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christians have yet to learn that such a historian of revivals as President Edwards ever lived. It is of great importance, therefore, to know exactly what place revivals have occupied in this land, and what has been their general character.
The history of religion in this country may be divided into four great periods, during which the influence of revivals would be seen to have exerted a moulding power on our institutions and our habits as a people.
1. The first period, of course, is that when our fathers came to these western shores. I speak here more particularly of those whose opinions have had so important an influence in forming the habits of the people of this land on religious subjects—the pilgrims of New England. The pilgrim was a wonderful man; and remarkable, among other things, for the place which religion, as well as science, occupied in his affections. In his eye, religion was the primary consideration. One of the first edifices that rose in the wilderness where he stationed himself was the house of God; near to it the school-house, the academy, and the college. Around the house of God, as a nucleus, the village was gathered ; and from that, as a radiating point, extended itself into the surrounding wastes. From that point the forests disappeared : around that point the light of the sun was let down to the earth that had not for centuries felt his beams, so dense had been the shades of the interminable wilderness. Religion was the primary thing-primary in each house, each school, each settlement, each city, each civil institution. The pilgrim had no higher aim than to promote it; he had no plan which did not contemplate its perpetuity and extension as far as his descendants might go. Such was the feeling when, more than two hundred years since, the great forest trembled first under the axe of the foreigner, and new laws and new institutions began in the western world.
That this should continue to be always the leading feature among a people situated as they were, was not perhaps to be expected. He knows little of the propensities of our nature who would be surprised to learn that religion began before long to occupy a secondary place in the public mind. Doomed to the hard toil of felling the forests, and reducing a most perverse and intractable soil to a fit state for cultivation ; feeling soon the influence of that then infant passion which has since in this country expanded to such giant proportions—the love of gain; engaged in conflicts with savages, and subject to the ravages of war—of that species of war which showed mercy neither to age nor sex-it was not wonderful that their early zeal should die away, and that iniquity should come in like a food. Such was the fact. Within less than a hundred years a most sad change had occurred in this country on the subject of religion. Extensively in the churches of New England, and in all the churches, there was a most melancholy decline. From this state of apathy nothing could rouse them but a series of mighty movements like that on the day of pentecost; and it was then—now just a hundred years ago—that those won
derful displays of divine power in revivals of religion, which have so eininently characterized our own country, and which were the pledge that God meant to perpetuate the religious institutions of our land, commenced.
2. This was the second period in our religious history. It began under the ministry of Whitefield, Edwards, the Tennants, and their fellow-laborers, and continued from about the year 1730 to 1750. Of this great religious excitement, which extended from Maine to Georgia, and which created the deepest interest in Britain and America, I need now to say little. The history has been written by that great man who was a principal actor in those scenes—I mean President Edwards. I will just add, that the character and talents of the men engaged in those religious movements were such as to place them above the suspicion of their being the work of feeble minds, or the productions of fanaticism. The Tennants were among the most able ministers of the land. Davies, afterwards the successor of Edwards in Princeton College, was one of the most eloquent and holy men that this country has produced. Edwards, as a man of profound thought, as an acute and close reasoner, has taken his place by the side of Locke, and Reid, and Dugald Stewart, if he has not surpassed them all; and his name is destined to be as immortal as theirs. Probably no man in any country or age has possessed the reasoning faculty in such perfection as Jonathan Edwards; a man raised up, among other purposes, to rebuke the sneer of the foreigner, when he charges America with the want of talent, and to show that the most profound intellect is well employed when it is engaged in promoting revivals of religion. From those profound disquisitions, those abstruse and subtle inquiries which have given immortality to his name, he turned with ease and pleasure to the interesting scenes when God's Spirit descended on the hearts of men. The name of Whitefield is one that is to go down, as an orator, as far as the name of Demosthenes or Cicero. Garrick, first of dramatic actors, rejoiced that he had not chosen the stage, confessing that if he had, his own fame would have been eclipsed ; and Franklin—that great philosopher—sought every opportunity to listen to the eloquence of that wonderful man. He influenced more minds than have ever before or since been swayed by any public speaker; and diffused his sentiments through more hearts than any other orator that has lived. It pleased God that these revivals should be produced and carried on under the ministry of the most profound reasoner and the most eloquent man of the age, that scepticism itself might be disarmed, and that the world might have a pledge that they were not the work of enthusiasm.
The effect of those revivals was long felt in the American churches. Yet other scenes were drawing near of great interest in this land, and deeply affecting the vitality of religion. Soon the colonies were agitated with the calamities incident to the war with France, and then soon again with the absorbing events of our
own revolution. Throughout the land the effects of those scenes were felt in the churches and on religion. In not a few instances churches were disorganized ; their members were led to the battlefield ; their ministers were compelled to leave their charges : the houses of God were converted into hospitals; the public mind was engrossed with the events of war; the public strength was consecrated to the desence of violated rights; and time, and influence, and property were demanded to achieve our independence. As in all wars, the institutions of religion were neglected; the Sabbath ceased extensively to be a day of holy rest; and profaneness, and intemperance, and licentiousness-every where the attendants of war-spread over the land. In the scenes which character. ized the American revolution, revivals of religion could not be expected to occur, nor could it be otherwise than that a state of apathy on the subject should characterize the American people.
There was another cause immediately succeeding this, that tended still more to shake the firmness of our religious institutions. I allude to the French revolution. From the first, the American people deeply sympathized with that nation in their struggles for freedom. To them we had been bound by ties of gratitude for valuable services, no less than by the sympathies which in this land we always must feel for those who pant for liberty. The consequence was obvious; and though alarming, inevitable. The opinions of their philosophers became popular; their books were kindly entertained, and their doctrines embraced. The revolution in France was conducted on infidel principles, and with infidels and atheists as the guides of the nation. In our love for liberty we forgot our hatred of infidelity; and in our ardent wishes for success in the calise of freedom, we forgot that our own freedom had been achieved under the guidance of other men than Voltaire, Diderot, and D'Alembert, and that we had acknowledged another Divinity than the goddess of reason.” And the result was what might have been foreseen. In the years that succeeded our revolution, the nation was fast sinking into infidelity; and Paine's “ Age of Reason” was fast supplanting the Bible in the minds of thousands of our countrymen. A conflict arose between christianity and infidelity. The argument was close and long, and infidelity was driven from the field, and a victory was achieved not less important than the victories in our revolution. That intellectual warfare saved the churches in this land; and the result furnished a pledge that infidelity is not to triumph in this western world.
3. Yet it was not by argument only that this speculative infidelity was met. And this leads me to the third period in our religious history. The Holy Spirit sealed that argument, and engraved that truth on the heart in the revivals of religion that characterized the close of the last and the beginning of the present century. Of the favored agents in that time, it is necessary only to mention the name of Dwight-a name that was a pledge that solid piety, sober views, elevated character, a brilliant fancy, high integrity and moral worth, might deem itself honored to be engaged in a revival of religion. Under a single sermon of his, it is recorded that no less than three revivals of religion commenced ; and in Yale College-a place where least of all we should look for enthusiasm and fanaticism, no less than four revivals occurred under his presidency, resulting in the conversion of two hundred and ten young men, who, in their turn, have been the instruments of the salvation of thousands of souls. It was in such scenes that God interposed to save the churches and our country. And but for such works of grace at the fountains of intelligence and power, infidelity would have diffused its rank and poisonous weeds over the land.
4. The other period in our religious history is more directly our own times—times that have been eminently characterized for revivals of religion. I cannot go at length into a statement of the features of those revivals, nor of their influence. I can only say that in one part of our land, and in the oldest seminary of learning in our nation, there had been a deplorable apostacy from the sentiments of our fathers; that the deity and atonement of the Son of God was denied; that this form of pretended christian doctrine advanced with great pretensions to learning, to exclusive liberality, to critical skill, to refinement, to courtesy-that it appealed to the great and the gay, and sought its proselytes in the mansions of the rich and the homes of the refined ; and that it stood up against revivals of religion, and all the forms of expanded christian beneficence. This scheme was met by argument, and learning, and critical power equal to its own. But not by that alone. It has been met by revivals of religion, and its progress checked by the work of the Holy Ghost on the hearts of men.
Another feature of our times. We were fast becoming a nation of drunkards. We could ascertain that there were three hundred thousand drunkards in our land, and that from ten to twenty thousand were annually consigned to drunkards' graves. And this mighty evil has also been met by revivals of religion. Hundreds of churches have been visited by the Spirit of God as the result of their efforts in the temperance reformation; and hundreds of thousands of our young men have been saved from the evils and disgraces of intemperance because God has visited the churches with the influences of his Spirit.
There was another dark feature in our religious prospects. The love of gain had become, and is still our besetting sin, This passion goads on our countrymen, and they forget all other things. They forsake the homes of their fathers; they wander away from the place of schools and churches to the wilderness of the west; they go from the sound of the Sabbath-bell, and they forget the Sabbath, and the Bible, and the place of prayer; they leave the places where their fathers sleep in their graves, and they forget the religion which sustained and comforted them. They go for gold, and they wander over the prairie, they fell the forest, they ascend the stream in pursuit of it, and they trample down the law of the Sabbath, and soon, too, forget the laws of honesty and fairdealing, in the insatiable love of gain. Meantime every man, such is our freedom, may advance any sentiments he pleases. He may defend them by all the power of argument, and enforce them by all the eloquence of persuasion. He may clothe his corrupt sentiments in the charms of verse, and he may make a thousand cottages beyond the mountains re-echo with the corrupt and the corrupting strain. He may call to his aid the power of the press, and may secure a lodgment for his infidel sentiments in the most distant habitation in the republic. What can meet this state of things, and arrest the evils that spread with the fleetness of the courser or the wind? What can pursue and overtake these wanderers but revivals of religion--but that Spirit which, like the wind, acts where it pleases? Yet they must be pursued. If our sons go thus, they are to be followed and reminded of the commands of God. None of them are to be suffered to go to any fertile vale or prairie in the west without the institutions of the Gospel ; nor are they to be suffered to construct a hamlet, or to establish a village, or to build a city that shall be devoted to any other God than the God of their fathers. By all the self-denials of benevolence; by all the power of argument; by all the implored influences of the Holy Ghost, they are to be persuaded to plant there the rose of Sharon, and to make the wilderness and the solitary place to be glad, and the desert to bud and blossom as the rose. In such circumstances God has interposed ; and he has thus blessed our own land and times with signal revivals of religion.
The remarks thus far made conduct us to this conclusion, that we owe most of our religion in this land to revivals; that the great and appalling evils which have threatened us as a people have been met and turned back by revivals ; that every part of our country has thus, either directly or indirectly, felt the influence of revivals. Scarce a village or a city smiles on all our vast landscape that has not been hallowed in some part of its history by the deeply-felt presence of Israel's God. ' And he who loves his country: who looks back with gratitude to those periods when the God of salvation has conducted us through appalling dangers; or who looks abroad upon our vast land and contemplates the mighty movements in the pursuit of gold, and pleasure, and ambition; who sees here how inefficacious are all ordinary means to arrest the evils which threaten us, will feel the necessity of crying unto God unceasingly for the continuance and extension of REVIVÁLS OF PURE RELIGION.