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grace continually descend, and Christians are always consistent and active, and there is a constant succession of conversions from among the impenitent, to the more sudden and rapid operation of God's Spirit —be it so; there is as truly a revival in the one case as in the other. But the state of things which this objection contemplates, is that in which religion is kept in the back-ground, and only here and there one, at distant periods, comes forward to confess Christ, and the church H habitually in a languishing state. And is such a state of things to be preferred above that in which the salvation of the soul becomes the allengrossing object, and even hundreds, within a little period, come and own themselves on the Lord's side?' pp. 57, 58.
There are so many passages that would tempt citation, that the difficulty lies in selection. In turning over the pages, the following useful caution respecting accounts of Revivals meet our eye.
* They are written in the midst of strong excitement, when the mind is most in danger of mistaking shadows for substances ; when its stronj hopes that much is about to be done, are easily exchanged for a conviction that much has been actually accomplished. Hence, all who are supposed to appear more serious than usual, are reckoned as subject! of conviction; and all who profess the slightest change of feeling, are set down as converts.' p. 243.
We need not add, that the very reverse is the character of Dr. Sprague's own volume, and that if he errs on any side, it is on that of over-caution; a tendency which will not be displeasing to many British readers. Their caution, however, and Dr. Sprairue"s, may, perhaps, be of an entirely different nature. While they may have a secret and ill-defined distrust of the work of revival 'itself, he only distrusts some of its too florid appearances. He kno«? that while the servants of their Divine Master are employed in sowing the good seed, the enemy will be equally busy in spreading far and wide his tares. But, if Dr. Sprague is full of caution, he is also full of hope, as appears by the following quotation.
'If you read the prophetical parts of Scripture attentively, von cannot, I think, but be struck with the evidence that, as the Millennial day approaches, the operations of Divine grace are to be increasingly rapid and powerful. Many of these predictions resiiecting the state of religion under the Christian dispensation, it is manifest, have not ret had their complete fulfilment; and they not only justify the belief tn«t these glorious scenes which we see passing, really are of Divine origin, as they claim to be, but that similar scenes, still more glorious, still more wonderful, are to be expected, as the Messiah travels in the greatness of His strength, towards a universal triumph. I cannot but thiuk that many of the inspired predictions in respect to the progress of religion must appear overstrained, unless we admit that the church is to see greater things than she has yet seen, and that they fairly warrant the conclusion, that succeeding generations, rejoicing in the brighter light
of God's truth, and the richer manifestations of his grace, may look back even upon this blessed era of revivals, as a period of comparative darkness.' p. 54—55.
Dr. Sprague bears abundant testimony to the benignant influence exerted by Revivals both on the body and the mind. He speaks of them as renovating, not only the moral, but the physical aspect of a community. The mind is at once awakened and invigorated; and the soul first rendered alive to the concerns of Religion, becomes afterwards earnest in the general pursuit of truth. 'We find', he says, 'that, in our own country at least, 'many of the most active promoters of useful knowledge at the
* present day, are to be found amongst those who have been prac
* tually taught the great lesson of human responsibility in a
* revival of Religion'. Nor can it be otherwise. When the principle of Religion is feeble in the soul, it may, indeed, impede, rather than further the exercise of the intellectual faculties. It is sufficient to cheat the usual motives of exertion, vanity, pride, ambition; but it supplies no new and predominating power to occupy their place. It is merely sufficient to maintain a struggle, but not to acquire a victory. But when the soul, by a strong faith, dwells in near and frequent communion with the Father of Spirits, such loftier intercourse and higher exercise of its faculties, must needs be sustained by an infusion of new life from above; and the healthful power thus acquired, cannot be restricted to heavenly objects alone, but will manifest its increase of energy in the pursuit of Truth, whether secular or divine.
It is satisfactory to observe the harmony that prevails between Dr. Sprague, Dr. Woods, and the twenty other divines who, in this volume, have united their contributions in the support of genuine Revivals. All of them appear convinced that a new and mighty energy is at work on the face of society. All are aware, likewise, of the deep corruption and exceeding deceitfulness of the human heart, which so often changes a blessing into a curse. All are deeply persuaded, that the only way to preserve the power of Revivals, is sedulously to maintain their purity. With many such watchmen on the walls of Zion, we may hope that the devices of the enemy will be frustrated; and we heartily participate in the expectations of Dr. Sprague.
'Brethren, I anticipate for the cause of revivals a glorious triumph; and one ground of this expectation is, that the friends of revivals will labour diligently for the promotion of their purity. I cast my eye towards the Millennial age, and I witness these scenes of Divine love and mercy going forward with such beauty and power, that the eyes of angels are turned towards them with constantly increasing delight. I see the pure gold shining forth in its brightness, and the dross thrown aside, and estimated as nothing. I see the chaff burnt up in the fire, or flying off on the winds, while the wheat is pure, and ripe, and ready for the garner. I see Christians every where co-operating with God for the salvation of men, in the very ways he has himself marked out; and while he pours out His rich blessings on the church, the church sends back her thanksgivings and praises to him in the highest. May God in mercy hasten this blessed consummation. And may you and I, whom he permits to labour in his cause, count it an honour that we are privileged to direct our efforts towards this high end, and to anticipate with confidence a glorious result.' p. 259.
In the preliminary essays of Mr. Redford and Mr. James, the subject of Dr. Sprague's work is examined in its bearing upon the state of things in this country.
'The fact, ' observes Mr. Redford, 'now rendered unquestionable, that the Christian cause is, at the present moment, advancing with a much more rapid march in the great Western continent, requires of us at home, a revision of our resources, and a comparison of our methods with those which have been elsewhere fouud more successful.'
In prosecuting this revision, Mr. Redford enters into some very valuable ecclesiastical statistics, according to which he reckons, that the churches of England are doubling their numbers in the course of twenty years. Such computations must vary very much in different parts of the country. We fear that we could point out districts where the numbers are stationary; some where they are even diminishing. At best, it is obvious to the most superficial observer, that the result in nowise corresponds to the means employed. This fact is very powerfully stated in the Essay by Mr. James.
'I may be in error, but it is my opinion, that, compared with the prodigious amount of instrumentality employed in this age, the quantity of spiritual effect was never so small. Means must now be counted on no lower a scale than that of willions; the gospel sermons preached, the bibles circulated, the tracts distributed, the lessons tuught, must all be reckoned by millions. Does the work of conversion then, I ask, keep pace with such means employed to effect it? Upon a moderate computation, fifteen or twenty thousand men of truly pious minds and evangelical sentiments are every sabbath day publishing the glad tidings of salvation in the united kingdom, seconded by myriads of devoted sunday-school teachers, and thousands of holy men and women, who visit the cottages of the poor with religious tracts, and for the purpose of religious conversation :—now then, I ask again, do you see a result proportioned to the means? Was not the preaching of the gospel for more effective when it was more rare? Witness the power which attended the sermons of Beveridge and Romaine and Grimshaw, within the pale of the Establishment, and those of Wesley and Whitfield without it.'
How is this to be accounted for? Is there anything in the character of American preaching, that will explain its more successful results? Mr. Redford says:
'We have had opportunities of judging of the effects of American preachiug upon English hearers ; and it is now, I believe, universally admitted, that it is neither so efficient nor so acceptable as that of our own ministers. I mention this without the slightest wish to depreciate the one class, or to exalt the other. It is here stated simply as a fact. Men whose preaching in America is never without effect, and who can attract the largest assemblies, here, are all but powerless, and leave our audiences wondering what it is that makes such preaching so much more powerful in America than in England.'
One obvious reason is, that the American sermons are too intellectual for the majority of an English audience. In America, as in Scotland, the hearers are all educated, and the preacher trusts that he can carry his point, if he convinces the understanding. In England, a preacher, to make an impression, must reach the heart, if he can; at least, he must touch the feelings. The intellect of numbers is dormant, from the want of a better system of national education. A more important reason is, that an American audience is prepared for the preacher. Their Revivals have rendered their congregations prayerful. Give an American preacher praying hearers, and we doubt not he would produce abundant effect. We are acquainted with an instance in proof. A congregation in the west of Scotland, struck with the few accessions to their numbers, and fearing that the Spirit of God was withdrawing his influence, commenced a series of prayer meetings for a Revival in their church, and especially in the hearts of the young. Their circumstances, in many respects, did not seem prosperous; their minister was laid aside by a severe, and ultimately fatal stroke. An American clergyman who had arrived in Scotland, simply to urge some legal claims, hearing of the illness of the minister and the distress of the church, though of a different denomination, offered his services, and was accepted. His preaching was not considered as peculiar, but the result was unexampled for many years in that part of the country. A Revival took place; the prayers of the congregation were fully answered, and the young became the especial subjects of this work of the Divine Spirit. The fruits of these conversions are as yet (several years having elapsed) considered as permanent. More were added to the church in a few weeks, than had been joined to it in several years. But the country around was not sufficiently sensible of the blessing. Few turned aside to ' behold the great sight'. The monuments of Divine Grace remain, but they remain singular instances of the prevalence of prayer.
Men look upon Revivals as some strange and questionable work. We are so much accustomed to a round of ineffectual preaching, that, when Christianity comes in her true shape, opening the eyes of the blind, and giving life to the dead, we are ready to suspect her as an impostor, and conclude that this is not the religion to which we have been accustomed. But the truth is, we are acquainted with Christianity in a mutilated form. We recognise it as a system of Truths, but we do not experience it as the energy of Immortality. But if Christianity is " the power of God unto salvation", there must be some great omission, when this power is no longer manifested. That omission, we need not doubt, is the restraining of prayer. To preach the Gospel alone, is but half the Gospel. The Truth itself informs us, that men will neither hear nor see, till God unstops their ears, and opens their eyes. But, though nothing can be done without a Divine Power, that Infinite Energy is set in motion by prayer. All things in Scripture are matters of duty. The doctrine of the moral inability, or, in other words, of the unwillingness of man to think either a good thought or to perform a right action, does not leave him, in any case, in helpless inactivity. The remedy is pointed out at the same moment as the disease. "Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean ", is the cure for the disease of the mind, as, in the Saviour's time, it was the remedy for the diseases of the body. "Be thou whole", is still the perpetual answer of prayer. We have cited Mr. James's remark, that the result is becoming less and less, in proportion to the means employed. Surely there is something deserving of deep attention in God's thus seeming to withdraw his efficient concurrence from the uae of means. He will be " inquired of concerning this of the House of Israel". We do not doubt that this solemn pause is preparatory to a great awakening of prayer. The power of Jehovah seems to slumber for a season, that from every part of the earth a cry from his believing people may incessantly arise: "Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake, as in the ancient days, in the generations of old." God is now teaching his people a lesson which, it may be hoped, will last them while the world endures. It is, that prayer is the key of all things, and that, in proportion as we ask, so shall we receive. The promises belong to faith in all the immensity of their magnitude, and we enter not into their fulness, only from the failure of faith and of prayer. God "cannot deny Himself." We are not straitened in Him: we are straitened in ourselves. Christianity was founded upon prayer. Before the disciples were sent out on their mission, the Divine Founder of our religion passed the night in prayer. The prayer of agony preceded the Crucifixion, the all-finished work upon the Cross.
Prayer for the descent of the Spirit, preceded the general publication of the Gospel. Prayer without ceasing animated and rendered effectual the ceaseless labours of Paul. Far, then, from considering it as a dark mystery, or evil omen, that the result is not proportioned to the means, we would consider it as only an incentive to constant, fervent, confident intercession and supplica