10
Sep
08

Lessons From the Life of Peter Cartwright

I want to tell you the story of a man who had a heart to reach the lost.  His name was Peter Cartwright.  Peter was born in southern Virginia, right next to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  After the revolutionary war his family moved to Kentucky, to Logan County, just a mile from the Tennessee state line. Peter grew up in a tough area.  It was known as “Rogues Harbor” because there were a lot of crooked people living there – horse thieves, bandits, and killers. (http://www.jonasclark.com/Peter_Cartwright.htm)

Like the Cartwrights, many moved west for more affordable land in the early 1800’s.  But, as people headed west, the churches stayed back, and the reason why is because they didn’t have enough ministers.  To be a minister in the mainline churches that were prominent at this time, the Presbyterians and Episcopalians, you needed a seminary education.  Their seminaries were unable to produce enough ministers to keep up with the fast expansion westward.  So, the people in Rogues Harbor and in other communities in the untamed west had no strong churches around.

The Wild West literally became a wild place in some areas, with very little knowledge of God, the Bible, or spiritual things.  Drunkenness was a huge problem.  One pastor wanted to show the dangers of strong drink.  He placed a worm in a glass of wine.  It wiggled.  He took the worm from the wine and placed into a glass of whiskey and it curled up and died. “There,” the pastor said. “What does that tell you?”  A man in the crowd shouted, “It shows that if you drink whiskey you won’t have worms.”  It was a really dark time for the west.  Who would reach these people? (http://chi.gospelcom.net/GLIMPSEF/Glimpses/glmps085.shtml)

It was about this time that a new movement began to take shape – the Methodists, under the leadership of a circuit riding preacher named Francis Asbury.  Asbury would travel most of his adult life on horseback, building the church for God in America.  They operated a little differently. 

To be a minister, no seminary education was needed, just a love for Jesus and the Bible.  The times were too desperate.  When someone gave their life to Christ and felt called to the ministry Asbury gave them a Bible, a hymn book, a copy of the Methodist disciplines, and a strong horse and sent them out to preach. 

In hopes of reaching as much of the west as possible they created circuits for these ministers to travel.  They became known as the circuit-riding preachers.  The average circuit covered about 100’s of miles and it took many months to travel as the conditions were often very treacherous with bad weather, swollen rivers, and rough terrain.  The circuit riding preacher endured going from town to town proclaiming the gospel, gathering new Christians in fellowship, and into small groups that would eventually become Methodist churches.

Peter Cartwright grew up in Rogues Harbor and became a wild teenager.  He loved to gamble, dance, and party his life away.   But, his mother was a strong Christian and prayed for him often.  In a camp meeting at 16 years of age, convicted of his sins, he gave his life to Christ and at once joined the Methodist movement. Within two years he became a circuit-riding preacher.  (http://www.famousamericans.net/petercartwright/)

It wasn’t easy.  There was not a lot of money in it.  It was often discouraging.  After preaching to crowds Peter Cartwright was often overwhelmed with discouragement over his own lack of education, and weak speaking skills, so much so that he wanted to quit.

Also, in these wild towns there were drunks and rebels who wanted to cause trouble, especially at church meetings.  They were called “rowdies”. Often rowdies disrupted Cartwright’s meetings threatening to whoop him.  When they disrupted his meeting, with threats of violence Peter would often respond, “Let’s step out into the woods and see you do it.”  He was a wilderness man and knew how to take care of business. (http://chi.gospelcom.net/GLIMPSEF/Glimpses/glmps085.shtml)

Crowds soon flocked to hear him. Throughout Kentucky, Tennessee and Illinois, Cartwright preached to crowds, speaking three hours at a stretch, several times a week.  They estimate that 10,000 came to Christ through his ministry.  Thousands were baptized.  He was used mightily of God to help save a nation from itself as it moved westward, because he responded to the opportunity that came divinely to him.  The Methodist church at first in America was ridiculed and despised, frowned upon.  But in a few years the Methodists would grow to be the largest most influential movement in America because of the desire to reach the lost at any cost through men like Peter Cartwright. (http://www.forgottenword.org/cartwright.html)

Today, we don’t have to face rowdies disrupting church, just an occasional cry from a screaming kid.  We don’t have to wait for a circuit-riding preacher to come through town. Churches are all around.  We have nice homes and paved roads, schools, and businesses.  So much has changed, and yet I believe our community is still a lot like Rogues Harbor where Cartwright grew up.  People today are just as lost, just as empty, just as desperate, just as needy, just as sinful, and under the judgment of God, trying to fill the emptiness inside with worldly things.  We just hide it better.

Maybe you feel under qualified.  Remember Peter Cartwright.  The man was from the sticks.  He had no education, but his heart was for the lost.  God took what little he had and saved thousands of souls.  God can use you too!  You may not save thousands, but what if you could reach one?  What could be more important than that?  Nothing in this world.

Col. 4:3-5 – 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.  4 Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.  5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity

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3 Responses to “Lessons From the Life of Peter Cartwright”


  1. September 28, 2008 at 3:29 am

    Wow! Inspiring…I had never heard of him.

  2. September 28, 2008 at 3:31 am

    Wow! Inspiring…I had never heard of him.

  3. 3 Charlie
    September 28, 2008 at 3:32 am

    This isn’t working…hello?


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