« PoprzedniaDalej »
diffused there; let the ordinary haunts of pleasure and vice be forsaken for the places of devotion, and you have the theory, so far as I know, of a revival of religion.
2. The second fact is, that there may be times in the life of a christian of unusual peace and joy. To whatever it may be owing, it will be assumed as a fact-for the truth of which I now depend on an appeal to the christian's own feelings-that there are times in his life of far more than usual elevation in piety; times, when his "peace is like a river," and his love to God and man "like the waves of the sea.' There are times when he feels an irresistible longing for communion with God; when the breath of praise is sweet; when every thing seems to be full of God; when all his feelings prompt him to devotion; and when he becomes so impressed with the great truths of christianity, and filled with the hope of heaven, that he desires to live only for God and for the skies. Earthly objects lose their lustre in his view; their brightest, gayest colors fade away; and an insatiable panting of soul leads him away from these to hold communion with the Redeemer. A light, pure, tranquil, constant, is shed on all the truths of religion, and the desire of the salvation of children, partners, parents, friends, of the church and of the world, enchains all the affections. Then to pray is easy, and to converse with christians and with sinners is easy, and the prospect of boundless wealth and of the brightest honors would be gladly exchanged for the privilege of converting and saving a single soul.
When this occurs in a church, and these feelings pervade any considerable portion of the people of God, there is a revival of religion so far as the church is concerned. Let christians as a body live manifestly under the influence of their religion; let a feeling of devotion pervade a whole church, such as you have felt in the favored times of your piety, and there would be a revival of religion-a work of grace that would soon extend to other minds, and catch, like spreading fires, on the altars of other hearts. Let a christian community feel on the great subjects of religion what individual christians sometimes feel, and should always feel, and, so far as the church is concerned, there would be all the phenomena that exist in a revival of religion. A revival in the church is a revival in individual hearts-and nothing more. It is when each individual christian becomes more sensible of his obligations, more prayerful, more holy, and more anxious for the salvation of men. every professing christian awake to what he should be, and come under the full influence of his religion, and in such a church there would be a revival. Such a sense of obligation, and such joy, and peace, and love, and zeal iu the individual members of a church would be a revival. But in the most earnest desires for your own salvation there is no violation of any of the proper laws of christian action. In great, strenuous, and combined efforts for the salvation of others, in unceasing
prayer for the redemption of all the world, there is no departure from the precepts of Christ, nor from the Spirit which he manifested on earth.
3. The third feature that occurs in a revival of religion to which it is proper to direct your attention is, that an extensive influence goes over a community, and affects with seriousness many who are not ultimately converted to God. Many individuals are usually made serious; many gay and worldly amusements are suspended; many persons, not accustomed to go to the place of prayer, are led to the sanctuary; many formerly indifferent to religion, or opposed to it, are now willing to converse on it; many perhaps are led to pray in secret and to read the Bible, who before had wholly neglected the means of grace. Many who never enter into the kingdom of God seem to be just on its borders, and hesitate long whether they shall give up the world and become christians, or whether they shall give up their serious impressions and return to their former indifference and sins. The subsiding of a revival, or the dying zeal of christians, or some powerful temptation, or a strong returning tide of worldliness and vanity, leave many such persons still with the world, and their serious impressions vanish-perhaps to return no more.
4. It remains only to be added as an essential feature in a revival, that it is produced by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is not the work of man, however human agency may be employed. Imperfections there may be, and things to regret there may be -as in all that man touches there is but the phenomenon itself we regard as the work of the Holy Ghost, alike beyond human power to produce it and to control it. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, and canst not tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth;" and such is the work of the Spirit, alike in an individual conversion or in a revival of religion. The wind, sometimes gentle, sometimes terrific, sometimes sufficient only to bend the heads of the field of wheat, or to shake the leaf of the aspen, sometimes sweeping in the fury of the storm over hills and vales, illustrates the way in which God's Spirit influences human hearts. You have seen the pliant osier bend gently before the zephyr, and the flowers and the fields of grain gently wave in a summer's eve. So gently does the Spirit of God breathe upon a church and people. So calm, so lovely, so pure are those influences which incline the mind to prayer, to thought, to Christ, to heaven. You have seen the clouds grow dark in the western sky. They roll upward and onward, infolding on themselves, and throwing their ample volumes over the heavens. The lightnings play, and the thunder rolls, and the tornado sweeps over hills and vales, and the proud oak, crashes on the mountains. "The wind blows where it pleases ;" and thus, too, the Spirit of God passes with more than human power over a community, and many a stouthearted sinner, like the quivering elm or oak, trembles under
the influences of truth. They see a dark cloud gathering in the sky; they hear the thunder of justice; they see the heavens flash along their guilty path; and they are prostrated before God, like the forest before the mighty tempest. The storm passes by, and the sun rides serene again in the heavens, and universal nature smiles-beautiful emblem of the effect of a revival of religion.
Such is a brief description of what actually occurs. I shall now proceed to show that these phenomena are such as we have reason to expect from the manner in which the human mind is constituted, and society organized.
I first call your attention to the manner in which society is constituted, and to the inquiry whether such a work of grace is in any way adapted to its original laws and propensities. The idea which I wish to illustrate is, that God has adapted society to be moved simultaneously by common interests. He might have made the world differently. He might have peopled it with independent individuals-bound together by no common sympathies, cheered by no common joys, impelled to effort by no common wants. All that is tender in parental and filial affection; all that is mild, bland, purifying in mutual love; all that is elevating in sympathetic sorrow and joy; all that is great and ennobling in the love of the species, might have been unknown. Isolated individuals, though surrounded by thousands, there might have been no cord to bind us to the living world, and we might have wept alone, rejoiced alone, died alone. The sun might have shed his beams on us in our solitary rambles, and not a mortal have felt an interest in our bliss or wo. Each melancholy individual might have lived unbenefitted by the existence of any other, and with no one to shed a tear on the bed of moss, when in disease he would lie down, and when he would die.
But this is not the way in which God has chosen to fit up the world. He has made the race one great brotherhood, and each one has some interest in the obscurest man that lives, in the wildest barbarian that seeks a shelter beneath a rock, or that finds a home in a cave. Pierce their veins. The same purple fluid meanders there. Analyse their feelings. Unknown to each other, they weep over the same distress; strangers in other things, they mingle their efforts to save the same fellow-mortal from death. This great common brotherhood God has broken up into communities of nations, tribes, clans, families each with its own sets of sympathies, with peculiar interests, with peculiar sorrows and joys. One design of this is to divide our sorrows; another to double our joys; another to perpetuate and to spread just sentiments to diffuse rapidly all that will meliorate the condition of the race. Sorrow hath not half its pangs when you can mingle your tears with those of a sister or a wife; and joy has not diffused half its blessings until your joy has lighted up the countenance of another--be it a son, a father, or even a stranger.
Now there was no way conceivable in which just sentiments and feelings could be so rapidly spread as by this very organization. Susceptible as it is, like every thing else, of being perverted to evil purposes, yet still it is stronger in favor of virtue than of vice, of religion than of irreligion. We appeal, then, to this organization, and maintain that the way to propagate and secure just sentiments in a community is to appeal to common sympathies and common feelings. If you wish to spread any opinions and principles, you will not do it by appealing to individuals as such, you will call to your aid the power of the social organization. You will rouse men by their common attachment to country; you will remind them of dear-bought liberty; you will lay before them their common dangers; you will awaken a common feeling, and endeavor to lead them forth to the martial field together. When danger presses, you will strike a cord that shall vibrate in every heart, and you will expect sympathy, concert, united action. I have seen during the last few years a common sympathy extend through all the commercial world. I have seen the merchants of our cities and towns agitated by a common apprehension of danger, and their hearts vibrating with a common emotion, from Bangor to New Orleans. I ask why there may not be as deep common feeling on the subject of religion? I have seen during the past few months this whole community agitated on the eve of a pending election. Two great parties, vigilant, active, energetic, fired with the hopes of victory, and each feeling that the destiny of the nation depended on the result, were arrayed against each other. Committees were appointed to make arrangements; public meetings were held, and the flagging faith and zeal of vast assemblies were roused by appeals to patriotism and the love of country or of party; names were registered, and the sentiments of every man were ascertained, and the whole community was roused in the exciting struggle. Every man felt himself at liberty, or called on in duty, to speak to his neighbor, to sound his sentiments, and to endeavor to bring him to the polls. I blame not this zeal,--but I refer to it to ask why the same zeal and interest should be deemed improper on the subject of religion? Assuredly not because it is less important, or because it is less proper to propagate great and noble sentiments by an appeal to the common feelings of men. Let the same zeal and ardor be manifest in religion; let the churches evince the same anxiety for the honor of their Lord and Redeemer, and for his ascendency in the hearts of men, which political organizations have done; or even let the members of the churches in this land be warmed with the same solicitude for the prevalence of religion which they have shown for the triumph of their party, and, I was about to say, it would be all that we could pray for in a revival of religion. Certainly, after what our eyes have seen during the last year, no one should ever blame the ardor and zeal of the friends of Christ, or object against men's being simultaneously excited and moved on the
subject of religion. Not till the zeal of christians approaches in some measure this political zeal, and not till the anxiety of men to save their souls becomes something like the anxiety to secure the election of a favorite candidate, should the note of opposition be heard against revivals of religion.-So I see, in the history of the past, the dying spark of freedom often kindled to a flame, and liberty come out of great common public excitement. Thought rouses thought, and mind acts on mind, and truth presses on truth, till a country is roused and its great interests are safe.. In time of danger, I see men with common feelings rush to the standard of freedom. The plough is left in the furrow; and the counting-house is forsaken; and the ship is moored to the wharf; and the tools of the mechanic are dropped; and the places of amusement are closed; and home is abandoned; and the hold on gold is loosed; and men of affluence seize the sword; and the professions yield up their men of talents to take the place at the head of armies; and the earth trembles under the mighty tread of the advancing legions-for the great common interests of a nation are in danger. Then deeds of self-denial become the theme of the eloquent, and the names of these men are given in charge to history, to be transmitted to future times.
I speak not of this to blame it. I ask only, why should not religion be expected to be extended and perpetuated by some such appeals to the common feelings and sympathies of men? But if so, there would be a revival of religion.
In further illustration of this, I observe, that however solitary and dissocial infidelity may be, this is not the nature of christianity. Infidelity may appeal to no sympathies and no common hopes, but this is not the nature of the christian religion. Infidelity may have no power to increase the tenderness of attachment, to purify friendship, to bind the cords of love more closely; but it is not so with christianity. Infidelity has always loved to snap the cords of social life rudely asunder, but christianity has loved to make stronger those silken ties, and to deepen all the tender sympathies of the heart. There is not one of the sympathies of our nature that christianity does not make more tender, not one of the social affections that it does not design to strengthen and to purify. It aims to sanctify all that is social, kind, and tender in men.
I know the objection that is brought against revivals, that they are the work of sympathy alone. But I am yet to understand why religion is to spread through the world by denying it the aid of the social sympathies, and of those tender feelings which facilitate the propagation of other just opinions and feelings. I am yet to learn, when the flame of patriotism is made to burn more pure and bright by appealing to all that is tender and sympathetic in our nature, why religion is to be regarded as suspicious and tarnished because the pleadings of a father or mother, or the tears of a sister have been the occasion, though