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But now all these things are gone by in most places, and laymen can preach and exhort without the least objection. The evils that were feared, from the labors of laymen, have not been realized, and many ministers are glad to induce laymen to exercise their gifts in doing good.
4. Women's prayer meetings. Within the last few years women's prayer meetings have been extensively opposed. What dreadful things! A minister said that when he first attempted to establish these meetings, he had all the clergy around opposed to him. "Set women to pray? Why, the next thing, I suppose, will be to set them to preach!" Serious apprehensions were entertained for the safety of Zion if women should be allowed to get together to pray, and even now it is not tolerated in some Churches.
So it has been in regard to all the active movements of the Church.
Missions and Sunday Schools have been opposed, and have gained their present hold only by a succession of struggles and a series of innovations.
A Baptist Association in Pennsylvania, some years since, disclaimed all fellowship with any minister that had been liberally educated, or that supported Missions, Bible Societies, Sabbath Schools, Temperance Societies, etc. All these were denounced as New Measures, not found in the Bible, and that would necessarily lead to distraction and confusion in the Churches. The same thing has been done by some among the German Churches. And in many Presbyterian Churches there are found those who will take the same ground, and denounce all these things, with the exception, perhaps, of an educated ministry, as innovations, new measures, "going in your own strength," and the like, and as calculated to do great evil.
5. I will mention several men who, in Divine providence, have been set forward as prominent in introducing innovations.
(a) The apostles - who were great innovators, as you all know. After the Resurrection, and after the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them, they set out to remodel the Church. They broke down the Jewish system of measures, and rooted it out, so as to leave scarcely a vestige.
(b) Luther and the Reformers. You all know what difficulties they had to contend with, and the reason was, that they were trying to introduce new measures - new modes of performing the public duties of religion, and new expedients to bring the Gospel with power to the hearts of men. All the strange and ridiculous things of the Roman Catholics were held to by Rome with pertinacious obstinacy, as if they were of Divine authority; and such an excitement was raised by the attempt to change them, as well- nigh involved all Europe in bloodshed.
Wesley and his coadjutors. Wesley did not, at first, break from the Established Church in England, but formed little classes everywhere, which grew into a Church within a Church. He remained in the Episcopal Church; but he introduced so much of new measures as to fill all England with excitement, and uproar, and opposition; and he was everywhere denounced as an innovator and a stirrer up of sedition - a teacher of new things which it was not lawful to receive.
Whitefield was a man of the same school, and, like Wesley, was an innovator. I believe he and several individuals of his associates were expelled from College for getting up such a new measure as a social prayer meeting. They would pray together and expound the Scriptures, and this 55 was such a daring novelty that it could not be borne. When Whitefield came to America what an astonishing opposition was raised! Often he well nigh lost his life, and barely escaped by the skin of his teeth. 56 Now, everybody looks upon him as the glory of the age in which he lived. And many of our own denomination have so far divested themselves of prejudice as to think Wesley not only a good, but a wise and pre-eminently useful man. Then, almost the entire Church viewed them with animosity, fearing that the innovations they introduced would destroy the Church.
(d) President Edwards. This great man was famous in his day for new measures. Among other innovations, he refused to baptize the children of unrepentant parents. The practice of baptizing the children of the ungodly had been introduced into the New England Churches in the preceding century, and had become nearly universal. President Edwards saw that the practice was wrong, and he refused to do it, and the refusal shook all the Churches of New England. A hundred ministers joined and determined to put him down. He wrote a book on the subject, and defeated them all. It produced one of the greatest excitements there ever was in New England.
Nothing, unless it was the Revolutionary War, ever produced an equal excitement.
The General Association of Connecticut refused to countenance Whitefield, he was such an innovator. "Why, he will preach out of doors, and anywhere!" Awful! What a terrible thing that a man should preach in the fields or in the streets! Cast him out!All these were devoted men, seeking out ways to do good and save souls.
And precisely the same kind of opposition was experienced by all, obstructing their path and trying to destroy their character and influence.
A book, still extant, was written in President Edwards' time, by a doctor of divinity, and signed by a multitude of ministers, against Whitefield and Edwards, their associates and their measures. A letter was published in this city by a minister against Whitefield, which brought up the same objections against innovations that we hear now. In the time of the late opposition to revivals in the State of New York, a copy of this letter was taken to the editor of a religious periodical with a request that he would publish it. He refused, and gave for a reason, that if published, many would apply it to the controversy that is going on now. I mention it merely to show how identical is the opposition that is raised in different ages against all new measures designed to advance the cause of religion. 58 6. In the present generation, many things have been introduced which have proved useful, but have been opposed on the ground that they were innovations. And as many are still unsettled in regard to them, I have thought it best to make some remarks concerning them. There are three things, in particular, which have chiefly attracted remark, and therefore I shall speak of them. They are: anxious meetings, prolonged meetings, and the anxious seat. These are all opposed, and are called " new measures."
(a) Anxious meetings. The first that I ever heard of under that name were in New England, where they were appointed for the purpose of holding personal conversation with anxious sinners, and to adapt instruction to the cases of individuals, so as to lead them immediately to Christ. The design of them is evidently philosophical, but they have been opposed because they were new. There are two modes of conducting an anxious meeting, either of which may effect the object in view.
(1) By spending a few moments in personal conversation, in order to learn the state of mind of each individual, and then, in an address to the whole meeting, to take up their errors and remove their difficulties.
(2) By going round to each, and taking up each individual case, and going over the whole ground with each one separately, and getting them to promise to give their hearts to God. Either way the meetings are important, and have been found most successful in practice. But multitudes have objected against them because they were new.
(b) Protracted meetings. These are not new, but have always been 59 practiced, in some form or another, ever since there was a Church on earth.
But the design was the same: to devote a series of days to religious services, in order to make a more powerful impression of Divine things on the minds of the people. All denominations of Christians, when religion prospers among them, hold prolonged meetings. In Scotland they used to begin on Thursday, at all their Communion seasons, and continue until after the Sabbath. The Episcopalians, Baptists, and Methodists, all hold prolonged meetings. Yet now, in our day, they have been opposed, particularly among Presbyterians, 60 and called "new measures," and regarded as fraught with all manner of evil, nevertheless that they have been so manifestly and so extensively blessed. I will suggest a few things that ought to be considered in regard to them.
(1) In appointing them, regard should be had for the circumstances of the people; whether the Church is able to give attention and devote time to carrying on the meeting. In some instances this rule has been neglected.
Some have thought it right to break in upon the necessary business of the community. In the country they would appoint the meeting in the harvest-time, and in the city in the height of the business season, when all the men are necessarily occupied, and pressed with their temporal labors.
In defense of this course it is said, that our business should always be made to yield to God's business; that eternal things are of so much more importance than temporal things, that worldly business of any kind, and at anytime, should be made to yield and give place to a prolonged meeting.
But the worldly business in which we are engaged is not our business. It is as much God's business, and as much our duty, as our prayers and prolonged meetings are. If we do not consider our business in this light, we have not yet taken the first lesson in religion; we have not learned to do all things to the glory of God. With this view of the subject - separating our business from religion, we are living six days for ourselves, and the seventh for God. REAL DUTIES NEVER INTERFERE WITH EACH OTHER.
Weekdays have their appropriate duties, and the Sabbath its appropriate duties, and we are to be equally pious on every day of the week, and in the performance of the duties of every day. We are to plow, and sow, and sell our goods, and attend to our various callings, with the same singleness of view to the glory of God, with which we go to Church on the Sabbath, and pray in our families, and read our Bibles. This is a first principle in religion. He that does not know and act on this principle, has not learned the "A B C" of piety, as yet. Now, there are particular seasons of the year, in which God, in His providence, calls upon men to attend to business, because worldly business at the time is particularly urgent, and must be done at that season, if done at all; seed-time and harvest for the farmer, and the business seasons for the merchant. And we have no right to say, in those particular seasons, that we will quit our business and have a prolonged meeting. The fact is, the business is not ours. And unless God, by some special indication of His providence, shows it to be His pleasure that we should turn aside and have a prolonged meeting at such times, I look upon it as tempting God to appoint one. It is saying: "O God, this worldly business is our business, and we are willing to lay it aside for Thy business." Unless God has indicated it to be His pleasure to pour out His Spirit, and revive His work at such a season, and has thus called upon His people to quit, for the time being, their ordinary employments, and attend especially to a prolonged meeting, it appears to me that God might say to us in such circumstances: "Who hath required this at your hand?"
God has a right to dispose of our time as He pleases, to require us to give up any portion of our time, or all our time, to duties of instruction and devotion. And when circumstances plainly call for it, it is our duty to lay aside every other business, and make direct and continuous efforts for the salvation of souls. If we transact our business upon right principles, and from right motives, and wholly for the glory of God, we shall never object to go aside to attend a prolonged meeting, whenever there appears to be a call for it in the providence of God.
A man who considers himself a steward or a clerk, does not consider it a hardship to rest from his labors on the Sabbath, but a privilege. The selfish owner may feel unwilling to suspend his business on the Sabbath. But the clerk who transacts business, not for himself, but for his employer, considers it a privilege to rest on the Sabbath. So we, if we do our business for God, will not think it hard if He makes it our duty to suspend our worldly business and attend a prolonged meeting. We should rather consider it in the light of a holiday. Whenever, therefore, you hear a man pleading that he cannot leave his business to attend a prolonged meeting - that it is his duty to attend to business, there is reason to fear that he considers the business as his own, and the meeting as God's business. If he felt that the business of the store or the farm was as much God's business as attending a prolonged meeting, he would, doubtless, be very willing to rest from his worldly toils, and go up to the house of God and be refreshed, whenever there was an indication on the part of God, that the community was called to that work. It is highly worthy of remark, that the Jewish festivals were appointed at those seasons of the year when there was the least pressure of indispensable worldly business.
In some instances, such meetings have been appointed in the very pressure of business seasons, and have been followed with no good results, evidently for the want of attention to the rule here laid down. In other cases, meetings have been appointed in seasons when there was a great pressure of worldly business, and have been signally blessed. But in those cases the blessing followed because the meeting was appointed in obedience to the indications of the will of God, and by those who had spiritual discernment, and understood the signs of the times. In many instances, doubtless, individuals have attended who really supposed themselves to be giving up their own business to attend to God's business, and in such cases they made what they supposed to be a real sacrifice, and God in mercy granted them the blessing.
(2) Ordinarily, a prolonged meeting should be conducted throughout, and the labor chiefly performed, by the same minister, if possible. Sometimes prolonged meetings have been held, and dependence placed on ministers coming in from day to day, and there has been no blessing. The reason has been obvious. They did not come in a state of mind which was right for entering into such work; and they did not know the state of people's minds, so as to know what to preach. Suppose a person who is sick should call a different physician every day. Neither would know what the symptoms had been, what was the course of the disease or of the treatment, what remedies had been tried, or what the patient could bear.
The method would certainly kill the patient. Just so in a prolonged meeting, carried on by a succession of ministers. None of them get into the spirit of it, and generally they do more harm than good.
A prolonged meeting should not, ordinarily, be appointed, unless they can secure the right kind of help, and get a minister or two who will agree to stay on the ground till the meeting is finished. Then they will probably secure a rich blessing.
(3) There should not be so many public meetings as to interfere with the duties of private prayer and of the family. Otherwise Christians will lose their spirituality and let go their hold of God; and the prolonged meeting will prove a failure.
(4) Families should not put themselves out so much, in entertaining strangers, as to neglect prayer and other duties. It is often the case that when a prolonged meeting is held, some of the principal families in the Church, I mean those who are principally relied on to sustain the meetings, do not get into the work at all. And the reason is, that they are "cumbered with much serving." They often take needless trouble to provide for guests who come from a distance to the meeting, and lay themselves out very foolishly to make an entertainment, not only comfortable but sumptuous.
It should always be understood that it is the duty of families to have as little working and parade as possible, and to get along with their hospitality in the easiest way, so that they may all have time to pray, and go to the meeting, and to attend to the things of the Kingdom.
(5) By all means guard against unnecessarily keeping late hours. If people keep late hours, night after night, they will inevitably wear out the body; their health will fail, and there will be a reaction. They sometimes allow themselves to get so excited as to lose their sleep, and become irregular in their meals, till they break down. Unless the greatest pains are taken to keep regular, the excitement will get so great, that nature will give way, and the work will stop.
(6) All sectarianism should be carefully avoided. If a sectarian spirit breaks out, either in the preaching, or praying, or in conversation, it will counteract all the good of the meeting.
(7) Be watchful against placing dependence on a prolonged meeting, as if that of itself would produce a revival. This is a point of great danger, and has always been so. This is the great reason why the Church in successive generations has always had to give up her measures - because Christians had come to rely on them for success. So it has been in some places, in regard to prolonged meetings. They have been so blessed, that in some places the people have thought that if they could only have a prolonged meeting, they would have a blessing, and sinners would be converted of course. And so they have appointed their meeting, without any preparation in the Church, and have just sent for some minister of note and set him to preaching, as if that, would convert sinners. It is obvious that the blessing would be withheld from a meeting got up in this way.
(8) Avoid adopting the idea that a revival cannot be enjoyed without a prolonged meeting. Some Churches have got into a morbid state of feeling on this subject. Their zeal has become all spasmodic and feverish, so that they never think of doing anything to promote a revival, only in that way.
When a prolonged meeting is held, they seem to be wonderfully zealous, but then sink down to a torpid state till another prolonged meeting produces another spasm. And now multitudes in the Church think it is necessary to give up prolonged meetings because they are abused in this way. This ought to be guarded against, in every Church, so that they may not be driven to give them up, and lose all the benefits that prolonged meetings are calculated to produce.
The anxious seat
By this I mean the appointment of some particular seat in the place of meeting, where the anxious may come and be addressed particularly, and be made subjects of prayer, and sometimes be conversed with individually. Of late, this measure has met with more opposition than any of the others.
(a) When a person is seriously troubled in mind, everybody knows there is a powerful tendency to conceal it. When a person is borne down with a sense of his condition, if you can get him willing to have it known, if you can get him to break away from the chains of pride, you have gained an important point towards his conversion. This is agreeable to the philosophy of the human mind. How many thousands are there who will bless God to eternity, that, when pressed by the truth, they were ever brought to take this step, by which they threw off the idea that it was a dreadful thing to have anybody know that they were serious about their souls.
(b) Another bearing of the anxious seat is to detect deception and delusion, and thus prevent false hopes. It has been opposed on the ground that it was calculated to create delusion and false hopes. But this objection is unreasonable. The truth is the other way.