Whitefield, the Presbyterian clergyman Gilbert Tennent, and other traveling revivalists were generally welcomed at first. They stimulated religious zeal, produced conversions, and increased church membership. Before long, however, the methods of the itinerants and the fervent emotionalism of the revival drew criticism, being seen by a large proportion of the settled clergy as a threat to the established order. Revivalists often accused settled ministers of being unconverted and of leading their congregations to spiritual destruction. As a consequence, many churches split into factions. In New England, separate congregational churches were organized, and in the Middle Colonies, Presbyterians divided into rival bodies, called the New Side and the Old Side, which remained apart until 1758.
The Great Awakening had varied and to some degree contradictory effects on American religion. In New England, Calvinism was reinvigorated, and Jonathan Edwards emerged as the leading orthodox theologian. Opponents of the revival, however, began preaching against the orthodox doctrines of predestination, election, and original sin. The congregational clergyman Charles Chauncy of Boston, for instance, attacked revivalist excesses and began to advocate a theological liberalism that eventually developed into Unitarianism. In the Middle Colonies, on the other hand, many Scottish and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians reacted by reaffirming orthodox doctrine, which, they argued, was weakened by the revivalists’ emphasis on religious experience.
In community after community, the Great Awakening produced tension, discord, and factional rivalry, so that whatever religious harmony and uniformity had existed was disrupted. Nevertheless, evangelical fervor drew supporters of the revival together, producing a sense of unity transcending denominational and political boundaries. The Great Awakening was thus a significant intercolonial movement, which contributed to a sense of American nationality before the American Revolution.
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), American theologian and Congregational clergyman, whose sermons stirred the religious revival called the Great Awakening.
Born October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut Colony, Edwards was a child prodigy. At the age of ten he wrote an essay on the nature of the soul. At 13 he entered the Collegiate School of Connecticut (now Yale University) and he graduated in 1720 as valedictorian of his class. After two additional years of study in theology at Yale, he preached for eight months in a New York church and then returned to Yale as a college tutor, studying, at the same time, for his master’s degree. He was ordained in 1727 and received a call to assist his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, pastor of the church at Northampton, Massachusetts Bay Colony, which had one of the largest and wealthiest congregations in the colony.
When Edwards was 26, his grandfather died, and the young man became pastor at Northampton. He was a firm believer in Calvinism and the doctrine of predestination; a tendency toward belief in Arminianism, an ideology that challenged several fundamental principles of strict Calvinism, however, existed in the New England colonies. In 1731, in Boston, Edwards preached his first public attack on Arminianism and, in a sermon entitled “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence,” called for a return to rigorous Calvinism. Three years later he delivered a series of powerful sermons on the same subject in his own church; the series included the famous “Reality of Spiritual Light,” in which the preacher combined Calvinism with mysticism, religious experience directly given and experienced.
He was a notable pulpit orator. The result of his 1734-1735 sermons was a religious revival in which a great number of conversions were made; Edwards received 300 new members into his church. Some of the converted were so obsessed by his fiery descriptions of eternal damnation that they contemplated suicide. In 1740 the British evangelist George Whitefield visited Edwards. Together, the two men started a revival movement that became known as the Great Awakening and developed into a religious frenzy engulfing all New England. The conversions were characterized by convulsions and hysteria on the part of the converts, and the harshness and appeal to religious fear in one of Edward’s sermons, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” caused his congregation to rise weeping and moaning from their seats. By 1742 the revival movement had grown out of control, and for the next 60 to 70 years it had the effect on American religion of preventing any attempt at a liberal interpretation of doctrine.
In Northampton, Edwards’s sermons created a demand for sterner religious discipline. Eventually, however, his congregation turned against him because of his high-handedness and bigotry. He instituted disciplinary proceedings in church against young people who had been reading what he considered improper books; later, he objected strongly to the Halfway Covenant, a New England church custom that permitted baptized persons to have all the privileges of church membership except communion although they had not openly professed conversion. A council representing ten congregations in the region dismissed Edwards in 1750. The following year he received a call to Stockbridge, in Massachusetts, then on the frontier, where he became pastor of the village church and missionary to the Housatonic people. In Stockbridge, during the next seven years, he wrote his most important theological works. Among them was A Careful and Strict Enquiry into … Notions of … Freedom of Will … (1754), in which he denied that human beings have self-determined will that can initiate acts not known or decreed beforehand by God; it remains one of the most famous theological works ever written in America.
In 1757, Edwards accepted the presidency of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). He was inaugurated in 1758, but five weeks later, on March 22, 1758, he died as the result of an inoculation against smallpox, which was then epidemic. Among his other works are A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746), Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World (1754), and The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (1758).
Pietism, originally, a German Lutheran reform movement of the 17th and 18th centuries which emphasized individual conversion, “living faith,” and the fruits of faith in daily life. The name Pietism is derived from the collegia pietatis (informal devotional meetings) organized by Philipp Jakob Spener while he was a pastor in Frankfurt. First held in Spener’s home on Sunday afternoons, these meetings soon became popular across Germany. Participants did not separate from the established church and its worship but tried to change the church from within. They held prayer meetings, studied the Bible individually and in small groups, and led a disciplined Christian life. Claiming that faith is not the acceptance of correct theological propositions but trust in Christ, they insisted that pastors should have such faith in addition to their theological learning. Convinced that the world could be won for Christ through the conversion and Christian training of individuals, Pietists stressed the importance of education.
August Hermann Francke, whom Spener recruited, was a brilliant organizer and teacher who made the newly founded University of Halle the intellectual center of Pietism. The university and other institutions organized by Francke in Halle sent out lay and clerical leaders to influence the ruling class of Protestant Germany and the younger generation of pastors. They also prepared missionaries for service around the world. Many of the Lutheran pastors in colonial America were Pietists educated at Halle, and so were most of the early Protestant missionaries in Africa and Asia. One of the most renowned students at Halle was Nikolaus Ludwig Graf von Zinzendorf, who eventually became bishop of the Renewed Church of the Unity of the Brethren (Moravian Church).
Pietism was influenced by English Puritanism through German translations of the works of Richard Baxter, Lewis Bayly, and John Bunyan, and in turn it affected religious development in England and America, especially through its influence on John and Charles Wesley and Methodism. In the Scandinavian countries, Pietism, with the support of the nobility and the monarchy, revitalized the church. Eclipsed for a time by the Enlightenment, Pietism reappeared in the 19th century and became important in the Christian church. Modern Pietists place emphasis on an ecumenical spirit, the “kingdom of God” and its realization in history, ethics, and personal Christian experience.
George Wolfgang Forell
Puritanism, movement arising within the Church of England in the latter part of the 16th century that sought to purify, or reform, that church and establish a middle course between Roman Catholicism and the ideas of the Protestant reformers (see Church of England). It had a continuous life within the church until the Stuart Restoration (1660). Puritanism reached North America with the English settlers who founded Plymouth Colony in 1620. It remained the dominant religious force in New England throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
The term Puritanism is also used in a broader sense to refer to attitudes and values considered characteristic of the Puritans. Thus, the Separatists in the 16th century, the Quakers (see Friends, Society of) in the 17th century, and Nonconformists after the Restoration may be called Puritans, although they were no longer part of the established church. The founders of New England, for whom immigration to America constituted withdrawal from the mother church, are also commonly called Puritans.
Finally, the word puritanism has often been used as a term of abuse in a way that does scant justice to historical Puritanism—for instance, when a rigid moralism, the condemnation of innocent pleasure, or religious narrowness is stigmatized as puritanical.
Even within the Church of England, a precise definition of Puritanism is elusive. The leading Puritan clergyman during the reign of Elizabeth I was Thomas Cartwright, who denied he was one. Cartwright advocated a presbyterian form of church government that gave control to committees of ministers and lay members. His purpose was to free the church from the control of bishops appointed by the monarchy, which was hostile to Puritanism. Puritanism, however, cannot be identified with presbyterianism because a major segment of the movement eventually adopted congregationalism, in which there is no church hierarchy and each individual congregation is self-governing. The essence of Puritanism is an intense commitment to a morality, a form of worship, and a civil society strictly conforming to God’s commandments.
Puritan theology is a version of Calvinism. It asserts the basic sinfulness of humankind; but it also declares that by an eternal decree God has determined that some will be saved through the righteousness of Christ despite their sins. No one can be certain in this life what his or her eternal destiny will be. Nevertheless, the experience of conversion, in which the soul is touched by the Holy Spirit, so that the inward bias of the heart is turned from sinfulness to holiness, is at least some indication that one is of the elect.
The experience of conversion was therefore central to Puritan spirituality. Much of Puritan preaching was concerned with it. This concern was evident in questions such as how conversion comes about—whether in a blinding flash as with Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, or following well-defined stages of preparation; how one can distinguish actual conversion from the counterfeit; and why not everyone will be converted. Puritan spiritual life stressed self-discipline and introspection, through which one sought to determine whether particular spiritual strivings were genuine marks of sainthood. Although full assurance might never be attained, the conviction of having been chosen by God fortified the Puritans to contend with what they regarded as wantonness in society and faithfulness in the church, and to endure the hardships involved in trying to create a Christian commonwealth in America.
Puritanism was not static and unchanging. At first it simply stood for further reform of worship, but soon it began to attack episcopacy—church government by bishops, as in the Church of England—as unscriptural. At times the difference between the Puritans and the Anglicans (members of the Church of England) seems to have been as much a matter of differing cultural values as one of differing theological opinions. For example, their Sabbatarianism (insistence on strict observance of the Sabbath) came into conflict with a defense of sports and games on Sunday by King James I. Puritanism became a political as well as a religious movement during the English Revolution (1640-1660, also called the Puritan Revolution), when Parliament rebelled against the despotism of Stuart king Charles I. This rebellion gave the Puritans a chance to demand the abolition of bishops in the Church of England. Both in England during the Commonwealth (government established by Parliament, from 1649-1660) and in 17th-century New England, Puritanism meant the direction and control of civil authority.
Nor was Puritanism a wholly cohesive movement. In the 1580s the Separatists were bitterly condemned by other Puritans. When the Westminster Assembly (1643) sought to define doctrine and polity, the differences between Presbyterians and Independents (congregationalists) were manifest. In the turbulence of the 1640s, a number of small sects appeared, emphasizing that part of Puritan doctrine that acknowledges the work of the Holy Spirit in the soul of the believer to the neglect of that part that stands for social order and authority.
With the restoration of the Stuart monarchs in 1660, many Puritans accepted the Anglican Book of Common Prayer and rule by bishops; others were forced into permanent nonconformity. In one sense, therefore, Puritanism failed. Its influence has persisted, however.
When the Puritans failed in their efforts to reform the Church of England, a minority urged separatism—the establishment of separate independent congregations free of bishops. Some of these separatist groups immigrated to Holland. In 1620 one of the separatist congregations sailed for New England on the Mayflower. In New England the colonists established independent congregations, each congregation having the right to choose its own leaders and discipline its members. While church and state supported each other, neither one was allowed to interfere in the affairs of the other.
In America, Puritan moralism and its sense of an elect people in covenant with God deeply affected the national character. The Puritan belief that communities were formed by covenants produced America’s first democratic institution, the town meeting. At the town meeting every church member had the right to speak, and decisions were made by majority rule. The Puritan emphasis on simplicity of worship, its asceticism (austerity and self-denial), and its Sabbatarianism remained influential into the 20th century. The Puritan devotion to popular education, high standards of morality, and many, if not all, democratic principles had an important effect on American life.