The Interceders Encourager No. 69
The Camp Meetings Revival (4)
As news of this great revival spread, some people rejoiced, but others sought to use it as a vehicle to promote themselves and their own agenda. At first the power of the revival was such that nothing and no one could stand before it. People who came to mock, to scoff, to merely observe, or to use this move of God as a platform for themselves, found that they could not. The power of God at these meetings was so great that those who stood up to spread their own teachings or to promote themselves, or to scoff and mock, many times found that they were rendered unable to speak, or fell to the ground like Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road. It can be seen that we are here dealing with a demonstration of the power of God greater than anything seen before, or anything seen since, that we are aware of. To experience the radical, life changing power seen in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus multiplied hundreds of times, is almost beyond belief.
The following letter from The Rev. G. Baxter, Principal of Washington Academy to The Rev. Dr. Archibald Alexander, Prince Edward Island, dated January 1, 1802, informing him of the revival in Kentucky, is an amazing testimony to the power of God.
"I now sit down agreeably to give you some account of the revival of religion in the state of Kentucky. You have no doubt heard already of the Green River and Cumberland revivals. I will just observe that last summer is the fourth since the revival commenced in those places;(i.e.1798) and that it has been more remarkable than any of the preceding not only for lively and fervent devotion among Christians, but also for awakenings and conversions among the careless; and it is worthy of notice that very few instances of apostasy have hitherto appeared. As I was not myself in the Cumberland country, all I can say about it is from the testimony of others; but I was uniformly told by those who had been there, that their religious assemblies were more solemn and the appearance of the work much greater than what had been in Kentucky. Any enthusiastic symptoms which might at first have attended the revival, had greatly subsided, whilst the serious concern and attention of the people were visibly increased.
In the older settlement of Kentucky, the revival made its first appearance among the Presbyterians last Spring. The whole of that country about a year before was remarkable for vice and dissipation, and I have been credibly informed that a decided majority of the people were professed infidels. During the last winter, among the Baptists, great numbers were added to their churches. Early in the Spring, the services of the Presbyterians began to be better attended than they had been for many years before. Their worshipping assemblies became more solemn, and the people, after they were dismissed, showed a strange reluctance at leaving the place. They stayed for some time in the meeting-houses, in singing or in religious conversation. About the end of May or the beginning of June, the awakenings became general in some congregations, and spread through the country in every direction with amazing rapidity. I left that country about the first of November, at which time this revival in connexion with the one in Cumberland had covered almost the whole state.
The power with which this revival has spread, and its influence in moralizing the people, may be difficult for you to conceive of, and more difficult for me to describe. I had heard many accounts and seen many letters respecting it before I went to that country; but my expectations, though greatly raised, were much below the reality of the work.
The congregations, when engaged in worship, presented scenes of solemnity superior to what I had ever seen before; and in private houses it was common to hear parents relate to strangers the wonderful things which God had done in their neighbourhoods, whilst a large circle of young people would be in tears. On my way to Kentucky, I was told by people on
the road, that the character of Kentucky travellers was entirely changed, and that they were now as distinguished for soberness as they had formerly been for lack of restraint: and indeed I found Kentucky the most moral place I had ever been in. A profane expression was hardly heard. A religious awe seemed to pervade the country, and even non-religious people admitted that from whatever cause the revival had come, it had certainly made the people better. Its influence was very visible in people's friendliness and the genuine goodness which governs all those influenced by it. I have often wished that the mere politician or unbeliever could observe with impartiality their peaceful and friendly spirit. He would certainly see that nothing can equal the religion of Jesus, for promoting even the temporal happiness of society.
Some neighbourhoods influenced by the revival had been formerly notorious for private disputes, and many petty law-suits had commenced because of that. But when the parties in these quarrels were affected by the revival, the first thing was to give support to their previous enemies; and it was very touching to see the two sides coming together. Both had seen their faults, and both realized that they ought to make concessions, till at last they asked each other not to mention the past, and to act as friends and brothers in the future. Now sir, let modern philosophers talk of reforming the world by banishing Christianity and introducing their licentious systems. The blessed gospel of our God and Saviour is showing what it can do.
There are some aspects which distinguish the Kentucky revival from others, as far as we know; namely the largeness of the assemblies on sacramental occasions, the length of time that they continue in prayer, and the great numbers who have fallen down under the Spirit's work. On each of these, I shall make some remarks.
With respect to the largeness of the assemblies, it is generally supposed that at many places there were no fewer than eight, ten or twelve thousand people. At a place called Cane Ridge meeting-house, many are of the opinion there were at least twenty thousand. A hundred and forty wagons came loaded with people, besides other wheel carriages. Some persons had come two hundred miles. The size of these assemblies caused problems. They were too numerous to be addressed by one speaker. It therefore became necessary for several ministers to officiate at the same time at different stands.
The length of time that people continue at the places of worship is another important aspect of the Kentucky revival. At Cane Ridge, they met on Friday, and continued until Wednesday evening, night and day without a break, either in the public or private devotion; and with such earnestness that heavy showers of rain were not sufficient to disperse them. On other Sacramental occasions they generally continued on the ground until Monday or Tuesday evening; and if the preachers had not been exhausted and obliged to retire or had they chosen to prolong the worship, they might have kept the people any length of time they pleased, and all this was, or might have been done, in a country where less than twelve months before, the clergy found it difficult to detain the people during the usual exercises of the Sabbath. The people felt like Jacob felt at Bethel. "Surely the Lord is in this place," "This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of Heaven."
The number of persons who have fallen down under serious impressions in this revival, is another matter worthy of attention, and on this I shall be more particular, as it seems to be the principal cause why this work should be more suspected of enthusiasm than some other revivals. At the Cane Ridge sacrament, it is generally supposed not less than 1000 persons fell prostrate to the ground; among whom were many infidels. At one sacrament which I attended, the number that fell was thought to be more than 300. Persons who fall are generally such as had manifested symptoms of the deepest impressions for some time previous to that event. It is common to see them shed tears plentifully for about an hour.
Immediately before they become totally powerless, they are seized with a general tremor and sometimes, though not often, they utter one or two piercing shrieks in the moment of falling. Persons in this situation are affected in different degrees; sometimes when unable to stand or sit they have the use of their hands and can converse with perfect composure. In other cases, they are unable to speak, the pulse becomes weak, and they draw breath with difficulty about once a minute. In some instances, their extremities become cold, and their pulse, their breathing, and all the signs of life forsake them for nearly an hour. Persons who have been in this situation have all stated that they felt no bodily pain, they had the entire use of their reason and reflection, and when recovered, they could relate everything that had been said or done near them. From this, it appears that their falling is neither common fainting, nor a nervous affection. Indeed, this strange phenomenon baffles the conjectures of those who are not willing to consider it a supernatural work. People have been convicted and fallen at many other places on their way home or at home. It was noticed that some people are seriously affected for some time previous to their falling. In other cases, however, numbers of thoughtless sinners have fallen as suddenly as if struck with lightning. Many professed infidels, and other vicious characters, have been arrested in this way, and sometimes at the very moment when they were uttering blasphemies against the work.
Before the beginning of the revival in Shelby county, the work of the Spirit had spread with irresistible power through the adjacent counties; and many pious people had attended other sacrament meetings with great benefit. These people prayed strongly and felt unusual freedom in their petitions at the throne of grace, for the outpouring of the divine Spirit at the approaching sacrament in Shelby. The Sacrament was due to be held in September. The people, as usual, met on Friday: but the meetings were heavy. At length the communion service commenced, but still, everything was lifeless. But while the minister of the place was speaking at one of the tables, suddenly there were several shrieks from different parts of the assembly. Instantly, persons fell in every direction, the feelings of the pious were suddenly revived, and the work progressed with extraordinary power till the conclusion of the service.
This phenomenon of falling is common to all ages, genders and characters; but when they fall they are differently exercised. Some pious people have fallen under a sense of ingratitude and hardness of heart, while many thoughtless persons under conviction of breaking God's laws have obtained comfort before they arose. But the most numerous class consists of those who fall under distressing views of their guilt, who arise with the same fearful apprehensions, and continue in that state for some days, perhaps weeks, before they receive comfort
Among those who were unable to speak, on their first recovering the use of speech, they appeared like persons recovering from a violent disease which had left them on the borders of the grave. I have sometimes been present when persons fell under the influence of conviction, but who obtained belief before they rose up. In these cases, it was impossible not to observe how strongly the change in their minds was shown in their facial expressions. Instead of a face of horror and despair, they displayed one that was open, bright, serene and expressive of great joy. As to those who fall down under conviction of breaking God's laws, but who continue in that state; they are like those who receive conviction in other revivals, except that their distress is more severe. Indeed, extraordinary power is the leading characteristic of this revival, both saints and sinners have more striking discoveries of the realities of another world than I have ever known on any other occasion.
Never have I seen more genuine marks of that humility which disclaims any merit of its own, and looks to the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way of acceptance with God as I have seen in this Kentucky Revival. I was highly pleased to find that Christ was all in all in their religion. In fact, Christians with high attainments seemed most aware of their entire dependence on divine grace, and it was truly moving to hear with what agonizing anxiety awakened sinners sought for Christ, as the only Physician who could give them any help. I have seen full evidence of that One whom Jesus promised would convince of sin, of righteousness, and of judgement, which confirmed to my mind that this is a remarkable fulfilment of that promise. On the whole, sir, I think the revival in Kentucky to be among the most extraordinary that have ever visited the church of Christ, and one peculiarly adapted to the circumstances of that country.
Infidelity was triumphant and religion at the point of expiring. Something of an extraordinary nature seemed necessary to arrest the attention of an impulsive, scatter-brained people, who were ready to conclude that Christianity was a fable, and a future life just a dream. This revival has done it. It has confounded infidelity, awed vice into silence, and brought numbers beyond calculation to seriously consider their lives.
Whilst the Blessed Saviour was calling home His people, and building up His church in this remarkable way, opposition could not be silent. At this I hinted above; but it is proper to observe, that the clamorous opposition which assailed the work at its commencement has been in a great measure borne down before it. A large proportion of those who have fallen, were at first opposers; and their example has taught others to be cautious, if it has not taught them to be wise. I have written on this subject, to a greater length than I first intended, but if this account should give you any satisfaction, and be of any benefit to the common cause, I shall be fully gratified. Yours with the highest esteem, G. BAXTER".
This letter shows that the awakening had a very deep and wide impact throughout the state of Kentucky, dramatically reforming the lives of many people in a very short space of time. Pray that God will act in the same way today.
Yet the tragedy was that by 1805 "The Great Revival" was finished. Many, including James McGready, blamed its ending on the many preachers and so-called teachers of the Bible, who had used the revival to establish followers for themselves and their doctrines among those who had been converted during the awakening. At first, while different people in the awakening had had different views on some subjects, they had ignored those differences, and concentrated on what God was doing. The Great Revival had been notable for many reasons, one of the major ones being the spiritual unity evident among the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, and those from no denomination, who had enjoyed this outpouring of the Spirit of God. That unity was now dead; killed, according to McGready, by those who stressed doctrine over what God was doing, and who used the awakening to promote themselves and their own particular beliefs. Several new denominations were birthed from this, but that is not a matter for rejoicing. As James McGready said in one of his sermons, "Contention is one of the most subtle and effective engines of hell. Even most of those men of God who had been leaders in promoting the awakening, fell into the trap of denominationalism, sectarian teaching, and partisan attitudes. McGready was one of the few leaders in the Awakening who did not fall into this trap. He continued to teach and proclaim that all that was needed was that believers intercede with God in prayer, and that God would renew the awakening. He did not live for many more years, but proclaimed this to the last.
What a lesson there is in all this for us. We saw, with the revival at Herrnhut, that the Holy Spirit was stopped from coming down because the members of the community were divided over doctrinal matters. It was only when they put these differences to one side, centred their thoughts on Jesus Christ, and in humility and brokenness, sought the face of God, that the Spirit was poured out.
If we think that our particular beliefs are so important that, as a matter of principle, we have to keep to them. we will not see revival. That is why in The Interceders, we do not mention any denominational or doctrinal differences, for the history of revivals tells us that true servants of Jesus Christ should be very tolerant and understanding about the main things that Christians disagree about, such as: 1) Calvinism and Arminianism, 2) The Millenium and the end times, 3) Infant or Believers Baptism, 4) The Charismatic Movement, 5) Dispensationalism, 6) Attitudes to Roman Catholicism , 7) Attitudes to the secular state of Israel and to Jews , 8) Church structures and leadership, 9) The kind of music that is right for the church, 10) The version of the Bible to use, etc. . .
We all need to realize that genuine believers sincerely hold very different opinions on these and other matters, and the devil is using these differences to cause division and stop the Holy Spirit from working... We must not let the devil win, for if we divide on such matters, he is the only winner.
We need to realize, as James McGready and Nicolaus von Zinzendorf realized, that what should dominate our thinking, our words and our prayers is: a) The greatness and glory of God, always being humble and contrite before Him, and never boasting about anything, so that all the glory goes to Him. b) Holiness and righteousness, including hatred of all sin, for that is the main thing that God is concerned about, and why He sent His Son, (Titus 2:11-14). c) Seeking the face of God, earnestly and persistently praying for the Holy Spirit to come in power, and have His way in us and through us. d) Being obedient to Him, especially in being considerate and merciful to all, loving our enemies, and esteeming others better than ourselves. e) Lifting up Jesus and taking the true gospel to the world, as was the case in the Second Great Awakening, remembering what God has shown, that evangelism is not making it easy for people to say yes to Jesus, but it is preaching strongly against sin, to bring about deep conviction of sin, so that people are radically altered by the Holy Spirit to become true disciples.
Once the outpouring of the Holy Spirit ceased, McGready himself found that he no longer preached with the anointing that he had once had, nor did he or others feel the manifest presence of God as they had. After preaching at a Cumberland Presbyterian camp meeting in 1816 with unusual anointing, as he left the preaching platform to minister to those under conviction, he lifted his eyes and exclaimed to those around him that he thanked God that after many years he had felt again the manifest presence of the Lord to the degree that he had felt Him in the year 1800. He died the following year.
Seeing the Great Revival waning, James Johnston and others living in the Red River area felt led to pray that God would renew the work. They said that as they prayed, God gave them an assurance that He would send another revival, but that with it would come the worst times that America had ever seen.
Before his death, McGready began to say that God had assured him, too, that there would be another great outpouring. He said it would come near the end of the age. He continued, till his death, to urge all who would listen, to pray for awakening again. He promised them, he said, that the work had been made easier, because where people had received an outpouring of God's Spirit in power, it would make it easier to get another outpouring. He urged people to not move away, not to give up, but to pray continually for another such move.
Some of McGready's followers in the Red River area, continued, even after his death, to pray for that revival. Some of them said that God assured them that another great outpouring would come, and that this time it would be worldwide. They also said that they were assured
that it would not come in their time, but further into the future. It would be followed, they said, by a time worse than anything America had ever experienced. They declared that it would come sometime after the year 2,000, and would be followed swiftly by the worst times that America had ever seen. These terrible times would come as a judgement on the church of America, for though many would repent and be converted in that awakening, the church as a whole would not change, and would therefore be in great need of repentance. Their sins would be complacency, conformity to the world system, love of money and material things, and a seeking after such things, rather than seeking after God.
The church of that day and age would say many things, but it would only be repeating what most of the world was saying. Their service would not be unto God, but unto men, and therefore would count for nothing. They would talk much of loving their fellow man, but love of God would not be practised. The two cardinal rules for the church of that day and time would be how they acted toward their fellow men, as exemplified and expected by Caesar, and how much material gain they amassed. In becoming like the world system, Christians of that day would assure themselves that they were pleasing to God, though they would actually be far from pleasing Him.
When the revival came, most of these Christians would not change, but would only entrench themselves in the above sins, and would take and claim the revival as merely their due from God. Acting as if, and even claiming, that God had sent the revival to benefit them, they would take it as a stamp of approval on their ways, and would become more hardened than ever, refusing even to consider that they might be in sin and need of change. As many had successfully done to The Great Revival and to all other revivals, they would attempt to take this new move of God and make it hostage to their own perverse purposes, and use it for their own glory and to further their own agenda. The judgement on them would be just.
Though the Great Revival finished, it did not die a natural death. It was put to death by Christians who placed other things; self, denominational beliefs, often doctrine, above God. These same kind of people have destroyed other revivals beside this one. It was foretold by those who prayed and interceded for the revival that is yet to come, that it would come in two mighty waves. The first wave, they said, after God had accomplished great things through it, would be destroyed, as so many other moves of God have been, by the same sort of Christians who destroyed the revivals that preceded it. The second wave, however, which would come a few years later, would sweep all before it, and would not be destroyed. This would be the final great revival and awakening before the Lord returns.
Jim Brooks, an Interceder, who lives near to where the first camp meetings were held, wrote to me and told me, "I took a party of six people up to the Old Red River Meetinghouse today. I rarely take anyone there and then only when I feel God wants me to. No one has ever gone there with me and not been touched. You can feel the presence of God from miles away. The way I generally go, you travel for 35 minutes without seeing more than two or three houses at a time. It is all open countryside. The first few times I went there I began to feel the presence of God from approximately 5 miles away by road. After that I never knew when we would begin to feel God's manifest presence. It might begin closer to the site or farther away.
Today we began to feel God over 8 miles from the site where the revival began. I quickly told everyone to stop talking and concentrate on God. They did that and seemed rather overwhelmed by His presence. The original one room log church was burned in the 1950s. A replica has been reconstructed from memory and from pictures. Everyone in our group felt very privileged to have been there.
Though the little church building cannot seat more than perhaps 60 people and had only 35 members when the revival broke out, yet there are three or four hundred people buried around it. Apparently, people have come from all round the
world to be buried there, including one man who was born in the Highlands of Scotland. He has a small four sided tombstone. On one side is the 23rd Psalm in Gaelic." Jim Brooks has also told me that a friend recently emailed him to say that he heard a man speak who had just visited the Cane Ridge Meeting House, which is about two hundred miles north of Red River Meeting House, and was the site of the largest and last great camp meeting during the revival. He said the presence of God was very strong there. The speaker said that as they were driving away from the site, he felt something behind him. He turned and saw waves of golden light moving out in all directions from the Cane Ridge Meeting House. When he asked God what this meant, God told him, "It means I am about to do it again."
As James McGready once said, where God has moved in power, it is easy for Him to move in that place again. Because God once lived and moved here in such power, and knows that since then, people have not stopped praying for Him to reveal Himself again; that is why He has never since left the place."
Personally, I have visited many places where God poured out His Spirit in power, in Scotland and in Wales, but I have not felt the presence of God there. Since the awakenings occurred, the churches have become inward looking and backward looking, the fire has been lost, and the glory has departed.
But it would seem that in the case of the Red River Camp Meeting and the Cane Ridge Meeting , (and maybe other places), the glory has not altogether departed, so we need to ask why this is so. I would suggest that God is telling us that:
c) The faith and determination of James McGready to pray on, even if he died before seeing the answer to his prayers, and the prayers of the people in the area, holding on to God's promise of a greater end time revival, continuing right through till today, are the faith and determination that God is looking for, and nothing less. He will vindicate His elect, who cry to Him day and night.
a) The depth of the work of the Second Great Awakening, (the power displayed being possibly the greatest and the deepest ever known), is the depth of the work He wants to do in the last awakening, and nothing less.
b) The standards of righteousness of the Second Great Awakening; the radical alteration of whole communities in relation to honesty, integrity, bold witness, sacrifice and faithfulness to Scripture are to be the standards for the last awakening, and nothing less.
We must learn from the tragedy of those who have gone cold. The secret of praying down revival is maintaining earnestness, faith and persistence until it becomes desperation, knowing that, as McGready said, even if we die in the attempt, others will reap the reward.
So use the prayer covenant and the prayer directions of McGready. In faith, believe that God will answer. "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.
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 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."