“Virginia was the scene of a great revival of religion, chiefly under the labors of that warm-hearted English
evangelist, George Shadford, in 1775 and 1776.”
The revival took place along the Brunswick Circuit, the oldest Methodist circuit in America, established in 1773. The Methodist preachers then were known as “circuit riders.” They were responsible for a large area in which preaching houses were established and new preaching points began with the aim of making Christ known, loved and obeyed. In that time, the Brunswick Circuit was comprised of 14 counties in southeastern Virginia and extended into Bute and Halifax counties in North Carolina.
Mr. Thomas Rankin, sent by John Wesley to America, visited Shadford on the Brunswick circuit during the height of the revival. He gives the following account of a Sunday he spent with Shadford:“We went to the chapel at ten, where I had liberty of mind and strength and body beyond my expectation. After preaching I met the society, and was more relieved both in body and mind. At four in the afternoon, I preached again, from ‘I set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it’ (Revelation 3:8). I had gone through about two-thirds of my discourse and was bringing the words home to the present now, when such power descended that hundreds fell to the ground, and the house seemed to shake with the presence of God. The chapel was full of white and black, and many were without that could not get in. Look where ever we would we saw nothing but streaming eyes and faces bathed in tears; and heard nothing but groans and strong cries after God and the Lord Jesus Christ. My voice was drowned amid the groans and prayers of the congregation. I then sat down in the pulpit, and both Mr. Shadford and I were so filled with the divine presence that we could only say, ‘this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!’ (Genesis 28:7) Husbands were inviting their wives to go to heaven, wives, their husbands: parents their children and children and their parents: brothers their sisters and sisters their brothers. In short, those who were happy in God themselves were for bringing all their friends to him in their arms. This mighty effusion of the Spirit continued for above an hour: in which time many were awakened, some found peace with God, and others his pure love. We attempted to speak or sing again and again; but no sooner had we begun than our voices were drowned. It was with much difficulty that we at last persuaded the people, as night drew on, to retire to their own homes.”
Rankin also attended one of Shadford’s quarterly meetings, of which he says: “No chapel or preaching-house in Virginia would have contained one third of the congregation. Our friends, knowing this, had contrived to shade with boughs of trees a space that would contain two or three thousand persons. Under this, fully screened from the rays of the sun, we held our general love-feast. It began between eight and nine on Wednesday morning, and continued till noon. Many testified that they had ‘redemption through the blood’ of Jesus, (Ephesians 1:7) ‘even the forgiveness of sins’ (Colossians 1:14). And many were able to declare that it had cleansed them ‘from all sin’ (1 John 1:9). So clear, so full, so strong was their testimony, that while some were speaking their experience hundreds were in tears, and others vehemently crying to God for pardon or holiness. “About eight our watch-night began. Pastor Jarratt preached an excellent sermon; the rest of the preachers exhorted and prayed with divine energy. Surely, for the work wrought on those two days, many will praise God to all eternity.”
It was recorded as a remarkable fact that “many children from eight to ten years old are now under strong convictions, and some of them are savingly converted to God;” a hint at the prevailing notion among Christians of those times that it was out of the mouth of grown up people only that the Lord could have any perfect praise. (Matthew 21:16) “One of the doctrines, which are particularly insisted upon,” writes Pastor Jarratt, “is, that of a present salvation; a salvation not only from the guilt and power, but also from the root of sin; a cleansing from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, that we may perfect holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1); going on to perfection (Hebrews 6:1-2), which we sometimes define by ‘Loving God with all our heart’ (Mark 12:30). Several who had believed were deeply sensible of their want of this. I have seen both men and women, who had long been happy in a sense of God’s pardoning love, as much convicted on account of the remains of sin in their hearts, and as much distressed for a total deliverance from them, as I ever saw for justification” (Romans 4:25).
*Quotes taken from The Illustrated History of Methodism in Great Britain and America, from the Days of the Wesleys to the Present Time By Rev. W. H. Daniels, A.M. Copyright 1879, by Phillips & Hunt, New York.