The Interceders Encourager No. 66
The Camp Meetings Revival (1)
(with thanks and acknowledgment to Jim Brooks)
After the first Great Awakening in America, which occurred between 1726 and 1770, the nation became involved with the desire for independence from Britain. This led to the Revolutionary War, (1776-1783) which side-tracked people on to political matters.
But it was not just a desire for independence that was involved. The French, who aided the colonists militarily to secure their freedom, naturally siding with any country against the British, also introduced many anti- Christian elements into the country. Deism, scepticism and atheism were brought in through the writings of Voltaire and Rousseau. Many of these ideas from Europe were accepted by Americans, especially those who were migrating westward across to the Western frontier, uprooting them from their cultural and spiritual heritage.
On a trip to Tennessee in 1794, Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury wrote anxiously about frontier settlers, "When I reflect that not one in a hundred came here seeking God, but rather to get plenty of good land, I think it will be highly likely if some or many do not eventually lose their souls."
Andrew Fulton, a Presbyterian missionary from Scotland, discovered in Nashville and in "all the newly formed towns in this western colony, there are very few religious people," while the minutes of the frontier Transylvania Presbytery reveal deep concern about the "prevalence of vice and infidelity; and the obvious declension of true vital religion in too many places."
All this indicated that since the American Revolution, Christianity had been on the decline, especially on the frontier, and religious indifference seemed to be spreading. Rampant alcoholism and avaricious land-grabbing were matched by the increasing popularity of both universalism (the doctrine that all will be saved) and deism (the belief that God is uninvolved in the world). Methodist James Smith, traveling near Lexington in the autumn of 1795 feared that "the universalists, joining with the Deists, had given Christianity a deadly stab in these areas." All this is evidenced by the statistics. During the six years preceding 1800, the Methodist Church, which had been growing quite quickly, declined in national membership from 67,643 to 61,351. In the 1790s, the population of frontier Kentucky tripled, but the already meagre Methodist membership decreased.
In the face of this, churches and pastors did not merely wring their hands; they clasped them in prayer, at prayer meetings, at worship, and at national conventions. In 1798 the Presbyterian General Assembly asked that a day be set aside for fasting, humiliation, and prayer to redeem the frontier from "Egyptian darkness."
In addition, convinced that iniquity impedes revival, many churches tried to clean up their own ranks by removing from fellowship those who had drifted into overt sin. They started to discipline their members. Church minute books record those excluded from fellowship for alcoholism, profanity, mistreatment of slaves, and sexual immorality. This led to some congregations being decimated.
All this anxiety, prayer, and discipline, though, were grounded in hope. None was sure when or where it would begin, but many were convinced that God would begin his work of revival. James Smith, after travelling through Kentucky, wrote, "I trust God will yet bring good out of this evil, and that the glory of scriptural religion, though obscure for the present, will shine forth hereafter with redoubled lustre."
The "glory of scriptural religion" began to "shine forth" in Kentucky when James McGready arrived in Logan County in 1798 to pastor three small congregations: the Red River, Gaspar River, and Muddy River churches. He brought with him from North Carolina a well-deserved reputation for fiery preaching. He was a large, imposing man with piercing eyes and a voice that was coarse and tremulous. Barton Stone, pastor of the Cane Ridge Church, said of McGready, after hearing him preach, "My mind was chained by him, and followed him closely in his rounds of heaven, earth, and hell with feelings indescribable."
James McGready was born in Pennsylvania, of Ulster descent, whose parents moved south to North Carolina. Here, at the age of 19, young McGready was urged by an uncle to enter the ministry. When McGready decided to do so, his uncle sent him back to Pennsylvania to attend what was called the Log Cabin College, a place of training for young men entering the ministry. The Log Cabin College was run by the Presbyterians, who believed in an educated ministry, even on the frontier.
While at the college, McGready overheard two of his class mates talking about him. Both agreed that though he was a fine young man, he was as lost as he could be. They acknowledged that he knew the scriptures and lived a moral life, but they knew that he had had no salvation experience with God.
There were two types of church-going people at that time in colonial America. Most thought that if you gave an intellectual assent to the Bible, believing in your head that it was true, and secondly lived a moral life, then you were probably saved and would more than likely go to heaven when you died. The second view was that if you did not know you were saved because God had shown you that you were, then you were lost. These people believed in what was called an "experience of salvation".
McGready, having no experience of salvation, went into the woods where he spent many hours praying. As he prayed, God showed him that he was lost. As he continued to pray, God saved him and let him know that he was saved. This certainty that you were saved was called an "assurance" of salvation.
While pursuing his studies, McGready experienced God working in a powerful way at the college. Later, in 1789, he visited Hampden-Sydney College, where the Holy Spirit had been moving since 1787. This is regarded as the start of the Second Great Awakening in America, for the work spread to many other colleges, though its full flowering did not come till later.
This experience of revival showed James what God could do, and gave him an unquenchable desire to see God move in power outside the colleges. Returning to Orange County, North Carolina, McGready became the pastor of a small church there. Here he taught that without an assurance of your salvation you were almost certainly lost. He also taught his congregation of about 60 to pray for revival. He had come to believe that God wants revival even more than we do, and that with enough prayer, revival is assured.
McGready began teaching this in the 1780s. As a result, the churches experienced an outbreak of revival in 1791, which touched more than a dozen towns. Not content with what he saw, James McGready urged his congregations to pray for a greater revival to begin in Logan County Kentucky. The reason he chose Logan County Kentucky as the place to ask God to begin the greater revival was because out of all the counties in the United States, Logan County was generally considered the most wicked and the most sinful. So many murderers, horse thieves, high way robbers and counterfeiters had fled there to escape from punishment or justice, that they formed the majority of the population, and their part of the county had become known as 'Outlaws Haven' or Rogues Harbour. Those who sought to put things right were attacked and defeated in a battle. Rebellion and wickedness prevailed. McGready felt that if God could send revival, He could send it anywhere, and the worst place in America would be the best place for it to start.
Meanwhile, in 1794, ministers in New England distributed a circular letter, calling believers to pray for a general spiritual awakening. By 1796, all the major denominations supported this call to prayer, which continued till 1800.
In 1796, McGready wrote a prayer covenant, asking believers in every Christian denomination in the United States to commit themselves to pray every Saturday evening, every Sunday morning and the whole of each third Saturday of the month for revival in Logan County and throughout the world, and to go on doing so until God answered their prayers.
God began to answer these prayers during the 1790s, with many churches in different parts of New England reporting deep brokenness for sin and changed lives. The revival began to spread into Maryland and Delaware and other parts of the nation. It was reported that the nation was witnessing an outpouring of the Holy Spirit not seen since the 1740s.
But on the frontier, spiritual conditions were worse than in the East. In 1798, the Presbyterian General assembly set aside a day of fasting and prayer for the spiritually destitute frontier. In 1798, following some of his church members, McGready moved to Logan County, where he became the pastor of Red River Church, a small church with about thirty five members, and two other congregations in the county, Gasper River and Muddy River. He also continued to exhort everyone who would, to continue to pray for revival.
Speaking shortly before the outbreak of the revival, in 1798, James McGready said: "God, the God with whom we deal, desires unity, but it will be His unity, which He will bring. We cannot do His work for Him, for we are not Him. We are not God. We can only do the work He has given us to do, which is to seek His holy face, that He will, in His mercy and in His kindness, according to His revealed will for us and for all mankind, send His Spirit in a mighty outpouring of revival, of spiritual renewal and awakening, on this parched and benighted land. Oh, let us be more hungry for Him, yet more thirsty for His mercies, and as we continually cry before Him, He, the God of all flesh, will have pity on us, and will send the rain of His Spirit for which we ask.
Let us come to Him with large desires, with great demands, for He is a great God who will give us more than even we can cry out for, even more that we can see to seek or understand. And do you say, 'How long shall we cry out for more? Until the heavens open and He pour down torrents of His living water upon us. Until the land runs with righteousness like as that land of old, the earthly Promised Land, did run with milk and honey. . . .
And do you say, what if the time is long until the promise is given? Then I say to you who hear me, and to all, 'God is not slack, according to His promise,' but . . . though we slumber in our graves without the fullness of that which we sought, then let our children know that we died in faith, believing, and that though His power fall not on us perhaps, though it surely, I promise you, will: then on our children or our grandchildren let it fall.
. . . We have much of spiritual, blessing but I say unto you who hear, 'let us have more!' And if, God forbid it, this which we now see should not increase, but should seem to diminish, then do not be frightened, but only pray the harder, and expect greater things. Bring your children here, and here (in this area) let them raise their families. Summon your kinsmen from afar. Tell them what God will do! And if we go to our graves without receiving the fullness of His promise, the promised reward which we seek, know that it shall surely come, even as it did at Pentecost in days of old. That which we have sought may wane, but even as the fertile ground must receive the early and the latter rain, so God will again rain down righteousness on our children, if only we do not reject this blessing as it comes.
And if, in future times, people ask you, 'Why tarry you here' (in the Red River settlements). Tell them, "We wait for the promise which we have from our Father, the rain which shall surely come from on high . . . for we asked for it here, not elsewhere, so here we abide, awaiting the promise of His coming.
And if the days come, when we slumber in our graves, awaiting that further promise of the Resurrection Day, when the dead in Christ shall rise . . . then let our children and their children say, "They did not die in vain, for their lives were not spent in vain and foolish pursuits, but in pursuit of God."
With such a fixed and firm resolve and such wonderful faith in God and His promises, it was not surprising that He answered their prayers, for these are the prayers that God loves to hear and answer. Prayers that are based on a solid commitment and covenant to pray until He answers.
Next time, we will look at the wonderful answers to their prayers. For now, let us make sure we follow in their train, seeking His face and His glory.
Ask the Lord to increase your faith, so that, like McGready, you have greater desires and greater demands.
Whatever is stopping you ascending the hill of the Lord, ask Him to show you what it is, and help you to renounce it.
Whatever you think is impossible, ask God to do it. What you regard as the greatest obstacle to God's will being done on earth, ask Him to remove it or him or them.
Ask Him for the same determination that McGready had, a determination never to give up, so that like him, any delay in answering will only cause you to cry out more earnestly for Him to answer.
Let our lives be spent and measured, as McGready outlined, not "in vain and foolish pursuits, but in pursuit of God."