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Mr. Redfield was now invited to join the traveling connection of the Methodist Episcopal Church. For a season he looked upon this with favor.
While considering this matter he became convinced that from some cause many of the conference preachers had lost their experiences, and most of them their freedom. He searched for the causes of this. He found that most of these desired to be and to do right, but that they were timid. Some of them acknowledged that they were afraid of proscription in case they should make a specialty of the doctrine and experience of holiness. In view of this, and of the fact that he felt more especially called to the work of an evangelist, he concluded that his place was in the local ranks. Here he would be more free to go where the way opened before him.
At this time there were but few evangelists in the field. It was the beginning of a new era of evangelistic effort. James Caughey had just commenced his great work, and was going like a flame of fire over England and Ireland.
John Newland Maffit, one of the most eloquent preachers of this century, had been laboring as an evangelist throughout the country with marked success; but the eclipse of his brilliant career, which by many was believed to be the result of his own indiscretion, now produced a public sentiment in regard to evangelistic work which was embarrassing and unfavorable to others who would enter upon it. Finney and Burchard of the Presbyterian Church, and Knapp among the Baptists, were the leading men, if not the only ones in this particular department of church work, except Mr. Redfield, who represented the Methodist Episcopal Church.
We have seen the terrific struggles through which he passed before he would consent to enter the sacred office. Now we see him about to enter its most untried and difficult phase of work. His first thought was to go where there were no organized churches, and so become a pioneer to other local preachers in such fields. But the trusting, “Man proposes, but God disposes,” has been made a truism by such experiences as we are now contemplating.
At this very time he had been invited to go up the river about twenty miles above New York city, and add his efforts to the labors of other local preachers who had broken the ground and, as he says, “begun to see some hopes of good.” He found that formerly the people here had heard but two sermons a year, and those on weekday afternoons, and by a rank Predestinarian. Mr. Redfield’s first visit was on a beautiful Sunday; and the first service was in a grove. The people came from miles away. The evening meetings were held in private houses, and God was present to save. He says the people were simple-hearted and natural. They used no fine phrases nor religious cant, for they were utterly unused to listening to the relation of Christian experience.
“At a meeting one day in a private house, a woman with a child in her arms sat swaying to and fro with suppressed emotion, when her face suddenly whitened out. Another woman seeing the state of things, took her child from her, when she arose and said, “I don’t know as I have got this good religion what I hear you talk about, but I do feel so good and warm all along up here,” at the same time putting both hands on her breast. It required no doctor of divinity to tell that she was happily converted to God. Soon forty or fifty were converted and formed into a class, and then the people set to work to build a church. In eleven months from the time of the first conversion, the house was finished, paid for, and I was invited to come and preach the dedicatory sermon. It was in the evening. Just before preaching I said to the first convert, “Jacob, when I am done preaching, I want you to give an exhortation from the altar, and invite the people to come forward to seek religion.” When I was through he did as I told him, and such another exhortation I never heard. Its effects convinced me that God’s tools are adapted to their work, and far more efficient when selected from among the people who are saved, than all the labored and scientific productions of those inexperienced in the things of God can be.
“The exhortation ran something like this: Now, sinners, I tell you, look a’ here; I tell you, you don’t know how good this good religion is. Oh, I wish you would come up here and kneel down and get it! You know I used to drink rum like anything, and swear, and play cards. But, oh! how good this good religion!’! Oh, do come, and kneel down and get it.”
“To my astonishment stouthearted men as well as others flocked to the altar of prayer. When the meeting closed, I said to Jacob, “You and I must go all over this place and exhort the people to get religion; and we will begin tomorrow morning.”
“In the morning we started on our mission. In the first house we visited were two families. In the first room sat an elderly woman weeping, who was at the meeting the night before. Jacob left me to talk with her, and he went into the other part of the house to talk with those there. As soon as he was gone the old woman said to me with deep emotion, Oh, that sermon Jacob preached last night made me determine to get this good “religion.”
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