By Henry C. Fish
THE history of revivals is the history of religion.
If we consult the Bible we shall find awakenings from the earliest times. Thus, in the days of Samuel, when the people had clone evil a long time, serving Baalim, it is said, "Israel lamented after the Lord, and Samuel said, "If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, and serve him only, he will deliver you." Upon doing it the blessing came. Drawing near to battle, "the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines and discomfited them, and. they were smitten before Israel." Then they came together and "drew water, and poured it out before the Lord;"--an emblem, perhaps, of the fullness of their penitent sorrow, and of the felt blessings of the Most High. The narrative is short, but there was here an effective revival.
Often in the succeeding ages hope almost expired; but "a remnant was left of those that feared the Lord;" and in the reigns of David and Solomon, and Asa and Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah and Josiah, seasons of recovery and refreshing were not withheld.
Soon after the return from the captivity there was a great reformation. The people gathered themselves together in Jerusalem as one man, and called upon Ezra to bring out the book of the law of Moses which the Lord had commanded to Israel; and he read therein from morning till midday; "and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law." For when he opened the book in the sight of all the people, they all stood up. Arid when he blessed the Lord, the great God, "all the people answered, Amen, amen, lifting up their hands, and worshipping the Lord with their faces on the ground." And they proved their" sincerity by hastening to do works meet for repentance. For they restored the worship of God which had fallen into disuse, and separated themselves from heathen alliances, and contributed regularly to the support of the temple services.
Dark days came on. From the time of Malachi we hear of no true prophets to warn the people; and corruption spread "from the sole of the foot even unto the head." Then came John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, "Repent ye, for the, kingdom of heaven is at hand." He was no ordinary preacher. The truth was searching, arousing, and pungent. The spirit of Elijah burned in his breast and thundered in his voice. And a powerful revival ensued. For "there went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptised in Jordan, confessing their sins.
Exalted at the right hand of the Father, the Redeemer was to vouchsafe his grand coronation gift. It came. The star-light falling upon a solitary people became the splendor of the all-warming, all-vivifying sun. The narrow, pent-up stream became the majestic river, rolling health and gladness through all the lands. Brief and pregnant is the record: "And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues, like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came too and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in I his own language. And they were all amazed, and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak, Galileans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers ml Mesopotainia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, andi. Painphylia, in Egypt, and in the parts of Libya, about Cyrene, and strangers of I Rome, Jews and Proselytes, Cretes, and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. And they were all amazed, and were in doubt saying one to another, What meaneth this? Others mocking said, "These men are full of new wine."
Peter explained the strange phenomena, pointing to the prediction here fulfilled, that God would "pour out his Spirit upon all flesh," and likewise charged home upon his hearers their awful guilt in rejecting and crucifying the Lord. "Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter, and to the rest of the Apostles, Men and brethren; what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptised every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they that gladly received his word were baptised and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.''
Now, although the effects of this stupendous manifestation of Messiah's kingly power and munificence were beyond comparison grand and glorious, the scene was strictly of the nature of a revival. In all its essential features it was nothing more. Says Rev. Albert Barnes, "I am aware that some have supposed that that whole scene was miraculous, and that it cannot be expected again to occur, since the days of miracles have ceased. But I am ignorant of the arguments which demonstrate that there was aught of miracle in this, except in the power of speaking in foreign languages, conferred on the apostles--a power which of itself converted no one of the three thousand who on that day gave their hearts to the Saviour. The power of speaking foreign languages had but two effects, one was to furnish evidence that the religion was from God; the other to enable them to make known its truths in the ears of the multitude assembled from different parts of the world. It was by the proper influence of truth that the multitudes were alarmed and awakened. And why should not the same truth produce the same effect now?
It was indeed by the power of God. But that same power is expected in the conversion of every sinner and why may it not now be employed in converting many simultaneously? It was indeed by the Holy Ghost; but no sinner is awakened or converted now without his power, and why may not that be exerted still on many as well as on one? The great fact in the case was, that several thousands were converted under the preaching of the truth by the influence of the Holy Ghost. Miracles change no one. The laws of mind were violated in the case of no one. No effect was produced which the truth was not adapted to produce. And why should not the same effect be again produced by the preaching of the same truth, and by the power of the same sacred Spirit?"
With tongues and hearts of heavenly fire, the chosen heralds went forth from the scene, everywhere to publish peace. And multitudes laid hold of the hope set before them. For we are told that the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved; and again, the number of the men was about five thousand; and again multitudes of believers, both men and women, were added to the Lord; the number of the disciples was multiplied at Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith. All this took place within two years of the descent of the Spirit. Eight years more had not elapsed before the gospel was preached with saving power to the Gentiles at Ceasarea, and at Antioch, were much people were added to the Lord. With what rapidity its triumphs were multiplied, both among them and the Jews scattered abroad, the following testimonies relating to the next eight years of the new dispensation are witness. At Iconium, a great multitude both of Jews and also of the Greeks believed; the converts of Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia were confirmed in the faith, and increased in number daily. In Thessalonica some of the Jews believed, and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few. At Berea, many of the Jews believed, also of honorable women which were Greeks, and of men not a few. Many at Corinth believed and were baptised. The word of God grew mightily at Ephesus and prevailed. At Athens, certain men gave unto Paul, and Demetrius complained that throughout all Asia Paul had preached, and turned away much people. What a series of glorious revivals we have here recorded!
And it is interesting to observe that this blessed work continued on through the post-apostolic age. It was by a succession of marvellous revivals, as we should call them, rather than by the gradual addition of a few souls at a time, that the churches during the first few centuries made their triumphant onsets upon the powers of darkness. Hence the amazing progress of which the early writers speak.
Pliny the younger, who was some time governor of Bithynia under the bloody emperor Trajan, earnestly dissuaded him from persisting in his persecuting edicts against the Christians in that province, not only by assuring him that they were a harmless people chargeable with no crime, "meeting together to sing hymns and worship Christ as God," but that they were very numerous all over the province, and that the more they were punished the more they increased. Tertullian, who lived a century later, and died in 216, writing to the Roman government in vindication of the new religion, as it was called, says, "Though we are strangers of no long standing, yet we have filled all places of your dominions, cities, islands, corporations, councils, armies, tribes, the senate, the palace, the courts of judicature. If the Christians had a mind, to revenge themselves; their numbers are abundant, for they have a party, not in this or that province only, but in all quarters of the world. Nay, if they were to combine and forsake the Roman Empire how vast would be the loss! The world would be amazed at the solitude which would ensue."
Such an extension of Christianity, as a historian has remarked, presupposes a progress of the work of conversion immensely more rapid than what we now observe. The very persecutions also prove this. There must have been a great amount of fuel to support such fires. Even in regions of Africa, which are now desolation, there were cities and provinces of Christians. The writer just cited, in an appeal to the persecuting governor of Africa, says, "If you persevere in your persecution, what will you do with these many thousands, both men and women, of every rank and every age, who will promptly offer themselves? Carthage itself must be decimated." And again, enumerating the nations who have believed in Christ, he declares that the gospel has penetrated to regions which were inaccessible even to the eagles of imperial Rome, and that the church had already spread itself more widely than the four great monarchies. "Excellent governors," says Tertullian, "you may torment, afflict, and vex us; your wickedness puts our meekness to the test; but your cruelty is of no avail. It is but a stronger invitation to bring others to our persuasion. The more we are mowed down, the more we spring up again. The blood of the Christians is seed."
Here we have proof of the spread of Christianity by extensive and powerful reformations, -- the turning of multitudes, on a vast scale, almost simultaneously, from sin and Satan unto God. In no other way could the work have progressed as it did.
How superstition arose, and the "Man of Sin" gained the ascendancy, and true piety languished during the long succeeding centuries, it is not our province here to depict. All this time God had a true people; but their history is almost illegible.
In sketching the modern revivals, it will be convenient to speak of them under several epochs. The periods may be designated thus:
1st, The great Reformation, properly beginning in the fourteenth century, and extending into the sixteenth century, in the days of Luther, who died 1546.
2nd, The work of God of the seventeenth century, in the days of Owen, Leighton, Bunyan, Baxter, Flavel; the last of whom died in 1691.
3rd, The Great Awakening in the eighteenth century, about 1740, in the days of Whitfield, Wesley, Edwards, Brainerd, and the Tennents.
4th. the revival of the nineteenth century, beginning about 1790, and extending, say, to the year 1840.
5th, The revival of 1857 to 1860.
FIRST REVIVAL PERIOD: 1310-1560.
We find traces of God's gracious work even throughout that long and horrible night when Popery was holding almost universal empire. There arose, at intervals, within her pale, individuals protesting against her monstrous abominations. Doubtless, too, beyond her pale there existed an unbroken succession of faithful and incorruptible witnesses for the truth: so that when scornfully asked where was the religion of Protestants before Luther, we may answer "in the Bible," and "in the valleys of Piedmont."
In the fourteenth century there must have been great revivals; for in Bohemia alone, where the gospel had won its way, there were reckoned, in 1315, no less than 80,000 witnesses for the religion of Jesus.
So, again, in the same century, John Wyckliffe, the morning-star of the Reformation," heralded the day-spring, and many turned to the Lord. He died in 1384; but John Huss (born 276) was converted by his writings and, after exerting a mighty influence for the truth, sealed his testimony amid the flames of martyrdom in 1415. Jerome of Prague embraced the doctrines of Huss (his friend and master), and also died at the stake a year later.
Born in 1483, Martin Luther, with his coadjutors, shook the papal throne to its foundations. And that most remarkable work was, strictly speaking, a revival of religion. Says Dr. J.W. Alexander, with the greatest propriety, "It is a deplorable error to consider this moral convulsion as a mere change of speculative tenents, or a mere struggle for liberty of conscience. Both these it did involve, undoubtedly; but beneath these, vivifying and nerving these, was the sense of spiritual things, the experience of conviction, conversion, holy awe, and holy joy, the gracious affections of the new creature, which pervaded countries and traversed a whole continent. It was the personal interest of souls in agony about escape from the wrath to come, which gave interest to the re at questions between Popery and Reform. The sudden unveiling of the long hidden Bible before the laity was like the return of the sun upon a Greenland night. The entrance of the ray gave understanding to the simple; and in thou, sands of instances, the rejection of Pelagian error and the acceptance of Christ were contemporaneous and undistinguishable exercises. Never, certainly singe the days of the early Christians, was there so wide--spread a concern about religion; never were there so many conversions. The published correspondence of the reformers, and particularly of Martin Luther and John Calvin, shows that a large part of their time was employed in giving counsel and' consolation to inquiring, convinced, and tempted individuals; and of their published works considerable portions are wholly employed in discussing those very points which have paramount interest in a season of general awakening in our day."
Such was the progress of this amazing revival, that in face of the united opposition of the church and the empire, against all proscription, in spite of rack and fagot, the principles of evangelical religion soon over--spread Germany, France, Switzerland, Holland, and the British Isles. First came Lefevre, Farel, Briconnet, Chatelain, and their friends, in France; then Zuinglius, in Switzerland, and almost at the same moment the giant of the reformation, Martin Luther, in Germany--each attended by a host of zealous and able coadjutors, both in church and state--Ecolampadius, Melancthon, Calvin--preachers, scholars, princes, and nobles. Soon came Tyndale, with his printed English Testament, in England; Patrick Hamilton, George Wishart, and John Knox, in Scotland; John Taussen, in Denmark; John Laski, in Poland; Olaus Petri and Laurentius in Sweden, and humbler names without number, in every quarter. All these arose at once, or within little more than a quarter of a century, by the mysterious Spirit and providence of God, and triumphantly established the truth of the Gospel in the countries now Protestant.
In Scotland, says Kirkton, "the whole nation was converted by lump. Lo! Here a nation born in one day; yea, moulded into one congregation, and sealed as a fountain with a solemn oath and covenant." To the same purpose are the following reflections of Fleming, in his Fulfilling of Scripture: "It is astonishing and should be matter of wonder and praise for after ages, to consider that solemn time of the Reformation (in Scotland), when the Lord began to visit his church. What a swift course the spreading of the kingdom of Christ had; and how professors of the truth thronged" in amidst the greatest threatenings of those on whose side authority and power then was." The testimony of Knox is not less decisive: "Our very enemies can witness in how great purity God did establish his true religion among us."
In Holland the work was with power, especially in connection with some of the Baptist Reformers. Admitting the presence of errors and excesses, many of the men of this class were "full of faith and of the Holy Ghost," and much people were by them "added unto the Lord." Leonard Bouwens, an eminent Baptist minister in Holland, who died in 1578, left in writing a list of upwards of ten thousand persons whom he had baptized. Menno Simon, and other labourers, introduced to the churches great multitudes of disciples, thousands of whom, after being unjustly reviled and persecuted, became martyrs in attestation of the truth; And thus everywhere the doctrine of justification without works ''grew mightily and prevailed.''
It is to be said, however, that this work to a great extent receded. The Reformation itself needed reforming; and inhering remnants of the papacy brought forth their legitimate fruits. Persecution also acted a painful part. The fires of martyrdom were frequently lighted in France, Holland, and Switzerland; while in England the severity of Elizabeth's government was so great that the separatists of all classes were scattered, and forced to hold their meetings in the utmost privacy. James I., though affecting zeal for Presbyterianism" while in Scotland, was as bigoted and despotic as Elizabeth. "I will make them conform" said he [of the Puritans] "or I will hurry them out of the land, or else worse." And they either fled or kept themselves quiet, hoping almost against hope for the better times to come.
How truly God remembered his cause, and again revived the work which had thus suffered a partial decline, we shall see in the next revival period.
SECOND REVIVAL PERIOD: 1600-1688.
Two years previous to this first date (1598) the famous Edict of Nantes, by Henry IV., was promulgated, securing religious liberty to the French Protestants. Within these two dates fall the active lives of Richard Baxter, Robert Leighton, John Milton, John Owen, John Flavel, John Bunyan, John Howe, John Tillotson, and Philip James Spener, founder of the sect of the Pietists of Halle. With the latter laboured the devoted Augustus Franke; and there was a great and rapid spread of religion in some parts of the continent through their efforts.
During this period also falls the working of the Act of Uniformity, passed in 1662, and in force about 25 years. By it some two thousand ministers were ejected from their pulpits. In 1664 the Conventicle Act was passed and the next year the Five-Mile Act. These inhuman decrees but testify to the zeal and piety of the men against whom they were intended to operate.
Because they were "burning and shining 'lights," whose influence in converting the people to Christ was so great, these measures were instigated by the enemy of all good.
The remarkable condition of things among our American ancestors was the simple consequence of the works of grace prevalent during this period. These men came out from amid great awakenings; and after the first plantations. Every arrival from the old country brought them news of the revivals which took place under the Bunyans and Baxters of England. It is worth mentioning that Richard Baxter was born in 1616, John Owen in 1616, John Bunyan in 1628, and John Howe in 1630; while the landing of the pilgrims on our shore occurred in 1620. The connection between the great facts here referred to is not less obvious than instructive. Pursuing the work still in the old world, it is refreshing indeed to read the annals of God's grace in connection with the persecutions of the saints, especially in Scotland, in the attempts to enforce the Uniformity Act. The holy fire burning in the breast of Knox in the preceding century was rekindled, and its heat and light could not be hid. Thus in Stewarton, in 1625, a revival spread. Called by the profane rabble "Stewarton Sickness," of which Fleming said, "Truly the great spring tide, as I may call it, of the gospel, was not of a short time, but of some years' continuance; yea, thus, like a spreading moor-burn, the power of Godliness did advance from one place to another, which put a marvellous lustre on those parts of the country, the savor whereof brought many from other parts of the land to see its truth. Another token for good to the suffering church of Scotland, occurred in the year 1628. At a meeting of the Synod of Edinburgh, in the spring of that year, it had been agreed to apply to his majesty that a general fast might be held all over the kingdom."
A great blessing followed--most marked, perhaps, in the Kirk of Shotts, in June 1630, under the preaching of John Livingston, when a convocation of ministers and people, for several days, was being held. Towards the close of the sermon, the audience, and even the preacher himself, were affected with a deep, unusual awe, melting their hearts and subduing their minds, stripping off inveterate prejudices, awaking the impenitent, producing conviction in the hardened, bowing down the stubborn, and imparting to many an enlightened Christian a large increase of grace and spirituality. "It was known," says Fleming, "as I can speak on sure ground, that nearly five hundred had at that time a discernible change wrought on them, of whom most proved lively Christians afterwards. It was the sowing of a seed through Clydesdale, so that many of the most eminent Christians of that country could date their conversion, or some remarkable confirmation of their case, from that day."
In 1625, there was also a remarkable revival in the North of Ireland. It took place under the labors of a band of faithful ministers, most of whom went over from Scotland --Brice, Glendenning, Ridge, Blair and others; beginning in the province of Ulster, which has ever since been the brightest spot on the map of Ireland. These preachers went forth in companies, laboring with apostolic zeal to evangelize the land--and the Lord wrought through them mightily. This revival in the north of Ireland may with propriety be said to have been one of the most remarkable outpourings of the Spirit upon record. Says Stewart, "these religious agitations continued for a considerable time."
The ministers were indefatigable in improving the favourable opportunities thus offered for extending the knowledge and influence of the gospel. The people awakened and inquiring, many of them desponding and alarmed, both desired and needed guidance and instruction. The judicious exhibition of evangelical doctrines and promises by these faithful men, was in due time productive of those happy and tranquilizing effect which were early predicted, as the characteristics of gospel times. Adopting the beautiful imagery of the prophets, the broken-hearted were bound up and comforted, the spirit of bondage and of fear gave way to al spirit of freedom and of love, the oil of joy was poured forth instead of mourning, and the spirit of heaviness exchanged for the garments of praise and thankfulness."
It would be gratifying to dwell upon God's revival work in England while his Spirit was being thus poured out in Ireland and Scotland. How much like a description of some of our blessed modern revivals does the pen-picture of Baxter's work in Kidderminster seem, as drawn in his writings. He tells of preaching twice on Lord's day, and on Thursday evening at his own private house, besides occasional sermons; of "resolving the doubts" of inquirers; of praying with the awakened in little companies; of a "three hours "prayer-meeting with the young; of the converts holding a Saturday evening prayer-meeting for the success of the word on the following day; of once in a few weeks having a day of humiliation; of going through the parish (with the help of his brethren) and visiting all the people, and instructing them in the scriptures, and urging them, "with all possible engaging reason and vehemence to answerable affection and practice." He spent an hour with a family, --occupying "all the afternoon of Mondays and Tuesdays in this way."
As to results, let him give his own story. "The congregation was usually full, so that we were led to build five galleries after my coming hither, the church itself being very capacious, the most commodious and convenient that ever I was in. Our private meetings also were full. On the Lord's day there was no disorder to be seen in the streets, but you might hear a hundred families singing psalms and repeating sermons as you passed through the streets. In a word, when I came thither first, there was about one family in a street that worshipped God and called on his name; and when I came away, there were some streets where there was not more than one family in the side of a street that did not so, and that did not, in professing serious godliness, give us hopes of their sincerity. And of those families which were the worst, being inns and ale-houses, usually some persons in each did seem to be religious. Though our administration of the Lord's supper was so orderly as displeased many, and the far greater part kept themselves away, yet we had six hundred that were communicants, of whom there were not twelve that I had not good hopes of as to their sincerity; and those few that came to our communion and yet lived scandalously, were excommunicated afterwards."
We cannot farther sketch the refreshings from God's presence during this second period.
THIRD REVIVAL PERIOD: 1730--1750.
John Wesley and Jonathan Edwards were born the same year (1703). Charles Wesley was born two years after (1705), and. George Whitfield nine years still later (1714).
The appearance of these names on the scroll of history marks a revival period of wonderful interest.
To go back a little, and accept the resume of another, the English church had been "reformed" by act of Parliament under Edward VI., counter-reformed in the same way under Queen Mary, and re-reformed by Queen Elizabeth-- the great body of the clergy holding fast their benefices with unscrupulous tenacity throughout these vicissitudes. Nineteen-twentieths of Queen Mary's clergy became Queen Elizabeth's clergy without compunction, and certainly without conversion. It is not surprising, therefore, that generally speaking both religious knowledge and morals, among people and clergy, remained at the lowest ebb; and that the church establishment, after being purged of the most of its piety and learning by the Act of Uniformity, continued to descend in the moral scale, carrying the people with it, until, after the accession of the house of Hanover, the scandalous condition of the country was perhaps unequalled in Europe. Bishop Burnet says that candidates for ordination were commonly quite unacquainted with the Bible and unable even to give an account of the statements in the church catechism. When they re-appeared before him to obtain institution to a living, it was still apparent in many that they had not "read the Scriptures nor any other good book since they were ordained." "Of all the ministers of religion he had seen in the course of his extensive travels --Papists, Lutherans, Calvinists, and Dissenters--they were the most remiss in their labours, and the least severe in their lives."
The infidel works of Hobbes, Tindal, Collins, Shaftesbiury, and Chubb were in full circulation, and were re-enforced by the appearance of the three greatest giants in the cause of skeptical error which modern times have produced--Bolingbroke, Hume, and Gibbon. The Encyclopedists had attempted the design of eradicating from the circle of the sciences every trace of Christian truth; and the polite writers of France, headed by Voltaire and Rousseau, had decked the corrupt doctrines of the day with the attractions of eloquence and poetry, humour and satire, until they swept over the nation like a sirocco, withering not only the sentiments of religion, but the instincts of humanity, and subverting at last, in common ruin, the altar, the throne, and the moral protections of domestic life.
Lady Mary Wortley wrote, in 1710, that there were "more atheists among the fine ladies than among the loosest sort of rakes." Ignorance and drunkenness, it is stated, were the predominant qualities of the working classes; licentiousness and infidelity of the higher. Montesquieu, who visited England in 1729-31, protested that the English had no religion at all. "If any one," he said, "spoke of it, everybody laughed." Low as religion had sunk in France, he confessed that he himself had not enough of it to satisfy his countrymen; and yet he found that he had too much to suit English society.
Rev. Mr. Ryle, of the Church of England, says: "These times were the darkest age that England has passed through in the last three hundred years. Anything more deplorable than the condition of the country as to religion, morality, and high principle, it is very difficult to conceive. As to preaching the gospel, the distinguishing doctrines of Christianity--the atonement, the work and office of Christ and the Spirit-- were comparatively lost sight of. The vast majority of sermons were miserable moral essays, utterly devoid of anything calculated to awaken, convert, sanctify, or save souls."
And Isaac Taylor, in his history of Methodism, says that when Wesley appeared, "the Anglican Church was an ecclesiastical system under which the people of England had lapsed into heathenism, or a state hardly to be distinguished from it."
In America the religious condition was not much better. The primitive standard of morals and piety among the colonies of New England had sadly declined. From the first, isolated revivals had been enjoyed; but there prevailed at this time a lamentable ignorance of the essentials of practical religion.
Dr. Increase Mather, in a book entitled, "The Glory Departing from New England," printed in 1702, says, "We are the posterity of the good old Puritan Nonconformists in England, who were a strict and holy people. Such were our fathers who followed the Lord into this wilderness. Oh, New England, New England, look to it that the glory be not removed from thee, for it begins to go. Oh, degenerate New England, what art thou come to at this day! How are those sins become common in thee that once were not so much as heard of in this land!"
In a public lecture printed in 1706, Dr. Cotton Mather says, "It is confessed by all who know anything of the matter--and oh, why not with rivers of tears bewailed? --that there is a general and horrible decay of Christianity among the professors of it." And Rev. Samuel Blair, speaking of the state of things in Pennsylvania previous to 1740, declares that "religion lay a-dying and ready to expire its last breath of life."
The causes of this degeneracy are but too apparent. They are well told by Rev. Joseph Tracy, in his excellent and standard "history of the Great Awakening." He says:
"The New England churches had receded from the original standard. The Synod of 1662 had decided that persons baptized in infancy, understanding the doctrine of faith, and publicly professing their assent thereunto, not scandalous in life, and solemnly owning the covenant before the church wherein they give up themselves and their children to the Lord, and subject themselves to the government of Christ in the church, --their children are to be baptized, though the parent, thus owning the covenant, be avowedly yet unregenerate, and as such excluded from the Lord's Supper. This practice was immediately adopted by many churches, and, after a violent controversy, became general. This was very naturally followed by a still further innovation. In 1707, "the venerable Stoddard," of Northampton, published a sermon in which he maintained "That sanctification is not a necessary qualification to partaking of the Lord's Supper," and "that the Lord's Supper is a converting ordinance." To this Dr. Increase Mather replied the next year; and in 1709, Mr. Stoddard published his "Appeal to the Learned; being a Vindication of the Right of Visible Saints to the Lord's Supper, though they be destitute of a Saving Work of God's Spirit on their hearts." The third book of the Appeal contains "Arguments to prove that sanctifying grace is not necessary in order to a lawful partaking of the Lord's Supper." Mr. Stoddard, in his sermon, enforced his arguments with the assertion, "That no other country does neglect this ordinance as we in New England; and that in our own nation at home, [England,] so in Scotland, Holland, Denmark, Sweedland, Germany, and France, they do generally celebrate the memorials of Christ's death." There had been strong tendencies towards such a practice for many years, and probably some instances of its virtual adoption; but it now, for the first time, found an open and able advocate. It was strenuously opposed; but the desire to enjoy the credit and advantages of church membership, aided by Mr. Stoddard's influence, earned the day at Northampton, and the practice soon spread extensively in other parts of New England."
Thus, also, Mr. Williams, a defender of the Halfway Covenant, in opposition to Jonathan Edwards, mentions two ends contemplated by Christ in appointing the communion: viz. "That such as have grace already should be under proper advantages to gain more, and that those who have none should be under proper advantages to attain grace." And Edwards himself, who utterly repudiated this view, was forced to lament, that "owning the covenant, as it is called, has in New England, it is to be feared, too much degenerated into a matter of mere form and ceremony; it being visibly a prevailing custom for persons to neglect this until they come to be married, and then to do it for their credit's sake, and that their children may be baptized." In a word, it was held that the Christian church is but a continuation of the. Jewish, the terms of admission remaining unchanged. The position laid down by Mr. Stoddard was practically maintained, viz.: "That if unsanctified persons might lawfully come to the Passover, then such may lawfully come to the Lord's Supper, --and they who convey to their children a right to baptism, have a right themselves to the Lord's Supper, provided they carry inoffensively."
One obvious tendency of this practice was to destroy church discipline; for unconverted members, generally would not be strict in calling others to account for error of doctrine or practice. And in his reply to Mr. Fish, Isaac Backus testifies, "that it is a professed rule with many ministers, not to deal with any person in the church for moral evil till he is convicted in the state.
It is easy to see that this system favored the entrance of unconverted men into the ministry. If one was fit to be a member of the church; if he was actually a member in good standing, why should he be excluded from the ministry? It could not be. The form of examining candidates as to their piety was still retained, but the spirit of it was dying away; and Mr. Stoddard in his "Appeal to the Learned," argued from the fact which he took for granted, that "unconverted ministers have certain official duties which they may lawfully perform."
Amid scenes of such moral desolation in the old world and the new, it pleased God suddenly to appear in great mercy. And it is worthy of remark, that the blessing came almost simultaneously on America and Europe.
First in the order of time there was a revival of considerable power in Freehold, N.J., in 1730, and in the three following years, under the labors of the Tennents.
Next commenced the wonderful work in Northampton, Mass., under Edwards, in the autumn of 1734. Then, says Edwards, "the Spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in and wonderfully to work among us; and there were very suddenly, one after another, five or six persons, who were, to all appearance; savingly converted, and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner." The news spread "like a flash of lightning" and there was a general concern in all parts of the town; and "souls did come, as it were, by flocks to Jesus Christ." The report of the state of things at Northampton spread into other towns, where many "seemed not to know what to make of it." Many ridiculed, "and some compared what we call conversion to certain distempers." Great numbers, however, who came to Northampton and saw for themselves, were differently affected, and not a few of them, from various places, were awakened and apparently brought to repentance. In March 1735, the revival began to be general in South Hadley, and about the same time in Suffield. It next appeared in Sunderland, Beerfield, and Hatfield; and afterwards at West Springfield, Long Meadow, and En-field; and then in Hadley Old Town, and in North-field. In Connecticut the work commenced in the first parish in Windsor, about the same time as at Northampton. It was remarkable at East Windsor, and "wonderful" at Coventry. Similar scenes were witnessed at Lebanon, Durham, Stratford, Ripton, New Haven, Guildford, Mansfield, Tolland, Hebron, Bolton, Preston, Groton, and Woodbury.
Edwards hoped that more than 300 in his parish were converted in the space of half a year.
About the month of May, 1735, the work began sensibly to decline; although for months after frequent conversions continued. This awakening excited a lively interest among the friends of vital piety at a distance. Dr. Colman, of Boston, wrote to Mr. Edwards for an account of it. Having obtained one he published it, and forwarded it to Dr. Watts and Dr. Guise in London, where its publication exerted a strong influence for good.
A longing existed in many places for similar awakenings; and in the few next succeeding years they began to multiply in different parts of the country. Thus in 1739, in Newark, N. J., "the whole town in general was brought under an uncommon concern about their eternal interests." In Harvard, Mass., the same year, a revival much like that at Northampton (only not so extensive) occurred, resulting in "near a hundred" hopeful conversions.
About the same time the work re-appeared in Northampton; and gentle refreshings were experienced in Pennsylvania (particularly at Londonderry), and in New Brunswick, N. J., and some other places.
Such, properly speaking, was the commencement of the "Great Awakening." But it did not assume its peculiar power until George Whitfield arrived in Philadelphia in the early part of November, 1739.
In that city, and in New York and New Jersey, where he at once began preaching, as well as in Georgia and South Carolina, thousands flocked together, anxious about their souls, and multitudes were added unto the Lord.
In September 1740, Whitfield visited New England, whither his fame had spread; and here all the people were anxious to hear him. Arriving at Newport, R. I., he began immediately his usual course of incessant preaching. His sermons on his way to Boston spread his reputation, and when within ten miles' distance lie was met by the governor's son and a train of the clergy and chief citizens, who escorted him into the city. Belcher, the governor, received him heartily, and became his warm friend. He was denied "King's Chapel," the English Church; but Webb, Foxcroft, Prince, Sewall and all the other Puritan divines, welcomed him. His preaching had its usual effect. "It was Puritanism revived," said old Mr. Walter, the successor of Eliot, the apostle to the Indians. "It was the happiest day I ever saw in my life," exclaimed Colman, after his first sermon. He "itinerated" who traced his course northward from Boston travelling one hundred and seventy times in about a week On his return the whole city seemed moved. High and low, clergymen and municipal officers, professors and students from the neighbouring college of Cambridge, and people from the country towns, thronged to hear him, and appeared ready to "pluck out their eyes for him." Twenty thousand hearers crowded around him when he delivered his farewell discourse under the trees of the large Common. "Such a power and presence of God with a preacher," wrote one who heard him, "I never saw before. Our governor has carried him from place to place in his coach, and could not help following him fifty miles out of town."
He directed his course westward to Northampton, where he met a congenial spirit in Jonathan Edwards. Pulpits were open to him on all the route, and a "divine unction" attended his preaching. From Northampton he passed down to New Haven, addressing as he journeyed vast and deeply affected congregations. He arrived there October 23, when the Colonial Legislature was in session, and on the Sabbath preached before them and an immense throng, some of whom had come twenty miles to hear him. The aged governor was so deeply affected that he could speak but few words. With tears trickling down his cheeks like drops of rain, he exclaimed: "Thanks be to God for such refreshings on our way to heaven!"
By November 8th he was again in Philadelphia, preaching in a house which had been erected for him during his absence. On the 14th of December he reached the Orphan house, near Savannah. In seventy-five clays he had preached a hundred and seventy-five sermons. "Never," he writes, "did I see such a continuance of the divine presence in the congregations to which I have preached."
On the 16th of January, 1741, he again embarked at Charleston for England.
Of course it is impossible to trace the progress of the revivals that sprang up in these years, all through New England and the Middle and Southern States. A large number of pastors in Eastern Massachusetts, in 1745, printed and sent out a "Testimony" to its blessed effects. It was estimated that at that time the population of all the colonies was about 2,000,000; and it was believed that the number of converts amounted to not less than fifty thousand. If so, they bore as great a proportion to the whole number of inhabitants, and would as much change the relative proportion of the religious and irreligious, as the conversion of six or eight hundred thousand would now. As one result, not less than 150 new Congregational churches were established in twenty years. The increase of Baptist churches was still more wonderful, rising from a few to upwards of 400 in number, with a total of 30,000 members. The increase of the Presbyterians and other denominations in the Middle States appears to be less distinctly marked, but it was very great.
Particularly towards the close of the above period, there were most objectionable outbreaks of animal excitement, and also of untempered religious controversy, marring the gracious fruitage; but, making every reasonable abatement, the awakening was a most merciful visitation from the Lord in its immediate and lasting influence upon the young colonies of America.
In England the work began in 1739. On Feb. 17th of that year, Mr. Whitfield preached his first field sermon, at a place called Rose Green. He held open-air meetings there and at Kingswood for several days, and was listened to by thousands and tens of thousands of astonished hearers. The first evidence he observed of having made any impression on his rude auditors, was their deep silence; the next, and still more convincing, was his observation of the white gutters made by the tears which fell plentifully down their cheeks, black and unwashed from the coal--pits. John Wesley, [by whom, on his going to America, Whitfield was succeeded in this most interesting field of labour,] speaking of the harvest which it yielded in return to their conjoint prayers and labors, says, "Few persons have lived long in the west of England, who have not heard of the colliers of Kingswood as those neither fearing God nor regarding man. But now we see that in the middle of February, Kingswood was a wilderness, and that when the month of June arrived, it was already blossoming like the rose."
After a short visit to the north of Wales, where he fell in with that wonderful Welsh preacher Howell Harris, who had been for three years ringing out the gospel notes from "tables, wells, and hillocks," Whitfield traversed a great portion of England, preaching in bowling-greens, at market-crosses and on the highways; thus preparing the way for those remarkable field operations of the Wesleys, in connection with whom the arm of the Lord was so mightily revealed in the founding of Methodism.
During the years 1740 and 1741 Wesley traversed many parts of the kingdom, preaching almost daily, and sometimes four sermons on the Sabbath. Ingham, his companion in America, was abroad also, itinerating in Yorkshire, where he formed many societies. Howell Harris pursued his labours successfully in Wales, and. John Bennet preached extensively in Derbyshire and its surrounding counties. David Taylor, a man of signal usefulness, also began to travel and preach about this time.
As to Whitfield, he thirteen times crossed the Atlantic; and many thousands hung upon his lips, whether he was in London or other parts of England; in Wales, Scotland, or Ireland; in Georgia, or New Hampshire; in Charleston, Philadelphia, New York or Boston, or the country intervening. In some cases ten, and in others even twenty thousand, listened to his impassioned appeals; and fruits unto eternal life were gathered all along his course; until "he was not, for God took him."
Of the gracious work of God in Scotland (particularly at Cambuslang) in 1742, when the Lord sent plenteous rains upon many of the parishes, the annals of those times give most interesting narratives.
In reading the "History of Revivals in the British Isles" (by Mrs. Duncan of Ruthwell) and the lives of Whitfield Wesley, Lady Huntingdon, etc., one will see how truly upon those who sat in the shadow of death, the light suddenly arose, and "the thirsty land' became springs of water."
FOURTH REVIVAL PERIOD: 1790--1842.
It has very properly been said that the year 1790 ushered in a new era, particularly for the United States. In the old country the fearful inroads of French infidelity had sapped the foundations of faith and hope in God, and, combined with other untoward influences, had made the hearts of the faithful fail them for fear. The overspreading gloom about 1790 aroused Hannah More, Bishop Porteus, Drs. Bogue, Andrew Fuller, Burder, and Rowland Hill, and kindred spirits in England, to noble evangelical efforts which greatly blessed the world. There was also a simultaneous work in Scotland, connected with the Haldanes and others. This was the direct cause of the formation of the Religious Tract Society, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the London Missionary, and the Church Missionary (local) Societies. Also the first society for evangelizing the heathen--the Baptist Foreign Missionary Society. All these, and other kindred movements, were the fruits of the revivals about 1790 to 1792.
The names of the two brothers referred to above, Robert and James Alexander Haldane, of Scotland, will be had in everlasting remembrance for their burning zeal and untiring labours in the service of Christ, and for the cheerfulness with which they consecrated their wealth, time, and talents in building churches--tabernacles they were called--for the poor, and providing in every practicable way for their religious instruction.
In the north of Wales, under the labors of Charles of Bala, "the apostle of North Wales," a "great revival" occurred in the beginning of 1791.
In America the vast extent of the revival blessings of this period can only be appreciated by considering the deplorable condition into which we had fallen. It is true there were occasional "streams in the desert" during the previous half century. But the Half Way Covenant still lingered in many of the Congregational churches, and Unitarianism had spread so generally that "at the beginning of the present century all the Congregational churches in Boston, with a single exception, had renounced the faith of the Puritans."
It must be remembered, too, that the political condition of the country was such as constantly to agitate the public mind, and divert attention from spiritual things. A war between France and Spain and England lasted from 1744 to 1748. Soon after this, the controversy commenced between the colonies and the mother country, and continued until it finally broke out into open war in 1776. During the eight years of the revolutionary war every nerve of the country was strained to maintain the national conflict. Thus from 1744 to 1783, during a period of almost 40 years, the public mind was continually agitated by political questions. These successive wars did much to break down the sanctity of the Sabbath, and corrupt the Morals of the community.
In the meantime, as might have been expected, French Infidelity, aided by Paine's "Age of Reason," Voltaire's assaults upon Christianity, Volney's Ruins, and other blasphemous publications, had spread rapidly, especially among the upper classes. The illuminati, so called, of France and Germany, who were secretly associated for the overthrow of all existing religious institutions, had their affiliated societies in this country, enrolling not a few men of high social and political standing and influence. "It became fashionable, in high places and low places, flippantly to prate against the Bible, and sneer at things sacred and divine. Instead of the Scriptures, French philosophy claimed to be the rule of faith and life, and ignoring all the rights of God, was to usher in the glorious millennium of the rights of man."
But when the enemy was thus coming in like a flood, the Lord lifted up a standard against him. About 1790 there were quite extensive works of grace in Western Pennsylvania and Southern and Western Virginia; and a little later the work began in the Eastern States. In these times we meet with the names of Bellamy, Griffin, the younger Edwards, Backus, Robbins, Mills, Perkins, Strong, Porter, Hooker, Williams, Hawley, Manning, Dwight, Hyde, Emmons, Baldwin, Mason, Stillman, Liviingston, Furman, Marshall, Nettleton, Lyman Beecher, and many others, who did not shun to declare all the counsel of God.
In 1790 the first Baptist church in Boston was graciously revived, and two hundred were added in the course of a few years. (Footnote: Moore, in his History, says: "The revival in the First and Second Baptist churches was the first in that series of revivals wherewith God blessed Boston in the present generation. The tide of error with which this city had been for half a century flooded then began to turn,"
In 1792, "or the year before," says Dr. Griffin, "began the unbroken series of American revivals. There was a revival in North Yarmouth, Me., in 1791. In the summer of 1792 one appeared in Lee, in the county of Berkshire. The following November the first that I had the privilege of witnessing showed itself on the borders of East Haddam and Lyme, Conn., which apparently brought to Christ a hundred souls. I saw a continued succession of heavenly sprinklings at New Salem, Farmington, Middlebury, and New Hartford, (all in Connecticut,) until, in 1799, I could stand at my door in New Hartford, Litchfield county, and number fifty or sixty congregations laid down in one field of divine wonders, and as many more in different parts of New England." By 1802 remarkable revivals had spread through most of the western and southern States. And Dr. Nettleton says, "during a period of four or five years, commencing with 1798, no less than one hundred and fifty churches in New England were favoured with the special effusions of the holy Spirit; and thousands of souls, in the judgment of charity, were translated from the kingdom of Satan into the kingdom of God's dear Son."
Distinct mention should here be made of that honoured instrument in revivals just mentioned. Certainly no other man did so much, under God, to promote them as Asahel Nettleton; who began to preach as an evangelist in 1812, and continued his labours for upwards of twenty years. To him not ineptly apply Pollock's lines:--
A skilful workman he,
In God's great moral vineyard: what to prune
With cautious hand he knew, what to uproot;
What were mere weeds, and what celestial plants
Which had immortal vigor in them, knew.
Oh, who can speak his praise! Great humble man!
He in the current of destruction stood,
And warned the sinner of his woe; led on
Immanuel's soldiers in the evil day,
And with the everlasting arms embracing
Him around, stood in the dreadful front
Of battle high, and warred victoriously
With death and hell.
How wondrously the Lord carried forward his work during almost the whole period now under review, it is not in language to describe. There are extant particular narratives of local revivals in nearly all the States, even an epitome of which cannot here be given. Dr. Porter examined, in the preparation of his "Letters on Revivals," the written or printed accounts of over one hundred and seventeen churches; while sonic of these accounts speak of other places that were revived--one says in fifty or sixty adjacent towns--of which, of course, no particulars are given. And still greater numbers were never reported at all. No part of the country, in proportion to its extent, shared so largely in these, "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord," as Connecticut; but other parts of New England enjoyed precious showers of grace; and during the same period powerful revivals prevailed, more or less extensively, in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, the two Carolinas, and Georgia.
Dr. Griffin tells of a revival in Newark, N. J., in 1803, under his ministry, when "twenty contiguous congregations experienced the mighty power of God." In 1807 he says he was all the while going from house to house, but felt that he was only "holding' a torch to the tinder which God had prepared."
Dr. Robbins says of Norfolk, Conn., in 1799, "the marvellous displays of divine power and grace were conspicuous beyond anything of the kind we had ever witnessed. A universal solemnity spread over the town, and seized the minds of almost, all, both old and young, great numbers were bowed with a sense of the presence of the Lord; some rejoicing and praising god, others crying out in anguish of soul, 'What must we do?"
A writer from New hampshire, in 1791, speaks of "a glorious revival" there "which began a year ago last spring, and has extended through several towns. The Rev. Samuel Shephard has baptized more than an hundred and fifty, and the work still goes on. There I have been also very considerable revivals in many churches of other denominations."
Dr. Hyde says of Lee, Mass., that in 1792, a marvellous work was begun, and it bore the decisive marks of being God's work. "So great was the excitement, though not yet known abroad, that into whatever section of the town I now went, the people in that immediate neighbourhood would leave their worldly employment at any hour of the day, and soon fill a large room. Before I was aware, and without any previous appointment, I found myself in the midst of a solemn and anxious assembly."
In Boscawen, N. H., Halifax and Rutland and Rupert, Vt., and other towns, "surprising manifestations of the Lord" were reported about the same time.
Drs. Dewitt and Mason, of N. Y., with others, tell of gracious works in that city in their charges; and says Harlan Page, under date of January 24, 1831: "The Lord appears now to be coming down on all parts of this great city, to arouse his children and to awaken sinners. Thousands of Christians here are, I think, praying as they never prayed before. Public general meetings commenced yesterday afternoon, and are to be continued through the week. Conversions are occurring in all parts of the city Churches are daily crowded to overflowing, and a most fixed and. solemn attention is given to the dispensation of the truth."
That year the old Chatham Street Theatre (a haunt of obscenity, blasphemy, and vice) was purchased by a committee for purposes of worship. Two gentlemen called on the lessee of the theatre and proposed to buy his lease. "What for?" said he. "For a church." The astonished man broke into tears, and exclaimed,." You may have it, and I will give 1,000 dollars towards it," The arrangement was completed. At the close of the morning rehearsal, the beautiful hymn, "The Voice of Free Grace," was sung, and Mr. Tappan announced to the actors that that evening there would be preaching on that stage. A pulpit was placed on the spot where dying agonies had often been counterfeited in tragic mockery; and in front of the footlights of the stage were seats for the inquirers.
The first prayer-meeting in the theatre was attended by 800 persons. On the 6th of May the house was dedicated to the service of God. Mr. Finney preached from the text, "Who is on the Lord's side?" For seventy successive nights he preached there to immense audiences. The bar-room was changed into a prayer-room, and the first man who knelt there poured forth these words, "O Lord, forgive my sins: the last time I was here thou knowest that I was a wicked actor on this stage; O Lord, have mercy on me!" For three years this building was used for revival meetings.
That revival brought into the churches of New York 2,000 souls, many of whom became prominent in great benevolent movements.
Passing to other localities, we find Dr. Furman, of S. C., telling of revivals there in the early part of the century. Rev. Mr Stevenson describes mighty works in Pennsylvania, and Mr Woodward embodies in a publication "surprising accounts " of revivals in Kentucky and Tennessee, while others write of the same in Georgia, North Carolina, and almost all sections of the country, about the same time. And so "The word of the Lord grew and multiplied."
Interruptions there were during the long period now under our notice; and at some seasons [e.g. 1814 and 1831], the spiritual harvest was more abundant than at others but upon the field as a whole Christ was triumphing gloriously. As Dr. Gardiner Spring, of N.Y. remarks, the period commencing with the year 1792 and terminating with 1842 was a memorable period in the history of the American church. Scarcely any portion of it but was graciously visited by copious effusions of the Holy Spirit. At this last mentioned date (with the previous year) the city of Boston wonderfully blessed, and four thousand converts were added to the evangelical churches.
It has been estimated that from 1815 to 1840, the Spirit was poured out upon from four to five hundred churches and congregations, on an average, annually; and that during some particular years "from forty to fifty thousand were added by profession in a single twelvemonth."
Thus, whatever view we take of the work, this was a most gracious period in the religious history of Christendom. Besides the rich harvests of priceless souls then gathered, these revivals stand directly connected, as we shall see in the next chapter, with all those aggressive movements which are turning the world's wildernesses into fruitful fields.
FIFTH REVIVAL PERIOD: 1857-1860.
It is an interesting fact in revivals that they frequently succeed some great calamity ;--a prevailing epidemic, a general financial embarrassment, or the like.
It was so with the wonderful work of grace to which we now come. The churches in this country were, to an alarming extent, characterized by coldness and conformity to the world. The greed of gain amounted to a mania; and it filled not only the commercial centres, but the villages; in fact, the whole land. Speculation was at fever-heat, and the wildest projects turned men's brains, and drove them recklessly on in the race for riches. As a natural result, frauds, defalcations, and failures became common; until finally the crash came, and the castles in the air, as well as the solid accumulations, were seen everywhere toppling to the fall. As with the twinkling of an eye, golden dreams vanished and millionaires became bankrupts.
God meant it for good. He would drive out mammon that himself might reign. He made poor the merchant princes that they might be rich in heavenly gain.
And now that the wheels of industry stood still and the counting-houses in the metropolis were deserted and gloom and disappointment settled down like a pall, a voice was heard whispering to the men of weary brain, "Come ye yourselves apart, and rest awhile." "Is any man afflicted, let him pray." Subdued, broken, tender, they answered, "Yes, for he hath wounded, and he can heal."
A little room in the lower part of NewYork, and immediately in the drifts of trade, on the third floor of the "Consistory" of the old Reformed Dutch Church, Fulton-street, was thrown open for a weekly noon-day prayer meeting. It was one of the earliest manifestations of a special religious interest.
At first the good down-town city missionary, Mr. Lamphier, who made the appointment met there three persons; then six, then twenty. Next week they assembled on the floor below, and the Business Men's Prayer-meeting began to attract attention. One man (speaking for many) said: "Prayer never was so great a blessing to me as it is in this time; I should certainly either break down or turn rascal, except for it. If I could not get some half hours every clay to pray myself into a right state of mind, I should certainly either be overburdened and disheartened, or do such things as no Christian man ought to do."
A call was now made for a daily meeting. It was received with enthusiasm, and the meeting-room overflowed, and filled a second, and eventually a third room, in the same building; making three crowded prayer-meetings, one above another, in animated progress at one and the same hour. The seats were all filled, and the passages and entrances began to be choked with numbers, rendering it scarcely possible to pass in or out. The hundreds who daily went away disappointed of admission, created a visible demand for more room; and the John Street Methodist Church and. lecture-room were both opened for daily noon prayer--meetings, by a committee of the Young Men's Christian Association, and were crowded at once with attendants. Meetings were multiplied in other parts of the city; and the example spread to Philadelphia, to Boston, and to other cities, until there was scarcely a town of importance in the United States, (save a few in the South,) in which the Business Men's Daily Prayer-meeting was not a flourishing institution, and a leading agency in awakening public interest to religion.
These morning or noon-day prayer-meetings were a marked feature of the revival. And it should be added, that they were union prayer-meetings, attended by all classes, without respect to denominational differences. The middle walls of partition were never before so broken down; and evangelical Christians of every name found they could come together and pray for the outpouring of the Spirit without any sacrifice of church order.
Request for prayer were another marked feature. There was scarcely a meeting anywhere without such being sent forward; and often scores of them were presented. The following are samples:
"Prayers are requested for a young man who has thus far resisted all persuasions to attend these meetings, and who is in these rooms to-day for the first time."
"A sister, who has been praying daily three years for the conversion of an only brother, asks an interest in your prayers."
"A brother requests the earnest prayers of this meeting in behalf of a loved but thoughtless sister."
"Prayers are requested for a sister who is given to intemperance."
"A few praying souls in Spring-street Presbyterian Church, deeply bewailing the spiritual desolation of that Zion, beseech you to unite with them in wrestling and importuning on her behalf. Brethren and sisters, pray for us, and if you can, come over and help us."
The aid of the newspapers was another feature of this great work. The secular papers all spoke of it; and some of them made it a point to report the meetings fully. A pastor wrote to one of the papers thus: "The glorious summary, with the editorial remarks on the 'Great Revivals,' in your paper of the 4th instant, stirred my soul so powerfully that I felt something more must be done in our village; and I have called on the other ministers, and we have started a meeting, and the dews are falling on us."
The telegraph was also called into requisition. The reader can imagine the effect of such dispatches as these:
NEW YORK, March 12, 1858, 12¼ o'clock, p.m.
To the Philadelphia Union Prayer-meeting in Jayne's hall:
CHRISTIAN BRETHREN--The New York John-street Union Meeting sends you greeting in brotherly love. "The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts--I will go also." "Praise the Lord--call upon his name--declare his doings among the people--make mention that his name is exalted."
BENJ. F. MANIERRE, Leaders.
To this dispatch the following reply was received, and read to the meeting in John--S Street:
PHILADELPHIA, March 12, 12½ o'clock, p.m.
Jayne's Hall Daily Prayer-Meeting is crowded; upwards of 3,000 present. With one mind and heart they glorify our Father in heaven for the mighty work he is doing in our city and country, in the building up of saints and the conversion of sinners. The Lord hath done great things for us, whence joy to us is brought. May he who holds the seven stars in his right hand, and who walks in the midst of the churches, be with you by his Spirit this day.
Grace, mercy, and peace be with you.
GEO. H. STUART, Chairman of Meeting.
The telegraph offices sent messages to all parts of the country, announcing conversions. Many of them were exceedingly tender and touching. These are samples: "Dear mother, the revival continues, and I, too, have been converted." "My dear parents, you will rejoice to hear that I have found peace with God."
Tell my sister that I have come to the cross of Christ." "At last I have obtained faith and peace."
The lay element was prominent in this revival. The workers, mostly, were laymen. From the beginning, ministers of the gospel cheerfully stood by and saw the principal share of labour in the hands of their lay brethren.
The pervasiveness of the work was striking. In manufactories, counting-rooms, jobbing-houses, and business firms of all kinds, prayer-meetings were established and souls converted. New churches were springing up, and old ones were strengthened. The substance of letters received from every State of the Union was revivals, glorious and wide--spread revivals! In some places day-schools were suspended, and teachers scholars, and parents occupied the school-houses daily for worship.
Again; great sobriety characterized the work. There were few wild and fanatical excitements to mar the beautiful and blessed work of the Spirit. "The majesty of a just God overshadowed the cross, and though the way to that cross was open and free, it was yet a solemn way for the guilty sinner to tread in."
Another characteristic of the work was--that sinners seemed readily to find peace in Christ. Those deep, long-continued, despairing convictions of sin which arise from a profound view of the holiness of God's law and the strictness of his claims upon us, were not prominent in this work. The love of Christ was the constraining power. Almost before they called he answered.
The, rapidity and power of this revival formed another glorious feature. Certainly never before were our great cities such radiating centres of spiritual light and heat. God seemed everywhere to go before his people, and prepare the way; and hence revivals instantaneously sprang up in city, town, and hamlet, throughout the land.
The results, of course, cannot be recorded; not even the number of conversions. In New York State 200 towns were reported as having revivals, with 6,000 conversions. In the city, all the churches were Iargely increased in membership, in some cases 50, 100, 200, 350, being received upon profession. Rev. George Duffield, Jr., of Philadelphia, communicated some very interesting facts to the Fulton Street prayer meeting. He had been employed, as one of a committee, to compile the facts of the revival as pertaining to that city.
He found that 3,010 had been added by profession to one denomination, 1,800 to another, 1,500 to another, 1,200 to another, and so on, till the aggregate was above 9,000. He believed there had been in that city 10,000 conversions within that current year.
In New Jersey the work was very extensive. The writer of this volume had the joy of receiving into the church of his charge (First Baptist) 236 souls upon profession. He wrote thus to the Newark Daily Advertiser: "As a matter of permanent record and grateful remembrance, I have thought it well to ascertain facts on this point as fully as possible. Inquiries have been addressed to thirty pastors and teachers in the city, as to the probable number of conversions, within the limits of their respective congregations. The figures show an aggregate of 2,685. Several ministers have not been reached; and it is fair to put the number unreported at 100; which would make an aggregate of some 2,800 hopeful conversions."
Rev. Dr. Scott (First Reformed Church) stated that the conversion of persons of the strongest and maturest mind in the community was among the characteristics of the work in Newark. If he had attempted to select from his congregation forty-five of its strongest minds, he would have generally taken the forty-five who had united with his church by profession. Sixty towns in the State reported revivals, with 5,000 to 6,000 conversions.
Statistics from other States need not be given, as these are but examples. It is estimated that 100,000 conversions occurred in the short space of four months; and that during a year from the commencement of the work, not less than 400,000 souls were brought to Christ. Some writers have added one quarter to the above numbers. Thus much for the United States.
Abroad, the work was also extensive and powerful. Dr. J.W. Alexander writes that he was in Great Britain before the work arose here; and that the increase of endeavours to carry the gospel to the poor, in their most abject retreats--the continual rise of open-air preaching--the rise of several evangelical ministers upon whose words the multitude were disposed to hang the services in Exeter Hall, and even the opening of Westminster Abbey, spoke of zeal on one hand, and roused attention on the other. He once saw an assembly of ten thousand souls giving rapt attention at the Surrey Gardens to the great truths of salvation.
Such paragraphs as these appeared in the English papers: "A meeting for prayer is now held daily at two o'clock, p.m, in the County Rooms, Aberdeen, specially with a view to plead for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; it is said that it is attended by above a thousand persons daily." The year 1859 will be remembered as a year of a fruitful harvest of souls in many countries in Europe. In Wales, it is estimated that the number of converts in the various denominations of orthodox Christians was from 30,000 to 35,000, a large number out of a population of a little over a million. It is known that 25,000 were added to the Welsh Calvinistic Church. The instances of backsliding, in both Wales and Ireland, have been very rare, though many of the converts were from the lowest orders of society. The good effects of the revival in Ireland, witnessed in the remarkable freedom from lawsuits and crime, are testified to by many public men connected with the courts, who attribute it to the moral and religious movements of last year. At the last assizes in the county Antrim, there was not a single prisoner for trial."
Rev. Dr. Baron Stow, of Boston, in 1860, wrote thus as to Ireland, which he had just the year before visited: It has been estimated that in Belfast, a city of 130,000 souls, there are ten thousand converts. These are being received slowly and cautiously into the churches. God has distinguished this work in the North of Ireland by extraordinary manifestations of his own sovereign, mysterious agency. There were at many points the usual antecedents of faithful teaching and earnest prayer; but the blessing came in unexpected forms, lighted down in uninviting places, and produced unanticipated effects; and few, either of the ministry or the laity, were prepared to deal intelligently with the cases which were suddenly multiplied. In almost every place the work commenced among the less instructed and more degraded classes, and was characterized, in its incipient stage, by physical accompaniments that amazed the inexperienced, alarmed the timid, and impressed with an indefinable awe nearly the whole community. But the changes wrought in. character, speech, and conduct, soon became too demonstrative to admit a doubt as to the Higher Agency that had produced them; and when God had made himself known as the author of the moral transformations, and had thoroughly awakened attention to his claims, he gradually withdrew the physical operations, and the work assumed a more purely spiritual type. His design evidently comprehended more than the religious improvement of a province, or the salvation of thousands of its people. He would make a demonstration of his supremacy and power that should affect Christendom, and bring glory, on a broad field, to the riches of his grace. Many hundreds, not only from the unblessed districts of Ireland, but also from England and Scotland, and even from the Continent, hastened to the scene of the Spirit's wonder-working; and, while many remained longer than they intended, co-operating with the overtasked laborers, few returned without the conviction that Ulster was pervaded by the power of the Highest.
The bishop of Hereford (Dr. Hampden) the same year, in his triennial charge to his clergy, warns them against "the movement in the North of Ireland," and against "similar agitation in his own county; and neighbourhood," adding that "he greatly distrusts the work, and he is strengthened in this feeling by the recollection of the scenes which took place during the agitation which was commenced and carried on by John Wesley." "Many instances of insincerity," the Bishop says, "were found among the followers of Wesley." And the Saturday Review ridiculed the work (thus acknowledging its extent) in saying, "Undoubtedly the thing is catching. An enthusiast, we suppose, emits some subtle aura which falls upon the nerves, or the gastric plexus, or the hysteric organs, which are predisposed for receiving or imbibing the poison."
On the other hand, in Dr. Gibson's "Year of Grace," (a carefully prepared work,] we have abundant evidence of the power and genuineness of these awakenings in Ireland and Scotland.
America, however, was most favoured in this gracious visitation, and many will recognize in the following pen-picture, taken from one of the religious journals of March, 1858, an accurate portraiture of the well remembered scenes of those days:
"Such a time as the present was never known since the days of the Apostles for revivals. The prostration of business, the downfall of Mammon, the great god of worship to the multitudes in this land, both in and out of the church, the sinfulness and vanity of earthly treasures, as the supreme good, have come home to the hearts and consciences of the millions in our land with a power that seems irresistible. Revivals now cover our very land, sweeping all before them, as on the day of Pentecost, exciting the earnest and simultaneous cry from thousands, "What shall we do to be saved?" They have taken hold of the community at large to such an extent that now they are the engrossing theme of conversation in all circles of society. Ministers seem baptized with the Holy Ghost and preach with new power and earnestness, bringing the truth home to the conscience and life as rarely before. Meetings are held for prayer, for exhortation, and for conversation, with the deepest interest, and the most astonishing results. Not only are they held in the church and from house to house, but in the great marts of trade and centres of business. Halls are selected, where men may leave their worldy cares for an hour, and by multitudes, without form or ceremony, drop in, fall on their knees and pray, with a few words of exhortation and entreaty, and then go about their usual business. In New York there is a most astonishing interest in all the churches, seeming as if that great and populous and depraved city was enveloped in one conflagration of divine influence. Union prayer meetings are held in the principal centres, and here thousands on thousands gather daily. Prayer and conference meetings are held in retired rooms connected with large commercial houses, and with the best effects. The large cities and towns generally from Maine to California are sharing in this great and glorious work. There is hardly a village or town to be found where a special divine power does not appear to be displayed. It really seems as if the Millennium was upon us in its glory."
At one of the great meetings for prayer, held at mid-day in the city of New York, a gentleman from Philadelphia rose and read, with thrilling effect, the following hymn. It was but another indication of the times:
Where'er we meet, you always say
What's the news? What's the news?
Pray what's the order of the day?
What' the news? What's the news?
Oh! I have got good news to tell;
My saviour hath done all things well,
And triumphed over death and hell,
That's the news! That's the news!
The Lamb was slain on Calvary,
That's the news! That's the news!
To set a world of sinners free,
That's the news! That's the news!
'Twas there His precious blood was shed,
'Twas there He bowed His sacred head;
But now He's risen from the dead,
That's the news! That's the news!
To heav'n above the Conqueror's gone,
That's the news! That's the news I
He's passed triumphant to His throne,
That's the news! That's the news!
And on that throne He will remain
Until as Judge He comes again, attended by a dazzling train,
That's the news! That's the news!
His work's reviving all around--
That's the news! That's the news!
And many have redemption found--
That's the news! That's the news!
And since their souls have caught the flame
They shout Hosanna to His name;
And all around they spread His fame--
That's the news! That's the news!
The Lord has pardoned all my sin--
That's the news! That's the news!
I feel the witness now within--
That's the news! That's the news!
And since He took my sins away,
And taught me how to watch and pray,
I'm happy now from day to day--
That's the news! That's the news!
And Christ the Lord can save you, too--
That's the news! That's the news!
Your sinful heart he can renew--
That's the news! That's the news!
This moment, if for sins you grieve,
This moment, if you do believe,
A full acquittal you'll receive--
That's the news! That's the news!
And now if any one should say,
What's the news! What's the news!
Oh, tell him you've begun to pray--
That's the news! That's the news!
That you have joined the conquering band,
And now with joy at God's command,
You're marching to the better land--
That's the news! That's the news!
It would be pleasant to dwell still longer on God's wondrous works during this last revival period; but our limits forbid.
In the chapter that follows are crystallized some of the more marked results of the several seasons of grace which have now been brought under review.
"O LORD, REVIVE THY WORK!"