HISTORY

OF THE

CUMBERLAND PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH,

By James Smith

[559]

CHAPTER I.

FIRST SETTLERS OF GREEN RIVER AND CUMBERLAND COUNTRIES--STATE OF THE CHURCH-- M'GREADY--COMMENCEMENT OF THE REVIVAL.

IN giving a history of the origin of this young branch of the Church of Christ, it will be proper to relate the causes, which finally rendered it necessary for its founders to secede from the communion of the Presbyterian Church; and to establish a new denomination of Christians.

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church had its origin among the early settlers of the Green River country in Kentucky, and the Cumberland country in Tennessee. The early inhabitants of this beautiful and fertile region, consisted of a heterogenous mass, who, from the glowing descriptions that were given of the richness of its soil, and the salubrity of its climate, had flowed into it, from all quarters of the Union, especially from Virginia, and the Carolinas. Surrounded on all sides by a dense forest, and a luxuriant country, the improvement and cultivation of which, promised fair to place them in easy and affluent circumstances, it is not surprising that the great majority of the inhabitants bent all their energies to the promotion of their temporal interests, to the neglect of what was vastly more important, a preparation for Eternity--especially when it is remembered, that at that time, owing to their isolated situation, they were in a great measure deprived of the means of grace, which their descendants so abundantly enjoy. It is true, that at a very [560] early period after the first settlement of the country, a few philanthropic, and devoted missionaries immigrated into this new, extensive field of labor, where they underwent severe trials, submitted to disagreeable privations; and at the risk of falling victims to the Indian tomahawk and scalping knife, they traveled from settlement to settlement proclaiming salvation through Christ Jesus to perishing sinners. Nor did they labor in vain, or spend their strength for naught; for they were often blessed with precious out-pourings of God's Spirit, and through their instrumentality many souls were brought unto the fold of Christ. But the number of such men was exceedingly small, when compared to the vast field before them, which was enlarging every year; and unfortunately, many who called themselves the ministers of the Gospel, removed into this country, who were in all things the reverse of those mentioned above. Some were strangers to that change of heart, without which, all pretensions to be called, and sent of God, to point perishing sinners to Jesus Christ, are but impious mockery; and others proved by their conduct, that they possessed but little of the Spirit of the Gospel. [Of his first fellow laborers in Kentucky, Mr. Rice says, "they were men of some information, and held sound principles, but did not appear to possess much of the spirit of the gospel."]

Like priest, like people, is a trite, yet true saying; and in this region at that period, although here and there, a true Nathaniel, and a humble and devoted Mary were to be found; yet many of the professed followers of Christ had a name to live, when they were dead in trespasses and sins.--These remarks are especially applicable to the members of the Presbyterian Church, a fearful number of whom, appear to have been strangers to true godliness. The Rev. Mr. David Rice, the first Presbyterian minister that settled in Kentucky, gives the following dark picture of many, who possessed certificates of being in full communion in that Church: "Some were grossly ignorant of the first principles of religion: some were given to quarrelling and fighting: some to profane swearing: some to intemperance." Nor was this description of professed Christians confined to the region in which Mr. Rice resided; for in too many instances, such members of the Church were to be [561] found in the Green River and Cumberland countries, as the sequel will show. Indeed, at that period, the Presbyterian Church in the west, appears to have been in a wretched state of coldness and formality. "The services of the Sanctuary were long, unedifying, and irksome; and the communicants, with a very few exceptions, were confined to the heads of families." [Dr. Cleland] Such being the state of the church, it is not surprising that the men of the world should treat the religion of the Lord Jesus Christ with neglect and contempt; and that society should be prone to Infidelity, Atheism, and every evil work.

Such was the darkly ominous state of the religious atmosphere of the then far west, when in addition to the few evangelical and devoted ministers (chiefly Methodists,) already in the field, in the year A.D. 1797, God, in his merciful providence, sent into the moral wilderness, that evangelical, holy, devoted and powerful minister of the gospel, James M'Gready, whose memory will ever be dear, not only to all who bear the Cumberland Presbyterian name, but to all sincere followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, who have a correct knowledge of his labors of love, and their blessed results.

Mr. M'Gready was born in North Carolina, in the year A.D. 1763, of respectable parents, who had emigrated from Ireland. Very little is known to the author of his infancy and youth, except, that at an early age, he was admitted into the communion of the Presbyterian Church, and became a candidate for the gospel ministry. Shortly after, he removed to western Pennsylvania, where he placed himself under the tuition of Dr. M'Millan, who was founder of Jefferson College. Here, with great diligence, he applied himself to study, and made considerable proficiency. But although he was a member of the visible church, and preparing for the ministry, Mr. M'Gready was not, at that time, a member of the mystical body of Christ. God, in his tender compassion, convinced him of his state of spiritual death, in the following manner:

On a certain occasion, at the house of a friend, he fell into the society of two evangelical Christians of his acquaintance. On retiring for the night, they were all shewn into the [562] same room; Mr. M'Gready to one bed, and the two friends to another. These two Christians entered into conversation on experimental and practical religion. By and by, believing that Mr. M'Gready was asleep, they freely expressed to each other, their views of his religious character; they pronounced him a mere formalist, and a stranger to regenerating grace. He, however, being awake, overhead all that was said concerning him; and instead of becoming offended, as too many professed Christians would have been, by the Spirit of God, he was thereby led to a close and candid examination of the state of his heart, which happily for him and for the church of Christ, resulted in the conviction, that although he had a name to live, yet he was dead in tresspasses and sins; and justly exposed to the wrath of God. He now earnestly sought an interest in the blood of Atonement, and from his MSS. it appears, that in the year A.D. 1786, on a Sabbath morning, at a sacramental meeting, near the Monongahala, he was savingly converted to God.

Three years after the date of his conversion, we find Mr. M'Gready in North Carolina, preaching Christ to perishing sinners in great power and demonstration of the Spirit. From his MSS. it appears, the design of most of his discourses at that time, was to drive unregenerate professors from their refuges of lies; and in all, he dwelt upon the necessity of the new birth. What is worthy of remark, he insisted upon the importance of knowing the time when, and the place where, the saving change is experienced. Such was his zeal for God, and the heavenly unction that attended his ministrations, wherever he went he attracted the attention of very large congregations; and by the blessing of God attending the word preached, many precious souls passed from death unto life. 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.

Having married an intelligent lady, who was a member of the Presbyterian Church, about the year 1790, Mr. M'Gready became a pastor of a congregation in Orange county, where he la-[563] bored with his former zeal, and often with great success. Here, however, he encountered much opposition from the openly profane, and also from nominal professors of religion; the former being offended at his fearful denunciations of the wrath of God against impenitent sinners; and the latter, at his plain, heart searching exposures of their unsound foundations. The cry was raised against him, he is running the people distracted, diverting their attention from their necessary avocations; and creating in the minds of decent, orderly, moral people, unnecessary alarm about the eternal destiny of their souls. Thus circumstanced it is not surprising, that he had to submit to many insults from those very persons, for whose benefit he so faithfully labored. But Mr. M'Gready felt conscious that he was in the discharge of duty, and true to his trust, he continued to cry aloud--exposed sin in its horrid deformity--pointed outs its fearful consequences, and held up Christ before sinners as their only hope and refuge. Satan who was exceedingly mad at the faithfulness of this servant of the living God, and at the success that attended his ministrations, rallied his forces, and resolved to drive him from the field. To effect this purpose, a letter was written to him in blood, requiring him to leave the country at the peril of his life; and 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 to the pulpit, and burnt it to ashes.

On the following Sabbath, when Mr. M'Gready and the congregation assembled at the house of God, they found all within, in confusion and desolation. Not at all intimidated by these diabolical proceedings, on commencing the services, he gave out these very appropriate words from Dr. Watts:

Will God forever cast us off?
His wrath forever smoke
Against the people of his love,
His little chosen flock!

Think of the tribes so dearly bought
With their Redeemer's blood;
Nor let thy Zion be forgot
Where once thy glory stood.

[564]

Lift up thy feet and march in haste,
Aloud our ruin calls;
See what a wide and fearful waste
Is made within thy walls.

Where once thy churches pray'd and sang
Thy foes profanely roar;
Over thy gates their ensigns hang,
Sad tokens of their power.

How are the seats of worship broke!
They tear thy buildings down,
And he that deals the heaviest stroke
Procures the chief renown.

With flames they threaten to destroy
Thy children in their nest;
Come let us burn at once, they cry,
The temple and the priest.

After the singing of which, he addressed the congregation from Matthew xxiii.37,38. 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 gathered her chickens under her wings, and ye would not. Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

In A.D. 1796, and shortly after this outrage had been committed, Mr. M'Gready determined to leave this congregation, in consequence of a call from some of his former hearers, who had removed to Logan county, Kentucky. On his way to his new destination, he halted in the vicinity of Knoxville, East Tennessee, where he remained several months, preaching with power and energy, and was honored by the Head of the Church, by being instrumental in awakening and converting many precious souls, who will be his crown of rejoicing in the great day of Jesus Christ. When Mr. M'Gready arrived in Logan county, Kentucky, he became the pastor of three small congregations, viz: Gasper River, Red River, and Muddy River societies; all of which were in a state of coldness and declension, and many of the members strangers to regeneration. Indeed the questions put to Mr. M'Gready shew that his churches were [565] nearly destitute of spiritual life, it being not uncommon for him to be asked such questions as the following: "Is religion a sensible thing? If I were converted, would I feel it and know it?" Mr. M'Gready, who was a man of fervent piety, deep humility, and persevering in his supplications at a throne of Grace, could not remain in a state of listlessness in this valley of the shadow of death; but determined, in the strength of Israel's God, to arouse the people from their dangerous lethargy: and as immortal souls were every day sinking into perdition, he not only raised the alarm, but he also adopted and practised such measures as were most likely, under the blessing of God, to insure success and result in a revival of religion, and the salvation of perishing sinners. He laid before the few living Christians of his charges, the desolations of Zion, the promises of their covenant God, and the efficacy of faithful, persevering and effectual prayer. When their zeal for the cause of Christ was excited, and their love for the souls of their fellow men was inflamed, he presented for their approval and signature, 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 [566] one half hour every Sabbath morning, at the rising of the sun, in pleading with God to revive his work."

To this he and they affixed their names; having thus solemnly pledged themselves to God and each other, with a humble reliance upon the promises of Jehovah; both preacher and people betook themselves to fervent, and persevering prayer. Mr. M'Gready in his public exhibitions at this time, uniformly preached repentance, faith, and regeneration. A favorite subject with him was from Daniel, v. 27. "Tekel, Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting;" by the enlightening influences of the Holy Spirit attending this discourse, many members of the church became secretly convinced, their hope was that of the hypocrite, which shall perish. At first, rage, and hatred of the preacher took possession of their minds; but numbers were subsequently converted to God. In the meanwhile, Mr. M'Gready had unusual liberty in preaching the word, for God aided him, and answered the prayers of the faithful band, who were thus holding up his hands.

In May A.D. 1797, which was the spring after he settled in Logan county, this man of God began to see some of the fruit of his labors, in the conversion of a female member of the church in full communion, who found that her hope of salvation was false and delusive, upon which she became deeply convicted, and in a short time obtained peace and joy in believing. On experiencing this happy change from death unto life, and no doubt moved upon by the Holy Spirit, this new-born Christian visited her relatives, friends, and neighbors, from house to house; warned them of their danger, and earnestly exhorted them to repent, and seek an interest in the blood of Jesus. This conversion, and the laudable zeal of its subject, was blessed of God to the awakening of many precious souls. And now the whole congregation appeared to be come interested, and almost every discourse delivered, was instrumental in awakening sinners. This encouraging state of affairs continued during the summer; but in the fall of the year, a general deadness began to prevail, which continued until the following July. When on the Monday of a sacramental meeting, God was graciously pleased again to pour out his Spirit, on this favored congrega- [567] tion. The consequence was, that most of the families in the neighborhood became deeply impressed with a sense of their ruined condition, and their perishing need of an interest in Christ Jesus: during the following week, they almost entirely neglected their secular affairs, owing to their great solicitude to obtain salvation.

Heretofore, the gracious out pourings of the Holy Spirit were confined to the congregation on Gasper River: but, in September, A.D. 1798, the two other congregations under the pastoral care of Mr. M'Gready, also experienced refreshing times from the presence of the Lord. Christians were strengthened and comforted. The people listened to the Gospel, as for Eternity, and the general topic of conversation, at home and abroad, was the salvation of the Soul. Thus, in answer to the faithful, and persevering prayers of a few devoted Christians, did the Head of the Church commence a work of grace, which was destined to gladden the hearts of thousands; and lead many wandering sinners from the road of death, to the climes of Eternal Felicity. But in no age of the world, has a true revival appeared, without having to encounter opposition. Satan will not yield his dominion over the hearts of men without a struggle, and as he is exceedingly crafty, and an adept at the work of destruction, in attempting to effect his purposes, he always choses [sic] those instruments, most likely to be successful. So it proved in the present instance, for while these infant churches were in this very interesting and critical situation, a person from a distance visited them, not as a messenger of peace, not to strengthen the hands of the pastor and his people, but to sow the seeds of discord, to blast the opening prospects of the children of God, and to prevent immortal souls from being snatched as brands from the burnings. Nor was this man an avowed enemy of the Kingdom of Christ, but one professing to hold a commission from the court of Heaven, as embassador of the Lord of Glory to guilty men. Nor did he belong to another sectary, but was a member of the same denomination and attached to the same Presbytery to which these churches belonged; consequently he was under great obligations to promote the work. But instead of endeavoring to bring perishing sinners to the foot of the Cross, the Rev. James Balch had no sooner arrived, than he commenced [568] opposing the doctrines preached, viz: Faith, Repentance, and Regeneration. He ridiculed the whole work of the revival, formed a considerable party, and involved these young churches in disputation and confusion. In consequence of which the whole work was stopped, and the people sunk back into a state of darkness and deadness. The author of this calamity has long since gone to render an account of his stewardship to the Judge of quick and dead. Charity says let his name sink into oblivion; but his subsequent conduct in opposing the revival, and the part he with others of a like spirit acted, in relation to the unhappy difficulties which reduced the founders of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church to form a new denomination, render it necessary in justice to the characters of the friends of the revival that it should be recorded, especially as it must again appear, as the persevering opposer of the revival members of Cumberland Presbytery, and of their measures, perhaps he acted conscientiously, the Judgment of the great day will alone reveal whether in these proceedings he did the will of his Master; but to return.

Although for a short time God withdrew from these congregations the manifestations of his grace, yet he had not forsaken them, but again blessed them with the out pourings of his Spirit during a sacramental occasion at Red River Church, in July, A.D. 1799. Great solemnity pervaded the assembled throng from first to last, particularly on Monday, the presence of God had an overwhelming influence upon the congregation. The most bold and daring sinners in the country hid their faces, and wept bitterly; and such were the deep impressions made upon their minds, that when the congregation was dismissed many staid around the doors of the church, unwilling to retire. Upon observing this, Mr. M'Gready again had them collected in the house, and addressed the Throne of Grace in their behalf. When this was done, to use his own strong language--"The mighty power of God came upon like a shower from the everlasting hills; the people of God were quickened and comforted. Yea, some of them were filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory; sinners were powerfuly [sic] allarmed, [sic] and some precious souls were brought to feel the pardoning love of Jesus."

In August following, a meeting of the same nature was held [569] at Gasper River Church, which Mr. M'Gready styles one of the days of the Son of Man. On Monday especially, the sensible presence of God rendered the assembly awfully solemn; great attention was paid to the preaching of the word, and when the exercises were closed, and the benediction pronounced, instead of leaving the church, and dispersing as usual, the whole assembly kept their seats and remained for sometime in deep and solemn silence. But presently some had such clear views of the corruptions of their hearts, the sinfulness of their lives, and their exposure to misery, that they were constrained to cry for mercy; some were so overwhelmed with a sense of their guilt, and the presence of that Holy God against whom they had rebelled, that they fell from their seats upon the floor, and there lay in agony, pleading for the pardon, of their innumerable transgressions. Such were the heart piercing influences of the Holy Spirit, that not only those who made no profession of an interest in the blood of Christ were thus affected, but some who were members of the church were overwhelmed with the presence of God, and could not withstand the mighty influence of the truth, but were thoroughly convinced, that their hope of salvation was delusive, and they guilty unregenerate sinners condemned to death. When these effects were produced, the ministers of the Gospel passed among the assembly, addressed them individually, and entreated all to make their peace with God through Christ Jesus. Mr. M'Gready says, while thus employed, a woman who was in deep distress sent for him, and thus addressed him--"Sir, I lived in your congregation in North Carolina, I was a member of the church in full communion, but I was deceived, I have no religion, I am going to hell." He also relates that an aged man in great distress addressed his wife and children in the following language:--"We are all going to hell together, we have lived prayerless and ungodly lives, the work of our souls is yet to begin, we must get religion or we will all be damned."

In September, another sacramental meeting was held at Muddy River Church, attended by the same gracious manifestations of the presence of God. Many were awakened to a sense of their sin and danger, and some obtained an interest in the privileges of the sons of God.

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As the small rivulet that issues from the mountain side and winds its devious way over rocks, crags and dales, gradually enlarging as it glides along, until it becomes a deep and broad river, spreading luxuriance and plenty over the regions through which it flows, and finally empties itself into the ocean, covered with vessels laden with rich cargoes. So did this gracious revival first break forth in three small congregations, situated in obscure settlements, almost at the extremity of civilization; and notwithstanding the powers of earth and hell combined to stop its course, and sink it in oblivion; yet over all barriers and obstacles it forced its way, gradually enlarging as it flowed, communicating pardon, peace, and the hope of eternal life to many perishing sinners, until it became a mighty flood and caused its hallowed and refreshing influence to be felt, throughout the valley of the Mississippi. Already have many thousands been wafted by it to the realms of Glory, and we trust it will continue to flow on, refreshing the hearts of millions yet unborn, until not only this great and rising empire shall be Evangelized, but all men shall become the subjects of our Immanuel, and the whole earth will be filled with his Glory.


Title Page, Chapter II, Chapter III, Chapter IV, Chapter V


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