An account of a Revival of Religion in Middlebury, Conn., in the years 1799 and 1800

By the Rev. Ira Hart.

This society is but lately formed, and I am the first settled minister. I am informed that some years since, there was a small revival of religion, and that several persons were added to the church. At the time of my settlement, while everything else appeared favorable, the spirit and power of vital piety seemed to be almost gone. There was a commendable and general punctuality in attending public worship on the Sabbath; but not that animation, that fixed, engaged attention and solemnity, which characterize those who tread the courts of the Lord, to be fed with the bread of life, and the waters of life. We had a number of praying families, but alas, too many in which the morning and evening sacrifice was not offered to God, and no supplication made by parents, for the gracious presence of the Redeemer with themselves and their children.

Several cases of discipline existed in the church, which required the tenderest management, and which lay upon the brethren as a heavy burden. All saw and acknowledged the evil, and longed to have it removed, but in the general inactivity and discouragement, and owing perhaps in some degree to the want of a settled minister, nothing effectual had been done. The church appeared timid, and some of the enemies of the cross exulted and cast reproach.

Returning home from some places where there was a revival, my mind became impressed with the idea that nothing so effectually kept off the divine blessing from us, as our neglect of those cases of discipline. The church was urged to proceed immediately, and being convinced that reformation must begin at the house of God, entered into the affair with spirit. In July a complaint was regularly exhibited, and a day for the trial appointed. A circumstance now took place, which showed that the Lord was with us. Though the accused, a man of about eighty years of age, appeared for some time not to regard the summons of the church, and though pains were taken to suppress the evidence, yet such was the power of God that he found no peace, till his heart melted, and he appeared and pleaded guilty to the complaint. His venerable appearance, his apparent deep-felt penitence and humility, rendered the scene peculiarly affecting to the church and to his own family. On his confession, which was public, he was restored to our charity and communion. It was indeed a solemn transaction, and seemed to interest the whole audience, and to make an impression highly favorable to religion.

Soon after, returning from a neighboring society, I called at his house. I perceived a stranger present, and a considerable alteration in the countenances of the family; but whether there was anything special, or whether their feelings were unfavorably excited, on account of my conduct in the late affair of discipline, I knew not. Judge, then, my agreeable surprise, when soon called upon by the mother to answer to her daughter and the stranger, the great question, what must we do to be saved? To this unexpected question I gave the Scripture answer, and soon found they were indeed pricked in the heart. And here, the late awakening with which a merciful and sovereign God hath visited us, may be properly said to begin. It was soon found that other members of the same family were in a similar state of conviction. This interposition of God was too striking to pass unnoticed. It manifested to the church, and to all, that the way of duty is the way of safety, and the way in which divine blessings are usually dispensed. It served to rouse the friends of Zion. They awoke from discouragement and declension; and their hearts and mouths began to be open on the subject of religion. It was judged proper, although in the most busy season of the year, immediately to appoint occasional lectures. These were first preached at private houses, but the number of hearers soon made it necessary to attend in the meeting-house. These lectures were several of them preached by neighboring ministers, to whom we are greatly indebted for their kind instructions and labors of love. New cases of conviction soon occurred in different parts of the society. The still small voice of God, here and there spake to sundry careless and secure sinners, causing great distress of mind, and most anxious inquiry after the way of escape from the wrath to come. Our lectures were seriously and solemnly attended. The Sabbath was a solemn day. In private companies, and in the corners of the streets, religion was the theme of conversation. Professing Christians confessed, with tears, their short comings in duty, and the wound the blessed Redeemer had received in the house of his friends. They looked back with grief and wonder upon themselves, and melted with contrition before God.

The aged and the young were agreed in saying, “it was never so seen in Israel.” The call for religious instruction was now so great, that it became necessary, besides the lectures, to establish conferences, which were attended by numbers with great seriousness and profit.

As several of the first cases were among the youth, a serious opposition was on the eve of commencing among some of the young people, who objected to the religious attention of their companions as calculated to destroy their amusements. On these they were bent. Take these away, they could almost say with Micah, “Ye have taken away my gods, and what have I more? “A merciful God interposed, and taught them that the work was his own. They wisely desisted, that they might not be found fighting against God. One young man, on the appearance of the religious concern among the youth, began profanely to ridicule those who were under distress of mind. In the midst of his career, he attended public worship on the Sabbath, and as he entered the gallery, God met him and pierced him with a sharp arrow of conviction. He stumbled to a seat, and amid the horrors of a guilty, awakened conscience, sat trembling in view of truth and the awful iniquity of his heart; and soon after testified to the excellency of that Saviour, and that religion, which he before despised. This providence was, I believe, generally received by the youth as an admonition from heaven. They gave up their vain amusements, crowded to conferences and lectures, and a goodly number of them have, as we charitably hope, been brought from darkness to light. It was indeed a glorious season—a season which will long be remembered by many precious souls, as the time of their espousals to Christ.

At the close of the year, I found the number of persons seriously impressed to be about seventy. Some had already obtained a hope of cordial reconciliation to God, through Jesus Christ; but many others refused to submit themselves to Christ on the terms of the gospel. To the number above mentioned, who appeared to be under great distress of mind, may probably be added many others, who were more or less alarmed, as there was an almost general appearance of seriousness and alarm throughout the society.

The awakening has embraced persons of almost all ages, from fifteen to sixty-five. Of the forty-one who have been admitted to the church, seventeen were young people, six males and eleven females. Of the whole number, there are seventeen males, and twenty-four females. Excepting the seventeen young persons, the remainder are mostly young heads of families. This gives a hopeful prospect that the rising generation will more extensively enjoy the great blessings of family prayer and religious instruction. These blessings, it is hoped, will be more highly valued than they have been, for a greater part of the convictions and hopeful conversions among us have existed in families of prayer, and where one or both of the parents were professing Christians. The sovereignty of God has been eminently displayed in this revival. Not those whom we expected, but whom God pleased, he called to repentance. One is taken, and another left. Great exertions and pains were bestowed on some, who yet remain unconcerned; while upon another, a transient remark, or the occasional quotation of a text of Scripture, in the hands of God, became effectual unto conviction and salvation.

From what God has done for us, it is thought, all churches may learn the importance and safety of faithfully maintaining the discipline which Christ has established for the recovery of his erring children. If the discipline of the church is conducted with the prudence, vigilance, and brotherly love which the case requires, the blessing of God may be confidently expected. To be continued next week…

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