Revival is a powerful thing. It changes lives. It can even change nations. In spite of what we read about the first religious settlements in North America, by the early 1700s, daily life had become not just secular but a difficult challenge for many. Enter George Whitefield—an English preacher whose own life had been turned around by a powerful religious conversion. At Oxford University, he joined the Holy Club together with John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism. Whitefield began to preach revival.
Whitefield eventually came to the New World to preach. The more formal churches often refused him access to their pulpits, so he took to the open air. Thousands came to hear him preach a message of their need of Christ and duty to dedicate all to the Lord. He traveled all over the colonies until an overwhelming majority had heard him preach. A great revival of primitive godliness broke out, and this became known as the Great Awakening. By 1740, the
religious life of an entire society had changed.
Historians give many reasons for the American Revolution of only a generation later. However, the essential morality of the colonies can be identified as resulting from the Great Awakening. “No king but God” was not just motivation for civil disobedience to wicked laws from England, but the seed for a continuing concept of religious freedom as a cherished right because God’s claims upon man are transcendent.
—Lincoln E. Steed serves as editor of Liberty magazine.