REVIVAL IN NEW JERSEY
From a letter from Mr. Rowland, Minister at Hopewell, to Mr. Prince, Minister at Boston, printed at Philadelphia, 1745.
In answer to yours, I was sent forth to preach the gospel of Christ by the presbytery of New Brunswick, on September 7th, 1738, on which day the congregation of Maidenhead and Hopewell put in a supplication for me to the presbytery; and accordingly I complied therewith. In process of time we had the privilege of Maidenhead meeting-house, and my people built a meeting-house in Hopewell;
but, before this, we were constrained to keep our meetings in barns in both towns; and though we thus appeared as poor despised creatures, yet the congregation that attended my ministry was so numerous, that the largest barns among us were chosen to worship God in. It was some discouragement to me at first, that I and my people had no better places for divine worship; but at that time I thought on these things which proved of some support to me, viz. that our Lord and Saviour was born in a mean place, and likewise preached in the ship, and on the mountain, as well as in the synagogues, and that it had been the frequent lot of His people, to betake themselves to worship Him in places attended with many inconveniences. There is another town lying contiguous to Hopewell, which is called Amwell; the people there were something numerous likewise: and having none to labour among them in the word, they petitioned for a part of my time, viz. one Sabbath in three; and it was granted unto them; so that my labours among these three towns, for the most part of the time that I lived in the Jerseys, were equally divided. There was a small number in Hopewell and Maidenhead truly acquainted with vital religion, as far as I could judge, before I came among them, and they seemed so earnest in prayer, night and day, to have the gospel in power among them, as if they would take no denial. But of them who became my congregation in Amwell, there were but very few that knew the Lord Jesus when I came among them; yet, in many ways, they were a very agreeable people; so that I was much encouraged to labour among them.
The subjects which I chiefly insisted on for about six months, were conviction and conversion; and usually I made choice of the most rousing and awakening texts, to set forth the nature of these doctrines; and I have reason to hope that the Lord began to accompany His word in a measure from the very first. Some began to be convinced that they were in the way to misery, and unacquainted with the way to the kingdom of Heaven. But then let it be observed, that but one or two were taken with convictions at a
time, or under one sermon; for many months together their convictions were still increased, and the number of the convinced was still multiplied. I commonly preached in the night as well as in the day, and frequently on week-days also; so that they had hardly any opportunity to cast their convictions out of their thoughts, the Lord continuing to cooperate with His word. The frequent opportunities which I took to examine them were made very beneficial, through the divine blessing, to preserve their convictions alive until the time of grace, of which I shall speak afterwards. The attention of all in general was awakened; fathers, mothers, and the youth; some Negroes also seemed very earnest after the word, and were convinced thereby of their sin and misery, and that Christ they must have or perish for ever. *
The people of God were much enlivened to see poor sinners convinced of the perishing nature of their state, and their absolute need of Christ: their supplications to God were mostly bent for the conversion of sinners, and their conversation whenever they met together, (as far as I observed it, and frequent opportunities I had to observe it) savoured exceedingly of the things of God; so that I cannot say that I ever saw those pious people given to worldliness in their conversation, or to lightness and vanity in their discourses. Great was the love they bore to one or other, and sweet was the peace which subsisted among themselves; so that I was not interrupted from my work in making up differences among them.
In the month of May 1739,1 began to think that the most inviting and encouraging subjects would be the most agreeable to convinced souls; and accordingly I began with these words, John 11.28,29, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee. As soon as she heard that she arose quickly, and came unto him.” The discourse upon this subject was brought home, through the divine influence, upon the souls of many. Solemn weeping and deep concern appeared through the congregation: I had hopes that the hearts of some had been knit close to Jesus our Lord, which afterwards appeared to be so; of which more hereafter. I was still encouraged to go on, in inviting convinced sinners to come and embrace the person and purchase of the dear Lord Jesus. Then I made choice of that word in Matt. 22.4, “And all things are ready; come unto the marriage.” This was also blessed to poor convinced souls; they were brought under a full persuasion that Jesus, the Son of God, was ready and willing to embrace them with His everlasting favour, and to pardon their sins
and transgressions; but then they found more of their own hardness, and had a clearer view of their own unwillingness to come unto the Lord Jesus Christ, which increased their mourning and sorrow, and made them press forward with more living earnestness in search after Jesus Christ. A variety of other engaging subjects I made use of for a considerable time, to press them to a full closure with Jesus Christ. At length, by frequent converse among them, and enquiring strictly into the nature of the views they had of Christ, and the outgoings of their souls after Him, and their willingness to be ruled by Jesus Christ in their whole hearts and lives, I could not but be favourable in my thoughts of such, as persons favoured of the Lord.
I find, by reading what accounts I kept by me of the blessed work of grace which has been in these towns, that there was much good done by visiting, by which means I found out many that had been touched, of whom I had not well heard how it was with them, which gave me an opportunity to offer such things unto them, as might tend to fix these beginnings in their souls, and increase them. So likewise many were convinced of their lost state by nature. By particular examinations, I found likewise, that private examination of persons, as to their state and condition, is an excellent means to lay them open to conviction under the public word; and thus were some convinced in these towns.
The divine influence of the Spirit of God was very evidently afforded with His word, though not in every opportunity, yet in several, until May 1740, in which time many more were added unto the Lord’s people. Some of these opportunities, for clearness sake, I shall mention. One was in October 6th, 1739, in a night meeting; but the people not having been warned with sufficient care, there met but about fifteen persons, eleven of which were deeply convinced of their misery, and some of them cried out so very awfully, that I was constrained to conclude. After sermon, I took an opportunity to enquire of those persons, what was the real cause of their crying out in such a manner? Some of whom answered me, “that they saw hell opening before them, and themselves ready to fall into it.” Others answered me, “That they were struck with such a sense of their sinfulness, that they were afraid the Lord would never have mercy on them.”
Another of these opportunities was on December 30th, 1739. As to myself I felt exceeding poor in the frame of my soul; so that I thought I might well say, as in the words of the text I preached on that day. Is. 40.6, “What shall I cry?” But the Lord was pleased to manifest His grace and power exceedingly through the whole service. The people of God were much enlarged in love, to see that whatever gracious word was sent with power into their hearts, was sent from God; for the man knoweth not what to cry, without being
guided by the word and spirit. Some hardened creatures, who thought not much of religion, as if there was no reality in it, were deeply convinced by the truth, reality, and beauty of religion. Others who knew not well which way to walk, or what to choose, opposers I cannot call them, though they had not joined with our side: such, I say, as far as we could judge the tree by the fruit, were also convinced and converted under that discourse. Many youths were also wrought upon; so that I cannot say truly, that any remained untouched. Some of these persons were pleased to tell me, “That they never would forget this day, in which God had been so gracious unto them.” As to backsliders from convictions that were not converted, I shall afterwards speak of them. The night of the same day, being spent in public worship, (viz. the first part thereof) was attended with the same divine influence.
Another of these opportunities was in April 6th, 1740 in Maidenhead. The subject that was insisted on was the Gospel Net, from Matt. 13. Many who were not acquainted with the spiritual nature of the gospel in the least degree, as far as I found, were greatly bowed down, and brought to own that it was the Lord’s work which was carried on. The people, in general, through the whole assembly, seemed as if they were humbled before the Lord, which afterwards proved itself to be so. Without controversy, many of these slipped out of the net as fast as they could; yet many, blessed be God, were held in it by almighty power.
I come next to speak of the times of most remarkable power that I observed in these towns. It begun on this wise. There had been a weekday’s meeting in Maidenhead on July 24th, 1740. Worship seemed to be attended with much warmth of affection, which gave much encouragement to their minister again; for lukewarmness at this time had prevailed very much among some of the people; and the affections of some were much removed from others of their fellow-members; neither did they seem to have such a thirst for the Word of God as formerly. Things had come to this pass in about two months; but how astonishing is it to consider what sweet methods the Lord observed to remove them! For, as the people were passing homewards through the town after worship, some inclined to stop at one of the Christian houses; and the stopping of some occasioned others to stop, till the number was about forty; and when they were all sat in the house, that the time might be profitably spent, the first part of the fiftieth Psalm was sung, which seemed to be performed with unusual quickening. When singing was over, the same verses were explained at some length, and the Spirit of the Lord was pleased to work by it upon all that were present, as far as we could discern by the outward man, and much converse that was spent among them all in particular. In about an hour afterwards, the love
of God’s people that were present, was uncommonly inflamed to Jesus Christ, their views of His majesty and glory were much enlarged, their longings after Him much stirred up, and their fear of Him graciously increased; their zeal for God’s glory was kindled anew, and their concern for the cause of God seemed to receive much growth. And as to the unconverted that were present, we could not find otherwise, but that they had received very clear discoveries of their undone state by nature. This followed with the mighty power of God, in a sermon the next evening to a large congregation in the same town. And, in Amwell, July 27th, and in Maidenhead again on August 3rd, God was pleased to magnify His grace in visiting many poor sinners. In these opportunities He opened their eyes to see themselves without Christ, and without hope in the world; their convictions were attended with great horror and trembling, and loud weeping, which I supposed could not be stopped so easily as some do imagine; for I observed that many did continue crying in the most doleful manner along the road, in their way home; and it was not in the power of man to prevail with them to refrain. Furthermore, the Lord was pleased to add many more to my people, who used not to walk with them, of whom I hope it may be said, that they are growing in grace, and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. The seed of the Word was dropped into the hearts of others, who bore not much regard to the doctrine of the new birth which was preached among us, and did not spring up visibly until it was near three years after.
As to the issue of these convictions which I have last mentioned, I think it must be owned, that many of them were followed with a sound conversion, or else we must give up speaking anything as to any knowledge of grace in this life. Many backslid and became stiff-necked again, though I must say that I have not seen such backslidings in these towns as I have seen in many others; the instances are but few in them in comparison of what I have seen in most other places that I have been acquainted with. One great mean to prevent backsliding from convictions in Amwell was this: when the husband was taken, the wife was also taken, or when the wife was visited, the husband was also; so that they were ever stirring up each other. Many such instances are in the town of Amwell, upon which account that congregation appears to me peculiarly beautiful ; and, as to Maidenhead and Hopewell, I believe that one great mean that the Lord used there to prevent backsliding, was the care and diligence of some of the Christian people in conversing with the convinced; for several of the Christians were so engaged in deep concern for the work of God, that they could not rest satisfied until They had reason to hope that the souls who were convinced from one time to another, were also come through to sound conversion.
Respecting the nature of this work which I have been speaking of, it will appear yet more distinct, by giving some account of their experiences. And, first, I would speak something more to their convictions; they can give a very distinct account of sin, both original and actual; their views of heart corruption, their distance from God, and their having lived so long without him, were very clear and affecting; their hardness and unbelief, their ignorance and blindness pressed very close upon them; their need of Christ, and His Spirit, was such, in their apprehension, that there was no rest nor contentment to be taken in any thing here below, until they did obtain an interest in Jesus Christ, and receive His Spirit to purify and sanctify their hearts. There are a few among them, whose convictions were not attended with any considerable degree of horror; they were very watchful over themselves, lest they should receive false comfort, and so rest in ungrounded hopes; their hunger and thirst after Jesus Christ and His righteousness, and all His fulness, was very earnest, and their experience of it is very clear. Therefore they wanted the word preached often, and they would sit under it with great affection, waiting on the Lord. Their views of the Lord Jesus, in his person, nature, and offices, were very clear, and their acquaintance with the actings of their faith on Him, together with the out-going of their souls in love and affection towards Him. They can give a satisfying account of those things according to the holy scriptures. Their experience of a saving closure with Jesus Christ, and the sweet manifestations they had of Him in that time of spiritual marriage, were very glorious, and their affections have been often stirred afresh towards Jesus Christ, in meditating on, and speaking of the day of their espousals. They are careful to maintain a holy communion with God in the general course of their lives. I have seen some of them in considerable agonies when they have been under the hidings of God’s face; so that they could take no rest by any means, until the gracious Lord would be pleased to shine again upon them with the light of His countenance. They are properly diligent in the things of this life; yet they are ready to attend on the Word of God on any opportunity that offers to them on weekdays.
They still continue zealous for God and His truth; their walk is steady in the ways of God, and not unconstant and uneven. And, that I may conclude with Hopewell and Maidenhead, I would say, that Jesus Christ has gathered for Himself a blessed flock there;
and, however they may be vilified and scorned by those who have their portion in this life, yet I hope no less, but that they are precious with God, and shall be satisfied with the pleasures of His right-hand for evermore. Amen.
*Let none suppose, that, because I speak of convictions being still carried on, that I mean that sinners must be convinced to some high degree before they can be converted: I only mean, that this was the way which the Lord observed in carrying on his work, to keep sinners for a long time under conviction before He manifested his love to them.