The Great Revival of 1740-45   part 1       Part 2Part 3

From The Constitutional History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.
(Philadelphia: William S. Martien, 1839-40)

THE GREAT REVIVAL, which about a hundred years ago visited so extensively the American Churches, is so much implicated with the ecclesiastical history of our own denomination, that the latter cannot be understood without some knowledge of the former. The controversies connected with the revival are identical with the disputes which resulted in the schism which divided the Presbyterian Church in 1741. Before entering, therefore, upon the history of that event, it will be necessary to present the reader with a general survey of that great religious excitement, which arrayed in conflicting parties the friends of religion in every part of the country. 

This division of sentiment could hardly have occurred, had the revival been one of unmingled purity. Such a revival, however, the church has never seen. Every luminous body is sure to cause shadows in every direction and of every form. Where the Son of man sows wheat, the evil one is sure to sow tares. It must be so. For it needs be that offenses come, though woe to those by whom they come. The men who, either from their character or circumstances, are led to take the most prominent part, during such seasons of excitement, are themselves often carried to extremes, or are so connected with the extravagant, that they are sometimes the last to perceive and the slowest to oppose the evils which so frequently mar the work of God, and burn over the fields which he bad just watered with his grace. Opposition to these evils commonly comes from a different quarter; from wise and good men who have been kept out of the focus of the excitement. And it is well that there are such opposers, else the church would soon be over-run with fanaticism. 

The term revival' is commonly used in a very comprehensive sense. It includes all the phenomena attending a general religious excitement; as well those which spring from God, as those which owe their origin to the infirmities of men. Hence those who favor the work, for what there is divine in it, are often injuriously regarded as the patrons of its concomitant irregularities, and those who oppose what is unreasonable about it, are as improperly denounced as the enemies of religion. It is, therefore, only one expression of that fanaticism which haunts the spirit of revivals, to make such a work a touchstone of character; to regard all as good who favor it, and all as bad who oppose it. That this should be done during the continuance of the excitement, is an evil to be expected and pardoned; but to commit the same error in the historical review of such a period, would admit of no excuse. Hard as it was then either to see or to believe, we can now easily perceive and readily credit that some of the best and some of the worst men in the church, were to be found on either side, in the controversy respecting, the great revival of the last century. The mere geographical position of a man, in many cases, determined the part he took in that controversy. A sober and sincere Christian, within the sphere of Davenport's operations, might well be an opposer, who, had he lived in the neighborhood of Edwards, might have approved and promoted the revival. Yet Edwards and Davenport were then regarded as leaders in the same great work. That there had been a lamentable declension in religion both in Great Britain and in this country, is universally acknowledged by the writers of this period. 

The Rev. Samuel Blair, speaking of the state of religion in Pennsylvania at that time, says: 'I doubt not but there were some sincerely religious persons up and down ; and there were, I believe, a considerable number in several congregations pretty exact, according to their education, in the observance of the external forms of religion, not only as to attendance upon public ordinances on the Sabbath, but also as to the practice of family worship, and perhaps secret prayer too ; but with those things, the most part seemed, to all appearance, to rest contented, and to satisfy their conscience with a dead formality in religion. A very lamentable ignorance of the essentials of true practical religion, and of the doctrines relating thereto, very generally prevailed. The nature and necessity of the new birth were little known or thought of: the necessity of a conviction of sin and misery by the Holy Spirit opening and applying the law to the conscience, in order to a saving closure with Christ. was hardly known at all to most, The necessity of being first in Christ by a vital union and in a justified state, before our religious services can be well pleasing or acceptable to God, was very little understood or thought of; but the common notion seemed to be, that if people were aiming to be in the way of duty as well as they could, as they imagined, there was no reason to be much afraid." In consequence of this ignorance of the nature of practical religion, there were, he adds, great carelessness and indifference about the things of eternity; great coldness and unconcern in public worship; a disregard of the Sabbath, and prevalence of worldly amusements and follies. (Narrative of the late remarkable revival of religion in the congregation of New Londonderry, and in other parts of Pennsylvania. By Rev. Samuel Blair, printed in his works, P. 336; and in Gillies' Collections, vol. ii. p. 150.)

In 1734, the Synod of Philadelphia found it necessary to issue a serious admonition to the presbyteries to examine candidates for the ministry and for admission to the Lord's supper, "as to their experience of a work of sanctifying grace in their hearts; and to inquire regularly into the life, conversation, and ministerial diligence of their members, especially as to whether they preached in an evangelical and fervent manner?"*(See Part I. of this History, p. 240)This admonition shows that there was a defect as to all these points, on the part of at least some of the members of the Synod. 

In 1740, Messrs. Gilbert Tennent and Samuel Blair presented two representations, complaining of "many defects in our ministry," that are, say the Synod, "matter of the greatest lamentation, if chargeable upon our members. The Synod do therefore solemnly admonish all the ministers within our bounds, seriously to consider the weight of their charge, and, as they will answer it at the great day of Christ, to take care to approve themselves to God, in the instances complained of. And the Synod do recommend it to the several presbyteries to take care of their several members in these particulars." (Minutes of Synod, vol. ii. p. 72) In these papers, which will be noticed more at length in the following chapter, complaint is made of the want of fidelity and zeal in preaching the gospel, and in the discharge of other ministerial duties; and the strong conviction is expressed that many of the members of the Synod were in an unconverted state. It is true indeed that such general complaints might be uttered now, or at almost any period of the church, and that of themselves they give us but little definite information of the character of the clergy. When or where might it not be said, that many of the preachers of the Gospel were too worldly in their conversation, too little urgent, discriminating, and faithful in their preaching? 

That these faults, however, prevailed at the period under consideration, to a greater extent than usual, there is little reason to doubt. Mr. Thompson, in his answer to these charges, says, with respect to the complaint, "concerning the low state of religion and experimental godliness, and the influence which the negligence and remissness of ministers in the duties of , their office have upon the same, I acknowledge thatI believe there is too much ground for it, and that it is just matter of mourning and lamentation to all who have the welfare of Zion and the prosperity of souls at heart; yea, I am firmly persuaded that our barrenness and fruitlessness under the means of grace, the decay of vital godliness in both ministers and people, our too great contentedness with a lifeless lukewarm orthodoxy of profession, is one principal evil whereby our God hath been provoked against us, to suffer us to fall into such divisions and confusions as we are visibly involved in."(Church of Christ p. 29). He makes the same acknowledgment with regard to some of the more specific charges. In reference to that respecting their talking to the people more about secular matters than about religion, he says: "I may charge myself in particular with being guilty of mis-improving many a precious opportunity that might have been improved to much better purpose for edification of myself and others. Yet I hope the generality of us are not degenerate to that desperate degree in this matter as to prove us altogether graceless; or to give our hearers just ground to believe that we do not desire them to be deeply and heartily concerned about their eternal estate." 

As to the more serious charge of "endeavoring to prejudice people against the work of God's power and grace in the conviction and conversion of sinners," he pronounces it to be, as far as he knows, " a, downright calumny." "It is true, he adds, "there are some things in our brethren's conduct which we cannot but condemn, and have condemned and spoken against both in public and private; and some things also which are the frequent effects of their preaching on many of their hearers which we cannot esteem so highly of, as both they and their admirers do." He then refers to their censoriousness, to their endeavors to prejudice their people against them as unconverted their intruding into other men's congregations against their will, and the extravagances which they allowed and encouraged in public worship. He also denies the charge, that they insisted on external duties to the "neglect of vital religion and the necessity of regeneration ;" and the assertion that they "seldom or never preached on the nature and necessity of conversion," he declares to be another slander taken up from prejudiced persons.

It is worthy of remark that neither Mr. Tennent nor Mr. Blair, when professedly bringing forward grounds of complaint against their brethren, mentions either the denial of any of the leading doctrines of the Bible, or open immorality. It is not to be doubted, that had error or immoral conduct prevailed, or been tolerated among the clergy, it would have been prominently presented. (The charge which Mr. Tennent makes against the Synod, of error in doctrine, respecting the foundation of moral obligation, is so evidently unjust, that it may be safely disregarded. It will be remembered that he and Mr. Cowell had a long dispute upon this subject, which was brought before the Synod, and that President Dickinson and others, ad a committee, brought in a report condemning the opinions against which Mr. Tennent contended, in such terms that he himself voted for the adoption of the report. He has certainly, therefore, no right to charge the adoption of that report as a proof of unsound doctrine. As to the other point, which he specifies, viz.: that there is a certainty of salvation annexed to the efforts of unrenewed men, we know nothing, except that Mr. Thompson says, "If there be any of the members of the Synod of this judgment, it is more than I know, and I am persuaded there are very few; for my own part, I know not one whom I so much as suspect, in this particular.) 

We know, however, from other sources, that there was no prevalent defection from the truth among the ministers of our church. The complaint against the old-side was, that they adhered too rigidly to the Westminster Confession; and the theology of every leading man on the new-side, is known from his writings, to have been thoroughly Calvinistic. There is not a single minister of that age in connection with our church, whose name has come down to us under the suspicion of Arminianism. False doctrine, therefore, was not the evil under which the church then suffered. It was rather a coldness and sluggishness with regard to religion. There was, undoubtedly, before the revival, a general indifference and lukewarmness among the clergy and people; and there is too much reason to fear, that in some cases the ministers, though orthodox, knew nothing of experimental religion. These cases were indeed not so numerous as the representations of Tennent would lead us to expect, as he himself afterwards freely acknowledged. As far, then, as the Presbyterian Church is concerned, the state of religion was very low before the Commencement of the great revival. 

As that work extended over the whole country, and was perhaps more general and powerful in New England than any where else, in order to have any just idea of its character, our attention must be directed to the congregational churches, as well as to those of our own denomination. After the first generation of Puritans had passed away, religion seems to have declined very rapidly, so that the writings of those who had seen what the churches in New' England were at the beginning, are filled with lamentations over their subsequent condition, and with gloomy prognostications as to the future. As early as 1678, Dr. Increase Mather says, "The body of the rising generation is a poor, perishing, unconverted, and (unless the Lord pour down his Spirit) an undone generation. Many are profane, drunkards, swearers, lascivious, scoffers at the power of godliness, despisers of those that are good, disobedient. Others are only civil and outwardly conformed to good order by reason of their education, but never knew what the new birth means."( Prince's Christian History, vol. i. p. 98.) In 1721, he writes thus: "I am now in the eighty third year of my age; and having had an opportunity to converse with the first planters of this country, and having been for sixty-five years a preacher of the Gospel, I cannot but be in the disposition of those ancient men, who had seen the foundation of the first house, and wept to see the change the work of the temple had upon it. I wish it were no other than the weakness of Horace's old man, the laudator temporis acti, when I complain there is a grievous decay of piety in the land, and a leaving of her first love; and that the beauties of holiness are not to be seen as once they were; a fruitful Christian grown too rare a spectacle; yea, too many are given to change, and leave that order of the Gospel to set up and uphold which, was the very design of these colonies; and the very interest of New England seems to be changed from a religious to a worldly one."(Prince, vol. i. p. 103. This writer, in Nos. 12, 13, and 14, has collectedmany other testimonies " to the great and lamentable decay of religion" in the generations following the first settlement of New England.

We must, however, be on our guard against drawing false conclusions from such statements. We should remember how high was the standard of piety which such writers had in view, and how peculiarly flourishing was the original condition of those churches whose declension is here spoken of. There may have been, and doubtless was much even in that age, over which we, in these less religious days, would heartily rejoice. What was decay to them, would be revival to us . The declension, however, did not stop at this stage. The generation which succeeded that over which Increase Mather mourned, departed still further from the doctrines and spirit of their pious ancestors. " The third and fourth generations," says Trumbull, "became still more generally inattentive to their spiritual concerns, and manifested a greater declension from the purity and zeal of their ancestors. Though the preaching of the Gospel was not altogether without success, and though there were tolerable peace and order in the churches; yet there was too generally a great decay as to the life and power of godliness. There was a general ease and security in sin. Abundant were the lamentations of pious ministers and good people poured out before God, on this account."(History of Connecticut, vol. ii. P. 135).  

As a single example of such lamentations, we may quote the account of the state of religion in Taunton, in 1740, as given by the Rev. Mr. Crocker. "The church was but small, considering the number of inhabitants; and deadness, dullness, formality, and security prevailed among them. Any who were wise virgins (and I trust there were a few such) appeared to be slumbering and sleeping with the foolish ; and sinners appeared to be at ease in Zion. In a word, it is to be feared there was but little of the life or power of godliness among them, and irreligion and immorality of one kind or another seemed awfully to increase." (See Prince, No. 93, and also Nos. 30 and 50, for similar accounts.) The defection from sound doctrine was also very extensive at this period; an evil which the revival but partially arrested, and that only for a few years. Edwards speaks of Arminianism as making a great noise in the land in 1734,(Dwight's Life of Edwards, p. 140) and his biographer says, there was a prevailing tendency to that system, at that time, not only in the county of Hampshire, but throughout the province.(Dwight's Life of Edwards, p. 434)

This tendency was not confined to Massachusetts; it was as great, if not greater, in Connecticut. President Clapp, though himself a Calvinist, was elected to the presidency of Yale College in 1739, "by a board of trustees exclusively Arminian, and all his associates in office held the same tenets."(Ibid. p. 2". Trumbull, vol. ii. p. 335.) We know not on what authority this specific statement rests, but it is rendered credible by other facts; such, for example, as the ordination of Mr. Whittlesey at Milford, notwithstanding the strenuous opposition of a large majority of people, founded on the belief "that he was not sound in the faith, but had imbibed the opinions of Arminius;" in which matter the ordaining council were fully sustained by the Association of New Haven. In Scotland there had been a general decay in the power of religion from the revolution in 1688 to the time of which we are now speaking. In 1712 Halyburton complained, upon his death-bed, of the indifference to the peculiarities of the gospel and to the power of godliness which prevailed among a great portion of the clergy. There had indeed been no' general defection from the truth; though the lenity with which the Assembly treated the errors of Professor Simson of Glasgow, and Professor Campbell of Aberdeen, is appealed to by the Seceders, in their Act and Testimony of 1736, with too much reason, in proof of a criminal indifference to the doctrines of the church. 

Though there had been extensive revivals in the West of Scotland in 1725, and a most remarkable effusion of the Spirit at the kirk of Shotts in 1730, as well as in other parts of the kingdom, the general state of religion was low, and upon the decline. In England the case was far worse. From the accession of Charles II. in 1660 and the exclusion of the non-conformists, true religion seems to have declined rapidly in the established church. Bishop Butler says, in his Introduction to his Analogy, that in his day Christianity itself seemed to be regarded as a fable " among "persons of discernment;" and in his first charge to the clergy of the diocese of Durham he laments over " the general decay of religion in the nation," the influence of which, he says, seems to be wearing out the minds of men.* Before the rise of the Methodists, says John Newton, " the doctrines of grace were seldom heard from the pulpit, and the life and power of religion were little known." Such in few words was the state of religion in England, Scotland and America, when it pleased God, contemporaneously in these several countries, remarkably to revive his work. The earliest manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit, in our portion of the church, during this period, was at Freehold, N. J. under the ministry of the Rev. John Tennent, who was called to that congregation in 1730, and died in 1732. " The settling of that place," says his brother, the Rev. Wm. Tennent, 'with a gospel ministry, was owing under God, to the agency of some Scotch people, that came to it; among whom there was none so pains-taking in this blessed work as one Walter Ker, who, in 1685, for his faithful and conscientious adherence to God and his truth as professed by the church of Scotland, was there apprehended and sent to this country, under a sentence of perpetual banishment. By which it appears that the devil and his instruments lost their aim in sending him from home, where it is unlikely he could ever have been so serviceable to Christ's kingdom as he has been here. He is yet (1744) alive; and, blessed be God, flourishing in his old age, being in his 88th year."

* Butler's Works,3, vol. ii. p. 238 The state of religion for a time in this congregation was very low. The labors of Mr. J. Tennent, however, were, greatly blessed. The place of public worship was generally crowded with people, who seemed to hear as for their lives. Religion became the general subject of discourse ; though all did not approve of the power of it. The Holy Scriptures were searched by people on both sides of the question; and knowledge surprisingly increased. The terror of God fell generally on the inhabitants of the place, so that wickedness, as ashamed, in a great measure hid its head. Mr. William Tennent, who succeeded his brother in 1733 as pastor of that church, says the effects of the labors of his predecessor were more discernible a few months after his death, than during his life. The religious excitement thus commenced continued, with various alternations, until 1744, the date of this account. As to the number of converts, Mr. T. says, "I cannot tell; my comfort is, that the Lord will reckon them, for he knows who are his." Those who were brought to the Savior, " were all prepared for it by a sharp law-work of conviction, in discovering to them, in a heart-affecting manner, their sinfulness both by nature and practice, as well as their liableness to damnation for their original and actual transgressions. Neither could they see any way in themselves by which they could escape the divine vengeance. For their whole past lives were not only a continued act of rebellion against God, but their present endeavors to better their state, such as prayers and the like, were so imperfect, that they could not endure them, and much less, they concluded, would a holy God. 

They all confessed the justice of God in their eternal perdition ; and thus were shut up to the blessed necessity of seeking relief by faith in Christ alone." The sorrows of the convinced were not alike in all, either in degree or continuance. Some did not think it possible for them to be saved, but these thoughts did not continue long. Others thought it possible, but not very probable on account of their vileness. The greatest degree of hope which any had under a conviction which issued well, was a may-be: peradventure, said the sinner, God will have mercy on me. The conviction of some was instantaneous, by the Holy Spirit applying the law and revealing all the deceit of their hearts, very speedily. But that of others was more progressive. They had discovered to them one abomination after another, in their lives, and hence were led to discover the fountain of all corruption in the heart, and thus were constrained to despair of life by the law, and consequently to flee to Jesus Christ as the only refuge, and to rest entirely in his merits. After such sorrowful exercises such as were reconciled to God were blessed with the spirit of adoption, enabling them to cry, "Abba, Father." Some had greater degrees of consolation than others in proportion to the clearness of the evidences of their sonship. 

The way in which they received consolation, was either by the application of some particular promise of Scripture; or by a soul-affecting view of the method of salvation by Christ, as free, without money and without price. With this way of salvation their souls were well pleased, and thereupon they ventured their case into his hands, expecting help from him only. As to the effects of this work on the subjects of it, Mr. Tennent says, they were not only made to know but heartily to approve of the great doctrines of the Gospel, which they were before either ignorant of, or averse to (at least some of them;) so that they sweetly agreed in exalting free, special, sovereign grace, through the Redeemer; being willing to glory only in the Lord, who loved them and gave himself for them. They approved of the law of God after the inward man, as holy, just, and good, and prized it above gold. They judged it their duty as well as privilege to wait on God in all his ordinances. A reverence for his commanding authority and gratitude for his love conspired to incite them to a willing, unfeigned, universal, unfainting obedience to his laws; yet they felt that in every thing they came sadly short, and bitterly bewailed their defects. They loved all such as they bad reason to think, from their principles, experience and practice, were truly godly, though they differed from them in sentiment as to smaller matters; and looked upon them as the excellent of the earth. They preferred others to themselves, in love; except when under temptation; and their failures they were ready to confess and bewail, generally accounting themselves that they were the meanest of the family of God. 

Through God's mercy, adds Mr. Tennent, we have been quite free from enthusiasm. Our people have followed the holy law of God, the sure word of prophecy, and not the impulses of their own minds. There have not been among us, that I know of, any visions, except such as are by faith; namely, clear and affecting views of the new and living way to the Father through his dear Son Jesus Christ; nor any revelations but what have been long since written in the sacred volume.* The leading characteristics of this work were a deep conviction of sin, arising from clear apprehensions of the extent and spirituality of the divine law. This conviction consisted in an humbling sense both of guilt and corruption. It led to their acknowledgment of the justice of God in their condemnation, and of their entire helplessness in themselves. Secondly, clear apprehensions of the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, producing a cordial acquiescence in the plan of salvation presented in the Gospel, and a believing acceptance of the offers of mercy. The soul thus returned to God through Jesus Christ, depending on his merits for the divine favor. Thirdly, this faith produced joy and peace; a sincere approbation of the doctrines of the Gospel; delight in the law of God; a constant endeavor to obey his will; love to the brethren, and a habitually low estimate of themselves and their attainments. This surely is a description of true, religion. Here are faith, hope, charity, obedience, and humility, and where these are, there is the Spirit of God, for these are his fruits. The revival in Lawrence, Hopewell, and Amwell, three contiguous towns in New Jersey, commenced under the ministry of Rev. John Rowland, of the Presbytery of New Brunswick. As the churches in two of these towns belonged to the Presbytery of Philadelphia, and as a large portion of the people did not unite in the call to Mr. Rowland, he at first preached in barns. In 1744, however, a new congregation was formed under the care of the Presbytery of New Brunswick.++

* Letter to Rev. Mr. Prince, of Boston, by William Tennent, dated Oct. 9, 1744; published in the Christian History, Nos. 90, 91, and reprinted in Gillies' Collections, vol. ii. p. 28. In the preceding account the language of the original narrator is almost uniformly retained, though his statements are very much abridged and condensed. The usual indication of quotation, therefore, has not been given. We shall pursue the same plan in giving an account of the revival in other places. ++ In a letter from Mr. William Tennent to Mr. Prince, dated October ", 1744, he says, " About four weeks since, at the invitation of the people, and desire of our Presbytery, I gathered a church, and celebrated the Lord's supper at a newly-erected congregation in the towns of Maidenhead (Lawrence) and Hopewell. 1- Christian History, No. 91

According to the account of Mr. Rowland, the revival in these towns was at first slow in its progress, one or two persons only being seriously affected under each sermon. In the spring of 1739, the number increased; and the power of the Spirit evidently attended the word on several occasions, until May, 1740, when the work became more extensive. On one occasion the people cried out so awfully that the preacher was constrained to conclude. After the sermon he inquired of those whose feelings had thus overcome them, what was the real cause of their crying out in such a manner. Some answered, "They saw hell opening before them and themselves ready to fall into it." Others said, "They were struck with such a sense of their sinfulness that they were afraid the Lord would never have mercy upon them." During the summer of 1740, the people, on several occasions, were deeply affected, and at times their convictions were attended with great horror, trembling, and loud weeping. Many continued crying in the most doleful manner, along the road, on their way home, and it was not in the power of man to restrain them, for the word of the Lord remained like fire upon their hearts. Of those who were thus affected by a sense of their guilt and danger, many became to all appearance, true Christians ; many went back, and became stiffnecked. 

The number in the latter class was small, Mr. Rowland says in comparison to what he had seen in most other places of his acquaintance. Those who were regarded as real converts gave a very distinct account of sin both original and actual. Their views of the corruption of their own hearts, and of their distance from God, were very clear and affecting. Their hardness, unbelief, ignorance, and blindness, pressed very heavily upon them. Their apprehension of their need of Christ, and of his Spirit, was such that they could find rest or contentment in nothing, until they bad obtained an interest in Jesus Christ, and had received his Spirit to sanctify their hearts. Those under conviction were very watchful over themselves, lest they should receive false, comfort, and thus rest in unfounded hopes. Their views of the Lord Jesus, as to his person, nature, and offices, and of the acting of their own faith and love. towards him, were clear and satisfactory. They continued, until the date of this account, careful to maintain a holy communion. with God, in the general course of their lives, were zealous for his truth, and walked steadily in his ways.* Here, as in the case of Freehold, are to be recognized the essential features of a genuine revival, conviction of sin, faith in Christ, joy and peace in believing, and a holy life. There was, however, apparently, a greater admixture of mere animal feeling in this than in the preceding case. In Newark and Elizabeth town, according to President Dickinson, ,religion was in a very low state until 1739. 

In August of that year a remarkable revival, especially among the young, commenced in Newark, which continued and increased during the months of November, December, and January following. There was a general reformation among the young people, who forsook the taverns and other places of amusement. All occasions for public worship were embraced with gladness. Great solemnity and devout attention were manifested in their assemblies. In March the whole town was brought under an uncommon concern about eternal things; which, during the summer, sensibly abated, though it did not entirely die away. Nothing remarkable occurred until February, 1741, when they were again visited with the special effusion of the Spirit of God. A plain, familiar sermon then preached, without any peculiar terror, fervor, or affectionate manner of address, It was set home with power. Many were brought to see and feel that till then they had no more than a name to live; and professors in general were put upon solemn inquiry into the foundation of their hope. During the following summer, this religious concern sensibly decayed; and, though the sincere converts held fast their profession without wavering, too many of those who had been under conviction grew careless and secure. What seemed greatly to contribute to this growing security, was the pride, false and rash zeal, and censoriousness among some who made high pretences to religion. This opened the mouths of many against the whole work, and raised that opposition which was not before heard of.

* Letter of Rev. Mr. Rowland to Mr. Foxcroft, of Boston, printed at Philadelphia, in 1745, and reprinted in Gillies' Collections, vol. ii. p. 132.

Almost every body seemed to acknowledge the finger of God in those wonderful appearances, until this handle was given to their opposition; and the dreadful scandals of the Rev. Mr. C., which came to light about this time, proved a means to still further harden many in their declension and apostasy. That unhappy gentleman having made such high pretensions to extraordinary piety and zeal, his scandals gave the deeper wound to vital and experimental godliness. Thus far regarding Newark. In the fall of 1739, the Rev. Mr. Whitefield preached in Elizabethtown to a numerous and attentive audience, but without any marked result. There was no apparent success attending the labors of Mr. Dickinson during that winter; which severely tried his faith and patience, as the neighboring town was then so remarkably visited. In June, 1740, he invited the young people to hear a discourse designed particularly for their benefit. A large congregation assembled, and he preached a plain, practical sermon, without any special liveliness or vigor, as he was himself in a remarkably dull frame, until enlivened by a sudden and deep impression which visibly appeared on the whole congregation. There was no crying out, or falling down, (as elsewhere happened,) but the distress of the audience discovered itself by tears and by audible sobbing and sighing in almost all parts of the house. From this time the usual amusements of the young were laid aside, and private meetings for religious exercises were instituted by them in different parts of the town. Public worship was constantly attended in a very solemn manner by the people generally. More persons applied, in a single day, during this period, to their pastor for spiritual direction, than in half a year before. 

In another letter, dated September 4, 1740, Mr. Dickinson says: "I have had more young people address me for direction in their spiritual concerns within these three months than within thirty years before." Though there were so many brought under conviction at the same time, there was little appearance of those irregular heats of which so much complaint was made in other parts of the land. Only two or three occurrences of that nature took place, and they were easily and speedily regulated. This work was substantially the same in all the subjects of it. Some indeed suffered more than others, yet all were brought under a deep sense of sin, guilt and danger, and none obtained satisfactory discoveries of their safety in Christ, till they were brought to despair of all help for themselves, and to feel that they lay at the mercy of God. There were no instances of such sudden conversions, nor of those ecstatic raptures spoken of in other places. Some who at one time were deeply affected, soon wore off their impressions, but Mr. Dickinson says he did not know of any two persons who gave reasonable evidence of conversion, who had disappointed his hopes. About sixty persons in Elizabethtown, and a number in the adjoining parish, were regarded as having experienced a change of heart during this revival.* 

In New Brunswick and its neighborhood, Mr. Gilbert Tennent informs us, the labors of the Rev. Mr. Frelinghuysen, of the Dutch Reformed Church, had been much blessed, especially about the time of his first settlement over that people in the year 1720. When Mr. Tennent took charge of the Presbyterian Church in New Brunswick, about 1727, he had the pleasure of seeing many proofs of the usefulness of his worthy fellow-laborer in the cause of Christ. Mr. Tennent was much distressed at his own apparent want of success; for eighteen months after his settlement, he saw no evidence that any one had been savingly benefited by his labors. He then commenced a serious examination of the members of his church, as to the grounds of their hope, which he found, in many cases, to be but sand. Such he solemnly warned and urged to seek converting grace. By this method many were awakened, and not a few, to all appearance, converted. As the effect of his labors increased, adversaries were multiplied; and his character was unjustly aspersed, which, however, did not discourage him. He preached much, at this time, upon original sin, repentance, the nature and necessity of conversion; and endeavored to alarm the secure by the terrors of the Lord, as well as to affect them by other topics of persuasion.

* President Dickinson's Letter to Rev. Mr. Foxcroft, dated August 23, 1743, in the Christian History, No. 32.

These efforts were followed by the conviction and conversion of a considerable number of persons at various places, and at different times. During his residence at New Brunswick there was no great ingathering of souls, at any one time, .though there were frequent gleanings of a few here and there. During the revival of 1740, New Brunswick, he says, felt some drops of, the spreading rain, but no general shower.* In his Journal, under the date of November 20, 1739, Whitefield has the following entry, relating to New Brunswick: " Preached about noon near two hours, in worthy Mr. Tennent's meeting-house, to a large assembly gathered from all parts. About 3 P.M. I preached again, and at 7 I baptized two children and preached a third time with greater freedom than at either of the former opportunities. It is impossible to tell with what pleasure the people of God heard those truths confirmed by a minister of the Church of England, which, for many years, had been preached by their own pastor." With regard to the revival at Baskinridge, about twenty miles to the north of New Brunswick, we know little, beyond what is stated in Mr. Whitefield's Journal, under the date just quoted. He there speaks of what be had heard of the wonderful effusions of the Spirit in that congregation, of the 'frequent sudden conversions which had there occurred, etc. These are all, however,second-hand reports, on which little reliance can be placed, especially as the pastor of that church, though making the highest pretensions to zeal and piety, was left to bring a sad disgrace upon the ministry and upon the revival of which he was one of the most prominent advocates. Whitefield visited Philadelphia in November, 1739. He found the Episcopal churches, for a time, freely opened to him. On one occasion, he says, " After I had done preaching, a young gentleman, once a minister of the Church of England, but now secretary to Mr. Penn, stood up, and with a loud voice warned the people against the doctrine which I had been delivering; urging that there was no such term as imputed righteousness in Holy Scripture, and that such a doctrine put a stop to all goodness.

* Letter to Rev. Mr. Prince, dated Philadelphia, August 24, 1744.-Christian History, Nos. 88, 89, 90.

When he had ended, I denied his first proposition, and brought a text to prove that imputed righteousness was a scriptural expression; but thinking the church an improper place for disputation, I said no more at that time. The portion of Scripture appointed to be read, was Jeremiah xxiii., wherein are the words, I The Lord our righteousness.' Upon them I discoursed in -the afternoon, and showed how the Lord Jesus was to be our whole righteousness; proved how the contrary doctrine overthrew divine revelation; answered the objections that were made against the doctrine of an imputed righteousness ; produced the Articles of our Church to illustrate it ; and concluded with an exhortation to all, to submit to Jesus Christ, who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. The word came with power. The church was thronged within and without; all wonderfully attentive, and many, as I was informed, convinced that the Lord Jesus Christ was our righteousness." Whitefield's, sentiments, manner of preaching, and clerical habits were so little in accordance with those of the majority of his Episcopal brethren, that this harmonious intercourse did not long continue. Their pulpits were soon closed against him, and he commenced preaching in the open air. One of his favorite stations was the balcony of the old court-house in Market street. Here he would take his stand, while his audience arranged themselves on the declivity of the hill on which the court-house stood.* The effects produced in Philadelphia by his preaching, "were truly astonishing. Numbers of all denominations, and many who had no connection with any denomination, were brought to inquire, with the utmost earnestness, what they must do to be saved. Such was the eagerness of the multitude for spiritual instruction, that there was public worship regularly twice a day for a year; and on the Lord's day it was celebrated thrice, and frequently four times."++

* It is said that his voice was so distinct, that every word he uttered, while reaching from the court-house, could be heard by persons in a vessel at treet wharf, at a distance of more than four hundred feet. It is even stated hat his voice was heard on the Jersey shore, a distance of at least a mile. Gillies'Life of Whitefield, p. 39. ++ Memoirs of Mrs. Hannah Hodge, Philadelphia, 1806.

During the winter of 1739-40, Whitefield visited the South, and returned to Philadelphia by sea the following spring. His friends now erected a stage for him on what was called Society Hill, where he preached for some time to large and deeply affected audiences. When he left the city, he urged his followers to attend the ministry of the Tennents and their associates. These gentlemen, accordingly, continued to labour among the people, and thus cherished and extended the impressions produced by Whitefield's preaching. In the course of this year, he collected funds for the erection of a permanent building for the use of itinerant ministers. This house afterwards became the seat of the college, and subsequently, university of Pennsylvania. Here Whitefield preached whenever he visited the city, and here his associates, especially the Tennents, and Messrs. Rowland, Blair, and Finley, ministered daring his absence. In 1743, the people who had been accustomed to attend upon the occasional ministrations of the above-named gentlemen, determined to form themselves into a church, and to call a stated pastor. They Accordingly presented a call to the Rev.Gilbert Tennent, who accepted their invitation, and was installed over them by the Presbytery of New Brunswick. In the letter already quoted, Mr. Tennent, after speaking of the low state of religion in Philadelphia, before the visits of Mr. Whitefield, and of the immediate effects of his preaching, says, that though some who were then awakened had lost their seriousness, and others fallen into erroneous doctrines, yet many gave every rational evidence of being true Christians. 

That some should have been led astray by the fair speeches and cunning craftiness of those that lie in wait to deceive, he thought was not to be wondered at, considering that the greater portion of them had not had the benefit of a strict religious education. He says he knew of none, who had been well acquainted with the doctrines of religion, in their connection, and established in them, who bad been thus turned aside. In May, 1744, he administered the Lord's supper to his people, for the first time, as a distinct church. The number of communicants was above one hundred and forty, almost all of whom were the fruits of the recent revival. Besides these, many others connected with other churches were regarded as Mr. Whitefield's converts. Mr. Tennent concludes his account by stating, that though there was a considerable falling off in the liveliness of the religious feeling of the people, yet they were growing more humble and merciful, and that their whole conversation made it evident that the bent of their hearts was towards God.* The Rev. Samuel Blair gives substantially the following account of the revival in New Londonderry, (Fagg's Manor,) in Pennsylvania. The congregation was formed in that place about the year 1725, and consisted, as did all the Presbyteritn churches in Pennsylvania, with two or three exceptions, of emigrants from Ireland. Mr. Blair, who was the first pastor of the church at Londonderry, was installed there, November, 1739.

During that winter, some four or five persons were brought under deep convictions; and in the following March, during a temporary absence of the pastor, while a neighbouring minister was preaching in his place, such a powerful impression was made upon the people, that some of them broke out into audible crying; a thing previously unknown in that part of the country. A similar effect was produced by the first sermon preached by Mr. Blair, after his return. The number of the awakened now increased very fast, and the Sabbath assemblies were exceedingly large, people coming from all quarters to a place where there was an appearance of the divine presence and power. There was scarcely a sermon preached during that summer, without manifest evidence of a deep impression being made upon the hearers. Often this impression was very great and general; some would be overcome to fainting; others deeply sobbing; others crying aloud; while others would be weeping in silence. In some few cases, the exercises were attended by strange convulsive agitations of the body. It was found that the greater portion of those thus seriously affected were influenced by a fixed and rational conviction of their dangerous condition.

The general behaviour of the people was soon very manifestly altered. Those who were concerned, spent much time in reading the Bible and other good books, and it was a great satisfaction to the people to find how exactly the doctrines which they daily heard preached to them, agreed with those taught by godly men in other places and in former times. Mr. Blair insisted much in his preaching upon the miserable state of man by nature, on the way of recovery through Jesus Christ, on the nature and necessity of faith, warning his hearers not to depend upon their repentance, Prayers, or reformation ; nor to seek peace in extraordinary ways, by visions, dreams, or immediate inspirations, but by an understanding view and believing persuasion of the way of life, as revealed in the gospel, through the suretyship-obedience and sufferings of Jesus Christ. His righteousness they were urged to accept as the only means of justification and life. Many of those who were convinced, soon gave satisfactory evidence that God had brought them to a saving faith in Christ. In most cases the Holy Spirit seemed to use for this purpose, some particular passage of the Scriptures, some promise or some declaration of the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. In others, there was no such prominence in the mind of the inquirer given to an one particular passage. Those who experienced such remarkable relief could not only give a rational account of the change in their feelings, but also exhibited the usual fruits of a genuine faith: particularly humility, love, and affectionate regard to the will and honour of God. Much of their exercises was in self-abasing and self loathing, and admiring the astonishing condescension and grace of God towards those who were so unworthy. They freely and sweetly chose the way of his commands, and were desirous to live according to his will and to the glory of his name. There were others who had no such lively exercises, and yet, gave evidence of faith in Christ, though it was not attended with such a degree of liberty and joy. Such persons, however, generally long continued to be suspicious of their own case.

* Letter to Mr. Prince, No. 89. As to the permanent results of this work, it is stated that those who had merely some slight impressions of a religious character, soon lost,them; and some who were for a time greatly distressed, seemed to have found peace in some other way than through faith in Christ. There were, however, a considerable number who gave scriptural evidence of having been savingly renewed. Their walk was habitually tender and conscientious; their carriage towards their neighbours was just and kind, and they had a peculiar love to all who bore the image of God. They endeavoured to live for God, and were much grieved on account of their imperfections, and the plague of their hearts. Entire harmony prevailed in the congregation. Indeed there was scarcely any open opposition to the work from the beginning, though some few of the people withdrew, and joined the ministers who unhappily opposed the revival. During the summer of 1740, the shower of divine influence spread extensively through Pennsylvania, and beyond the borders of that province. Certain ministers distinguished for their zeal were earnestly sought for in all directions; vacant congregations solicited their services; and even some of the clergy who were not disposed heartily to co-operate in the work,. yielded to the importunity of their people, and invited those ministers to visit their congregations. Great assemblies would ordinarily meet to hear them, upon any day of the week, and frequently a surprising power attended their preaching. Great numbers were thus convinced of their perishing condition, and there is every reason to believe that many were savingly converted to God.* 

Among the places in Pennsylvania particularly favoured during this season, were New Providence, Nottingham, White Clay Creek, and Neshaminy. With regard to the first of these places, Mr. Rowland, who after leaving New Jersey laboured much among those churches, says that it was while he was travelling among them that Cirod chose as the time of their ingathering to Christ, and that since he laboured statedly among those people he was as much engaged in endeavouring to build up those who had been called into fellowship with God, as to awaken and convince the careless. "As to their conviction, and conversion unto God," he adds, "they are able to give a scriptural account of them. I forbear to speak of many extraordinary appearances, such as scores crying out at one instant,falling, and fainting.

* Letter of Mr. Blair to Mr. Prince, dated August, 6, 1744, Christian History, No. 83; published also in Mr. Blair's Works, p. 336. VOL.II.-3

These people are still increasing, blessed be the Lord, and are labouring to walk in communion.with God and one another."Gillies, vol. ii. p. 324 Whitefield mentions his having preached at Neshaminy on the23d of April, 1740, to more than five thousand persons; "upwards of fifty," he adds, " I hear, have lately been brought under conviction of sin in this place." With regard to Nottingham he gives the following account. " There a good work had begun some time ago,by the ministry of Mr. Blair, Messrs. Tennent, and Mr. Cross; the last of whom was denied the use of the pulpit, and was obliged to preach in the woods, where the Lord manifested his glory, and caused many to cry out, What shall we do to be saved ? It surprised me to see such a multitude gathered together at so short a notice, in Such a desert place. I believe there were near twelve thousand hearers. I had not spoken long, when I perceived numbers melting. And as I preached, the power increased, till at last, both in the morning and afternoon, thousands cried out, so that they almost drowned my voice. Never before did I see a more glorious sight. Oh what strong crying and tears were shed and poured forth after the dear Lord Jesus ! Some fainted; and when they bad got a little strength, would hear and faint again. Others cried out in a manner almost as if they were in the sharpest agonies of death. I think I was never myself filled with greater power. After I had finished my last discourse, I was so pierced, as it were, and overpowered with God's love, that some thought, I believe, that I was about to give up the ghost." 

The next day he preached at Fagg's Manor, where the congregation was nearly as large as it had been at Nottingham, and " the commotion in the hearts of the people" as great, if not greater. It is evident there must have been an extraordinary influence on the minds of the people to produce such vast assemblies, and such striking effects from the preaching of the gospel. There reason to doubt that there was much that was rational and scriptural in the experience of the persons thus violently agitated; yet there can be as little doubt that much of the outward effect above described was the result of mere natural excitement, produced by powerful impressions made upon excited imaginations by the fervid eloquence of the preacher, and propagated through the crowd by the mysterious influence of symphathy. Mr. Whitefield preached in New York repeatedly, during his second and third visits to this country, and was kindly received by the Rev. Mr. Pemberton, pastor of the Presbyterian church in that city, but no very remarkable results seem to have there attended his ministry. In no part of our country was the revival more interesting, and in very few was it so pure as in Virginia. The state of religion in that province was deplorable. 

There was "a surprising negligence in attending public worship, and an equally surprising levity and unconcernedness in those that did attend. Family religion a rarity, and a solemn concern about eternal things a greater. Vices of various kinds triumphant, and even a form of godliness not common."* "Much the larger portion of the clergy were, at this time, deficient in the great duty of placing distinctly before the people the fundamental truths of the gospel." ++ Various circumstances had conspired to supply the established church of Virginia with ministers unfitted for their stations; and under the influence of men unqualified to be either the teachers or examples of their flocks, religion had been reduced to a very low state. There were indeed some faithful ministers, and some who were sincerely seeking the Lord in the communion of the Church of England. Still all accounts agree as to the general prevalence of irreligion among both the clergy and the laity. It seems that even before the year 1740, some persons had been led, partly by their own reflections, and partly by the perusal of some of the writings of Flavel and others, to feel a deep interest in the concerns of religion. This was the case particularly with Mr. Samuel Morris, who having obtained relief to his own mind, became anxious for the salvation of his neighbours. He accordingly began to read to them the works which he had found so useful to himself, especially Luther on the Galatians.

* Davies's Letter to Mr. Bellamy, Gillies Collection, Vol. ii. p. 330. ++ Hawks's Contributions to the Ecclesiastical History of the United States, Vol.i. P. "5. + Davies's Narrative. 

Part 2Part 3

Source: International Revival Network:
May be freely copied provided source and/or copyrights are included with the text.

Conditions of use

OpenHeaven 2002  All rights reserved