First published in 1874 this excellent volume presents a complete and very inspiring overview of Revival history and Revival dynamics.
The writer begins by explaining what Revival is and then gives a brilliant historical survey of Revival occurrences. With unrelenting zeal for God he proceeds to systematically deal with every conceivable Revival-related issue, covering such themes as Objections, Evangelists, Children, Hindrances, Preaching, Prayer, Handling Inquirers and Training Converts.
Each chapter is copiously illustrated with stories and quotes from a vast host of Revival resources, as the writer carries the reader through to a place of personal decision to stand within the ranks of history’s Revivalists. A great book!
We have included 5 of the 19 chapters.
MUCH of existing indifference and opposition to revivals comes from a confusion of terms. There attaches to the word revival what does not belong to it. Exception is not so much taken to that which is inherent and essential, as to that which is accidental and contingent.
This shows the importance of having a clear conception of the thing meant. We must carefully separate the revival from its adjuncts and accessories. We must distinguish it from false and dangerous excitements, which have usurped its name; for, common and almost technical as the word revival has become it is often understood by those who oppose all earnestness in religion, and all true religion itself, to denote every species of religious extravagance. Even the wildest out breaking of fanaticism and superstition are dignified by the name of revivals.
And yet the term is properly used with some latitude of meaning. Words often become broadened in their signification. It is so with the word revive. Strictly speaking, it means to bring again to life, to re-animate. While, then, we may speak of Christians as being revived, it could not be said of the unregenerate. As they are “dead in trespasses and sins,” there could be no reviving. That which has never lived could not be re-animated.
In popular use, however, the word revival embraces the idea of the conversion of sinners as well as the awakening of saints. Perhaps no better word could be employed. Certainly it is not improperly used; for it is applicable alike to the quickening of the individual soul, and the community. Indeed, when Christians are revived, there will always be the conversion of men.
Hence the word has a two-fold meaning: implying the renewal of spirituality and vigour among Christians, and the conversion of sinners in considerable numbers to God. The terms “reformation,” “awakening,” etc., mean the same thing.
Dr. Hetherington, of Scotland, gives the following very just criticism upon the term revival. “The word itself (in some of its forms) is often used in Scripture; and, as so used, it generally implies the reproduction of a spiritual life which had almost died away. It is not, however, strictly synonymous with the term conversion; for while revival implies the renewal of a life which had almost died away, conversion strictly means the conferring of a spiritual life not before existing. In truth, it so happens that revivals and conversions commonly accompany each other; so that, where conversions are frequent and striking, many will be re-quickened or revived.”
Revivals are then seasons when Christians are waked to a more spiritual frame, to more fervent prayer, and to more earnest endeavours to promote the cause of Christ and redemption; and consequent upon this, seasons when the impenitent are aroused to the concerns of the soul and the work of personal religion. They are times when the Spirit of the Lord again moves on the face of the waters, and the freshness and beauty of the new creature come forth. Nature itself seems more full of God; the very words of Scripture seem thereby invested with a new light and glory and fullness and meaning. As Edwards says: “All things abroad, the sun, moon, and stars, the heavens and the earth, appear as it were with a cast of divine glory and sweetness upon them.”
The most prominent idea generally associated with the word revival is the regeneration of many souls. Multiplied conversions is the great outstanding characteristic of a time of revival. Multitudes lying dead in the valley of vision find that it becomes to them the valley of decision. Mr. Barnes says, take the case of a single true conversion to God, and extend it to a community—to many individuals passing through that change, and you have all the theory of a revival of religion. It is bringing together many conversions; arresting simultaneously many minds; perhaps condensing into a single place, and into a few weeks, the ordinary work of many places and many years.
It hardly need be added, that this true view of revivals is to be disassociated from the idea of means and measures. These have nothing whatever to do with the pure signification of the term and confusion here should be avoided.
Revivals may be either false or genuine. Under the former are to be classed mere religious excitements, extemporised by human agency, and subsiding without permanent results. There may be a whirlwind of agitation and no real revival.
And these spurious movements have done much to harm the cause of true revivals. Artifices to catch attention; devices to entrap the careless; representations to create impressions; an exaggerated style of preaching to produce alarm and shake suspicious hopes, and to raise a furore, no matter of what kind, these have in some cases been put into requisition, over which truth, and reverence, and humility must weep, and which have done more to injure revivals than all opposition and unbelief on the part of those making no professions of piety.
Genuine revivals are the fruit of the Holy Spirit. “Until the Spirit be poured out from on high,” saints are neither quickened nor sinners saved. The effective cause in all true revivals is the life-giving, light-imparting, quickening, regenerating and sanctifying energy of the Holy Spirit, converting the hardened sinner and reclaiming the back-slidden and dormant believer. The quaint old Thomas Adams says: No means on earth can soften the lie art; whether you anoint it with the supple balms of entreaties, or thunder against it the belts of menaces, or beat it with the hammer of mortal blows. Behold God showers his rain from heaven, and it is suddenly softened. One sermon may prick to the heart. One drop of a Saviour’s blood distilled on it by the Spirit, in the preaching of the word, melts it like wax. The drunkard is made sober, the adulterer chaste, Zaccheus merciful, and raging Paul as tame as a lamb.”
Again, diversities of aspect attach to revivals. The principle should not be forgotten, says Dr. J. W. Alexander, that, while the great laws of the divine government and the dispensation of grace remain the same, the Supreme Giver varies his modes of bounty with reference to differences of country and period. Apostolic awakenings were in some things unlike those of the Reformation day. The quiet, spring-like renewal of vital godliness, under Spener, Francke, and the Pietists, bore little external resemblance to the prodigious revolution under the Wesleys, Whitefield, Edwards, the Tennents and the Blairs. The very remarkable awakenings in which Dr. Nettleton and his friends were instrumental differ again from the times of refreshing in which we live.
Revivals are unlike in their beginnings. Some particular sermon, some sickness or death in the community.
Some appalling providence, some awakening near by, the visit of some pastor or evangelist, and the like may be the apparent cause of a revival. Or it may come mysteriously. A deep and wide spread solemnity may suddenly seize a congregation or community, and the manifestation of an increased interest may spring up, as without cause, in the Sunday school, the prayer meeting, the factory, or the school district.
So do revivals differ in their phenomena. The subjects of them are variously wrought upon. In some cases they readily and gently yield to the sweet pleadings of love; in others there are resistance and marked outward manifestations.
In some cases, too, the work may progress quietly in others it comes with observation. Dr. Griffin says of a work in his day in Newark, N. Jersey. In point of power and stillness, it exceeds all that I have ever seen. While it bears down everything with irresistible force and seems almost to dispense with human instrumentality, it moves with so much silence, that unless we attentively observe its effects, we are tempted at times to doubt whether anything uncommon is taking place. But revivals ‘ were progressing at that very time, in different localities, with marked peculiarities of just the contrary character. It was no uncommon thing in the days of the Tennents, says Tracy, “to see persons, in the time of hearing, sobbing as if their hearts would break, but without any public outcry and some have been carried out of the assembly, (being overcome,) as if they had been dead.” Gillies, mentions faintings, so that a number were carried out in a state of insensibility.
Under the preaching of Rowland, in a Baptist church, probably at Philadelphia; but he gives no date. Gilbert Tennent was present; and at his suggestion, Rowland changed the style of his discourse, and the faintings ceased. In Finley’s Nottingham sermon, “Christ triumphing and Satan raging,”—“wherein is proved that the kingdom of God is come unto us at this day,” which was printed at Philadelphia, Boston, and London, in 1741, we are told that opposers of the revival, “without observing the deep concern that souls seem to be under, only ask about the fits and convulsions that their sorrow throws them into.”
The nervous excitements connected with the revivals under the Wesleys and Tennents, and Whitfield, and Edwards, and those of later days, are well known. Persons often involuntarily fell down, fainted, and went into convulsions.
Among the most remarkable of these cases of physical manifestations were those in the “Kentucky revival,” which commenced in 1800. Accounts were given by learned men, physicians, divines, and others, who were eye-witnesses and careful observers; but the most graphic and instructive seems to be that of the shrewd, though eccentric, Lorenzo Dow. He preached in the Court-house at Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1805, when about one hundred and fifty of his hearers were exercised with “the jerks;” that is, with violent spasmodic contractions of the muscles, which sometimes turned the head quickly from right to left and back again and sometimes threw person on the ground, where he rolled about strangely. He says, “I have seen all denominations of religion with the jerks, gentleman and lady, black and white, young and old, without exception. I have passed a meeting-house where I observed the undergrowth had been cut for a camp-meeting, and from fifty to a hundred saplings were left, breast high, on purpose for the people who were jerked to hold on by. I observed, where they had held on, they had kicked up the earth as a horse stamping flies. A Presbyterian minister told me that while preaching the day before some had the jerks. I believe it does not affect those naturalists, who wish and try to get it to philosophize upon it; and rarely those who are the most pious; but the lukewarm, lazy professor is subject to it. The wicked fear it, and are subject to it; but the persecutors are more subject to it than any, and they have sometimes cursed and swore and damned it, while jerking.”
Dr. Robertson, an eye-witness, says, in his Inaugural Essay before the Medical Faculty at Philadelphia:
“It attacks both sexes, and every constitution; but evidently more readily those who are enthusiasts in religion.” Dr. Alexander says that the phenomena “were common to all ages and sexes, and to all sorts of characters.” Dow says that “persecutors” had it, without relaxing their open hatred of religion. Others testify that they have been thrown into “the jerks” by hearing a description of the jerking of others, and without any religious impression either attending or following the attack. Cartwright mentions one fatal case of the “jerks.” “This large man cursed the jerks and all religion. Shortly afterward he took the jerks and started to run, but he jerked so powerfully he could not get away. He halted among some saplings, and although he was violently agitated, he took out his bottle of whiskey, and swore he would drink the jerks to death; but he jerked at such a rate that he could not get the bottle to his mouth, though he tried hard. At length he fetched a sudden jerk, and the bottle struck a sapling and was broken to pieces, and spilled his whiskey on the ground. He became very much enraged, and cursed and swore very profanely, his jerks still increasing. At length he fetched a violent jerk, snapped his neck, fell, and soon expired, with his mouth full of cursing and bitterness.
John Wesley looked upon these physical agitations as proofs of the divine presence. Charles Wesley suspected and discouraged them. Whitfield was incredulous. Edwards puts in an apology for them. But very few ministers favoured them. Finding, by careful examination that they were often accompanied with rational conviction and sound conversion, they treated them gently, but did not ascribe them to divine influence, nor hold them to be parts of a revival. It were better, no doubt, had there been a more decided discouragement of them. Even with the aids of science in its present advanced state, it is not possible to account for these physical effects; nor is it important. Agitations, quite as marked have occurred when in no way connected with religion, and also with fanatical heresies. A writer is probably correct in defining them to be “a catalepsy, or a suspension, more or less, of the functions of the cerebrum, attended by an abnormal activity, of those of the cerebellum. (Footnote:This subject is ably illustrated in an Essay upon the Influence of the imagination on the Nervous System, contributing to a False Hope in Religion, by Rev. Grant Powers. Andover, Flagg and Gould, 1828. Also in Religious Catalepsy, by Rev. Silas Comfort, in Methodist Quarterly Review for April, 1859. Also, Gibson’s Year of Grace, p. 380. The account given by the Rev. Dr. Alexander may be found in the Connecticut Evan. Mag. Vol. II. p. 364.)The ‘rational powers—the will, judgment or reason—are thus temporarily put in abeyance, and the involuntary susceptibilities left subject to the prevailing impression or influence.”
As to these and other aspects attendant upon revivals, it is not for us to limit the Holy One of Israel. There are diversities of operations by the same Spirit, suited to differences of country and time. The awakenings of the past were in sonic things unlike those of the present. And it may please God to change still farther the modes of his bounty in the days to come. Nevertheless, true religion is the same in all times and places, and genuine revivals, in their essential features, are the same. To show his sovereignty and fulfil his plans, and from other causes, the Most High may in one case bestow the Spirit gently like the falling dew; and in another, amid thunderings and quakings. In one case lie may bring in hundreds and thousands, and in others only a few. In one case the revival takes in persons of all classes, and in another it reaches one or two classes, leaving the rest as it found them. In one case it pervades the whole town, while in another it is confined mainly to the centre, or the out-districts. In one case it begins among the higher classes, and another among the lower; in one with the young men, in another with the young women, and, in another with one or both sexes in middle life. But wherever and however, it is the same Holy Spirit “turning men from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God.”
Nor is it difficult to designate the essential features of a genuine revival of religion. For one thing we may be sure that “the truth as it is in Jesus” accompanies a real work of grace. To borrow an example, suppose there were to be a powerful excitement on the subject of religion produced by means which are at war with the spirit of the gospel — suppose doctrines were to be preached which the gospel does not recognize, and doctrines omitted which the gospel regards fundamental. Suppose that for the simple, and honest, and faithful use of the sword of the Spirit, there should be substituted a mass of machinery designed to produce its effect on the animal passions; suppose the substance of religion, instead of being made to consist in repentance, and faith, and holiness, should consist of falling, and groaning, and shouting;-we should say unhesitatingly that that could not be a genuine work of divine grace; or, if there were some pure wheat, there must be a vast amount of chaff and stubble.
On the other hand, where there is an attention to religion excited by the plain and faithful preaching of God’s truth in all its length and breadth, and .by the use of those simple and honest means which God’s word either directly prescribes or fairly sanctions, we cannot reasonably doubt that there is a genuine work of the Holy Spirit.
Again, there will not be simple excitement of feeling in a true work of grace, but knowledge and reflection, as well. Truth enters the heart through the understanding, and if the feelings manifested, whether of peace or distress, be the effect of an enlightened apprehension, and intelligent conviction, there is reason to hope that God’s Spirit is really at work. But where the mind is in a great degree blind and passive while yet the sensibilities are wrought to a high pitch, there is reason to doubt the genuineness of the supposed conversions, and that which claims to be a revival is pretty surely not a genuine but a spurious one.
Again, the genuineness of a work is to be suspected unless the holiness, zeal, and devotedness of Christians are increased. Where they awake to a sense of neglected obligations, and mourn over and confess them; where they in earnestness implore the descent of the Holy Spirit, taking heed, themselves, lest they grieve and quench that Spirit; where their conversation becomes spiritual and they put each other in remembrance of the covenant vows; where they tenderly speak to the unrenewed, beseeching them to be reconciled to God; and where, as the result, conviction seizes upon the careless, and multitudes are inquiring what they shall do to be saved, there is no room. to doubt that a true work of grace is in progress.
In the absence of all this, no matter by what name a work is called, it is not a real revival of religion.
Farther; where the work is genuine there will be abiding results. If an excitement on the subject of religion, no matter how great it may have been, passes away and leaves behind little or no substantial and enduring good. If most of those who profess to have been converted return speedily or gradually to the world, living a careless and godless life, then we may know that a revival had in it little more than the name. On the other hand, let religion be acted out in the life; let those professing a change illustrate, daily, the Christian virtues, and graces, and one need not ask for farther evidence of the agency of the Spirit of God.
It is not difficult to see in President Edwards’ description of Northampton, at the time of the great awakening there, the marks of a genuine work of grace. “This work soon made a glorious alteration in the town; so that in the spring and summer following, it seemed to big full of the presence of God: it never was so full of love, nor so full of joy, and yet so full of distress as it was then. There were remarkable tokens of God’s presence in almost every house. It was a time of joy in families on account of salvation being brought to them; parents rejoicing over their children as new born, and husbands over their wives, and wives over their husbands. The goings of God were then seen in his sanctuary. God’s day was a delight, and his tabernacles were amiable. Our public assemblies were then beautiful; the congregation was alive in God’s service, every one earnestly intent on the public worship, every hearer eager to drink in the words of the minister as they came from his mouth. The assembly in general were, from time to time, in tears while the word was preached; some weeping with sorrow and distress, others with joy and love, others with pity and concern for the souls of their neighbours.”
THE history of revivals is the history of religion.
If we consult the Bible we shall find awakenings from the earliest times. Thus, in the days of Samuel, when the people had clone evil a long time, serving Baalim, it is said, “Israel lamented after the Lord, and Samuel said, “If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, and serve him only, he will deliver you.” Upon doing it the blessing came. Drawing near to battle, “the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines and discomfited them, and. they were smitten before Israel.” Then they came together and “drew water, and poured it out before the Lord;”—an emblem, perhaps, of the fullness of their penitent sorrow, and of the felt blessings of the Most High. The narrative is short, but there was here an effective revival.
Often in the succeeding ages hope almost expired; but “a remnant was left of those that feared the Lord;” and in the reigns of David and Solomon, and Asa and Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah and Josiah, seasons of recovery and refreshing were not withheld.
Soon after the return from the captivity there was a great reformation. The people gathered themselves together in Jerusalem as one man, and called upon Ezra to bring out the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had commanded to Israel; and he read therein from morning till midday; “and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law.” For when he opened the book in the sight of all the people, they all stood up. Arid when he blessed the Lord, the great God, “all the people answered, Amen, amen, lifting up their hands, and worshipping the Lord with their faces on the ground.” And they proved their” sincerity by hastening to do works meet for repentance. For they restored the worship of God which had fallen into disuse, and separated themselves from heathen alliances, and contributed regularly to the support of the temple services.
Dark days came on. From the time of Malachi we hear of no true prophets to warn the people; and corruption spread “from the sole of the foot even unto the head.” Then came John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent ye, for the, kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He was no ordinary preacher. The truth was searching, arousing, and pungent. The spirit of Elijah burned in his breast and thundered in his voice. And a powerful revival ensued. For “there went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptised in Jordan, confessing their sins.
Exalted at the right hand of the Father, the Redeemer was to vouchsafe his grand coronation gift. It came. The star-light falling upon a solitary people became the splendor of the all-warming, all-vivifying sun. The narrow, pent-up stream became the majestic river, rolling health and gladness through all the lands. Brief and pregnant is the record: “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came too and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in I his own language. And they were all amazed, and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak, Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers ml Mesopotainia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, andi. Painphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya, about Cyrene, and strangers of I Rome, Jews and Proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt saying one to another, What meaneth this? Others mocking said, “These men are full of new wine.”
Peter explained the strange phenomena, pointing to the prediction here fulfilled, that God would “pour out his Spirit upon all flesh,” and likewise charged home upon his hearers their awful guilt in rejecting and crucifying the Lord. “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter, and to the rest of the Apostles, Men and brethren; what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they that gladly received his word were baptised and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.’’
Now, although the effects of this stupendous manifestation of Messiah’s kingly power and munificence were beyond comparison grand and glorious, the scene was strictly of the nature of a revival. In all its essential features it was nothing more. Says Rev. Albert Barnes, “I am aware that some have supposed that that whole scene was miraculous, and that it cannot be expected again to occur, since the days of miracles have ceased. But I am ignorant of the arguments which demonstrate that there was aught of miracle in this, except in the power of speaking in foreign languages, conferred on the apostles—a power which of itself converted no one of the three thousand who on that day gave their hearts to the Saviour. The power of speaking foreign languages had but two effects, one was to furnish evidence that the religion was from God; the other to enable them to make known its truths in the ears of the multitude assembled from different parts of the world. It was by the proper influence of truth that the multitudes were alarmed and awakened. And why should not the same truth produce the same effect now?
It was indeed by the power of God. But that same power is expected in the conversion of every sinner and why may it not now be employed in converting many simultaneously? It was indeed by the Holy Ghost; but no sinner is awakened or converted now without his power, and why may not that be exerted still on many as well as on one? The great fact in the case was, that several thousands were converted under the preaching of the truth by the influence of the Holy Ghost. Miracles change no one. The laws of mind were violated in the case of no one. No effect was produced which the truth was not adapted to produce. And why should not the same effect be again produced by the preaching of the same truth, and by the power of the same sacred Spirit?”
With tongues and hearts of heavenly fire, the chosen heralds went forth from the scene, everywhere to publish peace. And multitudes laid hold of the hope set before them. For we are told that the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved; and again, the number of the men was about five thousand; and again multitudes of believers, both men and women, were added to the Lord; the number of the disciples was multiplied at Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. All this took place within two years of the descent of the Spirit. Eight years more had not elapsed before the gospel was preached with saving power to the Gentiles at Ceasarea, and at Antioch, were much people were added to the Lord. With what rapidity its triumphs were multiplied, both among them and the Jews scattered abroad, the following testimonies relating to the next eight years of the new dispensation are witness. At Iconium, a great multitude both of Jews and also of the Greeks believed; the converts of Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia were confirmed in the faith, and increased in number daily. In Thessalonica some of the Jews believed, and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few. At Berea, many of the Jews believed, also of honorable women which were Greeks, and of men not a few. Many at Corinth believed and were baptised. The word of God grew mightily at Ephesus and prevailed. At Athens, certain men gave unto Paul, and Demetrius complained that throughout all Asia Paul had preached, and turned away much people. What a series of glorious revivals we have here recorded!
And it is interesting to observe that this blessed work continued on through the post-apostolic age. It was by a succession of marvellous revivals, as we should call them, rather than by the gradual addition of a few souls at a time, that the churches during the first few centuries made their triumphant onsets upon the powers of darkness. Hence the amazing progress of which the early writers speak.
Pliny the younger, who was some time governor of Bithynia under the bloody emperor Trajan, earnestly dissuaded him from persisting in his persecuting edicts against the Christians in that province, not only by assuring him that they were a harmless people chargeable with no crime, “meeting together to sing hymns and worship Christ as God,” but that they were very numerous all over the province, and that the more they were punished the more they increased. Tertullian, who lived a century later, and died in 216, writing to the Roman government in vindication of the new religion, as it was called, says, “Though we are strangers of no long standing, yet we have filled all places of your dominions, cities, islands, corporations, councils, armies, tribes, the senate, the palace, the courts of judicature. If the Christians had a mind, to revenge themselves; their numbers are abundant, for they have a party, not in this or that province only, but in all quarters of the world. Nay, if they were to combine and forsake the Roman Empire how vast would be the loss! The world would be amazed at the solitude which would ensue."
Such an extension of Christianity, as a historian has remarked, presupposes a progress of the work of conversion immensely more rapid than what we now observe. The very persecutions also prove this. There must have been a great amount of fuel to support such fires. Even in regions of Africa, which are now desolation, there were cities and provinces of Christians. The writer just cited, in an appeal to the persecuting governor of Africa, says, “If you persevere in your persecution, what will you do with these many thousands, both men and women, of every rank and every age, who will promptly offer themselves? Carthage itself must be decimated.” And again, enumerating the nations who have believed in Christ, he declares that the gospel has penetrated to regions which were inaccessible even to the eagles of imperial Rome, and that the church had already spread itself more widely than the four great monarchies. “Excellent governors,” says Tertullian, “you may torment, afflict, and vex us; your wickedness puts our meekness to the test; but your cruelty is of no avail. It is but a stronger invitation to bring others to our persuasion. The more we are mowed down, the more we spring up again. The blood of the Christians is seed."
Here we have proof of the spread of Christianity by extensive and powerful reformations, — the turning of multitudes, on a vast scale, almost simultaneously, from sin and Satan unto God. In no other way could the work have progressed as it did.
How superstition arose, and the “Man of Sin” gained the ascendancy, and true piety languished during the long succeeding centuries, it is not our province here to depict. All this time God had a true people; but their history is almost illegible.
In sketching the modern revivals, it will be convenient to speak of them under several epochs. The periods may be designated thus:
1st, The great Reformation, properly beginning in the fourteenth century, and extending into the sixteenth century, in the days of Luther, who died 1546.
2nd, The work of God of the seventeenth century, in the days of Owen, Leighton, Bunyan, Baxter, Flavel; the last of whom died in 1691.
3rd, The Great Awakening in the eighteenth century, about 1740, in the days of Whitfield, Wesley, Edwards, Brainerd, and the Tennents.
4th. the revival of the nineteenth century, beginning about 1790, and extending, say, to the year 1840.
5th, The revival of 1857 to 1860.
FIRST REVIVAL PERIOD: 1310-1560.
We find traces of God’s gracious work even throughout that long and horrible night when Popery was holding almost universal empire. There arose, at intervals, within her pale, individuals protesting against her monstrous abominations. Doubtless, too, beyond her pale there existed an unbroken succession of faithful and incorruptible witnesses for the truth: so that when scornfully asked where was the religion of Protestants before Luther, we may answer “in the Bible,” and “in the valleys of Piedmont."
In the fourteenth century there must have been great revivals; for in Bohemia alone, where the gospel had won its way, there were reckoned, in 1315, no less than 80,000 witnesses for the religion of Jesus.
So, again, in the same century, John Wyckliffe, the morning-star of the Reformation,” heralded the day-spring, and many turned to the Lord. He died in 1384; but John Huss (born 276) was converted by his writings and, after exerting a mighty influence for the truth, sealed his testimony amid the flames of martyrdom in 1415. Jerome of Prague embraced the doctrines of Huss (his friend and master), and also died at the stake a year later.
Born in 1483, Martin Luther, with his coadjutors, shook the papal throne to its foundations. And that most remarkable work was, strictly speaking, a revival of religion. Says Dr. J.W. Alexander, with the greatest propriety, “It is a deplorable error to consider this moral convulsion as a mere change of speculative tenents, or a mere struggle for liberty of conscience. Both these it did involve, undoubtedly; but beneath these, vivifying and nerving these, was the sense of spiritual things, the experience of conviction, conversion, holy awe, and holy joy, the gracious affections of the new creature, which pervaded countries and traversed a whole continent. It was the personal interest of souls in agony about escape from the wrath to come, which gave interest to the re at questions between Popery and Reform. The sudden unveiling of the long hidden Bible before the laity was like the return of the sun upon a Greenland night. The entrance of the ray gave understanding to the simple; and in thou, sands of instances, the rejection of Pelagian error and the acceptance of Christ were contemporaneous and undistinguishable exercises. Never, certainly singe the days of the early Christians, was there so wide--spread a concern about religion; never were there so many conversions. The published correspondence of the reformers, and particularly of Martin Luther and John Calvin, shows that a large part of their time was employed in giving counsel and’ consolation to inquiring, convinced, and tempted individuals; and of their published works considerable portions are wholly employed in discussing those very points which have paramount interest in a season of general awakening in our day."
Such was the progress of this amazing revival, that in face of the united opposition of the church and the empire, against all proscription, in spite of rack and fagot, the principles of evangelical religion soon over--spread Germany, France, Switzerland, Holland, and the British Isles. First came Lefevre, Farel, Briconnet, Chatelain, and their friends, in France; then Zuinglius, in Switzerland, and almost at the same moment the giant of the reformation, Martin Luther, in Germany—each attended by a host of zealous and able coadjutors, both in church and state—Ecolampadius, Melancthon, Calvin—preachers, scholars, princes, and nobles. Soon came Tyndale, with his printed English Testament, in England; Patrick Hamilton, George Wishart, and John Knox, in Scotland; John Taussen, in Denmark; John Laski, in Poland; Olaus Petri and Laurentius in Sweden, and humbler names without number, in every quarter. All these arose at once, or within little more than a quarter of a century, by the mysterious Spirit and providence of God, and triumphantly established the truth of the Gospel in the countries now Protestant.
In Scotland, says Kirkton, “the whole nation was converted by lump. Lo! Here a nation born in one day; yea, moulded into one congregation, and sealed as a fountain with a solemn oath and covenant.” To the same purpose are the following reflections of Fleming, in his Fulfilling of Scripture: “It is astonishing and should be matter of wonder and praise for after ages, to consider that solemn time of the Reformation (in Scotland), when the Lord began to visit his church. What a swift course the spreading of the kingdom of Christ had; and how professors of the truth thronged” in amidst the greatest threatenings of those on whose side authority and power then was.” The testimony of Knox is not less decisive: “Our very enemies can witness in how great purity God did establish his true religion among us."
In Holland the work was with power, especially in connection with some of the Baptist Reformers. Admitting the presence of errors and excesses, many of the men of this class were “full of faith and of the Holy Ghost,” and much people were by them “added unto the Lord.” Leonard Bouwens, an eminent Baptist minister in Holland, who died in 1578, left in writing a list of upwards of ten thousand persons whom he had baptized. Menno Simon, and other labourers, introduced to the churches great multitudes of disciples, thousands of whom, after being unjustly reviled and persecuted, became martyrs in attestation of the truth; And thus everywhere the doctrine of justification without works ‘‘grew mightily and prevailed.’’
It is to be said, however, that this work to a great extent receded. The Reformation itself needed reforming; and inhering remnants of the papacy brought forth their legitimate fruits. Persecution also acted a painful part. The fires of martyrdom were frequently lighted in France, Holland, and Switzerland; while in England the severity of Elizabeth’s government was so great that the separatists of all classes were scattered, and forced to hold their meetings in the utmost privacy. James I., though affecting zeal for Presbyterianism” while in Scotland, was as bigoted and despotic as Elizabeth. “I will make them conform” said he [of the Puritans] “or I will hurry them out of the land, or else worse.” And they either fled or kept themselves quiet, hoping almost against hope for the better times to come.
How truly God remembered his cause, and again revived the work which had thus suffered a partial decline, we shall see in the next revival period.
SECOND REVIVAL PERIOD: —1600-1688.
Two years previous to this first date (1598) the famous Edict of Nantes, by Henry IV., was promulgated, securing religious liberty to the French Protestants. Within these two dates fall the active lives of Richard Baxter, Robert Leighton, John Milton, John Owen, John Flavel, John Bunyan, John Howe, John Tillotson, and Philip James Spener, founder of the sect of the Pietists of Halle. With the latter laboured the devoted Augustus Franke; and there was a great and rapid spread of religion in some parts of the continent through their efforts.
During this period also falls the working of the Act of Uniformity, passed in 1662, and in force about 25 years. By it some two thousand ministers were ejected from their pulpits. In 1664 the Conventicle Act was passed and the next year the Five-Mile Act. These inhuman decrees but testify to the zeal and piety of the men against whom they were intended to operate.
Because they were “burning and shining ‘lights,” whose influence in converting the people to Christ was so great, these measures were instigated by the enemy of all good.
The remarkable condition of things among our American ancestors was the simple consequence of the works of grace prevalent during this period. These men came out from amid great awakenings; and after the first plantations. Every arrival from the old country brought them news of the revivals which took place under the Bunyans and Baxters of England. It is worth mentioning that Richard Baxter was born in 1616, John Owen in 1616, John Bunyan in 1628, and John Howe in 1630; while the landing of the pilgrims on our shore occurred in 1620. The connection between the great facts here referred to is not less obvious than instructive. Pursuing the work still in the old world, it is refreshing indeed to read the annals of God’s grace in connection with the persecutions of the saints, especially in Scotland, in the attempts to enforce the Uniformity Act. The holy fire burning in the breast of Knox in the preceding century was rekindled, and its heat and light could not be hid. Thus in Stewarton, in 1625, a revival spread. Called by the profane rabble “Stewarton Sickness,” of which Fleming said, “Truly the great spring tide, as I may call it, of the gospel, was not of a short time, but of some years’ continuance; yea, thus, like a spreading moor-burn, the power of Godliness did advance from one place to another, which put a marvellous lustre on those parts of the country, the savor whereof brought many from other parts of the land to see its truth. Another token for good to the suffering church of Scotland, occurred in the year 1628. At a meeting of the Synod of Edinburgh, in the spring of that year, it had been agreed to apply to his majesty that a general fast might be held all over the kingdom.”
A great blessing followed—most marked, perhaps, in the Kirk of Shotts, in June 1630, under the preaching of John Livingston, when a convocation of ministers and people, for several days, was being held. Towards the close of the sermon, the audience, and even the preacher himself, were affected with a deep, unusual awe, melting their hearts and subduing their minds, stripping off inveterate prejudices, awaking the impenitent, producing conviction in the hardened, bowing down the stubborn, and imparting to many an enlightened Christian a large increase of grace and spirituality. “It was known,” says Fleming, “as I can speak on sure ground, that nearly five hundred had at that time a discernible change wrought on them, of whom most proved lively Christians afterwards. It was the sowing of a seed through Clydesdale, so that many of the most eminent Christians of that country could date their conversion, or some remarkable confirmation of their case, from that day."
In 1625, there was also a remarkable revival in the North of Ireland. It took place under the labors of a band of faithful ministers, most of whom went over from Scotland —Brice, Glendenning, Ridge, Blair and others; beginning in the province of Ulster, which has ever since been the brightest spot on the map of Ireland. These preachers went forth in companies, laboring with apostolic zeal to evangelize the land—and the Lord wrought through them mightily. This revival in the north of Ireland may with propriety be said to have been one of the most remarkable outpourings of the Spirit upon record. Says Stewart, “these religious agitations continued for a considerable time.”
The ministers were indefatigable in improving the favourable opportunities thus offered for extending the knowledge and influence of the gospel. The people awakened and inquiring, many of them desponding and alarmed, both desired and needed guidance and instruction. The judicious exhibition of evangelical doctrines and promises by these faithful men, was in due time productive of those happy and tranquilizing effect which were early predicted, as the characteristics of gospel times. Adopting the beautiful imagery of the prophets, the broken-hearted were bound up and comforted, the spirit of bondage and of fear gave way to al spirit of freedom and of love, the oil of joy was poured forth instead of mourning, and the spirit of heaviness exchanged for the garments of praise and thankfulness.”
It would be gratifying to dwell upon God’s revival work in England while his Spirit was being thus poured out in Ireland and Scotland. How much like a description of some of our blessed modern revivals does the pen-picture of Baxter’s work in Kidderminster seem, as drawn in his writings. He tells of preaching twice on Lord’s day, and on Thursday evening at his own private house, besides occasional sermons; of “resolving the doubts” of inquirers; of praying with the awakened in little companies; of a “three hours “prayer-meeting with the young; of the converts holding a Saturday evening prayer-meeting for the success of the word on the following day; of once in a few weeks having a day of humiliation; of going through the parish (with the help of his brethren) and visiting all the people, and instructing them in the scriptures, and urging them, “with all possible engaging reason and vehemence to answerable affection and practice.” He spent an hour with a family, —occupying “all the afternoon of Mondays and Tuesdays in this way.”
As to results, let him give his own story. “The congregation was usually full, so that we were led to build five galleries after my coming hither, the church itself being very capacious, the most commodious and convenient that ever I was in. Our private meetings also were full. On the Lord’s day there was no disorder to be seen in the streets, but you might hear a hundred families singing psalms and repeating sermons as you passed through the streets. In a word, when I came thither first, there was about one family in a street that worshipped God and called on his name; and when I came away, there were some streets where there was not more than one family in the side of a street that did not so, and that did not, in professing serious godliness, give us hopes of their sincerity. And of those families which were the worst, being inns and ale-houses, usually some persons in each did seem to be religious. Though our administration of the Lord’s supper was so orderly as displeased many, and the far greater part kept themselves away, yet we had six hundred that were communicants, of whom there were not twelve that I had not good hopes of as to their sincerity; and those few that came to our communion and yet lived scandalously, were excommunicated afterwards."
We cannot farther sketch the refreshings from God’s presence during this second period.
THIRD REVIVAL PERIOD: 1730—1750.
John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards were born the same year (1703). Charles Wesley was born two years after (1705), and. George Whitfield nine years still later (1714).
The appearance of these names on the scroll of history marks a revival period of wonderful interest.
To go back a little, and accept the resumé of another, the English church had been “reformed” by act of Parliament under Edward VI., counter-reformed in the same way under Queen Mary, and re-reformed by Queen Elizabeth— the great body of the clergy holding fast their benefices with unscrupulous tenacity throughout these vicissitudes. Nineteen-twentieths of Queen Mary’s clergy became Queen Elizabeth’s clergy without compunction, and certainly without conversion. It is not surprising, therefore, that generally speaking both religious knowledge and morals, among people and clergy, remained at the lowest ebb; and that the church establishment, after being purged of the most of its piety and learning by the Act of Uniformity, continued to descend in the moral scale, carrying the people with it, until, after the accession of the house of Hanover, the scandalous condition of the country was perhaps unequalled in Europe. Bishop Burnet says that candidates for ordination were commonly quite unacquainted with the Bible and unable even to give an account of the statements in the church catechism. When they re-appeared before him to obtain institution to a living, it was still apparent in many that they had not “read the Scriptures nor any other good book since they were ordained.” “Of all the ministers of religion he had seen in the course of his extensive travels —Papists, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Dissenters—they were the most remiss in their labours, and the least severe in their lives."
The infidel works of Hobbes, Tindal, Collins, Shaftesbiury, and Chubb were in full circulation, and were re-enforced by the appearance of the three greatest giants in the cause of skeptical error which modern times have produced—Bolingbroke, Hume, and Gibbon. The Encyclopedists had attempted the design of eradicating from the circle of the sciences every trace of Christian truth; and the polite writers of France, headed by Voltaire and Rousseau, had decked the corrupt doctrines of the day with the attractions of eloquence and poetry, humour and satire, until they swept over the nation like a sirocco, withering not only the sentiments of religion, but the instincts of humanity, and subverting at last, in common ruin, the altar, the throne, and the moral protections of domestic life.
Lady Mary Wortley wrote, in 1710, that there were “more atheists among the fine ladies than among the loosest sort of rakes.” Ignorance and drunkenness, it is stated, were the predominant qualities of the working classes; licentiousness and infidelity of the higher. Montesquieu, who visited England in 1729-31, protested that the English had no religion at all. “If any one,” he said, “spoke of it, everybody laughed.” Low as religion had sunk in France, he confessed that he himself had not enough of it to satisfy his countrymen; and yet he found that he had too much to suit English society.
Rev. Mr. Ryle, of the Church of England, says: “These times were the darkest age that England has passed through in the last three hundred years. Anything more deplorable than the condition of the country as to religion, morality, and high principle, it is very difficult to conceive. As to preaching the gospel, the distinguishing doctrines of Christianity—the atonement, the work and office of Christ and the Spirit— were comparatively lost sight of. The vast majority of sermons were miserable moral essays, utterly devoid of anything calculated to awaken, convert, sanctify, or save souls."
And Isaac Taylor, in his history of Methodism, says that when Wesley appeared, “the Anglican Church was an ecclesiastical system under which the people of England had lapsed into heathenism, or a state hardly to be distinguished from it.”
In America the religious condition was not much better. The primitive standard of morals and piety among the colonies of New England had sadly declined. From the first, isolated revivals had been enjoyed; but there prevailed at this time a lamentable ignorance of the essentials of practical religion.
Dr. Increase Mather, in a book entitled, “The Glory Departing from New England,” printed in 1702, says, “We are the posterity of the good old Puritan Nonconformists in England, who were a strict and holy people. Such were our fathers who followed the Lord into this wilderness. Oh, New England, New England, look to it that the glory be not removed from thee, for it begins to go. Oh, degenerate New England, what art thou come to at this day! How are those sins become common in thee that once were not so much as heard of in this land!”
In a public lecture printed in 1706, Dr. Cotton Mather says, “It is confessed by all who know anything of the matter—and oh, why not with rivers of tears bewailed? —that there is a general and horrible decay of Christianity among the professors of it.” And Rev. Samuel Blair, speaking of the state of things in Pennsylvania previous to 1740, declares that “religion lay a-dying and ready to expire its last breath of life.”
The causes of this degeneracy are but too apparent. They are well told by Rev. Joseph Tracy, in his excellent and standard “history of the Great Awakening.” He says:
“The New England churches had receded from the original standard. The Synod of 1662 had decided that persons baptized in infancy, understanding the doctrine of faith, and publicly professing their assent thereunto, not scandalous in life, and solemnly owning the covenant before the church wherein they give up themselves and their children to the Lord, and subject themselves to the government of Christ in the church, --their children are to be baptized, though the parent, thus owning the covenant, be avowedly yet unregenerate, and as such excluded from the Lord’s Supper. This practice was immediately adopted by many churches, and, after a violent controversy, became general. This was very naturally followed by a still further innovation. In 1707, “the venerable Stoddard,” of Northampton, published a sermon in which he maintained “That sanctification is not a necessary qualification to partaking of the Lord’s Supper,” and “that the Lord’s Supper is a converting ordinance.” To this Dr. Increase Mather replied the next year; and in 1709, Mr. Stoddard published his “Appeal to the Learned; being a Vindication of the Right of Visible Saints to the Lord’s Supper, though they be destitute of a Saving Work of God’s Spirit on their hearts.” The third book of the Appeal contains “Arguments to prove that sanctifying grace is not necessary in order to a lawful partaking of the Lord’s Supper.” Mr. Stoddard, in his sermon, enforced his arguments with the assertion, “That no other country does neglect this ordinance as we in New England; and that in our own nation at home, [England,] so in Scotland, Holland, Denmark, Sweedland, Germany, and France, they do generally celebrate the memorials of Christ’s death.” There had been strong tendencies towards such a practice for many years, and probably some instances of its virtual adoption; but it now, for the first time, found an open and able advocate. It was strenuously opposed; but the desire to enjoy the credit and advantages of church membership, aided by Mr. Stoddard’s influence, earned the day at Northampton, and the practice soon spread extensively in other parts of New England."
Thus, also, Mr. Williams, a defender of the Halfway Covenant, in opposition to Jonathan Edwards, mentions two ends contemplated by Christ in appointing the communion: viz. “That such as have grace already should be under proper advantages to gain more, and that those who have none should be under proper advantages to attain grace.” And Edwards himself, who utterly repudiated this view, was forced to lament, that “owning the covenant, as it is called, has in New England, it is to be feared, too much degenerated into a matter of mere form and ceremony; it being visibly a prevailing custom for persons to neglect this until they come to be married, and then to do it for their credit’s sake, and that their children may be baptized.” In a word, it was held that the Christian church is but a continuation of the. Jewish, the terms of admission remaining unchanged. The position laid down by Mr. Stoddard was practically maintained, viz.: “That if unsanctified persons might lawfully come to the Passover, then such may lawfully come to the Lord’s Supper, —and they who convey to their children a right to baptism, have a right themselves to the Lord’s Supper, provided they carry inoffensively.”
One obvious tendency of this practice was to destroy church discipline; for unconverted members, generally would not be strict in calling others to account for error of doctrine or practice. And in his reply to Mr. Fish, Isaac Backus testifies, “that it is a professed rule with many ministers, not to deal with any person in the church for moral evil till he is convicted in the state.
It is easy to see that this system favored the entrance of unconverted men into the ministry. If one was fit to be a member of the church; if he was actually a member in good standing, why should he be excluded from the ministry? It could not be. The form of examining candidates as to their piety was still retained, but the spirit of it was dying away; and Mr. Stoddard in his “Appeal to the Learned,” argued from the fact which he took for granted, that “unconverted ministers have certain official duties which they may lawfully perform."
Amid scenes of such moral desolation in the old world and the new, it pleased God suddenly to appear in great mercy. And it is worthy of remark, that the blessing came almost simultaneously on America and Europe.
First in the order of time there was a revival of considerable power in Freehold, N.J., in 1730, and in the three following years, under the labors of the Tennents.
Next commenced the wonderful work in Northampton, Mass., under Edwards, in the autumn of 1734. Then, says Edwards, “the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in and wonderfully to work among us; and there were very suddenly, one after another, five or six persons, who were, to all appearance; savingly converted, and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner.” The news spread “like a flash of lightning” and there was a general concern in all parts of the town; and “souls did come, as it were, by flocks to Jesus Christ.” The report of the state of things at Northampton spread into other towns, where many “seemed not to know what to make of it.” Many ridiculed, “and some compared what we call conversion to certain distempers.” Great numbers, however, who came to Northampton and saw for themselves, were differently affected, and not a few of them, from various places, were awakened and apparently brought to repentance. In March 1735, the revival began to be general in South Hadley, and about the same time in Suffield. It next appeared in Sunderland, Beerfield, and Hatfield; and afterwards at West Springfield, Long Meadow, and En-field; and then in Hadley Old Town, and in North-field. In Connecticut the work commenced in the first parish in Windsor, about the same time as at Northampton. It was remarkable at East Windsor, and “wonderful” at Coventry. Similar scenes were witnessed at Lebanon, Durham, Stratford, Ripton, New Haven, Guildford, Mansfield, Tolland, Hebron, Bolton, Preston, Groton, and Woodbury.
Edwards hoped that more than 300 in his parish were converted in the space of half a year.
About the month of May, 1735, the work began sensibly to decline; although for months after frequent conversions continued. This awakening excited a lively interest among the friends of vital piety at a distance. Dr. Colman, of Boston, wrote to Mr. Edwards for an account of it. Having obtained one he published it, and forwarded it to Dr. Watts and Dr. Guise in London, where its publication exerted a strong influence for good.
A longing existed in many places for similar awakenings; and in the few next succeeding years they began to multiply in different parts of the country. Thus in 1739, in Newark, N. J., “the whole town in general was brought under an uncommon concern about their eternal interests.” In Harvard, Mass., the same year, a revival much like that at Northampton (only not so extensive) occurred, resulting in “near a hundred” hopeful conversions.
About the same time the work re-appeared in Northampton; and gentle refreshings were experienced in Pennsylvania (particularly at Londonderry), and in New Brunswick, N. J., and some other places.
Such, properly speaking, was the commencement of the “Great Awakening.” But it did not assume its peculiar power until George Whitfield arrived in Philadelphia in the early part of November, 1739.
In that city, and in New York and New Jersey, where he at once began preaching, as well as in Georgia and South Carolina, thousands flocked together, anxious about their souls, and multitudes were added unto the Lord.
In September 1740, Whitfield visited New England, whither his fame had spread; and here all the people were anxious to hear him. Arriving at Newport, R. I., he began immediately his usual course of incessant preaching. His sermons on his way to Boston spread his reputation, and when within ten miles’ distance lie was met by the governor’s son and a train of the clergy and chief citizens, who escorted him into the city. Belcher, the governor, received him heartily, and became his warm friend. He was denied “King’s Chapel,” the English Church; but Webb, Foxcroft, Prince, Sewall and all the other Puritan divines, welcomed him. His preaching had its usual effect. “It was Puritanism revived,” said old Mr. Walter, the successor of Eliot, the apostle to the Indians. “It was the happiest day I ever saw in my life,” exclaimed Colman, after his first sermon. He “itinerated” who traced his course northward from Boston travelling one hundred and seventy times in about a week On his return the whole city seemed moved. High and low, clergymen and municipal officers, professors and students from the neighbouring college of Cambridge, and people from the country towns, thronged to hear him, and appeared ready to “pluck out their eyes for him.” Twenty thousand hearers crowded around him when he delivered his farewell discourse under the trees of the large Common. “Such a power and presence of God with a preacher,” wrote one who heard him, “I never saw before. Our governor has carried him from place to place in his coach, and could not help following him fifty miles out of town.”
He directed his course westward to Northampton, where he met a congenial spirit in Jonathan Edwards. Pulpits were open to him on all the route, and a “divine unction” attended his preaching. From Northampton he passed down to New Haven, addressing as he journeyed vast and deeply affected congregations. He arrived there October 23, when the Colonial Legislature was in session, and on the Sabbath preached before them and an immense throng, some of whom had come twenty miles to hear him. The aged governor was so deeply affected that he could speak but few words. With tears trickling down his cheeks like drops of rain, he exclaimed: “Thanks be to God for such refreshings on our way to heaven!”
By November 8th he was again in Philadelphia, preaching in a house which had been erected for him during his absence. On the 14th of December he reached the Orphan house, near Savannah. In seventy-five clays he had preached a hundred and seventy-five sermons. “Never,” he writes, “did I see such a continuance of the divine presence in the congregations to which I have preached."
On the 16th of January, 1741, he again embarked at Charleston for England.
Of course it is impossible to trace the progress of the revivals that sprang up in these years, all through New England and the Middle and Southern States. A large number of pastors in Eastern Massachusetts, in 1745, printed and sent out a “Testimony” to its blessed effects. It was estimated that at that time the population of all the colonies was about 2,000,000; and it was believed that the number of converts amounted to not less than fifty thousand. If so, they bore as great a proportion to the whole number of inhabitants, and would as much change the relative proportion of the religious and irreligious, as the conversion of six or eight hundred thousand would now. As one result, not less than 150 new Congregational churches were established in twenty years. The increase of Baptist churches was still more wonderful, rising from a few to upwards of 400 in number, with a total of 30,000 members. The increase of the Presbyterians and other denominations in the Middle States appears to be less distinctly marked, but it was very great.
Particularly towards the close of the above period, there were most objectionable outbreaks of animal excitement, and also of untempered religious controversy, marring the gracious fruitage; but, making every reasonable abatement, the awakening was a most merciful visitation from the Lord in its immediate and lasting influence upon the young colonies of America.
In England the work began in 1739. On Feb. 17th of that year, Mr. Whitfield preached his first field sermon, at a place called Rose Green. He held open-air meetings there and at Kingswood for several days, and was listened to by thousands and tens of thousands of astonished hearers. The first evidence he observed of having made any impression on his rude auditors, was their deep silence; the next, and still more convincing, was his observation of the white gutters made by the tears which fell plentifully down their cheeks, black and unwashed from the coal—pits. John Wesley, [by whom, on his going to America, Whitfield was succeeded in this most interesting field of labour,] speaking of the harvest which it yielded in return to their conjoint prayers and labors, says, “Few persons have lived long in the west of England, who have not heard of the colliers of Kingswood as those neither fearing God nor regarding man. But now we see that in the middle of February, Kingswood was a wilderness, and that when the month of June arrived, it was already blossoming like the rose.”
After a short visit to the north of Wales, where he fell in with that wonderful Welsh preacher Howell Harris, who had been for three years ringing out the gospel notes from “tables, wells, and hillocks,” Whitfield traversed a great portion of England, preaching in bowling-greens, at market-crosses and on the highways; thus preparing the way for those remarkable field operations of the Wesleys, in connection with whom the arm of the Lord was so mightily revealed in the founding of Methodism.
During the years 1740 and 1741 Wesley traversed many parts of the kingdom, preaching almost daily, and sometimes four sermons on the Sabbath. Ingham, his companion in America, was abroad also, itinerating in Yorkshire, where he formed many societies. Howell Harris pursued his labours successfully in Wales, and. John Bennet preached extensively in Derbyshire and its surrounding counties. David Taylor, a man of signal usefulness, also began to travel and preach about this time.
As to Whitfield, he thirteen times crossed the Atlantic; and many thousands hung upon his lips, whether he was in London or other parts of England; in Wales, Scotland, or Ireland; in Georgia, or New Hampshire; in Charleston, Philadelphia, New York or Boston, or the country intervening. In some cases ten, and in others even twenty thousand, listened to his impassioned appeals; and fruits unto eternal life were gathered all along his course; until “he was not, for God took him.”
Of the gracious work of God in Scotland (particularly at Cambuslang) in 1742, when the Lord sent plenteous rains upon many of the parishes, the annals of those times give most interesting narratives.
In reading the “History of Revivals in the British Isles” (by Mrs. Duncan of Ruthwell) and the lives of Whitfield Wesley, Lady Huntingdon, etc., one will see how truly upon those who sat in the shadow of death, the light suddenly arose, and “the thirsty land’ became springs of water."
FOURTH REVIVAL PERIOD: 1790—1842.
It has very properly been said that the year 1790 ushered in a new era, particularly for the United States. In the old country the fearful inroads of French infidelity had sapped the foundations of faith and hope in God, and, combined with other untoward influences, had made the hearts of the faithful fail them for fear. The overspreading gloom about 1790 aroused Hannah More, Bishop Porteus, Drs. Bogue, Andrew Fuller, Burder, and Rowland Hill, and kindred spirits in England, to noble evangelical efforts which greatly blessed the world. There was also a simultaneous work in Scotland, connected with the Haldanes and others. This was the direct cause of the formation of the Religious Tract Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the London Missionary, and the Church Missionary (local) Societies. Also the first society for evangelizing the heathen—the Baptist Foreign Missionary Society. All these, and other kindred movements, were the fruits of the revivals about 1790 to 1792.
The names of the two brothers referred to above, Robert and James Alexander Haldane, of Scotland, will be had in everlasting remembrance for their burning zeal and untiring labours in the service of Christ, and for the cheerfulness with which they consecrated their wealth, time, and talents in building churches—tabernacles they were called—for the poor, and providing in every practicable way for their religious instruction.
In the north of Wales, under the labors of Charles of Bala, “the apostle of North Wales,” a “great revival” occurred in the beginning of 1791.
In America the vast extent of the revival blessings of this period can only be appreciated by considering the deplorable condition into which we had fallen. It is true there were occasional “streams in the desert” during the previous half century. But the Half Way Covenant still lingered in many of the Congregational churches, and Unitarianism had spread so generally that “at the beginning of the present century all the Congregational churches in Boston, with a single exception, had renounced the faith of the Puritans.”
It must be remembered, too, that the political condition of the country was such as constantly to agitate the public mind, and divert attention from spiritual things. A war between France and Spain and England lasted from 1744 to 1748. Soon after this, the controversy commenced between the colonies and the mother country, and continued until it finally broke out into open war in 1776. During the eight years of the revolutionary war every nerve of the country was strained to maintain the national conflict. Thus from 1744 to 1783, during a period of almost 40 years, the public mind was continually agitated by political questions. These successive wars did much to break down the sanctity of the Sabbath, and corrupt the Morals of the community.
In the meantime, as might have been expected, French Infidelity, aided by Paine’s “Age of Reason,” Voltaire’s assaults upon Christianity, Volney’s Ruins, and other blasphemous publications, had spread rapidly, especially among the upper classes. The illuminati, so called, of France and Germany, who were secretly associated for the overthrow of all existing religious institutions, had their affiliated societies in this country, enrolling not a few men of high social and political standing and influence. “It became fashionable, in high places and low places, flippantly to prate against the Bible, and sneer at things sacred and divine. Instead of the Scriptures, French philosophy claimed to be the rule of faith and life, and ignoring all the rights of God, was to usher in the glorious millennium of the rights of man.”
But when the enemy was thus coming in like a flood, the Lord lifted up a standard against him. About 1790 there were quite extensive works of grace in Western Pennsylvania and Southern and Western Virginia; and a little later the work began in the Eastern States. In these times we meet with the names of Bellamy, Griffin, the younger Edwards, Backus, Robbins, Mills, Perkins, Strong, Porter, Hooker, Williams, Hawley, Manning, Dwight, Hyde, Emmons, Baldwin, Mason, Stillman, Liviingston, Furman, Marshall, Nettleton, Lyman Beecher, and many others, who did not shun to declare all the counsel of God.
In 1790 the first Baptist church in Boston was graciously revived, and two hundred were added in the course of a few years. (Footnote: Moore, in his History, says: “The revival in the First and Second Baptist churches was the first in that series of revivals wherewith God blessed Boston in the present generation. The tide of error with which this city had been for half a century flooded then began to turn,”
In 1792, “or the year before,” says Dr. Griffin, “began the unbroken series of American revivals. There was a revival in North Yarmouth, Me., in 1791. In the summer of 1792 one appeared in Lee, in the county of Berkshire. The following November the first that I had the privilege of witnessing showed itself on the borders of East Haddam and Lyme, Conn., which apparently brought to Christ a hundred souls. I saw a continued succession of heavenly sprinklings at New Salem, Farmington, Middlebury, and New Hartford, (all in Connecticut,) until, in 1799, I could stand at my door in New Hartford, Litchfield county, and number fifty or sixty congregations laid down in one field of divine wonders, and as many more in different parts of New England.” By 1802 remarkable revivals had spread through most of the western and southern States. And Dr. Nettleton says, “during a period of four or five years, commencing with 1798, no less than one hundred and fifty churches in New England were favoured with the special effusions of the holy Spirit; and thousands of souls, in the judgment of charity, were translated from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.”
Distinct mention should here be made of that honoured instrument in revivals just mentioned. Certainly no other man did so much, under God, to promote them as Asahel Nettleton; who began to preach as an evangelist in 1812, and continued his labours for upwards of twenty years. To him not ineptly apply Pollock’s lines:—
A skilful workman he,
In God’s great moral vineyard: what to prune
With cautious hand he knew, what to uproot;
What were mere weeds, and what celestial plants
Which had immortal vigor in them, knew.
Oh, who can speak his praise! Great humble man!
He in the current of destruction stood,
And warned the sinner of his woe; led on
Immanuel’s soldiers in the evil day,
And with the everlasting arms embracing
Him around, stood in the dreadful front
Of battle high, and warred victoriously
With death and hell.
How wondrously the Lord carried forward his work during almost the whole period now under review, it is not in language to describe. There are extant particular narratives of local revivals in nearly all the States, even an epitome of which cannot here be given. Dr. Porter examined, in the preparation of his “Letters on Revivals,” the written or printed accounts of over one hundred and seventeen churches; while sonic of these accounts speak of other places that were revived—one says in fifty or sixty adjacent towns—of which, of course, no particulars are given. And still greater numbers were never reported at all. No part of the country, in proportion to its extent, shared so largely in these, “times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord,” as Connecticut; but other parts of New England enjoyed precious showers of grace; and during the same period powerful revivals prevailed, more or less extensively, in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, the two Carolinas, and Georgia.
Dr. Griffin tells of a revival in Newark, N. J., in 1803, under his ministry, when “twenty contiguous congregations experienced the mighty power of God.” In 1807 he says he was all the while going from house to house, but felt that he was only “holding’ a torch to the tinder which God had prepared."
Dr. Robbins says of Norfolk, Conn., in 1799, “the marvellous displays of divine power and grace were conspicuous beyond anything of the kind we had ever witnessed. A universal solemnity spread over the town, and seized the minds of almost, all, both old and young, great numbers were bowed with a sense of the presence of the Lord; some rejoicing and praising god, others crying out in anguish of soul, ‘What must we do?”
A writer from New hampshire, in 1791, speaks of “a glorious revival” there “which began a year ago last spring, and has extended through several towns. The Rev. Samuel Shephard has baptized more than an hundred and fifty, and the work still goes on. There I have been also very considerable revivals in many churches of other denominations.”
Dr. Hyde says of Lee, Mass., that in 1792, a marvellous work was begun, and it bore the decisive marks of being God’s work. “So great was the excitement, though not yet known abroad, that into whatever section of the town I now went, the people in that immediate neighbourhood would leave their worldly employment at any hour of the day, and soon fill a large room. Before I was aware, and without any previous appointment, I found myself in the midst of a solemn and anxious assembly."
In Boscawen, N. H., Halifax and Rutland and Rupert, Vt., and other towns, “surprising manifestations of the Lord” were reported about the same time.
Drs. Dewitt and Mason, of N. Y., with others, tell of gracious works in that city in their charges; and says Harlan Page, under date of January 24, 1831: “The Lord appears now to be coming down on all parts of this great city, to arouse his children and to awaken sinners. Thousands of Christians here are, I think, praying as they never prayed before. Public general meetings commenced yesterday afternoon, and are to be continued through the week. Conversions are occurring in all parts of the city Churches are daily crowded to overflowing, and a most fixed and. solemn attention is given to the dispensation of the truth.”
That year the old Chatham Street Theatre (a haunt of obscenity, blasphemy, and vice) was purchased by a committee for purposes of worship. Two gentlemen called on the lessee of the theatre and proposed to buy his lease. “What for?” said he. “For a church.” The astonished man broke into tears, and exclaimed,.“ You may have it, and I will give 1,000 dollars towards it,” The arrangement was completed. At the close of the morning rehearsal, the beautiful hymn, “The Voice of Free Grace,” was sung, and Mr. Tappan announced to the actors that that evening there would be preaching on that stage. A pulpit was placed on the spot where dying agonies had often been counterfeited in tragic mockery; and in front of the footlights of the stage were seats for the inquirers.
The first prayer-meeting in the theatre was attended by 800 persons. On the 6th of May the house was dedicated to the service of God. Mr. Finney preached from the text, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” For seventy successive nights he preached there to immense audiences. The bar-room was changed into a prayer-room, and the first man who knelt there poured forth these words, “O Lord, forgive my sins: the last time I was here thou knowest that I was a wicked actor on this stage; O Lord, have mercy on me!” For three years this building was used for revival meetings.
That revival brought into the churches of New York 2,000 souls, many of whom became prominent in great benevolent movements.
Passing to other localities, we find Dr. Furman, of S. C., telling of revivals there in the early part of the century. Rev. Mr Stevenson describes mighty works in Pennsylvania, and Mr Woodward embodies in a publication “surprising accounts “ of revivals in Kentucky and Tennessee, while others write of the same in Georgia, North Carolina, and almost all sections of the country, about the same time. And so “The word of the Lord grew and multiplied.”
Interruptions there were during the long period now under our notice; and at some seasons [e.g. 1814 and 1831], the spiritual harvest was more abundant than at others but upon the field as a whole Christ was triumphing gloriously. As Dr. Gardiner Spring, of N.Y. remarks, the period commencing with the year 1792 and terminating with 1842 was a memorable period in the history of the American church. Scarcely any portion of it but was graciously visited by copious effusions of the Holy Spirit. At this last mentioned date (with the previous year) the city of Boston wonderfully blessed, and four thousand converts were added to the evangelical churches.
It has been estimated that from 1815 to 1840, the Spirit was poured out upon from four to five hundred churches and congregations, on an average, annually; and that during some particular years “from forty to fifty thousand were added by profession in a single twelvemonth."
Thus, whatever view we take of the work, this was a most gracious period in the religious history of Christendom. Besides the rich harvests of priceless souls then gathered, these revivals stand directly connected, as we shall see in the next chapter, with all those aggressive movements which are turning the world’s wildernesses into fruitful fields.
FIFTH REVIVAL PERIOD: 1857-1860.
It is an interesting fact in revivals that they frequently succeed some great calamity ;—a prevailing epidemic, a general financial embarrassment, or the like.
It was so with the wonderful work of grace to which we now come. The churches in this country were, to an alarming extent, characterized by coldness and conformity to the world. The greed of gain amounted to a mania; and it filled not only the commercial centres, but the villages; in fact, the whole land. Speculation was at fever-heat, and the wildest projects turned men’s brains, and drove them recklessly on in the race for riches. As a natural result, frauds, defalcations, and failures became common; until finally the crash came, and the castles in the air, as well as the solid accumulations, were seen everywhere toppling to the fall. As with the twinkling of an eye, golden dreams vanished and millionaires became bankrupts.
God meant it for good. He would drive out mammon that himself might reign. He made poor the merchant princes that they might be rich in heavenly gain.
And now that the wheels of industry stood still and the counting-houses in the metropolis were deserted and gloom and disappointment settled down like a pall, a voice was heard whispering to the men of weary brain, “Come ye yourselves apart, and rest awhile.” “Is any man afflicted, let him pray.” Subdued, broken, tender, they answered, “Yes, for he hath wounded, and he can heal.”
A little room in the lower part of NewYork, and immediately in the drifts of trade, on the third floor of the “Consistory” of the old Reformed Dutch Church, Fulton-street, was thrown open for a weekly noon-day prayer meeting. It was one of the earliest manifestations of a special religious interest.
At first the good down-town city missionary, Mr. Lamphier, who made the appointment met there three persons; then six, then twenty. Next week they assembled on the floor below, and the Business Men’s Prayer-meeting began to attract attention. One man (speaking for many) said: “Prayer never was so great a blessing to me as it is in this time; I should certainly either break down or turn rascal, except for it. If I could not get some half hours every clay to pray myself into a right state of mind, I should certainly either be overburdened and disheartened, or do such things as no Christian man ought to do."
A call was now made for a daily meeting. It was received with enthusiasm, and the meeting-room overflowed, and filled a second, and eventually a third room, in the same building; making three crowded prayer-meetings, one above another, in animated progress at one and the same hour. The seats were all filled, and the passages and entrances began to be choked with numbers, rendering it scarcely possible to pass in or out. The hundreds who daily went away disappointed of admission, created a visible demand for more room; and the John Street Methodist Church and. lecture-room were both opened for daily noon prayer—meetings, by a committee of the Young Men’s Christian Association, and were crowded at once with attendants. Meetings were multiplied in other parts of the city; and the example spread to Philadelphia, to Boston, and to other cities, until there was scarcely a town of importance in the United States, (save a few in the South,) in which the Business Men’s Daily Prayer-meeting was not a flourishing institution, and a leading agency in awakening public interest to religion.
These morning or noon-day prayer-meetings were a marked feature of the revival. And it should be added, that they were union prayer-meetings, attended by all classes, without respect to denominational differences. The middle walls of partition were never before so broken down; and evangelical Christians of every name found they could come together and pray for the outpouring of the Spirit without any sacrifice of church order.
Request for prayer were another marked feature. There was scarcely a meeting anywhere without such being sent forward; and often scores of them were presented. The following are samples:
“Prayers are requested for a young man who has thus far resisted all persuasions to attend these meetings, and who is in these rooms to-day for the first time.”
“A sister, who has been praying daily three years for the conversion of an only brother, asks an interest in your prayers.”
“A brother requests the earnest prayers of this meeting in behalf of a loved but thoughtless sister.”
“Prayers are requested for a sister who is given to intemperance.”
“A few praying souls in Spring-street Presbyterian Church, deeply bewailing the spiritual desolation of that Zion, beseech you to unite with them in wrestling and importuning on her behalf. Brethren and sisters, pray for us, and if you can, come over and help us.”
The aid of the newspapers was another feature of this great work. The secular papers all spoke of it; and some of them made it a point to report the meetings fully. A pastor wrote to one of the papers thus: “The glorious summary, with the editorial remarks on the ‘Great Revivals,’ in your paper of the 4th instant, stirred my soul so powerfully that I felt something more must be done in our village; and I have called on the other ministers, and we have started a meeting, and the dews are falling on us.”
The telegraph was also called into requisition. The reader can imagine the effect of such dispatches as these:
NEW YORK, March 12, 1858, 12¼ o’clock, p.m.
To the Philadelphia Union Prayer-meeting in Jayne’s hall:
CHRISTIAN BRETHREN—The New York John-street Union Meeting sends you greeting in brotherly love. “The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts—I will go also.” “Praise the Lord—call upon his name—declare his doings among the people—make mention that his name is exalted."
BENJ. F. MANIERRE,} Leaders.
To this dispatch the following reply was received, and read to the meeting in John—S
PHILADELPHIA, March 12, 12½ o’clock, p.m.
Jayne’s Hall Daily Prayer-Meeting is crowded; upwards of 3,000 present. With one mind and heart they glorify our Father in heaven for the mighty work he is doing in our city and country, in the building up of saints and the conversion of sinners. The Lord hath done great things for us, whence joy to us is brought. May he who holds the seven stars in his right hand, and who walks in the midst of the churches, be with you by his Spirit this day.
Grace, mercy, and peace be with you.
GEO. H. STUART, Chairman of Meeting.
The telegraph offices sent messages to all parts of the country, announcing conversions. Many of them were exceedingly tender and touching. These are samples: “Dear mother, the revival continues, and I, too, have been converted.” “My dear parents, you will rejoice to hear that I have found peace with God."
Tell my sister that I have come to the cross of Christ.” “At last I have obtained faith and peace.”
The lay element was prominent in this revival. The workers, mostly, were laymen. From the beginning, ministers of the gospel cheerfully stood by and saw the principal share of labour in the hands of their lay brethren.
The pervasiveness of the work was striking. In manufactories, counting-rooms, jobbing-houses, and business firms of all kinds, prayer-meetings were established and souls converted. New churches were springing up, and old ones were strengthened. The substance of letters received from every State of the Union was revivals, glorious and wide—spread revivals! In some places day-schools were suspended, and teachers scholars, and parents occupied the school-houses daily for worship.
Again; great sobriety characterized the work. There were few wild and fanatical excitements to mar the beautiful and blessed work of the Spirit. “The majesty of a just God overshadowed the cross, and though the way to that cross was open and free, it was yet a solemn way for the guilty sinner to tread in.”
Another characteristic of the work was—that sinners seemed readily to find peace in Christ. Those deep, long-continued, despairing convictions of sin which arise from a profound view of the holiness of God’s law and the strictness of his claims upon us, were not prominent in this work. The love of Christ was the constraining power. Almost before they called he answered.
The, rapidity and power of this revival formed another glorious feature. Certainly never before were our great cities such radiating centres of spiritual light and heat. God seemed everywhere to go before his people, and prepare the way; and hence revivals instantaneously sprang up in city, town, and hamlet, throughout the land.
The results, of course, cannot be recorded; not even the number of conversions. In New York State 200 towns were reported as having revivals, with 6,000 conversions. In the city, all the churches were Iargely increased in membership, in some cases 50, 100, 200, 350, being received upon profession. Rev. George Duffield, Jr., of Philadelphia, communicated some very interesting facts to the Fulton Street prayer meeting. He had been employed, as one of a committee, to compile the facts of the revival as pertaining to that city.
He found that 3,010 had been added by profession to one denomination, 1,800 to another, 1,500 to another, 1,200 to another, and so on, till the aggregate was above 9,000. He believed there had been in that city 10,000 conversions within that current year.
In New Jersey the work was very extensive. The writer of this volume had the joy of receiving into the church of his charge (First Baptist) 236 souls upon profession. He wrote thus to the Newark Daily Advertiser: “As a matter of permanent record and grateful remembrance, I have thought it well to ascertain facts on this point as fully as possible. Inquiries have been addressed to thirty pastors and teachers in the city, as to the probable number of conversions, within the limits of their respective congregations. The figures show an aggregate of 2,685. Several ministers have not been reached; and it is fair to put the number unreported at 100; which would make an aggregate of some 2,800 hopeful conversions.”
Rev. Dr. Scott (First Reformed Church) stated that the conversion of persons of the strongest and maturest mind in the community was among the characteristics of the work in Newark. If he had attempted to select from his congregation forty-five of its strongest minds, he would have generally taken the forty-five who had united with his church by profession. Sixty towns in the State reported revivals, with 5,000 to 6,000 conversions.
Statistics from other States need not be given, as these are but examples. It is estimated that 100,000 conversions occurred in the short space of four months; and that during a year from the commencement of the work, not less than 400,000 souls were brought to Christ. Some writers have added one quarter to the above numbers. Thus much for the United States.
Abroad, the work was also extensive and powerful. Dr. J.W. Alexander writes that he was in Great Britain before the work arose here; and that the increase of endeavours to carry the gospel to the poor, in their most abject retreats—the continual rise of open-air preaching—the rise of several evangelical ministers upon whose words the multitude were disposed to hang the services in Exeter Hall, and even the opening of Westminster Abbey, spoke of zeal on one hand, and roused attention on the other. He once saw an assembly of ten thousand souls giving rapt attention at the Surrey Gardens to the great truths of salvation.
Such paragraphs as these appeared in the English papers: “A meeting for prayer is now held daily at two o’clock, p.m, in the County Rooms, Aberdeen, specially with a view to plead for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; it is said that it is attended by above a thousand persons daily.” The year 1859 will be remembered as a year of a fruitful harvest of souls in many countries in Europe. In Wales, it is estimated that the number of converts in the various denominations of orthodox Christians was from 30,000 to 35,000, a large number out of a population of a little over a million. It is known that 25,000 were added to the Welsh Calvinistic Church. The instances of backsliding, in both Wales and Ireland, have been very rare, though many of the converts were from the lowest orders of society. The good effects of the revival in Ireland, witnessed in the remarkable freedom from lawsuits and crime, are testified to by many public men connected with the courts, who attribute it to the moral and religious movements of last year. At the last assizes in the county Antrim, there was not a single prisoner for trial.”
Rev. Dr. Baron Stow, of Boston, in 1860, wrote thus as to Ireland, which he had just the year before visited: It has been estimated that in Belfast, a city of 130,000 souls, there are ten thousand converts. These are being received slowly and cautiously into the churches. God has distinguished this work in the North of Ireland by extraordinary manifestations of his own sovereign, mysterious agency. There were at many points the usual antecedents of faithful teaching and earnest prayer; but the blessing came in unexpected forms, lighted down in uninviting places, and produced unanticipated effects; and few, either of the ministry or the laity, were prepared to deal intelligently with the cases which were suddenly multiplied. In almost every place the work commenced among the less instructed and more degraded classes, and was characterized, in its incipient stage, by physical accompaniments that amazed the inexperienced, alarmed the timid, and impressed with an indefinable awe nearly the whole community. But the changes wrought in. character, speech, and conduct, soon became too demonstrative to admit a doubt as to the Higher Agency that had produced them; and when God had made himself known as the author of the moral transformations, and had thoroughly awakened attention to his claims, he gradually withdrew the physical operations, and the work assumed a more purely spiritual type. His design evidently comprehended more than the religious improvement of a province, or the salvation of thousands of its people. He would make a demonstration of his supremacy and power that should affect Christendom, and bring glory, on a broad field, to the riches of his grace. Many hundreds, not only from the unblessed districts of Ireland, but also from England and Scotland, and even from the Continent, hastened to the scene of the Spirit’s wonder-working; and, while many remained longer than they intended, co-operating with the overtasked laborers, few returned without the conviction that Ulster was pervaded by the power of the Highest.
The bishop of Hereford (Dr. Hampden) the same year, in his triennial charge to his clergy, warns them against “the movement in the North of Ireland,” and against “similar agitation in his own county; and neighbourhood,” adding that “he greatly distrusts the work, and he is strengthened in this feeling by the recollection of the scenes which took place during the agitation which was commenced and carried on by John Wesley.” “Many instances of insincerity,” the Bishop says, “were found among the followers of Wesley.” And the Saturday Review ridiculed the work (thus acknowledging its extent) in saying, “Undoubtedly the thing is catching. An enthusiast, we suppose, emits some subtle aura which falls upon the nerves, or the gastric plexus, or the hysteric organs, which are predisposed for receiving or imbibing the poison.”
On the other hand, in Dr. Gibson’s “Year of Grace,” (a carefully prepared work,] we have abundant evidence of the power and genuineness of these awakenings in Ireland and Scotland.
The following abstract shows the comparative number, both of congregations visited by the revival, and of individuals added to the Church in connection with them, in the several counties of Ulster:
America, however, was most favoured in this gracious visitation, and many will recognize in the following pen-picture, taken from one of the religious journals of March, 1858, an accurate portraiture of the well remembered scenes of those days:
“Such a time as the present was never known since the days of the Apostles for revivals. The prostration of business, the downfall of Mammon, the great god of worship to the multitudes in this land, both in and out of the church, the sinfulness and vanity of earthly treasures, as the supreme good, have come home to the hearts and consciences of the millions in our land with a power that seems irresistible. Revivals now cover our very land, sweeping all before them, as on the day of Pentecost, exciting the earnest and simultaneous cry from thousands, “What shall we do to be saved?” They have taken hold of the community at large to such an extent that now they are the engrossing theme of conversation in all circles of society. Ministers seem baptized with the Holy Ghost and preach with new power and earnestness, bringing the truth home to the conscience and life as rarely before. Meetings are held for prayer, for exhortation, and for conversation, with the deepest interest, and the most astonishing results. Not only are they held in the church and from house to house, but in the great marts of trade and centres of business. Halls are selected, where men may leave their worldy cares for an hour, and by multitudes, without form or ceremony, drop in, fall on their knees and pray, with a few words of exhortation and entreaty, and then go about their usual business. In New York there is a most astonishing interest in all the churches, seeming as if that great and populous and depraved city was enveloped in one conflagration of divine influence. Union prayer meetings are held in the principal centres, and here thousands on thousands gather daily. Prayer and conference meetings are held in retired rooms connected with large commercial houses, and with the best effects. The large cities and towns generally from Maine to California are sharing in this great and glorious work. There is hardly a village or town to be found where a special divine power does not appear to be displayed. It really seems as if the Millennium was upon us in its glory.”
At one of the great meetings for prayer, held at mid-day in the city of New York, a gentleman from Philadelphia rose and read, with thrilling effect, the following hymn. It was but another indication of the times:
Where’er we meet, you always say
What’s the news? What’s the news?
Pray what’s the order of the day?
What’ the news? What’s the news?
Oh! I have got good news to tell;
My saviour hath done all things well,
And triumphed over death and hell,
That’s the news! That’s the news!
The Lamb was slain on Calvary,
That’s the news! That’s the news!
To set a world of sinners free,
That’s the news! That’s the news!
‘Twas there His precious blood was shed,
‘Twas there He bowed His sacred head;
But now He’s risen from the dead,
That’s the news! That’s the news!
To heav’n above the Conqueror’s gone,
That’s the news! That’s the news I
He’s passed triumphant to His throne,
That’s the news! That’s the news!
And on that throne He will remain
Until as Judge He comes again, attended by a dazzling train,
That’s the news! That’s the news!
His work’s reviving all around—
That’s the news! That’s the news!
And many have redemption found—
That’s the news! That’s the news!
And since their souls have caught the flame
They shout Hosanna to His name;
And all around they spread His fame—
That’s the news! That’s the news!
The Lord has pardoned all my sin—
That’s the news! That’s the news!
I feel the witness now within—
That’s the news! That’s the news!
And since He took my sins away,
And taught me how to watch and pray,
I’m happy now from day to day—
That’s the news! That’s the news!
And Christ the Lord can save you, too—
That’s the news! That’s the news!
Your sinful heart he can renew—
That’s the news! That’s the news!
This moment, if for sins you grieve,
This moment, if you do believe,
A full acquittal you’ll receive—
That’s the news! That’s the news!
And now if any one should say,
What’s the news! What’s the news!
Oh, tell him you’ve begun to pray—
That’s the news! That’s the news!
That you have joined the conquering band,
And now with joy at God’s command,
You’re marching to the better land—
That’s the news! That’s the news!
It would be pleasant to dwell still longer on God’s wondrous works during this last revival period; but our limits forbid.
In the chapter that follows are crystallized some of the more marked results of the several seasons of grace which have now been brought under review.
“O LORD, REVIVE THY WORK!”
No one can study the history of revivals and not be impressed with their mighty influence upon the destiny of the race. Not to speak of those of primitive times, what would have been the condition, of the world today but for the great Reformation, the spirit of which, as we have seen, was but a series of revivals of religion? And what had been the state of this country, and of other lands, had not the Holy Ghost been poured down in those gracious revival periods recorded in the previous chapter? Let us, under several particulars, see what we owe to these refreshings from the presence of the Lord.
1. Society at large has been uplifted by revivals. Godliness has the promise of this life, as well as of that to come. When the divine grace is abundantly downpoured it is felt at the very springs of society, and there cannot but be a corresponding elevation. Exalted to be the sons of God, and thrilled with new impulses, men burst asunder the chains of superstition, tyranny, and vice, and come into a higher and broader development. The fountains of life are purified, and a social and civil renovation is the result. It is impossible that the heart be turned from the love of sin to the love of holiness without an external reformation.
Hence the wonderful changes for good which are reported in pagan or papal lands, where the gospel takes effect. And hence the cases under our eyes where revivals have renovated, not only the moral but physical aspect of a community; driven away vice, encouraged industry, promoted intelligence, and caused the social virtues to prevail where before were discord and unblushing crime.
We boast of the progress of this age; and nothing is more astonishing than the recent advancement in science, philosophy, invention, learning, philanthropy, and civil jurisprudence. But it would be an interesting line of thought to show how this is attributable, in great part, to the religious awakenings of the last three hundred years. Our limits forbid it here; but let it be noted that aroused intellect has been back of all this: and that revivals of religion are favorable to intellectual action, not only as they bring the mind at the time into vigorous exercise, and into contact with the mighty truths of God’s word, but as they originate in the subjects of them moral feelings and habits which are peculiarly favorable to the acquisition of useful knowledge.
When Wickliffe and his successors reopened the Bible, the revival of letters took place. Twenty-four universities arose in less than a hundred years. In the midst of this movement, the discovery of the art of printing gave a new impetus to literature, and provided the swift and subtle agent by which the infant reformation was to surprise and overpower its great adversary unawares. At the same juncture the Mohammedan power, overwhelming the Eastern metropolis, swept the remnant of Greek learning into Europe. Finally, about the last half of the same memorable century, Luther, Zuinglius, Cranmer, Melancthon, Knox, and Calvin, with other mighty champions of truth, stepped forward to blow the trumpet of salvation and summon to new action the world’s thought.
In due time Owen, Bunyan, Baxter, Milton, Leighton, Flavel, and other luminaries of the seventeenth century, burning with the love of God, gave to the world for the first time an evangelical literature, and thereby a mighty acceleration to human progress. We hazard little, remarks an authority, in saying that for doctrinal, practical, and experimental religious instruction and authorship, it was the golden age in the fatherland. What other age has produced so many volumes full of the marrow of the gospel, and indited as it were so close on the verge of heaven? What thousands have been guided in the Way of Life by Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” and his “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners;” and what thousands more have had the fulness of Christ revealed to them in Flavel’s “Fountain of Life” and “Method of Grace.”
What would our own land, as well as Great Britain, have been but for this revival period in the seventeenth century?
Then came that great uplifting of the English people by the revival under Whitfield and the Wesleys. John Wesley wrote theology, Charles Wesley put it into song and Whitfield preached it to the masses. There was need enough of their best efforts; for the Establishment, with all its learning, opulence and dignity, was doing next to nothing for the elevation of the ignorant communities.
In Howitt’s Rural Life of England is the following, with reference to the times under remark, which shows the elevating influence of revivals of religion:
“It is in the rural districts into which manufactories have spread—that are partly manufacturing and partly agricultural—that the population assumes its worst shape. And the Methodists have done much to check the progress of demoralization in these districts. They have given vast numbers education; they have taken them away from the pot-house and the gambling-house; from low haunts and low pursuits. They have placed them in a certain circle, and invested them with a degree of moral and social importance. They have placed them where they have a character to sustain, and higher objects to strive after; where they have ceased to be operated upon by a perpetual series of evil influences, and have been brought under the regular operation of good ones. They have rescued them from brutality of mind and manners, and given them a more refined association on earth, and a warm hope of a still better existence hereafter. If they have not done all that could be desired, with such materials, they have done much, and the country owes them much.”
This is a striking attestation to the beneficent influences of genuine revivals. And impartial history justifies the award. For the methods and means of education were improved, and the masses hungering for knowledge soon found their appetite gratified by public libraries, and the rapid issue of hymns and sermons, and treatises upon questions of current interest, and upon science and literature in a popularized form. In fine, the trumpets of a grand moral, intellectual, and social resurrection were sounded throughout the realm by this spiritual awakening; and the people uprose to higher aims and destinies.
It would be impossible to describe how much we in this country owe to the same revivals for our high position. The American Colonies felt the impulse of the intellectual advancement resulting from the awakenings in the old world, and were vastly indebted to them. Nor in the absence of such revivals could it have been said,
“When driven by oppression’s rod
Our fathers fled beyond the sea,
Their care was first to honor God,
And next to leave their children free.
Above the forest’s gloomy shade
The alter and the school appeared:
On that the gifts of faith were laid,
On this their precious hopes were reared.”
In fact, the Pilgrims and Puritans were themselves the product of those heavenly visitations. So that but for them we had not had such forefathers, of brain force, and conscience, and courage, and adamantine faith, and heroic virtue. And consequently we should not have had those, institutions which have been bequeathed to us.
Not to insist on this, however, let it be remembered, that while the next subsequent great awakenings in the old and new world were progressing, the political agitations in this country were taking place. And who can doubt that they were coincident in purpose as well as in time? The first mentioned were designed, beyond question, to act upon the last mentioned, and both to coalesce in the elevation of man for the divine glory. And so while a popular government was to be planted, and the resources of the continent were making ready for development constituting this the home of the nations, it was made sure that there should be special religious activities on the part of God’s people. Thus were the moulding influences of Christianity operative in just that emergency,—the formative state of society— blending its sanctified forces with the vigor of the youthful republic.
2. Missionary movements came from revival. All those great benevolent enterprises which are the glory of this age originated thence.
Confining our view to the fourth revival period, 1790—1842, how apparent is the fact stated.
In 1784 at a Baptist Association held in Nottingham, England, it was determined “that one hour, in the first Monday evening of every month should be devoted to solemn and special intercession for the Redeemer’s kingdom throughout the Earth.” In the spring of 1791, at a meeting of ministers held at Clipston, in Northamptonshire, Messrs. Sutcliff and Fuller delivered discourses adapted to fan into a flame the latent sparks of missionary zeal. At the annual association held that autumn at Nottingham, William Carey preached his famous sermon “Enlarge the place of thy tent, etc.,” urging that we were to “Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.”
On the 2nd day of October, 1792, the ministers met at Kettering, and after the public services of the day, retired for prayer. Then they solemnly pledged themselves to God and to each other to make a trial for introducing the gospel among the heathen, subscribing as a fund for that purpose £13. 2s. 6d. A plan was adopted, and a society formed, designated “The Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen.” The names of the twelve were John Ryland, Reynold Hogg, John Sutcliff, Andrew Fuller, Abraham Greenwood, Edward Sharman, Joshua Burton, Samuel Pearce, Thomas Blundel, William Heighton, John Eayres, Joseph Timms. William Carey immediately offered himself as a missionary. Mr. John Thomas, who had already performed some Christian labor in Calcutta, while practicing there as a surgeon, and was then in England, joined him. They sailed from England June 13, 1793 John Fountain followed them in 1796; and in 1799 Messrs. Ward, Brundson, Grant and Marshman, were added to the little band.
Thus was laid on a solid basis the first of the modern evangelical societies for the conversion of the pagans. Kindred societies, for home and foreign work, and for a variety of specific objects, (as we have seen in the previous chapter) were established in England about this time. Still more visibly, if possible, were the great missionary movements of our own country connected with the revival period of which we now speak.
In the words of Dr. Heman Humphrey, as to this era, when it dawned, there were no Missionary societies, foreign domestic, no Bible societies, no Tract societies, no Education societies, no onward movements in the churches of any sort for the conversion of the world. At home it was deep spiritual apathy; abroad, over all the heathen lands, the calm of the Dead Sea—death, death, nothing but death.
All the first foreign missionaries, Hall, Newell, Mills, Judson, Nott, Rice, Bingham, King, Thruston, and others who entered the field a little later, were converted and received their missionary baptism in revivals. The American Board of Foreign Missions was formed in 1810, at the urgency of the first band that went out from this country to India. But for their earnest solicitation to be sent forth with the glad tidings of the gospel upon their tongues, no such Board would have been formed; certainly not at that time; and if it had, it could not have done anything: there would have been no missionaries to send if God had not poured out his Spirit, and raised them up and prepared them to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. In these revivals the holy fire was kindled which waked up and warmed the churches to an onward aggressive movement such as had never been known in this country before. Other missionaries soon followed under the same Board. And about the same time the American Baptist Foreign Mission Board was organized, to sustain Judson and Rice who had changed their communion and commenced a mission in Burmah.
From the same revival source, moreover, sprang home missions. It began to be felt that we have a wide and fast-spreading population that must be cared for, and then domestic missionary societies were formed to meet the want. Nor was this enough. The churches having once waked up from their long slumbers, could not rest here. The destitute at home must have the word of God put into their hands, and it must be sent abroad with the missionaries, and translated into the tongues wherein the heathen were born, that they might read the wonderful works of God and be turned from darkness to light, from the worship of dumb idols to the worship of him who made the world. Hence sprang the American Bible Society, and in succession its branches, and other kindred institutions.
Nor yet again could the yearnings of Christian benevolence, once excited, rest without still further expansion. A Christian literature, in a cheap and attractive form, must be created and diffused. Small religious tracts must be written, printed, and scattered over the land. And to this end Tract and other societies were organized.
If we would see more minutely the exact relation which revivals bore to these benevolent movements, we have but to consider such facts as these:
In the spring of 1806 Samuel John Mills joined Williams College, Mass. Of him Dr. Griffin says he “had been prepared by the revival of Torringford, Litchfield county, in 1798-9.” Through Mr. Mills, in great part, revival influences prevailed in the town and college, and among the converts was Gordon Hall. Says Dr. Griffin, “Mills had devoted himself to the cause of missions from the commencement of his new existence, and by the influence of that revival he was enabled to diffuse his spirit through a choice circle who raised this college to the distinction of being the birthplace of American missions. In the spring of 1808 they formed a secret society, to extend their influences to other colleges, and to distinguished individuals in different parts of the country. One of them first roused the missionary energies of Pliny Fisk, who afterwards died in Palestine. In the autumn of that year, in a beautiful meadow on the banks of the Hoosack, these young Elijahs prayed into existence the embryo of American missions. In the fall of 1809, Mills and Richards and Robbins carried this society to Andover, where it roused the first missionary band that went out to India in 1812, and where it is still exerting a mighty influence on the interests of the world. In that band were Gordon Hall and Luther Rice, of this college [and Adoniram Judson, converted at Andover]. Richards soon followed and laid his bones in India. Mills and his coadjutors were the means of forming the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the American Bible Society, the United Foreign Missionary Society, and the African School under the care of the Synod of New York and New Jersey; besides all the impetus given to domestic missions, to the Colonization Society, and to the general cause of benevolence in both hemispheres.” Such were some of the fruits of the revivals of those times, regarded in the light of the benevolent enterprises to which they led.
In this survey we have not alluded to missionary movements among the Indians, resulting from the revivals in the time of the elder Edwards; nor to incipient organisations (such as the Massachusetts Missionary Society formed in Boston in 1799, and the Baptist Missionary Society of Massachusetts, formed in 1803, etc.,) which were among the first fruits of the powerful awakenings about the beginning of the present century. But enough has been said to show the connection between missions and revivals.
It must be added, however, that the funds for the prosecution of these enterprises of benevolence would never have been forthcoming except for revivals. It is when God’s people are vivified by the special power of the Spirit, that their hearts and their hands are open in behalf of those sitting in the region and shadow of death.
3. An efficient ministry has come from revivals. We hardly dare lift the curtain to see what the ministry was previous to some of the great historic revivals; as in the days of Wickliffe, Huss, and Luther; or when Whitfield began his career. The character of the English clergy of those times is but too well known. Many of them could not even read the Bible. Of the clergy, even as late as 1781, Cowper could write without fear of contradiction:
“Except a few with Eli’s spirit blest,
Hophni and Phineas may describe the rest.”
It is well known that great numbers of the American Congregational clergy in the early part and about the middle of the eighteenth century, were not converted, nor even pretended to be. We are told that as many as twenty ministers were converted in and around Boston under Mr. Whitfield’s preaching, upon his third visit to America. Indeed, some men of eminence, (like Mr. Stoddard at Northampton,) maintained that “unconverted ministers have certain official duties which they may lawfully perform.” Says Tracy (in his Great Awakening) “a large majority in the Presbyterian Church, and many, if not most, in New England, held that the ministrations of unconverted men, if neither heretical in doctrine nor scandalous for immorality, were valid, and their labors useful. For years afterwards, this doctrine was publicly and furiously maintained.”
The prodigious excitement created by Mr. Tennent’s famous Nottingham (N. J.) sermon, “On the danger of an unconverted ministry,” is another indication of the times.
In the “improvement” part of the sermon he cries out, “what a scrole and scene of mourning, lamentation, and woe is opened, because of the swarms of locusts, the crowds of Pharisees, that have as covetously as cruelly crept into the ministry in this adulterous generation! who as nearly resemble the character given of the old Pharisees, in the doctrinal part of this discourse, as one crow’s egg does another! It is true, some of the modern Pharisees have learned to prate a little more orthodoxly about the new birth, than their predecessor Nicodemus, who are, in the meantime, as great strangers to the feeling experience of it, as he. They are blind who see not this to be the case of the body of the clergy of this generation.’’
There was no doubt somewhat of exaggeration, as well as undue severity of expression, in this sermon; but it is certain that plain words were called for; and an unquestionable authority states that “to no other human agency as much as to this sermon is it owing that Presbyterian ministers at the present day are generally pious.” Thus much as to the revivals of those times as related to a soundly converted ministry.
But there is a higher ministerial qualification than bare conversion: namely, the possession of a large measure of the Holy Spirit. And how many a minister has had his whole character and style of preaching remodelled by precious revival experiences. It has been remarked with truth that a minister can learn in a revival that which he can scarcely learn in any other circumstances. There he enjoys advantages which he can have nowhere else for becoming acquainted with the windings of the human heart; for ascertaining the influence of different truths upon different states of feeling; for learning how to detect false hopes, and to ascertain and confirm good hopes; and for getting his own soul deeply imbued with the true spirit of his work. Hence ministers, after having passed through a revival, have preached and prayed, and done their whole work with far more earnestness and effect than before; and they themselves have not unfrequently acknowledged that what they had gained, during such a season has been worth more to them than the study of years.
It must be remembered, too, that revivals mightily increase the number of ministers. It is when thousands of youth are gathered into the churches that our young men come forward saying, “Here am I, send me.” What an exhibit that would be if we were able to give the names of all the ministers of the last hundred years who were converted in revivals! We believe that nine tenths of them were the children of revivals. Nor, if the repetition of such visitations were to cease, do we see any alternative except that the great work of the age must stand still for want of laborers, or be prosecuted by men lacking the most essential of all qualifications.
4. Institutions of learning owe much to revivals. Many of them originated directly in revivals. We have already seen that 24 universities sprang up within a century in the old world succeeding the labors of Wickliffe. And the founding of Princeton College in this country is but one case of many where the beginnings were in revivals, It may also be mentioned that the same revival was the parent of Dartmouth College. Among the Mohegans converted in 1741, was Samson Occum, then seventeen years of age. In December, 1743, Mr. Wheelock, of Lebanon, received him as a pupil, and he pursued his studies in the family for several years. In 1748, Wheelock determined to commence a school for the education of Indian preachers, and a donation from Joshua Moor, a farmer in Mansfield, in 1754, gave it a permanent foundation. The influence of the revival on several Indian tribes helped to furnish him with pupils, and in 1762 he had more than twenty under his care. In 1766, Rev Nathaniel Whitaker, and Occum, who had become preacher of some distinction, went to England to solicit funds for the institution. Occum attracted unusual attention, Whitfield aided them, and a large amount of funds was obtained. The school was afterwards removed to its present location, in N. H., and Dartmouth College was added to it. And with the founding of the college there, a series of revivals commenced, extending through several years.
But, viewed in any aspect, what had been the fate of colleges without revivals? Take such facts as these as to the absence of revivals.
During the first seven years of the existence of Williams College—in which ninety three graduated in six classes—there were but five professors of religion in the institution, exclusive of two who, seven months before the close of that period, were brought into the church by the revivals in Litchfield county. In three of those six classes there was not a single professor. From the commencement in 1798 till February, 1800, there was but one professor of religion in the college.
Dr. Green, President of Princeton College, says that when in 1782 he entered the institution, there were but two professors of religion among the students, and not more than five or six who scrupled to use profane language in common conversation. The open and avowed infidelity of Paine, and other writers of the same character, produced incalculable injury to religion and morals throughout our whole country; and its effect on young men who valued themselves for genius and were fond of novel speculations, was the greatest of all. And he says, “Dr. Smith, then President of the college, told me that one man who sent his son, stated explicitly in a letter that not a word was ever to be said to him on the subject of religion.”
In some of the early years of Yale College there were not four in a year studying for the ministry. When Dr. Dwight came to the presidency (in 1795), many of the leading students were tinctured with the French infidelity, and its bold champions.
Alas for college life if it had been thus barren of religious influence!
But take such facts as the following. Speaking for Brown University, Providence, R. I., President Manning [also pastor of the Baptist church there], wrote thus: “In the beginning of 1774 it pleased the Lord in a most remarkable manner to revive his work in the town of Providence, and more especially among the people of my charge. Such a time I never before saw. Our public assemblies by day and by night were crowded, and the auditors seemed to hear as for the life of their souls. It was frequently an hour before I could get from the pulpit to the door, on account of the numbers thronging to have an opportunity of stating the condition of their minds. And what added to my happiness was, that the Lord visited the college as remarkably as the congregation. Frequently, when I went to the recitation room, I would find nearly all the students assembled, and joining in prayer and praise to God. Instead of my lectures on logic and philosophy, they would request me to speak to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. In the space of six months I baptized more than a hundred persons.”
In 1802 a revival in Yale shook the whole college, and “it seemed for the time that the whole mass of the students would press into the kingdom.” And “nearly all the converts entered the ministry.” No less than four revivals occurred under Dr. Dwight’s’ presidency, resulting in the conversion of two hundred and ten young men, who, in their turn, were the instruments of the salvation of thousands of souls.
In 1832, President Humphrey, of Amherst College, writing as to revivals there up to his time, says: “These times of refreshing have been of inestimable advantage to the college, by raising the standard of morals, and diffusing a strong religious influence throughout our whole youthful community. During the ten years that the institution has now existed, there has been a decided average majority of professed Christians in the four classes. In some years more than two-thirds have been professors. Two hundred and seventy have graduated— more than two hundred of whom are hopefully pious; and about one-half of the number of students who have entered college without piety, since it was established, have, as we trust, found the pearl of great price before completing their academical course.”
Says Dr. Tyler, in his “Prayer for Colleges and Seminaries :“ “In the space of ninety six years, beginning with the great revival of 1741, and ending in 1837, there were twenty revivals in Yale College, in fourteen of which five hundred students were hopefully converted; and during the last twenty-five years of this same period, there were thirteen special revivals, or one every two years, besides several other seasons of more than usual religious interest.”
Middlebury College has been blessed in forty years with ten revivals—some of them of great power. During the first twenty-five years of its history, every class but one was permitted to share in a religious awakening, and some classes received three or four such visits of mercy while in college. No class has ever yet left Amherst College without witnessing a powerful revival: and of the converts more than one hundred have been ministers, fifteen have been missionaries, twenty-eight officers of colleges and theological seminaries; and several were young men of genius and great promise, who died before entering upon a profession.
Nor must we forget to magnify the grace of God in the effusions of his Spirit upon our academies, high-schools, and other kindred educational seminaries, both male and female, where there have been hundreds upon hundreds of these revivals, making these schools emphatically nurseries of the churches.
In view of all this, who can calculate the influence of revivals upon our seats of learning? And from what source could faithful ministers have been obtained if these institutions had not thus been blessed?
5. Once more : Strong churches have come from revivals. The numerical aspect is one view of the case. It is of the very nature of revivals that multitudes flock into the kingdom. And what an accession to the praying and working force of the churches in the estimated 50,000 converts in this country during the awakening of 1730-1745; and the 40,000 to 50,000 annually for many years between 1790 and 1840; and the 400,000 additions in the revival of 1857-8. And what numbers of new churches during those seasons were organised.
It must also be taken into account, that in those earlier revivals great numbers of church members were converted, and not put down among reported conversions. Says Tracy of the work at the time of Edwards, “the practice of admitting to the communion all persons neither heretical nor scandalous, was general in the Presbyterian church, and prevailed extensively among the Congregational churches. In consequence, a large proportion of the communicants in both were unconverted persons. Multitudes of these were converted. In some cases the revival seems to have been almost wholly within the church, and to have resulted in the conversion of nearly all the members.” A large addition ought to be made, on this score, to the estimated number of conversions.
And of the work fifty years later an equally good authority says: “In New England, the old so-called half way covenant system, by which many claimed for themselves and their children a visible relation to the church, while living in worldliness and neglecting the Lord’s table, was still widely prevalent, and though a large number of churches continued evangelical and spiritual the great body had sunk into apathy and formality. As an illustration of the state of many churches, we have in mind one, now evangelical, in which, when a godly man was called to it, no prayer meeting had been held for thirty years; family worship was maintained by very few; and the terms of admission to the church were little more than an assent to the truth of the Christian religion, and a wish to join.”
Here was, then, a twofold gain by the revivals— additions from within, as well as from without. And this re-conversion of the churches was far more important than mere numerical accessions. Unconverted members are a dead weight, which no church can afford to carry: and the bodies were thus relieved from these incumbrances.
Again, a converted church membership was after this insisted upon; and had the opposite practice been continued, and become universal, it would have been more than a paralysis. The churches might have retained their names, but as true churches of Christ they would not have survived.
Another, and a most important advantage from the revivals was, that the preaching became more spiritual and discriminating, and the doctrines more evangelical. It was felt that every man is a “child of wrath” unless “born of the Spirit.” Each individual saw that his most endeared friend, wife or husband, son or daughter, neighbour or acquaintance, was on the road to death unless created anew in Christ Jesus. Hence the latent Christian energies were called out.
Another result was the abolition of the union of church and state. The government of the founders of New England was a Theocracy, and it worked disastrously. In the words of the biographer of John Cotton, “it served both to embroil the state, and to secularize the church; and laid a foundation for that lamentable apostasy, in which not a few of the Pilgrim churches are sunk.”
And yet the theory was clung to by very many. They shrunk from the application of the principle of soul-liberty, now so common. Even to such men as Timothy Dwight and Lyman Beecher, it seemed dangerous to the interests of piety to disunite the churches from civil jurisdiction and support;—the latter, as he said, being at first so unreconciled to it that he grieved and troubled himself over it day and night. Nor was it until a late day that the last link connecting church and state was broken by abolishing the assessments of church-rates. This was effected not alone by the great increase of the Baptists, who from the first heartily advocated it, but also by the increase of the spiritual element in all the religious bodies, which naturally found expression in this direction.
From these several points of observation, one cannot fail to be impressed with the conviction of an augmented church-power from revivals. Thence have come the vast majority of our Sunday school teachers and Christian workers, our most laborious and successful ministers and missionaries, and the most enterprising and influential churches.
In 1829 a letter was addressed to the Congregational ministers of Connecticut, proposing among other inquiries, the following:—
“1. What was the whole number of professors of religion in your church at the commencement of the year 1820?
2. What number were added to your church by profession during the years 1820,-1-2-3-4?
3. Of those who are now members of your church, what proportion may be considered as the fruit of a revival, and what is their comparative standing for piety and active benevolent enterprise?”
And it appeared that a very large proportion of all who were members of the Congregational churches in that State, became such in consequence of revivals; that the relative proportion of such as revivals had been multiplying, had been continually increasing; that the most active and devoted Christians were among those who came into the church as fruits of revivals; that those churches in which revivals had been most frequent and powerful were the most numerous and flourishing, and that in all the churches thus visited with divine influence, there had been a great increase of Christian enterprise, and benevolent action.
Says Dr. Joel Hawes, [in 1832,] “It is now my sober judgment, that if there is among the people of my charge any cordial belief and love of the distinguishing doctrines of the gospel; any serious practical regard to the duties of the Christian life; any self-denial and bearing of the cross and following Christ according to his commands; any active benevolence and engagedness in doing good; in short, any pious efficient concern for the glory of God and the salvation of sinners, either at home or abroad, in Christian or in heathen lands,—all this is to be traced, in no small part, to the influence of revivals of religion; and it is to be found, in an eminent degree, among those who have been added to the church as fruits of revivals.”
The writer has been at considerable pains to verify this judgment of Dr. Hawes as a general rule, by examining into the history of some of the strong churches of today. And the result is deeply interesting and instructive.
Beginning immediately under his personal observation, he finds that the first Presbyterian church here, [Newark, N. J.]—one of the oldest and strongest in the denomination, and from which have originated a goodly number of other bodies—is emphatically the offspring of revivals. Thus we read in a letter from Dr. Griffin, that in 1806 “we were encouraged with symptoms of a revival in this village;” and that in 1807 “secret anxieties were preying upon a number of persons, and the desire for a revival was spreading rapidly through the church,” and “the agonies of parents were such as to drive sleep from their eyes.” Soon he tells of “the triumphs of the Prince of peace,” and of “two hundred and thirty to two hundred and fifty” hopeful conversions. And Dr. Stearns (the present pastor), in his history of this body, narrates other mighty works of grace at various intervals. What would that congregation (and the denomination in Newark) have been today but for those revivals? Almost all the strong men in these societies were the subjects of these revivals, twenty, thirty, forty, and some of them sixty years ago.
The history of the first Baptist church is much to the same effect. To the personal knowledge of the writer the main strength of this body is the direct fruit of revivals. Thus the 23 persons received in a gentle refreshing in 1810; the 28 in 1818; the 14 in 1833; the 23 in 1836; the 48 in 1840; the 30 in 1847 and 1850; and the one thousand souls added by profession since the last mentioned date (230 in one revival), these additions have been the very life-blood of the church. And other churches of this denomination, as well as of the Methodist, Congregational, and Reformed churches, have had a similar experiences.
Passing to Elizabeth (the same State), we find two old and very strong Presbyterian congregations. Trace their history back, and we meet such facts as these:— In 1772, 1774, 1784, 1803, 1812, 1817, 1819, and 1825 there were revivals, when large numbers were added. “The young, and many of them children,” added from 1817 to 1826, have been, chiefly, the strength of this denomination for many years. What a different aspect would those bodies wear today had there not been these great ingatherings.
Passing on to New Brunswick (same State) we find there substantial Christian bodies, —Reformed, Baptist, Presbyterian; and it is ascertained that revivals have chiefly made them what they are.
We visit Hartford, and New Haven, Conn.; and turning to the narratives of wonderful works of grace in that State, we find that two hundred were added to the Congregational body in the former place in 1821: and, says the pastor in 1832 [Dr. Hawes], “During the time I have been connected with the church, about five hundred and fifty have been added to its communion, not less than four-fifths of whom are to be regarded as the fruits of revivals.”
In New Haven 300 were added to the Congregationalist church in 1820; and of 31 congregations in the county of New Haven, at least twenty-five were visited, during the winter and spring, with the special presence of the Lord; and it was estimated that within these limits between fifteen hundred and two thousand souls were called out of nature’s darkness into light. Who fails to see that Congregationalism on those fields owes its strength today to those revivals.
In Boston and Providence, facts of the same nature might be abundantly gathered. Also in Pittsfield, Troy, Albany, and other cities.
Coming to New York, it is well known that the “old Brick Church” has been for long years a tower of strength there. And now hear Dr. Spring, for three-score years its pastor, tell how he felt in 1814, when it seemed that he “must abandon” his post through discouragement; until the time he had his first revival; and the ingathering, “though not great, was the finest of the wheat.” And how in 1815, and five special seasons after that up to 1834, God graciously revived them—the converts added by profession being thirty, forty, or seventy, “filling the broad aisle of the church— a lovely spectacle to God, angels and men.” What were that body today, and what had been its influence,, but for such revivals?
Drs. Dewitt and Mildoller tell us how the roots of the power of the Reformed churches struck deep in New York in such refreshings. And Dr. Archibald Maclay narrates how the Baptists there had those growths which made them strong in after years, in blessed revival seasons.
Dr. McIlvaine testifies (in 1832, and also in 1858), to blessed works of grace “widely and wonderfully vouchsafed,” which gave great strength to the Episcopal body. It would be easy to mention the names of some of the most influential Churchmen who were converted in a revival at West Point, when Dr. Mcllvaine was chaplain there
This must suffice. And it but faintly shows what we owe to revivals. Revivals! What blessings have they brought to families, to neighbourhoods, and communities! What myriads of souls have they introduced into glory! What impulses have they given to Christian exertion, in home and foreign work! They have been the life of all the aggressive movements, evangelistic achievements, victories, conquests of the churches. They have made encroachments on the domains of darkness, turning the slaves of sin into soldiers of Jesus, and hastening the time of the millennium. They have made good citizens, good neighbors, faithful friends, useful laborers, wise parents, and dutiful children.
Blot out what God has done by revivals, and our sky would be shrouded in gloom; our sanctuaries would be vacant; our missionary agencies things unknown, and languor and death would be about us on every side.
“O LORD, REVIVE THY WORK!”
ARE revivals a part of God’s plan? Are they ordained as one of the methods of the world’s conversion? Do they enter into the economy of redemption?
For several reasons we believe this to be the case.
And first of all, because from the beginning God has wrought prominently through revivals. As we have seen in a previous chapter, the kingdom of Christ has thus far advanced chiefly by special seasons of gracious and rapid accomplishment of the work of conversion. And can any reason be found why God should work in that way in primeval and not in subsequent times? We question if the most ingenious opponent of these seasons, or if any Christian doubter can invent any tolerably plausible reason for this,—that God should work thus then, and not work thus now.
Again: many scriptural utterances assume the existence of revivals, and anticipate them. We refer to such as these: “Drop down ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness.” “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses. One shall say, I am the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.” This prophecy is an exquisite representation of a revival, wherein newly converted souls are openly professing loyalty to their King. And these are but a few scriptures which encourage the expectation of revivals.
God’s providences are adapted to move people in masses. Thus, often one member of a family falling in death is the means of the conversion of a household. So when pestilence spreads among a people, and thousands die; or famine is abroad on the earth, there is an appeal made to communities; and the thoughts of men, if any suitable impression were made, would be directed to God and to a better world. The times and seasons also preach to communities, as well as to men singly. There is neither a judgment of the Almighty, nor a blessing that comes from our great Father’s hand, that is not fitted to impress communities with the importance of religion, and to lead alienated, social man, back to God. Thus threatening ruin roused Nineveh to repentance; and thus God visits the earth alike with judgment and mercy, to rouse the attention of whole communities, and direct their thoughts to eternity and to heaven.
Moreover, the social character of man must be taken into account. The world is not made up of independent individuals, but is bound together in tribes, communities, families. There is a brotherhood of feeling and interest. If, then, religion is to exist in the world, we should, expect to see it, at times, exerting a more widespread and potent influence over men’s minds than at other times, and large masses of society moved as by a common influence. We think it would be rational beforehand to look for just such spiritual phenomena as every revival presents. We should expect that one mind, becoming strongly interested in the subject of salvation, would be the occasion of another mind being aroused to attend to the subject; and that this would lead to the same result in the case of another; and thus that the interest on this momentous subject, which perhaps began with an individual, would be, or easily might be extended through a large community, until there should be but one paramount and absorbing object of pursuit throughout the whole body. And the denser the population in that community, and the more numerous the points of mutual contact among the members of that community, the more general and powerful (should we expect) the revival would become. It would be strange if mankind, being placed together in organized society, and possessing such sameness of susceptibilities of being acted upon one by the other, should be serious and anxious about their salvation only one at a time, and each separately.
Again, how are God’s purposes of grace to be fulfilled without this extensive moving of the masses? We do not see that the world can otherwise be converted. In the ordinary way of gaining converts to the Redeemer, without any such excitement of the public attention to the subject of religion as constitutes a revival, it would seem that the race could not be recovered from its ruined condition. The occurring of here and there a single solitary instance of conversion, will never bring about the conversion of the world. The common mass of the population, in any and every part of the world must be moved. Thus, and thus only, can we reasonably expect that the inhabitants of this globe will be brought to give up their sins and lying vanities, and turn to the living God.
Again: by revivals the atheistic spirit is rebuked. Look at Christians. How apt are they to think that they can get along without God, even in the world’s conversion. But leanness follows this self-consequence. And the churches finally come to see and feel that souls are not being saved; and they mourn over it, and in distress confess their pride and reliance on human agencies: upon which the Lord graciously appears to save. Thus are his creatures taught their dependence. When they are thrown upon the efficiency of their own efforts, they very soon find that their best strength and proudest doings avail nothing at all. In this way he glorifies his own great name. It is felt, and most heartily acknowledged, that the power is God’s. Thus a discourse which a short time ago apparently accomplished no good, now goes with life and salvation to numerous hearts. Once no truth, no effort took effect. Now every word and work, in Christ’s name, is charged with a benignly subduing efficacy. These very alternations produce more profoundly the conviction, and bring out more fully the declaration—it is the work of God, —and more loudly the ascription— “to him be all the Glory.”
Then look at Christless men. The best answer to their sneer, “Where is thy’ God?” is a glorious revival. The Most High takes this matter in hand. He comes in his great power. Seriousness settles on a community. Anxious inquiry and earnest prayer spread among the people with the rapidity of an electric shock. Every eye is open, every ear attentive, conscience awake, every heart alive to the engrossing interests Dissipation ceases; amusement is forgotten; the drinking saloons are less frequented; and where the wicked still congregate, perhaps to make sport of these sacred things, they yet see the handwriting on the wall, and their knees smite together like Belshazzar’s; and, perhaps, next day they are found penitent and believing. The very atmosphere of the community seems charged with Divinity. Eternity is near. The world for the time is nothing. The soul is all. The invisible is seen. Spiritual things, before shadowy and distant, are real, and near, and urgent. It is as if the boundaries of earth and heaven were broken, and the veil of flesh removed,—as if earth and seas had fled, and men were already standing before the throne of God.
These things are more potent than a thousand arguments to prove the divine existence. There is a God! There is no one but knows it, and feels it; and the whole ground of popular doubt is shaken, if not removed.
Thus does God by revivals rebuke atheism and infidelity. Scenes like these, scenes, we believe, yet to come with great and still greater power, are to be God’s main argument upon an infidel age, — ever growing more infidel and arrogant from the delay of his power;—a mighty argument, an arresting, penetrating force, a fiery logic, writing in the inmost soul, the demonstration that a God and a gospel, and a heaven and a hell, are tremendous realities.
Particularly, is Christ honored by revivals. Says Rev. Wm. Reid, “the quiet conversion of one sinner after another, under the ordinary ministry of the gospel, must always be regarded with feelings of satisfaction and gratitude by the ministers and disciples of Christ; but a periodical manifestation of the simultaneous conversion of thousands is also to be desired, because of its adaptation to afford a visible and impressive demonstration that God has made that same Jesus who was rejected and crucified, both Lord and Christ; and that, in virtue of his divine Mediatorship, he has assumed the royal sceptre of universal supremacy, and “must reign till all his enemies be made his footstool.” It is therefore reasonable to expect that, from time to time, he will repeat that which on the day of Pentecost formed the conclusive and crowning evidence of his Messiahship and Sovereignty; and, by so doing, startle the slumbering souls of careless worldlings, gain the attentive ear of the unconverted, and, in a remarkable way, break in upon those brilliant dreams of earthly glory, grandeur, wealth, power and happiness, which the rebellious and God-forgetting multitude so fondly cherish. Such an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, forms at once a demonstrative proof of the completeness and acceptance of his once offering of himself as a sacrifice for sin, and a prophetic “earnest” of the certainty that he “shall appear the second time without sin unto salvation,” to judge the world in righteousness.
So is the Spirit honored by revivals. One way this is done is by making effective in conversion the weakest instrumentalities. Said one as to the great revival in Dundee, Scotland: “The wonderful thing is, not only that the people come—that laborers from a distance come night after night, but that the simplest statement of the truth in the simplest language seems to fall with power, and be listened to with the deepest interest.” And ministers have often observed the same thing in revivals.
During the revival in Boston in 1842, it was often remarked how independent of ordinary agencies the Holy Spirit operated. A man in middle life a Sabbath breaker and a lover of pleasure, was awakened by shooting a pigeon on the wing. “There,” said he to himself, “how quick that creature went out of existence! And I may go as suddenly and unexpectedly, and where would then my spirit be?”
One man was converted by observing that his dog after being fed seemed grateful. The thought came in his mind, “I am not so good as my dog: he is grateful to me for kindness, but God has always fed, clothed and taken care of me, and I have never been grateful at all.” This discovered to him his heart, and brought him to repentance.
Thus by the use of insignificant means does the Holy Spirit manifest his being and power.
So does he do it by the quickness and the extent of the work. What weak men fail to do in years, the Spirit does instantly; and he does it on so grand a scale as to widely command attention. It was the greatness of the day, the prodigies of manifestation and power on the Pentecost, that brought the surrounding multitudes to a stand, rugged, resisting, defiant, as they were; and the Holy Ghost, through the truth, brought them down. The same holds all along in the history of the church. Some of the greatest prodigies of conviction and subjugation, the greater part of them,—the all but miraculous making over of opposers and haters, have occurred in connection with special revival seasons.
These are some of the reasons why we may believe that revivals are a part of the divine economy. Dr. Busnell (Footnote: The Quarterly Christian Spectator for 1838) has very ably presented several points which we summarize in the few following pages, leaving him, in the main, to speak in his own felicitous manner. Remarking upon an objection above referred to,—the uneven character of the divine influence, he says it is instructing to advert to the various and periodical changes of temperament which affect men in other matters than religion. Sometimes one subject has a peculiar interest to the mind, sometimes another. Sometimes the feeling chimes with music, which at others is not agreeable. Society of a given tone is shunned to-day though eagerly sought yesterday. These fluctuations are epidemical, too, extending to whole communities, and affecting them with an ephemeral interest in various subjects, which afterwards they wonder at themselves, and can no way recall. No public speaker of observation ever failed to be convinced that man is a being, mentally, of moods and phases, which it were as vain to attempt the control of, as to push aside the stars.
These fluctuations, or mental tides, are due, perhaps, to physical changes, and perhaps not. They roll round the earth like invisible waves, and the chemist and physician tax their skill in vain to find the subtle powers that sway us. We only know that God is present in those fluctuations, whatever their real nature,— and that they are all inhabited by the divine power. Is it incredible, then, that this same divine power should produce periodical influences in the matters of religion—times of peculiar, various and periodical interest? For ourselves we are obliged to confess that we strongly suspect that sort of religion which boasts of no excitements, no temporary and changing states; for we observe that it is only toward nothing, or about nothing, that we have always the same feeling.
Need we say, again, that progress, which is the law of all God’s works and agencies, necessarily involves variety and change. Spring, for example, is the first stage of a progress. The newness thereof, the first beginnings of growth, must wax old and change their habit. So it is morally impossible that the first feelings of religious interest in the breast should remain. There is a degree of excitation in the strangeness of new feelings, and so likewise in the early scenes of a revival of religion, which belongs to their novelty, and which is by no means inconsiderable or improper. Such is human nature that it could not be otherwise.
In fact, there is no reason to doubt that God, in framing the plan or system of his spiritual agencies, ordained fluctuations and changing types of spiritual exercise, that he might take advantage, at intervals, of novelty in arresting and swaying the minds of men.
These are the spring-times of his truth, otherwise in danger of uniform staleness. Thus he rouses the spiritual lethargy of men and communities, and sways their will to himself by aid of scenes and manifestations not ordinary or familiar. Nor is it anything derogatory to the divine agency in the case that the spiritual spring cannot remain perpetual; for there is a progress in God’s works, and he goes on through change and multiform culture to ripen his ends. Doubtless, too, there may be a degree of sound feeling, apart from all novelty in a revival of religion, which human nature is incompetent permanently to sustain; just as one may have a degree of intellectual excitement and intensity of operation, which he cannot sustain, but which is nevertheless a sound and healthy activity. In writing a sermon, for example, every minister draws on a fund of excitability which he knows cannot be kept up beyond a certain bound, and this without any derogation from his proper sanity.
Again: God has a given purpose to execute in those who have entered on the religious life, viz., to produce character in them. To this end he dwells in them, and this is the object of this spiritual culture, and here he meets, at the very beginning, this grand truth, that varieties of experience and exercise are necessary to the religious character. How then shall he adjust the scale of his action, if not to produce all such varieties as are necessary for his object? We have just remarked on the changes of temperament in men and communities, by which now one now another theme is brought to find a responsive note of interest. What is the end of this? Obviously it is, that we may be protected in all the many colored varieties of feeling, and led over a wide empire of experience. Were it not for this,—or if men were to live on, from childhood to the grave, in the same mood of feeling, and holding fast to the same unvarying topic of interest, they would grow to be little more than animals of one thought. To prevent which, and ripen what we call natural character to extension and maturity, God is ever leading us round and round invisibly, by new successions of providence and new affinities of feeling.
Precisely the same necessity requires that religious character be trained up under varieties of experience, and shaped on all sides by manifold workings of the spirit. Now excitements must be applied; now checks to inspire caution or invigorate dependence. Now the intellect must be fed by a season of study and reflection; now the affections freshened by a season of social and glowing ardor. By one means bad habits are to be broken up, by another good habits consolidated. Love, it is true, must reign in the heart through all such varieties; but the principle of supreme love is one that can subsist in a thousand different connections of interest and temperaments of feeling. At one time it demands for its music a chorus of swelling voices, to bear aloft its exulting testimony of praise; at another it may chime rather with the soft and melancholy wail just dying on its ear.
And so, in like manner, it needs a diversity of times, exercises, duties, and pleasures. It needs, and for that reason it has, not only revivals and times of tranquility, but every sort of revival, every sort of tranquility. Sometimes we are revived individually, sometimes as churches, sometimes as a whole people; and we have all degrees of excitation, all manner of incidents. Our more tranquil periods are sometimes specially occupied, or ought to be, in the correction of evil habits; or we are particularly interested in the study of religious doctrines necessary to the vigor of our growth and usefulness; or we are interested to acquire useful knowledge of a more general nature, in order to our public influence, and the efficient discharge of our offices. In revivals we generally prefer the more social spheres of religious exercise; afterwards the more private and solitary experiences may be cultivated. Such is the various travail which God has given to the sons of men to be exercised therewith.
Besides, through these changes the churches make a deeper impression on the minds of men. God is manifested in nature by the wheeling spheres, light, shade, tranquility, storm, — all the beauties and terrors of time. So the Spirit will reveal his divine presence through the churches by times of holy excitement, times of reflection, times of solitary communion, and times of patient hope. A church standing always in the same exact posture and mould of aspect, would be only a pillar of salt in the eyes of men; it would attract no attention, reveal no inhabitation of God’s power. But suppose that now, in a period of no social excitement, it is seen to be growing in attachment to the Bible and the house of God, storing itself with divine or useful knowledge, manifesting a heavenly-minded habit in the midst of a general rage for gain, devising plans of charity to the poor and afflicted, reforming offensive habits, chastening bosom sins,— suppose, in short, that principles adopted in a former revival are seen to hold fast as principles to prove their reality and unfold their beauty, when there is no longer any excitement to sustain them,— here the worth and reality of religious principles are established. And now let the Spirit move this solid enginery once more into glowing activity, let the church thus strengthened, be lifted into spiritual courage and exaltation, and its every look and act will seem to be inhabited by divine power,—it will be as the chariot of God, and before it the enemies will tremble.
There is one more advantage in periodical or temporary dispensations; in the very fact that they are temporary. We often see that the certainty felt by those who are at any time enlightened and drawn by the Spirit that they will not long be dealt with as now,—that by delay they may miss the grace of God and lose the favored moment,—is the strongest and most urgent of all motives to immediate repentance. This, in fact, is absolutely requisite to the stress and cogency of all means and agencies. Such is the procrastinating spirit of men; so fast bound are they in the love of sin, that however deeply they may feel their own guilt and lost estate, nothing but the fact that God is now giving them an opportunity and aid which are temporary, would ever foreclose them from delay. We need look no farther to see the folly of supposing that God must not act periodically or variously, if he act at all, in renewing men. Why act uniformly when it would defeat all the ends of action.
We should be sorry if in what has been advanced a shadow of countenance has been given to the impression that the Christian is allowed, at some times, to be less religious than at others. He is under God’s authority and bound by his law at all times. He must answer to God for each moment and thought of his life. His covenant oath consecrates all his life to God, and stipulates for no intermission of service. At no time can he shrink from religious obligation, without dishonor to his good faith, together with a loss of character and of God’s manifest favor. Furthermore still, it is his duty and privilege ever to be filled with the Spirit. The believer is one chosen for his indwelling. He is consecrated to be the divine temple, and God will never leave his temple, except he is driven away by profanation—grieved away. “I have somewhat against thee,” said the Saviour, “because thou hast left thy first love.” He did not require, of course, that the novelty and first excitement of feeling should last; but that love, the real principle of love, should lose ground in them was criminal.
If it be asked how can this be harmonized with the alternations of revivals? the answer is this:— God favors and appoints ,different moods or kinds of religious interest, but not backslidings, or declensions of religious principle. There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are diversities of operation, but it is the same God who worketh all and in all. There is a common mistake in supposing that the Spirit of God is present in times only of religious exaltation; or if it be true, that such need be the case. It is conceivable that he may be doing as glorious a work in the soul when there is but a very gentle, or almost no excitement of feeling. He may now be leading the mind after instruction, teaching the believer to collect himself and establish a regimen over his lawless will and passions, searching the motives, inducing a habit of reflection, teaching how to carry principles without excitement, drawing more into communion perhaps with God, and less for the time with men; and while he conducts the disciple through these rounds of heavenly discipline, we are by no means to think that he is, of course, less religious, or has less of supreme love to God than he had in the more fervid season of revival. A soldier is as much a soldier when he encamps as when he fights, when he stands with his loins girt about, and his feet shod with the preparation of the gospel as when he quenches the fiery darts. The Christian warfare is not all battle. There are times in it for polishing the armor; forming the tactics, and feeding the vigor of the host.
Hence we conclude that there is in what we call revivals of religion something of a divinely appointed periodical nature. But as far as they are what the name imports, revivals of religion, that is, of the principle of love and obedience, they are linked with dishonor; for they are made necessary by the instability and bad faith of Christ’s disciples. But here it must be noted, that the dishonor does not belong to the revival, but to the decay of principles in the disciple which need reviving. There ought to be no declension of real principle; but if there is, no dishonor attaches to God in recovering his disciple from it, but the more illustrious honor is his due. Thus it is very often true, when a revival seems to have an extreme character, that the fact is due, not to the real state produced, but to the previous fall, the dearth and desolation with which it is contrasted. And generally, if the ridicule thrown upon a revival were thrown upon the worldliness, the dishonorable looseness of life and principle which preceded, it would not be misplaced.
We see then that revivals are in no degree desultory, except as they partake of human errors and infirmities. They lie embedded in that great system of universal being and event which the divine omnipresence fills, actuates and warms. As the gospel is enlarged in the world, and the Christian mind enlightened, they will gradually lose their extremes and dishonorable incidents, and will constitute an ebb and flow measured only by the pulses of the Spirit. The church will then make a glowing, various and happy impression. Her armor, though modified, will always shine, and will have a celestial temper in it. Changing her front, she will yet always present a host clad in the full panoply of God.
“O LORD REVIVE THY WORK!”
OBJECTIONS to revivals are no new thing, even from the friends of godliness. The primitive awakenings encountered them; and President Edwards complained of those in his day ready to say, “There is but little sober, solid religion in this work; it is little else but flash and noise.” And he asks, “ Is it not a shame to New England that such a work should be much doubted of here?” adding, “I suppose there is scarcely a minister in this land but from Sabbath to Sabbath used to pray that God would pour out his Spirit and work a reformation and a revival of religion in the country, and turn us from our intemperance, profaneness, uncleanness, worldliness and other sins. And we have kept, from year to year, days of public fasting and prayer to God, to acknowledge our backslidings and humble ourselves for our sins, and to seek of God forgiveness and reformation and now when so great and extensive a reformation is so suddenly and wonderfully accomplished in those very things that we have sought to God for, shall we not acknowledge it?” Whitfield preached to audiences in Boston, in 1740, that would be called great even at this day. At his farewell sermon on the 12th of October, on the Common, he had twenty thousand hearers; an assembly as large as two hundred thousand would now be, if regard be had to the population at the two dates. He had his enemies, however; and one writer gives it as his opinion that “every exhortation given here by Whitfield costs the people of Boston a thousand pounds?” The same writer described the preacher as a “vagrant enthusiast, with an ill-pointed zeal.”
At a meeting of the General Association of the Colony of Connecticut, at Newington, June 18, 1745, the following action was had:
“Voted, Whereas there have of late years been many errors in doctrine and disorders in practice prevailing in the churches of this land, which seem to have a threatening aspect on these churches; and whereas Mr. George Whitfield has been the promoter, or at least the faulty occasion of these errors and disorders; this Association thinks it needful to declare that if the said Mr. Whitfield should make his progress through this government, it would by no means be advisable for any of our ministers to admit him into their pulpits, or for any people to attend on his preaching.”
Although in our day he terms “religious excitement,” “spasmodic effort,” and the like are less frequently bandied than formerly, still there are many who gravely shake their heads when revivals are commended, and recoil at the mention of the very name, as if some evil inevitably lurked behind that designation.
Perhaps there is this poor apology for most of such persons, that they are constitutionally timid, or excessively conservative; or they may not have witnessed revivals, unless it be the most unfavourable specimens.
It is sad to be compelled to say that strong churches (using a popular term) oftenest object to revivals; and that, too, when they owe their present strength to revivals. In conversation with Bishop Simpson, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the writer was struck with the remark, that the wealthiest churches in that denomination, in New York and the other cities, were indebted to revivals for their independence; and that he extremely regretted the tendency often witnessed on the part of such churches, to think lightly of, and labor little for special outpourings of the Spirit.
In referring to the great benefits which the Presbyterian churches of Philadelphia have derived from revivals in the past, the Presbyterian of that city says: “But are any inclined to think that we have reached a stage to which such things are not adapted, especially that revivals belong to the less cultivated, refined, wealthy, fashionable congregations? Let it be remembered that the most intellectual ministers of our Church were converted through revival services; that in every revival period the ablest of judges, lawyers, and physicians in the neighborhood, are numbered among the converts; that our continued salvation is worked out by awakenings in our colleges, in connection with which, through the labors of talented and refined Professors, the intellectual young men are brought into the ministry of reconciliation. It is a great pity if any of our people who have risen in the scale of wealth, and desire to be considered especially respectable and fashionable, consider themselves above such precious influences, and unadvisedly imagine that these are only appropriate to the poorer and the less pretentious.”
It may be asked at the outset, “Do not revivals presuppose corresponding periods of declension?” Suppose it be so and that God foresaw these wicked backslidings of his people, and planned revivals to overbalance them. Is there any objection to this view? Another answer is this: It is not in contrast with religious declension, but religious activity specially directed to other ends-to the cultivation of Christian gifts and graces within the church itself—that we speak of this more direct and engrossing activity of the churches. Suppose we say, again, that God by thus doing adjusts himself to the great law of change, — the law and love of variety wrought, as it would seem, into the very substance and texture of the human mind. We see it to be the case that an equable perpetuity of interest is not according to man’s nature. The mind freshens, then it flags; now moves more earnestly in this direction, now in that. It demands a certain sort of variety even in its religious interests and labors; now in the work of conversion; then in the work of edification, preparing Christians for the trials of their profession and the work of their calling. Suppose we say, too, that business has its revivals; — politics its revivals; — and pleasure its revivals. And cannot God rise higher than they, and put them down by giving better things the ascendancy?
We do not see why these considerations do not meet the difficulty. The term special effort is odious to some. It is enough to disturb their nerves. Anything new is terrifying. With them the extraordinary is the extravagant. But we might show them how fertile in invention the men of the world are in carrying their points; quickly trying another measure where one does not succeed; and ask, Should not “the children of light be equally wise? Such persons would do well to remember that without change there could be no progress. True conservatism is cautious, and not rash; but those who are ever bringing forward the past as a precedent for to-day, would do well to remember that the present itself was founded on the alteration of some past that went before it. Where had the churches been to-day had not Christian effort been breaking forth in new directions?
Excesses are pleaded as sufficient ground for being cautious as to revivals. We are sorry to admit that these have existed; and probably they will exist, to a greater or less extent, as long as men are what they are.
But is not a storm preferable to a parching drought? The economy of nature admits of the possibility of fearful torrents if it rain, — brawling down the mountain sides, tearing up the meadows, and leaving sand instead of fertility on the plain. Why not, therefore, object to rain? Doubtless, on the whole, the atmospheric arrangement is a good one. Let us not, then, oppose revivals because occasionally the religious impulse rises above the usual level, and flows over the ordinary channels, and does some incidental mischief. Better have noisy animal excitement than that the sterile wastes of worldliness should not be transformed into fruitful gardens of the Lord. The greatest possible evil is a deadly insensibility. When the house is on fire and the family asleep, better that they be awakened by violence than consumed. Better rouse them even at the expense of insanity than let them perish in the flames.
We must also remember that the greatest and best actions have ever been performed in stages of excited feeling and high personal exaltation. And it is Dr. Bushnell, we believe, who says “If any one expects to carry on the cause of salvation by a steady rolling on the same dead level, and fears continually lest the axles wax hot and kindle into a flame, he is too timorous to hold the reins in the Lord’s chariot.”
There is also this reply to be made to those who decry revivals because they produce agitation. They do not condemn excitement in other things. They will see as much enthusiasm in a political cabal, or in an election of civil officers, or in a commercial speculation, or even in the pursuits of science, as in a revival of religion, and not object to it. They will allow and demand excitement in the orator, the poet, the statesman, the warrior; a man may be ardent on any subject but religion, while on this subject they denounce fervor as fanaticism. Nobody complains of excitement when a ship is going down, or when half a city is on fire, or in political revolutions. And can any good reason be given, why, when the great majority of a congregation are slumbering on the brink of eternal ruin, they should not, if possible, be alarmed and excited “to flee from the wrath to come?” Mr. Barnes once said, “From whence comes the objection that revivals are mere scenes of excitement? From that man excited throughout the whole week in pursuit of gain, feverish and restless and unacquainted for one whole hour at a time with calm thought and repose; from that man whose life is spent in the whirlwind of political controversy or in the career of ambition; from that calm and interesting group preparing for the splendid party and the dance! O there all is calm and serene; but in religion all is excitement and commotion! Well may this objection be heard from the excited, agitated, tumultuous population of a city; a population more than any other on earth living in scenes of excitement; unhappy when they are not excited; fostering everywhere the means of excitement; and resisting all the means which the friends of religion can use to bring them to sober thought and calm reflection. What we aim at is that this excitement may be laid aside, and that the now busy multitude may be brought to think soberly about the immortal destiny beyond the tomb. We aim that they may hay down the exciting romance or novel, and take up the Bible—full of sober truth; they may forsake the theatre—a place of mere excitement, and find happiness in the calmness of the closet, and the sober employments of the fireside; that they may turn away from the agitating scenes of political strife, and from the exciting of envy, and malice, and green-eyed jealousy, and ambition, and from the intoxicating bowl and the dance of pleasure, and devote themselves to the sober business of religion.”
Farther. Is the good to be denounced with the bad? Because there is undue enthusiasm, sometimes, in revivals, are we to be indifferent toward them? To borrow an illustration, if you should hear a lecture on science, or politics, or religion, in which you should discover a few mistakes, while nearly the whole of it was sound, and practical, and in a high degree instructive, would you condemn the whole for these trifling errors, and say it was all a mass of absurdity; or would you not rather treasure it up in your memory as in the main excellent, though you felt that, like everything human, it was marred by imperfection? And why should not the same principle be admitted in respect to revivals? Is it right, is it honest, because there may be in them a small admixture of enthusiasm, to treat them as if they were made up of enthusiasm and nothing else? Would it not be more equitable and more candid to separate the precious from the vile, rather than to lump together the devil’s dross and the God-given ore? And we may say of the blessed works which we have traced in previous chapters, with Edwards, “If such things are enthusiasm, and the fruits of a distempered brain, let my brain be evermore possessed of that happy distemper! If this be distraction, I pray God that the world of mankind may be all seized with this benign, meek, beneficent, beatifical, glorious distraction!”
Spurious conversions, it is alleged, come of this excitement. But we may say “What is the chaff to the wheat?” Spurious conversions there no doubt are in revivals. So are there in seasons of coldness. And it is by no means clear that the proportion of false hopes cherished in revivals is greater than in other seasons.
Dr. Humphrey tells of 85 converts added in one revival; and he “is able to say that now at the end of thirty-seven years from the time of their public espousals to Christ, there has not, so far as I can learn, been a single case of apostasy from the faith once delivered to the saints, nor of yielding to the mastery of any of those habits which disgrace the Christian name, and drown men in destruction and perdition.”
Dr. Nettleton said: “During the leisure occasioned by my late illness, I have been looking over the regions where God has revived his work for the two years past. The thousands who have professed Christ in this time, in general, appear to run well. Hitherto think they have exhibited more of the Christian temper, and a better example than the same number who have professed religion when there was no revival. If genuine religion is not found in revivals I have no evidence that it exists in our world.” This is strong testimony, but no stronger than numerous pastors could present. And it confirms the view we would naturally receive of a powerful work of grace, namely, that just then we should have the best fruits; less of men’s work, and more of God’s; less of calculation, and more of conviction; less of head-work, and more of heart-work; less of theoretical persuasion, and more of direct, practical, moral earnestness; and so developing a purer, more vigorous, and more highly vitalized Christian character than in times when there is less of “the demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”
It is often objected to revivals that the sympathies are liable to be wrought upon. Now, as we have elsewhere insisted, it is of vast importance that in religious awakenings solid instruction be given, and the understanding be addressed. And if there be these clear and vivid exhibitions of divine truth upon what ground is the excitement of the sympathies to be objected to? As God moves the mind according to its nature, why may he not employ the sympathetic principle to awaken, soften and prepare the way for conversion? “I have yet to learn,” remarks Mr. Barnes, “why religion is to be regarded as suspicious and tarnished because the pleadings of a father or mother, or the tears of a sister have been the occasion, though amidst deep excitement, of directing the thoughts to eternity. To me it seems there is a peculiar loveliness in the spread of religion in this way; and I love to contemplate Christianity calling to its aid whatever of tenderness, kindness, and love there may be existing in the bosom of falling and erring man. These sympathies are the precious remains of the joys of paradise lost; they may be made invaluable aids in the work of securing paradise again. They serve to distinguish man, though fallen, from the dis-social and unsympathizing apostasy of beings of pure malignancy in hell, and their existence in man may have been one of the reasons why he was selected for redemption, while fallen angels were passed by in their sins. On no subject have we so many common interests at stake as in religion. I look upon a family circle. What tender feelings! What mutual love! What common joys! What united sorrows! The blow that strikes one member strikes all. The joy that lights up one countenance diffuses its smiles over all. Together they kneel by the side of the one that is sick; together they rejoice at his recovery; or they bow their heads and weep when he dies, and put on the same sad habiliments of grief and walk to his grave. Nor are these all their common joys and woes. They are plunged into the same guilt and danger. They are together under the fearful visitations of that curse which has travelled down from the first apostasy of man. They are going to a common abode beneath the ground. And that guilty and suffering circle, too, may be irradiated with the same beam of hope, and the same balm of Gilead, and the same great Physician may impart healing there. Now we ask why they may not become Christians together? Sunk in the same woes, why may they not rise to the same immortal hope? When one member is awakened, why should not the same feeling run through the united group? When one is impressed with the great thoughts of immortality, why should not the same thoughts weigh on each spirit? And when the eyes of one kindle with the hope of eternal life, why should not every eye catch the immortal radiance, and every heart be filled with the hope of heaven? And why may we not appeal to them by all the hopes of sitting down together in a world of bliss, and by all the fears of being separated to different destinies in an eternal heaven or hell?
In fact, it is one strong argument for revivals that this principle of sympathy is then brought into exercise. A parent, brother, sister, child, sees another member of the family weeping with a sense of sin, and asking prayers, or rejoicing in a new found hope, or separating, by profession, from the world and entering into the company of believers. The sight of the eye affects the heart, and the inquiry starts, “Am I to go to hell, while that dear one goes to heaven? Do not I need religion, too?” And thus the current of thoughtlessness is interrupted, and the mind becomes impressible and attentive: and this gained, there is reason to hope that further progress will be made.
Thus viewed, an objection to revivals becomes an argument in their favor.
It is sometimes said that to expect revivals prevents uniform effort. We answer that it is only so with those who are not well instructed. If the minister will keep prominent the duty of uniform effort, most of his people will respond to his views. And there is no question but that, as a rule, those ready to labor in revivals are just the persons engaged in steady work; while those who cry out “excitement” find it convenient, somehow, to be idlers in God’s vineyard.
“But the excitement soon subsides, and then there is a reaction.” True, the special excitement is only temporary. In the nature of the case it could not be otherwise. And farther, there may be reaction. Is there not in all special work, of every kind? But does the pastor, the politician, or the farmer decline special effort at special times from fear there will be reaction in the overworked brain, or body? What folly to plead the law of rust against the law of special work.
Let us add here the words of Rev. T. L. Cuyler: “It is made an objection to revivals of religion that they are ‘mere temporary excitements.’ True enough. Pentecost lasted one day, but that one day changed the moral face of the globe. Luther’s Reformation work was comprised within a few years; Europe and the world feel it to this hour. The memorable revival of 1857 began with a few praying hearts in New York— it culminated in a few weeks; its outward phenomena ceased in a twelvemonth. The influence spread across the seas, and round the globe. Did the results end with the end of the excitement? Have its converts all gone back to unbelief and ungodliness? No! That revival has its enduring monuments in nearly every church on this continent. Its history will blaze on one of the brightest pages of God’s record books, which shall be opened on the Day of Judgment. Revivals are temporary in duration. This is partly to be accounted for through God’s sovereignty, and partly through human imperfection. Revivals are commonly short-lived, and they often are attended with a few excesses and false conversions. But would any sane man object to copious rain because it did not continue to rain on forever? Would he object to it, either, because it had swelled a few streams into a freshet, and carried off a few mill-dams and bridges? Shall we do away with steam power simply because the boiler of the “St. John” exploded and blew a dozen human beings into eternity? Revivals are indeed attended with incidental dangers; but they are only such as belong to the constitution of imperfect human nature. They are in accordance with the divine plan. They are in harmony with church-agency in the best days of the church’s history.”
And it must farther be said, that revivals are not followed by the same coldness and levity that preceded them. They leave an impression in the moral feelings of the community, which is not soon effaced. But, if it were true, as it regards the unconverted, it is what might be expected. It is only the relapse of minds ever averse to seriousness, and anxious for relief from the inquietudes of conscience, into their old and settled courses. Revivals do not produce the levity of worldly minds. They powerfully interrupt it. For the time being, and commonly long after, the ball-room and bar-room are deserted, comparatively, if not entirely, and Sabbath-breakers find their way to the house of God. Is it any argument against revivals, that the depraved heart, though awed for the time by the manifest tokens of divine presence, can at last resist their influence and turn like the children of Israel before the mount of God, to idols of their own choosing?
But “Is it not better to have conversions all the while?” Certainly. Labor for them, and be not satisfied without them. And we admit that in an important sense that is a wrong state of things which needs a revival. Possibly the time will come when revivals will not be needed; when, as we might say, there will be a perpetual revival. But we are not to prescribe modes of operation to the Almighty. And if he choose to water his church by occasional showers, rather than with the perpetual dew of his grace; and this more at one period, and on one continent, than at other times and places, we should rejoice and be grateful for the rich effusions of his Spirit in any form and manner; and should endeavour to avail ourselves of these precious seasons for the conversion of sinners. We know that many good men have supposed, and still suppose, that the best way to promote religion, is to go along uniformly, and gather in the ungodly gradually, and without excitement. But however sound such reasoning may appear in the abstract, facts demonstrate its futility. If churches were far enough advanced in knowledge, and had stability of principle enough to keep awake, such a course would do; but most Christians are so little enlightened, and there are so many counteracting causes, that they will not go steadily forward, and so must be impelled by special influences.
“But, Is not a periodical and special divine influence on men for their conversion derogatory to God? Is he not always present and ready to less?” Yes; but our sins may separate between him and us. And again, he may be as truly blessing the world in the edification of his people as by the direct conversion of sinners. But not to insist on this here, let it be observed that this objection is easily seen to be superficial. On this principle there ought to be no intervals of drought or rain; — no revolving cycles of change, but either continuous drenching rains or ever-scorching suns. Instead of this, we see that while God is unchangeable in his purpose, he is various in his methods. Revivals are in accordance with the analogy of nature, which has its seasons of revivification and rapid growth followed by seasons of ripening fruit and maturing strength. They are in harmony with the nature of man, who requires alternate seasons of activity and repose; of stirring labor and excitement on the one hand and on the other of tranquil enjoyment and sober reflection; each in turn preparing the body and the mind for the other and both in their due season imparting health and vigor to the system and conspiring to produce the largest possible results. Revivals accord especially with the habits and spirit of the present age, which is an age of excitement, of division of labor, of associated feeling and action, of concentrated effort, and hurried enterprise and rapid locomotion.
“But why not be content with a moderate growth instead of great and rapid ingatherings?” Because it is not primitive; not after God’s plan. In the early churches conversions were by the hundred and the thousand. The word spread, not with that moderation insisted on by those who are always afraid of being charged with extravagance, but with the sweep and power of a divine movement. And the agents were borne onward as on the wings of the wind, willing to be a laughing-stock to men; willing to hear an outcry from the world, which they were turning upside down.
But one sufficient answer is, that this “going on steadily” (i.e. slowly) leaves the great mass of men in their sins, and coolly consigns whole generations to hell! For death does not wait for our slow processes!
But “why do you have revivals at particular seasons, as in the winter for example?” Suppose we ask in reply, “Why do you have your Lecture seasons in the winter, rather than summer? And your social entertainments, and the like?” Is it unreasonable or arrogant to suppose that there are with God prudential considerations leading to this choice of times and seasons for his special and signal working, based upon this fact, that certain times are more favorable than others for his works?
We have thus alluded to some of the common objections to revivals. No doubt it is generally rather to some of their incidental features that objection is made than to revivals themselves. It is unfair and unreasonable, however, to hold revivals accountable for the evils that sometimes attach to them. When Whitfield was once preaching in Boston, a meeting house was so packed that the gallery was supposed to be giving away, and there was a panic in which several persons were trampled to death. Did the blame attach to the revival? Persons sometimes take cold in a revival. Is that the fault of the revival?
This is a painful object to write upon. One might suppose that anything fraught with such blessings as are revivals would be welcomed universally; that churches long praying for such a time would gladly mark the first appearance of it, and that ministers long mourning their own and their people’s deadness would rejoice in its approach. But alas! It is otherwise. “It is no new thing” says one, “for the world to spit upon Christ and revile Him, — no new thing for unregenerate and foolish men to blaspheme the work of the Spirit; but sad indeed is it that any that are his should hide their faces from him and from his work!”
Are none who ought to be leaders in the world’s conquest, from this very cause failing of influence? Are no preachers open to the censure conveyed in the remark of a hearer, that his minister, apparently, would rather that souls should remain unconverted than be converted in any way except his?
Not far from the scene of a revival, one cold day stood two men in conversation. They belonged to different churches, and the following was the substance of their discourse:
“What is the state of religion in your church?”
“Very cold, indeed, sir: it is as far below the freezing point as is the temperature of the atmosphere.”
“And what is your minister preaching about?”
“He is laboring to show the danger of animal excitement in religion.”
The conversation closed with the exclamation, “The danger of animal excitement! Why, surely the man’s sermons would be better adapted to the state of his congregation if he were to preach on the danger of being spiritually frost-bitten!”
The pungent Mr. Ryle, in one of his tracts, gives these utterances: “The plain truth is, that many believers in the present day seem so dreadfully afraid of doing harm that they hardly ever dare to do any good. There are many who are fruitful in objections, but barren in actions; rich in wet blankets, but poor in anything like Christian fire. They are like the Dutch deputies, who would never allow Marlborough to venture anything, and by their excessive caution, prevented many a victory from being won.” It must be confessed that this representation is but too true.
A home missionary in the West wrote some time since as follows: “If Christians were half as much excited about a heavenly inheritance as the people here are, and have been for a few months past, about Government land, village lots, mill sites, cultivated farms, etc., etc., they would be branded at once with the wildest kind of fanaticism. How strange that professors of religion are fairly beside themselves in the anxiety to secure a little of this world’s goods, and yet that some of them, if they chance to hear a poor sinner cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” or witness deep anxiety for a lost world, are ready to cry, “Excitement! Excitement! It is all excitement.”
The very orthodoxy of some is made an occasion for inactivity. They cry out, “You are trying to get up a revival in your own strength: take care, you are interfering with the sovereignty of God: better keep along in the usual course, and let God give a revival when he thinks it is best: God is a sovereign, and it is very wrong for you to attempt to have a revival, just because you think a revival is needed!” Now no fact (as we have elsewhere taken occasion to show) is more apparent in revivals than that of the divine sovereignty. But such talk as this is just what Satan likes, and men cannot do his work more effectually than by thus preaching up the sovereignty of God as a reason why we should not put forth revival efforts.
An actual participation and personal experience in precious revivals would dissipate many a man`s objections. It makes a vast difference in ones estimate of a revival whether he enter into it or look at it. In the Memoirs of the late Mr. William Dawson is the following anecdote:
Mr. Dawson was one day accosted by an individual who said he had been present at a certain meeting; that he liked the preaching very well, but was much dissatisfied with the prayer-meeting; adding, that he usually lost all the good he had received during the sermon by remaining in these noisy meetings. Mr. D. replied that he should have united with the people of God in the prayer-meeting, if he desired to profit by it. “Oh!” said the gentleman, “I went into the gallery, where I leaned over the front, and saw the whole. But I could get no good; lost, all the benefit I received during the sermon.”
“It is easy to account for that,” rejoined Mr. Dawson.
“How so?” inquired the other.
“You mounted to the top of the house, and on looking down your neighbor’s chimney to see what kind, of a fire he kept, you got your eyes filled with smoke. Had you entered by the door and gone into the room and mingled with the family around the household hearth, you would have enjoyed the benefit of the fire as well as they. Sir, you have got the smoke in your eyes!”
The writer would most earnestly entreat all opponents of revivals to look more thoroughly into the matter, —to ascertain, as far as possible, in what a revival really consists,— and to prove their own selves lest it be found in the great day that they have been “fighting against God.”
That man takes an awful responsibility who assumes to utter a word in disparagement of revivals of religion.
There are few names in our country’s annals more conspicuous, for good or for evil, than that of Aaron Burr. Of his talents none can doubt. His defects were moral rather than intellectual, consisting in a total apostasy from the religion of his fathers, and in the lawlessness of one who had deliberately cast off fear and restrained prayer before God. His father was an earnest Christian minister; his mother one of the most devout women of her times, the daughter of Jonathan Edwards, and the off-shoot of a domestic circle which has been represented as more nearly resembling the life of heaven than any other on earth. Mr. Parton, in his Life of Aaron Burr, perhaps without intending it, tells how this apostasy came about. During his last year in college (at Princeton) there was a revival in the institution. “Burr confessed that he was moved by the revival. He respected the religion of his mother; he had taken for granted the creed in which he had been educated. Therefore, though he was repelled by the wild excitement, which prevailed, and disgust by the means employed to excite terror, his mind was not at ease. He consulted Dr. Witherspoon in this perplexity.
The clergymen of the time were divided in opinion upon the subject of revivals; those educated in the old country being generally opposed to them. President Witherspoon was of that number, and he accordingly told the anxious student that the raging excitement was fanatical, not truly religious, and Burr went away relieved.” This is believed to be the key to Burr’s apostate career.
Assuming that that opinion of the revival was the real cause of his going away “relieved,” what terrible consequences followed that advice. For Burr proceeded to drink in with avidity the reasonings of the French and English infidels, which were much in vogue at the time. These prepared him for the profligate habits which distinguished him through life, which procured his arraignment at the bar of his country for high treason, which involved him in his fatal duel with Hamilton, and which made him ever after an outcast and a vagabond in the earth. It causes a shudder to think that possibly that depreciating remark as to the revival made him the libertine, the duellist, the plotter against his government, the heartless seducer, and the victim of a supreme selfishness that he was. And it is an illustration of the sad consequences that may follow the utterance of one word against revivals.
It will be remembered that our Saviour claimed for his miracles that they were wrought by the Spirit of God. The Pharisees attributed them to the agency of Satan. What that sin was the context tells us. “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.” “Whosoever speaketh a word against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” Revivals also claim to be wrought by the Spirit of God. If they are so, what the sin of speaking against them is, it is not for us to say—farther than that it is in some sense, at least, the sin of “speaking against the Holy Ghost.” The degree of the guilt depends on the means of knowledge and the malignity of purpose. We would neither presume nor wish to say, that in any case it is unpardonable; but who would not shun the possibility of speaking contemptuously of the work of the Spirit? “Beware therefore,” says an apostle, “lest that come upon you which is spoken in the prophets; behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish: for I work a work in your day, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.” He that will speak lightly of revivals, should ponder these words deeply, and remember that he will be called upon in the great day to confront the fact that he took it upon himself to condemn those scenes of religious awakening which brought such gladness to such multitudes of souls. Nor let it be forgotten, that one may be secretly doubtful and indifferent as to revivals; and so, though not openly opposing them, be practically against them. Such persons cannot be relieved of the responsibility of being opposed, in spirit and in practice, to revivals by their silent and negative course regarding them. To have no positive faith in revivals is to be averse and contrary to them. Revivals are so big with consequences, so instinct with life and rower, that they cannot be objects of attention without moving the mind one way or another, without being hated where they are not loved, dreaded where they are not desired, though peculiar circumstances of expediency may repress positive expressions of aversion. Such persons will not only do nothing in favor of revivals, but amidst studied silence and reserve will do much against them. Can the preaching of ministers be otherwise than essentially hostile to revivals, who are not without doubts whether revivals are not the work of man, or perhaps of man and Satan united? The state of mind which dictates such a strain of preaching cannot but dictate a similar strain of conversation; and though direct unfriendliness may not be intended, yet it will be exerted, and exerted in the most decisive and effectual manner.
And this thought must be added; that ministers may believe in revivals, and still be practically opposed to them, because their one great, earnest aim is not to bring sinners to immediate ‘repentance; which is the very spirit of revivals.
“O LORD, REVIVE THY WORK!”
Chapter 1. What Is A Revival?
Chapter 2. Historical View Of Revivals.
Chapter 3. What We Owe To Revivals.
Chapter 4. Divine Economy Of Revivals.
Chapter 5. Objections To Revivals.
Chapter 6. Position Of Evangelists.
Chapter 7. Child-Piety And Profession.
Chapter 8. Indications Of A Revival.
Chapter 9. Revivals Hindered And Arrested.
Chapter 10. Revival Means And Methods.
Chapter 11. Preaching And Revivals.
Chapter 12. Prayer And Revivals.
Chapter 13. Singing And Revivals.
Chapter 14. Personal Effort And Revivals.
Chapter 15. The Sunday School And Revivals.
Chapter 16. Treatment Of Inquirers.
Chapter 17. Training The Converts.
Chapter 18. Revivals The Hope Of The World.
Chapter 19. Are You Revived?