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George Whitefield’s Christian Revival and its Influence on The Patriot Pastors of 1776

By Dr. Grady S. McMurtry

I am fascinated by the lives of our Founding Fathers, who lived during a time of great Christian revival and fervor. Their beliefs directly affected the framing of a nascent American state as federal republic guided by internal Christian self-governing principles. John Adams notably credited the Patriot Pastors of 1776, who the British parliament termed the “Black Regiment,” as the primary instigating force behind American independence.

The Patriot Pastors were directly linked to earlier teachings and religious movements led by Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. Edwards instigated the revivalist spirit, coming of age during a time when church affiliation in the Colonies was high, but real faith was low. Many of the churches in New England were directed by the state-approved Church of England, with its emphasis on early baptism and church membership as the path to salvation.

However, Edwards encouraged the faithful to establish a personal relationship with God. In particular, he emphasized that membership in a state-run church could not ensure salvation. Edwards’ eloquence was renowned, and his 1741 sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is considered archetypal of early American religious sermons.

The British evangelist George Whitefield continued Edwards’ work, leading an estimated 300,000 New Englanders to salvation. His revivalist message also emphasized creating a personal relationship with God, and many of his published sermons ended with exhortations such as “Come poor, lost, undone sinner, come just as you are to Christ.” Whitefield fanned flames on the hearth laid by Jonathan Edwards, leading the Great Awakening of 1740. This was a momentous and widespread social movement, having a direct impact on the framers of the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin was one of those highly impressed by Whitefield’s style, writing about the preacher at length in his autobiography. The Black Regiment, following in Whitefield’s footsteps, taught principles that the American political framework echoed: man was created equal in the eyes of God and man was endowed by his Creator with certain unalienable rights. According to the Black Regiment, the government’s function was to protecting God-given rights, creating a nation of, by, and for the Christian people.

About the Author: With a Doctor of Divinity in Christian Apologetics from the School of Theology in Columbus, Georgia, and a Doctor of Letters from Mid-Continent University, Mayfield, Kentucky, Dr. Grady S. McMurtry leads the evangelical organization Creation Worldview Ministries, Inc.