This is a selection from New England Revivals As They Existed at the Close of the Eighteenth, and the Beginning of the Nineteenth Centuries, compiled by Bennet Tyler in 1846. This relates various instances from the Second Great Awakening, recorded in the Connecticut Evangelical Magazine. It is shared to encourage believers to pray for a similar great work of God’s grace, to learn what characterized genuine conversions, and how pastors guided such individuals.
This account was written by the Rev. Joshua Williams.
In the latter part of January and beginning of February, 1799, our meetings for public worship were very full, and more solemn than I had ever seen upon any occasion before. In the second week of February, I attended several meetings in neighboring societies, in company with a number of ministers. The Lord appeared to be present in a remarkable manner. On Friday I returned home, with two or three of my brethren. A lecture had been previously appointed. The congregation was very large, and the effects of the Word were very visible. In the evening, another sermon was preached, and some exhortations given. The effects were still more visible. It is believed that on this, and the two succeeding days, more than a hundred persons received deep impressions of their miserable state; and many of them were feelingly convicted of their total depravity of heart, and absolute helplessness. In the two following weeks, the solemnity, concern and conviction evidently increased. Many were brought to see that a selfish religion, such as theirs was, was unsafe; and that they must have a principle, higher than the fear of hell or desire of happiness, to prompt them in the path of life. It is not in my power to describe the anxiety which appeared in many. They found themselves transgressors in everything. The more they saw of themselves, the more they were convinced of their desert of endless misery. This again increased their anxiety, so that in a general way, sleep almost fled from their eyes, and when they went about the necessary concerns of life, their spirits were loaded with sorrow and distress.
This anxiety continued with some longer than with others, before they found relief. A conviction of their selfish regards in all their attempts to pray, led them to reflect that their prayer was sin. It added to their apprehensions that God might refuse to hear. A holy, sin-hating sovereign might strike them dead in the attempt. And to refrain from prayer was still more dangerous. Danger appeared on all sides, and “What must I do?” was a constant and earnest inquiry. At this time, the importance of divine truth was so generally fixed upon the mind, that I could scarcely go into a house without discovering evidences of great attention to the Bible. It was read with earnestness as the word of life.
Some were wrought upon very suddenly, and in such circumstances as made it evident that it was not of themselves, or of any man, but of God. From the 14th to the 20th of April, there were eighteen instances of hopeful conversion. Several were brought under sorrowful and distressing conviction at midnight, on their beds—and many in such circumstances that it could not be accounted for on any principle, but the sovereign power and mercy of God. At this time, the labor of preaching was easy indeed; but to detect the false hope to which many were prone, like drowning men, who catch hold of anything that comes in their way, was a difficult and critical business. Never did I feel the importance of the ministry, and my own insufficiency, so much as at this period. On the one hand, not to wound the lambs of Christ’s flock, and on the other, not to encourage the unfounded hope of the self-deceiver, required the utmost caution and diligence. My usual practice was, if upon examination, I found marks of a false hope, to tell the matter plainly. But if there were symptoms of a well-founded hope, I told them that they must prove their hope to be genuine by their future holy conduct, always remembering that the heart is deceitful above all things.
In the month of May, four were added to the church—in July, fifty-six were added in one day, the solemnities of which were blest to the awakening of some others. In September, twenty-four more were added, and several others at different times, making the whole number one hundred ; several more, it is probable, will soon join with them. The whole number for whom I have entertained a hope of their real regeneration, is more than a hundred; and though with grief, I must say that a few do not appear to hold out, yet the perseverance of the others, especially of those who have made a profession, bids me still hope that the greatest part will continue steadfast to the end. Many of them have obtained a precious degree of knowledge and love, and appear to be growing in the graces of the Christian.
I now proceed to mention some particular cases.
One instance is that of a woman who died with the small pox, about twenty-five years of age. From her younger years, she was a woman of uncommon candor, prudence and gentleness; nor was she entirely destitute of thoughts on serious subjects. By many of her acquaintances, she was thought to be prepared for heaven years ago. But she totally disclaimed such an idea. She was a serious attendant on public worship in the year 1798, but felt no peculiar impressions on her mind till the remarkable day in February, 1799.
The first thing that struck her mind powerfully, was a kind and serious message sent to her from her sister, who lived in a neighboring society. The message was this—“Above all things get an interest in Christ.” The effect was instant and surprising. She had heard the same thing before from her sister—nay, she had been exhorted repeatedly to the same purport, but to no effect. But now an impression was made, which nothing could efface. And there were many such instances on that day. Neither the common concerns of a family, the ridicule to which she would probably expose herself, the intervening of company, the suggestions of her former regularity of life, nor any considerations whatever, could withdraw her attention from the concerns of her soul and eternity. She had found she had been alive without the law; but the commandment came, sin revived, and she died. It appears from her own confession, made more than once, that though she frequently read the Bible, and would by no means, as she thought, omit any of the duties of religion, yet she never had any proper idea of the Bible, and knew nothing of the nature of the Christian religion; her understanding being so darkened as not to receive the things of the Spirit of God. Bat being now awakened, she continued in this state of anxious concern for thirteen or fourteen days, her distress increasing every day. Being a near neighbor, I had frequent opportunities of conversing with her, and of observing the operations of her mind; which I will relate, as I related them to the congregation in a sermon preached on account of her death.
She was one of the first that in this wonderful season of God’s grace, was deeply impressed with the truth, respecting her depravity of heart, Christless state, and need of regeneration; and the first that was hopefully brought out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. A day or two before this, her anxiety had increased to such a degree, that she could scarcely sleep at all, and her whole attention was absorbed in the thought of her sinfulness and perishing condition; especially with the idea of the total opposition of her heart to God. She saw clearly that how much soever she attempted to pray, or to search the Scriptures, and whatever pains she took in a selfish way, she as guilty of breaking the first commandment, as she did not submit to the righteousness of God, and directly opposed the injunction of the apostle, “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Hence she found that she was actually rising up against the will of Jehovah, and in no point, conformed to the spirit of the law signified in these words—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself;” and therefore, she was under the just curses of that law. Exercises and views of this kind from day to day, filled her with great distress, and she began to despair of ever becoming religious according to the Bible requirements, and to conclude that there was no hope in her case—at best, that she never should, of herself, embrace the way of life;—that she must, therefore, fearful as it was, fall into the hands of a sin-hating and sin-punishing God ; that all her attempts were vain, all her endeavors fruitless, and that she was undone forever. At this time it pleased the Lord to afford her a view of the propriety of his dominion, and of the wisdom, rectitude and glory of his character and universal government. And the view was so clear that she was obliged to approve of the sentence of condemnation against herself, accept the punishment of her sins, and say, “Let this Lord be glorious. It is delightful that he is such a being, and that he reigns over me, and over all things. O how wicked have I been to oppose so glorious a God. I abhor myself, and may I and all creatures be heartily disposed to praise him forever.”
This account will continue next week…