By George W. Ridout
[excerpted from THE PRESBYTERIAN (19 February 1925): 8-9.
The history of the Christian church is featured ever and anon with the story of great and significant revivals of religion.
In 1847, the denominations confessed that “there is a flatness over the churches, revivals are rare, and conversions few, while the power of godliness among professors of religion is low.” About the same time, Dr. Chalmers, in The North British Review, speaking of Scotland, said: “As things stand at present, our creeds and confessions have become effete, and the Bible a dead letter, and the orthodoxy which was at one time the glory, by withering into the formal and lifeless, is now the shame and reproach of all our churches.”
The widespread revivals of religion in 1857 and 1859 woke up the churches, kindled new fires, and re-established vital religion in both America and the old country.
Moody taught that there are four things essential to the promoting of a revival: (1) We must believe in revivals ; (2) [text obscured]; (3) We must pray for a revival; (4) We must work for a revival.
Dr. Robert Boyd, when pastor in Chicago long ago, had a church which was signally blessed with a continuous ingathering of souls. At one of his morning services, he said, at the close: “Brethren, so far as I can learn, there has not been a conversion in this church for the past four weeks. I would like all who are concerned for the salvation of souls to meet me this afternoon for special prayer.” A large number met the pastor in prayer and in that service an infidel bookseller was converted and the fire was started afresh.
Mr. Sankey tells the story of a man who was visiting one of the big cathedrals in England. A verger was showing him through and pointing out with admiration the beautiful windows and statuary. The American very suddenly turned to his guide and said, “Do you have many conversions here?” Amazed at such a question, the verger turned to him and said, “Conversions? Conversions! Why, my friend, what kind of a place do you think this is? Do you lake this to be a Wesleyan chapel ?”
The work of converting men and turning them from “darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God,” appears to have dwindled down alarmingly in the average church. We need another revival of religion to bring back to the churches the power of conversion.
Talmadge tells this incident in connection with his Tabernacle: “In the winter of 1875, we were worshipping in the Brooklyn Academy of Music. We had great audiences, but I was oppressed by the fact that conversions were not numerous. On Tuesday, I invited to my house five old, consecrated. Christian men. These men came, not knowing why I had invited them. I took them to the top of the house. I said to them: ‘I have called you here for special prayer. I am in agony for a great turning to God of the people. We have vast multitudes in attendance, and they are attentive and respectful, but I cannot see that they are saved. Let us kneel down and each one pray, and not leave this room until we are all assured that the blessing will come, and has come!’ It was a most intense crying unto God. I said, ‘Brethren, let this meeting be secret,’ and they said, ‘It shall be!’ The next Friday night came the usual prayer-meeting. No one knew what had occurred on Tuesday night, but the meeting was unusually thronged. Men accustomed to pray with great composure broke down under emotion. The people were in tears. There were sobs and silences and solemnity of such unusual power that the worshippers looked unto each other’s faces as much as to say: ‘What does this mean?’ And when the following Sabbath came, although we were in a secular place, over four hundred arose for prayer, and a religious awakening took place that made the winter memorable.”
Robert Hall has said: “The prayer of faith is the only power in the universe to which the great Jehovah yields. Prayer is the sovereign remedy.” John Foster said: “More and better praying will bring the surest and readiest triumph to God’s cause. The church has its sheet anchor in the closet, its magazine stores are there.”
“Restraining prayer, we cease to fight,
Prayer makes the Christian armor bright;
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.”
1. Let us close with a few propositions. Revivals of religion are not inconsistent with intellectual activity and learning. Think of the Wesleys—Oxford men; Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s greatest metaphysicians; Chalmers, of Scotland; Baxter, Howe, Charnock, Owen, and others of former days, and Pierson, Peck, Odin, and Torrey, of modern times.
2. Revivals of religion are not inconsistent with a methodical and symmetrical ministry. Think of Theodore Cuyler, the great pastor of Brooklyn, and J. O. Peck, the remarkable pastor-evangelist of Methodism.
3. Revivals of religion are not inconsistent with good psychology and sound philosophy. At this point we are again reminded of Jonathan Edwards. Finney illustrates this fact, also. Moody was by no means a philosopher, but no man had a keener sense of the psychological moment, and all effective soul-winners learn this art.
4. Revivals of religion are not inconsistent with good reason and sound sense. Nature has her revivals and freshets and outpourings. Business men seek after revivals in trade and learn the art of acquiring them and bringing them to pass. The church is not urging anything unreasonable when she calls upon her people to pray and work for a revival of religion. Indeed, the church that enjoys frequent revivals of religion is the church that keeps most intensely alive its spiritual life and adds to its communion new converts.