The Great Awakenings
When the Puritans came to the colonies in the 1600's, they wanted to practice their religion openly. They were ardent believers and sought to live as the Bible taught. However, as the next generations came along, that desire to be close to God declined. People were more interested in making money and living a god life.
In the 1720's, Theodore Frelinghuysen of the Dutch Reformed Church and the Presbyterian pastor Gilbert Tennent arrived in New Jersey and declared it dead to the gospel. Tennent believed that many of the pastors had never been converted themselves. They saw revival begin in New Jersey. Revival means that people began to study the Bible, pray and want to follow Jesus.
In the 1730's, Jonathan Edwards became a minister in Northampton, Massachusetts. He found spiritual deadness. He began working with the young people who had become immoral. He said that 'the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in. Revival grew, and souls did as it were come by floods to Christ.' Over three hundred people converted to Christianity within six months. Edwards' words were distributed throughout the colonies and Britain. George Whitefield came from to England to preach the gospel. On his second trip, 1739-1741, revival was very apparent. Hundreds came to hear Whitefield preach.
This period of the 1730's and 1740's was called the Great Awakening. Great numbers were coming to the church. Sincere devotion to Christ appeared. Christians of various denominations wanted to work together to spread the gospel. A concern for missions grew. Christians went to tell the Indians about Christ. Young men wanted to attend seminaries and become preachers, so Princeton, Brown, Rutgers and Dartmouth were founded. All had seminaries. The Great Awakening gave more spirit to all of American society.
By the beginning of the 1800's, religious excitement had died down. The more educated no longer felt the need for God. However, a tremendous movement of revival was starting in the eastern part of the United States and moving west along with the population movement westward. Denominations joined to found organizations like the American Missionary Society in 1816 and the American Tract Society in 1826. A tract is a small pamphlet which explains the message of the gospel. Christians wanted to make reforms in society and help the poor and needy. People fought against slavery and alcohol. They fought for the right of women to vote. The evangelist Charles Finney believed that saving people also meant to change society.
This Second Great Awakening began in New England and encouraged social activism. In western New York new denominations of churches started. In the Appalachian regions of Tennessee and Kentucky, camp meetings arose. These were occasions for those living in isolated areas to get together to worship and sing. The revivals in the West were filled with much more emotion than the earlier ones. Methodists encouraged lay people to become circuit riders. These were men who rode from community to community preaching on a tour or circuit. One man might preach in 4 churches, one each Sunday, and make the circuit again. The areas couldn't support a pastor alone.
The Second Great Awakening left a great impact on American society. Many new churches were established. Great reforms were begun. Local farmers became preachers and started new congregations.
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