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the work of the Rev. Theodore FreHnghuysen, who for
seven years had been pastor of a neighboring Dutch
church. The example and fraternal counsel of this good
man made him sensible of the fruitlessness of his own
work, and moved him to more earnest prayers and labors.
Having been brought low with sickness, lie prayed to God
to grant him one half-year more in which to " endeavor to
promote his kingdom with all my might at all adventures."
Being raised up from sickness, he devoted himself to
earnest personal labors with individuals and to renewed
faithfulness in the pulpit, " which method was sealed by
the Holy Spirit in the conviction and conversion of a con-
siderable number of persons, at various times and in dif-
ferent places, in that part of the country, as appeared by
their acquaintance with experimental religion and good
conversation." This bit of pastoral history, in which is
nothing startling or prodigious, was at least five years
previous to the " Surprising Conversions" at Northamp-
ton. There must have been generally throughout the
country a preparedness for the Great Awakening.

It was in that year (1735) in which the town of North-
ampton was all ablaze with the glory of its first revival
under Edwards that George Whitefield, first among tlie
members of Wesley's " Holy Club " at Oxford, attained
to that "sense of the divine love" from which he was
wont to date his conversion. In May, 1738, when the
last reflections from the Northampton revival had faded
out from all around the horizon, the young clergyman,
whose first efforts as a preacher in pulpits of the Church
of England had astonished all hearers by the power of his
eloquence, arrived at Savannah, urged by the importunity
of the Wesleys to take up the work in Georgia in whicli
they had so conspicuously failed. He entered eagerly into


the sanguine schemes for the advantage of the young
colony, and especially into the scheme for building and
endowing an orphan-house in just that corner of the earth
where there was less need of such an institution than any-
where else. After three months' stay he started on his
return to England to seek priest's orders for himself, and
funds for the orphans that might be expected sometime in
Georgia. He was successful in both his errands. He was
ordained ; he collected more than one thousand pounds for
the orphan-house ; and being detained in the kingdom by
an embargo, he began that course of evangelistic preaching
which continued on either side of the ocean until his death,
and which is without a parallel in church history. His
incomparable eloquence thronged the parish churches,
until the churches were closed against him, and the Bishop
of London warned the people against him in a pastoral
letter. Then he went out into the open fields, in the ser-
vice, as he said, of him " who had a mountain for his pul-
pit, and the heavens for his sounding-board, and who,
when his gospel was refused by the Jews, sent his servants
into the highways and hedges." Multitudes of every rank
thronged him; but especially the heathenized and em-
bruted colliers near Bristol listened to the unknown gospel,
and their awakened feelings were revealed to the preacher
by his observing the white gutters made by the tears that
ran down their grimy faces. At last the embargo was
raised, and committing his work to Wesley, whom he had
drawn into field-preaching, he sailed in August, 1739, for
Philadelphia, on his way to Georgia. His fame had gone
before him, and the desire to hear him was universal. The
churches would not contain the throngs. It was long
remembered how, on those summer evenings, he would
take his stand in the balcony of the old court-house in
Market Street, and how every syllable from his wonderful


voice would be heard aboard the river-craft moored at the
foot of the street, four hundred feet away.

At New York the Episcopal church was closed against
him, but the pastor of the Presbyterian church, Mr. Pem-
berton, from Boston, made him welcome, and the fields
were free to him and his hearers. On the way to New York
and back, the tireless man preached at every town. At New
Brunswick he saw and heard with profound admiration Gil-
bert Tennent, thenceforth his friend and yokefellow.

Seeing the solemn eagerness of the people everywhere
to hear him, he determined to make the journey to Sa-
vannah by land, and again he turned the long journey
into a campaign of preaching. Arriving at Savannah in
January, 1740, he laid the foundation of his orphan-house,
" Bethesda," and in March was again on his way north-
ward on a tour of preaching and solicitation of funds.
Touching at Charleston, where the bishop's commissary,
Dr. Garden, was at open controversy with him, he preached
five times and received seventy pounds for his charitable
work. Landing at New Castle on a Sunday morning, he
preached morning and evening. Monday morning he
preached at Wilmington to a vast assemblage. Tuesday
evening he preached on Society Hill, in Philadelphia, " to
about eight thousand," and at the same place Wednesday
morning and evening. Then once more he made the tour
to New York and back, preaching at every halting-place.
A contemporary newspaper contains the following item :

"New Castle, May 15th. This evening Mr. Whitefield
went on board his sloop here in order to sail for Georgia.
On Sunday he preached twice in Philadelphia, and in the
evening, when he preached his farewell sermon, it is sup-
posed he had twenty thousand hearers. On Monday he
preached at Darby and Chester ; on Tuesday at Wilming-
ton and Whiteclay Creek ; on Wednesday, twice at Not-


tingham; on Thursday at Fog's Manor and New Castle.
The congregations were much increased since his being
here last. The presence of God was much seen in the
assemblies, especially at Nottingham and Fog's Manor,
where the people were under such deep soul- distress that
their cries almost drowned his voice. He has collected in
this and the neighboring provinces about four hundred and
fifty pounds sterling for his orphans in Georgia."

Into the feeble but rapidly growing presbyteries and
the one synod of the American Presbyterian Church the
revival had brought, not peace, but a sword. The collision
was inevitable between the fervor and unrestrained zeal of
the evangelists and the sense of order and decorum, and
of the importance of organization and method, into which
men are trained in the ministry of an established church.
No man, even at this day, can read the "standards" of
the Presbyterian Church without seeing that they have
had to be strained to admit those " revival methods " which
ever since the days of Whitefield have prevailed in that
body. The conflict that arose was not unlike that which
from the beginning of New England history had subsisted
between Separatist and Nationalist. In the Presbyterian
conflict, as so often in religious controversies, disciplinary
and doctrinal questions were complicated with a difference
of race. The " Old Side " was the Scotch and Irish party ;
the " New Side " was the New England party, to which
many of the old-country ministers adhered. For successive
years the mutual opposition had shown itself in the synod ;
and in 1740, at the synod meeting at Philadelphia, soon
after the departure of Whitefield, the real gravamen of
the controversy appeared, in the implied and even express
impeachment of the spiritual character of the Old Side
ministers. The impeachment had been implied in the
coming of the evangelists uninvited into other men's


parishes, as if these were mission ground. And now it
was expressed in papers read before the synod by Blair
and Gilbert Tennent. The action of the synod went so
far toward sustaining the men of the New Side as to re-
peal the rule restraining ministers from preaching outside
of their own parishes, and as to put on record a thank:;-
giving for the work of God in the land. Through all tie
days of the synod's meeting, daily throngs on Society Hill
were addressed by the Tennents and other " hot gospelers "
of the revival, and churches and private houses were re-
sounding with revival hymns and exhortations. Already
the preaching and printing of Gilbert Tennent's " Notting-
ham Sermon " had made further fellowship between the
two parties for the time impossible. The sermon flagrantly
illustrated the worst characteristic of the revivalists — their
censoriousness. It was a violent invective on" The Danger
of an Unconverted Ministry," which so favorable a critic
as Dr. Alexander has characterized as " one of the most
severely abusive sermons which was ever penned." The
answer to it came in a form that might have been expected.
At the opening of the synod of 174 1 a solemn protestation
was presented containing an indictment in seven grave
counts against the men of the New Side, and declaring
them to " have at present no right to sit and vote as
members of this synod, and that if they should sit and
vote, the doings of the synod would be of no force or
obligation." The protestation was adopted by the synod
by a bare majority of a small attendance. The presbytery
of New Brunswick found itself exscinded by this short and
easy process of discipline ; the presbytery of New York
joined with it in organizing a new synod, and the schism
was complete.

It is needless further to follow in detail the amazing
career of Whitefield, " posting o'er land and ocean without


rest," and attended at every movement by such storms of
religious agitation as have been already described. In
August, 1740, he made his first visit to New England.
He met with a cordial welcome. At Boston all pulpits
were opened to him, and churches were thronged with
eager and excited hearers.^ He preached on the common
in the open air, and the crowds were doubled. All the
surrounding towns, and the coast eastward to Maine, and
the interior as far as Northampton, and the Connecticut
towns along the road to New York, were wonderfully
aroused by the preaching, which, according to the testi-
mony of two nations and all grades of society, must have
been of unequaled power over the feelings. Not only the
clergy, including the few Church of England missionaries,
but the colleges and the magistrates delighted to honor
him. Belcher, the royal governor at Boston, fairly slob-
bered over him, with tears and embraces and kisses ; and
the devout Governor Talcott, at New Haven, gave God
thanks, after listening to the great preacher, "for such
refreshings on the way to our rest." So he was sped on
his way back to the South.

Relieved thus of the glamor of his presence, the Nev/
England people began, some of them, to recognize in what
an earthen vessel their treasure had been borne. Already,
in his earlier youth, when his vast powers had been sud-
denly revealed to him and to the world, he had had wise
counsel from such men as Watts and Doddridge against
some of his perils. Watts warned him against his super-

1 The critical historian has the unusual satisfaction, at this point, of finding
a gauge by which to discount the large round numbers given in Whitefield's
journal. He speaks of preaching in the Old South Church to six thousand
persons. The now venerable building had at that time a seating capacity of
about twelve hundred. Alaking the largest allowance for standing-room, we
may estimate his actual audience at two thousand. Whitefield was an honest
man, but sixty-six per cent, is not too large a discount to make from his figures ;
his estimates of spiritual effect from his labor are liable to a similar deduction.


stition of trusting to " impressions " assumed to be divine ;
and Doddridge pronounced him " an honest man, but
weak, and a little intoxicated with popularity," 1 But no
human strength could stand against the adulation that
everywhere attended him. His vain conceit was continu-
ally betraying him into indiscretions, which he was ever
quick to expiate by humble acknowledgment. At North-
ampton he was deeply impressed with the beauty of
holiness in Edwards and his wife; and he listened with
deference to the cautions of that wise counselor against
his faith in "impressions" and against his censorious
judgments of other men as " unconverted " ; but it seemed
to the pastor that his guest " liked him not so well for
opposing these things."

The faults of Whitefield were intensified to a hateful
degree in some of his associates and followers. Leaving
Boston, he sent, to succeed to his work, Gilbert Tennent,
then glowing with the heat of his noted Nottingham ser-
mon on "An Unconverted Ministry." At once men's
minds began to be divided. On the one hand, so wise
and sober a critic as Thomas Prince, listening with severe
attention, gave his strong and unreserved approval to the
preaching and demeanor of Tennent. 2 At the other ex-
treme, we have such testimony as this from Dr. Timothy
Cutler, the former rector of Yale College, now the Episco-
palian minister of Boston :

" It would be an endless attempt to describe that scene
of confusion and disturbance occasioned by him [White-
field] : the division of families, neighborhoods, and towns,
the contrariety of husbands and wives, the undutifulness
of children and servants, the quarrels among teachers, the
disorders of the night, the intermission of labor and busi-

1 Tracy, " Great Awakening," p. 51.

2 Ibid., pp. 1 14-120.


ness, the neglect of husbandry and of gathering the har-
vest. ... In many conventicles and places of rendezvous
there has been checkered work indeed, several preaching
and several exhorting and praying at the same tim.e, the
rest crying or laughing, yelping, sprawling, fainting, and
this revel maintained in some places many days and nights
together without intermission ; and then there were tlie
blessed outpourings of the Spirit! . . , After him came
one Tennent, a monster! impudent and noisy, and told
them they were all damn'd, damn'd, damn'd ; this charmed
them, and in the most dreadful winter I ever saw people
wallowed in the snow night and day for the benefit of his
beastly brayings, and many ended their days under these
fatigues. Both of them carried more money out of these
parts than the poor could be thankful for." ^

This is in a tone of bitter sectarian railing. But, after
all, the main allegations in it are sustained by the ample
evidence produced by Dr. Charles Chauncy, pastor of the
First Church in Boston, in his serious and weighty volume
of " Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New
England," published in 1743, as he sincerely says, "to
serve the interests of Christ's kingdom," and "faithfully
pointing out the things of a bad and dangerous tendency
in the late and present religious appearance in the land."
Dr. Chauncy was doubtless included in the sweeping de-
nunciation of the Christian ministry in general as " un-
converted," " Pharisees," " hypocrites." And yet it does
not appear in historical evidence that Chauncy was not
every whit as good a Christian as Tennent or Whitefield.

The excesses of the revival went on from bad to worse.
They culminated, at last, in the frenzy of poor James
Davenport, great-grandson of the venerable founder of
New Haven, who, under the control of " impressions " and

1 Letter of September 24, 1743, quoted in McConnell, "American Epis-
copal Church," p. 142, note.


" impulses " and texts of Scripture " borne in upon his
mind," abandoned his Long Island parish, a true allotrio-
episcopos, to thrust himself uninvited into the parishes of
other ministers, denouncing the pastor as " unconverted "
and adjuring the people to desert both pastor and church.
Like some other self-appointed itinerants and exhorters cf
the time, he seemed bent upon schism, as if this were thi
great end of preaching. Being invited to New London to
assist in organizing a Separatist church, he " published
the messages which he said he received from the Spirit
in dreams and otherwise, importing the great necessity of
mortification and contempt of the world ; and made them
believe that they must put away from them everything
that they delighted in, to avoid the heinous sin of idolatry
— that wigs, cloaks and breeches, hoods, gowns, rings,
jewels, and necklaces, must be all brought together into
one heap into his chamber, that they might by his solemn
decree be committed to the flames." On the .Sabbath
afternoon the pile was publicly burned amid songs and
shouts. In the pile were many favorite books of devotion,
including works of Flavel, Beveridge, Henry, and like
venerated names, and the sentence was announced with a
loud voice, " that the smoke of the torments of such of the
authors of the above-said books as died in the same belief
as when they set them out was now ascending in hell, in
like manner as they saw the smoke of these books arise." ^
The public fever and delirium was passing its crisis. A
little more than a year from this time, Davenport, who
had been treated by his brethren with much forbearance
and had twice been released from public process as non
compos mentis, recovered his reason at the same time with
his bodily health, and published an unreserved and affec-
tionate acknowledgment of the wrong that he had done
1 Chauncy, " Seasonable Thoughts," pp. 220-223.


under the influence of a spirit of delusion which he had
mistaken for the Spirit of truth. Those who had gone
furthest with him in his excesses returned to a more sober
and brotherly mind, and soon no visible trace remained of
the wild storm of enthusiasm that had swept over New
England, except a few languishing schisms in country
towns of Connecticut.

As in the middle colonies, the revival had brought
division in New England. But, after the New England
fashion, it was division merely into ways of thinking, not
into sects. Central in the agitated scene is the calm
figure of Edwards, uniting the faith and zeal of an apostle
with the acuteness of a philosopher, and applying the
exquisite powers of his intellect to discriminate between a
divine work and its human or Satanic admixtures, and
between true and spurious religious affections. He won
the blessing of the peacemaker. When half a generation
had passed there had not ceased, indeed, to be differences
of opinion, but there was none left to defend the wild
extravagances which the very authors of them lamented,
and there was none to deny, in face of the rich and en-
during fruits of the revival, that the power of God had
been present in it. In the twenty years ending in 1760
the number of the New England churches had been in-
creased by one hundred and fifty. ^

In the middle colonies there had been like progress.
The Presbyterian ministry had increased from forty-five
to more than a hundred ; and the increase had been wholly
on the " New Side." An early move of the conservative
party, to require a degree from a British or a New Eng-
land college as a condition of license to preach, was
promptly recognized as intended to exclude the fervid
students from the Log College. It was met by the organi-

1 Tracy, " Great Awakening," p. 389.


zation of Princeton College, whose influence, more New
Englandish than New England, directed by a succession
of illustrious Yale graduates in full sympathy with the
advanced theology of the revival, was counted on to with-
stand the more cautious orthodoxy of Yale. In this and
other ways the Presbyterian schism fell out to the further-
ance of the gospel.

In Virginia the quickening was as when the wind
breathed in the valley of dry bones. The story of Samuel
i^.Iorris and his unconscious mission, although authentic
fact; belongs with the very romance of evangelism.^ White-
held and " One-eyed Robinson," and at last Samuel Davies,
came to his aid. The deadly exclusiveness of the inert
Virginia establishment was broken up, and the gospel had
free course. The Presbyterian Church, which had at first
been looked on as an exotic sect that might be tolerated
out on the western frontier, after a brief struggle with the
Act of Uniformity maintained its right to live and struck
vigorous root in the soil. The effect of the Awakening
was felt in the establishment itself. Devereux Jarratt, a
convert of the revival, went to England for ordination, and
returned to labor for the resuscitation of the Episcopal
Church in his native State. " To him, and such as he, the
first workings of the renewed energy of the church in
Virginia are to be traced." -

An even more important result of the Awakening was
the swift and wide extension of Baptist principles and
churches. This was altogether logical. The revival had
come, not so much in the spirit and power of Elijah, turn-
ing to each other the hearts of fathers and of children, as
in the spirit of Ezekiel, the preacher of individual respon-
sibility and duty. The temper of the revival was wholly

1 See the autobiographical narrative in Tracy, p. 377.

2 Tiffany, " Protestant Episcopal Church," p. 45.


congenial with the strong individualism of the Baptist
churches. The Separatist churches formed in New Eng-
land by the withdrawal of revival enthusiasts from the
parish churches in many instances became Baptist. Cases
of individual conversion to Baptist views were frequent,
and the earnestness with which the new opinion was held
approved itself not only by debating and proselyting, but
by strenuous and useful evangelizing. Especially at the
South, from Virginia to Georgia, the new preachers, enter-
ing into the labors of the annoyed and persecuted pioneers
of their communion, won multitudes of converts to the
Christian faith, from the neglected populations, both black
and white, and gave to the Baptist churches a lasting
preeminence in numbers among the churches of the South.
Throughout the country the efTect of this vigorous propa-
gation of rival sects openly, in the face of whatever there
was of church establishment, settled this point : that the
law of American States, by whomsoever administered,
must sooner or later be the law of liberty and equality
among the various religious communions. In the southern
colonies, the empty shell of a church establishment had
crumbled on contact with the serious earnestness of the
young congregations gathered by the Presbyterian and
Baptist evangehsts. In New England, where estabhshment
was in the form of an attempt by the people of the com-
monwealth to confirm the people of each town in the
maintenance of common worship according to their con-
science and judgment, the " standing order " had solid
strength ; but when it was attempted by public authority
to curb the liberty of a considerable minority conscien-
tiously intent on secession, the reins were ready to break.
It soon came to be recognized that the only preeminence
the parish churches could permanently hold was that of
being " servants of all."



With equal and unlimited liberty, was to follow, as a
prevailing characteristic of American Christianity, a large
diversity of organization. Not only that men disagreeing
in their convictions of truth would be enrolled in different
bodies, but that men holding the same views, in the same
statement of them, would feel free to go apart from one
another, and stay apart. There was not even to be any
one generally predominating organization from which
minor ones should be reckoned as dissenting. One after
another the organizations which should be tempted by
some period of exceptional growth and prosperity to pre-
tend to a hegemony among the churches — Catholic, Epis-
copalian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist — would meet
with some set-back as inexorable as " the law of nature
that prevents the trees from growing up into the sky."

By a curious paradox, the same spiritual agitation which
deepened the divisions of the American church aroused in
the colonies the consciousness of a national religious unity.
We have already seen that in the period before the Awak-
ening the sole organ of fellowship reaching through the
whole chain of the British colonies was the correspondence
of the Quaker meetings and missionaries. In the glow of
the revival the continent awoke to the consciousness of a

Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconA history of American Christianity → online text (page 14 of 34)