"Proving all things"

Pastor Tim Logo

Chapter 6 


            The importance to our present well-being of the Spiritual revivals of religion which occurred in Britain and America between 1720 and 1830 could hardly be over estimated. We need to examine such revivals in general, and the first great American revival in particular, in order to see what are some of the manifestations of such gracious outpourings from God, and what some of the results of them are upon the human family. Every time such revivals have come unto a people, some essential principles of religious truth with accompanying practices have been widely re-established, and have continued for at least a generation thereafter, and sometimes much longer. That a conscious heart-felt Spiritual experience is necessary to qualify a person in becoming a true disciple of Christ is one of those vital principles. All commentators on the great American revivals admit that this principle was indeed revived during the course of them, but they do not all agree on the meaning of that phenomenon, the cause, or the result. Each one interprets it according to his own beliefs. We will not pretend to be entirely different from others in this respect, for it would be rare indeed to find a human being without any bias in matters pertaining to God. That we are promoters and defenders of heart-felt experimental religion we gladly admit, and we are not ashamed of the credit we will rightly give to a people called “Baptists,” while trying not to wrongly discredit or diminish the worth of any other people used by God in these heavenly matters. To the best of our ability,  our observations are objective.

            There is a tendency among writers to either credit or blame the Wesleyan Methodist movement for the revival of emotional and heart-felt religion in America. That these Methodists, and none more particularly than John Wesley himself, were great promoters of this type of religion during a long period of time is a recognized fact, but to credit John Wesley with being the originator of such “revival” religion is totally erroneous. Many people seem to think that such practices as sinners mourning and praying for salvation, vivid spiritual experiences of both conviction and deliverance, and emotional expressions of heavenly joy are mere traditions which began under the supervision of Wesleyan Methodists. Again, this is a totally false assumption,  as we shall soon show.

            No Christian doubts that the “publican” (Luke 8:10) prayed a humble and heavy-hearted prayer and “went down to his house justified” that day. The thief on the cross besought Jesus, “remember me” (Luke 23:42), and received that day much more than he asked. The Philippian jailer fell trembling at the feet of Paul and Silas asking, “What must I do to be saved?”(Acts 16:30),  and was told to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  He and his whole household did so and found salvation. Saul of Tarsus was knocked to the ground by God’s power (Acts 9:4), and there talking with God and heeding the voice of God he found forgiveness of sins. Cornelius sought God many days in prayer, and God directed him while he was yet a lost sinner to the necessary things for him and his household to find salvation. (Acts 10) John the Revelator (and apostle), when coming into the presence of his glorified Savior, “fell at His feet as dead.” (Revelation 1:17) The prophet Daniel fainted and “was sick certain days” following an encounter with God. (Daniel 8:27)  Moses said of the near presence of God, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” (Hebrews 12:21) The young Jews who were delivered from Babylonian captivity “shouted aloud for joy” when the foundation of the new temple was laid. (Ezra 3:12-14) David “danced before the Lord with all his might” when he and “all Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting” into Jerusalem. (2nd Samuel 6:14-15) The lost sinners in Nineveh put on sackcloth, sat in ashes, and “cried mightily unto God” (Jonah 3:8) and were spared the awful judgment God had pronounced against them. Jesus declared that they “repented at the preaching of Jonah,” to such an extent that they would “rise in judgment with this generation (His) and condemn it.”(Matthew 12:42 and Luke 11:32) We could multiply many times these Biblical examples of God’s direct dealings with man and of human reaction to the Divine touch. Even so, whenever in modern times God exhibits such manifestations of His presence and workings in men, a fury is created thereby in the hearts and acts of many so-called Christians of high reputation. Certainly all men should critically examine outward displays of religious emotion to discern whether the author of the actions is God. Two questions are always in order. Is it Biblical? Is it of the Holy Spirit? Both answers must be affirmative. It is impossible that the Spirit of God should be poured out in extraordinary measure without some accompanying astonishment occurring among some human observers. However, unusual happenings in a religious sphere of activity do not necessarily indicate that God is in the matter. Far from it! A certain amount of skepticism is in order because of the mimicry of Satan. After any such phenomena have once been demonstrated, and many have accepted the belief that it was of God, Satan will surely follow God’s demonstration at first opportunity with some cheap imitation. By this crafty mimicry he gains followers for himself by using the Lord’s name. Fortunately, God has the power to dispel all doubts from the hearts of sincere observers regarding those demonstrations which are of His doing. Through the ages, when God has poured out His Spirit in abundant measure to revive His work in the midst of the years, it has often been at a time when the powers of this world, both religious and political, did not understand the resulting movement. Consequently, they opposed it as if they thought it to be of  Satanic or human origin.

            Perhaps the earliest record we have (though not a very clear one), of a revival of Spiritual principles in the Christian realm, since the days of the Apostles, is that of the Montanist movement.  Montanism gained the notice of writers near the end of the second century. It has been reported that many of the same type of activities as have occurred in the more recent revivals of religion were also present in the Montanist revival. As usual, they were charged with excesses of emotion, along with excessive strictness regarding spiritual qualifications for church  membership.

            “The charge of believing in the continuance of inspiration,  of ecstacies, inward experiences, and that their leader claimed to be the Holy Spirit (an obvious slander) are much what Campbellites charge against the Baptists of our age.” (page 71, BAPTIST CHURCH PERPETUITY, by W. A. Jarrell. Also pages 70-76, Jarrell, and pages 175-176, HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS, by ThomasArmitage.)  No doubt extremists did soon arise among those who were denominated “Montanists,” for such is the usual case. It is also true that whenever such revival occurs there remain in the movement true disciples of the Lord who are unable to control what others are doing. These are less happy about what extremists and emotional enthusiasts are doing to pervert the revival than are the critics who write against them. Many such good Spiritual Christians, labeled “heretics” by most historians, have lived and labored in every past age since the apostles, and have acquired in each age many denominational “nicknames,” usually given them by the scorn of their  opposers.

            In the ancient Greek realm these “conventiclers” were called “Euchites,”  signifying a people that pray,  for they placed religion not in speculation, but in devotion and piety. “Euchite among the Greeks was a general name for dissenter, as Waldensian was in the Latin church, and as Nonconformist is in England. Dr. Mosheim says truly, that ‘the accounts, which have been given of them, are not in all respects to be depended upon: and there are several circumstances which render it extremely probable, that many persons of eminent piety, and zeal for genuine Christianity, were confounded by the Greeks with these enthusiasts, and ranked in the list of heretics …’  Under this name, adds he, all were comprehended  ‘who opposed the raging superstition of the times, or looked upon true and genuine piety as the essence of the Christian religion.’  What a pity, that such a fine pen as that of Mosheim should stain the character of such a people with the odious name of enthusiasm! It is not necessary to look for founders of these sects, for they were primitive Christians, who would not conform.” (pages 56-57, ECCLESIASTICAL RE- SEARCHES,  by Robert Robinson)

            Whether a favorable observer looks upon each appearance of pietistic and Spiritual Christians during the course of history as a perpetuation or a renewal of the church, depends upon his view of the nature of the church. Always, when a Spiritual revival is of such magnitude as to gain the notice of unfavorable observers and harsh critics, it is both a perpetuation AND a renewal of the church. When a revival is genuine, it overflows all bounds of its origin. It is like the overflowing river in Ezekiel 47:1-12. It may be barely a trickle before the revival, but at its height it becomes a river “that could not be passed over.” The waters of it bring life wherever they reach. When the overflow of the Holy Spirit subsides, the river may return to a small channel, but the great size of it for a glorious season will be that which is most remembered. Quiet pools far from the channel may support life for a season and give many the illusion that they are a part of the river, and confuse many historians, but unless another overflow replenishes them again, they will soon lose their vital quality. So is the relation of the Lord’s true churches to revival movements.

            Denying the perpetuity of the church in these matters is almost like praising the earth for the profusion of growth one enjoys while denying the seeds from which sprang the life of every single plant.  Yet this is a very common error in analyzing spiritual increase. The sowing, watering, and cultivating were unobserved, but the harvesting drew much attention.     

            In all past revivals of true religion, new converts soon outnumbered the original laborers. Characteristically, the influence of the revival soon reached many who came over from other persuasions. Some of them were former opposers. Some were people of note. Whenever notable men in the esteem of the world joined a revival movement, critics of the revival often accused them of being the ringleaders and founders of the movement. In view of all of the evidence to the contrary it is absurd to call Peter Waldo the founder of the Waldenses, Conrad Grebel the founder of the Swiss Anabaptists, Menno Simon the founder of the Dutch Mennonites, or John Smyth the founder of the British Baptists. Yet such are the ways of men! All of these “sects” first appeared in public view in phenomenal revival movements which had their seeds from else-where. They quickly grew in wondrous profusion under the blessing of the Holy Spirit to occupy much ground in the religious world of their times. Their great effect beyond the bounds of their own times can hardly be calculated. These revivals, and many others lesser known, all far preceded John Wesley and his Methodists in time. To these forerunners we shall find Mr. Wesley’s movement very much indebted, after we have carefully examined the facts.     

            Continental Europe was very much alive with Spiritual revival during the sixteenth century. Severe persecution clouds the view of it. Europe was also very much alive with religious and political reformation during this same period. That there was Spiritual revival among the “Reformed” movement is undeniable, but the degree is seriously in question. That Luther and Calvin and their comrades were seized with great convictions of conscience to reform the Catholic church is evident. God must have enlightened their minds for this purpose; but to the  very end of the lives of these “great” reformers, overwhelming evidence of the “fruit of the Holy Spirit” was sadly lacking in very much of their activity. They were as political as they were religious, worldly as they were heavenly,  persecuting as they were persecuted, superstitious as they were enlightened, and traditional as they were Biblical. They were warlike rather than meek, exalted rather than lowly, and philosophical rather than simple. The behavior of these renowned reformers was often far removed from the character and nature of the lowly disciples of Jesus. In this same century there was a phenomenal revival among the “Anabaptists,” called Mennonites in Holland. Among many of these people the marks of the church that Jesus established were abundantly found. In the following century, many Dutch Anabaptists whom persecution had driven into England left their mantle to the Baptists, and in Britain there was great revival among them.

            It seems that nearly all revivals of religion are followed by reports of excessive and sometimes outrageous activities. Probably most of such reports are slanders, but some, unfortunately, are true.  Revivals tend to convert people of other persuasions. Many of them  are genuinely converted. Others jump on the bandwagon of apparent success when the revival is at its steam-rolling height. Some of these latter types will be clever persons driven by bad motives who are willing to employ bad methods. Even some of the genuine converts, being babes in Christ too spiritually immature to wisely discern good from evil, may be persuaded by their enthusiasm to “follow their pernicious ways.”

            Few greater examples of enthusiasm and religious fanaticism are found in the history of Christianity than that of the insurrection of 1532 in Munster, Germany. Angry citizens rebelling against both Lutheran and Catholic lords turned fanatical, committing murder and inaugurating a reign of terror and lawlessness. The insurrection was put down within a few years and the ringleaders were put to death. (pages 370-371, Armitage) Because it was coincidental with a great increase of Anabaptists, and some of the rebels had embraced that cause, the way of truth upheld by these good people has been evil spoken of ever since. These were neither the first nor the last wicked and deluded men to use exaggerated forms of the true principles advocated by true men of God to cloak wicked desires and deeds.  Usually such fanatics do not delve so deeply into the social and political spheres as did the rebels of Munster. Yet, had they been successful in their rebellion, they might have been hailed as heroes instead of traitors and madmen. Robert Robinson went to great lengths to show that the underlying cause of that insurrection was not a religious one at all. It was that same intolerable social and economic oppression of the German peasants that had caused a much larger rebellion in the previous decade known as “the peasants war.” (pages 535-554, Robinson) The Baptist principles of freedom of conscience,  equality of all men, direct access to God of all believers, etc. had a great appeal to the minds of the oppressed peasants. These ideas were seized upon by fleshly and desperate men to be used as weapons, along with the sword, in hope of obtaining relief from intolerable oppression. Such violence was forbidden and unknown among the people who had long been called “Anabaptists” by their enemies, some of whom became progenitors of “Baptists” in the next century. These good people had long been known for their rigid principle of non-resistance even in the face of bloody persecution. Because of the Munster rebellion, the name, “Anabaptist,” became a synonym for the vilest heretics and religious fanatics. Both Catholics and Protestants picked up this name and used it to reproach a great variety of dissenters which they identified as “heretics.” 

            All of this is written for the purpose of giving the reader an idea of how readily historians and biased observers group people of infinitely different spirits into one category, based upon a few professed doctrines or practices. Armitage well proves that no honest man of sound mind would attempt to connect the Munster rebels with the Dutch Anabaptists or British or American Baptists. So much did that insurrection hurt the reputation of people called “Anabaptists” that it was great cause for early British Baptists to openly deny any connection to that sect.

            Through the years there have been other excessive and enthusiastic movements taking advantage of religious revival in trying to launch themselves into a place of popular acceptance. Usually they have taken a much more purely religious course than the rebels of Munster and have refrained from pursuing the paths of political,  social,  or military might.

            “In the year 1688 a group of Dauphiny peasants, calling themselves prophets, claimed the inspiration of the Holy Ghost and went about preaching a return to the primitive Christian faith … ‘they had strange fits, which came upon them with tremblings and faintings, as in a swoon, which made them stretch out their arms and legs and stagger several times before they dropped down. In trances they saw visions, and after the agitations of the body they received the gift of prophecy.'”  Following persecution, “three or four of them escaped to England where they continued their prophecies and their teachings. They were millenialists … They claimed the gift of prophecy … Eventually the little group fell under the leadership of  James and Jane Wardley, who had been Quakers, and brought with them much of the Quaker doctrine.”  In England they were joined by Ann Lee Stanley who led eight of them to New York in 1774. Although she never learned to read or write, she became the guiding light of the movement and was thought to be the  “second incarnation of the Holy Spirit whereby the feminine element of God appeared to continue the work begun by Christ.”  She is the person who became the main inspiration for the movement’s character. Gains were made as a result of people being stirred by a Freewill Baptist revival. Thereafter they made a practice of following the “revivals” and drawing away disciples after that example of 1779 until they reached the greatest height of their movement, about 1821, many years after the death of Ann Lee Stanley. These people became commonly known as “Shakers.” (pages 141-146, FREEDOM’S FERMENT by Alice Felt Tyler.) They are best remembered for their principle of celibacy and for their religious dance ritual.

            Following the Charles Finney revival in upstate New York in the 1820’s, Joseph Smith, Jr. claimed a vision and a call to prophethood and began building the “Latter Day Saints” or “Mormon” Church based on the Book of Mormon, which he claimed to have received from God by direct revelation, and upon other revelations he claimed continued thereafter. Claims quickly surfaced that Smith had plagiarized a closely similar religious fiction written years earlier by Solomon Spalding, adding his own fiction to Spalding’s outline, and convinced his disciples that it was a “latter day” revelation from God. (WHO REALLY WROTE THE BOOK OF MORMON? by  Cowdrey, Scales, and Davis) His early movement contained such outrageous activities as brought repeated persecutions upon his followers in every place where they settled. Angry citizens drove them out of Ohio, Missouri, and finally Illinois where Smith was killed by a mob in 1844. In 1846 Brigham Young led part of the Mormon people to Utah.

            “That Mormon conduct was in a large measure the cause of their troubles was admitted by one of  their  leaders, W. W. Phelps, in 1833: ‘Our people fare very well, and when they are discreet,  little or no persecution is felt.'” (page 98, Tyler) 

            Joseph Smith “instituted polygamy in 1843 in Illinois” (page104, Tyler) “and the practice was finally outlawed in 1890 in Utah by the Mormon Church.

            Many such movements have arisen out of “revivals” by  drawing off of the extreme elements of affected society. True revival cannot be blamed for these fanatical movements. Some of them have come to nothing with the passing of time while others have greatly modified their image and obscured their history in order to become respectable and widely accepted religions.

            Following the Baptist revival in England in the first part of the seventeenth century, the “Quaker” movement began with George Fox’s claim of a revelation from God in 1647. While earnestly seeking for the true church amidst corruption, Fox had embraced somewhat of a “Seeker” philosophy which regarded the church as hopelessly corrupted, unless it could be restored by some miraculous revelation. He later claimed he received authority from God to embark upon a quest of restoring true Christianity. The emphasis of his resulting “Quaker” movement was upon direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which they believed themselves to have in larger measure than other Christians. They were quite successful in drawing away disciples from other sects who were caught up in their emotional enthusiasm. The Quakers, properly called the “Society of Friends,” were not outrageous in their religious activities, but in the view of most other sects of Christians they carried their practices to excess. They were not a noisy people in their assemblies, as might be expected of them by people of our time. Quite the contrary, they were noted for their silent group meditation and prayer. (pages 8-12, THE PEOPLE CALLED QUAKERS, by  D. Elton Trueblood) The focus of their religion was upon a spiritual experience described as a very pleasant and overwhelming presence of God within them “enlightening their minds and giving victory over sin.” (pages 8,11,12,14,&45, Trueblood) This religion had a mystic quality which would have been acceptable, and perhaps even desirable had their spiritual experiences been altogether of the Holy Spirit. Their claims and objectives of transcendent peace tread fearfully close to those of the eastern mystic religions rather than being patterned after the practical working Spirit of the Apostolic church. It seems that the early Quaker movement was an earlier and quieter version of the “Holiness” movement of recent times. The claims they made were excessive in terms of their frequency, if in no other way. One of the guiding lights of the modern “Holiness” movement as it developed in the latter part of the nineteenth century was a former Quaker named Hannah Whitall Smith. There is unmistakably an observable kinship in the two movements, whether the connection be direct or hidden. It also might prove significant that on at least one occasion Mrs. Smith quoted a poem about “Siddartha” envying the “flowrets of the field” for their apparent peaceful contentment. (page 183, THE CHRISTIAN’S SECRET OF A HAPPY LIFE by Hannah Whitall Smith) Siddartha is one of the names of the great Buddha, whose teachings Buddhists revere. While this fact does not reveal any direct influence, it certainly does reveal an excessive longing for this same type of mystic bliss which may be spiritual without being holy.

            Like the modern Holiness movement, the early Quakers’ emphasis on spiritual guidance caused them to count the testimony of the Scriptures too lightly whenever modern revelation seemed to contradict them. They also denied that they did anything in violation of the scriptures. (page 6, Trueblood, and page 395, Volume 4,  THE NEW SCHAFF-HERZOG ENCYCLOPEDIA OF RELIGIOUS KNOWLEDGE, “Friends.”)  In contradiction of that denial, they were noted for their use of female teachers, and “their belief in the spirituality of Christianity has led them also to the disuse of the outward rites of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, while they fully believe in the necessity of spiritual baptism.”

            “He (George Fox) and his followers announced as their aim the revival of primitive Christianity, and this phrase remains as the best definition of their work.” (pages 393-395, SCHAFF-HERZOG, “Friends”) In this AIM, they preceded the Methodists of the following century, and the Holiness and Pentecostal movements of our time.

            “He (George Fox) preached repentance toward God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and showed that one became a true disciple not by bare assent of the understanding to the truths contained in the Bible, nor by any outward rite, but by a real change of the heart and affections, through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (page 393, SCHAFF-HERZOG, “Friends”) The Baptists of Fox’s time certainly agreed with his statement about the very essence of Christianity, but they considered the early Quakers very troublesome. They were actively subverting Baptist people with excessive claims of spiritual experience, carrying their enthusiasm so far as to violate Scriptural bounds, and were being motivated by a “proud” spirit. (pages 150-151, 172, 188, 196, 201, and 217, BAPTIST CONFESSIONS  OF FAITH by William L. Lumpkin) So was the seventeenth century Baptist revival marred by the excesses of the Quaker movement. Yet few would deny that there was some good in the movement, or that in later years Quakers would come to be regarded by all who knew them as good people and a religion that contributed much good to the world..

            About the years 1669 and 1670 a revival movement began among the German Lutherans under the teachings of Philipp Jakob Spener, a German scholar and theologian. He asserted that conversion and regeneration were indispensable for the right study of theology. Conventicles were formed which were intended to be spiritual leaven for the larger body. These were small assemblies of like-minded people meeting without the authority of the state church. This movement divided Lutherans into new side and old side factions. Soon, some of Spener’s most zealous followers seceded from the Lutheran Church. This movement and its teachings have since become known as “pietism.” After 1691-1692 “certain chiliastic (millenial), enthusiastic, and ecstatic phenomena” were incorporated in the Pietist movement. (pages 54-55, Volume 9, SCHAFF-HERZOG, “Pietism”) This sequence – “revival” within a Protestant sect, followed by internal opposition to it from the old side of the sect, the forming of conventicles within the denomination by the new side, eventual secession of a part of the new side, and eventual appearance of some enthusiastic and “ecstatic” phenomena – was a preview of what was to happen in both Europe and America in the next century among Anglicans, Presbyterians and others.  

            In 1735 the ancient Bohemian Brethren (Hussite) movement was resuscitated in Germany by combining with the Pietist movement. This was another revival movement which developed into a far-reaching religious influence known most commonly as “Moravian Brethren.” Their missionaries proved themselves to be some of the most active, intrepid, and effective preachers of the gospel of those times.  Still,  “fanaticism broke out among ministers and people” between 1745 and 1749 and this was called “‘a time of sifting.’” (pages 91-92, Volume 12, SCHAFF-HERZOG, “Unity of the Brethren”) Again we see genuine revival followed by extremes of enthusiasm and fanaticism.

            In 1720, Theodore Frelinghuysen came to New Jersey preaching German pietism among the Dutch Reformed churches.  Soon there came a considerable Spiritual revival among those churches. Frelinghuysen and that revival stir further influenced the Tennent brothers, Gilbert, John, and William, to preach this pietistic gospel among the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. Revival was wide- spread among both Presbyterian and Reformed churches of the middle colonies between 1726 and 1732. (pages 4-5, THE GREAT AWAKENING IN VIRGINIA, 1740-1790, by Wesley M. Gewehr) These preachers preached a fiery gospel which spared no sinner and demanded genuine repentance and a definite spiritual experience of conversion.

            “Sweet defines Pietism as ‘a type of religion which places principal emphasis upon what is often termed religion of the heart, rather than religion of the head. Its object is to awaken men and women to a personal repentance.” (page 29, THE SPIRIT OF THELORD: REVIVAL IN AMERICA, by Daniel Cohen) By 1741 this revival, or “awakening,” had split the Presbyterians in America into “old side” and “new side” factions. The new side “placed much emphasis on the matter of conversion and one’s religious experience.” (page 9-10, GEWEHR; see also page 31, Cohen) The old side opposed the revival.

            In 1734 the same type of revival broke out in Massachusetts under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards. It soon spread throughout the Connecticut Valley and many were converted. Edwards published a “narrative” of that revival. That account was read by John Wesley in England shortly after his conversion in 1738. It was reprinted and circulated in England by Wesley. (pages 5-6, Gewehr) In his narrative Edwards defended the revival as being truly from God and disclaimed any connection with fanatical or enthusiastic behavior. He asserted that the revival was no different than five seasons of revival that had been experienced in his church during the sixty year ministry of his grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, except for the magnitude of it. Stoddard had been pastor of the Northampton, Massachusetts Congregational Church for sixty years before his grandson was called to fill that position. Edwards was, no doubt, trying to quiet rumors among the New England Congregational churches, who also were soon to divide into two factions over the revival issue. (See A FAITHFUL NARRATIVE OF THE SURPRISING WORK OF GOD, by Jonathan Edwards) Solomon Stoddard may have been one of the more evangelistic of the Congregational preachers of his time, but Edwards admitted the deadness of spiritual matters in and about Northampton shortly before the revival of 1734 began. Congregationalists, in theory, confessed that only the converted were saved, but they had allowed this practice to lapse by adoption of “The Half-way Covenant” which opened the door for many good men who had experienced no spiritual conversion to be members of their churches. (page 3, Gewehr)

            During the whole period of the Frelinghuysen, Tennent, and Edwards revivals, until the year of 1738, John Wesley was an unconverted Anglican priest. He decided in 1725 to become a priest, after having studied at Oxford since 1720. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had all traveled that path before him. In March of 1726 John Wesley was elected a Fellow at Lincoln College. There he served as a lecturer, and in other services to the college, until 1735,  except during the period from August of 1727 until November of 1729 during which time he served as his father’s assistant, acting as curate of Wroot. In 1735 he went to Georgia, intending to be a missionary to the Indians. (page 17-22, OUT OF ALDERSGATE, by W. T.  Watkins)

            The “Methodist” Club was begun at Oxford College in 1729 in John Wesley’s absence, but returning that year he quickly became its leader. Among the charter members of it were his brother, Charles. It is not to be supposed that these first “Methodists” were very much like the warm-hearted evangelists for which that name is best known in history.

            “That Jesus himself would have done most of the things the Holy Club undertook may be confidently affirmed, but that the Oxford Methodists were doing them from an inadequate motive is evident.  They were doing good to others to save their own souls.  The heart of their religion was a legalism that promised them salvation through good works. (page 3, Watkins)  

            George Whitefield joined the club in 1735. He experienced  conversion that same year. Thus Whitefield became the first of the three noted founders of Methodism to experience true conversion. 

            “A severe illness in the spring of 1735 brought a crisis in his religious experience, from which he emerged in joyous conscious- ness of peace with God.” (page 457, HISTORY OF THE CHRISTIANCHURCH, by Williston Walker)This experience he described as “a ray of light which broke in upon my soul.” (page 35,Watkins) The same year that Whitefield was converted, John Wesley departed for Georgia. At that time he was a high-church Anglican priest of the highest order.

            “… Wesley was at that time all that an Anglo-Catholic of today (1937) is understood to be except that he did not believe that the elements were changed into actual flesh and actual blood of Christ in the Supper.” (page 26, Watkins) 

            While crossing the Atlantic on the way to Georgia, Wesley’s ship was caught in a storm, during which he greatly feared for his life. A group of German “Moravian Brethren” were on board and were in the midst of a worship service when the seas broke over the ship while “the  Germans  calmly sang on.” (page 36, THE JOURNAL OF JOHN  WESLEY)

            “Soon after reaching Savannah he met Spangenberg” (aMoravian Brethren pastor) “who asked him the embarrassing question: ‘Do you know Jesus Christ?’  Wesley answered: ‘I know He is the Savior of the world.’  Spangenberg responded: ‘True, but do you know he has saved you?'” (page  458, Walker)

            His efforts with the Indians were a disappointment and his efforts with the colonists ended in disgrace, due in part to his own immature behavior. In fear of another storm on the way back across the Atlantic Ocean, Wesley correctly analyzed his fear and wrote, “I have a fair summer religion.” As he landed in England on February 1, 1738 he confessed of his Georgia experience:

            “But what have I learned of myself in the meantime? Why, (what I least of all suspected) that I who went to America to convert others was never myself converted to God.*” (Footnote – “* I am not sure of this.”) “‘I am not mad,’  though I thus speak;  but, ‘I speak the words of truth and soberness;’  if haply some of those who still dream may awake and see that as I am, so are they.” (page 54, Wesley’s journal)

            Under the guidance of Peter Bohler, a Moravian Brethren preacher in London, by whom he was told concerning his concept of faith, “that philosophy of yours must be purged away,” he was “clearly convinced of unbelief, of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved.” (page 58, Wesley’s journal)  On May 19,  John Wesley received word that his brother, Charles, who had also been under conviction of his sinful condition by means of the Moravian Brethren gospel, “had found rest to his soul.” While seeking and desiring that same rest with all his heart, John Wesley went “very unwillingly”  to a society meeting in Aldersgate Street.  That night he wrote:

            “About a quarter before nine, while he (the speaker) was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ,  Christ alone, for salvation;  and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins,  even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” (page 64, Wesley’s journal)

            Within a month after his conversion John Wesley went to Germany to spend three months with the Moravian Brethren.

            No doubt Mr. Wesley’s first analysis of his work in Georgia being a failure was accurate, as likewise was his confession that he was not a Christian until that night in Aldersgate Street. Even after he had visited the Moravian Brethren, whose ministers had guided him in his search for vital religion, Wesley reverted back to Anglican tradition and that in large measure. He never gave up his devotion to “The Church” which he always viewed, like all the other Protestant reformers,  as “Catholic.”

            “In his later years he formed a much more charitable view of his early religious life than in the first enthusiasm of his con- version.”(page 33,  Watkins) This later reassessment appears to have reached an absurd level when, “In his ‘Account of the Late Work of God in North America,’  published in 1778, Wesley mentions his work in Georgia as one of the main sources of the great awakening.” (page 7, Gewehr)

            Such claims of a successful service, and even a gospel ministry, preceding one’s own conversion became characteristic of a built-in contradiction always abiding in Methodism. Regardless of what we may think Wesley ought to have done after his conversion, the course which he did take is well known. This trio of recently converted Methodists, John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, encouraged by the report of Jonathan Edwards from America, received in October of 1738, (page 6, Gewehr) began a mission of reviving England.

            They “agreed about three things at this time – justification  by faith, conscious conversion, and the abiding witness of the Spirit … Crowds of five, ten, and twenty thousand, and on one occasion, thirty thousand are mentioned. When due allowance is made for inaccurate statistics, it is evident that the masses were famishing for the gospel.  During 1739 approximately five thousand converts were made and uncounted thousands influenced.” (page 35, Watkins)

            This revival continued in England throughout the century, in spite of many years of stiff opposition from the established church of England. That is no wonder! This message was the religion of the Holy Ghost, of Jesus Christ, and of the true Church. John Wesley attached to it many ideas of the Church of England. That mixture finally produced the “Methodist Church” toward the end of his life,  but in 1739 the basic message of these men was a pure and primitive gospel of salvation. It was the salvation message of the Moravian Brethren and of the Pietists before them, and of every true revival of all ages. It is ironic that the Wesleyan Methodists, who came to be among the world’s most numerous promoters of heart-felt religion, should always retain elements of Catholicism, which would perpetually tend to becloud that very experimental religion they preached. They would also continue to maintain “mixed” societies rather than to demand a totally regenerated membership. They would continue to exalt works excessively, sprinkle infants with water, deny the sufficiency of God’s work in regeneration to keep one saved until Judgment Day, advocate additional experiences of sanctifying grace, and to embrace the non-spiritual element of “the catholic church” as a part of themselves. Such a paradox was present in John Wesley. He zealously promoted Spiritual religion while zealously clinging to that residue of Catholic superstition retained by the Anglican Church. He was also famous for his opposition to the prevalent Calvinism of his time, while believing  himself  to have  been  personally predestined and Divinely preserved for a great work of God, and called to the gospel ministry thirteen years before he knew Jesus Christ. In view of such a paradox in the founder, there is little wonder that his kingdom is as chaotic as it is, but much wonder that God used him and his followers as He did to revive England, and much more of this world beyond. Perhaps God’s method of rescuing His church from the iron grip of Puritan Calvinism was to raise up beside them a near Anglo-Catholic Anglican Arminian with a Pietistic conversion to turn thousands to Christ. God knows His reasons, but it is the type of thing He would delight to do! By  the late 1700’s that extreme of Calvinism which threatened to make Baptists, in the words of Andrew Fuller, “a perfect dunghill in society” had become modified so much that Baptists became the foremost leaders in taking the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. Elder Andrew Fuller probably did more to help the Baptists shake off the shackles of extreme Calvinism than any other Baptist of his time. (page 584,  HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS by Thomas Armitage) His modified Calvinistic theology proved more compatible with the missionary zeal then arising among Baptists, which would carry the gospel throughout the world during the nineteenth century with much genuine success. How much influence the Methodist revival had in breaking up the Calvinistic stagnation of the Baptist churches cannot be determined. It seems obvious that rigid Calvinists who observed the fervor, power, and genuine success of the Wesleyan Methodist revival would have to wonder at the success of a movement they believed to be in error on all the “five points” they prized so highly. Honest hearts among them must have been provoked to reconsider the relative importance and correctness of those points of doctrine.

            It has often been suggested that the degree of outward emotion which usually characterized the Methodists did not exist among the Congregational and Presbyterian churches which participated in the great American revivals. In considering general trends, there is probably some truth to this claim. The Presbyterians and Puritans were generally more intellectual, and less favorable toward expressions of outward emotion in religion than either the Methodists or the Baptists. In his narrative of the 1734 revival, Jonathan Edwards admitted that there were some spontaneous outbursts of joy including laughter, floods of tears, loud weeping, and “crying out  with  a  loud  voice.” (page 49, Edward’s “narrative”) Edwards wrote much on “inward” spiritual experiences of God’s workings in conversion and their accompanying feelings, but he also expressed caution about the danger of people laying “the stress of their hope on any ideas of outward glory or any external thing whatsoever.”  He went on to excuse some “weaker persons” who “in giving an account of their experiences, have not so prudently distinguished between the spiritual and imaginary part.” (pages 70-71, Edwards) That Edwards was cautious it is evident, but that he regarded such intense heart-felt religion as genuine and needful is even more evident. Even the suppressed emotion of this early American “pietistic” revival was emotional enough to offend the “old side” Presbyterians and the “regular” Congregationalists.    

            In 1739, George Whitefield came to America on a preaching tour that helped to intensify the revival fire which was already kindled. In the fall of 1740 he reached New England, where the “Great Awakening reached its high tide in the North.” (page 8, Gewehr) This “New Light” revival brought about a division in the Congregational ranks. This resulted in the formation of a new denomination called “Separates,” as distinguished from the regular Congregational churches. This separation became effective about 1744. The new “Separate” organizations were set up on the governmental plan of “Independents.” “They permitted  unlearned men to preach.” “Into these none were admitted who did not profess vital religion.” (pages 11-12, HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS IN VIRGINIA, by Robert Baylor Semple) It seems only natural that  some of them would further explore the Bible with their new found light and consequently cross over to the Baptists. Many did so. Their Rhode Island Baptist neighbors were helpful to many of them in making this transition. In 1745, Shubael Stearns became a “Separate.” In 1751 he was baptized into the fellowship of a Baptist church in Tolland, Connecticut. (page 12, Semple) In 1754 his spiritual impressions led him to Virginia where he was joined by Daniel Marshall who was then returning “from his mission among the Indians.” There Marshall also became a Baptist. (page 13, Semple)  In 1755, they and fourteen other Baptists constituted a church across the southern border of Virginia in the colony of North Carolina where there was more religious toleration. Revival broke out among these “Separate Baptists,” and they soon filled the country around them with Baptist churches. Within a few years they had spread across the border into Virginia and had become very numerous. By the end of the war for American independence they had become one of the most numerous sects of Christians in Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia. For a brief time there was a distance between the fellowship of the “Regular Baptists” of the eastern parts of these states and the much revived “Separate Baptists,” who were located  more generally in the western regions. At first, some of the Regular Baptists seem to have been somewhat opposed to the “Whitfield Revival,” as it was often called, but most of the difficulty between them appears to have been doubts on the part of the Separate Baptists. Some of them thought the Regular Baptists were too lax in their discipline, and they refused to bind themselves with a written confession of faith as the Regulars customarily did. That the Separates were more “Arminian” in their beginnings than the Regulars, as has been insinuated by some writers, is difficult to prove. Whitefield and Edwards both claimed to be Calvinists in their theology. So did most of the early Separate Baptists. How Rhode Island Baptist influence may have modified their Calvinism is difficult to determine. Because of the strong sense of liberty among them, Arminian sentiments soon affected some of their preachers and people. (pages 106-108, A HISTORY OF KENTUCKY BAPTISTS, by J. H. Spencer)  They refused a written creed, and gave every man liberty to follow the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures according to the light given him. It was to be expected that some would drift away from the traditional rigid Calvinism that had persisted as a strong element in the theology of many British Christians since Protestant- ism first became a dominant force in that kingdom. By 1787, a union of Regular and Separate Baptists had been accomplished without significant modification of either group under the name “United Baptists.” (page 99-100, Semple)  J. H. Spencer wrote of the first six preachers in Kentucky in 1780, three of which were “Regular Baptists” and three of which were “Separate Baptists,” “a distinction almost without a difference.”  (page 18, Volume 1, Spencer)

            At the second annual association of Separate Baptists in North Carolina in 1761, “the Rev. John Gano, from New England, was there. He was sent, it seems, to inquire into the state of these New Light Baptists. He was received by Stearns with great affection.  But the young and illiterate preachers were afraid of him, and kept at a distance … before he left they were greatly attached to him.”  He reported, “‘Doubtless the power of God was among them; that although they were rather immethodical,  they certainly had the root of  the matter at  heart.'” (pages 65-66, Semple) John Gano came from among the very heart of the Regular Baptists of that time. The staunch stand of the Regular Baptists of that day regarding religious experience and heartfelt religion is revealed in the following account from his life:

            “Before he had been licensed to preach he accompanied Benjamin Miller and David Thomas, who were among the most eminent ministers of their day, on a missionary tour into Virginia, whither they had been sent by the Philadelphia Association. The principal object of this mission was to visit and set in order a little church on Opecon Creek, which had been constituted by the notorious imposter, Henry Loveall. On reaching the place, and visiting this little church, the ministers found it in a deplorable condition. Only three of its members could give a satisfactory account of their conversion. These were constituted a new church,  and the rest of the members were exhorted to seek the salvation of their souls.” (page 118, Volume 1, Spencer) 

            The Separate Baptists in North Carolina may have had some valid reason for being wary of the Regular Baptists in that region.

            “While these churches were strictly Baptists in everything else,  a portion,  if not all of them,  were loose in their discipline, and admitted unconverted members to baptism. In 1751, they were partially reclaimed from this practice, mainly by Robert Williams of Welsh Neck, South Carolina, and conversation and efforts of a private member by name of Wm. Wallace, but more especially by Elder John Gano who visited them in 1754, and Benjamin Miller, and Peter Vanhorn  in 1755. … In 1754 … the Philadelphia Association sent out Elder John Gano as a missionary, who visited this state (North Carolina) and affected great good … Mr. Gano’s  visit is described by Morgan Edwards, as follows: ‘On his arrival, he sent to the ministers requesting an interview with them, which they declined, and appointed a meeting among themselves to consult what to do; Elder Gano, hearing of it, went to their meeting, and addressed them in words to this effect, ‘I desired a visit from you, which, as a brother and a stranger, I had a right to expect, but, as ye have refused, I give up my claim and have come to pay you a visit;’  with that he ascended into the pulpit and read, for his text, the following words: ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are ye?’  This text he managed in such a manner as to make some afraid of him,  and others ashamed of their shyness. Many were convinced of errors touching faith and conversion, and submitted to examination.  One minister hearing this, went to be examined, and intimated to his people that he should return triumphant; Mr. Gano heard him out, and then, turning to his companion, said: ‘I profess, brother, this will not do – this man has the one thing needful to seek;’ upon which the person examined hastened home, and upon being asked how he came off, replied, ‘The Lord have mercy upon you, for this Northern minister has put a mene, tekel, upon me.'” (pages 43-44 A HISTORY OF THE SANDY CREEK BAPTIST ASSOCIATION,  by George Purefoy)     

            In 1769, the Ketockton Regular Baptist Association (in Virginia) sent messengers and a letter to the Separate Baptist association, from which an extract reads as follows:

            “Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ: The bearers of this letter can acquaint you with the design of writing it. Their errand is peace, and their business is a reconciliation between us, if there is any difference subsisting. If we are all Christians, all Baptists – all New Lights – why are we divided?  Must the little appellative names, Regular and Separate, break the golden bond of charity, and set the sons and daughters  of Zion at variance? ‘Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity;’  but how bad and how bitter it is for them to live asunder in discord. To indulge ourselves in prejudice is surely a disorder, and to quarrel about nothing is irregularity with a witness. O! Our dear Brethren!  Endeavor to prevent this calamity for the future.” This proposal was rejected by a small majority of the Separate Baptists. (pages 67-68, Semple)

            Semple revealed that those “Regular” Baptists in North Carolina, before mentioned, who were admitting unconverted members into their number, were not in fact Regular Baptists at all until after the preachers from the Philadelphia Association set them in proper order. Evidently, even after this process, they still retained some members who were baptized before they were converted. In 1772-1773 the Separate Baptists rejected the fellowship of these churches primarily on this ground and still complained that these Regular Baptists (Kehukee Association) “were not sufficiently strict in receiving church members.” The problem of the baptisms was taken up by these people and corrected by the year 1777. (pages 446-452, Semple) Thus it is proved that the Baptists were not divided over the revival as were Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans (Episcopalians). The revival strongly re-emphasized some beliefs for which Baptists had long contended regarding conversion. This first “great awakening” was certainly revival for them, but to the other denominations it appeared somewhat foreign, and so brought a schismatic element among them.  

            The first Methodist society in America was organized in Maryland in 1762. The second Methodist society in America was formed in 1766. (These were local gatherings; they did not call themselves churches at that time because Methodists then considered themselves to be societies within the Anglican church.) The first official appointment of a Methodist missionary to America occurred in late 1769. All of the foregoing revival activity here described preceded the very beginnings of the American Methodist movement. That is not all! Accusations of emotional excess were made against the Edwards revival of 1734. It has already been written what Edwards confessed he witnessed, such as weeping aloud, crying out, joyful outbursts, revelations, spiritual experiences, etc. Some of this preceded any participation by any of the three founders of the Methodist movement. Excessive emotion was demonstrated in 1741, following George Whitefield’s first visit to America. Under the preaching of James Davenport screams and fainting were added.  “Davenport was also a great ‘favorer of visions, trances, imaginations, and powerful impressions.'” (page 44, Cohen) Such excesses caused a backlash against the revival in New England.

            Wesley Gewehr wrote that after the coming of Whitefield to America in 1739, “Edwards, too, preached with effect,  and so vividly did he picture the torments of Hell that people shrieked, cried, moaned, and groveled on the floor or fell prostrate into a state of coma.” (page 8, Gewehr) When the first revival among American Methodists occurred, in 1776, similar manifestations occurred. Devereaux Jarrett, a New Light Anglican who labored in that work, was somewhat disturbed by the emotional activity, but “was somewhat reconciled to the phenomena, however, by reading a defense of them by President Edwards, who observed that the work was always deepest wherever they were most present.” (pages 153-154, Gewehr)

            It is evident that Jonathan Edwards was somewhat wary of excess emotion at the time he wrote his narrative of the early revival. It seems unlikely that he would have tolerated hysterical behavior, or  much emotional display beyond that degree of emotion generated by the Holy Spirit. However, who can say with certainty how much he did allow as the great revival continued? Most interpreters of those revival activities seem to be biased according to their opinions as to how much emotion is Spiritual, when they review accounts of this “great awakening.”

Jarrett “did not doubt the genuineness of the work of grace,  but he wished it might go on without the loud outcries, the tremblings, the fallings and convulsions, the babel of confusion.” “Jarrett himself was compelled to admit that as the emotional element abated  ‘the work of conviction and conversion abated too.’  In his perplexity he hardly knew what course to pursue, seeing that it took much wisdom to ‘allay the wild, and not damp the sacred fire.'” (page 154, Gewehr) That this sort of activity also occurred among the Baptists is well recorded. Elder Robert Semple described the Baptist revival of 1783 in Virginia in the following words:

            “It was not unusual to have a large proportion of the congregation prostrate on the floor; and, in some instances, they have lost the use of their limbs. No distinct articulation could be heard unless from those immediately by. Screams, cries, groans, songs, shouts, hosannas, notes of grief and notes of joy, all heard at the same time, made a heavenly confusion, a sort of  indescribable concert. Even the wicked and unenlightened were astonished and said, the Lord hath done great things for his people.  At associations and great meetings, where there were several ministers,  many of them would exercise their gifts at the same time in different parts of the congregation; some in exhortation; some in praying for the distressed; and some in argument with opposers.  At first many of the preachers did not approve of this kind of work. Others fanned it as fire from heaven. It is not unworthy of notice that in those congregations where the preachers encouraged these exercises to much extent,  the work was more extensive and greater numbers were added. It must also be admitted that in many of these congregations no little confusion and disorder arose after the revival had subsided. Some have accounted for this by an old maxim; ‘Where much good is done much evil will also be done. Where God sows many good seed the enemy will sow many tares.’  Be that as it may, certain it is that many ministers who labored earnestly to get Christians into their churches were afterward much perplexed to get out hypocrites. Perhaps the best conclusion is to avoid either extreme. A stiff formality or an inordinate confusion ought each to be shunned. A scriptural and rational animation is from God, and ought to be indulged and encouraged. Yet vigilance ought to be used to keep off actual fanaticism as being the effect of natural and unenlightened emotions. (page 58, Semple) Written in 1810, Semple’s moderate view of such activities was probably the prevailing Baptist opinion regarding “exercises” through most of the nineteenth century. The prevailing view of the “Baptist” denomination of today would no doubt categorize all but a small portion of such activity with Pentecostalism regardless of its spiritual content. Proof is also available that the Regular Baptists, even in the years preceding the revolutionary war, also experienced some such activity. Morgan Edwards, a Regular Baptist preacher, writing of a Regular Baptist church in Virginia, Chappawomsick by name, wrote:

            “The power of God has been more visible here than in any other congregation of regular Baptists; the Spirit coming as a mighty rushing wind and the people trembling and falling down and crying out as among the Separate Baptists.”

            Edwards also transcribed from the journal of Daniel Fristoe, who was a minister of that church, a scene in Faquier County, Virginia where Fristoe was preaching. (This probably happened among the people who were later organized into Brent Town Regular Baptist Church in 1773. – see Semple, page 386) Fristoe wrote:

            “This day (June 15, 1771) I began to act as an ordained minister, and never before saw such manifest appearances of God’s working and the Devil’s raging at one time and in one place … My first business  was to examine candidates for baptism, who related what God did for their souls in such a manner as to affect many present;  then the opposers grew very troublesome, particularly one James Nayler, who after raging and railing for a while fell down and began to tumble and beat the ground with both ends like a fish when it drops off the hook on dry land, cursing and blaspheming God all the while; at last a gentleman offered ten shillings to any that would bind him and take him out of the place, which was soon earned by some stout fellow that stood by. Sixteen persons were adjudged fit subjects for baptism. The next day (being Sunday) about 2000 people came together. Many more offered for baptism, thirteen of which were judged worthy.

            As we stood by the water the people were weeping and crying in a most extraordinary manner; and others cursing and swearing and acting like men possessed. In the midst of this, a tree tumbled down, being overloaded with people who (Zachaeous like) had climbed up to see baptism administered; the coming down of that tree occasioned the adjacent trees to fall, also being loaded in the same manner;  but none were hurt.

            When the ordinance was administered, and I had laid hands on the parties baptized, we sang those charming words of Dr. Watts. ‘Come we that fear the Lord.’ The multitude sang and wept and smiled in tears, holding up their hands and countenances towards heaven in such a manner as I have not seen before.

            In going home I turned to look at the people who remained by the water side and saw some screaming on the ground, some wringing their hands, and some in extacies of joy, some praying; others cursing and swearing and exceedingly outrageous.  We have seen strange things today. (pages 38-39, Volume 2, EDWARD’S MATERIALS)      

            When such influential and educated Baptist leaders as John Gano, Morgan Edwards, and Robert Semple, not to mention many such men from other denominations, confirmed the presence of God in these revivals, who could accuse the activities they witnessed of having been “holy roller” meetings? These manifestations occurred more than a century before the Holiness and Pentecostal movements (often called holy rollers) developed, which institutionalized this camp meeting type of emotional exercises.

            What Morgan Edwards and Daniel Fristoe described among Regular Baptists in 1771 as being more characteristic of Separate Baptists happened at a time when Methodists numbered probably less than a thousand persons in all of America. (page 50, OUT OF ALDERSGATE by W. T. Watkins) We do not deny that Methodists also experienced such manifestations when the great revival occurred among them in America in 1776, nor that such phenomena occurred much earlier among them in Britain. It is evident, however, that this,  often regarded as their trademark, was not begun by them, and in its beginnings in America was shared by many others. Such “exercises” continued in the “camp meetings,” which became famous on the American frontier in the early 1800’s, where emotional activity came to be expected and consequently took on a more human and excessive manner. That revival, which is thought by many to have begun there in 1800, came to be known as the second “great awakening.” It was  in a large measure a repeat or an extension of the preceding one, which served as well to Christianize the western parts of the United States as the first one had done to turn the eastern states into a Christian nation. Hardly could this second revival be doubted, in view of its effect upon the nation. God was indeed in the midst of it, at least in its early years. Nor could it be doubted that genuine localized revivals continued to ripple through the nation during the remainder of the century. That man-made “revivalism” also evolved, as human endeavor tried to reproduce such heaven-sent revivals, is an unfortunate certainty. Some of the results of that “revivalism” are dealt with in the next chapter.

            Perhaps as important as the need to shed light upon the origins of heartfelt emotional religion and revival manifestations, is the need to establish as fact the early Baptist practice of lost sinners praying for salvation while being prayed for by Christians until they experienced conversion. With some variation of manner, such was for centuries the common doctrine and practice of their evangelism. The conversion experience of an outstanding Separate Baptist preacher, Colonel Samuel Harriss, in 1759 will serve well for this purpose:            “Once as the people rose from prayers, the Colonel was observed to continue on his knees, with his head and hands hanging down the other side of the bench; some of the people went to his relief, and found he was in a senseless fit;  when he came to himself he smiled, and broke out in an ecstacy of joy, crying, ‘glory, glory, glory!'” Morgan Edwards commented, “his conversion (like most of the Separate ministers) was brought to pass in an unusual manner.” (page 48, Volume 2, Edwards)

            What Edwards meant by his expression, “unusual manner,” he did not explain, but did express that it was common among Separate Baptists. We cannot suppose that Regular Baptists did not pray with lost sinners, for too much evidence is available to the contrary. It is likely that they may not have encouraged lost sinners to engage in prayer in public meetings as much as the others. That such degree of outward emotional display as was present in Samuel Harriss’ conversion was not common among Regular Baptists at that time may also reasonably be supposed. That these Separate Baptists among whom Samuel Harriss was converted were more Spiritual and more effective in evangelism than the Regular Baptists of the same period is a fact supported by recorded history. For more than a century afterward, such conversion experiences as that of Colonel Harriss were not unusual in the ranks of any of the Baptists. J. H. Spencer noted that twenty of the first twenty-five Baptist preachers to settle in Kentucky had been Separate Baptists. Yet eighteen of them “identified themselves with the Regular Baptists” after they were settled in  Kentucky. (page 107, Volume 1, Spencer)  It cannot be denied that the Separate Baptists were more successful in spreading the gospel of salvation, and Baptist principles, and “regular” ones at that.     

            Perhaps it would be wise to note here that neither Baptists nor any other religious group have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit. Prayer is a natural impulse for anyone who is heavily convicted of sin; this is a fact known to all who have experienced the true conviction of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, humiliation comes with genuine Spiritual conviction. So also do sorrow and shame. The more intense the conviction, the more intense outward reaction is likely to be. Thus, under a true outpouring of the Holy Spirit people tend to humble their bodies and pray mightily unto God with broken and contrite hearts. The actions of prayer and mourning, under enough Spiritual power, are more spontaneous than deliberate. When peace and rest finally comes to the heart of a deeply contrite person, and realization that Divine deliverance has come begins to fill his conscious mind, joy floods his heart, and spontaneous outbursts of joyful expression are very natural. To deny the likelihood of any such “exercises” during true revival conditions is to either deny human nature, or to deny these operations of the Holy Spirit or man’s consciousness of them. No one can deny any of these three without ignoring Holy Scripture. However, any time such activities as are normal reactions to the greatness of God’s Spirit are observed and mimicked, the same act which glorifies God and blesses men when it is genuine, becomes that which mocks God and deceives men. Spiritual observers must remain able to discern the difference.     

            By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Methodists had profited most in terms of numbers from the “great awakenings” in America. By that time they were larger than any of the other denominations which participated in the revivals, despite the fact that the others had a head start over them in years of participation in the great American revivals. Baptist writers, and also Presbyterians, seem to sometimes imply that their people didn’t participate in the extreme emotion of the great awakening revivals. Reports indicate they often did, however; but it is apparent that they tended to back away from its excesses sooner than their Methodist brothers and sisters. Methodists could presume that their converts who seemed to fall away after the revival had lost their salvation. The doctrines of both Baptists and Presbyterians required them to acknowledge that their apostates were never truly converted. Because of this, it is likely that they learned more from the aftermath of the revival storm about the need to moderate excesses of emotion. Eventually the Methodists divided over the degree of “holiness” attainable in the mortal human body through the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit. By a ruling against the increasing “holiness” element among them in 1894, much of that element was cause to secede. Once unrestrained by its moderate brethren, the independent “holiness” movement soon begat the “pentecostal” movement. Main-stream Methodists, in contrast,  began a slow but inevitable drift back toward the Episcopal mother from which their founder, John Wesley, could never bring himself to depart.

            In America the fire of God blazed with great intensity during the revivals which awakened the nation to spiritual religion. From 1720 to 1790 these fires burned, for the most part continually, in various places, greatly changing and shaping the face of America. After a few years of lull, they again broke out with great intensity in 1800 and continued long enough to greatly subdue the rapidly expanding western frontier under the banner of primitive Christianity.  Repeated outbreaks of localized revival continued to spread its characteristic “pietism” throughout much of the country well into the twentieth century. But alas! Out of the intense heat of the latter revival a tool was forged which began to demand notice by the middle of the nineteenth century. It would continue to stamp out converts long after the true revival fire had departed from it. The rise of man-made “revivalism” is dealt with in the next chapter.


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