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pour down righteousness : let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together."
There was some partial fulfilment of this prediction in the revival of true piety which attended the return of the Jews from Babylon; though it is evidently to be considered as referring principally to the more extensive prevalence of religion under the gospel dispensation. It may be regarded, in a general sense, as denoting the abundant graoe by which the gospel would be attended, casting into the shade all previous measures of divine influence which had been enjoyed by the church ; or it may be considered more particularly-as referring to special occasions, on which the agency of the Spirit would be signally manifest. In this latter
sense, be applied to the wonderful effusions of the Holy Ghost which attended the preaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost; and to what in these latter days we are accustomed to denominate revivals of religion. It is in its application to revivals that I purpose to consider it at the present time.
I here commence a series of discourses, in which it will be my object to present before you, in its various bearings, the subject of RevivalS OF RELIGION. The reasons which have determined me to this course, and the grounds on which I beg leave to commend this subject to your special attention, are the following:
1. It is a subject in which the church, especially in this country, is, at this moment, more deeply and practically interested than almost any other. You cannot look back upon the history of our American church, and compare the past with the present, without perceiving that within the last half century a wonderful change has taken place in the order of God's providence towards it. It is true, in. deed, that through the ministry of Whitfield and others,
there was a revival of considerable extent in this country, a little before the middle of the last century; but owing to various causes, which I shall not now stop to specify, the fruits of it were, in no small degree, blasted; and from that period till near the beginning of the present century, the church was only enlarged by very gradual additions. But at the period last mentioned, a different state of things seemed to commence, in the more copious and sudden effusions of the Holy Spirit ; and now it has come to pass in these days in which we live, that far the greater number of those who are turned from darkness to light, so far as we can judge, experience this change during revivals of religion. It is for revivals that the church is continually praying; and to them that she is looking for accessions both to her numbers and her strength. The praise of revivals is upon her lips, and upon the lips of her sons and daughters, who come crowding to her solemn feasts. Such being the fact, no one can doubt that this is a subject which she ought well to understand ;--which all should understand, who care for Zion's prosperity.
2. This is a subject in which the church is not only deeply interested at the present time, but is likely to be more and more interested for a long time to come. The cause of revivals has hitherto been gradually and yet constantly gaining ground. The last year has been in this respect, unparalleled in the annals of the church; and there is much in prophecy to warrant the conviction that, as the millenial day draws near, these effusions of the Holy Spirit will be yet more frequent and powerful. Every thing decides that this is to be a practical subject, not with the present generation only, but with many generations to come. It is desirable, therefore, that we should form correct views of it, not merely for our own sake, but for the sake of those who come after us; for our views no doubt
will, to a great extent, be propagated to future generations.
3. The views which we form on this subject, and the course we adopt in respect to it, must determine, in a great measure, the actual effect of revivals upon the interests of the church. This is a matter in relation to which God is pleased to leave much to human instrumentality. It is possible that his people may co-operate with him in carrying forward a revival, by such means that there may
be many sound and scriptural conversions, and that his cause may thereby be greatly advanced ; and it is possible that, by the neglect of duty, or by the adoption of mistaken and unscriptural measurés, they may grieve away the Holy Spirit, or confirm multitudes in fatal self-deception. It is not to be questioned that what commonly passes under the name of a revival of religion is an engine of prodigious power in the church. God intends it only for good: nevertheless it is capable of being perverted to evil. As so much, then, in respect to the influence of revivals, is dependant on the human agency that is employed in them, and as our conduct on this subject will take its complexion from our views, you perceive that it is a matter of great moment that our views should be correct.
4. Every member of the church, whatever may be his standing in society, has a part to act in relation to this subject, and therefore ought to be enlightened concerning it. In days that have gone by, this may have been thought a matter almost exclusively for ministers and other officers of the church; while private Christians may have imagined, that.out of their closets they had little to do in relation to it, but to look on and behold the wonderful work of God. But happily this mistake has, to a great extent, been corrected ; and it seems now to be almost universally admitted, that this is a field in which even the
obscurest Christian may find a place to labor. In a community in which there prevails a spirit of deep religious anxiety, and many are just forming the purpose to set their faces toward heaven, and many others are beginning to hope that they have yielded themselves to God, there must needs be much occasion for private counsel and instruction; and the persons most likely to be applied to are often those with whom the individuals concerned happen to be most intimately associated. Every one, therefore, ought to be competent to give at least some general directions. One right direction, in certain circumstances, may be the means of saving the soul. One wrong direction, in similar circumstances, of ruining it forever. If all Christians, then, are so deeply and practically interested in this subject, there is good reason why it should be brought before yot as a distinct theme for contemplation and instruction.
Having now stated some reasons for bringing this subject before you at this time, I proceed to the main design of the discourse, which is to exhibit the NATURE of a revival of religion. And that we may do this intelligently, it will be necessary previously to answer the question, in a single word, what is the nature of religion ?
Religion consists in a conformity of heart and life to the will of God. It consists in a principle of obedience implanted in the soul, and in the operation of that principle in the conduct. Religion is substantially the same in all worlds; though the religion of a sinner is modified, in some respects, by his peculiar character and condition. In common with the religion of the angels, it consists in love to God—to his law, to his government, to his service; but in distinction from that, it consists in repentance of sin; faith in the merits of a crucified Saviour; resignation under trials; opposition to spiritual enemies. Moreover, religion in the angels is an inherent principle; it begins with their
existence; but in the human heart it is something superinduced by the operation of the Spirit of God. Wherever there exists a cordial belief of God's truth, and submission of the will to his authority, and the graces of the heart shine forth in the virtues of the life, there is true religion ; whether it be in the palace or the cottage; whether it appear in a single individual, or be diffused over a whole community.
Now if such be the nature of religion, you will readily perceive in what consists a revival of religion. It is a revival of scriptural knowledge; of vital piety; of practical obedience. The term revival of religion has sometimes been objected to, on the ground that a revival of any thing supposes its previous existence; whereas in the renovation of sinners, there is a principle implanted which is entirely new. But though the fact implied in this objection is admitted, the objection itself has no force ; because the term is intended to be applied in a general sense, to denote the improved religious state of a congregation, or of some other community. And it is moreover applicable, in a strict sense, to the condition of Christians, who, at such a season, are in a greater or less degree revived; and whose increased zeal is usually rendered instrumental of the conversion of sinners. Wherever then you see religion rising up from a state of comparative depression to a tone of increased vigor and strength ; wherever you see professing Christians becoming more faithful to their obligations, and behold the strength of the church increased by fresh accessions of piety from the world ; there is a state of things which you need not hesitate to denominate a revival of religion.
Such a state of things may be advantageously represented under several distinct particulars.
1. The first step usually is an increase of zeal and de