How John Lyle
Relates to the
Heresy of Decisional Regeneration
John Lyle (1769-1825) wrote Lyle's Diary when he witnessed the Camp Meetings at the beginning of the nineteenth century. His diary is the second most important document of American Christian history. The first most important American Christian document in American history is the Cambridge Platform.
Lyle was a Presbyterian minister exposed to the Scottish Common Sense Realism of William Graham when he attended Liberty Hall, Virginia. Fortunately, he had an evangelical background before he was taught that salvation is a rational process by Graham. He wrote in the family Bible he was "born again August 17th, 1789" in the revival that took place in Virginia at the time.
He was licensed to preach in 1797, and ordained by the Presbyterian Church in 1799. In 1800 he took charge of the presbyterian churches of Salem and Sugar Ridge, in Clark County, Kentucky, which gave him a first-hand view of the Camp Meetings. In 1805 he was appointed a missionary within the bounds of the Cumberland Presbytery, and subsequently a commissioner of the Presbyterian General Assembly.
Here is Lyle's account of his 1805 trip (notes are in blue):
The Rev. John P. Campbell, having declined the appointment given him to ride two months in the bounds' of the Cumberland Presbytery; on a motion made by Mr. Campbell, the Synod of Kentucky unanimously agreed to appoint me as a missionary to go the above route; I thereupon set out on my journey from Denville, where the Synod sat on Friday, the 18th of Oct. 1805, in the evening,
Oct. 20th 3 Sabbath - I preached at Hardin's Creek Church in Washington County, to an attentive audience, on Psalm 110:3, first clause. The Rev. William Dickey who is a member of the Cumberland Presbytery and who set out from the Synod with me made an appointment to preach at Captain Mulder's six miles further on our way.
When he had done preaching, I delivered a short discourse on '2 Corinthians 3:17, last clause, to a small but attentive audience.
Monday Oct. 21st, I traveled in company with Mr. Dickey from Capt. Mulder's to Mr. Jameson's, about 18 miles southwest of Little Barren River. The wind blew from the southwest and in the evening there fell several showers of cold rain. I felt somewhat disordered with the cold.
Oct. 22, Tuesday Evening we arrived at a Mr. James Reid's, 10 miles south west of Warren Court House.
Wednesday, the 23rd of October. In the morning I parted with Mr. Dickey.
In the course of our journeying together I conversed with him
on experimental religion - on several doctrinal points - on some parts of literature - so far as I am capable of judging I think he is tolerably well calculated to be a missionary.
I enquired of him whether he would be willing to undertake a mission. He said he intended to itinerate in Louisiana the ensuing winter, or sometime shortly, but would do it at his own expense, that the funds of the General Assembly might be expended on more useful and worthy men.
He gave me a brief history of the Cumberland Presbytery from which history I learned that the vacancies are chiefly filled up with illiterate exhorters and licentiates who are chiefly Arminians in sentiment and who ride in circuits after the manner of the Methodists.
Note: Presbyterian ministers in remote rural areas of Scotland rode in circuits and had yearly Sacramental Meetings (the Lord’s Supper Meetings). Presbyterian ministers in remote rural areas of America rode in circuits and had yearly Sacramental Meetings (the Lord’s Supper Meetings). The Presbyterian Church in America re-wrote the history of the Camp Meetings, claiming they were run by the Methodists, when they started as Sacramental Meetings of Presbyterian ministers. Lyle is sad that Presbyterian ministers of the frontier were mostly uneducated and believed that anyone could be saved if they had rational faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, which was an inevitable result of the Scottish Common Sense Realism “truth impressions” theory.
The forepart of the day spent in writing to the Stated Clerk of the Synod on business. The rest of the day was chiefly spent in conversation with Mr. Reid and family. Being fatigued with riding - at the request of Mr. Reid, I agreed to preach here tomorrow.
Thursday, 24th of Oct: Preached at Mr. Reid's to a small but attentive audience, and, this evening came to the Rev. G. Rankin's. Mr. Rankin appeared to be much displeased with the conduct of the Synod towards the Cumberland Presbytery with respect to licensing & ordaining illiterate young men etc..
Friday, 25 Oct 1805: Early this morning Mr. Rankin voluntarily declared his sentiments which appeared to be to be evidently of an Arminian cast. He said that God had given to every man a sufficiency of grace, which if he would improve, he would get more etc. until he would arrive at true conversion or a living faith, etc.. After we had conversed for some time on this subject the
Doctrines of election & effectual calling were introduced. These he in effect denied. After his mouth was stopped that he appeared to have nothing to say in favor of his tenets. He said when he held the sentiments I had vindicated he was less successful than since he had engaged in preaching those in opposition to them – etc., thus seemed to make his success or main argument in favor of his erroneous opinions - For my part I am far from thinking that success in converting people to error is success in the cause of God.
After breakfast I travelled to company with Mr. Rankin 24 miles to Little Muddy meeting house, where a sacrament was appointed, in a kind of vacancy where the circuit riders preached. Two young men spoke who have been lately licensed, the one to exhort- the other to preach. These young men, I am told, have not even studied Eng1ish grammar and appear to be Arminians in principle.
In evening I held society at Captain Porter's where about 20 people attended, and most of them seemed very devout.
Saturday - An illiterate licentiate named Bell preached - the weather being exceptionally cold & the house being small and open, the people were very uncomfortable as to the external circumstances, and appeared to be generally inattentive. In the evening I spoke briefly on Matthew 5:3. Some of the people appeared very attentive and to hear with satisfaction - one of the Elders observed afterwards that his soul was much fed by the discourse. The same observations were made by some of the lively shouting professors. Mr. Rankin, being Sick, went home. In the evening I held Society at Mr. Hay’s who was sick – spoke to an attentive audience on - Many are the afflictions of the
Righteous etc. – The people appear attentive. Some were affected and some occasionally shouted, but in general, good order was preserved.
Sabbath – Preached the action sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. The people heard with attention even the doctrine of a holy or effectual calling with seeming patience – a doctrine not much preached or believed in these parts.
Mr. McGready introduced or fenced the tables lengthily and served the first. He spoke affectionately. Some of the communicants appeared tenderly affected – some wept and some rejoined; others seem but little engaged. The wicked were in the general to appearance unmoved. I served the second table. The people were then dismissed.
Sabbath Evening I was at Society at Captain William Porter’s. Mr. McGready preached on “Draw nigh unto me and I will unto you”. He seemed to labor with great earnestness – the people appeared devout and attentive; but no unusual stir till dismissed – then a Baptist preacher began to sing loudly, which singing was attended with violent gestures – others joined him – a Baptist negro took the jerks and began to holler or exhort – the Baptist preacher also exhorted awhile.
I could hear nothing distinctly – the negro began in a shuffled step which he performed with activity and ease. Sometimes he sang – sometimes prayed – some of the people attempting to sing a tune for him – but Mr. McGready and most of the people stood and looked at the negro dancing, I think half an hour.
The negro then stopped a little while – some began to sing (I believe), the tune of a reel or march to a hym – the negro began to dance in a step by which he beat it exactly. I inquired into the reason of this exercise – I was told by Captain Porter – that the dancing relieved the negro from jerking, etc.. Mr. McGready said sometimes afterwards that we could not