'A Glorious Work in the World': Welsh Methodism and the International Evangelical Revival, 1735-1750

By David CERI Jones | Go to book overview

‘THE REDEEMER’S KINGDOM ABROAD’: WELSH
METHODISTS AND THE WIDER WORLD

In order to gain a more complete picture of the Welsh Methodists’ participation in the international evangelical community in the 1740s it is necessary to widen the focus to consider how wider events informed the world-view of the first generation of rank-and-file Welsh Methodists. The Welsh Methodists’ knowledge of the English revival, as has been demonstrated, was often detailed and up to date because of the close working relationship that existed between Calvinistic Methodism in both countries. However, the extent to which the rank-and-file members of the Welsh revival were exposed to influences from other national awakenings is more difficult to assess.

The American colonies exercised a remarkably strong hold on the minds of many Welsh Methodists throughout the revival’s first decade. The awakening at Northampton in New England in 1734–5, superintended by Jonathan Edwards, presaged the more remarkable emergence of evangelical Protestantism a few years later. After Edwards’s highly influential account of the revival, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, was published in Britain for the first time in 1737, the Northampton awakening came to be seen as the benchmark against which the authenticity of all other awakenings was to be tested. Whitefield’s extended visit to the colonies in 1740 and 1741, which fanned the flames of revival and gave birth to the event that historians have dubbed the Great Awakening,1 was followed in Wales with intense interest

1 The term ‘Great Awakening’ was coined by Joseph Tracy in his The Great Awakening: A History of the Revival of Religion in the time of Edwards and Whitefield (1842; reprinted Edinburgh, 1976). His description has cast a long shadow over studies of the colonial revivals. For an analysis of its defects see Jon Butler, ‘Enthusiasm described and decried: the Great Awakening as interpretative fiction’, Journal of American History, 69 (September 1982), 305–25. The notion of a Great Awakening was defended by Alan Heimert and Perry Miller in the introduction to their anthology, The Great Awakening (Indianapolis, 1967), pp. xiii–xv. More recently, the term has again been rehabilitated by Frank Lambert in his Inventing the ‘Great Awakening’. For a summary of the debate see Allen C. Guelzo, ‘God’s designs: the literature of the colonial revivals of religion, 1735–1760’, in Harry S. Stout and D. G. Hart (eds), New Directions in American Religious History (New York, 1997), pp. 141–72.

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