Can Presbyterians Revive?

Here’s a follow-up from the previous post. Again, from This Day in Presbyterian History, the editor opens with skepticism:

I came across the following account of a series of revivals that took place in North Carolina in 1802.

Presbyterians don’t generally know what to do with such accounts. We like to keep our hands at our sides. Still, I think there is a place in our theology for reformation and revival, to admit there are exceptional times of harvest, when God’s people are particularly conscious of sin and turn from it, and when the Lord brings in great harvests of souls.

I agree in principle that God certainly can, and does, sometimes grow his church at different rates at different times, but the following description of people camping from Friday-Monday (or longer?) for tent meetings on a mountaintop sounds a lot more like Finney than Ordinary Means.

The fourth general meeting was appointed on Friday, March 27, and was held at New Providence Church, under the charge of Mr. Wallis, in Mecklenburg county, about twelve miles southeast of Charlotte, and somewhat more than seventy miles north of Camden. The encampment was on a beautiful mount, easy of ascent from every direction, and more than half surrounded by a little crystal stream, which afforded water sufficient for the people and horses. It was clothed with a thick growth of giant oaks, with very little undergrowth. By three o’clock in the afternoon it was swept clear of timber, the tents were pitched, the fuel was gathered, and thousands, with their covered wagons and stretched canvas arranged in regular lines of encampment, covered the summit…

During the evening, and throughout the greater part of the night, there were exercises of singing, prayer, and exhortation in the several tents. The novelty of the scene, the fervor of devotion, and the depth of feeling so affected the multitude that few closed their eyes in sleep to the dawn of day. Before the services commenced on Saturday morning, three persons were struck down. At the close of the forenoon sermons several more were similarly affected; and the number continued to increase until the close of the meetings. Seventeen ministers were present, and about five hundred communicants participated in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, which was administered in the midst of the camp without noise or disturbance. At the same time preaching was going forward at three different stations. At the close of the services on Monday, continuing as they did till midnight, there were about one hundred persons prostrate on the ground, the greater part of whom were shouting aloud, and many of them in the most earnest manner entreating for mercy. While Dr. Hall was at prayer, about forty fell at the same instant.

I’d rather go back to the notions from the previous post about what “genuine revival” looks like:

A genuine revival is noiseless, orderly, solemn and even awful. … The spirit of a genuine revival repudiates all excesses of feeling, speech, and action. It abhors all irregularities; all eccentricities in the manner of the preacher; all wild incoherent ravings; all personalities of address; praying for individuals by name in public assemblies, irreverent familiarity with the name of God; and calling on individuals in promiscuous meetings, to tell what God hath done for their souls. It rejects whatever is theatrical in gesture, pompous or vulgar in expression, and offensive to a cool dispassionate judgment, in stories and anecdotes. It demands solemnity; deep, heartfelt, all pervading solemnity in the preacher, the church and the congregation.

It seems that this author from Charleston SC in 1838 would have considered these 1802 meetings “about twelve miles southeast of Charlotte” NC, as:

In the second class, the truth of God is half wrapt up; doctrines offensive to the carnal heart may not be preached, lest the revival stop; total depravity; the sinner’s utter helplessness; eternal election; God’s absolute sovereignty; the resistless agency of the Holy Spirit, must all yield to the doctrine of the sinner’s ability; this is the grand fulcrum on which rests the whole moral machinery, by which he is to be renewed, and sanctified and transferred to heaven! And then, in order to complete success, protracted meetings of various kinds, extending from four to forty days must be maintained, and the most popular, not the most spiritual preachers in all the country must be called in, to give repeated and powerful impulses to the work. And when these means are exhausted, and the excitement once begins to flag, the Minister loses his order, the Church remits her prayer meetings; and the mass of community move on as if nothing had happened.

In such revivals we have little confidence. “Except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”




This entry was posted in Charles Finney, Ecclesiology, History, Links, Quotes, Reformed piety, Revivalism. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Can Presbyterians Revive?

  1. Hey, Rube, it’s tough trying to find something to write about every day! But it does sound a lot more like 2d Awakening type stuff, doesn’t it?

  2. RubeRad says:

    Every day?! Obviously I don’t even try! Did you pick up This Day… this year? I thought this was David Peterman’s project.

    But yes, it does sound more like the 2GA than the 1(PG)A, as we say around here. But I don’t mean to be critical of the This Day In Presbyterian History project, this is part of Presbyterian History, and if we don’t understand it, then we’re doomed to repeat it, right?

  3. I have a cartoon here where an old professor is pictured sitting in his office with a young protege, and the old prof says woefully, “Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Yet those who DO study history are doomed to stand by helplessly while everyone else repeats it.”

    And yes, David bowed out for this year. I’ve got loads of materials here, so it is a bit easier for me than it was for him.

  4. RubeRad says:

    Cool, well thanks for keeping it alive, I will continue to try to send you new readers as I run across interesting historical tidbits!

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