“Edwards worked hard to correct false notions of piety. His aim was twofold: he cared immensely about the spiritual welfare of his congregation’s souls, and he wanted to save the Awakening from disrepute.” – Dr. Joel Beeke
Jonathan wrote many sermons providing a biblical context and understanding of the Great Awakening. He wanted people to have a correct understanding of what God was doing during that particular time period. While his intentions were understandably focused on the people of Northampton and the 18th century American colonies, Edwards’ writings benefit believers in Christ living in the 21st century.
In September of 1741, Edwards explained the Awakening in a sermon entitled The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. He articulated that non-traditional worship services and emotion neither proved, nor disproved, the moving of God’s grace among people.
“After testing the revival for evidences of true piety, which essentially involved devotion to Jesus as Savior, reverence for and sound interpretation of Scripture, Edwards concluded that it indeed was the work of the Spirit of God,” Dr. Joel Beeke writes,
The First Great Awakening, as previously noted, had both its detractors and supporters. In order to reconcile both sides, Edwards’ wrote Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion. Edwards took great effort to denounce the extremists from both perspectives.
“Edwards enlarges and develops the arguments put forward in his The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, with the aim of defending this unprecedented period of revival against the unjust words of its critics and the overzealous excesses of its friends, both of which, he feared, would quench the Spirit and put a stop to the blessing,” an Edwards’ biographer explains.
Edwards sought to answer the following questions. One author states, “What is a revival? How is it to be recognized? Is it a genuine work of the Spirit of God? If it is, then how is revival to be guarded against the spurious errors and unspiritual tendencies of its over-zealous promoters? These are the questions taken up and ably answered by ‘the theologian of revival’, who, in God’s providence, has supplied future generations of Christians with a sure guide on this vital subject.”
When Minister Charles Chauncey (705-1787), of Boston’s famed First Church, denounced the Awakening in Seasonable Thoughts On the State of Religion in New England (1743), Edwards responded with Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746). In what is considered one of his most important works, Edwards distinguished between true and false religious experience.
In 1958, biblical commentator Philip Edgcumbe Hughes wrote about Jonathan Edwards in Christianity Today magazine. “Ever since Pentecost, there have been revivals, and there have been other Peters who have won multitudes to Christ. Occasionally and tragically, there have been revivalists who were interested first in the living they could make. As for laymen, too often the Christian experience became a matter of periodicity; in between the annual excitement of being “revived,” they lapsed into a corpse-like coma. Of the meaning of true revival, few seem to have an understanding, ” he stated,
“This year, which marks the two hundredth anniversary of the death of Jonathan Edwards, evangelicals would do well to turn back to the writings of that remarkable man of God who was so notably used as an instrument of revival in New England. They would find of particular interest Edwards’ Faithful Narrative of Surprising Conversions, his Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England, and his Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God. Add to these the penetrating Treatise on Religious Affections, and you have a study of the subject of revival, its various aspects and operations, which for depth of perception and scriptural insight has never been surpassed, and is as relevant to our day as it was to his.”
“In approaching the discussion of this subject, Edwards has one overruling principle, namely, that “we are to take the Scriptures as our guide” and to resort to them as “an infallible and sufficient rule.” Doing this, we shall recognize that “the Holy Spirit is sovereign in his operation.”
The First Great Awakening can best be summarized in one sentence by Edwards’ himself. “There was an appearance of a glorious progress of the work of God upon the hearts of sinners, in conviction and conversion, this summer and autumn, and great numbers, I think we have reason to hope, were brought safely home to Christ,” he wrote, in 1741.
May such a work of God, in bringing many souls safely home to Christ, be seen in our lives today. Have a blessed day in the Lord.
Soli deo Gloria!