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The Life Of J. W. Redfield


John Wesley Redfield was born in Clarendon, New Hampshire, January 23, 1810. On the night of his birth an esteemed Christian woman dreamed that she was visited by an angel who told her to go to the home of the Redfields and she would find there a new born son; and that she must announce to the mother that he must be named John Wesley. She was also informed that this would be assented to immediately by the mother, who would respond, “That is his name.” This woman did as she was bidden, and all came to pass as she had dreamed. In mentioning this in his journal, Mr. Redfield says, “By that unlucky name was I baptized and have been known through life.”

So strongly was he impressed with his call to the ministry that when only eight years of age, and just able to write legibly, he attempted in secret to compose a sermon. When it was completed he borrowed a volume of Wesley’s sermons that he might compare his production with them. When he saw the great difference between them, in perplexity and sadness he exclaimed: “Oh, I can never preach! I don’t know anything about religion. I am sure I never can preach.”

So persistently did the impression of his call to preach follow him in his childhood that, in mature years, when attempting to run away from it, he was inclined to consider it an “antenatal mark.”

When about twelve or thirteen years of age he was informed of his mother’s impressions concerning him, and the dream already related. So great, however, was his aversion to the work of the ministry that he studiously contended against his conviction by concealing his feelings and avoiding all conversation concerning the matter.

When between thirteen and fourteen years of age he had such alarming views of his sinful state that he feared he was past all hope of mercy. This fear became so intense at one period that he was tempted to provoke God to destroy him, that, without the guilt of self-murder, he might learn the certainty of his fate, and, by the shortening of his sinful course, render his doom less aggravated. He had been seeking the favor of God in a secret way for some time, but in vain. He now gave up hope, not knowing any other way than that which he had followed. His distress of mind continued without abatement until he overheard some Christian friends speak of a contemplated camp meeting, which they trusted would result in the conversion of sinners. At this, hope revived, and to himself he said, “If I go, I too may be converted.”

He obtained permission from his parents to go, and when the time arrived he was on the campground. His attention was directed to the altar before the stand, with the remark, “There many were converted last year.” Almost instantly his heart rebelled against the thought of going to such a place. Even in his last days he would express his astonishment at that manifestation of rebellion against God.

In due time a goodly number of tents had been erected, and an old gentleman invited him to a prayer meeting about to commence in one of them. He went and was asked to kneel with the company. He did so, but soon felt greatly mortified at the thought of its being in sight of every passerby. The praying seemed childish, if not ludicrous. He made up his mind that it would be impossible to find salvation there.

In process of time the erection of tents was completed, and the congregation gathered before the stand for the first preaching service. The sainted Wilber Fisk was in charge of the meeting. The preachers were called into the stand, and the service commenced. At the close of the sermon seekers were invited into the altar; and the troubled boy was among them. The same good old man who invited him into the prayer meeting was now to instruct him in the way of salvation There was quite a number of seekers and all were praying lustily. This completely absorbed his attention. As many others have done, he began to criticize, instead of praying. In relating this experience he says, “I thought, this cannot be the way to seek religion! Why can’t they be more calm and rational about it? Certainly they will never be able to think their way through amid so much noise and confusion! At least I can do nothing without a quiet time to think.” Speaking of this in his last days, he said, “How little did I understand that all reasoning or human planning was useless here!”

But he soon saw that this apparently irrational way and this vociferous manner were successful; for some of the seekers were getting saved. As every other way with him had failed, he at last thought he would try this one. So he cried aloud, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” but he was shocked and mortified at the sound of his own voice He did not find salvation in loud prayers, nor was he finally converted while praying. This effort to pray proved a good thing to him, however, in one respect; he was now fully and publicly committed to seek the Lord, his pride was humbled and he was fast getting down where Jesus could help him. He gave up all his experimenting and reasoning, and determined to take the narrow way at every cost.

He soon left the altar and went out into the woods alone. Under a large tree he knelt and vowed to take Jesus for my only Saviour. Speaking of this experience, he says. “Instantly, as I ventured on Jesus, my burden was gone. I was filled with inexpressible delight, and before I was aware of what I was doing, was on my feet and shouting, “Glory God”! Shocked at this strange and almost spontaneous utterance. I said to myself “What does this mean? I had heard the Methodists say, “Glory to God,” but I don’t know what it means!” My burden was all gone. Everything around seemed vocal with the praises of God, and as the Indian said in similar circumstances. “The trees looked glad, and the birds sang glad, the world looked glad, and I felt glad.” All nature seemed in harmony, like a beautiful and well-tuned harp, and sang praises to the Most High. My heart could now beat time to the heavenly music I heard around, above, beneath, and within. But I had not the no distant idea that this was conversion. I thought some strange thing had happened to me. I had been sure that I would know when I was a Christian by a peculiar gloom that would settle down upon me. I had thought that a peculiar desolation of the heart and of the appearance of all things would attest that had obtained that for which I sought. I was desirous of attaining such an uncomfortable state, that I might be saved from the doubts and despair that hung over me. Bewildered at what had now taken place, and wishing to know what to do, I returned to the campground and asked an elderly lady who professed to be a Christian, “What do you think is the matter with me? My burden is all gone, and I can’t feel bad if I try; and I love God and everybody. I don’t know but I’ll have to be damned after all; but I can’t feel one fear.”

“Why,” said she, “you are converted, and this is religion.”

“But I thought that religion would make me feel gloomy!”

“Oh no!” said she, “it makes people feel happy.”

“Well,” said I to myself, “if this is religion, the world will now soon be converted for I shall tell it so plain that everybody will certainly believe and seek, and find it.”

“So exalted did salvation seem, and so valuable, and so ardently did I desire the salvation of those around me, that I felt I could have laid down my life to impart salvation to the world. I now found elements in my soul, which by their aspirings, and exalted perceptions, and appreciative powers, “showed me to be in family alliance with the great Father. I would often say, “I am a child, an heir of God!” How astounding was the thought! How overwhelming! When I passed along the streets, after my return home, every sound and sight seemed, written all, over and vocal with, “Glory to God in the highest, forever.”

He immediately went to work for others. Full of the hope of success, he approached a young man of his acquaintance and spoke to him on the subject of salvation. He says, “I expected to see his eye flash with hope, and to hear him exclaim, “Where! where! where may I find it?” and to find him ready to do anything to obtain it. But he turned upon me with a look of unutterable scorn, which seemed to say, “What! have you become a Methodist fool? Away with such stuff! I don’t want to hear a word about the silly subject.” I was taken all aback. I had expected the same kind of a reception that I would have had if I had brought to him the news of a gold mine, or that he had been selected for one of the highest officers of the state.”

After the camp meeting young Redfield started for his home. He visited some relatives on the way, told them what the Lord had done for him, and urged them to seek the same salvation. But he seemed to them like one that mocked. He obtained permission to pray with one large family, and a short time after was made happy by the news that all had been converted. On the way home he told a young man who had also been converted at the same meeting, that for a long time he had desired, that he would make a start, that it might be easier for himself to do the same, and was surprised to find that this young man had experienced the same feeling with respect to him.

When he reached home he set up the family altar in his father’s house. This, by some, was thought to be going too far; but the importance of the matter, and the danger in which he saw sinners, swallowed up all false propriety. In little while he had the privilege of seeing a large number of acquaintances starting out to go with him.

He now began to go from house to house and from town to town, to carry the glad news of a Saviour. When engaged in this work he learned what he had not thought of before that the human heart hates God and dislikes those who love God; but he resolved to be the friend of God if it made every one his enemy. Referring to those labors, he says,

I came to a house in my journey, and went in and asked of each inmate their religious state. The woman ordered me to leave. As I left, I said, ‘I am clear from all further obligation, and now I shake off the dust of my feet against you. I will meet you once more, in the judgment of the great day.’ I left, as I felt forbidden of God to stay. But the woman came to the door, and, until I was out of hearing, called for me to come back. But I followed my own impression and went on.”

In the house of a Universalist he pressed the matter of personal and immediate salvation until the man’s patience gave out and he threatened him with violence. Being only about fifteen years of age, his youthful appearance made him friends who protected him. He here learned a lesson the people were forsaking their sins and seeking the Lord, and the Universalists were made angry by it, notwithstanding their boasted religion of love.

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