The Great Awakening occurred roughly from 1730 through 1760. It was a true revival that spread from England to the American Colonies. A by-product of the Great Awakening was the American Revolution. Our founders grew up during this period and it had a profound impact on their lives. The events that lead to revival began to unfold in 17th century England through political wrangling.
The changes began taking place when Oliver Cromwell died in 1658. Cromwell was a lieutenant-general during the British Civil War, second in command of the main parliamentary army. His success during the war opened the door for his political career, in 1653 he became the head of state as Lord Protector. Some time before the civil war he had a profound conversion experience that heavily influenced his political decisions. Cromwell was a firm believer in religious liberty, believing that all men should worship God as their conscience demanded. This was not very popular with the Anglican Church or the royals. Cromwell’s influence was decidedly Puritan in personality.
Charles II assumed the throne after Cromwell’s death. Charles immediately set out to erase all influences of the Puritanism, he even went so far as to publicly exhume Cromwell’s body for all to see. The corruption and secular leanings of the Church of England had driven many members to the Puritan faith.
After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, William and Mary exiled all clergy who refused to forsake allegiance with James II. Much of the Anglican clergy abandon James for the new monarchy. This introduced great compromise in the church, clergy moved towards more moderate and acceptable doctrine producing a watered down gospel of Jesus the Christ. The spiritual experience of the common man become dismal and dry.
This produced religious complacency, which opened the door for a false sense of national pride. The government became satisfied with its self and promoted feelings of good well towards the people. However the Jews, Catholics, Unitarians, along with a handful of other minority groups were suppressed through severe punishments.
Basically the church in England, lead by the clergy, bowed to political power instead of taking a stand against the heresy being pushed by the government of England. What was going on in England was also taking place here in America, however the Church of England had far less power or control over American clergy. English rule here in America did crack down on churches but was less effective. However the spiritual complacency took place as well here. In both lands the people submitted to the moral decay which always produces a powerless and ineffective church.
Post modern Christianity suffers from the same things the church suffered from in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Today the church panders to government by remaining quiet to preserve its tax exempt status and to make the gospel more acceptable to sinners and political correctness. The church today lives in fear of offending someone, refusing to call sin, sin. We have given the moral high ground to moral relativism and political correctness.
The church will never be effective in combating evil until we return to the pure gospel of Jesus the Christ. There is no middle ground with God, you cannot straddle fences and expect to walk in His holiness and righteousness. I believe we could see revival again in this country, but it will not happen until a handful of people lay everything at the foot of the cross and allow the self life to be crucified unto death. Revival can only come through those who love Him with all their heart, soul, and mind. Jesus is the King of Glory, should we give him any less?
In 1729 two brothers John and Charles Wesley formed the Holy Club at Oxford. Distinguished members included John Gambold, John Clayton, James Hervey, Benjamin Ingham, Thomas Brougham, and George Whitefield. These young men would seek a deep spiritual experience and conversion that would move both England and the Colonies. They believed there was more to knowing God and His Son Jesus the Christ than the cold form of religion and deistic rationalism. Mental assent to God was not enough, it had to be a personal and intimate relationship.
In 1735 George Whitefield landed in America. His first sermons were preached in Philadelphia. Town population at that time was about 12,000 souls, yet 6,000 to 8,000 came to hear him speak. Benjamin Franklin wrote the following in his journal about Whitefield
“From being thoughtless and indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk through Philadelphia in the evening without hearing Psalms sung in different families of every street.”
Over the next 2 years Whitefield traveled the country bring the gospel of Jesus the Christ. Communities were turned upside down over night. The moral climate of our nation was being transformed into an image of the Christ. Whitefield would return to America 4 more times over the next 35 years, in all he preached over 8 years in the colonies
In 1735 the Wesley brothers came to Georgia. John did most of the preaching but the effects were much the same as what came through Whitefield.
John Wesley and George Whitefield held doctrinal differences, however these difference meant nothing to them. When Whitefield came to Georgia he was asked about these differences and whether he would see John Wesley in heaven. George Whitefield replied,
“No, sir, I fear not; for he will be so near the throne, and we shall be at such a distance, we shall hardly get sight of him”
The message that came through the revival transcended doctrine and dogma. Where the power of God is doctrine and dogma means little. Doctrine is the leaning post men fall upon when they abandon the power of God for their own selfish interests.
The revival began to open the minds of men to the awesomeness of God. The old ideas of English politics and religion that dictated that the will of God come through a bishop or king began to break down. Americans began to realize that God dwelt in every man who surrendered his life to His will. Thus a new political diagram began to form of God – to man – to government, instead of the old system of from God – to government – to man. Through religious liberty, personal liberty began to sprout. The ideas of personal accountability and personal responsibility began forming which opened the door of political liberty. When our founders wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence they did not appeal to any church but to the Supreme Ruler of all the world, God Himself.
Most Puritan and Pilgrim communities that formed here in the earliest days of our country were done so through covenants. The idea of covenant communities had broken down by the early 18th century but during the Great Awakening the ideas of covenant relationships began to be resurrected. The covenant relationship meant that the parishioners owed loyalty to the church and in turn the church owed the congregants loyalty to the true gospel of Jesus the Christ. This idea also began to transform into a new idea for government wherein the people owed loyalty to the state and in return the state must be true to the law and the people.
The idea for American government was a direct result of the Great Awakening.
Today we have moved far away from these principles in both government and the people. In the 18th century the American people placed their trust in God almighty. This made them dependent upon God and God alone. The idea of a nanny state would be so foreign to them they could not long endure it without setting the state back on the course of liberty. Our post modern ideas of entitlements, hand outs, and bail outs would be viewed as sloth and thievery. And our moral relativism would no doubt result in outrage and mass hangings.
In post modern America our founders would most certainly be viewed as terrorist by this government, and if we hold to the principles laid down by God and His Son Jesus the Christ so shall we.