February 4: The Cane Ridge Revival & the Cumberland Presbyterians

This Day in Presbyterian History:  

Getting up a Revival

We all remember the events which made up the first great awakening in the colonies.  Men like Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, Gilbert Tennent, and New Side Presbyterians took the gospel up the length and breadth of the new land, bringing many to Christ and reviving Christians and churches.  While clearly there were some excesses in emotional outbursts by the people, the essential key in this divine awakening was a stress on total dependence on God’s sovereignty in bringing His elect to Christ.

Fast forward in your thinking to the late seventeen hundreds and early eighteen hundreds. There was a change going on in the country.  Westward expansion had taken place as hundreds of settlers moved to Kentucky and Tennessee.  Specifically, in what is known as the Cumberland Valley of those latter two and later states, Scot-Irish  filled in the population of the area.  What didn’t increase was the number of trained ministers in the Presbyterian church who were able to travel with these westward church members.  All the ingredients of difficulty were present immediately.

First, there were extensive revivals taking place in SW Kentucky and Cane Ridge, Kentucky.  These were continuous meetings, often preached by 7 and 8 ministers of all denominations, with emotionalism running high and seemingly out of control.   It is not that people were not being converted.  They were, but eastern Presbyterians felt that such emotionalism was too man-centered instead of God-centered.

Then, with converts joining the few churches available and starting  others, the issue of educated men to pastor them became the issue.  The College of New Jersey (later called Princeton) was a long way off from these frontier settlements.   The formal practice of their faith failed to comfort the hardships experienced by the early pioneers.  So the local Presbytery of Cumberland proceeded to ordain large numbers of men without education.  Further, these men were allowed to express dissent from the Westminster Standards, especially chapter 3 which dealt with God’s eternal decrees, or predestination.

The Synod of Kentucky, as the next higher church court, demanded that they be allowed to re-examine all of the ordained men of the Cumberland Presbytery, whom they deemed to be without sufficient training for the pastorate.  When the Presbytery refused their request, the Synod dissolved the Presbytery of Cumberland.  Their action dismissing the Presbytery was affirmed by the General Assembly.

» “The Fathers who formed the first Cumberland Presbytery : Ewing, McAdow & King »

On February 4, 1810, four ministers gathered together near present day Burn, Tennessee, and after a night of prayer, these four former ministers of the PCUSA Cumberland Presbytery, reorganized the Cumberland Presbytery as a separate body outside the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.  Their names were Samuel McAdow, Ephraim McLean, Finis Ewing, and Samuel King.  They were joined by six licentiates and seven candidates for the ministry.  As they drew others into their fold, this Presbytery became the Cumberland Synod in 1813, which in turn became the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1829.

The issue of education became muted along the way, as the denomination began to sponsor various colleges, and later established the Memphis Theological Seminary. But the issue of Calvinism has been taken out of the picture altogether in this new church, in that the first four points of the “five points” of Calvinism, namely, total depravity, unconditional election, particular redemption, and efficacious grace is denied by this denomination.  They still hold  to the perseverance of the saints.

A portion of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church re-joined the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in the early nineteen hundreds, but not all joined, so that there is in existence today a Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

« The last General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, meeting in Decatur, Illinois, May 17-25, 1906, as they prepared to merge with the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A..

Also on this day :
Robert Dick Wilson was born this day, February 4, 1856, in Indiana, Pennsylvania.
The Robert Dick Wilson Manuscript Collection is preserved at the PCA Historical Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

Words to Live By:
Doctrinal shallowness leads to doctrinal denial.  The whole counsel of God must be proclaimed, letting God’s Spirit  bring people to Himself and training them in doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Through the Scriptures: Exodus 25 – 27

Through the Standards: Proof Texts for the Confessional Standard’s Treatment of Creation—

Genesis 1:1
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  (NAS)

Colossians 1:16
“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him.” (NAS)

Hebrews 1:1 – 2
“God . . . in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” (NAS)

Image sources: 1. McDonnold, B.W., History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Nashville, TN: Board of Publication of Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1888. Plate facing page 48 ; 2. Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society, Volume III (1905-1906), plate facing page 301.


  1. Vaughn Edward Hathaway Jr’s avatar

    Apart from the fact that four of the five points of Calvinism ARE (were) denied by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, it can hardly be said that the denomination maintains the fifth point since the CPC has become one of the more liberal protestant denominations in America. Furthermore, there is a second Cumberland Presbyterian Church that was formerly known as the Colored Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which was formed in the 1870s. Today, it is known as the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America and remain separate from the original Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The two denominations considered merging in the 1980s but the plan fell through when the primarily white Cumberland Presbyterian Church refused to approve the plan of union because it provided for equal representation of members of both denominations on boards and agencies of the potential merged church.

    I find it interesting that the Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ (Campbellites) originated in the same general area of Kentucky and Tennessee about the same time and for the same reasons as did the Cumberland Church.


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