The Spirit Moves among the People
The Surprising Work of God
In the latter part of December 1734, the Spirit of God began to set in extraordinarily and to work wonderfully among us. Very suddenly, one after another, five or six people were miraculously converted. I was particularly surprised by the story of a young woman who had been one of the greatest company-keepers in the whole town. When she came to speak with me, I had never heard that she was serious about anything. Yet by the conversation I then had with her, it appeared to me that what she gave an account of was a glorious work of God’s infinite power and sovereign grace. She told me that God had given her a new heart, truly broken and sanctified. I could not then doubt it, and I have seen much in my acquaintance with her since to confirm it.
Though the work in this woman’s life was glorious, I was filled with concern about the effect it might have on others. I was ready to conclude (though too rashly) that some people would be hardened by it in carelessness and looseness of life and that they would use it as a reason to open their mouths in reproach of religion. However, it worked in the opposite way to a wonderful degree. God made it, more than anything else that ever came to pass in the town, the greatest occasion of awakening to others.
Through my private conversations with many of the people, I have had abundant opportunity to know the effect this woman’s story had on them. The news of it seemed to be almost like a flash of lightning on the hearts of young people all over the town and on many others. Those people among us who used to be furthest from seriousness, and who I most feared would make a mockery of her story, seemed to be awakened by it. Many went to talk with the young woman concerning what she had met with; and what had come about in her seemed to satisfy all who spoke with her.
Soon after this, a great and earnest concern about the things of religion and the eternal world became universal in all parts of the town, among people of all social positions and all ages. The noise among the dry bones became louder and louder. (See Ezekiel 37: 1– 7.) Talk about anything besides spiritual and eternal things was soon thrown by the wayside. All the conversation, in all companies and on all occasions, was only about religious matters, unless it was necessary for people to discuss other matters in carrying on their ordinary secular business. Discourse on anything besides religion would scarcely be tolerated in any gathering. The minds of the people were wonderfully removed from the cares of the world.
The people seemed to follow their worldly business more as a part of their duty than from any attachment they had to it. It now seemed that the temptation was to neglect worldly affairs too much and to spend too much time in the exercise of religion. This was highly misrepresented by reports that were spread into other regions, which said that the people here had completely thrown aside all worldly business and had committed themselves entirely to reading the Bible and praying and such religious exercises.
Although people did not ordinarily neglect their worldly business, religion was the great concern among all sorts of people. The world was simply incidental to them. The only thing on their minds was to obtain the kingdom of heaven, and everyone appeared to be pressing into it. The fixedness of their hearts in this great concern could not be hidden; it was displayed on their faces. It, then, was a dreadful thing among us to without Christ, in danger every day of dropping into hell. Indeed, the people were intent on escaping for their lives and fleeing from the wrath to come (Matt. 3: 7).
The people eagerly took every opportunity they could find for their souls. They were inclined to meet together in private houses for religious purposes. Such meetings, when scheduled, were very crowded.
There was scarcely a single person in the town, old or young, left unconcerned with the great things of the eternal world. Those who were typically the vainest and loosest, and those who had been inclined to think and speak lightly of vital and practical religion, were now generally subject to great awakenings. The work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner, and it increased more and more. Souls came in flocks to Jesus Christ. From day to day, for many months at a time, sinners were brought out of darkness into marvelous light (1 Pet. 2: 9), delivered out of a horrible pit and from the miry clay, and set upon a rock with a new song of praise to God in their mouths (Ps. 40: 2– 3).
This work of God, as it went on and the number of true saints multiplied, soon made a glorious change in the town so that, in the following spring and summer of 1735, the town seemed to be full of the presence of God. It had never been so full of love and joy, and yet so full of distress, as it was then. There were remarkable signs of God’s presence in almost every household. It was a time of joy for families because salvation had been brought to them: Parents rejoiced over their children as if they had just been born, husbands rejoiced over their wives, and wives over their husbands. The workings of God were then seen in His sanctuary (Ps. 68: 24), the Lord’s Day was a delight (Isa. 58: 13), and His tabernacles were amiable (Ps. 84: 1).
Our public assemblies were then beautiful; the congregation was alive in God’s service, everyone earnestly intent on the public worship, every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister as they came from his mouth. From time to time, the assembly in general was in tears while the Word was preached, some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for the souls of their neighbors.
Our public praises were then greatly enlivened; God was glorified by our singing of psalms “in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 29: 2). Virtually no part of divine worship exceeded the singing of God’s praises, during which good men among us have drawn forth grace and have had their hearts lifted up in the ways of God. Earlier, our congregation had excelled in everything I knew about the external part of worship. The men generally carried three parts of the music, and the women sang a part by themselves. But, now, they were inclined to sing with unusual elevation of heart and voice, which made it pleasant indeed.
In all gatherings, on other days of the week and on all the occasions people came together, Christ was to be heard of and seen in the midst of them. Our young people, when they met, were inclined to spend the time in talking of the excellency and dying love of Jesus Christ; the glory of the way of salvation; the wonderful, free, and sovereign grace of God; the glorious work of God in the conversion of a soul; the truth and certainty of the great things of God’s Word; the sweetness of His perfections, and so on. Even at weddings, which formerly were occasions of only mirth and frivolity, there was now no discourse about anything but religion, and there was no appearance of any happiness outside of the spiritual kind.
Those among us who had been formerly converted were greatly enlivened and renewed with fresh and extraordinary touches from the Spirit of God. Of course, some were affected much more than others, according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Many, who had previously labored under difficulties about their own state, now had their doubts removed by more satisfying experiences and clearer discoveries of God’s love.
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