« PreviousContinue »
TO THE REV. DR. COLMAN.
Reverend and Honored Sir,
HAVING seen your letter to my honored uncle Williams, of Hatfield, of July 20, wherein you inform him of the notice that has been taken of the late wonderful work of God in this, and some other towns in this county, by the Rev. Dr. Watts and Dr. Guyse of London, and the congregation to which the last of these preached on a monthly day of solemn prayer ; as also of your desire to be more perfectly acquainted with it, by some of us on the spot : And having been since informed by my uncle Williams, that you desire me to undertake it ; I would now do it in as just and faithful a manner as in me lies.
The people of the county in general, I suppose are as sober, and orderly, and good sort ofpeople, as in any part of Newengland ; and I believe they have been preserved the freest by far, of any part of the country from error, and variety of sects and opinions. Our being so far within the land, at a distance from seaports, and in a corner of the country, has doubtless been one reason why we have not been so much corrupted with vice, as most other parts. But without question the religion, and good order of the country, and their purity in doctrine, has, under God, been very much owing to the great abilities, and eminent piety, of my venerable and honored VOL. III.
grandfather Stoddard. I suppose we have been the freest of any part of the land from unhappy divisions, and quarrels in our ecclesiastical and religious affairs, till the late lamentable Springfield contention.
We being much separated from other parts of the province, and having comparatively but little intercourse with them, have from the beginning, till now, always managed our ecclesiastical affairs within ourselves ; it is the way in which the country, from its infancy, has gone on by the practical agreeInent of all, and the way in which our peace and good order has hitherto been maintained.
The town of Northampton is of about eightytwo years standing, and has now about two hundred families ; which mostly dwell more compactly together than any town of such a bigness in these parts of the country ; which probably has been an occasion that both our corruptions and reformations have been, from time to time, the more swiftly propagated, from one to another, through the town. Take the town in general, and so far as I can judge, they are as rational and understanding a people as most I have been acquainted with : Many of them have been noted for religion, and particularly, have been remarkable for their distinct knowledge in things that relate to heart religion, and Christian experience, and their great regards thereto.
I am the third minister that has been settled in the town : The Reverend Mr. Eleazar Mather, who was the first, was ordained in July 1669. He was one whose heart was much in his work, abundant in labors for the good of precious souls ; he had the high esteem and great love of his people, and was blessed with no small success. The Rev. Mr. Stoddard who succeeded him, came first to the town the November after his death, but was not ordained till September 11, 1672, and died February 11, 1728-9. So that he continued in the work of the ministry here from his first coming to town, near sixty years. And as he was eminent and renowned for his gifts and grace ; so he was blessed, from the beginning, with extraordinary success in his ministry, in the conversion of many souls. He had five harvests as he called them : The first was about fiftyseven years ago ; the second about fiftythree years : the third about forty ; the fourth about twentyfour ; the fifth and last about eighteen years ago.
* The Springfield contention relates to the settlement of a Minister there, which occasioned too warm debates between some, both pastors and people that were for it, and others that were against it, on account of their different apprehensions about his principles, and about some steps that were taken to procure his ordination.
Some of these times were much more remarkable than others, and the ingathering of souls more plentiful. Those that were about fiftythree, and forty, and twentyfour years ago, were much greater than either the first or the last : But in each of them, I have heard my grandfather say, the greater part of the young people in the town, seemed to be mainly concerned for their eternal salvation.
After the last of these, came a far more degenerate time, (at least among young people) I suppose, than ever before. Mr. Stoddard, indeed, had the comfort before he died, of seeing a time when there was no small appearance of a divine work amongst some, and a considerable ingathering of souls, even after I was settled with him in the ministry, which was about two years before his death ; and I have reason to bless God for the great advantage I had by it. In these two years there were near twenty that Mr. Stoddard hoped to be savingly converted ; but there was nothing of any general awaken. ing The greater part seemed to be at that time very insensible of the things of religion, and engaged in other cares and pursuits. Just after my grandfather's death, it seemed to be a time of extraordinary dullness in religion : Licentiousness for some years greatly prevailed among the youth of the town; they were many of them very much addicted to night walking, and frequenting the tavern, and lewd practices, wherein some by their example exceedingly corrupted others. It was their manner very frequently to get together in conventions of both sexes, for mirth and jollity, which they called frolics ; and they would often spend the greater part of the night in them, without any regard to order in the families they belonged to : And indeed family government did too much fail in the town. It was become very customary with many of our young people to be indecent in their carriage at meeting, which doubtless would not have prevailed to such a degree, had it not been that my grandfather, through his great age, (though he retained his powers surprisingly to the last) was not so able to observe them. There had also long prevailed in the town a spirit of contention between two parties, into which they had for many years been divided, by which was maintained a jealousy one of the other, and they were prepared to oppose one another in all public affairs.
But in two or three years after Mr. Stoddard's death, there began to be a sensible amendment of these evils ; the young people shewed more of a disposition to hearken to counsel, and by degrees left off their frolicing, and grew observably more decent in their attendance on the public worship, and there were more that manifested a religious concern than there used to be.
At the latter end of the year 1733, there appeared a very unusual flexibleness, and yielding to advice, in our young people. It had been too long their manner to make the evening after the sabbath,* and after our public lecture, to be especially the times of their mirth, and company keeping. But a sermon was now preached on the sabbath before the lecture,to shew the evil tendency of the practice, and to persuade them to reform it ; and it was urged on heads of families, that it should be a thing agreed upon among them, to govern their families, and keep their children at home, at these times ;...and withal it was more privately moved, that they should meet together the next day, in their several neighborhoods, to know each other's minds: Which was accordingly done, and the motion complied with throughout the town. But parents found little or no occasion for the exercise of government in the case; the young people declared themselves convinced by what they had heard from the pulpit, and were willing of themselves to comply with the counsel that had been given : And it was immediately, and, I suppose, almost universally complied with ; and there was a thorough reformation of these disorders thenceforward, which has continued ever since.
* It must be noted, that it has never been our manner to observe the evenmg that follows the sabbath, but that which precedes it, as part of holy
Presently after this, there began to appear a remarkable religious concern at a little village belonging to the congregation, called Pascommuck, where a few families were settled, at about three miles distance from the main body of the town. At this place a number of persons seemed to be savingly wrought upon. In the April following, Anno 1734, there happened a very sudden and awful death of a young man in the bloom of his youth; who being violently seized with a pleurisy, and taken immediately very delirious, died in about two days; which (together with what was preached publicly on that occasion)much affected many young people. This was followed with another death of a young married woman, who had been considerably exercised in mind, about the salvation of her soul, before she was ill, and was in great distress, in the beginning of her illness; but seemed to have satisfying evidences of God's saving mercy to her, before her death ; so that she died very full of comfort, in a most earnest and moving manner, warning and counselling others. This seemed much to contribute to the solemnizing of the spirits of many young persons; and there began evidently to appear more of a religious concern on people's minds.
In the fall of the year, I proposed it to the young people, that they should agree among themselves to spend the evenings after lectures, in social religion, and to that end to divide themselves into several companies to meet in various parts of the town ; which was accordingly done, and those meetings have been since continued, and the example imitated by elder people. This was followed with the death of an elderly person, which was attended with many unusual circumstances, by which many were much moved and affected.
About this time began the great noise that was in this part of the country, about Arminianism, which seemed to appear with a very threatening aspect upon the interest of religion here. The friends of vital piety trembled for fear of the issue ; but it seemed, contrary to their fear, strongly to be overruled for the promoting of religion. Many who looked on themselves