Thursday, November 10, 2011

Asahel Nettleton

Asahel Nettleton's life was shaken after hearing a sermon on his need for regeneration. His contentment with life proved dissatisfying as he contemplated his need for repentance. This young farmer, born in Killingworth, Connecticut in 1783, became awakened to his spiritual welfare. Nettleton thought of himself as a good moral person but had difficulty with feelings of guilt for his sins.

“I tried to repent, but I could not feel the least sorrow for my innumerable sins. By endeavoring to repent, I saw my heart still remained impenitent.”

Nettleton wrestled with God daily for the next ten months. Although he prayed and cried out to God, he felt hopeless and wondered if he was not one of the elect. He found his heart to be hardened against God.

He was in a field contemplating his despair when he suddenly experienced a calmness he had never felt before. Nettleton's resistance to Christian doctrines passed away as he experienced true repentance for the first time. He had felt that his sins were an affront to the holy righteous God of Creation. He experienced joy and peace for the first time in the ten month period. Nettleton received assurance that he had experienced the salvation for which he sought.

Nettleton chose to leave his farm and attend Yale College. He developed a strong desire to evangelize during his post graduate studies. Asahel Nettleton became a minister ordained in the Congregational Church in 1811. He served as an itinerant revivalist throughout New England in the following decade.

In 1801, revivals starting on the frontier spread throughout the United States. He became an important part in bringing spiritual revival throughout New England. His own personal struggle of wrestling with sin and repentance prepared him to be more effective bringing people to Christ. His own struggles gave him an uncommon knowledge of the condition of the human heart.

Local pastors asked him to preach in New Haven and Yale in the summer and fall of 1820. A spiritual revival of Christianity had begun while Nettleton preached, encouraged new converts, and visited those persons who searched for personal salvation. He attended hundreds of meetings in 1820.

He recalled an most memorable event “one which will never be forgotten” that occurred at 2:00 PM on August 25, 1820.

Twenty women, distressed about their lack of purpose in life, met together. Nettleton was keenly aware of their spiritual needs and appealed to their consciences while urging them to turn to Christ in repentance.

One of the women named Emily spontaneously interrupted Nettleton and proclaimed as I talking to herself:

“Oh! I can submit, I can love Christ. How easy it is! Why did I not do it before?”

The other women of this distressed group of ladies were deeply affected by Emily's words and spontaneous behavior. After jumping to her feet, Emily began to entreat her friends to submit themselves to God through repentance. She continued to proclaim that the Lord would remove their burdens as she had experienced. Asahel Nettleton prayed silently for the distressed women knowing that the Holy Spirit was moving through Emily as she continued to preach in power.

During the next three hours, one by one of the women repented and found salvation in Jesus Christ. At the close of three hours, nine of the ten women gave their lives to Christ and experienced unspeakable joy.

Nettleton recounted the experience:

“Suffice it to say, I never saw or heard of such an afternoon visit before...At the close, we began to look about us to see and inquire, 'What hath God wrought? ...I said, Is it possible? This is too much! Had I not seen it, I could not have believed it. For nine of those who entered the room in deep distress were now rejoicing in hope.'”

Asahel Nettleton became one of the leading evangelists in the Second Great Awakening in America which took place through the late 1790s through the early years of 1840. He wrote the letter that follows from Union College in Schenectady, New York in April of 1820.

“This region, and especially the county of Saratoga, has heretofore been as destitute of revivals of religion as any part of this State...About forty have made a profession of religion. These include some of the most respectable characters in the village. Directly south is the town of Malta. For a number of years there has been no Presbyterian church in that place. But the year past, there has been a very interesting revival among the people....A church had been recently organized, which now consists of one hundred and five members. You can hardly imagine the interest which this revival excited in the surrounding region. Although the inhabitants are scattered over a large extent, yet, I verily believe, I have seen more than fourteen hundred people assembled at once to hear the gospel. On the east of Malta is the town of Stillwater...On the 27th of February last (1820) one hundred and three publicly presented themselves a living sacrifice unto the Lord."

Asahel Nettleton made the following comments about the revivals in Union College and Schenectady, New York.

“More than one hundred have been brought to rejoice in hope. Beside these, we had more than two hundred in our meeting of inquiry, anxious for their souls...The room was so crowded, that we were obliged to request all who had recently found relief to retire below, and spend there time in prayer for those above. This evening will never be forgotten. The scene is beyond description. Did you ever witness two hundred sinners, with one accord, in one place, weeping for their sins? ...I felt as though I was standing on the verge of the eternal world; while the floor under my feet was shaken by the trembling of anxious souls in view of a judgment to come. The solemnity was still heightened, when every knee was bent at the throne of grace, and the intervening silence of the voice of prayer was interrupted only by the sighs and sobs of anxious souls...I only add that some of the most stout, hard hearted, Heaven-daring rebels, have been in the most awful distress. Within a circle whose diameter would be twenty-four miles, not less than eight hundred souls have been hopefully born into the kingdom of Christ since last September.”

Nettleton's account of the revival at Union College was corroborated by a student at the college.

“It commenced then in Malta, about ten miles from this place, under the labours of a Mr. Nettleton, a missionary from Connecticut...with such displays of the power of God's Spirit in crushing the opposition seldom seen. The Deist and Universalist, the Drunkard, the Gambler, and the Swearer, were alike made the subjects of this heart-breaking work. Four months ago, Christ had no church there. It was a place of great spiritual dearth; and like the top of Gilboa, had never been wet by rain or dew. But the Lord has now converted that wilderness into a fruitful field.”

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