HINDRANCES TO REVIVALS
In noticing the hindrances to revivals of religion, I must not forget to urge more definitely and strongly than I have hitherto done, the great want of sympathy with Christ in the ministry and in the Church. It can not be expected, and ought not to be, that the Spirit of God should be poured out, and the labors of the Church and the ministry be blessed in the salvation of souls, any further than there is a single eye, and a deep sympathy with Christ in the hearts of those who are forward as coworkers with Him in the great work.
The Bible abundantly teaches that it is time for God to work, and that the time to favor Zion has come, when the Church "takes pleasure in her stones, and favors the dust thereof." When the Church and the ministry are deeply exercised with disinterested love to God and man; when they have such love for the brethren that they would die for them, and such love for precious souls as to be willing to toil and make any sacrifices, and even lay down life itself for their salvation--then, rely upon it, their labors will be blessed. And until they have this spirit, they may indeed succeed in many instances in promoting an excitement, and what they may call and may suppose to be a revival of religion; but, ordinarily, time will show that, in truth, it was no real revival of true religion.
When Christians and ministers are not in sympathy with God, they are not in a state to distinguish between spurious and genuine revivals of religion. Hence they often go forward with a series of efforts until many supposed converts are numbered, when in reality there is not a genuine convert among them. The reason is, those who have been laboring in the work have begotten children in their own likeness. Not having the Spirit of Christ themselves, not being deeply imbued with the true spirit of revival, they mistake their own excitement and the excitement around them for true religion, when it is perhaps anything else than a real work of the Holy Spirit. Now the more such efforts are multiplied, the more spurious conversions there are, so much the more are revivals brought into contempt, and so much the more deeply the cause of Christ is injured.
Now, I wish I could succeed in making the impression and fastening it, not only on my own mind, but upon the minds of all the brethren, that we can not expect to succeed in promoting true revivals of religion any further than we are truly revived ourselves--truly and deeply spiritual--having a general and all-absorbing sympathy with God; any further than we are full of prayer and faith and love and the power of the Holy Ghost. There are so many kinds of excitement that are unfavorable to genuine religion, and yet so often mistaken for it, that no man can safely engage in attempting to promote revivals of religion any further than he truly and deeply communes with God and deeply enters into His sympathies. He must go forth and labor in the very spirit in which Christ came to die for sinners. He must have so single an eye that his whole body shall be full of light--that he will have deep spiritual discernment, and be able in a moment, in the light of God's Spirit shining in his own heart, to detect every form and modification of spurious excitement. He wants to walk in such deep sympathy with God that his spirit will naturally repel every spirit that is not of God. There is, no doubt, such a state of mind as this.
But the thing which I wish more particularly to insist on in this letter is, that the true revival spirit has been, in a great measure, grieved away from the Church, and, as far as my observation and knowledge extend, efforts to promote revivals of religion have become so mechanical, there is so much policy and machinery, so much dependence upon means and measures, so much of man and so little of God, that the character of revivals has greatly changed within the last few years, and the true spirit of revivals seems to be fast giving way before this legal, mechanical method of promoting them.
Now the thing that needs to be done is for every one who would attempt to promote revivals of religion to be sure that he himself has a single eye, has a deep inward walk with God, has the life of God so richly developed within himself, as to be able, not only to prevail with God in prayer, but to preach the Gospel to others with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.
It would seem as if the ministers and the churches proposed to promote revivals in the hardness of their own hearts, and without deeply breaking up their own fallow ground. They get up protracted meetings and go to work to promote a revival without beginning first in their closets and thoroughly breaking down their hearts before the Lord, and getting all melted and subdued, filled with faith and with the Holy Ghost. They seem to expect that they shall get waked up during the meeting. They appoint a meeting while in a backslidden state, and of course in a selfish state of mind. They begin the meeting, and perhaps continue day after day, the minister laboring for the conversion and waking up of the Church, while perhaps he himself is crusted over, hard-hearted, full of unbelief, worldly-mindedness, and with much respect to his own reputation as being deeply concerned in the progress of the work. Thus the meeting will continue day after day until they become considerably excited, have some confessions, and perhaps a few real conversions; but upon the whole, they have sowed among thorns instead of breaking up their fallow ground. Little else has been done, perhaps, than to produce discouragement and disgust in respect to revival efforts.
The fact is, brethren, a revival must take place among ministers. If there could be a protracted meeting for ministers; if some hundreds of ministers would assemble, and preach and pray and labor for each other's spiritual welfare until there was a deep and thorough revival of religion among them; if they would deal so faithfully with each other, and so affectionately, as to get their hearts together, and together get into a deep sympathy with Christ,--they would no doubt return from such a meeting to their several charges, and the result would be a general revival of religion throughout their Churches.
Brethren, what can be done to affect the ministry rightly, to bring them off from this jangling and sectarianism, ambition, and every evil way, and engage their hearts to live and die for Christ and for souls? O, this is the great thing needed! If this can be attained, the day of Zion's glory has dawned. But if ministers are to backslide and turn aside to vain jangling, to Church politics and maneuvering, as they have for the last few years, I am persuaded that God must either let the Churches under their influence go into a state of still deeper degradation and backsliding, or else He must set them aside, and introduce some instrumentality independent of them to build up the wastes of Zion.
My soul is greatly troubled and my spirit is stirred within me in looking at the state of the ministry. Brethren, will you let me speak in love? Will you be offended with me if I tell you all my heart? For Zion's sake I can not rest, and for Jerusalem's sake I can not hold my peace. Will the brethren wake up and lay hold on God for a general revival of religion? When shall it once be?
More than ten years since I was led, I think, by the Spirit of the Lord to perceive that the course of things was tending rapidly towards the decline of revivals. Especially in this respect--there was very little of the right kind of preaching to the Church, very little done and doing comparatively to elevate the standard of piety in the Churches and to promote their permanent spirituality. Ministers, for the most part, were preaching and laboring directly for the conversion of sinners. This was the order of the day.
For a time, God greatly prospered this course; but as great multitudes of young converts were introduced into the Churches, it was indispensable to the continuance of a healthful state of piety that there should be very much and very discriminating preaching to the Church, on the one hand, and every encouragement held out to make high attainments in spirituality and deep piety, on the other. I perceived that this was greatly neglected by ministers in general, and that I had to some extent neglected it in my labors from Church to Church as an evangelist; for in this course of labor, my principal, and in many instances my almost exclusive, efforts were made for the conversion of sinners. I expected that ministers and old professors of religion would follow up these powerful revivals by a thorough course of training of young converts. But I saw that my expectations in this respect were by no means realized, and that consequently there was comparatively little growth in grace in the Churches, and that their increase of spiritual strength and of aggressive power was by no means commensurate with their increase of numbers.
I believe it will be admitted by nearly all persons who are acquainted with the facts, that the converts in the revivals to which I allude have been, to a great extent, the strength and power of those Churches from that time to this; and yet it is true that in those, and in all other revivals of which I could hear, I perceived that they were not followed by that spiritual culture and training which promises to make the converts deeply spiritual and efficient Christians. The consequence has been that the converts in their turn set about the conversion of sinners with but a superficial piety of their own. Being untrained in deep spirituality and walking with God, and not being aware of the wiles of the devil, the church to a great extent fell into a mechanical method of promoting revivals, which I could not but see would be attended with most disastrous consequences. Indeed, I saw that the Churches generally were getting into such a state that they would soon be wholly unable to promote true revivals of religion. I saw that they were losing the spirit of prayer and power with God, and that the tendency of things was to ruin revivals by substituting for them spurious forms of excitement.
Under this apprehension of things, my own soul labored with great earnestness and agony for a deeper work in my own heart, that I might be able myself to exhibit more spiritual religion to the Churches, so far as I had access to them. When it pleased the Lord Jesus Christ to reveal Himself more fully to my soul than He ever had done, and to show me heights and depths and lengths and breadths of the Divine life which I never had perceived before, I was greatly impressed with the importance of elevating the standard of piety in the Churches, and of promoting among them a new type of religion, in order to have them become so established in grace as to be kept from those temporary backslidings and effervescings that were disgracing religion.
But I can never reveal to man my astonishment and sorrow when I found that the ministry and the Churches were so generally opposed to efforts to elevate the standard of piety among themselves. The cry was raised immediately: Why don't you preach to sinners? Why don't you labor for the conversion of sinners? Why are you endeavoring to reform the Church? I was astonished to find it generally assumed that the Church is well enough, and that the great and almost the only business of ministers is to promote the conversion of the ungodly.
Now I must say that this appeared to me then, and has since, to be a kind of spiritual infatuation. The state of the Church was fast becoming such as to render it a hopeless effort to aim at the real conversion of multitudes of the ungodly. The Church had been so little edified and built up in their most holy faith, that they knew little or nothing of Christ except that He had died as an atoning sacrifice. Of the indwelling and energizing of His Spirit within them, of holy walking and communion with Him, of being led by the Spirit, of denying all ungodliness and every worldly lust, of living above the world, of entire and universal consecration, of being filled with all the fullness of God,--of these and such like things they were becoming, to an alarming extent, ignorant. Like people, like priest; the ministers, to a great extent, were in the same state. This I could not but perceive, and it filled me with unutterable agony.
I was not alone in this view of things. Here and there a brother in the ministry, and many in the Churches throughout the length and breadth of the land, I found had been led in the same way and had come to the same conclusions.
And now, it does appear to me that the root of the difficulty that has arrested the onward, prosperous, and rising course of revivals of religion is, that the Church has been neglected. It has been too much assumed that Christians would grow without food, would be established without spiritual culture, would honor God without deep, experimental piety. It seems to have been assumed that the Church would get along well enough if they could only add greatly to their numbers by the conversion of sinners. I have been deeply and unutterably grieved to find that efforts to reform the Church have been looked upon so coldly, and in many instances have been so deeply and bitterly opposed by multitudes of the Church and by great numbers of ministers.
I have occasion to know that when the question has come up about my being invited to preach in certain Churches, they have been willing that I should preach to sinners; but they were not willing that I should preach to the Church. Once, a written request was sent to me by a Presbyterian Church to come and preach a course of lectures to the impenitent. I have frequently heard of its being strongly objected to by ministers and leading Church members that I should come and preach to Christians. They were unwilling to have Christians reproved and searched, and deeply overhauled, to the very foundations of their hope. I have often heard fault found with that course of preaching which shakes the hopes of professors of religion. This kind of preaching has been spoken of, again and again, as so very objectionable that it was not to be tolerated.
Now when the ministers will take such a course as this, where will their people appear in the day of judgment? What! Afraid to be searched, and to have their Churches searched! Afraid to have the broadest daylight of truth poured in upon them! "O," said one minister, as I was informed, when requested to invite me to come and labor with his people, "I should like to have him come if he would confine his preaching to the impenitent; but I can not bear to have him rake the Church."
Now, beloved brethren, I have heard much complaint of the attempts that have been made within the last ten years to revive religion in the Churches, and to elevate the standard of piety among them. And is it really to this day assumed that the Churches do not need reformation? Well, all I can say to my dear brethren is this: You maintain this stand but a little longer, and it does not need a prophet's ken to predict that your Churches will be anything but Christian Churches. That they are even now tending rapidly to a High-Church Spirit is but too manifest. Can it be possible that, after all the developments that have been made, any of the brethren should be so blind as not to see that a blow must be struck at the foundation? The ax must be laid at the root of every barren fig tree. Ministers must turn their attention to digging about and manuring these trees. An effort must be made to search, revive, and purify the Churches. Old professors and the converts of the recent revivals must be searched and overhauled; their foundations examined, and their hearts entirely reclaimed. They must be built up and spiritualized and established in grace so as to be living epistles of Christ, known and read of all men; or to attempt the further promotion of revivals of religion is vain, and worse than vain.
The fact is, brethren, that the resistance that has been offered to labors for the reformation of the Church has been deeply exercised with disinterested love to God and man; the Church has to a great extent refused to be searched. They have refused to be reformed, and the result is that the Spirit of God has left and is fast leaving them.
If I should say less than this, I should not speak the whole truth; but in saying so much, I am not without my fears that I shall offend some of my brethren. Dear brethren, I beg of you not to be offended with me, but suffer me to speak the whole truth to you in love. Is it not true with many of you who are ministers, as well as laymen, that you have refused candidly to lay your mind open to reproof, to correction, to searching, and to the light of the whole gospel of Christ? Is it not true that you have resisted the reformation of your own heart, and the efforts that have been made to revive the Church and to elevate the standard of holiness within her borders? Have you not been more afraid of sanctification than you have of sin, and have you not resisted efforts that have been made to enlighten you and the Churches over which you preside? May God help you, my brother, to be honest in answering these questions! Have you not in many instances, not only shut your own eyes against the light, but tried to keep the light from the eyes of others? Have you not refused to read what has been written on the subject of holiness in this life, and used an influence to prevent others from reading? Have you not even spoken against this subject, and spoken contemptuously of those whose hearts are laboring and agonizing and travailing in birth for the recovery of a backsliding Church?
My brethren, these are plain questions; they are intended to be. Could I see you, I could ask you these questions on my knees; and would it avail, I would wash your feet with my tears. My brethren, where are you, and where are your Churches? What is your spiritual state? How stands the thermometer of your spirituality? Are you hot or cold or lukewarm? Are you agonizing to elevate the standard of holiness in the Church, and in your own heart, or are you still assuming that the Church is well enough, and looking coldly and contemptuously upon all efforts to revive her?
May the Lord have mercy on us, my brethren and search us all out, and compel us to come to the light, to confess our sins and put them all away forever, and lay hold on the fullness there is in Christ!