‘Souls did, as it were, come like flocks to Jesus Christ!’ – Rumours of a great Move of God in New England

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards

‘Show us Your strength, O God!’
There are several features of genuine revival that crop up again and again. If you’ve read a few accounts you will recognise them.

One is that they tend to spread! News comes across from somewhere else. ‘Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.’ Proverbs 25:25 (ESV)

When news of a powerful move of God is heard a longing is created in the hearts of those who hear and they cry to God. In fact, the news itself seems almost to be a promise of imminent blessing.

The aim of this Review is that we consider what God has done in the past and seek Him to move in similar power in our own day. ‘Summon your power, O God; show us your strength, O God, as you have done before.’ Psalm 68:28 (ESV)

Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts
Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts, English hymn writer (‘When I survey the Wondrous Cross’ and many others), Independent Church Leader, Christian Statesman, serving God in the later years of his life, eagerly heard news of a sudden outbreak of conversions in New England.

News had come from a friend in Boston (America) and Watts, and many others, wanted to hear more.

33 year old Jonathan Edwards, Pastor and theologian, a judicious observer and willing participant in the religious revival, set about writing an orderly account of what had taken place two years before. Isaac Watts and John Guyse wrote an introduction for their British readers.

In it we hear the familiar sound of those who discover a true Awakening:

‘Never did we hear or read, since the first ages of Christianity, any event of this kind so surprising as the present Narrative hath set before us.’ (Preface, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, in Jonathan Edwards on Revival, Banner of Truth, p.1)

They were not exaggerating. An appeal to the Book of Acts, particularly the Second Chapter is a standard appeal of those writing about revival.

‘There is a spot of Ground…’
‘There is a spot of ground, as we are here informed, wherein there are twelve or fourteen towns and villages, chiefly situate (sic) in New Hampshire…wherein it pleased God, two years ago, to display his free and sovereign mercy in the conversion of a great multitude of souls in a short space of time…’ (ibid. p.2)

Watts goes on to say, ‘We see how easy it is for him with one turn of his hand, with one word of his mouth, to awaken whole countries…and kindle divine life in their souls.’ (ibid. p.3)

Edwards’ account, snippets of which we shall enjoy together – and be deeply inspired by – describes the unfolding, increasing, and almost all-encompassing power of the gospel as it spread from town to town and then to a whole region.
One memorable paragraph in Edwards’ Surprising Narrative reads

There was scarcely a single person in the town, old or young, left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world. Those who were wont to be the vainest and loosest, and those who had been disposed to think and speak lightly of vital and experimental religion, were now generally subject to great awakenings. And the work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner, and increased more and more; souls did as it were come by flocks to Jesus Christ. From day to day for many months together, might be seen evident instances of sinners brought out of darkness into marvellous light, and delivered out of an horrible pit, and from the miry clay, and set upon a rock, with a new song of praise to God in their mouths.¹

Isaac Watts on the state of England, just two years before the Awakening
But Watts was writing in ‘Old England’ and longing that God would do something there. Even as he writes his introduction, he longs for a similar awakening in Great Britain:

‘There has been a great and just complaint for many years among the ministers and churches of Old England…that the work of conversion goes on very slowly, that the Spirit of God in his saving influences is much withdrawn from the ministrations of his word, and there are few that receive the report of the gospel with any eminent success upon their hearts.’

In fact, he says, ‘our coldness in religion…and apostasy from the Christian faith…seem to have provoked the Spirit of Christ to absent himself from our nation.’ (ibid. p.2, 3)

Little did he know, writing as he was, in 1737, that in two short years the mightiest and most powerful outbreak of Christianity ever to touch the British Isles was to take place.

George Whitefield had already been converted (in 1735) and the Wesley brothers would come to Christ the following year (1738). And 1739 was to be the beginning a whole new era for England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales – as well as a fresh outpouring in America.

What about us?
How far away are we from an unfathomable breakthrough? In our appropriate desire to patiently and wisely build great churches for God’s glory, have we forgotten that He can suddenly move? That He can suddenly act with great power, and accomplish more than we can imagine?

Don’t give up my friend, but seek God as you read these accounts of grace. You may be just two short years away from your nation’s greatest hour!

Note: I am using the terms ‘revival’ and ‘awakening’ interchangeably to mean a season in which God brings surprising numbers of non-believers to faith in Christ, and pours out His Spirit in such a manner that the non-Christian community is significantly affected, and churches increase significantly in size. I do not mean revival in the American sense of ‘a special series of meetings aimed at either inspiring believers or presenting the gospel to non-believers’.
You can read a review of Edwards on Revival here

¹Jonathan Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, from Jonathan Edwards On Revival, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1984)
For full online text: Click here

© 2009-2016 Lex Loizides

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