Great Awakenings – Part 2: The Second Great Awakening
In just one generation a nation can slide from Spiritual Awakening into spiritual darkness.
That’s how long it took for the impact of the First Great Awakening to fade into distant memory. Most people do not realize it, but following the Revolutionary War and the founding of our nation, the moral fabric of our new republic began to tear. Drunkenness abounded. Out of a national population of five million, 300,00 people were confirmed drunks and we were burying 15,000 of them a year. Bank robberies were a daily occurrence and for the first time, women were afraid to venture out at night for fear of assault.
The situation within the church was grave as the Methodists were losing more members than they were gaining. The Baptists had proclaimed that they had fallen into a “wintry season.” One Congregational church pastored by the Rev. Samuel Shepherd in Massachusetts, declared that they had not seen one convert in 16 years. The Lutherans were so bad off that they were investigating a merger with the Episcopalians. All this while the Episcopal Bishop of New York quit to seek other employment because it had been so long since he had confirmed even one person. The Presbyterians who were not any better off cried out against the ungodliness of the nation.
The Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court at the time, John Marshall, wrote that the church in America “was too far gone to ever be redeemed.” And people such as the likes of Voltaire and Thomas Paine declared that, “Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years.”
But it all began to change in 1792 as a Second Great Awakening descended upon our nation.
What happened? Well, remember Jonathan Edwards? The great preacher of the First Great Awakening? He had written a little book in 1741 entitled, “A Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of all God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.” Yes, that was the title! This little book which was a call to EXTRAORDINARY PRAYER was re-discovered and then republished by a Scottish minister named John Erskine.
And a movement was sparked…
In Europe, men like Williams Carey, Andrew Fuller, and John Sutcliffe began a Union of Prayer across all sects of Christianity.
The church in America had its back against the wall. So in New England, a Baptist pastor and man of prayer named Isaac Backus issued an urgent plea and a call to prayer for revival across denominational lines. Like their brothers in Britain, a network of prayer meetings was formed which set aside the first Monday of every month to pray.
And then revival came!
But this spiritual awakening hit a wall when it arrived in the “frontier country” of Kentucky. The outmost edge of our young nation was a lawless and irreligious land. In this setting, one lone pastor, a godly man of prayer named James McGready, joined the call to monthly prayer…but he took it one step further. McGready called for WEEKLY Saturday night prayer for the Sunday services the following day. And then again he called for prayer on Sunday mornings prior to worship.
And then… one Sunday morning revival spontaneously broke out when 11,000 people came to church!
The Second Great Awakening had arrived and swept the nation.
It was out of this Second Great Awakening that the modern missionary movement was born, abolition of slavery was promoted, education for all was championed, as well as numerous other social justice causes.
It was obvious to the people of this movement that their only defense; their only righteousness; their only hope was Jesus. Oh God, show us today of our desperate need for You.