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CAUSES OF THE DECLINE OF REVIVALS
Another cause of the decline of revivals, in my estimation, is, that a right course has not been pursued with the Churches. In some instances they have been urged to labor and visit, and put forth active efforts for the conversion of sinners, while they have had very little wholesome food to live upon. Much labor has been demanded with too spare a diet. They have heard very little else than mere legal preaching. Ministers have been preaching almost exclusively to the impenitent, and perhaps for months have given the Church scarcely one wholesome meal of the real gospel. If Christians are to labor for God and souls, they must be fed with a plenty of the bread that cometh down from heaven; they must be made to know and feel where their great strength lies; must have Christ, in all His offices, and relations, and fullness, frequently presented to them. If this course is not pursued, their own piety will not only greatly suffer, but they will come into a legal spirit, and all their efforts for the conversion of sinners will be only bustle and legality; and in this state they may encompass sea and land to make proselytes and fill the Church with spurious converts.
If I am not entirely mistaken, this has been, to an alarming extent, the fact in revivals that have prevailed within the last few years. Christians have had so little of the gospel that they have become legal, self-righteous, blustering, carnal, mechanical, unbelieving; and their efforts have made converts like themselves; which has brought revivals into great disrepute.
Again, ministers, by preaching too exclusively to the impenitent, and dwelling so little on the marrow and fatness and fullness of the gospel, have greatly suffered in their own piety - have themselves become, in many instances, legal, hard-hearted, and censorious. In this state they can not promote true revivals of religion. Not living themselves on Christ, not dwelling in God and God in them, they are in no state to feed the Church or promote true and thorough revivals of religion.
Again, there has been so great a fear of Antinomianism among ministers, for the last few years, that I fear they have greatly neglected to hold up the real fullness and perfection of a present gospel salvation. Many of them have been misled entirely by false statements that have been made in respect to Antinomianism, in the public journals which they take and read.
I have been astonished, as I have been abroad, to find how much misinformation was afloat in regard to the real views which we have here entertained and inculcated, and the results of exhibiting our views to this and other Churches. This misinformation has led a great many ministers to feel it necessary to guard their people strongly against error in this direction. And in exposing what they have supposed to be the errors of Perfectionists and Sanctificationists, they have practically greatly lowered the standard of gospel holiness in their own Churches. I mean this has been the practical result. Preaching against the doctrine of entire sanctification in this life, and holding out the idea, as many have, that Christians are expected to sin as long as they live - the practical result has been a perpetual backsliding on the part of their Churches. Prejudice has been created against the doctrine of sanctification in the Church; and, if I am not mistaken, ministers have greatly suffered in their own piety, in consequence of this course. And a consequent and corresponding descent in spirituality has been manifest in their Churches.
I am fully persuaded that my brethren in the ministry will find it indispensable to insist on entire holiness of heart and life, as a practical attainment in this world, or they can never sustain a healthy piety in their Churches.
My dear brethren, you may try it as long as you will; but if you take any lower ground than this, your Churches will backslide until you yourselves will be appalled by the result. I am perfectly satisfied, from long experience, that there is no other way but to lodge the deep impression in the Churches, that they are not only required, but expected, to "cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." All pleading for sin, or any thing that has the practical tendency of denying the practicability of attaining this state in this life, is the greatest and most ruinous error that can be inculcated on the Churches.
My beloved brethren, in what I now say I am not endeavoring to win you to my opinion; but I wish to fix your attention and the attention of the Church on the fact; and to have you witness the results of inculcating any lower practical standard than that which I have named.
The fact is, the Churches are going rapidly away from God for want of the true bread of life; and because the ministry have, to such an alarming extent, been guarding their Churches more against the doctrine of sanctification than they have against sin.
I beseech my brethren to adopt a different course, and urge the Church right up to holy living, and let them know that they are expected to obey the law and the gospel of God. Try it, brethren, and you will find it to be life from the dead to your Churches. Do not be afraid of Antinomian perfectionism. It is not to me at all wonderful that, at first the true doctrine of sanctification and Antinomianism should be confounded in many minds, and that the defenders of the one should be confounded with the defenders of the other. But, beloved brethren, is it not time for ministers to understand, as clear as sunlight, the distinction between the two, and no longer be prejudiced or alarmed themselves, and no longer prejudice and alarm the Church, by confounding things that so entirely differ?
I hope in what I now say, I shall not arouse the prejudice of my brethren so that they will not further hear me in what I have to say, in regard to the errors that have prevailed in the promotion of revivals of religion; and in regard to the causes that have operated to make them so few and far between, and of so superficial a character.
My dear brethren, my heart is full of this subject, and I have a great deal to say. I beg of you to hear me patiently, and inquire honestly whether there has not been a great error in the direction that I have just named.
Another thing that has acted very injuriously to the interests of revivals of religion is, the false views that have prevailed in relation to the best means of promoting them. And in respect to means, if I have not been mistaken, there is a strong tendency to two opposite and almost equally injurious extremes. On the one hand, many seem to be expecting to promote revivals without the use of any special means whatever. Since revivals are the work of God, they think it enough to follow their ordinary Sabbath exercises, with their regular weekly or monthly lectures, occasional prayer meeting, etc., and leave the event, as they say, with the sovereignty of God, believing these means to be sufficient, or that God can work just as well without any means whatever. They think it would be equivalent to taking the work out of the hand of God, and attempting to promote revivals in our own strength, to make any other efforts than the ordinary Sabbath exercises to promote the salvation of souls. Now, it appears to me that there is one principle of human nature here overlooked, which must be regarded if we would successfully promote the kingdom of God. When any one mind, or any number of minds, are excited upon any topic, if you would gain their attention to any other subject, you must use means which are, in their nature, calculated to interest and excite them. Now the whole nominally Christian world are, and have been for the last thirty years, in a state of excitement, tending to a great moral revolution. By moral revolution, I mean the revolution of opinion, and the consequent revolution of practice. Reform is the order of the day, and many questions of deep interest are arising, one after another, to agitate the public mind, and the providence of God is pressing the whole mass of mind with agitating questions, and producing just about as much excitement as may be healthfully borne. These questions are political and religious; indeed, there is scarcely any subject of deep and fundamental interest to mankind that has not its advocates, lecturers, and public journals, through which it interests and excites the public mind. Now it is perfectly unphilosophical to expect to so gain upon the attention of mankind as to promote revivals of religion without making extra and protracted efforts. As the world is using steam power to promote political agitation and reform, the ministry must "lift up their voices like a trumpet,"cry aloud, and spare not," and must multiply their efforts and their means in proportion to the excited state of the world on its topics, until, by the blessing of God, they gain the attention, and keep it, until the heart is subdued to God. It may be true that in those places where excitement upon other subjects but little prevails, revivals may be promoted without extra efforts; but if the Church is expecting to promote revivals without great, powerful, and protracted efforts, they will find themselves mistaken. The fact that revivals are the work of God, instead of affording a reason for neglecting efforts, is the very reason which renders them indispensable. God does not subvert, but strictly adheres to the laws of mind in building up His kingdom and establishing His government in this world. For us, therefore, to plod on, and fear to use extra and exciting efforts to promote revivals of religion, while the world is all excitement on other subjects, is unphilosophical and absurd. It is true that great wisdom is needed to guard against indiscretion and means of an unnecessarily agitating and exciting character, and means that will rather divert attention from the truth than secure attention to the truth; but means must be used; meetings must be multiplied. Preachers and Christians must be themselves excited, and must be able to lift their voices above the winds and waves of this world's excitements, until they rivet attention, or they can never sanctify the heart.