By Bill Federer
He entered Yale College at age 13 and graduated with honors. He became a pastor, and his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God,” started the Great Awakening Revival. His name was Jonathan Edwards, born Oct. 5, 1703.
The Great Awakening Revival can be traced back to earlier revivals in Scotland. Scottish minister William Tennent migrated to Pennsylvania in 1718 and together with his son Gilbert Tennent began the Log College in 1726. It was the first American Presbyterian theological seminary in North America, which led to the formation of the College of New Jersey. Rev. Samuel Finley was trustee of the College of New Jersey, which became Princeton University.
The fiery Dutch Reformed minister Theodore Jacobus Frelinghuysen arrived in New Jersey in 1720. Preaching divine outpourings of the Holy Spirit and conversion, Frelinghuysen’s efforts led to formation in 1766 of Queen’s College in New Brunswick, which became Rutgers University.
Beginning in 1738, Rev. George Whitefield arrived in Savannah, Georgia. Traveling the Colonies, he preached 18,000 sermons in the next 32 years. The Great Awakening Revival helped unite the Colonies prior to the Revolutionary War.
Calvinist denominations split between:
- Traditional “Old Lights” who emphasized structure and ritual
- Revivalist “New Lights” who emphasized personal experience and commitment
The Great Awakening Revival was part of the Pietist movement in Lutheran Churches, it reshaped Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed Churches, and it strengthened evangelical Baptist and Methodist Anglican Churches.
Calvinists held the view that God had a plan for your life, marriage, family, church and government, and it was a person’s responsibility to study scripture to find out what God’s plan was and put it into reality.
Pietists held the view that each person needed to have a personal experience with Christ and when this happened their life should change. They would no longer do worldly things like going to bars, theaters, or be involved with worldly government, which attitude, taken to its extreme, led to an abandonment of civic responsibility.
The Great Awakening Revival inspired Puritan Rev. Eleazar Wheelock to help found Moor’s Charity School in 1754, (re-established as Dartmouth College).
The Great Awakening Revival inspired Anglican Rev. Samuel Johnson to help found King’s College in 1754 (renamed Columbia University).
The Great Awakening Revival inspired Baptist ministers Rev. James Manning, Rev. Isaac Backus and Rev. Samuel Stillman to help found the College of Rhode Island in 1764 (renamed Brown University).
The Great Awakening Revival brought large numbers of African slaves to Christianity, being led by Presbyterian preacher Samuel Davies, who later became Princeton’s fourth president. African-Americans were welcomed into active roles in many white congregations, even as preachers. The first black Baptist churches were founded in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia.
The Great Awakening Revival had a profound effect, as noted by Sarah Pierrepont Edwards, wife of Jonathan Edwards, who wrote to her brother in New Haven of George Whitefield’s preaching: “It is wonderful to see what a spell he casts over an audience by proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible. … Our mechanics shut up their shops, and the day laborers throw down their tools to go and hear him preach, and few return unaffected.”
Ben Franklin wrote of Rev. Whitefield: “Multitudes of all denominations attended his sermons. … It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”
In his “Narrative of the Surprising Word of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls,” Jonathan Edwards wrote: “And then it was, in the latter part of December, that the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to … work amongst us. There were, very suddenly, one after another, five or six persons who were, to all appearance, savingly converted, and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner. Particularly I was surprised with the relation of a young woman, who had been one of the greatest company-keepers in the whole town. When she came to me, I had never heard that she was become in any ways serious, but by the conversation I had with her, it appeared to me that what she gave an account of was a glorious work of God’s infinite power and sovereign grace, and that God had given her a new heart, truly broken and sanctified. … God made it, I suppose, the greatest occasion of awakening to others, of anything that ever came to pass in the town. …”
Jonathan Edwards continued: “I have had abundant opportunity to know the effect it had, by my private conversation with many. The news of it seemed to be almost like a flash of lighting upon the hearts of young people all over the town, and upon many others. … Presently upon this, a great and earnest concern about the great things of religion and the eternal world became universal in all parts of the town and among persons of all degrees and all ages. The noise of the dry bones waxed louder and louder. … Those that were wont to be the vainest and loosest, and those that had been the most disposed to think and speak slightly of vital and experimental religion, were not generally subject to great awakenings. …”
Edwards added: “And the work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner and increased more and more; souls did, as it were, come by flocks to Jesus Christ. … This work of God, as it was carried on and the number of true saints multiplied, soon made a glorious alteration in the town, so that in the spring and summer following, Anno 1735, the town seemed to be full of the presence of God. It never was so full of love, nor so full of joy … there were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house. It was a time of joy in families on the account of salvation’s being brought unto them, parents rejoicing over their children as new born, and husbands over their wives, and wives over their husbands. The goings of God were then seen in His sanctuary, God’s day was a delight and His tabernacles were amiable. …”
Rev. Edwards went on: “Our public assembles were then beautiful; the congregation was alive in God’s service, everyone earnestly intent on the public worship, every hearer eager to drink the words of the minister as they came from his mouth. The assembly in general were, from time to time, in tears while the word was preached, some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for their neighbors. There were many instances of persons that came from abroad, on visits or on business…that partook of that shower of divine blessing that God rained down here and went home rejoicing. Till at length the same work began to appear and prevail in several other towns in the country. …”
Jonathan Edwards concluded: “In the month of March, the people of South Hadley began to be seized with a deep concern about the things of religion, which very soon became universal. … About the same time, it began to break forth in the west part of Suffield… and it soon spread into all parts of the town. It next appeared at Sunderland. … About the same time it began to appear in a part of Deerfield … Hatfield … West Springfield … Long Meadow … Endfield … Westfield … Northfield. … In every place, God brought His saving blessings with Him, and His Word, attended with Spirit … returned not void.”
Jonathan Edwards stated: “There is no leveler like Christianity, but it levels by lifting all who receive it to the lofty table-land of a true character and of undying hope both for this world and the next.”
The importance of teaching of children can be illustrated by an analogy using computer terminology, highlighting the differences between hardware and software. Hardware refers to the computer’s physical hard drive and memory chips. Software refers to the programs that run on the computer.
Applying this to students, a child’s physical brain is like a computer hard drive and memory chips. Software would be the thoughts, belief system, and values taught to a child which guide their actions.
Rather than heredity, it was Jonathan and Sarah Edwards training of their children with godly thoughts, values and a Christian belief system that had a ripple effect.
A.E. Winship’s “A Study in Education and Heredity (1900)” listed among their descendants:
- 1 U.S. vice president
- 3 U.S. Senators
- 3 governors
- 3 mayors
- 13 college presidents
- 30 judges
- 65 professors
- 80 public office holders
- 100 lawyers
- 100 missionaries
A.E. Winship’s study also examined a family known as “Jukes.” In 1877, while visiting New York’s prisons, Richard Dugdale found inmates with 42 different last names all descending from one man, called “Max.”Born around 1720 of Dutch stock, Max was a hard drinker, idle, irreverent and uneducated. Following the computer analogy, Max’s children had been infected with a software virus and malware.
Max’s descendants included:
- 7 murderers
- 60 thieves
- 50 women of debauchery
- 130 other convicts
- 310 paupers, who, combined spent 2,300 years in poorhouses
- 400 physically wrecked by indulgent living
The “Jukes” descendants cost the state more than $1,250,000.
Jonathan Edwards stated: “I have reason to hope that my parents’ prayers for me have been, in many things, very powerful and prevalent, that God has … taken me under His care and guidance, provision and direction, in answer to their prayers.”
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In “A History of the Work of Redemption,” 1739, Jonathan Edwards wrote: “Those mighty kingdoms of Antichrist and Mohammed … have trampled the world under foot … (and) swallowed up the Ancient Roman Empire. … Satan’s Mohometan kingdom swallowing up the Eastern Empire.”
In his work, “The Latter-Day Glory Is Probably to Begin in America,” Jonathan Edwards proposed that the since the Old World had hosted Christ’s first coming, the New World would be given the honor of preparing the earth for His second coming. This idea that the “Sun of Righteousness” traveled from East to West contributed to the concept that America had a “Manifest Destiny”: “When the time comes of the church’s deliverance from her enemies, so often typified by the Assyrians, the light will rise in the west, till it shines through the world like the sun in its meridian brightness. … And if we may suppose that this glorious work of God shall begin in any part of America, I think, if we consider the circumstances of the settlement of New England, it must needs appear the most likely, of all American colonies, to be the place whence this work shall principally take its rise.”
Jonathan Edwards, who became president of Princeton College, resolved: “Never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.”
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