I found this surfing the net. The third and forth chapters fit very well with the discussion on this post. It states what Johnathan Edward's opinion was suppose to be of that period of the Great Awakening. It seemed a good idea to include the rest of the article.
week beginning 5 January 2003
The Great Awakener
I have been busy trying to remind people that 2003 marks the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of Jonathan Edwards (not the triple jumper, you understand, but the great theologian and President of Princeton for further information see our congregational website). There are some men worth remembering and Edwards is one of them.
Yet I was intrigued by one biography of the great man, which is entitled Jonathan Edwards The Great Awakener. The title derives from the period known as the First Great Awakening a period of about four years from 1740 onwards when Edwards parish in Northampton saw a remarkable revival of interest in spiritual things. Edwards thoughts on this, and earlier, revivals are of interest, if only to raise a question about the legitimacy of the description of himself as the awakener. Edwards described such revivals as a glorious work of God, and was motivated to defend them on account of the many voices which were opposed to them.
Edwards was only too aware of the fact that there were negative aspects to the Great Awakening. "The weakness of human nature," he wrote of the earlier revivals in Northampton, "has always appeared in times of great revival of religion, by a disposition to run to extremes, and get into confusion, and especially in these three things, enthusiasm, superstition and intemperate zeal". Edwards could not defend every element of religious enthusiasm during the period there were, he acknowledged, accidental evils in every period of revival. But these were in spite of the revival, and not on account of it; and as Edwards was quick to point out, no religious movement can be rubbished in whole simply because of the defects apparent in some of its parts.
Edwards call was for his people to speak less of experience and more of grace, to do less complaining and more praying, to turn their attentions to the glory of the Gospel rather than to the phenomena of the revival. And he has some pertinent advice about the way in which people ought to talk about ministers. "If some Christians who have been complaining of their ministers, and struggling in vain to deliver themselves from the difficulties complained of under their ministry, had said and acted less before men, and had applied themselves with all their might to cry to God for their ministers
they would have been much more in the way of success". Perhaps we need Edwards more than we realise.
But my point is that Edwards, surrounded as he was with the glorious work of God called the Great Awakening, would have been aghast at the description of himself as the Great Awakener. His Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England is remarkably free from any reference to himself. Indeed, he is at pains to point out that revival often took place in spite of the blemishes on the ministry. He talks about imprudent zeal, censorious spirit and intemperate hearts on the part of some who occupied New England pulpits and yet through whom the Spirit of God did his glorious work. Of course Edwards is not excusing any of these faults; but he is reminding us that these blemishes, perhaps more than any other phenomenon, prove that the work was of God.
But it is a point that historians, secular and spiritual, often fail to realise. Edwards was not the Great Awakener that work he would ascribe solely to the Holy Spirit of God. In the same way, however, Donald Macdonald, in his history of Lewis wrote of Alexander Macleod of Uig that "he found his parish in a very backward state spiritually but he changed all that".
To write in this way, however, is to confuse the cause of the revivals with the agents of the revivals. Edwards language is both careful and clear. He warns against judging the revival by the instruments used in it, and reminds us both that it is a work of God and that in doing his glorious work, God used the ministers of New England to build up his church and to strengthen the cause of his kingdom.
In a world given to anti-supernaturalism it is all too easy to make the men the cause of the movement. But the evidence from Jonathan Edwards is quite contrary to this. For Edwards, the Great Awakening was precisely that an awakening from spiritual slumber and deadness whose efficient cause was the Holy Spirit of God. That there was an awakening Edwards had not doubt; and nor did he doubt but that the awakener was God himself, and not any preacher whose ministry was instrumental in the revival.
It is possible to study the church, and even the history of revivals within the church, from a purely sociological point of view. Indeed, the last resort of postmodernism is to read the remarkable activity of God in history as a story of human achievement, or human failure. Witness, for example, the phrase beloved of the press in recent weeks, which has defined the church in Lewis as fundamentalism without power.
Which is all part of the very position against which Edwards is writing. The church is not a sociological phenomenon, whose vicissitudes can be explained by the influences of strong personalities. As B.B. Warfield put it, "
it was God who made us men: let us confess with equal heartiness that it is God who makes us Christians". And Edwards would have us confess with equal heartiness that it is the same God who awakens his church at times of religious revival.
One final word Edwards was of the view that the media should be used to promote the interests of religious revival. He writes: "Great care should be taken that the press should be improved to no purpose contrary to the interest of this work". His justification for this was Judges 5:14, where those that handle the pen of the writer helped the people of God against Sisera. Presumably that would also include those who punch the keyboard; in which case, the longer this column promotes the supernaturalism of the Christian religion, our local press is fulfilling its God-given function.
© Iain D. Campbell 2003