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information, I have almost uniformly remarked that where the subjects had been early and competently instructed, the impressions have been permanent: those of this character who assumed the profession of religion have been enabled to persevere; but in other instances the excitement has too often been transient as “the morning cloud and the early dew:” the latter class, like those in the parable of the sower, I have frequently seen receive the word with joy, but not having root in themselves, endured for a time, and afterwards returned to the world. From these facts, founded on long observation, I have been particularly impressed with the importance of early instruction, I feel more strongly attached to the good old way trodden by the venerable fathers of the Reformation in Scotland, and Holland, and England, and afterwards by our pilgrim fathers, who brought the “light of immortality and life,” to our western wilderness. With them the instruction of youth in the elementary doctrines of religion, by catechising and family visitation, constituted an important part of ministerial labor. It cannot be uninteresting to your readers, nor foreign from the nature of your publication, to incorporate the sentiments of the revered Flavel, in a sermon which he preached to the Puritans after their restoration in 1688. “Prudence,” he remarks,“ will direct us to lay a good foundation among our people by catechising, and instructing them in the principles of Christianity, without which we labor in vain. Unless we have a knowing people, we are not like to have a gracious people. All our excellent sermons will be dashed on the rock of their ignorance. You can never fall on a better way for securing success to your labors, than the fruitful way of catechising. What age of the church has produced more lively and stead. fast professors than the first ages ; and then this daty most eminently flourished in the church. Clemens, Optatus, Austin, Ambrose and Basil, were catechists.” Such were the sentiments of this distinguished servant of Christ, delivered on a most memorable occasion, and before an assembly of divines little inferior to any that ever adorned our world. With these observations of Flavel in Old, let us compare those of Doetor Mather, a character equally eminent in New, England—“That catechising is an ordinance of God few will doubt, when they consider that apostles thus laid the foundation of religion by feeding babes with milk, teaching them in this manner the first principles of the oracles of God. This hath therefore been a constant practice in the church, and in the first ages of Christianity they had a particular person appropriated to this exercise. All well governed churches have still maintained this practice, knowing the
necessity of it for youth, to inform them in the principles of that religion into which they were baptized, and for the establishment of the more aged.” With these sentiments of the Puritans in the old and new world, correspond the following remarks of the Presbyterians in Scotland, as expressed in a preface to the shorter catechism: “It has been acknowledged in all ages that the catechetical way of instruction is the most speedy and successful method of conveying the knowledge of divine things: the truths of God are thus made level to the weakest capacity, being separately proposed with plain and distinct answers to each:”
We cannot appreciate too highly the establishment of Sabbath schools and Bible classes. They may be considered as constituting some of the brightest features of our distinguished age, and forming a new era in the religious world. Through the instrumentality of the former, many have been raised from the lowest degradation, mental and moral, who are now ornaments to the church; and by means of the latter the seed has been sown in ten thousand youthful hearts, which will spring up to life eternal: yet in connection with these I wish to see revived that system of catechetical instruction, which prevailed so extensively among your ancestors in England, and mine in Scotland. I wish to see means every where in operation which shall secure to the juvenile mind profound instruction in the doctrines of religion. No period since the Apostolic has been adorned with a generation of professors more intelligent and steadfast, than during the administrations of Owen, and Flavel, and Baxter, and Boston, and the Erskines; and at that time, catechising in the week was considered scarcely less essential to the “fulfilment of the ministry,” than preaching on the sabbáth. A comparison of those who composed the ranks of the spiritual soldiery in their day, with those who compose them in the present, would certainly, in many respects, be much to our disadvantage. Nevertheless, there are many of our modern converts doubting even the piety of some of those illustrious men, although during their lives they shed around them the lustre of every Christian grace, and died in the triumphs of faith, and some of them martyrs to the truth. With mingled emotions of surprise and sorrow, I have heard some in the ministry who claim to be distinguished for zeal and spirituality, affecting to represent as lifeless and even graceless, many of the clergy of that age, who occupied their talents in the illustration of divine truth, and“ preached the gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven," and clad in the panoply of God, drove the enemy from the field. I do not pretend that these men were perfect, or that the progress of things in coming ages might
not require that with their studious habits there should be joined an increased degree of active enterprise; but I do say that if those who regard them so lightly would consent to stand up with them in a comparison as it respects solid attainments in literature and theology, and holy heroism in their Master's cause, it would be like bringing the shrub beside the cedar, or the infant beside the full grown man.
With respect to extra or protracted meetings, which are becoming so common in our country, I entertain no doubt that they have been blessed for the conversion of souls to the Saviour. Many, I believe, are sealed on these occasions to the day of redemption, and as gems will adorn forever the Mediatorial crown of our Master; yet I think, considering the extent to which they are now. multiplied, there are connected with them serious and obvious disadvantages. They serve too often to derange the regular order of the church; to cherish a gossipping disposition on the part of professors, and render them dissatisfied with the ordinances of grace, unless dispensed in an extraordinary manner. They interfere with those duties which ministers owe to their immediate charge; they leave them little time for digesting their discourses in private, that they may afterwards give to every man a portion of meat in due season ;-little leisure for the improve. ment of their ministerial gifts, by reading and reflection, and conversation ; and whatever diverts the attention of the spiritual steward from a course of study, although it may promise immediate advantage, must, in the issue, militate essentially against the interests of religion. There is no injunction of the great Apostle more imperative than the following :-"Give attendance to reading; neglect not the gift that is in thee; give thyself wholly to them, that thy profiting may appear unto all." Without suitable preparation in the week, no uninspired man ever did, or can preach the gospel for any considerable time to the same people, either with acceptance or success; and he cannot make this preparation without suitable opportunity. Did he possess the intellectual resources of an angel, they must be exhausted by continual expenditure, unless they are replenished by painful and laborious application to study. The present, perhaps, more than almost any preceding age, calls for active exertion on the part of the clergy. Our Tract, and Missionary, and Bible and other kindred societies are probably the means by which the gospel is universally to be diffused, and the nations converted to the Saviour ; and in the support of these and every other benevolent enterprise, the ministers of religion ought always to appear prominent. It is, however, incumbent upon us to persevere, as much as possible, in habits
of study, and thus improve those spiritual gifts which are requisite for the profitable discharge of our ministry.
But the great, shall I say the fatal error in the management of revivals, is the hasty admission of the subject to the privileges of the church. Convictions, we have reason to apprehend, are often mistaken for conversion ;-a momentary impulse for “the renewing of the Holy Ghost,” without which no man can see the Lord Under the influence of this excitement, application is made for the seals of the covenant ; and when an unregenerate man obtains a name in the visible church, his condition may be considered as almost desperate : he feels entrenched in his profession, and without a moral miracle, is invulnerable; there is more hope of reaching with the arrow of conviction, the conscience of the “ harlot or the publican,” than the conscience of the formal professor. There is an analogy in all the works of Jehovah, and the incorruptible seed, like the natural, requires time to vegetate in the soil, before it can be expected to spring up, and present “the blade and the ear.”
Having taken this deliberate survey of the subject presented for consideration, and noted some points of difference between the past and the present, I am constrained to express my conviction, that however much we have to be grateful for in the present state of the church, there is much that needs to be corrected; and that even pure revivals of religion would be far more prevalent, if we were willing, in some , respect at least, to walk more closely in the footsteps of our revered fathers. Let the true doctrines of the gospel be held up with great prominence; and let the minds of the young, by catechetical instruction and private visitation, be imbued with the knowledge of God's
and our spiritual heritage, under the dews of divine grace, would appear
“ fair as Eden," and the trees of righteousness would present in due season their fragrant blossoms and ripening fruits. But when I see the wanton, visionary speculations indulged by some, to the neglect of a religion founded on the Bible, and the
dereliction and even renunciation of their standards by others, who had solemnly subscribed and sworn to defend them; when I see these appalling facts, I cannot help trembling for the Ark. May the God of our fathers disappoint our fears, and purify our American Zion, and fill the earth with his glory.
Yours, in the Saviour's love,
ALEXANDER PROUDFIT. Rev. W. B. SPRAGUE, D. D.
FROM THE REVEREND CHARLES P. McILVAINE,
Rector of St. Anne's church, Brooklyn, New York.
Brooklyn, April 6, 1832. REVEREND AND Dear Sir,
I was much pleased to hear of your intention to publish on the subject of the revivals of religion in this country; believing that there is not another on which a well digested, discreet, intelligent and spiritually-minded work is, at this period, so much needed. We need it at home-it is earnestly desired abroad. When I was in London, about eighteen months since, among sundry earnest inquiries, as well rom ministers of the established church, as those of dissenting denominations, requesting direction as to some publication to inform them accurately in respect to the nature, means and fruits of revivals of religion among us; I recollect a conversation with the Rev. Josiah Pratt, (well known as author of the Memoir, and editor of the Works of the excellent Cecil,) in which, after expressing a strong desire that Christians in England should know more on this subject, he twice, and with much solemnity of manner, enjoined it upon me that I should endeavor to prepare a work in regard to it, and send it to Eng. land for publication. I rejoice that the undertaking has fallen into hands so much more qualified, in every sense, to do it justice. I pray, and doubtless you have made it a matter of much prayer, that all you write may be according to the mind of Christ, and under the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, so as to be “profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.”
I understand you as requesting of me a brief expression of such hints in relation to revivals, as my experience in them may have suggested, and my time will permit me to write. This I will attempt most cheerfully; but must perform it with the strictest confinement of my pen to the mere giving of hints.
My experience of revivals has not been so extensive as that of many others; but it has been, more than that of many others, among