Was the earthquake of 1727 the trigger for the First Great Awakening?
On Sunday evening, October 29, a terrible earthquake shook the homes of New Englanders, awakening many both physically and spiritually. This was followed by a long series of aftershocks, which kept the threat fresh in the minds of penitents. Immediately churches filled with seekers anxious to secure their salvation, else they be caught unprepared for their own death. Jonathan Pearson, a layman at the Lynn End, Massachussetts church, reported, "God has by the late amazing Earthquake layd open my neglect before me that I see no way to escape but by fleeing to Christ for refuge. God in that hour set all my sins before me. When I was shaking over the pit looking every moment when the earth would open her mouth and swallow me up and then must I have been miserable forever and ever." His experience seems to have been common in 1727 and 1728, as the pastors preached revival with the most striking object lesson at hand: an earth that seemed ready to swallow up the people. (Thomas S. Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America, 2008)
"People woke up to their miserable natural condition. They realized that they were in danger of spending eternity without God. It suddenly became important to them to escape this fate and make things right with Him. They may have felt secure, with no sense of danger, but were now suddenly seized with conviction, maybe by someone else's conversion, something they heard in a public or private conversation—at any rate, their consciences bother them, their hearts are pierced. Others awakened more gradually. They started off by getting more thoughtful and reflective, only to conclude that they'd be wise to delay a decision no longer. So they begin seeking the truth, so much so that they become miserable because of the conviction of God's Spirit who will not let them go. Still others with the reputation of being spiritual have been awakened in a new way, after being made aware that their motive to seek the Lord had grown cold.
Two of the obvious effects in people's lives have been:
- First, their immediate abandonment of sinful behavior: even the most immoral of them ended and turned from their wickedness. Throughout the town, we saw that once the Holy Spirit began to pour out in such a wonderful way, the people stopped arguing and complaining about one another and butting into one another's business. The local bar was abandoned. Everyone paid more attention to their families, and there was less travel. Every day was like a Sunday.
- Second, they pursued following Jesus diligently: reading, prayer, meditation, church attendance and fellowship. It was as if they were asking, "What shall we do to be saved?" Instead of the beer joint, it was the preacher's house constantly drawing a crowd.
That's not to say that people aren't different in they amount of pressure and stress they're in before they find assurance of salvation. Some are hopeful from the beginning. Some have one-tenth the trouble of others, even while seeming to be no closer to God at the start. Some of them are so keenly aware of God's displeasure and the great danger they're in that they couldn't sleep at night. And many have said that even the thought of sleep was frightening to them. Even while asleep, they hardly found relief from terror, and woke up with fear and anxiety still with them. It's very common for it to have a harmful effect on their bodies, to be so disturbed and concerned for such extended periods. Apprehensions of misery kept increasing, for the most part, as they came nearer to salvation, as they struggled through their worldview and situations. Sometimes they grow numb, and fear sets in that God's Spirit has left them. To all appearances they are deeply engaged in seeking God again." (Jonathan Edwards, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton, and the Neighbouring Towns and Villages of New-Hampshire, in New-England: In a Letter to the Rev. Dr. Colman [paraphrased])
J. Edwin Orr describes the conditions preceding the Second Great Awakening:
"Drunkenness became epidemic. Out of a population of five million, 300,000 were confirmed drunkards: they were burying fifteen thousand of them each year. Profanity was of the most shocking kind. For the first time in the history of the American settlement, women were afraid to go out at night for fear of assault. Bank robberies were a daily occurrence.
What about the churches? The Methodists were losing more members than they were gaining. The Baptists said that they had their most wintry season. The Presbyterians in general assembly deplored the nation’s ungodliness. In a typical Congregational church, the Rev. Samuel Shepherd of Lennox, Massachusetts in sixteen years had not taken one young person into fellowship. The Lutherans were so languishing that they discussed uniting with Episcopalians who were even worse off. The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York, Bishop Samuel Proovost, quit functioning: he had confirmed no one for so long that he decided he was out of work, so he took up other employment. The Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote to the Bishop of Virginia, James Madison, that the Church “was too far gone ever to be redeemed.” Voltaire averred, and Tom Paine echoed, “Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years.”
Take the liberal arts colleges at that time. A poll taken at Harvard had discovered not one believer in the whole of the student body. They took a poll at Princeton, a much more evangelical place: they discovered only two believers in the student body, and only five that did not belong to the filthy speech movement of that day. Students rioted. They held a mock communion at Williams College; and they put on anti-Christian plays at Dartmouth. They burned down the Nassau Hall at Princeton. They forced the resignation of the president of Harvard. They took a Bible out of a local Presbyterian church in New Jersey, and burned it in a public bonfire. Christians were so few on campus in the 1790s that they met in secret, like a communist cell, and kept their minutes in code so that no one would know.
In case this is thought to be the hysteria of the moment, Kenneth Scott Latourette, the great church historian, wrote: “It seemed as if Christianity were about to be ushered out of the affairs of men.” The churches had their backs to the wall, seeming as if they were about to be wiped out."
The third Great Awakening was coincident with the "Panic of 1857".
Henry Fish, in "A Handbook of Revivals for the use of soul-winners" wrote:
"It is an interesting fact in revivals that they frequently succeed some great calamity;—a prevailing epidemic, a general financial embarrassment, or the like.
It was so with the wonderful work of grace to which we now come. The churches in this country were, to an alarming extent, characterized by coldness and conformity to the world. The greed of gain amounted to a mania; and it filled not only the commercial centres, but the villages; in fact, the whole land. Speculation was at fever-heat, and the wildest projects turned men’s brains, and drove them recklessly on in the race for riches. As a natural result, frauds, defalcations, and failures became common; until finally the crash came, and the castles in the air, as well as the solid accumulations, were seen everywhere toppling to the fall. As with the twinkling of an eye, golden dreams vanished and millionaires became bankrupts.
God meant it for good. He would drive out mammon that himself might reign. He made poor the merchant princes that they might be rich in heavenly gain.
And now that the wheels of industry stood still and the counting-houses in the metropolis were deserted and gloom and disappointment settled down like a pall, a voice was heard whispering to the men of weary brain, “Come ye yourselves apart, and rest awhile.” “Is any man afflicted, let him pray.” Subdued, broken, tender, they answered, “Yes, for he hath wounded, and he can heal.”
"Note how invariably the revival is preceded by a period of corruption."
The Revival In the West, Stead (1849-1912)
"World cataclysms frequently have resulted in great awakenings of a moral and spiritual character. History proves that national calamities, such as wars, epidemics, droughts, famines, and pestilences are themselves but precursors of better times. Heart-breaking distresses, permitted by God, have been known to lead multitudes into the valley of humiliation. Humanity is sorely afflicted with an enormity of piled-up sorrows. Wistful longings are created in the hearts of the most concerned Christians for a speedy repetition of past history. What of present-day omens?” I saw the Welsh Revival, David Matthews
I believe our ministry's data, not just now, but throughout our history, could be used to back up the claim that people turn to God during times of crisis. I remember shortly after we joined there was a tsunami in Indonesia; 12/26/04, one of the deadliest natural disasters in history, with over 227,000 from 14 countries dead. Christians were so moved by the disaster, so ubiquitous in their response, that the Muslim Clerics criticized them for being opportunistic to spread their faith along with the humanitarian aid they were providing.
If we read a book about missions like “Operation World” we find that its in those countries that have endured severe hardship that Christianity is growing at the greater rates, while growth in most western nations is mostly flat. China, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Chad, Niger and the Congo.
In 1990, the US Center for world missions released a chart that shows that the number of non-Christians per committed Christian has been declining from 220:1 in AD 1000 to 7:1 in 1989. It may not seem like it at home, but we’re in the greatest period of ingathering in world history, according to missiologists.
For every new Christian in the USA, there are 16 in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
There’s incredible growth of church planting movements. (Definition: 4 or more streams of consistently reproducing )
David Garrison wrote, in "A Wind in the House of Islam" that we're living in greatest turning to Christ in history among Muslilms.
Do you long for a fresh outpouring at home? Do you believe there could be one? How would things be different?
In a very real sense, it doesn’t matter if the worldwide pandemic we're going through right now is a precursor to the end times, or even what your view of the end-times is. The New Testament teaches us that, after the pattern of Jesus, "We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work.” (John 9:4, ESV)
The parable of the Talents, the readiness parable of Luke 12:35-48, and the rest of the NT are all meant to keep us watchful and ready with the gospel.
Whatever your eschatological model, it’s true that, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. (Romans 13:11, ESV)
For us it’s a very opportune time: we’re at a natural point for public announcements and attention as we approach two billion indicated decisions for Christ. We’re well-positioned for reaching America, with a Jesus-focused, contextualized website and ads running in the USA. Our founder, Walt Wilson, addressed his vision for the future in a 2018 address to our staff:
"Today’s world hears the love of God as hate. To really get the love of God across to them, we have to speak the eternal truth of the gospel in the words they’ll hear. We have to be fearless but gracious to push into territory Christians have all-but-ceded to a world that has bought into Satan’s lies. No generation in human history has been given the opportunity that we have been given. I hope you feel that weight. You are predestined, set apart. Be holy."