Amherst College was founded and was maintained for many years with the aim of educating young men to serve God. The school’s Latin motto, “Terras Irradient,” is an allusion to Isaiah 6:3: “The whole earth is full of His glory.” Graduates of Amherst College have included the radical social reformer Henry Ward Beecher (brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe), and Daniel W. Poor, the pioneer missionary to Ceylon. In the early years of the school, powerful revivals were frequent. The following are eyewitness accounts of one of these revivals by three students then studying at Amherst:
“The most remarkable and important event of our College course, was the revival of 1827. I was away from College on account of ill-health at the time it commenced. In my absence of three weeks, not out of town, I was visited by two of my classmates who came to talk to me in relation to my duty to become a Christian.
“And when I returned to the College, the stillness and seriousness pervading the whole Institution … the meetings for prayer among the students, held by the classes, … and the more general meetings held by the faculty, were so frequent, solemn, earnest, and pervaded by the evident presence of God, that I could not but be strongly impressed.
“Two or three, or it may be four, of the class, did not seem to be much moved, all the rest were manifestly. The whole College was so influenced in that time that through the rest of the year it had an entirely different aspect from any time before. Our class (1828), then Juniors, was essentially changed in character.
“Two who had been decidedly skeptical, Kidder and Winn, became decided and earnest Christians. Humphrey, the President’s son, had been altogether irreligious, wild and negligent of all study. He became, for the rest of his College course, correct in his conduct, serious and earnest as a Christian, diligent and faithful as a student. The class united with the College church or other churches as the result of this revival.
“Of the class before us (1827), I suppose McClure was the most remarkable instance of conversion – I mean publicly the most remarkable. In the class after us (1829), the most marked and externally wonderful change was in Henry Lyman who was afterwards the martyr missionary killed by the Battas of Sumatra. Lyman had been one of the worst, of the boldest in wickedness, apparently defying the authority of God; but when he came under the power of God’s truth and Spirit, he became as ardent and bold for Christ as before he had been in opposition to all good.“1
“An incident illustrative of strong faith in prayer, was this: In the south entry of South College there were a number of our most godly young men, while the majority were impenitent. After mature deliberation, the former resolved to hold a daily prayer-meeting of one hour for the conversion of the unconverted in that entry. The meetings were sustained with vigor and faith, the Holy Spirit wrought powerfully in their midst, and only a few weeks passed away before every student in the south entry of the old South College was converted to Christ.“2
“The students made frequent calls on each other to converse upon the greatest of all subjects, the welfare of souls, and usually joined in prayer before they separated. The meetings of literary societies were turned to prayer-meetings, and frequently the instructors united with their classes in prayer in their recitation rooms. At these meetings, which were well attended, the impenitent were warned and urged to accept the Savior by those who had formerly been their companions in sin.
“It was a deeply affecting scene to witness the love of Christ proclaimed from lips so lately addicted to profanity. Many of the subjects of this work have been those who were farthest from God and all good, not only unbelieving, but wild and reckless. About nine tenths of the Senior and Sophmore classes are now the hopeful subjects of renewing grace.“3
For the next 50 years, spontaneous moves of the Holy Spirit came frequently to Amherst College, attested to by many other accounts. The results of these revivals included the emergence of the world missions movement, the temperance movement, and the anti-slavery movement.
From History of Amherst College, (W.S. Tyler, Clark W. Bryan and Company, Springfield, Mass., 1873), pp.199-201.
1 Letter of Rev. A. Tobey, D.D., Class of 1828.
2 Rev. T.R. Cressey, Class of 1828. 3 Rev. William Hyde, Class of 1829, from a narrative printed in New Haven, Connecticut.