Joe Marchand2/17/09 The American Religious Experience Dr. Jeremy BonnerBook Review Question Before the Great Awakening even occurred in New England, Jonathan Edwards brought about a great revival in his own town of Northampton that helped spark the awakening. In the town the young people were disrespecting authority, and because of the difficult economic situation many were living in their parent’s homes well into their twenties. When Edwards first began preaching he could sense that the town was regaining its vitality, however the revival was slow and it was not until three years later that his patient cultivation began to bloom.
This revival was helped greatly, but unintentionally, by the sudden death of a young man, who became violently ill with pleurisy and died two days later. At the young man’s funeral Edwards warned the youth of the town about squandering their lives in pursuit of vanity, and lead them to feel the shock of their unreasonableness. The young people took Edwards’ words to heart, and began to lead their lives better. Later that year the youth of Northampton had been transformed and the awakening had spread into the surrounding counties.
After Edwards had gained popularity for his sermons in Northampton and the revival that he led there, he set his sights on converting all of New England. The revival was contagious and it was not long after Edwards began his preaching tour that most of New England had been caught up in the Awakening. But how did Edwards accumulate such a following? Perhaps it was the way that Edwards led his own life that made him so intriguing. Edwards is described as deeply spiritual, intensely hard-working, intellectual, introspective, and somewhat withdrawn.
He followed the biblical advice of being slow to speak, and as a result spoke only when he had something to say. Along with leading by example, Edwards also captured the minds of the people of New England through his sermons. Although Edwards was not as nearly as dramatic or forceful as other preachers of his day such as Tennent and Whitefield, he was extremely compelling. His delivery was often described as “easy, natural, and very solemn,” despite the fact that he did not have a strong or loud voice.
What he lacked in vocal intensity he made up for with the decisiveness and clearness of his words, speaking in such a way that few have been able to generate the attention of an audience as he. Through his engrossing sermons and good example, Edwards was an easy person to admire for the people of New England, who were constantly looking for someone to lead them. In spite of Jonathan Edwards’ exceptional ability to capture the attention of an audience through his loquacious delivery, it was not the only way in which he was able to convince the people of the Awakening.
New Englanders were also very interested in the ideas that Edwards was preaching about religion. One of his ideas that Edwards told his parishioners was that Christ’s coming in his kingdom would be made up of four sets of events: Christ’s work on earth; the destruction of the heathen Roman Empire and the establishment of Christendom; the destruction of the antichrist; and Christ’s coming again in judgment. These four events supported Edwards belief that religions are tied to nations, and that America’s future would always involve religion.
While this was one of Edward’s more important ideas, it was not the one that generated the most publicity. The Enfield sermon, perhaps his best known, was titled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God and preached that hell was a real place. In the sermon, Edwards emphasized the idea that at this very moment all sinners are being held in the hands of God, who is delaying their destruction in hell because he believes that they still have a chance to redeem themselves. God is extremely angry at these people, but at the same time is still giving them the chance to save themselves.
Through the vivid imagery in this sermon, Edwards leads his audience to feel the full weight of their sins that are pulling them down and bringing them further away from God, as well as a sense of the full power of God’s judgments. The Enfield Sermon probably had the greatest effect on the people who heard it than any of the other preaching Edwards delivered in his lifetime. Now, it is easy to see why Edwards was such an intriguing figure in 1700s New England, and how he was able to create a theology of revival. But how did he differ from the other revivalist of the 1740s?
A preacher from England named John Whitefield came to the colonies in the 1730s. On his trip to New England he stopped at Northampton both to preach there and to meet Jonathan Edwards. Whitefield was very different from Edwards in terms of how he delivered his sermons. While the power of Edwards’ preaching came through clear and decisive wording that emphasized the theme, Whitefield entranced audiences with his passion of a born actor. He preached without notes and had a loud and splendid voice that could be heard by all who were listening.
Whitefield also had the ability to draw an audience emotionally into the theme of the text through the descriptive painting of vivid pictures. Along with the skillful way that he captured the attention of an audience, Edwards and Whitefield also differed in their views on religion. Whitefield often used profound spiritual manifestations in his sermons to further entice the crowd and encouraged them to take part. Edwards on the other hand believed that these “manifestations” were simply impulses and that people should not rely too heavily on them.
Whitefield was unconvinced of Edwards’ thinking, but allowed the subject to slide. Although the two remained firm allies, Edwards sensed that Whitefield had not taken to him so well because of his opposing views on the subject. Another revivalist who differed from Edwards and was much in the same mold as Whitefield was James Davenport. Like Whitefield, Davenport was a young itinerant who endorsed the Awakening and preached with a passion that was not often seen in New England at that time.
He also shared the same idea that God communicated through impulses and strong impressions, and encouraged others to adopt the procedure. However, Davenport did differ from Whitefield in some of his beliefs. First of all, Davenport openly condemned almost all of the ministers in New England as “unconverted. ” He believed that these men were simply preaching in order to make themselves look better in the eyes of God, and did not really care about the people. Second, Davenport encouraged insubordination among the people of New England, in particular the boys at Yale.
He encouraged the students to forsake their pastors and attend pure separate meetings. As a result, students imitated the evangelist, and began to judge the spiritual condition of not only each other but the clergy as well. On the subject of Davenport, Edwards both agreed and disagreed with him. He agreed with him in his support of the awakening, although Edwards did end up changing he view on the subject a few years later. However, just as he did with Whitefield, Edwards believed that the spiritual impulses or impressions that Davenport associated with communication with God, were being misinterpreted.
Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and James Davenport, were all excellent preachers who took New England by storm. Although all three had both different styles of preaching as well as ideas, they were able to effectively use their methods to communicate the message of their sermon to the audience. It can easily be said that Jonathan Edwards was one of the most influential human beings in the History of the United States. From his speeches, to the way that he led his own personal life, Edwards was constantly leading a people who were in search of an answer.
Perhaps what made him such a great leader was that he never allowed another person tell him what to think, and only preached what he believed to be the truth. Case in point, when the awakening first started Edwards was a big supporter of it and did his best to spread the word. However, when Edwards began to see the corruption and disarray that the Awakening was falling into, he withdrew his endorsement of it. He also blamed the Awakening for the division that had occurred all across New England between the New lights and the Old Lights.
He claimed that supporters of the New Lights had been corrupted by what they had seen and heard in other places where there was greater commotion. In other words, people were joining the Awakening simply because of the fervor of having their body overcome with the spirit, as opposed to joining because of their love for God. Jonathan Edwards was a great man, preacher, and man of God, who grabbed the attention of the people of New England through his sermons and leadership. It is unlikely that there ever will be another person who will have such an effect on the religion of the United States as he.