LOOKING BACK TO THE CANE RIDGE REVIVAL
"It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me." John 6:45; Isaiah 54:13.
"Look here! In the paper! A Great Camp Meeting! They're going to have Holy Communion at Cane Ridge in August! We could go to that! It would only take three or four days to get there. And I think the Lord would be especially pleased if we would go to this."
A preacher wrote about the spiritual condition of the people in 1800 as they moved westward from the coastal area. "How many thousands … never saw, much less read, or ever heard a Chapter of the Bible! How many ten thousands who never were baptized or heard a Sermon! And thrice ten thousand, who never heard of the Name of Christ, save in Curses … ! Lamentable! Lamentable is the situation of these people."
At the Cane Ridge Revival, people came to a three day Gospel Meeting climaxing on Sunday with the celebration of the Lord's Supper. When they arrived there, the preaching was: REPENT! AVOID HELL! JESUS DIED FOR YOU! THERE IS POWER IN THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB! GOD WILL FORGIVE YOUR SINS! TODAY IS THE DAY OF SALVATION! COME TO JESUS NOW!
Barton W. Stone believed the Cane Ridge Revival was a work of God. Christ was preached, lives were changed, God's purposes were accomplished. Certainly Satan was there also to do his worst. But as Jesus said to the Pharisees: "If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you." Matt 12:26-28 (NKJV)
Christ was preached at Cane Ridge, and just who was doing this preaching? Apostle Paul wrote: "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice." Phil 1:18 (NKJV)
Robert Rainey wrote in 19th Century England this comment. "It is not true that the preaching of Christ serves no purpose and yields no fruits, in cases where it is not carried on in the right or the best spirit. . . Now the Apostle, looking at this, is glad of it. He is not glad that any men, professing Christ, give way to evil and unchristian tempers. But he is glad that Christ is preached. There were cases in which he vehemently contended with such persons - when they strove to poison and pervert Christians who had learned the better way. But now he is thinking of the outside world; and it was good that the making known of Christ should gather strength, and volume, and extension. And the Apostle knew that the Lord could bless His own message, imperfectly delivered perhaps, to bring thirsty souls to Himself, and would not fail in His unsearchable wisdom to care for those who came, and to lead them in the ways He thought best. Let Christ be preached. The converts do not belong to the denominations, but first of all to Christ. Neither is it appointed that the denominations shall permanently hold those whom they bring in; but Christ can hold them, and can order their future in ways we cannot foretell. . . . But GOD is not tied up to give no success to men acting under wrong motives: at least, if we are not to say He gives the success to them, yet in connection with them He is well able to take success to Himself. Through strange channels He can send blessings to souls, whatever He gives or denies to the unworthy workmen. Souls truly gathered in will soon get beyond their teaching."
Salvation is too important to be left entirely in human hands. God does want everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Some picture God as an Old Man with pad & pencil writing down everything He can find to keep us out of heaven. Some work hard to "prove" that no one can be saved! They are "defenders of the truth." Some Jewish leaders condemned the miracles Jesus did as being from the devil. But Jesus was RIGHT - and the Pharisees were wrong. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." John 3:14-17 (NKJV)
Although Satan APPEARS to be turning everyone away from God, this cannot be true. God is always working in ways we may not know. HIS DIVINE PURPOSE CANNOT BE DEFEATED! The battle between the Church and the Devil has already been settled in heaven. The Ascension of Christ meant the downfall of Satan, and every act of Christian sacrifice confirms it! Read Revelation ch 12.
Leapfrog ahead from the First Century to Cane Ridge in 1801. Stone believed that the evidence he saw of obedience to God and changed lives and then they continued in faithful obedience was proof that God was present in what had happened there. We see things like these in the New Testament. Compare Acts 19:11-20 and note the results. Live were truly changed!
Many factors went into the Great Revival at Cane Ridge. We note The Great Awakening in America in the 1730s and 1740s which had tremendous results. The number of people in church multiplied, and the lives of those converted showed a true Christian morality.
Quite by surprise there was a tremendous outpouring of response to the preaching of Jonathan Edwards. This movement of the Spirit surprised people because it produced something unexpected: people professing conversion to Christ. What Edwards said was: "You can't control salvation." But Puritans heard him saying, "if you try, God will aid your salvation." Phrases like "It is in your power to use means of grace" and "One can strive against corruption." Edwards wanted to make the point that salvation ultimately is in the hands of God, and that He empowers the Christian to resist evil. And people responded to what they viewed as an invitation to seek after salvation.
Alexander Campbell spoke of a "Christianity at large" which viewed the Ancient Order seen in the New Testament as superseding sectarianism to gather all to be One In Christ. Whitefield said: "Father Abraham, whom have you in heaven? Any Episcopalians? No! Any Presbyterians? No! Any Independents or Methodists? No, No No! Whom have you there? We don't know those names here. All who are here are Christians...Oh, is this the case? The God help us to forget your party names and to become Christians in deed and truth." In essence, Whitefield reduced Christianity to it's lowest common denominator--those sinners who love Jesus will go to heaven. Denominational distinctives were down played. This theme was picked up by Samuel Davies, one of the principle leaders of the Awakening in Virginia.
Denominational barriers broke down as Christians of all persuasions worked together in the cause of the gospel. There was a renewed concern with missions, and work among the Indians increased. Methodist "circuit riders" who rode from place to place worked to spread Christ and the Awakening.
America was much smaller back then and this Revival was mostly in the New England States. It is difficult to believe that in 1782 not one permanent settlement existed in the whole of Ohio (except perhaps Indian villages) and that by 1800 Ohio population was around 70,000 for the whole State.
Before 1800, western Kentucky was sparsely populated. The French & Indian war against the settlers had been a disaster. Midnight raids by terrorists - for that was what they were - created hopelessness and spiritual ignorance. Some of these early settlers were outlaws fleeing punishment by hiding in the wilderness. There were also decent God fearing citizens that came looking for a future. But it was a time of violence and fear. Men like Big & Little Harp (America's first serial killers) committed great crimes against the settlers.
Today we have Church every Sunday (Lord's Day). And every Sunday is Holy Communion. But it was not so in those days of the Frontier. There was not a church on every corner. Organized worship was mostly nonexistent. They did not know they could gather in a house-church assembly to praise God and eat the Supper of the Lord. Yet times of Holy Communion would be held in Revivals - three or four day meetings with all-day preaching and climaxing in the Supper on Sunday.
It is difficult to for us today to understand what happened at Cane Ridge. Our America is anti-supernatural (yet we believe everything we see on TV). Bultmann wrote: "we cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament." And some in the church do think that way. In the world of politics it would be the worst possible sin to be an intensely committed Christian. Yet read the Book of Acts. God The Holy Spirit jumps out at every page. Peter healed people (Acts 5:12-16). Amazing things were done in Samaria (Acts 8:5-8). The Holy Spirit sent Philip to the Ethiopian Nobleman and sent Paul to Macedonia. God is awesome, powerful, shaking things up, but above all - Loving, Cleansing, and Saving.
The effect of Cane Ridge on people was powerful. Someone wrote: "...everyone was crying out for mercy. The anguished screams caused trees to sway ... mother, she fell and was breathing hard, like a sheep on a hot day...The eyes of the crowd were blazed with the glory of heaven, seeing only the divine and the celestial." Stone said: "I saw sinners every where, of every age and sex, rich and poor, bond and free, old and young, weeping, praying, and converting to God--I saw enemies become friends, and sweetly united in the bonds of love--I saw brotherly kindness, meekness, gentleness, obedience, all the divine graces, growing and abounding among the saints of God. The Bible was read with intense desire to find the truth. This, this I call a revival. This I call the work of God."
Jesus said in a parable "Go out into the highways and byways and compel them to come in." (Matt. 22:9-10). Note they gathered both bad and good. The sorting would be done later. (Some want to presort people before preaching to them. But the identity of wheat and tares will be shown by what they produce.)
God is interested in results. God was being true to Himself when He worked miracles, and also when He gave orders to do things in an unusual way. Compel them to come in! And this was the order of things in the Kentucky Revival at Cane Ridge in 1801. Stone believed that the Hand of the Lord was at work in these things. Repentance and changed lives were proof to him. "Bring forth fruits of repentance." And this was surely happening!
The Kingdom of God is a spiritual nation of people who are called by the gospel of Christ. Their relationship and loyalty is to God-in-Christ. In the Lord's Supper we are to "show forth His death until He Comes." Christians, then, are to be a living demonstration of Who Christ Is. We let our light shine by the love and good works we do to the "least of these."
Elder David Purviance wrote in his Biography. [note: I have revised some of the language for clarity. RDI] "In due time a great camp-meeting to be held at Caneridge, in the coming month of August, was advertised widely. Such was now the general interest of the public mind, that when the meeting came, it was attended by about 25,000 souls. Persons were said to be in attendance from most of the States in the Union [as it was in 1801]. Particularly were gathered together, on that memorable occasion, the thousands of Israel [the church], from all the religious orders of the land. Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, &c., &c., were there, as one mighty spiritual host, assembled together, to fight the battles of the Lord. They had come up to the help of Zion. They preached and prayed and praised together; they mutually labored together for the salvation of sinners. Their objects and aims were the same; there was no schism (sectarian division). Nay, more than this. Together, in sweetest, holiest, symbolic communion, they sat down at the One Table of the One Lord, and together commemorated His sufferings and death, affording to a gazing and admiring world, a monumental exhibition of an answer to the memorable prayer of the incarnate Jesus (John 17), to His and their Heavenly Father for the union of His people. Such were the glories of the times that many good people thought assuredly the Millennium (Golden Age) had begun to dawn upon the world."
"THE GREAT MEETING AT CANE RIDGE commenced on Friday before the third Lord's day of August, 1801. From the commencement the roads were literally crowded with wagons, carriages, horsemen, and people on foot, all pressing to the appointed place, till by the Sabbath day (Sunday) the grove that was then open near Cane Ridge meeting-house, was filled with wagons, tents, and people. It was supposed that there were between twenty and thirty thousand people there. Elder Stone in his Journal remarks, "A particular description of this meeting would fill a large volume, and then the half would not be told." Stone's Biography, pg. 38.
"For the sake of the present and future generations, I will attempt a faint description.- From the very commencement, an uncommon solemnity appeared to rest on the countenance of the people. Not infrequently several preachers would be speaking within the bounds of the encampment without any interruption to each other. Wagons, stumps, and logs were used for stands. The preaching and exhortations were interesting and impressive. Salvation free to all mankind was proclaimed, and the willingness of Jesus to save all that would come (John 6:37) was urged universally by the speakers. "The word of God was quick and powerful, and sharper than a two-edged sword;" many sinners were cut to the heart, and fell prostrate under an awful guilt and condemnation for sin. This was not confined to any one class. The moral, genteel and well raised, the giddy and profane, the wicked, the drunkard, and the infidel, the poor and also the rich, as well as the proud and vain, with all their gaudy attire, were brought down by the SPIRIT of the ALMIGHTY, and they appeared to have forgotten every thing in this world in view of their souls' eternal salvation." [Compare Acts 2:36. "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"]
LET UNITY BE OUR POLAR STAR! Stone and the Campbells intended to join hands with true believers in a united effort to LIFT UP THE CAUSE OF CHRIST. Stone was first, and from Cane Ridge the gospel "spread like fire in dry stubble." The Campbells - father and son - joined in, along with a host of others.
Stone spoke of four thoughts on the unity of believers.
1. BOOK UNION. He spoke not of the Bible, but of creeds [patterns] which may be written in a book, or be unwritten, but still followed. Creeds written/unwritten when used as tests of fellowship tend to divide rather than unite.
2. HEAD UNION. He spoke of a common understanding of the Bible. Stone’s words, "Each one believed his opinion of certain texts to be the very spirit and meaning of the texts - and that this opinion was absolutely necessary to salvation." Daniel Somer once wrote in frustration: "The New Testament is the Book we divide over." Paul warned: "for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." 2 Cor. 3:6 (NKJV) And: "But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter." Romans 7:6 (NKJV)
3. WATER UNION. All who have been baptized into Christ are one in Christ. Stone says, "Water union was defined to be a union founded on immersion into water. But fact proves that this union is easily dissolved, and that immersion will not keep those who are immersed, united." In Stone's words: "How vain are all human attempts to unite a bundle of twigs together, so as to make them grow together and bear fruit! They must first be united with the living stock, and receive its sap and spirit, before they can ever be united with each other. So must we be first united with Christ, and receive his spirit [Spirit], before we can ever be in spirit united with one another. The members of the body cannot live unless by union with the head—nor can the members of the church be united, unless first united with Christ, the Living Head. His spirit [Spirit] is the bond of union. Men have devised many plans to unite Christians - all are vain. There is but one effectual plan, which is, that all be united with Christ and walk in Him."
4. FIRE UNION. By this Stone meant what we read in 1 Cor. 12:13. "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." And: "Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Eph. 4:3 The Greek can be translated: "Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together."
This is the only way to be faithful to Scripture. In the words of Stone: "We have been too long engaged with defending ourselves, rather than the truth as it is in Jesus. Let us trust our little selves with the Lord; and rest not, till by faith in the promised Spirit and by incessant prayer we receive and be filled with it, like they were of old in the ancient order of things."
The question we face then is not "How can we work toward unity?" but rather "How will we be faithful to the call to maintain the unity of the Spirit?"
The Psalmist wrote: "A song of Ascents. Of Solomon. Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman stays awake in vain." Psalms 127:1 (NKJV)
The apostles and disciples could not begin their "witness" until God-The-Holy-Spirit came in power. They were to tarry in Jerusalem until that time. Jesus said of The Spirit: "And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever--" John 14:16 (NKJV)