Keepers of the Covenant: Frontier Missions and the Decline of Congregationalism, 1774-1818

By James R. Rohrer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
FIVE CMS Missionaries and Revivalism

In August 1798, less than two months after the creation of the Connecticut Missionary Society, the Reverend Samuel J. Mills of Torringford noticed "unusual religious appearances" among his flock. The young people began to meet weekly by themselves for prayer and spiritual exercises, "an event so extraordinary" that it soon "excited a spirit of general inquiry throughout the society." By the autumn it was evident that God was reviving the Church at Torringford. A remarkable "solemnity appeared on the countenances" of the people, Mills wrote in a narrative published in the Connecticut Evangelical Magazine. "They found their hearts so much opposed to God, and to his law and to his gospel, as to see that nothing short of divine power could ever subdue them." Filled with a terrible anxiety about their sinful condition, many professors of religion now feared that their previous hopes of salvation had been grounded upon false impressions. For more than a year the "seriousness" and "solemnity" prevailed in Torringford, humbling the proud and hard-hearted, disturbing the lukewarm and the comfortable, and finally reconciling dozens of awakened sinners to the sovereignty of God and "the duties of unconditional submission and disinterested affection." Mills, an earnest Edwardsean who had long prayed for a revival of religion, was amazed by the power of this divine outpouring of grace. "Such a day as this, Sir, we never even dreamt of," he observed to Thomas Robbins in the fall of 1799. "It is the Lord's doings & marvelous in our eyes." 1

The "divine shower" which stirred Mills's people fell upon many other Congregational churches as well. In the closing two years of the eighteenth century at least twenty Connecticut towns experienced powerful

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