With the 4th of July in just a few days we need to remember the original purpose of July 4, 1776. Sure we celebrate this great day with picnics, ballgames, family gatherings of all kinds and of course the All American Fireworks!! What a great way to get families together!
But most of us fail to remember the true meaning of the celebration. We are celebrating the birth of a nation. There are many heroes and many villains in this story, but we need to reflect on some of the true heroes of our founding. One such hero is George Whitefield and “The First “Great Awakening”
During the late seventeen and early eighteenth century, Colonial America saw some major changes. American cities became important seaports and the southern part of America was becoming a major contributor to the Colonial American’s economy. In addition, the population was increasing with immigrants coming in large numbers due to the growth of plantations. As a result of this economic and population boom people were beginning to question the role of government with regard to religion and human nature. This brought about a major religious revival to Colonial America. Referred to as “The Great Awakening and Enlightenment” it revived interests in education, science and literature. “The Enlightenment” also challenged the role of religion and divine right. This helped Colonial America to see that it was possible to challenge the king and his divine right.
The movement fulfilled people’s need for reassurance, direction and religious purpose, which was otherwise missing. People united in the understanding of the Christian faith and life. The movements also led to creation of different sects and denominations, and advocated religious tolerance. This movement saw traditional authority of the clergy being challenged and their success made it easier to challenge the authority of the King.
America’s “Great Awakening” was really started by George Whitefield mostly due to his 1739-1740 preaching tour. Whitefield made seven separate trips in nine years preaching all across the colonies. Little known today, Whitefield was America’s first celebrity. According to historical documents, about 80 percent of all American’s heard him preach at least once. When George Whitefield was in the area, farmers and shopkeepers alike would stop what they were doing and go to the field where he was preaching. Every where he went, Whitefield was followed with people clamoring to hear him preach.
Whitefield pioneered most methods used in the 1700s evangelical revivals, including preaching in fields instead of churches. His farewell sermon on Boston Common drew 23,000 people (more than the entire population of Boston). In one week he would often preach a dozen or more times and spend forty to fifty hours in the pulpit.
George Whitefield became a close friend of Benjamin Franklin. Franklin once estimated that Whitefield could be heard by thirty thousand people without amplification.
Whitefield pushed himself so hard and preached with such intensity that often afterward he had “a vast discharge from the stomach, usually with a considerable quantity of blood.”
Learn more about George Whitefield and other Founding Fathers in my book “One Nation Under God: A Factual History of America’s Religious Heritage.” Available at http://www.leonstevens.org with free shipping. Ebooks and Audio books are also available at Amazon.com; Barnes & Nobel, and iTunes.