The Second Great Awakening began in New England in the 1790s and quickly spread to the rest of the United States. It lasted until the 1830s. Generally less emotional than the first revival, it nevertheless inspired renewed missionary and educational efforts. A great number of Protestant colleges were founded during these decades. During the revival, the unique frontier institution called the camp meeting originated, as circuit riders tried to cover the new settlements in what is now the Midwest. The Second Great Awakening produced a large increase in church membership and led to demands for such social reforms as temperance, the abolition of slavery, and women’s rights. The Sunday school movement and foreign missions also profited from it. The foremost revivalist of the time was Charles Grandison Finney. He has been called the inventor of professional revivalism, because after his time, revivalism tended to become a full-time business for some clergymen. Mr. Finney took the frontier style of revivalism to the cities of the East Coast and to England. He later became president of Oberlin College in Ohio.
The Second Great Awakening, in general, and Charles Grandison Finney, in particular, were very significant in the life and development of Hanover Presbyterian Church. The highlight of Mr. Finney’s evangelistic ministry was the “nine mighty years” of 1824 to 1832, during which he conducted powerful revival meetings in many eastern cities. In his autobiography, he tells us that the first church in the East to hold one of his revival meetings was Hanover Presbyterian Church.
The wife of Dr. Eliphalet Wheeler Gilbert, pastor at Hanover at the time of the revival meeting, was particularly impressed by Finney according to Delaware historian Carol Hoffecker. Apparently he was invited to dinner at the Wheeler home and she was so overwhelmed by his presence that she “had to retire.” His preaching changed her whole notion of predestination. The major question raised by the Second Great Awakening was would God deny salvation to anyone. In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, every one was pretty convinced that God definitely denied salvation to some people, but that began to change with the Second Great Awakening.
In Charles Grandison Finney’s lecture called “What a Revival of Religion Is,” he states, “God has found it necessary to take advantage of the excitability there is in mankind, to produce powerful excitements among them, before He can lead them to obey. Men are so sluggish, there are so many things to lead their minds off from religion and to oppose the influence of the Gospel, that it is necessary to raise an excitement among them, till the tide rises so high as to sweep away the opposing obstacles. They must be so aroused that they will break over these counteracting influences, before they will obey God.
“A revival breaks the power of the world and of sin over Christians. It brings them to such vantage ground that they get a fresh impulse towards heaven; they have a new foretaste of heaven, and new desires after union with God; thus the charm of the world is broken, and the power of sin overcome.”
In the summer of 1814 a great revival of religion swept through Christiana Church which gave impetus to the formation of two institutions, the Female Harmony Society and a Sunday School. The revival began in June 1814, when the Rev. James Patterson and Dr. Blackburn, noted evangelists from the West attending the sessions of the General Assembly in Philadelphia, accepted Dr. Read’s invitation to come to Wilmington to preach. They were effective from the start and the whole community was moved by their efforts. It is reported that the people seemed unwilling to leave the Church after the services were over. Many lingered around the pulpit to pray and to inquire what they must do to be saved.
The revival movement spread from the Christiana Church to the Methodist, Episcopalian and Baptist Churches and their members worked closely together. Converts were multiplied in all churches. Because religious interest was so great, the Fourth of July in 1814 was observed in a most unusual manner. At a public meeting in Wilmington it was resolved to spend the Fourth not in the usual festive and moving manner, but in solemn and grateful worship of God. All denominations united in the movement and the day was spent holding public services in the Christiana Church in the morning, the Baptist Church in the afternoon and the Methodist Church that evening.
Many of the benevolent societies, women’s church organizations and Sunday Schools of many New Castle County Churches date their beginnings from this great religious awakening which was spearheaded from the Christiana Presbyterian Church in 1814.