Of Confusion in Revival Prayer-Meetings

Do you remember the sentiment of a certain baronet respecting George Whitefield? Said he to a friend, “Mr. B____, after all that has been said, this Whitefield was truly a great man, — he was the founder of a new religion.”

“A new religion, sir!” exclaimed Mr. B____.

“Yes,” said the baronet, “what do you call it?”

“Nothing,” rejoined the other, “but the old religion revived with energy, and heated as if the minister really meant what he said.”

Please procure the printed Journal of John Wesley and compare what is there recorded, as having occurred under his own ministry, with the revival of religion now in progress in this town. When you have done this, then inquire of your own conscience; and if that be asleep, ask your memory whether the stranger from America has introduced a “spurious kind of Methodism into Hull.” Be candid; and I have no fears that the decision will be anything else than — This is old Methodism revived with new energy. Mr. Wesley did not, it is true, approve of all the scenes which took place in some of his meetings; neither was he “surprised” that the tremendous truths he had uttered produced effects so powerful; but he did not absolutely attempt to put down what some considered confusion and enthusiasm; he managed and controlled it, as did also his preachers, so as to retain the good, and avoid, as far as possible, the evil. That letter, written from Manchester, to Mr. Wesley, by one of the preachers, was nothing more than an echo of the sentiments of Mr. Wesley himself. “Indeed, we have had sometimes more noise than I liked; but I durst not pluck up the tares, for fear of destroying the wheat. I have therefore, thought it best to leave the whole with God; thinking it much better to have a little false fire mixed with the true, than to have none at all. [4]

You say, “I certainly thought they were engaged in a row, or fight, in the band-room of _____ chapel, the other night.” So did a father, on hearing a great noise as he approached his home. “I thought,” said he, afterwards, “my family were fighting and killing each other;” but, on going in, he found his daughters upon their knees, pleading in agony for the salvation of their souls. He also prostrated himself before God, and joined them in prayer, till one of them was filled with peace and joy, through believing. Did you go in to see what the matter was? And when you discovered the real cause of “the uproar,” did you sympathize with distressed sinners? Did you, fall down before God in the midst of them, and pray for the opening of the prison to those who were bound? — that those who were mourning in Zion might have beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness? Isaiah 61:3 If you did not thus pray, when you had an opportunity, — and if, instead, you walked away, despising in your heart those who did, — I cannot consider you worthy of the name of “a Methodist.” I think an old American Quaker had a proper and scriptural view of what you term “revival noise.” A company of ministers were on board a steamer, on their return from a place where there was a remarkable revival of religion. As they proceeded on their voyage, the conversation turned upon the revival. It was generally admitted there was much real good being done, and that very many sinners were converted, and a large number were returning to God as true penitents; but most of the party reprobated the noise and confusion which attended it. After a few had expressed their disapprobation, in terms sufficiently strong, they appealed to the Quaker, not doubting that he would coincide with their sentiments; but, to their surprise, he told them he did not wonder at all at the noise, allowing that the Holy Spirit was, indeed, hewing down sinners, and preparing them to take their places in the spiritual temple. “Now,” he continued, “you may remember, when Solomon began to build a temple to the Lord, timber had to be hewn in the forest, and stone quarried out and chiseled, according to the form required. Was there no noise during this process, think ye? Ay! and it must have been tremendous, when the lofty pines and other trees were prostrated to the ground by the repeated blows of the axe; — and in such great numbers, too, in all parts of the forest. What a wonderful noise, too, when they were getting out the stone, and when hundreds and thousands of workmen were imparting to them their proper form and polish by hammer and chisel! All this, you are aware, my friends, was only the work of preparation; but, when they came to erect the temple, there was no noise, — no, not even the sound of hammer; — all was quietness and silence then.”

Now, my dear sir, had you been present at the select meeting for the new converts, a few weeks since, when all those were collected together who had been converted several weeks previously, and over whom there had been so much noise at the time of their conversion, you would have enjoyed a fine illustration of the old friend’s sentiments. There was, indeed, “quietness and silence;” and it presented a wide contrast to that storm of human voices, and loud outcries of agonized sinners, of which you so bitterly complain.

It is said there is a great deal of apparent confusion in South America, in those places where the Negroes are engaged in scooping up sand from the bottom of rivers; which a stranger, not understanding, would be ready to pronounce “a worthless employment, and a scene of positive confusion.” Let him, however, be informed that there is much gold mixed with these sands; and, in the course of a few weeks, let him visit the same place, and be shown numerous little heaps of gold, which have been separated from this worthless sand, by the laborious efforts of these hard-working and industrious men, — and you will not question that a great change must take place in his opinions. We had, I am glad to say, very many “heaps of pure gold,” on the night referred to; as many, in fact, as encompassed the altar again and again, many times. But you were not there I suppose; therefore, not having seen the gold, — only the dark and meaningless sand, — “much noise and disorder, proceeding from a confused mass of excited people,” — your opinions remain unchanged.

When I was in the city of Cork, a few months since, we had a very gracious outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Many sinners were deeply awakened, and were found upon their knees pleading for mercy at every meeting. At such times, when the penitential sorrow of some was turned into joy, and they were praising God, with joyful voices, for deliverance from conscious guilt, others were roaring aloud by reason of the disquietness of their heart. Psalm 38:8. Consequently, there was a great noise; and some, like yourself, were much offended. One of these gentlemen came, on a certain day, to an aged class-leader who, in consequence of his infirmities, was not able to appear with his brethren as formerly on the field of conflict. The visitor, perhaps, interpreted his absence from the meetings to dislike, or want of confidence in the movement, and, therefore, expected that his own prejudices would certainly meet with sympathy. To him, therefore, he went, and made his complaint, concluding with the remark, “I believe all these American preachers like abundance of noise.” The following was the reply, in substance:

“Suppose, my friend, you were about to build a house, and you should employ me to quarry stone sufficient for the intended edifice. Well, I and my men go to work with crow-bars, pickaxes, wedges, and hammers, — all are employed; but, finding the rock very hard, and scandalized with such a small heap of stone, after all our labor, I consult with my men whether we had not better adopt some more effectual measures to separate the rock. The result is, — and we are all agreed, -that it is going to be a losing concern, unless I would permit them to try the effects of gunpowder. To this I agree and, after several days’ hard boring, we succeed in getting one good blast, and them another, — in short, a succession of them. At length, who should appear but yourself, in great agitation, exclaiming, ‘James Field! what means all this? I insist upon it, you shall put an end to this unearthly noise; neither myself nor family can bear it. It is, in fact, most outrageous. The whole neighborhood is in stir. That I want stone for my house, I admit; but I don’t went it at the expense of such a horrible uproar.’ Now, what think ye would be my answer? What, but this? ‘You have employed me sir, to quarry out stone for your building. You have no right to interfere with me, so long as I injure no one, nor damage any person’s property, and while I procure you first-rate stone. I have had, indeed, to resort to powder, in consequence of the hardness of the rock, and we have had a shaking time. Behold the execution! examine the material. These ten or a dozen blasts have done more than my men could have accomplished, in their ordinary operations, with crow-bars, &c., during six months; and we have only been a few days at the work.’ Now, my friend, you have good sense enough to apply this illustration to the present revival of pure religion in Cork. That there is a noise, I shall not question; but look at the results. The great end of all preaching is now being realized; the Gospel of Jesus Christ is producing its distinct and appropriate effects, in the awakening and conversion of sinners. That these powerful blasts are attended by a corresponding noise, is not to be doubted; and it is equally true, that not a few are offended and do grumble exceedingly; but a tremendous execution is being done in the quarry.” The fault-finder, if he was not convinced, was silent, and made his exit.

I understand the design of such appellatives as “fanatics, enthusiasts, madmen,” &c. These names are fastened upon some of the zealous servants of God, for the same purpose that the skins of wild beasts were put upon the primitive Christians by their persecutors, that they might the more readily be torn in pieces by the hungry lions in the arena of the amphitheater, but they were Christians still, notwithstanding these deforming skins; and so are we, though he and his friends cover us from head to foot with the hideous imputations of fanaticism, &c.

An individual once said, that there was a gentleman mentioned in the nineteenth chapter of Acts of the Apostles to whom he was more indebted than to any man alive; — the town-clerk of Ephesus, whose council was, to do nothing rashly. It is also stated of the same person, that when any proposal of consequence was made to him, his usual reply was, “We will first advise with the town-clerk of Ephesus.” Hasty sayings and rash doings many, perhaps, he followed by a tedious repentance. To all the enemies of revivals have said, I oppose the sentiment contained in the following story: William II, when standing upon some rocks in North Wales, saw the coast of Ireland, and exclaimed, “I will summon hither all the ships of my realm, and with them make a bridge to attack that country.” This threat, it seems, was reported to Murchard, Prince of Leinster, who paused a moment, and then inquired, “Did the king add to this mighty threat, if God please?” Upon being assured the king made no mention of God in his speech, he replied, “rejoicing in the prognostic,” says the historian, “Sure that man puts his trust in human, not in divine power; I fear not his coming.” But, some time after, William was shot by a Frenchman, in the New Forest, Hants.

I always feel myself quite safe in a revival. I am doing the Lord’s work with all my might; let them injure me in that employment, if they can or dare. As for this species of persecution I do not value it a straw. If our zeal is but enkindled, it may be raised into a brighter blaze by these blasts of contradiction.

ENDNOTES

4 See Methodist Magazine for 1783