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. Joseph Washburn.
In the fall of the year 1793, and through the winter following, while the society was destitute of a settled minister, there appeared, as I have been informed, peculiar attention to the means of grace, and a hopeful prospect of a time of a great refreshing from the presence of the Lord. But the hopes of the people of God, were greatly damped, and the work apparently interrupted, by means of an unhappy contention which took place in the society, and which threw the minds of the people into a state of high irritation. But the good Spirit of God, though grieved, did not wholly depart; and about the time of my ordination, which was in May, 1795, an uncommon attention and seriousness became apparent throughout the society. The divine influences came down like the dew, and like the rain upon the mown grass, in still and gentle showers. The work was unattended with noise or enthusiasm—caused a general solemnity through the society, and met with little or no opposition. Within the course of about one year, fifty-five persons were added to the church.
In the fall of 1798, religion was apparently but little thought of except by some of the professed people of God, and even among them, an unusual degree of luke-warmness seemed to prevail. The distressing reflection now arose, that as we had been favored with a gracious visit of God, and had so soon grieved away his Spirit, it was to be feared that religion would now continue to decline for many years—and that if it should thus decline for ten or twenty years, as it had done for two or three, the situation of Zion, here, must be deplorable indeed.
At this time, God began to appear in power and great glory, in a number of towns in the vicinity, as he had done for a year before, in places more distant. An account of these things reached us, and became the subject of conversation among Christians; but it appeared to have little or no effect.
The first appearance of special divine power and grace, was in Feb., 1799. It began in an uncommon attention and concern among the people of God, in view of the situation of this society, and a disposition to unite in prayer for the divine presence, and a revival of religion.
Soon after this, numbers, in different parts of the society, began to inquire respecting the meetings, and expressed a wish to attend. This was considered an omen for good, and upon the encouragement which now began to appear, it was determined to open lectures at the meetinghouse, and at some of the school-houses, in the extreme part of the society. From this time, we had frequent meetings which were attended by great numbers. Persons of both sexes, and of almost every age, and many from the distance of four or five miles, and some still further, were to be seen pressing through storms, and every obstacle, to attend the meetings—such was their anxiety to hear the Word of God, and to know what they must do to be saved.
My house was also the almost daily resort of youth, and others earnestly inquiring respecting the things of their peace. The scenes were frequently very affecting. Persons from 12 or 15 up to 30 or 40 years of age, had just discovered, as to any realizing sense, that they were sinners. They felt, and in tears acknowledged, that they were under the condemnation of God’s righteous law—that they had, all their lives, neglected and despised a kind Savior, and trodden under foot, his blood. Those of the youth who were seriously impressed, now reflected on their former gayety, vanity and sinful amusements, with bitterness and entire disapprobation. They considered the customs and practices commonly followed by youth as very dangerous and pernicious—tending to exclude the thoughts of God and eternity—cherish vicious propensities—render the mind light and vain—and inconsistent with doing all things to the glory of God. An attempt which was made soon after the awakening commenced, to introduce a dancing master, and set up a school for the instruction of the youth and children in the art of dancing; and which, though, with much difficulty, at length, succeeded, had a happy effect on the minds of some of the serious youth, tending to increase their impressions. The open opposition, also, which was made by some, had a similar effect. It convinced them more and more, that madness is in the heart of man, and that God is just in condemning sinners and casting them off forever.
About one hundred have been so far impressed as to inquire seriously and anxiously respecting the way of life by a Savior, and to converse freely upon the state of their souls. Of these, about seventy have appeared to be under deep conviction of sin, and in great distress of mind.
Sixty-one have been admitted to the church within one year, namely: from August, 1799, to August, 1800. Several who have not made a profession of religion, have it in contemplation, and it is to be hoped that there are some others, who have become truly reconciled to God.
After this general account of the progress and extent of the work, a more particular statement of the personal views and exercises of those who have been the subjects, either of conviction or hopeful conversion, will be necessary.
In the first stages of concern, the subjects were generally most affected with particular sins, and not so deeply sensible of the plague of their own hearts. As the work of conviction proceeded, they obtained a clearer view of the spiritual nature and extent of the divine law, and a more realizing sense of the corruption of their hearts. It was generally the case with those under deep conviction, that they in a greater or less degree, experienced sensible enmity, and opposition of heart against the character of God—particularly his sovereignty in having mercy on whom he will have mercy, and hardening whom he will. There were several instances in particular in which a wise and sovereign God permitted the enmity and obstinacy of the carnal heart, to be manifested in an awful manner, and to an astonishing degree. While conscience like a gnawing worm preyed upon them within, a view of the divine character, and the way of salvation proposed in the gospel, excited the enmity of their hearts, and filled them with anguish; and every instance in which they saw any of their friends or acquaintance brought apparently to embrace the gospel, filled them with a kind of envy—with a pain which they could not describe.
With respect to the manner and circumstances in which the hopeful converts obtained relief, and the degree of their joy and peace, there has been a variety. Some few were very suddenly relieved from their distress, and filled with adoring, and admiring views of God and the divine Savior. But with respect to the greater part, they were brought very gradually to entertain a hope that they were reconciled to God, and did not soon attain to any considerable degree of rejoicing, or assurance of hope. The hopeful converts, in general, have appeared very far from a disposition to think highly of themselves, or their attainments in religion, and especially from a spirit of rash judging, or censuring others. They appear to be disposed to hope the best of others—to promote the good of all—to discharge relative and social duties—to attend carefully upon all the institutions of religion, and to manifest a tender regard for the salvation of souls, and the advancement of the cause of God in the world.
This account will continue tomorrow…