A Brief Narrative of the Revival of Religion in Virginia
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2013. Volume 31.
Date Posted July 4, 2013
This letter was given by Jarratt to Thomas Rankin, who gave it to Francis Asbury to be sent to John Wesley. Two editions were printed in London in 1778 and 1779. It is also located in the Journal of Francis Asbury, 1:207-224.
Notice that Jarratt faithfully ministered for thirteen years before he saw revival. Notice the doctrines he emphasized, the small groups which were organized, the emphasis on prayer, and the spirit of cooperation. It is also instructive that the revival built momentum slowly as its influence widened. This account may provide the best model for ministry in our day. Jarratt's account will be continued in the next issue of The Arminian Magazine.
That you may have a full view of the whole, I shall go back as far as my first settlement in this parish. August 29, 1763, I was chosen rector of Bath, in the county of Dinwiddie, in Virginia. Ignorance of the things of God, profaneness, and irreligion, then prevailed among all ranks and degrees. So that I doubt if even the form of godliness was to be found in any one family of this large and populous parish. I was a stranger to the people: my doctrines were quite new to them; and were neither preached nor believed by any other clergyman, so far as I could learn, throughout the province.
My first work was, to explain the depravity of our nature; our fall in Adam, and all the evils consequent thereon; the impossibility of being delivered from them by anything which we could do, and the necessity of a living faith, in order to our obtaining help from God. While I continued to insist upon these truths, and on the absolute necessity of being born again, no small outcry was raised against this way, as well as against him that taught it. But by the help of God, I continued to witness the same both to small and great.
The common people, however, frequented the church more constantly, and in larger numbers than usual. Some were affected at times, so as to drop a tear. But still, for a year or more, I perceived no lasting effect, only a few were not altogether so profane as before. I could discover no heart-felt convictions of sin, no deep or lasting impression of their lost estate. Indeed I have reason to believe that some have been a good deal alarmed at times. But they were shy of speaking to me (thinking it would be presumption) till their convictions wore off.
But in the year 1765, the power of God was more sensibly felt by a few. These were constrained to apply to me, and inquire, "What they must do to be saved?" And now I began to preach abroad, as well as in private houses; and to meet little companies in the evenings, and converse freely on divine things. I believe some were this year converted to God, and thenceforth the work of God slowly went on.
The next year I became acquainted with Mr. McRoberts, rector of a neighboring parish; and we joined hand in hand in the great work. He labored much therein; and not in vain. A remarkable power attended his preaching, and many were truly converted to God, not only in his parish, but in other parts where he was called to labor.
In the years 1770 and 1771, we had a more considerable outpouring of the Spirit, at a place in my parish called White Oak. It was here first I formed the people into a society, that they might assist and strengthen each other. The good effects of this were soon apparent. Convictions were deep and lasting: not only knowledge, but faith, and love, and holiness continually increased.
In the year 1772, the revival was more considerable, and extended itself in some places, for fifty or sixty miles round. It increased still more in the following year, and several sinners were truly converted to God. In spring, 1774, it was more remarkable than ever. The word preached was attended with such energy, that many were pierced to the heart. Tears fell plentifully from the eyes of the hearers, and some were constrained to cry out. A good number were gathered in this year, both in my parish and in many of the neighboring counties. I formed several societies out of those which were convinced or converted; and I found it a happy means of building up those that had believed, and preventing the rest from losing their convictions.
In the counties of Sussex and Brunswick, the work, from the year 1773, was chiefly carried on by the labors of the people called Methodists. The first of them who appeared in these parts was. Mr. Robert Williams, who, you know, was a plain, artless, [untiring] preacher of the gospel: he was greatly blessed in detecting the hypocrite, razing false foundations, and stirring believers up to press after a present salvation from the remains of sin. He came to my house in the month of March, in the year 1773. The next year others of his brethren came, who gathered many societies both in this neighborhood, and in other places, as far as North Carolina. They now began to ride the circuit, and to take care of the societies already formed, which was rendered a happy means, both of deepening and spreading the work of God.
I earnestly recommended it to my societies, to pray much for the prosperity of Zion, and for a larger outpouring of the Spirit of God. They did so; and not in vain. We have had a time of refreshing indeed: a revival of religion, as great as perhaps ever was known, in country places, in so short a time. It began in the latter end of the year 1775: but was more considerable in January, 1776, the beginning of the present year. It broke out nearly at the same time, at three places, not far from each others. Two of these places are in my parish; the other in Amelia county — which had for many years been notorious for carelessness, profaneness, and immoralities of all kinds. Gaming, swearing, drunkenness, and the like, were their delight, while things sacred were their scorn and contempt. However, some time last year one of my parish (now a local preacher) appointed some meetings among them, and after a while induced a small number to join in society. And though few, if any of them were then believers, yet this was a means of preparing the way of the Lord. (To be continued.)