Religious revivals have a long history of preaching out of doors.
The great London preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote:
“It would be very easy to prove that revivals of religion have usually been accompanied, if not caused, by a considerable amount of preaching out of doors, or in unusual places.”
For two thousand years, out of doors preaching by gifted evangelists resulted in the founding of religious orders, movements, denomination, charity organizations, colleges and universities.
- Apostle Paul preaching to the Gentiles,
- St. Patrick and the Irish missionaries,
- Peter Waldo and the Waldensians,
- St. Francis and the Franciscans,
- St. Dominic and the the Dominicans,
- John Wycliffe and the Lollards,
- Savanarola, Dominican Friar,
- John Knox and the Presbyterians,
- George Fox and the Quakers,
- John and Charles Wesley and the Methodists,
- George Whitefield and innumerable revival preachers,
- William and Catherine Booth and the Salvation Army, and many others.
Charles Spurgeon added:
“Open-air preaching … is the very backbone of the movement to win the non-churched …
Glorious were those great gatherings in the fields and commons which lasted throughout the long period in which Wesley and Whitefield blessed our nation.
Field preaching was the wild note of the birds singing in the trees, in testimony that the true spring-time of religion had come …
It was a blessed day when Methodists and others began to proclaim Jesus in open air; then were the gates of hell shaken, and the captives of the devil were set free by hundreds and thousands.”
Open air preaching meetings in Scotland were called “holy fairs,” which stirred revivals which immigrants brought to America.
Scottish minister William Tennent migrated to Pennsylvania in 1718 and together with his son Gilbert Tennent began the Log College in 1726.
It was the first American Presbyterian theological seminary in North America, which led to the formation of the College of New Jersey.
The College of New Jersey, was renamed PRINCETON UNIVERSITY.
An original trustee of the college was the “New Light” preacher, Rev. Samuel Finley.
This revival caused Calvinist denominations to split between:
- traditional “Old Lights” who emphasized structure and ritual;
- revivalist “New Lights” who emphasized personal experience and commitment.
The religious enthusiasm spreading through America became known as The Great Awakening Revival.
The fiery Dutch Reformed preacher Theodore Jacobus Frelinghuysen arrived in New Jersey in 1720.
Preaching about divine outpourings of the Holy Spirit and conversion, Frelinghuysen’s efforts led to formation in 1766 of Queen’s College in New Brunswick, which became RUTGERS UNIVERSITY.
The Great Awakening Revival inspired Puritan Rev. Eleazar Wheelock to help found Moor’s Charity School in 1754, (re-established as DARTMOUTH COLLEGE).
The Great Awakening inspired Anglican Rev. Samuel Johnson to help found King’s College in 1754 (renamed COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY).
The Great Awakening inspired Baptist ministers Rev. James Manning, Rev. Isaac Backus and Rev. Samuel Stillman to help found the College of Rhode Island in 1764 (renamed BROWN UNIVERSITY).
During this time the Pietist revival movement spread within Lutheran Churches.
It reshaped Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed Churches, and it strengthened evangelical Baptist and Methodist-Anglican Churches.
Revival preachers held to two predominant views:
- Calvinists emphasized that God had a plan for your life, marriage, family, church and government, and its was a person’s responsibility to study Scripture to find out what God’s plan is and put it into practice.
- Pietists emphasized that each person needed to have a personal experience with Christ and when this happened their life should change, causing them to no longer go to worldly places, like bars, brothels, theaters, or worldly government.
This attitude, taken to its extreme, led to an abandonment of civic responsibility and neglecting to vote in elections.
The Great Awakening Revival brought large numbers of African slaves to Christianity, being led by Presbyterian preacher Samuel Davies, who later became Princeton’s fourth president.
African Americans were welcomed into active roles in many white congregations, even as preachers.
The first black Baptist churches were founded at this time in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia.
Beginning in 1738, Rev. George Whitefield arrived in Savannah, Georgia. Traveling the Colonies, he preached 18,000 sermons in the next 32 years.
The Great Awakening Revival helped unite the Colonies prior to the Revolutionary War.
Ben Franklin wrote of Rev. Whitefield:
“Multitudes of all denominations attended his sermons … It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants.
From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”
The Great Awakening Revival had a profound effect, as noted by Sarah Pierrepont Edwards, wife of Jonathan Edwards, who wrote to her brother in New Haven regarding effects of the preaching of George Whitefield:
“It is wonderful to see what a spell he casts over an audience by proclaiming the simplest truths of the Bible …
Our mechanics shut up their shops, and the day laborers throw down their tools to go and hear him preach, and few return unaffected.”
A noted Great Awakening preacher was Jonathan Edwards, born OCTOBER 5, 1703.
He entered Yale College at age 13 and graduated with honors.
He became a pastor and preached with amazing conviction.
In his Narrative of the Surprising Word of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls, 1737, Jonathan Edwards wrote:
“And then it was, in the latter part of December, that the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to … work amongst us.
There were, very suddenly, one after another, five or six persons who were, to all appearance, savingly converted, and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner.
Particularly I was surprised with the relation of a young woman, who had been one of the greatest company-keepers in the whole town.
When she came to me, I had never heard that she was become in any ways serious, but by the conversation I had with her, it appeared to me that what she gave an account of was a glorious work of God’s infinite power and sovereign grace, and that God had given her a new heart, truly broken and sanctified …
God made it, I suppose, the greatest occasion of awakening to others, of anything that ever came to pass in the town …”
Jonathan Edwards continued:
“I have had abundant opportunity to know the effect it had, by my private conversation with many.
The news of it seemed to be almost like a flash of lighting upon the hearts of young people all over the town, and upon many others …
Presently upon this, a great and earnest concern about the great things of religion and the eternal world became universal in all parts of the town and among persons of all degrees and all ages.
The noise of the dry bones waxed louder and louder …
Those that were wont to be the vainest and loosest, and those that had been the most disposed to think and speak slightly of vital and experimental religion, were not 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 …
This work of God, as it was carried on and the number of true saints multiplied, soon made a glorious alteration in the town, so that in the spring and summer following, Anno 1735, the town seemed to be full of the presence of God.
It never was so full of love, nor so full of joy … there were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house.
It was a time of joy in families on the account of salvation’s being brought unto them, parents rejoicing over their children as new born, and husbands over their wives, and wives over their husbands.
The goings of God were then seen in His sanctuary, God’s day was a delight and His tabernacles were amiable …”
Rev. Edwards went on:
“Our public assembles were then beautiful; the congregation was alive in God’s service, everyone earnestly intent on the public worship, every hearer eager to drink the words of the minister as they came from his mouth.
The assembly in general were, from time to time, in tears while the word was preached, some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for their neighbors.
There were many instances of persons that came from abroad, on visits or on business…that partook of that shower of divine blessing that God rained down here and went home rejoicing.
Till at length the same work began to appear and prevail in several other towns in the country …”
Jonathan Edwards concluded:
“In the month of March, the people of South Hadley began to be seized with a deep concern about the things of religion, which very soon became universal …
About the same time, it began to break forth in the west part of Suffield … and it soon spread into all parts of the town. It next appeared at Sunderland …
About the same time it began to appear in a part of Deerfield … Hatfield … West Springfield … Long Meadow … Endfield … Westfield … Northfield …
In every place, God brought His saving blessings with Him, and His Word, attended with Spirit … returned not void.”
“There is no leveler like Christianity, but it levels by lifting all who receive it to the lofty table-land of a true character and of undying hope both for this world and the next.”
On July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached his most famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.”
The underlying theme was that God is a just God, and as such, He must judge every sin.
If God does not judge a sin, His silence would in effect be giving approval to the sin, which He would never do.
Therefore, to be true to His own nature, He must judge even the smallest sin.
To ask God to overlook a sin is asking Him to deny His just nature, – in essence, asking Him to deny Himself.
But God is also a God of love, and as such, He, Himself, provided the Lamb to take the judgement for our sins.
This is foreshadowed by Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
Genesis 22:8 “And Abraham said, My son, God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.”
The Book of Isaiah foretold the suffering Messiah in chapter 53, which foretold Jesus offering Himself as the Lamb of God, to stand in our stead and take the punishment for all of our sins.
In this way, God is both completely just and completely love.
God is just, in that He judges every sin, and God is love in that He provided the Lamb to take the judgement for our sins.
Revival preachers were motivated to start colleges and universities to teach youth.
This motivation can be illustrated by an analogy using computer terminology, highlighting the differences between hardware and software.
Hardware refers to the computer’s physical hard drive and memory chips, and software refers to the programs that run on the computer.
Applying this to students, a child’s physical brain is like the computer hardware.
A person’s body is like the computer case. It does not matter what a person’s skin color, race, or heredity is. That is irrelevant. What matters is, what software is running in their minds?
The software is the belief system and values taught to a child, which guide their actions.
Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, rather than being preoccupied with the “hardware” of race, genetics, heredity or skin color, focused instead on instilling Bible “software” onto their children’s minds – godly thoughts, values and the Christian belief system – which had a documented ripple effect.
A.E. Winship’s A Study in Education and Heredity (1900) listed that Jonathan and Sarah Edwards descendants included:
1 U.S. Vice-President,
3 U.S. Senators,
13 college presidents,
80 public office holders,
100 lawyers and
A.E. Winship’s study also examined a family referred to as “Jukes.”
In 1877, while visiting New York’s prisons, Richard Dugdale found inmates with 42 different last names all descending from one man, called “Max.”
Born around 1720 of Dutch stock, Max was a hard drinker, idle, irreverent, a recluse, and uneducated.
Following the computer analogy, Max’s children had been infected with corrupted files and software viruses.
Max’s immoral example was equivalent of programming malware into his descendants, which included:
50 women of debauchery,
130 other convicts.
310 paupers, who, combined spent 2,300 years in poorhouses, and
400 physically wrecked by indulgent living.
The “Jukes” descendants cost the state more than $1,250,000.
Jonathan Edwards stated:
“I have reason to hope that my parents’ prayers for me have been, in many things, very powerful and prevalent, that God has … taken me under His care and guidance, provision and direction, in answer to their prayers.”
In A History of the Work of Redemption, 1739, Jonathan Edwards wrote:
“Those mighty kingdoms of Antichrist and Mohammed … have trampled the world under foot..(and) swallowed up the Ancient Roman Empire … Satan’s Mohometan kingdom swallowing up the Eastern Empire.”
In his work, The Latter-Day Glory Is Probably to Begin in America, Jonathan Edwards proposed that since the Old World had hosted Christ’s first coming, the New World would be given the honor of preparing the earth for His second coming.
This idea that the “Sun of Righteousness” traveled from East to West contributed to the concept that America had a “Manifest Destiny,” as he wrote:
“When the time comes of the church’s deliverance from her enemies, so often typified by the Assyrians, the light will rise in the west, till it shines through the world like the sun in its meridian brightness …
And if we may suppose that this glorious work of God shall begin in any part of America, I think, if we consider the circumstances of the settlement of New England, it must needs appear the most likely, of all American colonies, to be the place whence this work shall principally take its rise.”
Jonathan Edwards, who became President of Princeton College, resolved:
“Never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.”