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8. They must be agreed in making all the necessary preparations for a revival. They should be agreed in having all necessary preparation made, and in bearing their part of the labor or expense involved. There should be an equality, a few should not be burdened while the rest do little or nothing, but every one should bear his proportion, according to his ability.
Then there will be neither envying nor jealousy, nor any of those mutual recriminations and altercations and disrespectful remarks about one another, which are so inconsistent with brotherly love, and put such a stumbling block in the way of sinners.
9. They must be agreed in doing heartily whatever is necessary to be done for the promotion of the revival. Sometimes a slight disagreement about a very little thing will be allowed to break in and destroy a revival. A minister told me that he once went to labor in a place as an evangelist, and the Spirit of God was evidently present, and sinners began to inquire, and things looked quite favorable, until some of the members of the Church began to agitate the inquiry: how they should pay the evangelist. They said: "If he stays among us any longer, he will expect us to give him something"; and they did not see how they could afford to do so. And they talked about it, until the minds of the brethren got distracted and divided, and the preacher went away. Look at it. There God stood in the door of that Church, with His hands full of mercies, but these parsimonious and wicked professors thought it would cost something to have a revival, and their expenses were about as much as they felt willing or able to bear; and so they let the preacher depart, and the work ceased.
He would not have left, at the time, whether they gave him anything or not; for what he should receive, or whether he should receive anything from them, was a question about which he felt no concern. But the Church, by its parsimonious spirit, got into such a state as to grieve the Spirit, and he saw that to stay longer with them would do no good. Oh, how will those professors feel when they meet sinners from that town in judgment, when it will all come out, that God was ready and waiting to grant them a blessing, but they allowed themselves to get agitated and divided by inquiring how much they should have to pay!
10. They must be agreed in laboring to carry on the work. It is not enough that they should agree to pray for a revival, but they should agree also in laboring to promote it. They should set themselves to it systematically, to visit and converse and pray with their neighbors; to look out for opportunities of doing good; to watch the effect of the preaching, and watch the signs of the times, that they may know when anything needs to be done, and do it. They should be agreed to labor: they should be agreed how to labor: they should be agreed to live accordingly.
11. They must agree in a determination to persevere. It will not answer for some members to begin to move and bluster about, and then as soon as the least thing happens that seems unfavorable, to get discouraged, and faint, and one-half of them give over. They should be all united, and agreed to persevere, and labor, and pray, and hold on, until the blessing comes. In a word, if Christians expect to unite in prayer and effort, so as to prevail with God, they must be agreed in speaking and doing the same things, in walking by the same rule, and maintaining the same principles, and in persevering till they obtain the blessing, so as not to hinder or thwart each other's efforts. All this is evidently implied in being agreed as touching the things for which they are praying.
1. We see why it is that so many of the children of professing parents are not converted.
It is because the parents have not been agreed as touching the things they should pray for in behalf of their children. Perhaps they never had any kind of agreement respecting them. Perhaps they were never agreed even as to what was the very best thing they could ask for them. Sometimes parents are not agreed in a anything, but their opinions clash, and they are perpetually disagreeing, and their children see it. Then it is no wonder that the children remain unconverted.
Or perhaps they may not be agreed as touching the salvation of their children. Are they sincere in desiring it? Do they agree to seek it, and agree from right motives? Do they agree in regard to the importance of it? Are they agreed how the children ought to be dealt with, so as to effect their conversion; what shall be said to them; how it shall be said; when; and by whom? Probably few cases will be found where children remain unconverted, but where inquiry would prove that the parents were never truly agreed as touching these things. In many cases, indeed, it is quite evident that they are not agreed.
Often there is such disagreement that we could not expect any good to result, or, indeed, anything but ruin to the children. The husband and wife often disagree entirely and fundamentally in regard to the manner of bringing up their children. Perhaps the wife is fond of dress, and display, and visiting; while the husband is plain and humble, and is grieved and distressed, and mourns and prays to see how his children are puffed up with vanity. Or it may be that the father is ambitious, and wants to have his daughters fashionably educated and make a display, and his sons become great men; so he will send his daughters to a fashionable school, where they may learn anything but their duty to God, and will be all the while pushing his sons forward, and goading their ambitions; while the mother grieves and weeps in secret to see her dear children hurried on to destruction, her influence counteracted, and her sons and daughters trained up to serve the God of this world, and to go to hell.
2. We see the hypocrisy of those who profess to be praying for a revival while they are doing nothing to promote it. There are many who appear to be very zealous in praying for a revival, while they are not doing anything at all to bring it about. What do they mean? Are they agreed as touching the things they ask for? Certainly not. They cannot be agreed in offering acceptable prayer for a revival until they are prepared to do what God requires them to do to promote it. What would you think of the farmer who should pray for a crop and neither plow nor sow? Would you think such prayers pious, or an insult to God?
3. We see why so many prayers that are offered in the Church are never answered. It is because those who offered them never were agreed as touching the things they asked for. Perhaps the minister never laid the subject before them, never explained what it is to be agreed, nor showed them its importance, nor set before them the great encouragement which the promise before us affords to Churches that will agree. Perhaps the members have never conferred together, to compare views, to see whether they understood the subject alike - whether they were agreed in regard to the motives, grounds, and importance of being united in prayer and labor for a revival. Suppose you were to go through the Churches and learn the precise views and feelings of the members on this subject. How many would you find who are agreed even in regard to the essential and indispensable things, concerning which it is necessary Christians should be agreed in order to unite in prevailing prayer? Perhaps no two could be found who are agreed, and if two were found whose views and desires are alike, it would probably be ascertained that they are unacquainted with each other, and, of course, neither act nor pray together.
4. We see why it is that the text has been generally understood to mean something different from what it says. People have first read it wrongly.
They have read as if it were: "If any two of you shall agree to ask anything, it shall be done." And as they have often agreed to ask for things, and the things were not done, they have said: "The literal meaning of the text cannot be true, for we have tried it and know it is not true. How many prayer meetings have we held, and how many petitions have we put up, in which we have perfectly agreed in asking for blessings, and yet they have not been granted." Now the fact is, that they have never yet understood what it is to be agreed as touching the things they are to ask for. I am sure this is no strained construction of the text, but is its true and obvious meaning, as a plain, pious reader would understand it, if he inquired seriously and earnestly the true import. They must be agreed not only in asking, but in everything else that is indispensable to the existence of the thing prayed for. Suppose two of you agree in desiring to go to London together. If you are not agreed in regard to the means, what route you shall take, and what ship you will go in, you will never get there together. Just so in praying for a revival: you must be agreed in regard to the means and circumstances, and everything essential to the existence and progress of a revival.
5. We may ordinarily expect a revival of religion to prevail and extend among those without the Church, just in proportion to the union of prayer and effort within. If there is a general union within the Church, the revival will be general. If the union continues so will the revival. If anything outside breaks in upon this perfect union in prayer and effort, it will limit the revival. How great and powerful would be the revival in a city, if all the Churches in the city were thus united in promoting it.
Here is another fact, which I have witnessed, worthy of notice. I have observed that a revival will prevail outside the Church, among persons in that class of society, amongst whom it prevails within the Church. If the women in the Church are most awake and prayerful. the work may ordinarily be expected to prevail mostly amongst women out of the Church, and more women will be converted than men. If the young people in the Church are most awake, then assuredly the work is most likely to prevail among the youth. If the heads of families and the principal men in the Church are awake, the revival is, I have observed, more likely to prevail among that class out of the Church. I have known a revival mostly confined to women, with few men converted, apparently because the men within the Church did not take active part. Again, I have repeatedly known the greatest number of converts to be among men, owing apparently to the fact that the men within the Church were the most active. When the revival does not reach a particular class of the unrepentant, pains should be taken to arouse that portion of the Church who are of their own age and standing, to make more direct efforts for their conversion.
There seems to be a philosophy in this fact, which has often been illustrated. Different classes of professors naturally feel a sympathy for the unrepentant of their own sex and age and rank, and more naturally pray for them, and for more influence over them; and this seems to be at least one of the reasons why revivals are apt to be the most powerful and general in that class without the Church who are most awake within the Church. Christians should understand this, and feel their responsibility.
One great reason why, in revivals, so few of the principal men are converted, doubtless is that class in the Church are often so worldly that they cannot be aroused. The revival will generally prevail mostly in those families where the professors belonging to them are awake; and the unrepentant belonging to those families where the professors are not awake are apt to be left unconverted. One principal reason obviously is that when the professors in a family or neighborhood are awake, there is not only prayer offered for sinners in the midst of them, but there are corresponding influences acting on the unrepentant among them. If they are awake, their looks and lives and warnings all tend to promote the conversion of their unrepentant friends. But if they are asleep, all their influence tends to prevent such conversions. Their coldness grieves the Spirit, their worldliness contradicts the Gospel, and all their intercourse with their unrepentant friends is in favor of impenitence, and calculated to perpetuate it.
Christians often see and deplore the evils that have arisen to the Church of God, from the division of His people into jarring sects; and they have wondered and been perplexed to think that God should suffer it to be so.
But in the light of this subject we can see that, considering what diversities of opinions and feelings and views actually exist in the Church, much good results from this division. Considering this diversity of opinion, many would never agree to pray and labor together, so as to do it with success, and so it is better they should separate, and let those unite who are agreed.
In all cases where there cannot be a cordial agreement in labor, it is better that each denomination should labor by itself, so long as the difference exists. I have sometimes seen revivals broken up by attempting to unite Christians of different denominations in prayer and labor together, while they were not agreed as to the principles or measures by which the work was to be promoted. They would undo each other's work, destroy each other's influence, perplex the anxious, and give occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme; and soon their feelings would get soured, and, the Spirit being grieved away, the work would stop, and perhaps painful confusion and controversy follow.
7. We see why God sometimes suffers Churches to be divided. It is because He finds that the members are so much at variance that they will not pray and labor together with effect. Sometimes Church communities that are in such a state will still keep together from worldly considerations and worldly policy, because it is so much easier for the whole to support public worship; and so they continue, jealous and jangling, for years, accomplishing little or nothing for the salvation of sinners. In such cases God has often let something occur among them, that would tear them asunder, and then each party would go to work in its own way, and perhaps both would prosper. As soon as they were separated, everything settled down in peace. I have known some cases where this has been done with the happiest results, and both Churches have been speedily blessed with revivals.
8. It is evident that many more Churches need to be divided. How many there are that hold together, and yet do no good, for the simple reason that they are not sufficiently agreed. They do not think alike, nor feel alike, on the subjects connected with revivals, and while this is so, they never can work together. Unless they can be brought to such a change of views and feelings on the subject as will unite them, they are only a hindrance to each other and to the work of God. In many cases they see and feel that this is so, and yet they keep together, conscientiously, for fear a division should dishonor religion, when in fact the division that now exists may be making religion a by-word and a reproach. Far better would it be if they would agree to divide amicably, like Abraham and Lot. "If thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left" (Genesis 13:9). Let them separate, and each party work in its own way; and they may both enjoy the blessing.
9. We see why a few individuals, who are perfectly united, may be successful in gathering and building up a new Church, and may prosper much more than a much larger number who are not agreed among themselves. If I were going to gather a new Church, I would rather have five persons, or three, or even two, who were perfectly agreed as to the things they were to pray for, and the manner in which they should labor for all that is essential to the prosperity of a Church, and who would stand by me, and stand by each other, than begin with a Church of five hundred members, who were not agreed.
10. We see what glorious things may be expected for Zion, whenever the Churches generally shall be agreed on these subjects. When ministers shall lay aside their prejudices, and their misconstructions, and their jealousies, and shall see eye to eye; and when the Churches shall understand the Bible alike, and see their duty alike, and pray alike, and shall be "agreed as touching the things that they shall ask," a nation shall be born in a day.
Only let them feel as the heart of one man, and be agreed as to what ought to be done for the salvation of the world, and the millennium will come at once.
11. There is vast ignorance in the Churches on the subject of revivals.
After all the revivals that have been enjoyed, and all that has been said and written and printed concerning revivals, there are very few who have any real, consistent knowledge on the subject. And when there is a revival, how few are there who can take hold to labor and promote it as if they understood what they were about. How few persons are to be found who have ever taken up revivals of religion as a subject to be studied and understood. Everybody knows that in a revival Christians must pray, and do some things which they have not been in the habit of doing. But multitudes know nothing of the REASON WHY they should do this, or why one thing is better than another, and, having no principles to guide them, when anything occurs which they did not expect, they are all at fault, and know not what to do.
If men should go to work to build a house of worship, and know as little how to proceed as many ministers and professors know how to build the spiritual temple of God, they never would get a house up; and yet people make themselves believe that they are building the Church of God, when they know not what they are about, but are utterly unable to give a reason why they are doing as they do, or why one thing should be done rather than another. There are multitudes in the Church who never seem to suppose that the work of promoting revivals of religion is one that requires study, and thought, and knowledge of principles, and skill in applying the Word of God so as to give every one his portion in season.
And so they go on, generally doing little or nothing, because they are attempting nothing; and if they ever do awaken, they go headlong to work, without any system or plan, as if God had left this part of our duty out of the reach of sound judgment and good sense.
12. There is vast ignorance among ministers upon this subject, and one great reason of this ignorance is that many get the idea that they already understand all about revivals, when in reality they know next to nothing about them. I once knew a minister come in where there was a powerful revival, and bluster about and find fault with many things, speaking of his "knowledge of revivals," that he had "been in seventeen of them," and so on, when it was evident that he knew nothing as he ought of revivals.
13. How important it is that the Church should be trained and instructed, so as to know what to do in a revival. Members should be trained and disciplined like an army; each one having a place to fill, and something to do, knowing where he belongs, and what he has to do, and how to do it.
Instead of this, how often do you see a Church in a time of revival take hold of the work to promote it, just like a troop of children thinking to build a house. How few there are who really know how to do - what?
Why, the very thing for which God suffers Christians to live in this world, the very thing for which ALONE He would ever let them remain away from heaven a day; and this is the very thing, of all others, that they do not study, and do not try to understand.
14. We see why revivals are often so short, and why they so often produce a reaction. It is because the Church does not understand the subject. Revivals are short, because professors have been stirred up to a kind of spasmodical action. They have gone to work by impulse, rather than from deliberate conviction of duty, and have been guided by their feelings rather than by a sound understanding of what they ought to do; they did not know either what to do, what they could do, what they could not, or how to husband their strength, or what the state of things would bear. Perhaps their zeal led them into some indiscretions, and they lost their hold on God, and so the enemy prevailed. The Church ought to be so trained as to know what to do, so as never to fail, and never to suffer defeat or reaction, when an attempt is made to promote a revival.
Christians should understand all the tactics of the devil, and know where to guard against his devices, so that they may know him when they see him - and not mistake him for an angel of light come to give them lessons of wisdom in promoting the revival - and so that they can cooperate wisely with the minister, and with one another, and with the Holy Ghost, in carrying on the work. No person who has been conversant with revivals can overlook the fact that the ignorance of professors of religion concerning revivals, and their blunders in the matter, are among the common things that put revivals down, and bring back a fearful reaction upon the Church. How long shall this be so? It ought not to be so; it need not be so; shall it always be so?
15. We see that every Church is justly responsible for the souls that are in its charge. If God has given such a promise, and if it is true that where so many as two are agreed, as touching the things they ask for, it shall be done, then certainly Christians are responsible, and if sinners are lost, their blood will be found upon the Church.
16. We see the guilt of ministers, in not informing themselves, and rightly and speedily instructing the Churches, upon this momentous subject.
Why, what is the end of the Christian ministry? What have they to do, but to instruct and marshal the sacramental host, and lead them on to conquest? What, will they let the Church remain in ignorance on the very subject, and the only point of duty, for the performance of which they are in the world - the salvation of sinners? Some ministers have acted as mysteriously about revivals as if they thought Christians were either incapable of understanding how to promote them, or that it was of no importance that they should know. But this is all wrong. No minister has yet begun even to understand his duty, if he has neglected to teach his people to work for God in the promotion of revivals. What is he about?
17. We see that pious parents can render the salvation of their children certain. Only let them pray in faith, and be agreed as touching the things they shall ask for, and God has promised them the desire of their hearts.
Who can be agreed so well as parents? Let them be agreed in prayer, and agreed what to do, and agreed in doing all their duty; let them thus train up their children in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.
And now, do you believe you are agreed, according to the meaning of this promise? I know that where a few individuals may be agreed in some things, they may produce some effect. But while the body of the Church is not agreed, there will always be so many things to counteract, that they will accomplish but little. THE CHURCH MUST BE AGREED. Oh, if we could find but one Church perfectly and heartily agreed in all these points, so that they could pray and labor together, all as one, what good would be done! Oh, what do Christians think, how can they keep still, when God has brought down His blessings so that if any two were agreed as touching the things they ask for, it would be done? Alas! alas! how bitter will be the remembrance of the jangling in the Church, when Christians come to see the crowds of lost souls that have gone down to hell, because we were not agreed to labor and pray for their salvation.
God has given it to be the precious inheritance of His people at all times, and in all places, that, if His people agree, their prayers will be answered.
We see the awful guilt of the members of this Church, who listen to Lectures about revivals, and then go away and have no revival; and also the guilt of members of other Churches who hear and go home and refuse to do their duty. How can you meet the thousands of unrepentant sinners around you at the bar of God, and see them sink away into everlasting burning?
You will now either be agreed, and pray for the Holy Ghost, and receive Him before you leave the place, or the anger of the Lord will be upon you.
Should you now agree to pray in the sense of this promise, for the Spirit of God to come down on this city, the Heavenly Dove would fly through this city in the midst of the night and would rouse the consciences and break up the guilty slumbers of the wicked. What, then, is the crimson guilt of those professors of religion who are sleeping in sight of such a promise? They seem to have skipped over it, or entirely to have forgotten it. Multitudes of sinners are going to hell in all directions, and yet this blessed promise is neglected; yea, more, is practically despised by the Church, There it stands in the solemn record, and the Church might take hold of it in such a manner that vast numbers might be saved - but they are not agreed, therefore souls will perish. And where is the responsibility? Who can take this promise and look the perishing in the face at the Day of Judgment?