Friday, November 29, 2013

The Leaders, the Message, and the Results of the First Great Awakening





The Leaders, the Message and the Results of
the Great Awakening



























25 November 2013






            The pendulum of history is always moving; empires rise and fall, science continues to adapt to the ever new theory, political thought moves from one point to another.  Can one be surprised that there have been changes and movement in the area of the Church as well?  In the 16th century there was a call for reform of doctrine and theology.  The 17th century brought about the “Age of Enlightenment” and the persuasion of reason, and the 18th century brought about “The Great Awakening”.  Like the previous events before it the First Great Awakening brought forth a needed message and results that still impact the Church and society today.

            Through the course of the Reformation, and after it, there was great division among the various religious groups.  There was still great debate regarding the sacraments of the Church, Baptism and Communion, and how they should be ministered and the message that was conveyed.  The debate among those who held to Calvinism and Arminianism raged on.  As nations began to define themselves based on their preferred Christian Sect many started persecuting those of other sects.  Due to this practice Justo Gonzalez points out how many began to look to reason as they felt the debates of doctrine and theology only resulted in “quarrels and prejudice”.[1] This view lead to the preeminence of reason over religion, and many in Europe were swept away by this way of thought.  Enlightenment and reason manifested itself in different ways trough rationalism and through spiritualism. 

            One of the consequences of reason was the prevalence of skepticism.  Skepticism began to spread, and the view of reason permeated into not only Europe, but the colonies as well.  The most prevalent form of enlightenment; however, was not through a denial of God, but through a view of God as the cosmic clock-maker who wound up the universe and then let it go its own course.  This view is most commonly known as Deism.  As Enlightenment was a response to the dogma and religious intolerance, so it too received an answer. 

The greatest challenge to the skepticism of the Enlightenment, however, did not come from learned treatise or reasoned debates.  Rather, it came from a great spiritual renewal that stemmed the tide of unbelief and brought true revival to God’s church.[2]


As one examines the message and result of the First Great Awakening, and why it served as an answer to the skepticism of Enlightenment it is necessary to first look to some of the key players, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards.

            George Whitefield is considered as one of the most well-known evangelists among American and European theologians.[3]  Whitefield was a close associate of both John and Charles Wesley having met them while at Oxford as a fellow member of a group of young men Charles had gathered which was soon called the “Holy Club”.[4]  Unlike John Wesley, Whitefield was fairly emotional in his preaching, and also insisted on preaching not just in the Church, but in the public square as well.  This caused some consternation between Wesley and him.

            George Whitefield had several strengths that lead to his reputation.  First, Whitefield believed very strongly in using the tools of the World to propagate his message.[5]  His use of the printing press is one of the aspects that makes Whitefield’s ministry unique above most of the other preachers of the Great Awakening.  As early as 1737 Whitefield had made bold use of the press in England and formulated his use of the “print to preach” strategy.[6]

            Another strength of Whitefield was his ability to transcend sectarianism and to work among the various sects, which Lambert believes lead to a new religion.[7]  As Whitefield prepared to travel to the colonies in 1739 he sent various writings to the leading Churchman of the colonies, Benjamin Coleman, Jonathan Edwards, and others.  In addition, Whitefield sent reports of his ministry activity in England to the colonies to familiarize people with him and his work prior to his arrival

            Jonathan Edwards was another significant individual in the First Great Awakening.  Edwards was brought up in a very pious home the only son of his parents.  He came from two generations of pastors; his father, Timothy Edwards, and his maternal grandfather Solomon Stoddard.[8]  Although raised in a pious home he struggled greatly with the doctrine of God’s sovereignty into his college.  Caldwell and Sweeney point out that in 1721 as he was meditating on 1 Timothy 1:17 Jonathan Edwards came under “delightful conviction” and the sovereignty of God became his comfort.[9]

            As Edwards went on to complete his MA at Yale, he became an avid student and began writing various treatises.  In the 1720’s he wrote “Resolutions”, which is still taught today by modern day theologians such as the late Dr. Howard Hendrix.  During the 1720s Edwards served as a tutor, and pastored briefly in New York, and then Connecticut.[10]  In 1727 Edwards was married, and began apprenticing under Solomon Stoddard in Northhampton until Stoddard’s death in 1729.[11]

            From 1729 until 1734 Edwards faithfully served as the sole minister of the Northampton Church.  His sermons were well delivered and resulted in some responses, but for the most part there was nothing spectacular.  Gonzalez notes that in 1734 something happened that was different, numerous individuals began to respond to Edwards’ message.  Some responded with great emotional outpouring, but many responded with what appeared to be a genuine change of life.[12] This change was a result of the message.  At the heart of this change was the message Edwards and Whitefield proclaimed; a point this paper will now examine.

            One of the main focuses of the Reformation had been to bring the Church back under the authority of Sola Scriptura.  As a result the main issues addressed were not necessarily issues of the heart, but issues of doctrine, theology, and orthodoxy.  As the Nations began to identify themselves as both a nation and a religious sect, so the people identified themselves based on the same criteria.  Although adept theologians and evangelists, Edwards and Whitefield did not focus on as much of the mind as they did the heart. 

            According to Charles Hambrick Stowe “Seventeenth-century New England Puritans had presented salvation as a process unfolding over a period of months in which sinners moved through successive stages from initial contrition to final conversion.”[13]  George Whitefield however, conveyed a message of immediate new birth.[14]  This was a part of the message the Whitefield and Edwards proclaimed, immediate salvation.

            One of Whitefield’s most well publicized and well known sermons is “The Marks of the New Birth”.  In this sermon Whitefield addressed both the converted and unconverted with a message of examination.  In the beginning of his sermon Whitefield address the feeling that many believers might have had of resistance to having their fruits examined.[15]  In this sermon, Whitefield seeks to deal with those who were raised by the Church teaching them that unless they become as children they will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.[16]

            In 1739 Jonathan Edwards had allowed George Whitefield to preach before his congregation. According to Gonzalez, Edwards wept at the preaching of Whitefield, and this sermon reignited a movement that was beginning to falter.[17]  As a result of the impact Whitefield had during his travels through the colonies, and because of concern of the message not reaching some areas, “clergy had banded together to stoke the fires of revival by instituting a series of weekday services”.[18]

            On July 8, 1741, Edward’s came before the people of Enfield and preached what is considered one of the greatest sermons in American history, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”[19]  Edwards took a different approach then Whitefield, but there were aspects of the messages that were similar, primarily the immediate need of salvation.  In the beginning of his sermon Edwards proclaimed: “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”[20]  Much of Edwards message focus on the sovereignty of God, and the wrath of God, but like Whitefield Edwards pointed to how Christ had “thrown the door of mercy wide open, and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners.”[21]

            Through the message of sin and the encouragement of examining the heart the First Great Awakening occurred.  There were various facets of results in regards to the First Great Awakening, some which were immediate, some short-term, and some still have an impact today.  The last portion of this paper will examine some of the results. 

            There was both negative and positive short term results of the First Great Awakening.  In the 1740’s Thomas Prince put together a newspaper to report on the First Great Awakening.  Dr. Timothy Gloege provided an examination of this work of Prince, “Christian History”, and although he does not view this favorably, his insight provides some ideas as to the negative results of the First Great Awakening.  According to Gloege, Prince was concerned with what appeared to be a social order breakdown.[22]  In addition, as he attempted to promote the effects of revival, he was challenged by those who were antirevivalists, such as Thomas Fleet.[23]

            Another negative result of the First Great Awakening impacted Jonathan Edwards.  His grandfather had a philosophy of open communion for all who wanted to participate regardless of profession of faith.  During his time as Pastor in Northampton, Stoddard held a belief that communion was a “converting ordinance” which was a belief entrenched in two generations of Northhamptonites.[24] Edwards became convinced, through Scripture, that communion was only to be partaken by those who had been born again as evidenced in their lives.  In 1750 Edwards publically opposed Stoddard’s position which resulted in his dismissal from Northampton.[25]

            Although there were some negative results related to a struggle for power and authority there were also positive short-term results.  First, Gonzalez points out the political consequences that were fairly immediate as the First Great Awakening “was the first to embrace all of the thirteen colonies”.[26]  Secondly, the First Great Awakening lead to many people coming forward in professions of faith, including 97 who had joined the Church at the delivery of Jonathan Edwards sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.[27] Finally, what had started out as impacting individual segments of the Church was united through the work of men like George Whitefield.[28]

            Some of the long term results of the First Great Awakening can be seen in Evangelists such as Billy Graham, who in 1964 preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in one of his crusades.  The teaching and doctrines of Whitefield and Edwards still impact various Churches today, and although there is some separation, there is still a unity between those who hold to orthodox beliefs that can work together to preach the Word of God. 

            In conclusion the men, message, and results impacted the time of the First Great Awakening, and still impact the Church today.  As conservative theologians turn to Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield they gain a high view of God and His word.  The message of the First Great Awakening is desperately needed today, a call to identify ourselves not through the knowledge we have of Christ in our heads, but to have Christ in our hearts.  The foundation the evangelical Church of America has today owes much to the First Great Awakening.




Works Cited

Caldwell, R.W. III, and D.A. Sweeney. "Edwards, Jonathan." In Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, edited by Timothy Larsen, 201-5. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003.


Dockery, David S., ed. Holman Bible Handbook. Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 1992.


Edwards, Jonathan. "Sermon II: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." In Works of Jonathan Edwards. Vol. 2, (with a Memoir by Sereno E. Dwight), 7-12. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974.


Gloege, Timothy E. W. "The Trouble with Christian History: Thomas Prince's “Great Awakening”." Church History 82, no. 01 (March 2013): 125-65. Accessed November 23, 2013.


Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Rev. ed. Vol. 2, the Reformation to the Present Day. New York: HarperOne, 2010.


Lambert, Frank. "The Great Awakening as Artifact: George Whitefield and the Construction of Intercolonial Revival, 1739-1745." Church History 60, no. 2 (June 1, 1991): 223-46. Accessed November 23, 2013.


Noll, Mark A. "Whitefield, George." In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd ed, edited by Walter A. Elwell, 1273. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.


Turley, Stephen Richard. "Awakened to the Holy: 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God' in Ritualized Context." Christianity and Literature 57, no. 4 (Summer 2008): 507-30. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.


Whitefield, George. “The Mark of the New Birth”. Spiritual Life. (Accessed

          November 24, 2013)


Winiarski, Douglas L. "Jonathan Edward, Enthusiast? Radical Revivalism and the Great Awakening in the  Connecticut Valley." Church History 74, no. 4 (December, 2005): 683-739. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.


[1] Justo L. Gonzalez, the Story of Christianity. rev. ed., vol. 2, The Reformation to the Present Day (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 174.
[2] David S. Dockery, ed., Holman Bible Handbook (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 1992), 873.
[3] Mark A. Noll, “Whitefield, George,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd ed., ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 1273.
[4] Gonzalez, 267.
[5] Frank Lambert, “The Great Awakening as Artifact: George Whitefield and the Construction of Intercolonial Revival, 1739-1745”, Church History 60, no. 2 (June 1, 1991): 224, accessed November 23, 2013,
[6] Lambert, 224.
[7] Lambert, 224.
[8] R.W. Caldwell III and D.A. Sweeney, “Edwards, Jonathan,” in Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, ed. Timothy Larsen (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 201.
[9] Caldwell and Sweeney, 201.
[10] Caldwell and Sweeney, 201.
[11] Caldwell and Sweeney, 202.
[12] Gonzalez, 288.
[13] Charles E. Hambrick Stowe, “The Practice of Piety Puritan Devotional Discipline in Seventeenth Century New England”: pp. 54-90, quoted in Frank Lambert, “The Great Awakening as Artifact: George Whitefield and the Construction of Intercolonial Revival, 1739-1745”. Church History, 1991.
[14] Lambert, 226.
[15] George Whitefield, “The Marks of the New Birth”, Spiritual Life, (retrieved November 24, 2013)
[16] Whitefield.
[17] Gonzalez, 289.
[18] Stephen Richard Turley, "Awakened to the Holy: 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God' in Ritualized Context", Christianity and Literature 57, no. 4 (Summer 2008): 507-30, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.
[19] Turley, 507.
[20] “Sermon II: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, (with a Memoir by Sereno E. Dwight) (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 7-12.
[21] Edwards, 11.
[22] Timothy E. W. Gloege, “The Trouble with Christian History: Thomas Prince's “Great Awakening””, Church History 82, no. 01 (March 2013): 125-65, accessed November 23, 2013,
[23] Gloege, 138.
[24] Caldwell and Sweeney, 203.
[25] Ibid, 204.
[26] Gonzalez, 290.
[27] Douglas L. Winiarski, “Jonathan Edward, Enthusiast? Radical Revivalism and the Great Awakening in the Connecticut Valley”, Church History 74, no. 4 (December, 2005): 683-739, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.
[28] Lambert, 223.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Sign Miracles: How They Identify Jesus Christ the Son of God

When evangelizing and sharing Christ in American society there is the likelihood that one will encounter an individual who will deny the deity of Christ or that Christ ever claimed deity.  This is particularly true if one encounters a Jehovah Witness or a Muslim.  They will blatantly claim that Christ never conferred deity upon himself.  With the Jehovah Witness they will deny the translation of John 1:1, and so it is vital that one can present the deity of Christ in another way.  This can be successfully done when one understands the sign miracles carefully conveyed in the Gospel according to John.

There are seven miracles or signs presented to the reader in the Gospel account of John.  First, Jesus turning the water into wine in John 2:1-11.  Second, Jesus healed the nobleman’s son in John 4:46-54.  Third, in John 5:1-14 Jesus healed the man who was lame.  Jesus’ fourth miracle was the feeding of the 5.000 men, plus women and children, found in John 6:1-14.  His fifth miracle was walking on the water (John 6:16-21).  Christ’s sixth miracle was the restoring of sight to the man born blind in John 9:1-41.  And finally his seventh sign was the rising of Lazarus in John 11:38-43.  These are the miracles that most scholars reference when they come to the Gospel of John.  Now, Dr. Towns takes a stance that not are there only seven signs performed, but eight, and he looks to the miraculous catch of fish in John 21:5-8.[1]        This paper will examine each of the miracles individually and how they demonstrated the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Jesus had just begun his public ministry and at the end of John 1 Christ has called six of his disciples; Andrew, John, Peter, James, Philip, and Nathaniel.  In John 2 Jesus and his disciples attend a wedding.  While at the wedding an unfortunate event occurred, and the party ran out of wine.  Mary comes to Jesus and informs him that the party has run out of wine.  Scholars debate as to why she came to Jesus about this.  Dr. Towns provides four opinions that have been postulated such as she was asking Jesus and the Disciples to leave, she was asking Jesus to pick up more wine, or she was asking for a miracle, or she was asking Jesus to speak.[2]  The text does not indicate what Mary’s expectations where in coming to Jesus, but what the text does specify is that Jesus sees six water pots, has them filled with water, and presented to the Chief Servant, and the water was turned to wine (John 2:7-9).

In this passage Jesus performed his first sign.  However, what was the significance of His turning the water into wine? The text demonstrates that only the servants who drew the water, and the six disciples with Christ knew about this miracle (2:9, 11).  H.R. Reynolds describes one aspect of this act; “It was a creative act.”[3]  T. Croskery further adds to this as he explains how the one “who can create matter can easily change it from one kind to another.”[4]  He also explains how this provided for the disciples evidence of the divine nature of Christ, and that “they believed as they never had before.”[5]

John 4:46-54 records Jesus second sign miracle.  While Christ was in Cana of Galilee a nobleman came to him pleading for the life of his son who was sick.  This was not a Jew who came to Jesus but most likely a Gentile who was in the service of Herod.  This man came to Jesus because he had heard about the miracles of Jesus.  Upon his request it seems that Jesus gives the man a stern response; “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe” (4:48, HCSB).  However, this response does not phase the nobleman at all, instead he again asked Jesus to come and heal his son (4:49).  Jesus assures the man that his son will live and sends the man on his journey back home.  What is remarkable at first is the belief that the man has in the words of Jesus.  At Jesus assurance that his son will live, the man simply starts his journey home (4:50).  The first significance of this miracle is that Jesus was demonstrating that he was not limited by space.  He was over twenty-five miles away from the boy who was ill.  Even today a person may be able to communicate with an individual miles away through cell phone or internet, but there are no direct actions one can do that would at would transverse any distance.  In this miracle Christ demonstrated a power that no simple man could attain.  Furthermore, Dr. Towns points out that this lead to this man and his whole family believing in the “incarnate Word of God”.[6]

Jesus travels to Jerusalem for a festival of the Jews in John 5.  While he is there Jesus provides His third sign and he heals a man who for 38 years had been unable to walk (5:5-8).  This sign was directed specifically at the Jewish leadership, and the Pharisees primarily.  Christ performed this miracle on the Sabbath which led the Pharisees to further attempt to kill Jesus (5:8, 18).  This miracle was significant because of the Jews charge, and Jesus’ response to the charge.  The Pharisees were arguing that it was unlawful to work on the Sabbath.  Jesus responded that as His Father is working so He also is allowed to work on the Sabbath.  As Leon Morris points out, through this sign Jesus was demonstrating that “He could do on the Sabbath things that the Pharisees could not do.”[7]  The Pharisees understood the point Christ was “making himself equal to God”.[8]

In John’s record of Jesus’ fourth miracle we are taken to a crowd gathered around Jesus in by the Sea of Galilee, as they are listening to his teachings (6:3).  It is now later in the day and as Christ looks over the crowd there is a compassion to care for their spiritual but also their spiritual needs.  Jesus talks to Philip, already knowing what He is about to do, but as a faith check on Philip.  However, Philip fails the test, and so Jesus brings about another sign and provides not only for the needs of the 5,000 men who are gathered, but also to help build faith in His disciples.  Dr. Towns sees the gathering of the twelve baskets as a demonstration of a principle Jesus will further expound on the next day; “That of all that He [the Father] has given Me I lose nothing” (6:39).[9]

Unlike most of the signs of Jesus John leads right from Christ’s sign of the feeding of the 5,000 to Jesus fifth miracle, waking on the water.  After the feeding of the 5,000 the crowd purposed to put Christ on the throne of David (6:15) as their provider and defender against Rome.  However, the purpose of Jesus at His first advent was not to come as the conquering king, but instead the sacrificial lamb.  Jesus removed Himself from the crowd, and sent his disciples across the Sea of Galilee.

The disciples begin their journey across the Sea of Galilee, but a storm comes upon them, and so the disciples have to work diligently to proceed across the way.  As they are attempting to cross the now turbulent sea, they see Jesus walking across the water possibly with the intent of passing them (6:19).  They are greatly frightened and even assume this might be a harbinger of doom, yet Christ calls to them, and tells them not to be afraid (6:20).  In their moment of fear, Christ came them and offered comfort.  Reynolds sees the point of this sign as demonstrating that even in Christ’s divinity He has the ability to comfort all fears and doubts, for nothing can occur outside of His control.[10]

Jesus and His disciples come into contact with a man born blind in John 9.  His disciples question Him and ask if this blindness is a result of the sin of the individual or his parents (9:2).  Jesus explains that it is not the result of sin from anyone of this man being born blind, but instead so that God the Father might be glorified through Christ (9:3).  Again, on the Sabbath day Jesus is about the work of His Father.  This sign was to demonstrate the mission and ministry of Christ on earth as Divine Operation[11] as B. Thomas points out in his homily in the Pulpit Commentary.  Thomas states that this demonstrates the fact that redeeming grace, an attribute the Jews considered only as coming from God, was within Jesus as well.[12]

The other miracles are also significant in their own ways.  In the rising of Lazarus Christ’s demonstrates that He has all authority over life and death, a power only held by God.  And in the miraculous catch, Christ demonstrates additional power and authority over all of creation.  If one is challenged with the claim that Jesus never claimed deity.  His very signs demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that Christ was indeed divine.  This was something His disciples came to see, the nobleman, the man born blind, and the Jews saw as well.  Three of these groups and individuals came to the right understanding of who Christ was, one was blinded and refused to see the fulfillment of God’s promise to send forth the Messiah. 






















Croskery, T. Gospel of John. 1890. Edited by H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell. Pulpit Commentary. Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1978.


Morris, Leon. Jesus Is the Christ. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012.


Reynolds, H. R. Gospel of John. 1890. Edited by H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell. Pulpit Commentary. Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1978.


Thomas, B. Gospel of John. 1890. Edited by H.D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell. Pulpit Commentary. Reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1978.

Towns, Elmer. The Gospel of John: Believe and Live. Rev. ed. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002.

[1] Elmer Towns, The Gospel of John: Believe and Live, rev. ed. (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), xiii
[2] Towns, 19.
[3] H. R. Reynolds, Gospel of John, ed. H.,D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, Pulpit Commentary (1890; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1978), 79.
[4] T. Croskery, Gospel of John, ed. H.D.M Spence and Joseph S. Exell, Pulpit Commentary (1890; rerp., Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1978), 94.
[5] Croskery, 95.
[6] Towns, 44.
[7] Leon Morris, Jesus Is the Christ (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012), 28
[8] Morris, 29.
[9] Towns, 60.
[10] Reynolds, 255.
[11] B. Thomas, Gospel of John, ed. H.,D.M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, Pulpit Commentary (1890; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1978), 427
[12] Thomas, 427.