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SURPRISING WORK OF GOD,
CONVERSION OF MANY HUNDRED SOULS,
AND THE NEIGHBOURING TOWNS AND VILLAGES OF NEW
HAMPSHIRE, IN NEW-ENGLAND;
Letter to the Rev. Dr. Colman, of Boston.
PREFACE BY THE FIRST EDITORS,
Dr. ISAAC WATTS, AND DR. JOHN GUYSE.
The friendly_correspondence which we maintain with our brethren of New England, gives us now and then the pleasure of hearing some remarkable instances of divine grace in the conversion of sinners, and some eminent examples of piety in that American part of the world. But never did we hear or read, since the first ages of christianity, any event of this kind so surprising as the present Narrative hath set before us. The Rev. and worthy Dr. Colman of Boston, had given us some short intimations of it in his letters ; and upon our request of a more large and particular account. Mr. Edwards, the happy and successful minister of Northampton, which was one of the chief scenes of these wonders, drew up this history in an epistle to Dr. Colman.
There were some useful sermons of the venerable and aged Ms. Wm. Williams, published late in New England, which were preached in that part of the country during this season of the glorious work of God in the conversion of men ; to which Dr. Colman subjoined a most judicious and accurate abridgment of this epistle : and a little after, by Mr. Edwards' request, he sent the original to our hands, to be communicated to the world under our care here in London.
We are abundantly satisfied of the truth of this narrative, not only from the pious character of the writer, but from the concurrent testimony of many other persons in New England; for this thing was not done in a corner. There is a spot of ground, as we are here informed, wherein there are twelve or fourteen towns and villages, chiefly situate in New Hampshire, near the banks of the river of Connecticut, within the compass of thirty miles, wherein it pleased God, two years ago, to display his free and sovereign mercy in the conversion of a great multitude of souls in a short space of time, turning them from a formal, cold, and careless profession of christianity to the lively exercise of every christian grace, and the powerful practice of our Boly religion. The great God has seemed to act over again the miracle of Gideon's fleece, which was plentifully watered with the dew of heaven, while the rest of the earth round about it was dry, and had no such remarkable blessing.
There has been a great and just complaint for many years among the ministers and churches in Old England, and in New, (except about the time of the late earthquake there) that the work of conversion goes on very slowly, that the spirit of God in his saving influences is much withdrawn from the ministrations of his word, and there are few that receive the report of the Gospel, with any eminent success upon their hearts. But as the Gospel is the same divine instrument of grace still, as ever it was in the days of the apostles, so our ascended Saviour now and then takes a special occasion to manifest the divinity of this gospel by a plentiful effusion of his spirit where it is preached: then sinners are turned into saints in numbers, and there is a new face of things spread over a town or a country. “ The wilderness and the solitary places are glad, the desert rejoices and blossoms as the rose ;” and surely concerning this instance we may add, that "they have seen the glory of the Lord there,
and the excellency of our God; they have seen the outgoings of God our King in his sanctuary.”
Certainly it becomes us, who profess the religion of Christ, to take notice of such astonishing exercises of his power and mercy, and give him the glory which is due, when he begins to accomplish any of his promises concerning the latter days : and it gives us further encouragement to pray, and wait, and hope for the like display of his power in the midst of us. The hand of God is not shortened that it cannot save, but we have reason to fear that our iniquities, our coldness in religion, and the general carnality of our spirits, have raised a wall of separation between God and us : and we may add, the pride and perverse humour of infidelity, degeneracy, and apostacy from the Christian faith, which have of late years broken out amongst us, seem to have provoked the spirit of Christ to absent himself much from our nation. “ Return, O Lord, and visit thy churches, and revive thine own work in the midst of us."
From such blessed instances of the success of the gospel, as appear in this narrative, we may learn much of the way of the Spirit of God in his dealing with the souls of men, in order to convince sinners, and restore them to his favour and his image, by Jesus Christ his Son. We acknowledge that some particular appearances in the work of conversion among men may be occasioned by the ministry which they sit under, whether it be of a more or less evangelical strain, whether it be more severe and affrighting, or more gentle and persuasive. But wheresoever God works with power for salvation upon the minds of men, there will be some discoveries of a sense of sin, of the danger of the wrath of God, and the all-sufficiency of his Son Jesus, to relieve us under all our spiritual wants and distresses, and a hearty consent of soul to receive him in the various offices of grace, wherein he is set forth in the holy scriptures. And if our readers had opportunity (as we have had) to peruse several of the sermons which were preached during this glorious season, we should find that it is the common plain Protestant doctrine of the Reformation, without stretching towards the Antinomians on the one side, or the Arminians on the other, that the spirit of God has been pleased to honour with such illustrious success.
We are taught also by this happy event how easy it will be for our blessed Lord to make a full accomplishment of all his predictions concerning his kingdom, and to spread his dominion from sea to sea, through all the nations of the earth. We see how easy it is for him with one turn of his hand, with one word of his mouth, to awaken whole countries of stupid and sleeping sinners, and kindle divine life in their souls. The heavenly influence shall run from door to door, filling the hearts and lips of every inhabitant with importunate inquiries, What shall we do to be saved? And how shall we escape the wrath to come? And the name of Christ the Saviour shall diffuse itself like a rich and vital perfume to multitudes that were ready to sink and perish under the painful sense of their own guilt and danger. Salvation shall spread through all the tribes and ranks of mankind, as the lightning from heaven in a few moments would communicate a living flame through ten thousand lamps and torches placed in a proper situation and neighbourhood. Thus a nation shall be born in a day when our Redeemer please, and his faithful and obedient subjects shall become as nuinerous as the spires of grass in a meadow newly mown, and refreshed with the showers of heaven. But the pleasure of this agreeable hint bears the mind away from our theme.
Let us return to the present narrative : It is worthy of our observation, that this great and surprising work does not seem to have taken its rise from any sudden and distressing calamity of public terror that might universally impress the minds of a people: here was no storm, no earthquake, no inundation of water, no desolation by fire, no pestilence or any other sweeping distemper, nor any cruel invasion by their Indian neighbours that might force the inhabitants into a serious thoughtfulness, and a religious temper by the fears of approaching death and judgment. Such scenes as these have sometimes been made happily effectual to awaken sinners in Zion, and the formal professor and hypocrite have been terrified with the thoughts of divine wrath breaking in upon them, Who shall dwell with everlasting burnings ? But in the present case the immediate hand of God in the work of his Spirit appears much more evident, because there is no such awful and threatening Providence attending it.
It is worthy also of our further notice, that when many profane sinners, and formal professors of religion have been affrighted out of their present carelessness and stupidity by some astonishing terrors approaching them, those religious appearances have not been so durable, nor the real change of heart so thoroughly affected : many of this sort of sudden converts have dropped their religious concerns in a great measure when their fears of the threatening calamity were vanished. But it is a blessed confirmation of the truth of this present work of grace, that the persons who were divinely wrought upon in this scasou continue still to profess serious religion, and to practise it without returning to their former follies.
It may not be amiss in this place to take notice, that a very surprising and threatening providence has this last year attended the people of Northampton, among whom this work of divine grace was so remarkable : which Providence at first might have been construed by the unthinking world to be a signal token of God's displeasure