THE FIRST GREAT AWAKENING
It seems appropriate, to me at least, to suggest that the religious revival which shook
western Christendom ca. 1726-1756 was one international revival, and not several isolated ones.
In America, the revival, which came to be called "The First Great Awakening," had
notable precursors in folks like the father and son, Increase and Cotton Mather of Mass.,
Jonathon Dickenson and William Tennet of New Jersey, and Samuel Blair of western
Pennsylvania--all of the Reformed Tradition (Puritans, Dutch-Reformed, and Presbyterians)--
who bewailed the lack of vitality of their churches.
The Glory Departing from
(1702) can be pointed to as a chief indicator of the restlessness that preceded the
The actual outbreak of renewal is generally traced to the work of Theodore Frelinghuysen
(1691-1747), a Dutch-Reformed pastor in the Raritan River Valley in Central New Jersey.
his arrival in America in 1720 Frelinghuysen had looked to what he termed "inner
transformation" as the main goal of his ministry, taking up pastorates in the region covering
approximately 150 square miles west of New Brunswick, N.J.
His ardent preaching won many
to his churches and spread beyond them.
That growth peaked in 1726 and Frelinghuysen's
insistence that only converted people should be members of the Church put him on a collision
course with his "classis" in New York City.
In 1725 seventy members of his parish brought
complaints against Frelinghuysen, and the debate over his style of ecclesiology dragged on for
His pastoral style combined fervent, extemporaneous preaching, with careful catechism
of the young, adult Bible study and prayer groups, and closed Communion and membership.
Frelinghuysen itinerated himself, and trained and utilized lay "helpers" to supply his many
He even exchanged pulpits with the Presbyterian pastor of New Brunswick,
Gilbert Tennet, and he became deeply involved in the revival.
In 1747 the Dutch Reformed Church split into pro-revival and anti-revival camps, which
could also be characterized as division between the country pastors of New Jersey and the anti-
revivalists of New York City.
The pro-revival group founded Queens College (now Rutgers) to
continue its views.
Gilbert Tennet (1703-1764) was one of the four sons of William Tennet (1673-1746).
The elder Tennet emigrated to America from Ulster to pastor a Presbyterian church on Long
He then moved to Neshaming, N.J. (about 20 mi. NE of Philadelphia) in 1726.
recognized that education would be extremely important in the task of Christianizing the
continent, and began a "log-cabin college" in his manse (1726).
Devout James Logan donated
land (1728) for a separate building, and eleven years later when George Whitefield visited
Tennet (1739) twenty students (four of which were Tennet's own sons) were studying in a 20 by
20 log building.
When David Brainerd was expelled from Yale, Tennet and other revivalist