The Outstanding Contentment of Abigail Hutchinson
In Jonathan Edward’s book, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls in Northampton, two specific persons are given detailed accounts of their conversions during The First Great Awakening. Other instances are made mention of, but two, in particular, are special to Jonathan Edwards. I have already written on the one, Phoebe Bartlett, which I found fascinating, but the other story of conversion only recently became an interest to me – the conversion of Abigail Hutchinson.
Edwards does not give us a date of birth for Abigail but is quick to make mention that she had passed away prior to him writing this account. Abigail came from an intelligent family, and her demeanor was, for the most part, serious and reserved. Her education did nothing to excite emotion or any affection but seemed to increase her lack of emotional expression. This could have been partly due to her sickness which would only increase until she died, yet she never became depressed on account of it.
She was, as Edwards described, “awakened” to spiritual things by two occurrences. Her brother was talking of the necessity to seek regenerating grace, which was coupled with the news of a certain young woman receiving saving grace. Abigail was filled with great envy, for she thought this young woman “very unworthy of being distinguished from others by such a mercy.” She resolved to do whatever it took to receive this same blessing but saw that she did not know enough of religion to make her capable of conversion. This lead to another resolution to read the entire scriptures starting at the beginning.
Abigail was only four days into her reading when she was struck to the core of her own sinfulness. She described this change in her as a “flash of lightning,” and was left in a state of great terror. She fled to the New Testament to see if she could find any relief for her soul but found none. This terror, caused by the realization that she had sinned against God, continued for three days until “she saw nothing but the blackness of darkness before her.” She had been so concerned about her physical health that she had completely forgotten about the well-being of her soul. She saw that her religious actions and prayers had given her no advantage in her receiving salvation, so she continued to search for relief to no avail.
Then it came to her; salvation came to Abigail.
Sunday morning came without any sign of relief. She hoped to talk to the minister that day, but her friends advised against it seeing as she was quite ill that morning. So she resolved to go Monday morning to find relief. Monday morning came, and she awoke, but something was different; she was amazed at how peaceful she felt. She had never felt such ease in her soul and wondered at it.
Passages of scripture came to her mind, one of them being, “the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin,” and with these came such a sense of the excellency of Christ. All she could think about was Christ and the great work of salvation that had been brought to her. She told her brother that she had seen, as Edwards states, “in realizing views by faith,” Christ the previous night, “and that she had really thought that she had not knowledge enough to be converted; but, says she, God can make it quite easy!”
Her salvation caused her to long for others to receive the same and was overcome by great emotion whenever she thought on those who lived “Christless” lives. She was also overcome by great emotion whenever she met other believers, heard of others’ conversions, or thought on those who believed Christ – even to the point of almost fainting. Edwards explains why she was overcome with emotion to such extent:
“It was, doubtless, partly owing to her bodily weakness, that her nature was so often overcome, and ready to sink with gracious affection; but yet the truth was, that she had more grace, and greater discoveries of God and Christ, than the present frail state did well consist with.”
A great change had happened to Abigail Hutchinson. Not only were her affections touched, but also her attitude about life. She had such a sense of the glory of God that she was as a little child completely dependent on her Heavenly Father. She was pleased to lie low before God and thought it pleasant to lie in the dust, mourning for sin for the rest of her life.
Although she gained such a positive outlook on life, she wished to die. She thought it strange to continue going to the doctors to try and prolong her life when it was much better to be in the presence of God. But Abigail realized these longings only showed a lack of submission to the will of God. She then was known to often say: “I am quite willing to live, and quite willing to die; quite willing to be sick, and quite willing to be well; and quite willing for any thing that God will bring upon me!” and also, “I am willing to suffer for Christ’s sake, I am willing to spend and be spent for Christ’s sake; I am willing to spend my life, even my very life, for Christ’s sake!”
Abigail had found the sweetness of living in submission to the will of God, content with whatever His providential hand brought her – even great illness. Edwards described her illness in this way:
“Her illness, in the latter part of it, was seated much in her throat; and an inward swelling filled up the pipe, so that she could swallow nothing but what was perfectly liquid and but very little of that, with great and long strugglings. That which she took in fled out at her nostrils, till at last she could swallow nothing at all. She had a raging appetite for food; so that she told her sister, when talking with her about her circumstances, that the worst bit would be sweet to her; but yet, when she saw that she could not swallow it, she seemed to be as perfectly contented without it, as if she had no appetite.”
Through this illness, Abigail’s patience was magnified. One time when she was struggling to eat, she said to her sister, “O sister, this is for my good!” Edwards recounts, “She used sometimes to say to her sister, under her extreme sufferings, 'It is good to be so!' Her sister once asked her, why she said so; 'why,' says she, 'because God would have it so: it is best that things should be as God would have them: it looks best to me.'”
Abigail Hutchinson displayed the meaning of dying to self to live to Christ. She had come to a place of beautiful submission to the will of God. It was no longer her that lived while she was alive, but Christ through her. She would never recover from her illness as Edwards writes:
“She said not long before she died, that she used to be afraid how she should grapple with death; but, says she, “God has showed me that He can make it easy in great pain.” Several days before she died, she could scarcely say any thing but just Yes, and No, to questions that were asked her; for she seemed to be dying for three days together. But she seemed to continue in an admirably sweet composure of soul, without any interruption, to the last, and died as a person that went to sleep, without any struggling, about noon, on Friday, June 27, 1735.”
Edwards concludes that “she wanted to be where strong grace might have more liberty, and be without the clog of a weak body; and there she doubtless now is.”
The contentment of Abigail Hutchinson teaches us the fact that there is more to this life than we see. For her, the present pain she felt only increased her hope and assurance that there was a place where suffering, pain, and ultimately, sin did not exist. May she serve as a lighthouse to us who still are tossed and turned by the waves of life.