by Bob Wheeler
Note: The Second Great Awakening was a powerful revival that swept across the country during the early Nineteenth Century. (The First Great Awakening took place during the 1740’s). The Second Great Awakening began in the 1790’s and lasted until the 1830’s. Much of it was centered in Northern, Central and Western New York State, an area that became known as “The Burned Over District.” Here is an account of one small part of the Awakening, a revival that began at a Dutch Reformed church in Owasco, NY, in 1816. Owasco is a small village located in Cayuga County about 7 miles southeast of Auburn. This building was constructed in 1815, just before the revival described. The account also mentions a sister congregation at Sand Beach, located just outside of Auburn. The account is taken from Accounts of Religious Revivals by Joshua Bradley, originally published in 1819 and republished in 1980 by Richard Owen Roberts.
“A most wonderful work of grace commenced in this place in 1816. Seventeen persons were added to the church in January. The number was rather unexpected, and produced a more than ordinary excitement in old professors, who generally before this had lain in a state of spiritual torpor. In February, Rev. Mr. Ten Eych pastor of the above church, visited and preached in that part of his congregation bordering on Skaneateles Lake. Here the power of God came down, and about thirty mostly young persons were soon discovered to be under the most pungent conviction. He appointed another meeting for the next week, and then found a very large assembly who in the time of worship appeared to be in tears. After closing meeting, he conversed with many and found some, under the most awful apprehensions of their ruin and wretchedness, while others were rejoicing in the hope of the gospel. This induced him to propose to his consistory, the appointment of a meeting for the examination of such as felt the freedom of offering themselves for church membership. By this time the flame had extended to every part of the society, and almost every day new cases occurred: Conferences were unusually thronged; God’s children were awake to their best interest; additional places for meeting were appointed and generally crowded. The consistory had two meetings for the examination of candidates, about the last of February and first of March. Sixty seven came before their first meeting, and thirty four before their last meeting. One hundred and one joined the church on the first Lord’s day in march and sat down at their Lord’s table to commemorate his death.
“As several young persons from Sandbeach congregation were present, when these candidates were examined, there returned home deeply impressed. That society had remained in a state of spiritual stupor: but the news of the large accession to the church of Owasco, together with the impressions made on the minds of those before mentioned, operated like an electrical spark: the flame spread with a rapidity unequalled by anything ever before seen in that region. In the course of a few days there was scarcely a family in the neighborhood, where there were not some, more or less, under serious impressions; and in some families, all who were not church members were anxiously inquiring what they should do to be saved. Conference meetings were held on every evening in the week, except Saturday evening.
“The Rev. Ten Eych appointed one evening a week for religious conversation. This he found peculiarly serviceable. It had a happy tendency to give freedom to many, who were before backward to open the state of their minds: and many received encouragement in hearing the state of others. In May seventy one were examined and admitted to the communion of Sandbeach church. The work still progressed in Owasco, and every sermon seemed to have a tendency either of comforting or awakening some present. In July one hundred and forty were examined and admitted to the communion. In one year there were admitted into those two churches, three hundred and fifty one. . . .
“In this revival God’s Spirit has operated differently on the minds of sinners from anything seen in some other places. In relation to three fourths of those, who have been the subjects of hopeful conversion; the time between their first alarm, and their being set free in the liberty of God’s children, has not exceeded two weeks; — and respecting some, not more than half that time.
“Two instances I may here mention worthy of notice; a man who had previously spoken disrespectfully of the work, was with difficulty persuaded by his wife to attend conference, that was held I his neighborhood. During the singing of the last psalm, he was awakened to a sense of his deplorable condition. This was on Thursday afternoon. On Friday morning he was distressed beyond any language to describe. On Saturday morning he appeared to be the most happy person, on this side the perfect mansions of endless glory. He rejoiced in the government of God, and seemed fully to approve of God’s plan of saving sinners through the meritorious righteousness of Jesus Christ.
“Another man, of seventy years, whose days had been wholly occupied in accumulating wealth, was awakened to a sense of his danger by a sudden death in his family, and in the course of a few days, was made to rejoice in the glorious hope the gospel presents.
“The whole work has been free from noise confusion and enthusiasm; nay, while distress and anguish of heart were seen depicted in their countenances, they strove to keep the same concealed from others, until constrained to apply to some pious friends to pray for them, or give them some spiritual instruction.
“Three fourths, at least, of those who have joined the above churches, are between the age of nine, and twenty five years, and perhaps an equal number of both sexes. These have been led to own their unworthiness, wretchedness and entire sinfulness in a state of nature: that salvation alone is by free, sovereign, rich grace abounding to sinners through the atonement. In about two hundred families, which compose the Owasco congregation, one hundred and eighty have more or less praying persons; and there are several instances where every branch of the family give evident tokens of a change of heart. Many of these young converts promise fair to be peculiarly useful to the church of Christ. They manifest sincere repentance, humility, a confident reliance on the all sufficient merits of a risen Redeemer, and a heart glowing with the warmest affection to his cause and interest in the world.”
A word on the vocabulary:
A “professor” is someone who professes faith in Christ. Older writers would sometimes use the word in a negative sense to refer to someone whose profession of faith was weak or insincere, i.e., a nominal Christian.
A “consistory,” in the Reformed tradition, is a group of elders who oversee a church. It is the rough equivalent to a “session” in a Presbyterian church.
A “society” is a legal entity that would own a church building and pay the pastor. It would often include a large number of people in a given community. A “church” is a smaller group of people who profess faith in Christ, are admitted to communion, and are subject to church discipline.
A “conference” would be a gathering to discuss the practical implications of the morning sermon or some other religious topic.