What was Preached * Why it was so Effective
"The Declaration of Independence was a direct result of the preaching
of the evangelists of the Great Awakening.” – Perry Miller, Harvard professor
We all want to be more effective in preaching the Gospel and in teaching the Word of God. For some time I have asked the question, “What was the key (or keys) that produced the Great Awakening and led to the transformation of the 13 colonies?” To be more specific, I wanted to know what it was about the preaching of that era that made such an impact.
In considering this question, it became obvious that it was not the act or style of preaching, for there were very diverse styles; from Jonathan Edwards, who wrote out his sermons and read them in a monotone voice without movements or gestures, to George Whitefield who preached extemporaneously with much fire and movement. This also led me to question if, in our day, style has not taken precedence over substance and technique over content?
In researching and considering this, it became clear that it was not the act or style of preaching that made the difference; it was the message itself that brought the results. This is what Paul tells us in I Cor. 1:18; that it is not the mere act of preaching that produces fruit for the kingdom of God, but the message that is preached. Style may stir the emotions, but it can never change the heart. In fact, Paul says that if we go too far in trying to make the message cool, hip, and acceptable to contemporary culture, we run the risk of preaching a Gospel that is emptied of its power.
The Great Awakening, of course, had its problems and excesses as does any revival, and as does any Christian movement. Nonetheless, my research leads me to say that the results of the Great Awakening should be credited to the message that was preached, backed by much prayer, and to messengers who lived like they believed what they preached. Below, I have delineated 7 emphases that made up the message they preached—the message that transformed colonial America and, according to Harvard professor, Perry Miller, led to the Declaration of Independence of 1776.
1) God is a great, majestic, and holy Being who created all things and to whom all creatures owe their love, honor, and respect. Humanity was the crown of His creation, made in His own image and likeness.
2) The man and woman whom God created rebelled against their Creator and went their own way, dragging their posterity down with them into the abyss of sin and judgment, into what, in historical theology, is known as “the fall.”
3) The human race in its current state is a rebellious and fallen race, separated from God, under the power of sin, and deserving of hell.
4) God in His sovereign mercy and grace now offers full pardon and forgiveness of sins to all who will put their faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior whom God, in His sovereign grace, sent to die on the cross for our sins and rise again for our salvation.
5) Get rid of faulty foundations. They emphasized that many professing Christians had built their faith on faulty foundations, such as church membership, good deeds, family pedigree, social status, and cultural refinement. They emphasized that these old foundations must be overturned and faith in Jesus Christ alone must be laid as the only foundation for righteousness and acceptance with God.
6) There must be a new birth. They emphasized that when one truly believes in Christ there is a work of regeneration by the Holy Spirit that occurs in the heart—a new birth—from which springs new desires and aspirations that are godly, producing a whole new tenor of life. They believed that one would be forever changed by this new birth, and the changed behavior they called the fruit of righteousness and faith.
7) They emphasized the eternal bliss in heaven for all who truly trust in Christ and the eternal suffering and damnation of all those who refuse God’s gracious gift of salvation in Christ.