History, Culture and Faith – Yale Man Took on the French Revolution 


By Dr. Rick Chromey 

“All scholars are required to live a religious and blameless life according to the rules of God’s Word, diligently reading the Holy Scriptures, that fountain of truth, and constantly attending all the duties of religion, both in public and secret … [they are also] obliged to attend Divine worship in the College Chapel on the Lord’s Day and on Days of Fasting and Thanksgiving appointed by public Authority.” 


These were requirements for all students at Yale in 1787. 

Founded in 1701 the objective of a Yale education was for every student “to know God in Jesus Christ and answerably to lead a sober life.” Consequently Yale students learned how to pray, fast, study God’s Word, worship and evangelize. It was not uncommon for Yale students in the mid-1700s to canvas New Haven, Conn. to convert their neighbors. 

Originally founded to educate clergy, the college slowly began to include humanities and sciences in its curriculum. Nevertheless until 1899 every president of Yale was an ordained minister. 

One of those presidents was Rev. Timothy Dwight IV. In 1795 he was elected the eighth leader of Yale. He served the institution for over two decades, tripling the student body and adding new academic departments in medicine, law, geology, and chemistry. 

Dwight came from good pastoral stock. His grandfather was Jonathan Edwards, the famed preacher of the Great Awakening. His leadership at Yale pioneered early missionary movements. He lobbied for women’s education. His students included Samuel Morse (inventor of the telegraph) and Lyman Beecher, a renowned minister and the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe. 

Dwight was a Yale man himself (graduating in 1769 at age 17). Two years later he was ordained into ministry and eventually served as a chaplain for the Continental Army. Between 1783 and 1795, Dwight pastored the Congregational Church at Greenfield Hill in Fairfield, Conn. 

When he took the helm of Yale in 1795, the “cult of reason” (or the French Enlightenment) was at its zenith. Many Yale students were enamored with the secular philosophies, but Timothy Dwight was not. He took on the enlightened ideas of his day through persuasive argument. 

On July 4, 1798, President Dwight gave an address titled “The Duty of Americans at the Present Crisis.” It was a stinging indictment upon the French Revolution and their “woke” secular culture. Dwight highlighted how the infidel Voltaire orchestrated a plan in 1728 to convert Christian France into a secular state. Voltaire so hated Christianity, Dwight shared, that he “formed a systematical design to destroy Christianity…[and] introduce…irreligion and atheism.” 

By the late 1700s, Voltaire’s atheist blueprint had reimagined France, but not for the better. It was now a cultural sewer. The French were so blinded by ignorance, pleasure, and atheism they conducted a “Reign of Terror” that slaughtered over 340,000 people. That’s the legacy of secularism, Dwight preached. 

Dwight outlined Voltaire’s progressive plan to eradicate French Christianity: 

  1. INFECT THE ARTS. In writing, art and music render Christianity “absurd and ridiculous.” Mock religion, morality, and virtue. Because music can move a people, use it to introduce new philosophy and theology. Create a fresh cultural tolerance to the profane.
  2. UNDERMINE RELIGIOUS ORDER. Using political and judicial means, erode the religious foundation of the State (in the case of 18th century France it meant dissolving Roman Catholic influences). Employ progressive and liberal theology to serve the secular narrative until these entities are no longer needed (then remove them too).
  3. CONVERT THE ACADEMY. Establish a new generation of “philosophists” (professors) to inculcate the emerging generations with secular, irreligious, anti-Christian ideas. Then weaponize science, literature and history against the Bible and Christianity. The process begins in the university and seeps into all schools.
  4. CREATE A CULTURE OF “WOKENESS.” When these indoctrinated generations come of age, move them into political, social, and ecclesiastical “awareness” against older generations. These “enlightened youth” will dictate what’s “correct.” Devolve society into an “honor/shame” culture. Force people to obey the “narrative” (to be accepted and celebrated) or be shamed and eliminated. Make everything about fear.
  5. USE MEDIA AS A TOOL. Create additional doubt, contempt, and division through books (the media of Voltaire’s day). Overwhelm the masses with the (desired) narrative. Emphasize feelings over facts. Shut down opposing views. Never let a good crisis go to waste. Again, make everything about fear to control reactions.
  6. EMPLOY DECEPTION TO CONFUSE AND CONTROL. Voltaire created a “secret Academy” that doctored books, even forged them after an author’s death, to further his secular narrative. He focused on revising and erasing history. These books were then widely circulated at low prices.

Timothy Dwight then pointed out the consequences of French secularism. Terror reigned. Falsehood ruled. Immorality prevailed. Religion was segregated and silenced. Murder. Violence. Theft. Greed. Infidelity. Sexual perversion. Profanity. Atheism. 

This was Voltaire’s wish, and it became France’s fruit. 

Dwight concluded with a warning to Americans as they celebrated their July 4 independence in 1798: 

“Religion and liberty are the meat and the drink of the body politic. Withdraw one of them and it languishes, consumes, and dies. If indifference…becomes the prevailing character of a people…their motives to vigorous defense is lost, and the hopes of their enemies are proportionally increased …Without religion we may possibly retain the freedom of savages, bears, and wolves, but not the freedom of New England. If our religion were gone, our state of society would perish with it and nothing would be left which would be worth defending.” 

Evidently Rev. Timothy Dwight’s admonitions worked and his apologetic for historic Christianity persuaded his students. During his 22 years at Yale, over a third of the student body converted to Christianity and one in ten entered the ministry. 

A Yale professor named Benjamin Silliman observed Yale’s religiosity under Dwight: “It would delight your heart to see how the trophies of the cross are multiplied in this institution. Yale College is a little temple: prayer and praise seem to be the delight of the greater part of the students.” 

Timothy Dwight IV. 

Educator. Clergy. Theologian. Author. 

And now you know the rest of HIStory. 



“The Duty of Americans, at the Present Crisis, Illustrated in a Discourse, Preached on the Fourth of July 1798” by the Reverend Timothy Dwight, D.D., President of Yale College (New Haven: Thomas and Samuel Green Printers, 1798). Available for download at Google Books. 


Dr. Rick Chromey helps people interpret history, navigate culture, and explore faith. He’s an author, historian, professor, and founder/president of MANNA! Educational Services International. Rick and his wife Linda live in Star, ID. 

Rick is available to speak and train for your next event. Readers are also invited to subscribe to the Morning MANNA! inspirational and educational (M-F) email. Please visit: www.mannasolutions.org. 

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