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ART. III.-PRACTICAL VIEW OF REVIVALS OF RELIGION.
proper that we should settle at the outset, What is a Revival of Religion? For common and almost technical as this phrase has become, it may be understood, by those who oppose all earnestness in religion, and all true religion itself, to denote any and every species of excitement on the subject of religion, or of which religion is the occasion. Consequently, the wildest and most extravagant outbreakings of fanaticism, at any time or in any place, may be injuriously and falsely dignified by this name ; and thus the cause of true religion may be deeply wronged in the eyes of many. By a revival of religion, then, is meant this, and this only;—That the great truths of natural and revealed theology do, at certain times, and under certain combinations of circumstances, and agreeably to certain laws of God's spiritual providence, become invested in the view of many minds in a community at the same time, with unusual clearness and force, so as to constitute in regard to those minds, as they had not been before, the operative principles of action, usually awakening much deep and solemn feeling, and producing under the special power of God, many interesting and permanent changes of moral characture,-such changes as every cordial friend to virtue and to human happiness must approve. To be a little more specific in our statement. In a real revival of religion, two things always occur and go together : Evangelical truth is then seen with far greater strength and vividness of perception than at other and ordinary times. Complacency, also, in the truth as thus seen, begins then by numbers to be experienced for the first time, under the transforming influence of the Spirit of God upon the sinner's heart. The claims of a holy and righteous God are then felt and realized, and delighted in as they are not at other times. Sin then appears in a new and more appalling light than at other times. Eternity with all its dread solemnities appears at such a time comparatively nearer, and this present world vanishes away, as it were, into nothing. In the case too of those who at such a season, yield to the strivings" of the Divine Spirit and give up their hearts to God, there is a peace, a joy felt by them, which is quite new, and such as they never felt before, growing out of conscious submission to God, penitence for sin, and reliance on Christ for salvation.
A revival always presupposes, not only excitement about religion, but excitement in view of truth, and followed by a cordial embracing of the truth in the love of it, and consequently by a holy life. Wherever such a state of things as that just spoken of occurs, there is what is appropriately called a revival of religion. It matters not by what particular instrumentality it may have been produced, or to what extent greater or smaller it may have prevailed. The essential characteristics of such a work, are that the Spirit of God made the truth effectual in the saving conversion of a number of individuals in the same community, at or near the same time. This is, briefly, the doctrine of revivals as it will be held up to view in this article, and as evangelical christians generally in this country are supposed to regard it.
Revivals of religion are greatly to be desired. We make this remark in full view of all that has sometimes been said, or hinted, respecting the evils of religious excitements. We regard these religious excitements as very great, as unspeakable blessings to the church and to the world. If, from want of due caution in conducting them, or from other causes, evils should incidentally arise out of them in some cases (and what good thing is not liable in the hands of imperfect and sinful men, to be made the occasion, indirectly, of producing some evil ?) still we must be permitted, after some careful observation on this subject, to express our strong and decided conviction, that revivals of religion, when viewed in their true and appropriate character and results, deserve to be regarded as most blessed seasons of God's mercy to mankind, and as calling for our gratitude and praise. Let us look carefully at a few facts, touching this point. Consider, first, the augmented numbers, comprising all ages and descriptions of persons, who are converted in consequence of revivals; remembering as we proceed, what is the real worth of every single soul, thus plucked from the jaws of death; and let us compare the number of those converted in revivals, with what would have been, probably, the number of conversions without revivals. The writer has been in the ministry, among the same people, a little upwards of twenty years. During that period, he finds, that of the whole number of those who have been added to the church under his care, by profession, about the proportion of seven eighths have been, more or less directly and obviously, the fruits of revivals. That is, about seven eighths of those who have been brought into the church, have been such persons as probably never would have made a profession of religion had it not been for revivals. The baptisms, infant and adult, are about in the same proportion. And among those who have professed religion as the fruits of revivals, the cases of apostacy have been extremely rare, and the evidence of piety quite as good, it is thought, to say the least, as in the case of the one eighth who have been brought into the church without the influence of revivals. The writer is, also, a member of a Consociation of churches, among whom according to official returns recently made, between seven and eight hundred hopeful conversions took place during the last winter and spring; a larger number than ordinarily takes place within the same congregations in several years, when there is no revival. Now what has been thus true under the writer's eye and within the immediate circle of his own pastoral labors, would appear to be substantially true also (it is thought) if we had the statistics which a wider field of observation would furnish. Revivals then, it would seem, are greatly to be desired when we consider the greater number of persons who are thus, in a judgment of charity, converted from the ranks of impenitence and brought to take an open stand on the side of christianity, beyond what would be the probable fact if no revivals were to exist among us.
Again. There is another fact to be looked at, which has a bearing on this subject. The tone of enlightened christian feeling and christian action, on the part of those who have already espoused the cause of the Redeemer, is greatly elevated by means of revivals of religion, beyond what it ordinarily would be, if these blessed seasons of God's peculiar mercy were withheld from us. In the ordinary state of the public mind on the subject of religion, it is well known, that the influence of the world is apt to become predominant, at least to such an extent as greatly to deduct from, if not wholly to paralyze, the proper influence of religious considerations over men's minds. Revivals come in as powerful checks to that terrific spirit of worldliness which is so apt to creep in upon the church where these checks do not exist. The piety of the churches, and along with it their maintaining the great fundamental truths of the gospel, with proper zeal and firmness, would be very greatly endangered, were it not for the kindly quickening impulse to the christian's heart and conscience which these seasons of special Divine mercy administer. They break the christian's hold on this world as nothing else will. They impress the vanity of worldly things. They bring eternity and eternal things nearer. They make men feel the worth of the soul. They help us to realize the value of the gospel, the preciousness of the Redeemer, the boundless grace of God in a sinner's salvation. In a revival, there is a new and different, and juster medium through which all spiritual objects are contemplated. Then it is, that christians
are especially active in the cause of Christ. Then it is, that they especially love one another. Then, that they feel for impenitent sinners, and pray and labor for their salvation.
We cannot but think, that revivals would be greatly to be desired, were it only for the healthful influence which they exert upon those who are already christians, in keeping alive their graces, and in upholding divine truth both in its letter and spirit among them. Take away our precious revivals, and who can tell how soon the living pulse of piety would cease to beat in our churches, and how soon we should have another gospel preached in our pulpits.
Revivals, moreover, are the most direct and most powerful of all causes in promoting the public morals of a community. How benign the influence which they exert in aid of the temperance cause; in redeeming the sabbath from neglect; in bringing men to the sanctuary, and leading them to engage in the worship of God there, many of whom, in an ordinary state of things, would never enter the house of God! And more indirectly, in a thousand forms, by the simple process of giving to men's consciences an increased susceptibility of a sense of pain, and remorse, and apprehension, in view of sin and wickedness of every name. Revivals, also, operate as a powerful encouragement to the labors of the ministry, by letting those who are clothed with the sacred office see, very clearly and strikingly, that their labors are not in vain in the Lord. This kind of encouragement, this incentive to fresh animation, and zeal, and energy, and courage, in discharging the duties of an embassador of Christ to the guilty and the lost, is, oftentimes, exactly what is needed, in order to break up the monotony of a heartless round of inefficient labors, and to raise to new hope and new efforts the sinking mind of the tired, discouraged laborer. On this point we need not dwell. Every minister of Christ, who has spent any considerable time in that difficult and responsible employment, knows what we mean, and can easily anticipate what we would say. By means of revivals, also, more is done for the missionary cause, and for the conversion of the world. Every outpouring of the Spirit raises up new friends to the cause of missions, increases the amount of funds devoted to that cause, wafts to heaven in prayer more numerous and more fervent desires, that the kingdom of God may come, and his will be done, on earth as it is done in heaven. Let our revivals stop, and what would become of the great enterprise of converting mankind to God? what would become of our benerolent associations ? what would become of our hopes of an approaching millenium of rest and holiness to this world of sin
and sorrow? From every estimate which we can now form on this subject, it would seem clear, beyond a doubt, that we must have revivals of religion, and still more powerful revivals than we have hitherto had, or else (judging from the past) the progress of this world's conversion to God can never be consummated. As matters now are, the prospect sometimes looks sufficiently dark. What would it be, were the windows of heaven to be shut up, and the effusions of divine grace, in the form of extended and powerful revivals, to cease and come to an end ?
But there is a brighter aspect to this subject. Revivals are to be erpected. When the proper means are used, these seasons of special religious interest in a community are not only to be desired, they are precisely such occurrences as are to be looked for ; they are what an enlightened christian, with the bible in his hand, and the history of the church before him, would expect. There are some specific considerations which would lead us to expect them.
We should expect them from the social character of man, and from the well-known power of sympathy or fellow-feeling which belongs to man's nature. That is, if true religion were to exist at all in our world, we should expect, from what we know of the susceptibility of one mind to be moved by another, that there would be particular seasons, more or less frequently recurring, during which a subject so important to every man as religion is, would be seen exerting a more wide-spread and a more potent influence over men's minds than at other times, and that large masses of society would be, or at least might be, moved as by a common impulse. We think it would be rational beforehand to look, under an economy of grace and the actual existence of religion on earth, for just such spiritual phenomena on this subject as every revival presents. We should expect, that one mind, becoming strongly interested on the subject of its salvation, would be the occasion of another mind being roused to attend to the same subject, and that this would lead to the same result in the case of another, and thus that the interest on this momentous subject, which perhaps began with an individual, would be, or easily might be, extended through a large community, until there should be but one paramount and absorbing object of pursuit throughout the whole body. And the denser the population in that community, and the more numerous the points of mutual contact among the members of that community, and the stronger the sympathies which linked them together, the more general and powerful (should we expect) the revival would in that case become,