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Handbook of Revivals: Chapter 3 - A Nation Founded by Faith

By Henry C. Fish

      No one can study the history of revivals and not be impressed with their mighty influence upon the destiny of the race. Not to speak of those of primitive times, what would have been the condition, of the world today but for the great Reformation, the spirit of which, as we have seen, was but a series of revivals of religion? And what had been the state of this country, and of other lands, had not the Holy Ghost been poured down in those gracious revival periods recorded in the previous chapter? Let us, under several particulars, see what we owe to these refreshings from the presence of the Lord.

      1. Society at large has been uplifted by revivals. Godliness has the promise of this life, as well as of that to come. When the divine grace is abundantly downpoured it is felt at the very springs of society, and there cannot but be a corresponding elevation. Exalted to be the sons of God, and thrilled with new impulses, men burst asunder the chains of superstition, tyranny, and vice, and come into a higher and broader development. The fountains of life are purified, and a social and civil renovation is the result. It is impossible that the heart be turned from the love of sin to the love of holiness without an external reformation.

      Hence the wonderful changes for good which are reported in pagan or papal lands, where the gospel takes effect. And hence the cases under our eyes where revivals have renovated, not only the moral but physical aspect of a community; driven away vice, encouraged industry, promoted intelligence, and caused the social virtues to prevail where before were discord and unblushing crime.

      We boast of the progress of this age; and nothing is more astonishing than the recent advancement in science, philosophy, invention, learning, philanthropy, and civil jurisprudence. But it would be an interesting line of thought to show how this is attributable, in great part, to the religious awakenings of the last three hundred years. Our limits forbid it here; but let it be noted that aroused intellect has been back of all this: and that revivals of religion are favorable to intellectual action, not only as they bring the mind at the time into vigorous exercise, and into contact with the mighty truths of God's word, but as they originate in the subjects of them moral feelings and habits which are peculiarly favorable to the acquisition of useful knowledge.

      When Wickliffe and his successors reopened the Bible, the revival of letters took place. Twenty-four universities arose in less than a hundred years. In the midst of this movement, the discovery of the art of printing gave a new impetus to literature, and provided the swift and subtle agent by which the infant reformation was to surprise and overpower its great adversary unawares. At the same juncture the Mohammedan power, overwhelming the Eastern metropolis, swept the remnant of Greek learning into Europe. Finally, about the last half of the same memorable century, Luther, Zuinglius, Cranmer, Melancthon, Knox, and Calvin, with other mighty champions of truth, stepped forward to blow the trumpet of salvation and summon to new action the world's thought.

      In due time Owen, Bunyan, Baxter, Milton, Leighton, Flavel, and other luminaries of the seventeenth century, burning with the love of God, gave to the world for the first time an evangelical literature, and thereby a mighty acceleration to human progress. We hazard little, remarks an authority, in saying that for doctrinal, practical, and experimental religious instruction and authorship, it was the golden age in the fatherland. What other age has produced so many volumes full of the marrow of the gospel, and indited as it were so close on the verge of heaven? What thousands have been guided in the Way of Life by Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," and his "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners;" and what thousands more have had the fulness of Christ revealed to them in Flavel's "Fountain of Life" and "Method of Grace."

      What would our own land, as well as Great Britain, have been but for this revival period in the seventeenth century?

      Then came that great uplifting of the English people by the revival under Whitfield and the Wesleys. John Wesley wrote theology, Charles Wesley put it into song and Whitfield preached it to the masses. There was need enough of their best efforts; for the Establishment, with all its learning, opulence and dignity, was doing next to nothing for the elevation of the ignorant communities.

      In Howitt's Rural Life of England is the following, with reference to the times under remark, which shows the elevating influence of revivals of religion:

      "It is in the rural districts into which manufactories have spread--that are partly manufacturing and partly agricultural--that the population assumes its worst shape. And the Methodists have done much to check the progress of demoralization in these districts. They have given vast numbers education; they have taken them away from the pot-house and the gambling-house; from low haunts and low pursuits. They have placed them in a certain circle, and invested them with a degree of moral and social importance. They have placed them where they have a character to sustain, and higher objects to strive after; where they have ceased to be operated upon by a perpetual series of evil influences, and have been brought under the regular operation of good ones. They have rescued them from brutality of mind and manners, and given them a more refined association on earth, and a warm hope of a still better existence hereafter. If they have not done all that could be desired, with such materials, they have done much, and the country owes them much."

      This is a striking attestation to the beneficent influences of genuine revivals. And impartial history justifies the award. For the methods and means of education were improved, and the masses hungering for knowledge soon found their appetite gratified by public libraries, and the rapid issue of hymns and sermons, and treatises upon questions of current interest, and upon science and literature in a popularized form. In fine, the trumpets of a grand moral, intellectual, and social resurrection were sounded throughout the realm by this spiritual awakening; and the people uprose to higher aims and destinies.

      It would be impossible to describe how much we in this country owe to the same revivals for our high position. The American Colonies felt the impulse of the intellectual advancement resulting from the awakenings in the old world, and were vastly indebted to them. Nor in the absence of such revivals could it have been said,

      "When driven by oppression's rod
      Our fathers fled beyond the sea,
      Their care was first to honor God,
      And next to leave their children free.
      Above the forest's gloomy shade
      The alter and the school appeared:
      On that the gifts of faith were laid,
      On this their precious hopes were reared."

      In fact, the Pilgrims and Puritans were themselves the product of those heavenly visitations. So that but for them we had not had such forefathers, of brain force, and conscience, and courage, and adamantine faith, and heroic virtue. And consequently we should not have had those, institutions which have been bequeathed to us.

      Not to insist on this, however, let it be remembered, that while the next subsequent great awakenings in the old and new world were progressing, the political agitations in this country were taking place. And who can doubt that they were coincident in purpose as well as in time? The first mentioned were designed, beyond question, to act upon the last mentioned, and both to coalesce in the elevation of man for the divine glory. And so while a popular government was to be planted, and the resources of the continent were making ready for development constituting this the home of the nations, it was made sure that there should be special religious activities on the part of God's people. Thus were the moulding influences of Christianity operative in just that emergency,--the formative state of society-- blending its sanctified forces with the vigor of the youthful republic.

      2. Missionary movements came from revival. All those great benevolent enterprises which are the glory of this age originated thence.

      Confining our view to the fourth revival period, 1790--1842, how apparent is the fact stated.

      In 1784 at a Baptist Association held in Nottingham, England, it was determined "that one hour, in the first Monday evening of every month should be devoted to solemn and special intercession for the Redeemer's kingdom throughout the Earth." In the spring of 1791, at a meeting of ministers held at Clipston, in Northamptonshire, Messrs. Sutcliff and Fuller delivered discourses adapted to fan into a flame the latent sparks of missionary zeal. At the annual association held that autumn at Nottingham, William Carey preached his famous sermon "Enlarge the place of thy tent, etc.," urging that we were to "Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God."

      On the 2nd day of October, 1792, the ministers met at Kettering, and after the public services of the day, retired for prayer. Then they solemnly pledged themselves to God and to each other to make a trial for introducing the gospel among the heathen, subscribing as a fund for that purpose #13. 2s. 6d. A plan was adopted, and a society formed, designated "The Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen." The names of the twelve were John Ryland, Reynold Hogg, John Sutcliff, Andrew Fuller, Abraham Greenwood, Edward Sharman, Joshua Burton, Samuel Pearce, Thomas Blundel, William Heighton, John Eayres, Joseph Timms. William Carey immediately offered himself as a missionary. Mr. John Thomas, who had already performed some Christian labor in Calcutta, while practicing there as a surgeon, and was then in England, joined him. They sailed from England June 13, 1793 John Fountain followed them in 1796; and in 1799 Messrs. Ward, Brundson, Grant and Marshman, were added to the little band.

      Thus was laid on a solid basis the first of the modern evangelical societies for the conversion of the pagans. Kindred societies, for home and foreign work, and for a variety of specific objects, (as we have seen in the previous chapter) were established in England about this time. Still more visibly, if possible, were the great missionary movements of our own country connected with the revival period of which we now speak.

      In the words of Dr. Heman Humphrey, as to this era, when it dawned, there were no Missionary societies, foreign domestic, no Bible societies, no Tract societies, no Education societies, no onward movements in the churches of any sort for the conversion of the world. At home it was deep spiritual apathy; abroad, over all the heathen lands, the calm of the Dead Sea--death, death, nothing but death.

      All the first foreign missionaries, Hall, Newell, Mills, Judson, Nott, Rice, Bingham, King, Thruston, and others who entered the field a little later, were converted and received their missionary baptism in revivals. The American Board of Foreign Missions was formed in 1810, at the urgency of the first band that went out from this country to India. But for their earnest solicitation to be sent forth with the glad tidings of the gospel upon their tongues, no such Board would have been formed; certainly not at that time; and if it had, it could not have done anything: there would have been no missionaries to send if God had not poured out his Spirit, and raised them up and prepared them to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. In these revivals the holy fire was kindled which waked up and warmed the churches to an onward aggressive movement such as had never been known in this country before. Other missionaries soon followed under the same Board. And about the same time the American Baptist Foreign Mission Board was organized, to sustain Judson and Rice who had changed their communion and commenced a mission in Burmah.

      From the same revival source, moreover, sprang home missions. It began to be felt that we have a wide and fast-spreading population that must be cared for, and then domestic missionary societies were formed to meet the want. Nor was this enough. The churches having once waked up from their long slumbers, could not rest here. The destitute at home must have the word of God put into their hands, and it must be sent abroad with the missionaries, and translated into the tongues wherein the heathen were born, that they might read the wonderful works of God and be turned from darkness to light, from the worship of dumb idols to the worship of him who made the world. Hence sprang the American Bible Society, and in succession its branches, and other kindred institutions.

      Nor yet again could the yearnings of Christian benevolence, once excited, rest without still further expansion. A Christian literature, in a cheap and attractive form, must be created and diffused. Small religious tracts must be written, printed, and scattered over the land. And to this end Tract and other societies were organized.

      If we would see more minutely the exact relation which revivals bore to these benevolent movements, we have but to consider such facts as these:

      In the spring of 1806 Samuel John Mills joined Williams College, Mass. Of him Dr. Griffin says he "had been prepared by the revival of Torringford, Litchfield county, in 1798-9." Through Mr. Mills, in great part, revival influences prevailed in the town and college, and among the converts was Gordon Hall. Says Dr. Griffin, "Mills had devoted himself to the cause of missions from the commencement of his new existence, and by the influence of that revival he was enabled to diffuse his spirit through a choice circle who raised this college to the distinction of being the birthplace of American missions. In the spring of 1808 they formed a secret society, to extend their influences to other colleges, and to distinguished individuals in different parts of the country. One of them first roused the missionary energies of Pliny Fisk, who afterwards died in Palestine. In the autumn of that year, in a beautiful meadow on the banks of the Hoosack, these young Elijahs prayed into existence the embryo of American missions. In the fall of 1809, Mills and Richards and Robbins carried this society to Andover, where it roused the first missionary band that went out to India in 1812, and where it is still exerting a mighty influence on the interests of the world. In that band were Gordon Hall and Luther Rice, of this college [and Adoniram Judson, converted at Andover]. Richards soon followed and laid his bones in India. Mills and his coadjutors were the means of forming the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the American Bible Society, the United Foreign Missionary Society, and the African School under the care of the Synod of New York and New Jersey; besides all the impetus given to domestic missions, to the Colonization Society, and to the general cause of benevolence in both hemispheres." Such were some of the fruits of the revivals of those times, regarded in the light of the benevolent enterprises to which they led.

      In this survey we have not alluded to missionary movements among the Indians, resulting from the revivals in the time of the elder Edwards; nor to incipient organisations (such as the Massachusetts Missionary Society formed in Boston in 1799, and the Baptist Missionary Society of Massachusetts, formed in 1803, etc.,) which were among the first fruits of the powerful awakenings about the beginning of the present century. But enough has been said to show the connection between missions and revivals.

      It must be added, however, that the funds for the prosecution of these enterprises of benevolence would never have been forthcoming except for revivals. It is when God's people are vivified by the special power of the Spirit, that their hearts and their hands are open in behalf of those sitting in the region and shadow of death.

      3. An efficient ministry has come from revivals. We hardly dare lift the curtain to see what the ministry was previous to some of the great historic revivals; as in the days of Wickliffe, Huss, and Luther; or when Whitfield began his career. The character of the English clergy of those times is but too well known. Many of them could not even read the Bible. Of the clergy, even as late as 1781, Cowper could write without fear of contradiction:

      "Except a few with Eli's spirit blest,
      Hophni and Phineas may describe the rest."

      It is well known that great numbers of the American Congregational clergy in the early part and about the middle of the eighteenth century, were not converted, nor even pretended to be. We are told that as many as twenty ministers were converted in and around Boston under Mr. Whitfield's preaching, upon his third visit to America. Indeed, some men of eminence, (like Mr. Stoddard at Northampton,) maintained that "unconverted ministers have certain official duties which they may lawfully perform." Says Tracy (in his Great Awakening) "a large majority in the Presbyterian Church, and many, if not most, in New England, held that the ministrations of unconverted men, if neither heretical in doctrine nor scandalous for immorality, were valid, and their labors useful. For years afterwards, this doctrine was publicly and furiously maintained."

      The prodigious excitement created by Mr. Tennent's famous Nottingham (N. J.) sermon, "On the danger of an unconverted ministry," is another indication of the times.

      In the "improvement" part of the sermon he cries out, "what a scrole and scene of mourning, lamentation, and woe is opened, because of the swarms of locusts, the crowds of Pharisees, that have as covetously as cruelly crept into the ministry in this adulterous generation! who as nearly resemble the character given of the old Pharisees, in the doctrinal part of this discourse, as one crow's egg does another! It is true, some of the modern Pharisees have learned to prate a little more orthodoxly about the new birth, than their predecessor Nicodemus, who are, in the meantime, as great strangers to the feeling experience of it, as he. They are blind who see not this to be the case of the body of the clergy of this generation.''

      There was no doubt somewhat of exaggeration, as well as undue severity of expression, in this sermon; but it is certain that plain words were called for; and an unquestionable authority states that "to no other human agency as much as to this sermon is it owing that Presbyterian ministers at the present day are generally pious." Thus much as to the revivals of those times as related to a soundly converted ministry.

      But there is a higher ministerial qualification than bare conversion: namely, the possession of a large measure of the Holy Spirit. And how many a minister has had his whole character and style of preaching remodelled by precious revival experiences. It has been remarked with truth that a minister can learn in a revival that which he can scarcely learn in any other circumstances. There he enjoys advantages which he can have nowhere else for becoming acquainted with the windings of the human heart; for ascertaining the influence of different truths upon different states of feeling; for learning how to detect false hopes, and to ascertain and confirm good hopes; and for getting his own soul deeply imbued with the true spirit of his work. Hence ministers, after having passed through a revival, have preached and prayed, and done their whole work with far more earnestness and effect than before; and they themselves have not unfrequently acknowledged that what they had gained, during such a season has been worth more to them than the study of years.

      It must be remembered, too, that revivals mightily increase the number of ministers. It is when thousands of youth are gathered into the churches that our young men come forward saying, "Here am I, send me." What an exhibit that would be if we were able to give the names of all the ministers of the last hundred years who were converted in revivals! We believe that nine tenths of them were the children of revivals. Nor, if the repetition of such visitations were to cease, do we see any alternative except that the great work of the age must stand still for want of laborers, or be prosecuted by men lacking the most essential of all qualifications.

      4. Institutions of learning owe much to revivals. Many of them originated directly in revivals. We have already seen that 24 universities sprang up within a century in the old world succeeding the labors of Wickliffe. And the founding of Princeton College in this country is but one case of many where the beginnings were in revivals, It may also be mentioned that the same revival was the parent of Dartmouth College. Among the Mohegans converted in 1741, was Samson Occum, then seventeen years of age. In December, 1743, Mr. Wheelock, of Lebanon, received him as a pupil, and he pursued his studies in the family for several years. In 1748, Wheelock determined to commence a school for the education of Indian preachers, and a donation from Joshua Moor, a farmer in Mansfield, in 1754, gave it a permanent foundation. The influence of the revival on several Indian tribes helped to furnish him with pupils, and in 1762 he had more than twenty under his care. In 1766, Rev Nathaniel Whitaker, and Occum, who had become preacher of some distinction, went to England to solicit funds for the institution. Occum attracted unusual attention, Whitfield aided them, and a large amount of funds was obtained. The school was afterwards removed to its present location, in N. H., and Dartmouth College was added to it. And with the founding of the college there, a series of revivals commenced, extending through several years.

      But, viewed in any aspect, what had been the fate of colleges without revivals? Take such facts as these as to the absence of revivals.

      During the first seven years of the existence of Williams College--in which ninety three graduated in six classes--there were but five professors of religion in the institution, exclusive of two who, seven months before the close of that period, were brought into the church by the revivals in Litchfield county. In three of those six classes there was not a single professor. From the commencement in 1798 till February, 1800, there was but one professor of religion in the college.

      Dr. Green, President of Princeton College, says that when in 1782 he entered the institution, there were but two professors of religion among the students, and not more than five or six who scrupled to use profane language in common conversation. The open and avowed infidelity of Paine, and other writers of the same character, produced incalculable injury to religion and morals throughout our whole country; and its effect on young men who valued themselves for genius and were fond of novel speculations, was the greatest of all. And he says, "Dr. Smith, then President of the college, told me that one man who sent his son, stated explicitly in a letter that not a word was ever to be said to him on the subject of religion."

      In some of the early years of Yale College there were not four in a year studying for the ministry. When Dr. Dwight came to the presidency (in 1795), many of the leading students were tinctured with the French infidelity, and its bold champions.

      Alas for college life if it had been thus barren of religious influence!

      But take such facts as the following. Speaking for Brown University, Providence, R. I., President Manning [also pastor of the Baptist church there], wrote thus: "In the beginning of 1774 it pleased the Lord in a most remarkable manner to revive his work in the town of Providence, and more especially among the people of my charge. Such a time I never before saw. Our public assemblies by day and by night were crowded, and the auditors seemed to hear as for the life of their souls. It was frequently an hour before I could get from the pulpit to the door, on account of the numbers thronging to have an opportunity of stating the condition of their minds. And what added to my happiness was, that the Lord visited the college as remarkably as the congregation. Frequently, when I went to the recitation room, I would find nearly all the students assembled, and joining in prayer and praise to God. Instead of my lectures on logic and philosophy, they would request me to speak to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. In the space of six months I baptized more than a hundred persons."

      In 1802 a revival in Yale shook the whole college, and "it seemed for the time that the whole mass of the students would press into the kingdom." And "nearly all the converts entered the ministry." No less than four revivals occurred under Dr. Dwight's' presidency, resulting in the conversion of two hundred and ten young men, who, in their turn, were the instruments of the salvation of thousands of souls.

      In 1832, President Humphrey, of Amherst College, writing as to revivals there up to his time, says: "These times of refreshing have been of inestimable advantage to the college, by raising the standard of morals, and diffusing a strong religious influence throughout our whole youthful community. During the ten years that the institution has now existed, there has been a decided average majority of professed Christians in the four classes. In some years more than two-thirds have been professors. Two hundred and seventy have graduated-- more than two hundred of whom are hopefully pious; and about one-half of the number of students who have entered college without piety, since it was established, have, as we trust, found the pearl of great price before completing their academical course."

      Says Dr. Tyler, in his "Prayer for Colleges and Seminaries :" "In the space of ninety six years, beginning with the great revival of 1741, and ending in 1837, there were twenty revivals in Yale College, in fourteen of which five hundred students were hopefully converted; and during the last twenty-five years of this same period, there were thirteen special revivals, or one every two years, besides several other seasons of more than usual religious interest."

      Middlebury College has been blessed in forty years with ten revivals--some of them of great power. During the first twenty-five years of its history, every class but one was permitted to share in a religious awakening, and some classes received three or four such visits of mercy while in college. No class has ever yet left Amherst College without witnessing a powerful revival: and of the converts more than one hundred have been ministers, fifteen have been missionaries, twenty-eight officers of colleges and theological seminaries; and several were young men of genius and great promise, who died before entering upon a profession.

      Nor must we forget to magnify the grace of God in the effusions of his Spirit upon our academies, high-schools, and other kindred educational seminaries, both male and female, where there have been hundreds upon hundreds of these revivals, making these schools emphatically nurseries of the churches.

      In view of all this, who can calculate the influence of revivals upon our seats of learning? And from what source could faithful ministers have been obtained if these institutions had not thus been blessed?

      5. Once more : Strong churches have come from revivals. The numerical aspect is one view of the case. It is of the very nature of revivals that multitudes flock into the kingdom. And what an accession to the praying and working force of the churches in the estimated 50,000 converts in this country during the awakening of 1730-1745; and the 40,000 to 50,000 annually for many years between 1790 and 1840; and the 400,000 additions in the revival of 1857-8. And what numbers of new churches during those seasons were organised.

      It must also be taken into account, that in those earlier revivals great numbers of church members were converted, and not put down among reported conversions. Says Tracy of the work at the time of Edwards, "the practice of admitting to the communion all persons neither heretical nor scandalous, was general in the Presbyterian church, and prevailed extensively among the Congregational churches. In consequence, a large proportion of the communicants in both were unconverted persons. Multitudes of these were converted. In some cases the revival seems to have been almost wholly within the church, and to have resulted in the conversion of nearly all the members." A large addition ought to be made, on this score, to the estimated number of conversions.

      And of the work fifty years later an equally good authority says: "In New England, the old so-called half way covenant system, by which many claimed for themselves and their children a visible relation to the church, while living in worldliness and neglecting the Lord's table, was still widely prevalent, and though a large number of churches continued evangelical and spiritual the great body had sunk into apathy and formality. As an illustration of the state of many churches, we have in mind one, now evangelical, in which, when a godly man was called to it, no prayer meeting had been held for thirty years; family worship was maintained by very few; and the terms of admission to the church were little more than an assent to the truth of the Christian religion, and a wish to join."

      Here was, then, a twofold gain by the revivals-- additions from within, as well as from without. And this re-conversion of the churches was far more important than mere numerical accessions. Unconverted members are a dead weight, which no church can afford to carry: and the bodies were thus relieved from these incumbrances.

      Again, a converted church membership was after this insisted upon; and had the opposite practice been continued, and become universal, it would have been more than a paralysis. The churches might have retained their names, but as true churches of Christ they would not have survived.

      Another, and a most important advantage from the revivals was, that the preaching became more spiritual and discriminating, and the doctrines more evangelical. It was felt that every man is a "child of wrath" unless "born of the Spirit." Each individual saw that his most endeared friend, wife or husband, son or daughter, neighbour or acquaintance, was on the road to death unless created anew in Christ Jesus. Hence the latent Christian energies were called out.

      Another result was the abolition of the union of church and state. The government of the founders of New England was a Theocracy, and it worked disastrously. In the words of the biographer of John Cotton, "it served both to embroil the state, and to secularize the church; and laid a foundation for that lamentable apostasy, in which not a few of the Pilgrim churches are sunk."

      And yet the theory was clung to by very many. They shrunk from the application of the principle of soul-liberty, now so common. Even to such men as Timothy Dwight and Lyman Beecher, it seemed dangerous to the interests of piety to disunite the churches from civil jurisdiction and support;--the latter, as he said, being at first so unreconciled to it that he grieved and troubled himself over it day and night. Nor was it until a late day that the last link connecting church and state was broken by abolishing the assessments of church-rates. This was effected not alone by the great increase of the Baptists, who from the first heartily advocated it, but also by the increase of the spiritual element in all the religious bodies, which naturally found expression in this direction.

      From these several points of observation, one cannot fail to be impressed with the conviction of an augmented church-power from revivals. Thence have come the vast majority of our Sunday school teachers and Christian workers, our most laborious and successful ministers and missionaries, and the most enterprising and influential churches.

      In 1829 a letter was addressed to the Congregational ministers of Connecticut, proposing among other inquiries, the following:--

      "1. What was the whole number of professors of religion in your church at the commencement of the year 1820?

      2. What number were added to your church by profession during the years 1820,-1-2-3-4?

      3. Of those who are now members of your church, what proportion may be considered as the fruit of a revival, and what is their comparative standing for piety and active benevolent enterprise?"

      And it appeared that a very large proportion of all who were members of the Congregational churches in that State, became such in consequence of revivals; that the relative proportion of such as revivals had been multiplying, had been continually increasing; that the most active and devoted Christians were among those who came into the church as fruits of revivals; that those churches in which revivals had been most frequent and powerful were the most numerous and flourishing, and that in all the churches thus visited with divine influence, there had been a great increase of Christian enterprise, and benevolent action.

      Says Dr. Joel Hawes, [in 1832,] "It is now my sober judgment, that if there is among the people of my charge any cordial belief and love of the distinguishing doctrines of the gospel; any serious practical regard to the duties of the Christian life; any self-denial and bearing of the cross and following Christ according to his commands; any active benevolence and engagedness in doing good; in short, any pious efficient concern for the glory of God and the salvation of sinners, either at home or abroad, in Christian or in heathen lands,--all this is to be traced, in no small part, to the influence of revivals of religion; and it is to be found, in an eminent degree, among those who have been added to the church as fruits of revivals."

      The writer has been at considerable pains to verify this judgment of Dr. Hawes as a general rule, by examining into the history of some of the strong churches of today. And the result is deeply interesting and instructive.

      Beginning immediately under his personal observation, he finds that the first Presbyterian church here, [Newark, N. J.]--one of the oldest and strongest in the denomination, and from which have originated a goodly number of other bodies--is emphatically the offspring of revivals. Thus we read in a letter from Dr. Griffin, that in 1806 "we were encouraged with symptoms of a revival in this village;" and that in 1807 "secret anxieties were preying upon a number of persons, and the desire for a revival was spreading rapidly through the church," and "the agonies of parents were such as to drive sleep from their eyes." Soon he tells of "the triumphs of the Prince of peace," and of "two hundred and thirty to two hundred and fifty" hopeful conversions. And Dr. Stearns (the present pastor), in his history of this body, narrates other mighty works of grace at various intervals. What would that congregation (and the denomination in Newark) have been today but for those revivals? Almost all the strong men in these societies were the subjects of these revivals, twenty, thirty, forty, and some of them sixty years ago.

      The history of the first Baptist church is much to the same effect. To the personal knowledge of the writer the main strength of this body is the direct fruit of revivals. Thus the 23 persons received in a gentle refreshing in 1810; the 28 in 1818; the 14 in 1833; the 23 in 1836; the 48 in 1840; the 30 in 1847 and 1850; and the one thousand souls added by profession since the last mentioned date (230 in one revival), these additions have been the very life-blood of the church. And other churches of this denomination, as well as of the Methodist, Congregational, and Reformed churches, have had a similar experiences.

      Passing to Elizabeth (the same State), we find two old and very strong Presbyterian congregations. Trace their history back, and we meet such facts as these:-- In 1772, 1774, 1784, 1803, 1812, 1817, 1819, and 1825 there were revivals, when large numbers were added. "The young, and many of them children," added from 1817 to 1826, have been, chiefly, the strength of this denomination for many years. What a different aspect would those bodies wear today had there not been these great ingatherings.

      Passing on to New Brunswick (same State) we find there substantial Christian bodies, --Reformed, Baptist, Presbyterian; and it is ascertained that revivals have chiefly made them what they are.

      We visit Hartford, and New Haven, Conn.; and turning to the narratives of wonderful works of grace in that State, we find that two hundred were added to the Congregational body in the former place in 1821: and, says the pastor in 1832 [Dr. Hawes], "During the time I have been connected with the church, about five hundred and fifty have been added to its communion, not less than four-fifths of whom are to be regarded as the fruits of revivals."

      In New Haven 300 were added to the Congregationalist church in 1820; and of 31 congregations in the county of New Haven, at least twenty-five were visited, during the winter and spring, with the special presence of the Lord; and it was estimated that within these limits between fifteen hundred and two thousand souls were called out of nature's darkness into light. Who fails to see that Congregationalism on those fields owes its strength today to those revivals.

      In Boston and Providence, facts of the same nature might be abundantly gathered. Also in Pittsfield, Troy, Albany, and other cities.

      Coming to New York, it is well known that the "old Brick Church" has been for long years a tower of strength there. And now hear Dr. Spring, for three-score years its pastor, tell how he felt in 1814, when it seemed that he "must abandon" his post through discouragement; until the time he had his first revival; and the ingathering, "though not great, was the finest of the wheat." And how in 1815, and five special seasons after that up to 1834, God graciously revived them--the converts added by profession being thirty, forty, or seventy, "filling the broad aisle of the church-- a lovely spectacle to God, angels and men." What were that body today, and what had been its influence,, but for such revivals?

      Drs. Dewitt and Mildoller tell us how the roots of the power of the Reformed churches struck deep in New York in such refreshings. And Dr. Archibald Maclay narrates how the Baptists there had those growths which made them strong in after years, in blessed revival seasons.

      Dr. McIlvaine testifies (in 1832, and also in 1858), to blessed works of grace "widely and wonderfully vouchsafed," which gave great strength to the Episcopal body. It would be easy to mention the names of some of the most influential Churchmen who were converted in a revival at West Point, when Dr. Mcllvaine was chaplain there

      This must suffice. And it but faintly shows what we owe to revivals. Revivals! What blessings have they brought to families, to neighbourhoods, and communities! What myriads of souls have they introduced into glory! What impulses have they given to Christian exertion, in home and foreign work! They have been the life of all the aggressive movements, evangelistic achievements, victories, conquests of the churches. They have made encroachments on the domains of darkness, turning the slaves of sin into soldiers of Jesus, and hastening the time of the millennium. They have made good citizens, good neighbors, faithful friends, useful laborers, wise parents, and dutiful children.

      Blot out what God has done by revivals, and our sky would be shrouded in gloom; our sanctuaries would be vacant; our missionary agencies things unknown, and languor and death would be about us on every side.


Back to Henry C. Fish index.

See Also:
   Handbook of Revivals: Chapter 1 - What Is A Revival?
   Handbook of Revivals: Chapter 2 - A Nation Founded by Faith
   Handbook of Revivals: Chapter 3 - A Nation Founded by Faith
   Handbook of Revivals: Chapter 4 - A Nation Founded by Faith
   Handbook of Revivals: Chapter 5 - A Nation Founded by Faith


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