I DO not comply with the request of others to undertake this service from any feeling of superior mental or moral fitness for it, but simply from other causes. My connection with the American press gives me opportunities of gaining information, which they do not possess. From week to week the organs of many of the Christian bodies in that country reach me, and they have supplied me with the materials I shall use tonight.
There is a peculiarity about the American community, which exists not in this country, and, which must strike every one in a moment who has enlarged acquaintance with the people. The former is, comparatively, a young nation, ardent, pushing, hopeful, and sanguine. Its sympathies are deep. Progress in every department is its watchword. New measures, fresh plans, excite no alarm, and nerve no antiquated hostilities. Their religious equality reigns. No vast, wealthy, aristocratic Establishment throws its dark shadow across your path, and placing under the badge of social and political degradation any man, however intelligent and eminent as a Christian, who ventures to dissent from its unholy connection. Religion is less a form than a living reality. The ministry in the main is converted. (During Edwards’s time this was not so. A converted ministry or membership was never pleaded for.)The line of demarcations between the Church and the world is broader and unmistakeable, and increasingly a converted membership is becoming more and more the pervading element of the Church. These and others place that country in a far more favourable position for the diffusion of Evangelical religion than our own. We are cramped; they are free. We are met at all points with the conservative prejudices of ages; they have nothing to check their enterprise, or limit the circle of their influence, but the depravity of human nature, which is common to both lands.
No country has been more distinguished for religious progress. Liberty, and the absence of a State provision for religious worship, have not retarded the march of truth, but have rather impelled her action and accelerated her triumphs. No country presents more abundant proof of this. It has been distinguished by three very remarkable religious revivals.
The first began more than a century ago, (From 1730 to 1750. Colton’s “History of American Revivals,” p. 49.) under the ministry of the great Edwards and some of his eminent cotemporaries. The impassioned eloquence of Whitfield as he passed through the land deepened the interest and extended its power, whilst the apostolic labours of your own Wesley aided in that remarkable work.
The second manifested itself about 1831, and extended over 1832; and the third, the most extensive and gloriously significant, is now in progress. All these have been marked by peculiarities, which distinguish them from each other. The first bore the Edwardian stamp. The ministry of the great metaphysician was not exciting, not impassioned, beyond its adaptation to kindle in the very depths of man’s moral nature the deepest emotions by the exhibition of the great verities of religion in all their rugged and awfully majestic simplicity. The earnestness of the great man was absorbing. The doctrines of grace—the evil of sin—man’s responsibility and utter ruin—the sufficiency of Christ’s death—the power of the Divine Spirit—formed the staple of his ministry. (“It is estimated that in the term of two or three years 30,000 or 40,000 souls were born into the family of heaven in New England.”— “Trumbull’s Hist. of Connecticut,” p. 263.)
The second exhibited characteristics, which formed a perfect contrast to the first. Excitement marked it everywhere. Passions blazed and all means adapted to arouse were freely and everywhere invoked. Revival ministers of eminence roamed from city to city—protracted meetings, extending over two or three weeks— camp meetings in some less populous part of the country, drawing the people from a wide circle to a succession of religious services for days—anxious seats and benches for penitents, and many appliances which the calmer mind of England, and which the sober and intelligent portions of this congregation, would not fully approve. There was much of man, but less of God. The former is always noisy when he has anything to do. The trumpet must sound it; but God in his omnipotent energy generally shows his presence and working only by their results. In silence He works out his own purposes; ordinarily his movements are unseen, overruling all agencies to the accomplishment of his own designs, till in their completeness and wondrous perfection they stand before us.
The present great awakening is marked by only little of these peculiarities. There is less of man and more of God. Less passion—less religious excitement, but more of the manifest power and presence of the Divine Spirit. Human agency is less seen, —in some scarcely at all; but the melting and sanctifying power of the truth of God is manifest to all. From every State—from all the religious organs—the fact is distinctly recognised, and the conviction unhesitatingly avowed, that the work is not of men, but of God. (“Great spiritual movements have been usually identified with some eloquent voices; but no name, except the name that is above every name, is identified with this.”—Pentecost Philadelphia.)
To trace the origin and progress of this glorious work, however interesting as a development of the wondrous and gracious way in which the Divine Spirit effects his own designs, would occupy more time than I dare take; yet a glance at it may be necessary. The state of the Church of God—-and I mean by the Church, all sects— was very low. Its piety was feeble. Its success very limited. In its inner sanctuary, the spirit of the world was enthroned. Christian people were under its influence. Their love of dress, their anxiety for wealth, their speculating mania, their indifference to Christ, their neglect of religious ordinances, their worldly conformity, and the mass of depravity accumulating and shedding its malignant and pestiferous influence around them, threatening the weakening, if not the entire destruction, of social virtues, and yet untouched by them, gave fearful signs of this. The commercial crisis came. It came with fearful force on the civilised world, laying prostrate in the dust many of our merchant princes, and threatening the stability of others. Upon the commercial community in the States, and New York especially, I believe it fell with terrible power. Many of its chief citizens were ruined. Families of the highest rank, who had enjoyed many of the concentrated joys of social and domestic life, were reduced to poverty and want. Christians felt this. It humbled them. The vanity of the world was experienced. The uncertainty of everything but Christ was seen. In the depth of their distress they returned to God. Many good men had felt the need of this before. A few were sighing and moaning over the weakness of the Church, and now met frequently for prayer. Their number now increased; and with increasing numbers the spirit of prayer was manifestly poured out, and the Revival was begun. But I am anxious you should look at some of those characteristics, which everywhere mark it.
Its universality first arrests the attention. All the States in the Union have felt the power of the Spirit. Like a cloud surcharged with mercy it has passed over the country, pouring its rich blessings on the evil and the good. Those where liberty is recognised, and colour professedly imposes no social and civil loss; and those, mysterious as it may appear to us, in the moral government of the Holy One, where the difference in colour, not in nature, gives a license to everything which violates the first principles of moral right. In the South as well as in the North, the evidences of the presence and power of God’s Spirit are manifold. It is so in the less populated districts. Over the wide prairies the cloud of mercy has passed, and many of the Indian tribes have been refreshed by some drops, which have fallen on them. Not on the great marts of industry only, where the masses are easily excited, and any movement would produce a wide and deep influence, but in the rural districts. In some, the reports assure us, not an adult is left who has not professed Christ. To the British territories it has extended, and in Canada and New Brunswick our countrymen are rejoicing in its life-giving power. Few, if any, parts of the vast North American Continent but have shared in this gracious visitation.
It is equally true as to churches. All the Evangelical communities, and some who would regard it as no compliment to be classed in the number, have been roused to deeper earnestness—more persevering prayer, and have reaped in proportion. While all classes have been brought under the influence of the truth, it is worthy of remark, that, in the main, the converts have been drawn from the adult population—men of the strongest minds, of large mental culture and acquirements, of high commercial standing, and senatorial dignity, rather than the younger branches of the great community. True it is, many of the latter have yielded their young affections to the Saviour; but as a rule, I think, it may be safely affirmed, that the great movement has touched most powerfully those of more mature life. This is true more or less in all parts of the Union. Heads at families, and men and women just entering into the realities of life, are the proofs of the Spirit’s power, and willing subjects of the Saviour’s kingdom.
The union of Christians in the work is an unmistakeable feature of this great revival. We in this country have talked much, theorised much about it, and have organised efforts, and meet to accomplish it; and with what success? God has shown us, in this great work, not a theory but a fact, and made it, by the power of his Holy Spirit—softening down asperities, and melting down the prejudices of Christian people—a living reality and an influential power in his Church. His people have met, have loved, and acted as one body. In every way in which actions could be combined all have mingled. Meetings have been held in the Methodist Episcopal Church—or Baptist, or Dutch Reformed, or Presbyterian—but they are not conducted or carried on by brethren belonging to them. They have been united meetings; meetings of Christians, of one family, bowing before one Father, and animated by love to the common Saviour, Christian union has ceased to be a theory, and was a living power. It must have been a glorious spectacle to have gazed on seventy ministers, of different communities, on one platform at a united prayer meeting, whilst the thousands of their people filled the great area below them. Perhaps at no period of the Church’s history, in this great country, was it more simultaneous, more cordial, and more unbroken. It was without effort. Distinctions were not obliterated; differences of sentiment were not abandoned; points of disagreement on ecclesiastical matters were not given up. No! Union demands not this. It is a fiction, pretence, and a fearful sham, when it demands the sacrifice of truth. I have no difficulty in recognising as my brother the man whose skin is black or red; or tracing the great family likeness of humanity in the imperfect or the deformed, and cherishing for them all those social feelings which the common relationship demands and should inspire. So, here, the great verities of the faith—the essential features of the holy brotherhood—were acknowledged, and to an extent which has never been acknowledged before. Everywhere it was a power. Society felt it. The scoffer and the sceptic felt it; and, above all, the Church felt how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity. Like the colours of the rainbow, as they are seen in that arch of magnificent beauty which spans the sky; their blending constitutes its glory. Yet the philosopher can analyse them. Their distinctness is visible, yet their harmony appears perfect, and the glorious beauty of their union complete.
The action of the people in this great work is one of its chief and most cheering characteristics. They have acted, and God has pre-eminently honoured the pew as well as the pulpit. Far be it from me to lower the latter. No one can have read some of the discourses published during the last year in the States without feeling the power and Scriptural character of the pulpit. Deep, solemn, earnest, pointed, Scriptural, the ministry has been. Perhaps less elaborate, but more of life. Less of what would gratify the man of culture and refined worldliness, but more upon which the Divine Spirit could brood and make it spirit and life. Upon the pew its influence has been potent. It has raised it, and given it fitness, under the Divine blessing, for its special work. Christians have felt the great and vital truth—the absence of which to a fearful extent, in this country, is enfeebling the Church, and. augmenting its guilt—that we are not our own. The spirit of self—consecration and self—sacrifice has rested on them. Under its influences they have acted. The daily prayer meetings—that at noon—began with them, and they, in the main, have conducted them. The Young Men’s Christian Associations have been a consecrated power in all the great cities. Christian ladies of social standing and high moral influence have visited the haunts of vice and wretchedness. The narrow streets and wretched hovels of the great hives of industry have been visited with tracts, and for personal intercourse with the wretched inmates. Everywhere it has been so. A new life appears to have been imparted to people. Difficulties, which once deterred, have been divested of’ all terrors. Their zeal, their energy, their faith, and devotedness, have risen with the occasion. Masses of moral power which lay wasted, and, of course, unused in the Church, have been grasped and concentrated on the wide-spread depravity which meet you everywhere in the great cities. Such has been the magnitude of the work, such the demands on the time and energies of the ministry that they would have sunk under it but for their people. The Church has acted, and God is teaching us one of the most important lessons we can learn by this great honour he has conferred on his people.
The work originated with, and has been sustained by, prayer. This is its universal characteristic; and the fact admits of no doubt. Eminently, nay almost exclusively, has this contributed to the great result. Never, perhaps was this spirit so general, more earnest and believing. The historian of the last Revival somewhere remarks, that during its progress people would more readily attend a prayer-meeting than go to hear a sermon. Upon all classes the Spirit has rested.
It was seen first in the increased gatherings at the evening meetings for social worship, —then morning meetings were instituted to meet the growing desires of the people—and finally at noonday, in the most capacious halls, in the great cities, thousands met to pour out their hearts before God. So plenarily was the spirit of’ prayer poured out, so entirely absorbing was it, that churches, chapels, senate—houses, the counting house of the merchant, the warehouse of the tradesman, were set apart as places for prayer. The firemen, the watermen, converted their head establishments into houses of devotion. Printers used their offices for similar purposes, sailors their ships, and in almost all places, and at every hour, the voice of supplication could be heard. The country was girdled with them. Travellers reported that when prosecuting their journeys of hundreds of miles, at any station at which they stopped they might have attended a meeting for prayer. Nor did it manifest itself only in this way. Suspicion would have attached to it, had this been the only evidence of the presence of’ the Divine Spirit. It breathed in every circle. The Church, the family, the closet, witnessed its intense ardour. Fervent, persevering, believing closet-prayer marked them. It was the secret of their strength, the very source of their success. From the closest fellowship with God they went to business; their aspirations heavenward through the day were frequent; and in their social gatherings the great law of sympathy would act, and their devotion was absorbing. They breathed and lived in an atmosphere of prayer.
But, amidst all this, the noonday prayer meeting stands as the most prominent and deeply interesting. In all the great cities, and in many even of the smaller towns, they are held. The origin of this was one of those heaven-inspired thoughts, which generally mark God’s own working. A holy, humble City Missionary, going his rounds, in his visits of mercy, was pondering on some new mode of Christian usefulness. One day the thought arose, “that an hour for prayer, from twelve to one, would be beneficial to business men, who usually, in great numbers, take that hour for rest and refreshment.” He fixed the place, and announced it. Alone he sat till half-past twelve o’clock the first day, then a solitary step broke the silence, then another and another, till he closed with six. “We had a good meeting,” says the man of faith, in his diary; “the Lord was with us to bless us.” The week after, it was held again, when twenty persons were present. There was much prayer and melting of heart. At the third, a week after, from thirty-to-forty united in the service. So animated and interesting was this holy gathering that the friends resolved to hold another the next day. They have multiplied everywhere. Not only in the large cities, but also in the towns, the noonday prayer meeting has become a power. In the largest halls, three, four, and five thousand have gathered. “It was the most wondrous sight,” said one of the editors of a secular paper, “to witness these gatherings. Senators, bankers, merchants, some with their books in their hands, others with their pen behind their ears, tradesmen hurrying from their stores, and mechanics from their daily toil, to spend a portion of their meal—time in the house of prayer; while the farmers or dray men would fasten their team to the rails, or get some one to hold their horses, whilst they mingled, for a few minutes, in the great congregation.” More or less, such has been the case when these meetings have been held. (Footnote: They come,” says one New York paper, “with bank-books in their hands, pencils behind their ears, and other marks of trade. Carmen, wagon men, drive up their teams to the kerbstone, come into the meeting, join heartily in the song of praise, kneel down and pray, go out and drive off to their work.” Another says, “All ages are present, from the young clerks to the grey-headed merchants.” So at Boston The Watchman and Reflector says, “To see a thousand men leaving their shops and counting-houses at the noonday hour, and flock with one animating purpose to the place whore prayer is wont to be made, to see the torn and tearful intent pervading these assemblages, is a new thing in this city.”)
Let me describe one. By an effort of imagination we can transport ourselves to Fulton-street, in New York, or to Jaynes’ Hall in Philadelphia. The spacious building is crowded; not a seat, scarcely standing room, is to be found. Only the breathing of prayer is heard. Glance round the assembly. How varied the look; in some faces, how sweet the repose. What a world of light and peace that smile reveals. That anxious gaze speaks volumes—but the clock is just striking, and the president for the day rises—he is sometimes a layman, at others a minister—and reads an appropriate portion of God’s word, and then a verse of some well—known hymn is sung. He invites brethren to pray, and urges them to be short and fervent. Two or three respond. Again a verse or two are sung, and the President, opening an envelope from a number in his hand or on the table, reads, “ A Christian mother feeling deeply and anxiously for a beloved son, far off on the sea, entreats the prayers of the brethren for his conversion.” Or it may be similar requests from a wife or a husband—a sister or brother. Many such are presented during the hour. Perhaps, during that moment’s pause, some one rises, and narrates to the assembly some striking instance of an answer to prayer — some singularly interesting case of conversion-—or cheering intelligence of the progress of Christ’s cause in some distant part of the country. In this way the hour is passed. You are struck with the order, the calm and solemn devotedness of the meeting—no noise, no confusion. The heavy sigh, the earnest response, the breathing of the silent, fervent prayer from some troubled one, reaches you. Now, such, if you fill up the outline, would be a sample of the noonday meetings throughout the States. (Footnote: The following graphic sketch of the Philadelphia meeting will interest some readers. It has reached me since the above was written: —” The sight is now grand and solemn. The hall is immensely high. In the rear, several tiers of elegantly ornamented boxes, extended from the ceiling in a semicircular form around the stage or platform, and on the stage, and filling the seats, aisles, arid galleries, three thousand souls at once, on one weekday after another, at its busiest hour, bow before God in prayer for the revival of his work. Ministers and people, men and women, of all denominations or of none, all gather, and all are welcome. There is no noise, no confusion. A layman conducts the meeting. Any suitable person may pray or speak to the audience for three minutes only. If he does not bring his prayer or remarks to a close in that time, a bell is touched, and he gives way. One or two verses of the most spiritual hymns go up like the ‘sound of many waters;’ requests for prayer for individuals are then read; one layman or minister succeeds another, in perfect order and quiet, and after a space which seems a few minutes, so strange, so absorbing, so interesting is the scene, the leader announces that it is one o’clock, and punctual to the moment, a minister pronounces the benediction, and the immense audience, slowly, quietly, and in perfect order, pass from the hall; some ministers remaining to converse in a small room off the platform, with any one who may desire spiritual instruction.”—Pentecost.
Multiplied and singularly striking have been the answers to prayers. There is no mistaking them. God has worked. The presence and power of the Divine Spirit have been felt. There is no accounting for them on any other principle. Human instrumentality has been absent. Immediate and direct results have come. You would wish to have a few. I can only select. To exhaust the whole, which I have in my possession, would extend this service beyond the midnight hour. A minister requests the prayers of the great assembly for the conversion of his prodigal son. One rises, and with melting and touching earnestness he wrestles with God on his behalf. Behind him sits a young man. He had hesitated to enter the meeting. Long had been the mental conflict before he passed in to the noonday meeting. It was folly, fanaticism—but He entered. He saw not the minister’s face, but he recognised his Father’s voice, as he heard it entreating pardon for the wanderer. He left the room pricked to the heart. About the streets of the city he wandered, overwhelmed with a sense of guilt, and sunk into the deepest distress. The bell had tolled the midnight hour; still he could find no resting place. Morning was approaching, and in the bitterness of his spirit he called up a friend of his father, a devout man, that he might pray with him. Ultimately the prodigal was restored to his father’s house, and, better still, found peace and joy through faith in Jesus. Take another. A Christian wife, anxious about her husband, far off on the sea, earnestly entreats the prayers of God’s people for his conversion. On his arrival, to her delight, she received him—a new creature in Christ. On inquiry, she finds, that on that day when special prayer was made for him, whilst on the wide sea, God’s Spirit awakened him; he was overwhelmed, as in a moment, with the awful consciousness of guilt, and soon found peace. (Footnote: Bishop McIlvaine, when in this country a short time ago referred to this fact. All the others are taken from reliable sources.) Another, when leaving home for the prayer-meeting, placed on the table, without a remark, the Word of God, and left her husband, who had declined going with her. His eye caught it. Surprise at her conduct was excited; he took it up to read; and on her return she found that the word had reached his heart, and he could have no rest till she had called in a devout friend to pray with him and lead him to Christ. Twenty-five Christian females agreed to meet for mutual prayer for the conversion of their husbands. “Yesterday,” said their pastor, “at a noonday meeting. I had the pleasure of admitting the last of the twenty-five to the fellowship of the Church.” Fourteen young men had formed a card club, and met at each other’s house for this ensnaring amusement. The one at whose house it was to be held was seized with convictions. His invitations were issued, not for cards, but to pray. Eight went, and a few of the Young Men’s Christian Association. Four have been converted, and are now labouring for the conversion of the rest.
Instances of this kind might be multiplied to a large extent. They are only samples of a larger class. Prayer has been heard. There can be no mistake about the answers. They meet you everywhere. Their certainty is such that doubt cannot cluster around them. From all quarters this testimony comes. Men have felt the power of prayer, and with one voice the whole Church proclaims its efficiency.
The following from the “Morning Star,” of March 8th, 1859, may be adduced. It is from a letter from Fort Madison. It is only a type of a very large class: —
“Prayer is honoured in a signal and marvellous manner.
‘There has not been an instance known, where a husband has prayed for the wife, or the wife for the husband, the father for the child, or the child for the father, or the friend for the friend, but that God has heard their prayers. A number of ladies made out a list of ten persons, for whom they agreed to pray daily until they were converted. There are nine out of the ten who are rejoicing in hope.’ The work of God has taken a remarkable hold upon business men, the principal of whom are among the converted.”
But, for a moment, let us look at this great work in another aspect—let us mark some of the results. What is its influence on the Church? How has it told on its membership? True it is I have no complete statistics at present before me as to the number of additions on the Church of Christ. The venerable Mr. James, in his admirable letters, estimates them at half a million. Half a million! I think this is not an exaggerated statement. It is probably below the fact. The editor of one of the secular papers in New York, about May last, said that, as far as he could gather from his exchanges from different Parts of the States, the addition to the Church was at the rate of 50,000 per week. One section of the Baptist body for a time reported from 3,000 to 4,000 per week. The city of Philadelphia has yielded upwards of 10,000 to the Saviour. The minutes of the Methodist Episcopal Church in the Northern States are before me, and I find they report upwards of 130,000, the South gives about 40,000. From six or eight States there are returns within my reach of one section of the Baptist body, which show an increase of from 20,000 to 30,000. These returns, let it be remembered, only embrace a portion of the time over which the great work has extended. The Free-will Baptists, a comparatively small body, return nearly 7,000. Judging from other returns and statements spread over a wide space of religious literature, I believe it will be found that to the two largest bodies in the States from 300,000 to 400,000 souls have been added. It is equally refreshing to recognise the fact that other bodies have shared in the same proportions in this holy visitations The Congregational (In Massachusetts alone, upwards of 11,000 are reported to have been received into the churches of this body on the first Sabbath in May), the Presbyterian, the Dutch Reformed, the Episcopal, indeed every Evangelical community, has had a large increase to its membership. Seasons of refreshment have been enjoyed. The communion seasons have been hallowed and delightful, and scarcely one has been held in any part of the country without Christians feeling that God was in the midst of them, augmenting the graces of his children and multiplying their number from 600,000 to 700,000 would be nearer the mark, who have been called out of darkness into light. In a letter from my friend, Dr. Belcher, of Philadelphia, he estimates the number at a million. Another American friend states the same. And what a fact! Nearly, if not quite, as many were converted to God in one year as we have Christians in association with the Church in this glorious England of ours!
But what are figures! You cannot grasp them; and, if you could, they convey to your mind no just view of the blessed results of a work like this. I can utter this in a moment. It glides over your mind without leaving an adequate impression. If it was not so, still it would fail. They would not shadow forth the thousand little rills of pure and elevating influence, which would be opened in the various social circles in the city and the country. They tell you nothing of the holy joy which has filled many a drunkard’s home, as the wife—instead of shaking with terror at the sound of the footsteps of the infuriated savage, and the children running to hide themselves— meets the husband with a smile, and the children with their bounding joy welcome the approach of the father. Who can tell the holy peace which has calmed that distracted father’s mind, as he has welcomed the prodigal to his arms and his home; or the swelling transport which has filled that mother’s bosom, as she has seen her lovely and loved one bow before the mercy-seat, and rise with radiant look and glowing cheek, indicative of inward peace? Who can tell the bright hope of that youth, and the glowing aspirations of his young heart, as under the constraining influence of Christ’s love, he surveys the fair visions of social, professional, or commercial life, and glances down the long vista of promise which opens before him, and renounces them for the mission of the herald of the cross on the burning plains of India, or the frigid regions of the pole—to carry the light of truth unto the dark and polluted regions of the heathen of our own cities, and bring up to the light of day some gem which shall shed fresh lustre on the Redeemer’s crown. No! All this, and much more than this, no figures can ever portray. Eternity only will unfold the rich harvest of blessedness, which will be gathered from this dispensation of God’s Spirit. But what has it done?
The colleges are crowded with young men, panting and training for labour in the Master’s cause. This is true of all the theological schools in the States. Never, probably, were they so crowded. Richly has the cloud of blessing rested on these institutions. Revivals in most of the secular ones have been realised, and from the rising and cultivated mind of America there will be a very large contribution to the service of the Lord, in the work of the ministry. From every class they have come. Young men of wealth, from the liberal professions, from commerce and trade, they have come. Every department has yielded some of its noblest votaries to the work of Christ. Reports reach us of churches springing up, of feeble ones growing; new fields for culture are opening in every direction. China, Japan, and Africa have thrown down their barriers, and their teeming millions are crying, “Come over and help us.” The reason of the revival at this time is obvious, and it is training men for the work. Under this self-consecrating influence they will go to their work, and gather the harvest of the earth to their exalted Lord. But still you ask what has it done?
The piety of the Church is deepened. Not only has God’s Spirit been poured out as one of awakening, but one of sanctity and faith and prayer. Not only has it rested on the circle beyond the Church, but on the inner sanctuary. Questionable, indeed, would any religious movement be to the character of a work of God, which did not originate in the quickened life and living power of his Church. Here his gifts and graces have been multiplied; and a vast amount of moral power, hitherto all but useless, if not positively injurious, has been brought into active operation. This testimony is all but universal. From all quarters we hear that there is less form, but more life. Religion has become a power, a visible reality, pervading by its holy and elevating influence, not only the social life, but every other circle in which Christians can move. From pastors there, as well as from other reliable sources of information, this is placed beyond all doubt. In the merchant’s office, in the shop of the tradesman, in the room of the artisan, in the hall of the fire and water companies, in the railway car, or on board the river craft, you feel the presence of a living power, and are more or less encircled by its influence. To speak of Jesus——to labour for the conversion of souls, has become the habit of daily life, with thousands of men and women, more than at any former period of their religious history.
Still you ask what has it done?
Religious enterprises are now more extended and multiplied.
Familiar, now, more than at any previous period, with the social evils of society and its moral condition, efforts, united and vigorous, are put forth to meet them. It would occupy too much time for me to attempt to sketch, even in the roughest outlines, the various organisations, to say nothing of the thousand modes of individual effort, for the removal of these appalling evils. I can only indicate one or two. Eighty thousand females in New York alone, in some way or other have to get their daily bread. The moral and social condition of thousands there is affecting. Ruin for both worlds awaited them. Immorality in all its forms, vice, drunkenness, toil, and numberless social evils, which girdled them round, were hurrying multitudes to an early grave. The facts were there, but they touched but few. Now, how altered! Christian ladies of the highest social rank, in union with those of a humbler station, are visiting these abodes of sadness and impurity. Like angels of light they are shedding a soft and benignant influence on the abodes of darkness and crime. They are pouring into the sinks of pollution a purifying stream, and preserving multitudes of their fallen sisters from their ruin. Prayer meetings for their benefit are held, and all the appliances of Christian benevolence are freely employed for their benefit. Scarcely a city of any size but exhibits similar efforts. Numerous as the churches are in the great cities, there are masses of population untouched by Christian agency. Thousands there, as here, never enter the sanctuary. On them the gentle influence of the Sabbath service never rests. Into the house of God they never enter. To meet them earnest men are occupying the largest room for the special evening service on the Sabbath for this class. In New York, the largest public rooms—the Academy of Music, the Cooper Institution, the Theatre, are occupied by thousands of this class. It is so in all the great cities. Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Newark, &c., have yielded up the theatres for religious services. Some of the scenes, which marked the opening services of some of these, were rather ludicrous. The newsboys, the costermongers, and the residents of these localities only had one idea associated with the building. It was a place of amusement. The Reverend Doctor who was to preach was only a member of the profession; and the conduct of the audience indicated that the idea was all but universal. The appearance on the stage was the signal for those manifestations of popular applause, which generally marked the rising of the curtain. But it was only temporary. Words of kindness banished all this, and now the American wild Arabs exhibit everything that is decorous in their conduct in these places of worship. Everywhere varied and earnest efforts are made for the overthrow of the empire of darkness. The Revival in one sense is past, because the state of things which called it forth is changed, and it has become the daily life of the Church. Its power is not diminished. Its force is rather daily augmenting. The latest intelligence more than warrants this. Ministers and people are feeling more than ever the power of the Divine Spirit, and the Church is receiving still large accessions to its number. Everywhere the cloud of blessing is still resting on the country. Hopes are expressed that it will not be a passing one, but that on that land the Spirit of glory and of God may permanently rest.
Brief and imperfect as this outline doubtless is, it is eminently suggestive. No devout mind can look at it without feeling the vital, the unmistakeable importance of two or three questions, which it immediately suggests. Brethren, will you prayerfully ponder them?
1. Do we need such a revival, such manifest and manifold tokens of the power of the Divine Spirit?
Do we? Shall we look at the condition of the world, at the moral state of the millions of its population? How dense its darkness! How profound its ignorance! How unmixed its misery! Cut off from all that is pious and elevating now, and without hope of the future, only a small portion is touched by Christian agency, and enlightened by Christian truth. Yet the hand of God is moving. China, with her four hundred millions, is open. Japan has relinquished her annual fêtes of trampling the symbol of our redemption in the dust, and now invites our culture. The wilds of Africa have been penetrated by the servants of Jesus, and her solitudes have echoed with the hymn of praise. They are open, only, at present, to reveal the depth of our nature’s moral wretchedness, and the all but boundless dominion of the God of this world!
Look at society around you. What scenes of social wretchedness meet you everywhere, not only in the great cities, but also in our smaller towns and in the rural districts of the country. Ignorance and indifference to the highest claims of man’s moral nature, —drunkenness, brutality, and their social consequences, —crime, in all its varied and aggravated forms, —arrest your attention. Everywhere they stand out before you in very bold relief. Upon millions in this land of ours religious truth has exerted no saving influence. Limit the circle of your inquiry still. Glance for a moment at the majority in our congregations, gradually ripening for perdition under the ministry of the Word, perishing amidst the atmosphere of prayer, and dying within sight of the fountain of healing and eternal life! And is it less the condition of the family circle? —That in which all that is hallowed, elevating, attractive, and peaceful should be found, —is it? Does Christ reign supremely? Are our children, our domestics, yielding up their hearts to the Saviour? Alas! Brethren, is it so?
Look, for a moment, at the Church! I mean not a sect, but the Christian brotherhood throughout the world. What a glorious mission is entrusted to her working! How it links itself with the interests of all worlds! All intelligences are touched by it, and none can possibly escape. But do Christians realise their high and holy calling? Does any section of the family of Christ even partially comprehend its magnitude and grandeur? Is its piety deep-toned and self-sacrificing? Do faith, and love, and the spirit of prayer, shed their soft and elevating influence over the membership and their circle? Is intense love for souls the absorbing desire; the glory of the Redeemer, the great end of life? Is the ministration of God’s truth so pure, so attractive, so effective, as it should be? Is the Cross-exalted, and so prominent, that men can see nothing else, feel nothing else, than that it is “our glory and our joy?” But I need not multiply these inquiries: the answer would still be the same. From the world, from the family, from the church, we have but one reply. We need power in our weakness, faith in our perplexity, and hope in the uncertainties, which surround us. The presence and power of the Divine Spirit were never more needed to raise us from our prostration, —to enlighten and enlarge our views, —to clothe us with strength for our great enterprise, —and to make us “the lights of the world,” the “salt of the earth.”
If a revival is needed, the second question I would ask is not less vital arid thrilling in its interest—can we have one? I know the answer you will give. Already it is rising in your minds, and every consideration, which can influence the thoughtful, every motive, which can govern the devout, prompts, the reply, “Why not?” But for this, despair would be enthroned in our circles. To feel the condition of the world, to mark the state of the church, to be absorbed with the desire for moral improvement, without hope of realising the one or effecting the other, would be the very depth of wretchedness. But why not? Is God the God of America only? Are the love of Jesus and the influence of the Divine Spirit limited in their exercise to that land? Is this storehouse of mercy exhausted by the showers of blessings, which have refreshed that vast continent?
Have we not the same atonement, the same Spirit, the same gospel, the same promise and pledge of immediate and ultimate success, the same faith and prayer, as potent with God here as in the new world? Can we doubt this? Would it not paralyse our efforts, and sink us to despair? God’s rule of government, the revealed, the changeless law of his actions, more than warrants this—”Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.”
My third question is this Will you seek one? I can anticipate your reply. You need it. You feel it, increasingly feel it; the power and grace of Christ, his willingness to shed the selectest influence of his Spirit upon us is equally certain, and its realisation is one of paramount importance. Still never forget, that if we would seek this invaluable boon, the heart, nay, our whole moral nature, must be brought into harmony with it.
Think how deep and absorbing our repentance and humiliation for the past! What self-abasement and self— renunciation must now mark us! What an increase of faith in the Saviour’ s work, in the power of his truth, and its adaptation to the great work of the world’s conversion! What prayerfulness must we realise, as a living power ever pervading us, and drawing the heart heaven ward constantly. What sympathy with souls, what unbroken efforts for their conversion to Christ, must ever mark us. Our nature must be spiritualised. The mind of Jesus must be more participated by us. Holier and higher motives must prompt our actions, and mould our character.
Don’t force the great work. Let God appear. Follow his guidance. Let there be no getting up of effect; let it not be man’s effort, but the work of the Divine Spirit. Don’t impede it by your selfishness, your vanity, and your pride. Stand aside, that He may work. Let the Cross-be prominent. Behind it do you retire; be hidden by its glory. In weakness find your strength, in abasement, your glory. Forget yourselves in your deep and intense adoration of your exalted Lord. Labour for him will be ennobling; sacrifice for him will be pleasant and the growing prosperity of his cause will fill you with unutterable joy. The value of souls, the overthrow of sin, the love of Jesus, the glory of God, will act upon you, and lead you to the footstool of the Saviour, where, cheered by his smile, and invigorated by his grace, you will be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Brethren, feel it. Be men of large faith; be men of earnest prayer; be men of holy, self-denying action; and then God, even our own God, will bless you, and cause his face to shine upon you, and the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of his glory. Amen and Amen.
London: J. Heaton & Son, 21, Warwick Lane.