Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

effect of their errors is manifest to an impartial observer. The same remark holds good respecting the Cumberland Presbyterians, who greatly resemble the Methodists in their doctrines, and modes of promoting and conducting revivals. And as an example from the opposite extreme, I would mention that portion of the Baptist church, which is tinctured with Antinomianism. They have revivals also, but their mode of treating the subjects is widely different from that of the sects last mentioned.

5. But I come now to speak of genuine revivals, where the gospel is preached in its purity, and where the people have been well instructed in the doctrines of Christianity. In a revival, it makes the greatest difference in the world whether the people have been carefully taught by catechising, and where they are ignorant of the truths of the Bible. In some cases revivals are so remarkably pure, that nothing occurs with which any pious man can find fault. There is not only no wildness and extravagance, but very little strong commotion of the animal feelings. The word of God distils upon the mind like the gentle rain, and the Holy Spirit comes down like the dew, diffusing a blessed influence on all around. Such a revival affords the most beautiful sight ever seen upon earth. Its aspect gives us a lively idea of what will be the general state of things IN THE LATTER-DAY GLORY, and some faint image of the heavenly state. The impression on the minds of the people in such a work are the exact counterpart of the truth; just as the impression on the wax corresponds to the seal. In such revivals there is good solemnity and silence. The convictions of sin are deep and humbling : the justice of God in the condemnation of the sinner is felt and acknowledged ; every other refuge but Christ is abandoned; the heart at first is made to feel its own impenetrable hardness; but when least expected, it dissolves under a grateful sense of God's goodness, and Christ's love; light breaks in upon the soul either by a gradual dawning, or by a sudden flash ; Christ is revealed through the gospel, and a firm and often a joyful confidence of salvation through Him is produced; a benevolent, forgiving, meek, humble and .contrite spirit predominates—the love of God is shed abroad—and with some, joy unspeakable and full of glory, fills the soul. A spirit of devotion is enkindled. The word of God becomes exceedingly precious. Prayer is the exercise in which the soul seems to be in its proper element, because by it, God is approached, and his presence felt, and beauty seen: and the new-born soul lives by breathing after the knowledge of God, after communion with God, and after conformity to his will. Now also springs up in the soul an inextinguish

able desire to promote the glory of God, and to bring all men to the knowledge of the truth, and, by that means to the possession of eternal life. The sincere language of the heart is, Lord, what wouldst thou have me to do?” That God may send upon his church many such revivals, is my daily prayer; and many such have been experienced in our country, and I trust are still going forward in our churches.

6. But it has often occurred to me-and I have heard the same sentiment from some of the most judicious and pious men that I have known—that there must be a state of the church preferable to these temporary excitements, which are too often followed by a deplorable state of declension, and disgraceful apathy and inactivity. Why not aim at having a continuous lively state of piety ; and an unceasing progress in the conversion of the impenitent, without these dreadful seasons of deadness and indifference? Why may we not hope for such a state of increasing prosperity in the church, that revivals shall be no longer needed : or if you prefer the expression, when there shall be a perpetual revival ? Richard Baxter's congregation seems for many years to have approximated to what is here supposed; and perhaps that of John Brown of Haddington, and Dr. Romaine of London. And in this country, I have known a very few congregations in which a lively state of piety was kept up from year to year.

7. We cannot, however, limit the Holy One, nor prescribe modes of operation for the Spirit of God. His dispensations are inscrutable, and it is our duty to submit to his wisdom and his will; and to go on steadily in the performance of our own duty. If He, the Sovereign, chooses to water his church by occasional showers, rather than with the perpetual dew of his grace; and this more at one period, and in 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 endeavor to avail ourselves of these precious seasons, for the conversion of sinners, and the edification of the body of Christ. In the natural world the cold and barren winter regularly succeeds the genial and growing seasons of spring and summer; and there may be an analogy to this vicissitude in the spiritual world. One thing we are taught, that believers stand in need of seasons of severe trial, that they may be purified, as the precious metals are purged from their dross in the heated furnace. Paul says, “For there must be heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest." 8. As genuine revivals are favorable to truth and orthodoxy, so

spurious excitements furnish one of the most effectual vehicles for error and heresy. The church is not always benefited by what are termed revivals; but sometimes the effects of such commotions are followed by a desolation which resembles the track of the tornado. I have never seen so great insensibility in any people as in those who had been the subjects of violent religious excitement; and I have never seen any sinners so bold and reckless in their impiety as those who had once been loud professors, and foremost in the time of revival. If I had time, I might'illustrate this remark by a reference to the great revival of the west, which commenced about the close of the year 1800 in the south part of Kentucky; and by which the Presbyterian church in that region was for so many years broken, and distracted, and prostrated—but I must forbear. When people are much excited, their caution and sober judgment are diminished; and when preachers are ardently zealous in revivals, serious people do not suspect them of holding errors, or of entertaining the design of subverting the truth. It is also a fact that the teachers of false doctrine, do sometimes artfully associate their errors with revivals, and by continually insinuating or openly declaring, that revivals only take place in connection with their new theology, they succeed in persuading those who have more zeal than knowledge, that all who oppose their errors, are the enemies of revivals. This artifice has often been played off with much effect; and they have sometimes gone so far as to deny the genuineness of great revivals which occurred under the ministry of those holding opinions different from their own; or who neglected to bring into operation all the newly invented apparatus of revivals.

You may, perhaps, expect me to say something respecting what are called new measures ; but as I am out of the way of witnessing the actual operation of these means, I will not venture on a discussion which is both delicate and difficult, farther than to mention some general results, which from a retrospect of many facts, I have adopted, in regard to revivals of religion. On each of these I might largely expatiate, but my prescribed limits forbid it.

All means and measures which produce a high degree of excitement, or a great commotion of the passions, should be avoided ; because religion does not consist in these violent emotions, nor is it promoted by them; and when they subside, a wretched state of deadness is sure to succeed.

The subjects of religious impressions ought not to be brought much into public notice. It ought not to be forgotten, that the heart is deceitful above all things, and that strong excitement does not

prevent the risings of pride and vainglory. Many become hypocrites when they find themselves the objects of much attention, and affect feelings which are not real; and where there is humility and sincerity, such measures turn away the attention from the distinct contemplation of those subjects which ought to occupy the mind.

On this account, I prefer having the anxious addressed and instructed as they sit undistinguished in their seats, rather than calling them out to particular pews, denominated anxious seats : and if the pastor can visit the awakened at their houses, it would be better than to appoint meetings expressly for them. But as this cannot be done, when the number is great, these meetings may be necessary; but instead of attempting to converse with each individual, let the preacher address suitable instruction and advice to all at once; and if any are in great trouble and difficulty, let them come to the minister's house, or send for him to visit them.

All measures which have a tendency to diminish the solemnity of divine worship, or to lessen our reverence for God and divine things, are evidently wrong; and this is uniformly the effect of excessive excitement. Fanaticism often blazes with a glaring flame, and agitates assemblies as with a hurricane or earthquake; but God is not in the fire, or the wind, or the earthquake. His presence is more commonly with the still small voice. There is no sounder character. istic of genuine devotion, than reverence. When this is banished, the fire may burn fiercely, but it is unhallowed fire. Fanaticism, however much it may assume the garb and language of piety, is its opposite: for while the latter is mild, and sweet, and disinterested, and respectful, and affectionate, the former is proud, arrogant, censorious, selfish, carnal, and when opposed, malignant.

The premature and injudicious publication of revivals, is now a great evil. There is in these accounts often a cant which greatly disgusts sensible men; and there is an exaggeration which confounds those who know the facts; and it cannot but injure the people concerning whom the narrative treats. But I must desist. I am respectfully and affectionately Yours,

A. ALEXANDER. Rev. W. B. SPRAGUE, D.D.

LETTER II.

From the REVEREND. FRANCIS WAYLAND, D. D.

President of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

Providence, March 7, 1832. REVEREND AND DEAR SIR,

You have requested me to give you some account of the revivals with nich I have been acquainted, and specially of those which have oceurred in the denomination to which I belong. So large a portion of my life has been devoted to the business of instruction, and having been permitted to witness but one general revival in a literary institution, I regret to say, that I am far less able to comply with your request, than many others of my brethren. I have, however, frequently visited congregations and places during seasons of revival, and have been in habits of intimacy with many of my brethren who have enjoyed such seasons, and have been thus, in various instances, acquainted with the whole progress of the work. I merely mention these circumstances to show you just how far the subsequent opinions are worthy of credit. Having done so, I will proceed, and offer such remarks as my limited observation and experience have suggested on the subject.

I. I believe in the existence of revivals of religion, as much as I believe in any other fact, either physical or moral. By revivals of religion I mean special seasons in which the minds of men, within a certain district, or in a certain congregation, are more than usually susceptible of impression from the exhibition of moral truth. The effects of this special influence are manifest on ministers and hearers, both converted and unconverted. Ministers are more than usually desirous of the conversion of men. They possess, habitually, an unusual power of presenting the simple truths of the gospel directly to the consciences of their hearers, and feel a peculiar consciousness of their own weakness and insufficiency, and at the same time a perfect reliance upon the efficacy of the gospel, through the agency of the Spirit, to convert men, Every minister of the gospel has, I presume, enjoyed this feel

« VorigeDoorgaan »