Assaults. Bank robberies. Profanity. Women fearing for their safety. Who would have thought that the late 1700’s looked like this in the very young United States. Change was on the horizon and its source was as surprising as the moral demise of the young nation. J. Edwin Orr continues:
Then, suddenly, at the turn of the century, the nation made a spiritual about-face that affected every level of society–from the frontiers to the college campuses. The beginning of this dramatic change can be traced to Hampden Sydney College in Virginia. In 1787, with the moral climate there deteriorating rapidly, five non-Christian students decided to hold a prayer meeting to ask for God’s help. They locked themselves in a room, for fear of the other students, and kept their voices down so they would not be caught. However, the other students discovered them and tried to break down the door.
The president rebuked them saying, “You don’t mind cheating, you, don’t mind stealing from rooms, you don’t mind the lying and the profanity you get on this campus, but you object to a prayer meeting. Well, I do not!” He then knocked on the door and said authoritatively, “This is the president of the college speaking. Will you please come out?” The students unlocked the door and came out not knowing what to expect. President Smith said, “Gentlemen, come to my study, we’ll pray there together.” This prayer meeting marked the beginning of American campus revivals during the Second Great Awakening of the 1790s and early 1800s. Not only did half the students at Hampden Sydney College turn to Christ as a result, but the revival also spread to local churches and to other schools, having similar effects.
Who would shave thought that a much needed revival for a nation faltering early in its history would have come from college students? What about James Madison or Thomas Jefferson? God used unknown college students to bring a wave of revival that affected an entire nation.
In college after college, students formed similar Christian fellowships. At Harvard, Bowdoin, Brown, Dartmouth, Middlebury, Williams, and Andover, students began to meet and pray. The students at Brown formed the College Praying Society which met in a private room “for fear of disturbance from the impenitent.” In December 1802, at Harvard, seven students formed the Saturday Evening Religious Society, which also met secretly. At Yale, president Timothv Dwight regularly preached apologetical messages in chapel, hitting the relativistic philosophy of the day head-on with such talks as “Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?” As a result of the Christians’ prayer and Dwight’s powerful presentations, one third of Yale’s student body accepted Christ in 1802.
I am convinced that America’s hope will walk across the stage this weekend…not across the political stage next fall. Yes, we need a godly president. We need God’s man or woman to lead this country. However, both Great Awakenings in the United States have found their roots in revival among college students.
Will you be that student? What will happen on your campus this fall?