The First Great Awakening

June 27, 2022

We read in Acts 2:2–4, “Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” Luke is describing the birth of Jesus’ church as the disciples were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. That day 3000 people accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and were baptized.

Throughout history God has moved through His Spirit in similarly mighty ways to change the course of history. One of those times was from 1736–1776, and it was known as the First Great Awakening. All through the thirteen colonies the denominational lines were blurred as Presbyterians, Dutch Reformed, Methodists, and non-denominational preachers would see large numbers of people repent and believe in Jesus Christ, just like in Acts 2.

None was used by God more profoundly than George Whitfield. A revival broke out in England that swept the young twenty-two-year-old preacher into active preaching to people hungry to hear the gospel and experience the power of the Holy Spirit. As he was used by God in England he felt God put a yearning in his heart to go and preach in America. The power of the Holy Spirit seemed to be strengthened on the other side of the ocean, as he began preaching in New England. In Philadelphia George met Ben Franklin who refused to publicly believe in Christ, but made many generous offerings to Whitfield’s orphanage ministry in Georgia.

Franklin once wrote of how Whitfield’s preaching changed Philadelphia. “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 through town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”

Franklin once calculated that the carrying power of Whitfield’s voice could allow him to preach to over 30,000 people at one time, and often he did. It was said that when word spread that Whitfield would be preaching out in a field it sounded like thunder roaring over the landscape as the horses and their wagons carried people hungry for the experience of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit would arrive by the tens of thousands. He was known to preach as many as four one to two hour sermons a day, a hundred sermons in a matter of months, and over his 34-year career he preached more than 18,000 sermons.

God used George Whitfield and other revival preachers to lay the foundation for a new nation. They preached unity in Christ, thus binding the American people together. Since this life giving message was being preached in all the colonies, this first great awakening in our nation broke down geographical boundaries as well, as Christians in Boston began to realize they had a lot in common with Christians in South Carolina. Preachers declared from pulpits as well as great gatherings of thousands of people in countless fields that in the eyes of God all people were created equal, so that one day our founding fathers would declare this to be self-evident. As the Holy Spirit moved across the American colonies the people came to believe that faith in Jesus Christ required people to put their faith into action, with a deep concern for service to others and the common good. As the revival fires gave way to talk of independence the people had a common faith that they had no king but Jesus (sorry King George), and they were becoming one nation under God (Insights taken from The Light and the Glory by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, published by Fleming H. Revell, c. 1977).

As you celebrate Independence Day when was the last time you read the Declaration of Independence? Read to those who gather with you this July 4th, and note all the times that ideas that grew out of the First Great Awakening are included. My articles in the next few weeks will take a look at some other important revivals. Is it time for God to bring another Great Awakening to America? Could your prayers help to move God to send His Holy Spirit upon us again? (To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles see,