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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 bolind, 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 enthusiasın. 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 inore 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 more 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, à 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 desirableness 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 sinner becomes