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Of remarkable impressions on the imagination.
MANY in the country have entertained a mean thought of this great work that there has been among us, from what they have heard of impressions that have been made on persons' imaginations. But there have been exceedingly great misrepresentations, and innumerable false reports concerning that matter. It is not, that I know of, the profession or opinion of any one person in the town, that any weight is to be laid on any thing seen with the bodily eyes: I know the contrary to be a received and established principle among us. I cannot say that there have been no instances of persons that have been ready to give too much heed to vain and useless imaginations; but they have been easily corrected; and I conclude it will not be wondered at that a congregation should need a guide in such cases to assist them in distinguishing wheat from chaff. But such impressions on the imagination as have been more usual, seem to me to be plainly no other than what is to be expected in human nature in such circumstances, and what is the natural result of the strong exercise of the mind, and impressions on the heart.
I do not suppose that they themselves imagined that they saw any thing with their bodily eyes; but only have had within them ideas strongly impressed, and as it were lively pictures in their minds; as for instance, some when in great terrors through fear of hell, have had lively ideas of a dreadful furnace. Some, when their hearts have been strongly impressed, and their affections greatly moved with a sense of the beauty and excellency of Christ, it has wrought on their imaginations so, that, together with a sense of his glorious spiritual perfections, there has arisen in the mind an idea of one of glorious majesty, and of a sweet and a gracious as
pect. So some, when they have been greatly affected with Christ's death, have at the same time a lively idea of Christ hanging upon the cross, and of his blood running from his wounds; which things will not be wondered at by them that have observed how strong affections about temporal matters, will excite lively ideas and pictures of different things in the mind.
But yet the vigorous exercise of the mind, does doubtless more strongly impress it with imaginary ideas in some, than in others, which probably may arise from the difference of constitution, and seems evidently in some partly to arise from their peculiar circumstances. When persons have been exercised with extreme terrors, and there is a sudden change to light and joy, the imagination seems more susceptive of strong ideas, and the inferior powers, and even the frame of the body, is much more affected and wrought upon, than when the same persons have as great spiritual light and joy afterwards; of which it might perhaps be easy to give a reason. The aforementioned Rev. Messrs. Lord and Owen, who, I believe, are esteemed persons of learning and discretion, where they are best known, declared that they found these impressions on persons' imaginations quite different things from what fame had before represented to them, and that they were what none need to wonder at, or be stumbled by, or to that purpose.
There have indeed been some few instances of impressions on persons' imaginations, that have been something mysterious to me, and I have been at a loss about them; for though it has been exceedingly evident to me by many things that appeared in them, both then (when they related them) and afterwards, that they indeed had a great sense of the spiritual excellency of divine things accompanying them ; yet I have not been able well to satisfy myself, whether their imaginary ideas have been more than could naturally arise from their spiritual sense of things. However, I have used the utmost caution in such cases: great care has been taken
both in public and in private, to teach persons the difference between what is spiritual and what is merely imaginary. I have often warned persons not to lay the stress of their hope on any ideas of any outward glory, or any external thing whatsoever, and have met with no opposition in such instructions. But it is not strange if some weaker persons, in giving an account of their experienecs, have not so prudently distinguished between the spiritual and imaginary part; which some that have not been well affected to religion might take advantage of.
There has been much talk in many parts of the country, as though the people have symbolized with the Quaker and the Quakers themselves have been moved with such reports; and came here, once and again, hoping to find good waters to fish in; but without the least success; and seem to be discouraged, and have left off coming. There have also been reports spread about the country, as though the first occasion of so remarkable a concern on peoples' minds here, was an apprehension that the world was near to an end, which was altogether a false report: Indeed after this stirring and concern became so general and extraordinary, as has been related, the minds of some were filled with speculation, what so great a dispensation of divine providence might forebode; and some reports were heard from abroad, as though certain divines and others thought the conflagration was nigh: but such reports were never generally looked upon as worthy of notice.
The work that has now been wrought on souls is evidently the same that was wrought in my venerable predecessor's days; as I have had abundant opportunity to know, having been in the ministry here two years with him, and so conversed with a considerable number that my grandfather thought to be savingly converted in that time; and having been particularly acquainted with experiences of many that were converted under his ministry before. And I know no one of them that in the least doubts of its being of the same
Spirit, and the same work. Persons have now no otherwise been subject to impressions on their imaginations than formerly the work is of the same nature, and has not been attended with any extraordinary circumstances, excepting such as are analogous to the extraordinary degree of it before described. And God's people, that were formerly converted, have now partook of the same shower of divine blessing in the renewing, strengthening, edifying influences of the Spirit of God, that others have in his converting influences; and the work here has also been plainly the same with that which has been wrought in those of other places that have been mentioned as partaking of the same blessing. I have particularly conversed with persons about their experiences that belong to all parts of the county, and in various parts of Connecticut, where a religious concern has lately appeared; and have been informed of the experiences of many others by their own pastors.
It is easily perceived by the foregoing account that it is very much the practice of the people here to converse freely one with another of their spiritual experiences, which is a thing that many have been disgusted at. But however our people may have in some respects gone to extremes in it, yet it is doubtless a practice that the circumstances of this town, and neighboring towns, has naturally led them into. Whatsoever people are in such circumstances, where all have their minds engaged to such a degree, and in the same affair, that it is ever uppermost in their thoughts,-they will naturally make it the subject of conversation one with another when they get together, in which they will grow more and more free restraints will soon vanish; and they will not conceal from one another what they meet with. And it has been a practice which in the general has been attended with many good effects, and what God has greatly blest among us: but it must be confessed there may have been some ill consequences of it; which yet are rather to be laid to the indiscreet management of it, than to the practice itself; and none can
wonder if among such a multitude some fail of exercising so much prudence in choosing the time, manner, and occasion of such discourse as is desirable.
This work further illustrated in particular instances.
BUT to give a clearer idea of the nature and manner of the operations of God's Spirit in this wonderful effusion of it, I would give an account of two particular instances. The first is an adult person, a young woman whose name was Abigail Hutchinson. I select her case especially because she is now dead, and so it may be more fit to speak freely of her than of living instances: though I am under far greater disadvantages on other accounts to give a full and clear narrative of her experiences than I might of some others; nor can any account be given but what has been retained in the memories of her near friends and some others of what they have heard her express in her life-time.
She was of a rational, understanding family: there could be nothing in her education that tended to enthusiasm, but rather to the contrary extreme. It is in no wise the temper of the family to be ostentatious of experiences, and it was far from being her temper. She was before her conversion, to the observation of her neighbors, of a sober and inoffensive conversation, and was a still, quiet, reserved person. She had long been infirm of body, but her infirmity had never been observed at all to incline her to be notional or fanciful, or to occasion any thing of religious melancholy. She was under awakenings scarely a week before there seemed to be plain evidence of her being savingly converted.
She was first awakened in the winter season, on Monday, by something she heard her brother say of the necessity of