Over Christmas I read A. Skevington Wood's 1960 book on the Great Awakening, The Inextinguishable Blaze: Spiritual Renewal and Advance in the 18th Century. Dr. Wood was a British pastor with a PhD from Edinburgh.
It is a marvelous and encouraging work. I love this period of history, and Wood does it full justice. I do think at times he overlooks flaws. Two examples are: 1) despite reviewing the remarkable evangelistic career of the Welshman Howell Harris, Wood ignores Harris' late-life eccentricities; and 2) though giving significant space to Edwards' Narrative of Surprising Conversions detailing the 1734-35 local Northampton revival (preceding the trans-Atlantic Great Awakening 6 years later), Wood again ignores the fact that Edwards later reflected on his account and saw that he was a bit overly optimistic about the truly spiritual results of the revival, recognizing that many had fallen away who at that time professed vital spiritual experience.
Now that that's off my chest, I loved the book. Here are 3 of my favorite chunks.
In the 1750s William Romaine was preaching in the Anglican Church in England. He was drawing such huge crowds that the embarassed church wardens refused to turn on the lights, or the heat, or even to open the doors until the very minute the service was scheduled to begin. Wood quotes G. R. Balleine, who writes:
Preacher and congregation had to wait in the street till the wooden giants on the tower had beaten out the hour of seven, and then grope their way cautiously to their seats. This was the only Evangelical service in any of the city churches, and very solemn and impressive it must have been, the crowded congregation sitting or standing in perfect darkness, while Romaine preached by the light of a taper which he held in his hand. (143)
During the Great Awakening there was, of course, lots of revival among the dissenting church, as Whitefield, Wesley and other took to the open fields. But there was also revival in the official church. One such pastor was the slightly eccentric John Berridge, whom Wood claims paved the way for Charles Simeon. One happy anecdote from Berridge's life is told by Wood as follows.
Berridge found himself on the Episcopal carpet more than once. On one occasion he was reproved for preaching at all hours of the day and on all days of the week. "My lord," he replied, "I preach only at two times." And when the Bishop enquired, "And which are they, Mr. Berridge?" he quickly responded, "In season and out of season, my lord." (212)
Finally, I love John Wesley's argument for the divine origin of the Bible. Wood cites Wesley himself explaining why:
The Bible must be the invention of either good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God. (1) It could not be the invention of good men or angels, for they neither would nor could make a book, and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying, "Thus saith the Lord," when it was their own invention. (2) It could not be the invention of bad men or devils, for they would not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity. (3) Therefore I draw this conclusion that the Bible must be given by divine inspiration. (228)