Many desire a revival, but they are unwilling to labor for it. I know an animal that is very fond of fish, but would rather do without them than wet her feet.
I remember reading of a certain man who, when viewing the vast army of Antiochus, said, “There are many men, but few soldiers; many mouths, but few hands;” many mouths, to eat, to speak well, to boast; “but few hands,” to grasp the sword, to fight, to conquer! Many that could talk daringly, but few to fight bravely. Words will not break bones, like swords. It is written, “The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joint and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Heb. 4:12. But why is it that such effects do not always accompany it? Why is it that this sword with two edges, framed so that it may cut every way that the preacher may choose to turn it, does not pierce to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit? Is this sword, think you, wielded usually with an energy sufficient to do such execution upon souls? It requires a skillful hand to divide the joints at a single stroke, or by repeated strokes; and a decided aim to break or perforate the bones so as to reach the marrow. The hardest parts of a sinner are as powerless to resist this sharp sword as the softest; and it penetrates into the secret recesses of the heart, into the very citadel of sin, and slays it there with irresistible power.
This is the sort of preaching you require in England. You will never have a general revival over the kingdom till preachers are brought universally to wield the Gospel sword thus. “Many,” said a good man, “flourish like fencers, heating only the air; but few fight in good earnest this fight of faith.” It was not “after such a fashion” St. Paul wielded those spiritual weapons, which he joyfully declares were “mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought” (of the sinner) “to the obedience of Christ.” 2 nor. 10:4, 5. Unless such weapons are “leveled” with precision, and applied with determination, they will make but little impression upon the strongholds of Satan.
A few days since, I received a letter from an aged servant of God in Ireland, one well acquainted with revivals, and the sort of preaching calculated, or not, to promote a revival. Hear him: “We go through blank motions here sometimes; but we only ,use powder; this, you know, will do no execution. O, what might not be done, if we would do it! May the good Lord pity Ireland, and raise up more who will prove their love to souls, by doing all in their power to save them!” That sentiment of one now with God is also mournfully true: “A man is soon enlisted, but he is not soon made a soldier. He is easily put into the ranks, to make a show there but he is not so easily brought to do the duties of the ranks. We are too much like an army of Asiatics: they count well, and cut a good figure; but, when they come into action, one has no flint, another has no cartridge; the arms of one are rusty, and another has not learned to handle them. This was not the complaint equally at all times. It belongs too peculiarly to the present day.”
You say, “It is one thing to speak eloquently in favor of revivals, in the hearing of a religious party, around the tea table, in the circle of the drawing room, or even in the pulpit; but it is quite a different thing to come down into the ‘tug of war,’ the laborious matter-of-fact work in a revival.” Yes! and there are too many who, in this respect, imitate Lepidus Major, a loose Roman, of whom it is recorded, that when his comrades were exercising in the camp, he used to lay himself down under a shady tree, yawning, “Would that this were all the duty I were to do” Would that my good wishes, and good opinions, well expressed, could bring about a revival of religion, I have read somewhere of a philosopher in ancient times who wrote powerful and eloquent articles upon the necessity of a “declaration of war”‘ upon the part of his countrymen; spirit-stirring and burning were his appeals. The spirit of the nation was aroused. “To arms! To arms!” was the general cry. The philosopher was made an officer. Instead of his morning gown, his study companion, he shone in “regimentals;” the sword was put into his hand in place of the pen; a regiment of men to command, instead of a regiment of words:
“Morn on the mountains, sunrise on the main,
And battle’s red array upon the plain;
Touched with the orient gleam, each line appears,
A wall of fire beneath a hedge of spears!”
The hostile armies charge. The shouts of warriors mingle with the clangor of trumpets and the clash of arms. Our man of letters learned soon, to his dismay, that nice speculations, poetical descriptions, flourish of metaphor, and high-sounding terms of national honor, differed materially from the stern realities of war. There was a wide contrast between the quiet of his old study and the din and desperation of the bloody battlefield. A war of words, “black with ink,” differed widely from the “one red scene of human butchery” which encompassed him around; so he prudently formed the resolution to “let them fight it out.” An exit from the scene of conflict appeared “the better part of valor.” Whether he kept his sword, or flung it from him, is not material
“He ran away,
And lived to fight another day.”
I knew a minister once who wrote some glorious and stirring things about revivals, and very eloquently too. Thousands of copies of his appeals were circulated far and wide; but, when a revival of the word of God burst forth like a flame in his own neighborhood, his face was seldom seen in one of the meetings. Many of the vilest sinners in town were getting converted, and vast numbers were under the deepest concern about their eternal interests. A large body of faithful men, men who had never printed a line on the subject of revivals, entered into the work “heart and soul;” while our gentleman of the pen, to avoid responsibility, or escape observation, set out for a “short excursion into the country.” There he continued, “enjoying himself,” and entertaining a polite and fashionable circle, while his brethren, pale and worn, were pushing the battle to the gates, or improving the victory to the utmost of Gospel power.
It is not to be wondered at that there are men to be found, in great numbers, who speak well of revivals. Methodism owes its origin and present standing in the world to such extraordinary effusions of the Holy Spirit. If she is to advance to glory and victory, it must be done by the same instrumentality. If Methodism is to retrace her steps back again to her “former nonentity,” or if she is to be reduced to an invalid among the denominations of Christendom, she must be deprived of these gracious visitations of mercy and love. But our church requires more than “good speaking and writing.” She calls for action, vigorous action, powerful and continuous efforts, ordinary and extraordinary, for the conversion of sinners. That advice of Cicero, to the politicians of his day, is strikingly applicable to the “pen and ink heroes and wordy carpet knights” of the present time, with regard to revivals, and consequent ingathering of sinners to the Methodist church: “Let, therefore, the pen give place to the sword; arts to arms; the shade to the sun; and let that virtue have the preeminence in the state, by which the state itself getteth the precedency of all other. Let that rule in the city, by which the city hath obtained the dominion of the whole world.”
O, my brother! whatever others may do, be wise for eternity, wise not only in running the Christian race, and in securing your own salvation, but in winning souls to Christ. “He that winneth souls is wise.” Christianity has her subjects of beauty, harmony, and grandeur. In many instances, she would seem to invite the inquiring mind into the investigation of ” truth in the abstract;” where taste may be regaled, and where the lover of polite literature may luxuriate in the wide field of her boundless wealth. That there is much in such intellectual disquisitions “to soothe the mind,” as you say, “please the fancy, and move the affections,” I do admit; but I do not forget that there may be much also to gratify human vanity. Could you see my papers, which are folded up and put away, you could not believe such subjects have been by me “always and wholly disregarded;” but they are totally unfit for the present services, and those great truths which are adapted to them I conscientiously prefer, even at the risk of having “certain persons of an intellectual character form an unfavorable opinion of the mind and education of the stranger.”
“With a religion so argumentative as ours,” says an elegant writer, “it may be easy to gather out a feast for the human understanding. With a religion so magnificent as ours, it may be easy to gather out a feast for the human imagination. But with a religion so humbling, and so strict, and so spiritual, it is not easy to mortify the pride, or to quell the strong enmity of nature, or to arrest the current of affections, or to turn the constitutional habits, or to form a new complexion over the moral history, or to stem the domineering influence of things seen and thing sensible, or to invest faith with a practical supremacy, or 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.”
Nor should the sentiments of one of your own great divines of the seventeenth century, be overlooked: “General persuasives to repentance and a good life, and invectives against sin and wickedness at large, are certainly of good use to recommend religion and virtue, and to expose the deformity and danger of a vicious course. But it must be acknowledged, on the other hand, that these general discourses do not so immediately tend to reform the lives of men, because they fall among the crowd, but do not touch the consciences of particular persons in so sensible and awakening manner as when we treat upon particular duties and sins, and endeavor to put men upon the practice of one, and to reclaim them from the other, by arguments taken from the word of God, and from the nature of particular virtues and vices.”
My work, in these special services, is to cast away from me every discussion that would serve to retard the great purposes of my mission, and to preach those mighty truths of the Gospel that will awaken and convert men. If some of my hearers do not, or will not, understand my “object and aim,” I cannot help it. We may say of fine sermons, during a revival, as Hector said to Paris: “It is not your golden harp, nor curled hair, and beautiful painting, that will stand you in the field;” and, as an old divine says: “Neither is it the wrought scabbard, but the strong blade; not the bright color, but the sharp edge of it, that helpeth in danger, and hurteth the enemy.” I have, my dear sir, drawn the sword, and have thrown away the scabbard. Let jesters and speculators have their say, that sword shall make havoc, by the power of the Holy Ghost, among “the king’s enemies;” and before I leave this chapel, I hope to be able to point to a great cloud of witnesses, a host of new converts, and say, ” Behold the fruits of my ministry! These are of more value to me in the church of God than thousands of hearers applauding my sermons, and not a sinner, perhaps, converted to God!”
You inquire, “If these religious excitements, which some call revivals, are of God, if they are really produced by the Holy Spirit, why, then, are they not more frequent and more general, among all denominations of Christians?”
Ordinarily I should suppose it is because the great truths necessary to bring sinners to repentance are but partially and faintly insisted upon; or, though advanced with some degree of point and power, the impressions are not followed up by repeated blows of a similar character nor are distinct results expected.
The reason why the important doctrines of repentance and regeneration are not realized vividly, and experienced clearly, by the great mass of Protestants of various denominations is, not because they are not laid down and defined in their articles of faith, and ably defended in their theological books; but, chiefly, from the fact that they are not distinctly, fervently, frequently, and experimentally preached. May not the words conversion, a change of heart, or the influence of the Spirit upon the soul, be introduced merely to grace a sentence, impart smoothness to a period, or to throw a hue of orthodoxy or of spirituality over the sermon, and not from any deeply felt desire that the unconverted should be brought into this safe and happy state immediately? Not infrequently it is with the above, as with the doctrine of an eternal hell; the word ” hell” is incorporated into the discourse, because it cannot be well avoided. It becomes a link in the chain of high-sounding argument. Leave that link out, and the chain is broken, the argument would fall to pieces, and becomes disgraceful to the preacher. (A word in the sentence it must be, because necessary to the sense; and without it the effort would be stigmatized as “meaning nothing.”) The hard, impolite, and unfashionable little word is, therefore, employed, but in such a manner as to give the least offense possible. I have heard some men use the term hell in their sermons, apparently for no other purpose than as a rhetorician introduces a solecism, that is, a want of fitness in a word or sentence, in order to distinguish, with more peculiar grace, certain other figures of speech; or, as a musician uses a discord among harmonious notes, to impart to the latter a sweeter melody; or, as a limner employs dark color to throw out into bolder relief and beauty the brighter parts of a picture; but with just as much concern for the awakening and conversion of the sinner, as is felt by the rhetorician, the musician, or the limner.
The real hell, as described in the Scriptures, is not uncovered in all the terrific horrors which belong to it; nor in such a manner as to render inapplicable that satirical couplet,
“Smooth down the stubborn text to ears polite,
And snugly keep damnation out of sight.”
Hell is not unfolded so as to make the heart and soul of the many sinners in that congregation quake and tremble before the Lord God of Hosts; extorting, if possible, the awakened and agonizing cry, –
“What must be done,
To save a wretch like me?
How shall a trembling sinner shun
That endless misery?”
Or, in the language of the terrified jailer, “What must I do to be saved?” In this way did an eminent man, now with God, open the horrors of hell before the eyes of an appalled audience. His text was, Rev. 14:9-11. And what, think ye, must the sermon have been, when the following is but a scrap from the exordium, or introduction? “Great God! suspend for a few minutes the small still voice of thy Gospel. For a few minutes, let not this auditory hear the church shouting, ‘Grace, grace unto it!’ Let the blessed angels, who assist in our assemblies, for a while leave us to attend to the miseries of the damned! I speak literally. I wish these miserable beings could show you for a moment the weight of their chains, the intensity of their flames, the stench of their smoke. Happy, if, struck with these alarming objects, the sinner may imbibe a holy horror, and henceforth oppose against all temptations, these words, “The smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever.” In such a manner Cecil preached, when he said, “Hell is before me; millions of souls are shut up there in everlasting agonies,–millions more are on the way. Jesus Christ sends me to proclaim his ability and love. I want no fourth idea. Every fourth idea is a grand impertinence; every fourth idea is contemptible.”
I write to a candid, observing man. Tell me, is hell thus delineated in the place of worship where you usually worship God? If hell be a reality, and is believed to be so by the preacher, is it safe keep it out of the sinner’s view, or to represent it less terrible than it is? When the Rev, John Wesley began to preach thus, he raised a storm of persecution around him; but he was soon surrounded with thousands of penitent and alarmed sinners. And when compelled to take up the pen in self-defense, he said, “You put me in mind of an eminent man, who, preaching at St. James’, said, ‘If you do not repent, you will go to a place which I shall not name before this audience.’ I cannot promise so much, either in preaching or writing, before any audience, or to any person whatever… For, to say the truth, I desire to have both heaven and hell ever in my eye, while I stand on this isthmus of life, between these two boundless oceans; and I verily think the daily consideration of both highly becomes all men of reason and religion.”
I cannot pursue this thought further; but allow me to inquire, “How has that deeply interesting phraseology of the Holy Ghost been treated by your minister? —“Born again.–Repent and be converted. —Passed from death unto life;–from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins. —Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son. —In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. —The eyes of your understanding being enlightened. — Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but, according to his mercy, he saved us by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost. — We have not received the Spirit of bondage again to the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”–Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. —And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.”
But this language may be explained away, so as to mean nothing beyond a stricter attention to the duties of religion than may have hitherto marked the conduct of the hearer; or the putting off the immoralities belonging to the irreligious, and putting on those external decencies which should characterize the servant of God.
The above quoted language of the Scripture is defined by a. regenerated minister, not as including a mere attendance upon the ordinances of religion, nor a mere change in the morals (which are indeed the fruits of “the new birth unto righteousness”), but the forgiveness of all the sins which are past (Rom. 3:25), and the regeneration of the soul; an entire and radical change of the whole nature; a complete renovation of the heart, as well as of the life; amid a full and satisfactory assurance, by the witness of the Spirit, of the adoption of the believer into the family of God, and the earnest of his right to the heavenly inheritance. Such a minister will not rest satisfied till he sees the unconverted in his congregation broken down into repentance for sin. With many tears, and with a heart yearning for the salvation of sinners, he will scatter, with an unsparing hand, the living coals of eternal truth upon the naked consciences of his hearers, till each is compelled to cry for himself, “God have mercy upon me, a sinner! Save, Lord, or I perish; heal my soul, for I have sinned against thee!
‘I must this instant now begin
Out of my sleep to wake;
And turn to God, and every sin
I must for faith incessant cry,
And wrestle, Lord, with thee;
I must be born again, or die,
To all eternity.'”
Nor will he rest until he hear many of these agonized sinners joyfully exclaim, “Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and forget not all his benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving kindness and tender mercies; who satisfieth thy mouth with good things, so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s!”
Alas! sir, there are ministers within the circle of your acquaintance, who, instead of using such scriptural methods for the convincing their hearers, ridicule the idea, and pronounce such effects a fanatical excitement, to be deprecated and avoided. It would appear, from the expressions of some, that rather than witness such a movement among hitherto lifeless sinners belonging to their charge, they would prefer to see their congregations bearing all the marks of deep spiritual slumber, and not a single vestige of the true character of godliness unfolded in their experience or practice. That there are some honorable and noble exceptions, I am ready to admit; but that I am not overrating the matter, as it regards several within the circle of your acquaintance, you know very well. Instances have come under my own observation, where a revival has commenced and spread among multitudes who had till then lived in the total neglect of all religion, and that revival bearing all the marks, and presenting the most convincing evidence, of its being a real work of God, —the cries of penitential sinners mingling daily with the triumphant shouts of new-born souls. Acts 2. Yet such men have taken the alarm, and from their pulpits have warned their people against “this imported fanaticism.”
A town in America was visited, at a certain time, with a powerful revival of religion. Multitudes of sinners were brought into great distress about their souls, and very many were made partakers of the pardoning love of God. There was, indeed, a great shaking among the dry bones. Ezek. 37:1-10. There were the piercing cries of penitent sinners, and the heavy groans of others, who dared not so much as look up to heaven, and the loud supplications of the faithful servants of God, who knew and felt all this to be the result of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and that nothing short of the power of God could have brought about such a sudden and wondrous change in the feelings of so many sinners at the same time. Sinners, high and low, rich and poor, youth and old age, — from the child of ten to the grandfather of seventy, were supplicating together, at the throne of grace, for mercy. Christians, who had long prayed for a revival, were now weeping aloud for joy; and new converts, whose numbers were daily increasing, were rejoicing with joy unspeakable and full of glory. It is proper to state, as it is connected with the anecdote, that it was a winter of extreme cold in that part of North America; the ice on the lakes and rivers, from two and a half to three feet I thickness. Not far from the scene of the revival, one day, stood two men in conversation. They belonged to different churches, and the following was the substance of their discourse: “What is the state of religion in your church?” inquired one; a very important inquiry, by the way, and I wish it were more frequent among Christians of every denomination. The other, who had “tasted of the good word of God, and felt the powers of the world to come,” had sufficient discernment and spirituality to reply: “Very cold, indeed, sir; it is as far below the freezing point at present, as the temperature of the atmosphere!” Very expressive, and applicable to more churches than one.
“And what is your minister preaching about?” was the next inquiry; and a very natural one, because such a state of extreme coldness in religious feeling, while neighboring congregations were receiving such gracious visits from on high, and when the wilderness and the solitary places were being made glad, and were rejoicing and blossoming as the rose, would naturally call forth some expression from the pastor, from which it might be inferred whether he was satisfied with such a state of things. The answer was: “He is laboring chiefly to show the danger of animal excitement.”
This was the theme of the poor man’s preaching, who evidently preferred that his church should remain in a state of cold indifference, and he himself enjoy his leisure and his books, while a great mass of the sinners belonging to his congregation were asleep in their sins, and exposed, every moment, to the torments of hell; and all this for the avowed and plausible reason, lest they should incur “the danger of animal excitement.” The conversation closed with the amusing exclamation, “The danger of animal excitement! Why, surely the man’s sermons would be better adapted to the state of his congregation, were he to preach on the danger of being spiritually frost-bitten!
Now we will suppose that the Spirit of God had, in mercy to that church, descended upon the souls of sinners, while the minister was in the act, perhaps, of uttering some great truth of Christianity and this he could not well avoid doing sometimes although it might be mingled with much that was erroneous in principle. We will suppose that under the power of that constraining influence from above many had been instantaneously awakened into the deepest distress on account of their sins, as were the three thousand on the day of Pentecost, who were “pricked in their hearts,” and cried, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Alas for the man, what would he have done? Probably he would have taken the most direct methods to put down the noise, and check this “animal excitement.” Unless, indeed, fear had induced him to pause, not knowing what to do.
A few years ago, a circumstance, somewhat similar, occurred in the United States. Two ministers, whose method and whose success in preaching were the antipodes of each other, were one day conversing together. It had long been a matter of surprise to the unsuccessful preacher how it came to pass that the other could always produce such a powerful excitement among the people wherever he went, the good effects of which he could not deny; many sinners having become reformed and truly religious under his preaching, as if by miracle. During the conversations he pleasantly expressed his wonder at the achievements of his friend, and alluded slightly to the absence of any such thing in connection with his own ministry. He received the following reply: “Our objects in preaching, my brother, are quite different. I aim at the conversion of sinners to God, but you aim, it would seem, at nothing of the kind; and how can we expect similar effects, when we aim at results so widely different?” Seeing the good-natured man pleased with the remarks, if not deeply convicted of their truth, he continued: “Here is one of my sermons; preach it to your people, and observe the effects.” The sermon was accepted, as it probably saved him the trouble of preparing one for the coming Sabbath. In the simplicity of his heart, he entered the pulpit, and, at the proper time, began the sermon. He had not proceeded far with the discourse before it began to move the congregation; but, having his eyes confined closely to the document, he did not at first discover the effect. When sinners became alarmed, he felt embarrassed , but continued the sermon to the end. Upon descending from the pulpit, he was met by a sinner in great distress, inquiring, “What shall I do?” The unhappy preacher was thrown into a confusion, and began to apologize, ” O! I am sorry I have hurt your feelings; indeed, it was not my intention to do so!”
How is it possible such a man could have a revival or enter into one and carry it forward, should it commence under his ministry? And, to refer again to that minister who warned his people against “animal excitement,” would it not have been more becoming had he admonished them of the danger of falling into hell? a catastrophe, this, of more dreadful consequence than the mere excitement of animal passions. Had that man’s heart been right with God, instead of frequent attempts to prejudice sinners against the revival, he would have been in an agony for their conversion, “weeping between the porch and the altar” and praying for his guilty brethren, as did the holy prophet: “O Lord, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O Lord, revive thy work, in the midst of the years make known, in wrath remember mercy.”
Pardon me for referring again to the clergyman and the borrowed sermon. Had that man, ere he began to preach, drank “the wormwood and the gall,” from the bitter cup of repentance; had his soul been carried through all the stages of a troubled and penitent conscience, till, by faith in the blood of atonement, he had experienced remission of sins; had he then been prompted by love to the souls of perishing sinners, and impelled forward to preach the Gospel to them, by a consciousness that necessity was laid upon him, with a “woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel;” had this been the case, his heart would have leaped for joy to behold a weeping congregation; and, when this conscience-stricken sinner came, inquiring what he should do, the answer would have been forthcoming, and the sympathizing minister would have been on his knees too, supplicating God in behalf of the condemned one.
But the man who has never felt the evil nature of sin, nor tasted its bitterness, nor suffered the agonies of the new birth, can have but little sympathy with the sorrows of a penitent, nor is it to be expected that such a man will preach clearly, energetically, and successfully, the doctrines of repentance, faith, and conversion. He can have little heart to do so. A poet has well described the preaching of such:
“The clear harangue, and cold as it is clear,
Falls soporific on the listless ear
Like quicksilver, the rhetoric they display
Shines as it runs, but, grasped at, slips away.”
I admit that a man possessed of some acquaintance with theology, of considerable learning, ready utterance, of an ” ingenious and metaphysical turn of mind,” and capable of some thrilling strokes of eloquence which he would show off equally well were he lecturing upon any of the sciences, may sometimes be drawn out further than he had intended, in preaching the peculiar doctrines of the Cross. Though he has never been converted and is no more a child of God than the “veriest sinner” in his congregation, yet, in the use of the pen, he may be the subject of deep emotion, and in public speaking he may kindle into excitement, and expatiate largely, and with ardor, upon the necessity of a conversion which he has never realized to his own experience.
In those seasons he may be led to utter some bold and stirring thoughts upon the subject, which may fasten upon the consciences of some flagrant sinners in the audience; and may even excite very uneasy sensations in the minds of his more intelligent but unconverted hearers. But, should any of them weep aloud, and, through the violence of their feelings, cry out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” or come to him, in the usual distress of penitential sorrow, privately, for advice, the man would be thrown into confusion, and be at his wits’ end. Grant that he has a particle of moral honesty in his soul, will he not be compelled to confess his own incapacity to explain to the inquiring penitent the way of faith?
After such an occurrence, it is likely, he would be more guarded in his pulpit phraseology, the sure method to avoid any trouble of a similar kind; and, of course, an effective precaution against a revival. But a secret conviction, not to be stifled, of the danger of his own soul, may fasten upon his own conscience; which, if it do not result in his conversion, may embitter many an hour of his existence.
While in the city of Quebec a few months since I was much interested in a work lately translated from the German. While proceeding through the volume, I met with the following anecdote, which will serve to illustrate the point, while it shows, at the same time, how the truths of the Gospel affect the sinners of that country.
The author stated that some years ago and not far from his place of abode, there lived a very gifted preacher; that he preached the doctrines of the Cross with great earnestness, and on that account was violently opposed. One of his opponents, a well-informed person, who had for a long time absented himself from the church, observed, one Sabbath morning, that he would go and hear the gloomy man once more and see whether his preaching was any more tolerable than before. He went; and that morning the preacher was speaking of the “narrow way,” which he did not make any narrower, or broader, than the word of God describes it. “A new creature in Christ, or eternal damnation,” was the theme of his discourse; and he spoke with power, and not as a learned reasoner. The man heard him patiently; and, during the sermon, the question forced itself upon his conscience, “How is it with myself? Does this man declare the real truth? If he does, what must be the inevitable consequence?” This thought took such hold upon him, that he could not get rid of it amidst any of his engagements, but it became more and more troublesome and penetrating, and threatened to embitter his whole life. By the way, sir, this is just what we mean by the terms we are often led to use during the progress of this revival: such as, “convinced of sin,” “brought under a concern for the soul;” “the awakened sinner;” “the anxious inquirer after salvation,” etc.
His uneasy state of mind continued; the danger of losing his soul again and again intruded upon his thoughts, and was continually present in all his meditations. At length he concluded to go to the preacher himself and ask him, upon his conscience, if he were really convinced of the truth of what he had lately preached. So, embracing an opportunity, he addressed the man who had been the means of creating all this trouble. “Sir,” he said with great earnestness, “I was one of your hearers when you spoke a short time since of the only way of salvation. I confess to you that you have disturbed my peace of mind, and I cannot refrain from asking you solemnly, before God and upon your conscience, if you can prove what you asserted, or whether it was an unfounded alarm.” The preacher, not a little surprised at this address, replied with convincing seriousness that what he had spoken was undoubtedly the word of God, and, consequently, infallible truth. And now it was that the Spirit of God was about to make the awakened sinner, in his turn, the instrument of convincing the clergyman that he himself had never been converted to God, and therefore not in the narrow way. “What, then, is to become of us?” replied the visitor.
The last word, us, startled the preacher; but he rallied his thoughts, and began to explain the way of salvation to the inquirer, and to exhort him to repent and believe. But the latter, as though he had not heard a syllable, the preacher had said, interrupted him in the midst of it, and repeated, with increasing emotion, the anxious exclamation, “If it be truth, sir, I beseech you, what ARE WE to do?”
Terrified, the preacher staggered back: “WE,” thought he, “what means this we?” But, endeavoring to stifle his inward uneasiness and embarrassment, he resumed his exhortation and advice. Tears came into the eyes of the visitor. He smote his hands like one in despair, and exclaimed, in accents which might have melted a heart of stone, “Sir, if it be truth, we are lost and undone!”
The preacher stood pale and speechless, and trembled. But, overwhelmed with astonishment, with downcast eyes and convulsive sobs, he exclaimed, “Friend! down upon your knees! Let us pray and cry for mercy!” They knelt down and prayed, and, shortly after, the visitor retired. The minister shut himself up in his study and sought the salvation of his soul with his whole heart. The Sabbath arrived, but the congregation was without a preacher. He had, it would seem, come to a conclusion to preach no more till he knew that God, for Christ’s sake, had forgiven his sins. Word was sent to the waiting congregation that the minister was unwell, and could not preach. The same thing happened the Sabbath following. On the third Sabbath he made his appearance before his congregation, worn with his inward conflict, and pale, but his eyes were beaming with joy. He commenced his discourse with the affecting declaration that he had now, for the first time, passed through the strait gate. Matt. 7:14.
Perhaps the following may not be uninteresting. There is a story related in the town of Northampton, State of Massachusetts, United States, of a young minister, of the name of Stoddard, who, many years ago, was pastor of a congregation in that place. Although his learning and talents could not be questioned, yet some of the pious of his church seriously doubted whether he was a converted man. Why they entertained such a suspicion, I have not seen stated in any accounts of the circumstance. It arose, probably, either from his careless manner of living, or from the style and matter of his preaching, perhaps from the cold reception be may have given to persons who were in distress for their souls, as well as from his repeated assertions that none could possibly ascertain by their feelings whether they were in a state of grace. However, the conviction became riveted upon the minds of his sincere and honest people that the great question of their minister’s conversion was yet unsettled; and that he could never preach the great doctrines of repentance, faith in Christ, and regeneration with zeal, with an unction from above, and with convincing clearness and success if he had never experienced such things himself. The event proved that they had been correct in their surmises. They knew him to be a young man of talents and learning, and were aware how useful he might become if prepared for it by a sound conversion. They could not conscientiously desert the house of God, nor tempt him to withdraw from preaching the Gospel, and, perhaps, throw his talents into the service of the devil; but they agreed to set apart a day for special fasting and prayer for the conversion of their pastor.
Many of the people going to the house of God on that day had, of necessity, to pass the door of the minister. Mr. Stoddard observing unusual numbers passing by, hailed a plain man whom he knew, and inquired, “What is all this? What is doing today?” The individual replied, “The people, sir, are a going to meeting to pray for your conversion.”
This piece of information went to his heart like an arrow, and he silently exclaimed, “Then it is time, surely, I prayed for myself.” He was not seen any more that day; and while his people were praying for him in public, he was ardently seeking salvation in private. While they were yet speaking, God answered, and set his soul at liberty. It was not long before the people of God obtained evidence, most unquestionable, that he had indeed passed “from death unto life!” That man labored among them nearly half a century, and it is said that he was ranked among the most able ministers of the age.
You have probably read the memoir of a clergyman of the Establishment, who was in his pulpit labors very successful in the awakening and conversion of sinners, the Rev. R. Mayow. If so, you will recollect the following sentiments from his own pen, and they are the best apology I can offer for myself: “The occasional abruptness of my sermons is not owing to inattention, but design. Were I previously to show the manner in which I intend to carry on the attack, I should act like a general who should publish all his plans to the party he wishes to overcome. Through the whole of my life, I have been of the opinion that the poor, and, indeed, that all ranks of people, are best taught, by tales and parables. Not to be affected by the marvelous is an irrational and false refinement, which the poorest of the people never arrive at in any age. It is on this principle that I encourage myself to say, in the pulpit, what often appears uncommon and extraordinary, and what, by many people, is taken for a useless and wild eccentricity. But, to a mind free from refinement, everything said in this manner comes with double weight. It approaches to the nature of the marvelous, which is the strongest power by which the human mind is governed.
“To me, it appears not to be enough considered how much harm is done by being tedious and tiresome. It is this that makes empty pews in so many churches. Of my own sermons I feel perfectly certain that they have done more harm, by being wearisome and by setting people asleep, than they ever did by being uncommon. I certainly allow that in my mode of preaching it is very easy to go too far. The very attempt itself to write a striking sermon unavoidably exposes one to the danger of writing a bad one; for it is a very thin division that separates what is very bad from what is very good. This division is sometimes so very slight that it cannot be seen at all. It always occurs to me, that going too far will never be discovered by the greatest part of my hearers, if I cannot find it out myself; and as to the judicious few, I always give them credit for being satisfied with my intentions, though not with my judgment.”
You inquire, “Why call persons forward to be prayed for? Why make such invidious distinctions in your congregations? Could not God convert them in any other part of the chapel, as well as at the communion rails?”
1. Because there are “distinctions” in reality, produced by the Spirit of God, before we make them by separation.
2. If God has told us to pray one for another that we may be healed, is it not reasonable that we should know who they are that require to be healed?
3. By this means we are made acquainted with their particular state of mind, and the hindrances with which they may have to contend. We are thus enabled to give them instruction suitable to their circumstances, and to spread their whole case before the Lord.
4. Sympathy is thereby excited in the hearts of praying men. It is not possible to see so many persons in distress for their souls, and thus separated from the congregation, without having one’s feelings deeply interested in their salvation. But sympathy, fervency, and the prayer of faith, are very closely connected.
5. Frequently such a test as that of coming forward to be prayed for leads to a decision, the consequences of which may be eternal.
6. This public avowal of their determination to leave the ranks of sin, while it commits them to the cause of God and raises a barrier against their return, not infrequently has a very powerful influence upon those who are yet undecided.
7. We find that those who take such a decided step obtain, by doing so, a much greater earnestness of soul than those awakened sinners who conclude to remain in their seats.
8. That God could convert them in “any other part of the chapel,” we do not deny; but nineteen out of twenty of those who get saved in this blessed work of God have thus come forward to be prayed for publicly. If the revival be of God, this is a part of it, which he has evidently acknowledged. But, to inquire, “Why are more converted at the communion rail than in other parts of the house of God?” would be as wise, perhaps, as to question the propriety of the angel passing by all the streams and pools in Palestine, and honoring only Bethesda, as a place for healing the “impotent folk.”
by James Caughey