Christianity fell away following the American Revolution. A Scotsman traveling through the South saw “few religious people.” Francis Asbury found “not one in a hundred” concerned about religion. Alcoholism was rampant, and universalism and deism captivated the infant nation.

But in 1800 scattered revivals erupted like geysers in the backlands of Kentucky. People gathered under makeshift arbors while the gospel was preached, sometimes accompanied by emotional outbursts. Barton Stone, pastor of the Presbyterian church at Cain Ridge (near Lexington), hearing of the camp meetings, witnessed one for himself—The scene was passing strange. Many fell down as slain in battle and continued for hours in an apparently motionless state—sometimes for a few moments reviving and exhibiting symptoms of life by a deep groan or by a prayer for mercy most fervently uttered.

His church at Cane Ridge immediately planned a camp meeting for the first weekend of August, 1801. The church could hold 500; but workers, fearing an oversized crowd, threw up a large tent. Church families opened homes, barns, and cabins to the expected visitors.

But they didn’t expect 20,000! Hordes arrived by horse, carriage, and wagon. Prayer and preaching continued around the clock on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Excitement mounted; cries and screams pierced the hazy summer air; men swooned; women were seized by spasms; children fell into ecstasy; so many fainted that the ground was covered with bodies like a battlefield. Then the “jerks” broke out. Their heads would jerk back suddenly, frequently causing them to yelp. I have seen their heads fly back and forward so quickly that the hair of females would crack like a whip.

On Monday, August 9, 1801, food and supplies were exhausted, and so were the worshipers. Many left; but others came to take their places. Four more days of singing, preaching, shrieking, and jerking continued before the geyser died down. Between 1,000 and 3,000 had been converted, and the news was the buzz of the region. People across the new nation began discussing the revival of Christianity, and the Cane Ridge Revival is considered one of the most important religious gatherings in American history.

Always be joyful and never stop praying. Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). August 9.

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