The outbreak of COVID-19 brought great fear to our nation, and people have been praying for God’s deliverance. Now with the unrest, violence, destruction, and lawlessness in the last couple months, many people, including me, are crying out to God for another Great Awakening. We realize that only God is going to solve our problems. We have seen moves of God in the last 150 years but nothing to match the magnitude of the Second Great Awakening (1795-1835).
Many things have changed since that time in our nation. The population of the United States in the late 1700s through the early 1800s was only about 5.3 million as opposed to today’s population of about 328.2 million people. In 1800, the West was Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio. This expanded greatly in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, but today’s west is California, Oregon and Washington.
In many ways, the spiritual tenor of our nation is similar to those times. The eastern states, especially New England, was plagued with spiritual apathy and the rise of groups that denied the basic tenets of the Bible. History records that many people living in wilds of Kentucky and Tennessee were lawless and had committed petty crimes or were fleeing prosecution for robbery, murder, and counterfeiting. One writer said, “It was a desperate state of society.” Pastors and church leaders in New England and the South lamented the nation’s spiritual ignorance. But God was moving to change the spiritual, cultural, and moral atmosphere of our nation.
Small revivals began to break out in the eastern seaboard and spread westward. Pastor James McGready saw a move of God in north-central North Carolina before he took the pastorate of three fledging congregations in southwestern Kentucky. His fiery preaching brought the worst of sinners to their knees in repentance before God. In June 1800, about 500 people from the three congregations gathered outside for a three-day “camp meeting.” (It would not be called a camp meeting for about three years.) People earnestly sought God and cried out for mercy. When McGready held another camp meeting a month later, the crowd swelled to about 8,000. “McGready recalled: The power of God seemed to shake the whole assembly…Here awakening and converting work was to be found in every part of the multitude.”
As desire for revival spread, other pastors planned camp meetings. Under the direction of Pastor Barton Stone, the camp meeting in August 1801 attracted as many as 25,000 people. The crowd was divided into smaller congregations with separate ministers preaching strong messages of repentance. People cried out in agony for their sins, asking God for mercy. “The rough, violent, irreligious frontier, which many felt threatened to undo the morals of the new nation, was being tamed by the Lamb of God.
Throughout the early 1800s thousands of camp meetings were established in the United States to encourage the faithful and bring the lost to Christ. Thousands of people gathered in open fields and wooded areas to hear the gospel. One of the large Methodist campgrounds was in Martha’s Vineyard.
About 12 years ago, my daughter and I biked around Martha’s Vineyard. By the middle of the afternoon, we needed a break. After eating, she said, “Mom, I want to take you to some beautiful little houses about a block away.” We were chatting as we walked, but as soon as we entered the shady area, I said, “Where are we? I feel the Presence of the Lord.” (My eyes are filled with tears as I write this.) To my left were the beautiful Gingerbread Houses, as they came to be known, and in front of me was a large pavilion. I knew I was on hallowed ground. Something spiritually wonderful had taken place here. I learned this was the 34-acre Wesleyan Grove, established in 1835, where as many as 20,000 people gathered each summer for spiritual renewal. I was sensing the remnants of the Second Great Awakening.
We are praying for another great awakening. It won’t be like the previous one. Times are different. But wouldn’t it be thrilling to see 20,000 people gather in an open field, in a stadium, or in a park to cry out to God in repentance for His mercy? Once again God can change the spiritual, cultural, and moral atmosphere of our nation.