by Richard M. Riss.
On the other side of the Atlantic, what is known as the Second Great Awakening in America broke out on or about the year 1800. This, also, was characterized by many manifestations, or bodily agitations as they were called. However, prior to the outbreak of the awakening, there were also many preliminary signs of revival, with accompanying manifestations. Two catalysts for this were the Shakers, and separately, a revival among Baptists on the James River in 1785.
James and Jane Wardley, two of the original founders of the Shakers in England, had at one time been Quakers. In the early 1700s, they felt that the Quakers were losing the power of prophecy, but that this power did appear in another group, the French Prophets, who came to England in 1706 and began testifying in London and its vicinity. According Marywebb Gibson (SHAKERISM IN KENTUCKY [Cynthiana, Ky.: The Hobson Press, 1942], p. 2), through the labors of the French Prophets, a number of persons received the Spirit. As a result, in 1747, a small Society of Believers was formed under the auspices of James and Jane Wardley in Lancashire, England. The Wardleys severed themselves from the Quakers at this time, but continued to meet according to the custom of the Quakers:
One of the Quaker customs followed by James Wardley was to assemble his Society together for silent meditation, but it did not end with that. After sitting for a while the congregation began to tremble "and, at times, they were affected with the power of God with a mighty shaking; and were occasionally exercised in singing, shouting, or walking the floor, under the influence of spirited signs, swiftly passing and repassing each other, like clouds agitated by a mighty wind." It was from these strange exercises that the name Shakers was derived(ibid, p. 3).
When the Shakers moved to Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, it became known as Shakertown. The influence of the Shakers upon the great Kentucky revival that ushered in the second awakening is unmistakable; one commonly used primary source for the study of this awakening is Richard McNemar's book (1808), the full title of which is: "THE KENTUCKY REVIVAL; or, a Short History of the Late Extraordinary Out-Pouring of the Spirit of God, in the Western States of America, Agreeably to Scripture Promises and Prophecies, Concerning the Latter Day: With a Brief Account of the Entrance and Progress of What the World Call SHAKERISM, among the Subjects of the Late Revival in Ohio and Kentucky."
But the Shakers were not the only catalyst for the Cane Ridge Revival. In THE BIOGRAPHY OF ELD. BARTON WARREN STONE, edited by John Rogers (5th ed., Cincinnati: J.A. & U.P. James, 1847), we read:
Mr. Benedict, in his Abridgment of the History of the Baptists, on page 345, speaking of the great revival that began among them, on James River, in 1785, says, "During the progress of this revival, scenes were exhibited somewhat extraordinary. It was not unusual to have a large proportion of the congregation prostrate on the floor, and in some instances they lost the use of their limbs. . . .
Screams, groans, shouts, hosannas, notes of grief and joy, all at the same time, were not unfrequently [sic] heard throughout their vast assemblies. . . . It is not unworthy of notice, that in those congregations where the preachers encouraged them to much extent, the work was more extensive, and greater numbers were added. It must also be admitted, that in many of the congregations, no little confusion and disorder arose, after the revival had subsided. Even then, among the old fashioned Calvinistic Baptists of the Old Dominion these strange bodily agitations obtained; and many of the preachers 'fanned them as fire from heaven,' and the excitement and confusion that pervaded their vast assemblies well nigh fills Mr. J. L. Waller's measure of a 'New Light Stir' in Kentucky"(pp. 356-357).
Whitefield countenanced and encouraged these exercises. Professor Hodge, in his History of the Presbyterian Church, pages 85 and 86, says "The manner in which Whitefield describes the scenes at Nottingham and Fagg's Manor, and others of a similar character, shows he did not disapprove of these agitations. He says he never saw a more glorious sight, than when the people were fainting all around him, and crying out in such a manner as to drown his own voice"(p. 361).
The events described here which took place among Baptists in 1785 were a prelude to the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky, which, of course, was also characterized by these manifestations. Mark Galli's article, "Revival at Cane Ridge," in CHRISTIAN HISTORY 45 (vol. xiv, no. 1), pp, 12-13, provides an overview. After a discussion of some similar events which took place prior to the Cane Ridge revival, he quotes Barton W. Stone on what actually happened during that spring of 1801:
The scene to me was new and passing strange. . . . Many, very many fell down, as men slain in battle, and continued for hours together in an apparently breathless and motionless state--sometimes for a few moments reviving, and exhibiting symptoms of life by a deep groan, or piercing shriek, or by a prayer for mercy most fervently uttered(p. 12).
He also paraphrases another eyewitness, Richard McNemar:
Then the tumultuous bodily 'exercises' began. Along with the shouting and crying, some began falling. Some experienced only weakened knees or a light head (including Governor James Garrard). Others fell but remained conscious or talkative; a few fell into a deep coma, displaying the symptoms of a grand mal seizure or a type of hysteria. Though only a minority fell, some parts of the grounds were strewn like a battlefield(p. 13).
Galli then quotes another eyewitness who described the jerks:
Their heads would jerk back suddenly, frequently causing them to yelp, or make some other involuntary noise(ibid).
There are more extensive eyewitness descriptions of these phenomena in another article, "Piercing Screams and Heavenly Smiles" (p. 15), which consists of excerpts of Barton W. Stone's 1847 autobiography, which devotes a few paragraphs each to falling, the jerks, dancing, barking, laughing, running, and singing. Here is what he said of the laughing exercise:
The laughing exercise was frequent, confined solely with the religious. It was a loud, hearty laughter, but one sui generis; it excited laughter in none else. The subject appeared rapturously solemn, and his laugher excited solemnity in saints and sinners. It is truly indescribable (Rogers, p. 41).
About twenty years later, in 1821, Charles Finney was converted to the Christian faith. In his MEMOIRS (New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1876), pp. 20-21, he provides an extensive account of his experiences at this time, including the following:
Without any expectation of it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love; for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings. No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, "I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me." I said, "Lord, I cannot bear any more;" yet I had no fear of death.
How long I continued in this state, with this baptism continuing to roll over me and go through me, I do not know. But I know it was late in the evening when a member of my choir--for I was the leader of the choir--came into the office to see me. He was a member of the church. He found me in this state of loud weeping, and said to me, "Mr. Finney, what ails you?" I could make him no answer for some time. He then said, "Are you in pain?" I gathered myself up as best I could, and replied, "No, but so happy that I cannot live."
He turned and left the office, and in a few minutes returned with one of the elders of the church, whose shop was nearly across the way from our office. This elder was a very serious man; and in my presence had been very watchful, and I had scarcely ever seen him laugh. When he came in, I was very much in the state in which I was when the young man went out to call him. He asked me how I felt, and I began to tell him. Instead of saying anything, he fell into a most spasmodic laugher. It seemed as if it was impossible for him to keep from laughing from the very bottom of his heart.
Where Finney says that he "literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings" of his heart, he is, in all probability describing what John Wesley described in several places as "roaring" at his meetings. The fact that the person who found him in this state asked if he might be in pain could also be indicative of groaning on Finney's part. It is also of interest that, when one of the elders of his church arrived, the power of the Spirit came upon him in the form of laughter.
Elsewhere in his Memoirs, Finney describes some of the same phenomena that took place in John Wesley's meetings:
[In Adams, New York, in 1822:]Before the week was out I learned that some of them, when they would attempt to observe this season of prayer, would lose all of their strength and be unable to rise to their feet, or even stand upon their knees in their closets" (pp. 44-45).
[In Antwerp, New York,] The congregation began to fall from their seats in every direction, and cried for mercy. If I had had a sword in each hand, I could not have cut them off their seats as fast as they fell" (p. 103).
At the same time, some of the same things were also happening in England. For example, on July 23, 1839, William Chalmers Burns, at Kilsyth, was preaching on Psalm 110:3, and retelling the story of the Kirk of Shotts, another great incidence of revival. He wrote, "the power of the Lord's Spirit became so mighty upon their souls as to carry all before it, like the 'rushing mighty wind' of Pentecost. Some were screaming out in agony; others--and among these strong men--fell to the ground as if they had been dead" (Charles G. Finney, REVIVALS OF RELIGION [Virginia Beach, Va.: CBN University Press, 1978], p. 57, note 1).
Used with the permission of Richard M. Riss