Posts Tagged ‘First Great Awakening’

(Excerpt from “Divine Doorkeepers”)

Jonathan Edwards was a great American evangelist and revivalist.  He was born in East Windsor, Connecticut and was the fifth of eleven children.  He and his siblings were all well-educated.  Edwards was not only a preacher, theologian, and missionary, but he was also considered a great intellectual.  He was very active in the First Great Awakening in the American colonies, and oversaw some of the earliest revivals in 1733–1735 in Northampton, Massachusetts.

In many of his memoirs, he seems to be a divine journalist and mystical meteorologist, reporting the amazing works of God in various communities.  Like Fox, he is fond of weather imagery and refers to a revival as a “shower of divine blessing” (Narrative 155), and a spiritual awakening among the youth as being “like a flash of lightning upon the hearts of young people all over the town” (Narrative149). These kinds of images shift the focus from the evangelists to God and enable the reader to visualize what the Spirit is doing.  The author also implies that preachers have no more control over revivals than they have over the making of weather.

Edwards depicts God in terms of supernatural strength and energy, using His strong arm to smite and jerk and awaken humans from spiritual slumber. He describes the revival in Northampton using many exercise metaphors and he emphasizes concrete verbs showing physical exertion to illustrate God’s presence in the towns. He refers to revivals as “works” and “awakenings”, and describes the Spirit striving vigorously to win over the hearts of people.

Throughout his memoirs in A Faithful Narrative, he uses language that creates a sense of motion and strife and physical strain. Upon witnessing a great urgency towards spiritual matters in one community he writes: “…the Spirit of God began to extraordinarily set in, and wonderfully to work amongst us…and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner: The only thing in their view was to get into the kingdom of heaven, and everyone appeared pressing into it” (150). The language connoting physical activity in these passages gives the reader a sense of movement and people straining to get closer to God.  In the last sentence, you can envision a crowd trying to squeeze through a door, pressing against each other in desperation to get in first.

Edwards describes the supernatural swiftness of the conversion of souls during this time, and how humans could not possibly have accomplished this on their own:

God has also seemed to go out of His usual way in the quickness of His work, and the swift progress the Spirit has made in His operations on the hearts of many…seized with strong convictions of their guilt and misery…

The work of God’s Spirit seemed to be at its greatest height in this town…When God in so remarkable a manner took the work into His own hands, there was as much done in a day or two at ordinary times, with all endeavors that men can use, and with such a blessing as we commonly have, is done in a year. (159)

Edwards humanizes God, and then creates a sense of tension between Him and people.  He puts flesh and bones on the Spirit, and allows the reader to see God at work in the souls of men. The reader gets the sense of men being sleepwalkers who God is sharply awakening from slumber. He juxtaposes physical strength and supernatural power, thus allowing the reader to sense the activity of God.

1832 republication of "A Faithful Narrati...

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