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After the Pekin Convention, Mr. Redfield returned to the West, and commenced his labors for the winter with great zeal and encouragement. He undertook the visitation of all the points where societies had already been organized, and where there was a desire to organize.
Rev. B. P. Hart, about this time, withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal Church, and took work under Mr. Redfield; and an opening occurring in Belvidere, Illinois, he went there and labored with great success. A society had been organized in Aurora, Illinois. Calls were coming from every direction, and about twenty laborers were already in the field. Mr. Redfield in his visits reached Aurora the first of November. He preached for the new society on Sunday, met the official board Monday night, and while sitting in the rooms of a friend, Tuesday morning, was suddenly smitten to the floor with paralysis. He was taken to the house of Rev. Judah Mead, a local preacher, where he lay for weeks in terrible physical and mental anguish. The latter arose from his inability to understand this peculiar providence. He knew he had overtaxed himself. He knew that the severe mental strain through which he had gone during the troubles in St. Louis, and his care and anxiety for the new organization, had induced this. But he had been of the opinion that, if one was honestly seeking the divine glory, and doing his best to advance the kingdom of God in the earth, that God would not allow him to fail. This notion now afforded the ground for severe mental conflicts. Again, his physical pain was such, and so intense was every sense of sight, of hearing, of smelling, of tasting, and feeling, and so excruciating was the pain inflicted by the simplest offenses to the organs of these senses, that it was almost unendurable. Then temptation would assault him in regard to his conduct during these seasons of distress, that he had behaved like anything but a Christian.
Brother Osgood Joslyn, who had been converted under his ministry, was impressed while praying at home, that Mr. Redfield was in great trouble, and that he must go to his assistance. He immediately went to Aurora, and found him in the condition described above. From this time for three years this brother, with all the fidelity and sympathy of a son for a father, nursed, and traveled with, and cared for, this afflicted man of God, until he saw his remains laid away in the tomb.
As spring approached, Mr. Redfield was so much better that he was removed from Aurora, and finally became able to travel quite extensively. He visited the East, and held meetings a few weeks in Buffalo, in the Free Methodist Church. From there he wrote the following letter to Samuel Huntington, of Burlington, Vt., which describes his health, his feelings, and, to some extent, his financial circumstances:
“Buffalo, N. Y., April 17, 1861.
“Dear Brother Huntington: — Your letter, dated the 12th, was received last evening. My health is gradually improving. I can walk about the house a little by using a cane, but I still have to be lifted in and out of a carriage. We are now holding meetings in the Second Free Methodist church, in this city. I have been able to preach three or four times a week. At the rate I am improving, I hope to be able to get in and out of a carriage during the summer.
“I wish you could see it in your way to come to our camp meeting at St. Charles, Illinois, on the 12th of June. We shall probably have a good representation at that time. If you have the time to spare, you could go by the way of the lakes, from Buffalo to Chicago, for from six to nine dollars. From Chicago to the camp ground, by rail, it is only about thirty miles.
“I would like to have you get acquainted with our Western pilgrims. A more noble, wholehearted and red-hot set of pilgrims you never saw. The work of salvation in the West is spreading rapidly. So large is the demand that we can hardly find men enough to man the walls of our Zion.
“I hope you will not permit the true interests of the cause to suffer for want of independence in yourself, even to stand alone if need be. If the conference does not send you the right kind of a man, “go it on your own hook,” and if the worst comes, I think we could find a preacher among the Free Methodists that would suit you.
“I hardly know what to say about Dr. W_____’s proposal. I fear I cannot make an offer that will seem to him perfectly right. I took this view of the matter: first, that I am in need of what he owes me; second, I cannot think it wrong for me to ask him to return to me what he is unable to pay for. Yet if I felt able to lose it, I would say nothing. But in thinking the matter over, I do not see what he will be able to do for a library and medicines if I take mine back.
“If he can pay ten dollars a month, and not fail, I will try and get along with that. But I would like to have things so secure that no one else can take them away from him.
“If he does not wish to do this I will take the books, if in as good order as when I let him have them, at the same price I charged him; and the same with the medicine chest.
“I do not want him to think that I would distress him.
“Love to Dr. W_____ and all good pilgrims.
“J. W. Redfield.”
He returned to Illinois, and the last of May came to Ogle Station, now Ashton, near Mt. Pleasant, to attend a quarterly meeting on my new circuit. This had been organized in part out of the fruits of the great revival at Mt. Pleasant which has already been described.
On Sunday morning he preached from the text, “It is finished.” His wife was obliged to sit by his side, and prop him up by holding her hands under his left elbow, while he held on to the pulpit with his right hand. During the opening prayer, he seemed to talk face to face with God. I was impressed with the thought, we shall see wondrous things today. While attempting to read the second hymn his emotions overcame him, and he requested us to sing without further reading.
The outline of his sermon was somewhat as follows:
- Man’s condition before the fall.
- His condition after the fall.
- None among men or angels who are qualified to redeem him.
- The finding of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
- Man redeemed.
After the first few introductory remarks, probably not one-half dozen of the large congregation had a thought outside of the theme of the sermon. One could read the separate divisions of the discourse upon the countenances of his listeners. While portraying in the most graphic manner, his conception of man’s physical, mental and spiritual state before the fall, every face seemed beaming with admiration. When he introduced the Tempter amid this scene of loveliness, consternation seemed to take the place; and when at last the sin was finished, and all the dire results were ushered in, an expression of indignation spread over every face. When he portrayed the disabilities of sin, and the helplessness of humanity, Christians, for the time, forgot they were Christians, and both they and sinners simultaneously wailed out their anguish, and every face took on a look of fearful despair. When he at last found a ransom in the person of the Son of God, and, in a few sentences, made plain the reasonableness of the atonement of Christ, sinners forgot they were sinners and joined in the rejoicings of the saints. Before he was through with his last point, the benefits of redemption, more than twenty persons were on their feet, with eyes closed, clasped hands, and streaming faces, gazing by faith upon the wonderful provisions of grace. For some moments I expected to see a group of very wicked men back by the door on their feet, uniting in this demonstration of joy.
Several times, I now recollect, I was lost with the rest. But at this point there came to my mind, with great dearness and power, William Wirt’s story of “The Blind Preacher,” which I had read in my boyhood. Mr. Wirt, after describing the man, the circumstances, the occasion, and the wonderful eloquence of the preacher, and its effect upon his congregation, spoke of his fears, that when the congregation came to realize where they were, and what they were, that the mental shock would destroy the good effect of the discourse. And I now found myself wondering in like manner. But while I wondered, Mr. Redfield began to let them down so gradually and perfectly that the good effects were saved. He said:
“When the great Erie Canal was completed, a line of cannon was stationed along its banks its entire length. When the water was let in at Buffalo, cannon number one was fired, and cannon number two took up the report, and passed it on to number three, and number three to number four, and so on, until the report reached Albany; and whoever heard the report of the cannon understood it to mean, it is finished. And so when God had prepared the way and let in the tide of salvation on which man was to come back to his Maker, the first report was heard in the song of the angels “Glory to God in the highest; on earth peace, good will to men”; and the last dying echoes of it came from the cross in the words of the text, “It is finished.”
He then let go of the desk and allowed himself to fall back upon the pulpit sofa.
The next day the writer accompanied him and his wife to St. Charles, and in a few days to a general quarterly meeting at Crystal Lake, and the next week to Belvidere, and at last to the camp meeting at St. Charles. At all these places we had meetings of great power and success.
The St. Charles camp meeting was largely attended. It was led by Superintendent Roberts. Mr. Redfield did not attempt to preach but once, and that was spoiled by a fanatical Congregationalist who was determined to have him healed on the spot.
Soon after this Mr. Redfield began to entertain hopes that God would restore him. His knowledge of his case, as a physician, gave him no hope from the arts or skill of men. He knew none but God could do the work. His mental conflicts were most severe. He saw so much to do, so few to do it, and himself willing to do his best, and he wondered why God did not set him free. For twenty-six years he had longed for the time to come when he could work untrammeled. Now the time had come, and he was mysteriously laid by. He would ask the feeblest saints to account for it, and would listen to them with the profoundest attention. It was pitiful at times to see him, when some unwise believer would publicly condemn him with the philosophy that if he was right he would not be thus afflicted. At such times he would receive their idle vaporings as the most solemn truth, because it coincided with his oppressive temptations on the subject. At times he would rise above it all, and would triumph gloriously.
He visited the quarterly and camp meetings, gave advice, counseled with the young preachers, and did what he could in the public services. He sometimes tried to preach, but his thinking powers seemed paralyzed; and at last he gave up trying altogether.
The following letter will show his state of mind at this time. Some of it evidently tokens the breaking down of his magnificent mind.
“Marengo, Ill., Feb. 10, 1862.
“My dear Sister Roberts: — I have felt drawn to write to you and have begun and then abandoned it for the time, and thought it best to wait till I had something of more importance to write. I have been learning lessons through my whole affliction that nothing but this very severe stroke could teach me. Astronomers, who wish to gaze at the heavens in daylight, go into deep wells, and from those dark places can see what they cannot see above ground. I, too, have been making this dark valley my observatory for about fifteen months, and some of the views I have had, and still have, are not lawful to describe. I see a deep meaning in my case that must have a bearing upon the cause of Free Methodism, all over the land. I had been learning fact after fact till a few weeks ago in St. Charles, when I saw the wonderful cure of Sister M_____ from a state of disease which under the best of treatment must have taken weeks if not months, and yet it was done instantly. I saw great light, and was rejoicing in it, and my heart was deeply agitated, when I asked the Lord, “Why may I not also receive the healing touch?’ I began a thorough search to find out where there might be any deficiency in my moral state, and the first thing I ran against was, my undue care and anxiety for the Free Methodist Church, and preachers. While I was giving up the church it seemed that it would almost take my life. After the church came the preachers, and I had to give them all up. I had not once suspected that it was wrong to love the dear boys, or to feel an interest in them; but I found that unsuspectingly I was assuming the place of the Lord, and I was regarding them above all other gospel ministers. I now learned that I must not value the Free Methodist Church or its preachers, above any other Universal charity was the lesson I was here taught. Next came the most gentle and sweet intimations that I must soon go to Syracuse. I gave way to reasoning about the propriety of this, when I was seized with strangling spasms, and it seemed I must yield to go or die. Four or five were present who were in a great struggle, of prayer for me. But as soon as I gave up to go, reason or no reason, I was instantly at perfect peace and rest. I had no idea that I would be made to suffer so intensely for simply a conscientious hesitancy about going until I felt clear that it was the voice of the Lord.
“Today I had another down spell, little dreaming that anything was affecting me except the usual depression which affects me on account of my feeble condition; when the most mild and gentle influence turned my eye back to about ten years ago when God gave me a commission to preach redemption,1212Mr. Redfield held to the idea of a redemption of the mental faculties, to be experienced by the faithful in this life. and the question came, “Will you go back to that?’ When I said, “I will,” I was all light again. I am now holding myself in readiness for marching orders. I may not be mustered out for some time to come; but I say, “Anytime and anywhere.”
“I have much to say that I cannot put on paper. I have learned much I never could have known had I not been afflicted.
“I am now writing my life, and shall bring it with me, to see about getting it published.
“My love to Brother Roberts.
“J. W. Redfield.”
During this summer Mr. Redfield gathered together what means he had, and purchased forty acres of unimproved land near Geneva, the county seat of Kane county, and about three miles from St. Charles. A letter before me in which he ordered small fruits from a nurseryman, is a curiosity. When asked what he intended to do with his land, he divulged a plan to make it a pilgrims’ home. His house and outbuildings would have cost many thousands of dollars. When asked where the income of the home was to come from, he did not know.
In the fall of 1862 he attended a camp meeting in Ogle county, Illinois. Here an incident occurred that drew him out, and for a few moments he seemed himself again. At half-past ten o’clock Monday morning Mr. Roberts commenced a sacramental service. A table was spread with the bread and wine, in front of the desk; the love-feast had closed, and Mr. Roberts gave out the hymn commencing,
“What! never speak one idle word?”
when one of the preachers interrupted him with the question, “Is that hymn a just test of entire sanctification?”
“It is,” was the answer.
“Then I have not got it,” replied the questioner. “Nor I,” “nor I,” said several. Immediately commenced a spirit of confession, of being without the experience, first on the part of many who had lost it; then others threw away their confidence as they listened to those confessions, until it resulted in a panic. Mr. Roberts was unable to preach because of it until ten o’clock at night. There was scarcely any partaking of food, and no cessation of the meeting during the day. The scene was indescribable. The gloom of despair seemed to settle upon almost all. About four o’clock in the afternoon, Mr. Redfield arose, and, after considerable effort, secured the attention of the despairing ones, and when all was quiet, he asked, in his inimitable manner, “Is there not a short way out of the woods?” and then proceeded to clear away the confusion of thought which prevailed. In a very short time, those who had unnecessarily cast away their confidence began to take it back, at first tremblingly, and at last joyously. Then those who had need to confess their backslidings and to seek for salvation, did so, and a glorious victory was the result.
During the winter of ‘62 and ‘63, a visit was made to Buffalo, and then to Syracuse, where were pilgrims of mighty faith, and he hoped for restoration in answer to their prayers. Here he began to show evidences of the breaking down of his mind; which led many of his friends to distrust his personal convictions of duty. This caused him great pain. At last he turned his face toward the West again, weeping as he went. He said but little now in public gatherings. He attended the annual session of the Illinois Conference. The love-feast Sunday morning was truly blessed, and none enjoyed it more than Mr. Redfield. When the bread and water were passed, he tried several times to drink from the cup, such were his overflowing tears, and the convulsive joy of his heart. Little did some of us think that it was the last we should see him alive. He returned to the home of Brother Joslyn, who had so long cared for him. The last letter he ever wrote was the following. It shows the ruling spirit of his life. It was to a Wesleyan minister.
“Marengo, Ill., Oct. 29, 1863.
“Dear Brother F_____: — Your kind favor of the 17th came duly to hand. We have often wondered why you left here so soon, and why you did not write. We see by your letter that the devil is neither dead nor converted, and that you are beginning to learn that to take sides with God is equivalent to a declaration of war against the world of formalism. But while we were sympathizing with you in your conflicts for God and truth, our hearts were made glad last week, at our conference, to see an old man, a postmaster, who had come about eighty miles to see the Free Methodists, and to learn the way of holiness. He said he saw a report in the American Wesleyan from a Brother F_____, giving an account of his experience, and now he wanted to know how to get what Brother F_____ had got. He began in good earnest, and soon was hopping and shouting in a glorious manner, and went to his home to show what great things the Lord had done for him.
“I think if you could have seen him, you would have taken courage to stand for God and the truth. We will pray God to make you a power in the earth; and I think he will look to you to spread holiness in your church. God will stand by you. Shall the Almighty find in you one who dares to stand for the right? Some one must assert the rights of God, and stand in defense of the gospel. The mission is to you; will you honor the call, or let God’s cause go by default? True, you will be often misunderstood, often slandered, and will pass a stormy life, and possibly die in obscurity. Your epitaph from mouth to mouth may be, “Poor, mistaken man;” he might have passed through the world like a comet, leaving a luminous path behind; but he disregarded the judgment and opinions of men, and died unhonored by the masses.” Can you stand thus to be unappreciated, and even depreciated for God and truth’s sake? Oh, take courage, brother. Don’t make it necessary for God to scrape the truth in pronouncing on you, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The great battle has begun. God and the devil are in combat. War, war, is everywhere. The spirit land is in commotion. The world has caught the spirit conflict. Armageddon has sounded the war cry, and the closing struggle is upon us. As a sentinel for the truth you, yes you, Brother F_____, must stand. God has ratified your authority by your success, and he now demands, and will hold you responsible for, fidelity. God help you, is my prayer.
“Yours in Jesus,
“J. W. Redfield.
The delay in answering the letter was caused by his attending the conference.
November 1st, the next day after writing this letter, another stroke of paralysis came, and he was laid upon his bed in an apparently unconscious state. Friends watched over him with more than filial solicitude; but his eyes were darkened, and his eloquent lips were hushed. A few minutes before eight o’clock, November 2, 1863, his right leg drew up and straightened out again in the same manner in which he was accustomed to stamp at the turning point of his great spiritual battles.
A hush came upon all in the room. The place seemed filled with the hosts of God, and John Wesley Redfield was at rest.
Two days later his funeral was held in the Free Methodist church in Marengo, Illinois, conducted by his friend and beloved brother in the Lord, Rev. B. T. Roberts. Six young ministers, who loved him as their lives, bore him to his last resting place in the beautiful cemetery near by. Above his grave stands a small marble shaft, and inscribed upon it is this fitting tribute:
“HE WAS TRUE To His Motto, — Fidelity To GOD.”
THE CONQUEROR CROWNED.
“Servant of God, well done!
Thy glorious warfare’s past;
The battle’s fought, the race is won
And thou art crowned at last;--
“Of all thy heart’s desire
Lodged by the ministerial choir
In thy Redeemer’s breast.
“In condescending love,
Thy ceaseless prayer he heard,
And bade thee suddenly remove,
To thy complete reward.
“With saints enthroned on high,
Thou dost thy Lord proclaim,
And still to God salvation cry, —
Salvation to the Lamb!
“O happy, happy soul!
In ecstasies of praise,
Long as eternal ages roll,
Thou seest thy Saviour’s face.
“Redeemed from earth and pain,
Ah! when shall we ascend,
And all in Jesus’ presence reign
With our translated friend?”
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