On college campuses, drunkenness and profanity was commonplace. Women were afraid to walk alone at night. A poll at Harvard revealed no Christians on campus. At Princeton, only two students admitted to being followers of Jesus. At Williams College in northwestern Massachusetts, mock communions were held. At Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, students performed an “anti-church” play. In New Jersey, students burned the Bible in a public bonfire. The few Christians on campuses in the Northeast were intimidated into meeting in secret. This was not a description of the recent past. This was 1790.
Then suddenly at the turn of the new century, America experienced a spiritual about face that affected every level of society, from the frontiers to the cities and college campuses. Something so radically changed the campuses of America that the same schools which a generation before had mocked the person and teachings of Jesus, now began sending out workers to pass on the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
The beginning of this dramatic change can be traced to Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. In 1787, with the moral climate deteriorating rapidly, five college students decided to hold a prayer meeting to ask for God’s help. They locked themselves in a room, for fear of other students, and kept their voices down so they would not be heard or caught. However, other students discovered them and tried to break down the door. The president of the college heard of the disturbance and came to find out who had started the latest riot. One of the students outside said, “Oh, it’s nothing important, sir; there are just some fanatics holding a prayer meeting. Can you imagine? We thought we would rough them up a bit and teach them a lesson. But we won’t hurt them.”
The president rebuked them saying, “You don’t mind cheating, stealing from rooms, 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 with authority, “This is the president of the college. 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 and we’ll pray together.”
This prayer meeting marked the beginning of campus revivals during the Second Great Awakening of the 1790’s and early 1800’s. Not only did half the students at Hampden-Sydney College turn to faith in Christ, but the revival spread to churches and cities. In college after college, students formed similar Christian fellowships. At Harvard, Bowdoin, Brown, Dartmouth, Middlebury, Williams, and Andover, students began to meet, pray, read, study, and discuss Scripture, while caring for the poor and evangelizing their classmates.
Read Matthew 6:33.
The students at Brown formed the College Praying Society, which met in a private room, for “fear of disturbance from the unrepentant.” In December 1802, at Harvard, seven students formed the Saturday Evening Religious Society, which also met secretly.
At Yale, president Timothy Dwight regularly preached apologetic messages in chapel, addressing and challenging the relativistic philosophy of the day head-on with talks like, “Are the New Testament Documents Reliable?” As a result of praying Christians and Dwight’s powerful preaching, one third of Yale’s student body accepted Christ in 1802.
Live communally. Seek His Kingdom first, Jesus said, and you will be blessed. Pray with others on campus. You never know the difference five students can make.
Love is a verb,
©2019 by Mike Olejarz