This "rends in Pieces all the Barriers between Virtue and Vice": Tennentists, Moravians, and the Antinomian Threat in the Delaware Valley


N THE SUMMER OF 1745, Gilbert Tennent, one of the middle colonies'
leading revivalist preachers, was preparing a sermon in his
Philadelphia study during a fierce thunderstorm, when a bolt of lightning
struck the house and sent a surge of electricity through his body,
blowing out the soles of his shoes and melting the buckles. Although
Tennent would later explain this frightening experience as a random act of God,Moravians in Philadelphia interpreted the lightning bolt as a specific
demonstration of divine "warning" thrown down on one of their
most vocal "enemies." In fact, according to a Reformed opponent of the
Moravians, the leader of the whole Moravian enterprise, Nicolaus
Ludwig von Zinzendorf, had predicted as much three years earlier. Although coming after the fires of the Great Awakening had cooled, the
Moravian interpretation of Tennent's encounter with a bolt of lightning
is testament to debates that surged to the fore during the Great
Awakening and that revolved around Moravian activity in the Delaware