Bishop Elliott’s Conversion

The Presbyterian Revival which gave Georgia its first Episcopal Bishop

The following describes a South Carolina revival (circa 1831) preached by a Presbyterian that led to the first Episcopal Bishop of Georgia having a conversion experience and seeking Holy Orders. This text is taken from The Life and Labours of the Rev. Daniel Baker, Part 4, by William Mumford Baker (W.S. & A. Martien, 1859) pages 145-156

The revival in my church having been noised abroad (the narrative proceeds,) and this having originated in a protracted meeting, meetings of this kind were held in various places. One was appointed in Gillisonville, South Carolina, to which I was invited, and which led to very important results. Something like sixty persons were hopefully converted; two or three of whom subsequently became preachers of the gospel; one, Mr. W. Barnwell, is still pastor of a flourishing Episcopal church in Charleston. Shortly after this, I attended a protracted meeting in Grahamsville, South Carolina, and also in a certain church on May River, Doth of which were also greatly blessed; but a meeting held about this time in Beaufort, South Carolina, was, of all others, the most remarkable. By the influence of Mr. W. Barnwell, who resided in Beaufort, but was converted in Gillisonville, I received a pressing invitation to visit Beaufort. I went; and there being no Presbyterian church in the place, I preached alternately in the Baptist and Episcopal churches. The Episcopal minister, the Rev. Mr. Walker, was very cordial, and offered me the use of his pulpit. Knowing the peculiar views of our Episcopal brethren, I proposed standing below; but he insisted upon it that I should go into his pulpit. (This I would do after the reading of the Episcopal service.) O what blessed meetings we had! Three times every day did I preach, and night and day to full houses. Besides, it was usual to have what was called a “concert of prayer,” at the going down of the sun. A few would meet in the house of a neighbour, and after singing

” Blow ye the trumpet,” &c.,

would unite in a short prayer. Those who could not meet, would hold family worship in their own houses, or retire at the same hour for private prayer. The meeting continued to increase in interest until the period fixed upon for its close.

At this time I fully intended to return to Savannah, but was finally prevailed on to continue a few days longer—even until the whole time was ten days. The crowds which attended were very great. The whole number of persons hopefully converted amounted to about eighty, embracing many heads of families, and individuals of almost every age, from fourteen to eighty-six. Towards the close of the meeting, I invited those who had lately obtained a hope, to occupy certain seats, to be addressed as a distinct class; and very interesting was the sight, to see amongst the young converts, Colonel D. S., a most venerable, patriarchal man, of four-score and six. He had, in his youth, followed the celebrated Whitefield, and heard him preach many sermons, without any saving effect. Subsequently he had been, at several times, Intendant of the city of Charleston, and was, all his life-long, if I mistake not, a confirmed Unitarian, until the period of Ms conversion. Here was one emphatically called in at the eleventh hour.

Many of the converts were young men; eight of whom, as I have since been informed, devoted themselves to the service of God, in the sacred office. One of them, a talented lawyer, upon his conversion, grasped my hand with strong emotion, and exclaimed, “O, Mr. Baker, I have an ocean of joy!” —adding, “what would have become of me, if you had not come here]” Another, seeing me pass by the door of his house, rushed out, and seizing me by the hand, observed, ” Only to think, that that name which I used to blaspheme, is now my only hope! And now,” said he, ” I think I can forgive a person every thing in the world except one thing.” “You must forgive your bitterest enemy,” said I. “But what,” said he, “if any person should attempt to take away my Saviour?’ Another of the young men, devoted to the ministry, has, for many years, been the Episcopal Bishop of Georgia. Mr. R. Barnwell, subsequently President of South Carolina College, was also brought in at this meeting; and so was Mr. Grayson, who has since been a distinguished member of Congress.

At that time Mr. Grayson, a highly talented man, was editor of the Beaufort Gazette, and upon the close of the meeting, published in his paper the following well-written account of the revival.

“We had frequently heard of religious revivals with no concern, we regret to say, when our little town became the scene of these striking and interesting events. The Rev. Daniel Baker, of Savannah, has been with us for some time, and never, surely, since the days of the Apostles, has more fervid zeal, or ardent piety, or untiring labour been devoted by a Christian minister to his cause. For ten unwearied days, from morning until nine at night, have we heard the strongest and most impassioned appeals to the heads and hearts of his hearers. All that is terrible or beautiful; all that is winning or appalling; all that could steal, and charm, and soothe the heart, or shake its careless security, and command its attention to the truths of religion, we have seen pressed upon our community with an earnestness, energy, and affectionate persuasiveness almost irresistible.

“The effect no one can conceive, who was not present. Politics were forgotten; business stood still; the shops and stores were shut; the schools closed; one subject only appeared to occupy all minds, and engross all hearts. The church was filled to overflowing; seats, galleries, aisles, exhibited a dense mass of human beings, from hoary age to childhood. In this multitude of all ages and conditions, there were occasional pauses, when a pin dropping might have been distinctly heard. When the solemn stillness was broken by the voice of the preacher, citing the impenitent to appear before the judgment-seat of heaven; reproving, persuading, imploring, by the most thrilling appeals to every principle of his nature; and when crowds moved forward and fell prostrate at the foot of the altar, and the rich music of hundreds of voices, and the solemn accents of prayer rose over the kneeling multitude, it was not in human hearts to resist the influence that awoke its sympathies, and spoke its purest and most elevated feeling.

“There stood the messenger of Truth; there stood The legate of the skies. His theme divine, His office sacred, and his credentials clear. By him the violated law spoke out Its thunders; and by him, in strains as sweet As angels use, the gospel whispered peace.’ ” The union of sects produced on the occasion was not the least striking feature of the event. Distinctions were laid aside. Christians of all denominations met and worshipped together, indiscriminately, in either church, and the cordiality of their mutual attachment was a living commentary on the great precept of their Teacher, ” Love one another.” Animosities, long continued, were sacrificed; coldness and formality were forgotten. Our community seemed like one great family, and it was impossible not to exclaim, ‘What a beautiful thing is this religion! How it cheers, and warms, and elevates! How successfully it inculcates peace on earth, and good will among men!’ The cordial co-operation of our pastors was another interesting circumstance; there was no petty jealousy, no distrust, no hanging back. They regarded themselves as labourers in one vineyard, and the minor interests of a part were merged for the time in the larger and more comprehensive concerns of the whole Christian Church, of which they are all equally members. We are not surprised that these revivals are hailed with enthusiastic delight by professors of religion. They are triumphs indeed of the faith to which they adhere; and the accounts of them must fall upon their ears like glad tidings of great joy. Even to the most careless observer, however disposed to be sceptical or speculative, or occupying, as he may, the cold and cheerless region of a self-dependent philosophy, such a scene as we have lately witnessed must possess no small interest. He sees religion in a new aspect, arrayed in beauty that he never dreamed of:

Not harsh or crabbed— But musical as is Apollo’s lute: And a perpetual feast of nectared sweets, Where no crude surfeit reigns.’ “‘What,’ he may say, ‘if the Christian is wrong? His joys are nevertheless pure, elevated, and intellectual; and he is animated through life with the cheering hope of an immortality of happiness. If his be a delusion, it is one to be envied, not avoided; but what if he should be right]’”

In regard to this remarkable revival, an Episcopal minister, well acquainted with the circumstances, thus writes:

“The Rev. Daniel Baker, a Presbyterian minister, visited Grahamville, and preached with remarkable success. Many of the young and the old, the lawyers and planters,’ turned to the Lord.’ The duellist threw away his pistols, the infidel believed in Christ, political feuds were forgotten, and the power of the gospel confessed.

“A desire to participate in these benefits induced some pious citizens of Beaufort to invite Mr. Baker to visit them. The notice of his visit, and of the proposed religious services, was sent from house to house. In one instance, it was received at a whist club, during their weekly meeting, and read aloud by one of the party amidst shouts of merriment. The intended meeting, its originators, objects, and agents, all afforded ample scope for ridicule. Some advised abstaining from the services by way of frowning down such folly. But, confident of their ability to withstand all the preacher’s snares, they determined to attend, and prove the strength of their own armour. But a stronger than they was about’ to come upon them,’ and strip them of the armour wherein they trusted.

“Not many days after, eight of this party of eleven were found ‘sitting at the feet of Jesus,’ and testifying to the power of his grace. One of the number is now a bishop, and another an esteemed presbyter of the Episcopal Church.

“The services were held twice or thrice a day, alternately in the Episcopal and Baptist churches, the only two places of worship in the town; the use of the Episcopal church being tendered by the Vestry for that purpose. The congregations increased daily; the whole community, laying aside their avocations, gave themselves up to the religious services. The word was ‘with power,’ whenever and by whomsoever preached. The consciences of sinners were aroused. The hearts of God’s people were moved to earnest, prevailing intercession. Every day brought accessions to the ranks of those who ‘mourned for sin.’ Every day witnessed the joy of those who exchanged tears of sorrow for smiles of happiness in attaining a hope of salvation. The voice of praise and thanksgiving burst forth from lips unused to the worship of God. The scoffer knelt down in the church to pray. The proud formalist wept over his sins, and sought the intercessions of his friends. The gambler left his cards, and the convivialist his bottle, and ‘ went with the multitude to the house of God.’ The interval between the public services was spent in prayer in private houses, in conference with the ministers, and in religious conversation. The consciousness of eternity seemed impressed upon every individual. ‘ The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the’ community. A holy atmosphere pervaded the town, and affected the entire population to a degree unparalleled, save in the revival described by President Edwards, at Northampton, in 1735.

“It is difficult to convey an idea of the feeling which characterized the religious assemblies. It was not noisy, like the brawling brook; but deep, still, solemn, like the mighty river. Once, at the close of an evening service, when the congregation seemed to drink in the preached gospel, the minister invited those who desired the prayers of their brethren to kneel around the chancel. There was a momentary pause in. the church, when, simultaneously, every pew door appeared to fly open; and not the chancel only, but the aisles also, were thronged with a kneeling multitude, in solemn silence, ‘waiting for the moving of the waters.’ God was manifestly present ‘in the assemblies of his saints.’ The truths of the gospel were realized as they never had been before, and the ‘ people believed in the Lord,’ and gave glory to his name.

“But what were the effects of this deep feeling. Most of our readers have probably seen enough of the transient influence of’ revivals,’ so called, to distrust the results of religious excitement. But the ‘fruits’ of this movement remain, and are obvious at the present day. As the whole population felt the divine impulse, some, doubtless, did not obey; but the great majority became consistent and useful Christans, filling many stations of honour and influence in the church and in the world.

“The results of this revival upon the congregations in Beaufort, are as follows: The number of communicants was increased manifold. At the first visitation of Bishop Bowen, after this meeting, seventy, chiefly of the young, the refined, and the wealthy, presented themselves for confirmation, sincerely offering their hearts to God. About the same number of whites, and very many blacks, also joined the Baptists. It is a singular fact, attesting the disinterestedness of the preacher, that out of two or three hundred conversions in Beaufort, under Mr. Baker’s ministry, not one became a Presbyterian. The Episcopalians and Baptists reaped the fruit of his labours. He seemed intent upon the conversion of souls; and the Lord wonderfully blessed his preaching to the saving of many. Others came in more slowly to the Episcopal church, making the addition of communicants, during the year, one hundred. Of this number, but two have drawn back from their profession; one of whom had been intemperate for many years. Six months after the events described, the writer was present at their communion, and saw, what he has never seen elsewhere, the entire congregation, with two exceptions, remain for the sacrament. When the children retired, two adults arose and left the church. The rest of the congregation partook of the ordinance.

“The parish church has been increased to twice its original capacity, and is better filled now than it was before, though the population of the town has not advanced in fifty years.

“The effects of the revival were as visible upon the community as upon the church. It seasoned with its holy savour all the intercourse of society. The truths of God’s word, the glories of his gospel, the power of his grace, were frequent themes of conversation. ‘They that feared the Lord spake often one to another,’ and were not ashamed. The 6tranger within their gates felt the influence of the holy atmosphere, and was drawn by the power of sympathy towards Jesus, and often believed unto salvation. Family prayer was established in almost every house, and as you walked along the streets, in the stillness of a summer morning, you might hear the united voice of each household ascending in well-known hymns of praise, to the honour of their great Redeemer. The singing of hymns constituted the chief recreation of the young, in all their social intercourse; and we doubt whether more true joy was ever derived by the votary of pleasure from the brilliant assembly, than by the Christian from this religious exercise.

“Such was the pervading influence of the religious principle upon the whole aspect of society, that it cast it into the gospel mould, and stamped it with its own holy features. The world was in the minority; the gospel had a strong majority, and asserted its power over the hearts and morals of the community. For twenty years past there has been a higher moral and religious tone, and a more intelligent and consistent profession of Christianity maintained in that little town than in any other which the writer has visited in Europe or America.

“What were the effects upon the ministry of our church] Within a few months, and from the impulse received from this meeting, eight men went forth from this our congregation to preach the gospel of Christ. If you include the influence of this meeting upon neighbouring congregations, and chiefly under the same ministry, three more labourers were called into the Lord’s vineyard. Those who are still in the field are the bishop of Georgia, and the missionary bishop to China, Rev. W. H. Barnwell, Rev. S. Elliott, Rev. C. C. Pinckney, Rev. B. C. Webb, of this diocese; the Rev. R. Johnson, and the Rev. W. Johnson, of Georgia. The distinguished Baptist preacher, Rev. R. Fuller, of Baltimore, was also a subject of this revival, and is the sixth of this list who exchanged the profession of the law for the ministry of the gospel.

“What were the effects upon the diocese? You must calculate the influence of the ministry of these labourers, directly and indirectly, upon the cause of Christ, ere you can fully answer the question. The leaven of that revival has already penetrated the mass of our church in this diocese. It has infused a new life into Episcopacy, and awakened a more earnest and evangelical spirit in the hearts of clergy and laity. It has moulded much of the doctrinal and ecclesiastical sentiment now prevailing among us, and stimulated that missionary feeling which has given our diocese a high place among the warmest friends of missions.”