America's Coming Revival
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When the first settlers landed on the shores of Virginia in 1607, they made a covenant to build a Godly nation. That pledge was all but forgotten some 150 years later, as thousands upon thousands of Americans headed west in search of new opportunities.
Historian and author Peter Marshall said, "The condition of society was not good."
Crime was up. Alcoholism, prostitution, and gambling were widespread. These new pioneers sought riches rather than God, ideas of the enlightenment rather than His Word.
"Most Americans did not go to church," said Stanley Burgess, a professor of Christian history.
And by the late 1700s, what was happening on college campuses like Yale become symptomatic of a nation that had lost sight of its spiritual mooring.
Marshall said, "The young students had gotten enamored of the French Revolution; you couldn't find any Christianity on the Yale campus."
Dr. Timothy Dwight, then the president of Yale College and a strong Christian, found the spiritual condition on campus so awful that he began to pray for the students.
His prayers were answered. By the summer of 1802, massive revival broke out at the college.
"Proof of the pudding was that, in succeeding graduating classes," said Marshall, "the number of young men going into the Gospel ministry began to increase."
The revival spread beyond the campus grounds. In one town after another, New Englanders began to reclaim the covenant their forefathers had made with God.
Burgess said, "They didn't want a social religion so much as they wanted a personal one, a life with Christ. And when they found this, it spread rapidly."
And not just in New England. As the boundaries of the nation moved westward, so did the revivals.
Camp meetings became the hallmark of the movement. Tens of thousands showed up in wagons, on horseback, and by foot in the Western Territories, to hear evangelists bring a message of repentance and salvation.
"They came to celebrate, they came to experience what was going on," Burgess explained, "they came to be converted, they came to be part of God's family."
This period of renewal lasted for decades, and became known as America's Second Great Awakening.
The most famous preacher of the time was Charles Finney, an Upstate New York lawyer-turned Presbyterian minister.
"It was said of Finney that he was personally responsible for the salvation of 500,000 Americans -- and that's a conservative figure," Marshall said,
Churches were experiencing tremendous growth.
Finney and other revivalists believed that the Gospel did not just get people saved, but it was also a means of making the country better. The Second Great Awakening inspired a wave of social activism.
Marshall said, "Every single social ministry in America in the 19th century, the first mission to the deaf, the first ministry to the blind, the first prison reform, the temperance movement, and, of course, the biggest one out of them all, the anti-slavery movement, the women's movement -- all of these were started directly by evangelical Christians who had come to Jesus in the Second Great Awakening."
Several societies were also created to spread the Gospel, including the American Bible Society.
Christians started orphanages, hospitals, and Sunday schools.
And in 1812, a group of students from western Massachusetts conducted the first overseas missionary journey.
"We felt a responsibility to people in regions beyond," said Marshall.
The revival that started in the late 1790s lasted for some 50 years.
As in past times, God was using waves of revival to unite the nation and remind people of His covenant love.
"God has a purpose in these waves on the shore," Burgess said. "Every wave is of value, of uniqueness, and of a commonality with other waves."
Some 200 years after the Second Great Awakening, many whose spiritual heritage dates back to that great move of God, say the same call is going out today. For America to turn back to God, reclaim her spiritual heritage, and transform a new generation of Americans.