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Mr. Redfield was now conscious that disease had fastened its grasp upon his own frame. To all appearances he was rapidly sinking under that fell disease, consumption. All remedies seemed to fail. He had but one hope left, and that was to escape the rigors of winter by going to one of the Southern states. A few remedies that he still thought of using were packed with his clothing and books, and with a limited purse, he started for New York city to take a steamer for the South. On arriving at the city, and while waiting for the day of the steamer’s departure, he met an old friend, who insisted upon his stopping with him during the winter. It was urged that there would be sudden changes of weather in the South that would seriously affect him; that he might have a room at the home of this friend, where he could regulate the temperature as he pleased, and he need not go out until spring. He finally accepted the kind offer, and soon went into most favorable winter quarters.
Here he wasted fast with hectic and cough. He was soon so weak and emaciated, that he was obliged to lie upon the bed most of the time. His room was opposite a Methodist Episcopal church, with a public cemetery and vault in the rear. Every day, and sometimes twice and thrice a day, funeral processions would pass in and leave the bodies of departed ones. In his morbid state of feeling these scenes had a strange fascination for him, and he would gaze upon them and think, “Thus it will be soon with me.”
On bright and pleasant Sunday mornings he would wrap himself and cross over to the church and listen to the sermon. He did not give in his church letter, for that stated that he was a local preacher, and he might be called upon to preach. His disease gained rapidly and soon it was doubtful whether he would live to see the coming summer. His marvelous imagination would picture to him scenes of decay, as he looked upon his colorless and emaciated hands and his conscience goaded and upbraided him because of neglected duty. He often would ask himself, “What can I do to soften this terrible punishment, or to appease this God who has borne with me so long?” His room often resounded with his sobs and crying. He appeared to himself to be too far gone with disease to be ever able to perform the duty that lay so heavily upon him; yet to die, he felt he could not, he dare not. These struggles of mind would bring on profuse sweating, and that would be followed with chills, and all seemed to aggravate and hasten the work of disease. Yet he was powerless to shake off these thoughts and feelings.
One day his mind recurred to the fact that four times he had been raised from the borders of the grave, as he thought, that he might preach the gospel, and weak as he was, he immediately knelt and pleaded with God for his life. Days went by in which he spent much of his time in this manner, but all seemed in vain. At last, despairing of help in any other way, he vowed again to do the work God had called him to do. He spent the most of one night in prayer, weeping, promising and pleading. About three o’clock in the morning the answer came, clear and distinct, “You may live while you preach, but no longer.”
From that hour, as we shall see, that declaration was the inspiration of his life. Many times, when heart and hope had failed, that assurance nerved him to go forward in the conflict. He says, “This single sentence has kept me moving for more than twenty year at my own expense to toil in the face of all opposition, and hold my tongue and let God who sent me settle up all in the final day of reckoning.”
On the Friday evening after receiving this answer to his prayer, he was able, by carefully wrapping himself, to attend a love-feast in the church across the way. He went designing to present his letter. He had been seated but a short time when the minister came and spoke to him; and, though they were strangers, asked, “Have you a preacher’s license?”
Mr. Redfield answered, “I have.”
“Well, you must preach for me in this church next Sunday morning,” said the pastor.
“But, sir, you must excuse me;” rejoined Mr. Redfield.
The minister would not excuse him, and Mr. Redfield found himself in trouble again. All his old questionings arose once more. Some of his wife’s relatives lived in the city, and they might make him trouble. Still there was his promise made to God, and the answer, “You may live while you preach, but no longer.” At last he answered, “I will try.” Yet he secretly hoped that he might make so bad a failure of it that he would never be called upon again. If anything could happen to cause this, for which he would not be responsible, and the cause of God not be injured by it, he felt he would be thankful. He had yet to learn that the callings of God are without repentance.
Saturday morning came, and with it the thought that he must try and preach on the morrow. He was in a tremor accompanied by alternate sweats and chills all day. He begged of God to be released. Thus the day was passed. The night came on, with no alleviation to his feelings. In speaking of it, he says, “I have often thought I could appreciate the feelings of a man about to be executed; how the very hours were given tongues to distress his spirit with their suggestions. I went to bed, but not to sleep. Occasionally I would begin to lose myself, when it would seem to be screamed in my ear, “Preach tomorrow,” and I would spring up in the bed, and the cold sweat would start all over me. Thus the long night passed by.”
Daylight brought him no relief. Sunrise succeeded the dawn, and in due time the church bells began to ring. He looked out upon the street and saw the people gathering in large numbers to the church. All seemed to conspire to make him as miserable as possible. The moment came for him to walk over to the church. He started, but with his heart crying out, “I cannot.” Again the Voice said, “Live while you preach.” He reached the pulpit, in great distraction of mind, and made some mortifying blunders. He arose to give out a hymn, but was too weak to hold up the book. He clung to the desk to keep from falling, and had to sit while the congregation sang. The prayer over, the lesson read, and another hymn sung, he arose to announce his text. An unearthly power seemed to sustain him; he had volume of voice, readiness of thought, and freedom of utterance. He concluded, but was ashamed of himself and his effort, and thought, “This will put an end to invitations to preach.” To his surprise, however, the preacher said to him, You must preach again, naming the evening when his services would be expected. Mr. Redfield pleaded to be excused, but the minister was unyielding. Said he, “If you refuse, I must lay commands upon you.” Had it not been for falling into the hands of such a man, it is quite probable that the church would never have been stirred by the mighty eloquence of Dr. Redfield.
On Friday evening, he was again at church. The minister said to him, “You must preach Sunday night.” Again his soul was on the rack. Saturday night was spent in prayer. If he must preach, he must have a text and subject. About two o’clock Sunday morning the answer came; but with it, another of his strange impressions. The substance of it was this: “I will be with you in awful power; but you must open the service with the declaration that this night there will be such a display of divine power as they have never witnessed; and further, that eternity will reveal the fact that the probation of one soul in the congregation ends this night, so that it is salvation for that person now or never.” He well knew that no one who would be present could sympathize with him in making such a statement; that it would probably shock the church, and if it proved a failure, be disastrous to the cause of Christ. He prayed to be relieved from such a duty; and was instantly thrown into great darkness and distress of mind. His text and subject seemed all confusion, as well as his own relation to Christ. This he could not endure. He now pleaded with God to show him what he would have him do, and promised to yield all his objections to the divine will. Then the answer came again as before. Again he shrank from taking a position that seemed so full of presumption; but only to be instantly overwhelmed in darkness, and distress of soul. He finally promised to obey.
He went to the Sunday morning service. The noted Dr. Luckey preached. When the congregation rose to sing the first hymn, the thought came home to him with great power, the doom of one soul will be eternally fixed tonight. Such was the intensity of his feelings he had to sit down, and hold his hand over his mouth to keep from screaming aloud. The natural impropriety of making such a declaration as he felt he must make to please God, made his entire nature shrink from the purpose of doing it. Thus he alternated between the resolve to do so, and drawing back from it through the entire day. In the afternoon Dr. P_____ preached. The work of the evening was to fall upon him. These great preachers occupying the same pulpit, both the same day, did not make his cross lighter.
At the appointed hour he walked over to the church. The house, a large one, was densely packed with people, gallery, standing-room, vestibule and all. At the last moment he made up his mind to venture all, and leave the results with God. At the proper time in a firm, clear voice, he said, “You may prepare for the greatest display of God’s power that you have ever witnessed in this church; besides there is one soul here whose probation ends tonight, forever. With that soul it is salvation this night or never. I may not be able to prove this true, but that soul will tell me in the judgment that this Sunday night, in the year of our Lord 1841, was the last of its probation.” As soon as he had uttered these words he was perfectly relieved. The members were shocked, and so great were their fears, as they afterwards confessed, that they prayed God to overrule his presumption.
He then gave out his text and began to preach. An awful sense of the divine presence pervaded the congregation. To use his own words, “An unearthly power so lifted me up that it seemed to me that my feet only touched the earth, while my whole head, heart and body were above the skies and in heaven. The thrills of heavenly power which I then felt I can never describe. It was a power given me for the occasion, and it seemed to me that it could move a nation, or shake a world.”
He had not finished his sermon when, without an invitation, the congregation arose and many flocked to the altar, screaming for mercy. When all the space around and within the altar was crowded with seekers, the preacher in charge asked all in the house who desired to become Christians to arise, when it was thought that five hundred more arose for prayers. The number afterward converted justified that estimate. For many years that night was commonly referred to as “the great night.”
About a month after this an old Class Leader asked Mr. Redfield if he remembered making the statement on “the great night” that the probation of one soul would end that night. On being answered in the affirmative, he went on to say that a lady converted that night, and who afterwards joined his class, had told him that six weeks previous she dreamed three times during one night that in just six weeks her probation would end. That night the six weeks were ended and she was happily converted.
Though this incident is given by Mr. Redfield himself in this connection, it is not designed to teach that probation ends with conversion. He was the furtherest from teaching any such doctrine, as his experience herein would show. The account is related because of the remarkable coincidence in the events described.
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