A Wonderful Work of God: Puritanism and the Great Awakening

A Wonderful Work of God: Puritanism and the Great Awakening

A Wonderful Work of God: Puritanism and the Great Awakening

A Wonderful Work of God: Puritanism and the Great Awakening

Synopsis

"A Wonderful Work of God: Puritanism and the Great Awakening is a survey of the American phase of the Evangelical Revival which swept Britain and her American colonies during the first half of the eighteenth century. Preceded by local revivals, such as the one stirred by Jonathan Edwards in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1734, the Great Awakening exploded into a mass movement because of the itinerant preaching of a young Anglican priest, George Whitefield, and a number of Congregational and Presbyterian ministers who joined him in the evangelical work. However, because of the bizarre behavior of some of the radical evangelicals, such as James Davenport, the movement soon became highly controversial and split colonial ministers and congregations into "Friends of Revival" and "Opposers." As the revival excitement abated, schisms beset congregations in New England and eastern Long Island, resulting in the appearance of separate churches, and the Philadelphia Presbyterian synod was fractured as well. Drawing on both original sources and a review of the relevant literature, the author places the Great Awakening in the context of the Puritanism of the times, both in Europe and the colonies, and discusses its roots in German Pietism and the Methodist revivals in England. The significant figures of the Awakening and their interactions are brought to life, particularly James Davenport, the Awakening's most bizarre exponent and the preacher who, more than any other, was responsible for bringing it into disrepute." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

By the opening decades of the eighteenth century, Puritan zeal had waned among the Congregationalists of Massachusetts and Connecticut in New England and the Presbyterians of the Middle Colonies of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Whereas doctrinal consensus prevailed, there were growing differences among Congregationalists and Presbyterians concerning preaching style. Some held that it should be highly intensive and touch the heart; others, that it should be scholarly and restrained. Most pastors were highly suspicious of religious fervor that, to them, smacked of “enthusiasm,” a term much used at the time to mean extravagant emotionalism. In particular, there was controversy concerning sudden conversion experiences: were they genuine or not? were they essential or not? Many pastors emphasized the importance of what were called the “means,” that is to say, orthodoxy of belief, regular church attendance, Bible study, prayer, and moral rectitude. Although the “means” in no way merited salvation, according to these ministers, they did indicate that a gradual process of redemption was being worked in the souls of those who exhibited them.

All Congregational and Presbyterian pastors welcomed signs of spiritual concern among their parishioners, but those who engaged in passionate preaching stressed the perils of damnation awaiting the unregenerate. Conservative ministers regarded this kind of preaching with suspicion, and it was earnestly discussed in meetings of synod because of the effects of such preaching in certain localities. Throughout the northern colonies there were sporadic upsurges of religious fervor in certain congregations, described in letters and pamphlets and reported in the press. As a result, there was general discussion of the nature of religious experience by late 1739, when a young Anglican divine by the name of George Whitefield arrived from England.

Whitefield had stirred up much religious fervor in Britain with his eloquent and highly persuasive preaching, which was reported in great detail in colonial newspapers, as well as in pam-

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