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. Samuel Shepard.
I CANNOT learn from any of the first settlers that there has ever been any remarkable revival of religion in this town, until the month of June, 1799. It appears that the greatest number added to this church in the course of one year, was about eleven. This, if I am rightly informed, was the year 1783. At the time of my ordination, which was April, 1795, the situation of this church called for the earnest prayers of all who had a heart to pray. The number of its members then was not much greater than it had been for twenty-five years before; and almost the whole of them were bowing under the infirmities of age. No person, who was in early life, was a member of this church. Not a single young person had been received into it, in the course of sixteen years. To see the youth, all as one, wasting away their best moments in stupidity—to view them as accountable creatures, and yet living apparently without a hope—“without a wish beyond the grave”—and to see a few gray-headed persons compose almost the whole number of communicants at the sacramental table—must, to one just entering on the work of the ministry, awaken feelings which cannot be easily described. Well might this church, like God’s ancient covenant people, when they sat in captivity by the waters of Babylon, hang its harps upon the willows; for it seemed, indeed, that when the few who were rapidly hastening down the vale of time, should be borne to the grave, and delivered from the evil to come, the name of Jesus, in the holy ordinance of the supper, would, among us, be scarcely had in remembrance.
Such were the melancholy prospects of this church until the spring of the year 1799. While showers of divine grace were falling on other parts of Zion, and God, by his Spirit, was visiting one place and another, and quickening multitudes for his name’s sake, we seemed to be solemnly warned in the words recorded. Rev 2:5, “Remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place.” But the Lord hath said, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy;” and glory be to his name. With him is the residue of the Spirit, and he can pour it out, when, and where, and on whom he pleaseth. He hath made it, therefore, a day of his power, and caused even in the midst of us, a shaking among the dry bones.
In the month of April, 1799, several members of the church manifested great anxiety about the state of religion among us, and expressed a desire that meetings might be appointed for religious conference and special prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This request was afterwards made known to the church as a body. They unanimously approved of it, and a conference meeting was accordingly appointed. This meeting was attended by as many people, as previous appearances warranted us to expect. A sermon was preached at this meeting, and the audience was very attentive. At the next conference, we conversed upon a particular passage of Scripture, which led to a consideration of the being and perfections of God. Several persons at this meeting appeared unusually solemn. About this time, two or three young persons were brought under deep conviction, and found earnestly inquiring what they should do to be saved. At the third conference meeting, were to be seen persons from every part of the town. The divine authority of the Scriptures was made the subject of conversation, and the appearance of the assembly was truly affecting. They seemed now to consider the holy Bible to be the very voice of God to a guilty world; and the religion of Jesus, a solemn reality. Sinners were brought to tremble in view of eternity, and professors of religion were animated and rendered fervent in prayer. From that time, the work became more general—religious conferences were multiplied—the house of God was thronged upon the Sabbath—and multitudes seemed to spare no pains in obtaining religious instruction. Several persons, in attempting upon a particular Sabbath, to sing the judgment anthem, appeared to be greatly distressed. A sermon, the design of which was to enforce the leading ideas contained in the anthem, was afterwards delivered from Acts 1:11—“This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” A divine blessing seemed, in some measure, to attend the discourse ; and while those who entertained a hope of a personal interest in Christ, seemed to be wrapped up in the contemplation of that glory and majesty of Zion’s King which will be displayed in that all-important day to which reference is had in the anthem, some of the opposite character were apparently filled with awful apprehensions on account of their ill desert, and seemed to look forward to the day of judgment, as a time when their hearts must die within them. From that solemn season, there was an increasing attention to things of a serious nature, among young and old, for several months. While we heard of some from time to time, who were brought to a sense of their guilt and danger, others, having seen the impending storm of divine vengeance, and fled to one false refuge after another, till all were tried in vain, were hopefully brought to the foot of divine Sovereignty—to see the moral beauty, and transcendent amiableness and worth of the divine Savior—to embrace him on gospel terms, and to find by experience that wisdom’s ways are pleasantness.
On the twentieth of October, twenty-four persons were received into the church. This was with us a memorable day. But a small part of the congregation had ever before seen a young person publicly engage in the Christian warfare. From the same youthful circle—from the same family, some were taken, while others were left. While some parents were so happy as to see their children following them in the Christian profession, others, who were conscious bf being still heirs of that kingdom which is doomed to destruction, saw their offspring fleeing for refuge to the wounds of a bleeding Savior. Husbands and wives—parents and children—brothers and sisters, were separated by that line of distinction which is formed by a religious profession. In this, the divine Sovereignty was obvious. “The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice.” Having taken upon themselves the bonds of the Christian covenant, and heard a particular address to the church and them dictated by the interesting occasion, those who in this public manner had united with the visible church of Christ, sang a hymn which concluded thus:
“Saints by the power of God are kept,
Till full salvation come;
We walk by faith, as strangers here,
Till Christ shall call us home.”
The language to the spectators, in the scene then passing before them, was, “We are journeying to the place, of which the Lord said, I will give it you; come thou with us, and we will do thee good; for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel.” A solemn silence was observed during the whole service. No appearance of levity was discovered, for a moment, in a single countenance. The infidel and abandoned man stood appalled—and, to the friends of Zion, the season afforded a prelibation of heavenly joys. The old and the young who were present, seemed ready to adopt the language of Jacob, when he awoke from a dream at Bethel, “How dreadful is this place!
This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
It was not till several months after this precious season that the attention began to abate. The whole number of those who have been received into the church since the work began, is fifty-three. Almost two-thirds are females. Many are in early life. Nearly all of them continue to give satisfactory evidence that Christ is, in reality, formed in them, the hope of glory.
In a time of ingathering like this, however, it is to be expected that some chaff will remain with the wheat. “Let not him that girdeth on his harness, boast himself as he that putteth it off.” It becomes all those who engage in the Christian warfare, to remember that the promise of salvation is to him that endureth to the end; and that the same grace which at first called them, is requisite to their perseverance. “The fruit of the Spirit,” says the apostle, “is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth;” and “every man who hath” the Christian “hope in him purifieth himself even as he” who is the author of it “is pure.”
The conduct of those who attended religious conferences and lectures, and for a time appeared to be seriously impressed, but afterwards returned to their former stupidity, forcibly reminds me of the case of one mentioned in Matt. 12: 45—“The last state of that man,” said the Savior, “is worse than the first.”
The condition of those who remained uniformly careless and inattentive, while the goings of God were so visible among us, appears to be still more dangerous and deplorable.
I will close this general account with a few particular remarks.
1. This revival was evidently the work of God. To prove this, the very sudden change in the appearance and pursuits of the people, is instead of a thousand arguments.
2. This revival began in the church; and I believe it will be found to be true, that in almost every instance of religious attention, it makes its first appearance in the church of Christ. When God is about to bestow spiritual blessings upon a people, it is his usual method, first to awake his professed friends out of sleep.
3. Such a revival of religion most strikingly evinces the importance of all the means of grace, which God hath instituted. When once the attention of a people is called up to the concerns of the soul, how precious, in their view, are seasons for prayer. How precious is God’s holy Sabbath—how instantly do they fly to the Bible—how highly do they prize every opportunity to get religious instruction, and to associate with the people of God for serious conversation. God works by means in the moral, as well as the natural world. They are necessarily connected with the end. Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.
4. The appearance of the people in this place at the time of the late awakening, will enable me to add to the testimony of others respecting the work in general, that it has been attended with remarkable regularity. God was emphatically in the still small voice. Nothing was said, in particular, about dreams and visions—hearing unusual voices, and seeing uncommon sights. No extravagance, either in gestures or outcries, appeared. No wild enthusiasm attended the revival in any stage of it.
5. Among those in this town who have been awakened to attend to religious truths, a remarkable uniformity has occurred relative to the doctrines which have been embraced. These are such as are usually termed Calvinistic. Such truths as the total and awful depravity of the human heart—the necessity of regeneration ; or a change of heart as a preparation for the enjoyment of a holy heaven—the equity of the divine law in its penalty as well as precept—the divine sovereignty in the salvation of sinners, as the only possible ground of hope in the case of a guilty offender—the necessity of gospel morality, as an evidence of justifying faith—and all the doctrines essentially connected with these, were readily received by all with one consent.
6. It is worthy of notice that the revival of religion in this town, has proved to be almost a death-wound to the vain amusements of the young people. An attempt to establish a dancing school among us in the time of the late special attention, was rendered nearly abortive; and the youth in general are still remarkable for their sobriety.
7. One distinguishing feature of this work as it appeared among us, and elsewhere, according to the narrations which have been published, was humility. The subjects of the revival, who have obtained a Christian hope, have very uniformly appeared to be humble, and to walk softly before their Maker. In view of the divine perfections and requirements, they have, at times, expressed great self-abhorrence. This has been one striking effect of the genuine operation of the divine Spirit on the hearts of sinners in every age.
May a holy God, in infinite mercy, continue to make manifest the glory of his power, and the glory of his grace, in building up Zion ; for in no other way can we rationally hope to see happy individuals—happy families—happy neighborhoods—happy societies—happy towns—happy states—happy kingdoms—and a happy world.