What you say is perfectly correct. “Is not my word a hammer, saith the Lord, to break the rock in pieces?” “But, adds an old divine, “it will never break the stony heart, if lightly laid on. What is preached coldly is heard carelessly.”
I dare not judge in the case of _____. A cold and languid manner may arise from various causes. Ill health; sore temptation, indifference of God’s people, or smallness of the congregation, may for a season produce this; in a sensitive or nervous constitution: but the individual may not have “backslidden from God,” in the proper sense of the term, notwithstanding. I have known ministers [to] get into this state, when they have not been in a revival for some months: in fact, I have myself, when so circumstanced, been frequently thus. When out of a revival for some time, I am apt to become, as to vigor in preaching, quite another man. Engaging in a revival has a remarkable tendency to invigorate the soul of a preacher, and to impart a keenness of edge, and a piercing point, to his preaching. Lessons upon the true method of preaching to sinners are learned during a revival, which are seldom or never to be obtained in the retirement of the study.
During several years of my ministry, I have been compelled to retire from revival efforts, in the summer months, in consequence of the extreme heat peculiar to the American climate. I preached regularly, of course, to my people on the Sabbath, and attended to my pastoral visitations: but was unable to go on with special services such as I am engaged in at present. My ministrations, during such seasons, were often feeble, and my mind not infrequently drawn to what may be termed a speculative theology. I have now before me a whole pile of manuscript sermons, written during such intervals: but they are quite useless to me in this revival tour. In fact; were I to preach them to my present congregations, they would soon put an end to the revival. Not that they are erroneous, but, they do not contain that class of truth which is adapted to promote a revival in actual operation.
My revival campaigns in America began usually in the autumn, and were continued until April or May. Hostilities against the devil’s kingdom had no sooner commenced in good earnest, than the style of my preaching underwent a marked change. New energies seemed to be infused into my soul and body, with a large increase of spirituality of mind, with a clearer evidence of holiness, and a proportionate augmentation of conscious happiness. My health, too, has always improved on these occasions: so that, in reference to physical as well as intellectual strength, many times I have been led to exclaim, “I am a new man.”
You will not, I hope, understand me, that I totally neglected to warn sinners to flee from the wrath to come during summer. Not so: my preaching sometimes manifested considerable energy and point: and now and again, sinners got awakened and converted. But not being able to follow the blow, sinners, after a few weeks, got hard, and fortified themselves against feeling the power of truth: and this discouraged and weakened me. Neither would sinners hear those alarming and tremendous appeals in my ordinary ministry, that were often witnessed, and by which frequently whole ranks were mowed down, during an extraordinary and long-continued conflict; In these “special services” unconverted people expect to hear terrible things, as a matter of course. It is distinctly understood, “designs are on foot against them;” that nothing less is intended than to make them the prisoners of the Lord. A fearful catastrophe this to the carnal mind. The line of demarcation has been drawn between the world and the church: and so clearly, too, that if an alien to the commonwealth of Israel has mistaken his ground, “he soon finds the place too hot for him,” and must either be tormented like a devil, or surrender to the truth, or retreat among the enemies of the Lord. “The sinners in Zion are afraid: fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites. Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burning?” Isaiah 33:14. The minister now occupies independent ground. The devil’s children have little time for mutiny against his ministry. The servant of God does not allow them half a week to criticize his sermon, nor to band together to leave him empty seats on the coming Sabbath. One sermon when taken apart from the rest, may have many hard and unbearable things in it; but, before they can well enter their protest in behalf of their fellow-sinners, whom they consider “outraged,” two or three of a similar character follow it, and with such “stunning power” that they are thrown into confusion, and know not what to do. Five come to the house of God where one stays away. Reports of all kinds are afloat, and those who concluded not to go again are impelled by curiosity, or by a secret uneasiness, to mingle with the multitudes on their way to hear the truth. To their surprise, the chapel is as full as ever; and, notwithstanding all the ridicule they have heaped upon the preacher, they discover his popularity to be above and beyond their control. The minister has thrown down the gauntlet of defiance against the devil and his children. The faith and expectation of God’s people are rapidly ascending to a climax, and a glorious victory. There is now beating of the air with idle words. Nor is there anything like trimming between sinner and Christians, so as to please both in the sermon: no mincing of the truth: no fear of offending: the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the naked scorching truth, in all its tremendous power, is thrown into the ranks of wickedness, like balls of fire; and with a physical and intellectual energy that amazes the man of God himself, while it strikes terror and universal consternation throughout the hosts of the ungodly. This is not a “fancy sketch.” I have seen it thus often, when the slain and the healed of the Lord have been very many. This is the reason why the Methodist Episcopal Church, in one year, receives her hundred thousand converts: and why she has arisen, during the last twenty years, from three hundred and twenty-eight thousand five hundred and twenty-three members, to about a million one hundred and fifty thousand members;  — showing an increase of upwards of eight hundred thousand during those twenty years!
I repeat it again, in one revival of religion, a man will learn better how to preach the truths of Christianity in such a manner as will awaken and convert men, than he could in many years [of] close study in connection with his ordinary ministry. Hardhearted and impenitent sinners are to be broken down into repentance. This may require heavier metal than he has in his collection of sermons. VICTORY or DEFEAT are two tremendous words to a minister thus circumstanced: they have cast me down upon the floor, in agony and tears, crying, “Who is sufficient for these things?” He is now thrown upon his own resources, though trusting firmly upon the power of the mighty God of Jacob. His mind is now tasked to the utmost, and his genius too. “Necessity is the mother of invention.” New ideas are created in his mind: new methods of illustrating and applying truth, suitable to the exigencies of the case, spring up before his imagination. He cries to God for the holy unction without which all his efforts will be weak as helpless infancy, and all the thunder of his arguments but as the chirping of a grasshopper. He knows it; and, with a certain minister, he says, “O Lord God of hosts! out of my study and into that pulpit I will not go, unless thou engage to go with me.” He prevails: “My presence shall go with thee!” “Enough, Lord!” He enters the pulpit: his soul is a flame, “and longs its glorious matter to declare.” And what shall I say? His words go blazing from his lips, and fall like heaven’s own fire upon the hearts and consciences of multitudes. Lo! the power of God descends in dreadful grandeur upon the whole assembly: sinners are struck with remorse: new inroads are made in their ranks, and many are converted to God. The servant of God, too, has obtained a new sermon, which, by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, may produce similar effects upon other congregations.
There is now a revival; and multitudes, if they are followed up with such a sharp and piercing ministry, will never rest, until they find peace through faith in the blood of the Lamb. The services are continued several weeks or months, now that it is clearly evident to all beholders that the grand design of a preached Gospel is being accomplished. Gospel truth is now producing its distinct and positive effects, — effects which should gladden every Christian’s soul, and which cause that minister’s heart to dance for joy.
This, my dear sir, is the kind of preaching the world needs in the nineteenth century. Sinners are to be awakened, penitents brought to God, and new converts built up in their most holy faith. “And who is sufficient for these things?” He who desires to save souls from death must understand how to adapt and wield the truth so as to produce an immediate effect. It is not enough that it is practical: it must be effectual. It will not do to lay down the truth, and leave it there, either to succeed or fail. No! After truth in all its bearings, truth in every aspect and in all its luster, has been radiating over that mass of mind, the faithful minister must come down from the pulpit, invite those who are seeking pardon and holiness to come forward, in order to be prayed with and instructed. Now that the local preachers and leaders have plenty of work to do with those who have bowed for prayer, let him go from pew to pew, persuading others to go and do likewise. “But,” you are ready to say, “he will shorten his days by such tremendous efforts.” Be it so. God will raise up others. Better accomplish a great work in a short time, than live many years and do little, perhaps, for his generation.
No man can estimate how much he may do for God, without injury to himself, if he is prudent, and fully baptized with the Holy Ghost. Let him exercise the habit of self-control, avoid screaming and unnecessary wasting of his strength in loud singing: let him wield the talent of the church, by bringing forward in the prayer-meetings able and vigorous leaders and local preachers. These men of God may be qualified, both by gifts and grace, to pray quite as well as he can himself; they have good voices, physical and intellectual strength, and a good understanding in the things of God. But they want one to lead them forth to war and victory. Let him do this, but avoid attempting to do everything himself; let others share with him the glorious toil, and his health may be as good at the close of such a campaign as at the beginning.
In a revival, a preacher studies mind, — mind at rest, and mind in motion: human nature unawakened, and awakened: in its sickness, and in the enjoyment of a perfect Gospel cure. He is now a curate indeed: and he learns what truths are most suitable to mind in all these cases: the proper truth has been administered, and, like a great philosopher experimenting upon nature, he beholds the effects with joy, and by the results, in the experience of fifty or one hundred cases, he calculates with great certainty the effects upon thousands more, who are yet to be brought under its searching and saving power. This increases his faith and confidence in the truths of the Gospel. The revival affords him the same privilege as is enjoyed by a physician. He stands by his patient, administers to his sin-sick soul the medicine of she Gospel, and has an equal opportunity of observing its effects. Again and again he enters the pulpit with fresh views of the state of his patients. He will illustrate, compound, enforce or soften the truth, as the different states of the people require, and with a tenderness of heart, manner, and power, surprising even to himself. He is no longer a mere speculating, theorizing preacher. New gifts have descended upon him from above: which he may never entirely lose, nay, may increase continually, so long as he appropriates, at least, a part of each year for such extraordinary efforts. In the mean time, his power and influence with the people of God, and, indeed, with the entire congregation, advance daily. His prayers, sermons, and general character, are invested, in their estimation, with such a moral grandeur and power as will be almost irresistible, and by which he may speak the most unpalatable truth. Thus, by means of the honor put upon him by the Lord of hosts, if his eye be single, with the help of the Holy Spirit he may bear down all opposition, and carry everything before him in the conversion of sinners.
During the progress of a revival, if he is a careful observer of human nature, he may accumulate a mass of revival materials; — that class of truth which is illustrated by facts, and which will be most suitable and effectual in bringing about a revival, or promoting one where it has already commenced; and by which, if he continue to walk closely with God, he may arrive at such a point in his pulpit preparation, that, aided by an influence from heaven, sinners may not be able to stand before him all the days of his life. Thus he may become the instrument of the conversion of thousands and tens of thousands of immortal souls, who shall be the crown of his rejoicing in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Every minister of Jesus should aim at such results. How can he rest satisfied without the conversion of sinners, when the means are within his grasp by which such a glorious event may be effected? Who wants to “fight windmills,” or “fight as one beating the air”? Any preacher of the Gospel, who has been called of God to the work (and if he have not been so called, better that he were earning an honest livelihood by breaking stones by the highway side), may be successful, if he will, in thus winning souls to Jesus Christ.
It is a sad event in the history of any church, when the pastor says, “I have no talent for this kind of work.” And pray, what has God sent the poor man into the church to do? What object had he in view on entering the ministry? But perhaps he has a secret desire to be such a successful instrument in bringing sinners to God. It may be that he is coveting earnestly the best gifts; such as the church of God needs in the nineteenth century:– an age of commercial and scientific enterprise, of general and universal speculation, and excitement to money-making, such as the world has not seen, I believe, since the days of the apostles. The church wants a ministry of strength and power, — men having one desire and one aim, men capable of bringing the claims of eternity before the consciences of their hearers, and with such a vividness as will neutralize the absorbing interests of time: so as to “stem the domineering influence of things seen,” as Dr. Chalmers expresses it, “and to invest faith with a practical supremacy, to give its objects such a vivacity of influence as shall overpower the near and the hourly impressions that are ever emanating upon man from a seducing world.”
Show me a minister who is panting for the necessary qualification for turning many sinners to righteousness, and I would say to him, fast and pray, and weep before the Lord, till that Spirit whose office it is to bestow spiritual gifts upon men, especially to those who are coveting earnestly the best gifts, shall descend upon your soul in a baptism of fire, filling the heart with that perfect love which casteth out all fear. A yearning pity for lost sinners will then take possession of his heart, and God will open him a door that no man can shut. Regardless of what man may say, or do, and only intent upon one thing, — the conversion of sinners, — he will very soon see a revival that will strike terror to the hearts of devils and men and send a tide of joy throughout the innumerable legions of heaven.
“My talents, gifts, and graces, Lord,
Into thy gracious hands receive,
And let me live to preach thy word,
And let me to thy glory live,
My every sacred moment spend
In publishing the sinner’s Friend.
“I would the precious time redeem,
And longer live for this alone:
To spend and to be spent for them
Who have not yet my Saviour known,
Fully on these my mission prove,
And only breathe to breathe thy love.”
There have been few ministers of the Lord Jesus who have been really called of God to preach, but who have unfortunately neglected to cultivate the “revival spirit,” who have not, in some way, been compelled to the utterance of regret on their death-bed. “I have,” said a celebrated Archbishop of the Church of England, “passed through many places of honor and trust, both in church and state; more than any man of my order in England for seventy years. But were I assured that by my preaching I had converted one soul unto God, I should herein take more comfort than in all the offices that have ever been bestowed upon me.” “My brother,” said another to an active minister, “to have one poor sinner to own thee in the day of judgment, as an instrument in God’s hands of plucking him as a brand from the burning, will be a greater comfort to thy glorified spirit, in the day of the Lord, than if thou hadst been the greatest orator that ever engaged the attention of an audience.”
A certain minister, during his last hours, was greatly dejected on account of his want of success during his ministry, which seemed to plant thorns in his dying pillow. Before he departed, however, a person came in and informed him that two persons had voluntarily made themselves known as having been converted to God by his labors. His countenance immediately brightened, and gathering up his feet, he said, with Simeon, “Now, Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” Nor is this feeling to be wondered at, if we consider how vividly such an one must realize the glorious character of that declaration of the prophet Daniel: “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament: and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”
Is he not the wisest minister, then, who takes upon himself the character of a revivalist in early life? And what else does the term imply, than to be a soul-saver; or, as in the case of Elijah, a converter? — a term of reproach among some, we allow; and so was “a Methodist” at the beginning; but we know the benefits of Methodism too well to love it any the less on that account. Observe: the passage I have quoted does not say, They that are learned and eloquent preachers, who have drawn immense crowds to hear them, and who have won for themselves an honorable standing among their brethren, and a high position in ecclesiastical authority, on account of high intellectual powers, and statesman-like talents, shall shine as the stars for ever and ever. No: but “they that turn many to righteousness.”
If the knowledge of having been instrumental in the conversion of two souls has been a source of so much comfort to a dying minister, how unspeakable the delight, in the closing hour of one’s life, to know of scores, hundreds, thousands! “O,” exclaimed the great and good Dr. Payson, a few hours before he went to heaven, “O, if ministers only saw the inconceivable glory that is before them, and the preciousness of Christ, they would not be able to refrain from going about, leaping and clapping their hands for joy, and exclaiming, ‘I’m a minister of Christ! I’m a minister of Christ!”
It rejoices my heart, that many of the churches of Christendom are awaking, as out of a deep sleep, to the importance of securing to themselves a soul-saving ministry. And, it would appear they are beginning at the right point: not with a violent attempt to remodel those ministers whose habits, with regard to preaching, have been long formed, and whose sermons have become so stereotyped in their memory as to leave but little room for any new ideas or plans for the salvation of sinners, but in the proper training of their student candidates for the ministry. I was delighted, the other day, with the following from a very able pen:
“Circumstances are now beginning to call the attention of the churches to their students. It is well. For how can any church expect a race of godly ministers to arise out of students whom she had utterly neglected, over whom she had never watched nor prayed? … The demand for laborers has, on the one hand, called us to consider how these may be obtained, and, on the other, led us to inquire anew into the whole subject of their previous training for the ministry of the Gospel, and the feeding of the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. The first question, no doubt, was, How shall we get ministers? But this, after all, is not the main one. With any true church of Christ, the main question is not, How are we to get men, but how are we to get living men? How are we to secure a place of living ministers, pastors after God’s own heart, who will warn the wicked, and watch over the blood-bought heritage?
“It is not the getting of men that is the question now. Nor is it, ‘How may we best secure that, they shall be learned, able, eloquent, polished, educated men?’ No; these may be very needful points: but they are of the second grade. They are not the essentials: they are not indispensable. They ought not to be overlooked by any church, but care ought to be taken that they shall only occupy the second, and not the first place, in the training of our youth. They have too long been treated as paramount; … they have too long been held in undue estimation by the people of God. Hence the wisdom of man’s words has often made the cross of Christ of none effect. Hence the taste and passion for eloquence, pulpit eloquence, have vitiated the simplicity of our taste, and destroyed the relish for ungarnished truth, and mightily contributed to hinder the simple and natural preaching of the everlasting Gospel.
“We do rejoice that the question regarding ministerial character and qualification has at length found its way into a higher region, and is to be treated on higher principles, and as embracing more spiritual elements than it has hitherto done among too many even of the reformed churches of Christendom. We rejoice that our circumstances have at length brought us to this. It is high time that it should be so. We have long enough occupied worldly and secular ground in this matter, and weighed ministers in the balances of earthly literature, or science, or eloquence. We have long enough treated our students as mere aspirants to literary fame, instead of being those to whom we were to commit the weightiest charge, and the most solemn responsibility which can devolve upon either man or angel. When the question is put, “Who is sufficient for these things?” It is high time to answer it as the Lord himself teaches us, “My grace is sufficient.” We have often, in time past, said that learning, and talent, and eloquence, were enough to make a man sufficient. Right glad are we that this time is gone by, and that a different standard and different balances are coming into use, — the standard of the apostles, the balances of the sanctuary. Right glad are we that we have more fully been led to see that nothing but living men, men of God, men full of the Holy Ghost and of faith, can be ministers in the church of Christ. Our circumstances, we say, have forced this point upon our notice, and compelled us more fully and solemnly to ponder the question, How may we obtain a supply of faithful pastors? Perhaps to some it may seem unwise to take up this point too hastily, or act upon it too strictly. It may seem that our circumstances call on us to widen the door, instead of contracting it, when there is such a demand for laborers, and such an abundant harvest whitening over the breadth of the land. But it must be obvious, that, if we are to gain ground, or maintain our footing, merely by reason of the popularity, or talent, or eloquence of our preachers, the hold we shall have of the people will not only be of a worldly and unspiritual kind, but of the most precarious nature. No, eloquence and learning will not avail us. They cannot lay the foundation deep enough. They may attract more, win more, bring about a larger amount of apparent adherence to our cause. But that is all. Our prosperity must have something far deeper and broader for its base. It must be laid in the conversion of souls. Any foundation less deep than this must be too shallow, too superficial, too crumbling, to withstand the coming flood, the first waves of which are already beginning to ripple round our embankments.
“It is to this that our circumstances are leading us. And we trust that no earthly, shortsighted, unscriptural desire of merely swelling our numbers, will draw us away from this. It is God’s finger that is pointing us to this, and too intelligibly to be mistaken. What have the revivals of the last five years been doing for us? Have they not been laying a deep foundation for the church in the time of trouble? And have they not been teaching us that our strength and security must lie in the number of souls converted to Christ, and not merely in the number of adherents to our cause? Is not that their meaning? We fear that they have been too little regarded in this light. We have looked on and wondered. We have been interested, and perhaps have rejoiced in the tidings concerning them. But that was all. We overlooked the mighty lesson which God was seeking to teach us by such living and legible examples. It was not merely to gather in a people for himself that God has been doing such great things for us. It was not merely to prepare a remnant for the days of trial into which the church was passing, that there might be some, at least, who would not turn back in the day of battle, but would be ready to go, for Christ’s sake, to prison and to death. It was not merely to train and discipline a noble band of warriors for the church’s welfare, — men to pray, as we as to contend for victory. It was also to show us of what men he wished his church to be composed: what ministers he desired to see in our churches: and what preachers of the Gospel it was that he would bless. Have these revivals not taught us these things? And shall we not learn from them that our stability and prosperity must ever be in the number of sinners converted, of living saints within the walls of Zion? Shall we not learn from them that it is the ministry of living, praying ministers that he blesses? Shall we not learn that it is not eloquence, or ability, or human wisdom, that are mighty in the pulling down of Satan’s strongholds, but prayer and simplicity, devotedness and perseverance, the naked word of God, the simple preaching of the free Gospel of the grace of God? It is thus that the word runs and is glorified. It is thus that souls are converted. It is thus that the ministry is honored and blessed. It is thus that the church is built up, even in stirring times. Has not God been teaching us these things? And shall we, in maturing our plans, and constructing our different schemes, overlook so distinct a leading of God, or turn away with indifference from a lesson so important, so essential?
“But here, perhaps, a glance at the past may not be unprofitable, nor out of place. We read the annals of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and gaze with eager joy upon the career of glorious success afforded to those instruments which God then raised up as his chosen witnesses. Whence, then, arose the success of these apostolic men, and wherein did their great strength lie? It is with the spirit of the men, more than of their works, that we are to be imbued, if we are emulous of a ministry as powerful, as victorious, as theirs. It is not the cold marble of the statue that we are to make our model, however perfect in its symmetry and polish: it is the breathing form of man, the living person. The marble is but the cold outline, the material resemblance, incapable of reproducing itself, or imprinting its lineaments on surrounding objects, or transfusing any secret qualities and virtues into the most ravished beholder.
“If this be true of the servants, much more is it of the Master. If the study of their characters be so profitable, much more must be the contemplation of his. If personal contact with them be so fitted to mold us into their likeness, how much more must personal contact and communion with him be fitted to fashion us anew after his resemblance? And being thus transformed into the Master’s likeness, how certain to be blest in our labors, to be successful in our ministry!
“In these troublous times, and with the prospect of confusion and harassment before us, it is hard to maintain this intercourse. Nay, it seems impossible. Time and solitude are a-wanting. Nevertheless it must be so. In the case of the apostles it was so, in spite of all their endless tribulations and tossings. In the case of our own fathers it was so, in spite of their multiplied labors and hardships. It must be so with us: and, doubtless, it will be so. The tumult of the storm will make the solitude of the closet doubly welcome. Man’s wrath and enmity will render doubly precious the love and friendship of the Saviour. When there shall be in the world a ministry of power, and times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, — a precious earnest of THE TIMES OF REFRESHING at his appearing and his kingdom.”
I can say, as did the Rev. John Brown, on his death-bed, to his sons in the ministry: Whenever the Lord has led me out to be most diligent in this way, he has poured most comfort into my heart, and given me my reward in my bosom.” “O labor, labor to win souls to Christ,” was his language in the same conversation, adding the words of his Lord: “Work while it is day, for the night cometh when no man can work.” This is your “harvest-time” my brother. The fields around you are “white already” — put in the sickle and reap fruit unto life eternal. Let not “an oppressive sense of the “inferiority” of your talents discourage you. Have you never observed the variety of talent evident among the reapers in the harvest field? Some there are who can impart to their sickles a noble sweep, and the grain is grasped and leveled with a sort of commanding and solemn majesty. But there are others who, perhaps, having neither mental nor physical ability for such a grasp, “make up for it by the quickness of their motions. Their nimble reaping-hooks make two or three strokes for one of their competitors, and thus they keep pace with, or “go a-head” of their more talented companions. I know an individual who is as bold and active for God as if conscious he possessed the first talents of the land: yet none can be more sensible of the mediocrity of his abilities, when compared with other ministers of Jesus Christ. More than once I have heard him modestly apologize for the frequency of his attempts to do good, by adverting to the advice given by a Spartan mother to her son, who was going forth with the army to the wars. “Mother,” said the lad, “my sword is too short.” The reply of the mother was, “Add a step to it, my boy.” A sentiment which one would expect from a Spartan mother, but it required a Spartan boy to hear it: one who had been taught to carry out the advice, or never return alive. Let the conviction, then, of the defectiveness of your talent impel you forward to increased diligence in your holy calling. “Add a step,” my brother: nay if possible, take five steps for one taken by your superiors, — five sermons for their one, — and you may do more for God, and have a brighter crown, than the man who has ten talents.
There can be no doubt you were, at the time you mention, on the verge of a glorious revival: nor am I much surprised, at what you justly consider a “mortifying failure.” If we will not do God’s work in his time, but perform our own work first, it is presumption to expect his blessing, either to his or our own work. When the Israelites disbelieved the report of the spies, despised the promise of God, and murmured against Moses and Aaron, they were ordered back again into the wilderness. A plague also went out from the Lord, and slew the spies who had brought up an evil report upon the land of promise. The children of Israel, upon beholding the displeasure of God, “mourned greatly,” and early in the morning they were upon the top of the mountain, saying, “Lo! we be here, and will go up unto the place which the Lord hath promised: for we have sinned.” Moses told them not to go, “For the Lord is not among you; — it shall not prosper. Ye are turned away from the Lord: therefore, the Lord will not be with you.” And so it was: they gave battle, but God was not in their camp, and many of them were slaughtered by the hands of the Amalekites and Cannanites. They attended to the suggestions of their carnal hearts, and would not obey in the accepted time: but, repenting of their doings, they determined to meet their enemies upon the strength of commands and promises which had been annulled and forfeited. Their time, you have seen, was not God’s time: therefore they were thrown into confusion, and discomfited by the enemies of the Lord and of Israel. There is a lesson here, but I must leave it with yourself to make the application, — only, I may add the following remarks of the judicious Bates: “There are two branches of folly visible in the world: men will not do when they can, and afterwards cannot when they would.”
When the breeze is brisk and fair, will the captain who has long been waiting for such a propitious event permit his crew to while away their time on deck, and himself go and lounge in the cabin among his books and papers? If so, and the wind should change, so as to detain him in port for weeks to come, there would be few to pity him. But no — master and men are “on the alert, — the anchor is weighed, — the sails are unfurled, –
“… They hearty wave
Their last adieu, and, loosening every sheet,
Resign the spreading vessel to the wind!”
But it often happens that the children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.
We are the servants of God, and we must not think he will excuse us from doing his work, when the evidences of a revival having commenced are convincing, because we have much of our own to attend to. This remark will apply to local preachers and class leaders, as well as to ministers, — I mean, as it regards their cooperation with the Holy Spirit, when he comes down to revive his work. Suppose that you had a servant, and he should neglect your business, and, when pressed for his reasons, should excuse himself on account of having so much of his own to manage:– what would you do? “I would discharge him at once!” Doubtless you would: and who could blame you? Has not something like this happened to not a few in _____ since the occurrence? Have not some backslidden both from work and wages, while others have been singularly laid aside? Are there not others, who might do good, but who are standing idle in the Lord’s vineyard, having apparently neither the will nor power to work: while a few are doing something, “feebly,” but the “fruits are hidden”? Now, the disapprobation of the Lord is not always expressed thus, as in _____: but where the call of God to enter into a revival effort has been plain, and neglected through love of money, pleasure, or idleness, there is, usually, a barrenness among the people, and a humiliating want of success in the “ordinary means.”
You inquire, “But are there not frequent intervals of a painful character, between one revival and another, in some of your American societies?” Yes. “If so, what are the usual causes?” They are various: but I have known instances, where we could assign no other reason than the unbelief and impenitency of sinners. In most, however, the causes were very evident to all who had the work of God at heart. Love of ease, money, pleasure, honor, among professors of religion, rather than an ardent and laborious desire for the conversion of perishing sinners. A self-indulgent and indolent spirit; a decrease or loss of holiness, humility, and dependence upon God, on the part of the official members of the church, — local preachers, class-leaders and prayer-leaders. And last, though not least, the absence of the revival spirit and zeal from the hearts of the ministers, who, in some instances, have preferred ease and books to soul-saving:– the splendor of pulpit eloquence, which drew the admiration of the wicked, rather than the plain, pointed sermon, and the direct aim at the consciences of the ungodly: the neglect of visiting from house to house, and vigorous efforts in the prayer-meeting, after preaching, for the conversion of penitents:– all of which are absolutely necessary to the commencement and continuation of a revival.
Some societies owe such painful pauses to laxity of discipline — allowing backsliders and hypocrites to remain in church fellowship, — winking at the neglect of class-meetings, and other means of grace. “The wealthy are necessary to us; numbers are creditable to us. If we expel Mr. _____, and Mrs. _____ and _____, they will leave our congregation, and attend the preaching of a minister of another denomination.” Thus the Spirit of God is grieved, and no revival is obtained: while other branches of the same church are favored again and again with gracious outpourings of the Holy Spirit.
“In case of the long absence of a revival, when the fault has not been in the church, or when she has repented, and is everything God would have her be, in order to a revival, what do you suppose is the prevalent state of feeling among the members?” I cannot give you a better answer than the following extract from a letter, written by one of our ministers, for the revival department of the New York Christian Advocate and Journal, previous to my leaving America for Europe: “We are obediently waiting, anxiously looking, fervently praying, confidently hoping, and every day living, for a revival of the work of God in our charge.” Nor is it likely they remained long in such a state of preparation, without an ingathering of converted souls to their ranks.
Take the following account of another revival: “The friends of the Redeemer will everywhere rejoice, that Lexington has been visited by the Lord in mercy, — so lately the scene of judgment sickness, death. Still, of thousands, it may be well said:-
‘Mercies and judgments have alike been slighted.’
“Commencement. Christians began to mourn over their coldness, and the lost condition of others. They wept together, ‘confessed their sins one to another,’ and resolved to ‘work for God.’
“Means used. Those who loved Christ prayed all the time, labored all the time: and all the time felt that, unless the Spirit were poured out upon saint and sinner, not one soul would be converted.
“They offered constant, special, earnest, agonizing, united prayer. While they prayed, they labored, conversed with their friends, persuaded them to come to the house of God, and in several instances prayed with them hour after hour, until they gave themselves to the Saviour. Frequently they prayed till midnight; — and, after all, they sang and prayed, and felt, ‘Lord, revive us! — all our help must come from thee.’
“Preaching. In doctrine, plain: in illustration, powerful.
“Arguments. The shortness of time: the certainty of death: the danger of delay: and, above all, the goodness of God, and the love of the Saviour.
“Results. God has been glorified, the church enlarged, and dying sinners persuaded to set out for heaven. To the two Presbyterian churches in Lexington, about one hundred and fifty have been added. To the Methodist church, about one hundred and thirty have been added.
“Prospects. Everything around says to the Christian, ‘Work on’ — and the Christian sings,
‘Fight on, my soul till death
Shall bring thee to thy God.’
“Can these prospects be blighted? Yes. How? If Christians ‘come down from the work,’ by ceasing to pray, ceasing to labor, ceasing to feel for perishing sinners: ceasing to hold up their ministers’ hands: finding fault with preachers: harboring unkind feelings: talking about one another. If these things be done, the Spirit will be grieved, the work will decline, and those who were just on the verge of heaven, — almost persuaded to be Christians, — will go down to death:– and, of some who professed to love the Saviour, it may be said, at the last day, ‘Ye went not in yourselves, neither suffered them who were entering to go in: depart from me, unfaithful servants.’ That we may not thus act, we earnestly request every friend of Jesus Christ who reads this to pray for Lexington.”
I have read of a country, situated near the Pole, where the night endures many months together. When the inhabitants expect the sun, they ascend a very high mountain, and from its top wait his appearing, striving who shall first see the orb of day. No sooner do they see him ascend the horizon, than they embrace each other, exclaiming, “Ecce, sol apparet!” — “Behold, the sun appeareth!” Show me a church standing thus together upon the mountain-top of faith and holiness, waiting for and expecting a revival every hour, and laboring for it, like the above churches in Lexington, and I will dare to say they shall soon cry, “Ecce, sol apparet!” — “Behold the Sun of Righteousness appears, with healing on his wings!”
To the other points I can only refer briefly. It certainly is difficult to account for the movements of some men, — in many respects good men, — unless we attribute their conduct to strong temptation. I should think the influence from heaven was so powerful, and the scenes so remarkable and striking, at the time in question, that any mind, unless fearfully warped by some bad and powerful prejudices, would have been compelled to acknowledge “the finger of God.”
There was a revival going on in a certain city. Much was said for and against it. The agitation spread far and wide. A clergyman of the Established Church came to hear and see for himself. He spent several hours as a serious spectator, and before departing, candidly remarked, “This is the work of God: I see and very plainly feel it is. There must be something of this in every person, in passing from death to life, either in public or in private.” It depends a great deal, in many instances, whether the revival has begun, and is carried forward, under some men’s ministry, as to whether they will unite with it, or countenance the movement. If they are not acknowledged the first movers and main-springs in the revival, they will have nothing to do with it. Thank God, I charitably hope such cases are not numerous. I have met with but few such, in my revival efforts:-I mean among the ministry:– and even in other denominations, I have met with many honorable exceptions. How refreshing is the following instance! During a great revival of religion in the north of Ireland, many years ago, in the early days of Methodism, a prelate of the Established Church said to one of the vigorous instruments of the revival, “It would break my heart if that successful ministry in the north were interrupted and marred. They think to cause me to stretch out my hand against you, but all the world shall never move me to do so.” These present noble exceptions to a habit that is too prevalent among a class of men who should be the last to oppose the work of God. As to the case in hand, I cannot determine: God is judge: and he standeth at the door. If it be as some suppose, it is a hateful disposition. “Aulus Gellius used to wonder,” says a writer, “how two such elegant and magnanimous philosophers as Plato and Xenophon could ever descend to the meanness of depreciating and envying each other’s talents and success. What would he have said, had he been witness to the low competitions, the dirty jealousies, the narrow self-seekings, and the envious treachery, visible in the spirit and conduct of some who pass for Christian ministers?” Apply as you may think proper.
Let none of these things move thee, my brother. Be courageous, and “play the man.” A revival conflict shows the living minister. “A dead fish,” said a good man, “will swim with the stream: but a live one, if it chooses, can swim against it.” Ay, it can leap against and surmount a cataract! — only let your eye be single. Beware of imitating the ancient “would-be orator,” who extolled eloquence to the skies, that he might be lifted up thither with her, expecting to be thought eloquent by extolling eloquence. Be what you seem. Enter not into revivals merely that certain parties may consider you a revivalist: but in deed and in truth, for the glory of God, and the good of souls that he has redeemed with his own blood. Revivalists are now popular in England: and preachers who have not that character are at a significant discount. I believe this feeling will increase more and more. May God grant it! But let not us, in the mean time, desire this kind of heavenly sunshine, merely that we may be seen as motes floating in its luster. Make full proof of your ministry, and I care not whether your principles compel you, or you drive your principles, if so be they are pushed to the uttermost in the conversion of sinners. Your difficulties are great: but I say again, — Be of good courage: falter not: aim at the hearts of sinners, and “turn the battle to the gate.” Remember the advice of the honest heathen: “Noli virtute relicta invidiam pacare” — “Let us not leave off doing what is fit, to appease the envy of such as would have no such thing done.” I remember a position in which I was placed, seven or eight years ago, when I was advised to shut the chapel doors, and make no special efforts for a revival, while a certain great man was in town: and this was the argument: “You may expect to preach to empty pews.” There were other servants of God, however, — a good man and his wife, — who gave me a contrary advice: I took it, and God gave me the people. I was reading, the other day, of one Antigonus, who was on the point of engaging in a sea-fight with Ptolemy’s armada, when the pilot cried out, “How many are they more than we!” The courageous king replied, “It is true, if you count their numbers: but for how many do you value me?” You have God on your side: with him you are safe, though all hell and the world were leagued against you.
5 The number of Methodists in the United States at present (1851) is 1,312,295, of which the M. E. church has 720,491 — the M. E. Church South, 501,501, — other branches, 90,303. — Ed.