I have been casually reading through The Connecticut Evangelical Magazine (c. 1800), which primarily related testimonies, news, articles, and hymns revolving around the Second Great Awakening. The following short article helps us see something of the character and concern of this time, and is instructive for us today.
According to the accounts which have been published respecting the late revival of religion, in different places, we find that no such wild disorderly things have attended the work, as prevailed in the season of the religious awakening near 60 years ago [i.e., the First Great Awakening]. And to what must this be imputed? Is it not owing to the increase of doctrinal light among us? Without any disparagement to our venerable ancestors, may we not conclude that the doctrines of the gospel are more distinguishingly taught and better understood, than they were in general in this country, a little above a half century past? I think this inference may be fairly drawn from the different manner in which religious awakenings are now conducted and treated, from what they then were. And this evinces the great importance of the ministers of the gospel being faithful in explaining and inculcating the fundamental and leading sentiments of Christianity, upon their hearers. Nor ought their apparent inattention to be the least objection against doctrinal preaching. Because in the dullest seasons, people will get and retain some ideas of what they are taught; and especially will the truths they have repeatedly heard come afresh to their minds, when their attention is duly excited to the great things of another world. Some are advocates for practical preaching only; tho’ this is necessary in its proper place, yet all who are well skilled in scriptures of truth, will own that a right doctrinal knowledge is essential to lay a foundation for a right faith, right exercises, and a right practice. It must be granted that the knowledge which people gain of scripture doctrines while unregenerate is as useful to them when they are brought to love religion, as that they afterwards acquire. And where persons who have been poorly indoctrinated are made the subjects of conviction and conversion, they frequently run into many wild and erroneous opinions, which not only tend greatly to cramp their minds, and to destroy their peace, but prove prejudicial to the interest of religion.
It may be further observed, that no preaching has a more direct tendency to strike the minds of sinners with a deep conviction of their lost, guilty and ruined state, than which points out their total depravity; the nature of their impotency; the character of God; his sovereignty in the dispensations of his blessings; or that which brings into view the character and offices of Jesus Christ; or the of regeneration, of justification by faith alone. The great doctrines which bring to view the resurrection, the last judgment, heaven and hell are peculiarly calculated to strike careless minds with awe, and to lead them to think on their ways, and to look out for a way of escape from the wrath to come.
It may be further remarked that where preachers confine themselves chiefly or altogether to practical discourses, their preaching will soon become trite, and void of sentiment.
Connecticut, Sept. 16, 1800