An account of a Revival of Religion in Norfolk, Conn., in the year 1799

By the Rev. Ammi R. Robbins.

It pleased the blessed God, in the year 1767, to afford some special tokens of his gracious presence among us, to the peculiar joy of the precious few who loved Zion, and who wailed in fervent prayer for her prosperity. The blessed influences of the Spirit seemed to be shed down in a remarkable manner, and the whole town seemed to be awed with the presence of the Lord. Many were struck with surprise, and numbers were impressed with a sense of their guilty and ruined state as sinners, and began to cry, what must we do to be saved? But alas, it was of short continuance, as to its power and abiding influence. A number, however, were so deeply impressed that they could find no relief, until they were hopefully made new creatures and found rest in Christ Jesus—about ten or twelve, who seemed to live like Christians, and joined themselves to the Lord; while many who were awakened and terrified for a short season, fell back into stupidity [foolishness], and some became in their lives and conduct worse than before. It pleased the God of all grace, to call in one and another successively for several years following, until the year 1783, which will be memorable with us, and, I trust, will be remembered by many with thanksgiving and praise through eternal ages. This second revival, if it may be so called, began in May, 1783, when it appeared, by inquiry afterwards, that some of God’s people had been remarkably stirred up to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Numbers were impressed in different parts of the town, without any knowledge of each other’s circumstances, at the same time. The seriousness became general, and the distress of many visible. A public lecture was set up, and was attended nearly every week through the summer, at which someone or other neighboring minister attended, preached, and assisted in conversing with awakened and distressed souls after the meeting. Besides the public lecture, conferences were attended in different parts of the town. And such were the order and decency, in general, that those who sought occasion, if any there were, did not openly oppose the work. In consequence of this glorious day of divine grace, there were added to the church in November, twenty-seven; in the January following, thirteen; and in March, ten; making in all, fifty. Of these, eighteen were males, and thirty-two females. Besides these, several were added afterwards.

Most of these are still living, and with us, and we trust have walked agreeably to their Christian profession. By this means our church has been considerably numerous, and generally harmonious.

But it is to be lamented, that stupidity gradually increased and spread over the town. The wise and the foolish slumbered together. Besides these gloomy appearances, some of the friends of Christ used frequently to remark, with distress and concern, that many of our younger people, and persons of information and influence, were fast verging towards infidelity. Several had nearly or quite renounced their belief in the divinity of the holy Scriptures, and others were reasoning themselves into the doctrine of universal salvation. Meanwhile profaneness increased like a flood, and various species of wickedness prevailed. So that it might be truly said of us that “iniquity abounded and the love of many had waxed cold.” Amidst all this, it must be remarked that the people more generally came to meeting on the Sabbath, and strangers would notice with surprise, that the general attendance of people on public worship was rather uncommon and extraordinary. But it is to be feared that the words of the prophet may with propriety be adopted concerning the most of them—“This people draw nigh to me with their mouth, and honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.”

About five years ago, the concert of prayer proposed to be observed quarterly, and which was attended in many parts of the land, was also set up here, and the members of the church, with some others, attended. These seasons appeared to be solemn, and were animating and encouraging to numbers of God’s people. But nothing special appeared, indicating a revival of religion, until January, 1799, when it was noticed that our religious assemblies were more solemn and attentive. The religious people about this time, hearing of some revivals of religion in two or three other towns in the vicinity, and having before this heard of the work of God at a further distance, were induced to hope, and ardently to pray that we might have a gracious visit also.

Although no special instances of awakening, as yet, appeared to take place, there is reason to conclude that numbers of God’s dear people, in secret as well as in a social way, did most earnestly plead at the throne of grace, that the Lord would get glory to his name in reviving his work among us, and in infinite mercy send his Holy Spirit to arrest the progress of thoughtless sinners, who were in the broad way to eternal ruin. Soon it was whispered among some of our serious people, that one and another in this and that part of the town were troubled in mind. Our congregation on the Sabbath became more full than ordinary, and very solemn indeed. In February and March, the attention became so general that it was thought proper, at the desire of many, that religious conferences should be set up. They accordingly were, in four, and sometimes five different parts of the town. A public lecture was also appointed to be preached every Thursday, and became a matter of course through the summer, and into the autumn; so that there was no need of warning; but when the day came, the house was filled with people, almost like the Sabbath. Ministers from abroad were generally procured to preach on these occasions; and they were undoubtedly, by the blessing of God, a means of promoting the work, of instructing and edifying young converts, and guarding them against errors and intemperate zeal.

To give an account of the peculiar trials and exercises of individuals, would swell this narrative too much, and probably not be edifying to the bulk of your readers.

It may, however, be useful to observe, that as the Lord was about to carry on a glorious work of grace among us, it appears that he was pleased to begin it in a way that was suited to strike the people with surprise, and effectually stop the mouths of those who otherwise might oppose, or at least doubt of its being the Lord’s work. For nearly at its beginning, there were several persons who were struck with a sense of their miserable state and condition as sinners. And although they tried hard, yet it was impossible for them long to conceal their feelings. Their very countenances would indicate clearly the distress of their souls. These were persons who were influential and very popular in town, and of very considerable information. They were, before this, very far from all appearance of religion—much inclined to, and some far advanced in deistical sentiments, and those of the universalists. These being hopefully subdued by an omnipotent arm, and appearing meek and humble in their deportment, gave a prodigious shock to many others, especially their intimates. And they now soon joined heart and hand to promote the work, by conversing with others, attending and assisting at conferences, and being enabled to conduct with modesty, humility and prudence, yet with firmness in the cause, were, no doubt, used as a happy means of promoting and spreading the religious attention.

In June and July, the marvelous displays of divine power and grace were conspicuous beyond anything of the kind we had ever witnessed. A universal solemnity spread over the town, and seized the minds of almost all, both old and young. It appeared that Jehovah was, in very deed, in the midst of us, with a witness—yea, with many witnesses, sufficient to make even an atheist tremble. Great numbers were bowed with a sense of the presence of the Lord. Some rejoicing and praising God—others in anguish of soul, crying, what must we do? Yet they were by no means noisy or boisterous, but, in silent anguish, seemed to be cut to the heart.

Almost every day, we could hear of one or more who had found relief, or as the phrase was, “obtained a hope;” and new instances of persons impressed with a sense of their guilty, wretched, undone state.

Some appeared almost on the borders of despair, while others were complaining of a hard and obstinate heart, and that there could not be any sinner on this side hell so vile as they.

To be continued next week…

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