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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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The 1801 Revival At Cane Ridge

In 1801, Barton Warren Stone, pastor of Cane Ridge Presbyterian Church, began circulating the word that the Cane Ridge sacramental communion was to be “one of the greatest meetings of its kind ever known.” As the news spread, congregations and pastors packed up for journeys from not only Central Kentucky but also southern Ohio and northern Tennessee.

The Cane Ridge Presbyterian Church sat on the slopes of a large hill covered with bamboo (hence the name) and some trees. It was a rustic meeting-house which could hold as many as 500 people (standing). Recently, the congregation had also erected a large tent to accommodate more people.

Scottish and Ulster Presbyterians had held these types of regional communion services back in their old countries for centuries. In times of persecution, they had thrived in rural settings. Sacramental communion services in the months preceding the early August gathering at Cane Ridge had attracted thousands of people.

Pastor Stone had previously shared with the Cane Ridge Congregation his own experiences of what he had seen take place at the previous meetings elsewhere. He told them of many people falling down, like rows of soldiers shot down by volley fire. Many lay quiet for hours and then spoke declaring the wonderful works of God.” As Stone spoke to his congregation they were affected with a deep solemnity and many wept. After the great meeting yet to come, Pastor Stone would say, “A particular description of this meeting would fill a large volume, and then the half would not be told.”

When August 6 arrived, no one had anticipated what was coming. The atmosphere was electric. As travelers began to arrive, there was a downpour of rain. Cane Ridge families opened their homes to the travelers. The visitors, however, grew from hundreds into thousands. Many had to find lodging miles away, but many had come ready to camp. The rain continued into the evening which may have held back some of the crowds. Yet, the meetinghouse was packed. A sermon was delivered by Matthew Houston and afterwards some lingered all night in prayer.

On Saturday morning, the services were quiet. By afternoon, however, the preaching from both the meetinghouse and the tent was continuous. Emotions increased and the camp was erupting in noise. There was shouting and crying, and then some began falling. Others experienced weakened knees or a light head. According to testimonies, those who fell did so out of agony and fear. They were so scared that they couldn’t move. Some lay on the ground for two or three days praying until they received assurance of salvation.

There were preachers from several denominations who arrived and set up pulpits in tree stands. Often, as many as seven preachers were addressing different crowds throughout the woods. According to Iain Murray there were eighteen Presbyterian ministers. There were also many Baptist and Methodist preachers who took part in the services which continued for a week. The tents that had been set up were estimated to shelter between 10,000 and 21,000 people.

Some people supposed there were nearly twenty-five thousand men, women, and children collected together around Cane Ridge. The roar of noise was described like that of Niagara. Some of the people were singing, others praying, some crying for mercy, while others were shouting. One witness looking over these scenes said he felt a peculiarly strange sensation, such as he had never felt before. His heart was beating wildly, his knees trembled, his lip quivered, and he felt he would fall to the ground. Later, this same witness reported seeing at least five hundred people swept down in a moment. It was as if a battery of a thousand guns had been opened upon them. According to another witness, the meeting appeared as if twenty thousand persons were being tossed to and fro, like waves of the sea in a storm.

In spite of the sincere and serious Christian attitude of the encampment, there was all manner of wickedness taking place outside the camp. Men, in a drunken fever, committed indecent acts; and others, would ride their horses at full gallop among the people. One of the leaders of these ruffians rode a large white horse into a circle of praying worshippers. At the same time, he was shouting obscene curses at those gathered. Then, suddenly, he appeared to be struck from his horse. As he lay on the ground, his limbs were rigid, no pulse could be found, and the breath was knocked out of him. Several of his gang came to see him, but after looking at him they fell like men slain in battle. He lay there for thirty hours. At last he exhibited signs of life, but appeared to be in agony. When he gained use of his feet, his groans were converted into loud and joyous shouts of praise.

Night came and the camp fires cast large shadows against the trees. There were candles, lamps, and torches throughout the camp as hundreds moved about. Preachers continued to shout sermons from the tent as people sang hymns.

On Sunday morning, many had been up most of the night. Yet, the Communion took place as scheduled in the meetinghouse. The minister of a nearby congregation preached the traditional sermon outside and those with Communion tokens went inside for the sacrament. The tables could accommodate about 100 at a time.

Since the Methodists were excluded from the meetinghouse and tent, William Burke, one of Methodism’s most esteemed preachers, began Methodist services outside and gathered a huge audience. There ran concurrently four centers of activity around the camp and dozens of informal prayer groups at various camp sites. Crying for mercy, believers praying, fainting, and raptures of joy continued. The people sang, shouted, clapped their hands, and hugged one another. As the night came, some stayed up all night continuing in more prayer, exhortation, and singing.

Food and supplies were running short by Monday and many had to leave. In spite of this, there came many new arrivals and Cane Ridge remained densely populated. The meeting continued for four more days before ending on Thursday. These extraordinary services began at sun up and continued well into the night. While some fell to their faces as the weight of their sins struck them cold, many sang and danced as they felt the presence of God in their midst and experienced a touch from Jesus Christ.

Bibliography

Erdmann’s Handbook to Christianity in America. Editor Mark Noll. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1983.

Johnson, Charles A. The Frontier Camp Meeting: Religion’s Harvest Time, Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1985.

LaTourette, Kenneth Scott, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, IV (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), p. 192.

Murray, Iain H. Revival & Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858, Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994.

Providence And Sin

B.H. Carroll

Doctor B. H. Carroll (1843-1914) served through the War for Southern Independence in the Confederacy and was severely wounded in the battle of Mansfield, Louisiana. He was converted in the summer of 1865 at a Methodist camp-meeting in Burleson County. He was married to Miss Ellen Bell and was ordained to the ministry soon after his marriage. He preached and taught school in Burleson County until the fall of 1869. In January, 1870, he was called as assistant pastor of the First Baptist Church, Waco, Texas, where he was pastor almost thirty years. In the following article, Dr. Carroll discusses providence and sin:

Once settle your mind on the idea of Providence and there is no such thing as chance, there is no such thing as luck, there is no such thing as fate. That this Providence “is not simply foreseeing but forseeing,” not simply looking ahead beforehand, but looking ahead for, or in order to, the accomplishment of its purposes and desires. . . .

With that definition clear before us, we may enlarge on one thought: All that is involved in the definition that has been given is applicable to moral creatures without interfering (how, I do not know, but yet without interfering) with their freedom of action and responsibility. . . .

Here let us squarely face the main difficulty; how about sinful actions? Now, while I will be brief on this point; I want to be very clear, endeavoring to show just how God’s providence, as defined, touches, bears upon the evil actions of men. I think I can make myself understood, and I will use certain terms suggested by Dr. Strong, of Rochester, in order to make it clear that God’s providence touches evil actions and the doers of them. . . .

Anyone who thoughtfully examines the events of his past life can call up some case where there had been a desire to do a wrong thing, and where there had been opportunity to do a wrong thing, and where, arguing from his past feelings upon such subjects, he would have said that as a human proposition, given that desire and that opportunity, the sin would have been committed, and yet he knows that notwithstanding a conjunction of both desire and opportunity, the evil was not done. . . .

To precisely that feature of Providence David refers in his prayer, “Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sin.” That is, “O Lord, when in a moment of weakness I am going astray, and when my powers of resistance to evil have been undermined and I am about to commit an awful offense, O God, prevent it! Keep me back. In some way keep me back from presumptuous sin.”

The thought is expressed in one of the prophets where God himself explains why His people had not committed certain heinous offenses: “Because I built up a hedge of thorns between you and that sin.” Now that hedge of thorns that God builds up between the one who desires to commit an offense prevents the sin. (“The Providence of God”)

The Amazing George Whitefield

George Whitefield

George Whitefield is estimated to have preached some 18,000 sermons in his lifetime. His histrionic ability, his beautiful voice, and a compulsive personal conviction enabled him to hold an audience with remarkable power. Multitudes clamored to hear him. Benjamin Franklin wrote of Whitefield: “The multitudes of all sects and denominations that attended his sermons were enormous, and it was a matter of speculation to me, who was one of the number, to observe the extraordinary influence of his oratory on his hearers, and how much they admired and respected him, notwithstanding his common abuse of them, by assuring them that they were naturally half beasts and half devils. It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk thro’ the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.” More than any other preacher of his day, he made the Great Awakening a vital, far-reaching force, religiously, socially, and politically, in America. The article below offers some brief details of his life:

George Whitefield was a Calvinistic Methodist; born in Gloucester, England, Dec. 27, 1714; died in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Sept. 30, 1770. At the age of twelve he was placed in the school of St. Mary de Crypt at Gloucester, and in 1732, he entered Pembroke College, Oxford. The religious impressions which he had felt on different occasions had been deepened while he was at school the second time, and at Oxford he fell in with the Wesleys, joined the “Holy Club,” and observed its rules rigorously, being the first of the Oxford “Methodists” to profess conversion (1735). In 1736 he was ordained deacon, taking his B.A. in the same year. He now spent much time among the prisoners in Oxford, preached in London and elsewhere and speedily rose to great prominence as a pulpit orator.

Whitefield had been requested by the Wesleys to come to them in Georgia, and he finally resolved to go, though he did not sail until the beginning of 1738. He spent several months in Georgia, preaching with great acceptance, but in the same year returned to England to be ordained priest. Here he found many London churches closed to him because he was considered fanatical, but he preached to such as would receive him, and also visited and worked among the Moravians and other religious societies in London. Early in 1739 he held a conference with the Wesleys and other Oxford Methodists and in February went to Bristol. Being excluded from the churches, he preached in the open air, and induced Wesley to take a similar step, thus establishing an innovation which gave opportunity to the Methodist movement. At Kingswood, near Bristol, he laid the foundations of the Kingswood School, which became so important to Methodism.

Whitefield now began his career as an itinerant evangelist. He visited Wales, and gave an impulse to the revival movement already begun by Howell Harris; and he next traveled through Scotland, and then went through England, attracting extraordinary attention everywhere. But his critical characterization of the clergy as “blind guides” roused many to oppose him, and this hostile feeling preceded him to America, where some of the Anglican churches refused him their pulpits, though other churches were open to him. He preached in Philadelphia and New York, and on his way to Georgia; during a visit to New England the revival which had begun in Northampton in 1736 was renewed. Whitefield visited America on seven occasions.

He early became Calvinistic in his views, and his association with Calvinistic divines in America deepened them. He complained to Wesley because he (John) attacked the doctrine of election, and there was a sharp controversy between them. Whitefield was nominally the head of the Calvinistic Methodists, but he left to others the work of organization. His time was divided between Great Britain and America, and he preached among all denominations. He continued in active service until the end, preaching for two hours at Exeter, Mass., the day before his death, while it was his regular custom to preach every day in the week, often two and four times daily. 1

“Whitefield was one of the first to enlist the aid of laymen, thereby helping to break down the rigid clergy-laity distinction in ministry. While not despising educated and ordained clergy, he was led to emphasize piety and gifts over official sanction. What was needed were men truly converted, called, gifted, and living a godly life. In addition, he believed that personal study was an indispensable part of the Christian life; thus he was directly involved in helping to found three American educational institutions: the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), and Dartmouth; and at the time of his death he was intending to begin one in Georgia.” 2

1. Article above is an abridged and edited copy taken from The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Philip Schaff Vol. XII: H.K. CARROLL

2. Final paragraph is an excerpt from Who’s Who In Christian History – Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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