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COMMENTS ON THE FIRST GREAT AWAKENING #2
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
“Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Last Sunday night I read to you from Luke Tyerman’s The Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley (Tentmaker Publications, 2003 reprint, volume I, of three volumes) concerning the moral and spiritual degeneracy and sinfulness of society in the English speaking world in 1732. Then I gave you some of the remarkable and striking instances of conviction of sin and conversions, which came about, often with intense physical excitement and even convulsions and screaming, under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards in New England at the beginning of the First Great Awakening.
Tonight I am going to begin reading Jonathan Edwards’ “A Faithful Narrative of Surprising Conversions.” I have edited it and adapted it to modern English, to make it more understandable to you. I have tried my best to convey to you Mr. Edwards’ original thoughts in a way more easily understood today. Edwards said,
I am the third minister who has come to this town. The Rev. Mr. Eleazer Mather…was the first. His heart was in the work. He labored for the good of precious souls, and was blessed with success. The second minister [was my own grandfather] The Rev. Mr. [Solomon] Stoddard, who came to the [church] after Rev. Mather died. He was ordained in 1672 and remained as the pastor until his death in 1729, so he was the minister here for nearly 60 years. His ministry was blessed in the conversion of many souls. He had five harvests [revivals]. The first was about 57 years ago; the second about 53; the third about 40 years ago; the fourth about 24 years ago; the fifth and last revival he experienced was about 18 years ago. Some of them had more conversions than others, but in each of them, I have heard my grandfather say, most of the young people in the church seemed to be affected, becoming concerned about their eternal salvation.
I was settled with him [as the associate pastor] about two years before his death. In these two years there were nearly twenty that Mr. Stoddard hoped were savingly converted. But there was no general revival. Most [of the young people] seemed very dull and unconcerned about their souls, and were concerned in other cares and pursuits. Just after my grandfather’s death, it seemed to be an extraordinary time of spiritual dullness and deadness. Sinfulness gripped the hearts of most of the young people in the town. Many of them were addicted to night walking – young men and women “hanging out” together as they took walks at night. Many of them went to the bars, and practiced lewdness [making out], wherein some, by their bad example, corrupted others. Both sexes gathered together for what they called “frolics.” And they would often spend the greater part of the night in them. My grandfather had become too old to do much to stop all this.
But in about three years after his death, they began to turn away from these evils. The young people began to listen to me as the pastor and, little by little, their “frolics” stopped, and they became more regular in church attendance. Some began to seem more concerned about their souls than they had been in the past.
Near the end of 1733 our young began to pay far more attention to my advice. It had been their habit for the boys and girls to go out of the church after the evening service to fool around together, without any regard to what had been preached. But a sermon was now preached to show the evil of this practice, to persuade them to stop doing it. Their parents were urged to keep their children at home at these times. The young people were convinced by the preaching to stop what they had been doing, and there was a thorough reformation of their conduct from then on, which has continued ever since.
Soon after that a remarkable religious concern began in a little town about three miles away. At this place, a number of people seemed to be converted. In the April following (1734) a very sudden and awful death of a young man in the bloom of his youth took place. He was violently seized with sickness and became delirious. He died in about two days. This had a great effect on many young people. This was followed by the death of a young married woman who had been greatly concerned about the salvation of her soul before she got sick, and was under great conviction at the beginning of her illness; but seemed to have evidence of God’s saving mercy to her, before her death; so that she died very full of comfort, and in an earnest and moving way warned and counselled others. This seemed to contribute to the solemn spirits of many young people; and there began to appear more of a religious concern on people’s minds.
In the fall of the year I told the young people to spend time after the Sunday evening service in prayer meetings, which they did in the homes of various people throughout the town. This was followed by the death of an elderly person, by which many were moved and affected.
About this time, in this part of the country, many people began talking about easy-believism [decisionism] which appeared to be a threat to real conversions here. The friends of true revival trembled for fear that it would ruin real conversions.
Many who thought of themselves as being in a Christless condition seemed to be awakened by it, with fear that God was about to withdraw from the land, and that they would be given up to this false teaching; and that then their opportunity for obtaining salvation would be past. Many who doubted the things they had heard me preach, seemed to have a kind of trembling fear with their doubts. They seemed to be very concerned about the way to become accepted by God. There were some things said publicly on that occasion, concerning justification by faith alone.
Although my preaching against easy-believism [decisionism] was ridiculed by some, what I said proved to be right and soon my preaching was used to bring the blessing of heaven to the souls of the people in this town. They became sure that what I preached was the true way of salvation; and they became earnest in seeking how they could be accepted by God, and converted Scripturally, which now appeared to them to be the only way of salvation. And it was then, in late December, that the Spirit of God began to work in an unusual way among us; and there were, very suddenly, one after another, five or six persons, who were to all appearances suddenly converted, and some of them were affected in a very unusual way.
Before long the revival swept through the area. As Luke Tyerman said,
In many instances, conviction of sin and conversion were attended with physical excitement. Numbers [of people] fell prostrate [to] the ground, and cried aloud for mercy. The bodies of others were convulsed and [rendered unconscious]… The work was great and glorious…Men literally cried for mercy (Luke Tyerman, The Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley, 2003 reprint, volume I, pp. 218-220; section on the beginning of the Awakening in New England, under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards).
(END OF SERMON)
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