Alvan Hyde, D. D.
One Church's History of Revival
Congregational Church, Lee, Massachusetts
Key Thought: Pastor Hyde enjoyed multiple revivals in his church, and saw over 600 people join. His accounts are simple and easy to understand, and convey the solemn and holy joy his church enjoyed in these seasons of revival. I wish I could have every pastor read this letter. Just the reading could bring revival to many churches!
One Church's History of Revival
Lee, March 22d, 1832.
In compliance with your particular request, I now commence a concise narrative of the work of God's Holy Spirit, in reviving religion, at several periods, among the people of my pastoral charge. Conscious of the many defects which have been attached to my ministry, I engage in this service with diffidence, and yet I humbly hope, with a sincere desire, that the great Head of the church may thereby be glorified. What I shall communicate, will be a simple and unvarnished statement of facts, which my own eyes have seen and my own ears have heard, taken from minutes which I made, at the time they occurred. These facts will develop the astonishing mercy of God to a guilty people, and to the unworthy instrument, who has stood for so many years as their spiritual teacher and guide. It will be seen, as I proceed in the narrative, what doctrines were preached, and what means and measures were adopted, both before these revivals commenced, and while they were in progress.
The first season of “refreshing from the presence of the Lord," which this people enjoyed, commenced in June 1792, a few days after the event of my ordination. There was, at this time, no religious excitement in this region of country, nor had I knowledge of there being a special work of God's grace in any part of the land. The church here was small and feeble, having only twenty-one male members belonging to it. It was, however, a little praying band, and they were often together, like the primitive Christians, continuing with one accord in prayer. Immediately on being stationed here, as a watchman, I instituted a weekly religious conference, to be holden on each Wednesday, and, in succession, at the various school houses in the town. These were well attended in every district, and furnished me with favorable opportunities to instruct the people, and to present the truths of the gospel to the old and young in the most plain and familiar manner. This weekly meeting has been sustained to the present time, without losing any of its interest; and when I have been at home, has carried me around the town, as regularly as the weeks have returned.
With a view to form a still more particular acquaintance with the people committed to my charge, I early began to make family visits in different sections of the town. These visits, of which I made a number in the course of a week, were improved wholly in conversing on the great subject of religion, and in obtaining, with as much correctness as I could, a knowledge of their spiritual state, that my instructions on the sabbath, and at the weekly meetings, might be better adapted to their case. This people had been for nine years without a pastor, and were unhappily divided in their religious opinions. Some were Calvinists, and favored the church, but the largest proportion were Arminians. And as they had been in the habit of maintaining warm disputes with each other on the doctrines of the bible, I calculated on having to encounter many trials. Contrary to my expectations, I found, on my first visits, many persons of different ages, under serious and very deep impressions, each one supposing his own burdens and distresses of mind, on account of his sins, to be singular, not having the least knowledge that any others were awakened. It was evident, that the Lord had come into the midst of us in the greatness of his power, producing here and there, and among the young and old, deep conviction of sin, and yet it was a still small voice. A marvelous work was begun, and it bore the most decisive marks of being God's work. So great was the excitement, though not yet known abroad, that into whatever section of the town I now went, the people in that immediate neighborhood, would leave their worldly employments, at any hour of the day, and soon fill a large room. Before I was aware, and without any previous appointment, I found myself, on these occasions, in the midst of a solemn and anxious assembly. Many were in tears, and bowed down under the weight of their sins, and some began to rejoice in hope. These seasons were spent in prayer and exhortation, and in conversing with the anxious, and with such as had found relief, by submitting themselves to God, adapting my instruction to their respective cases. This was done in the hearing of all who were present. Being then a youth, who had seen but twenty-four years, and inexperienced, I felt weak indeed; and was often ready to sink under this vast weight of responsibility. But the Lord carried me along from one interesting scene to another. I was governed, in my movements, by what appeared to me to be the exigencies of the people.
As yet there had been no public religious meeting, excepting on the sabbath. A weekly Lecture, at the meeting-house, was now appointed, to be on Thursday, and though it was in the most busy season of the year, the house was filled. This Lecture was continued for more than six months, without any abatement of attention; in sustaining which, I was aided by neighboring ministers, and by numbers from a distance, who came to witness this display of sovereign grace. The former disputes of the people, respecting religious sentiments, in a great measure, subsided, their consciences seeming to testify in favor of the truth. The work spread into every part of the town, and what was worthy of special notice, it was entirely confined within the limits of the town, excepting in the case of a few families, which usually attended public worship with us, from the borders of the adjacent towns. Especially powerful was the work among those, who had taken their stand in opposition to the small church, and the distinguishing doctrines of grace. Many of this class were convinced, that they had always lived in error and darkness, and in a state of total alienation from God. They were compelled, notwithstanding their former hatred of the prominent truths of the gospel, to make the interesting inquiry, what shall we do to be saved?
The truths which I exhibited in my public discourses, and in the many meetings between the sabbaths, were in substance the following:—the holiness and immutability of God; the purity and perfection of his law; the entire depravity of the heart, consisting in voluntary opposition to God and holiness; the fulness and all-sufficiency of the atonement made by Christ; the freeness of the offer of pardon, made to all, on condition of repentance; the necessity of a change of heart, by the Holy Spirit, arising from the deep-rooted depravity of men, which no created arm could remove; the utter inexcusableness of sinners, in rejecting the kind overtures of mercy, as they acted freely and voluntarily in doing it; and the duty and reasonableness of immediate submission to God. These are some of the truths, which God appeared to own and bless, and which, through the agency of the Spirit, were made "quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword."
All our religious meetings were very much thronged, and yet were never noisy or irregular, nor continued to a late hour. They were characterized with a stillness and solemnity, which, I believe, have rarely been witnessed. The converts appeared to renounce all dependence on their own doings, feeling themselves entirely destitute of righteousness, and that all their hope of salvation was in the mere mercy of God in Christ, to whom they were willing to be eternal debtors. To the praise of sovereign grace I may add, that the work continued, with great regularity and little abatement, nearly eighteen months. In this time, as appears from the records of the church, one hundred and ten persons of different ages, united themselves unto the Lord and his covenant people. All these were examined in the presence of the church, and were received, on the ground of their professing to have experienced a change of heart, and to have passed from death unto life. They appeared to exhibit the fruits of the spirit, and to exemplify the religion of Jesus in their subsequent lives. The instances of apostasy have been but few. Many of them have finished their course, and entered into the joy of their Lord. They gave evidence of enduring to the end, and of departing this life, in the triumphs of faith. Others remain to this day “burning and shining lights" in the church, some in this town, and some in the new settlements.
This revival of religion produced a surprising change in the religious sentiments and feelings of the people, and in the general aspect of the town. It effected a happy union; a union, which to an unusual extent, has continued to the present time. After the shower of grace had passed over, divine influences were not altogether withholden, nor did the people lose their relish for religious meetings. Insulated conversions to the cross and standard of the Redeemer, strongly marked as being genuine, frequently occurred. In the six following years, forty-two were added to the church, including some, who came from other churches.
In the year 1800, we were again favored with special tokens of God's presence, in a work of the Holy Spirit. This display of sovereign grace was witnessed soon after I commenced a weekly religious conference, with particular reference to the young people; and it was noticed, that the subjects of the work were confined almost wholly to those who attended this conference. As in the former revival, I explained and enforced the doctrines of the gospel, showing the youth, who flocked together in great numbers, that sinners had brought ruin upon themselves, and were awfully guilty and justly condemned, and that all their hope of salvation was in a crucified Saviour. Prayer and praise accompanied this instruction. No attempts were made to produce an excitement, only in view of the plain truths of the gospel. The great body of the people, as they did not attend on these means, were not affected and solemnized, as they were in the first revival; but the convictions of the awakened were clear, rational and pungent, and those who received comfort, appeared understanding to embrace the soul-humbling doctrines of the cross, and to be renewed in the temper of their minds. This revival occasioned an accession to the church of twenty-one persons, the most of whom were between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four.
A few years now passed, in which we had no revival; but many of our religious meetings were continued, and well attended, nor were we without evidence of the bestowment of God's special mercy, in rescuing sinners from deserved wrath. In this time twenty-nine persons, including a few who brought letters, were added to the church.
In September 1806, the Lord graciously visited us again. This season of the outpourings of his Spirit followed the death of a youth, a respectable and promising young man, who had been for several years, a constant attendant on the conferences of young people, and had acquired an uncommonly good understanding of the doctrines of Christianity. His death, which took place, when at a distance from home, was unexpected; and his appearance, in the last days of his life, was peculiarly calculated to arouse the attention of his youthful companions. It pleased a sovereign God to accompany this providence, by the influences of the Holy Spirit. The effect was immediately visible and remarkable. On the sabbath succeeding the arrival of the afflictive intelligence, I preached to a crowded assembly from Heb. xi. 4. “He being dead, yet speaketh." It was indeed a memorable sabbath to many of this people. That divine influences were shed down upon us, that day, none could doubt. The solemn stillness and the flowing tears from many eyes evinced the presence of the Holy Spirit. More than twenty persons, who soon after exhibited evidence of having bowed in humble submission at the feet of Jesus, dated the commencement of their serious impressions, at that time. This work, in its progress, resembled a plentiful shower from a small cloud. It was powerful and refreshing indeed in one part of the town, affecting more or less in almost every family, before any deep impressions were noticed in other parts of the town. Eventually the work spread in some measure; but the most of the shower was apparently received, where divine influences first began to fall. The season was precious, and was continued to us about a year. Our meetings were the same as before, and they were characterized with the same stillness and solemnity. Many new family altars were erected, and many were embraced as the disciples of Jesus, who had practically set him at nought. During this revival, and soon after it, seventy-one persons were received to the communion of the church.
The six following years were years of coldness and spiritual dearth in the church, and of uncommon stupidity among the people. During this time twenty-two only were gathered into the church. We seemed to be ripening fast for the judgments of God.
It is proper, in this place, to mention what might have been introduced before, that the church, males and females, were frequently called together for the express purpose of uniting in prayer, whether we were favored with special divine influences or not. Many such meetings have been attended, in the course of every year of my ministry. On these occasions, the church have been by themselves, confessing their sins, and imploring God to build up Zion. I have always been present, and the brethren, as they have been called upon by the pastor, have readily taken an active part, and led in these solemn devotions. These meetings have been very precious, and when closed, I have often heard the members say, “It is good to be here." They have been the means of keeping religion alive in the church, and of promoting brotherly love and union. We have also been in the practice of observing whole days of Fasting and Prayer in the church, giving opportunity to any of the people, who were disposed, to attend with us. Great numbers have usually attended on these occasions, beside the members of the church, and God has appeared to bless these efforts. Many have acknowledged, that they felt their first convictions of sin at these meetings.
In 1813, soon after a distressing and mortal sickness, which, in a short time, swept off many of the inhabitants, God returned to us again in mercy. His special presence, in the gift of the Holy Spirit, was manifestly with us until sometime in the year following. We enjoyed another little harvest of souls. The same weekly meetings, in which prayer was a principal exercise, were continued, and the same course of instruction was pursued. As fruits of this work of the Lord, twenty persons were added to the church.
During the next seven years, though we were not favored with such tokens of mercy, as might be denominated a revival, (for stupidity greatly prevailed,) yet there were many insulated cases of awakening and hopeful conversion. Our meetings, on the Lord's day, continued to be full, and all other meetings were attended with interest. In this time seventy-six persons were received into the church, fifty-two from the world, and twenty-four by letter.
In the summer of 1821, there was an evident increase of solemnity in the church and congregation, and some individuals were known to be anxious for their souls. This appearance continued for several weeks, under the same means of grace, which the people had long enjoyed, but none were found who rejoiced in hope. The church often assembled together for prayer, and in the month of August, we observed a day of Fasting and Prayer. The meeting-house was well filled, and deep solemnity pervaded the congregation. The hearts of many seemed to “burn within them," and there were increasing indications from the rising cloud “of abundance of rain." We began to hear from one and another a new language, the language of submission to God.
At this interesting crisis, the Rev. Asahel Nettleton spent a few days with us. He preached five sermons to overflowing assemblies, and his labors were remarkably blessed. The Spirit of God came down upon us, “like a rushing mighty wind." Conversions were frequent, sometimes several in a day, and the change in the feelings and views of the subjects was wonderful. At the suggestion of Mr. Nettleton, I now instituted what are called inquiring meetings. More than a hundred persons attended the first. These meetings, as I found them to be convenient, were continued through this revival; and I have ever since made use of them, as occasion required, sometimes weekly, for many months in succession. The church have always been requested to assemble for prayer, in the upper room of a large school-house, in which the inquiring meetings have been attended. While the church have been engaged in prayer, a sufficient number of the brethren have been with the pastor to converse, in a low voice, with every individual in the inquiring room, giving opportunity for each one to make known the state of his feelings. This has been followed by instruction addressed to them all, and adapted to their cases, and by prayer. The ruined and helpless state of sinners, the exceeding wickedness of their hearts, and the awful consequences of neglecting the great salvation, have been explicitly stated, on these occasions, and pressed on the minds of the inquirers. They have not been directed to take any steps preparatory to their accepting of Christ, but being acquainted with the nature and terms of the gospel, repentance toward God, and faith in Him, “who came to seek and to save that which was lost," have been enjoined upon them, as their immediate duty and only safe course. No language can describe the deep feeling, which has been manifested at some of these meetings.
The work of the Holy Spirit in 1821, was continued to us until the close of the year. Many young heads of families, and others in the midst of life were among the happy subjects. The church received an accession of eighty-six persons as fruits of this revival.
Between this revival, and that which took place in 1827, the church received only twenty-four, and nearly half of these were recommended to us from sister churches. The seasons of prayer in the church were frequent, and occasionally whole days of Fasting and Prayer, which all the people were invited to attend, were observed. The church also, by a large committee, selected from their body, visited every family in the town, and conversed with parents and children and domestics on the concerns of their souls, and their prospects for eternity, closing these interviews with prayer. This has been repeatedly done, within the last ten years, and sometimes the whole has been accomplished in one day. The people have been publicly notified, on the sabbath, of the particular day on which these visits were to be made, and the brethren appointed for this labor of love have had their respective districts assigned them. These have been solemn days, pre-eminently days of prayer in every part of the town, and profitable both to the brethren, who made the visits, and to the people who received them. The almighty and sovereign power of God was remarkably displayed, evincing the truth of his own declaration, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." This revival was followed by an accession to the church of forty-four persons.
On the sabbath preceding the first day of the year 1827, I invited the people, as had been our practice, to assemble, at the rising of the sun, in the sanctuary for the purpose of prayer and praise to that God, who had been our Preserver, and on whom we were dependant for all our blessings. Several hundreds convened, at that early hour, and some came from a distance of two and three miles. An uncommon interest was evidently felt in the meeting. Another display of the all-conquering grace of God commenced, which was extensive and very powerful. This work of the Holy Spirit continued through the winter and spring. Many stubborn hearts were bowed, and not a few of the subjects were from that class of people, who appeared to be far from righteousness. In the course of a few months, it was found that thirty new domestic altars were erected, and many of them near the house of God, and erected by a number of our active, businessmen. As the fruits of this revival, one hundred and twenty-five were added to the church.
During the next four years, we received fourteen into the church, the most of whom were from the world.
In the year 1831, which was a year memorable for the effusions of the Spirit, in almost every part of our land, this people were not passed by. In the fore part of this year, it pleased God again to arrest the attention of many. For a number of months, the excitement was very great, and our meetings were frequent, crowded and solemn. Some instances of conversion early occurred, which were more striking than any we had ever witnessed. The almighty and sovereign power of God was remarkably displayed, evincing the truth of his own declaration, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” This revival was followed by an accession to the church of forty-four persons.
The whole number received into the church, during my ministry, is six hundred and seventy-four. None of these have presented themselves for examination, under two and three months, after they began to cherish a hope of having passed from death unto life, and many have chosen to wait longer. Whenever we have been favored with a season of the outpourings of the Spirit, meetings have been appointed with particular reference to the young converts, at which they have been freely conversed with, respecting the ground and reason of their hope, and they have had opportunity to test their characters, by having the great truths of the gospel presented clearly to their view. They have been warned of the danger of being deceived. The Confession of Faith has also been read and explained to them, and their full assent to it has been obtained, before they offered themselves to the church.
In all the revivals, of which I have given a brief account, it has been evident, that God and not man has selected the subjects of renewing grace; yet a large proportion have been taken from religious families. In some instances, heads of families, with their children and children's children, sit together at the table of the Lord.
I would here remark, that several praying meetings have been sustained in this town wholly by the female members of the church, and I have had no doubts of their utility. They have been the means of quickening those, who have attended them. What rich blessings these prayers may have drawn down upon us will be known in the great day, which is approaching. But while I have rejoiced in knowing such meetings were holden, I have never countenanced the praying of women, in promiscuous assemblies, whether great or small, from a full conviction, that the practice is contrary to the spirit of God's word. Neither have I seen it to be proper, even in seasons of the greatest excitement, to call upon impenitent sinners, either in our public meetings, or in the inquiring room, to manifest their determination to seek religion, or to give any pledge that they would do it. This would be inconsistent with the views I entertain of the depravity of the heart. It would be a departure from the practice of Christ and his apostles. In their preaching, they inculcated repentance and submission to God, as the immediate duty of sinners.
Though all, who have been received into this church, have not appeared equally well, as being devoted and established Christians, yet, generally speaking, they have exhibited evidence, in their walk, of a moral change, and of being on the Lord's side. We have had frequent calls for the exercise of Christian discipline. Some of the members have been led publicly to confess their faults, from a consciousness of their having brought reproach on the precious cause of Christ, and some, refusing to be reclaimed, have been cut off from our communion. The number of the latter is small.
In conclusion, I will say, and I feel a pleasure in saying it, that the church have manifested a commendable zeal and liberality in supporting the various charitable institutions of the day, and in promoting the cause of temperance, which, for a few years past, has been regarded as a subject of the deepest interest to the cause of the Redeemer and to our country.
My only apology for the length of this letter is, that I have taken a survey of the labors and events of forty years. From, Rev. Sir, your brother in Christ,
Alvan Hyde, Pastor of a Congregational Church in Lee, Massachusetts.