Horatius Bonar (1808–80), the great Scottish pastor and hymn writer, wrote on the nature of revival in his tract “True Revival and the Men God Uses.” This final section of the tract quotes another famous revival pastor, Jonathan Edwards from his book A Narrative of Surprising Conversions. Text used by permission of Revival-library.org.
It is observable how, at this remarkable day, a spirit of deep concern would seize upon persons. Some were in the house and some walking in the highway, some in the woods and some in the field; some in conversation and some in retirement; some children and some adults and some elderly persons. They would sometimes of a sudden be brought under the strongest impressions from a sense of the great realities of the other world and eternal things. But such things, as far as I can learn, were usually, if not ever, impressed upon men while they were in some way exercising their minds upon the Word of God or spiritual objects. And for the most part, it has been under the public preaching of the Word that these lasting impressions have been fastened upon them.
A great and earnest concern about the great things of religion and the eternal world became universal in all parts of the town and among persons of all degrees and all ages; the noise among the dry bones waxed louder and louder; all other talk but about spiritual and eternal things was soon thrown by.… The minds of people were wonderfully taken off from the world; it was treated among us as a thing of very little consequence. They seemed to follow their worldly business more as a part of their duty than from any disposition they had to it.… The only thing in their view was to get the kingdom of heaven, and everyone appeared to be pressing into it. The engagedness of their hearts in this great concern could not be hid; it appeared in their very countenances. It was then a dreadful thing amongst us to lie out of Christ, in danger every day of dropping into hell, and what persons’ minds were intent upon was to escape for their lives, and fly from the wrath to come. All would eagerly lay hold of opportunities for their souls and were wont very often to meet together in private houses for religious purposes; and such meetings, when appointed, were greatly thronged. There was scarcely a single person in the town, old or young, left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world. Those who were wont to be the vainest and loosest, and those who had been most disposed to think and speak slightly of vital and experimental religion, were now generally subject to great awakenings. And the work of conversion was carried on in a most astonishing manner, and increased more and more. Souls did, as it were, come by flocks to Jesus Christ. From day to day, for many months together, might be seen evident instances of sinners brought out of darkness into marvelous light.
Our public assemblies were then beautiful; the congregation was alive in God’s service, every one earnest, intent on the public worship, every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister as they came from his mouth. The assembly in general was, from time to time, in tears while the Word was preached; some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for the souls of their neighbors. Those amongst us that had formerly been converted were greatly enlivened and renewed with fresh and extraordinary incomes of the Spirit of God; though some much more than others, according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Many who had before labored under difficulties about their own state had now their doubts removed by more satisfying experience and more clear discoveries of God’s love.
When man proceeds to the accomplishment of some mighty enterprise, he puts forth prodigious efforts, as if by the sound of his axes and hammers he would proclaim his own fancied might and bear down opposing obstacles. He cannot work without sweat, dust, and noise. When God would do a marvelous work, such as may amaze all heaven and earth, He commands silence all around, sends forth the still small voice, and then sets some feeble instrument to work, and straightway it is done! Man toils and pants, and after all effects but little; the Creator, in the silent majesty of power, noiseless yet resistless, achieves by a word the infinite wonders of omnipotence!
In order to loose the bands of winter and bring in the verdure of the pleasant spring, He does not send forth His angels to hew in pieces the thickened ice, to strip off from the mountain’s side the gathered snows, or to plant anew over the face of the bleak earth flowers fresh from His creating hand. No! He breathes from His lips a mild warmth into the frozen air; and forthwith, in stillness but in irresistible power, the work proceeds; the ice is shivered, the snows dissolve, the rivers resume their flow, the earth awakes as out of sleep, the hills and the valleys put on their freshened verdure, the fragrance of earth takes wing and fills the air, till a new world of beauty rises in silence amidst the dissolution of the old!
Such is God’s method of working, both in the natural and in the spiritual world—silent, simple, majestic, and resistless! Such was Northampton in later times, when Jonathan Edwards watched and prayed for its citizens, and when, from the closet of that holy man, there went forth the living power that wrought such wonders there!