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CHAPTER 3

Returning home, young Redfield now resolved to live religion, but to abandon all thought of preaching, unless God by unmistakable signs should reveal it to him as his will. He passed the winter and the following summer in a restless and uncomfortable state of mind. He was continually mourning over his sad condition, and wondering why he should be the victim of such impressions, and yet have no certain evidence to settle the matter. He would allow none to speak to him in regard to it, and would seek counsel from none.

Late in the fall he saw, in the western sky, an indescribable sign. The impression made upon him by it was, “That hangs over where God would have you go to labor.” But this distressed him still more. The thought of following such a sign was contrary to all his ideas of propriety in matters of such great concern. He reasoned that in a matter of such importance, where there is possibility of making a mistake, and that mistake liable to be a fatal one, he had a right to expect of God a reasonable and unmistakable evidence of his will. But in spite of all, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel,” continually rang through his heart. Still, also, that sign hung in the sky, with the same impression of its import. At last he determined to ask for another to corroborate the first, but none came. His appetite and sleep forsook him, until in two months he was very much wasted. He became afraid that he might become insane. He had asked that an angel or a bird might come to him as an assurance that the sign he continually saw in that place in the sky was from God, or that an audible voice might speak to him, then he would obey it. Still the answer did not come. He at last resolved to seek for it by fasting and prayer. He set the day for the struggle, also determining to follow it by a watch-night. He expected that by twelve o’clock at night, a bird or angel, or voice would settle his doubts. The hour came, the town clock struck; he counted the strokes; it was twelve; but no bird, nor angel, nor voice came. He said to himself, “I am glad that I have gone through with my fast and watchnight. Now I can go to rest, and drop this terrible subject. The absence of the testimony I have asked for is sufficient to satisfy me that my impressions as to preaching, and that sign, are unreliable. I have been the dupe of hallucination.”

An impression now came to him to open the Bible and see what light he could get from that. He says: “I opened it at random and let my finger touch without knowing where. On looking I found it on the words in Genesis 17:3: “Therefore, my son, obey my voice according to that which I command thee.” For a moment I was disturbed; but soon I reasoned: that was purely a happen so; I will try once more; I’ll reach far enough in opening not to touch the same spot again. I next put my finger on Deuteronomy 8:15: “But it shall come to pass if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day, that all these curses shall come upon thee and overtake thee.” I reasoned this away and tried again. This time my finger fell upon Jonah 3:2: “Arise, go unto Nineveh, that great city, and preach unto it the preaching that I bid thee.” This shook me greatly and well nigh upset all my hopes of finding relief but I reasoned: we are not under the Old Testament dispensation. I will venture to open in the New Testament. My finger now touched the quotation by the Saviour, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel,” etc. Filled with fear, I begged the Lord not to be angry with me, but to let me try once more, and I would not ask again. I opened and touched the words, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

Thus five times in succession did I touch upon the words that corroborated my impressions, and the impressions of others, but which were opposed to my opinions and desires. My soul was now upon the rack worse than ever. I could not rest, I could not sleep. It was in midwinter and very cold; but I went forth into the fields and woods to try a new place, in hope that God would send me a bird or angel or voice. I knelt in the snow and pleaded with God as a man would plead for his life to grant me such an answer as I desired but no answer of that kind came. I went from place to place until I reached the top of a hill in a grove. Here I knelt once more. While pleading there I had such a sense of the awful majesty and near approach of an offended God that my agony of body and soul became extreme and I thought I could not live. Instantly I cried out, ‘O God, remove this from me and I’ll go.’ Immediately I was relieved; but soon my doubting heart said, ‘I’ve seen no bird, nor angel, nor heard a voice; how can I go?’ I went to a hilltop farther on, overlooking a swamp, knelt down, and continued in prayer for some time. When I tried to rise I found my clothing was frozen to the earth. So great had been my agitation that I had not thought of the cold. I pulled my knees loose, but found I could not rise until I had rubbed my limbs warm. At last, with great difficulty, I arose and started towards the house. I passed the spot where I felt the presence of God so painfully, and went down into a valley, and sat down on a log. Though still in great distress of mind, the impression came: “Stand still and see the salvation of God.” The next moment a bird came and alighted on my shoulder. I shook it off, but it came again. I then thought: I may be in its way. I arose, went to the top of another hill, and knelt in prayer again, under a pine tree. While thus engaged, a sound passed through the tree like that of a stiff breeze, but no wind seemed stirring. I listened and looked, but saw nothing. I arose and went home. It was morning, and my father, after building a fire, had gone to the barn. When I entered the room and came in contact with the warm air I became so faint that I dropped into a chair by the door, pale, haggard, and weak. My mother came into the room that moment, and seeing my distressed look, was frightened, and exclaimed, “Why, John what’s the matter?” I made out to answer, “Nothing, mother”; but perceiving my feelings about to betray me, I arose and went out into the cold again. When beyond hearing I gave vent to my anguish in loud sobbing and weeping.

“I now determined to spend this day also in fasting and prayer, and conclude it with a watch-night. When twelve o’clock at night came again, it was with the same results. I then thought: I will turn to the word of God again. I opened to the words, “There shall no sign be given.” As this spoiled all prospect of sleep, I went out into the fields again. I said to myself: There is that sign still in the sky. Reason says: I must be under a religious hallucination; but, true or false, I cannot settle the matter of duty or shake it off. My body is worn down; my mind is almost distracted. I must either go deranged or die. There is but one thing I can do, that is, to go to the place and test the matter. I had no sooner resolved to go than, cold as it was, I was all in a glow of warmth, and as happy as I could bear.

“I could not tell any one my feelings. I returned to the house. It was now daylight. I entered the parlor and went to a bureau in which my linen was kept, and commenced to pack a small bundle to take with me. While thus engaged, my sister Mary, then living at home, came into the room and with streaming eyes handed me a Bible and hymn-book, and said: “Brother John, the victory is gained.” I could contain no longer; I broke forth in convulsed sobbing and weeping, but said not a word. She afterwards told me that she knew at this time, all about my struggle, and was engaged in secret prayer for me all the time; and also that she knew the very moment when it was over, though she was in the house and I quite a distance away. I had supposed all the time that none but God and I knew anything about it.”

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