Daily Thoughts: The Power of the Holy Spirit in Portland, Maine
Although Edward Payson (1783-1827) is largely forgotten today, he was well-known in the first half of the 19th century. According to Iain Murray, Payson’s biography by Asa Cummings “was probably the most influential ministerial biography to appear in the United States in the first half of the 19th century.” His influence was so large that thousands of 19th-century parents named their children after him.
Payson pastored for twenty years in Portland, Maine. During his ministry, he had a remarkable prayer life, praying hours daily, and preached with great reality and power. Payton saw 5 different periods of spiritual awakening, between 1807, his first year there, until his final year in 1827.
Known as Praying Payson of Portland, he would not have liked such a title, but his reputation spread widely as a man who spent hours in private prayer and communion with God. Archibald Alexander, one of the pre-imment leaders of revival in New England, said in 1844 that “no man in our country has left behind him a higher character for eminent godliness than Edward Payson.”
Payson was a pastor during seasons of revival. In 1813 he spoke of “never having seen so much of God’s power displayed at one time.” He wrote his mother the next year, as he traveled home to Portland, describing God’s power in a period of revival: “I came home thoroughly drenched by the shower of divine influences, which began to fall; I soon found, upon returning home, that the cloud had followed me, and was beginning to pour itself down upon my people; we appointed a season of thanksgiving, and a blessing seemed to follow it. I then invited a number of young men to our house for a meeting; I expected twenty at the most, but the first evening, forty came, then sixty, and finally seventy came. About thirty of these are seriously inquiring about salvation, and there is a real appearance that the work is spreading. Meanwhile, I am rejoicing and astonished to see what God is doing, so that I can scarcely get an hour’s sleep.”
Payton later wrote on April 1, 1816: “Our revival still lingers, and even increases slowly. I have conversed with about forty persons who are entertaining hopes of their conversion and with sixty others who are inquiring about their salvation. Twenty-three souls have been added to the church since the year’s beginning, and the work is evidently not over. There is also quite a revival at Bath, south of us here. Nearly two hundred apparently have been awakened there. Seventy-one persons were converted and added to a church at one time recently. In New York and Baltimore, there are also revivals occurring.
Such seasons of spiritual quickening in Portland continued in future years, later again in 1816, 1822, and in 1827, the final year of Payson’s life.
Such divine visitations of reviving grace in Christ’s church have come in the history of New England and in various parts of our country. New England, as well as every state in our country, is greatly in need of such a work of grace again. The God of Edward Payson still lives in Portland and is being sought again there in a serious way across New England, so pray for His work there, and use this encouragement to pray for God to revive His work in the midst of the years where you are. Our national election this fall will mean nothing for our future if God does not do a new work.
– Mack Tomlinson