University Press, 1987).

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Great Awakening

GREAT AWAKENING

GREAT AWAKENING. Some historians denominate essentially all revivalistic activity in Britain's North American colonies between 1740 and 1790 as the "Great Awakening," but the term more properly refers only to those revivals associated with the itinerant Anglican preacher George Whitefield that occurred between 1739 and 1745. Evangelicals in Britain as well as America attended to Whitefield's perambulations on both sides of the Atlantic, giving the Awakening an international dimension; indeed, American events made up just one portion of a trans-European movement among eighteenth-century Protestants to exalt spiritual experience as faith's hallmark as opposed to adherence to systematized creeds and catechisms.

The Awakening elaborated upon strains of revivalism that had been developing piecemeal within Reformed Protestant traditions. As far back as the 1680s, Solomon Stoddard had hosted "refreshings" within the Congregational church in Northampton, Massachusetts, elevating parishioners' religious and moral commitment by heightening their fear of hell while emphasizing that salvation could be obtained only through conversion (the New Birth)—the Holy Spirit's infusion of grace into the soul. His grandson, Jonathan Edwards, anatomized the process, detailing how, with God's help, a minister heading a settled congregation—the New England norm—might inspire multiple conversions relatively quickly. During the 1720s, Theodorus Frelinghuysen initiated a similar interest in "heart-religion" among New Jersey's Dutch Reformed churches. His example animated Gilbert Tennent, a Pennsylvania Presbyterian whose father, William, similarly advocated the importance of conversion at his Neshaminy seminary. The Tennents' preaching warmed Presbyterian settlers from Scotland and Ulster who were accustomed to holding Sacramental Seasons—four-day devotions climaxed by highly affective celebrations of the Lord's Supper. Reformed churches had thus independently discovered various means of inducing collective conversions through heightened religious excitement before Whitefield commenced his second American tour in 1739. Whitefield's unique contribution was to foment religious excitement in all of these traditions simultaneously, make them each fully cognizant of the others, exaggerate


the behavioral manifestations of the New Birth, and demonstrate the degree to which highly effusive appeals to large audiences could stimulate conversion and recruit the unchurched.

Whitefield appropriated secular culture in order to challenge it. Condemning the stage for diverting play-goers from God, he dramatized both the Word and himself theatrically. Critical of the "Consumption Revolution" brought about by both middle-class arrogations of aristocratic taste and burgeoning industrial production because it lured people into luxuriousness, he took advantage of the emerging transatlantic press, itself a market phenomenon, to advertise the Gospel while commodifying himself. An apostle for spontaneously seizing grace, he calculated his evangelical campaigns carefully, pioneering the use of advance men to announce his movements and the printed word—his own journals and others' press reports—to trumpet his progress. In less than two years, he visited every province from Georgia to New Hampshire, attracting the largest crowds anyone in those colonies had ever witnessed. His ordination notwithstanding, Whitefield preferred Reformed Protestant predestinarianism to the Church of England's Arminianism, but in the pulpit he downplayed dogma and minimized the importance of denominational affiliation to stress the necessity of being born again. He wanted "just Christians," he said, and anyone willing to take Christ by faith would qualify. Capable, remarked contemporary actor David Garrick, of moving audiences to paroxysms simply by pronouncing "Mesopotamia," Whitefield excited thousands to manifest their conversion by shrieking, groaning, laughing, or singing. Preaching often to people who, un-like New Englanders, belonged either to churches that did not emphasize conversion or to no church at all, he characterized the New Birth as a decision for Christ that any believer could make in defiance or in the absence of clerical authority, an act manifested by a brief, highly charged (even convulsive) experience that conferred salvation but did not, as for Puritans, also energize the believer to reform society morally. This shift toward a normative understanding of conversion as occurring outside a settled ecclesiastical order identifies an emergent "evangelical" conception of the New Birth as essentially an individualized experience.

Whitefield did not fare well in the South, where he angered Anglicans by chastising them for ignoring conversion and slaveowners for keeping Christ from their slaves (though he never condemned slavery itself). He enjoyed greater influence among northern Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and German Reformed, all churches with conversionist traditions. Anglicans, Quakers, and German sectarians, all non-Reformed Protestants, paid him little heed, as of course did the smattering of Roman Catholics. Increasingly, however, White-field in particular and revivalism in general came under fire for promoting discord rather than godliness. In his wake, churches were disrupted by itinerant preachers inveighing against unconverted ministers and by "New Lights" censoring congregants deemed unregenerate. Under such strains the Presbyterians schismed from 1741 to 1758, and the Congregational Standing Order lost one-third of its churches, many of which ultimately became Baptist. Whitefield suffered a tepid reception when he returned to America in 1744, and by the next year, the colonists had turned their attention to saving their skins from the French rather than their souls from the Devil.

The Great Awakening created a new definition of a "revival of religion" as a specific event manifesting God's gracious dispensation toward a church, town, or people. It elevated the rate of conversion, but a drop in succeeding years suggests that it accelerated the pace of church membership only temporarily, by lowering the age at which people already likely to convert claimed Christ rather than by attracting a substantial number of outsiders to the churches. Discovery that church-formation continued briskly before and after the 1740s intimates that the Awakening did not have such a prominent impact on Christianizing the American people as had been supposed. The Awakening did mark an important attempt to proselytize Amerindians and Africans, though the numbers baptized were quite small, but it had no discernible effect on the American Revolution, none of whose ideology, politics, or organization of protest can be traced directly to revivalism. Most important, the Awakening did demonstrate the revival's power to recruit large numbers of church members during a short period of time. The Whitefieldian model—more effective for spurring conversion and cohering churches among the trans-Appalachian West's dispersed, unorganized populations than its Edwardsean counterpart—would become the engine driving the evangelization of nineteenth-century America.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Crawford, Michael J. Seasons of Grace: Colonial New England's Revival Tradition in Its British Context. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Lambert, Frank. Inventing the "Great Awakening." Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Schmidt, Leigh Eric. Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989.

Ward, W. R. The Protestant Evangelical Awakening. Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Charles L.Cohen

See alsoEvangelicalism and Revivalism .

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Great Awakening

Great Awakening, series of religious revivals that swept over the American colonies about the middle of the 18th cent. It resulted in doctrinal changes and influenced social and political thought. In New England it was started (1734) by the rousing preaching of Jonathan Edwards. Although there were early local stirrings in New Jersey in the 1720s under the evangelical preaching of Theodorus Frelinghuysen of the Dutch Reformed Church, the revival in the Middle Colonies actually began in New Jersey largely among the Presbyterians trained under William Tennent. His son Gilbert Tennent became the leading figure of the Great Awakening in the Middle Colonies. Other preachers followed, and with the tour (1739–41) of the famous Methodist preacher George Whitefield, the isolated currents of revivalism united and flowed into all the colonies. The revival reached the South with the preaching (1748–59) of Samuel Davies among the Presbyterians of Virginia, with the great success of the Baptists in North Carolina in the 1760s, and with the rapid spread of Methodism shortly before the American Revolution.

In New England the movement died out rapidly, leaving behind bitter doctrinal disputes between the "New Lights" and the "Old Lights," the latter led by Charles Chauncy, a Boston clergyman, who opposed the revivalist movement as extravagant and impermanent. The theology of the "New Lights," a slightly modified Calvinism, crystallized into the Edwardian, or New England, theology that became dominant in W New England, whereas the liberal doctrines of the "Old Lights," strong in Boston and the vicinity, were destined to develop into the Universalist or Unitarian positions. A similar division between "New Sides" and "Old Sides" took place in the Middle Colonies, causing a schism (1741–58) in the Presbyterian Church.

The Great Awakening also resulted in an outburst of missionary activity among Native Americans by such men as David Brainerd, Eleazar Wheelock, and Samuel Kirkland; in the first movement of importance against slavery; and in various other humanitarian undertakings. It led to the founding of a number of academies and colleges, notably Princeton, Brown, Rutgers, and Dartmouth. It served to build up interests that were intercolonial in character, to increase opposition to the Anglican Church and the royal officials who supported it, and to encourage a democratic spirit in religion.

See A. E. Heimert and P. Miller, ed., Great Awakening: Documents Illustrating the Crisis and Its Consequences (1967). J. Tracy, A History of the Revival of Religion in the Time of Edwards and Whitefield (1845, repr. 1969); C. H. Maxson, The Great Awakening in the Middle Colonies (1920, repr. 1958); W. M. Gewehr, The Great Awakening in Virginia (1930, repr. 1965); E. S. Gaustad, The Great Awakening in New England (1957, repr. 1965); R. L. Bushman, ed., The Great Awakening (1969, repr. 1989); D. B. Rutman, The Great Awakening (1970); C. L. Heyrman, Southern Cross (1997).

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Great Awakening

Great Awakening Series of 18th-century religious revivals in the American colonies. It was inspired in the 1730s by the preaching of Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. Baptist revivals occurred in 1760, and Methodism evolved in the pre-Revolutionary period. The movement led to Christian missionary work among the Native American tribes.

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Great Awakening

Great Awakening. A series of conversionary revivals of Christian religion in N. America, 1720–50. They were particularly associated with George Whitefield, and proved divisive.

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