Remembering the prevailing spirit of 1740
May 16, 2006
The year 1740 was an important year in American history for it included what has been called “The First Great Awakening.” To understand this, we need to retreat from Yorktown to New Jersey and a Dutch Reformed Church whose walls were exposed to heart preaching from the likes of T. J. Frelinghuysen. His preaching broke through the complacent Calvinism like an ice ax.
Others, such as the Tennents of Philadelphia and Jonathan Edwards of Northhampton would break up their own ice “houses.” These small regional revivals were further fueled by the British Evangelist George Whitfield, only 25 years of age at the time. His preaching was powerful. One man put it this way, “… my hearing him preach gave me a heart wound. By God’s blessing, my old foundation was broken up and I saw that my righteousness would not save me.”
Two of those who heard Whitfield were Shubal Stearns and Daniel Marshall.They eventually broke from the Congregational Church, becoming Baptists. They headed south to Virginia, then to North Carolina in 1755 to establish a church at Sandy Creek, thus beginning a revolution in Southern Baptist life.
Three of the busiest pioneer roads in the South came together at Sandy Creek, a place where the Holy Spirit worked a great work. The membership at Sandy Creek grew from 16 to 606. Said Morgan Edwards, “… in 17 years it became the mother, grandmother, and great grandmother of 42 churches. From there would spring 125 ministers … .”
Tidence Lane headed over the Tennessee mountains to Grey Station to begin Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church; Marshall began churches in South Carolina and just over the border into Georgia at Kiokee Creek to start the Kiokee Baptist Church in 1772. He would be buried there. What of all this?
1) This was probably the first huge church planting moment. From the time of Stearns and Marshall the number of churches in the South would go from 26 to more than 400.
2) The merger of personal commitment and individual decision reached a far wider audience than the taxation issue of the Revolutionary War. Spiritual independence fueled the fires of Colonial independence.
3) The Spirit of God was a much deeper appeal than the issue of taxation. It went to the core of people’s hearts.
4) The First Great Awakening affected the political revolution which was taking place. By 1776, there had been 30-plus years of individual and regional revival. The spirit of 1776 had much more to do with the Holy Spirit than many realize.
Historian Winthrop Hudson put it like this: “The awakening played an important role in forming a national consciousness among people of different colonies whose primary ties were with Europe rather than one another. As a spontaneous movement, which swept across all Colonial boundaries, it generated a common interest and a common loyalty that bound people together in a common cause and reinforced the common conviction that God had a special destiny for America; the awakening contributed greatly to the development of a sense of cohesiveness among American people.”
As we approach Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, enjoy the parades, see the historic sites, celebrate the nation’s birthday – but in the spirit of 1740. Oh Lord, would you do this again?
Remember, Missouri matters. (Ron Barker is personal evangelism/spiritual awakening specialist for the Missouri Baptist Convention. You can contact Ron at 573-634-0400 ext. 651 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)