Ravished by the Spirit: Religious Revivals, Baptists, and Henry Alline


176 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-7735-0439-7





Reviewed by Richard C. Smith

Richard C. Smith is a professor in the Classics Department of the
University of Alberta.


This work is the publication of the four Hayward Lectures of 1983 on the campus of Acadia University given by Dr. George Rawlyk, Professor of History, Queen’s University. The lectures were chosen to mark the bicentennial of the eighteenth century Nova Scotia revivalist and New Light preacher, Henry Alline, whose religious influence can still be traced in the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick-New England area. Also included are a preface indicating how Rawlyk had previously underestimated the importance of Alline’s career, especially in the Maritime Baptist tradition, and two appendices indicating current opinions on religion and religious statistics relative to the population.

In the first lecture, Alline’s life (1748-1784) and thought are set forth, using material from his Journal, hymns, and other writings. Alline had a profound conversion experience (or New Birth) in 1775 and in the following nine years was the leader of an intense religious revival that swept Nova Scotia during the years of the American Revolution. Rawlyk feels that Alline provided the people of the colony, including many former “Yankees” like himself, with a new sense of identity in “a world where all traditional relationships were falling apart” (p.9). Only Halifax and Lunenburg were unaffected by the movement.

In the second lecture, the influence of Alline is traced beyond Nova Scotia to New England, where, in the last summer of his life, he had gone to die. Though there is no evidence of personal contact by Alline, the major influence he had was upon Benjamin Randel, a founder of the Free Will Baptist Church. Randel, who had experienced a “New Birth” in 1770 triggered by the death of the famous evangelist George Whitefield, seems to have found Alline’s writings a very useful source of theology for his movement as well as a source of many hymns. In the tracts and hymns of Alline, the Free Will Baptists found one of the few sources of anti-Calvinism available in the period.

In the third lecture, the continuation of Alline’s influence in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick is traced and Rawlyk shows how much of the influence became focused in the Baptist Church. In fact, Alline’s influence was greater in New Brunswick than in his “home” province of Nova Scotia, a fact that Rawlyk traces to the greater desire in Nova Scotia for respectability, with a resulting move towards Calvinism.

In the final lecture, Rawlyk traces the gradual loss of the influence of emotionalism in the Baptist tradition of the nineteenth century and shows how this may be an important factor facing the Baptists in the 1980s, as secularization continues to make heavy gains in both provinces.

In short, the lectures make a good case for the importance and influence of Henry Alline, particularly among the Maritime Baptists, and also illustrate a most interesting chapter in the area’s religious history.


Rawlyk, G.A., “Ravished by the Spirit: Religious Revivals, Baptists, and Henry Alline,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/36865.