A Methodist Revival
By Elder P.P. Pratt

Written from Shady Grove, Hickman Co., Tenn., September 27, 1878

Last evening, by invitation of friends, Brother Thos. S. Higham and I attended the closing exercises of a Methodist revival meeting, held in a grove not far from this place.  The performances at the gathering were of such an extraordinary and novel nature, that I thought a brief account of the same might be of interest to the young readers of the Instructor, if not to their parents.

Arriving at the place of meeting soon after early candle light, we found the church crowded with a respectable-looking congregation, of about two hundred people.  The males occupied the right hand seats and the females those on the left; with four ministers in the stand, opposite the door.

One of the elders read one of Wesley’s hymns, which was sang by the members of the church.  Then came the opening prayer, offered up amid groans and sighs and many amens, the burdens of which was that God might come down and make one in their midst in the conversion of sinners.  All who were outside of the pales of the church seemed to be regarded as “sinners, fast asleep in the arms of the devil, with the fiery flames of hell surging and seething around them!”

At the close of the prayer another minister arose, and took for his text, Psalms, ix., 17: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.”  His opening remarks were quite good, but as he warmed up, the subject being a hot one, he seemed to lose his balance.  He made a great effort—not to convince his hearers of the truth but—to frighten them into a profession of religion.  At one time he would portray before the congregation the great uncertainty of life.  At the next moment he would try to work upon their sympathies by referring to the great ravages in the yellow fever districts.  Then, in imagination, he would suspend for a few moments the sinner, “held only by a single hair,” over a burning lake of fire.  Again he would picture out in awful language the “eternal” wretchedness and misery of the damned.  He wound up his remarks by saying that all unconverted sinners would be “driven like a herd of swine by God Almighty, into hell! by the hundred! by the thousand!! by the million!!! never to be redeemed, but there to welter for ever and ever, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.”

After his address, the presiding elder, a Mr. Cherry, arose, rubbing and clapping his hands, and throwing his head back.  He cast his eyes, at first, heavenward, then closed them, and in that posture narrated a heart-rending fable of a young child that was lost in the woods.  Then leaving the “sacred desk,” he and his brother ministers went from seat to seat exhorting the people to come to the “anxious seat,” and be prayed for.  Taking some by the hand, with groans and warnings, they succeeded in getting five persons to go forward to the “mourner’s bench.”

Not satisfied with this, they invited the members of the church to assist them in the “good work.”  Then came a general uprising of the whole congregation, who, with feverish excitement, crowded around the mourners, forming a great circle, eager to hear and see what was going on at this point of the proceedings.

The sexes mingled freely together.  Some were praying, others singing, shouting or speaking, the whole being mingled with groans, sighs and tears.

The ministers would put their hands upon the heads of females, throw their arms around their necks, and plead with them to accept of Jesus.  One sister of the church, following the example of the others, placed her arms gently around the neck of a penitent sinner, and plead with him to throw himself into the “arms of Jesus.”  Another was “wrought upon” in a wonderful manner: at one time she would be as sad and as gloomy as the grave; the next moment she would break out with a hysterical laugh, and make out she was so happy.  It was a perfect babel of confusion.

At this juncture, the word of Paul came forcibly to my mind: “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”  But, although I had the right to think I could not speak; for if I had done so, I should have been considered guilty of disturbing religious worship.

At a late hour at night the services closed, the presiding elder giving out that on the following day he would administer the rite of baptism by “sprinkling, pouring or immersion, as the candidate might wish.”  Again, I could not help comparing this with the words of Paul: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”  As the assembly withdrew, shouting continued, and the tears did not cease to flow, and even after returning home a mile away, the groans of the lingering mourners could be distinctly heard.  Some of the neighbors complained of being kept awake until 11 or 12 o’clock at night.

Innocent young boys and girls, of twelve or fourteen summers, whose hearts and sympathies are tender, and who are easily wrought upon under the pressure of religious excitement, are over persuaded by these preachers at such “revivals” and are made to believe that they are converted and have got religion.  Much time is taken up in begging for money, and financially, these meetings generally pay well.  This is a fair sample of how many get religion in this part of the world.  In justice, however, to the people, I must say there are many intelligent persons who look upon these protracted (distracted) meetings as a disgrace and a humbug.  Several complained that the meeting I have described was tame and spiritless compared to those which had been held on two previous nights.  Ministers and singers were hoarse with preaching, shouting, etc.  People flock to these revival meetings from miles around—some for sincere worship, some for society, or to see and be seen; while others go as they would go to a theatre or a concert, for the excitement of the thing, to be entertained and amused.

I have been to a great number of meetings of different sects and parties, but I never witnessed such a scene before.  To me it was painful.  The children of the Saints should be very thankful that they live in Zion, where they can be taught true principles, by the living oracles of God, and where they are free to a very great degree from the errors, follies, darkness and superstition of a wicked and benighted world.

[Juvenile Instructor, Oct. 15, 1878]

[transcribed and proofread by David Grow, July 2006]

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