top of page
  • Writer's picturePeacemaker

Henry Alline & The New Light Revival

"…while New Englanders’ minds turned to revolution, Nova Scotia’s Yankees turned their few leisure thoughts and moments to the “New Light” movement, a passionate religious revival. With a British fleet and garrison at Halifax, the few sparks of revolt in the 1770s were swiftly extinguished. Alarming though they seemed to Halifax Anglicans, the missionaries of the “New Awakening” sought revolutions in morals, not governments. Merchants in Halifax and other ports made too much money from the war to feel rebellious."

Short History of Canada, p65

But what was the New Light Revival and who was Henry Alline?

According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, "Henry Alline was born into an old New England family which could trace its roots back to the arrivals on the Mayflower."

Even before the American Revolution, his family moved north allured by "Governor Charles Lawrence's announcements in 1758 and 1759 of free fertile land in Nova Scotia." Moving to what is today known as the city of Falmouth, "the Allines participated in the allocation of land in accordance with traditional New England custom and faced the rigours of pioneering settlements in North America."

Baptist Church in Falmouth

"It was the 1700's, long before Canadian confederation, before the railway, before the vision of Canada being more than a colony of either England or France had even been conceived. These were the days of pioneering...

Henry hungered for God but struggled with tremendous internal spiritual conflict. it was the norm in those days to view God as an angry, distant, and judgmental old man ready to punish those who transgressed His laws... Christianity has been reduced to an intellectual belief, devoid of any actual spiritual life or relationship with the Lord. Life was expected to be about doing your duty and maintaining outward righteousness, without the inward reality or of empowerment of God's presence or love." p11-2, Canadian Mantles of Revival

"For many years Alline wrestled constantly with his soul, “groaning under a load of guilt and darkness, praying and crying continually for mercy.” Final assurance of conversion came on 26 March 1775," when he had "wandered in the fields, returned to his house, picked up a Bible, and turned to the 38th Psalm. Shortly afterwards, he recorded, “redeeming love broke into my soul with repeated scriptures with such power, that my whole soul seemed to be melted down with love.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography

"Even without formal theological training, he yielded to the call he believed God put on his life and stepped into the ministry.. The revelation he carried of God's love and the reality of heaven and hell overflowed into his preaching. it was a new and welcome sound; it touched the hearts and awakened revival.

Alline became known as the "Whitfield of Nova Scotia" as he adopted the fiery preaching style of the New Light revivalists... challenging the dead religious form and unconverted ministers in the Church...

His refusal to compromise, Alline gathered crowds in barns or open fields, relentless in his preaching and travel." p12-3, Canadian Mantles of Revival

An itinerant evangelist in a time when there were no paved roads, "he travelled for six to nine months of the year by horseback, boat, snowshoe, or on foot."

"During the course of his career he covered most of Nova Scotia and the settled parts of what is now New Brunswick, including many off-shore islands. In 1782 he visited St John’s (Prince Edward) Island. Few of his meetings were held in church buildings, for even those that existed were usually closed to him. In any case, Alline did not regard church edifices, organizations, or finances as matters of much priority. In pioneer Nova Scotia he met the people on their own terms.

Isolated and self-educated as he was, Alline was unable to reconcile the doctrines of Calvinism, even as modified by New England Puritanism, with what had happened to him. For Alline, the central point is that God is Love. If God was loving, then the harsh and just deity of New England, who chose only some to be saved, was not credible. Alline found an intellectual system which rejected Calvinism in the writings of the 18th-century Jacobite Anglican, William Law."

"Not solely a preacher, however. He understood the value both of prayer and of song. He encouraged the singing of hymns during and away from his meetings, and in the absence of hymnals wrote many hymns himself." Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Hymn 90: Awake My Soul, With Pleasure Sing

Although his ministry was short, the revival he birthed became the "foundation for the Baptist movement in the Maritimes." He died at the age of 35, but "Like a flame of fire, he swept through the land. He was a burning and shining light.... the Apostle of Nova Scotia." p14

Henry Alline had began his ministry in the year of 1776, the year of the American revolution, and through his preaching and evangelism a great revival swept across Eastern Canada.

Maybe his words are true for this hour in Canadian history?

“Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead,

and Christ shall give thee light.”

Ephesians 5


bottom of page