In the 1730s Jonathan Edwards, minister at Southampton, Massachusetts became disturbed by the spiritual deadness and immoral conduct of his parishioners. Edwards, who had devoted himself to holy living early in life while attending Yale, began a series of sermons on justification by faith alone (Martin Luther’s principle message). Hundreds responded to his heartfelt sermons by making public commitments to Christ.
Edwards’ sermons ignited a revival that became The Great Awakening. Thousands more converted to Christ through the preaching of George Whitefield of Britain. When Edwards invited Whitefield to preach in his church he reported that “the congregation was extraordinarily melted” and that all were in tears. Whitefield went on to preach to crowds gathered in fields because no building could hold the tens of thousands who attended.
Edwards experienced fierce opposition from the religious sector because of his support for Whitefield, but he recognized that God was doing something extraordinary.
Edwards famously preached his sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. The title may convey a judgemental attitude, but Edwards was a loving man who defended emotional responses that often accompany revival. He became a missionary to the natives and wrote theological papers, eventually becoming President of the College of New Jersey (Princeton).
The Great Awakening resulted in so many entering the ministry that more schools were required. Princeton, Rutgers, Brown and Dartmouth were all founded to meet this need.