In the fall of 1740, a farmer near Hartford, Connecticut, heard life-changing news. Nathan Cole was a conventionally religious man whose conscience had been increasingly troubled by an unmet need for God. The news was that the young revivalist George Whitefield would be preaching twelve miles away in Middletown. Immediately, as Cole later wrote, “I … ran to my pasture for my horse with all my might,” and with his wife hastened to Middletown “as if we were fleeing for our lives.” They arrived just in time to see Whitefield mount the scaffold that had been erected for his sermon. To Nathan Cole the young British evangelist “lookt almost angelical.” But it was Whitefield’s message that changed his life: “My hearing him preach gave me a heart wound; by Gods blessing my old Foundation was broken up, and I saw that my righteousness would not save me.” After several more months, Cole was confident that he had been reconciled to a gracious God.

First Stirrings

Nathan Cole and his wife were among the thousands who thrilled to the message of George Whitefield at the high-water mark of America’s Great Awakening. But the roots of this revival extended deep in time before Whitefield, and its fruits could be observed for generations. First stirrings occurred during the early decades of the eighteenth century. Preaching aimed at “awakening” the spiritually sluggish or “harvesting” those with a new interest in God’s grace took place in New England Congregational churches, in Dutch Reformed congregations in New Jersey, and among scattered Presbyterians in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Solomon Stoddard (grandfather and predecessor of Jonathan Edwards as minister in Northampton, Massachusetts), Theodore Frelinghuysen (a Dutch minister trained ...

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