It is difficult to imagine. Jonathan Edwards countenancing the “Confus’d, but very Affecting Noise” that erupted in Suffield, Massachusetts, on July 6, 1741. Yet there he stood, his loud voice rising in prayer above the din that emanated from an assembly of more than two hundred boisterous men and women who had gathered to listen to his exhortations in the “two large Rooms” of a private house. On the previous day, the visiting Northampton, Massachusetts, revivalist had administered the sacrament to nearly five hundred Suffield communicants, ninety-seven of whom had joined the church that very day. It was an extraordinary event—quite possibly the largest one-day church admission ritual ever observed in colonial New England.
Edwards preached in the Suffield meetinghouse again the following morning, then retired to a nearby residence where he continued exhorting the assembly. Within minutes, a deafening roar of “Sobs,” “Groans,” “Screaches,” “Houlings,” and “Yellings” exploded onto the village green and reverberated across the surrounding fields. Sinners languishing in spiritual distress crumpled to the ground, their bodies contorting with such violence, according to one witness, that “you would have thought there bones all broken, or rather that they had no bones.” Others experienced ecstatic release from their hellish “distress” and “were brought to different degrees of Peace & Joy, Some to Rapture.” Edwards prayed with the writhing mass of “Children, Youth[s] and aged persons of both Sexes” for the next several hours before his perennially weak frame gave way and he yielded his labors to “4 of 5 private Xtians [Christians].”
Two days later, Edwards arrived in Enfield—a small farming village located directly across the Connecticut River—and delivered the most dramatic sermon in the history of American Protestantism: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.
Douglas L. Winiarski “Jonathan Edwards, Enthusiast? Radical Revivalism and the Great Awakening in the Connecticut Valley,” Church History 74:4 (December 2005), 683–84 (HT: Paul Grace).
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