I included one of the most despicable characters in American history in my book, Twice a Slave. I’d never heard of him until I did research on my family history. His father was a minister, and his mother a prostitute. He despised his father, and learned thievery from his mother. While she was doing business with men, John Murrell stole their belongings. Once he was old enough to create his own illegal business, he took everything he’d learned from his father and mother and became one of the worst criminals in American history.
He entered Louisiana Territory not long after the Louisiana Purchase and conducted brush arbor “revival meetings” near what was called “The Neutral Zone.” It was a fifty-mile wide disputed land area between the Sabine River (present day Texas border) and what is now central Louisiana. The Spanish and Americans agreed not to enter the area, and it became a haven for outlaws and runaway slaves.
Joseph Willis planted numerous churches in the area at the same time that Murrell plundered throughout Louisiana. Murrell, often called The Reverend Devil set up brush arbor meetings that were characteristic of the Second Great Awakening. He preached with great fervor, mesmerizing the crowds. While he preached, his band of thieves stole the horses of those in attendance. They then rode into the Neutral Zone and hid in caves in west Louisiana until they could make it into Spanish territory to sell the horses.
The counterfeit revivals weren’t the worst of his evil enterprises. He told slaves that he would free them. He instructed them to meet him secretly at night, and that he would take them to a place where they would live the rest of their lives in freedom. Once Murrell had the slaves in his grips, he sold them to another slave owner.
When I discovered The Reverend Devil in my research, I learned one great truth: God has not changed, and neither has the devil. Satan is a master counterfeiter. He utilizes deception to realize his greedy gains. Christians often fall victim to his schemes because we look at the outward characteristics of a ministry rather than the spiritual fruit. The Apostle Paul wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
Christians must learn to discern the quality of ministry by the character displayed rather than the charisma of the minister. The Reverend Devil is still alive and at work today. But, God’s word gives us the ability to discern.
There’s one last lesson we must remember – Satan counterfeits that which is valuable. The dignity of all people is dear to the heart of God. Revival is heavy on God’s heart. Satan will do everything within his power to destroy that which is so valuable to God. Hold fast to that which is valuable, and pray for revival in our generation.