« PreviousContinue »
by breaking the fetters of superstition and priestcraft from the Christian mind-by introducing into the spiritual liberty with which Christ makes his children free to serve him in spirit and in truth, a broader and deeper exercise of all the Christian graces.
This last general revival, while it may have had its defects, was still attended and followed with gains to the cause both of truth and righteousness. It prepared the evangelical church, in nearly all its branches, for throwing her influence into the issue, when, in the war with rebellion, mighty scales hung quivering in the balance betwixt the cause of liberty and slavery. Had not the church demanded liberty for the slave, in the war waged for slavery extension and perpetuity by the slaveholder, it would have become national and its area widely extended. And had there been no revival in 1858, the church would still have remained, to such an extent, under the leadings of the South, that the war for the Union and for the cause of liberty would have ended in the triumph of slavery, and fall of American liberty, personal, civil and religious.
It awakened in the church a broader and more Christlike missionary spirit—the poorest of the poor soon had the Bible sent them, and the gospel preached to them as never before since primitive times.
It certainly revived the love and practice of social prayer, and gave a new life to the prayer-meeting. Our very penning of these lines to-day, under all the circumstances which have led thereto, stands as a testimony to the truth of our statement. We believe the state of the church encourages us to write. The subject will be studied, and we have a hope we shall have a careful reading. And we think so, the more because we entertain the abiding hope that still more refreshing times from the presence of the Lord are not far in the future. We, therefore, in this way, lend, at this time, our mite of feeble influence to the cause of revival and the leading instrumentality, under grace, for its promotion. We hopefully make an effort to awaken in the church a deeper interest in the prayermeeting, and a more earnest inquiry after its Scriptural character and use. As we trace the history of the prayermeeting nearer our own time, its interest must be increased. And, as an aid to the securing of that interest, it may be important to review
THE STATE OF THE COUNTRY AND OF RELIGION WHEN
THE REVIVAL WAS SENT.
Since historians, as well as poets, have their license, we shall avail ourselves of our privilege just here by borrowing some paragraphs from the racy sketches of a trustworthy historian—“Revival Sketches," pp. 276-279. Here we have sketched some of the features of the times immediately preceding the revivals of 1857-1859.
“ There was increasing coldness and worldly conformity in the churches. From some of the watch-towers of Zion the alarm, indeed, was sounded. There was weeping in secret places over the general decline, and many prayers were offered for the return of the Spirit. But to the question, 'Watchman, what of the night?'' there was no cheering answer. It was very dark, and seemed to be growing darker. As in the days of the prophet, Israel was mad upon her idols, so we had our idols of gold and silver. A money mania pervaded not only all our commercial cities, but the whole country more or less, involving all classes. The old paths to competence, by the moderate gains of industry and frugality, were being more and more forsaken, as no longer suited to this progressive age. Speculation in stocks, in city and village lots, in wild lands, in paper villages and flourishing marts of business, and in everything that promised sudden and extravagant gains, had reached the crisis of fever heat, and filled the dreams of thousands upon thousands with uncounted treasures, with fairy mansions, and all the delights of the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life. Would that it had been but an Arabian night-dream, instead of the actual every-day state of the scrambling multitudes."
And then such a highly inflated and insane grasping for riches could not fail of creating temptations, to an alarming extent, too strong to be resisted, in the large business transactions of the country. Hence those enormous frauds which have made the ears of the nation to tingle, and by which multitudes of widows and orphans have been swindled out of the small hard-earned investments, on which they depended for their daily bread. It was painfully manifest that, without some check to this all-absorbing worldliness, there was no reasonable prospect of such a return of the years of the right hand of the Most High, as we had once enjoyed, under the opening heavens, pouring down the Holy Spirit and reviving his work. The church was fast falling into the current which swept madly on, and threatened, if possible, to swallow up the very elect. To change the figure, we were descending an inclined plane, with all the steam on, and no brakes to check the engine and save the train from being dashed to pieces.
“Just then, in the summer of 1857, God interposed in a way which but few, if any, would have chosen or thought of. When men were saying, 'Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry;' when they were building their castles in the air, not easy to be numbered ; when the common talk on 'Change was of hundreds of thousands and millions; when, in short, all men were saying, 'To-morrow shall be as this day, and more abundant,' then suddenly came the crash, as if thunders from a clear sky had simultaneously broken over the whole land. Like a yawning earthquake, it shook down the palaces of the rich, no less than the humble dwellings of the poor, and swallowed up their substance. Men went to bed dreaming all night of their vast hoarded treasures, and woke up in the morning hopeless bankrupts.
“Happily these overwhelming losses brought many prosperous business men to a stand, who had given themselyes no time to think about laying up treasures in heaven; and, under the wise and merciful orderings of Providence, this prepared the way for a new revival epoch, differing in its commencement and some of its aspects from any that had preceded it.”
The writer proceeds to mark some of the characteristics distinguishing this revival from all preceding :
“1. In its commencement. How and where did it begin? The kingdom of God came not with observation. Such a visit, at such a time, was not looked for. On the contrary, many feared that the financial disasters of the country had so absorbed the minds of the whole people, both in and out of the churches, as to leave no room for the concerns of the soul. But it would seem that the mighty crash was just what was wanted in the great marts of business and speculation to startle men from their golden dreams, and lead them to seek for durable riches and righteousness. The horse-leech epidemic had spread so wide, and reached such a crisis, that no ordinary means could arrest it. There is no reason to believe, I think, that this revival would have commenced as it did, and spread as it has, if the spell which held men in its embrace had not been broken by some sudden and violent convulsion. It came, and the rushing throng of fortune-seekers stood still in amazement. Wall street was shattered and tottering from one end to the other. Every shock threatened wider ruin, and where could the merchant princes and bankers find a place of refuge ? Their millions were gone or going, and they had laid up no better portion. A thickening gloom hung over all the cities, and spread over all the country. While the earth reeled, the heavens were shut up.
“It was just then that God put it into the heart of a humble individual to propose a daily prayer-meeting in the lower part of the city of New York, at such a time as would best suit the convenience of business men. At first but few attended, in a little room on the third floor of the Consistory of the Reformed Dutch Church in Fulton Street. But 'behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth. Soon, to the astonishment of everybody, thronging multitudes filled all the rooms of that building to their utmost capacity. It was a vast daily prayer-meeting, of an hour at twelve o'clock, attended by those of all classes and conditions, and included great numbers of business men, who had never been seen in a prayer-meeting before. It was the Lord's doing, and marvellous in all eyes. Nor could it long be confined within such narrow limits.”
Of this meeting the author of “Five Years of Prayer,” p. 10, says:
Among all the records of ancient and modern times, in sacred or secular history, no series of facts is more imposing in their aspect before the Christian mind than the annals of the daily prayer-meetings in the city of New York. They were begun September 23d, 1857, and have continued without the interruption of a day through all the vicissitudes of life in the city, in the midst of war and peace, in the heat of summer and cold of winter, down to the day on which these lines are written, September 23d, 1863, and