As the Moravians saturated the Heavens with their prayers in the 1730’s, God responded with the release of Holy Spirit fire that would become the First Great Awakening in America. One of the most prominent revivalists to be called into the fray was a man from England named George Whitefield. He represented the Methodist movement, which pushed against the mainstream dead orthodoxy of the time and emphasized a vibrant personal relationship with God. The keys were faith and being born again, and listeners were enthralled by the ideas of true freedom in Christ to individually express themselves in worship.
Whitefield was anointed to preach a revival message that resonated with the hearts of the people. He called them to repent of their sin, to find a restored relationship in Christ, and to experience a true encounter with the God who loved them so. In his extensive travels across all 13 American colonies, he preached with holy power and dramatic confidence, and thousands, if not tens of thousands, of colonists would sense the urgency and the compulsion to hear his words. God was moving mightily in their midst.
North Carolina would see Whitefield visit first in 1739 and multiple times through 1765, making a total of 7 visits over that period. Whitefield’s initial visits there were met with spiritual apathy, and he eventually shifted his attention to South Carolina and elsewhere. But God was far from done with North Carolina.
In the 1740’s, a Congregational minister named Shubal Stearns and his family heard Whitefield preach in Massachusetts. The Spirit of God pierced their hearts, and they experienced being truly born again in Christ. A few years later, God would use another pastor who had been influenced by Whitefield to baptize Stearns and commission him to minister as part of the Separate Baptists. In 1755, sensing the Spirit’s leading to set up in a strategic location from which to reach out to the lost, Stearns would settle in the Piedmont region of North Carolina, northeast of present-day Charlotte and between Asheboro and Liberty. Over the next few years, revival fire broke out in the area, and then the Gospel was carried powerfully throughout the state and nearby Virginia and South Carolina.
God also used a man named Devereux Jarratt, who grew up in the Anglican faith in Virginia. Jarratt lived his youth in rebellion against God, but he encountered Jesus in the 1750’s through the caring guidance of a Presbyterian family who pointed him to the Word of God and how he could be born-again. He became very familiar with the work of revivalists like George Whitefield and John Wesley. Eventually, he sought ordination within the Anglican Church so that he could bring evangelical reform from within.
From 1763 - 1775, Rev. Jarratt ministered in North Carolina and in Virginia. His message was one of abandoning sin and seeking a personal encounter with Christ. He delivered sermons that enthusiastically and passionately invited his listeners to pursue and rely on Christ alone. He patiently sowed the seeds of revival wherever he went. Later in 1776, as he focused his energies more in Virginia and partnered with the Methodists, he witnessed a mighty awakening take place there. At one meeting, it’s recorded that the power of the Lord came down like a rushing mighty wind. The house was filled with God’s presence, and “a flame kindled and ran from heart to heart”. No less than 14 of the 52 counties of Virginia were set afire by this revival.
North Carolina’s spiritual history may have initially been a bit rocky, but God was relentless in sowing Gospel seeds and implanting a longing for the flames of revival. This would not end up as a waste of time, but instead its soil would become good ground for God’s future plans for powerful awakening time and again.
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