Letter from Samuel Davies to Joseph Bellamy
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R. and D. S.—If the publication of a narrative of the rise, progress, and present situation of religion in Virginia, may not only gratify good people, but (as you give me reason to hope) animate their prayers for us, and also encourage preachers to come into these parts, I should charge myself with a criminal neglect if I refused to publish the marvelous work of the Lord among us. I hope I may observe without the umbrage of calumny what is but too evident to serious people of all denominations among us, that religion has been, and in most parts of the colony, still is, in a very low state. A surprising negligence in attending public worship, and an equally surprising levity and unconcernedness in those that attend. Family religion a rarity, and a solemn concern about eternal things a greater. Vices of various kinds triumphant, and even a form of godliness not common. But universal fame makes it needless for me to enlarge on this disagreeable subject. Before the revival in 1743, there were a few who were awakened, as they have told me, either by their own serious reflections, suggested and enforced by Divine energy, or on reading some authors of the last century, particularly Boston, Baxter, Flavel, and Bunyan. There was one Mr Samuel Morris, who had for some time been very anxious about his own salvation, who after obtaining blessed relief in Christ became zealous for the salvation of his neighbours, and very earnest to use means to awaken them. This was the tendency of his conversation, and he also read to them such authors as had been most useful to himself, particularly Luther on the Galatians, and his table discourses, and several pieces of honest Bunyan’s. By these means some of his neighbours were made more thoughtful about their souls, but the concern was not very extensive. I have prevailed on my good friend just now named, who was the principal private instrument of promoting the late work, and therefore well acquainted with it, to write me a narrative of its rise and progress, and this, together with that he and others have told me, I shall present to you, without any material alterations. “In the year 1740 Mr Whitefield had preached at Williamsburg at the invitation of Mr Blair, our late commissary. But we being sixty miles distant from Williamsburg, he left the colony before we had an opportunity of hearing him. But in the year 1743 a young gentleman from Scotland had got a book of his sermons, preached in Glasgow, and taken from his mouth in short hand, which, after I had read with great benefit, I invited my neighbours to come and hear them; and the plainness and fervency of these discourses being attended with the power of the Lord, many were convinced of their undone condition, and constrained to seek deliverance with the greatest solicitude. A considerable number met to hear these sermons every Sabbath, and frequently on week days. The concern of some was so passionate and violent, that they could not avoid crying out, weeping bitterly, & c. And that when such indications of religious concern were so strange and ridiculous, that they could not be occasioned by example or sympathy, and the affectation of them would be so unprofitable an instance of hypocrisy, that none could be tempted to it. My dwelling-house at length was too small to contain the people, whereupon we determined to build a meeting-house, merely for reading. And having never been used to social extempore prayer, none of us durst attempt it. By this single means several were awakened, and by their conduct ever since is a proof of the continuance and happy issue of their impressions. When the report was spread abroad, I was invited to several places to read these sermons, at a considerable distance, and by this means the concern was propagated.
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