American’s First Great Awakening finds its seeds in Savanah, Ga. It was here in 1736 that John & Charles Wesley accepted the invitation of General James Oglethorpe to come Savannah and serve and the Parish Chaplain. The Wesleys had just finished their time at Oxford University where they had formed a deep friendship with George Whitfield and several others in what came to be known as the “Holy Club”. It was a friendship that God would ultimately use to birth an awakening in both American and England.
The journey from England to the colonies was not an easy one. The ship encountered a severe storm at sea. It was terrifying experience for everyone on board. The ship pitched and tossed on the rough seas, while the wild and rain was relentless. Wesley noticed that one group on board remained at perfect peace. It was group of Moravians, fleeing Europe in search of religious freedom. Some how these families had a faith and contentment that Wesley did not posses. They just sat there peacefully, singing songs and psalms through the storm. The moment had a profound affect on Wesley.
Shortly after arriving to America in March 1736 Wesley would preach his first sermon on a barren island just off the coast. There they found a clearing, and John led the grateful passengers in a short prayer service.
Wesley’s time in Savannah was shorter than he planned. He wasn’t popular with many of the colonists and his missions works amongst the native people proved unfruitful. Even his brother, Charles would abandon him six months into the endeavor, returning back to England.
When Wesley wasn’t ministering, he would retreat outside the town to be with the Moravians. It was his time with them, that led him to question the state of his soul. It could be said, that Welseys methodism was being proven during this time.
Sadly after less than two years, Wesley would walk away from his dreams in Savannah and return home to England. On the passage back, Wesley recorded in his journey… “I came to convert the Indians, but, oh, who will convert me?”
Thankfully this isn’t the end of the story for Wesley, England or America.
Shortly after returning to England, Wesley would have a powerful encounter with the Lord. It was an experience that he would later write, “it seemed as though my heart were, strangely warmed”. This experience would propel Wesley from the failed minister in Savanah to England’s preeminent voice during the Great aAwakening.
Back in America, it was one of Wesley’s friends from the old Oxford Holy Club that would continue his work. Wesley had invited George Whitfield to come and work alongside him. After Wesley’s departure, Whitfield became the parish Chaplain.
Whitfield was a bold man who detested lukewarm Christianity. To him, it was worse than no faith at all. In his ministry, he made every effort to shake churchgoers out of their apathy. A state that the majority of churches found themselves in.
Whitfield contended the only kind of faith that pleased God was fervent fiery faith and he preached exclusively about this type of faith. Whitfield was rejected in the churches in England. They considered his style to be too sacrilegious for their holy services, so Whitfield took to the open fields where he would preach to whom ever would hear him.
Though he was rejected in England, he found the American colonies to be far more welcoming.
Whitfield was a gifted orator who mesmerized audiences, using his voice in the manner of a skilled actor. He was a master storyteller, a skill he used often in his preaching. Once, when he described a storm at sea, his description was so vivid that a sailor in the audience actually cried out, “To the lifeboats! To the lifeboats!”
It wasn’t uncommon for people to fall under such conviction that they would to the floor as though dead, or to wail in tears and cries of deep repentance.
Whitfield would soon take his message across the colonies. He made several trips through all thirteen colonies. These open air meetings, were the first mass evangelistic crusades in America. This became the match that would light the fire of American’s Great Awakening.
During his lifetime, Whitefield delivered over 18,000 sermons to ten million people. Consider this in light of the fact that there were no means of mass communication.
Whitfield’s time in America would have a profound effect on men like Jonathan Edwards and David Brainerd. These men would carry the fires of the great awakening into their own regions. He also held great influence with many of our founding fathers. Whitfield and Benjamin Franklin would become dear friends. Franklin even purchased a meeting house for Whitfield to preach in after his friend has barred from preaching in the local church.
My friend, you can not deny the religious history of America. It is impossible to understand the founding of our nation without first studying the great awakening in which it was born. You have to understand the messages the founding fathers were sitting under in their church and the fires in which they were touched to understand the language of the Declaration of Independence and our Bill Of Rights.
God used this great revival to draw the colonies into a closer union. The Great Awakening was the one event that all the colonies shared in common. It was, like the days of pentecost, a great unifying factor.
Today, America stands in need of a greater awakening.
Visiting Savanah, I found something to be encouraging. Wesley came to America with hopes and dreams of great ministry. However after a short period of time, he returned home feeling as though he had failed. However it was his willingness to take that step that would start a chain of events that would untliatelyh lead to the Great Awakening.
Because of Wesley, Whitfield comes to America. Because of Whitfield, Edwards is powerfully impacted. There is distinct trail of fire that begins with those first meetings in Oxford in Wesley’s Holy Club.
Today, you find monuments and historical markers all over Southern Georgia commemorating John Wesley. Even though the man spent a short amount of time here, it bears his mark 280 years later.
It’s just another witness how, “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).
This entry was posted in Trail Of Fire