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Brief Outline Notes on the Great Awakening, 1735-45


I. What was it?
  • A wave of religious revival sweeping through New England that increased conversions and church membership. 
  • New way of apprehending God's truth: through the senses.
  • The Congregational Church split into Old Light and New Light factions. 
  • Supporters of the revival were called New Lights in New England and New Sides in the Middle Colonies: these emphasized primacy of emotions. "New Lights": justification by faith, itinerant evangelizing, enthusiasm, revival, radicalism 
  • New Light Preachers:
    • George Whitefield: thousands traveled to see him 
    • James Davenport: loud music, disturbing peace late at night, powerful extemporaneous sermons, burning idols (March 6, 1743) 
    • Gilbert Tennent
  • Old Lights or Old Sides: downplayed emotion, emphasized rationalism. 
  • "Old Lights": those who believed in moderation, intellect, predestination, justification through works: men could attain salvation through time, exercise observation, instruction against enthusiasm.  
II. History and Consequences
  • In winter of 1742-43, critics were questioning Awakening.  Rev. Charles Chauncy attacked its extravagances.
  • Revival of 1734-1734 described in letter.  Series ended when Edwards's uncle killed himself in a fit of religious melancholy.
  • Results:
    • Baptists gained converts
    • Social leveling, since Awakening underscored inherent depravity of the human soul. 
III. Why did it occur?

From Miller, Errand into the Wilderness

A. . Decline in church membership.  Great Awakening an attempt to get the people back to God.
1."City upon a Hill" idea of Winthrop was based on the idea of the covenant.

"Covenant theology taught that God had voluntarily limited the exercise of His power, binding himself into partnership with man.":
1. External covenants: church covenant & social covenant. "In return for man's walking as faithfully as he could in divine paths, God would bless both he church and the land itself."  Because of election, saints couldn't be distinguished from sinners.

2. Internal covenant of grace. Covenant with Adam had been covenant of works, which he had voided by his sin.  

3. Covenant of redemption, by which God accepted sacrifice of Christ; and covenant of grace, by which he extended salvation to Christ's followers.  Man himself could not achieve his half of the equation: it was based on a conditional promise by God and a matching requirement of faith by man.  Only the Deity through election could provide man with saving faith.  Thus, only the elected could covenant with God BUT only about 1/5 of the population were found able to take the covenant.  The rest just prayed for grace.  The second generation of Puritans didn't have the kind of emotional experiences.  To become a church member, people had to experience conversion.

2. By 1662, the churches were losing members, so the "half-way covenant" was started. "half-way covenant": if you were baptized and child of primitive church members, you could be included but not have full membership.  
3. Miller: "The theology of the founders conceived man as single and alone (from individual to community) in an empty field, wrestling with his sins; once he had survived this in solitude he could walk into church and by telling about it could join the church.  But the communal confession . . . was something new" (160).   Solomon Stoddard, Edwards's grandfather and an enemy of the Mathers, extended the practice or renewal of covenant to those who had never been there.  He called the times when the community responded "harvests" 1679, 1683, etc. 

B. Worldliness of the people
C. Rise of sectarianism following immigration of Quakers, Lutherans,
D. Doctrine of Arminianism: opposition to idea of predestination, emphasis on freedom of the will, belief in good works as a means to salvation
E. Rise of Skepticism

IV. Literature
A. Spiritual autobiography: Daniel Shea, Spiritual Autobiography in Early America

  • "The spiritual autobiographer is primarily concerned with the question of grace: whether or not the individual has been accepted into divine life, an acceptance signified by psychological and moral changes which the autobiographer comes to discern in his past experience" (xxvii).
  • "New England Puritans regularly stipulated a qualification for church membership  . . . . Beyond the usual confession of faith, the applicant was required to give a satisfactory narrative of his experience of grace.  These narratives hardly deserve to be considered autobiography...[subjects are reduced to ] testifying that their experiences follow a certain pattern of feeling and behavior" 
  • Thematic pattern: distinction between easy self-righteousness and the new birth of saving grace.  
B. Morphology of Conversion (from Thomas Hooker)
1.Contrition. Man should look into the Law of God and make an examination of his life and state according to the Law. 
2.Humiliation. Conviction of conscience by which seeker realizes that he is under sin. 
3.Vocation. Despair of salvation, in respect to strength of self and other creatures. 
4. Implantation. True humiliation of heart, grief and fear because of sin. Confession. 
5.Exaltation. First entrance into the state of saving grace.  
6.Possession. Awareness of presence of faith. 

Drawing on sermon notes from first-generation pastor Thomas Allen, Harry Stout describes a less rigidly formulated series of steps: 

1.Agitations of the soul lead to the sinner's deep sense of humiliation at his condition. 
2.The stricken sinner attempts to redress the wrongs he has done
through "legal obedience" to the covenant of works. He turns to
good works as a remedy, but this effort fails and he is brought to
deeper despair. 
3.The sinner experiences abject despair and misery. He sees all his
efforts as vain and  inconsequential before a perfect God. 
4.At the most abject moment of despair, the soul begins to understand God's grace and is elevated to an appreciation of it. 
5.Gratitude causes the sinner to live a life of obedience and thanksgiving, although human nature and pride may cause the sinner to backslide and to rely on his own will and works once again.  Because of this temptation, individuals must continually monitor their spiritual state and repeat the process of conversion if necessary.
B. Sermons (Jeremiads)
Parts of a Sermon 
                 A.Laying open the text 

                      1. Grammatical meaning 
                      2. Logical meaning 
                      3. Figurative meaning

                 B. Doctrine 

                      1. Partition and division of the topic 
                      2. Collects profitable points of Scripture

                 C. Reasons 

                      1. Demonstration of the truth of the doctrine 
                      2. Leads to rational conviction

                 D. Application 
                 E. Epilogue 

                      1. Magnifies arguments 
                      2. Leaves listener well-disposed, refreshed, and stimulated to
                      further action

The structure of the jeremiad was prescribed by the theory of external covenant. 

1. Doctrine (text taken from Bible, especially Isaiah or Jeremiah):  
a. Some proposition that people are pursued for their sins. 
b. Recital of afflictions and review of history
2. Reasons or Explication: Exposition of the national covenant  
a. terms 
b. conditions 
c. duties
3. Applications or uses 
a. Provocations to vengeance 
b. Proposed scheme of reformation 
c. Imagined still more gory judgments unless the listeners acted upon preacher's recommendations. 
 (4. Prescription) 
Samuel Danforth, A Brief Recognition of New Englands [sic] Errand into the Wilderness, (1671; famous sermon which set the standard for later jeremiads) 
Benjamin Thompson, New England's Crisis (1676; poem)  
Increase Mather, Day of Trouble is Near (1674) 
Increase Mather, A Renewal of Covenant the Great Duty Incumbent on Decaying and Distressed Churches  (1677) 
Samuel Torrey, Exhortation Unto Reformation (1674) 
Samuel Hooker, Righteousness Rained from Heaven (1677)

Comments to D. Campbell.