Caldwell’s Impartial Trial of the Spirit

Publication Year: 1742

Caldwell, John. Impartial Trial of the Spirit Operating in this Part of the World. Boston: Printed, and Glasgow Re-printed, and Sold by Robert Foulis, 1742.  
PHS Call number: CR Amer 1742 E4908

Reading suggestions

See especially the Preface, pages 5-7, and 20-26. This document was printed using the "long s". 

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Source note

John Caldwell (dates unknown) was a Massachusetts minister who had immigrated to the colonies from Ireland. He was a forceful critic of the revivalism that was sweeping the colonies in the 1730s and 1740s, and he gave this sermon at a Londonderry, New Hampshire Presbyterian church in 1741. Caldwell took a strong moral stance against what he saw as the overly dramatic and emotional excesses of revivalist religion. In contrast to the morally upright image he projected as a religious leader, Caldwell was later accused of fraud and theft committed while he still lived in Ireland, and he escaped to England with his career in shambles.  

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Reading questions
  1. Who is the author of this source? When was it written? What was the historical  context in which it was written?  
  2. What are the “fashionable Principles in Religion” that Caldwell refers to in his  preface (page i)? Why might he use the word “fashionable” to describe those  principles?  
  3. What was Caldwell’s purpose for writing this sermon (see Preface)?
  4. Caldwell opens his sermon by praising rationality, and urges people to “be careful and impartial in their Enquiries after Truth, especially religious Truths” (page 6).  What argument is he setting up by emphasizing truth?  
  5. Caldwell suggests that “Men of contrary Principles . . . are equally censorious and  uncharitable to such as differ from ‘em (page 6). What evidence of this do you see in Documents 1 and 2?  
  6. What conclusion does Caldwell draw about the conversion experiences of people  in the revival movement, including the physical manifestations (convulsions,  crying, falling to the floor, etc.)?
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Source type
History Topics
American Religious History
Time Period
Colonial Settlement (1600s-1763)