THE IMPOLICY OF SPASMODIC EFFORTS
Before I proceed further on the subject of my last letter, I wish to call the attention of the brethren to an evil which seems to me to have greatly grieved the Spirit of God, and to be at present a very effectual barrier to the promotion of revivals of religion. I have already alluded to it in a former letter, but wish more distinctly to dwell on it here. The evil to which I allude is this--an amount of prejudice has been excited against revival men and measures, that has greatly grieved the Spirit of God. It does not seem to me to have been sufficiently considered that a mind under the influence of prejudice can not have communion with God, and consequently can not prevail in prayer, can not appropriate the grace that is essential to our living in such a manner as to honor God. Now it can not be denied that a course has been taken that has filled the Church, throughout the length and breadth of the land, with a variety of prejudices that are eating out the piety of the Churches and preventing the promotion of revivals. Ministers have, in many instances, doubtless without designing such a result, been instrumental in creating prejudices in the minds of their Churches that have shut them out from communion with God. They are in an uncandid state of mind; they are committed, and unwilling to hear with both ears and then judge.
Their prejudices extend to a great many subjects in some Churches. Great prejudices are excited against the cause of abolition, moral reform, revival men and measures, protracted meetings, New and Old School Theology, sanctification, or antisanctification. Now it matters little whether the prejudices are in favor of what is really truth or against it--if they be really prejudices, and the mind be committed, and in an uncandid state, it effectually shuts the soul out from God. Prejudice is prejudging a question.
And pre-judgment is what Christ intended to prohibit and forbid. He did not design to teach that we should have no decided opinion, and form no unwavering judgment in respect to cases, questions, and characters on which we may be called to decide; but that we should not judge without a candid, thorough, and charitable examination in every case.
Now, ministers of a certain combative temperament are, without being aware of it, doing little else than preaching their people into the exercise of a host of prejudices that promote anything but their real piety. I have been shocked oftentimes on witnessing the prejudice evinced by ministers themselves, and by professors of all denominations.
Now, brethren, if we would promote revivals of religion among our people, we must fear to excite prejudices among them on any subject.
They are naturally enough prone to prejudices--to rush into one-sided judgments, without our helping them into this ungodly state of mind by our preaching. If we come out and warn them against this thing, and that thing, and the other thing, denounce antislavery, moral reform, or even colonization, or anything else, in a spirit and manner that creates prejudices, we may think ourselves doing God service, and may please ourselves when we behold our people very zealous for what we suppose to be truth; we may form and guard their orthodoxy until they have zeal enough to encompass sea and land to make proselytes to their opinions; and when we have done, we shall perceive that they are only making their converts twofold more the children of hell than themselves.
There is another class of Christians than those to whom I referred in my last, that seem to me to have fallen into error opposed to that of which I then spoke. This class, instead of taking the ground that no extra means are to be used for the conversion of sinners and the sanctification of the Church, seem to have settled down in the belief that nothing can be done without protracted meetings, and the most exciting means that can be used.
Hence they seem to be for doing up all their religious work in protracted meetings, giving up nearly their whole time to protracted effort, or a series of meetings, during a small part of each year, and make little or no effort to sustain the interests of religion, promote the conversion of sinners and the sanctification of the Church, at other seasons.
Now it seems to me that this class of persons as radically misconceive the proper and only healthful method of promoting religion, as that class of Christians do to whom they stand opposed.
Now that a series of meetings, continued for days and weeks, may be useful, and in some instances demanded by the state of things, I think there can be no reasonable doubt. But as a general thing, it seems to me that it would be more healthful for religion to have meetings for preaching, and prayer, and promoting the spirituality of Christians, so frequently, at all seasons of the year, as to secure the attention of the people, and yet so infrequently as not to disturb their ordinary, or, to say the least, their necessary duties in the relations which they sustain.
When I was first acquainted with revivals of religion, my own practice was this--and, so far as I know, it was the general practice of ministers and Churches which endeavored to promote revivals of religion: We added to the services of the Sabbath as many meetings during the week as could well be attended, and yet allow the people to carry forward their necessary worldly business; and we went no further than this. I have seen most powerful revivals of religion in the midst of harvest in a neighborhood of farmers, and found that, it could be sustained by holding as many meetings as were consistent with farmers securing their crops, and no more. The grand error which seems to me to have prevailed for the last few years is this: Churches that are attempting to promote revivals, break in for a time on all the ordinary and necessary duties of domestic, commercial, agricultural, and mechanical life; and make every day a Sabbath for a great number of days in succession, and then it seems to be necessary to hold no meetings for a long time except on the Sabbath.
They have neglected their worldly business so much and so long, that now they must make as much extra effort to bring up the arrears in that department, as they have made in their protracted meeting to bring up the arrears in the spiritual department. They go from one extreme to another, from holding meetings every day in the week to holding meetings, on which there is any thing like a general attendance, no day in the week; from going to meeting nearly all the time until they have greatly neglected their worldly business, they break off and go to meeting at any time except on the Sabbath. Now it does seem to me that this is entirely unwise, and that its results are demonstrating to the Churches, that the action of this course of things is not healthful. and that a better course would be to keep up as many meetings at all seasons of the year as can be sustained, and yet the necessary secular business transacted.
As excitement increases on other subjects, we shall find it necessary in the same proportion to increase the frequency and urgency of our appeals to mankind on the great subject of salvation. As I said in my last, if worldly men increase the means of exciting the people on worldly subjects, we must, at least in equal proportion, multiply the means for securing the attention of men to spiritual subjects. This seems to me to be a law of mind; and instead of this being set aside by the fact that revivals are produced by the Spirit of God, and instead of its being thereby rendered unnecessary to multiply means--inasmuch as means are essential to the Spirit's work--they must be multiplied, if we expect Divine influence to produce the desired result. Ministers have perceived with pain that through the instrumentality of protracted meetings the Churches are taking on more and more the type of a spasmodic and temporary excitement on the subject of revivals, seizing on those seasons of the year when they have but little else to do, or neglecting whatever they have to do, and giving themselves up to a protracted effort, going to meetings day and night for a few days or weeks, and then relapsing to no effort. Whereas the Churches should make a steady effort, and put forth their energies every day, to secure the attention of people in proportion to the exciting topics on other subjects that are so pressed on them by worldly men, and worldly influences, as to endanger their very souls.