March 10: On Revivals

Lacking a sermon for our Sunday post, the following seemed an acceptable substitute, since the subject of revivals has been making the rounds among some of the blogs. This is from an issue of a venerable old newspaper, The Charleston Observer, which we are blessed and honored to be able to preserve at the Historical Center. And as we have said before, a longer post seems allowable on Sundays.

From the Boston Recorder.


The subject incidentally fell in our way; and we ventured week before last a remark or two, as we were then aware, not altogether coincident with the current of public opinion. But public opinion is not our acknowledged guide. What will the Lord have us believe, and say, and do, is the question.–That we mean to do; and that we beg all our readers to do.

Protracted and elaborate discussion is not our design. Our columns are out of the appropriate place for it, had we full confidence in our own ability to conduct it. A few desultory thoughts are all we promise. Connected or unconnected, popular or unpopular, true or untrue, they are the result of our own judgment, untrammeled by any of the course or fine spun theories of the day.

1. All pure religion among men, in its first inception, is the result of special divine operations alone.

2. God is guided in these operations, only by the counsels of his own infinite and benevolent mind.

3. The instrumentalities he employs; the seasons of his operations; and the individuals or communities he favors, are selected and ordained by Him, without taking counsel of any.

4. While TRUTH, in various aspects and measures is the grand means of his appointment for the conversion of men, he may, and sometimes does employ other subsidiary means in the same work.

5. Whatever truth he employs in this work is brought forth from the treasures of his WORD, and applied to the conscience through the ministry of men whom he has chosen, called and sanctified for the purpose.

6. Men who are thus called to “preach the word,” are bound, beyond men of any other calling, to be “instant in season and out of season” in the discharge of their duty; to expend all their strength judiciously in this service, “whether men will hear or forbear,” to do it, not once in a year, or once in five years, but at all times; and to do it, under a lively and ever growing sense of responsibility to God, and in simple reliance on the Holy Spirit.

7. Those who thus “preach the Word,” may not live long enough to see Israel gathered; but their labors shall not be in vain, and they will have glory in the eyes of the LORD, if not in the eyes of men. “Well done,” will fall gratefully on their ears, from the lips of their final Judge.

8. The most useful minister, is the man who labors diligently according to his strength, in his closet; in his study; in his pulpit; and at the fireside; looking to God as his only resource for wisdom and power; aiming at the conversion of individuals, rather than of the whole community in the gross; at solid conversions rather than showy ones; or, at permanent efforts, rather than those which are temporary.

9. When revivals attend the labors of such a man, they will be productive of rich and valuable accessions to the church.

10. Ministers, who study little, preach loosely, pray loudly, aim at immediate and dazzling effects; talk flippantly about revivals; think nothing of one or two conversions; in the spirit of John say, “Come see my zeal for the Lord,” and enumerate converts by hundreds and thousands, are much to be feared. Revivals under their ministry are unworthy of confidence. Such men there have also been in Zion; and the earthquake and the fire and the thunder have attended their movements, and the mountains have been rent in twain; but THE LORD WAS NOT THERE!

11. No heavier curse can fall upon a community, than a spurious revival. Stupidity is dreadful; but it is mercy compared with false excitement. Lukewarmness is deplorable; but it leaves room for repentance. Infidelity is horrible; but it may yield to conviction. Hypocrisy and self deception are worse than all. The fire of God’s wrath only can remove them. They are the offspring of spurious revivals and combine in their character all, and more than all that is fearful in stupidity, lukewarmness and infidelity together.

12. A genuine revival is noiseless, orderly, solemn and even awful. God is in the midst of it. And his presence carries death to levity, presumption, arrogance and proud display. It inspires an awe like that felt at the foot of Sinai. It creates a trembling throughout the whole camp. It is marked by deep and often long continued conviction of sin; overwhelming sorrow for the hardness of the heart; earnest pleadings with a holy and just God for light and direction; a disposition to retire from observation, and vent the souls anguish in the closet; love for the Bible; abhorrence of all lightness of speech and behavior; clear apprehension of the law of God, in its purity, spirituality, compass and ends; great fears of self deception; thorough searchings of the heart; many, many tears and heart-breakings, in view of past offenses; and many strong fears that the day of mercy may have gone by forever.–Where religious excitement is not attended by marks like those both among Christians and sinners, we have no confidence in it.–Some souls may be converted; but more are likely to be ruined, beyond all hope of recovery.

13. The spirit of a genuine revival repudiates all excesses of feeling, speech, and action. It abhors all irregularities; all eccentricities in the manner of the preacher; all wild incoherent ravings; all personalities of address; praying for individuals by name in public assemblies, irreverent familiarity with the name of God; and calling on individuals in promiscuous meetings, to tell what God hath done for their souls. It rejects whatever is theatrical in gesture, pompous or vulgar in expression, and offensive to a cool dispassionate judgment, in stories and anecdotes. It demands solemnity; deep, heartfelt, all pervading solemnity in the preacher, the church and the congregation.

14. Great good has sometimes resulted from protracted meetings. This has been uniformly true, when they have been attempted in the spirit of a genuine revival; a spirit of humility, faith, prayer, and confidence in God alone. They have sometimes resulted in great evils. This has been uniformly true, when they have been attempted in the spirit of pride and self-sufficiency; with a determination to “get up a revival” at all events. Then, God has righteously blown upon them.

15. If there be a revival in progress, a protracted meeting is not often needed to sustain it; the ordinary means of grace are sufficient; and the introduction of other and singular means is adapted to deliver the public mind from the TRUTH, and engross it with what is foreign to the “great concern.” If there be no revival, and a protracted meeting is resorted to to produce one, it will either be followed, ordinarily, by no marked effect, or by a spurious excitement, which will prove fatally destructive to multitudes.

16. It is deserving of serious consideration that excitements which are preceded or accompanied by protracted meetings are usually of very short continuance. They are rather like the wind from the wilderness, that cometh suddenly, and uproots or breaks down every thing in its track, than like the north wind that awakes, and the South wind that blows upon the garden of the Lord, till the spices thereof flow forth in sweet perfume. It is a matter of alarming notoriety, that modern revivals, to a great extent, unlike those which blessed our land forty and eighty years ago, are got up and put down in a month; we hear of them to day as all glorious and wonderful; we inquire after them tomorrow; and lo! they are not!–Are they the work of the wise Master builder?

17. We are sick of every day’s report of “revivals” resulting from protracted meetings, (and we hear of few others) without any notice of the doctrines preached; of the nature of conviction that preceded the indulgence of hope; or the peculiar exercise of the converts; and without any other detail of “fruits,” than, so many have been added to the church, and, so many will be added at a subsequent communion. We refer not here to any particular case, but to a general fact in the report of modern revivals.

18. It is a fact, not to be disguised, that there is a vast difference between the revivals which blessed the Church in the days of Edwards, Strong, Griffin and Payson, and the revivals of the past ten or fifteen years. They are not to be named together. There are individual exceptions, no doubt. But we speak of them as classes. And in the first class, the whole truth of God was declared plainly, pungently, argumentatively, and without compromise. The whole reliance of Ministers and Churches was on the Holy Spirit. They stood still, and saw the salvation of the Lord. When the pillar of fire moved before them, they moved. When it passed behind them they passed in holy awe. And long did those revivals continue; deep and all penetrating was their influence; lasting as time and eternity were their visible and happy effects. In the second class, the truth of God is half wrapt up; doctrines offensive to the carnal heart may not be preached, lest the revival stop; total depravity; the sinner’s utter helplessness; eternal election; God’s absolute sovereignty; the resistless agency of the Holy Spirit, must all yield to the doctrine of the sinner’s ability; this is the grand fulcrum on which rests the whole moral machinery, by which he is to be renewed, and sanctified and transferred to heaven! And then, in order to complete success, protracted meetings of various kinds, extending from four to forty days must be maintained, and the most popular, not the most spiritual preachers in all the country must be called in, to give repeated and powerful impulses to the work. And when these means are exhausted, and the excitement once begins to flag, the Minister loses his order, the Church remits her prayer meetings; and the mass of community move on as if nothing had happened.

In such revivals we have little confidence. “Except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”

With all our hearts we love the revival that is pure and un-defiled. Give us such as are described in “Edwards’ Narrative;” in the first volumes of the “Connecticut Evangelical Magazine,” and such as have been witnessed in many of our Churches in earlier days, and we will call on all that is within us and on all around us, to bless the name of the Lord.

We believe that the Spirit of God is now in many of our Churches, and that he is ready to do a great work for the “American Zion”; nay, that he will do it, unless prevented by the spirit that is “wise above what is written.” But if the great doctrines of the Gospel are to be held back, or adulterated with impure mixtures; if we are to be taught reliance on protracted meetings, anxious seats, note for prayers, public female cooperation, &c., &c.; though there may be great excitement, there will be no such revival as carries joy through all the courts of God above. The Church will weep and clothe herself in sackcloth; and angels will turn away from the distressing scene, to regain composure from the unruffled face of man’s dishonored Saviour.

[excerpted from The Charleston Observer, Vol. XII, No. 15 (14 April 1838): 58, columns 2-4.]

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