DEAR CHRISTIAN BRETHREN,
We think it will be wise to consider our topic from two stand-points. “A Revival of Religion " (we use the phrase in its popular sense throughout this letter) imposes one set of obligations on churches which are directly affected; another class of duties on neighbouring churches which are not revived; and a third series of liabilities on the unconverted who are indirectly affected by revival operations. The last of these need not be considered here, as we address a group of Christian churches. The first is the most obvious and perhaps the only one you had in view a year ago when you fixed upon the topic. We hope, however, that we shall be forgiven if we do not confine ourselves to this narrower view of the question, but speak as well of the responsibilities a revival imposes on unrevived churches.
So long as the house is unbuilt hints on bricklaying are of more use than instructions for furnishing. If a large part of the country is in the hands of invaders the commander of the home forces has other topics to speak about than the duties of conquerers. He will speak to the point if he shews his men the enemy flaunting his colours on their native soil and tries to awaken their enthusiasm. And in like manner —though we are very far from claiming the place of commanders and speak moreover to men of peace--it seems to us that before dealing with the responsibilities which accompany a revival of religion in a church or group of churches, it is needful that we remind ourselves that most of the churches of the county, if not all, have to look at the revival as an event which lies outside of the range of their experience, and that for this state of things we are not irresponsible.
Before we put the question - What ought we to do in the event of a revival? let us look at our present position and the responsibilities that belong to it.
We gladly remember the good that has been done in the county in this as in other years. For this we thank God and take courage. But we are unable to learn that any district in the neighbourhood has experienced such an addition of spiritual forces that may be called a revival. We have not enjoyed the increase of life that some other
places have felt. But has the revival which has touched other places imposed no responsibility on us though we have not been noticeably affected by it? It has certainly imposed upon us the duty of seeking from an impartial God the same blessings that He has shown Himself ready to give to others. It has certainly imposed upon us the duty of similar endeavours to those which have proved successful in other cases.
We are not anxious to determine now the extent of the quickening that has been felt in some parts of the kingdom, we shall content ourselves with the general statement, that few will question, that many churches have been singularly blessed with additional vigour and growth. When despondent critics have made all the deduction that their most forlorn mcod demands, when unsympathetic detractors have gone to the utmost limit of truth, there still remains a glorious residue of spiritual results attesting the unusual presence and power of God. If in some cases the rains have not been so heavy nor so continuous as they were expected to be ; if in some cases the blossom has fallen before the fruit set; yet, if we will look, here and there we may see how showers have fallen on patches that have long been dry; how vigorous streams are flowing where there have been but trickling threads of water; how verdant foliage has taken the place of withering leaves, and blossoms and fruit appear in place of barrenness.
Now brethren let us ask you to consider whether this fact does not point to one phase of the responsibilities of a revival of religion. Why have not we the like? Shall we fling the blame upon God by saying He is partial in the bestowments of His help? Rather let us remember that He holds us responsible for the exercise of powers He has lent us. Do not let us ignore our blame-worthiness if our prayers have grown cold and our efforts slack. Do not let us hide from ourselves the fact that these times of quickening are events which are not wholly beyond our control. They come therefore within the range of our responsibilities. If here and there we see not as much luxurience and fruitfulness as will satisfy, yet still, signs of reviving vigour the sight should provoke “a godly jealously.” If an unusual blessing has been given to some neighbourhoods it is not for the people in any other to say, “But we cannot expect the same.” Their business is to seek it. The presence of a revival in a land imposes obligations on other neighbourhoods besides those which are subject to its quickening influence. The fact that some churches in the land are revived makes it all the more incumbent on the rest to seek a similar re-animation. If the stream has risen and is sending its waters through the channels in one man's plantation, it is for his neighbor
to throw up the water-gates that his own grounds may be watered too. If the sun is shining into my neighbour's house, it is my business to fling open the shutters that it may fill mine with sunlight as well.
In what direction do these obligations lie? What are we to do that we have not sufficiently attended to in order to get the refreshing rain and the cheering sunshine We do not pretend to be intimately acquainted with what has or has not been done throughout the county, and are not therefore prepared to enter into details, but we may suggest some points in which there is often failure and it is for you to consider how far they affect you. Let us put a three-fold question: - Have we wished, have we prayed, have we worked for a revival of religion as earnestly as we might and ought? Have we been really desirous for a revival instead of contenting ourselves with past or present attainments? In a neighbourhood that has such a splendid denominational list as this has, there is some danger of resting satisfied with an ancient prestige. But brethren if we are sons of the light and of the day it is not for us to sit looking at the red clouds in the west, glorious as they may be, but to be pushing east-ward. We need all our Father's enthusiasm to perpetuate their name and work. “Perseverance - keeps honour bright. To have done is to hang quite out of fashion like a rusty nail in monumental mockery.” Have we been really desirous for a revival instead of shrinking from some things that do not quite commend themselves to our taste? Some do not like the sudden manifestation of life that sometimes attends a revival. But God can work suddenly as well as gently; and if men have fallen below the proper level the quicker they are raised to it the better. Some are afraid of excitement. If there is excitement, religion is not alone in causing it. Why should men be excited about the progress of a political measure, or the ventilation of a social question, and be passionless before subjects of vastest importance. Is it the extra work that some shrink from ? But surely our churches ought not to be mutual aid sleeping societies Some are afraid of a revival lest the vital force should break out in some irregular development. It is a sad fact that there are to be found here and there Christians who seem to think more of conformity to their artificial standard than of conversion from death; who seem to pay almost as much regard to respectability as to regeneration, to politeness as to piety, to elegance as to earnestness. To such unpolished energy, however devout, would be “as vinegar to the teeth and as smoke to the eyes.” That there are such might be a matter of indignation if it were not more to the purpose to ask - Has any tincture of this spirit affected us?
It is a sore pity that religious life should so decline as to need
revivifying. There ought to be steady progress. But if we do not find our religious life growing at a rate in keeping with the idea of the New Testament; then, we take it, we should very earnestly desire an increase of energy come in what shape it may, and the enthusiasm of our desire should be measured by the greatness of the boon we seek.
If we have desired have we also prayed as we should, “O Lord revive Thy work?” The work is His. However much we may long to revive a church or a neighbourhood we cannot do it. The enterprise is too great for our young strength. He must work by the agency of His all-powerful Spirit. Only by that Divine Presence is the gospel made “The power of God unto salvation.” Feeling this, have we been as mindful as we should of those ancient words: - I will yet for this be enquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them.” If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him Have we been as diligent as we might have been in craving His interposition ? Have we prayed to Him singly, in social knots, and in public assemblies, “O Lord revive Thy work: ”
Besides the wish and the prayer there must be labour. We must do our part towards bringing about the answer to our prayer. Earnest petition and patient energy go hand in hand here. We all know AEsop's fable of the waggoner; have all heard the proverb - “God helps them who help themselves;” and we confess that they read a true moral in reference to religious matters: but we do not always let the conviction influence our conduct so much as it might. Have we stirred up all our strength. Have we utilized all the men and the means we have instead of waiting for others? If we have not secured some workers who have been successful otherwhere are there no men of prayer and faith and energy - laymen or ministers - in this county who only need encouragement to develope their powers? Has there been that devotion of possessions to the furtherance of Christ's kingdom which becomes those who profess to be “stewards of the manifold gifts of God?” We should be glad if we could do anything towards freeing one text from misapplication. Many people quote God's promise to “open the windows of heaven” and pour out an over-flowing blessing as if the condition annexed thereto were prayer. The fact is that God says “Deal honestly with me and I will deal bountifully with you. Bring your tithes to my store-house and you shall be crowded out with blessing.” The moral
of that text is not, “Ask and ye shall receive,” but, “Give and it shall be given unto you.” Work as well as pray.
Seek thou Thy God alone by prayer,
And thou shalt doubt perchance despair;
But seek Him also by endeavour,
And thou shalt find Him gracious ever.
Brethren we will keep firm hold of the truth that only God can bring about the quickening of churches and the birth of dead souls; but let us remember too that the progress of this work is not uninfluenced by the word and action of men. Only a divine voice pealing through the corridors of death, could reach the ear of Lazarus, yet see how much there is that is human associated with that miracle of Bethany. There was first the yearning of strong affection in those sisters' hearts; then the trustful prayer of the absent Lord; then the exercise of human strength to roll away the stone from the mouth of the grave, and the response of human hands to the command: -_ “Loose him and let him go.” So if we would see a revival of divine life there must be the longing desire, the trustful prayer, and the ready enterprise. It is only God who can give the ripening sunshine and the drying wind that some of you will presently be looking for to bring your harvests to perfection. But if it had not been that your desire for a harvest had made you face the toil of winter, that sun would shine, and that wind would sweep over bare fields; the fact that God is willing to give these in their appointed season makes you responsible for the proper use of ploughing and seeding time. And have we not to explain the condition of the moral harvest field in a similar way? We have to put down poor harvests to bad farming rather than bad weather. It is the fault of men and not of God if the spirit of revival has not swept from place to place till the whole land was quickening, Were men alive to their responsibilities, then, like the breeze that sets first one field of corn and then another dipping and swaying in the golden sun-light till the whole hill-side is one waving sea of varying harvest tints, might the quickening breath of God pass over the land waking into living activity and fruitfulness spots lying all too drowsily beneath the genial heavens, till, throughout the land the thrilling voice should be heard - “Rejoice for the harvest time has come.”
We turn now to the other phase of the subject, and ask you to consider some of the responsibilities which are specially incumbent on churches blessed with a revival of religion. We say some of the responsibilities - because you will not expect, in a brief paper, anything like a complete enumeration, to say nothing of discussion, of such wide and complex obligations.
The duties which attend a revival of religion differ from our ordinary religious obligations in degree far more than in kind. The special circumstances do far more to emphasise old duties than to create new ones. At such a time we are required to act upon principles that are permanently binding and adopt methods that are always a part of our duty. The special responsibility will be found chiefly in the increased incentives to bring these into activity. As our patriotism should be especially roused by a national crisis so a period of unusual interest in religion should bespeak our increased enthusiasm. As the sickness or grief of friends makes us more solicitous about them, so the penitent sorrow of men should be felt to impose more imperative demands upon our sympathy.
Every sickle should be in the field at harvest time. And, in like manner, every religious agency should be carefully watched and earnestly worked in times of revival. In reference to what is sometimes called “revival machinery '' we may remark that our duty lies not so much in the direction of devising extraordinary methods of Christian endeavour as in the way of working the ordinary means more vigorously - modifying and adding thereto as special cases may suggest. The most successful revivals have been characterised not so much by the newness of the schemes they introduced as by the new vitality which has energised old ones. The history of revivals shews that while some minor changes have come naturally the central plan dates from the time when Peter preached his first revival sermon. Changes - in some sense vast changes—have passed over your systems of farming. But the change is small compared with the things that remain for ever the same: i.e., the tilling of the land, the sowing of the seed, and the reaping of the harvest. And, though some more polished implements may be brought into the moral field, the grand processes are unchanged: i.e., the conviction of sinners, the application of the gospel remedy, and the gathering together of new-born souls into a helpful Christian brotherhood. We need to guard against an undue thirst after novelty, for that may make us impatient of ordinary methods which are of permanent value. At the same time we need to beware of a too tenacious attachment to accustomed usuages, since this may make us intolerant towards any change however useful it may promise to be. The gospel is still “the power of God unto salvation; '' preaching is still the main channel through which that word of gladness is to be brought before the people; and prayer is still the agency by which we are to draw down the blessing on the message declared : no change need be coveted there. But change we must expect in a revived church in the spirit and vigour with which these old means will be used. Some of our congregations would open their eyes in astonishment if we were to leave our orderly dismemberment of texts and begin preaching on the old model, telling in simple phrase the history of the life and death, and resurrection of our Redeeming Lord. They might call it innovation if some day their quiet village were disturbed by earnest preachers travelling two and two like the disciples of old. And some might begin to talk about needless excitement if a few additional services or prayer meetings were held. We shall, indeed, be neglectful of our greatest responsibility if thirst for novelty leads us to neglect the old method propounded first of all by Christ when He said, “Repent and believe my gospel; " but we may sin no less grievously against our duty by standing too doggedly by what we have learned to call the old way of doing things, and branding as “some new thing" what is only the old energised with new vigour. A vigorous tree is ever multiplying new shoots, but they have all some general likeness to the parent stem.
But revivals are not carried on, like the boot and shoe trade of this county, mainly by machinery. The best organizations, administered by the most devout and clear-sighted leaders, are insufficient for their development. The responsibility of conducting them to a successful issue is thrown upon the whole body of Christians. All must be workers bringing prayerful spirits and eager hearts to the task. If our obligations are to be measured by the facilities we possess for executing them, then not a few of those which affect the progress of a revival do not fall so heavily on the more prominent labourers as upon the less conspicuous, but not less effective, private Christians.
To them we must look mainly to bring the unimpressed under the influence of the gospel message. Some of the many we seek to influence may be reached by general advertisement or invitation, but personal invitation is likely to be far more effective. Now, obviously, as a matter of taste and policy, it is better that that invitation should come from those who do not take a leading part in the services. How you can best secure their presence your own wisdom will direct. Religious selfishness crowded out a great many from the meetings held some time ago in the metropolis and large provincial towns. Many Christians who were found there day after day would have paid more regard to one of the responsibilities of a revival by staying at home and praying for the conversion of sinners who might then have found a place. But we suspect that such a difficulty would not be generally felt in the event of revival meetings being held. It might be experienced in a few of the larger towns, but in all probability the need in most cases would be that Christians should be present to encourage
others by their example; to prevent the chill that often pervades a scantily filled place of meeting; and to give a cheerful welcome to strangers induced to attend.
But something more than your presence is required. Co-operation is necessary. So let us say to you further, try to get the confidence of those who seem to be impressed and seek to lead them to Christ. Sad effects may follow neglect here, and happiest results often follow judicious effort. In the spring time the bees do a great deal to help forward the fruitfulness of the tree by carrying the pollen from the anthers to the pistil of the blossoms. So to men is given the grand privilege of helping forward the germination of spiritual fruit. For this task of helping the anxious we need two things: - First, a clear conception of the way of salvation and cordial sympathy with evangelical truth; and secondly, a large amount of sympathy and tact in dealing with others. Only a divine hand can open the locked door of the heart, but some natures are better adapted than others to be God's instruments. A rusty key will grate in the lock but a bright one turns easily.
It is our duty too to seek out young converts that we may introduce them into the fold of the church. We cannot say this is a matter with which we have no concern. To some extent Christians must be advisers and judges. At a time when many are feeling deeply we need to be especially on our guard against the dangers of being careless as to the moral state of those who seek church-membership; we need too to beware of too great anxiety for results that may be tabulated, lest we hasten those who are excited but not converted to a profession of religion. A two-fold danger attends on such a course. Disgrace rests upon Christianity-harm is often done to the church by the declension of such unstable Ephraimites. Sometimes, too, these superficial Christians live a respectable, moral life, yet have no vital godliness because they are resting on past feelings; or on the observance of religious rites; or on the opinion of other men. And so the step they have taken under a false excitement encourages a fatal delusion. Yet, at the same time, it is our duty to encourage those whom we believe to be true disciples of Christ to confess their allegiance to Him, and to “walk in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.” The farmer is not content that the sheaves should stay scattered over his fields. He carries them home and garners them safely. The thrifty farmer's wife is not well pleased if her hens lay away from home. She likes to gather the eggs and set the hen where she can look after the young brood. Young converts need similar care. It is a matter of prime importance that they trust
the Saviour, but the confession of Him, is by no means unimportant. It is a great matter if they are gathered into the “Chief Shepherd's" spiritual fold, but the gathering of them into His visible church is not a small thing that may be despised.
And let us remind you that our duty to these does not cease when we have introduced them to the church. It enters then upon a new stage. In the church its members should be able to find those incentives and aids that will promote their “growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” We have not yet come to “the assembly of just men made perfect.” The church on earth is an assemblage of living but undeveloped Christians. Though aspiring to the full stature of men in Christ Jesus we have to say, so long as we tread the earthly stadium - “Not as though I had already attained.” The scriptural idea of a church is that of a school where the unlearned may form a fuller acquaintance with truth; a fold, where the weakly may find shelter; a gymnasium, where the undeveloped may gain moral discipline. It is the duty of every member to do his best to help his fellow-members; or, as the apostle puts it, to “edify one another; " but especially is it the duty of the strong to help the weak. It is our duty to seek the instruction of young Christians. As Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos “and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly,” so it should be the aim of the elder and more instructed members to aid those who are not so far advanced. Mere verbal instruction is not however the chief need. These need the warm sunshine of geniality more than the “dry light” of teaching, just as a child wants to find love in the home as well as wisdom. Christ said to Peter, “Feed my lambs” as well as “Feed my sheep.” And He is ever repeating that injunction. You know how carefully the shepherd puts up his fold of double hurdles with the straw between in lambing time. The single open hurdle will do for the mature sheep, but nothing less than those will do for the lambs. Every church should have a warm place for young converts. We are not pleading for a debilitating system of nursing that will make them grow up weaklings, but we do ask that they shall find that treatment which will help them to believe that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” While the writer was penning the earlier sheets of this paper, a cart passed his window carrying home the hurdles that had made a warm fold in some neighbouring field, but the lambs had then been bleating and skipping for some days in the open meadow. A little care at first only prepared them for more vigorous life. You may take up some of your moral hurdles presently when the converts have out-grown the
need of them. May we put this important matter before you under another simile 2 You have seen perhaps young trees in a plantation that have grown very little for some years, and afterwards have shot up into fine vigourous trees. And the explanation of the matter is that they have been planted in an uncongenial surface soil. So long as the roots were in it the trees were sickly and stunted, but when they got down into a better layer of earth they throve. Now in making the acquaintance of some good Christian people one sometimes has to penetrate quite a hard crust before we reach the real excellencies that are lower down. The chilliness of their approach or rather of their aloofness; the outside roughness; the tone of superiority against which some do not sufficiently strive is the uncongenial surface soil that may seriously hinder the growth of young Christians.
A revival outside a church pre-supposes a revival within. The supply at the centre is in almost every case increased before the forces of spiritual life flow out in unusual abundance on surrounding districts. But though the life of the church at large is quickened, some may remain at the old point. Therefore let me say a word or two as to the need of every member living an intensely real life. And that intenseness and reality can be maintained only by living near to that unseen Lord who is our life. A stunted tree is not very noticeable if all the rest near it are weakly, but among healthy ones it is a blot. In the winter time you do not notice if the paint and paper of your room is a little dingy. But when winter days are over you have your spring cleaning lest the bright sun reveal any dust and cobwebs. The brighter the light the more apparent the defects as well as the beauties of a Christian life. The finer the orchestra the more likely is one false note to spoil the general effect, the better the machine the more likely is a single grain of sand to do damage; and the more the attention that is being paid to religion the more danger is there of one inconsistent Christian, aye, of one inconsistent act, doing serious harm.
In what we have just been saying we have had the centre of work chiefly in view; but those you should seek to influence are to be found in the street, in the factory, and in the home as well as at the place of meeting. Hence, your work does not lie at the chapel or enquiry meeting alone, but you need to be always on the look out and to employ means as various as the circumstances of the parties concerned. Sometimes a hand-shake and a good-night as they leave the chapel; in other cases an invite to the enquiry meeting; sometimes a walk with a friend; at other times a visit to the house of one who is affected, or an introduction to your own house may present the best opportunities for converse and prayer.
We have already expressed the opinion that our responsibilities in times of revival are but an enlarged edition of the obligations which rest upon us at all times; and now, linking one other thought to that, let us say, with all the earnestness we can command, when special efforts are being put forth of a public and general character see to it that they are supplemented by your private and individual endeavour. And in the absence of such special work remember that you are not absolved from the great bulk of the duties we have been considering. Let us urge you to take up these responsibilities more eagerly than ever by the fact that ministers are comparatively helpless where you have large opportunities. It is hard for them to know half of their congregation, while it is comparatively easy for a man to acquaint himself with those who sit near him in the house of God. It is harder still for him to find opportunities of speaking to them personally, while you often meet with them in the street and store, in the workshop and family. And if he succeed in gaining an interview he has to contend against great disadvantages that are not experienced by the neighbour and friend. Let us urge you to take up these responsibilities more eagerly than ever by reminding you that the influence you have is only temporary. Now, you may be of some use to that reckless work-mate, to-morrow he may be carried unwarned into a Christless eternity. To-day, you may speak some wise word to a high spirited companion, presently some temptation may hurl him beyond your reach. Now, you may speak a brotherly word to some thoughtful one, wait a little and he may have flung off his anxiety with the desperate feeling that no one cares for his soul. To-day, you may help some fellow-traveller over a rough place, to-morrow the place shall be passed, but the memory of the struggle and the pain remain, and you have missed the commendation, “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.” Let us urge you to take up your responsibilities more eagerly than ever by the fact that many about you are needing your help. The dash and constrained gaiety of many a sinner are only a mask with which he covers his concern. He is too proud to ask, and yet he would be glad to know that he had the warm interest of Christians. Many an anxious one crosses our path to whom a few words, by God's help, might be as light flung into a darkened chamber. Many shy, retiring beginners of the Christian life are round about us whose craving for help and sympathy it were not hard to satisfy were we more thoughtful. Let us urge you to take up your responsibilities more eagerly than ever because there is joy in such labour. When the bees help the fruit
forward by scattering the pollen, they bring away honey from the blossom. There is no joy like the sense of duty done. “Rouse to some high and holy work of love, And thou an Angel's happiness shalt know; Shalt bless the earth, while, in the land above, The good begun by thee while here below Shall like a river run and broader flow.”
Let us urge you to take up your responsibilities more eagerly than ever by referring you in a sentence or two to the grand passion that should supply us with an undying stimulus, gratitude for the redemption Christ has wrought for us. “Ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price therefore glorify God in your bodies and in your spirits which are His.” We “beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”
J. Seager, Moderator
==========[From the Minutes of The Northampton Association of Baptists, 1878, pp. 3-13. Document from Google Books On-line. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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