Monroe County Churches & Religion


Old Time Revivalist

When I was a boy every Church held at least one revival meeting a year. As a rule, it continued through three weeks, even longer if “interest” continued, by which was meant if unconverted people continued to turn out. High-powered exhorters always were brought in from a distance. Most of them were professional revivalists, well schooled in human nature and none too particular about their methods.

The first week of this annual effort was devoted to trimming the saints down to size.

How much money did you contribute last year, he would demand to know, then answer his own question by reading receipts and expenditures for the previous year. Robbers and hypocrites, he would exclaim, as he thumbed quickly to what the Prophet Malachi had said on the subject. Will a man rob God, he would quote, and thunder for the prophet’s answer, which was that men robbed God by withholding their tithes and offerings from the treasury. By the time he was through the brethren felt that a snake in the grass was more respectable than they.

Another night, the evangelist would discourse on the small number of additions to the church during the past year. It was proof to him that the Devil had received no opposition from the congregation, whereupon more vials of wrath, scorn and vituperation would be poured upon the offending saints. How were they going to answer to an angry God for the neighbors and friends that were posting into an everlasting hell because of the loafers, vagrants and idlers who were sitting before him?

Another night the visitor would relate things he had been told about worldliness in the local community. Parents whose sons and daughters were permitted to play cards or attend dances or go to shows were panned without mercy. And thus it went through the first seven nights, during which sinners had been attracted to the church for the fun of hearing the brethren get what was coming. The, on the theory that the hypocrites would repent and bring forth fruits mete for repentance, the evangelist would shift the gears to those who had never made their peace with God. Each night people were warned about the uncertainty of life, the certainty of death, the terrors of an everlasting hell. Every sermon was punctuated with stories about men and women who showed signs of surrender at a night service, saying they would decide tomorrow, only to be overtaken by the Death Angel and find themselves in hell before sunrise.

When sinners showed too little interest in invitations to come forward, make public confession and seek membership in the Church, the saints were urged to move out into the congregation and do something about it. Occasionally one would kneel in prayer beside a friend or relative. Others would personally implore and exhort somebody to repent and go forward. All the while, the evangelist was exhorting and the congregation was singing. Too often, response was disappointing, whereupon, after a hurried conference, the pastor and evangelist would announce that an “after meeting” would be held. An after meeting was one that would be held immediately following the benediction, to make things easier for any timid soul who lacked courage to make a profession at the regular service. If any unconverted individuals remained, they became objects of personal solicitation, while the congregation sang the old revival hymn, “Almost Persuaded.: If none remained the preacher took it out on the saints, who were warned that blood of souls that might have been saved would be visited upon them on Judgment Day.

Most always, prayer meetings were held from home to home during the day, mostly attended by women. Men who stayed in their offices, stores and shops were rather unpopular with the visiting minister and rated among the lost sheep of the House of Israel, whatever that was. First and last, however, there were no dull days until the revival was over.

I recall the case of a fine local citizen who had become addicted to drink. After mastering the habit, he went before the congregation to which he belonged, making a tearful confession, asking forgiveness and promising to live worthily the balance of his life, which he did. Long after he had been in an honored grave he was made the subject of a vigorous sermon and roundly denounced by a visiting revivalist. I gave that preacher the skinning he so richly deserved in my paper that week, stirring up so much resentment at his Un-Christian conduct that he confessed his error and asked that he be forgiven for whatever harm he had done. But he had gone too far. Members of the good man’s family, very influential people, quit the Church and never came back.

People who played cards or who danced or took an occasional drink of liquor were special targets of those professional evangelists. Most of them took pot shots at other denominations than their own. While unwilling to go so far as to say salvation in any other fold was impossible, they did what they could to create the impression that there was no sense in taking a chance.


Source: When I Was a Boy by Jack Blanton