Conviction

Northampton, Mass. 1734-5
Upwards of a year of growing seriousness, heightened by a succession of solemn events in the little community, had passed; "and then it was, in the latter part of December (1734), that the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in, and wonderfully to work among us; and there were, very suddenly, one after another, five or six persons who were, to all appearance, savingly converted, and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner.

Presently upon this 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; all the conversation in all companies, and upon all occasions, was upon these things only, unless so much as was necessary for people carrying on their ordinary secular business. Other discourse when of the things of religion would scarcely be tolerated in any company. Religion was with all classes the great concern, and the world was a thing only by the by. The only thing in their view was to get the kingdom of heaven, and every one appeared pressing into it: the engagedness of their hearts in this great concern could not be hid; it appeared in their very countenances. There was scarcely a single person in the town, either old or young, that was left unconcerned about the great things of the eternal world. Those that were wont to be the vainest and loosest, and those that 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."

Jonathan Edwards, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God

Brainerd amongst the Indians 1745
Aug. 6. In the morning I discoursed to the Indians at the house where I lodged: many of them were then much affected, and appeared surprisingly tender, so that a few words about their souls’ concerns would cause the tears to flow freely, and produce many sobs and groans.

In the afternoon, they being returned to the place where I had usually preached amongst them, I again discoursed to them there. There were about fifty-five persons in all, about forty that were capable of attending divine service with understanding. I insisted upon 1 John IV. 10. “Herein is love,” &c. They seemed eager of hearing; but there appeared nothing very remarkable, except their attention, till near the close of my discourse; and then divine truths were attended with a surprising influence, and produced a great concern among them. There was scarce three in forty that could refrain from tears and bitter cries. They all, as one, seemed in an agony of soul to obtain an interest in Christ; and the more I discoursed of the love and compassion of God in sending his Son to suffer for the sins of men, and the more I invited them to come and partake of his love, the more their distress was aggravated, because they felt themselves unable to come. --It was surprising to see how their hearts seemed to be pierced with the tender and melting invitations of the gospel, when there was not a word of terror spoken to them.

David Brainerds Journal, Part I., From A.D. 1745 June 19th To Nov 4th, At Crossweeksung And Forks Of Delaware


The Spirit bears down on all
Aug. 8. In the afternoon I preached to the Indians; their number was about sixty-five persons, men, women, and children: I discoursed from Luke xiv. 16-23 and was favoured with uncommon freedom in my discourse. --There was much visible concern among them while I was discoursing publicly; but afterwards when I spoke to one and another more particularly, whom I perceived under much concern, the power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly “like a rushing mighty wind,” and with an astonishing energy bore down all before it.

I stood amazed at the influence that seized the audience almost universally, and could compare it to nothing more aptly than the irresistible force of a mighty torrent or swelling deluge, that with its insupportable weight and pressure bears down and sweeps before it whatever is in its way. Almost all persons of all ages were bowed down with concern together, and scarce one was able to withstand the shock of this surprising operation. Old men and women who had been drunken wretches for many years, and some little children not more than six or seven years of age, appeared in distress for their souls, as well as persons of middle age. And it was apparent these children (some of them at least) were not merely frightened with seeing the general concern; but were made sensible of their danger, the badness of their hearts, and their misery without Christ, as some of them expressed it. The most stubborn hearts were now obliged to bow. A principal man among the Indians, who before was most secure and self-righteous, and thought his state good because he knew more than the generality of the Indians had formerly done, and who with a great degree of confidence the day before, told me “he had been a Christian more than ten years,” was now brought under solemn concern for his soul, and wept bitterly. Another man advanced in years, who had been a murderer, a powwow, (or conjurer,) and a notorious drunkard, was likewise brought now to cry for mercy with many tears, and to complain much that he could be no more concerned when he saw his danger so very great.

They were almost universally praying and crying for mercy in every part of the house, and many out of doors, and numbers could neither go nor stand. Their concern was so great, each one for himself, that none seemed to take any notice of those about them, but each prayed freely for himself. And, I am led to think, they were to their own apprehension as much retired as if they had been individually by themselves in the thickest desert; or, I believe rather, that they thought nothing about any but themselves and their own states, and so were every one praying apart, although all together.

It seemed to me there was now an exact fulfilment of that prophecy, Zech. xii. 10, 11, 12. For there was now “a great mourning, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon;”--and each seemed to “mourn apart.” Me thought this had a near resemblance to the day of God’s power mentioned Josh. x. 14 for I must say, I never saw any day like it in all respects: it was a day wherein I am persuaded the Lord did much to destroy the kingdom of darkness among this people.

David Brainerds Journal, Part I., From A.D. 1745 June 19th To Nov 4th, At Crossweeksung And Forks Of Delaware

Deeply affected and wounded at heart
Aug 9. In the afternoon discoursed to them publicly. There were now present about seventy persons, old and young. I opened and applied the parable of the sower, Matt. xiii. Was enabled to discourse with much plainness, and found afterwards that this discourse was very instructive to them. There were many tears among them while I was discoursing publicly, but no considerable cry: yet some were much affected with a few words spoken from Matt. xi. 28. “Come unto me, all ye that labour,” &c. with which I concluded my discourse. But while I was discoursing near night to two or three of the awakened persons, a divine influence seemed to attend what was spoken to them in a powerful manner, which caused the persons to cry out in anguish of soul, although I spoke not a word of terror; but, on the contrary, set before them the fullness and all-sufficiency of Christ’s merits, and his willingness to save all that came to him; and thereupon pressed them to come without delay.

The cry of these was soon heard by others, who, though scattered before, immediately gathered round. I then proceeded in the same strain of gospel-invitation, till they were all melted into tears and cries, except two or three; and seemed in the greatest distress to find and secure an interest in the great Redeemer. --Some who had but little more than a ruffle made in their passions the day before, seemed now to be deeply affected and wounded at heart: and the concern in general appeared near as prevalent as it was the day before. There was indeed a very great mourning among them, and yet every one seemed to mourn apart. For so great was their concern, that almost every one was praying and crying for himself, as if none had been near. Guttummaukalummeh, guttummaukalummeh, i.e. “Have mercy upon me, have mercy upon me;” was the common cry.

It was very affecting to see the poor Indians, who the other day were hallooing and yelling in their idolatrous feasts and drunken frolics, now crying to God with such importunity for an interest in his dear Son!

David Brainerds Journal, Part I., From A.D. 1745 June 19th To Nov 4th, At Crossweeksung And Forks Of Delaware

Various testimonies of conviction of sin
"Cries for mercy rang all over the chapel. Before the sermon was done, I with many others, fell upon my knees to implore Salvation."--One of Thos. Collins' Converts.

"The sermon was swallowed up in victory. Seekers left their pews, and trooping, unbidden, up the aisles, knelt around the communion rail." -- Thos. Collins.

"A Quaker who stood by was not a little displeased at the dissimulation of these creatures, and was biting his lips and knitting his brows, when he dropped down as thunder-struck. The agony he was in was even terrible to behold. We besought God not to lay folly to his charge, and he soon lifted up his head and cried aloud, 'Now I know thou art a prophet of the Lord.' " --John Wesley.

"J. H. was a man of regular life and conversation, one that constantly attended public prayers and sacrament, and was zealous for the church, and against dissenters of every denomination. Being informed that people fell into strange fits at the societies, he came to see and judge for himself. But he was less satisfied than before; inasmuch, that he went about to see his acquaintances one after another till one o'clock in the morning, and labored above measure to convince them it was a delusion of the devil.

"We were going home when one met us in the street, and informed us that J. H. was fallen raving mad.

"It seems he sat down to dinner, but had in mind first to end the sermon he had borrowed on Salvation by Faith. In reading the last page, he changed colour, fell off his chair and began screaming terribly, and beating himself against the ground.

"The neighbors were alarmed and flocked together to the house. Between one and two I came in and found him on the floor, the room being full of people whom his wife would have kept without, but he cried out aloud, 'No, let them all come, let all the world see the just judgment of God.' Two or three men were holding him as best they could. He immediately fixed his eyes upon me, and stretching out his hand cried, 'Aye, this is he who I said was a deceiver of the people. But God has overtaken me. I said it was all a delusion. But this is no delusion.' He then roared out, 'O, thou devil! thou cursed devil! yea, thou legion of devils! thou canst not stay. Christ will cast thee out! I know His work is begun. Tear me to pieces if thou wilt, but thou canst not hurt me !' He then beat himself against the ground again, his breast heaving at the same time, as in the pangs of death, and great drops of sweat trickling down his face.

"We all betook ourselves to prayer; his pangs ceased and both his body and soul were set at liberty."--John Wesley.

"The power of God was present. They came to be saved, and were not disappointed. The sobs and cries were wonderful. It seemed as if God had come down in terror and power; as if the Spirit were passing through every region of every soul, diffusing Himself through all its capacities, and recesses; throwing light into the understanding, assailing and subverting the fortress of sin in the heart; revealing Himself as the antagonist of sin--disturbing and tracking it in all its windings--stirring the soul to its depths, drawing it slowly, but surely, to a crisis--piling up these sentences of condemnation, one upon another, until the whole soul, collecting all its energies into one out-cry for mercy, exclaimed, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner, what must I do to be saved? Save, Lord, or I perish! O, save or I sink into hell. Heal my soul for I have sinned against Thee !"--James Caughey.

"The power of God seemed to descend upon the assembly like a mighty, rushing wind, and with an astonishing energy bore down all before it. I stood amazed at the influence, which seized the audience almost universally; and could compare it to nothing more apt than the irresistible force of a mighty torrent or a swelling deluge that with its insupportable weight and pressure bears down and sweeps before it whatever comes in its way. Almost all persons of all ages were bowed down with concern together, and scarcely one was able to withstand the shock of this surprising operation; old men and women, who had been drunken wretches for many years and some little children, not more than six or seven years of age, appeared in distress for their souls, as well as persons of middle age.

"The most stubborn hearts were now obliged to bow. A principal man among the Indians, who, before, was most secure and self-righteous, and thought his state good, because he knew more than the generality of the Indians had formerly done, and who with a great degree of confidence the day before told me he had been a Christian more than ten years, was now brought under solemn concern for his soul and wept bitterly. Another man advanced in years, who had been a murderer, a conjurer, and a notorious drunkard, was likewise brought now to cry for mercy with many tears, and to complain much that he could be no more concerned when he saw his dangers so very great.

"They were almost universally praying and crying for mercy in every part of the house, and many out of doors, and numbers could neither go nor stand. Their concern was so great, each one for himself, that none seemed to take any notice of those about them, but each prayed freely for himself."--David Brainerd.

"A young Indian woman, who, I believe, never knew before that she had a soul, nor ever thought of any such thing, hearing that there was something strange among the Indians, came to see what was the matter. On the way to the Indians she called at my lodgings; and, when I told her that I designed presently to preach to the Indians, she laughed and seemed to mock; but went however to them.

"I had not proceeded far in my public discourse before she felt effectually that she had a soul, and before I had concluded my discourse, was so convinced of her sin and misery and so distressed with concern for her soul's salvation that she seemed like one pierced through with a dart, and she cried out incessantly. She could neither go nor stand, nor sit on her seat without being held up.

"After public service was over, she lay fiat on the ground praying earnestly, and would take no notice of, nor give any answer to, any who spoke to her. I hearkened to what she said, and perceived the burden of her prayer to be 'Have mercy on me and help me give you my heart.' Thus she continued praying incessantly for hours together."-David Brainerd.

"In the midst of my discourse I saw a powerful looking man fall from his seat. As he sunk he groaned and then cried or shrieked out, that he was sinking to hell. He repeated that several times. Of course this created a great excitement. It broke up my preaching; and so great was his anguish that we spent the rest of our time in praying for him. The next morning I inquired for him; and found that he had spent a sleepless night in great anguish of mind."--Chas. G. Finney.

"The chapel was crowded to excess. The Word was 'quick and powerful,' numbers 'were pricked in their hearts,' and in the agony of conviction cried mightily for mercy. The sermon was followed by a prayer meeting. Midnight arrived and the penitents were still upon their knees, resolved to plead till they prevailed. As one and another found peace through believing and withdrew, others whose hearts were stricken filled their places. So intense was the Awakening, that though the squire had retired, the alarmed and sorrowing people could not be induced to leave the chapel, but all night through, and all through the following day and night, the prayer meeting continued without intermission. It was supposed that over one hundred persons were converted, whilst many an old professor received quickening and gave himself to God by a fuller consecration."--Memoir of Squire Brooke.

"Had the preacher fired upon the people with grapeshot, the wounded had not been more numerous, or the cry of anguish more bitter. It was simply impossible to proceed with the discourse. Leaving the pulpit the Squire came down amongst the people to gather the praying men for intercession, whilst he conversed with penitents and endeavoured to assist them into the kingdom."-Memoir of Squire Brooke.
"While engaged in prayer, two of those who came in were awakened and began to cry for mercy.

"No sooner had she communicated the tidings, than her sister was cut to the heart and began to cry for mercy.
"While I was praying, the power of God descended and he and his penitent companion were cut to the heart and wept aloud for their sins.
"While talking with an old woman sixty years of age, she was soon cut to the heart, and in a very short time the Lord set her soul at liberty.
"In visiting from house to house, I fell in with a young woman, to whom I had not spoken many words before she was pricked in the heart and cried for mercy, as one hanging over the pit of hell.

"I had not spoken many words to her before she burst into tears and loud cries. She continued to groan under the weight of her guilty load. The cries and wailings of her broken heart were deeply affecting."--Wm. Carvosso.

"The spirit of the Lord was poured out abundantly and many cried aloud for mercy. Near the close he was like a flame of fire; the people burst into tears on every side, and could say, 'Lo, God is here, of a truth! 'Many cried, yea groaned, aloud for mercy, and God delivered them. Many were deeply convicted and cried out for mercy; an old woman about seventy years of age, was struck in a moment. She fell to the ground, making a frightful noise, and continued speechless and in an agony for above an hour. When she came to herself she jumped off the chair on which she had been placed, clapped her hands, and praised the Lord."--Memoir of Wm. Bramwell.

"I had not discoursed long when the congregation melted into tears. This abated for a few minutes, till a little boy about seven or eight years of age cried out exceeding piteously indeed and wept as though his little heart would break. I asked the little boy what he cried for. He answered 'my sins !' I then asked him what he wanted. He answered, 'Christ!'

"Others were so earnest for a discovery of the Lord to their souls that their eager crying obliged me to stop, and I prayed over them, as I saw their agonies and distress increase. Oh, the distress and anguish of their souls! oh, the pains that were upon them!

"Many of the assembled were deeply affected, groaning and sobbing; there was a great weeping and mourning." --Wm. Bramwell.

"When the conviction as to its mental process reaches its crisis, the person, through weakness, is unable to sit or stand, and either kneels or lies down. A great number of convicted persons in this town and neighborhood, and now I believe in all directions in the north where the Revival prevails, are "smitten down" as suddenly and they fall as nerveless and paralyzed and powerless, as if killed instantly by a shotgun. They fall with a deep groan, some with a wild cry of horror--the greater number with the intensely earnest plea, 'Lord Jesus, have mercy on my soul !' The whole frame trembles like an aspen leaf, an intolerable weight is felt upon the chest, a choking sensation is experienced and relief from this found only in the loud, urgent prayer for deliverance, usually the bodily distress and mental anguish continue till some degree of confidence in Christ is found. Then the look, the tone, the gestures, instantly change. The aspect of anguish and despair is changed for that of gratitude, and triumph, and adoration. The language and the looks, and terrible struggles, and loud desperate depreciation, tell convincingly, as the parties themselves declare, that they are in deadly conflict with the old serpent. The perspiration rolls off the anguished victims; their very hair is moistened. Some pass through this exhausting conflict several times; others but once. There is no appetite for food; many will eat nothing for a number of days. They do not sleep, though they may lie down with their eyes shut."--The Irish Revival 1859.

'The power of the Lord's spirit became so mighty upon their souls as to carry all before it, like the rushing mighty wind of Pentecost. Some were screaming out in agony; others--and among these strong men--fell to the ground as if they had been dead. I was obliged to give out a psalm, our voices being mingled with the mourning and groans of many prisoners sighing for deliverance." --Wm. Burns.

All the above quotes found in Oswald J. Smith, The Revival We Need, pp. 47-59

John Wesley asks God to confirm His Word
When John Wesley concluded his message he cried to God to "confirm His Word," to "set to His Seal," and to "bear witness to His Word." And God did. Sinners were stricken immediately, and began to cry for mercy under fearful conviction of sin, and soon after, in a moment they were set at liberty, and filled with unspeakable joy in the knowledge of a present Salvation. In his wonderful journal he sets down what his eyes witnessed, and his ears heard in the following words:

"We understood that many were offended at the cries of those on whom the power of God came; among whom was a physician, who was much afraid there might be fraud or imposture in the case. Today one whom he had known many years was the first who broke out in strong cries and tears. He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears. He went and stood close to her, and observed every symptom, till great drops of sweat ran down her face, and all her bones shook. He then knew not what to think, being clearly convinced it was not fraud, nor yet any natural disorder. But when both her soul and body were healed in a moment, he acknowledged the finger of God."

Oswald J. Smith, The Revival We Need, pp. 16-17

The power of a holy life - Finney in a factory
The next morning, I went into the factory, to look through it. I observed there was a good deal of agitation among those who were busy at their looms, and their mules, and other implements. On passing through one of the apartments, where a great number of young women were attending to weaving, I observed a couple of them eyeing me, and speaking very earnestly; and I could see that they were a good deal agitated, although they laughed. I went slowly towards them. They saw me coming, and were evidently much excited. One of them was trying to mend a broken thread, and her hands trembled so that she could not mend it. I approached slowly, looking at the machinery, as I passed; but this girl grew more and more agitated, and could not proceed with her work. When I came within eight or ten feet of her, I looked solemnly at her. She was quite overcome, sunk down, and burst into tears. The impression caught almost like powder, and in a few moments nearly all in the room were in tears. This feeling spread through the factory Mr. W——, the owner was present, and seeing the state of things, he said to the superintendent, “Stop the mill, and let the people attend to religion; for it is more important that our souls should be saved than that this factory run.” The gate was shut down, and the factory stopped; but where should we assemble? The superintendent suggested that the mule room was large; and, the mules being run up, we could assemble there. We did so, and a more powerful meeting I scarcely ever attended. It went on with great power. The revival went through the mill with astonishing power, and in the course of a few days nearly all in the mill were hopefully converted.

Charles Finney, Autobiography, English version, p154

Examples of conviction recorded in Brian Edward's 'Revival'
In encouraging his congregations in Wales in 1904 to prepare for revival, Evan Roberts would remind them that the Spirit would not come until the people were prepared: 'We must rid the churches of all bad feeling — all malice, envy, prejudice, and misunderstandings. Bow not in prayer until all offences have been forgiven: but if you feel you cannot forgive, bend to the dust, and ask for a forgiving spirit. You shall get it then.’ Eifion Evans, The Welsh Revival of 1904, p166

In 1949, on the Isle of Lewis off the west coast of Scotland, Duncan Campbell witnessed similar scenes of conviction over personal sin: The awful presence of God brought a wave of conviction of sin that caused even mature Christians to feel their sinfulness, bringing groans of distress and prayers of repentance from the unconverted. Strong men were bowed under the weight of sin and cries for mercy were mingled with shouts of joy from others who had passed into life.' Woolsey, Duncan Cambell, p118

When God came to Cornwall in 1814, the people spoke of the 'penitential pain' when men and women were in great distress over their sin. At Tuckingmill a meeting lasted from Sunday until Friday, with people coming and going all the time. During this 'meeting' this 'penitential pain' was extreme in some cases: 'Hundreds were crying for mercy at once. Some remained in great distress of soul for one hour, some for two, some six, some nine, twelve and some for fifteen hours before the Lord spoke peace to their souls — then they would rise, extend their arms, and proclaim the wonderful works of God...’ Carvosso, The Life of William Carvosso, p28

In the first half of the nineteenth century God used the ministry of Asahel Nettleton in revival for over thirty years, and during his preaching scenes of deep conviction were commonplace. One observer described a meeting at Calway near Saratoga Springs in the summer of 1819: The room was so crowded that we were obliged to request all who had recently found relief to retire below, and spend their time in prayer for those above. This evening will never be forgotten. The scene is beyond description. Did you ever witness two hundred sinners, with one accord in one place, weeping for their sins? Until you have seen this, you have no adequate conceptions of the solemn scene. I felt as though I was standing on the verge of the eternal world; while the floor under my feet was shaken by the trembling of anxious souls in view of a judgement to come. The solemnity was still heightened, when every knee was bent at the throne of grace, and the intervening silence of the voice of prayer was interrupted only by the sighs and sobs of anxious souls. I have no time to relate interesting particulars. I only add that some of the most stout, hard-hearted, heaven-daring rebels have been in the most awful distress.’ Thornton, God Sent Revival, p91-92

The same terrible conviction of sin was experienced in the previous century under the preaching of David Brainerd among the Susquehannah Indians in North America: 'I stood amazed at the influence which seized the audience almost universally and could compare it to nothing more aptly than the irresistible force of a mighty torrent or swelling deluge, that with its insupportable weight and pressure bears down and sweeps before it whatever is in its way. Almost all persons of all ages were bowed down with concern together, and scarce one was able to withstand the shock of this surprising operation. Old men and women who had been drunken wretches for many years, and some little children, not more than six or seven years of age, appeared in distress for their souls, as well as persons of middle age. And it was apparent these children (some of them at least) were not merely frightened with seeing the general concern, but were made sensible of their danger, the badness of their hearts, and their misery without Christ, as some of them expressed it. The most stubborn hearts were now obliged to bow.’ Page, David Brainerd, p81-82

In October 1791 there was a powerful work of God in Bala, North Wales. It began during the preaching of Thomas Charles one Sunday evening, and by ten o'clock that night, 'There was nothing to be heard from one end of town to the other but the cries and groans of the people in distress of soul.’ Preaching and Revival p93.
At Cambuslang in 1742, Dr John Hamilton of Glasgow observed: 'I found a good many persons under the deepest exercise of soul, crying out most bitterly of their lost and miserable state, by reason of sin; of their unbelief, in despising Christ and the offers of the gospel; of the hardness of their heart; and of their gross carelessness and indifference about religion.. .not so much.. .from fear of punishment as from a sense of the dishonour done to God.’ Dallimore, george Whitefield, Vol 2, p123.

At Cambuslang — and the experience was by no means exceptional in the story of revivals — men and women suffered such agony and distress over their sin that some would faint or cry out under the burden. One of the ministers, James Robe, freely admits that at first he did not approve of this and tried to stop it, even asking that these people should be carried away from the scene! However, he later admitted that this was wrong because always such suffering led eventually to a great peace and joy in forgiveness. Robe, When the Wind Blows, p108.

So universal is this work of conviction in revival that Jonathan Edwards puts it at the top of his list in describing how the sinner is converted: 'Persons are first awakened with a sense of their miserable condition by nature [and] the danger they are in of perishing eternally.' But in coming to this position, Edwards admits that 'Persons are sometimes brought to the borders of despair, and it looks as black as midnight to them a little before the day dawns in their souls. Some few instances there have been, of persons who have had such a sense of God's wrath for sin, that they have been overcome; and made to cry out under an astonishing sense of their guilt, wondering that God suffers such guilty wretches to live upon the earth...’ Edwards, A Narrative of Surprising Conversions, p25.

Brian Edward's 'Revival' p115-118

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