Jonathan Edwards: Reactions to the Great Awakening.

“Historians call it the First Great Awakening. It remains one of the most significant events in United States history.” – Dr. Stephen J. Nichols

The Frist Great Awakening had not only its supporters but also its detractors. The movement had its proponents, opponents and zealots. Let’s examine all three.

Jonathan Edwards’ was the First Great Awakening’s strongest supporter, along with evangelist George Whitefield. As one author explains, “If Edwards was the Awakenings great theologian, then Whitefield was the Awakening’s great evangelist.”

Another supporter was Gilbert Tennent. At the time, he was a well-known Presbyterian minister. His sermon The Danger of an Unconverted Ministry caused a strong reaction the church. Dr. Stephen J. Nichols explains, “The sermon helped lead to a split in the Presbyterian church between the New Side and the Old Side. In the Congregational churches, where Edwards roamed, the split was referred to as New Lights and Old Lights.”  

However, there were also opponents to the movement. As previously mentioned, these were the Old Lights. One such detractor was Charles Chauncy. Along with his criticism of the behavior of recent converts and the lack of proper decorum, he was opposed to the movement’s underlying theology, which stressed the sovereignty of God in salvation. This was because Chauncy was a universalist who believed that everyone was destined for heaven.

The zealots were fanatical in their opposition to the Frist Great Awakening. Whereas the recently converted displayed great emotion in their conversion, ministers like James Davenport displayed great emotion in their opposition. He referred to Edwards, and other pastors like him, as wolves in sheep’s clothing. He also led in public bonfires for the burning of books. Later on, Davenport regretted his actions, but the damage was already done.

Yale College, Edwards’ alma mater, was split down the middle regarding the First Great Awakening. On September 10, 1741 Edwards delivered the annual commencement address for the new school year. His text was I John 4:1-6. He identified five marks which demonstrated an authentic work by the Holy Spirit. The sermon resulted in the published work entitled The Distinguishing Marks of a Word by the Spirit of God (1741).

Edwards set forth five marks to indicate an authentic work by the Holy Spirit. Those marks of a true work (1) raises people’s esteem of Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world; (2) leads them to turn from the corruptions and lusts to the righteousness of God; (3) increases their regard for Holy Scriptures; (4) establishes their minds in the objective truths of revealed religion; and (5) evokes genuine love for God and man.

May these marks of a true work by the Holy Spirit be seen in our lives today. Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Soli deo Gloria!

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