October 1827 — Prayer service for female convicts, State Prison, New-York City
Unhappy women — it is love for your souls that leads me to address you.
I have no doubt in my mind, but you are all in some degree, awakened to a sense of your sad situation, as sinners against God, and your fellow beings. I rejoice that you are alarmed and convicted; but my rejoicing is blended with an awful trembling, lest you should relapse into carelessness, and return again to folly.
It is my duty to deal faithfully & plainly It safest for you. I tell you that vice was its own punisher, and virtue brought with her a reward. The former you have experienced. Vicious habits and evil propensities indulged, have brought you within the gloomy walls of a state prison. These are the offspring of degenerate nature, unrestrained by a baser judgment. Out of the heart, said Jesus, proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. — Matt. xv, 19. The wicked heart he compare to a corrupt tree; and the sins committed to evil fruit. — Matt. xii. “Idleness of hands” in early youth, indulgence in evil speaking, and profanation of the sabbath, are among fallen mortals, the fruit springing forth from the crooked branches of disobedience to the law of God. These branches also, hear the noxious sins of disobedience to parents, teachers, & masters: higher sprouts bring forth lies, blasphemy, adultery, theft, and murder; and these when ripe and devoured produce punishment here; and unrepented of, and succeeded by the torments of hell.
Oh my poor women, on looking over your past life, do you not see these things verified in yourselves? But indulging sloth and sluttishness, were you not bro’t into temptations to steal, and of course to lie? Have not some of you committed theft merely to avoid labouring with your hands? Rags and tatters, dirt and filth, drunkenness and fighting, hunger & cold, are I this rich, free and privileged country, the effects of idleness. It brings a train of evils, from the hut of infamous poverty, through courts of sessions, prisons of state, the gallows rope, and unhallowed grave, to the pit of everlasting wo!
Now, in an entire reformation of life, the reverse of Idleness will be early manifested. Industry is ever a noble characteristic of rue virtue; a mark of submission to God, whose mandate to fallen creatures is, “in the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread till thou return to the ground.” &c. Laziness is virtual daring against Him, while the hands are folded in sloth, refusing to labor. I now beseech of you to be industrious; remembering, that you can never be saved if you disobey the scriptures of truth, which command us to be “diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” It is no disgrace to be numbered with the poor in this world, but it is a disgrace to be lazy. Jesus was poor, but never idle.
Next to employment, remember cleanliness is a great virtue. A dirty female is very rarely chaste. I beseech of you to be cleanly in all your habits. If you are poor, you may be neat. I entreat you never to disobey your keepers again — never insult, revile, or reproach each other. Remember, you are al guilty — not one among you can cast the first stone, as being without sin and disgrace. All are fallen, depraved, and wretched — you all need mercy, forgiveness, and reformation.
And now, a real reform must commence in your hearts. What a satisfaction to me and mercy to you, that while I exhort you to this, God, your Maker and Redeemer, is ready and able to assist your endeavors Sun, as you really are, in guilt and misery, he is mighty to save. Then fall low at his feet, with shame and confusion of face, weeping and mourning, penitent & believing. Cry again, and again, every one of you. “God be merciful to me a sinner.” “Jesus thou son of David, have mercy on me!”
Thousands of sinners, as miserable as yourselves, have found a pardon through Jesus Christ, and have escaped the snare of the devil & the wrath to come. There is the provision for you. “Balm in Gilead, and a physician there.” And this is the day of your visitation; God calls you: obey, and your souls shall live.
Perhaps you are looking forward to the day of your release from your present abode. But what good can result to you, from liberty to go about in this world as you like, if your sins are remaining with you. In your own bosoms your worst evil lies, and release from your confinement may become a greater snare. Oh better far for you to draw your last breath where I have visited you, than to come forth unconverted, unpardoned and unholy.
In the midst of crime and degradation, God’s mercy is towards you. Only for a moment behold your privileges! The criminal codes of your country are lenient indeed. You may thank Heaven that you are in the land of the living, and that the day of probation is yours — that your lot is no worse. The throne of grace is open to you as much as ever, by repentance, and you have still the means of elevating yourself from your present moral degradation. The walls that surround you, sullen & solitary as they are may witness the happies period of your existence! — The massy gates that guard your escape may be the windows of heaven to your immortal souls. Learn to be contented, and make the best of your condition.
I sincerely wish you good, and have endeavored to promote it’ but oh remember, that if you live in sin and die impenitent, I must be a swift witness against you at the judgment day! This is probably the last of my exhortations which you will receive. It may be conveyed to you by some kind hand, when the wayworn pilgrim is far away; who, while she wanders to and fro, proclaiming salvation in the name of a crucified Jesus, a risen Saviour, an ascended and exalted Price and Redeemer, would rejoice to hear you are all doing well, and striving to serve the Lord by reading your Bible, and giving yourselves to him in prayer and acts of devotion. Cry day and night.
“Save, Lord, a sinful prisoner save
from wrath so justly due;
Mercy, oh Lord! I mercy crave,
Create me, Lod, anew.”
Farewell, poor mourning prisoners, farewell.
N.Y. Christian Advocate
Source: The Pittsfield Sun (Pittsfield, Massachusetts), December 6, 1827, p. 2-3.