Page images

of the prophet, understood as we have explained it, comprehends all that is implied in the common use of the term “revival,” and in its most enlarged sense. Let the Church experience the revival prayed for by the prophet-let all her members become "strong in the Lord”-let a quickening and healthful influence become universal, so as to bring grace into lively and vigorous exercise, and who will venture to estimate the extent of influence in the awaken. ing and conversion of sinners which would most assuredly follow?

3. Such we have said is the order of God. There are some instances, it is true, in which it is less evident than in others. Remarkable occurrences of the outpourings of the Spirit upon communities, seemingly careless and stupid, occasionally mark the ways of God. This fact we must admit, as it has come under our own observation. Within the circle of my knowledge, buť a few years ago, while the young people of a town in which there was little attention paid to religion, were collected in different places to celebrate an annual festival, and indulging in all the hilarity of the occasion, by a sudden and simultaneous impression their merriment was changed into seriousness, and their mirth into solemn prayer; and a general revival ensued. Scenes like this cannot have escaped the notice of others who have had the opportunity and inclination to observe, to any considerable extent, the phenomena of religious excitements which have been prevalent in our own country. These are his marvellous works, and serve to show that in the kingdom of his grace, as in that of his providence, he displays his sovereignty in sometimes causing the fertilizing showers to decend more plentifully than at others. These are, in the language of Scripture, "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord." These are seasons of great privilege, when God is evidently and eminently near. And to such seasons especially the language of the prophet is applicable, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near.” Not indeed but that he may be sought and found by sinners in a day of spiritual dearth and darkness. Then they are exhorted, as Paul exhorted the benighted Athenians, to "feel after him if haply they may find him." And even in the day of revival, sinners may resist the Spirit, but not without the greater condemnation.

4. But though there are instances of such extraordinary manifestations of divine influence, in places where there are few profess.. ors, and without any visible evidence of their being the result of a special revival in the Church, the fact does not vary our position, that where God has a people—where his Church exists in due form -it is in the order of his economy to commence a work of revival in the hearts of his people, and thereby to render them instrumental in extending its influences abroad. And why should it not be so? “ To them are committed the oracles of God." They are intrusted with the Gospel, the mighty instrument which God has ordained for the illumination and salvation of the world; and are charged with the duty of sustaining the faithful preaching of it. The self-denying labors which they must perform in carrying into effeot this great system of means, so as to bring it to act at all points upon perverse and rebellious sinners, can never be persevered in with a zeal necessary to render them efficacious, without feelings of strong

same course.

and ardent piety. In the absence of this, all is weakness and inefficiency. Where it exists in full vigor, there is force and energy.

Let facts speak. They give strength to our faith. John was “a burning and a shining light.” It was the melting influence of his piety-the holiness of his heart and life, more than the celebrity, of his eloquence, which produced the great religious excitement that attended his ministry. The spirit of religion is in its nature com. municative. The slightest touch of its influence excites a desire that it may be extended. The feelings of Andrew were no sooner excited by his interview with the Saviour, than he sought to enlist those of his brother Simon; and when Philip was brought to follow Christ, he immediately endeavored to persuade Nathaniel to the

The quickening influences of the Spirit in every young disciple, at once prompts to acts and efforts for the salvation of others. “The Spirit in the bride says Come.” When the apostles and disciples received the effusions of the Spirit at the feast of Pentecost, and from the fulness of their feelings declared the wonderful works of God to the multitude, though some mocked-others, many others, in the bitterness of their souls, cried out, “ men and brethren, what shall we do?"

Whatever there was of miracle in their speaking with tongues, that particular influence which produced conviction in the hearts of their hearers, and induced them to seek salvation, was identical with what all sinners feel when awakened by the Spirit oi God. Peter indeed affirmed that it was the Spirit which God had promised to pour out upon all flesh.

5. But we must not dwell here. The characteristics of a revival, in all its essential features, are uniform. The first work of the Holy Spirit is to "reprove the world of sin ;” and then, to the humble believing soul, it conveys the evidence of pardon and acceptance. The fruits of the change thus produced, appear in the lives of the subjects of it. So it was in the days of the apostles. So it has been in later times. Great and glorious things have been witnessed in our land. “We speak what we know, and testify what we have seen"-an influence bearing down opposition-carrying away the deep-rooted prejudices and antipathies of scoffers, -bringing them to bow down with those they had despised and constraining them to cry aloud for mercy. The impious and the profane have bumbled themselves, and become serious and devout. They have expres. sed the agony of inward grief; and, suddenly, the joys of spiritual consolation ; and forth with shown the most ardent and undying love for the men and the things they had opposed with a deadly hate. Multitudes in the same neighborhood, and at the same time, have passed through these changes. And instances of such general excitements have been numerous in our own age and country. Such events—so strongly marked in all their prominent features—so frequent and evident-present well-attested phenomena for serious investigation and solemn decision. They must be accounted for—they demand explanation. To call the work fanaticism, is a foolish assumption -averse alike to sound philosophy and the testimony of Scripture. It is an explanation without reason, a solution without evidence. To the pious Christian the answer is ready—it is of God.

This work the good man most ardently and intensely desires to

And every

see promoted in the world. Knowing it by its fruits, so far as it is genuine, all the pious feelings of his heart are alive with desire to witness its prevalence. For this he labors, and for this he prays. How important then that he should pray understandingly, and labor in accordance with the order and will of God. Go abroad among professing Christians, and what do you hear? Universal lamentations about the desolations of Zion—the general apathy that prevails in the Churches—and the decline of revivals. where in public assemblies, social circles for prayer, and at the family altar, again and again is repeated the prayer of the prophet, “O Lord, revive thy work." Still we see not those general outpourings of the Spirit which we desire. May it not be profitable for us to inquire seriously-what is the cause ? Have we not accustomed ourselves to pray too much in the spirit of Antinomianism? By confining our thoughts to the immediate operations of the Spirit, in the awakening and conversion of sinners, while praying for revival, have we not lost sight of the condition of the Church, and that it is necessary for the work to commence there, to prepare the members of it for those holy exercises of devotion, which seem, in the order of God, incipient and essential in the work for which we pray? Have not professors forgotten themselves in their zeal for the salvation of others? It is possible too, that as ministers and Christians, we may have placed too much confidence in extra efforts, and not enough in God. The expedient of protracted meetings has a show of an increase of zeal for the promotion of the cause of piety. I am not prepared to condemn these means. No doubt in some cases good has resulted from them. In others, perhaps not. The danger of relying on them solely for the desired effect-of trusting to the influence of commanding talents, usually sought to be employed on such occasions-of being brought to depreciate the regular institutions of grace--and more than all of inducing a disposition to neglect the ordinary means of cultivating constant communion with God, by looking forward to such meetings as seasons of special privilege for this purpose, deserve the serious consideration of all who are accustomed to place a high value upon them. Neither these nor any other similar means can originate the spirit of revival. When they are the result of it, they may—they will be productive of good. The spirit of revival, deeply imbuing the souls of Christians, will find means to exert itself. Let the Church be alive to God-let the members of it come together in the fulness of the spirit of the Gospel-having their hearts filled with the love of God, and burning with zeal for the salvation of sinners, and their devotional services, ordinary or protracted, will tell upon the condition and feelings of the people who assemble with them, and the community in which they live. Let this be the preparation for extra efforts, and the result will attest their utility.

6. This is the sum of the whole matter. A revival of the work of God has its commencement in the Church. Its source is in God, and its influence in the spirit of holiness. This is attained, in the order of God, by faith in Christ ;--and it is cherished and kept alive, by cleaving to God with all our hearts, in prayer, in watchfulness, in the spirit of abstractedness from the world, in much meditation, and in constant devotedness to the service of God. The Christian's

Vol. VII.--July, 1836. 39

strength is his piety-deep and ardent piety. The health of his soul is the enjoyment of spiritual life--nourished and sustained by the bread of life-the bread which cometh down from heaven. This imparts strength to all his spiritual faculties. It is holiness—deep and increasing holiness of heart and life~ which gives vital energy to good men's efforts, in promoting the cause of piety. No artificial ardor, or temporary preparation, can supply the absence of it. No system of measures, however well concerted, can succeed without it. It is the main-spring which gives motion to the great system of instrumentality, which God in infinite wisdom has devised to carry on his work in the earth. To attempt to promote that work without it, is the sure way to bring it into contempt. This is the true cause of so many failures, and so much consequent scandal. A genuine revival, though it may occasion violent opposition, never wounds or injures the cause. The sincere and unaffected simplicity with which the pious labor for the salvation of their neighbors and friends, so much commends itself to the observation of candor, that it is never alluded to as a cause of reproach. Influenced constantly by a spirit of deep and ardent piety, the devout Christian acts most conformably to his feelings, and therefore most naturally, in all his efforts to do good to others. With the high state of religious experience of which we are capable, how mighty is the influence of one individual in a neighborhood, though he be poor, and unlettered, and otherwise uninfluential in the world : in the cause of God he is a host. What, then, would be the result if all the members of the Church-all the talent and influence in it --were consecrated to God and his service, by the universal prevalence of the spirit of holiness! The contrast is so immense, when compared with any condition of the Church, since the general spread of Christianity, that the mind is dazzled with the thought ! Would not the millennial glory then usher in? What good reason can be assigned that the Gospel has not long since succeeded in the salvation of the multitudes who have been brought within the circle of its influence? The evidences of its truth, and the motives to virtue which it holds out, are all that can be required to secure the submission of rational beings. In these there is nothing that the sinner can find it in his heart to allege as a reason to excuse his rejection of God. But his strong support is the backslidings and shortcomings of professors. While they show the same love of the world as other men--an indulgence in the same unholy tempers with other men—the same indifference to moral integrity as other men—and are in no way distinguished from other men, only by a connection with a body of professing Christians, and a zeal to promote the interest of the cause with which they are connected, their unconverted neighbors have daily before them the reasons which secretly operate to confirm them in the perverse unbelief of their hearts. Let all these obstacles be removed-let the world see nothing in professors but what savors of deep and heart-felt pietylet all their conversation be as becometh the Gospel of Christ-and their influence must be irresistible. Unbelief would wither before it. The strong holds of infidelity would give way; and the Gospel, having free course, would accomplish the thing whereunto it is sent.

7. Never was there a time when it behooved Christians to turn their attention to this subject more than at the present. There are elements in operation whose tendency is to unsettle the feelings of the Christian public, and divert professors from the great objects of personal piety and permanent usefulness. We live in an age of excitement. New objects are thrust forward to command our attention and enlist our feelings. The combined energies of conflicting parties in political and polemic strife are employed to entangle the Church of God, and draw to their different interests the sanction of its councils, and the influence of its agency. New and inviting sources of worldly gain are opened in every direction, and motives for speculation are held out at all points. And in the midst of the bustling strife, the sacred friendships long consecrated by Christian communion, are broken in upon, and the bonds of love are dissevered by a spirit of ultraism, which condemns moderation as crime, and acknowledges no virtue that appears not in the tempest, and sympathizes not with the wild projects which are directed by the tameless fury of the whirlwind. Surrounded by all these elements of strife and occasions of danger, how important is it that the souls of God's people should be established by grace. If Christianity-pure and undefiled—be permitted to lose its influence, in the present state of society, all is lost there is no hope for the nation-no hope for the world—without a renovation. We are not prepared to say that it has lost its influence, or that it is very essentially impaired. If there be a change for the worse, it is evidently in the world. All signs of decline in the Church are temporary. But it does not, and never has, exerted the influence it is destined to, if it arise to the standard of piety pointed out in the word of God as its privilege. How few of the multitudes who profess piety are as devoted and useful as they might be! How few who, like Jeremiah, spend their days and nights in weeping over the sins of the people! How few who, like Samuel, cease not to pray for them! How few who, like Moses, have a prevailing influence at the court of Heaven to avert by their prayers impending evils ! How few are strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might !" Yet the weakness is only comparative. Such strength is the privilege of all-and entire sanctification of soul and body to God would render all his people mighty in their influence to restrain the current of vice and correct the spirit of the times. For this we pray in the language of the text, “O Lord, revive thy work." Give health and vigor to Zion, by sanctifying the ministry and the membership, and qualifying them for exerting a hallowing influence upon the world. This is a point of deep and absorbing interest. After all the devices and speculations of worldly wisdom, the prevalence of scriptural holiness, and that alone, can harmonize the conflicting elements which threaten the ruin of all that is desirable in society, and bring peace and good will to man. And this is attainable. Other devices, however well concerted, may fail. Holiness is an attainable object. " It is the will of God, even your sanctification.”—“Faithful is he who calleth you, who also will do it.” On other ground Christians are not safe. The world will love its own and them only. Obsequious to its power, its policy, or its spirit, Christians lose their influence and their confidence with God. Their counsels are

« PreviousContinue »