Monday, May 25, 2015

The Great Awakening

Many of us remember from school that from the early 1600s into the 1730s, many colonists came to the country to freely worship God without fear of persecution. While fraught with difficulties, life in colonial America must have also been filled with many examples of God’s blessing on those faithful enough to seek Him in this new land.

But in the 1650s, the Age of Enlightenment began. This was a 130-year period where many of history’s great thinkers—scientists, inventors, philosophers, and others—began to challenge societal thinking, particularly in the area of religious belief. Rather than basing one’s life on faith in God, the new standard was to reason, investigate, question, and analyze. Men such as Francis Bacon, John Locke, Voltaire, and Sir Isaac Newton published works discussing discoveries, advancements, and enlightened views. Literacy increased, and people devoured the words of such men.

Also during this time, changes in the Church of England affected the faith of churchgoers. In 1688, the Church of England became the reigning church in that country. While at first this seemed a good idea, it caused other religions, sects, and denominations to be suppressed. Rather than living from true conviction, people worshipped out of habit, ritual, and complacency.

The life of faith in the Colonies and worldwide was waning. All of these events set the stage for The Great Awakening.


The first stirrings of revival began in Germany, when 

believers from Moravia fled
Count von Zinzendorf
to their country to escape persecution. They found a friend in Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, who welcomed them to stay in a settlement he established on his land. They named their little community Herrnhut, or “The Lord’s Watch.” When seeds of discord grew among the Moravians in 1727, Count von Zinzendorf called for a time of prayer. Twenty-four Moravians rose to pray, each taking an hour’s shift to pray around the clock. As time went on, more people joined in, and the presence of God became so strong in their meetings that people would lay prostrate on the floor for as much as eight hours, soaking in God’s Spirit. What started as a call to prayer to overcome discord ended up lasting for 100 years! In the first sixty-five years of this movement, the Moravians sent over 300 missionaries to share the Gospel around the world. Before sending out their people, they would hold funerals for the missionaries, since each intended to give their lives for Christ. There are even accounts of Moravian missionaries selling themselves into slavery in Jamaica in order to have opportunity to share Christ with the slaves. What dedication!

Revival Spreads to America

In America, the Dutch-Reform church in New Jersey sought a minister. In January 1720, they called upon German Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen. Knowing of the great movement of God in Herrnhut, Frelinghuysen challenged his parishioners to examine their lives and repent of sin and to live rightly. This man’s bold revivalist approach caused many began to live differently, setting off a revival through the Middle Colonies.

As word of the Dutch-Reform’s revival reached the English speakers, they called
Gilbert Tennent
for a revivalist preacher like Frelinghuysen. Gilbert Tennent, an Irish-born Presbyterian minister who had settled in Pennsylvania, stepped up. Tennent’s father had started Log College (later known as Princeton University) in order to turn out ministers, and Gilbert was a proud graduate. Convinced that many church-goers were not true believers, he preached with a focus on sin, sin’s consequences, repentance, and the need for continual inner change. Response to his sermons was great, and many returned to God and began to live their lives differently. From here, the revival spread to the Baptists in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and beyond.

Jonathan Edwards
The next major wave fell with Jonathan Edwards. Ordained a minister in 1727, he worked under his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, in one of the largest and wealthiest congregations in the American colonies—that of Northampton, Massachusetts—until Stoddard’s death in 1729. Edwards took the church over then, boldly speaking about sin and the need of God’s grace. Revival soon broke out among the Protestant congregations. His most famous sermon, Sinners In The Hands of An Angry God, had his congregants weeping on the floor as they repented to God. During many such sermons, the listeners shook as the Holy Spirit fell upon them, and there were documented cases of miraculous healings and the dead being raised to life.

During this period, church congregations doubled or tripled in size. The
David Brainerd
colonists’ morals moved back toward godly principles, colleges were formed (many to prepare men for ministry), and a heart for missions emerged. One such missionary, David Brainerd, dedicated his life to sharing the Gospel with the remote Indian tribes in Colonial America. He endured much loneliness, depression, and illness to pursue God’s call, and died of consumption contracted while preaching to his beloved Indian people. Interestingly, he died in the home of Jonathan Edwards, a dear friend.

Meanwhile, Across the Pond…

John Wesley
Waves of revival were crashing over Britain as well, led by two friends who met at Oxford—John Wesley and George Whitefield. In 1736, Wesley went to America to preach to the Indians, though he hadn’t truly committed his life to Christ yet. It was on the ship to America that a raging storm blew in. Everyone grew fearful the ship would be torn apart except one man, a Moravian missionary, who prayed to God in perfect peace. This man’s example and testimony softened Wesley’s heart, and he later was converted at the Aldersgate Street Prayer meeting in 1738. He became an itinerant preacher who traveled well over 250,000 miles on horseback to preach roughly 40,000 sermons. He wrote some 230 books, including journals and commentaries of the Bible, and with is brother Charles, penned roughly 9,000 hymns, some which are still sung today.

George Whitefield
George Whitefield stayed in Britain at first, preaching and stirring British hearts to repent and live for Christ. Eventually, he traveled to America also, preaching in Jonathan Edwards’ church and befriending Gilbert Tennent. During his ministry, he preached in almost every town in the British Isles and crossed the Atlantic Ocean seven times. He often preached in fields to crowds of 30,000+. Just as with his American contemporaries, hearers would become so convicted of their sin, they would shake and fall to the ground under the power of God’s spirit. 

Only as the stirrings of the American Revolution began in the mid-1760’s did the fire of revival wane.

Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and finaled in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.

Now available for purchase

Nine romance stories of the Oregon Trail by Amanda Cabot, Melanie Dobson, Pam Hillman, Myra Johnson, Amy Lillard, DiAnn Mills, Anna Schmidt, Ann Shorey, and Jennifer Uhlarik.


  1. Thanks Jennifer. I live very close to where the Tennents ministered and am from David Brainerd's area of evangelization. It's a terrific place of many sacred memories.

    1. What history you must have access to, Rebecca! I would love to poke around in such places. :)

  2. May God grant us a present day revival in America! Nice summary, thanks, Rebecca.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Linore. And I agree--praying for a revival of epic proportions. :)

  3. Thank you for sharing this interesting history, Jennifer.

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  4. Jennifer, if you come to Philadelphia, I will show you!

  5. I would really enjoy reading The Oregon Trail Romance Collection! Can you imagine a revival lasting 100 years? That is truly amazing. sm CA wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com