By David Freymiller
God’s minute man – Benjamin Abbott
It was midnight in the sleeping city of Philadelphia. At one of the city pumps stood a youth, washing off the blood with which he had been begrimed in a recent fight. Meanwhile he listened intently for the possible approach of the night watchman.
It was too late for this lad, the apprentice of a respectable hatter, to go to the merchant’s home. So, putting on his torn coat and throwing his wet shirt over his arm, he strode off to the Quaker burial ground and lay down to rest between two graves.
Who was the boy sleeping in this strange place? Benjamin Abbott—fighter, swearer, gambler and drinker.
Benjamin was not an ideal apprentice. Before his time was up, he left his employer and turned to farming with his brother. When he came of age, he rented a farm, moved to it with his wife and settled down to earn a living.
In those days anyone who did not attend religious services was peculiarly branded as a sinner. Benjamin Abbott had no desire to be considered in this light; so, tiresome as the long sessions were, he often went to church.
The Spirit of God warned him of his peril, even though he never had heard the clear preaching of the Gospel and knew nothing of the necessity for repentance and conversion. One night he had dreams of Heaven and Hell which impressed him greatly. But, as they were not followed by any great calamity, his anxiety soon wore off and he went back to his old careless ways.
Years passed by. A Methodist preacher opened revival meetings ten or twelve miles away and, through curiosity, Mrs. Abbott went to hear him. She persuaded Benjamin to accompany her the next time.
He was so busy watching the congregation, many of whom were in tears, that he did not know what the sermon was about. At its close, however, some strange words caught his ear.
“It may be that some of you think there is neither God nor devil, Heaven nor Hell; only a guilty conscience. And indeed, my friends, that is bad enough. But I assure you that there is both Heaven and Hell, God and devil.”
Abbot rode rapidly homeward—his thoughts on Heaven and Hell as he had seen them in his dream seven years before.
The evangelist came to preach at a place nearer the Abbott farm. Benjamin, sitting under the sound of the Gospel, wept and cried aloud for mercy.
As he hurried home to go alone and pray, a realization of the frequency with which the Holy Spirit had striven in the past swept over him. Satan, quick to see his advantage, whispered, “Your day of grace is over now. Pray on, cry on; it is all of no use; I shall have you at last.”
Abbott had been brought up to believe in the doctrine of predestination, and the deceiver’s arrow sank deep.
A few days later he was driving through a dark woods in a despairing mood. Suddenly the thought struck him that, as he was lost, he might as well hang himself and experience the worst of it at once. Dismounting from the wagon, he looked for a tree strong enough to bear his weight.
Then he seemed to hear a voice saying, “This torment is nothing to Hell.” He hastily clambered up into his wagon, drove home and spent the night alone, sighing, weeping and dreaming of torments to come.
The next morning he began to mow a field of grass. But immediately he was taken with a fainting spell. He left his mowing and went to the house, in great distress of soul.
That afternoon he, with his wife and small son, attended a Methodist meeting. The preacher’s words were attended with such power that Abbott trembled as he listened. He determined to leave, but his strength had so far failed him that he was unable to put his son down from his knee and rise to his feet.
On the following Sunday he again attended church. That night he awoke with a consciousness of the Lord Jesus standing near him and saying, “I died for you.” He looked to God in faith and heard the assuring words whispered in his soul, “I freely forgive thee for what Christ hath done.”
Day was just breaking, but he could not keep the good news to himself. Calling the whole family up, he read the Bible aloud and exhorted them to the best of his ability.
Like many young Christians, Abbot supposed that his new-found rapture never would be interrupted. So he was astonished when powerful temptations assailed his soul. The devil told him he had grieved the Spirit and God had left him.
“If the Spirit has deserted you, you may as well go back to your old ways,” suggested Satan.
The tempter had overstepped. Abbott’s whole soul recoiled at the very thought, and he cried aloud, “No! No! I love my Jesus. I never will go back to my old ways. No, not for a thousand worlds.”
That night he prayed until a sense of God’s presence returned to him. This experience taught him the valuable lesson that, though feelings may change and temptations may distress, God is “the same yesterday, and to day and for ever.”
One Saturday night Abbott awoke and told his wife, “I have just dreamed that the minister will disappoint us tomorrow, and that it is the will of the Lord for me to preach in his place.”
Sure enough, the next day the preacher failed to appear. The people decided to sing and pray together before dispersing. Abbott felt that God had placed right in front of him a work to be done. But the cross was heavy, and he felt unable to take it up.
At once a cloud enveloped his soul, and he went home gloomy and depressed. He could not rest until he had covenanted that, if God would only show His face again, he would preach any time, anywhere.
Opportunities soon came; he had invitations to preach in a number of places and he accepted them.
While riding out one day to preach at a place called Deerfield, he was met by a man who said, “Go back, go back, Mr. Abbott. Deerfield is no place for you today.”
“I came to preach,” returned Abbott calmly.
“You must ride right home,” insisted the other. “There is a mob out and they are ready to tar and feather you if you try to preach.”
“Hum,” said Mr. Abbott to himself, “that means my best coat spoiled and my hair all matted with tar. None so pleasant, that!”
Instantly a voice whispered in his soul, “The servant is not greater than his Lord.”
Straightening himself in the saddle, he looked the man in the eye and declared, “I’m going to preach if I die for it.”
Arriving at his appointment, he pushed his way through the crowd that had gathered, gave out a hymn and started singing. He went through four lines alone, not a person joined him.
The devil came near, and Abbott began to tremble. He had but one remedy for every difficulty and he applied it now.
“Let us pray,” he said. And as he knelt and lifted up his voice in prayer, the fear of man entirely left him.
He rose from his knees and began to preach. And before the sermon was half finished, many were in tears. The mob leader himself declared that he had not heard such preaching in many a day.
On his way home he met a godly preacher.
“Stop right here,” exclaimed Abbott. “I must tell you what God has done for me.” And he related what had just happened.
“It is nothing to what God will do for you,” replied the preacher. “This is the will of God, even your sanctification.”
That very day Abbott began to hunger and thirst for full salvation.
Some time later a minister, calling at his home, prayed at family worship, “O God, come and sanctify us soul and body.”
“Come, Lord,” Abbott cried out after him. “Come and sanctify me, soul and body.”
The Holy Ghost fell upon him, and for half an hour he lay as one in a trance. He was conscious only that the fire from Heaven had descended on his soul.
One evening he sat at the supper table, fingering a letter that had just arrived. It contained a request for him to preach at New Mills—a town sixty miles away. At that period it took several days to make a journey of this length.
As soon as Abbott felt sure that it was the Lord’s will for him to go, he saddled his best horse and rode off. On the way he stopped to preach every time he had opportunity—and opportunity, for him, held wide meaning.
During his first night out his horse was stolen, and he had to return home for another. He started out again and, arriving at a certain village, asked the only man in sight if there was any preaching of religion in that place.
“If you will go around to the houses and give notice, I will preach,” offered the stranger.
“They want no preaching here,” the man answered.
Immediately Abbott started telling what God had done for him. Soon the man was joined by his wife and two young women.
As the stranger continued to talk, one of the girls burst out crying. Abbot started to pray, and the other girl began to weep.
Soon the preacher had to leave them and go on his way. At the last service which he held on his route, hundreds flocked to hear him, and sixteen persons were converted. As he rode homeward, his heart was singing for joy.
One day, while on a preaching tour, he lost his way. Pulling up his horse before a house by the wayside, he called to a man standing at the door and asked how to reach the village to which he wished to go.
“I’m off for that place right away,” was the answer. “A Methodist preacher is to be there today, and our minister is going over to trap him in his talk. Wait a minute; a friend of mine is coming along, and we’ll ride with you.”
The friend, dressed in ordinary homespun, turned out to be a constable. The men did not suspect that they were escorting the Methodist rebel to his appointment.
The conversation turned upon the preacher in question.
“The old villain!” shouted the constable, with oaths. “I’ll lose the right arm from my body if I don’t land him in jail this very day.”
The community was thoroughly aroused. When the three men came in sight of the meeting place, they saw no less than two hundred horses hitched to the posts and fences.
The preacher tied his horse with the others and, slipping into the woods alone, covenanted with God upon his knees to be faithful, whether it brought him to jail or to death. Then he strode up boldly to the house where the meeting was to be held.
“Come in here,” said the man of the house, hastily throwing open the door of a small room. “Mr. Abbot, I just want to warn you. You’re in a Presbyterian settlement, and the safest thing you can do is to preach up for war. Now, take that from me.” This was during the Revolution, when war sentiment ran high.
“My friend,” was the calm reply, “I shall preach just as the Lord directs me.”
His host then took him out to the people. Two or three feet from the preacher stood the constable, who started and turned pale at the sight of the man whom he had denounced in his own hearing.
Mr. Abbott cheerfully gave out a hymn. He sang four lines by himself, but it was dreary work. He could pray alone better than sing a solo, so he went to his knees.
By the time he had finished his sermon, the people were melted into penitence and prayer. No opposition was offered when he announced another meeting to be held in the village two weeks later.
This good man loved his work and pursued it steadfastly, even after old age overtook him. When his wife died, he auctioned off his household goods and set out to ride circuit.
On a cold February day in 1795 he was taken with violent ague and fever. He recovered in a measure from this attack.
Attending a funeral one day, he gave his last exhortation to a man who had been a useful worker for God but had become a backslider. He was so weakened by the effort that he had to be helped home to bed.
The man opened his heart to the pleadings of Mr. Abbott and turned back to God—but not until the saint, exclaiming, “Glory, glory, glory!” had triumphantly swept through the gates into the Eternal City.—Retold.
More odd bits about Benjamin Abbott
. . . “Next day we went to our appointment, where the congregation was chiefly composed of Germans and a well-behaved people. Here the Lord wrought wonders. Divers fell to the floor, and several found the peace of God.
“I lost both the power of my body and use of my speech and cried out in a strange manner. The people also cried aloud. I thought I should frighten them, being in a strange country and among a people of a strange language. But, glory to God, it had a contrary effect, for they continued all night in prayer.
“Next morning I set out with about twenty others for my appointment, where we found a large congregation. When I came to my application, the power of the Lord came in such a manner that the people fell all about the house, and their cries might be heard afar off.
This alarmed the wicked, who sprang for the doors in such haste that they fell one over another in heaps. The cry of mourners was so great, I thought to give out a hymn to drown the noise. I desired one of our English friends to raise it, but as soon as he began to sing, the power of the Lord struck him and he pitched under the table and there lay like a dead man.
“I gave it out again and asked another to raise it. As soon as he attempted, he fell also. I then made the third attempt, and the power of God came upon me in such a manner that I cried out and was amazed. I then saw that I was fighting against God and did not attempt to sing again.
Mr. Boehm, the owner of the house and a preacher among the Germans, cried out, ‘I never saw God in this way before.’
“I replied, ‘This is a Pentecost, Father.’
“‘Yes, to be sure,’ said he, clapping his hands; ‘a Pentecost, to be sure!’
“Prayer was all through the house, upstairs and down. I desired Mr. Boehm to go to prayer. He did so, and five or six of us did the same.
“A watch-night service had been appointed for that evening. Seeing no prospect of this meeting being over, although it had begun at eleven o’clock, I told Mr. Boehm that we had best quietly withdraw from the meetinghouse.
“When we had got out of the door, a young man came out and laid hold on the fence to support himself from falling and cried amain for God to have mercy on him.
“‘To be sure,’ said Mr. Boehm, ‘I never saw God in this way before.’
“We exhorted him to look to God and not to give up the struggle, and God would bless him before he left the place. I took the old gentleman by the arm, and we walked quietly to the house to get some dinner.
“About five o’clock someone came from the preaching house requesting that I would go there immediately, for there was a person dying. We went without delay. I went upstairs, and there lay several about the floor, some crying for mercy and others praising God.
“I then went into the preaching room, and there they lay about the floor in like manner. I then went to see the person said to be dying; she lay gasping. I kneeled down to pray, but it was instantly given me that God had converted her soul. Therefore, instead of praying for deliverance, I gave God thanks that He had delivered her. Immediately she arose and praised God for what He had done for her soul.
“We set out, with about forty friends, to the next appointment. The people being gathered, after singing and prayer I began to preach.
“God laid to His helping hand; many cried aloud for mercy. One young man, being powerfully wrought upon, retired upstairs and there thumped about the floor, so that Mr. Boehm was afraid he would be injured in body. ‘To be sure,’ said he, ‘I never saw God in this way before.’
“I told him that there was no danger; he was in the hands of a merciful God. A few minutes after, attempting to come downstairs, he fell from the top to the bottom and hallooed aloud, ‘The devil is in the chamber! The devil is in the chamber!’ This cry greatly alarmed all the people.
“It brought a damp over my spirits, for I thought if I had raised the devil, I might as well go home again. However, after a little space I bade some of the dear people to go upstairs and see if the devil was there. Several went up to see what the matter was, and here they found a man rolling, groaning and crying to God for mercy. They returned and told us how matters stood.
“Next day at my appointment we had a crowded house, and the Lord laid to His helping hand. Divers fell to the floor, and several cried aloud for mercy. After preaching, an old Presbyterian gentleman attacked me and told me it was all the work of the devil; that God was a God of order, and this was perfect confusion.
“‘Well,’ said I, ‘if this be the work of the devil, the people (many of whom then lay on the floor as dead men), when they come to, will curse and swear and rage like devils. But if it be of God, their notes will be changed.’
“Soon after, one of them came to, and he began to praise God with a loud voice; and soon another, and so on, until divers of them bore testimony for Jesus.
“‘Hark! Hark!’ said I to my old opponent. ‘Brother, do you hear them? This is not the language of Hell but the language of Canaan.’
“I then appointed prayer meeting at a friend’s house in the neighborhood. After the people had gathered, I saw my old Presbyterian opponent among them. I gave out a hymn, and brother S── went to prayer, and after him myself.
“I had spoken but a few words before Brother S── fell to the floor, and soon after him every soul in the house except myself, my opponent and two others.
“I arose and gave an exhortation, and the two men fell. Then every soul in the house was down, except myself and my opponent. He began immediately to dispute the point, telling me it was all delusion and the work of the devil. I told him to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.
“As the people came to, they all praised God. There was not one soul but what professed either to have received justification or sanctification; eight of them professed the latter.
“‘Hark!’ I said. ‘Is this the language of Hell? Here your eyes have seen the salvation of the Lord.’
“Time called us away to our next appointment, which was about seven miles distant. Here we met with my old Presbyterian opponent again. On seeing him I was sorry, for I concluded that we should have some disputing again. I fixed my eyes on him and cried mightily to God that if one man fell that day, it might be he.
“As I was preaching, I heard several cry out, ‘Water! Water! The man is fainting!’ I looked round and saw it was my opponent, trembling like Belshazzar. I told them to let him alone and look to themselves, for it was the power of God that had arrested him. They let him go, and down he fell on the floor, struggling for a while, and then lay as one dead.
“When I had finished my discourse and dismissed the people in order to meet the class, I desired some of our friends to carry him out, as he was in our way. They did so and laid him on a bed in a back room.
“After class I went in to see my opponent; he had just come to and was sitting on the bed. Now, thought I, is this the work of the devil or not? But I said nothing to him, nor he to me.
“Next morning we went to our appointment, where we had a large congregation. Looking round, I saw my old Presbyterian friend again. This was nine miles distant from my former appointment.
“I felt great freedom in speaking. A woman began to shake in a powerful manner, and three or four cried out, ‘Water! Water!’ I told them it was the power of God that had fallen on her, so they let her go, and down she fell on the floor. I bade them to look to themselves and went on with my discourse. Some wept, some sighed and some groaned.
“When I dismissed the people, not one offered to go. I then desired someone to speak to them, and Brother C── arose and said, ‘You stand amazed at the power of God, and well you may,’ and gave a pointed exhortation.
“By this time I had gathered a little strength and gave them an exhortation. They wept all through the house. I then said, ‘For God’s sake, if any can speak for God, say on; for I can speak no more.’
“Who should arise but my old Presbyterian opponent! He began with informing the people, that he was not one of this sect; that he had been with me four days and that he never had seen the power of God in this way before.
“He gave a warm exhortation for about three quarters of an hour. Then I dismissed the people.”
*** *** *** *** ***
After laboring as a local preacher for upward of sixteen years, this “son of thunder” felt it his duty to join the traveling connection. This he did at the conference held in Trenton, New Jersey, in April 1789. He was appointed to Duchess circuit, in the state of New York.
The circuit was new, and he found but a few converted souls on it. He, however, began to preach the doctrine of Bible holiness. The Lord graciously owned His Word and rendered his labors a blessing to the people.
In 1790 Mr. Abbott was ordained a deacon and in 1793 was admitted to the office of an elder. He labored in his holy vocation until the year 1795 when, on account of ill health, he was obliged to retire from the itinerant field.
Mr. Abbott’s last appointment was Cevil circuit. On February 3, 1795, he was seized with a violent ague, which was followed by scorching fever and pain in his side. The doctor pronounced his case hopeless and gave him up as a dead man. However, he revived and was able to walk and ride out, and even to attend church and visit his friends. He spent the winter of 1795-96 in Philadelphia.
About the first of June Mr. Abbott attended a funeral at which the officiating clergyman remarked, “Death is the king of terrors, and he makes cowards of us all.”
After the sermon Mr. Abbott sought out the minister and expressed a contrary opinion. “Perfect love casteth out fear,” said he. “For my part, I can call God to witness that death is no terror to me! I am ready to meet my God, if it were now!”
The last sentence which he intelligently articulated was, “Glory to God! I see Heaven sweetly opened before me!” He died in Salem, New Jersey, August 14, 1796, in the sixty-fifth year of his age and the twenty-third of his ministry. He was buried, according to his oft-repeated desire, in the Methodist burial ground in Salem.
Thus lived and died Benjamin Abbott, a man who had wasted forty years of his life in sin and yet became a monument to the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. The influence which he exerted over the minds of a congregation was truly wonderful, and the more so in view of his want of education. The great secret of his success may be traced to his depth of piety; for, being one of those persons whom the Lord had forgiven much, he felt it his duty to love much in return.
More odd bits about Benjamin Abbott
A minister came that way preaching, and at family prayer in the Abbott household he prayed, “O God, come and sanctify us, soul and body!” The farmer (Abbott) cried out after him in faith, “Come, Lord, come and sanctify me, soul and body!”
The moment his faith went out to God the Holy Spirit fell upon him, prostrating him to the floor, and depriving him of every power and sense but the consciousness of God.
He arose to see a new world—a softer blue above his head, sweeter green beneath his feet; he heard new tones of melody and richness in the songs of the birds, while the baptism of love within his soul was so full and compelling that love seemed to well up within him for every creature God had made. This love divine was to mellow his fiery message to men. . . .
It was heavily laid upon him to make a special point of preaching entire sanctification.—Unknown.
“Not worth while,” said a brother minister to whom he confided his intention, “’tis not worth while; they will not understand.”
One supreme lesson Father Abbott had learned, however—when God bade him do a thing he never dreamed of dallying with it. Obedience was the sole thought which then entered his mind. Accordingly, at his next appointment, where he found six believers together, he preached to them holiness by faith in Jesus. Two out of the six remained behind to say that if there were such a blessing as deliverance from inbred sin they would seek it until they found it.—Unknown.
More odd bits about Benjamin Abbott
A New Jersey farmer, Benjamin Abbott, who was transformed form a gambling, swearing sinner to a monument of the grace of God, was powerfully convicted under the preaching of a Methodist itinerant. Upon hearing the truth set forth he trembled and cried for mercy, while tears flowed in abundance. He sought relief in his field at work, but his depressed heart beat so loud that he could hear the beats. On passing through a lonely woods one night he was tempted to commit suicide, but for fear of Hell he dashed on toward home, with his hair raising on his head, because he thought Satan was close behind him.
In a dream, seeing Christ with arms extended, and seeming to say, “I died for you,” his load of sin lifted, the Scriptures were opened to his understanding, and he found the joy inexpressible.
The next day, because of his exhorting his neighbors, the report spread abroad that Abbott was raving made. This tempted him to doubt, but after praying he determined he would not doubt though all the devils in Hell were arrayed against him. This new life became his relish. Next to his conversion his happiest day was the day when his wife met him telling him she had received salvation. A man who had heard Abbott swear, now had the privilege of hearing him preach. Using his wagon for a pulpit he preached to thousands, many of whom became monuments of the grace of God.–Thomas C. Paull.