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especially at weddings, a vain and frothy lightness was apparent in the deportment of many professors; and in some places very extravagant follies, as horse running, fiddling and dancing, pretty much obtained."
Thus,”—continues Mr. Blair—“religion lay as it were dying, and ready to expire its last breath of life in this part of the visible church. I had some view and sense of the deplorable condition of the land in general; and accordingly the scope of my preaching through that first winter after I came here was mainly calculated for persons in a natural unregenerate estate. I endeavoured, as the Lord enabled me, to open up and prove from his word, the truths, which I judged most necessary for such as were in that state, to know and believe, in order to their conviction and conversion. I endeavoured to deal searchingly and solemnly with them, and, through the blessing of God, I had knowledge of four or five brought under deep convictions that winter.
Mr. Blair made a journey to East Jersey in March 1740. A neighbouring minister, whose name he does not give-supposed to be either Mr. Craighead, afterwards famed in North Carolina, or Mr. Gillespie," who appeared to be earnest for the awakening and conversion of secure sinners,” preached the next Sabbath in his charge, from the words in Luke xiii. 7th. Then said he to the dresser of his vineyard, behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none, cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground-Under that sermon great feeling was expressed, -"Some burst out with an audible noise into bitter crying; a thing not known in these parts.” The news of this appearance of deep concern met Mr. Blair a hundred miles from home, and rejoiced his heart. Hastening home he preached from Matthew vi. 33d, Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and while he was pressing the unconverted with reasons why they should seek the kingdom and righteousness of God, he offered as one reason—" that they had neglected too—too long—to do so already”—many could not contain themselves but burst out into the most bitter mourning. Checking this outburst of feeling he finished his discourse.
One young man came to converse with him on his soul's concerns, who had been a light merry youth. He said he had heard the sermon from Luke-cut it down-without concern. On the next day—“he went to his labour which was grubbing, in order to clear some new ground; the first grub he set about was a pretty large one, with a high top, and when he had cut the roots, as it fell down, those words came instantly to his remembrance, and as a spear to his heart,—Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground-So thought he must I be cut down by the justice of God, for the burning of hell, unless I get into another state than I am now in. He thus came into very great and abiding distress, which, to all appearance, has had a happỳ issue, his conversation being to this day as becomes the gospel of Christ."
Mr. Blair goes on to say—“I think there was scarcely a sermon, or lecture preached here through that whole summer, but there was manifest evidence of impressions on the hearers, and many times the impressions were very great and general; several would be overcome and fainting; others deeply sobbing hardly able to contain, others crying in a most dolorous manner, many others more silently weeping, and a solemn concern appearing in the countenances of many others. And sometimes the soul exercises of some, though comparatively but few, would so far affect their bodies as to occasion some strange, unusual bodily motions. I had opportunities of speaking particularly with a great many of those who afforded such outward tokens of inward soul concern in the time of public worship and hearing of the word; indeed many came to me of themselves in their distress, for private instruction and counsel; and I found, so far as I can remember, that, with far the greater part, their apparent concern in public was not just a transient qualm of conscience, or merely a floating commotion of the affections; but a rational fixed conviction of their dangerous perishing estate. They could generally offer, as a convictive evidence of their being in an unconverted miserable estate,that they were utter strangers to those dispositions, exercises, and experiences of soul in religion, which they heard laid down from God's word as the inseparable characters of the truly regenerate people of God; even such as before had something of the form of religion; and I think the greater number were of this sort, and several had been pretty exact and punctual in the performance of outward duties. They saw that true practical religion was quite another thing, than they had conceived it to be, or had any true experience of.
“In this congregation, I believe there were very few that were not stirred up to some solemn thoughtfulness and concern more than usual about their souls. I'hose awakened were much given to reading in the Holy Scriptures and other good books. Excellent books, that had lain by much neglected, were then much perused, and lent from one to another, and it was a peculiar satisfaction to people to find how exactly the doctrines they heard daily preached, harmonize with the doctrines maintained and taught by great and godly men in other parts and former times."
“ There was an earnest desire in people after opportunities for public worship and hearing of the word. I appointed in the spring to preach every Friday through the summer when I was at home, and those meetings were well attended, and at several of them the power of the Lord was remarkably with us. The main scope of my preaching, through that summer, was laying open the deplorable state of man by nature since the fall, our ruined and exposed case by the breach of the first covenant,—and the awful condition of such as were not in Christ,-giving the marks and characters of such as were in that condition and moreover laying open the way of recovery in the new covenant, through a Mediator, with the nature and necessity of faith in Christ, the Mediator. I laboured much on the last mentioned heads, that people might have right apprehensions of the gospel method of life and salvation. I treated much on the way of a sinner's closing with Christ by faith, and obtaining a right peace to an awakened wounded conscience,--showing that persons were not to take peace to themselves on account of their repentings, sorrows, prayers, and reformations, nor to make these things the ground of their adventuring themselves upon Christ, and his righteousness, and of their expectations of life in him;—and that neither were they to obtain or seek peace in extraordinary ways, by visions, dreams, or immediate inspirations ;—but by an understanding view and believing persuasion of the way of life, as revealed in the gospel, through the suretyship, obedience, and sufferings of Jesus Christ, with a view of the suitableness and sufficiency of that mediatory righteousness of Christ for the justification and life of law condemned sinners; --and thereupon freely accepting him for their Saviour, heartily consenting to, and being well pleased with, that way of salvation ;-and venturing their all upon his mediation, from the warrant and encouragement afforded of God thereunto in his word, by his free offer, authoritative command, and sure promise to those that so believe. I endeavoured to show them the fruits and evidences of à true faith."
After some time, many professed faith in Christ, and expressed a hope that their sins were forgiven. The evidences they gave of true conversion, are stated by Mr. Blair. “It was very agreeable to hear their accounts, how that, when they were in the deepest perplexity and darkness, distress and difficulty, seeking God as poor condemned hell deserving sinners, the sense of the recovering grace, through a Redeemer, has been opened to their understandings, with a surprising beauty and glory, so that they were enabled to believe in Christ, with joy unspeakable and full of glory. It appeared that most generally the Holy Spirit improved for this purpose, and made use of some one particular passage or another of the holy Scripture, that came to their remembrance in their distress, some gospel
offer or promise, or some declaration of God directly referring to the recovery and salvation of undone sinners, by the new
But with some it was otherwise, they had not any one particular place of Scripture more than another, in their view at the time."
“Much of their exercise was in self-abasing, self-loathing, and admiring the astonishing condescension and grace of God towards such vile and despicable creatures, that had been so full of enmity and disaffection to him ;—then they freely and sweetly, and with all their hearts, chose the ways of his commandments :-their inflamed desire was to live to him forever, according to his will and the glory of his name.
There were others that had not had such remarkable relief and comfort, who yet I could not but think were savingly renewed, and brought truly to accept of, and rest upon, Jesus Christ, though not with such a degree of liveliness and liberty, strength and joy; and some of these continued for a considerable time after, for the most part under a very distressing suspicion and jealousy of their case.'
“I was all along very cautious of expressing to people my judgment of the goodness of their state, excepting where I had pretty clear evidences from them, of their being savingly changed, and yet they continued in deep distress, casting off all their evidences;-sometimes, in such cases I have thought it needful to use greater freedom that way than ordinary ;-but otherwise I judged that it could be of little use, and might readily be hurtful.”
“There were some, who having very little knowledge or capacity, had a very obscure and improper way of representing their case.
In relating how they had been exercised, they would chiefly speak of such things as were only the effects of their soul's exercises upon their bodies, from time to time; and some things that were just imaginary, which obliged me to be at much pains in my inquiries, before I could get just ideas of their case. I would ask them, what were the thoughts, the views, and apprehensions of their minds, and exercises of their affections at such times, when they felt, perhaps a quivering come over them, as they had been saying, -or a faintness,-or thought they saw their hearts full of some nauseous filthiness, or when they felt a heavy weight and load at their hearts, felt the weight taken off and a pleasant warmness rising from their hearts,—as they would probably express themselves,—which might be the occasion or causes of these things they spoke of; and then when with some difficulty, I could get them to understand me, some of them would give a pretty rational account of solemn spiritual exercises. And upon a thorough careful exam
ination this way, I could not but conceive good hopes of some
“But there were, moreover, several others, who seemed to think concerning themselves, that they were under some good work, of whom yet I could have no reasonable ground to think, that they were under any hopeful work of the Spirit of God. As near as I could judge of their case from all my acquaintance and conversations with them, it was much to this purpose : they believed there was a good work going on, that people were convinced and brought into a converted state, and they desired to be converted too ;—they saw others weeping and fainting, and heard people mourning and lamenting, and they thought, if they could be like those it would be very hopeful with them;hence they endeavoured just to get themselves affected by sermons, and if they could come to weeping, or get their passions so raised as to incline them to vent themselves by cries, now they hoped they were got under convictions, and were in a very hopeful way;--and afterwards they would speak of their being in trouble, and aim at complaining of themselves, but seemed as if they knew not well how to do it, nor what to say against themselves, and thus they would be looking and expecting to get some texts of Scripture applied to them for their comfort;and when any Scripture text, which they thought was suitable for that purpose, came to their minds, they were in hopes it was brought to them by the Spirit of God, that they might take comfort from it. I endeavoured to correct and guard against all such mistakes, so far as I discovered them in the course of my ministry; and to open up the nature of a true conviction by the Spirit of God, and of a saving conversion.”
His account of those who appeared to be converts in this great awakening, given about four years after it seemed to come to a close, is interesting to us in forming our judgment of the work. After stating that those who had been slightly concerned, lost all their concern; and some, who appeared to have been deeply interested, gave up all attention to religion; and some, who were much concerned, appeared to have settled down on a false hope, he goes on to say—“There is a considerable number who afford all the evidence that can reasonably be expected and required, for our satisfaction in the case, of their having been the subjects of a thorough saving change. Their walk is habitually tender and conscientious; their carriage toward their neighbour just and kind, and they appear to have an agreeable peculiar love for one another, and for all in whom appears the image of God.” “Indeed the liveliness of their affections in the ways of religion is much abated, in general, and they are in some measure humbly sensible of this, and grieved for it, and are carefully endeavouring to live unto God,