A Snapshot of Youth and Awakening*

The story of awakening cannot be told apart from the role of youth. The first of a series of revival movements in the course of Jonathan Edwards’ Northampton ministry was the Valley Revival of 1734-35. Edwards referred to the role of the youth in its origin: “At the latter end of the year 1733, there appeared a very unusual flexibleness, and yielding to advice, in our young people.”[1]  This came after Edwards began speaking against their irreverence toward the Sabbath.  The youth were also affected greatly by the sudden death of a young man and then of a young married woman in their town.  Edwards proposed that the young people should begin meeting in small groups around Northampton. They did so with such success that many adults followed their example.

God made it, I suppose, the greatest occasion of awakening to others, of anything that ever came to pass in the town..news of it seemed to be almost like a flash of lightning, upon the hearts of young people, all over town, and upon many others.[2] Johnathan Edwards

Beyond the impact the awakening had on young people, most of the leaders of the revival were touched by God personally while young.  Edwards himself began his passionate pursuit of God as a child, and his precocious spiritual zeal was obvious in his teen years.  The First Great Awakening would include further the work of George Whitefield, in his twenties at the height of his influence, and the Log College of Presbyterian William Tennent.   Tennent’s log house. built to provide ministerial training for three of his sons and fifteen others, made no small mark on the leadership development of ministers during the awakening.[3]

From the Log college advanced several who would be leaders in the First Great Awakening. These included sons Gilbert, the most prominent revival leader among Presbyterians, John, and William, Jr., along with Samuel Blair. In addition, many graduates established similar log colleges of their own. The Log College, which ultimately evolved into the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) has been called “the forerunner of modern seminaries.”[4]Earle Cairns

At the turn of the nineteenth century, the Second Great Awakening spread across the emerging United States.  A major precipitating factor in this movement was the outbreak of revival on college campuses.  Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia experienced the first in a series of college revivals.  The Yale College revival began under the leadership of president Timothy Dwight, the grandson of Jonathan Edwards.  The movement there spread to Dartmouth and Princeton.  At Princeton three-fourths of the students made professions of faith, and one-fourth entered the ministry.[5]

Stories like these should encourage us to lead youth to seek the Lord and to serve the Lord passionately. I can’t say if God will send revival to our generation, but I’m pretty confident that if He does, youth will be at the heart of it.

*Adapted from Alvin L. Reid, Raising the Bar. Kregel, 2004.

[1]Jonathan Edwards, “A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God, in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls, in Northampton, and the Neighbouring Towns and Villages of New Hampshire, in New England; in a Letter to the Rev. Dr. Colman, of Boston,” In The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Sereno E. Dwight (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1834), Vol. I, 347.
[3]See W.W. Sweet, The Story of Religion in America (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1930), 140.
[4]Earle Cairns, Endless Line of Splendor (Wheaton: Tyndale, 1982), 42.
[5]Ibid., 92.

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