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Handbook of Revivals: Chapter 5 - A Nation Founded by Faith

By Henry C. Fish

      OBJECTIONS to revivals are no new thing, even from the friends of godliness. The primitive awakenings encountered them; and President Edwards complained of those in his day ready to say, "There is but little sober, solid religion in this work; it is little else but flash and noise." And he asks, " Is it not a shame to New England that such a work should be much doubted of here?" adding, "I suppose there is scarcely a minister in this land but from Sabbath to Sabbath used to pray that God would pour out his Spirit and work a reformation and a revival of religion in the country, and turn us from our intemperance, profaneness, uncleanness, worldliness and other sins. And we have kept, from year to year, days of public fasting and prayer to God, to acknowledge our backslidings and humble ourselves for our sins, and to seek of God forgiveness and reformation and now when so great and extensive a reformation is so suddenly and wonderfully accomplished in those very things that we have sought to God for, shall we not acknowledge it?" Whitfield preached to audiences in Boston, in 1740, that would be called great even at this day. At his farewell sermon on the 12th of October, on the Common, he had twenty thousand hearers; an assembly as large as two hundred thousand would now be, if regard be had to the population at the two dates. He had his enemies, however; and one writer gives it as his opinion that "every exhortation given here by Whitfield costs the people of Boston a thousand pounds?" The same writer described the preacher as a "vagrant enthusiast, with an ill-pointed zeal."

      At a meeting of the General Association of the Colony of Connecticut, at Newington, June 18, 1745, the following action was had:

      "Voted, Whereas there have of late years been many errors in doctrine and disorders in practice prevailing in the churches of this land, which seem to have a threatening aspect on these churches; and whereas Mr. George Whitfield has been the promoter, or at least the faulty occasion of these errors and disorders; this Association thinks it needful to declare that if the said Mr. Whitfield should make his progress through this government, it would by no means be advisable for any of our ministers to admit him into their pulpits, or for any people to attend on his preaching."

      Although in our day he terms "religious excitement," "spasmodic effort," and the like are less frequently bandied than formerly, still there are many who gravely shake their heads when revivals are commended, and recoil at the mention of the very name, as if some evil inevitably lurked behind that designation.

      Perhaps there is this poor apology for most of such persons, that they are constitutionally timid, or excessively conservative; or they may not have witnessed revivals, unless it be the most unfavourable specimens.

      It is sad to be compelled to say that strong churches (using a popular term) oftenest object to revivals; and that, too, when they owe their present strength to revivals. In conversation with Bishop Simpson, of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the writer was struck with the remark, that the wealthiest churches in that denomination, in New York and the other cities, were indebted to revivals for their independence; and that he extremely regretted the tendency often witnessed on the part of such churches, to think lightly of, and labor little for special outpourings of the Spirit.

      In referring to the great benefits which the Presbyterian churches of Philadelphia have derived from revivals in the past, the Presbyterian of that city says: "But are any inclined to think that we have reached a stage to which such things are not adapted, especially that revivals belong to the less cultivated, refined, wealthy, fashionable congregations? Let it be remembered that the most intellectual ministers of our Church were converted through revival services; that in every revival period the ablest of judges, lawyers, and physicians in the neighborhood, are numbered among the converts; that our continued salvation is worked out by awakenings in our colleges, in connection with which, through the labors of talented and refined Professors, the intellectual young men are brought into the ministry of reconciliation. It is a great pity if any of our people who have risen in the scale of wealth, and desire to be considered especially respectable and fashionable, consider themselves above such precious influences, and unadvisedly imagine that these are only appropriate to the poorer and the less pretentious."

      It may be asked at the outset, "Do not revivals presuppose corresponding periods of declension?" Suppose it be so and that God foresaw these wicked backslidings of his people, and planned revivals to overbalance them. Is there any objection to this view? Another answer is this: It is not in contrast with religious declension, but religious activity specially directed to other ends-to the cultivation of Christian gifts and graces within the church itself--that we speak of this more direct and engrossing activity of the churches. Suppose we say, again, that God by thus doing adjusts himself to the great law of change, -- the law and love of variety wrought, as it would seem, into the very substance and texture of the human mind. We see it to be the case that an equable perpetuity of interest is not according to man's nature. The mind freshens, then it flags; now moves more earnestly in this direction, now in that. It demands a certain sort of variety even in its religious interests and labors; now in the work of conversion; then in the work of edification, preparing Christians for the trials of their profession and the work of their calling. Suppose we say, too, that business has its revivals; -- politics its revivals; -- and pleasure its revivals. And cannot God rise higher than they, and put them down by giving better things the ascendancy?

      We do not see why these considerations do not meet the difficulty. The term special effort is odious to some. It is enough to disturb their nerves. Anything new is terrifying. With them the extraordinary is the extravagant. But we might show them how fertile in invention the men of the world are in carrying their points; quickly trying another measure where one does not succeed; and ask, Should not "the children of light be equally wise? Such persons would do well to remember that without change there could be no progress. True conservatism is cautious, and not rash; but those who are ever bringing forward the past as a precedent for to-day, would do well to remember that the present itself was founded on the alteration of some past that went before it. Where had the churches been to-day had not Christian effort been breaking forth in new directions?

      Excesses are pleaded as sufficient ground for being cautious as to revivals. We are sorry to admit that these have existed; and probably they will exist, to a greater or less extent, as long as men are what they are.

      But is not a storm preferable to a parching drought? The economy of nature admits of the possibility of fearful torrents if it rain, -- brawling down the mountain sides, tearing up the meadows, and leaving sand instead of fertility on the plain. Why not, therefore, object to rain? Doubtless, on the whole, the atmospheric arrangement is a good one. Let us not, then, oppose revivals because occasionally the religious impulse rises above the usual level, and flows over the ordinary channels, and does some incidental mischief. Better have noisy animal excitement than that the sterile wastes of worldliness should not be transformed into fruitful gardens of the Lord. The greatest possible evil is a deadly insensibility. When the house is on fire and the family asleep, better that they be awakened by violence than consumed. Better rouse them even at the expense of insanity than let them perish in the flames.

      We must also remember that the greatest and best actions have ever been performed in stages of excited feeling and high personal exaltation. And it is Dr. Bushnell, we believe, who says "If any one expects to carry on the cause of salvation by a steady rolling on the same dead level, and fears continually lest the axles wax hot and kindle into a flame, he is too timorous to hold the reins in the Lord's chariot."

      There is also this reply to be made to those who decry revivals because they produce agitation. They do not condemn excitement in other things. They will see as much enthusiasm in a political cabal, or in an election of civil officers, or in a commercial speculation, or even in the pursuits of science, as in a revival of religion, and not object to it. They will allow and demand excitement in the orator, the poet, the statesman, the warrior; a man may be ardent on any subject but religion, while on this subject they denounce fervor as fanaticism. Nobody complains of excitement when a ship is going down, or when half a city is on fire, or in political revolutions. And can any good reason be given, why, when the great majority of a congregation are slumbering on the brink of eternal ruin, they should not, if possible, be alarmed and excited "to flee from the wrath to come?" Mr. Barnes once said, "From whence comes the objection that revivals are mere scenes of excitement? From that man excited throughout the whole week in pursuit of gain, feverish and restless and unacquainted for one whole hour at a time with calm thought and repose; from that man whose life is spent in the whirlwind of political controversy or in the career of ambition; from that calm and interesting group preparing for the splendid party and the dance! O there all is calm and serene; but in religion all is excitement and commotion! Well may this objection be heard from the excited, agitated, tumultuous population of a city; a population more than any other on earth living in scenes of excitement; unhappy when they are not excited; fostering everywhere the means of excitement; and resisting all the means which the friends of religion can use to bring them to sober thought and calm reflection. What we aim at is that this excitement may be laid aside, and that the now busy multitude may be brought to think soberly about the immortal destiny beyond the tomb. We aim that they may hay down the exciting romance or novel, and take up the Bible--full of sober truth; they may forsake the theatre--a place of mere excitement, and find happiness in the calmness of the closet, and the sober employments of the fireside; that they may turn away from the agitating scenes of political strife, and from the exciting of envy, and malice, and green-eyed jealousy, and ambition, and from the intoxicating bowl and the dance of pleasure, and devote themselves to the sober business of religion."

      Farther. Is the good to be denounced with the bad? Because there is undue enthusiasm, sometimes, in revivals, are we to be indifferent toward them? To borrow an illustration, if you should hear a lecture on science, or politics, or religion, in which you should discover a few mistakes, while nearly the whole of it was sound, and practical, and in a high degree instructive, would you condemn the whole for these trifling errors, and say it was all a mass of absurdity; or would you not rather treasure it up in your memory as in the main excellent, though you felt that, like everything human, it was marred by imperfection? And why should not the same principle be admitted in respect to revivals? Is it right, is it honest, because there may be in them a small admixture of enthusiasm, to treat them as if they were made up of enthusiasm and nothing else? Would it not be more equitable and more candid to separate the precious from the vile, rather than to lump together the devil's dross and the God-given ore? And we may say of the blessed works which we have traced in previous chapters, with Edwards, "If such things are enthusiasm, and the fruits of a distempered brain, let my brain be evermore possessed of that happy distemper! If this be distraction, I pray God that the world of mankind may be all seized with this benign, meek, beneficent, beatifical, glorious distraction!"

      Spurious conversions, it is alleged, come of this excitement. But we may say "What is the chaff to the wheat?" Spurious conversions there no doubt are in revivals. So are there in seasons of coldness. And it is by no means clear that the proportion of false hopes cherished in revivals is greater than in other seasons.

      Dr. Humphrey tells of 85 converts added in one revival; and he "is able to say that now at the end of thirty-seven years from the time of their public espousals to Christ, there has not, so far as I can learn, been a single case of apostasy from the faith once delivered to the saints, nor of yielding to the mastery of any of those habits which disgrace the Christian name, and drown men in destruction and perdition."

      Dr. Nettleton said: "During the leisure occasioned by my late illness, I have been looking over the regions where God has revived his work for the two years past. The thousands who have professed Christ in this time, in general, appear to run well. Hitherto think they have exhibited more of the Christian temper, and a better example than the same number who have professed religion when there was no revival. If genuine religion is not found in revivals I have no evidence that it exists in our world." This is strong testimony, but no stronger than numerous pastors could present. And it confirms the view we would naturally receive of a powerful work of grace, namely, that just then we should have the best fruits; less of men's work, and more of God's; less of calculation, and more of conviction; less of head-work, and more of heart-work; less of theoretical persuasion, and more of direct, practical, moral earnestness; and so developing a purer, more vigorous, and more highly vitalized Christian character than in times when there is less of "the demonstration of the Spirit and of power."

      It is often objected to revivals that the sympathies are liable to be wrought upon. Now, as we have elsewhere insisted, it is of vast importance that in religious awakenings solid instruction be given, and the understanding be addressed. And if there be these clear and vivid exhibitions of divine truth upon what ground is the excitement of the sympathies to be objected to? As God moves the mind according to its nature, why may he not employ the sympathetic principle to awaken, soften and prepare the way for conversion? "I have yet to learn," remarks Mr. Barnes, "why religion is to be regarded as suspicious and tarnished because the pleadings of a father or mother, or the tears of a sister have been the occasion, though amidst deep excitement, of directing the thoughts to eternity. To me it seems there is a peculiar loveliness in the spread of religion in this way; and I love to contemplate Christianity calling to its aid whatever of tenderness, kindness, and love there may be existing in the bosom of falling and erring man. These sympathies are the precious remains of the joys of paradise lost; they may be made invaluable aids in the work of securing paradise again. They serve to distinguish man, though fallen, from the dis-social and unsympathizing apostasy of beings of pure malignancy in hell, and their existence in man may have been one of the reasons why he was selected for redemption, while fallen angels were passed by in their sins. On no subject have we so many common interests at stake as in religion. I look upon a family circle. What tender feelings! What mutual love! What common joys! What united sorrows! The blow that strikes one member strikes all. The joy that lights up one countenance diffuses its smiles over all. Together they kneel by the side of the one that is sick; together they rejoice at his recovery; or they bow their heads and weep when he dies, and put on the same sad habiliments of grief and walk to his grave. Nor are these all their common joys and woes. They are plunged into the same guilt and danger. They are together under the fearful visitations of that curse which has travelled down from the first apostasy of man. They are going to a common abode beneath the ground. And that guilty and suffering circle, too, may be irradiated with the same beam of hope, and the same balm of Gilead, and the same great Physician may impart healing there. Now we ask why they may not become Christians together? Sunk in the same woes, why may they not rise to the same immortal hope? When one member is awakened, why should not the same feeling run through the united group? When one is impressed with the great thoughts of immortality, why should not the same thoughts weigh on each spirit? And when the eyes of one kindle with the hope of eternal life, why should not every eye catch the immortal radiance, and every heart be filled with the hope of heaven? And why may we not appeal to them by all the hopes of sitting down together in a world of bliss, and by all the fears of being separated to different destinies in an eternal heaven or hell?

      In fact, it is one strong argument for revivals that this principle of sympathy is then brought into exercise. A parent, brother, sister, child, sees another member of the family weeping with a sense of sin, and asking prayers, or rejoicing in a new found hope, or separating, by profession, from the world and entering into the company of believers. The sight of the eye affects the heart, and the inquiry starts, "Am I to go to hell, while that dear one goes to heaven? Do not I need religion, too?" And thus the current of thoughtlessness is interrupted, and the mind becomes impressible and attentive: and this gained, there is reason to hope that further progress will be made.

      Thus viewed, an objection to revivals becomes an argument in their favor.

      It is sometimes said that to expect revivals prevents uniform effort. We answer that it is only so with those who are not well instructed. If the minister will keep prominent the duty of uniform effort, most of his people will respond to his views. And there is no question but that, as a rule, those ready to labor in revivals are just the persons engaged in steady work; while those who cry out "excitement" find it convenient, somehow, to be idlers in God's vineyard.

      "But the excitement soon subsides, and then there is a reaction." True, the special excitement is only temporary. In the nature of the case it could not be otherwise. And farther, there may be reaction. Is there not in all special work, of every kind? But does the pastor, the politician, or the farmer decline special effort at special times from fear there will be reaction in the overworked brain, or body? What folly to plead the law of rust against the law of special work.

      Let us add here the words of Rev. T. L. Cuyler: "It is made an objection to revivals of religion that they are 'mere temporary excitements.' True enough. Pentecost lasted one day, but that one day changed the moral face of the globe. Luther's Reformation work was comprised within a few years; Europe and the world feel it to this hour. The memorable revival of 1857 began with a few praying hearts in New York-- it culminated in a few weeks; its outward phenomena ceased in a twelvemonth. The influence spread across the seas, and round the globe. Did the results end with the end of the excitement? Have its converts all gone back to unbelief and ungodliness? No! That revival has its enduring monuments in nearly every church on this continent. Its history will blaze on one of the brightest pages of God's record books, which shall be opened on the Day of Judgment. Revivals are temporary in duration. This is partly to be accounted for through God's sovereignty, and partly through human imperfection. Revivals are commonly short-lived, and they often are attended with a few excesses and false conversions. But would any sane man object to copious rain because it did not continue to rain on forever? Would he object to it, either, because it had swelled a few streams into a freshet, and carried off a few mill-dams and bridges? Shall we do away with steam power simply because the boiler of the "St. John" exploded and blew a dozen human beings into eternity? Revivals are indeed attended with incidental dangers; but they are only such as belong to the constitution of imperfect human nature. They are in accordance with the divine plan. They are in harmony with church-agency in the best days of the church's history."

      And it must farther be said, that revivals are not followed by the same coldness and levity that preceded them. They leave an impression in the moral feelings of the community, which is not soon effaced. But, if it were true, as it regards the unconverted, it is what might be expected. It is only the relapse of minds ever averse to seriousness, and anxious for relief from the inquietudes of conscience, into their old and settled courses. Revivals do not produce the levity of worldly minds. They powerfully interrupt it. For the time being, and commonly long after, the ball-room and bar-room are deserted, comparatively, if not entirely, and Sabbath-breakers find their way to the house of God. Is it any argument against revivals, that the depraved heart, though awed for the time by the manifest tokens of divine presence, can at last resist their influence and turn like the children of Israel before the mount of God, to idols of their own choosing?

      But "Is it not better to have conversions all the while?" Certainly. Labor for them, and be not satisfied without them. And we admit that in an important sense that is a wrong state of things which needs a revival. Possibly the time will come when revivals will not be needed; when, as we might say, there will be a perpetual revival. But we are not to prescribe modes of operation to the Almighty. And if he choose to water his church by occasional showers, rather than with the perpetual dew of his grace; and this more at one period, and on one continent, than at other times and places, we should rejoice and be grateful for the rich effusions of his Spirit in any form and manner; and should endeavour to avail ourselves of these precious seasons for the conversion of sinners. We know that many good men have supposed, and still suppose, that the best way to promote religion, is to go along uniformly, and gather in the ungodly gradually, and without excitement. But however sound such reasoning may appear in the abstract, facts demonstrate its futility. If churches were far enough advanced in knowledge, and had stability of principle enough to keep awake, such a course would do; but most Christians are so little enlightened, and there are so many counteracting causes, that they will not go steadily forward, and so must be impelled by special influences.

      "But, Is not a periodical and special divine influence on men for their conversion derogatory to God? Is he not always present and ready to less?" Yes; but our sins may separate between him and us. And again, he may be as truly blessing the world in the edification of his people as by the direct conversion of sinners. But not to insist on this here, let it be observed that this objection is easily seen to be superficial. On this principle there ought to be no intervals of drought or rain; -- no revolving cycles of change, but either continuous drenching rains or ever-scorching suns. Instead of this, we see that while God is unchangeable in his purpose, he is various in his methods. Revivals are in accordance with the analogy of nature, which has its seasons of revivification and rapid growth followed by seasons of ripening fruit and maturing strength. They are in harmony with the nature of man, who requires alternate seasons of activity and repose; of stirring labor and excitement on the one hand and on the other of tranquil enjoyment and sober reflection; each in turn preparing the body and the mind for the other and both in their due season imparting health and vigor to the system and conspiring to produce the largest possible results. Revivals accord especially with the habits and spirit of the present age, which is an age of excitement, of division of labor, of associated feeling and action, of concentrated effort, and hurried enterprise and rapid locomotion.

      "But why not be content with a moderate growth instead of great and rapid ingatherings?" Because it is not primitive; not after God's plan. In the early churches conversions were by the hundred and the thousand. The word spread, not with that moderation insisted on by those who are always afraid of being charged with extravagance, but with the sweep and power of a divine movement. And the agents were borne onward as on the wings of the wind, willing to be a laughing-stock to men; willing to hear an outcry from the world, which they were turning upside down.

      But one sufficient answer is, that this "going on steadily" (i.e. slowly) leaves the great mass of men in their sins, and coolly consigns whole generations to hell! For death does not wait for our slow processes!

      But "why do you have revivals at particular seasons, as in the winter for example?" Suppose we ask in reply, "Why do you have your Lecture seasons in the winter, rather than summer? And your social entertainments, and the like?" Is it unreasonable or arrogant to suppose that there are with God prudential considerations leading to this choice of times and seasons for his special and signal working, based upon this fact, that certain times are more favorable than others for his works?

      We have thus alluded to some of the common objections to revivals. No doubt it is generally rather to some of their incidental features that objection is made than to revivals themselves. It is unfair and unreasonable, however, to hold revivals accountable for the evils that sometimes attach to them. When Whitfield was once preaching in Boston, a meeting house was so packed that the gallery was supposed to be giving away, and there was a panic in which several persons were trampled to death. Did the blame attach to the revival? Persons sometimes take cold in a revival. Is that the fault of the revival?

      This is a painful object to write upon. One might suppose that anything fraught with such blessings as are revivals would be welcomed universally; that churches long praying for such a time would gladly mark the first appearance of it, and that ministers long mourning their own and their people's deadness would rejoice in its approach. But alas! It is otherwise. "It is no new thing" says one, "for the world to spit upon Christ and revile Him, -- no new thing for unregenerate and foolish men to blaspheme the work of the Spirit; but sad indeed is it that any that are his should hide their faces from him and from his work!"

      Are none who ought to be leaders in the world's conquest, from this very cause failing of influence? Are no preachers open to the censure conveyed in the remark of a hearer, that his minister, apparently, would rather that souls should remain unconverted than be converted in any way except his?

      Not far from the scene of a revival, one cold day stood two men in conversation. They belonged to different churches, and the following was the substance of their discourse:

      "What is the state of religion in your church?"

      "Very cold, indeed, sir: it is as far below the freezing point as is the temperature of the atmosphere."

      "And what is your minister preaching about?"

      "He is laboring to show the danger of animal excitement in religion."

      The conversation closed with the exclamation, "The danger of animal excitement! Why, surely the man's sermons would be better adapted to the state of his congregation if he were to preach on the danger of being spiritually frost-bitten!"

      The pungent Mr. Ryle, in one of his tracts, gives these utterances: "The plain truth is, that many believers in the present day seem so dreadfully afraid of doing harm that they hardly ever dare to do any good. There are many who are fruitful in objections, but barren in actions; rich in wet blankets, but poor in anything like Christian fire. They are like the Dutch deputies, who would never allow Marlborough to venture anything, and by their excessive caution, prevented many a victory from being won." It must be confessed that this representation is but too true.

      A home missionary in the West wrote some time since as follows: "If Christians were half as much excited about a heavenly inheritance as the people here are, and have been for a few months past, about Government land, village lots, mill sites, cultivated farms, etc., etc., they would be branded at once with the wildest kind of fanaticism. How strange that professors of religion are fairly beside themselves in the anxiety to secure a little of this world's goods, and yet that some of them, if they chance to hear a poor sinner cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner," or witness deep anxiety for a lost world, are ready to cry, "Excitement! Excitement! It is all excitement."

      The very orthodoxy of some is made an occasion for inactivity. They cry out, "You are trying to get up a revival in your own strength: take care, you are interfering with the sovereignty of God: better keep along in the usual course, and let God give a revival when he thinks it is best: God is a sovereign, and it is very wrong for you to attempt to have a revival, just because you think a revival is needed!" Now no fact (as we have elsewhere taken occasion to show) is more apparent in revivals than that of the divine sovereignty. But such talk as this is just what Satan likes, and men cannot do his work more effectually than by thus preaching up the sovereignty of God as a reason why we should not put forth revival efforts.

      An actual participation and personal experience in precious revivals would dissipate many a man's objections. It makes a vast difference in ones estimate of a revival whether he enter into it or look at it. In the Memoirs of the late Mr. William Dawson is the following anecdote:

      Mr. Dawson was one day accosted by an individual who said he had been present at a certain meeting; that he liked the preaching very well, but was much dissatisfied with the prayer-meeting; adding, that he usually lost all the good he had received during the sermon by remaining in these noisy meetings. Mr. D. replied that he should have united with the people of God in the prayer-meeting, if he desired to profit by it. "Oh!" said the gentleman, "I went into the gallery, where I leaned over the front, and saw the whole. But I could get no good; lost, all the benefit I received during the sermon."

      "It is easy to account for that," rejoined Mr. Dawson.

      "How so?" inquired the other.

      "You mounted to the top of the house, and on looking down your neighbor's chimney to see what kind, of a fire he kept, you got your eyes filled with smoke. Had you entered by the door and gone into the room and mingled with the family around the household hearth, you would have enjoyed the benefit of the fire as well as they. Sir, you have got the smoke in your eyes!"

      The writer would most earnestly entreat all opponents of revivals to look more thoroughly into the matter, --to ascertain, as far as possible, in what a revival really consists,-- and to prove their own selves lest it be found in the great day that they have been "fighting against God."

      That man takes an awful responsibility who assumes to utter a word in disparagement of revivals of religion.

      There are few names in our country's annals more conspicuous, for good or for evil, than that of Aaron Burr. Of his talents none can doubt. His defects were moral rather than intellectual, consisting in a total apostasy from the religion of his fathers, and in the lawlessness of one who had deliberately cast off fear and restrained prayer before God. His father was an earnest Christian minister; his mother one of the most devout women of her times, the daughter of Jonathan Edwards, and the off-shoot of a domestic circle which has been represented as more nearly resembling the life of heaven than any other on earth. Mr. Parton, in his Life of Aaron Burr, perhaps without intending it, tells how this apostasy came about. During his last year in college (at Princeton) there was a revival in the institution. "Burr confessed that he was moved by the revival. He respected the religion of his mother; he had taken for granted the creed in which he had been educated. Therefore, though he was repelled by the wild excitement, which prevailed, and disgust by the means employed to excite terror, his mind was not at ease. He consulted Dr. Witherspoon in this perplexity.

      The clergymen of the time were divided in opinion upon the subject of revivals; those educated in the old country being generally opposed to them. President Witherspoon was of that number, and he accordingly told the anxious student that the raging excitement was fanatical, not truly religious, and Burr went away relieved." This is believed to be the key to Burr's apostate career.

      Assuming that that opinion of the revival was the real cause of his going away "relieved," what terrible consequences followed that advice. For Burr proceeded to drink in with avidity the reasonings of the French and English infidels, which were much in vogue at the time. These prepared him for the profligate habits which distinguished him through life, which procured his arraignment at the bar of his country for high treason, which involved him in his fatal duel with Hamilton, and which made him ever after an outcast and a vagabond in the earth. It causes a shudder to think that possibly that depreciating remark as to the revival made him the libertine, the duellist, the plotter against his government, the heartless seducer, and the victim of a supreme selfishness that he was. And it is an illustration of the sad consequences that may follow the utterance of one word against revivals.

      It will be remembered that our Saviour claimed for his miracles that they were wrought by the Spirit of God. The Pharisees attributed them to the agency of Satan. What that sin was the context tells us. "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men." "Whosoever speaketh a word against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." Revivals also claim to be wrought by the Spirit of God. If they are so, what the sin of speaking against them is, it is not for us to say--farther than that it is in some sense, at least, the sin of "speaking against the Holy Ghost." The degree of the guilt depends on the means of knowledge and the malignity of purpose. We would neither presume nor wish to say, that in any case it is unpardonable; but who would not shun the possibility of speaking contemptuously of the work of the Spirit? "Beware therefore," says an apostle, "lest that come upon you which is spoken in the prophets; behold, ye despisers, and wonder and perish: for I work a work in your day, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you." He that will speak lightly of revivals, should ponder these words deeply, and remember that he will be called upon in the great day to confront the fact that he took it upon himself to condemn those scenes of religious awakening which brought such gladness to such multitudes of souls. Nor let it be forgotten, that one may be secretly doubtful and indifferent as to revivals; and so, though not openly opposing them, be practically against them. Such persons cannot be relieved of the responsibility of being opposed, in spirit and in practice, to revivals by their silent and negative course regarding them. To have no positive faith in revivals is to be averse and contrary to them. Revivals are so big with consequences, so instinct with life and rower, that they cannot be objects of attention without moving the mind one way or another, without being hated where they are not loved, dreaded where they are not desired, though peculiar circumstances of expediency may repress positive expressions of aversion. Such persons will not only do nothing in favor of revivals, but amidst studied silence and reserve will do much against them. Can the preaching of ministers be otherwise than essentially hostile to revivals, who are not without doubts whether revivals are not the work of man, or perhaps of man and Satan united? The state of mind which dictates such a strain of preaching cannot but dictate a similar strain of conversation; and though direct unfriendliness may not be intended, yet it will be exerted, and exerted in the most decisive and effectual manner.

      And this thought must be added; that ministers may believe in revivals, and still be practically opposed to them, because their one great, earnest aim is not to bring sinners to immediate 'repentance; which is the very spirit of revivals.


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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