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chapters of this book. It is safe to say at this point that
the early orthodox fears have at least not been fully con-
firmed by the sequel up to this date. It was one of the
most strenuous of the early disputants against the " lib-
eral " opinions^ who remarked in his later years, concern-
ing the Unitarian saints, that it seemed as if their exclu-
sive contemplation of Jesus Christ in his human character
as the example for our imitation had wrought in them an
exceptional beauty and Christlikeness of living. As for
the Universalists, the record of their fidelity, as a body,
to the various interests of social morality is not surpassed
by that of any denomination. But in the earlier days the
conflict against the two sects called " liberal " was waged
ruthlessly, not as against defective or erroneous schemes
of doctrine, but as against distinctly antichristian heresies.
There is instruction to be gotten from studying, in com-
parison, the course of these opinions in the established
churches of Great Britain and among the unestablished
churches of America. Under the enforced comprehen-
siveness or tolerance of a national church, it is easier for
strange doctrines to spread within the pale. Under the
American plan of the organization of Christianity by
voluntary mutual association according to elective affinity,
with freedom to receive or exclude, the flock within the
fold may perhaps be kept safer from contamination; as
when the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1792, and

1 Leonard Bacon, of New Haven, in conversation.


again in 1 794, decided that Universalists be not admitted
to the sealing ordinances of the gospel ; ^ but by this
course the excluded opinion is compelled to intrench itself
both for defense and for attack in a sectarian organization.
It is a practically interesting question, the anawer to which
is by no means self-evident, whether Universalist opinions
would have been less prevalent to-day in England and
Scotland if they had been excluded from the national
churches and erected into a sect with its partisan pulpits,
presses, and propagandists ; or whether they would have
more diffused in America if, instead of being dealt with by
process of excommunication or deposition, they had been
dealt with simply by argument. This is one of the many
questions which history raises, but which (happily for him)
it does not fall within the function of the historian to answer.

To this period is to be referred the origin of some of
the minor American sects.

The " United Brethren in Christ " grew into a distinct
organization about the year 1800. It arose incidentally
to the Methodist evangelism, in an effort on the part of
Philip William Otterbein, of the German Reformed
Church, and Martin Boehm, of the Mennonites, to provide
for the shepherdless German-speaking people by an
adaptation of the Wesleyan methods. Presently, in the
natural progress of language, the English work outgrew
the German. It is now doing an extensive and useful
work by pulpit and press, chiefly in Pennsylvania and the
States of that latitude. The reasons for its continued
existence separate from the Methodist Church, which it
closely resembles both in doctrine and in polity, are more
apparent to those within the organization than to super-
ficial observers from outside.

1 Eddy, p. 387.


The organization just described arose from the unwill-
ingness of the German Reformed Church to meet the
craving needs of the German people by using the Wes-
leyan methods. From the uxiwillingness of the Metho-
dist Church to use the German language arose another
organization, " the Evangelical Association," sometimes
known, from the name of its founder, by the somewhat
grotesque title of " the Albrights." This also is both
Methodist and Episcopal, a reduced copy of the great
Wesleyan institution, mainly devoted to labors among the

In 1 792 was planted at Baltimore the first American
congregation of that organization of disciples of Emanuel
Swedenborg which had been begun in London nine years
before and called by the appropriately fanciful name of
" the Church of the New Jerusalem."



The closing years of the eighteenth century show the
lowest low-water mark of the lowest ebb-tide of spiritual
life in the history of the American church. The demorali-
zation of army life, the fury of political factions, the catch-
penny materialist morality of Franklin, the philosophic
deism of men like Jefferson, and the popular ribaldry of
Tom Paine, had wrought, together with other untoward
influences, to bring about a condition of things which to
the eye of little faith seemed almost desperate.

From the beginning of the reaction from the stormy
excitements of the Great Awakening, nothing had seemed
to arouse the New England churches from a lethargic
dullness; so, at least, it seemed to those who recalled
those wonderful days of old, either in memory or by tra-
dition. We have a gauge of the general decline of the
public morals, in the condition of Yale College at the ac-
cession of President D wight in 1795, as described in the
reminiscences of Lyman Beecher, then a sophomore.

" Before he came, college was in a most ungodly state.
The college church was almost extinct. Most of the stu-
dents were skeptical, and rowdies were plenty. Wine


and liquors were kept in many rooms ; intemperance, pro-
fanity, gambling, and licentiousness were common. I
hardly know how I escaped. . . . That was the day of
the infidelity of the Tom Paine school. Boys that
dressed flax in the barn, as I used to, read Tom Paine and
believed him ; I read and fought him all the way. Never
had any propensity to infidelity. But most of the class
before me were infidels, and called each other Voltaire,
Rousseau, D'Alembert, etc." ^

In the Middle States the aspect was not more promis-
ing. Princeton College had been closed for three years
of the Revolutionary War. In i 782 there were only two
among the students who professed themselves Christians.
The Presbyterian General Assembly, representing the
strongest religious force in that region, in 1 798 described
the then existing condition of the country in these terms :

" Formidable innovations and convulsions in Europe
threaten destruction to morals and religion. Scenes of
devastation and bloodshed unexampled in the history of
modern nations have convulsed the world, and our coun-
try is threatened with similar calamities. We perceive
with pain and fearful apprehension a general dereliction
of religious principles and practice among our fellow-citi-
zens, a visible and prevailing impiety and contempt for
the laws and institutions of religion, and an abounding
infidelity, which in many instances tends to atheism itself.
The profligacy and corruption of the public morals have
advanced with a progress proportionate to our declensioii
in religion. Profaneness, pride, luxury, injustice, intem-
perance, lewdness, and every species of debauchery and
loose indulgence greatly abound."

' " Autobiography of Lyman Beecher," vol. i., p. 43. The same charm-
ing volume contains abundant evidence that the spirit of trne religion was
cherished in the homes of the people, while there were so many public signs
of apostasy.


From the point of view of the Episcopalian of that day
the prospect was even more disheartening. It was at this
time that Bishop Provoost of New York laid down his
functions, not expecting the church to continue much
longer; and Bishop Madison of Virginia shared the de-
spairing conviction of Chief-Justice Marshall that the
church was too far gone ever to be revived. i Over all
this period the historian of the Lutheran Church writes
up the title " Deterioration." 2 Proposals were set on foot
looking toward the merger of these two languishing de-

Even the Methodists, the fervor of whose zeal and
vitality of whose organization had withstood what seemed
severer tests, felt the benumbing influence of this unhappy
age. For three years ending in 1 796 the total member-
ship diminished at the rate of about four thousand a year.

Many witnesses agree in describing the moral and re-
ligious condition of the border States of Kentucky and
Tennessee as peculiarly deplorable. The autobiography
of that famous pioneer preacher, Peter Cartwright, gives
a lively picture of Kentucky society in 1 793 as he remem-
bered it in his old age :

" Logan County, when my father moved into it, was
called 'Rogues' Harbor.' Here many refugees from all
parts of the Union fled to escape punishment or justice ;
for although there was law, yet it could not be executed,
and it was a desperate state of society. Murderers, horse-
thieves, highway robbers, and counterfeiters fled there,
until they combined and actually formed a majority.
Those who favored a better state of morals were called
' Regulators.' But they encountered fierce opposition
from the ' Rogues,' and a battle was fought with guns,

1 Tiffany, " Protestant Episcopal Church," pp. 388, 394, 395.

2 Dr. Jacobs, chap. xix.



pistols, dirks, knives, and clubs, in which the ' Regulators
were defeated." ^

The people that walked in this gross darkness beheld a
great light. In 1796 a Presbyterian minister, James Mc-
Gready, who for more than ten years had done useful ser-
vice in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, assumed charge
of several Presbyterian churches in that very Logan County
which we know through the reminiscences of Peter Cart-
wright. As he went the round of his scattered congrega-
tions his preaching was felt to have peculiar power " to
arouse false professors, to awaken a dead church, and
warn sinners and lead them to seek the new spiritual life
which he himself had found." Three years later two
brothers, William and John McGee, one a Presbyterian
minister and the other a Methodist, came through the
beautiful Cumberland country in Kentucky and Tennessee,
speaking, as if in the spirit and power of John the Baptist,
to multitudes that gathered from great distances to hear
them. On one occasion, in the woods of Logan County,
in July, 1800, the gathered families, many of whom came
from far, tethered their teams and encamped for several
days for the unaccustomed privilege of common worship
and Christian preaching. This is believed to have been
the first American camp-meeting — an era worth remem-
bering in our history. Not without abundant New Testa-
ment antecedents, it naturalized itself at once on our soil
as a natural expedient for scattered frontier populations
unprovided with settled institutions. By a natural process
of evolution, adapting itself to other environments and
uses, the backwoods camp-meeting has grown into the
" Chautauqua " assembly, which at so many places beside?

1 " Autobiography of Peter Cartwright," quoted by Dorchester, " Chris-
tianity in the United States," p. 348.


the original center at Chautauqua Lake has grown into an
important and most characteristic institution of American

We are happy in having an account of some of these
meetings from one who was personally and sympatheti-
cally interested in them. For in the spring of the next
year Barton Warren Stone, a Presbyterian minister serv-
ing his two congregations of Concord and Cane Ridge in
Bourbon County, and oppressed with a sense of the re-
ligious apathy prevailing about him, made the long jour-
ney across the State of Kentucky to see for himself the
wonderful things of which he had heard, and afterward
wrote his reminiscences.

" There, on the edge of a prairie in Logan County,
Kentucky, the multitudes came together and continued a
number of days and nights encamped on the ground, dur-
ing 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 to-
gether 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
there 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 deHverance, 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 ap-
peals 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 and praise to God, and affectionate exhor-
tation 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

1 that several sank down into the same appearance of death.

I 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

i work which brings men to humble confession, to forsaking

of sin, to prayer, fervent praise and thanksgiving, and a
sincere and affectionate exhortation to sinners to repent
and come to Jesus the Saviour."


t Profoundly impressed by what he had seen and heard,

.; Pastor Stone returned to his double parish in Bourbon

I County and rehearsed the story of it. " The congregation

I was affected with awful solemnity, and many returned

; home weeping." This was in the early spring. Not

I many months afterward there was a notable springing up

1 of this seed.


j " A memorable meeting was held at Cane Ridge in

August, 1 80 1. 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 Metho-
dist and Baptist preachers aided in the work, and all ap-
peared 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 con-
tinued 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 careless-
ness had universally prevailed, that I have thought that
nothing common could have arrested and held the atten-
tion of the people." ^

The sober and cautious tone of this narrative will already
have impressed the reader. These are not the words of a
heated enthusiast, or a man weakly credulous. We may
hesitate to accept his judgment, but may safely accept his
testimony, amply corroborated as it is, to facts which he
has seen and heard.

But the crucial test of the work, the test prescribed by
the Lord of the church, is that it shall be known by its
fruits. And this test it seems to bear well. Dr. Archi-
bald Alexander, had in high reverence in the Presbyterian

1 See B. B. Tyler, " History of the Disciples," pp. 11-17; R. V. Foster,
" The Cumberland Presbyterians," pp. 260-263 (American Church History
Series, vols, xi., xii.).


Church as a wise counselor in spiritual matters, made
scrupulous inquiry into the results of this revival, and re-
ceived from one of his correspondents, Dr. George A.
Baxter, who made an early visit to the scenes of the revi-
val, 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 pecul-
iarly 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 con-
founded infidelity and brought numbers beyond calcula-
tion under serious impressions."

A sermon preached in 1803 to the Presbyterian synod
of Kentucky, by the Rev. David Rice, has the value of
testimony given in the presence of other competent wit-
nesses, and liable thus to be questioned or contradicted.
In it he says :

" 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. ... A number
of families who had lived apparently without the fear of


God, in folly and in vice, without any religious instruction
or any proper government, are now reduced to order and
are daily joining in the worship of God, reading his word,
singing his praises, and offering up their supplications to a
throne of grace. Parents who seemed formerly to have
little or no regard for the salvation of their children are
now anxiously concerned for their salvation, are pleading
for them, and endeavoring to lead them to Christ and train
them up in the way of piety and virtue."

That same year the General Assembly of the Presby-
terian Church, in its annual review of the state of religion,
adverted with emphasis to the work in the Cumberland
country, and cited remarkable instances of conversion —
malignant opposers of vital piety convinced and reconciled,
learned, active, and conspicuous infidels becoming signal
monuments of that grace which they once despised ; and
in conclusion declared with joy that " the state and pros-
pects of vital religion in our country are more favorable
and encouraging than at any period within the last forty
years." ^

In order successfully to study the phenomena of this
remarkable passage in the history of the church, it is nec-
essary to bear in mind the social conditions that prevailed.
A population perfervido ingenio, of a temper peculiarly
susceptible of intense excitement, transplanted into a wild
country, under little control either of conventionality or
law, deeply ingrained from many generations with the
religious sentiment, but broken loose from the control of
it and living consciously in reckless disregard of the law
of God, is suddenly aroused to a sense of its apostasy and
wickedness. The people do not hear the word of God
from Sabbath to Sabbath, or even from evening to even-

1 Tyler, "The Disciples"; Foster, "The Cumberland Presbyterians,"
ubi supra.



ing, and take it home with them and ponder it amid the
avocations of daily business ; by the conditions, they are
sequestered for days together in the wilderness for the
exclusive contemplation of momentous truths pressed
upon the mind with incessant and impassioned iteration ;
and they remain together, an agitated throng, not of men
only, but of women and children. The student of psy-
chology recognizes at once that here are present in an un-
usual combination the conditions not merely of the ready
propagation of influence by example and persuasion, but
of those nervous, mental, or spiritual infections which
make so important a figure in the world's history, civil,
military, or religious. It is wholly in accord with human
nature that the physical manifestations attendant on re-
ligious excitement in these circumstances should be of an
intense and extravagant sort.

And such indeed they were. Sudden outcries, hysteric
weeping and laughter, faintings, catalepsies, trances, were
customary concomitants of the revival preaching. Mul-
titudes fell prostrate on the ground, " spiritually slain," as
it was said. Lest the helpless bodies should be trampled
on by the surging crowd, they were taken up and laid
in rows on the floor of the neighboring meeting-house.
" Some lay quiet, unable to move or speak. Some talked,
but could not move. Some beat the floor with their heels.
Some, shrieking in agony, bounded about, it is said, like
a live fish out of water. Many lay down and rolled over
and over for hours at a time. Others rushed wildly over
the stumps and benches, and then plunged, shouting ' Lost !
Lost! ' into the forest."

As the revival went on and the camp-meeting grew to
be a custom and an institution, this nervous epidemic took
on certain recognizable forms, one of which was known
as " the jerks." This malady " began in the head and



spread rapidly to the feet. The head would be thrown
from side to side so swiftly that the features would be
blotted out and the hair made to snap. When the body
was affected the sufferer was hurled over hindrances that
came in his way, and finally dashed on the ground, to
bounce about Hke a ball." The eccentric Lorenzo Dow,
whose freaks of eloquence and humor are remembered by
many now living, speaks from his own observation on the
subject :

" I have passed a meeting-house where I observed the
undergrowth had been cut for a camp-meeting, and from
fifty to a hundred saplings were left breast-high on pur-
pose for persons who were ' jerked ' to hold on to. I
observed where they had held on they had kicked up the
earth as a horse stamping flies. ... I believe it does not
affect those naturalists who wish to get it to philosophize
about it; and rarely those who are the most pious; but
the lukewarm, lazy professor is subject to it. The wicked
fear it and are subject to it ; but the persecutors are more
subject to it than any, and they have sometimes cursed
and sworn and damned it while jerking." i

There is nothing improbable in the claim that phenom-
ena like these, strange, weird, startling, " were so much
like miracles that they had the same effect as miracles on

1 Let me add an illustrative instance related to me by the distinguished
Methodist, Dr. David P. Durbin. Standing near the platform from which
he w^as to preach at a camp-meeting, he observed a powerfully built young
backwoodsman who was manifestly there with no better intent than to disturb
and break up the meeting. Presently it became evident that the young man
was conscious of some influence taking hold of him to which he was resolved
not to yield ; he clutched with both hands a hickory sapling next which he was
standing, to hold himself steady, but was whirled round and round, until the
bark of the sapling peeled off under his grasp. But, as in the cases referred
to by Dow, the attack was attended by no religious sentiment whatever.

On the manifestations in the Cumberland country, see McMasters, " United
States," vol. ii., pp. 581, 582, and the sources there cited. For some judi-

Online LibraryLeonard Woolsey BaconA history of American Christianity → online text (page 19 of 34)