It’s a pity, as the Bicentennial year dawns, that we’ve picked the wrong year to celebrate. I agree that it’s too late to call off the nation’s two-hundredth birthday party. After all, the streamers are hung, the table is set, the guests are on their way. Nevertheless, I propose that the date we should be celebrating is not the organizational birth of the nation in 1776 but its organic birth in 1740. What occurred in that year was nothing less than an inner American revolution, a spiritual declaration of independence that made the political reshuffling thirty-six years later an inevitability. The year 1740 was the crest of that wave of spiritual power called the Great Awakening. Let’s look back to this awakening to see what it was and why it deserves credit as the real birth of the American consciousness.

To understand this inner American revolution of 1740 we must take the spotlight off Boston, Lexington, and Concord and shine it on the Raritan Valley of New Jersey, the quiet hills of eastern Pennsylvania, and the trim hamlets nestled in the fertile Connecticut Valley. In 1727 in a small Dutch Reformed church in New Jersey, T. J. Frelinghuysen began stressing in his preaching the need for “heart” religion. This novel emphasis broke through the frozen crust of his congregation’s complacent Calvinism like an ice axe. The Tennent family of the greater Philadelphia area lit a similar fire beneath the chilled Presbyterianism of the middle colonies with the same exciting results—hearts of men and women were set aflame. In the late thirties the tranquil Connecticut Valley shook with the fervor of the renewed Northampton Congregationalists led by their brilliant and godly pastor, Jonathan Edwards. Edwards publicized these dramatic ...

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