In the Worst of All Places
“In the Worst of All Places”
You’ve heard the saying that truth is stranger than fiction, but have you ever heard that all things are possible to God? I’m sure you have. And I’m sure that you believe it’s a true statement although it might sound like hyperbole. God does the impossible to affirm that He is Sovereign. And because He is Omnipotent, America’s history is sometimes stranger than fiction.
How could a crew of English settlers who had no political ambitions and while living aboard a small ship called the Mayflower write a document that would later seed a national democracy? How could a Native American by the name of Squanto, who just happened to speak English, one-day show up and offer his assistance in teaching the Pilgrims how to survive the new world wilderness? These anomalies speak louder than mere coincidences because of the national impact they had.
Yes, a greater Authority guided America in becoming a world power that has fed, ministered, and helped protect the entire world at one time or another in its history. This invisible hand over America, which has led men to the most unlikely places, is what I wish to speak to you about today.
The Westward Shift
America, America, truly God has poured His grace on you. Although the colony of Jamestown, Virginia, was the first English settlement in the New World, it certainly didn’t have the spiritual impact on the nation that the Pilgrims and Puritans had. Why? Jamestown was established with commerce in mind. They wanted wealth first and religion second. Not so with the Pilgrims and Puritans, they wanted a new Israel, a new Jerusalem where faith in Jesus Christ and His eternal Word would rule throughout their land.
They struggled for this dream and many died, but their blood became the seed that grew to become one nation under God. The Pilgrims actually made a covenant with God to establish His Kingdom in the New World. Throughout America’s history in times of its darkest despair, God has remembered that covenant and pulled her up to live again. This is amazing and happened in some very unusual ways.
Up to the time of the Revolutionary War, the Appalachian Mountains served as the natural western boundary of colonial America, but with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 the British ceded land north and west of the Appalachians to America. It was rich and fertile land and enticed especially New England farmers who had worn out the soil of their ancestors.
When Congress adopted the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 which established the government of the Northwest Territory, the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota were soon to follow. Also some years earlier, Daniel Boone had crossed the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky, and stories soon flowed east about the virgin land with blue grass.
These land opportunities were just too good to pass up, and Americans caught the westward fever. Many historians credit the western expansion as the most important thing in American history for shaping the culture, society, and America’s fierce sense of rugged individualism. You either made it by the sweat of your brow, the toil of your hands, or you simply died out west.
What Kind of Religion
With America moving west, the concern among the eastern clergy was what would become of the Christian heritage of America. Would American settlers scatter in the vast wilderness, cutting themselves off from civilization, and become as heathen as the savages whose land they were invading? This was a genuine concern, considering America had been built on Judeo-Christian beliefs. But that was not God’s fear. He had a plan and purpose for the western movement, and it soon became apparent. An awakening was coming. It was coming in force and fury, and when it ended (if ever it did end), America would be stronger than ever in its faith in Jesus Christ. This is amazing in how it happened. It started in the most unlikely place on the face of the earth. It started in Logan County Kentucky.
One of the roughest counties in all Kentucky was Logan County, out in the southwest corner. Technically, it was under United States law, even before Kentucky was admitted to the Union in 1796. The trouble was that no one on the frontier was designated to enforce the law, with the result that, as Congress would state, ‘the immunity which offenders experience attracts as to an asylum, the most vile and abandoned criminals, and at the same time deters useful and virtuous persons from making settlements in such society.’ If you were a horse thief, a robber, a murderer, or just real bad, you were probably in Logan County at this time. And from this very lot of bad bloods, God would later raise up a preacher, saved but just as fearless, to first fight them (literally fight them with his fists) and then win them to Jesus. Truly God works in mysterious ways.
In 1798 the Reverend James McGready, a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian rode in to Logan County. With buckskin pants and plainspoken sermons, he was soon accepted by the frontiersmen as one of one their own. God had raised up three small congregations located on three of the rivers in Logan County, the Muddy, the Red, and the Gasper. McGready asked his parishioners to sign a covenant, agreeing to pray every Saturday night and Sunday morning, devoting the third Saturday evening and Sunday morning of each month to fasting and prayer.
Things seemed to get worse instead of better, but McGready encouraged the saints to keep praying. Within a year revival began to break out. The records report that the hardest and most vile sinners in the community ‘covered their faces and wept bitterly.’ In June of 1800 at the quarterly communion services at the Red River church, more than 500 hundred people showed up having heard of the earlier conversions. Some of these people had come from as far as 100 miles away from Logan County.
On the last day of the services that had been scheduled, the Spirit of the Lord flooded the place. In a moment’s time, the floor was ‘covered with the slain; their screams for mercy pierced the heavens.’ One could see ‘profane swearers and Sabbath-breakers pricked to the heart and crying ‘What shall we do to be saved?’ Word of the outpouring spread throughout the wilderness like wild fire.
McGready recruited some other preachers—some Baptist, some Presbyterian, and some Methodist to assist him with the large gatherings taking place. Tens of thousands were now pouring in with wagons and supplies to stay through the summer meetings. McGready would stand on an eight-foot podium and preach while his fellow ministers would take their places on the outskirts of the crowds and preach salvation messages. This way, everyone heard and was able to respond to the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. From this frontier revival, began what has been recorded in American history as the second “Great Awakening.”
The Results of the Frontier Outpouring
When these crowds began to break up and travel home, they took a bit of the revival fire with them to their part of the western wilderness. Soon little church buildings began to appear. Many of those who were saved in the revivals gathered as Baptists and took pastors from their own rank and file to minister to them. These chosen few had no special credentials other than they were on fire for the Lord. What they lacked in learning, they made up with the Holy Spirit fire in their souls. The Baptist pastors worked their fields through the week and pastored flocks on Sundays. The Baptist congregations grew, forming a foundation that allowed the Baptists to grow to one of the largest Protestant denominations currently in America.
Those who joined together as Methodists were visited by Methodist’s circuit riders. George Whitefield had ridden a Methodist circuit across the eastern seaboard during the first “Great Awakening.” During the second awakening, Francis Asbury, as well as many others, rode Methodist circuits throughout the western frontier. This they did for many years, preaching and encouraging the small congregations in their newfound faith. With this personal attention, the Methodists in the west grew to rival the Baptists in size.
But what about the Presbyterians? They had been at the Gasper River outpouring. Did they take their faith back to their homes? Yes. They did, but something happened in the Presbyterian denomination that stopped them from taking a hold in the west. The Presbyterians split over the revivals that were happening. Some of them said that God was a “God of order” and would never use emotionalism to win the lost. They couldn’t get beyond the quaking, being slain, screaming and hollering, and barking that took place during the meetings. So, the Methodists and Baptists took up the slack.
Far from becoming pagan as many in the east had predicted, the western settlers became born again Christians on fire for the Lord. The unifying faith of Christ did more to bond the western settlers as one nation of Americans than any other unifying factor in early American history. The second “Great Awakening” which had began in a rogue county in Kentucky at the turn of the 19th century, continued in pocket revivals throughout the entire century.
Also, the second awakening did something unique from any other move of God in world history. Christians began to develop a keen sense of “beyond the church house ministry” mentality. They began to join together, no matter what the denomination affiliation, and work for a common goal of getting the Church ready for the coming Kingdom of God.
They joined together to fight slavery, hunger, alcoholism, poverty, and many more social problems in America. The Christian community developed an aggressive social conscience. In 1804 some young college students were walking across an open field when a thunderstorm blew up. They quickly took shelter under a haystack. While waiting for the storm to surrender, they joined hands and pledged their lives to missions in Asia. This was a radical concept. Up to this time, very little attention had been given to missions beyond the wilderness in America. The Haystack Prayer Meeting is now famous for the foundation it laid and the opening for the Gospel it generated in Asia and around the world.
Then again, the second awakening readied this nation for the coming tragedy of the American Civil War, the death and carnage of brother against brother. On the brighter side, it prepared America for the grand crusades of Charles G. Finney and D.L. Moody. America was greatly influenced by the second “Great Awakening.”
It’s amazing how God’s hand has directed this nation. When many said we were doomed to heathenish by the exodus west in the late 1700s, God had other plans. He always has a plan and the upper hand. God is sure to honor His covenant relationship with America’s first settlers at Plymouth Rock as long as Americans keep seeking Him.
Although America has had many hard and difficult times, and continues to wane at times, God can always find a remnant of His people to stand the gap for this nation. This is the land we love. When believers begin to pray by laying aside all denominational barriers and theological differences, the Spirit of the Living God goes to work, restoring this great land to her national heritage.
Yes, we are one nation under God. We are one nation founded as a light unto this world. We are one nation commissioned to uphold the old rugged cross of Jesus Christ. We must never let our light dim. We must fan the flame, and pray that God will continue the work He started in America from sea to shining sea, even in the most unlikely places, in His most willing way.
May God forever bless America, my home sweet home.
Pastor Terry Dashner
Faith Fellowship Church
PO Box 1586
Broken Arrow, OK 74013
About the Author
Writes history articles about faith in early America (918-451-0270).