American Minute with 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 OCTOBER 5, 1703.
The Great Awakening Revival can be traced back to earlier revivals in Scotland, and to Scottish Rev. William Tennent’s Log College in Pennsylvania.
The fiery Dutch Reformed minister Theodore Frelinghuysen preached divine outpourings of the Holy Spirit and conversion.
The revival spread across America through the preaching of George Whitefield, Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Finley and others, inadvertently uniting the Colonies prior to the Revolutionary War.
Calvinist denominations split between traditionalist “Old Lights” emphasizing ritual, and revivalist “New Lights” emphasizing personal 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.
The Revival inspired the founding of universities, such as: Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Rutgers and Columbia.
The Revival brought large numbers of African slaves to Christianity, being led by Presbyterian preacher Samuel Davies, who later became Princeton’s fourth president.
Blacks were welcomed into active roles in 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 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 Surprizing 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…”
Jonathan 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…”
Jonathan 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.”
Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ emphasis on training their children in godly values 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,
13 college presidents,
80 public office holders,
100 lawyers and
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.
Max’s descendants included:
50 women of debauchery,
130 other convicts.
310 paupers, who, combined spent 2,300 years in poorhouses, and
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.”
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.
The thought 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.”
The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.