HINDRANCES TO REVIVALS
I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you.? - Nehemiah. 6:3.
This servant of God had come down from Babylon to rebuild the temple and re-establish the worship of God at Jerusalem, the city of his fathers' sepulchers. When it was discovered by Sanballat and certain individuals who were his allies, who had long enjoyed the desolations of Zion, that the temple and the holy city were about to be rebuilt, they raised a great opposition. Sanballat and the other leaders tried, in several ways, to divert Nehemiah and his friends, and prevent them from going forward in their work; at one time they threatened them, and then complained that they were going to rebel against the king. They found, however, that they could not frighten Nehemiah, and then they sought to delude him by artifice and fraud, and draw him off from the vigorous prosecution of his work. But the words sum up his position: "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?"
It has always been the case, whenever any of the servants of God do anything in His cause, and there appears to be a probability that they will succeed, that Satan by his agents regularly attempts to divert their minds and nullify their labors. So it has been during the last ten years, in which there have been such remarkable revivals through the length and breadth of the land. These revivals have been very great and powerful, and extensive.
It has been estimated that not less than TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND persons have been converted to God in that time. And the devil has been busy in his devices to divert and distract the people of God, and turn off their energies from pushing forward the great work of salvation.
In remarking upon the subject, I propose:
I. To show that a revival of religion is a great work.
II. To mention several things which may put a stop to it.
III. To show what must be done for the continuance of this great revival.
I. A REVIVAL OF RELIGION IS A GREAT WORK.
It is a great work, because in it are great interests involved. In a revival of religion, there are involved both the glory of God, so far as it respects the government of this world, and the salvation of men; two things, therefore, that are of infinite importance are involved in it. The greatness of a work is to be estimated by the greatness of the consequences depending on it; this is the measure of its importance.
II. THINGS WHICH MAY STOP A REVIVAL.
Some have talked very foolishly on this subject, as if nothing could hinder a genuine revival. They say: "If your revival is a work of God, it cannot be stopped: can any created being stop God?" Now I ask if this is common sense? Formerly, it used to be the established belief that a revival could not be stopped, because it was the work of God. And so they supposed it would go on, whatever might be done to hinder it, in the Church or out of it. But the farmer might just as well reason so, and think he could go and cut down his wheat and not hurt the crop, because it is God that makes grain grow. A revival is the work of God, and so is a crop of wheat; and God is as much dependent on the use of means in one case as the other.
And therefore a revival is as liable to be injured as a wheat field.
1. A revival will stop whenever the Church believes it is going to cease.
The Church is the instrument with which God carries on this work, and Christians are to work in it voluntarily and with their hearts. Nothing is more fatal to a revival than for its friends to predict that it is going to stop.
No matter what the enemies of the work may say about it, predicting that it will come to nothing, they cannot stop it in this way; but the friends must labor and pray in faith to carry it on. It is a contradiction to say they are laboring and praying in faith to carry on the work, and yet believe that it is going to stop. If they lose their faith, it will stop, of course. Whenever the friends of revivals begin to prophesy that the revival is going to stop, they should be instantly rebuked, in the name of the Lord. If the idea should once begin to prevail, and if you cannot counteract it and root it out, the revival will infallibly cease; for it is indispensable to the work that Christians should labor and pray in faith to promote it, and it is a contradiction to say that they can labor in faith for its continuance while they believe that it is about to cease.
2. A revival will cease when Christians consent that ii should cease.
Sometimes Christians see that the revival is in danger of ceasing, and that if something effectual is not done, it will come to a standstill. If this should distress them, and drive them to prayer, and to fresh efforts, the work will not cease. When Christians love the work of God and the salvation of souls so well that they are distressed at a mere apprehension of a decline, it will drive them to agony and effort to prevent its ceasing; but if they see the danger, and do not try to avert it, or to renew the work, they consent that it Should stop. There are many people who see revivals declining, and that they are in great danger of ceasing altogether, and yet they manifest but little distress, and seem to care but little about it. Whole Churches see the position that must ensue unless there can be an awakening; and yet they are at ease, and do not groan and agonize in prayer that God would revive His work. Some are even predicting that there is now going to be a great reaction, and a great dearth come over the Church, as there did after the day of Whitefield and Edwards. And yet they are not startled at their own foreboding. THEY CONSENT TO IT. It seems as if they were the devil's trumpeters, sent out to scatter dismay throughout the ranks of God's elect.
3. A revival will cease whenever Christians become mechanical in their attempts to promote it. When their faith is strong, and their hearts are warm and mellow, and their prayers full of holy emotion, and their words with power, then the work goes on. But when their prayers begin to be cold and without emotion, and they begin to labor mechanically, and to use words without feeling, then the revival will cease.
4. The revival will cease, whenever Christians get the idea that the work will go on without their aid. They are co-workers with God in promoting a revival, and the work can be carried on just as far as the Church will carry it on, and no farther. God has been for one thousand eight hundred years trying to get the Church into the work. He has been calling and urging, commanding, entreating, pressing and encouraging, to get Christians to take hold. He has stood all this while ready to make bare his arm to carry on the work with them. But the Church has been unwilling to do her part, seeming determined to leave it to God alone to convert the world, and saying: "If He wants the world converted, let Him do it." The Church ought to know that this is impossible. Sinners cannot be converted without their own agency, for conversion consists in their voluntary turning to God. Nor can sinners be converted without the appropriate moral influences to turn them; that is, without truth and the reality of things being brought full before their minds either by direct revelation or by men. God cannot convert the world by physical omnipotence, but He is dependent on the moral influence of the Church.
5. The work will cease when the Church prefers to attend to selfish concerns rather than God's business. I do not admit that men have any business which is properly their own, but they think so, and in fact prefer to attend to what they consider as their own, rather than work for God.
They begin to think they canoe afford sufficient time from their worldly employments, to carry on a revival. They pretend they are obliged to give up attending to religion, and they let their hearts go out again after the world. And the work must cease, of course.
6. When Christians get proud of their "great revival," it will cease. I mean those Christians who have been instrumental in promoting it. It is almost always the case in a revival, that a part of the Church proves too proud or too worldly to take any part in the work. They are determined to stand aloof, and wait, and see what it will come to. The pride of this part of the Church cannot stop the revival, for the revival never rested on them. It began without them, and it can go on without them. They may fold their arms and do nothing but look out and find fault; and still the work may go on. But when the part of the Church that does the work begins to think what a great revival they have had, how they have labored and prayed, how bold and how zealous they have been, and how much good they have done, then the work will be likely to decline. Perhaps it has been published in the papers what a revival there has been in that Church, and how absorbed the members have been, so they think how high they will stand in the estimation of other Churches, all over the land, because they have had such a great revival. And so they get puffed up, and vain, and they can no longer enjoy the presence of God. The Spirit withdraws from them, and the revival ceases.
7. The revival will stop when the Church gets exhausted by labor.
Multitudes of Christians commit a great mistake here in time of revival.
They are so thoughtless, and have so little judgment, that they will break up all their habits of living, neglect to eat and sleep at the proper hours, and let the excitement run away with them, so that they overdo their bodies, and are so imprudent that they soon become exhausted, and it is impossible for them to continue in the work. Revivals often cease from negligence and imprudence, in this respect, on the part of those engaged in carrying them on, and declensions follow.
8. A revival will cease when the Church begins to speculate about abstract doctrines, which have nothing to do with practice. If the Christians turn their attention away from the things of salvation, and go to studying or disputing about abstract points, the revival will cease, of course.
9. When Christians begin to proselytize. When the Baptists are so opposed to the Presbyterians, or the Presbyterians to the Baptists, or both against the Methodists, or Episcopalians against the rest, that they begin to make efforts to get the converts to join their Church, you soon see the last of the revival. Perhaps a revival will go on for a time, and all sectarian difficulties are banished, till somebody circulates a book, privately, to gain proselytes. Perhaps some over-zealous deacon, or some mischief making woman, or some proselytizing minister, cannot keep still any longer, but begins to work the work of the devil, by attempting to gain proselytes, and so stirs up bitterness; and, raising a selfish strife, grieves away the Spirit, and drives Christians into parties. No more revival there!
10. When Christians refuse to render to the Lord according to the benefits received. This is a fruitful source of religious declensions. God has opened the windows of heaven to a Church, and poured them out a blessing, and then He reasonably expects them to bring in the tithes into His storehouse, and devise and execute liberal things for Zion; but they have refused; they have not laid themselves out accordingly to promote the cause of Christ, and so the Spirit has been grieved, and the blessing withdrawn, and in some instances a great reaction has taken place, because the Church would not be liberal, when God had been so bountiful. I have known Churches which were evidently cursed with barrenness for such a course. They had a glorious revival, and afterwards perhaps their buildings needed repairing, or something else was needed which would cost a little money, and they refused to do it, and so for their niggardly spirit God gave them up.
11. When the Church, in any way, grieves the Holy Spirit.
(a) When Christians do not feel their dependence on the Spirit. Whenever they get strong in their own strength, God curses their blessings. In many instances, their sin against their own mercies, because they get lifted up with their success, and take the credit to themselves, and do not give all the glory to God. As He says: "If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto My name, saith the Lord of hosts, I will even send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye do not lay it to heart" (Malachi 2:2). There has been a great deal of this, undoubtedly. I have seen many things in the newspapers that suggested a disposition in men to take credit for success in promoting revivals. There is doubtless a great temptation to this, and it requires the utmost watchfulness, on the part of ministers and Churches, to guard against it and not to grieve the Spirit away by vainglorying in men.
(b) The Spirit may be grieved by a Spirit of boasting of the revival.
Sometimes, as soon as a revival commences, you will see it blazed out in the newspapers. And most commonly this will kill the revival. There was a case in a neighboring State, where a revival commenced, and instantly there came out a letter from the pastor, telling that he had a revival. I saw the letter, and said to myself, "That is the last we shall hear of this revival." And so it was. In a few days the work totally ceased. I could mention cases and places, where persons have published such things as to puff up the Church, and make the people so proud that little more could be done for the revival.
Some, under pretense of publishing things to the praise and glory of God, have published things that savored so strongly of a disposition to exalt themselves - making their own agency stand out conspicuously - as were evidently calculated to make an unhappy impression. At a protracted meeting held in this Church, a year ago last fall, there were five hundred hopefully converted, whose names and places of residence we knew. A considerable number of them joined this Church. Many of them united with other Churches. Nothing was said of this in the papers. I have several times been asked why we were so silent on the subject. I could only reply, that there was such a tendency to self exaltation in the Churches, that I was afraid to publish anything on the subject. Perhaps I erred. But I have so often seen mischief done by premature publications, that I thought it best to say nothing about it. In the revival in this city, four years ago, so much was said in the papers that appeared so much like self exaltation, that I was afraid to publish. I am not speaking against the practice itself, of publishing accounts of revivals. But the manner of doing it is of vast importance. If it be done so as to excite vanity, it is always fatal to the revival.
So, too, the Spirit is grieved by saying or publishing things that are calculated to undervalue the work of God. When a blessed work of God is spoken lightly of, not rendering to God the glory due to His Name, the Spirit is grieved. If anything be said about a revival, give only the plain and naked facts, just as they are, and let them pass for what they are worth.
12. A revival may be expected to cease, when Christians lose the spirit of brotherly love. Jesus Christ will not continue with people in a revival any longer than they continue in the exercise of brotherly love. When Christians are in the spirit of a revival, they feel this love, and then you will hear them call each other "Brother" and "Sister," very affectionately.
But when they begin to get cold, they lose this warmth and glow of affection for one another, and then this calling "Brother" and "Sister" will seem silly, and they will leave it off. In some Churches they never call each other so; but where there is a revival Christians naturally do it. I never saw a revival, and probably there never was one, in which they did not do it. But as soon as this begins to cease, the Spirit of God is grieved, and departs from among them.
13. A revival will decline and cease, unless Christians are frequently re-converted. By this I mean, that Christians, in order to keep in the spirit of revival, commonly need to be frequently convicted, and humbled and broken down before God, and "re-converted." This is something which many do not understand, when we talk about a Christian being re-converted. But the fact is, that in a revival, the Christian's heart is liable to get crusted over, and lose its exquisite relish for Divine things; his unction and prevalence in prayer abate, and then he must be converted over again. It is impossible to keep him in such a state as not to do injury to the work, unless he passes through such a process every few days. I have never labored in revivals in company with any one who would keep in the work and be fit to manage a revival continually, who did not pass through this process of breaking down as often as once in two or three weeks.
Revivals decline, commonly, because it is found impossible to make Christians realize their guilt and dependence, so as to break down before God. It is important that ministers should understand this, and learn how to break down the Church, and break down themselves when they need it, or else Christians will soon become mechanical in their work, and lose their fervor and their power of prevailing with God. This was the process through which Peter passed, when he had denied the Savior, and by which breaking down, the Lord prepared him for the great work on the day of Pentecost. I was surprised, a few years since, to find that the phrase "breaking down" was a stumbling block to certain ministers and professors of religion. They laid themselves open to the rebuke administered to Nicodemus: "Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?"
(John 3:10.) I am confident that until some of them know what it is to be "broken down," they will never do much more for the cause of revival.
14. A revival cannot continue when Christians will not practice self-denial.
When the Church has enjoyed a revival, and begins to grow fat upon it, and to run into self-indulgence, the revival will soon cease. Unless they sympathize with the Son of God, who gave up all to save sinners; unless they are willing to give up their luxuries, and their ease, and devote themselves to the work, the Christians need not expect that the Spirit of God will be poured out upon them. This is undoubtedly one of the principal causes of personal declension. Let Christians in a revival BEWARE, when they first find an inclination creeping upon them to shrink from self-denial, and to give in to one self-indulgence after another.
It is the device of Satan, to "bait" them off from the work of God, and make them dull and gross, lazy and fearful, useless and sensual; and so drive away the Spirit and destroy the revival.
15. A revival will be stopped by controversies about new measures.
Nothing is more certain to overthrow a revival than this.
16. Revivals can be put down by the continued opposition of the Old School, combined with a bad spirit in the New School. If those who do nothing to promote revivals continue their opposition, and if those who are laboring to promote them allow themselves to get impatient, and get into a bad spirit, the revival will cease. When the Old School write letters in the newspapers, against revivals or revival men, and the New School write letters back again, in an angry, contentious spirit, revivals will cease.
LET THEM KEEP ABOUT THEIR WORK, and neither talk about the opposition, nor preach upon it, nor rush into print about it. If others choose to publish "slang," let the Lord's people keep to their work. None of the slander will stop the revival, while those who are engaged in it mind their business, and keep to the work.
In one place where there was a revival, certain ministers formed a combination against the pastor of the Church, and a plan was set on foot to ruin him, and they actually got him prosecuted before his Presbytery, and had a trial that lasted six weeks, right in the midst of the revival; but the work still went on. The praying members of the Church laid themselves out so in the work, that it continued triumphantly throughout the whole scene. The pastor was called off, to attend his trial, but there was another minister that labored among the people, and the members did not even go to the trial, but kept praying and laboring for souls, and the revival rode out the storm. In many places, opposition has risen up in the Church, but a few humble souls have kept at their work, and our gracious God has stretched out His naked arm and made the revival go forward in spite of all opposition.
But whenever those who are actively engaged in promoting a revival get excited at the unreasonableness and pertinacity of the opposition, and feel as if they must answer the cavils, and refute the slanders, then they get down to the plain of Ono (Nehemiah 6:2) and the work must cease.
17. Any diversion of the public mind will hinder a revival. In the case I have specified, where the minister was put on trial before his Presbytery, the reason why it did not ruin the revival was, that the praying members of the Church would not suffer themselves to be diverted. They kept on praying and laboring for souls, and so public attention was kept to the revival, in spite of all the efforts of the devil.
But whenever Satan succeeds in absorbing public attention in any other subject, he will put an end to the revival. No matter what the subject is. If an angel from heaven were to come down, and preach, or pass about the streets, it might be the worst thing in the world for a revival, for it would turn sinners off from their own sins, and turn the Church off from praying for souls, to follow this glorious being, and gaze upon him, and the revival would cease.
18. Resistance to the Temperance reformation will put a stop to revivals in a Church. The time has come that it can no longer be innocent in a Church to stand aloof from this glorious reformation. The time was when this could be done ignorantly. The time has been when ministers and Christians could enjoy revivals, notwithstanding that ardent spirit was used among them. But since light has been thrown upon the subject, and it has been found that the use is injurious, no member or minister can be innocent and stand neutral in the cause. They must speak out and take sides. And if they do not take ground on one side, their influence is on the other. Show me a minister that has taken ground against the Temperance reformation who has had a revival. Show me one who now stands aloof from it who has a revival. Show me one who now temporizes upon this point, who does not come out and take a stand in favor of Temperance, who has a revival. It used not to be so. But now the subject has come up, and has been discussed, and is understood, no man can shut his eyes upon the truth. The man's hands are RED WITH BLOOD who stands aloof from the Temperance cause. And can he have a revival?
19. Revivals are hindered when ministers and Churches take wrong ground in regard to any question involving human rights. Take the subject of SLAVERY, for instance. The time was when this subject was not before 63 the public mind. John Newton continued in the slave trade after his conversion. 64 And so had his mind been perverted, and so completely was his conscience seared, in regard to this most nefarious traffic, that the sinfulness of it never occurred to his thoughts until some time after he became a child of God. Had light been poured upon his mind previously to his conversion, he never could have been converted without previously abandoning this sin. And after his conversion, when convinced of its iniquity, he could no longer enjoy the presence of God without abandoning the sin for ever.
So, doubtless, many slave dealers and slave holders in our country have been converted, notwithstanding their participation in this abomination, because the sinfulness of it was not apparent to their minds. So ministers and Churches, to a great extent throughout the land, have held their peace, and borne no testimony against this abomination, existing in the Church and in the nation. But recently, the subject has come up for discussion, and the providence of God has brought it distinctly before the eyes of all men. Light is now shed upon this subject, as it has been upon the cause of Temperance. Facts are exhibited, and principles established, and light thrown in upon the minds of men, and this monster is dragged from his horrid den, and exhibited before the Church, and it is demanded of Christians: "IS THIS SIN?" Their testimony must be given on this subject.
They are God's witnesses. They are sworn to tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." It is impossible that their testimony should not be given, on one side or the other. Their silence can no longer be accounted for upon the principle of ignorance, that they have never had their attention turned to the subject. Consequently, the silence of Christians upon the subject is virtually saying that they do not consider slavery as a sin.
The truth is, this is a subject on which they cannot be silent without guilt.
The time has come, in the providence of God, when every southern breeze is loaded down with the cries of lamentation, mourning, and woe. Two millions of degraded heathen in our own land stretch their hands, all shackled and bleeding, and send forth to the Church of God the agonizing cry for help. And shall the Church, in her efforts to reclaim and save the world, deafen her ears to this voice of agony and despair? God forbid! The Church cannot turn away from this question. It is a question for the Church and for the nation to decide, and God will push it to a decision. It is in vain for us to resist it for fear of distraction, contention, and strife. It is in vain to account it an act of piety to turn away the ear from hearing this cry of distress.
The Church must testify, and testify "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," on this subject, or she is perjured, and the Spirit of God departs from her. She is under oath to testify, and ministers and Churches who do not pronounce it sin, bear false testimony for God. It is doubtless true, that one of the reasons for the low state of religion at the present time is that many Churches have taken the wrong side on the subject of slavery, have suffered prejudice to prevail over principle, and have feared to call this abomination by its true name.
20. Another thing that hinders revivals is, neglecting the claims of Missions. If Christians confine their attention to their own Church, do not read even their Missionary Magazine, or use any other means to inform themselves on the subject of the claims of the world, but reject the light, and will not do what God calls them to do in this cause, the Spirit of God will depart from them.
21. When a Church rejects the calls of God upon it for educating young men for the ministry, it will hinder and destroy a revival. Look at the Presbyterian Church. Look at the two hundred thousand souls converted within ten years: consider that there are resources sufficient to fill the world with ministers, and yet observe that the ministry is not increasing so fast as the population of our own country; so that unless something more can be done to provide ministers, we shall become heathen ourselves.
The Churches do not press upon young men the duty of going into the ministry. God pours His Spirit on the Churches, and converts hundreds of thousands of souls, and if then the laborers do not come forth into the harvest, what can be expected but that the curse of God will come upon the Churches, and His Spirit will be withdrawn, and revivals will cease?
Upon this subject no minister, no Church, should be silent or inactive.
22. Slandering revivals will often put them down. The great revival in the days of President Edwards suffered greatly by the conduct of the Church in this respect. It is to be expected that the enemies of God will revile, misrepresent, and slander revivals. But when the Church herself engages in this work, and many of her most influential members are aiding and abetting in calumniating and misrepresenting a glorious work of God, it is reasonable that the Spirit should be grieved away. It cannot be denied that this has been done to a grievous and God dishonoring extent. It has been estimated that in one year, since the revival commenced, ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND SOULS were converted to God in the United States. This is undoubtedly the greatest number that were ever converted in one year, since the world began. 65 It could not be expected that, in an excitement of this extent, among human beings, there should be nothing to deplore. To expect perfection in such a work as this, of such extent, and carried on by human instrumentality, is utterly unreasonable and absurd.
Evils doubtless did exist and have existed. They were to be expected of course, and guarded against as far as possible. But I do not believe the world's history can furnish one instance in which a revival, approaching to this in extent and influence, has been attended with so few evils, and with so little that is honestly to be deplored.
But how has this blessed work of God been treated! Admitting all the evils complained of to be real, which is far from being true, they would only be like spots upon the disc of the glorious sun; things hardly to be thought of in comparison with the infinite greatness and excellence of the work. And yet how has a great portion of the Presbyterian Church received and treated this blessed work of God? At the General Assembly, that grave body of men that represent the Presbyterian Church, in the midst of this great work, instead of appointing a day of thanksgiving, instead of praising and glorifying God for the greatness of His work, we hear from them the voice of rebuke. From the reports that were given of the speeches, it appears that the house was filled with complainings. Instead of devising measures to forward the work, their attention seemed to be taken up with the comparatively trifling evils that were incidental to it. And after much complaining, they absolutely appointed a committee, and sent forth a "Pastoral Letter," calculated to excite suspicion, to quench the zeal of God's people, and to turn them from giving glory to God for the greatness of the blessing into finding fault and carping about "the evils." When I heard what was done at that General Assembly, when I read their speeches, when I saw their Pastoral Letter, my soul was sick, an unutterable feeling of distress came over my mind, and I felt that God would "visit" the Presbyterian Church for conduct like this. And ever since, the glory has been departing, and revivals have been becoming less and less frequent - less and less powerful.
And now I wish it could be known whether those ministers who poured out those complainings on the floor of the General Assembly, and who were instrumental in getting up that Pastoral Letter, have since been blessed in promoting revivals of religion; whether the Spirit of God has been upon them; and whether their Churches can witness that they have an unction from the Holy One.
23. Ecclesiastical difficulties are calculated to grieve away the Spirit, and destroy revivals. It has always been the policy of the devil to turn off the attention of ministers from the work of the Lord to disputes and ecclesiastical litigations. President Edwards was obliged to be taken up for a long time in disputes before ecclesiastical councils; and in our days, and in the midst of these great revivals of religion, these difficulties have been alarmingly and shamefully multiplied. Some of the most efficient ministers in the Church have been called off from their direct efforts to win souls to Christ, to reply to charges preferred against them, or against their fellow laborers in the ministry, which could never be sustained. Oh, tell it not in Gath! When will those ministers and professors of religion, who do little or nothing themselves, let others alone, and let them work for God?
24. Another thing by which revivals may be hindered is censoriousness, on either side, and especially in those who have been engaged in carrying forward a revival. It is to be expected that the opposers of the work will watch for the halting of its friends, and be sure to censure them for all that is wrong, and not infrequently for that which is right, in their conduct.
Especially is it to be expected that many censorious and unchristian remarks will be made about those who are the most prominent instruments in promoting the work. This censoriousness on the part of the opposers of the work, whether in or out of the Church, will not, however, of itself put a stop to the revival. While its promoters keep humble, and in a prayerful spirit, while they do not retaliate, but possess their souls in patience, while they do not suffer themselves to be diverted, to recriminate, and grieve away the spirit of prayer, the work will go forward.
Censoriousness in those who are opposed to the work is but little to be dreaded, for they have not the Spirit, and nothing depends on them, for they can hinder the work only just so far as they themselves have influence personally. But the others have the power of the Holy Spirit, and the work depends on their keeping in a right temper. If they get wrong, and grieve away the Spirit, there is no help: the work must cease.
Whatever provocation, therefore, the promoters of the blessed work may have had, if it ceases, the responsibility will be theirs. And one of the most alarming facts in regard to this matter is that, in many instances, those who have been engaged in carrying forward the work appear to have lost the Spirit. They are becoming diverted; are beginning to think that the opposition is no longer to be tolerated, and that they must come out and reply in the newspapers. It should be known, and universally understood, that whenever the friends and promoters of this greatest of revivals suffer themselves to be called off to newspaper janglings, to attempt to defend themselves, and reply to those who write against them, the spirit of prayer will be entirely grieved away, and the work will cease. Nothing is more detrimental to revivals of religion (and so it has always been found) than for the promoters of it to listen to the opposition, and begin to reply.
This was found to be true in the days of President Edwards, as those who are acquainted with his book on Revivals are well aware. 66
II. THINGS WHICH OUGHT TO BE DONE.
I proceed to mention some things which ought to be done to continue this great and glorious revival of religion, which has been in progress for the last ten years.
1. There should be great and deep repentings on the part of ministers. WE, my brethren, must humble ourselves before God. It will not do for us to suppose that it is enough to call on the people to repent. We must take the lead in repentance, and then call on the Churches to follow.
Especially must those repent who have taken the lead in producing feelings of opposition and distrust in regard to revivals. Some ministers have confined their opposition against revivals and revival measures to their own congregations, and have created such suspicions among their own people as to prevent the work from spreading and prevailing among them. Such ministers will do well to consider the remarks of President Edwards on this subject:
"If ministers preach never so good doctrine, and are never so painful and laborious in their work, yet, if at such a day as this, they show to their people that they are not well affected to this work, but are very doubtful and suspicious of it, they will be very likely to do their people a great deal more hurt than good; for the very fame of such a great and extraordinary work of God, if their people were suffered to believe it to be His work, and the example of other towns, together with what preaching they might hear occasionally, would be likely to have a much greater influence upon the minds of their people, to awaken and animate them in religion, than all their labors with them. And besides, their minister's opinion would not only beget in them a suspicion of the work they hear of abroad, whereby the mighty hand of God that appears in it loses its influence upon their minds, but it will also tend to create a suspicion of everything of the like nature, that shall appear among themselves, as being something of the same distemper that has become so epidemical in the land; and that is, in effect, to create a suspicion of all vital religion, and to put the people upon talking against it, and discouraging it, wherever it appears, and knocking it on the head as fast as it rises. And we that are ministers, by looking on this work, from year to year, with a displeased countenance, shall effectually keep the sheep from their pasture, instead of doing the part of shepherds to them by feeding them; and our people had a great deal better be without any settled minister at all at such a day as this." 67 Others have been more public, having aimed at exerting a wider influence.
Some have written pieces for the public papers. Some men, in high standing in the Church, have circulated letters which were never printed; others have had their letters printed and circulated. There seems to have been a system of letter writing about the country calculated to create distrust. In the days of President Edwards, substantially the same course was pursued, in view of which he says, in his work on Revivals:
"Great care should be taken that the press should be improved to no purpose contrary to the interest of this work. We read that when God fought against Sisera, for the deliverance of His oppressed Church, they that handled the pen of the writer came to the help of the Lord (Judges 5:14). Whatever class of men in Israel they were that are intended, yet as the words were indicted by a Spirit that had a perfect view of all events to the end of the world, it is not unlikely that they have respect to authors, those that should fight against the kingdom of Satan with their pens.
Those, therefore, that publish pamphlets to the disadvantage of this work, and tending either directly or indirectly to bring it under suspicion, and to discourage or hinder it, would do well thoroughly to consider whether this be not indeed the work of God; and whether, if it be, it is not likely that God will go forth as fire, to consume all that stand in His way, and so burn up those pamphlets; and whether there be not danger that the fire that is kindled in them will scorch the authors."
All these must repent. God never will forgive them, nor will they ever enjoy His blessing on their preaching, or be honored to labor in revivals, till they repent. This duty President Edwards pressed upon ministers in his day, in the most forcible terms. There doubtless have been now, as there were then, faults on both sides. And there must be deep repentance, and mutual confessions of faults on both sides.
"There must be a great deal done at confessing of faults on both sides: for undoubtedly many and great are the faults that have been committed, in the jangling and confusions, and mixtures of light and darkness, that have been of late. There is hardly any duty more contrary to our corrupt dispositions and mortifying to the pride of man; but it must be done.
Repentance of faults is, in a peculiar manner, a proper duty, when the kingdom of heaven is at hand, or when we especially expect or desire that it should come; as appears by John the Baptist's preaching. And if God does now loudly call upon us to repent, then He also calls upon us to make proper manifestations of our repentance.
"I am persuaded that those who have openly opposed this work, or have from time to time spoken lightly of it, cannot be excused in the sight of God, without openly confessing their fault therein: especially if they be ministers. If they have in any way, either directly or indirectly, opposed the work, or have so behaved in their public performances or private conversation as to prejudice the minds of their people against the work; if, hereafter, they shall be convinced of the goodness and divinity of what they have opposed, they ought by no means to palliate the matter, and excuse themselves, and pretend that they always thought so, and that it was only such and such imprudences that they objected against; but they ought openly to declare their conviction, and condemn themselves for what they have done; for it is Christ that they have spoken against, in speaking lightly of, and prejudicing others against, this work. And though they have done it ignorantly and in unbelief, yet when they find out Who it is that they have opposed, undoubtedly God will hold them bound publicly to confess it.
"And on the other hand, if those who have been zealous to promote the work have, in any of the aforementioned instances, openly gone much out of the way, and done that which was contrary to Christian rules, whereby they have openly injured others or greatly violated good order, and so done that which has wounded religion, they must publicly confess it, and humble themselves, as they would gather out the stones, and prepare the way of God's people. They who have laid great stumbling blocks in others' way by their open transgression, are bound to remove them by their open repentance."
There are ministers in our day, I say it not in unkindness, but in faithfulness, and I would that I had them all here before me while I say it, who seem to have been engaged much of their time, for years, in doing little else than acting and talking and writing in such a way as to create suspicion in regard to revivals. And I cannot doubt that their Churches would, as President Edwards says, be better with no minister at all, unless they will repent and regain God's blessing.
2. Those Churches which have opposed revivals must humble themselves and repent. Churches which have stood aloof, or hindered the work, must repent of their sin, or God will not go with them. Look at those Churches which have been throwing suspicion upon revivals. Do they enjoy revivals? Does the Holy Ghost descend upon them, to enlarge them and build them up? There is one of the Churches in this city, where the Session has been publishing in the newspapers what it calls its "Act and Testimony," calculated to excite an unreasonable and groundless suspicion against many ministers who are laboring successfully to promote revivals.
And what is the state of that Church? Have they had a revival? Why, it appears from the official report, that it has dwindled in one year twenty-seven per cent. And all such Churches will continue to dwindle, in spite of everything else that can be done, unless they repent and have a revival. They may pretend to be mighty pious, and jealous for the honor of God, but God will not believe they are sincere. And He will manifest His displeasure by not pouring out His Spirit. If I had a voice loud enough, I should like to make all those Churches and ministers that have slandered revivals, hear me, when I say that I believe they have helped to bring the pall of death over the Church, and that the curse of God is on them already, and will remain unless they repent. God has already sent leanness into their souls, and many of them know it.
3. Those who have been engaged in promoting the work must also repent.
Whenever a wrong spirit has been manifested, or they have got irritated and provoked at the opposition, and lost their temper, or mistaken Christian faithfulness for hard words and a wrong spirit, they must repent.
Those who are opposed can never stop a revival alone, unless those who promote it get wrong. So we must repent if we have said things that were censorious, or proud, or arrogant, or severe. Such a time as this is no time to stand justifying ourselves. Our first call is to repent. Let each one repent of his own sins, and not fall out about who is most to blame.
4. The Church must take right ground in regard to politics. Do not suppose that I am going to preach a political sermon, or that I wish to have you join in getting up a Christian party in politics. No, you must not believe that. But the time has come that Christians must vote for honest men, and take consistent ground in politics. They must let the world see that the Church will uphold no man in office who is known to be a knave, or an adulterer, or a Sabbath breaker, or a gambler, or a drunkard. Such is the spread of intelligence and the facility of communication in our country, that every man can know for whom he gives his vote. And if he will give his vote only for honest men, the country will be obliged to have upright rulers. All parties will be compelled to put up honest men as candidates.
Christians have been exceedingly guilty in this matter. But the time has come when they must act differently. As on the subjects of Slavery and Temperance, so on this subject the Church must act rightly or the country will be ruined. God cannot sustain this free and blessed country, which we love and pray for, unless the Church will take right ground. Politics are a part of a religion in such a country as this, and Christians must do their duty to the country as a part of their duty to God. It seems sometimes as if the foundations of the nation are becoming rotten, and Christians seem to act as if they think God does not see what they do in politics. But I tell you He does see it, and He will bless or curse this nation, according to the course they take.
5. The Churches must take right ground on the subject of Slavery. Here the question arises, What is right ground?
(a) I will state some of the things that should be avoided.
(1) First of all, a bad spirit should be avoided. Nothing is more calculated to injure religion, and to injure the slaves themselves, than for Christians to get into an angry controversy on the subject. It is a subject upon which there needs to be no angry controversy among Christians. Slave holding professors, like rum selling professors, may endeavor to justify themselves, and may be angry with those who press their consciences, and call upon them to give up their sins. Those proud professors of religion, who think a man to blame, or think it is a shame to him, to have a black skin, may allow their prejudices so far to prevail, as to shut their ears and be disposed to quarrel with those who urge the subject upon them. But I repeat it, the subject of Slavery is a subject upon which Christians, praying men, need not and must not differ.
(2) Another thing to be avoided is an attempt to take neutral ground on this subject. Christians can no more take neutral ground on this subject, since it has come up for discussion, than they can take neutral ground on the subject of the sanctification of the Sabbath. It is a great national sin. It is a sin of the Church. The Churches, by their silence, and by permitting shareholders to belong to their communion, have been consenting to it. All denominations have been more or less guilty, although the Quakers have of late years washed their hands of it. It is in vain for the Churches to pretend it is merely a political sin. I repeat, it is the sin of the Church, to which all denominations have consented. They have virtually declared that it is lawful. The very fact of suffering slave-holders quietly to remain in good standing in their Churches, is the strongest and most public expression of their view that it is not sin. For the Church, therefore, to pretend to take neutral ground on the subject, is perfectly absurd. The fact is that she is not on neutral ground at all. While she tolerates slave-holders in her communion SHE JUSTIFIES THE PRACTICE:. And as well might an enemy of God pretend that he was neither a saint nor a sinner, that he was going to take neutral ground, and pray, "good Lord and good devil," because he did not know which side would be the most popular!
(3) Great care should be taken to avoid a censorious spirit on either side. It is a subject on which there has been, and probably will be for some time to come, a difference of opinion among Christians, as to the best method of disposing of the question: and it ought to be treated with great forbearance.
(b) I will mention several things that, in my judgment, the Church is imperatively called upon to do, on this subject:
(1) Christians, of all denominations, should lay aside prejudice, and inform themselves on this subject, without any delay. Vast multitudes of professors of religion have indulged prejudice to such a degree, as to be unwilling to read and hear, and come to a right understanding of the subject. But Christians cannot pray in this state of mind. I defy any one to possess the spirit of prayer while he is too prejudiced to examine this or any other question of duty. If the light did not shine, Christians might remain in the dark upon this point, and still possess the spirit of prayer.
But if they refuse to come to the light, they cannot pray. Where ministers, individual Christians, or whole Churches, resist truth upon this point, when it is so extensively diffused and before the public mind, I do not believe they will or can enjoy a revival of religion.
(2) Writings, containing temperate and judicious discussions on this subject, and such developments of facts as are before the public, should be quietly and extensively circulated, and should be carefully and prayerfully examined by the whole Church. I do not mean by this, that the attention of the Church should be so absorbed by this as to neglect the main question of saving souls in the midst of them; I do not mean that such premature movements on this subject should be made, as to astound the Christian community, and involve them in a broil; but that praying men should act judiciously, and that, as soon as sufficient information can be diffused through the community, the Churches should meekly, but firmly, take decided ground on the subject, and express, before the whole nation and the world, their abhorrence of this sin.
The anti Masonic excitement which prevailed a few years since made such desolations in the Churches, and produced so much alienation of feeling and ill-will among ministers and people, and the introduction of this subject has been attended with such commotions, that many good ministers, who are themselves entirely opposed to slavery, dread to introduce the subject, through fear that their people have not religion enough to consider it calmly, and decide upon it in the spirit of the Gospel. I know there is danger of this. But still, the subject must be presented to the Churches. Let there be no mistake here. William Morgan's expose of freemasonry was published in 1826; the subsequent discussion continued until 1830. In the meantime the Churches had very generally borne testimony against freemasonry, and resolved that they could not have adhering masons in fellowship. As a consequence, the Masonic lodges generally disbanded. There was a general stampede of Christians from the lodges. This prepared the way, and in 1830 the greatest revival the world had then seen commenced in the center of the anti Masonic region, and spread over the whole field where the Church action had been taken.
Perhaps no Church in this country has had a more severe trial upon this subject, than this, which was a Church of young, and for the most part, inexperienced Christians. And many circumstances conspired, in my absence, to produce confusion and wrong feeling among them. But so far 70 as I am now acquainted with the state of feeling in this Church, I know of no ill-will among the members on this subject. There are doubtless those who feel upon this subject, in very different degrees: and yet I can honestly say that I am not aware of the least difference in sentiment among them. We have from the beginning taken the same ground on the subject of Slavery that we have on Temperance. We have excluded slave-holders, and all concerned in the traffic, from our communion. By some, out of this Church, this course has been censured as unwarrantable and uncharitable, and I would by no means make my own judgment, or the example of this Church, a rule for the government of other ministers and Churches. Still, I conscientiously believe that the time is not far distant, when the Churches will be united in this expression of abhorrence against this sin. If I do not baptize slavery by some soft and Christian name, if I call it SIN, both consistency and conscience conduct to the inevitable conclusion, that while this sin is persevered in, its perpetrators cannot be fit subjects for Christian communion and fellowship.
To this it is objected that there are many ministers in the Presbyterian Church who are shareholders. And it is said to be very inconsistent that we should refuse to suffer slave-holders to come to our Communion, and yet belong to the same Church with them, sit with them in ecclesiastical bodies, and acknowledge them as ministers. To this I answer, that I have not the power to deal with those ministers, and certainly I am not to withdraw from the Church because some of its ministers or members are slave-holders. My duty is to belong to the Church, even if the devil should belong to it. When I have authority, I exclude slave-holders from the Communion, and I always will as long as I live. But where I have no authority, if the table of Christ be spread, I will sit down to it in obedience to His commandment, whoever else may sit down or stay away.
I do not mean, by any means, to denounce all those slave holding ministers and professors as hypocrites, and to say that they are not Christians. But this I say, that while they continue in this attitude, the cause of Christ and of humanity demands that they should not be recognized as such, unless we mean to be partakers of other men's sins. It is no more inconsistent to exclude shareholders because they belong to the Presbyterian Church, than it is to exclude persons who drink or sell ardent spirit. For there are many rum sellers belonging to the Presbyterian Church.
I believe the time has come - although I am no prophet, I believe it will be found to have come, that the revival in the United States will prevail no further and no faster than the Church takes right ground upon this subject.
The Church is God's witness. The fact is, that Slavery is, pre-eminently, the sin of the Church. It is the very fact that ministers and professors of religion of different denominations hold slaves, which sanctifies the whole abomination, in the eyes of ungodly men. Who does not know that on the subject of Temperance, every drunkard in the land will skulk behind some rumbling deacon, or wine drinking minister? It is the most common objection and refuge of the intemperate, and of moderate drinkers, that it is practiced by professors of religion. It is this that creates the imperious necessity for excluding traffickers in ardent spirit, and rum drinkers, from the Communion. Let the Churches of all denominations speak out on the subject of Temperance; let them close their doors against all who have anything to do with the death dealing abomination, and the cause of Temperance is triumphant. A few years would annihilate the traffic. Just so with Slavery.
It is the Church that mainly supports this sin. Her united testimony upon the subject would settle the question. Let Christians of all denominations meekly, but firmly, come forth, and pronounce their verdict; let them wash their hands of this thing; let them give forth and write on the head and front of this great abomination, "SIN," and in three years, a public sentiment would be formed that would carry all before it, and there would not be a shackled slave, nor a bristling, cruel slave driver, in this land.
Still it may be said, that in many Churches, this subject cannot be introduced without creating confusion and ill-will. This may be. It has been so on the subject of Temperance, and upon the subject of revivals too. In some Churches, neither Temperance nor revivals can be introduced without producing dissension. Sabbath Schools, and missionary operations, and everything of the kind, have been opposed, and have produced dissensions in many Churches. But is this a sufficient reason for excluding these subjects? And where Churches have excluded these subjects for fear of contention, have they been blessed with revivals?
Everybody knows that they have not. But where Churches have taken firm ground on these subjects, although individuals, and sometimes numbers, have opposed, still they have been blessed with revivals. Where any of these subjects are carefully and prayerfully introduced; where they are brought forward with a right spirit, and the true relative importance is attached to each of them; if in such cases, there are those who will make disturbance and resist, let the blame fall where it ought. There are some individuals, who are themselves disposed to quarrel with this subject, who are always ready to exclaim: "Do not introduce these things into the Church, they will create opposition." And if the minister and praying people feel it their duty to bring the matter forward, they will themselves create a disturbance and then say: "There, I told you so; now see what your introducing this subject has done; it will tear the Church all to pieces." And while they are themselves doing all they can to create a division, they are charging the division upon the subject, and not upon themselves. There are some such people in many of our Churches. And neither Sabbath Schools, nor Missions, nor Antislavery, nor anything else that honors God or benefits the souls of men, will be carried on in the Churches, without these careful souls being offended by it.
There might infinitely better be no Church in the world, than that she should attempt to remain neutral, or give a false testimony on a subject of such importance as Slavery, especially since the subject has come up, and it is impossible, from the nature of the case, that her testimony should not be in the scale, on the one side or the other.
Do you ask: "What shall be done? Shall we make it the all absorbing topic of conversation, and divert attention from the all-important subject of the salvation of souls in the midst of us?" I answer: "No." Let a Church express its opinion upon the subject, and be at peace. So far as I know, we are entirely at peace upon this subject. We have expressed our opinion; we have closed our Communion against slave-holders, and are attending to other things. I am not aware of the least unhealthy excitement among us on this subject. And where it has become an absorbing topic of conversation in places, in most instances, I believe, it has been owing to the pertinacious and unreasonable opposition of a few individuals against even granting the subject a hearing.
6. If the Church wishes to promote revivals, she must sanctify the Sabbath. There is a vast deal of Sabbath breaking in the land. Merchants break it, travelers break it, the Government breaks it. A few years ago an attempt was made in the western part of this State, to establish and sustain a Sabbath keeping line of boats and coaches. But it was found that the Church would not sustain the enterprise. Many professors of religion would not travel in these coaches, and would not have their goods forwarded in canal boats that would be detained from traveling on the Sabbath. At one time, Christians were much engaged in petitioning Congress to suspend the Sabbath mails, and now they seem to be ashamed of it. But one thing is most certain, that unless something is done, and done speedily, and done effectually, to promote the sanctification of the Sabbath by the Church, the Sabbath will go by the board, and we shall not only have our mails running on the Sabbath, and post offices open, but, by and by, our courts of justice, and halls of legislation, will be kept open on the Sabbath. And what can the Church do, what will this nation do, without any Sabbath?
7. The Church must take right ground on all the subjects of practical morality which come up for discussion from time to time.
There are those in the Churches who are standing aloof from the subject of moral reform, and who are afraid to have anything said in the pulpit against lewdness. On this subject, the Church need not expect to be permitted to take neutral ground. In the providence of God, it is up for discussion. The evils have been exhibited; the call has been made for reform. And what is to reform mankind but the truth? And who shall present the truth if not the Church and the ministry? Away with the idea, that Christians can remain neutral, and yet enjoy the approbation and blessing of God!
In all such cases, the minister who holds his peace is counted among those on the other side. Everybody knows that it is so in a revival. It is not necessary for a person to rail out against the work. If he will only keep still and take neutral ground, the enemies of the revival will all consider him as on their side. So on the subject of Temperance. It is not needful that a person should rail at the Cold water Society, in order to be on the best terms with drunkards and moderate drinkers. Only let him plead for the moderate use of wine, only let him continue to drink it as a luxury, and all the drunkards account him on their side. On all these subjects, when they come up, the Churches and ministers must take the right ground, and take it openly, and stand to the cause, and carry it through, if they expect to enjoy the blessing of God in revivals. They must cast out from their communions such members as, in contempt of the light that is shed upon them, continue to drink or traffic in ardent spirit.
8. There must be more done for all the great objects of Christian benevolence. There must be much greater effort for the cause of Missions, and Education, and the Bible, and all other branches of religious enterprise, or the Church will displease God. Look at it. Think of the mercies we have received, of the wealth, numbers, and prosperity of the Church. Have we rendered unto God according to the benefits we have received, so as to show that the Church is bountiful, and willing to give money, and to work for God? No. Far from it. Have we multiplied our means and enlarged our plans, in proportion as the Church has increased? Is God satisfied with what has been done, or has He reason to be? After such a revival as has been enjoyed by the Churches of America for the last ten years, we ought to have done ten times as much as we have for Missions, Bibles, Education, Tracts, Churches, and for all causes that are designed to promote religion and save souls. If the Churches do not wake up on this subject, and lay themselves out on a larger scale, they may expect that the revival in the United States will cease.
9. If Christians expect revivals to spread and prevail, till the world is converted, they must give up writing letters and publishing pieces calculated to excite suspicion and jealousy in regard to revivals, and must take hold of the work themselves. If the whole Church, as a body, had gone to work ten years ago, and continued it as a few individuals, whom I could name, have done, there might not now have been an impenitent sinner in the land. The millennium would have fully come into the United States before this day. Instead of standing still, or writing letters, let ministers who think we are going wrong, just buckle on the harness and go forward, and show us a more excellent way. Let them teach us by their example how to do better. I do not deny that some may have made mistakes and committed errors. I do not deny that many things which are wrong have been done in revivals. But is that the way to correct them, brethren? So did not Paul. He corrected his brethren by telling them kindly that he would show them a more excellent way. Let our brethren take hold and go forward. Let us hear the cry from all their pulpits: "To the work!"
Let them lead on where the Lord will go with them and make bare His arm, and I, for one, will follow. Only let them GO ON, and let us have the people converted to God, and let all minor questions cease.
If not, and if revivals do cease in this land, the ministers and Churches will be guilty of all the blood of all the souls that shall go to hell in consequence of it. There is no need that the work should cease. If the Church will do all her duty, the millennium may come in this country in three years. But if it is to be always so, that in the time of revival, two thirds of the Church will hang back and do nothing but find fault, the curse of God will be on this nation, and that before long.
1. It is high time there should be great searchings of heart among Christians and ministers. Brethren, this is no time to resist the truth, or to cavil and find fault because the truth is spoken out plainly. It is no time to recriminate or to strive, but we must search our own hearts, and humble ourselves before God.
2. We must repent and forsake our sins, and amend our ways and our doings, or the revival will cease. Our ecclesiastical difficulties MUST CEASE, and all minor differences must be laid aside and given up, to unite in promoting the great interests of religion. If not, revivals will cease from among us, and the blood of lost millions will be found on our skirts.
3. If the Church would do all her duty, she would soon complete the triumph of religion in the world. But if a system of insinuation and denunciation is to be kept up, not only will revivals cease, but the blood of millions who will go to hell before the Church will get over the shock, will be found on the skirts of the men who have got up and carried on this dreadful contention.
4. Those who have circulated slanderous reports in regard to revivals, must repent. A great deal has been said about heresy, and about some men's denying the Spirit's influence, which is wholly groundless, and has been made up out of nothing. And those who have made up the reports, and those who have circulated them against their brethren, must repent and pray to God for His forgiveness.
5. We see the constant tendency there is in Christians to declension and backsliding. This is true in all converts of all revivals. Look at the revival in President Edwards' day. The work went on till thirty thousand books and pamphlets, on one side and the other, that they carried all by the board, and the revival ceased. Those who had opposed the work grew obstinate and violent, and those who promoted it lost their meekness, and got ill-tempered, and were then driven into the very evils that had been falsely charged upon them.
And now, what shall we do? This great and glorious work of God seems to be indicating a decline. The revival is not dead - blessed be God for that - it is not dead! Now, we hear from all parts of the land that Christians are reading on the subject, and inquiring about the revival. In some places there are now powerful revivals. And what shall we do, to lift up the standard, to move this entire nation and turn all this great people to the Lord? We must DO RIGHT. We must all have a better spirit, we must get down in the dust, we must act unitedly, we must take hold of this great work with all our hearts, and then God will bless us, and the work will go on.
What is the condition of this nation? No doubt God is holding the rod of WAR over the heads of this nation. He is waiting, before He lets loose His judgments, to see whether the Church will do right. The nation IS under His displeasure, because the Church has acted in such a manner with respect to revivals. And now suppose war should come, where would be our revivals? How quickly would war swallow up the revival spirit. The spirit of war is anything but the spirit of revival Who will attend to the claims of religion when the public mind is engrossed by the all absorbing topic of war. See now how this nation is, all at once, brought upon the brink of war. God brandishes His blazing sword over our heads. Will the Church repent? It is THE CHURCH that God chiefly has in view. How shall we avoid the curse of war? Only by a reformation in the Church. It is in vain to look to politicians to avert war. Perhaps they would generally be in favor of war. Very likely the things they would do to avert it would run us right into it. If the Church will not feel, will not awaken, will not act, where shall we look for help? If the Church absolutely will not move, will not tremble in view of the just judgments of God hanging over our heads, we are certainly nigh unto cursing, as a nation.
6. Whatever is done must be done quickly. The scales are on a poise. If we do not go forward, we must go back. Things cannot remain as they are. If we do not have a more powerful revival than we have had, very soon we shall have none at all. We have had such a great revival that now small revivals do not interest the public mind. You must act as individuals. Do your own duty.
7. It is common, when things get all wrong in the Church, for each individual to find fault both with the Church, and with his brethren, and to overlook his own share of the blame. But, as individual members of the Church of Christ, let each one act rightly, and get down in the dust, and never speak proudly, or censoriously. GO FORWARD. Who would leave such a work, and go down into the plain of Ono? Let us mind our work, and leave the issue with God. 71
THE NECESSITY AND EFFECT OF UNION
Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. - Matthew 18:19.
I have already used this text in preaching upon the subject of prayer meetings. At present I design to enter more into the spirit and meaning of the words. The evident design of our Lord, in this text, was to teach the importance and influence of union in prayer and effort to promote religion.
He states the strongest possible case, by taking the number "two," as the least number between whom there can be an agreement, and says that "where two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven." It is the fact of their agreement upon which He lays the stress; and mentioning the number "two" appears to have been designed merely to afford encouragement to the smallest number between whom there can be an agreement. But what are we to understand by being "agreed as touching"
the things we shall ask? I will answer this question under the two following heads:
I. We are to be agreed in prayer.
II. We are to be agreed in everything that is essential to obtaining the blessing that we seek.
I. AGREEING IN PRAYER.
In order to come within the promise, we are to be agreed in prayer.
1. We should agree in our desires for the object. It is necessary to have desires for the object, and to be agreed in those desires. Very often individuals pray in words for the same thing, when they are by no means agreed in desiring that thing. Nay, perhaps some of them, in their hearts, desire the very opposite. People are called on to pray for an object, and they all pray for it in words, but God knows they often do not desire it; and perhaps He sees that the hearts of some are, all the while, resisting the prayer.
2. We must agree in the motive from which we desire the object. It is not enough that our desires for an object should be the same, but the reason why must be the same. An individual may desire a revival, for the glory of God and the salvation of sinners. Another member of the Church may also desire a revival, but from very different motives. Some, perhaps, desire a revival in order to have the congregation built up and strengthened, so as to make it more easy for them to pay their expenses in supporting the Gospel. Another desires a revival for the sake of having the Church increased so as to be more numerous and more respectable. Others desire a revival because they have been opposed or evil spoken of, and they wish to have it known that whatever may be thought or said, God blesses them.
Sometimes people desire a revival from mere natural affection, so as to have their friends converted and saved. If they mean to be so united in prayer as to obtain a blessing, they must not only desire the blessing, and be agreed in desiring it, but they must also agree in desiring it for the same reasons.
3. We must be agreed in desiring it for good reasons. These desires must not only be united, and from the same motives, but they must be from good motives. The supreme motive must be to honor and glorify God.
People may even desire a revival, and agree in desiring it, and agree in the motives, and yet if these motives are not good, God will not grant their desires. Thus, parents may be agreed in prayer for the conversion of their children, and may have the same feelings and the same motives, and yet if they have no higher motives than because they are their children, their prayers will not be granted. They are agreed in the reason, but it is not the right reason.
In like manner, any number of persons might be agreed in their desires and motives, but if their motives are selfish, their being agreed in them will only make them more offensive to God. "How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?" (Acts 5:9). I have seen a great deal of this, where Churches have been engaged in prayer for an object, and their motives were evidently selfish. Sometimes they are engaged in prayer for a revival, and you would think by their earnestness and union that they would certainly move God to grant the blessing, till you find out their reason. And what is it? Why, they see their congregation is about to be broken up, unless something can be done. Or they see some other denomination gaining ground, and there is no way to counteract this but by having a revival in their Church. All their praying is therefore only an attempt to get the Almighty to help them out of their difficulty; it is purely selfish and therefore offensive to God. A woman, in Philadelphia, was invited to attend a women's prayer meeting at a certain place. She inquired what they met there for, and for what they were going to pray?
She was answered that they were going to pray for the outpouring of the Spirit upon the city. "Well," she said, "I shall not go; if they were going to pray for our congregation, I would go, but I am not going there to pray for other Churches!" Oh, what a spirit!
I have had a multitude of letters and requests that I would visit such-and-such places, and endeavor to promote a revival, and many reasons have been urged why I should go; but when I came to weigh their reasons, I have sometimes found every one of them to be selfish. And God would look upon every one with abhorrence.
In prayer meetings, too, how often do we hear people offer such reasons why they desire certain blessings, as are not right in the sight of God; reasons which, if they are the true ones, would render their prayers not acceptable to God, because their motive was not right.
There are many things said in favor of the cause of Foreign Missions, which are of this character, appealing to wrong motives. How often are we told of six hundred millions of heathens, who are in danger of going to hell, and how little is said of the guilt of six hundred millions engaged as rebels against God, or of the dishonor and contempt poured upon God our Maker by such a world of outlaws. Now, I know that God refers to those motives which appeal to our mere natural sympathies, and compassion, and uses them, but always in subordination to His glory. If these lower motives be placed foremost, it must always produce a defective piety, and a great deal that is false. Until the Church will look at the dishonor done to God, little will be done. It is this which must be made to stand out before the world, it is this which must be deeply felt by the Church, it is this which must be fully exhibited to sinners, before the world can ever be converted.
Parents never agree in praying for the conversion of their children in such a way as to have their prayers answered, until they feel that their children are rebels. Parents often pray very earnestly for their children, because they wish God to save them, and they almost think hardly of God if He does not save their children. But if they would have their prayers prevail, they must come to take God's part against their children, even though for their perverseness and incorrigible wickedness He should be obliged to send them to hell. I knew a woman who was very anxious for the salvation of her son, and she used to pray for him with agony, but still he remained impenitent, until at length she became convinced that her prayers and agonies had been nothing but the fond yearnings of parental feeling, and were not dictated at all by a just view of her son's character as a willful and wicked rebel against God. And there was never any impression made on his mind until she was made to take strong ground against him as a rebel, and to look on him as deserving to be sent to hell. And then he was converted. The reason was, she never before was influenced by the right motive in prayer - desiring his salvation with a supreme regard to the glory of God.
4. If we would be so united as to prevail in prayer, we must agree in faith.
That is, we must concur in expecting the blessing prayed for. We must understand the reason why it is to be expected, we must see the evidence on which faith ought to rest, and must absolutely believe that the blessing will come, or we do not bring ourselves within the promise. Faith is always understood as an indispensable condition of prevailing prayer. If it is not expressed in any particular case, it is always implied, for no prayer can be effectual but that which is offered in faith. And in order that united prayer may prevail, there must be united faith.
5. So, again, we must be agreed as to the time when we desire the blessing to come. If two or more agree in desiring a particular blessing, and one of them desires to have it come now, while others are not quite ready to have it yet, it is plain they are not agreed. They are not united in regard to one essential point. If the blessing is to come in answer to their united prayer, it must come as they prayed for it. And if it comes, it must come at some time. But if they disagree as to the time when they shall have it, plainly it can never come in answer to their prayer.
Suppose a Church should undertake to pray for a revival, and should all be agreed in desiring a revival, but not as to the time when it shall be.
Suppose some wish to have the revival come now, and are all prepared, with their hearts waiting for the Spirit of God to come down, and are willing to give time and attention and labor to it NOW. But others are not quite ready, they have something else to attend to just at present, some worldly object which they want to accomplish, some piece of business in hand, wanting just to finish this thing, and then they would have the revival come. They cannot possibly find time to attend to it now; they are not prepared to humble themselves, to search their hearts, and break up their fallow ground, and put themselves in a posture to receive the blessing. Is it not plain that there is no real union, for they are not agreed in that which is essential? While some are praying that the revival may come now, others are praying, with equal earnestness, that it may not.
Suppose the question were now put to this Church, whether you are agreed in praying for a revival of religion here? Do you all desire a revival, and would you all like to have it now? Would you be heartily agreed now to break down in the dust, and open your hearts to the Holy Ghost, if He should come tonight? I do not ask what you would say, if I should propose the question. Perhaps if I should put it now, you would all rise up and vote that you were agreed in desiring a revival, and agreed to have it now. You know how you ought to feel, and what you ought to say, and you know you ought to be ready for a revival now. But, I ask: "Would GOD see to it to be so in your hearts that you are agreed on this point?
Have any two of you agreed on this point, and prayed accordingly? If not, when will you be agreed to pray for a revival? And if this Church cannot be agreed among themselves, how can you expect a revival? It is of no use for you to stand up here and say you are agreed, when God reads the heart, and sees that you are not agreed. Here is the promise: 'Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven.' Now this is either true or false. Which ground will you take? If it is true, then it is true that you are not agreed, and never have been, except in those cases where you have had a revival."
But we must agree, not only on a time, but it must be the present time, or we are not agreed in everything essential to the work. Unless we agree to have a revival now, we shall not now use the means, and until the means are used it cannot come. It is plain, then, that we must be agreed on the present time; that is, we are not agreed, in the sense of the text, until we are agreed that now we will have the blessing, and act accordingly. To agree upon a future time is of no use, for when that future time comes we must then be agreed upon that present time, and use means accordingly; so that you see you are never properly agreed, until you agree that now is the time.
II. AGREEMENT IN ESSENTIAL THINGS.
You see the language of the text: "If two of you shall agree as touching anything that they shall ask." Many people seem to read it as if it referred merely to an agreement in asking, and they understand it to promise, that whenever two are agreed in asking for any blessing, it shall be given. But Christ says there must be an agreement "as touching" the thing prayed for.
That is, the agreement or union must comprise everything that is essential to the endowment and reception of the blessing.
1. If Christians would enjoy the benefits of this promise in praying for a revival, they must be agreed in believing revivals of religion to be realities.
There are many individuals, even in the Church, who do not in their hearts believe that the revivals which take place are the work of God. Some of them may pray in words for an outpouring of the Spirit and a revival of religion, while in their hearts they doubt whether there are any such things known in modern times. In united prayer there must be no hypocrisy.
2. They must agree in feeling the necessity of revivals. There are some who believe in the reality of revivals, as a work of God, while at the same time, they are unsettled as to the necessity of having them in order to the success of the Gospel. They think there is a real work of God in revivals, but, after all, perhaps it is quite as well to have sinners converted and brought into the Church in a more quiet and gradual way, and without so much excitement. Whenever revivals are abroad in the land, and prevail, and are popular, they may appear in favor of them, and may put up their cold prayers for a revival, while at the same time they would be sorry, on the whole, to have a revival come among them. They think it is so much safer and better to indoctrinate the people, and spread the matter before them in a calm way, and so bring them in gradually, and not run into the danger of having "animal feeling" or "wild fire" in their congregations!
3. They must be agreed in regard to the importance of revivals. Men are not blessed with revivals, in answer to prayers that are not half in earnest.
They must feel the infinite importance of a revival, before they will pray so as to prevail. Blessings of this kind are not granted but in answer to such prayers as arise from a sense of their importance. As I have shown before, on the subject of prevailing prayer, it is when men desire the blessing with UNUTTERABLE AGONY, that they offer such prayer as will infallibly prevail with God. Those who feel less as to the importance of a revival may pray for it in words, but they will never have the blessing.
But when a Church has been united in prayer, and really felt the importance of a revival, it has never failed of having one. I do not believe a case can be found, of such a Church being turned empty away. Such an agreement, when sincere, will secure an agreement also on all other subjects that are indispensable.
4. They must be agreed also, in having correct Scriptural views about several things connected with revivals.
(a) The necessity of Divine agency to produce a revival. It is not enough that they all hold this in theory, and pray for it in words. They must fully understand and deeply feel this necessity; they must realize their entire dependence on the Spirit of God, or the whole will fail.
(b) Why Divine agency is necessary. There must be an agreement on correct principles in regard to the reason that Divine agency is so indispensable. If they get wrong ideas on this point they will be hindered.
If Christians get the idea that this necessity of Divine influence lies in the inability of sinners, or if they feel as if God were under obligation to give the Holy Spirit, in order to make sinners able to obey the Gospel, they insult God, and their prayers will not avail. For in that case they must feel that it is a mere matter of common justice for God to pour out His Spirit, before He can justly require Christians to work, or sinners to repent.
Suppose a Church gets the idea that sinners are poor unfortunate creatures, who come into the world with such a nature that they cannot help sinning, and that sinners are just as unable to repent and believe the Gospel as they are to fly to the moon, how can it be felt that the sinner is a rebel against God, and that he deserves to be sent to hell? How can they feel that the sinner is to blame? And how can they take God's part when they pray? If they do not take God's part against the sinner, they cannot expect God will regard their prayers, for they do not pray with right motives. No doubt one great reason why so many prayers are not answered, is, that those who pray do in fact take the sinner's part against God. They pray as if the sinner were a poor unfortunate being, to be pitied, rather than as if he were a guilty wretch, to be blamed. And the reason is, that they do not believe sinners are able to obey God. If a person does not believe that sinners are able to obey their Maker, and really believes that the Spirit's influences are necessary to make them able, it is impossible, with these views, to offer acceptable and prevailing prayer for the sinner; and it is not wonderful that persons with these views should not prevail with God, and should doubt about the efficacy of the prayer of faith.
How often do you hear people pray for sinners in this style: "O Lord, help this poor soul to do what he is required to do; O Lord, enable him to do so-and-so." Now this language implies that they take the sinner's part.
and not God's. If it were understood by those who use it, as it is sometimes explained, and if people meant by it what they ought to mean when they plead for sinners, I would not find so much fault with it. The truth is, that when people use this language, they often mean just what the language itself would be naturally, at first sight, understood to mean, which is just as if they should pray: "Lord, Thou command these poor sinners to repent, when, O Lord, Thou knowest they cannot repent, unless Thou givest them Thy Spirit to enable them to do so, though Thou hast declared that Thou wilt send them to hell if they do not, whether they ever receive Thy Spirit or not; and now, Lord, this seems very hard, and we pray Thee to have pity upon these poor creatures, and do not deal so hardly with them, for Christ's sake."
Who does not see that such a prayer, or a prayer which means this, in whatever language it may be couched, is an insult to God, charging Him with infinite injustice, if He should continue to exact from sinners a duty which they are unable to perform without that aid which He will not grant! People may pray in this way till the Day of Judgment, and never obtain a blessing, because they take the sinner's part against God. They cannot pray successfully, until they understand that the sinner is a rebel, and obstinate in his rebellion - so obstinate, that he never will, without the Holy Spirit, do what he might, as well as not, instantly do, and that this obstinacy is the reason, and the only reason, why he needs the influence of the Holy Spirit for his conversion. The only ground on which the sinner needs Divine agency is, to overcome his obstinacy, and make him willing to do what he can do, and what God justly requires him to do.
And Christians are never in an attitude in which God can hear their united prayers, unless they are agreed in so understanding their dependence on God, as to feel it in perfect consistency with the sinner's blame. If it is the other way, they are agreed in understanding it wrongly, and their prayers for Divine help to the unfortunate, instead of Divine favor to make a rebel submit, are wide of the mark, are an insult to God, and they never will obtain favor in heaven.
They must be agreed in understanding that revivals are not miracles, but that they are brought about by the use of means, like other events. No wonder revivals formerly came so seldom and continued so short a time, when people generally regarded them as miracles, or like a mere shower of rain, that will come on a place, continue a little while, and then blow over; that is, as something over which we have no control. For what can people do to get a shower of rain? Or how can they make it rain any longer than it does rain? It is necessary that those who pray should be agreed in understanding a revival as something to be brought about by means, or they never will be agreed in using them.
(d) They must be agreed in understanding that human agency is just as indispensable to a revival as Divine agency. Such a thing as a revival of religion, I venture to say, never did occur without Divine agency, and never did occur without human agency. How often do people say: "God can, if He pleases, carry on the work without means." But I have no faith in it, for there is no evidence for it. What is religion? Obedience to God's law. But the law cannot be obeyed unless it is known. And how can God make sinners obey but by making known His commandments? And how can He make them known but by revealing them Himself, or sending them to others - that is, by bringing THE TRUTH to bear on a person's mind till he obeys it? God never did, and never can, convert a sinner, except with the truth. What is conversion? Obeying the truth. He may Himself directly communicate it to the sinner; but then, the sinner's own agency is indispensable, for conversion consists in the right employment of the sinner's own agency. And ordinarily, He employs the agency of others also, in printing, writing, conversation, and preaching. God has put the Gospel treasure in earthen vessels. He has seen fit to employ men in preaching the Word; that is, He has seen that human agency is that which He can best employ in saving sinners. And if there ever was a case (of which we have no evidence), there is not one in a thousand, if one in a million, converted in any other way than through the truth, made known and urged by human instrumentality. And as Christians must be united in using those means, it is plainly necessary that they should be united in understanding the true reason why means are to be used, and the true principles on which they are to be governed and applied.
5. It is important that there should be union in regard to the measures essential to the promotion of a revival. Let individuals agree to do anything whatever, yet if they are not agreed in their measures, they will run into confusion, and counteract one another. Set them to sail a ship, and they never can get along without agreement. If they attempt to do business, as merchants, when they are not agreed in their measures, what will they do?
Why, they will only undo each other's work, and thwart the whole business of the concern. All this is preeminently true in regard to the work of promoting a revival. Otherwise, the members of the Church will counteract each other's influence, and they need not expect a revival.
(a) The Church must be agreed in regard to the meetings which are held, as to what meetings, and how many, and where and when they shall be held.
Some people always desire to multiply meetings in a revival, as if the more meetings they had, the more religion there would be. Others are always opposed to any new meetings in a revival. Some are always for having a protracted meeting; and others are never ready to hold a protracted meeting at all. Whatever difference there may be, it is essential that the Church should come to a good understanding on the subject, so that they can go on together in harmony, and labor with zeal and effect.
(b) They must be agreed as to the manner of conducting meetings. It is necessary that the Church should be united and cordial on this subject, if it is expected to offer united prayer with effect. Sometimes there are individuals who want to adopt every new thing they can hear of or imagine, while others are totally unwilling to have anything altered in regard to the management of the meetings, but would have everything done precisely in the way to which they are accustomed. They ought to be agreed in some way, either to have the meetings altered, or to keep them on in the old way. The best possible way is, for the Church to agree in this, that they will let the meetings go on and take their course, just as the Spirit of God shapes them, and not even attempt to make the two meetings just alike. The Church never will give the fullest effect to the truth, until there is agreement in this principle: That, in promoting a revival, they will accommodate their measures to circumstances, and not attempt to interrupt the natural course which pious feeling and sound judgment indicate, but cast themselves entirely upon the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, introducing any measure, at any time, that shall seem called for in the Providence of God, without laying any stress upon its being new or old.
6. They must be agreed in the manner of dealing with impenitent sinners.
It is a point immensely important that the Church should be agreed as to the treatment of sinners. Suppose that there is no agreement, so that one will tell a sinner one thing and another. What confusion! How can they agree in prayer, when it is plain that they are not agreed as to the things for which they shall pray? Go among such a people, and hear them pray for sinners; attend a prayer meeting and listen. Here is one man who prays that the sinners present may repent. Another prays that they may be convicted; and perhaps, if he be very much concerned, will go so far as to pray that they may be deeply convicted. Another prays that sinners may go home solemn and pensive, and silent, meditating on the truths they have heard. Another prays in such a manner that you can see he is afraid to have them converted now. Another prays very solemnly that they may not attempt to do anything in their own strength. And so on. How easy it is to see that the Church is not agreed as touching the things they ask for; hence they have no interest in the promise.
If you set such people to talk with sinners, they will be just as discordant, for it is plain that they are not agreed, and have no clear views in regard to what a sinner must do to be saved, or of what ought to be said to sinners in order to bring them to repent. The consequence is, that sinners who are awakened and anxious presently get confounded, and do not know what to do; and perhaps they give up in despair, or conclude that in reality there is nothing rational or consistent in religion. One will tell the sinner he must repent immediately. Another will give him a book (Doddridge's "Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul," perhaps), and tell him to read it. Another will tell him to pray and persevere, and then, in God's time, he will obtain the blessing. A revival can never go on for any length of time, amidst such difficulties. Even if it should begin, it must soon run out; unless, perhaps, the body of the Church will keep still and say nothing, letting others carry on the work. And even then the work will suffer materially for want of cooperation and support. A Church ought to be agreed. Christians ought to have a clear understanding of this subject, and all speak the same thing and give the same directions; then, the sinner will find no one to take his part, but will get no relief or comfort till he repents.
7. They must be agreed in removing the impediments to a revival. If a Church expects a revival, it must clear the stumbling blocks out of the way.
(a) In the exercise of discipline. If there are rotten members in the Church, they should be removed, and the Church should agree to cut them off. If they remain, they are such a reproach to religion as to hinder a revival.
Sometimes when an attempt is made to cast them out, this creates a division, and thus the work is stopped. Sometimes the offenders are persons of influence, or they have family friends who will take their part, and make a party, and thus create a bad spirit, and prevent a revival.
(b) In mutual confessions. Whenever wrong has been done to any, there should be a full confession. I do not mean a cold and forced acknowledgment, such as saying: "If I have done wrong, I am sorry for it;" but a hearty confession, going the full length of the wrong, and showing that it comes out of a broken heart.
Forgiveness of enemies. A great obstruction to revivals is often found in the fact that active and leading individuals harbor a revengeful and unforgiving spirit towards those who have injured them, which destroys their spirituality, makes them harsh and disagreeable in their manner, and prevents them from enjoying either communion with God in prayer, or the blessing of God to give them success in labor. But let the members of the Church be truly agreed, in confessing their faults, and in cherishing a tender, merciful, forgiving, Christ-like spirit toward any who, they think, have done them wrong, and then the Spirit will come down upon them not by measure.
8. They must be agreed in making all the necessary preparations for a revival. They should be agreed in having all necessary preparation made, and in bearing their part of the labor or expense involved. There should be an equality, a few should not be burdened while the rest do little or nothing, but every one should bear his proportion, according to his ability.
Then there will be neither envying nor jealousy, nor any of those mutual recriminations and altercations and disrespectful remarks about one another, which are so inconsistent with brotherly love, and put such a stumbling block in the way of sinners.
9. They must be agreed in doing heartily whatever is necessary to be done for the promotion of the revival. Sometimes a slight disagreement about a very little thing will be allowed to break in and destroy a revival. A minister told me that he once went to labor in a place as an evangelist, and the Spirit of God was evidently present, and sinners began to inquire, and things looked quite favorable, until some of the members of the Church began to agitate the inquiry: how they should pay the evangelist. They said: "If he stays among us any longer, he will expect us to give him something"; and they did not see how they could afford to do so. And they talked about it, until the minds of the brethren got distracted and divided, and the preacher went away. Look at it. There God stood in the door of that Church, with His hands full of mercies, but these parsimonious and wicked professors thought it would cost something to have a revival, and their expenses were about as much as they felt willing or able to bear; and so they let the preacher depart, and the work ceased.
He would not have left, at the time, whether they gave him anything or not; for what he should receive, or whether he should receive anything from them, was a question about which he felt no concern. But the Church, by its parsimonious spirit, got into such a state as to grieve the Spirit, and he saw that to stay longer with them would do no good. Oh, how will those professors feel when they meet sinners from that town in judgment, when it will all come out, that God was ready and waiting to grant them a blessing, but they allowed themselves to get agitated and divided by inquiring how much they should have to pay!
10. They must be agreed in laboring to carry on the work. It is not enough that they should agree to pray for a revival, but they should agree also in laboring to promote it. They should set themselves to it systematically, to visit and converse and pray with their neighbors; to look out for opportunities of doing good; to watch the effect of the preaching, and watch the signs of the times, that they may know when anything needs to be done, and do it. They should be agreed to labor: they should be agreed how to labor: they should be agreed to live accordingly.
11. They must agree in a determination to persevere. It will not answer for some members to begin to move and bluster about, and then as soon as the least thing happens that seems unfavorable, to get discouraged, and faint, and one-half of them give over. They should be all united, and agreed to persevere, and labor, and pray, and hold on, until the blessing comes. In a word, if Christians expect to unite in prayer and effort, so as to prevail with God, they must be agreed in speaking and doing the same things, in walking by the same rule, and maintaining the same principles, and in persevering till they obtain the blessing, so as not to hinder or thwart each other's efforts. All this is evidently implied in being agreed as touching the things for which they are praying.
1. We see why it is that so many of the children of professing parents are not converted.
It is because the parents have not been agreed as touching the things they should pray for in behalf of their children. Perhaps they never had any kind of agreement respecting them. Perhaps they were never agreed even as to what was the very best thing they could ask for them. Sometimes parents are not agreed in a anything, but their opinions clash, and they are perpetually disagreeing, and their children see it. Then it is no wonder that the children remain unconverted.
Or perhaps they may not be agreed as touching the salvation of their children. Are they sincere in desiring it? Do they agree to seek it, and agree from right motives? Do they agree in regard to the importance of it? Are they agreed how the children ought to be dealt with, so as to effect their conversion; what shall be said to them; how it shall be said; when; and by whom? Probably few cases will be found where children remain unconverted, but where inquiry would prove that the parents were never truly agreed as touching these things. In many cases, indeed, it is quite evident that they are not agreed.
Often there is such disagreement that we could not expect any good to result, or, indeed, anything but ruin to the children. The husband and wife often disagree entirely and fundamentally in regard to the manner of bringing up their children. Perhaps the wife is fond of dress, and display, and visiting; while the husband is plain and humble, and is grieved and distressed, and mourns and prays to see how his children are puffed up with vanity. Or it may be that the father is ambitious, and wants to have his daughters fashionably educated and make a display, and his sons become great men; so he will send his daughters to a fashionable school, where they may learn anything but their duty to God, and will be all the while pushing his sons forward, and goading their ambitions; while the mother grieves and weeps in secret to see her dear children hurried on to destruction, her influence counteracted, and her sons and daughters trained up to serve the God of this world, and to go to hell.
2. We see the hypocrisy of those who profess to be praying for a revival while they are doing nothing to promote it. There are many who appear to be very zealous in praying for a revival, while they are not doing anything at all to bring it about. What do they mean? Are they agreed as touching the things they ask for? Certainly not. They cannot be agreed in offering acceptable prayer for a revival until they are prepared to do what God requires them to do to promote it. What would you think of the farmer who should pray for a crop and neither plow nor sow? Would you think such prayers pious, or an insult to God?
3. We see why so many prayers that are offered in the Church are never answered. It is because those who offered them never were agreed as touching the things they asked for. Perhaps the minister never laid the subject before them, never explained what it is to be agreed, nor showed them its importance, nor set before them the great encouragement which the promise before us affords to Churches that will agree. Perhaps the members have never conferred together, to compare views, to see whether they understood the subject alike - whether they were agreed in regard to the motives, grounds, and importance of being united in prayer and labor for a revival. Suppose you were to go through the Churches and learn the precise views and feelings of the members on this subject. How many would you find who are agreed even in regard to the essential and indispensable things, concerning which it is necessary Christians should be agreed in order to unite in prevailing prayer? Perhaps no two could be found who are agreed, and if two were found whose views and desires are alike, it would probably be ascertained that they are unacquainted with each other, and, of course, neither act nor pray together.
4. We see why it is that the text has been generally understood to mean something different from what it says. People have first read it wrongly.
They have read as if it were: "If any two of you shall agree to ask anything, it shall be done." And as they have often agreed to ask for things, and the things were not done, they have said: "The literal meaning of the text cannot be true, for we have tried it and know it is not true. How many prayer meetings have we held, and how many petitions have we put up, in which we have perfectly agreed in asking for blessings, and yet they have not been granted." Now the fact is, that they have never yet understood what it is to be agreed as touching the things they are to ask for. I am sure this is no strained construction of the text, but is its true and obvious meaning, as a plain, pious reader would understand it, if he inquired seriously and earnestly the true import. They must be agreed not only in asking, but in everything else that is indispensable to the existence of the thing prayed for. Suppose two of you agree in desiring to go to London together. If you are not agreed in regard to the means, what route you shall take, and what ship you will go in, you will never get there together. Just so in praying for a revival: you must be agreed in regard to the means and circumstances, and everything essential to the existence and progress of a revival.
5. We may ordinarily expect a revival of religion to prevail and extend among those without the Church, just in proportion to the union of prayer and effort within. If there is a general union within the Church, the revival will be general. If the union continues so will the revival. If anything outside breaks in upon this perfect union in prayer and effort, it will limit the revival. How great and powerful would be the revival in a city, if all the Churches in the city were thus united in promoting it.
Here is another fact, which I have witnessed, worthy of notice. I have observed that a revival will prevail outside the Church, among persons in that class of society, amongst whom it prevails within the Church. If the women in the Church are most awake and prayerful. the work may ordinarily be expected to prevail mostly amongst women out of the Church, and more women will be converted than men. If the young people in the Church are most awake, then assuredly the work is most likely to prevail among the youth. If the heads of families and the principal men in the Church are awake, the revival is, I have observed, more likely to prevail among that class out of the Church. I have known a revival mostly confined to women, with few men converted, apparently because the men within the Church did not take active part. Again, I have repeatedly known the greatest number of converts to be among men, owing apparently to the fact that the men within the Church were the most active. When the revival does not reach a particular class of the impenitent, pains should be taken to arouse that portion of the Church who are of their own age and standing, to make more direct efforts for their conversion.
There seems to be a philosophy in this fact, which has often been illustrated. Different classes of professors naturally feel a sympathy for the impenitent of their own sex and age and rank, and more naturally pray for them, and for more influence over them; and this seems to be at least one of the reasons why revivals are apt to be the most powerful and general in that class without the Church who are most awake within the Church. Christians should understand this, and feel their responsibility.
One great reason why, in revivals, so few of the principal men are converted, doubtless is that class in the Church are often so worldly that they cannot be aroused. The revival will generally prevail mostly in those families where the professors belonging to them are awake; and the impenitent belonging to those families where the professors are not awake are apt to be left unconverted. One principal reason obviously is that when the professors in a family or neighborhood are awake, there is not only prayer offered for sinners in the midst of them, but there are corresponding influences acting on the impenitent among them. If they are awake, their looks and lives and warnings all tend to promote the conversion of their impenitent friends. But if they are asleep, all their influence tends to prevent such conversions. Their coldness grieves the Spirit, their worldliness contradicts the Gospel, and all their intercourse with their impenitent friends is in favor of impenitence, and calculated to perpetuate it.
6. We see why different denominations have been suffered to spring up in the Church, and under the government of God.
Christians often see and deplore the evils that have arisen to the Church of God, from the division of His people into jarring sects; and they have wondered and been perplexed to think that God should suffer it to be so.
But in the light of this subject we can see that, considering what diversities of opinions and feelings and views actually exist in the Church, much good results from this division. Considering this diversity of opinion, many would never agree to pray and labor together, so as to do it with success, and so it is better they should separate, and let those unite who are agreed.
In all cases where there cannot be a cordial agreement in labor, it is better that each denomination should labor by itself, so long as the difference exists. I have sometimes seen revivals broken up by attempting to unite Christians of different denominations in prayer and labor together, while they were not agreed as to the principles or measures by which the work was to be promoted. They would undo each other's work, destroy each other's influence, perplex the anxious, and give occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme; and soon their feelings would get soured, and, the Spirit being grieved away, the work would stop, and perhaps painful confusion and controversy follow.
7. We see why God sometimes suffers Churches to be divided. It is because He finds that the members are so much at variance that they will not pray and labor together with effect. Sometimes Church communities that are in such a state will still keep together from worldly considerations and worldly policy, because it is so much easier for the whole to support public worship; and so they continue, jealous and jangling, for years, accomplishing little or nothing for the salvation of sinners. In such cases God has often let something occur among them, that would tear them asunder, and then each party would go to work in its own way, and perhaps both would prosper. As soon as they were separated, everything settled down in peace. I have known some cases where this has been done with the happiest results, and both Churches have been speedily blessed with revivals.
8. It is evident that many more Churches need to be divided. How many there are that hold together, and yet do no good, for the simple reason that they are not sufficiently agreed. They do not think alike, nor feel alike, on the subjects connected with revivals, and while this is so, they never can work together. Unless they can be brought to such a change of views and feelings on the subject as will unite them, they are only a hindrance to each other and to the work of God. In many cases they see and feel that this is so, and yet they keep together, conscientiously, for fear a division should dishonor religion, when in fact the division that now exists may be making religion a by-word and a reproach. Far better would it be if they would agree to divide amicably, like Abraham and Lot. "If thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left" (Genesis 13:9). Let them separate, and each party work in its own way; and they may both enjoy the blessing.
9. We see why a few individuals, who are perfectly united, may be successful in gathering and building up a new Church, and may prosper much more than a much larger number who are not agreed among themselves. If I were going to gather a new Church, I would rather have five persons, or three, or even two, who were perfectly agreed as to the things they were to pray for, and the manner in which they should labor for all that is essential to the prosperity of a Church, and who would stand by me, and stand by each other, than begin with a Church of five hundred members, who were not agreed.
10. We see what glorious things may be expected for Zion, whenever the Churches generally shall be agreed on these subjects. When ministers shall lay aside their prejudices, and their misconstructions, and their jealousies, and shall see eye to eye; and when the Churches shall understand the Bible alike, and see their duty alike, and pray alike, and shall be "agreed as touching the things that they shall ask," a nation shall be born in a day.
Only let them feel as the heart of one man, and be agreed as to what ought to be done for the salvation of the world, and the millennium will come at once.
11. There is vast ignorance in the Churches on the subject of revivals.
After all the revivals that have been enjoyed, and all that has been said and written and printed concerning revivals, there are very few who have any real, consistent knowledge on the subject. And when there is a revival, how few are there who can take hold to labor and promote it as if they understood what they were about. How few persons are to be found who have ever taken up revivals of religion as a subject to be studied and understood. Everybody knows that in a revival Christians must pray, and do some things which they have not been in the habit of doing. But multitudes know nothing of the REASON WHY they should do this, or why one thing is better than another, and, having no principles to guide them, when anything occurs which they did not expect, they are all at fault, and know not what to do.
If men should go to work to build a house of worship, and know as little how to proceed as many ministers and professors know how to build the spiritual temple of God, they never would get a house up; and yet people make themselves believe that they are building the Church of God, when they know not what they are about, but are utterly unable to give a reason why they are doing as they do, or why one thing should be done rather than another. There are multitudes in the Church who never seem to suppose that the work of promoting revivals of religion is one that requires study, and thought, and knowledge of principles, and skill in applying the Word of God so as to give every one his portion in season.
And so they go on, generally doing little or nothing, because they are attempting nothing; and if they ever do awaken, they go headlong to work, without any system or plan, as if God had left this part of our duty out of the reach of sound judgment and good sense.
12. There is vast ignorance among ministers upon this subject, and one great reason of this ignorance is that many get the idea that they already understand all about revivals, when in reality they know next to nothing about them. I once knew a minister come in where there was a powerful revival, and bluster about and find fault with many things, speaking of his "knowledge of revivals," that he had "been in seventeen of them," and so on, when it was evident that he knew nothing as he ought of revivals.
13. How important it is that the Church should be trained and instructed, so as to know what to do in a revival. Members should be trained and disciplined like an army; each one having a place to fill, and something to do, knowing where he belongs, and what he has to do, and how to do it.
Instead of this, how often do you see a Church in a time of revival take hold of the work to promote it, just like a troop of children thinking to build a house. How few there are who really know how to do - what?
Why, the very thing for which God suffers Christians to live in this world, the very thing for which ALONE He would ever let them remain away from heaven a day; and this is the very thing, of all others, that they do not study, and do not try to understand.
14. We see why revivals are often so short, and why they so often produce a reaction. It is because the Church does not understand the subject. Revivals are short, because professors have been stirred up to a kind of spasmodical action. They have gone to work by impulse, rather than from deliberate conviction of duty, and have been guided by their feelings rather than by a sound understanding of what they ought to do; they did not know either what to do, what they could do, what they could not, or how to husband their strength, or what the state of things would bear. Perhaps their zeal led them into some indiscretions, and they lost their hold on God, and so the enemy prevailed. The Church ought to be so trained as to know what to do, so as never to fail, and never to suffer defeat or reaction, when an attempt is made to promote a revival.
Christians should understand all the tactics of the devil, and know where to guard against his devices, so that they may know him when they see him - and not mistake him for an angel of light come to give them lessons of wisdom in promoting the revival - and so that they can cooperate wisely with the minister, and with one another, and with the Holy Ghost, in carrying on the work. No person who has been conversant with revivals can overlook the fact that the ignorance of professors of religion concerning revivals, and their blunders in the matter, are among the common things that put revivals down, and bring back a fearful reaction upon the Church. How long shall this be so? It ought not to be so; it need not be so; shall it always be so?
15. We see that every Church is justly responsible for the souls that are in its charge. If God has given such a promise, and if it is true that where so many as two are agreed, as touching the things they ask for, it shall be done, then certainly Christians are responsible, and if sinners are lost, their blood will be found upon the Church.
16. We see the guilt of ministers, in not informing themselves, and rightly and speedily instructing the Churches, upon this momentous subject.
Why, what is the end of the Christian ministry? What have they to do, but to instruct and marshal the sacramental host, and lead them on to conquest? What, will they let the Church remain in ignorance on the very subject, and the only point of duty, for the performance of which they are in the world - the salvation of sinners? Some ministers have acted as mysteriously about revivals as if they thought Christians were either incapable of understanding how to promote them, or that it was of no importance that they should know. But this is all wrong. No minister has yet begun even to understand his duty, if he has neglected to teach his people to work for God in the promotion of revivals. What is he about?
What does he mean? Why is he a minister? To what end has he taken the sacred office? Is it that he "may eat a piece of bread"? (1 Samuel 2:36).
17. We see that pious parents can render the salvation of their children certain. Only let them pray in faith, and be agreed as touching the things they shall ask for, and God has promised them the desire of their hearts.
Who can be agreed so well as parents? Let them be agreed in prayer, and agreed what to do, and agreed in doing all their duty; let them thus train up their children in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.
And now, do you believe you are agreed, according to the meaning of this promise? I know that where a few individuals may be agreed in some things, they may produce some effect. But while the body of the Church is not agreed, there will always be so many things to counteract, that they will accomplish but little. THE CHURCH MUST BE AGREED. Oh, if we could find but one Church perfectly and heartily agreed in all these points, so that they could pray and labor together, all as one, what good would be done! Oh, what do Christians think, how can they keep still, when God has brought down His blessings so that if any two were agreed as touching the things they ask for, it would be done? Alas! alas! how bitter will be the remembrance of the jangling in the Church, when Christians come to see the crowds of lost souls that have gone down to hell, because we were not agreed to labor and pray for their salvation.
Finally, in the light of this promise we see the awful guilt of the Church.
God has given it to be the precious inheritance of His people at all times, and in all places, that, if His people agree, their prayers will be answered.
We see the awful guilt of the members of this Church, who listen to Lectures about revivals, and then go away and have no revival; and also the guilt of members of other Churches who hear and go home and refuse to do their duty. How can you meet the thousands of impenitent sinners around you at the bar of God, and see them sink away into everlasting burning?
Have you been united in heart to pray for them? If you have not, why have you disagreed? Why have you not prayed with this promise until you have prevailed.
You will now either be agreed, and pray for the Holy Ghost, and receive Him before you leave the place, or the anger of the Lord will be upon you.
Should you now agree to pray in the sense of this promise,
for the Spirit of God to come down on this city, the Heavenly Dove would
fly through this city in the midst of the night and would rouse the consciences
and break up the guilty slumbers of the wicked. What, then, is the crimson
guilt of those professors of religion who are sleeping in sight of such
a promise? They seem to have skipped over it, or entirely to have forgotten
it. Multitudes of sinners are going to hell in all directions, and yet
this blessed promise is neglected; yea, more, is practically despised by
the Church, There it stands in the solemn record, and the Church might
take hold of it in such a manner that vast numbers might be saved - but
they are not agreed, therefore souls will perish. And where is the responsibility?
Who can take this promise and look the perishing in the face at the Day
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