By the Rev. Jonathan Miller
The unusual attention to religion in this small parish, became visible a little before the middle of February, 1799; though for several Sabbaths before that time, some greater degree of solemnity appeared on the congregation, than had been common, and a few religious conferences were attended…Undoubtedly in the beginning of the work, numbers were moved with little more than a sympathetic affection, arising from the novelty and seriousness of the impressive scene. But this was not in vain, for the Lord made use of it to open their ears to instruction; and as that subsided, it was in many instances followed by the most rational conviction of gospel truths, and a realizing sense of their importance, which have apparently produced the most happy effects. Numbers who were unmoved at first, have since been made to inquire with earnestness, what they shall do to be saved. And convictions, I think, gradually increased through the following spring and summer. I have conversed with between forty and fifty who have received comfort, and appear to be reconciled to God. Many others are yet attentive, while there is reason to fear that the seriousness of some is on the decline, if not altogether at an end. Although there has been a great variety in the dealings of God with different individuals who now give reason to hope that they are heartily reconciled to him, with respect to the length, degree, and distinct quality of their convictions, and the strength and bitterness of their sensible heart-risings against God, in the course of their convictions, and the clearness of their views, and greatness of their joys, when they were at first reconciled, yet there is a general similarity in the accounts which they all, or nearly all, have given of themselves. They have at first, generally, though not universally, been principally affected with a sense of their danger of the wrath of God, and all have resorted to their own works, to conciliate his favor, without that submission to him and reliance on Christ which the gospel requires. While pursuing this course, their painful apprehensions of divine wrath, have been gradually overbalanced by successive and increasing discoveries of their guilt and obstinate depravity of heart, until they have felt their entire dependence on the sovereign mercy of God to renew their hearts. While in this situation, they have generally been sensible of dreadful heart-risings against God and his government. Some have related, their feelings while in this situation, which were too dreadful to be repeated. Several have been on the borders of despair. They who have received comfort, look back on this, as the season of their greatest distress of soul, and it has often been so great, as very much to interrupt, and sometimes wholly to destroy their sleep, labor, and appetite for food. After continuing for some time in this state, oppressed with a sense of their desperate wickedness, many of them have been suddenly relieved from the anguish of their souls. Of these some have been immediately filled with great joy, and admiring views of the excellencies and perfections of God. Everything about them, even the natural creation, has appeared new, because declarative of the presence and agency of God, which they had never before regarded in this light. Others have, at first, only experienced a calm composure of mind, in which, without any sensible heart-risings against God, they have attentively contemplated his character and government—their own extreme vileness, and his sovereignty in the dispensations of his grace. They have seen and acknowledged the justice and fitness of his administrations, felt themselves wholly at his disposal, and consented that it should be so; but at the same time, had no sensible exercises or effusions of love, joy, or praise, and did not view themselves entitled to the promises of the gospel; but even found that they were losing their convictions. This state of mind has generally been followed in a few hours, or a few days, by an admiring sense of the excellency and glory of God, and a spirit of praise, love and comfort in him; sometimes excited by discoveries of Christ, and the glory of his work of redemption, and the fullness and sufficiency of his salvation; and at other times, by a view of the divine law, and the other various manifestations which God has made of his perfections. These exercises have suggested to their minds a hope that they are now born of God. Of this, however, none have appeared very confident at first; but their hopes have been expressed with caution, and have often been feeble and intermitting. As their religious exercises have been, by turns, more or less fervent, and, in their view, productive of obedience, their hopes have increased or diminished.
Many of them have observed, that the happiness which they have possessed in religious exercises, in respect to purity and sublimity, greatly exceeds all the sinful pleasures that they ever enjoyed. They appear to delight exceedingly in God, and their religion is to them a refreshing feast.
A number of those whose exercises have been here described, were formerly opposed to the doctrines of God’s decrees, and particular election; but are now without exception convinced of their truth and importance, and of the total depravity of the natural heart. Two or three were inclined to universalism, but have now abandoned those opinions, and view them as false and pernicious. One, in particular, was a confirmed universalist, and had been so for some years. He is a man about forty years of age, of a determined spirit, disposed to be confident in his own opinion, and to give little heed to the opinions of others in matters of religion. I shall here give an abstract of the account which he gave me of himself.
“I was,” said he, “a real universalist, and fully believed those sentiments. After the awakening began, I had some conversation with a religious neighbor on the subject, and left him with a sensible inquietude on my mind. I went home, took my Bible for relief, and turned to those texts which I had long considered as full proof of my sentiments; but on carefully reading and considering them, they did not appear so conclusive as they had done. I knew that I had no religion myself, and I determined that I would now attend to it, and repent, and believe on Christ, which I conceived could be easily accomplished, so that I might be safe, even though my sentiments concerning the salvation of all men, should not prove true. I set about the work, but in a few days relapsed into my old careless habits. A reflection on this gave me some alarm, and I resolved and entered on the business again and again, but to no better effect than before; until, at length, I felt in some measure my dependence on God to enable me to keep my resolutions. All this time, my confidence in universalism gradually grew weaker. I had now had much anxiety and concern of mind for several weeks, but remained opposed to the doctrines of the entire depravity of the carnal heart, divine sovereignty and election, till, on a certain day, I was alone on some business at a distance from my house, God discovered to me my own heart to that degree, that for a considerable time I can have no recollection of any circumstance or object about me. My attention was so entirely swallowed up by the dreadful discoveries of my own heart, that I know of nothing else which passed in my mind, until, at length, I found myself prostrate on the earth. I left the business, on which I went out, undone, and returned home with a heavy load on my mind, and was unable to do any business for several days. I got no relief, until, feeling my absolute dependence on the sovereign will of God to dispose of me as he should see fit, I resigned myself into his hands, sensible that if he should renew me, I should be saved; but if not, and if he should send me to hell, he would be perfectly just, and I should see it and know it forever.”
It was some days after this, and after he gave me this account of himself, that he first began to entertain a hope that he was interested in the promises of the gospel, though he had much comfort when he gave me this relation, and had set up the worship of God in his family, which till this time, he had always neglected; and he had taken pains to convince one whom he had led into the persuasion that all men will be saved, and has since visited others for the same purpose. But whether his conversion be genuine, must remain to be proved by its fruits, and perseverance in religion.
To the account given of this man, I will subjoin that of another—a man about fifty-six years of age, who had no great share of general information, or sociability. He had been very inattentive to religion, even in speculation, and had very much neglected public worship. When the awakening first began among us, this man had let himself out at work, in a neighboring town, but after two or three months he returned. He observed the great alteration that had taken place among the people, and was led by it to reflect on his own sinful and miserable condition, and became deeply impressed with a sense of his danger. From this time he constantly attended religious meetings, and soon acquired some just views of the state of the controversy between God and himself, and expressed his views with much feeling and propriety. Not long after, he manifested a spirit of submission to God. He was then asked whether he was willing that God should govern all things, according to his own good pleasure? He readily answered, “Yes, this is what I want.” It was replied, perhaps, if he should, he would cut you off. He answered, “Well, I won’t find fault with him if he does. I won’t say, I submit, and then find fault with him because he does not do with me as I wish he would.” He said these things with an emphasis and expression which cannot be copied, and which apparently bespoke the feelings of his heart. He remained for several weeks rejoicing in God, and in his government, and in the doctrines and duties of the gospel. His countenance was cheerful, and even his natural abilities, especially for free, social conversation, seemed to be enlarged, although at the time he had no idea he was a real Christian, or was entitled to the promises. His serious neighbors, indeed, considered him as one born again; and one of them supposing by the tenor of his conversation on religious subjects, that doubtless he considered himself a convert, requested him to state the reasons which made him suppose or hope that he was a Christian. He replied, “I don’t think I am one—I have no idea I am; but I hope I shall be.” Mention was made to him of the gracious promises which God had made to such as would cast themselves upon his mercy. He answered, “I choose that he should do with me as he thinks fit.” Since that time, by comparing his exercises with the Word of God, he has conceived a humble hope that he has real religion; and he continues to possess much joy and comfort, at the same time that a sense of his own vileness and unworthiness increases upon him. But he now says, that a sense of his vileness neither interrupts his happiness, nor leads him to dread the day of judgment, for his hope is Christ alone.