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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.
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 pursue 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.
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 convert. 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 convert, 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 prolonged 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.
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.
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.