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The Second Awakening

A Message by W. Robert Godfrey

The Second Great Awakening was a period of increased evangelism and social reform. In this lesson, Dr. Godfrey explains how the Second Great Awakening would influence society and introduces its important theologians.

From the series: A Survey of Church History, Part 5 A.D. 1800-1900

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. blog-post

    The Spirit of Revival

  2. blog-post

    A Calvinist Evangelist?

  3. devotional

    Genuine Conversion

The Spirit of Revival

R.C. Sproul

The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God by Jonathan Edwards is one of the great classics of revival literature. A key figure of the Great Awakening, Edwards wrote this important discourse in 1741 just after the revival had reached its peak. In 2000 R.C. Sproul wrote an Introduction to a version of this classic work that had been edited and modernized by Archie Parrish. This Introduction effectively compares Edwards’s nineteenth century to our society and explains the importance of Edwards' treatise.


Revival and Reformation

Post tenebras lux ... “After darkness, light.” So read the motto of the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. The titanic theological struggle of that era was a fight to bring the Gospel into the full light of day after years of being consigned to obscurity to the point of eclipse beneath the umbra of the sacerdotal supplanting of it by Rome.

With the rescue of the Gospel from darkness and distortion, a revival was evoked that transcended any revival of faith witnessed either by previous or subsequent periods of Christian history. The Reformation was not merely a Great Awakening; it was the Greatest Awakening to the true Gospel since the Apostolic Age. It was an awakening that demonstrated the power of God unto salvation.

It is noteworthy that this period in history is commonly referred to as the Reformation and not the Revival. What is the difference between revival and reformation? As the etymologies of the words suggest, revival describes a renewal of spiritual life, while reformation describes a renewal of the forms and structures of society and culture. It is not possible to have true reformation without first having true revival. The renewal of spiritual life under the power of the Holy Spirit is a necessary condition for reformation but not a sufficient condition for it. Therefore, though it is not possible to have reformation without revival, it is possible to have revival without reformation. Why is that the case? There are at least two reasons. The first is that revival brings with it the conversion of souls to Christ, who are at the moment of conversion spiritual babes. Infants have little impact on the shaping of cultural institutions. It is when vast numbers of converted people approach maturity in their faith and sanctification that the structures of the world are seriously challenged and changed. If vast numbers of people are converted but remain infantile in their spiritual growth, little impact is made by them on society as a whole. Their faith tends to remain privatized and contained within the confines of the arena of mere religion.

The second reason concerns the scope and intensity of the revival. If the revival is limited in scope and intensity, its impact tends to be restricted to a small geographical area and also tends to be short-lived. Yet it may have rivulets of abiding influence into future generations. Such a rivulet is the work of Jonathan Edwards presented and discussed in this book. The Great Awakening that occurred in New England in the mid-eighteenth century has left an indelible mark on America, though that mark has faded dramatically over time. No one would today confuse New England with a mecca of vibrant gospel faith. Nor is there any danger of the works of Jonathan Edwards pushing any contemporary authors off the New York Times’s list of best sellers.

Nevertheless, the influence of Edwards as well as that of the magisterial reformers Luther and Calvin continue to this day. Their words are still in print, and there is a cadre of Christians who devour their writings. The things of which those men of God wrote maintain a vital relevance down to our own day.

William Cooper’s original preface to Edwards’s The Distinguishing Marks describes the state of the church prior to the Great Awakening. It could just as well serve as a commentary for our own times.

Continued in Part Two


Excerpted from R.C. Sproul's Introduction to The Spirit of Revival, edited by Archie Parrish.

A Calvinist Evangelist?

Keith Mathison

If I have heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times: "A Calvinist evangelist? Isn't that an oxymoron? Calvinism undermines evangelism." This accusation has been repeated so many times that few make the effort to argue it. Instead, it is simply assumed. Never mind that some of the church's greatest evangelists have been Calvinists. One need only be reminded of men such as George Whitefield, David Brainerd, or "the father of modern missions," William Carey. "Yes," we are told, "these men were great evangelists and Calvinists, but that is because they were inconsistent." But is this true?

The fact of the matter is that Calvinism is not inconsistent with evangelism; it is only inconsistent with certain evangelistic methods. It is inconsistent, for example, with the emotionally manipulative methods created by revivalists such as Charles Finney. But these manipulative methods are themselves inconsistent with Scripture, so it is no fault to reject them. In order for evangelism to be pleasing to God, it must be consistent with the whole system of biblical teaching. But what does such evangelism look like?

A classic answer to that question is found in R.B. Kuiper's little book God-Centred Evangelism. This book surveys the entire biblical scope of teaching on the subject of evangelism. Kuiper defines evangelism quite simply as "the promulgation of the evangel." It is, in other words, the proclamation of the gospel. Kuiper explains that his book "is a plea for God–centered, in contradistinction to man-centered, evangelism." The book, then, presents a theology of evangelism.

The first chapters set forth some of the essential theological presuppositions for God-centered evangelism. Kuiper explains that God Himself is the author of evangelism, in that before the foundation of the world, He planned the salvation of sinners. This leads directly into chapter-length discussions of God's love, His election of sinners, and His covenant. After setting forth these basic theological foundations, Kuiper then deals with various biblical aspects of evangelism, beginning with the sovereignty of God and the Great Commission.

In the Great Commission, Jesus commands His followers to make disciples of "all nations." The scope of evangelism, then, is universal. The gospel is to be proclaimed to all. If we truly believe what Scripture tells us about the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation, then the urgency of evangelism will become evident. A number of heterodox theologies undermine the urgency of evangelism by teaching that unbelievers will get a "second chance" after death. There is, however, no biblical warrant for such teaching, and to assert it is pure presumption.

Our primary motivation for evangelism should be love of God and love of neighbor. Those who love God will joyfully obey His commission to evangelize and disciple. Those who love their neighbor will desire nothing greater for them than eternal life. Their aim will be to see God glorified through the salvation of sinners like themselves in order that the church would grow.

The God-ordained means of evangelism is His own Word. It is through the proclamation of God's Word that the Holy Spirit effectually works faith in men's hearts. The specific message of evangelism is the gospel. Paul summarizes this message in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve." When those who hear the gospel ask what they must do to be saved, Scripture tells us that the answer is: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31).

In the final chapters of his book, Kuiper surveys issues such as zeal for evangelism, the biblical method of evangelism, cooperation in evangelism, resistance to evangelism, and the triumph of evangelism. He reminds us that we can proclaim the gospel with great hope, looking forward to seeing the fruits of our evangelism, a time when "a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages" will stand before the throne of the Lamb, clothed in white and crying out, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (Rev. 7:9–10).

For too long, the church has attempted to achieve a worthy goal through worldly means. Let us heed Kuiper's plea and leave man-centered Madison Avenue methods behind. May we fulfill the Great Commission in a God-glorifying manner.

This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.

Genuine Conversion

Obviously, we cannot live a life of gratitude for our salvation if we have not been saved. First we must be converted—the Spirit must change our hearts, and we must hear and respond in faith to the gospel (Rom. 8:29–30). Jesus atoned for the sins of His people on the cross, but the benefits of this atonement do not become real in our experience until our conversion.

Scripture teaches, as the Heidelberg Catechism demonstrates (Q&A 86–87), that conversion is necessary to experience the blessings of Christ's work and to do good works of gratitude. Therefore, we must understand accurately what is involved in true conversion. After all, many people think they have been converted even though they have not believed the gospel at all. The book of Hebrews warns us about such people, the professing believers who think they are Christians because they have experienced some of the blessings that come with being church members but who fall away because they are not truly in Jesus by faith (Heb. 6:1–8).

Question and answer 88 of the Heidelberg Catechism look to today's passage to illustrate true conversion. Fundamentally, conversion is the passing away of something old and the arrival of something new. Converted people are, the Apostle Paul tells us, new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). There is a decisive break with the old way of life and an embrace of Christ and His will.

The metaphor of the old passing away and the new coming is common in Paul's writings. Usually, it is described in terms of death and resurrection. Romans 6:1–4, for example, explains that true converts to Christ have died to sin. They have renounced their attempts to be a law unto themselves. By fleeing from sin and running to the Savior, their old selves have been buried in the grave. In turn, they have been raised with Christ. Their new selves have been raised in power, just as Jesus was raised. These new selves live unto righteousness, just as our Savior lives unto righteousness. Unlike Jesus, there will be times when the convert sins and acts like his dead-and-buried old self (1 John 1:8–9). Yet true converts will not be satisfied to remain in sin, but they will be disturbed by their law-breaking, they will repent, and they will mortify their flesh by the Spirit's power (Rom. 8:13).

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