A History of the Baptists
The Great Revival of 1800.
The Deplorable Conditions of the Country?Low State of Morals?Terrible Practices?Deistical Opinions of the French and Indian Wars?Alliance of America and France?The Effects of French Infidelity?Thomas Paine?Infidel Clubs?Illuminism?Want of Religious Instruction?Baptist and Presbyterian Ministers?Dull Preaching?Conditions in the Colleges?Kentucky and Tennessee?Logan County?The Great Revival?James McGready?His Sermons?The Camp Meeting at Casper River?The Account of McGready?The Meeting Described?Barton W. Stone?Other Meetings?Extravagance?Lorenzo Dow?The Jerks and Other Violent Exercises?Disorders?Such Meetings Continued for Years?The Revival Did Great Good?Testimonies?Results Among the Baptists?Effects Felt Throughout the United States.
At the close of the eighteenth century the prospects of Christianity in the United States were most deplorably unfavorable. All parties testified to this state of affairs. The Revolutionary War had brought about a great deal of license, and all classes of witnesses testify to the low state of morals. George Mason wrote, in 1783; to Patrick Henry as follows: "With some few exceptions, the declension was general throughout the State" (Rowland, Life of Mason, II). Dr. William Hill said: "The demoralizing effects of the war left religion and the church in a most deplorable condition" (Foote, I.). Semple says: "The war, though very propitious to the liberty of the Baptists, had the opposite effect upon the life of religion among them" (Semple). Richard Henry Lee said: "Refiners may weave reason into as fine a web as they please, but the experience of all times shows religion to be the guardian of morals; and he must be a very inattentive observer in our country who does not see that avarice is accomplishing the destruction of religion for want of legal obligation to contribute something to its support" (Lee, Richard Henry Lee, II.).
A general declension of religion followed the earlier revivals, and a low standard of religion and morals prevailed. Family worship was neglected, and little attention was paid to the training of youth in the fear of God. The Indian wars having terminated, an immense tide of immigration poured into the older settlements. The protracted wars with the Indians had exerted a demoralizing influence to a wide extent; but the introduction and manufacture of alcoholic liquors followed, and their use, in almost every family, was frightfully destructive. Brandy was distilled from the peach, and wine fermented from the grape, and beer from the persimmon. As early as 1783 whisky had been distilled from corn, and that was now in use daily as mint julep or as grog or toddy. Those who could afford it had Madeira wine and Jamaica rum on their tables, but the ordinary drink was whisky. The Green River Country, as the southern part of Kentucky was called, became famous for vicious practices. Universal cupidity prevailed over the whole country, stimulated by boundless opportunities for its gratification. Speculators were eager to invest their capital in lands, hoping to realize princely fortunes thereby. Many of the pioneers who had located lands lost all their possessions on account of imperfect titles. Land jobbing feuds and heart burnings retarded the moral improvement of the country.
Deistical opinions were really introduced into America during the French and Indian wars (1754-1763) . In these wars American citizens were brought into close relations with English officers and soldiers who had accepted deistical sentiments. "Most of their American companions had never heard the divine origin of the Scriptures questioned, and their minds were, of course, unprovided with answers even to the most common objections. To such objections as were actually made was added the force of authority. The British officers were from the mother country -a phase of high import-until after the commencement of the Revolution. They came from a country renowned for arts and arms, and regarded by the people of New England as the birthplace of science and wisdom. These gentlemen were also, at the same time, possessed of engaging manners; they practiced all those genteel vices which, when recommended by such manners, generally fascinated young men of gay, ambitious minds, and are often considered as conferring an enviable distinction on those who adopt them. Many of the Americans were far from being dull proficients in this school. The vices they loved, and soon found the principles necessary to quiet their consciences. When they returned home they had drunk too deeply of the cup to exchange their new principles and practices for the sober doctrines of their countrymen. The means that had been pursued to corrupt them they now employed to corrupt others. From the prima mali labes the contagion spread, not indeed through the great multitudes, but in little circles surrounding the individuals originally infected. As these amounted to a considerable number, and lived in a general dispersion through the country, most parts of it shared in the malady" (Dwight, Travels in New England and New York, IV).
The alliance of America with France likewise brought a low state of morals, which menaced the nation with political destruction. Collins, the historian of Kentucky, thus describes the situation:
Early in the spring of 1793, circumstances occurred which fanned the passions of the people into a perfect flame of dissatisfaction. The French Revolution had sounded a tocsin which reverberated throughout the whole civilized world. The worn out despotisms of Europe, after standing aghast for a moment, in doubtful inactivity, and awakened at length into ill-concerted combinations against the young Republic, and France was engaged in a life and death struggle, against Spain, Britain, Prussia, Austria and the German principalities. With this war the United States had, strictly, nothing to do, and the best interests of the country clearly required a rigid neutrality; which President Washington had not only sagacity to see, but firmness to enforce by a proclamation, early in 1793. The passions of the people, however, far outran all consideration of prudence or interest, and displayed themselves in favor of France, with a frantic enthusiasm which threatened perpetually to involve the country in a disastrous war with all the rest of Europe. The terrible energy which the French Republic displayed, against such fearful odds, the haughty crest with which she confronted her enemies and repelled them from her frontier on every point, presented a spectacle calculated to dazzle the friends of democracy throughout the world. The horrible atrocities which accompanied these brilliant efforts of courage were overlooked in favor of a passionate sympathy, or attributed, in part, to the exaggerations of the British press.
The American people loved France as their ally in the Revolution, and now regarded her as a sister republic contending for freedom against banded despots (Collins, Historical Sketches of Kentucky).
French infidelity threatened to sweep away every trace of Christianity. Our country had innumerable difficulties with England, which had resulted from the cruel Indian wars. France had been our friend in the War of Independence. The very name of liberty was dear to every American heart, and in the mystery of Providence, infidelity and liberalism were combined against despotism. Infidelity became prevalent in high places, and was identical in the public mind with liberal principles in government. "It was the general opinion among intelligent Christians, toward the close of the century, a majority of the population were either avowedly infidels or skeptically inclined. There were but few men in the profession of law and physics who would avow their belief in Christianity. Amongst the less informed classes the ?Age of Reason? was a most popular book, and obtained extensive circulation, while Bibles were obtained with difficulty, and found a place only in religious families" (J. M. Peck, Baptists in Mississippi Valley, The Christian Review, XVII. 500. October, 1852).
Of Thomas Paine much has been written. He is thus described by McMaster:
We doubt whether any name in our Revolutionary history, not excepting that of Benedict Arnold, is quite so odious as that of Thomas Paine. Arnold was a traitor, Paine was an infidel.? Since the day when the Age of Reason came forth from the press the number of infidels has increased much more rapidly than it did before that book was written. The truth is, he was one of the most remarkable men of ,his time. It would be a difficult matter to find anywhere another such compound of baseness and nobleness, of goodness and badness, of greatness and littleness, of so powerful a mind left unbalanced and led astray by the worst of animal passions.? Of all the human kind he is the filthiest and nastiest, and his disgusting habits grew upon him with his years. In his old age, when the frugal gifts of two States which remembered his good work and placed him beyond immediate want, he became a sight to behold. It was rare that he was sober; it was still rarer that he washed himself, and he suffered his nails to grow till, in the language of one who knew him well, they resembled the claws of birds. What gratitude was he did not know (McMaster, History of the United States, I. 150. New York, 1884).
The Age of Reason was introduced into this country about the close of the century. There was great activity manifested by the infidels of Europe in disseminating their views in the new country. In the year 1800 John Adams, then President of the United States, received a letter from Germany, proposing to introduce into the United States "a company of school-masters, painters and poets, etc., all the disciples of Thomas Paine." Adams replied:
I had rather countenance the introduction of Ariel and Caliban with a troupe of spirits the most mischievous from the fairy land (Adams, Life and Works, IX.).
Politico-infidel clubs were organized throughout the United States, and so great was the threatened danger that President Adams referred to them in a public proclamation. A society was formed in this country called the Illuminati set on foot by the Grand Orient of France. The facts are set forth as follows:
Illuminism had been systematically embraced by various bodies of men who associated for its propaganda. President Adams, in a proclamation in which he briefly disclosed the dangers that threatened the country, had said: "The most precious interests of the United States are still held in jeopardy by the hostile designs and insidious arts of a foreign nation (France), as well as by the dissemination among them of those principles subversive of the foundations of religious, moral and social obligations, that have produced mischiefs and misery in other countries." The violent assaults which were made upon this passage of the proclamation proved the truth and accuracy of the sentiment. Enraged at this public disclosure of their plans the whole faction attacked it (Memoir of Thomas Jefferson, 1809).
The extent to which these infidel clubs went is now almost unbelievable. "The Tree of Liberty" and "the Cap of Liberty" were everywhere popular. "It is scarcely credible to what extent the absurdities, devised and practised by the French demagogues to influence the passions of the mob, were adopted and applauded by multitudes of the hitherto staid and reflecting citizens of the United States" (Jay, Life of the Hon. John Jay, 319. New York, 1832). William Jay further says:
Posterity will with difficulty believe the prostituted state to which Genet (the French Ambassador) and his satellites, the democratic societies, had brought the public feeling. By a variety of those artifices which familiarized the heart to cruelty, they had enured the multitude to the contemplation of bloodshed and to habitual ferocity. At a dinner in Philadelphia, at which Governor Miffin and his friend Dallas were present, a roasted pig was introduced as the representative of the unfortunate Louis XVI. It was the joyful celebration of the anniversary of his murder. The head, being severed from the body, was carried round to each at the table, who, after putting on the liberty cap, pronounced the word "Tyrant!" and gave the head a chop with his knife (Memoirs of Hon. Thomas Jefferson, Progress of French Influence and French Principles in the United States, I.).
In America as well as in France the most atrocious villainies were maintained to be patriotic acts. Robbery was held to be moral and correct justice; murder was maintained to be laudable; and those most execrable of all crimes, treason and rebellion, were dignified by the name of national justice, because Jacobinized France gave the fashion to the morals and the opinions of this country, and fidelity to her, under her new rulers, was best asserted by treason to every other country (Ibid).
The object of these societies was to destroy Christianity and to revolutionize governments. The belief in a God, the immortality of the soul, moral obligation, civil and domestic government, marriage, chastity and decency were the objects of their hatred and conspiracy. Wherever they prevailed the most gross and brutish manners and shameless immorality followed (Dorchester).
Dr. Peck further says:
The only Bibles in the country were those brought by immigrants. If a young couple, who were Christian professors, had formed the domestic relationship in a log cabin in the West, they had no Bible to read perchance, after many months waiting, some kind friend brought one in his saddle bags, across the mountains, from the old states. A manuscript volume of hymns is in our possession, compiled by one of the pioneer preachers of Kentucky for his own use as an itinerant, and it bears marks of being well thumbed by the preacher. Nor were tracts then circulated; and few religious books of any kind had found their way into the Valley.
And what strength had the Christian ministry to cope with such an enemy, learned, proud, philosophical, speculative and subtle? The Baptists had ninety-five preachers of every grade, not one of whom was a classical scholar, or had the skill, or understood the tactics of the opponents of the Scripture. They had never been trained in, nor could they put on the armor of, the "schools of the prophets." They had no pretentions to the arts of the logician in debate. There were about a dozen Methodist preachers in the Valley, equally deficient in education, and unskilled as casuists. Of the Presbyterian ministers, there were about forty, all of whom made some claim to a classical and collegiate education.
In reality the Presbyterians were far worse off in ministers than were the Baptists. Their historian, Dr. Davidson, has in no manner exaggerated the picture. He says:
Had they all been men of marked ability, devoted piety, and unblemished reputation, the salutary influence they might have exerted in moulding the character and institutions of the growing West would have been incalculable. Unhappily, with two or three shining exceptions, the majority were men barely of respectable talents, and a few above mediocrity; and so far from being patterns of flaming zeal and apostolic devotion, a dull formality seems to have been their general characteristics (Davidson, History of the Presbyterian Church is Kentucky).
The Presbyterian General Assembly, in 1798, describes the existing condition of the country in these terms:
Formidable innovations and convulsions in Europe threaten destruction to morals and religion. Scenes of devastation and bloodshed unexampled in the history of modern nations have convulsed the world, and our country is threatened with similar calamities. We perceive with pain and fearful apprehension a general dereliction of religious principles and practice among our fellow citizens, and a visible and prevailing impiety and contempt for the laws and institutions of religion, and an abounding infidelity, which in many instances tends to atheism itself. The profligacy and corruption of the public morals have advanced with a progress proportionate to our declension in religion. Profaneness, pride, luxury, injustice, intemperance, lewdness, and every species of debauchery and loose indulgence abound.
There is no question that throughout the country there was much dull preaching. Extreme Calvinism had brought coldness and a decline in religious life. There was some warmth among the Methodists, which brought their preaching in sharp contrast with some others. At this time Jesse Lee was their great evangelist. He began preaching in North Carolina, but was especially drawn to New England. Dr. Joseph B. Clark, a Congregational historian, describes him as follows:.
In his doctrinal teaching, Jesse Lee, the pioneer of Methodism in these parts, suited such as were of Arminian tendencies; in his fervent style of address he was acceptable to many warm hearted Calvinists tired of dull preaching! The wild enthusiasm of the Quakers had long since dis. appeared, and their numbers were diminishing. The martyr spirit which animated the first generation of Baptists had subsided with the removal of their civil disabilities, and their religious zeal suffered a proportionate decline. If Jesse Lee had not come into Massachusetts, some one else pressed in spirit, like Paul at Athens, "when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry," would have found utterance, and would have had followers.
These conditions affected every section of the country. The condition of New England is set forth by Lyman Beecher, in 1795, on the accession of President Dwight to Yale College. He says:
Before he came the college was in a most ungodly state. The college church was almost extinct. Most of the students were skeptical, and rowdies were plenty. Wine and liquors were kept in many rooms; intemperance, profanity, gambling, and licentiousness were common. I hardly know how I escaped .... Boys that dressed flax in the barn, as I used to do, read Tom Paine and believed him; I read and fought him all the way. ; never had any propensity to infidelity. But most of the class before me were infidels, and called each other Voltaire, D?Alembert, &c. (The Autobiography of Lyman Beecher, I.).
The religious condition of Kentucky and Tennessee was particularly deplorable. Infidel clubs were organized, and their evil influences extended far and wide. The character of the people was described as: "Politically they were violent and dogmatic; morally they were corrupting; and, in respect of religion, they were utterly infidel." The legislature dispensed with a chaplain, and the university was turned over to infidel management.
The autobiography of that famous pioneer preacher, Peter Cartwright, gives a lively picture of Kentucky society, in 1793, as he remembered it in his old age. He says:
Logan county, when my father moved into it, was called "Rogues? Harbor." Here many refugees from all parts of the Union fled to escape punishment or justice; for although there was law, yet it could not be executed, and it was a desperate state of society. Murderers, horse thieves, highway robbers, and counterfeiters fled there, until they combined and actually formed a majority. Those who favored a better state of morals were called "Regulators." But they encountered fierce opposition from the "Rogues," and a battle was fought with guns, pistols, dirks, knives and clubs, in which the "Regulators" were defeated (Autobiography of Peter Cartwright).
At this juncture, when hope was ready to expire, an unlooked for and an astounding change suddenly took place. The event was the great revival of 1800, so called for its wide extent and influence. This extraordinary excitement was called the revival of 1800 because its remarkable developments occurred mostly at that date, though its influence covered two or three years. This revival began in Virginia, but broke out almost simultaneously in many sections of the country. The movement originated among and was largely forwarded by the Presbyterians. In Kentucky the excitement began in the Presbyterian congregation at Gasper River and extended thence to the congregations at Muddy and Red river?s, in Logan county, under the pastoral care of Rev. James McGready. This James McGready is described as one of the Sons of Thunder, a Boanerges both in manner and matter, and an uncompromising reprover of sin in every shape. The curses of the Law lost none of their severity in falling from his lips; and, like Mirabeau, the fierceness of his invectives derived additional terror from the hideousness of his visage and the thunder of his tones. He had left a congregation in Orange county, North Carolina, but a few months since, in consequence of the odium which his unsparing censures had drawn upon him from the ungodly. Some of his former hearers having removed to Kentucky, and forwarded him an invitation to become their pastor, he resolved to accept the call; and accordingly arrived in the fall of 1796, being now about thirty-three years of age, and full of fiery zeal (Davidson).
It was not long until the effects of his .impassioned preaching were visible. Regeneration, repentance and faith were his favorite topics; and an anxious and general concern were awakened among his hearers on the subject of experimental religion. The language of his sermons was often lurid. The following extracts from his sermon on "The Character, History and End of the Fool" will give some idea of his message:
Time would fail me to pursue the history of the fool through middle life, and on to old age. I must pass over a variety of occurrences in his life; how he obtained the victory over his conscience; how the Holy Spirit gave him his last call; and, when this was resisted, how he left him forever; how the Lord Jesus Christ sealed his heart under the curse, so that all the powers of heaven and earth could not open it; how he went on from sin to sin with horrid rapidity, till his cup of wrath was full to the brim, and he was ripe for hell. On these particulars I cannot dwell, I would, therefore, hasten to the end.
And suffice it to say, he died accursed of God when his soul was separated from the body, and the black flaming vultures of hell began to encircle him on every side; his conscience awoke from its long sleep, and roared like ten thousand peals of thunder; then all the horrid crimes of his past life stared him in his face in all their glowing colors; then the remembrance of misimproved sermons and sacramental occasions, flared like streams of forked lightning through his tortured soul; then the reflection that he had slighted the mercy and blood of the Son of God; that he had despised and rejected him, was like a poisoned arrow piercing his heart; when the fiends of hell dragged him into the infernal gulf he roared and screamed and yelled like a devil; when, while Indians, Pagans, and Mohametans, stood amazed, and upbraided him, falling, like Lucifer, from the meridian blaze of the Gospel and the threshold of heaven, sinking into the liquid boiling waves of hell, and accursed sinners of Tyre, and Sidon, and Sodom, and Gomorrah, sprang to the right and the left, and made way for him to pass them, and fall lower down even to the deepest caverns in the flaming abyss?here his conscience, like a never dying worm, stings him and forever gnaws his soul, and the slightest blood of the Son of God communicates ten thousand hells in one. Now through the blazing flames of hell he sees that heaven he has lost; that exceeding great and eternal weight of glory he has sold for the devil?s pottage. in those pure regions he sees his father and mother, his sisters or brothers, and those persons who sat under the same means of grace with him, and whom he derided as fools, fanatics and hypocrites. They are far beyond the impassable gulf; they shine brighter than the sun when shining in his strength, and walk the golden streets of the new Jerusalem; but he is lost and damned forever (The Posthumous Works of the Reverend and Pious James M?Gready, late Minister of the Gospel in Henderson, Ky., 148, 149. Nashville, Tenn., 1837).
Under such preaching as this it is no wonder that men were stirred to the depths of their souls. Among the means adopted by this zealous pastor to awaken the flock was a written covenant binding all who appended their signatures to observe a monthly fast, a twilight concert of prayer, and a sunrise concert. The year 1799 witnessed a renewal of the excitement, but it reached its height in 1800 and 1801.
In a letter to a friend, dated Logan County, Kentucky, October 23, 1801, M?Gready gives a "Narrative of the Commencement and Progress of the Revival of 1800." In the interest of historical accuracy, though a little long, the letter is here recorded, and is as follows:
But I promised to give you a short statement of our blessed revival; on which you will at once say, the Lord has done great things for us in the wilderness, and the solitary place has been made glad; the desert has rejoiced and blossomed as the rose.
In the month of May, 1797, which was the spring after I came to this country, the Lord graciously visited Gasper River Congregation (an infant church then under my charge). The doctrines of Regeneration, Faith and Repentance, which I uniformly preached, seemed to call the attention of the people to a serious inquiry. During the winter the question was often proposed to me, Is Religion a sensible thing? If I were converted would I feel it, and know it? In May, as I said before, the work began.
A woman, who had been a professor, in full communion with the church, found her old hope false and delusive?she was struck .with deep conviction, and in a few days was filled with joy and peace in believing. She immediately visited her friends and relatives, from house to house, and warned them of their danger in a most solemn, faithful manner, and plead with them to repent and seek religion. This, as a means, was accompanied with divine blessing to the awakening of many. About this time the ears of all that congregation seemed to be open to receive the word preached and almost every sermon was accompanied with the power of God, to the awakening of sinners. During the summer, about ten persons in the congregation were brought to Christ. In the fall of the year a general deadness seemed to creep on apace. Conviction and conversion work, in a great measure, ceased; and no visible alteration for the better took place, until the summer of 1798, at the administration of the sacrament of the supper, which was in July. On Monday the Lord graciously poured out his Spirit; a very general awakening took place; perhaps but a few families in the congregation could be found who, less or more, were not struck with an awful sense of their lost estate. During the week following but few persons attended to worldly business, their attention to the business of their souls was so great. On the first Sabbath of September, the sacrament was administered at Muddy Creek (one of my congregations). At the meeting the Lord graciously poured forth his spirit, to the awakening of many careless sinners. Through these two congregations already mentioned, and through Red River, my other congregation, awakening work went on with power under every sermon. The people seemed to hear, for eternity. In every house, and almost in every company, the whole conversation with people, was about the state of their souls. About this time the Rev. J. B. came here, and found a Mr. R. to join him. In a little while he involved our infant churches in confusion, disputation, &c., opposed the doctrines preached here; ridiculed the whole work of the revival; formed a considerable party, &c., &c. In a few weeks this seemed to have put a final stop to the whole work, and our infant congregation remained in a state of deadness and darkness from the fall, through the winter, and until the month of July, 1799, at the administration of the sacrament at Red River. This was a very solemn time throughout. On Monday, the power of God seemed to fill the congregation; the boldest, daring sinners in the country covered their faces and wept bitterly. After the congregation was dismissed, a large number of the people stayed about the doors, unwilling to go away. Some of the ministers proposed to me to collect the people in the meeting house again, and to perform prayer with them; accordingly we went in, and joined in prayer and exhortation. The mighty power of God came amongst us like a shower from the everlasting hills?God?s people were quickened and comforted; yea, some of them were filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Sinners were powerfully alarmed, and some precious souls were brought to feel the pardoning love of Jesus.
At Gasper River (at this time under the care of Mr. Rankin, a precious instrument in the hands of God) the sacrament woo administered in August. This was one of the days of the son of Man, indeed, especially on Monday. I preached a plain gospel sermon on Heb. 11 and 18. The better country. A great solemnity continued during the sermon. After sermon Mr. Rankin gave a solemn exhortation-the congregation was then dismissed; but the people all kept their seats for a considerable space, whilst awful solemnity appeared in the countenances of a large majority. Presently several persons under deep convictions broke forth in a loud outcry?many fell to the ground and lay powerless, groaning, praying and crying for mercy. As I passed through the multitude, a woman, lying in awful distress, called me to her. Said she, "I lived in your congregation in Carolina; I was a professor, and often went to the communion; but I was deceived; I have no religion; I am going to hell." In another place an old grey headed man lay in an agony of distress, addressing his weeping wife and children in such language as this: "We are all going to hell together; we have lived prayerless, ungodly lives; the work of our souls is yet to begin; we must get religion, or we will all be damned." But time would fail me to mention every instance of this kind.
At Muddy Creek the sacrament was administered in September. The power of God was gloriously present on this occasion. The circumstances of it are equal, if not superior, to those of Gasper River. Many souls were solemnly awakened; a number, we hope, converted?whilst the people of God feasted on the hidden manna, and, with propriety, might be said to sing the new song. But the year 1800 exceeds all that my eyes ever beheld on earth. All that I have related is only, as it were, an introduction. Although many souls in these congregations, during the three preceding years, have been savingly converted, and now give living evidences of their union to Christ; yet all that work is like only to a few drops before a mighty rain, when compared with the wonders of Almighty Grace, that took place in the year 1800.
In June, the sacrament was administered at Red River. This was the greatest time we had ever seen before. On Monday multitudes were struck down under awful conviction; the cries of the distressed filled the whole house. There you might see profane swearers, and sabbath breakers pricked to the heart, and crying out, "what shall we do to be saved?" There frolicers, and dancers crying for mercy. There you might see little children of ten, eleven and twelve years of age, praying and crying for redemption, in the blood of Jesus, in agonies of distress. During this sacrament, and until the Tuesday following, ten persons we believe, were savingly brought home to Christ.
In July, the sacrament was administered in Gasper River Congregation. Here multitudes crowded from all parts of the country to see a strange work, from the distance of forty, fifty and even a hundred miles; whole families came in their wagons; between twenty and thirty wagons were brought to the place, loaded with people, and their provisions, in order to encamp at the meeting house. On Friday, nothing more appeared during the day, than a decent solemnity. On Saturday, matters continued in the same way, until in the evening. Two pious women were sitting together, conversing about their exercises; which conversations seemed to affect some of the by-standers; instantly the divine flame spread through the whole multitude. Presently you might have seen sinners lying powerless in every part of the house, praying and crying for mercy. Ministers and private Christians were kept busy during the night conversing with the distressed. This night a goodly number of awakened souls were delivered by sweet believing views of glory, fullness and sufficiency of Christ, to save to the uttermost. Amongst these were some children-a striking proof of the religion of Jesus. Of many instances to which I have been an eye witness, I shall only mention one, viz., a little girl. I stood by her whilst she lay across her mother?s lap almost in despair. I was conversing with her when the first gleam of light broke in upon her mind?She started to her feet, and in an ecstasy of joy, she cried out, "O he is willing, he is willing-he is come, he is come?O what a sweet Christ he is?O what a precious Christ he is?O what a fullness I see in him?O what a beauty I see in him?O why was it I never could believe! that I never could come to Christ before, when Christ was so willing to save me?" Then turning around, she addressed sinners, and told them of the glory, willingness and preciousness of Christ, and plead with them to repent; and sill this in language so heavenly, and at the same time, so rational and scriptural, that I was filled with astonishment. But were I to write you every particular of this kind that I have been an eye and ear witness to, during the two past years, it would fill many sheets of paper.
At this sacrament a great many people from Cumberland, particularly from Shiloh Congregation, came with great curiosity to see the work, yet prepossessed with strong prejudices against it; about five of whom, I trust, were savingly and powerfully converted before they left the place. A circumstance worthy of observation, they were sober professors in full communion. I was truly affected to see them lying powerless, crying for mercy, and speaking to their friends and relations, in such language as this: "Oh, we despised the work we heard of in Logan; but, oh, we were deceived-I have no religion; I know now that there is a reality in these things; three days ago I would have despised any person that would have behaved as I am doing now; but, oh, I feel the very pains of hell in my soul." This was the language of a precious soul, just before the hour of deliverance came. When they went home, their conversation to their friends and neighbors, was the means of commencing a glorious work that has overspread all the Cumberland settlements to the conversion of hundreds of precious souls. The work continued night and day at this sacrament, whilst the vast multitude continued upon the ground till Tuesday morning. According to the best computation, we believe, that forty-five souls were brought to Christ on this occasion.
Muddy River sacrament, in all its circumstances, was equal, and in some respects superior, to that of Gasper River. This sacrament was in August. We believe about fifty persons, at this time, obtained religion.
At Ridge Sacrament, in Cumberland, the second Sabbath in September, about forty-five souls, we believe, obtained religion. At Shiloh Sacrament, the third Sabbath in September, about seventy persons. At Mr. Craighead?s Sacrament, congregation, in Logan county, in October, eight persons. At Little Muddy Creek Sacrament, in November, about twelve persons. At Montgomery?s Meeting House, in Cumberland, about forty. At Hopewell Sacrament, in Cumberland, in November, about twenty persons. To mention the circumstances of more private occasions, common days preaching, and societies, would swell a letter to a volume.
The present season has been a blessed season likewise; yet not equal to last year in conversion work. I shall just give you a list of our sacraments, and the number, we believe, experienced religion at each, during the present year, 1801.
Here follows a list of the sacraments, and the statement that 144 persons professed religion. He then continues:
I would just remark that, among the great numbers in our country that professed to obtain religion, I scarcely know an instance of any that gave comfortable ground of hope to the people of God, that they had religion, and have been admitted to the privileges of the church, that have in any degree, disgraced their profession, or given us any ground to doubt their religion.
Were I to mention to you the rapid progress of this work, in vacant congregations, carried on by means of a few supplies and by praying societies?such as Stone?s River, Cedar Creek, Goose Creek, the Red Banks, the Fountain Head, and many other places?it would be more than time, or the bounds of a letter would admit of. Mr. M?G. and myself administered the sacrament at the Red Banks, on the Ohio, about a month ago?a vacant congregation, nearly an hundred miles distant from any regular organized society, formerly a place famed for wickedness, and a perfect synagogue of Satan. I visited them twice at an early period; Mr. R. twice, and Mr. H. once. These supplies the Lord blessed, as a means to start his work and their praying societies were attended with the power of God, to the conversion of almost whole families. When we administered the sacrament among them, they appeared to be the most blessed little society I ever saw. I obtained ten elders among them, all precious Christians; three of which, two years ago were professed deists, now living monuments of Almighty Grace.
(The Posthumous Works of James M?Gready, vii-xi).
The first regular Camp Meeting, as has been seen, was held at Gasper River, July, 1800. Much pains was taken to advertise the meeting, and it was announced that people were expected to come and encamp on the grounds; and the whole community, and ministers especially, were earnestly invited to attend and witness the wonderful scene that was anticipated (Methodist Episcopal Herald, II.). Impelled by curiosity, a great concourse assembled, from distances as far as one hundred miles. A regular encampment was formed. Some occupied tents, while others slept in covered wagons. The whole was arranged to form a hollow square, the interior of which was fitted up for public worship. Near the center was the stand, a rude platform or temporary pulpit, constructed of logs, and surmounted by a hand rail. The meeting lasted four days and pungent conviction for sin was followed by relief through faith in Christ.
Barton W. Stone, then a Presbyterian minister, who was present at this meeting in Logan county, describes it as follows:
There, on the edge of a prairie in Logan county, Kentucky, the multitudes came together and continued a number of days and nights encamped on the ground, during which time worship was carried on in some part of the encampment. The scene was new to me and passing strange. It baffled description. Many, very many, fell down as men slain in battle, and continued for hours together in an apparently breathless and motionless state, sometimes for a few moments reviving and exhibiting symptoms of life by a deep groan or piercing shriek, or by a prayer for mercy fervently uttered. After lying there for hours they obtained deliverance. The gloomy cloud that had covered their faces seemed gradually and visibly to disappear, and hope, in smiles, brightened into joy. They would rise, shouting deliverance, and then would address the surrounding multitude in language truly eloquent and impressive. With astonishment did I hear men, women, and children declaring the wonderful works of God and the glorious mysteries of the gospel. Their appeals were solemn, heart-penetrating, bold, and free. Under such circumstances many others would fall down into the same state from which the speakers had just been delivered.
Two others of my particular acquaintances from a distance were struck down. I sat patiently by one of them, I knew to be a careless sinner, for hours, and observed with critical attention everything that passed, from the beginning to the end. I noticed the momentary revivings as from death. The humble confession of sin, the fervent prayer, and the ultimate deliverance; then the solemn thanks and praise to God, and affectionate exhortation to companions and the people around to repent and come to Jesus. I was astonished at the amount of gospel truth displayed in the address. The effect was that several sank down into the same appearance of death. After attending to many such cases, my conviction was complete that it was a good work-the work of God; nor has my mind wavered since on the subject. Much did I see then, that I considered to be fanaticism; but this should not condemn the work. The devil always tries to ape the works of God, to bring them into disrepute; but that cannot be a Satanic work which brings men to humble confession, to forsaking sin, to prayer, fervent praise and thanksgiving, and a sincere and affectionate exhortation to sinners to repent and come to Jesus the Saviour.
Camp meetings once introduced, the plan spread like wild fire. One after another was held in rapid succession. The woods and paths seemed alive with people, and the number reported attending is almost incredible. The laborer quit his task; age snatched his crutch; youth forgot his pastime; the plow was left in the furrow; the deer enjoyed a respite in the mountains; business of all kinds was suspended; dwelling houses were deserted; whole neighborhoods were emptied; bold hunters and noble matrons, young women, maidens and little children, flocked to the common center of attraction; every difficulty was surmounted, every risk ventured, to be present at the Camp Meeting (McNemar, History of the Kentucky Revival).
The meetings were often protracted till two o?clock in the morning. Everything was done to produce boiling heat, and the "singing ecstasy" assisted in adding fuel to the fire. The number of persons who fell is estimated at 3,000. Among the most zealous advocates of the new measure, were Matthew Houston, Barton W. Stone and Robert Marshall. These men had always inclined to a fervent and excited style of preaching, and their peculiarities had gained them great popularity, and a reputation for extraordinary zeal. Houston was constitutionally of a warm and sanguine temperament; Marshall was a bold and stern enthusiast; Stone differed from them both in cooler sagacity, an appearance of tender feeling, and a bland, insinuating address; all were calculated to be leaders, as they equally loved influence and the stimulus of thronged assemblies. It is not wonderful, therefore, that, aided by the enthusiasm of the times, they succeeded in stealing the hearts of the people, even captivating by great appearance of devotion. To men so predisposed, the Camp Meeting presented precisely such a theater of operation as they desired, and everything was accordingly to their purposes.
The extravagances witnessed under animal feeling were far beyond anything ever known before and opened a new chapter in the history of the human mind. They have merited both the attention of the physician and the psychologist. These bodily exercises and the new light were of an extraordinary character. The performances have been divided into seven exercises as follows: The falling, jerking, rolling, running, dancing, barking, and visions and trances.
"I have passed a meeting house," says the eccentric Lorenzo Dow, "where I observed the undergrowth had been cut for a camp meeting, and from fifty to an hundred saplings were left breast high on purpose for persons who were ?jerked? to hold on to. I observed where they had held on they had kicked up the earth as a horse stamping flies... I believe it does not affect those naturalists who wish to get it to philosophize about it; and rarely those who are the most pious; but the lukewarm, lazy professor is subject to it. The wicked fear it and are subject to it; but the persecutors are more subject to it than any, and they have sometimes cursed and sworn and damned while jerking."
After a rousing exhortation or during spirited singing, when the body was exhausted by copious weeping, one or another in the audience, sometimes to the number of scores, would suddenly fall prostrate to the ground, and swoon away. No sex or age was exempt; the young and the old, men as well as women, fell; even large, robust men, of the age of twenty, and in one instance all who fell were men. This would be accompanied by piercing shrieks. In this condition the person would lie from fifteen minutes to three hours, it is recorded in one instance that a woman did not eat or speak for nine days. During the syncope, even when conscious and speaking of religious subjects, the patient was free from pain.
Swoons and convulsive fallings have not been without precedent, but what is known as the jerks was altogether unprecedented in Christian lands. The person was instantaneously seized with spasms or convulsions in every muscle, nerve, and tendon. The head was jerked and thrown from side to side with such rapidity that it was impossible to distinguish the visage, and the most lively fears were awakened lest the neck be dislocated or the brains dashed out. Those who mocked often were stricken down.
Men would double up with their head and feet together, and roll over and over like a wheel, or turn swiftly over and over sidewise like a log. Another would take a sudden start and run with amazing swiftness as if in a race till his strength was exhausted. The dancing exercise was a later improvement; "the privilege of exhibiting by a bold faith, what others were moved to by blind impulse" (McNemar). The barks frequently accompanied the jerks, though of later origin. The exercise consisted of an individual taking the position of a dog, moving about on all fours, snapping the teeth, and barking, with such exactness of imitation to deceive any one whose eyes were not directed to the spot. The persons frequently affected were the most cultivated and refined. Those affected by trances and who saw visions were innumerable.
Unfortunately the greatest disorders accompanied the meetings. "At first appearance," says McNemar, "these meetings exhibited nothing to the spectator but a scene of confusion that could scarcely be put into human language" (McNemar). Mr. Lyle says that "he never saw a more confused, careless audience since the world began" (Lyle, Diary). Stone?s people, he says, "were wild and disorderly more than was needful." No wonder, for Stone was the ring leader in some of these meetings. While Mr. McPheeters was preaching Mr. Stone got down on his knees and began to pray, while the people observing, caught the flame, and began to pray also. In ten minutes the noise was so great that the preacher had to cease. They kept up the praying till nine o?clock. The rest of the congregation left the place in disgust (Lyle).
Meetings of this character continued for many years, and extended throughout the entire country. The following description is of a Methodist meeting in Philadelphia by an eye witness:
I went at 8 o?clock in the evening. The door was locked; but the windows being open, I placed myself at one of them, and saw that the church within was crowded almost to suffocation. The preacher indulged in long pauses, and occasionally of loud elevations of voice, which were always answered by the audience with deep groans. When the prayer which followed the sermon had ended, the minister descended from the pulpit, the doors were thrown open, and a considerable number of the audience departed. Understanding, however, that something was yet to follow, with considerable difficulty I obtained admission. The minister had departed, the doors were again closed, but about four hundred persons remained. One (apparently) of the leading members gave out a hymn, then a brother was called upon to pray; he roared and ranted like a maniac; the male part of the audience groaned, the females shrieked; a man sitting next to me shouted; a youth standing before me continued for half an hour bawling, "O Jesus l come down, come down. Jesus t my dear Jesus, I see you, bless me, O Jesus! Oh! Oh! Oh! come down, Jesus!" A small space further on, a girl about 11 years of age was in convulsion: an old woman, whom I concluded was her mother, stood on a seat, holding her up in her arms, that her ecstasies might be visible to the whole assembly. In another place there was a convocation of holy sisters, sending forth most awful yells... A brother addressed them with a voice which might almost rival a peal of thunder, the whole congregation occasionally joining responsive to his notes. The madness now became threefold increased, and such a scene presented itself as I could never have pictured to my imagination, and as I trust, for the honor of true religion and of human nature, I shall never see again. Had the inhabitants of Bedlam been let loose, they could not have exceeded it. From forty to fifty were praying aloud and extemporaneously at the same moment of time; some were kicking, many jumping, all clapping their hands, and crying out in chorus, Glory (Fearson, Narrative of a Journey).
There were not sufficient salutary influences thrown around these meetings, it is certain. Davidson says of the meetings in Kentucky:
The late hours that were kept no doubt aided the tendency to a morbid excitement of the nervous system. They continued up, sometimes till two, sometimes till four o?clock in the morning. It was no uncommon thing to spend the whole night in these orgies. To compensate for this loss of sleep, they would deliberately spread their great coats and take a nap during the sermon. The truth seems to be, that there were no regular hours for anything, nor regular intermissions for eating and sleeping; there were no stated hours for public worship, and the meeting might be said to last day and night. Cooking, eating, sleeping and the like processes, were all going on simultaneously with the religious services.
Tradition whispers in an undertone of wild fellows from adjoining towns frequenting the camp to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the prevailing license and disorder, just as they would at a masquerade. That dissolute characters of both sexes resorted thither can easily be gathered from those who have written upon the revival.
The question has been raised by earnest and serious men, did the revival do more good than harm? That there were evil results that came from it is beyond doubt. Aside from any disorderly elements which may be mentioned, there were sown doctrinal differences and schisms which have not been healed to this day. Out of the revival came acrimonious debates and criticisms which have not been easy to allay. There can be no question that there were numbers of genuine conversions. It slew infidelity in Kentucky. Dr. George A. Baxter, an eminent Presbyterian minister and President of Washington Academy, came to Kentucky to look into the effects of the revival. His report was most favorable: He says:
On my way to Kentucky I was informed by settlers on the road that the character of Kentucky travelers was entirely, changed; that they were now as remarkable for sobriety as they had formerly been for dissoluteness and immorality. And, indeed, I found Kentucky, to appearances, the most moral place I had ever seen. A profane expression was hardly ever heard. A religious awe seemed to pervade the country; and some deistical characters had confessed that, from whatever cause the revival might proceed, it made the people better. Its influence was not less visible in promoting a friendly temper among the people .... Some neighborhoods visited by the revival were formerly notorious for private animosities and contentions; and many petty lawsuits had commenced on that ground. When the parties in these quarrels were impressed with religion, the first thing was to send for their antagonists, and it was often very affecting to see their meeting. They had both seen their faults, and both contended they ought to make the acknowledgement, till at last they were obliged to request one another to forbear all mention of the past, and to receive each other as friends and brothers for the future (Baxter, The Great Revival in Kentucky, The Connecticut Evangelical Magazine, II. 354. March, 1802, Hartford).
Dr. Richard Furman, of South Carolina, was more conservative in his statement. In a letter which he wrote to Dr. Rippon, London, England, he says:
I hope the direct good obtained from these meetings will much more than counterbalance the incidental evil (Benedict, History of the Baptists, II.).
The extravagances above related and illustrated prevailed among the Presbyterians and with such assistance as the Methodists could afford. The Baptists profited greatly by the revival, but had little or no connection with the excitement. Lewis Collins, the historian of Kentucky, relates:
The Baptists almost entirely escaped these extraordinary and disgraceful scenes produced by the jerks, the rolling and barking exercises, etc., which extensively obtained among some other persuasions of those days. The work among the Baptists was deep, solemn and powerful; but comporting with that decency so emphatically enjoined by the scriptures (Collins, Historical Sketches of Kentucky).
The Baptists were great gainers by the revival and multitudes were added to the churches. "This great revival (among the Baptists) in Kentucky," says Benedict, "began in Boone county on the Ohio River, and in its progress extended up the Ohio, Licking and Kentucky rivers, branching out into the settlements adjoining them. It spread fast in different directions, and in a short time almost every part of the State was affected by its influence. It was computed that about ten thousand were baptized and added to the Baptist churches in the course of two or three years. This great work progressed among the Baptists in much more regular manner than people abroad generally supposed. They were indeed zealously affected, and much engaged. Many of their ministers baptized in a number of neighboring churches from two to four hundred each. And two of them baptized about five hundred each in the course of the revival. But throughout the whole they preserved a good degree of decorum and order" (Benedict, II.).
Collins gives a good deal of detailed information on this point. He says: "During the revival, large additions were made to the churches in every quarter of the State. The Elkhorn Association, at its annual meeting in 1801, reported an addition of 3,011 members by baptism during the current year; and in 1802, an accession of twelve churches was reported, making the whole number of members 5,300." To the South Kentucky, the accessions were almost equal to those of the Elkhorn Association. "The Tate?s Creek Association reported in 1801, the addition of 1,148 members by baptism, The Salem Association also shared largely in the blessings of the revival. It received upwards of 2,000 members."
Dr. Spencer, the Kentucky Baptist historian, thus sums up the situation: "Among the Baptists in Northern Kentucky, where they were by far the most numerous, the revival began, and continued to its close, in a decorous, orderly manner. In the upper Green River country and East Tennessee, where the Separate Baptists were most numerous, there was more excitement, and some falling and jerking. In Middle Tennessee (then called West Tennessee), ?the strange exercises? did not prevail among the Baptists. In the lower Green River country, there were but few Baptists at the beginning of the revival, and we hear of no disorder among them. It is certain that the Baptists of Kentucky were generally exempt from the excesses of the great revival of 1800, that so sorely afflicted the Presbyterians. And instead of it resulting an discord, it healed the only schism there was among them.
"The revival had an especially happy effect on the Baptists, in disposing them to make more efforts to heal some unhappy divisions that existed among them, and in enlarging the spirit of missions. Hitherto their missionary operations had been confined to sending their ministers to look after their destitute brethren in Kentucky, and in the adjacent borders of Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio. But, in 1801, at the meeting of the Elkhorn Association, which comprised one-third of the Baptists in the State, and probably more than two-thirds of their wealth and influence, a request came up from the South Elkhorn. church, ?to send missionaries to the Indian nations"? (Spencer, History of Kentucky Baptists, I.).
The revival was, however, not confined to this section, but extended to every part of the Union. To the Minutes of the Georgia Association for 1803, Jesse Mercer appended the following note:
Doubtless there is a glorious revival of the religion of Jesus. The wicked of every description have been despoiled of their boasted coat of mail; even deists, who stood in the front of the battle, have had their right arm broken, their hopes disappointed, and their prognostications metamorphosed into falsehood. As the fruit of this work there have been added to the churches of the Georgia Association, more than 1,400; to those of the Sarepta, more than 1,000 a year ago, and we doubt not that number has greatly increased by this time (actually 375 had been added to the Sarepta during 1803; while for the years 1801, 1802, and 1803, there were added to the churches of the Sarepta Association, 1,803 by baptism). To those of Bethel (a South Carolina Association) more than 2,000. There is and continues a great work in some of the churches in the Hephzibah and Savannah (Associations), and is kindly in others. More than one hundred have been added to one church in the Charleston Association. We are authorized to say that, in six Associations in Kentucky, there are at least 10,000 young converts. To all of which we add that other accounts from different distant parts, verbally received, state that the Lord is doing excellent things in the earth.
There was a great awakening in the First Baptist Church, of Boston, under the pastoral care of Samuel Stillman. In the Baptist Magazine of 1804-5 this work is thus described:
A special seriousness made its appearance in both Baptist churches early in 1803. Its first indications were a solemn stillness, and a deep, fixed attention on the Sabbath. The work gradually continued to extend from week to week, through two or three years.
It has been unusual, during the fall, winter and spring months, while the evenings were sufficiently long, for the people to tarry after the blessing, and frequently some minister present has again addressed them. Sometimes two or three have spoken and prayed. The custom seems to arise out of the feelings of the people. They appeared loth to leave the place. There is no doubt that they would have tarried until midnight, had the exhortations been continued. The number gathered into the First Church was 127; into the second, 185. Although these two societies have been the principal sharers in this work it has not been confined to them. Persons from almost every society in town, and numbers from adjacent towns, have frequently attended on our lectures; and we have reason to believe that many have reaped saving advantages.
The work was still, and without confusion. The gospel preached was principally blessed, almost everything seemed to preach. The converts generally had a deep sense of the depravity of their own hearts; of the infinite evil of sin, as committed against a holy God. It reclaimed the profane swearer, the gambler, and the Sabbath breaker. It made the young men sober minded.
Great revivals were experienced throughout New England. Bennett Tyler says:
Within a period of five or six years, commencing with 1797, not less than one hundred and fifty churches in New England were visited with "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord" (Tyler, New England Revivals).
Ebenezer Porter, Professor in Andover Theological Seminary says:
The day dawned which was to succeed a night of more than sixty years. As in the valley of Ezekiel?s vision, there was a great shaking. Dry bones, animated by the breath of the Almighty, stood up new born believers. The children of Zion beheld with overflowing souls, and with thankful hearts acknowledged "this is the finger of God." The work was stamped conspicuously with the impress of the Divine author, and its joyful effects no other than the agency of Omnipotence.
Edward D. Grin says:
I could stand in my door at New Hartford, Litchfield county, Connecticut, and number fifty or sixty contiguous congregations laid down in one field of Divine wonders, and as many more in different parts of New England (Sprague, Lectures on Revivals, Appendix).
The Cayuga Association, New York, reported, in 1802, that every church in the Association received additions to their number.
There were many notable conversions. Among this number was Samuel Mills who had much to do with the beginning of missionary operations in this country (American Quarterly Register, 1840, I. 346). "Taken altogether the revival period at the close of the last (eighteenth) century and the beginning of the present (nineteenth) furnishes ample materials for a long and glorious chapter in the history of redemption" (Humphrey, Revival Sketches). This revival brought on the great missionary era among Baptists.
Books for further reference:
McNemar, History of the Kentucky Revival.
Sprague, Lectures on Revivals o/ Religion. Boston, 1835.
Porter, Letters on Religious Revivals about the Beginning of the Present Century. Boston, 1858.