The Holy Spirit: Introduction: The Cane Ridge Revival

As I’ve promised more than once, this is the beginning of a new series on the Holy Spirit. I’ve written extensively here and there about the Spirit, but I’ve never assembled a complete pneumatology — theology of the Spirit. Of course, completeness isn’t really possible when it comes to the Spirit. We’ll never plumb the depths of the topic.

But we can build a solid foundation. And we do that, not by proving how this or that theory is wrong — as though proving someone else wrong might make my theories right! — but by working our way through the scriptures, starting in Genesis.

And when we get done, we’ll have plenty of unanswered questions, but hopefully we’ll be asking much better questions.

History of the Spirit in the Restoration Movement

The Restoration Movement has a surprisingly mixed history in its teachings on the Spirit. There’s Alexander Campbell’s view — and then there’s Barton W. Stone’s view. And they are not the same, which is surprising because the Movement is also known as the Stone-Campbell Movement, as it resulted from the merger of their two movements.

Stone’s view is likely best seen through the lens of the Cane Ridge Revival of 1801. The Revival was a communion meeting. In those days, Kentucky was sparsely settled frontier territory, and there were very few churches and even fewer preachers ordained to offer communion. Many people had gone years without taking communion.

According to Peter Cartwright, a minister who was present,

Ministers of almost all denominations flocked in from far and near. The meeting was kept up by night and day. Thousands heard of the mighty work, and came on foot, on horseback, in carriages and wagons. It was supposed that there were in attendance at times during the meeting from twelve to twenty-five thousand people. Hundreds fell prostrate under the mighty power of God, as men slain in battle. Stands were erected in the woods from which preachers of different Churches proclaimed repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, and it was supposed, by eye and ear witnesses, that between one and two thousand souls were happily and powerfully converted to God during the meeting. It was not unusual for one, two, three, and four to seven preachers to be addressing the listening thousands at the same time from the different stands erected for the purpose. The heavenly fire spread in almost every direction. It was said, by truthful witnesses, that at times more than one thousand persons broke into loud shouting all at once, and that the shouts could be heard for miles around. …

They would erect their camps with logs or frame them, and cover them with clapboards or shingles. They would also erect a shed, sufficiently large to protect five thousand people from wind and rain, and cover it with boards or shingles; build a large stand, seat the shed, and here they would collect together from forty to fifty miles around, sometimes further than that. Ten, twenty, and sometimes thirty ministers, of different denominations, would come together and preach night and day, four or five days together; and, indeed, I have known these camp-meetings to last three or four weeks, and great good resulted from them. I have seen more than a hundred sinners fall like dead men under one powerful sermon, and I have seen and heard more than five hundred Christians all shouting aloud the high praises of God at once; and I will venture to assert that many happy thousands were awakened and converted to God at these camp-meetings. Some sinners mocked, some of the old dry professors opposed, some of the old starched Presbyterian preachers preached against these exercises, but still the work went on and spread almost in every direction, gathering additional force, until our country seemed all coming home to God.

Two astonishing things happened. First, the meeting was simultaneously conducted by Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians. Many were impressed with the power of giving up denominational ties and the power of God to save in a setting that many would condemn. Indeed, this caused Stone to doubt the doctrine of election as he’d been taught it.

Second, the “exercises” of passing out and shouting led some to seek a more obvious manifestation of the Spirit. Stone describes the exercises in more detail in his autobiography

The scene to me was new, and passing strange. It baffled description. 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. After lying thus for hours, they obtained deliverance. The gloomy cloud, which had covered their faces, seemed gradually and visibly to disappear, and hope in smiles brightened into joy–they would rise shouting deliverance, and then would address the surrounding multitude in language truly eloquent and impressive. With astonishment did I hear men, women and children declaring the wonderful works of God, and the glorious mysteries of the gospel. Their appeals were solemn, heart-penetrating, bold and free. Under such addresses many others would fall down into the same state from which the speakers had just been delivered.

After attending to many such cases, my conviction was complete that it was a good work–the work of God; nor has my mind wavered since on the subject. Much did I then see, and much have I since seen, that I considered to be fanaticism; but this should not condemn the work. The Devil has always tried to ape the works of God, to bring them into disrepute. But that cannot be a Satanic work, which brings men to humble confession and forsaking of sin–to solemn prayer–fervent praise and thanksgiving, and to sincere and affectionate exhortations to sinners to repent and go to Jesus the Saviour.

Stone describes the “exercises” in some detail —

Sometimes the subject of the jerks would be affected in some one member of the body, and sometimes in the whole system. When the head alone was affected, it would be jerked backward and forward, or from side to side, so quickly that the features of the face could not be distinguished. When the whole system was affected, I have seen the person stand in one place, and jerk backward and forward in quick succession, their head nearly touching the floor behind and before. All classes, saints and sinners, the strong as well as the weak, were thus affected. I have inquired of those thus affected. They could not account for it; but some have told me that those were among the happiest seasons of their lives. I have seen some wicked persons thus affected, and all the time cursing the jerks, while they were thrown to the earth with violence. Though so awful to behold, I do not remember than any one of the thousands I have seen ever sustained an injury in body. This was as strange as the exercise itself.

The dancing exercise. This generally began with the jerks, and was peculiar to professors of religion. The subject, after jerking awhile, began to dance, and then the jerks would cease. such dancing was indeed heavenly to the spectators; there was nothing in it like levity, nor calculated to excite levity in the beholders. The smile of heaven shone on the countenance of the subject, and assimilated to angels appeared the whole person. Sometimes the motion was quick and sometimes slow. Thus they continued to move forward and backward in the same track or alley till nature seemed exhausted, and they would fall prostrate on the floor or earth, unless caught by those standing by. While thus exercised, I have heard their solemn praises and prayers ascending to God….

I shall close this chapter with the singing exercise. This is more unaccountable than any thing else I ever saw. The subject in a very happy state of mind would sing most melodiously, not from the mouth or nose, but entirely in the breast, the sounds issuing thence. Such music silenced every thing, and attracted the attention of all. It was most heavenly. None could ever be tired of hearing it. Doctor J. P. Campbell and myself were together at a meeting, and were attending to a pious lady thus exercised, and concluded it to be something surpassing any thing we had known in nature.

Convinced that these exercises were the work of God, Stone continued to follow this pattern of revival preaching —

At our night meeting at Concord, two little girls were struck down under the preaching of the word, and in every respect were exercised as those were in the south of Kentucky, as already described. Their addresses made deep impressions on the congregation. On the next day I returned to Caneridge, and attended my appointment at William Maxwell’s. I soon heard of the good effects of the meeting on the Sunday before. Many were solemnly engaged in seeking salvation, and some had found the Lord, and were rejoicing in him. … The crowd left the house, and hurried to this novel scene. In less than twenty minutes, scores had fallen to the ground–paleness, trembling, and anxiety appeared in all–some attempted to fly from the scene panic stricken, but they either fell, or returned immediately to the crowd, as unable to get away. In the midst of this exercise, an intelligent deist in the neighborhood, stepped up to me, and said, Mr. Stone, I always thought before that you were an honest man; but now I am convinced you are deceiving the people. I viewed him with pity, and mildly spoke a few words to him–immediately he fell as a dead man, and rose no more till he confessed the Saviour. The meeting continued on that spot in the open air, till late at night, and many found peace in the Lord.

This is not the same as modern speaking in tongues, but nonetheless is one of the key beginning points of modern Pentecostalism. Stone’s explanation is simple —

So low had religion sunk, and such carelessness universally had prevailed, that I have thought that nothing common could have arrested the attention of the world; therefore these uncommon agitations were sent for this purpose. However, this was their effect upon the community.

Stone clearly considered these “exercises” to be from God and to have been effective in bringing many people to Jesus. However, the practice did not continue long after the famous revival. Rather, in Stone’s own preaching, the biggest impact was to cause him to leave both Calvinism and denominationalism, as he saw with his own eyes that people could be saved by the faithful preaching of the gospel and receive the Spirit on the spot.

From the Stone-Campbell Journal

In the Christian Messenger of October, 1833 (7:314-316), Stone pondered four kinds of union—book, head, water, and fire—only one of which he believed had any hope of securing unity among believers. Book union as formulated in creeds and confessions become tests of fellowship that divide. Head union based on common understanding of the Bible becomes captive to the whims of individual opinion that breeds sectarianism. Water union based on all immersing believers is simply not possible. However, fire union, Stone’s way of depicting work of the Holy Spirit among believers, when allowed to hold sway, always will be the true bond of unity between Christians that can overcome every manner of human impediment.

In short, Stone found that the Spirit is alive, well, and active today to unite Christians and to bring men and women to salvation. He believed Alexander Campbell had too low a view of the Spirit’s work. We’ll see why in the next post.

Stone had been astonished to see people receive an outward manifestation of the Spirit from the preaching of a Methodists — who were not Calvinists and who weren’t preaching in accord with Calvinistic doctrine. It wasn’t supposed to happen! And if people can come to an obviously genuine faith by the preaching of a Methodist, then the Calvinists aren’t the only people among the elect, as they aren’t the only people with faith in Jesus.

This observation pushed Stone to leave the Presbyterian Church and ultimately begin what was intended to be a non-denominational movement. Of course, Stone never intended that his movement would result in his spiritual heirs considering Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians damned! The point of his life’s work was to overcome exactly that attitude — because he’d seen the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of men and women of many denominations — and only the saved can bear such fruit.

A note on the Calvinism of the day

Thomas Campbell and Stone were both excommunicated by their branches of the Presbyterian Church for failing to teach Calvinism in strict accordance with the creeds of the day. If you read the writings of Stone, the Campbells, Walter Scott, and many other Restoration pioneers, you can’t help but notice how both elements of the Movement began as reactions against Calvinism and creedalism — and had little to do with either baptism or instrumental music until many years later.

In those days, the prevailing Calvinistic doctrine of election insisted that no one could be saved unless empowered to believe by the Spirit (versions of total depravity and prevenient grace), and many a person believed himself unsaved because he’d never received evidence of his election. Faith was not considered enough.

The Stone-Campbell Movement rejected Calvinism primarily because it did not provide assurance and left people who believed in Christ waiting at the mourner’s bench for God’s special call. Instead they called penitent believers to be immersed for the remission of sins and to rest assured in the grace of God’s work in Christ which baptism pledged to them.

According to these early leaders, the TULIP prevented seekers from obtaining assurance except by their own subjective experiences for which they waited in agony and doubt. Consequently, the favorite target of early Reformers was the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit (as understood by the Regular Baptists).

John Mark Hicks, The Stone-Campbell Journal.

The revivalists of the early 19th Century, men such as Presbyterian Charles Finney, used the “mourner’s bench” or “anxious seat” to encourage members of the audience to truly repent. Finney wrote,

When sinners and backsliders are really convicted by the Holy Ghost, they are greatly ashamed of themselves. Until they manifest deep shame, it should be known that the probe is not used sufficiently, and they do not see themselves as they ought. When I go into a meeting of inquiry and look over the multitudes, if I see them with heads up, looking at me and at each other, I have learned to understand what work I have to do. Instead of pressing them immediately to come to Christ, I must go to work to convict them of sin. Generally by looking over the room, a minister can easily tell, not only who are convicted and who are not, but who are so deeply convicted as to be prepared to receive Christ. Some are looking around and manifest no shame at all; others cannot look you in the face and yet can hold up their heads; others still cannot hold up their heads and yet are silent; others by their sobbing, and breathing, and agonizing, reveal at once the fact that the sword of the Spirit has wounded them to their very heart. . . . [There must be] that kind of genuine and deep conviction which breaks the sinner and the backslider right down, and makes him unutterably ashamed and confounded before the Lord, until he is not only stripped of every excuse, but driven to go all lengths in justifying God and condemning himself.

Charles G. Finney, Reflections on Revival, ed. Donald W. Dayton. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1979), 16-17, quoted here.

Therefore, when the early Restoration leaders accepted converts on a simple declaration of faith and repentance, with no need to show that the “sword of the Spirit has wounded them to their very heart” and no need for self-abasement, it was considered revolutionary. Of course, most modern Calvinists would have no problem with this, believing that faith itself is an entirely sufficient proof of God’s grace.


26 Responses

  1. Jay,
    I will follow this series with great interest. I began a series on Baptism in the Holy Spirit Sunday of this week. My major thesis is that Christian baptism is in both water and Spirit.
    Jerry<a href=";

  2. Jay,
    I have been to Caneridge 3 times in my life. Each time I had a sense of the MYSTERIUM TREMENDUMS. I felt in my heart and soul that something significant happened there. It is a wonder to me that a movement partially born in a great Spirit-filled revival could end up being a spiritually dead church like the churches of Christ of the 20th century.

  3. I’m looking forward to this. Having grown up in the “indwelling of the Spirit by the word only” teaching, and actually changing my mind after listening to its champion defend it, I’m very interested to see where the different segments and leaders of the Church of Christ have been in regard to the Holy Spirit, and if there has been much change in thinking over the years in these segments as leaders come and go.

  4. Jay,

    i’m anxious to read this series. We had round table discussions last Sunday night at my congregation about the Holy Spirit. Of course, very little was concluded, and the discussion leader admitted he had more questions than answers. That’s the way i’ve felt about this for years. i started out trying to read a great deal on the subject. Nothing has really rung true to me at all. Not the “word only” position or the “non-miraculous indwelling” position nor the latent pentecostal ideas. And Calvinism doesn’t ring true to me at all for lots of reasons least of which is their position regarding the Spirit. Maybe i’m wrong, but it’s always seemed to me that no one i’ve encountered has it quite right. i most certainly don’t have it right since i have yet to form any definite positive claim. i definitely have a list of questions though.


  5. Jay and Guy,
    The Holy Spirit is God.

  6. Gary,

    I had to look it up, because my Latin is rusty, having never had Latin, you know.

    Anyway, EXACTLY! We’ve become exactly what Stone and the Campbells rebelled against.

  7. John,

    I’m not planning a thorough history of our views on the Spirit. I’m going to cover Campbell next, and then move into the scriptures.

    The churches that evolved into the a cappella Churches of Christ have been largely word-only for a long time, maybe to within a generation of Campbell.

  8. Jay and Gary,

    Am i understanding right that the various odd behaviors described in the Cane Ridge accounts is evidence that the people exhibiting those behaviors were “Spirit-filled,” and that the fact that people in the CoC do not exhibit those kinds of behaviors is evidence that those people are “spiritually dead”?

    Or did you mean those terms to refer to something other than the array of odd behaviors that are documented?


  9. Gary,

    Do you mean in the Nicene Creed sense or the modalist sense? Are you saying they are the same person?

  10. Guy,

    Stone considered those behavior to be from God. The readers may make their own decision.

    Do I believe those manifestations = filled with the Spirit? No. Does their absence mean we’re spiritually dead? No.

    Rather, the point is that Stone taught a vital, real, important theology of the Spirit that is deeply rooted in scriptures and his own experience. (I strongly recommend his autobiography, which is online in full text. The link is above.) Campbell taught a weaker theology of the Spirit but was far from a word-only proponent.

    By the 20th Century, the Churches of Christ denied the contemporary work of the Spirit — a teaching that was particularly strong in the 60s and 70s. And this was and is a serious error, making nonsense of huge portions of the scriptures and making much of Paul’s teachings incomprehensible — helping some to teach a works theology contrary to Galatians.

  11. Jay,


    Your last paragraph particular resonates with me. Where i hit a dead end in some of my trying to make sense of the Spirit passages is whether “miraculous” passages can be separated from (alleged) “non-miraculous” passages. Many conservatives have made these two categories and taught that all “Spirit” passages can be neatly divided up between the two.

    More or less, i’m a cessationist with respect to the miraculous abilities to speak in tongues, heal by touch, prophesy, know-instantaneously, etc. But contrary to a lot of conservatives, i don’t see where the NT allows me to make any clear division between that kind of work done by the Spirit and anything else the Spirit did for Christians in the 1st century. In other words, if i believe that the passages which speak of miraculous abilities don’t apply to me personally (in the sense that i don’t expect that i, a normal 21st century disciple, should expect to receive one of those abilities) then what justification do i have to think that any of the Spirit passages applies to me personally?

    i didn’t bring that up to debate the question of cessationism. That’s not really my point. My point is that if you think any of the NT passages about the Spirit’s work in the first century church do not apply to the 21st century church, then what reason is there to think any of them do apply today? How do you know the sanctifying work of the Spirit isn’t as first-century bound as the miraculous-healing-by-laying-on-of-hands work of the Spirit?

    Those questions still don’t quite capture the scope of the problem i’m getting at, but i hope you can see what i’m getting at.

    Any thoughts?


  12. Jay, no problem at all. I still look forward to the study. And I am sure that the responses of others will be very educational.

  13. Jay asked, not me but I will answer anyway. “Do you mean in the Nicene Creed sense or the modalist sense? Are you saying they are the same person?

    God and the Holy Spirit are the same being, and neither is a person. (as we define person)

  14. Laymond,

    i’d be very interested to know your definition of personhood and how it excludes God.


  15. Entry Word: person
    Function: noun
    Meaning: a member of the human race

    There are many different wordings of the same deffinition, and all but one agree. all except the one used within the trinity doctrine, which was made to fit the need. A spirit has no features and no personality, tell me what the personality of God looks like.

  16. Laymond,

    “Member of the human” race isn’t exactly what i had in mind. That may be one understanding of “person” but i’m not sure it catches all the connotations of “personality.” Is “personality” nothing more than “member-of-the-human-race-ness”?

    i’m not committed to an exact definition but defining and defending a definition is of great philosophical interest and debate. Things like consciousness, self-awareness, the ability to love, communicate, introspect, develop emotional relationships, and a great many more are all various criteria that have been proposed.

    Do no such criteria for personhood apply to God?


  17. (person)
    occurs 56 times in 54 verses in the KJV

    none of them fit your discription, person is represented by different Hebrew and Greek words, some translated mean face, some mean soul, and one in particular means the difference between man and God. in other words God is not a person, God is spirit.

  18. Laymond,

    we’re mincing words. People use “person” in modern vernacular in ways different from what you’ve defined. “Person” is what the KJV used to translate the particular Hebrew and Greek words. Those Hebrew and Greek words may refer only to the definition you’ve used. Fine. But surely you can grant that if you told someone “God is not a person,” she would likely take you to be denying a great deal more than just that God is a human being.

    If by “God is not a person” all you mean is “God is not a human being,” i’m not sure anyone will debate you on that point (except possibly a mormon). It’s not really an interesting thesis. But if you think that claim *also* somehow proves that God does not possess any qualities or features traditionally associated with personhood, that’s equivocation.


  19. Guy,

    I’ll try to get to those questions as we get into the posts on the Holy Spirit. It’s too early in the series to consider those questions — and they are good ones.

  20. Guy said, “Laymond, we’re mincing words. People use “person” in modern vernacular in ways different from what you’ve defined.”

    Guy , I though we were discussing the wording of the trinity doctrine, surely you are not going to claim, that doctrine was written in modern day america.

  21. Laymond,

    (1) At the end of your 7:15am post you said “as we define a person.” i took “we” to mean us now living in modern times.

    (2) Not sure what you mean by “wording of the trinity doctrine”–if the original creeds or anyone who espouses that idea. But either way, do you think those documents or those people *intend* by saying “God exists in three persons” to communicate that “God exists in three human beings”?


  22. The Word was God.
    The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.

    ‘Nuff said.

  23. This is what Jay asked, “Do you mean in the Nicene Creed sense or the modalist sense? Are you saying they are the same person?”

    This is what I said,”God and the Holy Spirit are the same being, and neither is a person. (as we define person)”

    Gen 1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

    1Sa 10:10 And when they came thither to the hill, behold, a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.
    Act 10:44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.
    Act 10:46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God.
    Do you believe there is a difference between the Spirit of God, and the Holy Ghost.or the Spirit of God and God. ( same being) and God does not fit within the description, person, people or human.

  24. Laymond,

    “Holy Ghost” is simply another way to say “Holy Spirit.” In 1611, “ghost” meant “spirit” — as in “he gave up the ghost.” In the Greek, there is no difference at all and the modern translations all drop “ghost” in favor of “spirit.”

    Is God human or people? No.

    Is God a “person”? It’s a question of definition ( —

    1. a human being, whether man, woman, or child: The table seats four persons.
    2. a human being as distinguished from an animal or a thing.
    3. Sociology . an individual human being, esp. with reference to his or her social relationships and behavioral patterns as conditioned by the culture.
    4. Philosophy . a self-conscious or rational being.
    5. the actual self or individual personality of a human being: You ought not to generalize, but to consider the person you are dealing with.
    6. the body of a living human being, sometimes including the clothes being worn: He had no money on his person.
    7. the body in its external aspect: an attractive person to look at.
    8. a character, part, or role, as in a play or story.
    9. an individual of distinction or importance.
    10. a person not entitled to social recognition or respect.
    11. Law . a human being (natural person) or a group of human beings, a corporation, a partnership, an estate, or other legal entity (artificial person or juristic person) recognized by law as having rights and duties.
    12. Grammar . a category found in many languages that is used to distinguish between the speaker of an utterance and those to or about whom he or she is speaking. In English there are three persons in the pronouns, the first represented by I and we, the second by you, and the third by he, she, it, and they. Most verbs have distinct third person singular forms in the present tense, as writes; the verb be has, in addition, a first person singular form am.
    13. Theology . any of the three hypostases or modes of being in the trinity, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

    The definition from philosophy (4) is a comfortable one for the discussion, even if you don’t want to resolve the question by definition per 13.

    I’m a lawyer, and we call corporations “persons.” The Supreme Court just ruled that corporations as legal persons have freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

    In any context, when the question is whether someone is like a human in the sense of having rights, authority, personality, emotions, or the like, we reach for “person” as a term to pick up the idea.

    If one day computers are programmed with feelings and self-awareness, we’ll wind up litigating whether such a computer is a “person” — not human but someone with a personality that we ought to accord at least the same respect as a human.

    When we say God is a “person,” the point is that he isn’t an impersonal force. He’s not Gaia or the “the Force.” He’s someone with free will, emotions, and purpose.

    I don’t know of a better word to use than “person” — other than perhaps “entity.” But “entity” (also a lawyer word) is really pretentious sounding.

    Indeed, “entity” conveys no sense of having personality —

    1. something that has a real existence; thing: corporeal entities.
    2. being or existence, esp. when considered as distinct, independent, or self-contained: He conceived of society as composed of particular entities requiring special treatment.
    3. essential nature: The entity of justice is universality.

    And do we really want to revert to “hypostases”? Not a pretty word.

  25. Jay said.
    I’m a lawyer, and we call corporations “persons.” The Supreme Court just ruled that corporations as legal persons have freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

    No offence to you personally, but that is mostly what is wrong with government today, ” lawyers” yes the supreme court made a stupid ruling (not the first one) but that don’t mean Christians should follow their example.
    I thought you were against “legalism” like all lawyers, you picked the two examples out of thirteen that could be twisted to mean what you want it to, and ignored the rest. “hung jury”
    advise to Jay, if you want to make a good first impression, introduce your self as a Christian, let that soak in for a while before you admit to being a lawyer 🙂
    and never admit to being a Washington lawyer. ;(

  26. […] (May 9, 2010.) As an example of how things are changing, see Jay Guin’s current series on the Holy Spirit. The link is to the 1st article, posted on May 5 – 1 day prior to this post, but after this […]

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