By Lynette Kittle, Crosswalk.com
What led America’s patriots to believe they could defeat England, the most powerful country of its day? Where did their bold and courageous faith originate?
Where did colonists find the strength to rise up and fight to be free from King George and his tyrannical rule? Could it have been The Great Awakening that spread across the thirteen colonies just years before the Revolutionary War ever began?
Do present-day Americans recognize and appreciate the pivotal role the Bible played in paving the way for America’s independence?
Where Did It All Begin?
Before the American Revolution, Rev. Jonathan Edwards helped kick off The Great Awakening in his July 8, 1741, sermon in Enfield, Connecticut: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
This message was inspired by Deuteronomy 32:35: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.”
No one can accuse Edwards of being “seeker-friendly” in his sermons as he explained, “The use of this awful subject may be for awakening unconverted persons in this congregation. This that you have heard is the case of every one of you that are out of Christ.”
Apparently, Enfield was known as strongly resistant to revival but with Edward’s sermon, as he described in his own words, “God blessed the preaching of His Word in an extraordinary manner.”
Edwards, however, began a sermon that he wasn’t able to finish. During it, listeners began shrieking and crying out, and the weeping became so loud, that he was forced to stop his sermon. In response, ministers started to go among the individuals, praying with them in groups, where many were led to salvation in Jesus Christ.
Pre-American Revolution Revival Fires Spread
With revival, many towns started seeing a high conversion rate with one church receiving 95 new members on one Sunday alone. As The Great Awakening spread, it was estimated one-half of all living in the South were led to salvation and one-third of everyone living in the North.
Among New England’s population of 300,000, approximately 25,000-30,000 joined the Church, helping to change the entire moral tone of New England for the better.
In his new “Road to Independence” documentary, Providence Forum, Executive Director Jerry Newcombe focuses on The Great Awakening's influence on America gaining its independence from England. Along with Edwards, he credits George Whitefield, a famous Calvinist, for helping to spread it.
“Most Americans today have never heard of George Whitefield,” explains Newcombe. “Whitefield was the first man we know of that went into all 13 of the colonies. He took the Great Awakening, which began under the humble ministry of Jonathan Edwards, and helped spread up and down the Atlantic Coast the need for personal salvation.”
It’s reported Whitefield covered approximately 5,000 miles in America, preaching more than 350 times as he toured the colonies.
With King George’s oppressive reign coming down on the colonies, more and more individuals desired to be free from his control.
Soon Congregationalists, Anglicans, Quakers, Dutch Reformed, Baptists, Lutherans, Puritans, and Presbyterians came together to pray, overlooking the different ways they prayed, uniting them together for a common goal.
American Conservative radio talk show host and writer, Dennis Prager, explains, “Ultimately, they wanted people to be free to practice their religion and relate to God in their own way. They all knew God is the source of liberty.”
The Great Awakening’s Influence on Our National Leaders
On September 7, 1774, the Continental Congress of the United States officially met for the first time, opening with prayer and the reading of Psalm 35 by Rev. Jacob Duche, which starts with, “Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me.”
Patriot leaders were greatly influenced and strengthened by the spread of The Great Awakening across the colonies. “John Adams said that the American Revolution was preceded a generation or so by the spiritual revival in the hearts and minds of the people,” notes Newcombe.
As well, Benjamin Franklin was a big supporter of it, seeing its influence in lowering crime, along with raising interest in self-government. It was estimated during this time that three out of every four colonists became Christians.
”Historian and author William J. Federer’s writing, featured in Miracles in American History: Amazing Stories of Answered Prayer by Susie Federer, explains how leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, prayer and fasting played a critical role in helping America establish its freedom.
He discusses how the Founding Fathers demonstrated their belief in God by calling the colonists to “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10).
They led the nation in following 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Ministers with a Message
Unlike many pastors in pulpits today who shy away from addressing current issues, there arose a Black Robed Regiment, as termed by the British, of patriot pastors who not only rallied their congregants for freedom but also fought to deliver it.
The current National Black Robed Regiment states on their site, “The Black Robed Regiment was the name that the British placed on the courageous and patriotic American clergy during the Founding Era (a backhanded reference to the black robes they wore). Significantly, the British blamed the Black Regiment for American Independence and rightfully so.”
As well, they write: “But it was not just the British who saw the American pulpit as largely responsible for American independence and government, our own leaders agreed. For example, John Adams rejoiced that ‘the pulpits have thundered’ and specifically identified several ministers as being among the ‘characters, the most conspicuous, the most ardent, and influential’ in the awakening and a revival of American principles and feelings that led to American independence.”
Newcombe describes how two Lutheran minister brothers debated the issue. “The Muhlenberg brothers, Frederick and Peter, argued (through correspondence) with each other, whether ministers should be involved in politics. Frederick, the older brother, warned against it, while the younger brother, Peter, felt it was their duty to help lead the men in fighting for the defense of their homeland.”
Eventually, both brothers came to see the need for the church to be salt and light in whatever context God had placed them, with Peter becoming the prototype of the minister who recruited men at church to defend their country land.
A Lutheran Pastor Leads the Way
On January 21, 1776, in the Woodstock, Virginia Lutheran Church, Peter preached from Ecclesiastes 3:1 reading, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”
After reading Ecclesiastes 3:8 on “a time for war, and a time for peace” he declared, “And this is the time of war,” he proceeded by taking off his cleric robe to reveal a Continental Army uniform underneath. As he walked down the church aisle and out its doors, drums began rolling and men began kissing their wives goodbye to follow him to enlist, with a reported 162 enlisting in the first half-hour, and 300 men leaving the city with him the next day.
Frederick, who first argued that ministers should have nothing to do with politics, went on to become the first Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Paving the Way to America’s Freedom
Uniting colonists across church denominational lines, The Great Awakening prepared the hearts of the people to fight for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The stirring that it spread across our land was key in bringing forth the labor pains for America to be born.
As 2 Corinthians 3:17 explains, "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Likewise, James 1:25 clarifies, “But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do."
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Enterline Design Services LLC.
Lynette Kittle is married with four daughters. She enjoys writing about faith, marriage, parenting, relationships, and life. Her writing has been published by Focus on the Family, Decision, Today’s Christian Woman, kirkcameron.com, Ungrind.org, StartMarriageRight.com, and more. She has a M.A. in Communication from Regent University and serves as associate producer for Soul Check TV.