Methods of Promoting a Revival

You say, “Your experience has been far more extensive than mine. I should like to inquire whether all these extraordinary movements begin and proceed in the same way; I mean by such protracted efforts, and by calling people forward to be prayed for, and so on?” No, not always. I witnessed a revival, several years ago, when they did not call penitents forward to be prayed for at all. The truth was preached to the people in a very pointed manner, and, after each sermon, the congregation was requested to kneel and pray to God as the necessities of their souls demanded. The work of God broke forth in power, and witnesses were raised up on every hand that Jesus Christ had power upon earth to forgive sins. We were compelled, however, to take such a course, on account of having so few brethren to help in vocal prayer.

A revival commenced in a certain place by the following means: Two or three pious young men agreed to meet in the chapel, at a certain time, to pray for a revival. They had never seen anything of the kind; but almost the entire population were “lying in the arms of the wicked one,” and they considered this a proper and scriptural method for their rescue. Their minds, also, were greatly distressed on account of the low state of religion. The society had dwindled down to a few; and it was so long since the place had been visited by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that the leaders knew little, if anything, about a revival, and of course felt indifferent as to such a Divine manifestation. The young men continued to hold their meetings. Their timidity forbade them to ask a light (for their time of prayer was in the night), but they knew that darkness and light were both alike to a prayer-hearing God. In that dark chapel, night after night, did they pour out their souls in prayer for the inhabitants of the place.

Two months had nearly passed away, and sinners appeared quite as indifferent as ever; but they were not discouraged, and continued their meetings. About the close the ninth week, on the night of a public prayer-meeting, two young men, hitherto careless and wicked, were in great distress, and disturbed the few present with their sobs and groans for mercy. This was a new thing, but not sufficient to impress the old professors. They were upon the eve of a glorious revival, and knew it not. The people were dismissed, and no further attention paid to the incident. The praying youths, however, had prayed and wept too long to be indifferent; but there was no meeting for public prayer till the following Thursday night.

“Oh!” said the person who related the circumstance to me, and who was one of the party which composed the secret prayer-meeting; “oh! it appeared to be a month till the next meeting.” The official men, in the meantime, foreboding some disturbance, became “nervous, and exceedingly afraid of excitement. Thursday night arrived, and the place was crowded. No one could tell why there was such an unusual stir; the secret was with the young men. Information reached the preacher stationed on the circuit. He came, and recognized it at once as the beginning of a great work of God, and entered into it with the usual zeal of a Methodist minister. He adjourned the meeting into the chapel. The official members followed, curious to see the results, but in a short time God touched their hearts, and opened their eyes, and they were compelled to exclaim, “Surely God is in this place, and we knew it not.” It was not long before scores of converted souls were added to the little society.

I could name a place where a revival began, a few years ago, under the following circumstances:

The society had long been in a low state of religious feeling, although additions, from time to time, had been made to their numbers. The previous preachers had been successful in winning people out of the world into the church; but it would seem they had had little success in converting them to Christ. Whether it was on account of the generally dead state of the members, or the indistinctness of their method of preaching justification by faith and the witness of the Spirit, or that they did not bestow sufficient labor to have such awakened sinners actually saved, the great day must declare.

A new preacher was sent to the town by Conference. Like a faithful man of God, he entered immediately upon a close examination of the classes, and was surprised and distressed, as we may suppose, to find upwards of two hundred persons, who, from their own admission, had never experienced anything more than mere conviction for sin. Afterwards he met the leaders, described to them the mournful condition of the church, and entreated them to exhort those whom they knew to be in an unconverted state to press into the liberty of the children of God. The local preachers of that circuit were a numerous and respectable body. God at this time began to awaken them, in a deeper manner than formerly, to the necessity of mental improvement. They formed themselves into a theological society, and met once a week for the discussion of subjects of divinity. Two objects were constantly kept in view:

1. To obtain a better understanding of the doctrines of the Gospel; and,

2. That they might be qualified to preach those doctrines in a clearer and more effectual manner.

These “conversations” became increasingly interesting, and resulted in a deeper conviction than they had ever realized of the necessity of preaching a present salvation to their hearers and, moreover, that it was their duty and privilege to expect an immediate effect.

From this time, the style of their preaching improved with the clearness of their perceptions of truth, combined with more expansive and enlightened views as to the great design of the Gospel to bring sinners at once to Christ. One, and then another, got out of his “old beaten track,” and aimed directly at the conversion of sinners. In the meantime their congregations increased surprisingly. The spirit of prayer and expectation came down upon believers. Faith, in reference to a general revival of God’s work, increased daily. Many sinners were “pricked in their heart;” and this took place so repeatedly in the ordinary services, but certainly under extraordinary preaching, that they could conceal their disquietude no longer, and cries for mercy became of frequent occurrence. Additional meetings, were now appointed. Crowds attended the meetings for prayer, as well as for preaching. The local preachers cooperated with their pastor, gave up their theological meeting, and, in their turn preached the Gospel with great power. The services were continued every night for a considerable length of time, and nearly five hundred sinners were converted to God, from nine years of age to ninety.

An account of a revival now lies before me, which occurred in another denomination. The minister of that church, whom God has greatly honored for his faithfulness, in giving an account of the revival, states that his church got into a very low, desponding condition, and matters became so gloomy that he was upon the point of asking a dismission. Unlike some, he could not sit down at his ease, knowing that his labors were not blessed, careless whether poor sinners were saved or damned. No! he could not bear the thought of staying any longer in a place where he was conscientiously convinced he was useless. The time of extremity was God’s opportunity. One Sabbath night, the Spirit of God arrested a young man. He desired to see the pastor, and opened his mind on the subject of his distress. A meeting for prayer had been appointed for that week; and when the time for beginning the prayer-meeting arrived, to his astonishment, the place was crowded. A large number of persons were there, deeply distressed on account of their sins.

From that hour the revival advanced in power; and, according to the last account I heard, the number converted and added to his church was above sixty souls, and many more were expected to unite themselves to it.

In preaching, facts are my materials, and not theories. Not that I am insensible of the benefit of theories; they are very good in their place, nor do I neglect them. They may be to a discourse what a foundation is to a building. A foundation answers no purpose, unless an edifice be raised up in it; but we want more than the foundation, in the construction of a seemly specimen of correct architecture. A sermon, all theory, is neither pleasing, profitable, nor effectual. I consider a theorem, of course, in the sense of a religious truth laid down as a principle, and treated in a speculative manner, without any illustration whatever. Our Lord never neglected first principles, but he never speculated upon them. He seldom advanced a theological principle, in the absence of an historical fact; nor the simplest moral truth, without an illustration of some kind, real or supposed.

The world is calling out for “illustrated science,” in every department of literature. There is everywhere a dissatisfaction with dry definitions and vague speculations. In a late London periodical there is a very severe critique upon a certain work entitled “A History and Geography of Central Asia.” The reviewer tells us that it is a very learned and a very useless work. After inquiring, What matters it to us of the present day where imaginary rivers ran through doubtful provinces, watering apocryphal cities some centuries ago, belonging to hordes of barbarians, shifting as the sands with which they are surrounded, and often overwhelmed? He asserts, that all these should give way to actual observation. “The world,” says he, “demands facts, and facts only, and turns aside with disgust from mere speculation. A few pages, from the latest travelers who have explored those regions, are worth more than hundreds of volumes of mere controversy.” With the above work I have nothing to do, for I have never seen it; but the remarks of the critic are just.

It is a remarkable peculiarity of the scientific lecturers of the present age, that they are universally fond of illustrating their principles by facts.

A few years ago, I was invited by a surgeon to hear a medical lecture, in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, in the city of New York. The platform was honored by the presence of several talented physicians. We had been seated but a few minutes, when an active little man, aged about fifty, made his appearance on the platform, Professor _____, and was cheered by the students. He announced his subject immediately: “The influence of the nerves upon the mind, and of the mind upon the nerves.” Brisk, lively, and eloquent, he had our attention in a moment, nor did he lose it during the entire lecture. Principles were laid down at once; but, instead of supporting theories by theories, and discussing them in the dry technicalities peculiar to the medical science, as I expected, he came forward with facts, undeniable facts, drawn from his own experience, and the observation of others. Real life and history were called upon for contribution, without apology. Every eye was fixed upon the animated speaker, every mind was interested. Principles, to some, might have been unintelligible, to others questionable, but his facts were irresistible.

I here received a lesson on preaching, which I trust will never be forgotten. Many of our hearers understand our theological terms very well; and though they require no illustration to deepen their convictions of the truths of our holy religion, yet facts may make them feel, and there is enjoyment in feeling, when the heart is rightly tuned by the grace of God. To many of our hearers, however, theological technicalities may be quite unintelligible, and are but partially understood, even when we have done our best at defining; while to others, after all our effort, they may be questionable or uninteresting. The effects of mere statements of truth and explication of terms, upon the minds of both classes, are generally vague and superficial, and are easily obliterated; as letters drawn upon the sand are washed out by the coming wave. But they will understand facts, and remember them, too, nor will they readily fade away from the mind. Like a stone in the sand, a fact may imbed itself in the mind, and stamp upon it an indelible impression of the truth of that which has been thus illustrated. A judicious writer has well observed, — “The most important truths, as we are now constituted, make but a very slight impression on the mind, unless they enter first like a picture into the imagination, and from thence are stamped upon the memory.”

[2] “May not the sinner,” says another, “as well be hearkening to a mathematician demonstrating Euclid’s Elements, as to a preacher only proving a point of Christianity?” Exceptions to this statement may occur to your mind. “Proving a point in Christianity” may have its effect; indeed, I think it is quite necessary; for we need line upon line, and precept upon precept. As those who have learned the Greek grammar, and have studied the language well, find, on neglecting it for a time, an inexpertness in translating, and no small difficulty in recalling first principles, to grapple with the root and its branches; so it is necessary to have our memories refreshed again and again with the true meaning of every point in Christianity. But, observe, the above writer says, “Only proving a point.” Now, the minister of Jesus whose heart is influenced by one desire and aim will not content himself with having convinced the hearer of the truth of any one point of Christianity; but he will grapple with the conscience, and his ingenious mind will range through heaven, and earth, and hell, for facts and illustrations; nor will he allow the sinner to get away, till he is forced, if possible, to feel that he has need of everything Jesus Christ hath purchased for him by his most precious blood.

A few of the above remarks will apply to some of your “proposed views” upon revivals. We may theorize and philosophize upon revivals for years; but a minister will learn more on the subject in one week, when the Gospel is taking effect upon sinners, producing its distinct and positive results in their conversion, than he could by many years of mere theorizing.

We may say of a certain kind of revival speculations, what a writer remarked respecting a review when compared with the actual scenes peculiar to the real battlefield, — “It has been truly said, that nothing is so unlike a battle as a review. “The art of war,” says another, “is one of those sciences which no theory or application of fixed and established rules can possibly teach; it is one thing to write from experience of the past, and another to acquire a facility of directing operations by a servile adherence to the maxims of others.”

I have known places, however, where they had no revival; but an account of a revival at a distance, given by an intelligent observer, who has engaged in it himself, has there produced the most salutary effects. Indeed, this may in part account for the prevalence of revivals throughout the United States. Popular periodicals have what they term “The Revival Department.” These papers circulate through all the cities, towns, and villages, of the nation. It is seldom any of them appear without an account of six, seven, or a dozen revivals; the instrumentality which God has been pleased to acknowledge and honor, with most of the remarkable peculiarities of each, are there stated, and read by many hundreds of thousands. The population of the country is thus made familiar with revivals. Such descriptions fan the revival flame in the hearts of ministers and people. A revival which has occurred, or is going forward, in such a place, becomes the theme of general conversation. Often the effects are thrilling and powerful beyond description. An entire church will be thrown into a state of sanctified excitement, after reading or hearing the account of a revival in some city or town with which they are acquainted. “The revival in _____” is talked of in the counting-house, workshop, parlor, and kitchen; and why should it not? Is it not a mighty and a glorious event; before which the interests of science, commerce, and politics, should disappear, as stars before the sun arising in his glory? It is then that the inquiry goes forth with emphatic meaning, — “Why may not we have a revival, as well as the people of such a place? Why may not we use the means which they used? Is God any more a respecter of places than of persons?” Frequently such revival news produces great “searchings of heart,” both among preachers and people. It is impossible, now, to persuade each other that they are doing as well as they might, or equally well with other parts of the church. They now know to the contrary, and facts cannot be put down, nor conversation hushed. Fine preaching, earned and eloquent preaching, will not satisfy the church. The people of God ask for EFFECTS; they inquire for results. There is deep humiliation in certain quarters, and a provoking to love and good works; nor will they rest satisfied till their ministry and town are honored with a similar outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In the course of a few months, their prayers are answered; their ministers preach as they never did before; sinners are broken down, and are turning to God on every hand; so that their town appears, in its turn, in the Revival Department, with all the circumstances of a gracious visitation; and similar effects are produced upon other declining churches.

It frequently happens that these revivals, published in the papers referred to, have occurred in towns and circuits where certain preachers labored with very little success. The effects upon their minds are, of course, peculiarly stirring; leading them to deep humiliation before God, and to earnest resolutions to be more faithful and zealous; many of them, in fact, never rest till similar results attend their preaching.

The successive accounts of such revivals never lose their interest. Nor have I ever known the people to express a want of confidence in such communications. The periodicals bearing the revival news are circulated, generally, in the very places where the revivals are stated to have occurred, and are read by numerous subscribers, who certainly would contradict the statements, if untrue. Besides, such articles are never printed unless sent by a responsible person; they are usually written by the preacher in charge of the circuit, and thus the veracity of the narrative is considered as unquestionable. This secures the religious public from exaggerated statements; they are, therefore, read with all confidence, and held in undiminished reputation. I am sorry the religious periodicals of England have not, generally, such a department in their columns. Is it because revivals are too numerous to be thus noticed, or that their rarity renders a Revival Department unnecessary? For many reasons, I should consider it a serious disaster to the church of God in America if such accounts of revivals were suppressed.

The “one case of conversion” you mention may stand in the same relation to a revival as the first drop to the coming shower. [3] When twenty, thirty, fifty, or one hundred, get converted to God within a few hours, days, or weeks, then it is that the divine glory has descended upon the tabernacle, and the arm of God is being made bare, in an extraordinary revival of pure religion. This is the sign between God and his praying people; this is the visible token that he has come down into the midst of them, for purposes of mercy, — that is, for the revival of his own work. It is as much their privilege to “accept the sign” when one sinner has been converted in their assembly, as when fifty are pardoned; and to be assured, that if he have saved one, he is able and willing to save hundreds and thousands. But why does he not? Because it does not always happen that his people recognize the token of his presence, nor the indications of his will. There is now the sound of abundance of rain; one drop is frequently the forerunner of as heavy a shower, as the descent of fifty in a moment. It is thus the Lord usually signifies to his ministers and people that he is ready and willing to work, if they will but cooperate. He has now come down, they may depend upon it, to make them and the places around about his hill a blessing. Ezek. 32:26. God has appeared in his temple, “to beautify the house of his glory.” And, if they enter into his gracious designs, the time is near at hand when the Lord shall inquire of that church, “Who are these that fly like a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?” Let her ministers and members reply, “These are thine, oh Lord God, souls but newly found in thee; gathered and gathering into thy church, that they may obtain a preparation for their final flight into paradise.” Let them answer thus; and they will soon have it impressed upon their hearts by the Lord God of hosts, “Therefore, thy gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day nor night.” Isaiah 60:11, If they now throw open the gates of Zion; have preaching every night or day and night, for weeks, as they do in many parts of the United States; visiting from house to house in the intervals of the services, and urging the sinners of the entire population to abandon their sins, and return to their offended God, who has come down to save every sinner in the place; — then will God shake the trembling gates of hell; they shall see Zion in great prosperity, and multitudes of converted sinners added to the ranks of the faithful.

It may be because of the close connection which exists often between the conversion of one sinner and that of hundreds, that our Saviour tells us, “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”

The Lord, my brother, may have manifested his power in the behalf of that one soul, in answer to the cries, perhaps, of one or two devoted members of your church. And, if the effectual fervent prayer of one righteous man avails so much with God, how much more the united prayers of your entire church! “If one sigh of a true Christian,” says an old divine, “wafts the bark to the desired haven, or stirreth Zion’s ship, how much more a gale of sighs, breathed by hundreds of believers! If one trumpet sounds so loudly in the ears of God, how much more a concert of all the silver trumpets in Zion sounding together! Where so many hands are lifted up, how many blessings may they not pull down from heaven!”

We must do God’s work in his time. But, if we content ourselves by saying, “We have had a glorious meeting, — a revival has begun, surely;” and yet appoint no additional services for the week, in order to fan the flame already kindled, the next Sabbath and the next, we may find that he is not with us in our time. It may be with us as with the Israelites who murmured against Moses, and refused to go up and “possess the land” in God’s time. They believed the report of the unbelieving spies, and offended the Lord, who had intended to subdue the whole country before them. Some of them did go up at their own time, but God was not among them, and they fled before their enemies. The whole congregation of Israel were ordered to retrace their steps into the wilderness; and a judicial punishment was inflicted, which extended through that entire generation. Do you understand me? Can you make the application I have seen many a flame of reviving piety kindled and extinguished in this way?

I have, however, known instances when, through love of the world, or love of ease, or through inattention to the work of the Spirit and the call of Providence, churches have been left in state of great barrenness; and where they have repented, humbled themselves before God, entered the field of conflict for revival, and by his assistance have obtained splendid victories over the powers of hell.

A minister of my acquaintance visited an American town, some years ago. He had only preached a few sermons, when many sinners were awakened, and about twenty found salvation. But a few persons of importance were of opinion that the ordinary services were sufficient, and discouraged the active brethren, who, rather than cause any unpleasant feelings in certain quarters, held back. The Spirit of God was grieved, and the revival stopped. The man of God was disheartened, and went to another town, where ministers and people made him welcome, commenced hostilities against the ranks of sin, and the result was an extensive revival, — hundreds of sinners were converted. News of these displays of the power of God reached the former town, and caused great searchings of heart. They saw their error, humbled themselves, and invited him to return. In the meantime, to show how sincere were their desires for a revival, they began special services of their own accord. The minister returned, and found them holding their meetings in a large lecture-room. He proposed that they should open at once their spacious and beautiful chapel, have it lighted brilliantly every night, and comfortably warmed, for it was winter-time, and thus let the public know that they intended to accomplish something, by the help of the Most High, and upon a large scale. They did so. During the first and second weeks, sinners were very hard, although they had preaching twice a day, and little was done. At length after their past unbelief and indifference had been well chastised, and their faith tried to the uttermost, the Lord came down amongst them in glorious power, and sinners were slain on every hand.

Having seen their error in the former instance, they resolved now to improve this victory to the utmost. Opposers of the first effort entered fully into the work, and the revival efforts were continued several months, and the saved of the Lord were very many.

Be assured your responsibility is very great. Realize, I entreat you, in what position you are placed. I now understand all you describe. At one period of my ministry, this would not have been the case; I should have united with others in saying, “You are on the eve of a glorious revival.” Be not deceived; the sinners of the nineteenth century are well versed in the art of procrastination. There is not a faithful minister in England who has not learned this to his sorrow. My opinion is, you will look in vain for an extensive revival, unless you “follow the blow” with a succession of sermons and prayer-meetings. “The heavens are big with rain,” but neither one peal of thunder nor half a dozen may sufficiently shake them. A score may be required to bring down the “teeming shower.” Often have I observed such clouds of mercy gather over the people of my charge; but they have passed away, and the thirsty land has remained unwatered. How many times have I seen a congregation, on a Sabbath night, moved as if the breezes which are wafted through the streets of the New Jerusalem had swept over the audience, and only five or six out of the affected multitude went down to their houses justified. After such a season, I have heard some good people prophesy, “Surely a great revival has commenced!” But here the matter ended; month succeeded to month, and no general revival took place; and very few were gathered from the world into the fold, during all that time. And why? Either because we were too slothful, or ignorant of the call of God, or too busily engaged in other matters to enter into the designs of the Holy Spirit and do God’s work in his own time. It would appear as we considered our only duty to be to wait, and be still, and expect to see sinners coming by scores, of their own accord, inquiring what they should do to be saved; and all this without any extra effort on our part, or any additional meetings beyond the ordinary ones. But, to our surprise, sinners became as hard and careless as ever, and we were doomed to the disappointment which our supineness deserved. You see, my brother, we must follow up and improve upon a victory. One whole week, or, indeed, two or three weeks, of special services, should have succeeded the scene you witnessed a few Sabbath nights since. Depend upon it, had you done so, you would have seen a glorious display of the power of God among sinners. It has been said of the great general, Hannibal, that he knew how to obtain a victory, but not [how] to improve a victory. Let heaven and earth, my brother, never have cause to say this of you again; that is, if to “improve upon the victory” lie within the circle of possibilities. Remember the saying of the old Greek poet, — I shall give it you in plain English: “No wise man will be taken a second time in an error he hath suffered for;” rather should it not be the glory of Christian minister to compel all hell to say of him, as did the enemies of a certain Roman general, “If he obtain a victory over us, he fiercely insults us and pursues it; if he be repulsed, he returns afresh”?

You have read that the dying Elisha commanded King Joash to take a bunch of arrows, and smite the ground with them. 2 Kings, 13:18,19. “And he smote thrice, and stayed.” The dying prophet was deeply grieved in spirit, and said, “Thou shouldst have smitten five or six times; then thou hadst smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it: whereas, now, thou shalt smite Syria but thrice.” He finally obtained only three victories over the enemies of Israel; but it would appear that God intended to have given him five or six signal victories, — quite to the overthrow of Syria. But his three strokes, perhaps, indicated his constitutional tendency to slackness or indolence, and were an intimation that a few victories over the enemies of his God would satisfy a soul fond of ease and quiet; and that, when just upon the point of achieving other splendid victories, the habit would allure him into retirement, there to enjoy an inglorious peace.

Ah! thou man of God, why didst thou not repeat the stroke? Now thou hast obtained but one small victory; whereas, God may have intended thee many, and may have purposed, by many strokes, to have shaken the trembling gates of hell, quite to the overthrow of the devil’s kingdom, in _____.

Perhaps the Captain of your salvation may soon favor you again with another display of his power. If so, what do you purpose? As you resolve, so execute. Should God honor you again, as I believe he will, confer not with flesh and blood; regard not what any man may say: improve the victory; push it to the utmost. Consider Judges, seventh and eighth chapters. See how Gideon improved the advantage given him by God. The first victory resembled the beginning of some revivals under very small sermons, that God might have all the glory. It was without sword or spear, for the battle was the Lord’s. Although one hundred and twenty thousand men of the enemy that drew the sword had fallen that day, yet Gideon pushed the victory to the uttermost. “He came to Jordan, and passed over with his three hundred men, faint, yet pursuing;” and went up to Nobah and Jogbehah, and smote a second host, “for the host was secure.” He pursued Zeba also, and Zalmunna, the two kings of Midian, and took them, and discomfited all the host. Gideon knew how to improve a victory. In the midst of his mighty achievements, there were some fault-finders, murmurers, the men of Ephraim; and there were opposers, “the princes of Succoth.” Gideon, it seems, had asked bread of them for his little army; and this was his plea, — “For they be faint, and I am pursuing.” He received a rough reply. Gideon, however, knew better than to waste precious time in parleying; but to the men of Ephraim, who complained bitterly that they had not been called out at the beginning of the battle, that they might have shared in the glory and the spoil, Gideon replied: “What have I now done, in comparison of you? Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? Some have supposed this passage displaced, and that he was now giving them credit for their noble and rigorous improvement of the victory; that the fact of their having taken the two Midianitish generals, and discomfited their hosts at the passes of Jordan, was of more importance than if they had been present in the moment of the first victory by “the sword of the Lord.” “Then their anger was abated toward him, when he had said that.” Judges 8:3. “A soft answer turneth away wrath.” “He might have said,” says one, “that he could place but little dependence upon his brethren, when, through faint-heartedness, twenty-two thousand of them left him at one time; but he passed this by, and took the more excellent way.” There is an important lesson here for revivalists. His answer to the princes of Succoth was severe; but the men of Ephraim were of a very different character, and had heartily repented of their neutrality.

You desire my opinion of a certain kind of preaching; but your own views are so very good, I know not that I can add anything material. We may say of many sermons, as the countryman, of an exquisitely painted head: “What an excellent skull is this, — and yet there is no brain in it!” A discourse fraught with “picked phrases,” and pretty flowers only, but containing nothing to arouse the sinner, or to draw believers into more entire devotedness to God, is a sad misapplication of talents. We may say of such a discourse, as Herodotus did of the head of Onesilus, “It was destitute of brains; and instead thereof, was filled with honey-combs.” We may demur against such sermons, as did Antalcides of the garland of roses sent him by the King of Persia, perfumed with sweet spices and odors. He accepted them, but his reply in Latin was equivalent to this: “The natural fragrance of the roses is lost, by being mixed with artificial odors!” There is much of this kind of “artificial perfumery” about the preaching of some men.

I was amused with a writer, the other day, who, when speaking of the difference between superficial preachers and those who go deeply into the meaning of the Holy Ghost, compared the former to the boys of apothecaries, who gather broad leaves and white flowers from the surface of the water; and the latter to accomplished divers, who bring up precious pearls from the bottom of the deep.

“There is a difference,” says an old divine, “between washing the face of a discourse clean, and painting it: the former is beautiful and commendable; the latter, sinful and abominable. Ministers must mind the capacities of their auditories, and not put that meat into their mouths which their teeth cannot chew, nor the stomach concoct. Their sermons of quiddities and school niceties may (in the opinion of giddy men) tend to their own praise, but never to their hearers’ profit. Such men, when their children ask bread, give them stones, which may choke them, but will not nourish them. It is a pity he should ever teach school, that will not speak to his scholars so as that they may understand.”

A late divine, though not so homely in his phraseology, is quite as severe in his remarks upon the wickedness of this soul-famishing and gospel-dishonoring preaching: “Indeed, who is more unbecoming a minister of Christ than to waste his animal spirits, as a spider does his bowels, to spin a web only to catch flies; to get vain applause, by a foolish pleasing of the ignorant? And what cruelty is it to the souls of men! It is recorded as an instance of Nero’s savage temper, that, in a general famine, when many perished by hunger, he ordered that a ship should come from Egypt (the granary of Italy) laden with sand for the use of the wrestlers. In such extremity, to provide only for delight, that there might be spectacles at the theater, when the city of Rome was a spectacle of such misery as to melt the heart of any but a Nero, was most barbarous cruelty. But it is cruelty of a heavier imputation, for a minister to prepare his sermons to please the foolish curiosity of fancy, and flashing conceits; nay, such light vanities, that would scarce be endured in a scene, while hungry souls languish for want of solid nourishment.”

The only answer I can give to your closing inquiry is this: “We must not only strike the iron when it is hot, but strike it till it is made hot. Great occasions must not be waited for, but we must make use of ordinary opportunities as they may offer.” Should a great occasion again offer, make the best use of it within your power; — it is easy to hammer out iron when hot; but if circumstances are nothing more than ordinary, repeat the blow, and strike with power, nor give over till sinners are broken to pieces all around you, by the power of God.

ENDNOTES

2 “There were times,” says an intelligent friend of mine, “when laws were chanted, and Orpheus and Amphion were both, it is believed, poetical legislators, as were almost all legislators among barbarous people, whose reason must be addressed through the medium of the imagination.”

3 At the first meeting we held in Sheffield, May 12th, 1844, in which we called penitent sinners forward for prayer, there was but one saved; but the next meeting was crowned with fifty, and so it went on till more than two thousand were converted to God.