Marsden's Edwards XII
Bill Long 9/26/05
The Aftermath of Revival, 1742-45
I remember the thought flitting through my mind sometime in 1999 at the height of the dot.com boom, when weekly double-digit gains for Internet stocks were not unusual, that sometime soon the party would be over and there would be a big, big mess to clean up. I thought that there would be a legal and financial and political mess to deal with. And there was. And there is. Similarly, after the protracted revival from 1740-42, triggered by the advent of Anglican George Whitefield in the New England States, there was a huge mess to clean up. But, in this case, the mess had to do with churches that split, ministers who were defrocked, and bitterness within communities that wouldn't heal for decades. Marsden only does a passing fair job of telling this story, but he points the way to important issues. The purpose of this and he next essay is to highlight features of the post-revival situation, especially in the Connecticut Valley, that set the religious or philosophical tone for this region for most of the next century. Three kinds of issues--legal, psychological and theological--call for attention.
1. LEGAL--The CT Colonial Assembly Gets Into the Act
The revival fueled dissent in New England because it brought itinerant ministers into settled communities to preach on the "new birth," it encouraged uneducated and untrained people to speak of things religious because the Spirit of God was in them, and it resulted in attacks against the settled clergy for not having an experience of the "new birth." Theological discourse, then, proved to be the cudgel by which the old order was thrashed by the new, and schism broke out in the churches of the Standing Order. So threatening was this to the peace and tranquility of CT that the General Assembly in May 1742 passed a statute entitled "An Act for Regulating Abuses and Correcting Disorders in Ecclesiastical Affairs." This five paragraph Act was preceded by a page of what today we would call "findings." In brief, the statute provided for the following.
The 1742 Anti-Itinerant Statute
First, the preamble. In the long "whereas" clause the Act first pointed to the stability of the colony in religious matters ever since the adoption of the 1708 Saybrook Platform, establishing the Standing Order, the Westminster Confession as the rule of faith, and the congregational (but consociational) form of church government. Since then all was well "till of late sundry persons have been guilty of disorderly and irregular practice." The General Assembly tried to deal with the problem at an assembly in Guilford in November 1741 but was not successful. "Growing disorder" prevailed. The real problem was that some ministers, whether ordained or licensed "have taken upon them, without any lawful call, to go into parishes immediately under the care of other ministers, and there to preach to and teach the people." This was not only a problem of the ordained ministry. Other persons, "some of whom are very illiterate, and have no ecclesiastical character or any authority whatsoever to preach or teach," have also begun publicly "to teach and exhort the people in matters of religion, both as to doctrine and practices." What is the result? The practices "have a tendency to make divisions and contentions among the people in this Colony, and to destroy the ecclesiastical constitution established by the laws of this government..." [All references are to the Colonial Connecticut Records, vol. 8, 454f.].
Then, the five substantive paragraphs of law followed. First, the Act provided that if any ordained or licensed minister entered into a parish not under his charge to preach or teach, except if he was personally invited to do so, he would be "denied and secluded the benefit of any law of this Colony made for the support and encouragement of the gospel ministry." Thus, the penalty for itinerancy was a denial of colonial benefits to the ministry. I would like to see a catalogue of what those benefits were...
Second, the Act provided that if any rival association of clergy, other than that recognized in the Saybrook Platform, sought to ordain or license candidates for the ministry, each and every minister of that rival association would be denied the "benefit of any law in this Colony made for the support and encouragement of the gospel ministry."
The third paragraph was a means to try to tighten the noose around itinerant preachers even more than the first paragraph. It provided that if any itinerant minister was preaching in a parish not under his immediate care and charge, the minister of such parish or other people in authority could report this offense to the clerk of the parish where the offending minister was employed, and if that information was lodged in the clerk's office the minister would not be able to receive the tithes or contributions from his parish toward his salary.
The hammer fell hard in the fourth paragraph. If an itinerant preacher was preaching in a parish not under his charge without permission of the resident pastor, and if some people objected to his teaching/preaching by lodging their complaint with the justice of the peace, the offending minister would be arrested and fined 100 pounds and, if the county court desired, it could also bind over the minister "during the pleasure of said court" so that he "will not offend in the like kind."
The final paragraph dealt expressly with "foreigners" (i.e., those who didn't live in CT) who came in to CT to preach or teach without authorization of the local pastor. If such a person preached without the proper authorization, they were subject to "be sent (as a vagrant person" by warrant from any one assistant or justice of the peace, from constable to constable, out of the bounds of this Colony." One can almost imagine a human chain handing over this disobedient itinerant until he was safely deposited back in New York or New Jersey or into whatever Colony from which he originated.
Now, after looking at the legal reaction to this "great" revival, let's examine how it affected religious psychology and theology.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long