James McGready was born in Pennsylvania
Became a candidate for the ministry.
Licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Redstone, on August 13,1788
Moved to western Pennsylvania and studied under Dr. John McMillan, who was founder of Jefferson College.
Licensed by the Redstone Presbytery in Pennsylvania - August 12, 1788
Married about 1790.
Pastor of a congregation in Orange County, North Carolina.
In 1796 went to the vicinity of Knoxville, Tennessee for several months.
Then went to Logan County, Kentucky and pastored three small congregations: Gasper River, Red River, and Muddy River societies.
About 1806 he moved to Henderson County, Kentucky.
Died in Henderson County, Kentucky in February 1817.
Mr. M'Gready died in Henderson county, Kentucky, in February, 1817. In the fall of 1816 he attended a Cumberland Presbyterian Camp-meeting near Evansville, Indiana, and preached with great power and demonstration of the Spirit. At the close of a very awful discourse, viz: "The Character, History and End of the Fool," one of his published sermons. He came out of the pulpit, called up the anxious, and prayed for them with great fervency. When he closed, he arose from his knees and said with a loud voice; "O blessed be God I this day feel the same holy fire that filled my soul sixteen years ago, during the glorious revival of 1800." At the close of the services he retired with Messrs. Harris and Chapman, and gave them much encouragement. Brethren, said he, "Go on, God is with you, be humble, and he will continue to bless you."
Shortly previous to his death, he remarked to some of the leading members of one of his congregations, in what was then called Rolleson's settlement. "Brethren, when I am dead and gone, the Cumberland Presbyterians will come among you and occupy this field; go with them, they are a people of God." While Mr. M'Gready lived no Cumberland preacher operated near his congregations through respect toward him they revered. After his death they visited the congregation mentioned above, nearly all of whom became Cumberland Presbyterians.
The following is a very just exhibit of the character of this holy and eminently useful Minister of Jesus Christ, written by Rev. John Andrews,
"From the conduct and conversation of Mr. M'Gready, 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 supplication, for a blessing on himself and others, and prevailed; like Elijah, he was very jealous for the Lord God of hosts, and regarded his glory and the advancement of 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 disconformity 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 sound understanding, and a 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 on thunder, he clearly presented to the view of their guilty minds from the awful denunciations of the World of Truth. Although he did not fail to preach Jesus Christ, and him crucified, to laboring and heaven laden sinners, and to administer consolation which the gospel speaks to humble believers; yet he was more distinguished by a talent for depicting the guilty and deplorable situation of impenitent sinners, and the awful consequences of their rebellion against God, without speedy repentance unto life and a living faith in the blood of sprinkling. There is reason to believe that his faithful and indefatigable labors in the gospel of Christ were crowned with a great degree of success, and that he was honored as an instrument in the conviction and conversion of many sinners, and more especially in the commencement and progress of several powerful revivals of religion, in different places, during which he labored with distinguished zeal and activity.
"We shall conclude our remarks by observing, that some of the traits in Mr. M'Gready's character as a private Christian, which are worthy of our imitation, were his fervent piety, his unaffected humility, his earnest, persevering supplications at the Throne of Grace, his resignation to the will of God under the afflictions, bereavements and poverty, with which he was tried in this world, his cheerful reliance on God's kind and watchful providence and confidence in his great and precious promises, and his contempt of the pomp and vanities of this world, to which he seemed to be, in a great degree, crucified. And, as a minister of the gospel, he ought to be imitated in his regard to the honor of God and the salvation of souls, his vigorous and zealous exertions to promote these grand objects, his fidelity in declaring the whole counsel of God, and his patience in bearing the revilings of the ungodly."
[Source: Smith, James. History of the Christian Church, From its Origin to the Present Time; Compiled from Various Authors. Including a History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Drawn from Authentic Documents. Nashville, Tenn.: Printed and Published at the Cumberland Presbyterian Office, 1835, pages 672-673]
REV. JAMES MCGREADY was of Scotch-Irish descent, and was born in Pennsylvania. When he was quite young, his father moved from Pennsylvania, and settled in Guilford county, North Carolina. Here young McGready passed his early years. He is represented to have been of a thoughtful and serious habit of mind, and otherwise promising, whilst still a youth. An uncle, who was on a visit to his father's family, from Pennsylvania, though that a boy of such habits and promise ought to be educated for the ministry, and prevailed on his parents to allow their son to accompany him to Pennsylvania, with a view to the accomplishment of that object. The more reliable tradition is, that about the time of his commencing his studies preparatory to the work of the ministry, he was convinced by a sermon of a Rev. Mr. Smith, of the unsoundness of his previous religious hopes. Smith, in his history of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, says that his awakening to a true sense of his spiritual state was attributable to a conversation of two friends, overheard by Mr. McGready, in which they expressed their fears that he was not a truly converted man. Foote, in his Sketches of North Carolina, confirms the latter account. Whatever may have been the means of his awakening, he became an earnest inquirer, and soon, without doubt, a true Christian.
In the fall of 1785, Mr. Smith, who, according to the first tradition, was the means of his awakening, opened a school for the purpose of assisting young men in preparing for the ministry, and young McGready immediately became one of his pupils. He remained here for some time, and then entered a school recently opened by Rev. Dr. McMillan, with whom he had spent some time after his arrival with his uncle from North Carolina. Dr. McMillan's school grew into what is now Jefferson College.
The subject of this sketch having completed his literary and theological course of studies, was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Redstone, on the 13th of August, 1788, when he was about thirty years of age. In the autumn or winter following, he returned to North Carolina, and on his way spent some time with Dr. John Blair Smith, at Hampden Sidney College in Virginia. Dr. Smith had been extensively connected with a powerful revival of religion, which occurred in his neighborhood about that time, and the mind of Mr. McGready seems to have been deeply affected by what he saw and heard of the manifestations of Divine grace in that revival.
On his arrival in North Carolina, he found the churches in a low state. A great spiritual dearth prevailed, and his preaching was the means of awakening increased interest on the subject of religion. From one of my authorities we have the following: "His labors at an academy under the care of Dr. Caldwell, were instrumental in producing a revival of religion, in which ten or twelve young men were brought into the fold, all of whom became ministers of the gospel, and some of them were subsequently his fellow-laborers in the far West."
About the year 1790 Mr. McGready married, and became the pastor of a congregation in Orange county. "Here he labored with his wonted zeal, and often with great success." His zeal provoked opposition. The cry was raised against him that he was running the people distracted, diverting their attention from their necessary avocations, and creating unnecessary alarm in the minds of those who were decent and orderly in their lives. "A letter was written to him in blood, requiring him to leave the country at the peril of his life; and a number of wicked men and women of the baser sort, on a certain occasion during the week, assembled in his church, tore down the seats, set fire tot he pulpit, and burnt it to ashes." On the following Sabbath, when the congregation met for worship, a scene of confusion and desolation presented itself. He, however, proceeded with the service, using a very appropriate 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."
In 1796 Mr. McGready left North Carolina for Kentucky. After spending a few months in East Tennessee, he reached his destination, 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 religious interest. There were among them, however, some living and earnest Christians. He made great efforts to arouse his people to a proper sense of their spiritual condition, as well as for the conversion of sinners. In order to effect his object more fully, 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,m pleading with God to revive his work."
To this covenant he and they affixed their names. The writer recollects to have heard the late Dr. Alfred M. Bryan state that his father, and perhaps his mother, were subscribers, among others. In May, 1797, the first signs of promise appeared, in the conversion of a female member of one of his congregations, who had been in the communion of the Church for some time. These favorable indications continued through the summer, but were followed by a temporary reaction through the fall and winter. The following summer the work developed itself more powerfully. On Monday of the sacramental meeting, at Gaspar River Meeting-house, the Spirit of God was poured out abundantly; the congregation became intensely interested on the subject of religion, and during the following week, almost entirely neglected their secular affairs, so great was their solicitude to secure the salvation of their own souls and the souls of others. This was the commencement of the great revival of 1800. For several subsequent years, a history of Mr. McGready would be a history of the revival. He was its leading spirit--I speak of him as a subordinate agent, of course--its most earnest advocate, and powerful promoter.
When the difficulties began to develop themselves, which resulted in the organization of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Mr. McGready for a time took a decided stand, as we would have expected, with the revival party. As these difficulties progressed, however, and became more serious than he expected, he faltered. It is, perhaps, not a matter of surprise. He was a Calvinist of the old school. He had received his early theological impressions, and his impressions of ecclesiastical order, from Dr. McMillan and old Red Stone Presbytery, types of the sternest Presbyterianism. He had no idea, it is supposed, when the troubles commenced, that they would become so complicated and embarrassing. Another consideration may be added. Although a man of great power in the pulpit, he was not a man for ecclesiastical conflict. He was not adapted to the leadership of a party. In December of 1805 he was cited, with Revs. Messrs. William Hodge, William McGee, Samuel McAdow, and John Rankin, to appear before the next meeting of Kentucky Synod, to account for their conduct in not submitting the young men for reexamination to the Commission of the Synod. The history of the Commission is known. He succeeded by some means in making his peace with the Synod, and with the Transylvania Presbytery, which he seems to have attended in 1809, for the first time after his citation by the Commission of Synod.
Shortly after Mr. McGready's defection from the Council out of which the Cumberland Presbytery of 1810 grew, he left Logan county, and settled in Henderson county, Kentucky, where he remained until his death, which occurred in February, 1817.
Of his latter years, not much in known. It is known, however, that he continued his ministerial work, with his usual fidelity. But from some cause his labors were not as successful as they had formerly been. This was perhaps partly attributable to such a failure of physical strength and animation as declining age naturally brings. His friends, too, thought that the former unction of his ministry was wanting. It is recorded that in the fall of 1816, a few months before his death, he attended a Cumberland Presbyterian camp-meeting near Evansville, Indiana, where he preached with great power and success. At the close of a very impressive sermon on "The character, history, and end of the fool." he came out of the pulpit, called together the anxious, and prayed for them with great fervency. When he closed, he arose from his knees, and exclaimed with a loud voice, "O blessed be God! I this day feel the same holy fire that filled my soul sixteen years ago, during the glorious revival of 1800."
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 was well calculated to awaken distrust of the religion of many around him. He had himself built for a time upon a false foundation, and it was very natural that he should fear that others would fall into the same fatal error. He was accordingly terrible upon hypocrites, deceivers, and the self-deceived. Such could hardly stand before his searching and scathing denunciations. And the history of the Church in his time, and the history of his own labors, show very clearly that such a man 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 Western country, too, in the close of the last, and the commencement of the present century, 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. The result was, that 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 ministerial 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."
A few of the old people still survive who sometimes heard Mr. McGready in the revival of 1800. They speak even now of his preaching with enthusiasm. They give wonderful accounts of his power in the pulpit, not only in preaching, but in prayer. I have several times heard a very reliable old gentleman, who claimed Mr. McGready as his spiritual father, relate 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.
I heard Mr. McGready preach once. I was very young--I suppose in my fourteenth or fifteenth year. The occasion was a funeral-sermon upon the death of his brother, who had lived and died a member of Shiloh congregation in Tennessee. He stood at the foot of a tree in a grove, as the house could not contain the congregation. I have a very distinct recollection of his appearance and manner. He was not boisterous, but rather chaste, solemn, and impressive. Solemnity was most conspicuous in his manner, and he shed tears very freely. It was a solemn day. I suppose it was his last visit to Shiloh, and perhaps to Tennessee.
His sermons were published in two volumes some years after his death, by Rev. James Smith, then of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. They are good sermons. I have now in my possession one of his manuscript sermons. It is closely and very fully written out, but from age is scarcely legible.
[Source: Beard, Richard. Brief
Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland
Presbyterian Church. Nashville, Tenn.: Southern Methodist
Publishing House, Published for the author, 1867, pages 7-17]