July 8, 1741, Colonial America was shaken by the preaching of Jonathan Edwards in Northampton, Massachusetts, when the revival known as the “Great Awakening” began. Starting in New England, this spiritual blaze swept through all the Colonies, affecting the whole of American society. Perhaps more than anyone realizes, it forced the hunger for freedom which climaxed in the Declaration of Independence and America’s withdrawal from England.
Sixty years after New England’s awakening–August 6, 1801--the Holy Spirit fell again, this time on a Presbyterian Communion Service at Cane Ridge, Kentucky. Several thousand were gathered at this wilderness outpost. The log church was too small for the huge congregation so an elevated platform was built under the trees which allowed everyone to see the speakers. Standing in the open air the people were praying, singing, and hearing sermons. Suddenly, as if a repeat of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell on the audience. People shrieked, dropped to the ground en mass as the power of God sovereignly swept through them. A holy-hysteria seemed to seize the audience. James Finley was one of the thousands present who told what he saw: “I stepped on a log where I could have a better view ... The scene that then presented itself to my mind was indescribable. At one time I saw at least 500 swept down in a moment as if a battery of a thousand guns had opened upon them ... Many, very many, fell down as men slain in battle and continued together for hours in an apparently breathless and motionless state.” In another, more close-up description, a witness recounted that “several stout men fell as though a cannon had been discharged and a ball made its way through their hearts.” While some lay as if dead, “slain in the spirit,” other shouted, shook uncontrollably, or staggered in a drunken fashion. At times, roaring noises echoed through the forest. Preaching stopped. Singing ended. People were seized by a sense of glory. Explosively, the “Second Great Awakening” had begun. Like the first, it would bring renewal, vitality, and new life to churches across America.
The unusual bodily effects were quickly accepted by those present because of the great change of morality and character in the people. The “falling experience” was not new to American Christians. After the 1742 New England revival, Jonathan Edwards explained, "If there be a very powerful influence of the Spirit of God in a mixed multitude, it will cause in some way or other a great visible commotion." His own wife, Sarah, lay immobile under the Spirit’s power for seventeen days. In the 1600's, the Puritans in England and other congregations in the Colonies, labeled the incident as “swooning.” Pastor James Glindening, a British Puritan, had the deacons lay the slain under the trees until they recovered.
Almost overnight, the Holy Spirit sovereignly re-built the moral structure of Kentucky and sent the American Church spiraling into new growth. Within two and one-half years, Kentucky Baptists increased by 10,000 new members. Methodists added over 6,000. Presbyterian records are not available, but the Synod reported “thousands.” Kentucky was sparsely settled at that time. After visiting the scene, the President of Washington College in Virginia said, “I found Kentucky the most moral place I had ever been in.” This was a radical change from its previous condition of violence and depravity.
With the influx of instantaneous conversions, churches suddenly found themselves in a new role of ministry. Methodists and Baptists quickly adapted to the challenge by using newly converted circuit-rider and farmer-preachers; Presbyterians, with their unyielding demand for classical education, would not. By the time new Presbyterian pastors returned from Seminary, the revival was over. In an attempt to correct that problem, the Cumberland Presbyterian movement was born.
In the beginning the Presbyterian Assembly had difficulty accepting the unusual physical symptoms that gripped the people. Primarily, this was the “falling exercise” or what they termed, “slain in the Spirit.” It had been reported earlier at the Gasper River meeting in 1800, but the number “struck down” reached its height at Cane Ridge. One reporter explained: “Some feel the approaching symptoms by being under deep convictions ... It comes upon others like an electric shock ... They will continue in that (fallen) state from one hour to 24 ... often continuing in that state many days.” The Presbyterian Assembly, after evaluating the startling nature of the revival, finally placed its official sanction on the event by saying, “On the borders of Kentucky and Tennessee, the influence of the Spirit of God seems to have manifested in a very extraordinary manner.” The following year, the Assembly further declared, “Doubtful as the nature of the revival there first appeared ... the Assembly do exceedingly rejoice ... that its author is God and its effects highly desirable.”
One of the Presbyterian documentaries detailed how the fallen were “collected together and laid out in order ... which like so many dead corpses, covered a considerable part of the floor. At Mr. Alexander Camble's meeting house a number became affected ... On Cabin creek ... about sixty persons were struck down ... Next Sabbath, on Flemming creek ... about 100 persons were struck down ... At Concord ... a number were struck down .. about 150 .. At Point Pleasant ... 250 were struck down ... At Indian Creek ... 800 struck ... at Cane Ridge ... 300 were struck.”
The original Meeting House at Cane Ridge is now safely housed inside a large, air conditioned building that protects it from vandalism and weather. Thousands of pilgrims visit it annually. I have had the privilege to preach there several times–and in each instance was overwhelmed with a sense of holy awe. Just being in this historic, 200 year-old structure was spell-binding. I stood where Daniel Boone once stood; he was one of the revival leaders. Significantly, many of the Spirit’s manifestations at Cane Ridge were a repeat of those in New England’s “Great Awakening” and are common-place today. In my own ministry in Toronto I have seen as many as 1,000 people simultaneously “laid out in the power of God.” These folks were not faking the experience; it has happened to many who did not believe it.
In time, Cane Ridge, became history and the old log Meeting House was left empty and alone. But it left its' permanent mark upon the American Church: First, evangelical fire swept North America. Secondly, Cane Ridge bequeathed succeeding generations a painful question to answer: Why have great moves of God been torn apart by Christian hands? To answer that, we turn to the message of Jesus. He said to the Pharisees, “You shut up the Kingdom of Heaven against men: For you neither go in yourselves, neither suffer those who are entering to go in.” Matthew 23:13. Again, Jesus said to them, “You reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your own tradition.” Mark 7:9. God save our generation from repeating that mistake! We should pray, “Jesus, invade every church in America with Your ‘signs and wonders, challenge us by your power, and make every congregation another ‘Cane Ridge.’”
Twenty-five years after the Cane Ridge revival, a New England pastor who had been present in Kentucky, came south, preached to a huge gathering in the woods at the Towalaga Baptist Association at Eatonton, Georgia. Again, the power of God struck like lightening. One witness explained that the scene looked like the aftermath of a “battle.” Bodies were scattered through the forest. The Spirit’s sudden baptism of power brought thousands of new believers into Baptist Churches. At that point in Georgia history, Creek Indians still occupied territory west of the Flint River and Cherokees held land in the mountains.
Significantly, many of the Spirit’s manifestations at Cane Ridge were a repeat of those in New England’s “Great Awakening” and are common-place today. In my own ministry in Canada. England, South America, other sites, I have seen as many as 1,000 people simultaneously “laid out in the power of God.” These folks were not faking the experience; it has happened to many who did not believe in it. Some were healed physically, others emotionally, many experienced deep, deep joy and a sense of “floating” peacefulness. One PhD., atheist college Professor rose from the floor weeping and shouting, “I found God! I found God!”
Modern Christians who repudiate the “falling” experience are simply showing their ignorance of church history--and God’s sovereignty. Instead of fearing the effects of the Holy Spirit--no matter how challenging--we should be grateful for His presence.
The impact of the Holy Spirit's presence in Acts 2, was so radical that the disciples were accused of being drunk--“full of new wine.” In my own meetings I have had people carried out in the arms of others--totally unable to walk or drive home. Some who determinedly resisted the Spirit’s power still collapsed like corpses. In a recent meeting, one lady who had to be taken home by another spent half of the night in her car. Even from her own driveway, she was unable to get into the house. Strangely, many who profess to believe in the “sovereignty of God” seem to deny it when confronted with this reality. People filled with the Spirit sometimes become radically joyous, uninhibited, zealous. Other “drunken” symptoms may occur. It was this charge of drunkenness that was laid against the Cane Ridge meeting.
Several Church of Christ pastors (whose denomination began at Cane Ridge but now deny miraculous demonstrations of the Spirit) came to my meeting and found themselves prostrate on the floor. One lay face down two hours, laughing as if drunk. Today, these men are “full gospel” believers, excitedly witnessing the power of God. Medical doctors, college professors, athletes, attorneys, other professionals, have identically been felled under the presence of Heaven. At the same time, I have cautioned thousands, “We are seeking the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Outward signs happen but they are not what we are trying to achieve.” Today, 85% of all Christian conversions worldwide are being achieved by those who believe in the Holy Spirit’s baptism and accept His gifts.
Recently I was in a beautiful Baptist Church on Sunday morning and during the sermon observed the congregation. The building was four-fifths empty, 90% of the congregation was over seventy years old and the recent announcement of the Southern Baptist Convention’s President pounded in my ears. He explained that in the next ten years half of all Southern Baptist Churches will permanently close their doors! Why?! The overwhelming bulk of their membership is elderly. I sat there grieving, praying desperately, “Lord! Please send us another ‘Great Awakening!’ Another ‘Cane Ridge!’America needs it!”
Join me in that prayer!
Why Does Not The Modern Church Experience Power?
Hear me carefully: If God has given us responsibility to do something–and the miraculous power to do it–He will not do it for us. Our complaint, "But my church does not believe in the miraculous power" only brings more resistance from Him. Many of our personal problems remain unresolved by prayer because we are asking God to do things for which He has empowered us. We have to adjust to His method; He will not adjust to ours. Christian maturity is best seen in Christian obedience (Matthew 21:21). The reason for our disobedience is this: We are more afraid of being embarrassed by failure than we are of being protected by truth. We are afraid to put faith to the test. This fear rises from pride. The early disciples failed. None of us enter the empowered life without effort. While we have authority as solitary beings, it is also true that the church has greater dominion in its corporate-unity. The devil knows this and protects himself by keeping the church divided and riddled with denominational unbelief.
When Jesus conferred power upon the disciples, He called them "together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases" (Luke 9:1.) He did not bestow power upon them separately; He called them together. The next scene we have however, is the disciples' failure. They were unable to cast a demon out of a child. The same chapter of Luke identifies five reasons why they failed. These are the identical factors we encounter today. Our failure is exactly like that of the early disciples. Hear them carefully:
1. Lack of Faith: "Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." Matthew 17:17.
2. Fear Of Showing Their Ignorance: "But while everyone marveled at all the things which Jesus did, He said to His disciples, Let these words sink down into your ears, for the Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of men. But they did not understand this saying, and it was hidden from them so that they did not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying." Luke 9:43,44:
3. Pride: "Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest. And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, and said to them, Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great." Luke 9:46.
4. Sectarianism: "Now John answered and said, Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us. But Jesus said to him, Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side." Luke 9:49.
5. Unforgiveness And Desire For Revenge: "Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did? But He turned and rebuked them, and said, You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. The Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them. And they went to another village." Luke 9:51.
Until these same issues are resolved in us, we will continue in our failure. The greatest hazard pastors face is not opposition from others. It is opposition within themselves: Unbelief, pride, carnal ambition, sectarianism, and religious performance, rob them of power. These are the spiritual assassins against whom we battle. If we want to speak to a mountain and spiritually move it, cast out a demon, heal the sick, we need to examine ourselves with the list of these five failures. Then, we must obey God and watch the Holy Spirit’s power fall. He is eager for us to experience a genuine New Testament ministry. That includes speaking to storms.