An Awakening in Central Virginia

Presbyterianism was planted in eastern Virginia in the late 1600s and early 1700s with the arrival and ministry of Francis Makemie. As pioneer settlers, many of them Scotch-Irish,  migrated down the Valley of Virginia, they brought Presbyterianism with them. These seeds were watered by the ministry of such men as John Blair, John Craig and Alexander Craighead, and others, who planted and organized congregations along the Blue Ridge. But in-between, the established Anglican church dominated the colony of Virginia, and as a consequence, parish preaching often led to a spiritual dormancy. 

As Ezra H. Gillett notes, "The rise of Presbyterianism in Hanover is inseparably connected with what is known by tradition as Morris' Reading-House" (History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, Vol. 1, p. 111). The spirit of God began to stir in the County of Hanover around 1740, an awakening which centered, in the providence of God, upon Samuel Morris, a simple brick mason who was anxious for the state of his soul, and, as a result, began to read such works as Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians, Thomas Boston's Fourfold State, and the sermons of George Whitefield, who had preached in Williamsburg in 1739, and began to embrace true Biblical experimental piety. He organized meetings in his home with family and neighbors to pray, read Scriptures and discuss these books. These Sabbath afternoon meetings became so popular that crowds grew, necessitating the erection of a meeting-place, which became known as "Morris' Reading House," while attendance upon the parish churches began to decline. This decline became so precipitous that the authorities in their alarm summoned Morris and his friends to appear before the Governor's Council in Williamsburg "to declare their creed and name." Being largely unacquainted with church history, and referencing the works of Luther, they were apparently identified as "Lutherans" and allowed to continue their meetings. Another report, said by Ernest T. Thompson to be "almost certainly apocryphal" (Presbyterians in the South, Vol. 1, p. 52), claims that on their way to Williamsburg, Morris and company happened upon a copy of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which they found most agreeable to their religious sentiments. Governor Gooch, when presented with this document, being a Scotsman himself, is said to have immediately identified the group as Presbyterian dissenters whose right to worship was protected under the Toleration Act. 

It was in the winter of 1742-1743 that the Rev. William "One-Eyed" Robinson was sent by the Presbytery of New Castle to minister to points south, which included Hanover. Archibald Alexander's Biographies of the Log College Men gives an account of Robinson's arrival there (included in that account is a 1751 letter by Samuel Davies, which further incorporates a letter by Samuel Morris describing the experience of Robinson's ministry there). On July 6, 1743, Robinson preached the first Presbyterian sermon in those parts, and he stayed for three further days, fanning the flames of revival. Morris called those four days the "glorious days of the Son of Man." As a token of thanks, a substantial financial gift was offered to Robinson, which he declined. Edward Mack relates the account thus: "The first Presbyterian preacher who came to this Hanover flock was William Robinson, whose four days of preaching in 1743 bore fruit in earnest throngs and many converts. Being a man of means, Robinson refused money for these days of preaching. But discovering a large roll of bills slipped into his saddle-bags without his knowledge, he dedicated it to the education of a young man for the ministry, in the hope that he might come to Virginia. So it was that a poor, struggling young man, Samuel Davies, became the beneficiary of Virginia’s first gift for Ministerial Education, and after a few years, in 1747, this same Samuel Davies, at the age of twenty-three, came to these Presbyterians of Hanover as their first regular minister." Thus, a congregation was planted, Polegreen Church (which was attended by Patrick Henry), and eventually in 1755 the Hanover Presbytery itself was organized, "the mother-Presbytery of most of the churches and Presbyteries south of the Potomac" (Robert Ellis Thompson, A History of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, p. 38). 

Ruth the Moabitess

The life of Ruth the Moabitess, the great-grandmother of King David, has lessons that are instructive for us today. Archibald Alexander once wrote a tract that is little-known today titled Ruth the Moabitess, or The Power of True Religion, in which he sets forth some of those lessons for our consideration. 

"1. The power of true religion appears in making persons willing to abandon all idolatry, and all false notions and corrupt institutions of religion, in which they have been educated, or to which by inclination they may have been attached....Ruth the Moabitess was brought up an idolater, no doubt, but sovereign grace had touched her heart. By hearing she had been brought to believe, and under the influence of this new principle she turns her back on all the false deities which she had been accustomed to revere, and says to a pious Israelite, 'Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.'...

2. The power of religion is manifest in making persons willing to forsake their nearest and dearest earthly relatives, when their duty to their God and Saviour requires it. Those ties which bind men together are often so strong that they will lay down their lives for the preservation of those who are nearly related to them. But the love of Christ is stronger than all natural affections—stronger than the love of life itself. If our Lord had not known the power of his religion, he would never had laid down such terms of discipleship, as to forsake father and mother, wife and children, houses and land, yea our own life for his sake....

3. The power of true religion is again manifest in leading its votaries to choose the service of God, and the people of God, although the choice is in direct opposition to natural inclinations and worldly interests, and even though poverty and affliction should be the inevitable consequence. This is a good description of true religion. It consists in the deliberate choice of God as our God, and of his people as our people. They who make this choice have been divinely illuminated. Of all such it may truly be said, 'flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto them, but their Father who is in heaven.'...

4. The power of true religion is remarkably manifest in this, that it enables its possessor to stand firm when others turn back. When religion flourishes, there will be some who profess to follow Christ, and yet have no root in them. The blessed Saviour most strikingly characterizes them by the seed sown on a rock, which, though it quickly sprung up, soon withered away. During Christ's ministry, many followed him for a season,—but they were led on by low and selfish motives. And when their carnal expectations were disappointed, they would proceed no further, but 'went back from him.' Thus it was in the apostolic churches; some of high professions and high standing fell away. But the foundation of God is immovable, for the 'Lord knoweth them that are his.' 'They went out from us because they were not of us.' These are sifting times. Satan is ready to suggest to the sincere disciple, 'you may as well follow the example,' and for a moment the pious soul may be ready to slide, while he sees those apostatising of whose piety he had entertained a much more exalted opinion than of his own. But there is in him an imperishable seed, and he cannot sin deliberately. No, his heart is fixed, and however many may draw back unto perdition, his resolution becomes stronger; like the oak shaken by the storm he takes firmer root....

5. The power of religion appears, not only in resolving and choosing, but more especially in acting and enduring. Ruth goes to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law. The whole town is moved on their arrival, 'And they said, Is this Naomi?' And she said, 'Call me not Naomi, (which signifies pleasant) but call me Mara, (which signifies bitter) for the Almighty hath dealt bitterly with me.' Ruth is now in a strange land, and her mother-in-law being old, the burden of labour falls on her. The poor in Israel had a right by the law to the scattered stalks which the reapers left, and to every handful which they dropped, and to any sheaf which they forgot, and to what grew in the corners of the field. The poverty of these two widows is further evident, from the circumstance of Ruth's going out to glean after the reapers, from day to day. But she made no complaint. She cheerfully performed her duty, and patiently submitted to these humiliating circumstances."

Take up this short tract which has blessed others (as mentioned by J.W. Alexander in the biography he wrote of his father) and may its lessons and applications be a blessing to you, dear reader.