Friday, March 25, 2011

James McGready: North Carolina Catalyst for Revival

Red River Meetinghouse, KY, where McGready led revivals 1799-1800
James McGready  (1763-1817) was a powerful tool in the Lord’s hand in Kentucky and North Carolina in the Revival of 1800-1804. A native of Pennsylvania and reared in Guilford County, NC, McGready about 1790 became a Presbyterian pastor of two churches, Haw River and Stony Creek, north of Burlington, NC. McGready was a prayer warrior and a pastor who withstood intimidation from his people.

His Prayer and Character
Map of North Carolina highlighting Guilford County
Map of North Carolina highlighting Guilford County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mr. McGready was an unusual man. God had evidently endowed him, and raised him up, and given him a spiritual training for a special work. He had great physical strength, and a voice like thunder. In these respects, he was precisely fitted for the field of labor to which Providence assigned him.

His early religious experience among people who assumed themselves saved because they were part of the Covenant awakened in him distrust whether many around him had an actual relationship with Jesus. He had himself built his faith for long a time upon a false foundation of religious activity, and it was very natural that he should fear that others would fall into the same fatal error. He was therefore terrible upon hypocrites, deceivers, and the self-deceived. Such could hardly stand before his searching and scathing denunciations.

The history of the Churches in his time, and the history of his own labors, show very clearly that such a man as McGready was greatly needed – Boanerges, sons of thunder, men of a deep and earnest spiritual experience, were the proper ministry for arousing formalists and double-minded Christians, and driving them from their refuges of lies.

The Old West of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Kentucky, at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries, was filled with open infidelity. Vice was rampant. A bold front was needed to meet them. Mr. McGready's experience, too, was calculated to give him low views of himself. Notwithstanding his great success as a minister, he was remarkable for his humility.

The following is from a sketch of his character, furnished by a pastor friend:
"From the conduct and conversation of Mr. McGready, there is abundant evidence to believe that he was not only a subject of Divine grace and unfeigned piety, but that he was favored with great nearness to God, and intimate communion with him. Like Enoch, he walked with God; like Jacob, he wrestled with God, by fervent, persevering supplications for a blessing on himself and others, and prevailed; like Elijah, he was very jealous for the Lord of hosts, and regarded his kingdom as the great end of his existence on earth, to which all other designs ought to be subordinate; like Job, he deeply abhorred himself, repenting as it were in dust and ashes, when he was enabled to behold the purity of God, and his own want of conformity to his holy nature; like the apostle Paul, he counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ his Lord; and like him, he felt great delight in preaching to his fellow-men the unsearchable riches of Christ. 

"He was remarkably plain in his dress and manners, but very familiar, communicative, and interesting in his conversation. He possessed a sound understanding, and moderate share of human learning. The style of his sermons was not polished, but perspicuous and pointed, and his manner of address was unusually solemn and impressive. 

"As a preacher, he was highly esteemed by the humble followers of the Lamb, who relished the precious truths which he clearly exhibited to their view; but he was hated, and sometimes bitterly reproached and persecuted, not only by the openly vicious and profane, but by many nominal Christians, or formal professors, who could not bear his heart-searching and penetrating addresses, and the indignation of the Almighty against the ungodly, which, as a son of thunder, he clearly presented to the view of their guilty minds from the awful denunciations of the word of truth."

His public prayer before his sermons were long wrestlings with God for the congregation he was about to address. The prayers themselves were so powerful that some in the congregation would fall under conviction of the Holy Spirit and be found weeping over their sin at the end of the prayer and before he had even begun to preach.

A very reliable old gentleman who claimed Mr. McGready as his spiritual father relates the following circumstance:
"On a certain occasion, he was preaching to a large congregation in the woods. A very dark and threatening cloud arose. A storm seemed ready to burst upon them. They had no shelter. The preacher was delivering his message with great earnestness and fervency. Seeing the storm approach, he stopped in the midst of his discourse, and addressed a prayer to God that the storm might be restrained or turned aside. The cloud separated, passing to the right and left, and leaving the congregation undisturbed." 

All this might have occurred, had no prayer been offered by the preacher. Still the narrator, and no doubt many of the people at the time, believed that God averted the storm in answer to the prayer.

His Sermons
His first sermons alarmed the good Presbyterians who liked things decent and in order. McGready considered the Word of God as truth to be taken for granted, and not to be reasoned and proven but to be explained and enforced by other Scripture, with examples from man’s condition. He preached the plain word with much point and great plainness and effect, earning him the nickname, “Son of Thunder.” 

Many church members who had never been converted to Christ confessed themselves deceived hypocrites, unworthy to be acknowledged as members of Christ’s church and they abhorred themselves in dust and ashes. 

An example of a line from McGready’s sermons. “An unworthy communicant in such circumstances as yours, is more offensive to Almighty God than a loathsome carcass crawling with vermin set before a dainty prince.”  In 1791 revival broke out in Orange Presbytery, North Carolina, from his preaching, as many church members became truly converted to Christ.
"His zeal provoked opposition at the Stony Creek Church, and he was accused of distracting people from their labors and creating unnecessary alarm among decent and orderly people. 

The opposition increased from some of the wealthy and influential families at Stony Creek who were loose in their morals and decided to teach him a lesson. With these families and some of the baser sort assembled at the church, they tore down the seats, pulled the pulpit outside, made a bonfire of it, and burnt it to ashes. In the church clerk’s seat they left a letter written to McGready in blood, warning him that next time they would not stop with the pulpit and ordering him to leave the country at the peril of his life. 

When the congregation met the following Sunday, they found the intimidating vandalism. McGready, not the least intimidated by the burning of the pulpit or the letter, however, proceeded with the service, using a relevant and solemn psalm, and delivering a sermon from the following text: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold your house is left unto you desolate." 

Within a few years, the opposition had died away as these families’ sinfulness ruined their character and property, and not one of their descendants could be found in the congregation.

Revival Prayer Covenant
 In 1796 McGready left North Carolina for Kentucky and took the pastoral charge of three congregations in Logan County -- Gaspar River, Red River, and Muddy River. These congregations were small, and in a low state of interest in the things of Christ.

He presented to the members of his congregation for their approval and signatures, the following preamble and covenant:
When we consider the word and promises of a compassionate God to the poor lost family of Adam, we find the strongest encouragement for Christians to pray in faith--to ask in the name of Jesus for the conversion of their fellow-men. None ever went to Christ when on earth, with the case of their friends, that were denied, and, although the days of his humiliation are ended, yet, for the encouragement of his people, he has left it on record, that where two or three agree upon earth to ask in prayer, believing, it shall be done. 

Again, whatsoever you shall ask the Father in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. With these promises before us, we feel encouraged to unite our supplications to a prayer-hearing God for the outpouring of his Spirit, that his people may be quickened and comforted, and that our children, and sinners generally, may be converted. 

Therefore, we bind ourselves to observe the third Saturday of each month, for one year, as a day of fasting and prayer for the conversion of sinners in Logan county, and throughout the world. We also engage to spend one half hour every Saturday evening, beginning at the setting of the sun, and one half hour every Sabbath morning, from the rising of the sun, pleading with God to revive his work.
To this covenant he and they affixed their names. 

Within a few years the Second Great Awakening of 1800 would break out in Kentucky, and its story is the story of James McGready. He would come back to North Carolina and the Revival would spread across North Carolina, into the Methodists and Baptists, then into Virginia, South Carolina, and north Georgia.

More on James McGready here, here, here, here, here, here, and here