Currently I am devoting considerable study and teaching time to the theme of bona fide God-sent revival. I’m finding such a focus incredibly inspiring and instructive. In some of my future Perspectives I’d like to share summaries of remarkable revivals that God has brought about in the past for His glory and the immeasurable good of innumerable people. May God use these accounts to increase (1)our awareness of how He has sometimes worked dramatically in the past and (2) our desire and faith that He would work similarly in our own day.
In 1726 twenty-three-year old Jonathan Edwards became the associate minister of the church in Northampton, Massachusetts, which his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, had pastored for nearly sixty years. At that time Northampton had some 200 families and around 1,300 residents.
During his long, beneficial tenure at Northampton, Stoddard had witnessed five “harvests,” exceptional periods when considerable numbers of people came to faith in Christ. But spiritual and moral conditions in Northampton had become quite careless and compromised in Stoddard’s latter years and in the opening years of Edwards’ ministry there.
Stoddard died in February, 1729. Of that period Edwards testified: “Just after my grandfather’s death, it seemed to be a time of extraordinary dullness in religion. Licentiousness for some years prevailed among the youth of the town; they were many of them very much addicted to night-walking, and frequenting the tavern, and lewd practices, wherein some, by their example, exceedingly corrupted others. … There had also long prevailed in the town a spirit of contention between two parties, into which they had for many years been divided; by which they maintained a jealousy one of the other, and were prepared to oppose one another in all public affairs.”
In the years that followed, under Edwards’ earnest ministry, spiritual conditions began to improve somewhat. Following the sudden deaths from illness of a young single man and a young married woman in the spring and summer of 1734, many of the town’s young people became much more concerned about their own spiritual state.
That fall, at Edwards’ suggestion, first the young people, then older people following their example, began to meet on Sunday evenings for spiritual fellowship and edification. Prior to that, they had customarily gotten together on Sunday nights for merely secular and often inappropriate socializing. In the end of December five or six individuals were suddenly and definitely converted, including one of the formerly loosest, most careless young women in town.
Edwards describes the mighty moving of God’s Spirit that then took place, transforming individuals, families, the church and the entire community: “Presently upon this, a great and earnest concern about the great things of religion and the eternal world, became universal in all parts of the town, and among persons of all degrees and all ages. … All other talk but about spiritual and eternal things, was soon thrown aside; all the conversation, in all companies and upon all occasions, was upon these things only, unless so much as was necessary for people carrying on their ordinary secular business. Other discourse than of the things of religion would scarcely be tolerated in any company. The minds of people were wonderfully taken off from the world, it was treated amongst us as a thing of very little consequence. …
“The only thing in their view was to get the kingdom of heaven, and every one appeared pressing into it. The engagedness of their hearts in this great concern could not be hid, it appeared in their very countenances. It then was a dreadful thing amongst us to lie out of Christ, in danger every day of dropping into hell. What persons’ minds were intent upon was to escape for their lives, and to fly from wrath to come. All would eagerly lay hold of opportunities for their souls, and were wont very often to meet together in private houses, for religious purposes. And such meetings when appointed were greatly thronged. …
“This work of God, as it was carried on, and the number of true saints multiplied, soon made a glorious alteration in the town: so that in the spring and summer following, 1735, the town seemed to be full of the presence of God: it never was so full of love, nor of joy, and yet so full of distress, as it was then. There were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house. It was a time of joy in families on account of salvation being brought unto them …
“The goings [actions, progress] of God were then seen in His sanctuary, God’s day was a delight … Our public assemblies were then beautiful: the congregation was alive in God’s service, every one earnestly intent on the public worship, every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister as they came from his mouth. The assembly in general were, from time to time, in tears while the word was preached; some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for the souls of their neighbors. …
“Those amongst us who had been formerly converted were greatly enlivened, and renewed with fresh and extraordinary incomes of the Spirit of God … Many who before had labored under difficulties about their own state, had now their doubts removed by more satisfying experience, and more clear discoveries of God’s love.”
Edwards, ever reticent to pronounce too quickly that individuals had been truly converted, conservatively estimated that more than 300 people in Northampton (nearly one-quarter of the town’s population!) came to saving faith in Christ in half a year’s time. At the height of the revival, in March and April of 1735, around thirty people per week were being saved. Most of those being converted were young people, although fifty of them (one in six) were in their 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. Several Afro-American slaves in the community were also converted.
During that same time period dramatic revival took place in dozens of other towns in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Jersey. Some communities were aware that spiritual awakening was taking place in other towns simultaneously. Still other communities were completely unaware of that at the time, thinking that the mighty moving of God’s Spirit was unique to their own locale.
Copyright 2015 by Vance E. Christie