Even a cursory study of history reveals that many of the issues over which the American Revolutionary and Civil Wars were fought are not settled. These issues have continued to be points of conflict in our country. Many of the issues have evolved and are not in the exact same form, but basically, our present struggle continues to be about independence, liberty, freedom from the bondage of oppressive government, and equal justice under the law—for all.
How does this fit with the next Great Awakening that so many have prophesied, including myself? The First Great Awakening preceded the Revolutionary War. The Second Great Awakening preceded the Civil War. It is easy to see a direct link between the messages of these Great Awakenings and how they ignited these wars. Their light exposed darkness to the degree that it could no longer be tolerated. Likewise, the light already being revealed from the emerging Awakening in this time is causing great agitation in our land. The issues have morphed in a lot of ways, but they are basically the same ones that were fought over in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.
Some historians concluded that the American Revolution began when George Whitefield was forbidden to preach in the Church of England and began preaching in open fields to the common people. This was in the 1730s, almost half a century before the Revolutionary War, but sometimes seeds take a while to germinate, sprout, and bear fruit. So how did the light that Whitefield brought sow the seeds of American independence?
Whitefield began preaching to the common people in a town of coal miners that were considered lowly. They considered themselves too unworthy to even have a church in their town. To the shock of all who heard Whitefield, especially these miners, he began to declare that they were the true royalty in the earth—“the royal priesthood” if they gave their lives to Christ and followed Him. In the class sensitive England of the time, this was shockingly revolutionary.
These lowly miners could not fathom being allowed to get within sight of the royal family, yet Whitefield was telling them that if they were in Christ, they were of even higher royal stature than the British royal family. This seed became the doctrine that “all men are created equal,” and that who we are in spirit, in relation to Christ, are more important than any earthly, human lineage. As the Apostle Paul wrote, we should therefore no longer judge people after the flesh—after externals—but after the Spirit. As Martin Luther King, Jr. later paraphrased this, he had a dream that we would not judge each other by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. That we would be a nation where this is true, the real “American dream” and one that heaven has given to us.
So Whitefield’s messages implied that the poorest miner who followed Christ was of a higher stature than earthly royalty. These miners gave their lives to Him by the thousands. Soon Whitefield, who had filled many churches with the hundreds who sought to hear him, now had trouble finding fields big enough to hold the thousands who sought to hear this message. It was not just Whitefield’s remarkable ability as an orator that drew the crowds, but also a foundational aspect of the Gospel that for centuries had not been so articulated. Once again “the poor had the Gospel preached to them.” There is nothing on earth as revolutionary as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When it is preached, revolution is inevitable—even where it is claimed to already be Christian.
When Whitefield brought to the colonies this message that so elevated “the common man,” the crowds swelled to tens of thousands. Many of his crowds were larger than the population of the cities in which he preached. People would travel for days or even weeks to hear him. They drove their buggies, rode their mules and horses, and even walked to hear the great evangelist when it was published that he would be in a certain city on a certain date.
Whitefield also preached in humble, small churches. He did not seem to be a respecter of people or crowd size. Some of these small meetings may have had as much impact on the destiny of the nation as the larger ones. When he spoke at the Polegreen Church just north of Richmond, Virginia, the little church of less than a hundred people later became known as “the womb of the Revolution.”
Sitting in that small audience were some destined to be called the fathers of the nation. Patrick Henry was one of those. He lived only a few hundred yards from the Polegreen Church, but the passion for liberty born in him that day would soon fire the nation.
Again, the main seed that sprouted and became a revolution was the Gospel that elevated the common man to being sons and daughters of The King of kings. This was the seed that became the message that “all men are created equal.” This led to the previously unimagined concept that government existed for the people and not the other way around.
In the world at that time, there was no other place and no other government that considered this concept. This was the basis for what is called “American exceptionalism.” To be exceptional does not necessarily mean better, but rather just different. In this case, it was better. The American Republic became the exception to every other government in the world.
This is why many historians believe that the First Great Awakening was the beginning of the Revolutionary War. However, the Revolutionary War did not win this freedom for all and did not result in all men being treated equally. A whole class of people were still treated worse than the coal miners that Whitefield had first preached this message to. This made an even more devastating war necessary, and the revolution continues to this day.