The GOSPEL TRUTH
A HISTORY OF AMERICAN REVIVALS
Frank G. Beardsley PH.D, S.T.D.
THE AWAKENING OF 1800.
At no time since the Great Awakening had revivals wholly ceased. There were occasional quickenings here and there throughout the country; but none of them were far-reaching in their influence, and in most instances they were exceptional. Throughout the greater portion of the country a religious indifference, coupled with the growth of French infidelity, had settled down like a great pall over the land. But about 1790 in various portions of the country, and entirely independent of one another, signs of reviving grace began to appear.
As early as 1787 there were revivals of marked power in various parts of Virginia and Georgia, Among the earliest of these was that at Hampden Sydney College, Va., resulting in the conversion of more than half of the students. From this center the revival extended throughout Prince Edward, Cumberland, Charlotte, and Bedford Counties and to the Peaks of Otter. Archibald Alexander and others visited Prince Edward County for the purpose of attending these revivals. On their return a "revival of great power commenced, which extended to almost every Presbyterian church in the valley of Virginia." Under the quickening influence of this revival Alexander entered the ministry, and later left the impress of his personality upon Princeton Theological Seminary in the missionary and revival spirit that has long characterized it.
The revival movement did not manifest itself in New England until some time later; 1792 is the commonly accepted date for the commencement of the Awakening in this section of the country, although there was a revival at North Yarmouth, Me., the year previous, and one in 1790 at the First Baptist Church of Boston, which continued for some years. It is possible that there were similar manifestations in other communities, but in 1792 there was an awakening of far-reaching influence at Lee, Mass., under the ministry of Rev. Alvin Hyde.
Within a comparatively brief period of time the revival spirit had extended to various portions of New England, as a consequence of which many communities and churches were quickened and refreshed In some respects these New England revivals were peculiar. There were no great names connected with them, such as the names of Edwards or Whitefield. There were no evangelists going to and fro in their burning zeal to arouse the impenitent or to incite the churches to activity. The services were carried on chiefly by the pastors in their respective parishes. Sometimes neighboring ministers would assist one another in such services so far as was consistent with their own duties. Notwithstanding this phase of the awakening there are two names deserving of special mention, because of the important role which they played during this interesting epoch of American religious history. I refer to Dr. E. D. Griffin and Dr. Timothy Dwight, president of Yale College.
Edward Dorr Griffin, a preacher of winning personality and persuasive power, exerted a far-reaching influence over the churches of New England. At the time of which we write he was in the full bloom and vigor of his early manhood and threw himself with all the ardor of his youthful spirit into the work of saving souls. Griffin )vas born in 1770 at East Haddam, Conn., and graduated at Yale in 1790, after which he studied theology under Jonathan Edwards, the younger. His earliest efforts in revival work were at the home of his father, where he was tarrying in the latter part of the year 1792. Finding himself the only professor of religion in a family of ten, he began at once to labor for their conversion. As a consequence a revival commenced in that neighborhood, which resulted in the conversion of about one hundred persons. The following January he began preaching at New Salem, nearby, where a church was gathered where there had been none for more than forty years, and "about one hundred were hopefully added to the Lord".
Of the revivals of the period Dr. Griffin has left on record the following: "About the year 1792 commenced three series of events of sufficient importance to constitute a new era. That year the blood began to flow in Europe, in that contest which, with short intervals, was destined to destroy the 'man of sin' and to introduce a happier form of society and the glorious state of the church. That year was established at Kettering in England the first in the continuous series of societies which have covered the whole face of the Protestant world and introduced the age of missions and of active benevolence. And that year or the year before began the unbroken series of American revivals. There was a revival in North Yarmouth, Me., in 1791. In the summer of 1792 one appeared in Lee, in the county of Berkshire. The following November, the first that I had the privilege of witnessing showed itself on the borders of East Haddam, and Lyme, Conn., which apparently brought to Christ about a hundred souls. Since that time revivals have never ceased. I saw a continued succession of heavenly sprinklings at New Salem, Farmington, Middlebury, and New Hartford, Conn., until, in 1799, 1 could stand at my door in New Hartford, Litchfield County, and number fifty or sixty congregations laid down in one field of divine wonders, and as many more in different parts of New England. By 1802 revivals had spread themselves through most of the western and southern States; and since that time they have been familiar to the whole American people."*
* Sprague's Lectures, Appendix, p. 359.
Through the influence of President Dwight, the tide of infidelity described in a preceding chapter was turned backwards. Timothy Dwight, a grandson of Jonathan Edwards through his mother, was born at Northampton, Mass., in 1752. He was educated at Yale, graduating in 1769. From 1771 to 1777 he served his alma mater as a tutor. During the revolutionary struggle he was appointed to a chaplaincy in the American Army, in the service of which he remained for more than a year. In 1783 he was ordained to the ministry and spent the next few years at the head of an academy in Greenfield, Conn., whence he was called in 1795 to the presidency of Yale College, a position which he continued to fill up to the time of his death in 1817.
When he entered upon the duties of his office, the college was infected with the prevalent French infidelity, and there were but few students who were not contaminated by it. "The degree to which it prevailed may be judged from the following fact: A considerable portion of the class which he first taught had assumed the names of the English and French infidels and were more familiarly known by them than their own."* Dr. Dwight invited the freest discussion on the part of his students, and having listened to their doubts and arguments, he preached a series of sermons in the college chapel in which the whole philosophy of skepticism was answered and overthrown. Through the influence of his earnest and logical preaching, a marked change was soon manifest in the life of the institution. This was followed in the spring of 1802 by a powerful revival during the progress of which seventy-five out of about two hundred and thirty students were converted and united with the church. Nearly half of these gave themselves to the work of the gospel ministry. The importance of such a factor in the religious life of the nation cannot be overestimated. As Bishop Hurst has well expressed it: "From the day that the young president faced his students in the chapel of Yale College, infidelity has been a vanishing force in the history of the American people."
*Dwight's Theology, Vol. I., p. 20 .
A marked characteristic of the revivals of the period, which by this time had extended throughout all of the States of New England, was their permanency and their freedom from abnormal excitement. The revival wave did not soon spend its force. In addition to the extensive revivals inaugurated about 1792, "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's New England Revivals, p. 5.
In Western Pennsylvania, where apparently there had been no diminution of the revival spirit during the Revolutionary War, another manifestation of divine power occurred in 1795, extending to the new settlements north of Pittsburg. From 1802-1804 the same section was visited with powerful revivals which extended throughout Western Pennsylvania and Northeastern Ohio.
From 1798-1800 there were extensive revivals in the western portion of New York. Palmyra, Canandaigua and other towns in that portion of the State were visited, the revival extending throughout the counties of Delaware, Otsego, Oneida and elsewhere. The Presbyterian churches shared chiefly in this work.
In Kentucky and the Southwest the great deeps were broken up through the joint efforts of the Methodists and Presbyterians, although the revival soon became so extensive as to include nearly all of the religious denominations in the State. Among the earliest outpourings of which we have any account were those which visited Logan County, Ky., during the month of July, 1800. The services, conducted by Rev. James McGready of the Presbyterian church, were held in the open air and were attended by all classes, both black and white, from within a radius of more than sixty miles. A revival was inaugurated, the influence of which extended far and wide, for the fame of it spread abroad throughout all that country. Rev. Barton W. Stone, who afterwards became one of the leading lights in the sect known as the Disciples of Christ, at that time was a Presbyterian minister in Bourbon County, Ky., and having heard of this wonderful work of grace went clear across the State in the spring of 1801 to attend a camp-meeting in that vicinity and to behold for himself the marvelous things that God had wrought. He wrote a narrative describing as follows the scenes which he witnessed:
"There, on the edge of a prairie in Logan County, Ky., 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 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 or three of my particular acquaintances from a distance were struck down. I sat patiently by one of them, whom 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 sins, the fervent prayer, and the ultimate deliverance; then the solemn thanks to God, and affectionate exhortation to companions and to the people around to repent and come to Jesus. I was astonished at the knowledge 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, and much have I seen since, that I consider to be fanaticism; but this should not condemn the work. The devil has always tried 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 to a sincere and affectionate exhortation to sinners to repent and come to Jesus the Saviour."
Returning to his congregations at Cane Ridge and Concord in Bourbon County, he narrated the incidents of his visit, and so profound was the impression thus made that in the course of a few weeks a revival commenced, during the progress of which similar scenes were enacted. He wrote of this revival: "A memorable meeting was held at Cane Ridge in August, 1801. The roads were crowded with wagons, carriages, horses, and footmen moving to the solemn camp. It was judged by military men on the ground that between twenty and thirty thousand persons were assembled. Four or five preachers spoke at the same time in different parts of the encampment without confusion. The Methodist and Baptist preachers aided in the work, and all appeared cordially united in it. They were of one mind and soul: the salvation of sinners was the one object. We all engaged in singing the same songs, all united in prayer, all preached the same things. . . . The numbers converted will be known only in eternity. Many things transpired in the meeting which were so much like miracles that they had the same effect as miracles on unbelievers. By them many were convinced that Jesus was the Christ and were persuaded to submit to him. This meeting continued six or seven days and nights, and would have continued longer, but food for the sustenance of such a multitude failed.
"To this meeting many had come from Ohio and other distant parts. These returned home and diffused the same spirit in their respective neighborhoods. Similar results followed. So low had religion sunk, and such carelessness had universally prevailed, that I have thought that nothing common could have arrested and held the attention of the people."*
* Tyler's Disciples, pp. 14, 15, 16.
After this fashion the revival extended throughout the borders of Kentucky, and through Tennessee into Georgia and the Carolinas, visiting the South and Southwest with veritable showers of refreshing grace.
In this section of the country the work was attended with many extravagances and vagaries, which the preachers, for the most part ignorant and unlearned men, did not attempt to suppress. Enthusiasm ran wild. The excitements of such large religious gatherings engendered physical manifestations of an unusual order. The preaching services were attended with outcries, faintings, convulsions, "falling under the power of God," hysterical weeping and laughter, and a peculiar species of exercise called the "jerks," of which more shall be said in a subsequent chapter. These strange features did not produce the disastrous results that they would have produced in more cultured communities. Instead of hindering the revival they seemed to aid it, for in the regions where such manifestations took place they were looked upon as the undoubted works of God. As to the genuineness of the revival, notwithstanding these extravagances, there can be no question. Communities were transformed, while the godless and profane were influenced by divine grace to enter upon lives of holiness and prayer.
Rev. George A. Baxter, who visited this section, has left on record the following testimony: "On my way I was informed by settlers on the road that the character of Kentucky travelers was entirely changed, and that they were 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. Upon the whole, I think the revival in Kentucky the most extraordinary that has ever visited the church of Christ; and all things considered, it was peculiarly adapted to the circumstances of the country into which it came. Infidelity was triumphant and religion was on the point of expiring. Something extraordinary seemed necessary to arrest the attention of a giddy people who were ready to conclude that Christianity was a fable and futurity a delusion. This revival has done it. It has confounded infidelity and brought numbers beyond calculation under serious impressions."
Having traced the beginnings of this remarkable awakening, which appeared quite simultaneously in various remote and widely separated localities, spreading until it had practically embraced the whole country, it will be of interest to consider the. means which were employed, the services which were conducted, and the doctrines that were enforced to promote this work of grace, the influence of which was so far reaching upon the religious life of the nation.
In New England the measures made use of were comparatively few and simple. There were no evangelists or protracted meetings, nor were extraordinary methods of any character resorted to. The ministers as a rule did their own preaching, except in a few instances where neighboring pastors were invited to assist. In addition to the Sabbath services and the mid-week lecture, prayer meetings were conducted occasionally on Sabbath evenings or at some convenient time during the week. In these prayer meetings the laity often rendered helpful assistance to their pastors. There were no anxious seats, nor was there any attempt to influence the unconverted to commit themselves in public as seekers after religion. On the contrary the subjects of this work were urged to make certain their hopes before uniting with the church or engaging in any public exercise. The principal means relied upon was the preaching of the Word. The doctrines especially emphasized were God's sovereignty, the immutability of the moral law, human depravity, the sufficiency of the atonement, the freeness of pardon through Christ, the necessity of regeneration, and the duty of submitting to God.
The manner in which the subjects were affected corresponded to the doctrines that were preached, and was not unlike that in which the converts were affected during the Great Awakening, as described by Edwards. In most instances there was a period of distress during which the persons affected were sensible of the depravity of their hearts, their unworthiness before God, and a conviction that it would be just in God were he to cast them off forever. The transition from this state to one of joy and peace in believing would sometimes be sudden, but in other instances the convicted would be distressed for months before relief came. When the converts began to hope in Christ it was generally with much trembling, and "they gradually advanced to a steady comfortable hope with great caution and much self-examination."
In the Southwest, on account of a lack of suitable edifices, protracted meetings lasting some days or weeks were conducted in groves or in the open air. These were largely attended by the settlers from miles around. For the want of better accommodation the attendants would camp in the grove where the meeting was held or in the woods near by, which accounts for the rise of the American camp-meeting about this time. Several ministers of perhaps different denominations would assist in the preaching exercises, which were conducted several times daily and by the light of fagots at night.
Of the character of the preaching Rev. E. B. Crisman says: "The ministers dwelt, with great power, continually on the necessity of repentance and faith, the fullness of the gospel for all, and the necessity of the new birth. They earnestly presented the purity and justice of God's law, the odious and destructive consequences of sin, and the freeness and sufficiency of pardon for all."*
*Tyler's Disciples, p. 13 .
In Kentucky and the West this Awakening was preceded by seasons of earnest prayer. Christians entered into a solemn covenant to spend a definite portion of their time in prayer for an outpouring of the Spirit of God for the salvation of men. A half-hour at sunset Saturday and a half-hour before sunrise on Sunday was the time generally agreed upon for this purpose.
The results of the Awakening were three-fold: First, the overthrow of infidelity; second, the spiritual quickening of the churches; third, the inauguration of the great philanthropic and missionary enterprises.
First -- The Overthrow of Infidelity. The Awakening came at the critical period in the history of the American republic. It was a time of beginnings in the life of the nation, a time moreover when the religious character of our country was suspended in the balances and the destinies thereof were to be decided for generations to come. For a while the overthrow of Christianity seemed to be complete. Churches were declining. Revivals were few. The educated and influential almost universally regarded Christianity with indifference, if not with open contempt. Infidelity was rife and was increasing alarmingly on every hand. In fact, all indications seemed to point to a decline in that faith which had animated the Pilgrim Fathers and inspired the hopes of the early settlers of our country. The inception of this revival at such a time cannot but be regarded as one of the signal manifestations of God's providential dealings of which our national history affords so many illustrious examples. By means of its gracious influences the weak churches grew strong and all the Christian activities of the land throbbed with the pulsations of a new life. Every condition of society was reached from the cultured classes of staid New England to the untutored settlers on the frontier of what then constituted the remote West. Infidelity became a vanishing force, while the religious character of the United States was assured for generations to come.
One of the most important results of this revival was the reclamation of the colleges of the land from infidelity. As we have already seen, President Dwight's masterful and discriminating survey of the philosophy of unbelief and his complete refutation of the same was followed in 1802 by a powerful and far-reaching revival in the college over which he presided. Similar awakenings occurred at Dartmouth, Williams, and various other institutions of learning throughout the land, in consequence of which the colleges of this country have never ceased to be centers of Christian influence, whence have flowed streams of living water to quicken and refresh the world.
Second -- The Spiritual Quickening of the Churches. This revival was practically co-extensive with the populated territory then embraced within the United States. Commencing simultaneously in several remote centers the work extended, until the intervening portions of the country were embraced within its scope. Besides the renewed life and activity of church members, numerous additions were made to the various churches throughout the country. It is impossible to determine with any degree of accuracy the number of converts who were won to the faith and gathered into the churches. The revival was so long in its continuance, and so lasting in its influence, that numerical estimates would be confusing and perhaps misleading. Certain figures, however, are significant. In Kentucky alone it was estimated that ten thousand persons were added to the Baptist churches of that State as a result of the revival. From 1800 to 1803 the Methodist Episcopal Church received about forty thousand accessions to membership throughout the country, and there was scarcely a religious denomination which did not share in the fruits of this remarkable revival.
More remarkable than numbers were the evidences of renewed spiritual life throughout the country. In the West the reformation in the morals of the people attracted widespread attention. In a sermon preached before the synod of Kentucky in 1803, Rev. David Rice said: "Neighborhoods noted for their vicious and profligate manners are now as much noted for their piety and good order. Drunkards, profane swearers, liars, quarrelsome persons, etc., are remarkably reformed."
In New England the revival was attended with consequences of abiding significance. The last remnants of the ill-advised Half-Way Covenant were swept away. The perilous transition of the churches from State aid to self-support was successfully made. A crisis was reached between the liberal and evangelical wings of Congregationalism, which resulted in the Unitarian schism. The cleavage between the orthodox and liberal elements in the church dates back to pre-Revolutionary times, and by many has been supposed to have been an outgrowth of the movement which produced the HalfWay Covenant. Be this as it may, certain it is that during the middle of the eighteenth century several prominent ministers in Massachusetts were avowedly Arian in their sentiments. The Awakening of 1800 resulted in the permanent separation of these parties, thus permitting each to perform its own mission without being hampered by what otherwise would have been an irrational element in its activity. More important still was the institution of the mid-week prayer meeting, and the establishment of Sunday schools, which, having originated with Robert Raikes in England, were now introduced into this country, and were destined to become a source of fresh life and power not only to the churches of New England but to the various denominations throughout the country.
Although the immediate consequences of the revival differed somewhat in different localities, the general results were everywhere the same. The morals of the country were reformed, the churches were quickened, and their influence flowed forth in new channels of spiritual power, so that religion became a more potent factor in our national life, while the church as an organized force was girded with strength sufficient to enter the arena and engage in deadly combat with the flagrant public evils of the day -- duelling, intemperance and slavery.
Unlike the Great Awakening, this revival was long in subsiding, and was not attended by disastrous consequences, which were calculated to produce strife and dissension. In the West, to be sure, there had been outcries, faintings, "falling under the power of God," etc., which would not have commended themselves to the more sober-minded brethren of the East, but, occurring as they did in the newer communities and among unlettered and uncultured people, these exercises not only produced no ill effects but rather seemed to promote the revival. In the East the work was characterized by an entire absence of these objectionable features which, in the Great Awakening, had brought about an unfavorable reaction and had caused that revival to come to a speedy end.
The work of grace wrought in this Awakening was deep and lasting, the influences of which extended down to the middle of the nineteenth century, and were manifest in the numerous and widespread revivals which prevailed throughout that period. Rev. Gardiner Spring, D.D., speaking of this phase of the revival, said: "From the year 1800 down to the year 1825 there was an uninterrupted series of these celestial visitations spreading over different parts of the land. During the whole of these twenty-five years there was not a month in which we could not point to some village, some city, some seminary of learning, and say, 'Behold, what hath God wrought!' "*
* Memoirs, Vol. I., p. 160.
Third -- The Inauguration of Great Missionary and Philanthropic Enterprises. American foreign missions are indebted for their origin to Samuel J. Mills. Entering Williams College in 1806, in company with other students he instituted a missionary prayer meeting, and from this humble beginning the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions was evolved in 1810. Mills was a convert of the Awakening and his father was an active promoter of the same. Judson, Rice, Nott, Newell, Hall, and others who were associated with him and who became the first missionaries of the American Board, with scarcely an exception were converted in the revival. Other missionary societies were organized about this time, the Baptist in 1814 and the Methodist Episcopal in 1819.
Home missions received a fresh impetus through this awakening. As early as 1798 the Connecticut Missionary Society was formed, the purpose of which was "to Christianize the heathen in North America, and to support and promote Christian knowledge in the new settlements within the United States." The revivals in Tennessee and Kentucky gave a mighty impulse to home missionary activity which found expression in the efforts of various denominations to evangelize the growing territories in the West. For the furtherance of this work Bible and Tract societies were formed that the light of the Gospel might be made to shine in the dark places.
The American Bible Society was founded in New York City in 1816, chiefly through the efforts of Samuel J. Mills, the founder of the American Board. Since its organization the American Bible Society has sent out Bibles, literally by the millions, to all parts of the world. In 1814 the New England Tract Society was formed, and in 1823 changed its name to the American Tract Society of Boston, which afterward was amalgamated with the American Tract Society of New York, organized in 1825. During the eighty-six years of its history the American Tract Society has published 34,206,914 volumes, and 456,154,267 tracts in English and foreign languages, besides 287,341,468 copies of periodicals, making a grand total of 777,702,649 publications issued by this one Society. Hundreds of colporters have been employed, and into millions of homes the literature of the American Tract Society has gone with its message of light and salvation. No other agency has done more for the evangelization of our country than this Society.
Greater attention was now devoted to ministerial education. Theological seminaries were instituted and educational societies were organized to give financial assistance to pious youths who were preparing themselves for the work of the gospel ministry. The Congregationalists, who were the pioneers in Christian education, founded Andover Theological Seminary in 1808 and the American Education Society in 1815. Other denominations were not long behind them, and by 1827 seventeen theological seminaries, under the auspices of several different denominations, had been instituted in various parts of the country.
The quickened spiritual life of the period gave impulse to religious journalism, which has affected profoundly the religious life of our country. About the year 1800 numerous monthly periodicals appeared, and in 1816 the Boston Recorder, the first weekly religious newspaper in the world, was founded in the interests of Congregationalism. The same year the Religious Intelligencer was published at New Haven. Others soon followed: The Watchman (Baptist), at Boston in 1819; Zion's Herald (Methodist), at Boston in 1822; The Morning Star (Free Will Baptist), Dover, N. H., in 1826, etc. By 1830 nearly all of the different religious denominations in the country had one or more weekly journals to represent their respective interests.
In view of the remarkable results which attended the Awakening of 1800, its salutary and long-continued influence upon the religious life of the American republic, the wide scope of territory covered and the numbers which were reached by its quickening power, this revival was fully as remarkable as any which has ever refreshed the life of the churches on the American continent.