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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, nevertheless 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, nevertheless 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.
(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!