Samuel Miller, D.D.1
Copyright © 1997 Naphtali Press
CHRISTIAN BRETHREN: When the real Christian reads or hears of a revival of religion, a chord is touched which vibrates with pleasure to his heart. In no event is a friend of Christ more ready, instinctively, to rejoice, than when he is informed that the Holy Spirit is poured out in large measures, reviving the graces of the people of God; causing multitudes anxiously to inquire what they must do to be saved; and many to rejoice in a good hope through grace. Long may the Presbyterian Church be favored with genuine revivals of religion, of greater and greater power, in all her borders; and long may she be blessed with ministers and members who love them; who pray for them without ceasing; and who habitually and faithfully use those means for promoting them, which the Scriptures warrant, and which the great Head of the Church is wont to own and bless!
This subject appears to me, at the present time, to assume an aspect more than usually interesting, and to indicate a most momentous connection with the future. The frequency, the power, and the precious results of revivals in almost every part of the American churches within a few years past, cannot but fill the hearts of intelligent Christians with joy, while they furnish a most animating presage of the rapid manner in which the conversion of the world may be expected to proceed, when the set time to favor Zion shall come; and a no less gratifying pledge of the ease with which the Head of the Church can solve that problem so perplexing to human wisdom: How the number of candidates for the ministry may be so rapidly multiplied, as in any good measure to meet the urgent and increasing demand for spiritual laborers, both in the domestic and foreign field? Let such revivals as we have been permitted to see, but with augmented power and extent, visit the churches year after year, and fill all lands, and the work will be done. The knowledge and glory of the Lord, without the interposition of what we call miracle, will soon fill the earth; and on every side candidates for carrying the Gospel from the rising to the setting sun will be raised up, saying, with humble readiness to spend and be spent for Christ, “Here are we, send us.” I cannot help recording my conviction that these revivals are the hope of the Church and of the world. In other words, the millennium is at a far greater distance than the most pious and enlightened interpreters of prophecy have supposed; or else the conversion of the heathen, and of all that are afar off, must proceed in a much more rapid manner than it has hitherto done. I am disposed to adopt the latter alternative; and, of course, to believe that the Church is warranted in looking and praying for revivals of religion far more extensive, more powerful, and more glorious, than the present generation, or indeed any other, had ever witnessed.
This being my impression, I cannot doubt that it is the duty of all professing Christians, at the present day, to expect great things; to ask for great things; and to employ with increasing diligence all the means which the Spirit of God has warranted, and has promised to follow with his blessing, for the attainment of great things, in the way of REVIVALS. They are solemnly bound, in that spirit of hallowed enterprise which becomes a new exigency and new dawnings in human affairs, to endeavor, by augmented parental care and diligence; by increasing pastoral fidelity; by the more edifying example, and unwearied activity of private Christians in their appropriate sphere; by prayer more humble, importunate, and persevering than heretofore; and by redoubled efforts to sustain and extend all those associations which have for their object the reformation and conversion of the world; they are bound, I say, by all these means to endeavor to hasten the arrival of that period when nations shall be born in a day, and when multitudes shall flock to the ark of safety as a cloud, and as doves to their windows, and when converts to righteousness shall be numerous as the drops of the morning dew. In my opinion every professing Christian ought to consider the degree in which he longs, and prays, and exerts himself for the revival of religion, and for the extension of the Redeemer’s kingdom, as affording one of the most undoubted and unerring tests of his piety. Show me a professor of religion who manifests but little zeal for these great interests, and I will show you one who has great reason to stand in doubt of himself, and to examine, with new solicitude, whether he has ever taken his stand on the Lord’s side.
Assuming, then, the unspeakable importance of this great subject, and the obligation resting upon all Christians, not only to desire revivals, but also to be actively engaged in promoting them; I beg leave to offer some general remarks on a few points relating to the subject; and it is my wish to do it with all that caution and reverence which becomes everyone in taking a step on consecrated ground.
I. And my first remark is, that it is of the utmost importance THAT WE BE UPON OUR GUARD AGAINST SPURIOUS REVIVALS.
If I were called upon to say what I mean by a genuine revival of religion, as distinguished from a spurious one, I should draw the line of distinction by saying, that a genuine revival is one which is produced by the exhibition of Gospel Truth, faithfully presented to the mind, and applied by the power of the Holy Spirit. And that all high religious excitement or commotion produced by other means than the impression of truth, is the essence of fanaticism. It is a spurious work, adapted to bring genuine revivals into disrepute, and to send a blast instead of a blessing on the Church of God; and, of course, the more extended and powerful, the more to be deplored.
It is no uncommon or difficult thing to work upon the animal feelings of assembled multitudes, by mere terror, by sympathy, by vehement addresses, by fine music, by a great variety of means in which Gospel truth is not presented, and has no influence. Those who are aware what a fearfully and wonderfully made piece of machinery human nature is, and especially how susceptible of strong and diversified impression are the nerves and sympathies of that nature, will not wonder, though they may not be able fully to explain, why such powerful effects flow from a little adroit management. Who does not know that the far-famed fanatical Unitarians, who call themselves Chrystians have their revivals of a strongly marked character, their anxious seats, and all the most imposing and exciting means that have ever been adopted for making a popular impression. Nay, one of the most active and artful leaders of that sect, boasted that he had drawn at least fifty persons to anxious seats, merely by the influence of his own singing, which was, indeed, remarkably touching and powerful. It is surely unnecessary to remark, that such revivals are a disgrace to the name; that they are the fruit of animal excitement merely; and that every enlightened friend of the Redeemer’s kingdom, must mourn over their character and tendency.
It is not mere excitement then, in which the animal feelings of many are roused and agitated, and in which the mere principles of nature are addressed, and called into powerful action, that constitutes a genuine revival of religion. For, as there can be no real piety in any individual heart without the reception and love of the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel; so we must estimate the real character of every religious excitement which claims to be a revival, by the degree in which pure Gospel truth is presented, embraced, and obeyed. However widespread and powerful the excitement may be, it ought ever to be brought to this obvious, fair, and decisive test: Is it produced by a blessing on the truth plainly and faithfully presented? Is it throughout regulated by the truth? And do its professed subjects manifest a general and cordial love of Gospel truth? Are their views of the character of God, of his holy law, of sin, of the ground of acceptance, and of Christian hope, — I do not say perfectly — but in the main, accordant with the Bible views of those great subjects? If so, we may hail the work with joy, and bid Godspeed to those who are instrumental in commencing and giving it direction. If the subjects of it, in giving a reason of their anxiety, or of the hope that is in them, appear to be moved by scriptural views of truth, addressed to the conscience and the heart; if in giving an account of their distress or their peace they manifest that their views of themselves, of the Savior, and of Christian confidence towards God, are in substance, those which the Scriptures authorize; and if they evidently bring forth the fruits of holy living, — we must denominate such a revival a work of God, — thank him for it, and rejoice in it as a rich blessing. But if by some strong excitement, addressed to the animal feelings, we could so work upon the nervous system of hundreds, or even thousands in a great assembly, as to constrain them to weep, to cry out with terror, to fall prostrate, and to fill the house with sobbing and groans; if this were all, we must pronounce it a spurious work, the product of fanaticism and not of the Holy Spirit.
I am persuaded, my Christian brethren, that this is a point of more practical importance than is commonly imagined. To say that spurious revivals are of no use to the Church of God, is to express but a small part of the truth. They are a dreadful curse to any church. They exert a most pestiferous influence. They deceive and destroy the souls of men. They harden the worldly and the infidel in tenfold obduracy. They leave a country over which they have passed arid and desolate, like that over which a raging fire has swept, and laid it all a gloomy waste. I have more than once witnessed strong and extensive religious excitements, evidently produced by powerful appeals to animal feeling and sympathy, without suitable exhibitions of Gospel truth. The effects were, indeed, plausible, and adapted to make a deep popular impression. They did make such an impression; and were trumpeted far and wide as glorious revivals of religion. But, in a few months, the real character of these excitements was painfully disclosed. In a great majority of cases the impressions made, like the morning cloud and the early dew, soon entirely passed away; while the small minority who held out long enough to make a public profession of religion, and some who, in the fervor of their first exercises, offered themselves as candidates for the holy ministry, soon made it too evident by their unhappy mixture of levity, ignorance, censoriousness, and claims of high attainment, that they needed a new conversion before they could be fitted to adorn or to edify the Church.
I once knew a minister who took unwearied, and I doubt not, honest pains, to produce a revival of religion in the church under his pastoral care. After employing abundant means, and those of the most exciting and alarming kind, he succeeded in collecting together, at the close of a solemn evening service, in which a powerful impression seemed to have been made, a large number of the professedly anxious and inquiring in his session room. There he met and addressed them, and there, without saying one word to them of their guilt and misery by nature, of Christ, of the Gospel plan of acceptance with God, of the nature of evangelical faith and repentance, or of the work of the Holy Spirit as the author of all spiritual life, he spoke to them about resolving to be for God; asked them if they could not make up their minds decisively to submit to God; and assured them that to determine in their own minds to engage in the service of God, was regeneration, was to become a Christian. With almost one consent they took the seats assigned to the hoping, and came out of the room called, and supposing themselves to be, converted persons. Most of them were forthwith hurried into the Church; but in the estimation of intelligent Christians few of them appeared to know what they were doing, or turned out to be solid, established Christians. Of such a revival, I should say with confidence, it has nothing to do with the religion of the Gospel.
I repeat it then, experience proves that spurious revivals have been mistaken for genuine, and may be mistaken for them again; and that we ought never to recognize as genuine any revival which is not produced by the instrumentality of truth, which is not regulated by the truth, and which does not bring forth the fruits of truth. All else is fanatical excitement. Like a fever in the human body, it cannot fail of leaving the system relaxed and debilitated, when it declines. Like counterfeit money, it excites deep doubt and distrust wherever it comes, and ultimately interferes with the circulation of genuine coin. Beloved, says an inspired Apostle, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
II. Allow me further to suggest, the great importance of GUARDING AGAINST ALL THOSE DISORDERS AND UNWARRANTED MEASURES WHICH ARE ADAPTED TO ARREST OR TO MAR GENUINE REVIVALS.
I have sometimes heard inconsiderate querists ask, whether it is possible that a work which is really of God, should be arrested in its progress or marred in its character, by the weakness of man? This question may be answered in the affirmative or negative, according to our understanding of its meaning. Let me answer it by asking another. If an individual were deeply anxious respecting his eternal interests, and if, in the midst of his anxiety, a large estate were unexpectedly left to him, which, from its extent and situation, was adapted to engross his whole attention; or, if he were suddenly engaged in all the violence of party politics, or some other angry and absorbing contest, might we not naturally expect, would not all experience teach us to fear that the new and engrossing subject would soon expel all his former anxiety? Even so, the history of the Church has evinced, that even when a genuine and undoubted work of the Holy Spirit has commenced its progress in the most promising manner, if gross disorders are admitted; if angry contentions arise; or if anything occur powerfully to distract or divide the public mind; the Holy Spirit is wont to depart, and the minds of men to be turned away from the most important concerns, to those subordinate objects which are thus urged on their attention. In these circumstances, where the sanctifying Spirit has taken up his abode in any heart, He will not be totally and finally expelled; but by thousands who had been brought by his strivings to deep conviction, to promising seriousness, and to apparently sincere resolutions, his influences have been quenched, and his presence grieved away from a people who once appeared not far from the kingdom of God. Well meaning, sanguine Christians, may fondly hope, that if the Spirit of God be really present, there is nothing to fear. But his own word, as well as the history of his dealings with the Church, plainly shows that he is a Spirit of order and of love; and that whenever there is a striking departure from either, there he will not remain; but will leave such a people to greater hardness, apathy, and unbelief, than ever.
Let anyone who really desires to know the truth on this subject, look into the Apostolical Epistles, especially into the fourteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians, and he will there see that, even under the ministrations of inspired men, gross disorders creeping into a church were found quite sufficient to mar the work of the Holy Spirit, and to impede the progress of the truth. Let him look into the forth part of the venerable President Edwards’ Thoughts concerning the Revival of Religion, which appeared in our country more than ninety years ago, and he will perceive that that eminently wise and holy man saw and lamented disorders amidst the glorious revivals which then blessed the Church, and had no doubt of the deplorable mischiefs produced by them. Let him read the accounts of the disorders introduced into New England by Davenport and his associates, during the great revivals under the ministry of Whitefield and his excellent coadjutors, many years since; and if he have a particle of sincere love for the kingdom of Christ, he will mourn over the evils which those disorders occasioned, grieving the hearts of God’s people, tearing the churches in pieces, and causing the Holy Spirit to depart, and give them up to strife, and finally to coldness, stupidity, and desolation. Let him notice with care the extravagancies and disorders which have attended revivals of religion within the last thirty years in different parts of the United States; revivals which were in their commencement highly promising; but which soon became marred, disgraced, and terminated, by various forms of fanatical irregularity, which disgusted intelligent and sober minded Christians, and hardened the enemies of vital religion in deeper hostility. I say, let anyone who sincerely desires to know the truth on this subject, ponder well this recorded experience of the Church of God, and then say, whether it is not both reasonable and important to lift, in relation to it, the voice of warning.
If any desire to know what the particular disorders are, to which allusion is intended in these references; I answer, the very same disorders which the venerable President Edwards, and other eminently wise and pious ministers of the Gospel, lamented and opposed nearly a century ago, and which wrought such complicated and wide spread mischiefs then, and many years afterwards. Such as the excessive multiplication of public meetings, so as to leave little or no time for the duties of the family and the closet; continuing the exercises of such meetings to an unseasonably late hour, thereby deranging the order of families, and exhausting both the bodies and the minds of the people; indulging in bodily agitation, groans and outcries in public assemblies; unauthorized and unqualified persons thrusting themselves forward to perform the work of public instruction; a number of persons speaking and praying at the same time; females speaking, and leading in prayer in promiscuous assemblies; publicly praying for particular individuals by name, as graceless, or opposers of religion; giving vent to the language of harsh censure, and of uncharitable denunciation, as enemies of God, against all who oppose these irregularities; urging the public confession of secret sins, as indispensable to the attainment of a blessing; all these, and many other contrivances of a like kind, the object of which was to produce strong excitement, have been tried a hundred times, in various countries and ages, have been uniformly found to work ill in the end, and have been unanimously condemned by judicious Christians as unscriptural and mischievous. They disgust intelligent, reflecting people. They drive many from the house of God, and, perhaps harden them in hopeless infidelity. And they confirm the prejudices of many against revivals altogether. And yet there are those who believe those very means adapted to do good, and who are disposed to try them again! The truth is, there are good people who imagine that unless high popular excitement and agitation be produced, nothing desirable is done. They are ready, therefore, to adopt any new and bold measure which promises to produce the effect. Their delight is in public excitement; in producing effects on large masses of people analogous to the influence of strong drink on the animal body; not remembering that, as in the case of strong drink, such excitement is unnatural; that it is unfriendly to the calm, intelligent and humble exercise of Christian grace; that it cannot long continue; and that it will never fail to be followed by morbid depression, and debility in the end.
But besides these manifest disorders, which have so often drawn a cloud over revivals of religion, and against which judicious Christians, it may be hoped, will be ever on their guard; there are other measures, to which the title of new has been given, of which I beg permission to say a word under this head. The principal of these are, at the end of a warm and pungent discourse, calling upon all who are more or less impressed by it, and who have formed the resolution to attend to the subject of religion, to rise from their seats, and declare their purpose before the public assembly; or, requesting all who are willing to be prayed for, to rise and come forward to a particular part of the church, and kneel together for that purpose; or, inviting all who are anxious about their everlasting welfare, to separate themselves publicly from the rest of the congregation, and to occupy certain seats, called anxious seats, and vacated for the purpose of being thus filled. In short, this machinery for working on the popular feeling may be, and has been endlessly diversified. Sometimes those who have obtained a hope have been requested to rise in every part of the house, and signify it. At other times, those who have not yet begun to cherish a hope of their good estate, but who resolve that they will attend to this great subject, are urged, on the spot, to signify this resolution in the same way. And sometimes those whose stubborn wills are not yet inclined to bow, and who feel no particular disposition to comply with the Gospel call, have been requested to make even this publicly known, by either rising in their seats, or leaving the house.
The great argument urged in favor of this whole system of new measures is, that, as the impenitent are naturally prone to stifle convictions, and to tamper with the spirit of procrastination, it is desirable they should be prevailed upon, as soon as possible, to take some visible step which shall commit them on this great subject. This, however, in my opinion, instead of being an argument in its favor, is precisely the most powerful objection to the whole system. There is no doubt that every impenitent sinner to whom the Gospel comes, ought to be called to immediate repentance; and that all delay in embracing the Gospel is as unreasonable as it is criminal. But of all the subjects that can come before the human mind, surely religion is that in which every step ought to be taken without rashness, with distinct knowledge, with due consideration, counting the cost, and with sacred care not to mistake a transient emotion for a deep impression; or a momentary paroxysm of alarm, or of animal sympathy, for a fixed, practical purpose of the heart. If we call upon those who are anxious about their eternal interest, to take certain seats, or to stand up before the public assembly, as a testimony of their anxiety; is it wise in them publicly to take such a station, before they know whether their feelings will last an hour, or pass away with the first night’s sleep? Or, if we should call upon those who have obtained a hope in Christ, to make it known to a large assembly, by some prescribed signal; would it be right in those into whose minds this hope, whether genuine or spurious, has beamed only a few hours or minutes before the call was made, to stand forth in this high and responsible character, before there was the least opportunity to put their hope to a scriptural test? Of all methods yet devised, this appears to me most directly adapted to fill the Church with rash, ignorant, superficial, hypocritical professors, instead of solid, intelligent, truly spiritual and devoted Christians.
Nor is even this, bad as it is, the worst. I feel constrained to add, that when this highly exciting system of calling to anxious seats, calling out into the aisles to be prayed for, etc., is connected, as, to my certain knowledge it often has been, with erroneous doctrines; for example, with the declaration, that nothing is easier than conversion; that the power of the Holy Spirit is not necessary to enable impenitent sinners to repent and believe; that if they only resolve to be for God, resolve to be Christians, that itself is regeneration, the work is already done: I say, where the system of anxious seats, etc., is connected with such doctrinal statements as these, it appears to me adapted to destroy souls by wholesale! I will not say that such revivals are never connected with sound conversions; but I will be bold to repeat, that the religion which they are fitted to cherish, is altogether a different one from that of the Gospel. It is, I sincerely believe, a system of soul-destroying deception!
Those of you, my Christian brethren, who have seen a highly instructive and interesting volume on the subject of Revivals, by the Rev. Dr. Sprague, of Albany, a volume which I would earnestly recommend to the careful perusal of every Presbyterian in the United States, have no doubt been impressed, not only by the just and luminous views given of the subject before us, by that excellent writer himself; but also by the remarkable unanimity of opinion on the same subject, expressed in the Appendix to his work, by a long list of eminent ministers, of six different Christian denominations, most of them distinguished for their great wisdom and piety, as well as their ample experience in revivals. From the communications of three of the venerable men, whose competency in every respect to give testimony on the subject before us, will be questioned by none who know them, I beg leave to make a few short extracts.
The following is the testimony of the Rev. President Humphrey, of Amherst College, whose character as a tried friend of revivals is well known. “If you ask me, what means and measures have been most eminently blessed, in the revivals which have fallen under my own personal observation, in College and elsewhere, I answer, substantially the same as were mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds in the apostolic age; the same as were employed by Edwards, and Bellamy, and Brainerd, almost a century ago. Meetings for personal conversation, commonly called, inquiry meetings have been held weekly, or oftener, with great spiritual advantage, in all the revivals which have fallen under my notice. The duty of prayer, both secret and social, has been earnestly and daily urged upon Christians; but late meetings have generally been discouraged, as interfering with the religious order of families, and tending in a short time, to exhaust the physical and mental energies of God’s people, as well as to mingle strange fire with that which is kindled from the skies. When met for social prayer, neither ministers nor laymen have indulged themselves in loud and boisterous vociferations, in audible groans, or in smiting the hands together in token of their sincerity and earnestness. They have observed, that the most noisy waters are seldom deepest; and have laid more stress upon fervency of spirit, than upon strength of lungs, or muscular contortions. With us it has never been customary, whether in our larger or smaller religious circles, to pray for sinners who may happen to be present, by name, or to indulge in equivalent personalities. The general tendency of such a practice, it is thought, would be detrimental to the cause of piety, however different the effect might be in solitary instances. Females have kept silence in all our meetings, except such as were composed exclusively of their own sex. Calling anxious sinners into the aisles, to be addressed and prayed for, has not been practiced within the circle of my observation; nor have they been requested, before the great congregation, to come forward from any part of the house, and occupy seats vacated for that purpose; and wherever such measures have been adopted, within my knowledge, I believe the cause of revivals has lost more than it has gained by them. It is unsafe to argue from the present effect of any new system, that it is better than the old. It may accomplish more in a week, but not so much in a year. It may bring a greater number of persons into the visible kingdom of Christ, but not so many into his spiritual kingdom. For myself, every new revival of religion which I am permitted to witness, serves to confirm me in the opinion, that it is safest to walk in the “old paths,” and to employ those means and measures which long experience has sanctioned, and in the use of which the churches in this part of the land, have been so greatly enlarged and edified.”
The Rev. President Lord, of Dartmouth College, in reference to the same subject, has the following weighty remarks. “In regard to these revivals of religion, I think it important to remark, that, in every instance, they seemed the product of the Spirit’s influence silently affecting different minds with the same truths, and multiplying the trophies of divine mercy. They were an effect, and not a cause of divine interposition; and except as occasionally blemished through human weakness and sinfulness, bore the characteristics of the wisdom that is from above. We have known here nothing except by report, of the new measures for building up the kingdom of Christ. We have no machinery for making converts; and we could allow none to be introduced. We should be afraid to make or suffer an impression upon the young men under our care, many of whom will be ministers of Jesus Christ, that the Gospel can be helped, or the work of the Holy Spirit facilitated by human devices. And I think we shall hold, on this subject, to our general principles, too long settled by the experience of ages, and confirmed by the blessing of God, attending the application of them, to be now thrown away in the ardor of questionable excitements, or for the love of innovation, or even to escape the imputation of being the enemies of revivals. When shall the ministers and churches of the Redeemer know effectually their proneness to mar the beautiful simplicity of the Gospel, to add something of their own inventions to its sufficient ordinances; to lead instead of following the divine Providence, and to mistake their own dreaming for a heavenly impulse; to inflame the sacrifice with unhallowed fire, and to arrogate that power, and that glory which belong to God only? I cannot tell you how much I sometimes fear, when I look abroad upon our country, that Christianity will degenerate in our keeping. Yet let us hold to the old foundations. There are many yet to maintain the right; and the recovering spirit, we are assured, will accomplish the purposes of divine mercy, will correct and convert the world.”
President Griffin, of Williams College, than whom few living ministers have had more experience in revivals, employs, on the same subject, the following language, “Much has been done of late, to lead awakened sinners to commit themselves, in order to get them over that indecision, and fear of man which have kept them back, and to render it impossible for them to return with consistency. For this purpose they are called upon to request public prayers by rising; to come out into the aisles, in token of their determination to be for God; to take particular seats, called in bad English, anxious seats; to come forward and kneel in order to be prayed for; and in very many instances, to promise to give themselves to religion at once. For much the same purpose converts are called upon to take particular seats, and thus virtually to make a profession in a day, and are hurried into the church in a few weeks. These measures, while they are intended to commit the actors, are meant also to awaken the attention of others, and to serve as means of general impression. I would not make a man an offender for a word; but when these measures are reduced to a system, and constantly repeated; when, instead of the former dignity of a Christian assembly, it is daily thrown into a rambling state by these well meant maneuvers; it becomes a solemn question, whether they do not give a disproportionate action to imagination and passion, and lead to a reliance on other means than truth and prayer, and on other power than that of God. I have seen enough to convince me that sinners are very apt to place a self-righteous dependence on this sort of commitment. I have taken one step, and now I hope God will do something for me is language which I have heard more than once. Against any promises, express or implied, I utterly protest. If they are promises to do anything short of real submission, they will bring up a feeling that more the sinner is not bound to do. If they are promises to submit, they are made in the sinner’s own strength, and are presumptuous. The will, which forms resolutions, and utters promises, cannot control the heart. Sinners are bound to love God at once; but they are not bound to promise beforehand to do it, and rely on their own will to change their heart. This is self-dependence. They are bound to go forth to their work at once; but they are not bound to go alone. It is their privilege, and their duty to cast themselves instantly on the Holy Ghost, and not to take a single step in their own strength. In these extorted promises there is another evil, the substitution of human authority for the divine. It is right for Christians to urge upon sinners the obligation of immediate submission, and they cannot enforce this too much by the authority of God; but to stand over them and say, Come, now promise; promise this moment; do promise; you must promise; promise, and I will pray for you — if you don’t, I won’t, is overpowering them with human authority and putting it in the room of the divine.
The experience and wisdom of the Rev. Mr. Nettleton in revivals of religion, for more than twenty years past, are well known throughout the United States. His testimony against the new measures of which I am now speaking is strong and decisive. He informed me, with his own lips, within a few weeks, that a short time before he commenced his career as an Evangelist, these very measures (calling upon people in the public assemblies, to proclaim the state of their minds by standing up, going to certain seats, or kneeling in the aisles to be prayed for) had been extensively employed, by the Rev. James Davis, a Congregational minister in the eastern part of Connecticut, where he (Mr. N.) was subsequently called to labor; that the ultimate fruit of them everywhere, was fanaticism and disorder; that, in more than one place, the spirit which they generated presented such insurmountable obstacles to all rational and sober ministrations, that he was obliged to take leave and go elsewhere; and that in every period of his ministry since, he has found similar measures invariably productive of the same distressing effects. His judgment, therefore, long since formed; tested by much experience both in the Presbyterian Church, and in New England; and rendered more and more decisive by every day’s additional observation, is that the whole array of the measures in question, is opposed to the meekness and humility of the Gospel; that it tends to nourish a spirit of ostentation, fanaticism and censoriousness; and that, although it may appear to be productive of a greater number of conversions in the beginning, a less obtrusive system may be expected to produce more genuine and more abundant fruit in the end.
Let it not be said, that calling our inquirers to “anxious seats” is the only effectual method of ascertaining who are under serious impressions, and who are not. Is it not quite as effectual, and much less exceptionable, to give a public invitation to all who are in any degree seriously impressed, or anxious to remain after the congregation is dismissed; or to meet their pastor the next evening, in some convenient apartment, for the purpose of disclosing their feelings, and of being made the subjects of instruction and prayer? Nay, why is not the latter method very much preferable, in every respect, to the former? It affords quite as good an opportunity to ascertain numbers, and to distinguish persons and cases. It furnishes a far better opportunity to give distinct and appropriate instruction to particular individuals. It prevents the mischief of dragging into public view, and even into the highest degree of publicity, those whose exercises are immature, and perhaps transient. And it avoids the danger which to many, and especially to young people, may be very formidable; I mean the danger of being inflated by becoming objects of pubic attention, and by being forthwith addressed and announced, as is too often the case, as undoubted “converts”. Surely the incipient exercises of the awakened and convinced ought to be characterized by much calm self-examination, and much serious, retired, closet work. If there be any whose impressions are so slight and transient, that they cannot be safely permitted to wait until the next evening, it will hardly be maintained that such persons are prepared to “commit themselves,” by publicly taking an anxious seat. And if there be any whose vanity would dispose them to prefer pressing forward to such a seat in the presence of a great assembly, to meeting their pastor, and a few friends, in a similar state of mind with themselves, in a more private manner, the Church, I apprehend, can promise herself little comfort from the multiplication of such members.
After all, what is the ultimate effect of this system of new measures, as it is commonly called? Does it continue, like all the ordinances of God’s own appointment, to impress and to edify, from year to year, without abatement or weariness? Not at all. In those places in which the practice of calling out the serious, the anxious, and the hoping to the aisles, or to particular seats, as habit or caprice may dictate, has been most extensively and longest in use, all experience testifies, that when the novelty of the expedient has worn off, its exciting character is at an end; and that it soon becomes as powerless and inefficient as any other old story. This is notoriously the case in many parts of the western country; and it will soon be found to be the case in those eastern portions of the Church in which similar practices are now in high vogue. The truth is, things of this kind cannot long be tolerated among enlightened, sober-minded Christians. Solid food nourishes the body, and leaves it invigorated and comfortable. But stimulating potations excite to morbid action only, and that for a time; and then leave the system depressed and wretched.
But I must postpone to one more letter some further remarks on the subject of revivals.
Princeton, March, 1833.
CHRISTIAN BRETHREN: The subject of revivals of religion is so unspeakably interesting and important, and at the same time, so extensive, that I am persuaded you will not wonder at my making it the subject of another letter. There are several other topics on which I feel desirous of making a few observations.
III. A third remark which I would most respectfully offer, is, that if we desire to promote genuine and salutary revivals of religion, WE MUST NOT UNDERVALUE THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE, NOR MAKE TOO COMMON AND CHEAP THOSE WHICH MAY BE CALLED EXTRAORDINARY.
When the ancient people of God, in their passage through the wilderness, began to loathe the plain but excellent manna which was provided for them day by day, and to call for some extraordinary supply; we find that, on their request being granted, surfeiting and mischief were the consequence. So it is with respect to Zion’s more spiritual provision. When new schemes for making a popular impression begin to occupy the public mind, a love of excitement and of agitation seems to take possession of the people. They begin to suppose that when these are absent, nothing valuable is accomplished. The ordinary exercises of the Sabbath, the weekly lecture, the prayer meeting, and the sacramental table, are esteemed light food. Something stirring; something new; something adapted to produce powerful excitement, analogous to that of strong drink, must be present, or all seems to them vapid and uninteresting. When a spirit of this kind becomes prevalent among a people, it augurs most unhappily for their spiritual interest. The object of these remarks is, not to intimate that extraordinary means of grace ought not sometimes to be employed; but that they ought not so to be employed and regarded as to place the ordinary means which God has appointed “in the back ground,” and to make the popular impression that where these alone are employed, little good is to be expected.
To exemplify my meaning: I am a warm friend to “Protracted meetings.” They were evidently employed, on special occasions, under the Old Testament economy; but they were not made cheap by too frequent recurrence. They were considered and treated as special services. In the days of our blessed Lord’s personal ministry, we know that He kept the people hanging on his lips for three whole days in succession, and, during the greater part of this time, large numbers of them evidently remained on the ground fasting. In the Church of Scotland, protracted meetings, on sacramental occasions, were almost universal, it is believed, for more than a hundred years, and on many occasions, with richly excellent results. It was on such an occasion that a single sermon, by the celebrated Mr. John Livingston, was blessed to the hopeful conversion of five hundred souls. And such protracted meetings, have, beyond all doubt, been made signally instrumental in many parts of our own country especially within a few years past, to the commencement or the continuance of the most precious revivals of religion. Against protracted meetings, therefore, as such, thus warranted and fortified, it is probable no sincere and intelligent friend of vital piety will venture to speak. But are not such meetings extremely liable to abuse? Nay, is there not reason to believe that they have been abused, and thus made a hindrance, instead of a help, to the cause of pure and undefiled religion? And they may be said to be abused, when professing Christians begin to place their chief dependence upon them; when they look forward to them with eagerness, as the hope of the Church; when they are made, as it were, to come in place of an humble tender reliance on the Holy Spirit, and broken hearted, importunate, persevering prayer for the prosperity of Zion; when they even seem, as they have sometimes been, to be regarded as a kind of machinery which may serve as a substitute for personal religion, and persevering devotion; and, finally, they are greatly abused when they are resorted to so frequently by the same people, as to convert them into stated means of grace, and thus to make the Sabbath, and its ordinary privileges lightly esteemed in comparison with them. This is a sore evil; yet it has happened; and there is great danger that it will happen again. But if my views of the nature of the economy of grace, as well as distinct information respecting the effects in particular cases, do not deceive me, such an abuse never can happen without mischief; without such frowns and desertion by the great Head of the Church, as will leave a people chargeable with it, in a greater or less degree, to the coldness, the stupidity, and the desolation of those who are given up to “eat the fruit of their own way, and to be filled with their own devices.
The truth is, men have been prone, in all ages, to lay more stress on their own inventions, than on the simple ordinances of Christ. They have honestly, but vainly, thought that the appointments of the Head of the Church were not sufficient; or, at any rate, that they might be added to not only without sin, but with advantage. Every new device for winning the attention, and exciting the mind, they have been ready to adopt; and imagined that in doing so, they did God service. This was, no doubt, the origin of a large number of those human inventions in the worship of God which deform the Romish Church. They began early. They were a long time in reaching that corrupt and revolting maturity which they now exhibit. Good men, in their pious zeal to impress the multitude and to bring souls into the Church, invented device after device for addressing the senses, and working on the feelings of men; until the piety of their inventors, and the force of habit, consecrated these devices in public estimation, as institutions of Christ, and gave them a permanent place in the apparatus of the Church; until one after another they built up that mass of superstition which forms the dire machinery by which the “man of sin,” dazzles and deceives the simple. It is, moreover, one of those notorious facts, in the history of human inventions in the worship of God, as humiliating as it is striking, that after a while, more stress is commonly laid upon those inventions than on the ordinances of Christ. Uncommanded festival and fast days in the Romish Church are commonly observed with far more strictness than the Lord’s day. And many, if appearances are not deceptive, are beginning to feel as if no good can be hoped for without protracted meetings, and that they are of far more importance than the privileges of the holy Sabbath.
I would say then, employ protracted meetings. They are fully warranted, by the example, as well as the spirit of the word of God. But do not make idols of them. Do not imagine that they have an inherent efficacy, independently of the Spirit of God, to produce a revival of religion. Resort to them but seldom; not as stated, but as extraordinary means. Prepare for them with much humble, importunate prayer. Remember that, like all other means, they will only be useful as far as they are attended upon with a believing reference and application to the Spirit of all grace. And be careful not to view or use them in any way which will tend to depreciate in your esteem the ordinary means of grace. Whatever or whoever does this, is a great evil, and will inevitably be followed by the frowns of Zion’s King.
IV. It is of great importance in revivals to GUARD AGAINST A SUDDEN INTRODUCTION TO THE CHURCH OF THOSE WHO ARE HOPEFULLY MADE THE SUBJECTS OF CONVERTING GRACE.
Until recently, the practice here opposed had few or no advocates among intelligent, sober minded Christians. If it be of any importance, either to themselves or the Church, that those who are introduced to her communion be sincere and enlightened believers, then it is, undoubtedly, desirable that, after cherishing the hope that they have become such, they should have some little time to try and know themselves, and to become known to the Church. Especially is this caution highly important in seasons of powerful awakening and revival; when many are wrought upon by sympathy, who are strangers even to deep conviction, much more to a genuine conversion; when many appear serious and promising for a while, but soon draw back, and relapse into deeper carelessness than before. Surely it would be unhappy, in every respect, if such persons were encouraged in their first paroxysms of feeling to enroll themselves publicly as professors of religion. Scarcely anything could be more directly adapted to fill them with delusive hopes, and prevent their genuine conversion. The truth is, the system which I have known to be pursued by some warm hearted and well meaning ministers; a system of high animal excitement throughout, unaccompanied with much instruction, and followed up with admission to the communion of the Church, within a few days, and sometimes within a few hours, after the commencement of serious feelings; is undoubtedly a system adapted to deceive and destroy immortal souls; to fill the Church with ignorant, noisy hypocrites and, in the end, to destroy, at once, its purity and its peace.
As to the examples found in Scripture, which are supposed to justify the immediate admission of hopeful converts to sealing ordinances, such as the prompt baptizing of the Ethiopian eunuch, by Philip, and the reception of three thousand on the day of Pentecost, they are manifestly nothing to the purpose. The cases, when examined, will be found to have been peculiar, and not to have admitted of delay; not to say, that the peculiar state of the Church at that time totally alters the aspect of such facts. Besides, no one doubts that cases may be supposed, and sometimes actually arise, in which immediate reception would be wise and perfectly safe; but the question is, what course is best as a general rule? What course is adapted to fill the Church with intelligent, solid, and truly sanctified members? Is it possible to hesitate respecting the proper answer?
I have been struck, and very much gratified with the remarkable unanimity of opinion of this subject, on the part of the distinguished ministers whose communications appear in the Appendix to Dr. Sprague’s excellent “Lectures on Revivals,” before mentioned. The Rev. Dr. Hawes, of Hartford, in reference to this subject, speaks thus: “It is a great error to admit converts to the Church before time has been allowed to try the sincerity of their hope. This is an error into which I was betrayed during the first revival among my people, and it has cost me bitter repentance. And yet none were admitted to the Church under two months after they had indulged a hope. It is of great importance that young converts, immediately after conversion, should be collected into a class by themselves, and brought under the direct and frequent instruction of the pastor. And if they are continued from four to six months in a course of judicious instruction, and then admitted to the Church, there is very little danger that they will afterwards fall away, or that they will not continue to shine as lights in the world till the end of life.”
The Rev. Dr. Griffin, in speaking on the same subject, expresses himself thus: “The means employed in these revivals have been but two: the clear presentation of divine truth, and prayer. Nothing to work upon the passions, but sober solemn truth, presented, as far as possible, in its most interesting attitudes, and closely applied to the conscience. We have been anxiously studious to ward against delusive hopes, and to expose the windings of a deceitful heart, forbearing all encouragement except what the converts themselves could derive from Christ and the promises, knowing that any reliance on our opinion was drawing comfort from us and not from the Saviour. We have not accustomed them to the bold and unqualified language, that such a one is converted; but have used a dialect calculated to keep alive a sense of the danger of deception. For a similar reason, we have kept them back from a profession about three months.”
The ministry of few Pastors in any Church has been more honored by a succession of powerful revivals, than that of Dr. M’Dowell, of Elizabethtown. In the light of his ample experience on this subject, he speaks of it in the Appendix to Dr. Sprague’s work, before mentioned, in the following terms: “We have carefully guarded against a speedy admission to the privileges of the Church. Seldom in times of revival have we admitted persons to the communion in less than six months after they became serious.”
Closely allied with the too sudden introduction of hopeful converts to the communion of the Church is another mistake, as I am constrained to regard it. I mean calling upon such young converts, even before they have been recognized as professors of religion, to lead in public prayer, and even, in some cases, to instruct the anxious and inquiring, and to solve the perplexities of distressed and doubting souls. There are many things which the youngest converts may do, as the proper fruit and evidence of conversion; and it is desirable, from the earliest period of their spiritual life, to give them some appropriate employment in the new relation into which they are brought, consistent with the retiring humility which becomes them. But to set “babes in Christ” to leading in public prayer, is, in most cases, to engage them in a service for the performance of which to edification, their spiritual knowledge and experience are very seldom adequate; and, what is no less worthy of regard, when young converts find themselves called upon to come forward in this public manner, there is danger of their being puffed up, and thus receiving precisely that kind of impression which is most apt to be injurious to the young persons who, after having undergone what had the appearance of a very decisive conversion, were almost immediately called upon to pray in public; who acknowledged, afterwards, that their being thus publicly noticed filled them with spiritual pride; and who subsequently became apostates of the most deplorable and humiliating character. O how much better to have waited awhile, to see what would be the issue of their exercises, and thus to have avoided a train of circumstances which rendered their apostasy more signal, and more injurious to the cause of Christ! Let me say again, then, that encouraging young converts to speak and pray in public, in a few days or hours after their hopeful passage from death to life, is most seriously to endanger the edification of those who hear them; but it is quite as likely, nay more likely, to injure the converts themselves. And allow me to say, that this is especially the case in times of excitement and revival. Then, if ever, wisdom, prudence, and the best experience, are indispensably demanded. Then rashness, and misguided, though well-meant zeal, may do more harm in a single day, than years of laborious diligence can repair.
V. Further; the real friends of revivals of religion ought to be upon their guard against the confident allegation, THAT THE PREACHING OF CERTAIN NEW OPINIONS IS ALONE FAVORABLE TO REVIVALS; AND THAT THOSE WHO ADHERE TO THE SYSTEM OF OLD ORTHODOXY CANNOT HOPE TO BE, IN THIS RESPECT, EXTENSIVELY IF AT ALL USEFUL.
This allegation has been often and confidently made; yes, and in the face of multiplied and incontrovertible facts, plainly establishing the contrary, has been so often repeated, that many are weak enough, or ignorant enough, to believe it. So that, with not a few, it has come to be a received opinion, that where new opinions are not preached, no revivals are to be expected. But surely, none who have any tolerable acquaintance with the history of revivals, can be imposed upon by a deception so palpable and disingenuous. The preaching of Whitefield was as free from any tincture of new opinions, as that of the most rigorous old Calvinists among us; and yet all the world knows that the revivals with which his ministry was crowned were more extensive and powerful than have attended the ministry of any other man since his time. The same remark may be made concerning the ministry of the Tennents, President Davies, Dr. Finley, and a number of other men of similar spirit and usefulness. That they were guiltless of either holding or preaching those new, or rather revived theological speculations, which many extol, and seem to consider so peculiarly potent in their influence, all know who have read their printed discourses: yet how few of those who make the arrogant claim, which I am now opposing, have been favored with equal ministerial success! Nor was this fact, so conclusive against the claim before us, by any means confined to former times. Many individuals, among the living and the dead, within the last thirty years, might easily be mentioned, who preach the same doctrine with Whitefield, Tennent, and Davies, and have been favored with a success strikingly similar to theirs. Nay, my impression is, that nothing would be easier than to demonstrate, that, in every part of our country, up to the present hour, the more nearly the style of preaching has been conformed to the general spirit of Whitefield, Tennent, Edwards, Davies, and Bellamy, the more deep, sound, scriptural and consistent, as well as numerous, have been the revivals which have followed this dispensation. Within the last four or five years it has been estimated that at least twelve hundred congregations within the bounds of the Presbyterian Church have been graciously visited with revivals of religion: and of this number it is susceptible of proof, that not only a decided, but a very large majority have occurred under the ministry of men who rejected the new opinions. The testimonies to this amount in every part of the Presbyterian Church, north, south, east and west, are so indubitable and abundant, that no one, it appears to me, who is not either wonderfully ignorant of facts, or strangely blinded by prejudice, can resist the inevitable inference.
It is not denied, indeed, that some advocates of Old-school orthodoxy, appear to have very little scriptural life and zeal, and very few seals to their ministry. And is not this the case, also, notoriously, with some individuals who are fierce advocates for New-school opinions and measures? What, then, does a fact of this kind prove? It may give reason to fear, that a man, though reputed orthodox, is really leaning upon the crutches of antinomian delusion; or, though truly orthodox, is a stranger to true piety: or, that, though truly pious, he is lacking in some of those qualities which seem necessary to prepare men for usefulness. I could name New-school men whose ministry is as strikingly without good fruit as that of the veriest drone that ever discredited the Old-school ranks; yet I never heard the most zealous advocates for Old-school principles allege this fact, taken alone, as proof of the unsoundness of their creed.
VI. Finally; I would put the real friends of revivals on their guard, AGAINST THE ARROGANT CLAIMS OF SOME TO PECULIAR, NAY, TO ALMOST EXCLUSIVE SKILL AND POWER IN THIS GREAT CONCERN.
It is well known to attentive observers of passing scenes, that claims of this kind are by no means infrequent. We have heard of both ministers and laymen who applied to one another, with peculiar complacency and emphasis, the title of revival-men. They openly claimed to possess some special skill in the art of producing and conducting revivals. They were announced to the churches in this high and imposing character; and held themselves up to public view as persons to be invited from place to place for the professed purpose of introducing religious excitements. Nay, these men have been known to enter congregations without the request or even consent of the pastor; to commence and pursue a system of measures for the accomplishment of their objects, without consulting him; to proceed altogether independently of him, not even asking him to make a prayer; in short, to reject entirely the cooperation of all excepting a chosen few; refusing to suffer ministers venerable for age as well as piety, who were present, to take any part with them, for the avowed reason, that they were not revival-men or not up to the times.
And what, in many cases, has been the character of these self-styled revival-men? Were they generally conspicuous for their modesty, their meekness, their humility, their gravity and peculiar spirituality? Did they appear to be deeply acquainted with human nature, and deeply skilled in genuine Christian experience? By no means. It may at least be asserted that this was far from being always the case; but that, in very many instances, rashness, presumption, pride and censoriousness, often intermixed with a heartless levity, were their most prominent characteristics. They appeared, on too many occasions, like men vain of some artful machinery, in the use of which they supposed themselves to be peculiarly expert, to which they looked, and on which they depended for success, far more than on the spirit of a sovereign God. Nay, we have sometimes seen in the front ranks of these revival preachers, young men scarcely of age; of very small knowledge, and still less experience, denouncing and condemning, as if sure that they were the men, and wisdom would die with them; treating with contempt aged and eminently devoted ministers; ministers who had themselves been brought into the kingdom of Christ in powerful revivals, and had enjoyed for many years more than usual experience in those displays of heavenly grace; treating such men as these with contempt, as though they knew nothing of the matter, compared with their own deep insight and pre-eminent skill! The truth is, when the thorough-going and highly rectified spirit of which I speak had taken full possession of any individual, young or old, there is no calculating on the lengths to which it may carry him; or the wonderful degree in which it may blind him to the claims of Christian decorum, and even sometimes, alas! it would seem, to those of Christian candor and integrity!
It is granted, indeed, that there are men peculiarly adapted to promote revivals of religion. Some ministers, unquestionably, preach the Gospel with more spiritual skill, clearness, force and pungency than others. There is in all their sermons, and in all their prayers, more instruction, more point, and more feeling and solemnity, than in those of most of their brethren. They have a deeper insight into the human heart; know better the avenues which lead to it; and are better versed in the varieties of Christian experience than is common even among pious men. They pray much for the blessing of God on their labors; and their whole conversation and example out of the pulpit, are eminently adapted to make an impression in favor of religion on all whom they approach. These I call TRUE REVIVAL-MEN. If there be men in the world peculiarly adapted to promote genuine revivals of religion, these are the individuals. This, however, is only saying, that men who most resemble the Apostle Paul, or rather Paul’s Master, are most likely to be instrumental in promoting real religion. But they would be the last men in the world to call themselves by way of eminence, revival-men, or to favor such a claim being made for them by others. Nothing would be more abhorrent from their minds than the thought of attaching that power to their machinery, which every page of the Bible, and all the experience of the Church, ascribe to the sovereign agency of Him who has declared, Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit saith the Lord.
A revival-man I do know, whose ministry has probably been connected with more numerous and powerful revivals of religion than that of any other man now living: whose power in such displays of divine glory seems to consist, not in noise, in bustling trickery, or in any kind of artful management; but entirely in simple, pungent exhibitions of Gospel truth; in representing to men their true condition as lost sinners; in holding up Christ as an Almighty and willing Saviour; and in constantly referring everything to the power and grace of a sovereign God: who, instead of loving to be called a revival man, shrinks from such an appellation with instinctive aversion: who, instead of thrusting himself into a congregation, uncalled, for the purpose of making a revival, has ever labored to avoid everything which might, by possibility, wear such an aspect, or which might lead others to claim for him a revival-making power: who has always been observed, whenever he entered a congregation, whether in a state of excitement or not, to do honor to the pastor, placing him forward on all occasions, and while he made unceasing efforts to promote the spiritual welfare of the flock, hiding himself, as it were, behind its appropriate shepherd: whose retiring modesty and humility have ever been as remarkable as his pious zeal: and whose success is a standing refutation of those who contend that revivals can never be expected to occur excepting under the ministry of those who preach the new opinions, and resort to the new measures. May this venerated and beloved brother be long continued an ornament and a blessing to the American Church! Though he is not connected with my own particular denomination, I can as cordially rejoice in his labors and success as if he were, and pray that his spirit may fill the Land!
But in reference to this momentous subject, my respected friends, I must now draw to a close. If we wish our beloved Church really to prosper, let us never cease to long and pray for revivals of religion. No degree of outward prosperity can compensate for the want of these precious tokens of the divine presence. Let no degree of abuse or disorder with which they have been attended, prejudice you against revivals themselves. Desire them, and pray for them with unwearied importunity. But if we desire to be favored with revivals in their genuine power, we must never cease to honor the Holy Spirit of God, and importunately to solicit his life-giving influence: and if we would not grieve away the Holy Spirit, when obtained, we must lay aside all human inventions in cherishing his work; everything tending to nourish pride and self-confidence; all carnal machinery; all parade, all ostentation, everything, in short, adapted to kindle mere animal excitement, and to bring animal feeling into collision with spiritual exercises, or to give it the predominance over them. Let no persuasion, no plausible example prevail on you to countenance these unscriptural measures. They may promise much for a time; but they have never failed ultimately to corrupt and depress the cause of genuine piety.
It is deeply to be regretted that even this hallowed subject has not escaped the perversion of party violence. Attempts have been made to persuade the religious public that a large portion of our Church is unfriendly to revivals of religion. I must cherish the hope that this representation has been rather the result of prejudice than of disingenuousness. I know not of a single Synod, or even Presbytery in our whole body in which revivals of religion are not constantly and fervently prayed for, and really desired, and would not be cordially welcomed. I know, indeed, a few individual ministers and churches, in the minds of whom the disorders which have really occurred, or been reported to them as occurring, in religious excitements, have created a prejudice against the whole subject; just as, seventy or eighty years ago, in the time of Mr. Davenport, and his followers, the same unhappy cause produced a similar effect on the minds of many truly pious and worthy men throughout New England. But let us hope that the prejudice even in such minds will be but temporary. An expression of sentiment on this subject is coming in from the aged, the pious, the wise, and the experienced, in every part of our land, most happily and remarkably concurring; and affording a pledge of united hearts and united prayers in behalf of a GENERAL REVIVAL, which will do more, I trust, to bind together the affections of American Christians, that all the theories and theoretical persuasives that can be urged by human eloquence. When the Spirit of pure, scriptural revival shall be poured out from on high, in its genuine manifestations, and in large measures on our American churches, censoriousness will die. Party violence will cease. The metaphysical refinements and subtleties of a delusive theology will be no more heard. The Gospel preached, will be taken from the Bible, and not from the rakings of exploded heresies. And the hearts of Christians, instead of doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof come envy, railings, evil surmisings, and corrupt disputings,-will be knit together in love, and united in counsel and effort for the conversion of the world. MAY SUCH A REVIVAL speedily bless all our churches, and pervade Christendom!
Princeton, March, 1833.
- Samuel Miller, D. D. (1769-1850) Dr. Miller was licensed in 1791, and completed a theological education begun by his father, under Dr. Nisbet of Dickinson College. He became a co-worker with Dr. Rodgers and Dr. McKnight in New York in 1792. He served as Moderator of the General Assembly in 1806, and took a keen interest in the establishment of Princeton Seminary, from the time the idea was suggested by Dr. Alexander. In 1813 he himself was inducted into the Chair of Ecclesiastical History and Church Government. From the beginning of his career in New York Dr. Miller enjoyed a high reputation. “Besides having the advantage of a remarkably fine person, and most bland and attractive manners, he had, from the beginning, an uncommonly polished style, and there was an air of literary refinement pervading all his performances, that excited general admiration…”. He was the author of a great number of works. [↩]