While George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards have come to be considered the primary human instruments used by God in America’s First Great Awakening, numerous other ministers were privileged to have a significant role in that widespread revival as well. One of those “lesser lights” in the Great Awakening was a Presbyterian pastor named Samuel Blair.
Blair was born in Ireland in 1712 and emigrated to America at a young age. After completing his education at William Tennent’s Log College, Blair served as pastor of two Presbyterian congregations in New Jersey for six years. Late in 1739 he was called to be the pastor of Fagg’s Manor Presbyterian Church in New Londonderry (present-day Cochranville), in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania.
Blair was aware that many professing Christians in that region were depending on their own religious works to make them right with God rather than understanding their need to trust solely in Christ for salvation. Accordingly, throughout his first winter in Pennsylvania his preaching was “mainly calculated for persons in a natural unregenerate state.”
When Blair needed to be away from his pulpit the first two Sundays of March, 1740, a neighboring minister who was “earnest for the awakening and conversion of secure sinners” preached a searching sermon on the parable of the unfruitful fig tree in Luke 13. As the guest speaker emphasized the unfruitful tree’s imminent danger of being cut down, “there was a visible appearance of much soul-concern among the hearers; so that some burst out with an audible noise into bitter crying, a thing not know in these parts before.”
Similar responses occurred when Blair returned and resumed his preaching ministry to his congregation. “I desired them, as much as possible, to restrain themselves from making any noise that would hinder themselves or others from hearing what was spoken … I advised people to endeavor to moderate and bound their passions [emotions], but not so as to resist or stifle their convictions.”
The powerful convicting work of God’s Spirit in the church and surrounding area increased: “Our Sabbath assemblies soon became vastly large; many people from almost all parts around inclining very much to come where there was such appearance of the divine power and presence. I think there was scarcely a sermon or lecture preached here through that whole summer, but there were manifest evidences of impressions on the hearers; and many times the impressions were very great and general. Several would be overcome and fainting; others deeply sobbing, hardly able to contain; others crying in a most dolorous manner; many others more silently weeping; and a solemn concern appearing in the countenances of many others.”
As Blair privately counseled those individuals, he found that, for the vast majority of them, their apparent concern in public was not just a temporary qualm of conscience or a fleeting emotional unsettledness. Rather, their spiritual concern resulted from “a rational, fixed conviction of their dangerous perishing estate.”
This widespread awakening soon produced other obvious results: “The general carriage and behavior of people was soon very visibly altered. Those awakened were much given to reading in the Holy Scriptures and other good books. The subjects of discourse almost always, when any of them were together, were the matters of religion and great concerns of their souls. All unsuitable, worldly, vain discourse on the Lord’s Day seemed to be laid aside among them. There was an earnest desire in people after opportunities for public worship and hearing the Word.”
In time, many of those who had been distressed over their sinful, perishing state “afforded very hopeful, satisfying evidence that the Lord had brought them to true closure with Jesus Christ, and that their distresses and fears had been in a great measure removed in a right gospel way, by believing in the Son of God.”
For no apparent reason, the revival in New Londonderry seemed to end as abruptly as it had begun: “Towards the end of that summer, there seemed to be a stop put to the further progress of the work as to the conviction and awakening of sinners; and ever since there have been very few instances of persons convinced.” Some who had experienced greater or lesser degrees of concern over their spiritual condition during the revival quickly returned to being spiritually complacent or confident in their own good deeds to give them a good standing with God.
“But,” observed Blair, “through the infinite rich grace of God (and blessed be His glorious name!) there is a considerable number who afford all the evidence that can be reasonably expected and required for our satisfaction in the case, of their having been the subjects of a thorough saving change … Their walk is habitually tender and conscientious, their carriage towards their neighbors just and kind, and they appear to have an agreeable peculiar love one for another, and for all in whom appears the image of God.”
Wouldn’t it be tremendous to see God’s Spirit work in such mighty convicting and converting fashion in our own day? I definitely believe we could see such awakenings if we will begin (and continue!) to prayerfully, earnestly seek them from the Lord to His glory.
Joseph Tracy’s The Great Awakening, A History of the Revival of Religion in the Time of Edwards and Whitefield (republished by Banner of Truth in 1976) relates a fuller account of the revival that took place under Samuel Blair’s ministry in Pennsylvania. Tracy’s work chronicles numerous revivals that God brought about (and many of the privileged human instruments He chose to use) during that time of widespread awakening.
Copyright 2015 by Vance E. Christie