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(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 rum-selling 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 slavedriver, 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?
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 approval 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 unrepentant 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.