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In February, 1855, Mr. Redfield was invited to visit Burlington, Vermont, and assist in a protracted meeting. Mr. Purdy had preceded him two weeks, and in his characteristically thorough manner had prepared the way for Mr. Redfield’s coming. There had not been a revival in the place for twenty-one years. The pastor was favorable to old-fashioned Methodism, and stood by the work like a man of God. Opposition from other churches set in, as was often the case in those days, but God gave the victory. Many remarkable conversions took place, and the revival spread through the town and the community round about, until more than one thousand persons had been converted to God. So many were the accessions to the Methodist Episcopal Church that there was strong talk of organizing a second church, and erecting another place of worship. This met with great opposition from some of the conference ministers who thought that Methodism had become numerically so strong that one society and a stately edifice which would vie with those of the other denominations, was the better policy. Mr. Redfield advised against this, as those who were in favor of it among the membership were such as were of no assistance in revival work, and such a policy would bring them to the front and endanger the spirituality of the whole. Besides this, he feared the bringing in of a spirit to outdo other churches, which would undoubtedly grieve the Holy Spirit.
The next pastor, who came soon after the revival, endeavored to carry out the policy advocated by the preachers at conference, but failed, and the new organization was effected. An effort was now made to counteract Mr. Redfield’s influence and build a fashionable church. To do this, slanderous stories were circulated about him, in regard to his wife, who had deserted him nineteen years before. But the second church was built, much according to his advice, and the society became a power for good.
In The Congregationalist, of Boston, Mass., for February 11, 1886, I find the following with respect to this revival. The writer, Rev. R. B. Howard, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, in a sketch of Rev. C. L. Goodell, D.D., of St. Louis, who had lately died, says:
“Toward the close of young Goodell’s last college year, 1855, a remarkable work of grace, beginning in the Methodist church, in the village below, under the labors of a Doctor Redfield, a popular, eloquent, and successful revivalist, gradually spread up to the college. Goodell, meantime, with several other college students, had become greatly interested in Doctor Redfield and his meetings, not so much on religious grounds as on the score of his eloquence, and the marvelous sweetness of his singing. The writer will never forget seeing Goodell and another gifted classmate, by the name of Robinson, night after night elbowing their way to the front, and sitting flat on the carpet before the pulpit — the house being too full for them to obtain seats — for the sake of listening to the wonderful oratorical flights of that now long since departed, but gifted evangelist; little dreaming, meanwhile, that he was himself so soon successfully to engage in the same glorious work of calling sinners to repentance.”
In a letter to the California Christian Advocate, by the same writer, about the same time, I find the following:
“It so happened that Dr. Goodell and the writer were converted in the same revival at the University of Vermont, in connection with the labors of an eloquent and successful revivalist named Redfield. The revival proper was conducted at the Methodist church, but the good work extended to the University, where, in a few weeks, twenty-five or thirty young men were converted, many, if not most of whom, became ministers.”
A letter written to Rev. W. C. Kendall, at this time, reveals the spirit that actuated the man:
“Burlington, VT., February 24, 1855.
“Dear Brother and Sister Kendall, and the church of pilgrims who visit your house: — “Your very welcome letter, postmarked the 21st, has this day arrived, and, oh! how my heart sunk within me, as I read that your church is wading through seas of conflict, and especially that your principal foes are among those from whom you have a right to expect better things. Your duty is plainly laid out before you. You must not, cannot, and I know you will not, sell out the interests of Jesus though all men forsake and persecute him in the persons of his disciples. Thank the Lord, there are some who will drink his cup and be baptized with his baptism. They can well afford to give all for God, for their record is on high. It does seem worth infinitely more than the cost to feel the blessed assurance that they are trying to be faithful representatives of Christ, and that he will say of them, as he did of Job, “They can be trusted.” Yes, they will pass through the crucible and triumphantly shout, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” Oh, how I want to bless you all! My heart, reputation, and life, are at the service of Jesus and the pilgrims. How it does encourage me to labor on, when I think there are a few faithful ones who dare to die for the blessed cause of the great salvation. I want you to greet all the blessed ones in my behalf. Tell Brother Seth [Woodruff, a layman of great religious activity and power in prayer], I will let him know when I go back to Syracuse, and I shall expect him to go with me. Remember me especially to Brother Roberts — God bless him — and your father, and Sister S_____. I hope when I return to Syracuse that she and yourself will come down and visit the Syracusans.
“Brother Purdy left here on Monday last. As usual, he left his mark here. Many of the church have been quickened, and a goodly number of sinners converted. He received forty on probation the Saturday night before he left. He is now at Palmyra, but is to begin a meeting in Troy next week. He says he has no more work in Western New York, and of course I cannot expect him to go with me to Syracuse. If I go there I shall depend on Brothers Woodruff, Tinkham, Kendall, Wallace, and Roberts, and others to come to our help. I shall probably stay here two weeks longer.
“J. W. Redfield.”
He now, as the following letter will show, was connected with another physician in starting a medical infirmary at Syracuse, with a branch at Burlington, Vt.:
“April 25, 185.
“Dear Brother and Sister Kendall: — “Ye troublers of Israel; the Lord bless you forever and ever. I returned to this place yesterday afternoon, and sat down to answer yours of the 16th, but I was so exhausted that I was compelled to defer it until this morning. It is refreshing, my dear troublers, to know that there are those who dare “hazard all for God at a clap,” and then take the consequences. Let history, common sense, and religion answer the question of what would become of vital godliness in the churches in ten years if there were none to stand up for the truth. The ashes of the martyrs have been, and must be, the seed of the church. I think that neither you nor Sister K_____ are too good for such a fate. Jesus made himself of no reputation, and got killed for it. It is enough for the servant to be as his master. I thank God that some of us are counted worthy of shame for the name of Jesus. Oh, how it nerves me for the conflict when I remember that others with me are enduring cruel mockings. Amen! Hallelujah!! Go on, on, on, on. I want to see you very much, and I greet you in the name of the Lord. If Sister K_____ and others can come to Syracuse we can accommodate them now. I’m boarding with Doctor Wager, who is making arrangements to accommodate a number of invalids. I inclose a card which will direct to the house and office. The house is pleasantly situated, and abundantly large to accommodate a goodly number of pilgrims. The Lord willing, we mean to make it a pilgrims’ rest.
“I would like to go to your camp meeting, and will if I can make it convenient to do so. Give my love to everybody that loves Jesus. Business pressure compels me to be short this time.
“Yours forever and ever,
“J. W. Redfield.”
“P. S. — We design to keep an infirmary.
On May 7, he wrote from the same place as follows:
“Dear Brother Kendall: — Your. favor of the 3rd has just come to hand, and glad indeed am I to hear from you, and most of all, from the tone of your letter, that you have not been bought, coaxed, nor frightened from your stand for God and the truth. Oh, how my heart takes courage at the sound of the war whoop from the few daring servants of God, who are big enough to be little, who know enough to be simple, and who have courage enough to dare to stand up and out, straight for the right! Our cause is right; it will triumph. We shall conquer. Go ahead, dear brother, and when your reputation is all exhausted in the war, you are at liberty to draw upon me for what fragments of a broken-down reputation I may have left.
“We had great times at Burlington. Brother Purdy as usual, under God, put thing in their right places, and laid a foundation to build upon. How many were converted, as a result of his labors, I cannot tell, and probably it cannot be known this side of eternity. But if we may reckon on the reflex influence, as manifest in the many extensive revivals round about, that grew out of his labors here, I shall not go wide of the mark when I say that the number is about 2,000. Revivals sprang up in almost every quarter, from ten to one hundred miles away, as the result of Brother Purdy’s labors. God bless him. You can form something of an opinion of it, when I tell you that at Burlington we had from sixty to eighty at the altar, and anxious seats each night in the main audience-room, besides a large number at the same time in the lecture-room; and that a new second church is now being erected, and the work is still going on; that in one place, fifty miles away, about fifty are at the altar each night, at another place twenty-five, and still another twenty, and in many other places from ten to twenty. One preacher, who came more than fifty miles to the meeting in B_____, said that our meeting was shaking almost the entire state of Vermont.
“Well, dear brother, let them kill you if they can, and knock you all to pieces; Jesus will gather up every fragment at the last.
“I feel a great desire to be at one of your preachers’ meetings, and especially at the camp meeting. But I must go back to Burlington for a season to take charge of a department in a large infirmary. I spend only part of my time here, and I may be compelled to be there at the time of your camp meeting. I wish I was able to devote all my time to the work, but I am compelled to use part of it for the meat that perisheth.
“Our terms, for board, washing and treatment, are $10.00 per week. This includes nursing, hydropathic and homeopathic treatment, and everything else pertaining to the good and comfort of the patient. But until we can get ready the great establishment we have in contemplation, we shall charge but $7.50. Our large establishment will cost from fifteen to twenty thousand dollars.
“Yours as ever,
“J. W. Redfield.”
Several important things may be learned from these letters:
- The absence in him of anything like rivalry, or vainglory. The letters of Rev. Mr. Howard show that Mr. Redfield was the principal figure in that great revival, but he gives the honor to his friend, Purdy.
- The fact that he did not make a gain of his work as an evangelist. The fifty or one hundred dollars per week charged by some modern evangelists would have enabled him to devote all his time to God’s work, as he desired.
- The peculiar work in which he engaged now and then to replenish his purse.
- His hearty sympathy for all who were suffering for Jesus’ sake. And there were many of these at that time.
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