The subject of awakening has a rich history in the Christian church, especially when it comes to the American church. One key moment in that history in the American church was the First Great Awakening. It occurred between 1740 and 1742, and it is considered “great” because it spread throughout the American Colonies and even across the Atlantic to Britain.
Just before the First Great Awakening, there was a smaller awakening, a revival that took place in the Connecticut River Valley in 1735–36. This was the home of Jonathan Edwards, and Edwards had something to do with the Connecticut River Valley revival. His sermons in many ways laid the groundwork for it, and in turn, that revival may very well have been part of the tinder that lit the flames of the First Great Awakening.
In 1731, Edwards preached a sermon titled “God Glorified in Man’s Dependence.” Another one of his sermons stresses this same theme—a sermon from 1734 titled “A Divine and Supernatural Light.” That is the sermon’s short title. The long title is “A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shown to Be Both a Scriptural, and Rational Doctrine.”
In this sermon, in very typical Puritan form, Edwards starts off with the biblical text. He preached on Matthew 16:17: “And Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Blessed art thou Simon Bar-jonah! For flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee but my Father which is in heaven.’” The pronoun “it” in this verse refers to Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus tells Peter very quickly that this was not something he came up with through natural light or from natural reason but something that was revealed to him by the Father. Edwards concludes from this that there is a spiritual and divine light immediately imparted to the soul by God of a different nature from any that is obtained by natural means.
The key phrase here is “immediately imparted.” By that, Edwards not only means “quickly” but also means that the divine light is without a mediator. As Edwards unfolds in his sermon, the imparting of the divine light is specifically the work of the Holy Spirit. He unpacks this doctrine in his sermon in the style of many Puritans, with numerous points and subpoints.
One of his main points is that this spiritual light primarily consists in a “real sense and apprehension of the divine excellency of the things revealed in the Word of God.” He continues that this sense of the divine excellency and glory of what is revealed is what we see as the truth of the gospel in a “spiritual and saving conviction of the truth and reality of these things.” Edwards rightly says that such truth is not known by natural means or by the light of reason. It is only known by a divine and supernatural light.