The Philadelphia Baptist Association, To the Churches of which it is composed:
THE subject chosen for our Circular Letter, is one that demands the most serious and prayerful consideration of all Christians, and in the following communication, we do not propose to enter into an exhaustive argument of the subject, but simply to suggest a few practical thoughts, the soundness of which is to be tested by the word of God.
The term revive, from its signification and scriptural use, implies the existence of spiritual life in a less or greater degree, and that this life is susceptible of indefinite development in expansion and power. It is also in common usage applied to any unusual work of grace in a church or community; when Christains [sic] are quickened by the Holy Spirit, sinners awakened, converted, and added to the Church.
That revivals of religion are needed, we need not stop to discuss. It is only necessary to take a glance at the condition of the world around us. There is much land yet to be possessed, and made to bud and blossom as the rose; vast throngs of immortal souls are pressing their way down to the borders of death and eternal woe beyond. Such being the state of things, what manner of persons ought we to be in all holy conversation and godliness? Do we not need to be anointed anew by the Holy One? That we may be aroused from our lethargy, and strive to attain a higher sphere in the divine life, approximating nearer the primitive disciples, who being filled with the Holy Ghost, had all the graces, gifts, and money they required for carrying on the work of Christ.
Such a revival we need; so does the world. For the origination and promotion of such a revival, God has ordained certain agencies, and among them He has placed His church in the plan. A church, according to the New Testament, is a company of baptized believers, organized for mutual edification
and the advancement of the kingdom of Christ throughout the world.
To this church God has given pastors, deacons, and members, each having their own specific duties assigned them, but all being so closely allied that one cannot say to the other, I have no need of thee. All are necessary to the perfecting of the body of Christ, and if any such thought as this should arise in your mind, Upon whom does a revival of religion depend? the answer is, that under God it depends upon you.
The doctrine of personal responsibility, is one that is very clearly defined in the Bible. It is written that every one must give an account of his own stewardship - do his own work in the vineyard, if he would hear the welcome plaudit, “well done thou good and faithful servant.” And however pleasant or convenient it might be to throw our responsibility on the pastor, deacons or Church, we never can succeed in doing so, it being one of the laws of the kingdom, that personal responsibility can never be evaded or annulled. The same line of argument will apply to the Church in her collective capacity; every church must do her own legitimate work. All the means necessary for doing this work have been committed to her care. We have the Holy oracles; we have the promise of Him who said, “Lo! I am with you alway;” we have pastors who preach unto us Jesus and the resurrection; we have deacons full of faith and the Holy Ghost; we have brethren and sisters whose hearts are all aglow with love to Christ; we have the promise that if we bring all the tithes into the store-house, and prove God, that He will open the windows of Heaven, and pour out a blessing that there will not be room enough even to receive it. Brethren, what we want is not more means, but a better use of what we have; and in the use of the means ordained, we must never forget our dependence on the agency of the Holy Spirit. The regeneration of the soul is the work of God the Spirit, alone. None else can quicken the dead in trespasses and sin, or rekindle the flame of devotion on altars dimly burning.
In the economy of grace, it is the office of the Spirit to reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. It is His to take of the things of Jesus, and reveal them unto us. Acting on this principle, the Saviour instructed His disciples to tarry at Jerusalem until they were endued with power from on high, without which they were unqualified to make an aggressive movement against the powers of darkness. We are engaged in the same work, and must look to the same source for help. We may prophesy over the slain, pray and sing praises, put forth the most tremendous efforts, use all the devices human ingenuity can invent, we may have the whirlwind and the earthquake, but, all in vain, unless we have the still small voice to whisper in the sinner's ear, and the breath from the four winds to breathe upon the slain, that they may live. The voice comes from the eternal throne loud and clear, it is not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.
Brethren, the Comforter is come, and is abiding with us; come to help our infirmities, and to make intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered, and we are exhorted to be filled with the Spirit, that we may be
spiritually minded, and be able to discern between those emotions which are common to our nature, which, like the morning cloud and early dew, soon vanish, and the work of the Holy Spirit, which makes lasting impressions on the mind and heart, the fruits of which are righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Suffice it to say upon this point, that if we would have power with God and men, we must honor the Holy Ghost as we honor the Father and the Son. In the further consideration of the subject, we shall attempt to answer the following question: When are we warranted in expecting a revival?
The only rational and scriptural answer that can be given to this question is, that we are to expect a revival now. This will appear evident when we consider the uncertain tenure of our lives. We have no promise of to-morrow - the present is ours - the future, God's. It is just as necessary for us to have our lamps trimmed and burning to-day as it ever will be. The souls of the unregenerate are as valuable and in as much danger of being lost now as they will be hereafter. Work while it is day, for the night cometh, are the words of the great Teacher. We have no more scripture warrant to pray for the renewing influence of the Holy Spirit and the conversion of sinners at some future time, than we have to instruct a sinner to delay his repentance until a more convenient season. Two passages of scripture have sometimes been quoted against this view, namely: “The set time to favor Zion has come,” and again, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power.” These passages are both prophetic, and refer to the days of gospel grace. The set time has come, and this is the day of God’s power. Hear the inspired comment on those and similar passages: “Now is the accepted time, behold now is the day of salvation.” The time to believe in Jesus; the time to pray; the time to receive the Spirit. The time for the Church's refreshing and the sinners salvation, is to-day.
At this point, permit me to call your attention to what are called periodical, protracted, or extra meetings, gotten up with the design of promoting revivals; these meetings are held at specified times, whether circumstances justify them or not, having become a sort of custom. Such a course of procedure is frequently attended with evil results, among which may be mentioned a tendency to lead to the impression that Christians can only be revived and sinners converted at such set times; and further, that the work of the year can be done in a month, and a few spasmodic efforts and faint exhibitions of zeal, will answer until another meeting of the kind is held, thus ignoring the words of Paul, “It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing.” Nor does the evil stop here. The sinner is liable to fall into the belief, that as Christians only seem to be awake at such times, he need not concern himself about his soul, and that if he is ever converted it must be in a meeting of this kind. That these are facts, we have the testimony of those best prepared to judge. We do not wish to convey the idea that a Church is never to have any more than the ordinary services; we are to have as many as the providence of God indicates to be necessary, the pastor and members being judges. Neither do we wish to make the
impression that there are not times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. There are times, and they come while we are doing the daily work of the Church, when there is an unusual interest among the members of the Church and throughout the community. But such seasons do not come causeless; they are the natural result of a faithful continuance in well doing, being preceded by a time of seed sowing, and watering the same with tears. We should err if we supposed that this state of things was brought about by the few last sermons preached, or prayers offered. It would be as wise to conclude that the last stroke of the woodman's axe felled the mighty oak. The first stroke was as important as the last, and each succeeding stroke tended to the same result.
Brethren, let us awake to the magnitude of the work the Master has commissioned us to perform, and say not there are four months and then cometh the harvest; behold, lift up your eyes, and see the fields white already to the harvest.
E. W. DICKINSON, Moderator.
HORATIO GATES JONES, Clerk.
[From: The Philadelphia Baptist Association Minutes, 1872, pp. 43-46; via the U. of Chicago digital documents. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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