This week we continue our series on the Puritans and Revivals. Last week, we looked at the Puritan influence on the early leaders of the eighteenth century Evangelical Revival in England and Wales.
We're looking closely at the time between the end of Puritan Era (1662) through the beginning of the Great Awakening (1735).
What was happening in this era?
This is a period of time that is generally neglected. It was pretty spiritually dark. But God was using this time to prepare and make way for the Great Awakening; it was a time of plowing the ground.
During this time, there was a lot of reaction against Puritanism. The Anglican Church, as a result, deemphasized doctrine. Atheism and skepticism were on the rise. As a response to Atheism and as a means of battling doubt, the Anglican church pushed reasoning and apologetics. There was a religious Deism prevalent at this time; God was not so important, but a good life was.
Latitudinarianism: It removed the supernatural realities of Christianity and left followers with moralism. Men like Whitefield were disquieted by the spineless, doctrine-less churches that were no longer preaching the gospel. Alcoholism, theft, and immorality were rampant.
“The Holy Club,” that we’ll talk about next week, was a group of people at Oxford (Whitefield, the Wesleys, and others) who were basically good Pharisees trying to work their way to God. Anglicans created the Society for the Reformation of Manners, which meant you could turn in people for doing wrong and receive payment for it.
What drove them to the gospel?
The Anglicans began to publish Christian books. This was the rise of the middle class and of the reading class. Most of these books were morality and “how-to” books. No books were being published on regeneration. These books led men and women to the law, but not to Christ. The more they read them, the more miserable and helpless they felt—which inadvertently drove them to the gospel. And they found the gospel in books written by Puritans.
After the Puritans’ extremism, most Christians were not as extreme. They didn’t make as many waves, so to speak. But by the time we get to George Whitefield, you see both intellectual, Biblical doctrine that brought about true heart-worship because the hearers were so moved by the truths of Scripture.
Ultimately, the answer to the Deism, Atheism, and immorality was not ethics or apologetics. The answer was a Person. The nation needed to meet Christ through the preaching of the gospel.