The Second Great Awakening – 1792 onwards
This little-known ‘Great Awakening’ lasted about 30 years and its immediate effects were extraordinarily widespread. It also gave a remarkable impetus to world missions.
A Prayer movement
This awakening began as a prayer-movement in 1784, when John Erskine of Edinburgh re-published Jonathan Edward’s earnest plea for revival prayer. It was entitled, ‘An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom”. Denomination after denomination devoted a monthly Monday evening to prayer, first in Britain, then in the US.
The state of nations before the revival
The barriers were great. There was moral decline following the war of independence in America. The French Revolution, infidelity and rationalism in Europe and dwindling congregations everywhere.
The revival begins
The beginning of the revival can be traced to the industrial towns of Yorkshire in late 1791, spreading through all areas and denominations. The Methodists alone grew from around 72,000 at Wesleys death in 1791 to almost a quarter of a million within a generation. At the same time, the churches in Wales became packed again and thousands gathered in the open air. The Haldanes (Robert and James) and Thomas Chalmers, with a few others, saw phenomenal awakenings in Scotland. Ireland too, saw local awakenings, especially among the Methodists. A remarkable result of these UK revivals was the founding the British and Foreign Bible Society, The Religious Tract Society, The Baptist Missionary Society, The London Missionary Society, The Church Missionary Society and a host of other evangelistic agencies.
It also achieved considerable social reform; evangelical Anglicans successfully fought for the abolition of the slave trade, prisons were reformed, Sunday Schools began and a number of benevolent institutions were commenced. In the rest of the world similar movements arose.
The revival spreads
Around 1800 Scandinavia was impacted and in Switzerland a visit of Robert Haldane sparked off revivals among the Reformed churches. Germany experienced revival and achieved lasting social reforms and missionary fervour. In the US the Concert of Prayer was very widespread from 1794 and by 1798 the awakening had broken out everywhere. Every state and every evangelical denomination was affected. Timothy Dwight, grandson of Jonathan Edwards, took over Yale College in 1795 and saw over half the students converted in just one year. Other colleges enjoyed similar movements of the Spirit.
Manifestations of the Spirit
Orr reports that there were no emotional extravagances in the east coast revivals. This was far from the case in other areas. Francis Asbury was sent from England, with and other Methodist circuit-riding preachers, to preach in the Frontiers. James McGready and Barton Stone witnessed an astounding revival at Kentucky in 1800, with much trembling, shaking, tears, shouting and fainting. In 1801 Barton Stone was invited to minister at the Cambridge meeting house in Bourbon County. A second visit attracted 20,000 people to a 6-day camp-meeting, which witnessed astounding revival scenes, with hundreds falling at once, with shrieks and shouts and many conversions. The Frontier camp meetings were often sabotaged by drunks and mockers, many of whom repented and turned to God. All denominations were blessed by this revival. An utterly lawless community was transformed into a God-fearing one. The American Bible Society, American Tract Society, American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Mission and innumerable other societies were founded at this time.
This revival lasted around 30 years until around the early 1820’s, but was soon followed by the 1830’s resurgence, which lasted about 12 years.