Although America was profoundly shaped by the 1st Great Awakening, by the late 1700’s this young nation began to slide once again into spiritual apathy. And in its wake, the towns and cities began to fall victim to alcohol abuse and violent crime. Also, churches suffered as the number of faithful members dwindled in most towns. All around the country, Satan began to birth and stir up fierce philosophical opponents to true Christianity: deceptive groups like the Universalists, Unitarians, and Deists. The region of New England was one area particularly hit hard by this anti-Christian intellectualism.
Yale University was founded in 1701 by Congregationalist clergy, who intended the school to train up ministers and spiritual leaders in Connecticut. By the end of the 18th century, it had traded away its Puritan roots for an obsession with rationalism. This produced among its students the worst kind of fruit: arrogance, insubordination, and widespread disregard for one’s spiritual life. Yet in 1795, God raised up a Godly man named Timothy Dwight to become president of Yale University.
Dwight was convinced that it would be a total waste of time if the students under his care graduated with scholarly prowess yet stayed devoid of true spiritual life in Christ. So he persistently and brilliantly reasoned with his students in the classroom, and he passionately tried to persuade them to follow Christ at the chapel gatherings. Over several years, he poured out his heart faithfully in prayer and through powerful teaching of God’s Word.
In the spring of 1802, two students responded to what they were hearing and were overcome with deep conviction of their personal sin, and soon they put their faith in Christ. In a short time, God’s Spirit mightily stirred up the college, with 80 of the 230 Yale students receiving the Gospel and starting to follow Jesus. One such student, named Benjamin Silliman, described the impact of revival on this campus that had previously hated Christ, saying: “Yale college is (now like) a little temple: prayer and praise seem to be the delight of the greater part of the students, while those who are still unfeeling are awed into respectful silence.”
The 1802 revival surged out to other colleges in America, and in time many graduates would sense the call of God and enter into religious ministry, some even overseas. But God was not done with Yale. In 1808 another wave of the revival flooded the campus, bringing strong conviction of their need for Christ. In 1813, yet another revival wave swept over this college, leading to another 100 students fully committing themselves to Jesus. And in 1815, after a group pledged themselves to pray for revival each morning at 3:30AM, a fourth swell of revival was again released upon this campus. The revivals would always reverberate out to other colleges, impacting many other students, inspiring many to surrender to Christ and serve Him unconditionally. Timothy Dwight’s heart desire had constantly been to see God’s purpose fulfilled for Yale. He loved his Savior and those entrusted under his care. In the end, God would fulfill that desire and Yale’s divine purpose through these mighty moves of the Holy Spirit!
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