By the Rev. William F. Miller.
Previous to this uncommon seriousness which there has been among us, the cause of religion for many years had been in a low and declining state. In the month of February, 1799, I appointed a weekly conference, believing that the prevailing wickedness of the day called for extraordinary prayer to God. In the latter part of March, and the beginning of April, there appeared the small beginnings of more than ordinary attention to the things of God’s kingdom. Some were struck with a deep conviction of their sin and danger, and others were alarmed. This attention to religion continued to increase for several weeks, till it had become so general in the parish, that it was judged expedient to set up, in various parts of the society, several religious meetings. From this time, the house of God was filled on the Sabbath, and these weekly meetings in various parts of the parish were attended by from two hundred and fifty to three and four hundred people. No pains were spared to hear the gospel preached. All was solemn. There was no noise, or enthusiasm. Many might be seen, from time to time, melted into tears, from the impressive force of divine truth, set home upon their hearts, by a divine influence. They were convinced that they were truly wretched, and miserable, and unholy in the sight of God. They saw that they were, and always had been, the enemies of God. They had such a sense of the depravity of their hearts, as to be convinced that no power was sufficient to change them but the Almighty power of God. These convictions of soul made them sensible, that however much their hearts had been opposed to the doctrines of divine sovereignty, total depravity, and salvation by grace, yet they were thus depraved in heart, and that it was wholly in vain to hope for salvation in any other way. They now saw that if they were saved at all, it would be owing to the sovereign mercy of God. In the midst of these distressing fears and sorrows of soul, in many instances they were at once relieved by an instantaneous change of their views, when a new apprehension of the character of God, or of Christ, broke in upon their minds in a most sweet and glorious manner, in consequence of which they felt their enmity and opposition to the character of God, and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the law and the gospel, taken away; and they beheld such purity and goodness—such sweetness, beauty and glory in divine things, as filled their hearts with unspeakable joy. Overpowered with the greatness of the change, under the view which they then had of God and religion, they cried out, “What have we been about, that we have not been praising God before? O, we never knew what happiness is, till now.” Hitherto, among the hopeful converts, there has appeared a great uniformity in the prevailing temper of their minds. It has been evident that whosoever is born of God, loveth God, and Christ, and the law, and the gospel, and divine institutions. They continue to manifest a desire after the sincere milk of the word, to grow thereby in grace and knowledge; an attachment to the Holy Scriptures, and to gospel institutions; and an exemplary walk and conversation.
The particular experiences of the following individuals, may serve to illustrate the nature of the work.
A young woman, who for several weeks had been considerably awakened and alarmed, and who by strong temptations had been induced to strive against the convictions of her mind, was at length pricked in the heart with such distress, as compelled her in earnest to ask the way of salvation. She now reviewed her past life with a soul filled with horror. Her prayerless life—her many misspent Sabbaths—her former wrong motives in attending upon public worship, the prevailing wickedness of her heart, filled her with keen remorse. Lamenting her former mis-improvement of the Sabbath, she said, “I now wish for the return of the Sabbath more than I ever did for any amusement.” Thus impressed, she embraced all opportunities of public and private instruction, while her convictions increased. At length, hearing a sermon from these words, “What meanest thou, O sleeper? Arise, call upon thy God,” she was much affected with a sense that she had been no more awakened to call upon God for his pardoning mercy. Sleep fled from her eyes, and her soul was most of the night lifted up in cries to God. She continued in this state of distress about a fortnight. She had thought her preceding convictions as great as nature could endure; but now she found they were not to be compared with the present agonies of her soul. It seemed that nature must sink under the heavy burden, while she felt the weight of her guilt before God. In this distress, one day, while at prayer, her mind appeared to undergo a change, which was followed with such a delightful view of the holiness, justice and goodness of God, as filled her soul with unspeakable love to him, and brought her, as she hoped, to resign herself wholly to his sovereign disposal. Upon this ravishing view of the holiness and justice of
God, which broke in upon her soul, till then unsubdued, without thinking of its being a regenerating change, “In a moment,” she said, “the heavy load in my breast was removed. A sweet peace filled my soul. I burst out in rapture, I will forever bow and resign myself up to thee, a sinner as I am ! O, I have need to be humbled before thee! I have need to confess my sins to thee, and to be low before thee, guilty and vile as I am. But while thus humble and vile in my own eyes, my soul was filled with unspeakable joy—with such happiness as I never before experienced. My heart was filled with love and gratitude to God. I felt an unspeakable delight in him. It seemed to me that I never could sufficiently praise him. This was the happiest day of my life. O, I never knew what happiness was before.” The same day, greatly affected with what she had now experienced, she rode to see one of her sisters who lived several miles distant; and, as she rode, her mind was wholly engrossed with religion, and she relates, “It seemed to me that I enjoyed more happiness in half an hour, than I had ever enjoyed in my whole life before. The goodness and mercy of God, and the sufferings of Christ for sinners, were a feast to my soul. I was happy to be alone. I felt humbled and unworthy, but I saw a sufficiency in Christ, and felt that all the glory belonged to God.”
The experience of another woman, about thirty years of age, was as follows: For several years, she had rarely attended public worship anywhere. But she was now aroused to attend to divine things, by hearing much said about the present revival of religion in the parish—by seeing her sister under conviction, and hearing her converse upon religion; and by a lecture which she had attended in the neighborhood, and which had been set up after the commencement of the revival. For a few weeks, she kept her convictions wholly to herself. She was afraid to be seen reading the Bible, or to have it known that she was concerned for the salvation of her soul, lest she should be derided or be thought to pretend to more religion than other people. To hide her convictions from the eyes of the world, she spent all her spare time in a chamber by herself, in reading the Bible, and in prayer to God. For this purpose, she set up late at night, and rose at daylight in the morning. But the power of conviction increasing, her distress compelled her to ask for instruction and counsel. And although greatly burdened at the time, yet, after hearing the great doctrines of the gospel explained, she went away more sorrowful than she came. The evening following, she was struck with a still deeper sense of the greatness of her sins, and of the dreadful wrath of God revealed from heaven against the ungodly, upon hearing a sermon from these words, Rom. 3:19, “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law ; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” “While hearing this sermon,” she says, “it seemed to me just as though I stood before the judgment seat of Christ. I felt like a criminal. I never before had such an awful sense, of the guilt of my sins, though my distresses had been very great. My mouth was stopped, and I had nothing to say for myself. Such was the agony of my soul, that I slept but little that night. The next day and night, and the following forenoon, I spent chiefly in prayer to God and in reading the Bible. As I read 2 Cor. 5:17, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away, behold all things are become new,” my mind was, in a most surprising manner, brought to submit to God, and suddenly impressed with a delightful view of his great goodness and forgiving mercy, through the Lord Jesus Christ. My troubled soul was strangely eased of its sorrows. For a few minutes, a sweet calm, and a resignation to God’s will followed, till my mind was filled with inexpressible joy and rejoicing in God. It now seemed to me, that I could not refrain from praising God aloud. I longed to be by myself, away from everybody. I laid down the Bible, and went out into the field, speaking the praises of God; and there everything around me seemed to be praising him. I now saw his goodness in the spires of grass before me—in the trees—in the birds—in the heavens—in the shining sun—in the earth—in its abounding fullness of everything for the use of man,—and above all, in his long forbearance to such a sinner as I had been. I seemed to be in a new world, so different did everything now appear, as flowing from the goodness of God. For now his goodness appeared in everything. O, how could I sin as I have done against a God of such infinite goodness? It seemed that God and Christ could never be sufficiently praised. I now wanted to have everybody praise them. It seemed strange that my eyes had never been opened before. I now wondered how anybody could live without praising God. O, how vile I felt before God, as a sinner, dreadfully guilty and unworthy of his notice; and yet I felt unspeakably happy in praising him, as a holy and righteous God.”
This person, for nearly a year, has lived in a high state of religious enjoyment. She spends considerable time daily in reading the Bible and in prayer. She visits the sick with peculiar tenderness; and, at times, is greatly exercised for the salvation of others. Her distresses for the salvation of others have been so great, that she hardly knows how to account for them, while, in respect to herself, she feels so happy in the enjoyment of God. The Sabbath is her delight, and hearing the gospel her sweetest enjoyment.