Charles Chauncy, Against Revivalism, August 4, 1742
Charles Chauncy, minister of the First Church of Boston, was one of many of the establishment ministry who distrusted the new style of the revivalists.
"A Letter from a gentleman in Boston to Mr. George Wishart, etc. etc.," The Clarendon Historical Societies reprints, 1st Series, (Edinburgh, 1883) 5-15.Whitefield: trained in "theater"
Put a little scraggly beard and you will recognize his same troubling incarnation.
Reverend Sir, I perceive by a printed letter from a friend in Edinburgh, containing excerpts of letters concerning the success of the Gospel in these parts, that marvelous accounts have been sent abroad of a most glorious work of grace going on in America, as begun by Mr. Whitefield, and helped forward by those in his way of preaching and acting.
I should be glad there had been more truth in those accounts. Some of the things related are known falsehoods, others strangely enlarged upon; and the representations, in general,
such as exhibit a wrong idea of the religious state of affairs among us.
I had thoughts of sending you the needful corrections of that pamphlet; but my circumstances being such, at present, as not to allow of this, must content myself with giving you the following summary narration of things as they have appeared among us.
The minds of people in this part of the world had been greatly prepossessed in favor of a Mr. Whitefield,
from the accounts transmitted of him, from time to time, as a wonder of piety, a man of God, so as no one was like him.
Accordingly, when he came to town, about two years since, he was received as though he had been an angel of God; yea, a god come down in the likeness of man.
He was strangely flocked after by all sorts of persons,
and much admired by the vulgar, both great and small.
The ministers had him in veneration, at least in appearance, as much as the people; encouraged his preaching, attended it themselves every day in the week, and mostly twice a day. The grand subject of conversation was Mr. Whitefield, and the whole business of the town to run from place to place to hear him preach.
And as he preached under such uncommon advantages, being high in the opinion of the people and having the body of the ministers hanging on his lips,
he soon insinuated himself still further into the affections of multitudes, insomuch that
it became dangerous to mention his name without saying something in commendation of him.
His reception as he passed through this and the neighboring governments of Connecticut and New York, till he came to Philadelphia, was after much the same manner, save only that he met with no admirers among the clergy, unless here and there one, anywhere but in Boston; and whether the ministers here in general really thought better of him than they did elsewhere, I will not be too positive to affirm.
'Tis possible they might act as though they had a great veneration for him, and so as to lead people into such an apprehension, from cowardice, affectation of popularity, or a rigid attachment to some sentiments in divinity,
they might imagine there was now an advantage to establish and propagate; and I would not undertake to prove that they might none of them be under an undue influence from some or other of these motives.
Much began to be now said of a glorious work of God going on in the land. Evening lectures were set up in one place and another; no less than six in this town, four weekly, and two monthly ones, though the town does not consist of above 5,000 families at the largest computation.
At some of these lectures, it was common to mention a Mr. Whitefield by name, both in the prayers and sermons; giving God thanks for sending such an extraordinary man among us, and making him the instrument of such extraordinary good to so many souls.
He was indeed spoken of as the angel flying through heaven with the everlasting Gospel, and such honors sacrificed to him as were due to no mere man.
Nay, to such a height did this spirit rise that
all who did not express a very high thought of Mr. Whitefield were looked upon with an evil eye;
and as to those who declared their dislike of what they judged amiss of the times, they were stigmatized as enemies of God and true religion.
Yea, they were openly represented, both from the pulpit and the press, as in danger of committing the sin against the Holy Ghost, if not actually guilty even of this unpardonable sin.
And here you will doubtless be disposed to inquire what was the great good this gentleman was the instrument of. In answer whereto, I freely acknowledge, wherever he went
he generally moved the passions, especially of the younger people, and the females among them; the effect whereof was a great talk about religion,
together with a disposition to be perpetually hearing sermons to neglect of all other business; especially as preached by those who were sticklers for the "new way":, as it was called. And in these things chiefly consisted the goodness so much spoken of.
I deny not but there might be here and there a person stopped from going on in a course of sin; and some might be made really better. But so far as I could judge upon the nicest observation, the town, in general, was not much mended in those things wherein a reformation was greatly needed. I could not discern myself, nor many others whom I have talked with and challenged on this head, but that there was the same pride and vanity, the same luxury and intemperance, the same lying and tricking and cheating as before this gentleman came among us.
There was certainly no remarkable difference as to these things, and 'tis vain in any to pretend there was.
This I am sure of, there was raised such a spirit of bitter, censorious, uncharitable judging
as was not known before; and is, wherever it reigns, a scandal to all who call themselves Christians.
Nor was it ever evident to me but that the greatest friends to Mr. Whitefield were as much puffed up with conceit and pride as any of their neighbors; and as to some of them, and the more eminent too,
I verily believe they possess a worse spirit than before they heard of his name, and it had been as well for them if they had never seen his face.
But I have only entered as yet upon that scene of things which has made so much noise in the country. A number of ministers in one place and another were by this time formed into Mr. Whitefield's temper, and began to appear and go about preaching with a zeal more flaming, if possible, than his.
One of the most famous among these was Mr. Gilbert Tennent, a man of no great parts or learning. His preaching was in the extemporaneous way, with much noise and little connection. If he had taken suitable care to prepare his sermons and followed nature in the delivery of them, he might have acquitted himself as a middling preacher; but, as he preached, he was an awkward imitator of Mr. Whitefield, and too often turned off his hearers with mere stuff, which he uttered with a spirit more bitter and uncharitable than you can easily imagine.
All were Pharisees, hypocrites, carnal, unregenerate wretches, both ministers and people, who did not think just as he did, particularly as to the doctrines of Calvinism; and those who opposed him, and the work of God he was sure he was carrying on,
would have opposed Christ Jesus himself and his apostles, had they lived in their day.
Jesus, in fact, did define both the speakers and audience as hypocrites. Isaiah is quoted by Matthew but the same definition of the Pharisees (for hires changing the law) and the Scribes as hypocrites. The best example He could find of a hypocrite is one who does performance preaching, singing and playing musical instruments:
Ezekiel Jesus Isaiah 29
Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are
talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying,
Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord. Eze 33:30
Ye hypocrites (actors), well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, Matt 15:7
- This people draweth nigh unto me
- with their mouth,
- and honoreth me with their lips;
- but their heart is far from me. Matt 15:8
Stay yourselves, and wonder; cry ye out, and cry: they are drunken, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with strong drink. Is. 29:9
For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep,
and hath closed your eyes:
the prophets and your rulers,
the seers hath he covered. Isa 29:10
My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain Eze 33:31
Luke 16:14 And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.
But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. Matt 15:9
And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:Matt 15:10 And the vision of all is become unto you
as the words of a book that is sealed,
which men deliver to one that is learned, saying,
Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: Isa 29:11
Indeed, to them you are nothing more Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man;
And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying,
Read this, I pray thee:
and he saith, I am not learned. Isa 29:12
than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays (make melody on) an instrument well,
for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. Ez 33:32
but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. Matt 15:11
Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? Matt 15:12
- But he answered and said, Every plant [doctrine], which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Matt 15:13
Wherefore the Lord said,
Forasmuch as this people draw near me
with their mouth,
and with their lips do honour me,
When all this comes true--and it surely will--then they will know that a prophet has been among them." Eze 33:33
And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. [pit] Matt 15:14
- Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind.
- Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols:the worm is spread under thee, and the maggots cover thee. Isaiah 14:11
Isaiah 14:15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
but have removed their heart far from me,
and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Isa 29:13
Matt. 15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men
This gentleman came from New Brunswick in the Jersies to Boston, in the middle of winter (a journey of more than 300 miles), to water the good seed sown by Mr. Whitefield in this place. It was indeed at Mr. Whitefield's desire, and in consequence of a day of fasting and prayer kept on purpose to know the mind of God as to this matter, that he came among us;
the ministers in the town, though fourteen in number, being thought insufficient to carry on the good work he had begun here in the hearts of people.
And though the design this gentleman professedly came upon was a barefaced affront to the body of the ministers, yet not only the people (which is not to be wondered at) but some of the ministers themselves admired and followed him as much as they had done Mr. Whitefield before him.
And here he was, by their encouragement, a great part of the winter, preaching every day in the week, to the taking people off from their callings and the introducing a neglect of all business but that of hearing him preach. He went from Boston to the eastward to visit the places where Mr. Whitefield had been; and on his return home passed through the country, preaching everywhere as he went along, in the same manner and with the same spirit he did here in Boston.
And now it was that Mr. Whitefield's doctrine of inward feelings began to discover itself in multitudes, whose sensible perceptions arose to such a height
as that they cried out, fell down, swooned away, and, to all appearance, were like persons in fits; and this, when the preaching (if it may be so called) had in it as little well-digested and connected good sense as you can well suppose.
Scores in a congregation would be In such circumstances at a time; nay, some hundreds in some places, to the filling the houses of worship with confusion not to be expressed in words, nor indeed conceived of by the most lively imagination, unless where persons have been eye and ear witnesses to these things. Though I may add here that to a person in possession of himself and capable of observation this surprising scene of things may be accounted for.
The speaker delivers himself with the greatest vehemence both of voice and gesture, and in the most frightful language.
If this has its intended genius with effect upon one or two weak women, the shrieks catch from one to another, till a great part of the congregation is affected; and some are in the thought that it may be too common for those zealous in the new way to cry out themselves on purpose to move others and bring forward a general scream.
Visions now became common, and trances also, the subjects of which were in their own conceit transported from earth to heaven, where they saw and heard most glorious things; conversed with Christ and holy angels; had opened to them the Book of Life and were permitted to read the names of persons there; and the like.
And what is a singular instance (so far as I remember) of the working of enthusiasm, laughing - loud hearty laughing - was one of the ways in which our new converts, almost everywhere, were wont to join together in expressing their joy at the conversion of others.
'Tis scarce imaginable what excesses and extravagancies people were running into, and even encouraged in, being told such things were arguments of the extraordinary presence of the Holy Ghost with them. The same houses of worship were scarce emptied night nor day for a week together, and unheard of instances of supposed religion.
Some would be praying, some exhorting, some singing, some clapping their hands, some laughing, some crying, some shrieking and roaring out; and so invincibly set were they in these ways, especially when encouraged by any ministers (as was too often the case , that it was a vain thing to argue with them to show them the indecency of such behavior;
and whoever indeed made an attempt this way might be sure aforehand of being called an opposer of the spirit and a child of the devil.
At these times there were among the people what we call here exhorters; these are such as are esteemed to be converts in the new way.
Sometimes they are children, boys and girls, sometimes women; but most commonly raw, illiterate, weak, and conceited young men or lads.
Ancient literature from Babylonian tablets and beyond agree with Johannes Quasten. In Music and Worship in Pagan and Christian Antiquity, beginning on page 41 He uses many of the church Fathers and Classical resources we also rely upon:
"Philodemus considered it paradoxical that music should be regarded as veneration of the gods while musicians were paid for performing this so-called veneration. Again, Philodemus held as self deceptive the view that music mediated religious ecstasy. He saw the entire condition induced by the noise of cymbals and tambourines as a disturbance of the spirit.
He found it significant that, on the whole, only women and effeminate men fell into this folly.
Accordingly, nothing of value could be attributed to music; it was no more than a slave of the sensation of pleasure, which satisfied much in the same way that food and drink did.
They pray with the people, call upon them to come to Christ, tell them they are dropping into hell, and take upon them what they imagine is the business of preaching. They are generally much better thought of than any ministers, except those in the new way, I mean by the friends to the extraordinaries prevalent in the land; and they are the greatest promoters of them. 'Tis indeed at the exhortations of these poor ignorant creatures that there is ordinarily the most noise and confusion; and, what may be worth a particular remark,
'tis seldom there are any great effects wrought till the gloominess of the night comes on. It is in the evening, or more late in the night,
with only a few candles in a meetinghouse, that there is the screaming and shrieking to the greatest degree; and the persons thus affected are generally children, young people, and women. Other instances there may have been, but they are more rare; these bear the chief part.
I shall here insert a paragraph of a letter sent me by a friend living at New Haven, the seat of one of our colleges, a gentleman of known integrity and veracity, giving an account of the managements of one of the preachers of Mr. Whitefield's making, with the appearance following thereupon. Says he:
After the conclusion of the exercises usual in our religious assemblies, he came down from the pulpit into the deacon's seat. His exercises were:
(1) short prayers, wherein he used very uncommon expressions, and such as had no tendency, at least in mind, to excite devotion; which he delivered with a boisterous voice and in a manner to me very disagreeable;
(2) singing psalms and hymns, which he himself repeated with an awful tone and frightful gestures;
(3) exhorting, as they called it, to which many laymen were admitted as assistants.
The burdens the hypocrites imposed on the people in both Hebrew and Greek define that kind of arousal using music which John called sorcery. ep˘id-os, on, epaid˘, enchanter, a charm for or against, epode, part of a lyric ode sung after the strophe and antistrophe, verse or passage returning at intervals, chorus, burden, refrain. THEY are still imposing what Jesus died to remove.
In performing these exercises they observe no method, but proceeded as their present thought or fancy led them. And by this means the house would be filled with what I could not; but judge great confusion and disorder for the whole house would many times seem to be in a perfect hubbub, and people filled with consternation.
These meetings they would continue till ten, eleven, twelve o'clock at night; in the midst of them, sometimes ten, twenty, thirty,
and sometimes many more would scream and cry out, or send forth the most lamentable groans,
while others made exertions of joy by clapping their hands, uttering ecstatic expressions, singing psalms, and inviting and exhorting other.
Some would swoon away under the influence of distressing fears and others swallowed up with insupportable joy. While some were fainting, others labored under convulsive twitches of body, which they said were involuntary. But in vain shall I pretend to describe all the proceedings at those meetings.
But what appeared to me most dangerous and hurtful was that very stress was laid on these extraordinaries, as though they were sure marks, or at least sufficient evidences of a just conviction of sin, on the onehand; or, on the other, of that joy which there is in believing, and so of an interest in the favor of God.
You may be ready, perhaps, to think I have here given you a romantic representation of things; but it is the real truth of the case without a figure. Yea, this has been the appearance in all parts of the land more or less, and so known to have been so that there is no room for debate upon the matter.
Nay, those who are friends to the new way were once so far from being ashamed of these things that they boasted of them,
and entertained an ill opinion of all who did not speak of them as evidences of the wonderful power of the spirit of God.
I say they at first boasted of these things, and some of them do so still; though the generality have begun, for some time, to speak publicly of the subtlety of Satan, to tell people he may appear as an angel of light, and to warn them against being carried away by his devices.
Nay, Mr. Tennent himself, one of the main instruments of all our disorders, has, in a couple of letters to some of his friends, published in the prints, expressed his fears lest the churches should be undone with a spirit of enthusiasm and these exhorters which have risen up everywhere in the land.
He seems indeed to have quite turned about, the reason whereof may be this:
The Moravians who came to Philadelphia with Count Zinzendorf have been among his people, and managed with them as he did elsewhere, and brought the like confusion among them.
And now he cries out of danger, and expresses himself much as those did, whom before he had sent to the devil by wholesale.
Various are the sentiments of persons about this unusual appearance among us. Some think it to be a most wonderful work of God's grace; others, a most wonderful spirit of enthusiasm. Some think there is I great deal of religion, with some small mixture of extravagance; others, a great deal of extravagance, with some small mixture of that which may be called good. Some thing the country was never in such a happy state on a religious account; others, that it was never in a worse.
For myself, I am among those who are clearly in the opinion
that there never with such a spirit of superstition and enthusiasm reigning in the land before; never such gross disorders and barefaced affronts to common decency;
never such scandalous reproaches on the Blessed Spirit, making Him the author of the greatest irregularities and confusions.
Yet, I am of opinion also that the appearances among us (so much out of the ordinary way, and so unaccountable to persons not acquainted with the history of the world) have been the means of awakening the attention of many; and a good number, I hope, have settled into a truly Christian temper.
Though I must add, at the same time, that I am far from thinking that the appearance, in general, is any other than the effect of enthusiastic heat.
The goodness that has been so much talked of, 'tis plain to me, is nothing more, in general, than a commotion in the passions.
I can't see that men have been made better, If hereby be meant their being formed to a nearer resemblance to the Divine Being in moral holiness.
'Tis not evident to me that persons, generally, have a better understanding of religion, a better government of their passions, a more Christian love to their neighbor, or that they are more decent and regular in their devotions toward God.
I am clearly of the mind they are worse in all these regards. They place their religion so much in the heat and fervor of their passions that they too much neglect their reason and judgment;
and instead of being more kind and gentle, more full of mercy and good fruits, they are more bitter, fierce, and implacable.
And what is a grand discriminating mark of this work, wherever it takes place, is that it makes men spiritually proud and conceited beyond measure;
infinitely censorious and uncharitable to neighbors, to relations, even the nearest and dearest, to ministers in a special manner; yea, to all mankind who are not as they are, and don't think and act ~ as they do.
And there are few places where this work has been in any remarkable manner
but they have been filled with faction and contention; yea, in some they have divided into parties, and openly and scandalously separated from one another.
Truly, the accounts sent abroad were sent too soon; too soon, I am satisfied, to reflect honor upon the persons who wrote them. They betray such a want of judgment as I was really sorry to see them falling into. There are few persons now, perhaps none, but such as are evidently overheated, but begin to see that things have been carried too far, and that the hazard is great, unless God mercifully interpose, lest we should be overrun with enthusiasm. And to speak the plain truth, my fear is lest the end of these things should be Quakerism and infidelity. These we have now chiefly to guard against.
A particular account of one Mr. James Davenport, with his strange conduct in town and elsewhere, I doubt not would have been agreeable; but I have exceeded already. He Is the wildest enthusiast I ever saw, and acts in the wildest manner; and, yet, he is vindicated by some in all his extravagancies. I now beg pardon, sir, for thus trespassing upon your patience.
As Mr. Whitefield has been in Scotland, and human nature is the same everywhere, this narration of the effects he has been the instrument of producing here may excite your zeal to guard the people in time against any such extravagancies, if there should be danger of them where you may be concerned.
1673--1745, American Presbyterian clergyman and educator, b. Ireland, grad. Univ. of Edinburgh, 1695. He was ordained in the Church of Ireland in 1706. He emigrated to America c.1718; in 1726 he was called to a pastorate in Neshaminy, Pa., where he stayed the remainder of his life. Here, in a log cabin, Tennent established a school that became famous as the Log College. He filled his pupils with evangelical zeal, and a number became revivalist preachers in the Great Awakening. The educational influence of the Log College was of importance since many of its graduates founded schools along the frontier. Princeton Univ. is regarded as a successor to the Log College.
See T. Murphy, The Presbytery of the Log College (1889); A. Alexander, The Log College (1968). Illustrated Below. Back to Text.