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" Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down
righteousness : let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together.”—Isa. 45: 8.
This beautiful passage of Scripture may be regarded partly as the expression of pious feeling, and partly as a prophetic description. It is the language of one who greatly desired an increase of piety, and who was accustomed to look forward to times when pure religion would shed abroad its influence on earth like descending showers from heaven. This prophet, more than any other one, fixed his eye on the times of the Redeemer, and he delighted to describe scenes which would occur when he should appear. With deep interest he threw himself amidst those future scenes, and with a heart full of faith he uttered the language of our text, 'Pour down, ye heavens, from above like descending showers, and ye skies distil righteousness like fertilizing rains; let the earth open her bosom, and let salvation spring forth as an abundant harvest.'
From these words I propose to commence a series of discourses on REVIVALS OF RELIGION. Several considerations have induced me to enter on the discussion of this subject. One is, that they are the most remarkable phenomena of our times, and that they have done more than any other single cause to form the public mind in this country. Large portions of the community have been shaken to their centre by these religious movements; and society has received some of its most decided directions from these deep and far-pervading revolutions.
Another reason is, that every christian has the deepest interest in the question about revivals of religion. If they are the genuine work of God; if they accord with the statements in the Bible; if they are such results as he has a right to expect under the preaching of the Gospel, he is bound, by all the love which he bears to his Saviour and to the souls of men, to desire and pray for their increase and extension.
Another reason is, that there are many various and contradictory opinions in regard to these religious movements. It is not wonderful that, in a community where everything is subjected to free discussion, and every man is at liberty to form his own judgment, they should have given rise to great variety of opinion. By some they are regarded as the mere work of enthusiasm. By some they are supposed to be originated by a strain of preaching, and an array of measures adapted to operate on easily excited feelings, and fitted to influence only the weaker portions of the community, and to be unworthy the attention of the more refined and intelligent ranks of society. By others they are considered to be in accordance with all the laws of mind; regarded as having a foundation in the very nature of christianity in its adaptedness to the world; as produced by the agency of the Holy Spirit, and as connected with the best hopes of mankind. Even among professed christians it cannot be denied that some look upon them with distrust and alarm: others regard them as the glory of the age, and as identified with all that is cheering in the prospect of the conversion of the world to God. Some see in them the last hope of this republic against a tide of ills that is rolling in with rapid and desolating surges upon us ; and some regard them as among the ills which religion, unsupported by the state, has produced in a country where all is wild, and free even to licentiousness. Perhaps there is scarcely any excitement of the public mind that has produced deeper attention; none that can by a christian or a patriot be regarded as of higher moment, or as more likely to affect the best interests of man. The friend of revivals regards it as a fact of deep interest, that scarcely a village smiles npon the American landscape that has not been consecrated in its early history by the presence and power of the Holy Ghost in a revival of religion. He discerns in the spire that points to heaven, proof that that is a place perhaps inore than once honored by the presence of Israel's God. He sees in the reigning order, peace, and prosperity, proofs that the power of God has been felt there. He finds in its schools, its industry, its morals, its benevolence, demonstration that christianity there struck its roots deep in some mighty work of God's Spirit, and, as the result, is sending out branches bending with rich and mellow fruits. He can recall there some thrilling period in its history when a spirit of prayer and seriousness gave its character to the
growing village, and when, under the influence of such a revival, å moulding hand was extended over all the social habits of the place. If such is their influence, it is an act of mere justice that christianity should not be deprived of the claims which it has on the gratitude of the nation ; it is a duty which we owe to ourselves and our country to understand and to appreciate causes so deeply affecting our welfare.
There is one other reason why I propose to bring this subject before you, and indeed the main reason which has operated on my mind in doing it. It is whether it is to be expected that such scenes will be witnessed in large cities and towns, or whether there are in the very nature of a city population insuperable obstacles to the existence of revivals of religion there. It is certain that in our own land they have occurred much more frequently · in the comparatively quiet retreats of the country; and that such scenes as are characteristically known as revivals of religion are scarcely known in large cities like the one where we dwell. Knowing as we do the effect which cities must have, and do have, on the religion, the chastity, the temperance, the intelligence, and the liberty of a nation; and knowing as we do the ten thousand obstacles which exist there to the promotion of true religion, it is a question of deep interest whether christians are to expect now, in such places, scenes like that on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem. It is with main reference to this inquiry that I have commenced this course of lectures; and my general plan will be to state the nature of a revival of religion; to consider the relation of revivals to this country; to show the importance of promoting religion in.cities; to show what is the general character of cities with particular reference to this inquiry; to consider whether revivals may be expected to occur in cities, and to show the desira
i bleness of such works of grace there.
The following things will express what is meant by a revival of religion; or the following truihs are essential elements in the theory of such a revival :
1. There may be a radical and permanent change in a man's mind on the subject of religion. This change it is customary to express by the word regeneration, or the new birth. It supposes that, before this, man is entirely alienated from God, and that he first begins to love him when he experiences this change. The previous state is one of sin. The subsequent is a state of holiness. The former is death ; the latter is life. The former is the agitation of a troubled sea, which cannot rest; the latter calmness, peace, joy. This change is the most thorough through which the human mind ever passes. It effects a complete revolution in the man, and his opposite states are characterized by words that express no other states in the human mind. This change is instantaneous. The exact moment may not be known; and the previous seriousness and anxiety may be of longer or shorter continuance; but there is a moment when the heart is changed,
and when the man that was characteristically a siner becomes characteristically a christian. This change is always attended with feeling. The man is awakened to a sense of his dauger; feels with more or less intensity that he is a sinner; resolves to abandon his sins and seek for pardon; is agitated with conflicts of greater or less intensity on giving up his sins; finds greater or feebler obstacles in his way; and at last resolves to cast himself on the mercy of God in the Redeemer, and to become a christian. The result is, in all cases, permanent peace and joy. It is the peace of the soul when pardon is pronounced on the guilty, and when the hope of immortal glory first dawns on a benighted mind. It may be beautifully illustrated by the loveliness of the landscape when the sun at evening breaks out after a tempest ; or by the calmness of the ocean as it subsides after the storm. In the fact that such a change may occur all christians agree; in such a change is laid the whole theory of a revival of religion. Let many sinners simultaneously turn to God. Let conversions to Christ, instead of being few and far between, become numerous, rapidly occurring, and decided in their character, and
you have all that is usually meant when we speak of revivals, so far as conversions are concerned. Still these are all individual conversions, accomplished in each case by the Holy Spirit, and in exact accordance with the design of the Gospel, and evincing its glory. Each one is converted in the same way, by the same truth, by the same great agent, the Holy Spirit, as though he were alone, and not another mind had been awakened or converted. It is the conversion of a number of individuals from sin to holiness, and from Satan unto God. Look on the heavens in a clear night, and you will have an illustration of what we mean. The stars that are set in that broad zone of light which stretches over the firmament—the milky way-are single stars, each subject to its own laws, moving in its own sphere, glorious, probably, in its own array of satellites; but their rays meet and mingle-not less beautiful because the light of millions is blended together. Alone, they all show God's power and wisdom; blended, they evince the same power and wisdom when he groups beauties and wonders into one. So in conversion from sin to God. Take the case of a single true conversion to God, and extend it to a community-to many individuals passing through that change, and you have all the theory of a revival of religion. It is bringing together many conversions; arresting simultaneously many minds; perhaps condensing into a single place, and into a few weeks, the ordinary work of many distant places and many years. The essential fact is, that a sinner may be converted by the agency of the Spirit of God from his sius. The same power which changes him, may change others also. Let substantially the same views, and feelings, and changes which exist in the case of the individual, exist in the case of others; let a deep seriousness pervade a community, and a spirit of prayer be