HOW CHURCHES CAN HELP MINISTERS
And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword . -Exodus 17:11-13.
You who read your Bibles will recollect the connection in which these verses stand. The people of God, in subduing their enemies, came to battle against the Amalekites, and these incidents took place. It is difficult to conceive why importance should be attached to the circumstance of Moses holding up his hands, unless the expression is understood to denote the attitude of prayer. But then his holding up his hands, and the success attending it, will teach us the importance of prayer to God, for His aid in all our conflicts with His enemies. The cooperation and support of Aaron and Hur have been generally understood to represent the duty of Churches to sustain and assist ministers in their work, and the importance of this cooperation to the success of the preached gospel. I shall make this use of it on the present occasion. As I have spoken of the duty of ministers to labor for revivals, I shall now consider the importance of the cooperation of the Church in producing and carrying on a revival.
There are various things, the importance of which in promoting a revival have not been duly considered by Churches or ministers - things which, if not attended to, will make it impossible that revivals should extend, or even continue for any considerable time. In my last two Lectures, I have been dwelling on the duties of ministers, for it was impossible for me to deliver a course of lectures on revivals, without entering more or less extensively into that department of means. I have not done with that part of the subject, but have thought it important here to step aside and discuss some points, in which the members of the Church must stand by and aid the minister, if they expect to enjoy a revival. In discussing the subject, I propose to mention:
I. Several things which Christians must avoid, if they would support ministers.
II. Some things to which they must attend.
I. THINGS THAT MUST BE AVOIDED.
1. By all means keep clear of the idea, both in theory and practice, that a minister alone is to promote revivals. Many professing Christians are inclined to take a passive attitude on this subject, and feel as if they had nothing to do. They have employed a minister, and paid him to feed them with instruction and comfort, and now they have nothing to do but to sit and swallow the food he gives. They are to pay his salary and attend on his preaching - and they think that is doing a great deal. And he, on his part, is expected to preach good, sound, comfortable doctrine, to bolster them up, and make them feel comfortable. So, they expect to go to heaven.
I tell you THEY WILL GO TO HELL if this is their religion! That is not the way to heaven!
Rest assured that where this spirit prevails in the Church, however good the minister may be, the Church has taken the course to prevent a revival.
Be the minister ever so faithful, ever so devoted, ever so talented and eloquent, though he may wear himself out, and perhaps destroy his life, he will have little or no revival.
Where there are very few members, or none, a revival may be promoted without any organized effort of the Church, because there is no Church to organize; and in such a case, God accommodates His grace to the circumstances, as He did when the apostles went out, single-handed, to plant the Gospel in the world. I have seen instances of powerful revivals where such was the case. But where there are means, God will have them used. I had rather have no Church in a place, than attempt to promote a revival in a place where there is a Church which will not work. God will be inquired of by His people, to bestow His blessings. The counteracting influence of a Church that will not work, is worse than infidelity. There is no possibility of occupying neutral ground, in regard to a revival, though some professors imagine they are neutral. If a professor will not give himself to the work, he opposes it. Let such a one attempt to take middle ground, and say he is "going to wait and see how affairs shape" - why, that is the very ground the devil wants him to take. Professors can in this way do his work a great deal more effectually than by open opposition. If they should take open ground in opposition, everybody will say they have no religion. But, by taking this middle course they retain their influence, and thus do the devil's work more effectually.
In employing ministers Churches must remember that they have only employed leaders to lead them on to action in the cause of Christ. People would think it strange if any country should propose to support a general, and then let him go and fight alone! This is no more absurd, or destructive, than for a minister to attempt to go forward alone. The Church misconceives the design of the ministry, if the minister is left to work alone. It is not enough that they should hear his sermons. That is only the word of command, which the Church is bound to follow.
2. Do not complain of your minister because there is no revival, if you are not doing your duty, for if you are not doing your duty, that alone is a sufficient reason why there should be no revival. It is a most cruel and abominable thing for Church members to complain of their minister, when they themselves are fast asleep. It is very common for professors of religion to take great credit to themselves, and quiet their own consciences, by complaining of their ministers. And when the importance of ministers being awake is spoken of, such people are always ready to say: "We never shall have a revival with such a minister"; when the fact is that their minister is much more awake than they are themselves.
Another thing is true in regard to this point, and worthy of notice. When the Church is sunk down in a low state, professors of religion are very apt to complain of the Church, and of the low state of religion. That intangible and irresponsible being, the "Church," is greatly complained of by them, for being asleep. Their complaints of the low state of religion, and of the coldness of the Church or of the minister, are poured out dolefully, without any seeming realization that the Church is composed of individuals, and that until each one will take his own case in hand, complain of himself, and humble himself before God, and repent, and wake up, the Church can never have any efficiency, and there never can be a revival. If, instead of complaining of your minister, or of the Church, you would wake up as individuals, and not complain of him or them until you can say you are pure from the blood of all men, and are doing your duty to save sinners, the minister would be apt to feel the justice of your complaints, and if he would not, God would either wake him up or remove him.
3. Do not let your minister kill himself by attempting to carry on the work alone, while you refuse to help him. It sometimes happens that a minister finds the ark of the Lord will not move unless he lays out his utmost strength, and he has been so desirous of a revival that he has done this, and has died. And he was willing to die for it. I could mention cases in which ministers have died in consequence of their labors to promote a revival where the Church hung back from the work.
A minister, some years since, was laboring where there was a revival; and was visited by an elder of a Church at some distance, who wanted him to go and preach there. There was no revival there, and never had been. The elder complained about their state, and said they had two excellent ministers, one of whom had worn himself completely out, and died; and the other had exhausted himself, grown discouraged, and left them. They were a poor and feeble Church, and their prospects very dark, unless they could have a revival, and so he begged this minister to go and help them.
The minister at last replied by asking: "Why did you never have a revival?" "I do not know," said the elder; "our minister labored very hard, but the Church did not seem to wake up, and somehow there seemed to be no revival." "Well, now," said the minister, "I see what you want; you have killed one of God's ministers, and broke down another so that he had to leave you; and now you want to get another there and kill him; and the devil has sent you here to get me to go and rock your cradle for you. You had one good minister to preach for you, but you slept on, and he exerted himself till he absolutely died in the work. Then the Lord let you have another, and still you lay and slept, and would not wake up to your duty.
And now you have come here in despair, and want another minister, do you? God forbid that you should ever have another while you do as you have done. God forbid that you should ever have a minister till the Church will wake up to duty."
The elder was affected, for he was a good man. The tears came into his eyes, and he said it was no more than they deserved. "And now," said the minister, "will you be faithful, and go home and tell the Church what I say? If you will, and they will be faithful, and wake up to duty, they shall have a minister, I will warrant them that." The elder said he would, and he was true to his word; he went home and told the members how cruel it was for them to ask another minister to come among them, unless they would wake up. They felt it, and confessed their sins, and wakened up to duty, and a minister was sent to them, and a precious and powerful revival followed.
Churches do not realize how often their coldness and backwardness may be absolutely the cause of the death of ministers. The state of the people, and of sinners, rests upon their mind; they travail in soul night and day; and they labor in season and out of season, beyond the power of the human constitution to bear, till they wear out and die. The Church knows not the agony of a minister's heart, when he travails for souls, and labors to wake up the members to help, but still sees them in the slumber of death. Perhaps they will sometimes rouse up to spasmodic effort for a few days, and then all is cold again. And so many a faithful minister wears himself out and dies, and then these heartless professors are the first to blame him for doing so much.
I recollect a case of a good minister, who went to a place where there was a revival, and while there heard a pointed sermon to ministers. He received it like a man of God; he did not rebel against God's truth, but he promised God that he never would rest until he saw a revival among his people. He returned home and went to work; the Church would not wake up, except a few members, and the Lord blessed them, and poured out His Spirit; but the minister laid himself down on his bed and died, in the midst of the revival.
4. Be careful not to complain of plain, pointed preaching, even when its reproofs fasten on yourselves. Churches are apt to forget that a minister is responsible only to God. They want to make rules for a minister to preach by, so as to have his discourses fit them. If he bears down upon the Church, and exposes the sins that prevail among the people, they call it "personal," and rebel against the truth. Or they say: "He should not preach so plainly to the Church before the world, for it exposes religion; he ought to take members by themselves and preach to the Church alone, and not tell sinners how bad Christians are." But there are cases where a minister can do no less than show the house of Jacob their sins. If you ask: "Why not do it when we are by ourselves?" I answer: "Just as if sinners do not know you do wrong! I will preach to you by yourselves, about your sins, when you will get together by yourselves to sin. But as the Lord liveth, if you sin before the world, you shall be rebuked before the world. Is it not a fact that sinners do know how you live, and that they stumble over you into hell? Then do not blame ministers, when they see it to be their duty to rebuke the Church openly, before the world. If you are so proud that you cannot bear this, you need not expect a revival. Do not call the preaching 'too plain,' simply because it exposes the faults of the Church. There is no such thing as preaching too plainly."
5. Sometimes professors take alarm lest the minister should offend the ungodly by plain preaching. And they will begin to caution him against it, and ask him if he had not better alter a little so as to avoid giving offense, and the like. This fear is specially excited if some of the more wealthy and influential members of the congregation are offended, lest they should withdraw their support, no longer give their money to help to pay the minister's salary, and so cause the burden to come the heavier on the Church. They can never have a revival in such a Church. Why, the Church ought to pray, above all things, that the truth may come on the ungodly like fire. What if they are offended? Christ can get along very well without their money. Do not blame your minister, or ask him to change his mode of preaching so as to please and conciliate the ungodly. It is of no use for a minister to preach to the impenitent, unless he can preach the truth to them. And it will do no good for f hem to pay for the support of the Gospel, unless it is preached in such a way that they may be searched and saved.
Sometimes Church members will talk among themselves about the minister's imprudence, and create a party, and get into a very wrong spirit, because the wicked are displeased. There was a place where there was a powerful revival, and great opposition. The Church became alarmed, for fear that if the minister was not less plain and pointed, some of the impenitent would go and join some other congregation. And so one of the leading men in the Church was appointed to go to the minister, and ask him not to preach quite so hard, for, if he continued to do so, such-and-such persons would leave the congregation. The minister asked: "Is not the preaching true?" "Yes." "Does not God bless it?" "Yes." "Did you ever see the like of this work before in this place?" "No, I never did."
"Then, 'get thee behind me, Satan.' You have come upon the devil's errand! You see God is blessing the preaching, the work is going on, and sinners are converted every day; and now you come to get me to let down the tone of preaching, so as to ease the minds of the ungodly." The man felt the rebuke, and took it like a Christian; he saw his error and submitted, and never again was heard to find fault with plainness in preaching.
In another town where there was a revival, a woman who had some influence (not pious) complained very much about "plain, pointed, personal preaching," as she called it. But, by and by, she herself became a subject of the work. After this some of her impenitent friends reminded her of what she used to say against the preacher for "preaching so hot."
She said her views were altered now, and she did not care how hot the truth was preached; not even if it was red hot!
6. Do not take part with the wicked in any way. If you do it at all, you will strengthen their hands. If the wicked should accuse the minister of being imprudent or personal; and if the Church members, without admitting that the minister is so, should merely agree that "personal preaching is wrong," and talk about "the impropriety of personal preaching," the wicked would feel themselves strengthened by such remarks. Do not unite with them at all, for they will feel that they have you on their side against the minister; you adopt their principles, use their language, and are understood as sympathizing with them. What is personal preaching? No individual is ever benefited by preaching until he is made to feel that it means him. Such preaching is always personal. It often appears so personal to wicked men that they feel as if they were just going to be called out by name before the congregation. A minister was once preaching to a congregation, and, when describing certain characters, he said: "If I were omniscient, I could call out by name the very persons that answer to this picture." A man cried out: "Name me!" And he looked as if he were going to sink into the earth. He afterwards said that he had no idea of speaking out; but the minister described him so perfectly that he really thought he was going to call him by name. The minister did not actually know that there was such a man. It is common for men to think their own conduct is described, and they complain: "Who has been telling him about me? Somebody has been talking to him about me, and getting him to preach at me!" I suppose I have heard of five hundred or a thousand just such cases. Now, if the Church members will admit that it is wrong for a minister to mean anybody in his preaching, how can he do any good? If you be not willing your minister should mean anybody, or preach to anybody, you had better dismiss him. To whom must he preach, if not to the persons, the individuals before him? And how can he preach to them, when he does not mean them?
7. If you wish to stand by your minister in promoting a revival, do not, by your lives contradict his preaching. If he preaches that sinners are going to hell, do not give the lie to it, and smile it all away, by your levity and unconcern. I have heard sinners speak of the effect produced on their minds by levity in Christians after a solemn and searching discourse. They feel solemn and tender, and begin to feel alarmed at their condition; and they see these professors, instead of weeping over them, all light and easy: as much as to say: "Do not be afraid, sinners, it is not so bad, after all; keep cool and you will do well; do you think we would laugh and joke if you were going to hell so fast? We would not laugh if only your house were on fire; still less if we saw you burning in it!" Of what use is it for a minister to preach to sinners in such a state of things?
8. Do not needlessly take up the time of your minister. Ministers often lose a great deal of time by individuals calling on them, to talk, when they have nothing of importance to talk about, and have come on no particular errand. The minister, of course, is glad to see his friends, and often too willing to spend time in conversation with his people, as he loves and esteems them. Professors of religion should remember, however, that a minister's time is worth more than gold, for it can be employed in that which gold can never buy. If the minister be kept from his knees, or from his Bible, or from his study, that they may indulge themselves in his conversation, they do a great injury. When you have a good reason for it, you should never be backward to call upon him, and even take up all the time that is necessary. But if you have nothing in particular to say that is important, keep away.
9. Be sure not to sanction anything that is calculated to divert public attention from the subject of religion. Often, when it comes the time of year to work, when the evenings are long, and business is light, and the very time to make an extra effort; at this moment somebody in the Church will "give a party," and invite some Christian friends, so as to have it a religious party. And then some other family must do the same, to return the compliment. Then another, and another, till it grows into an organized system of parties that consumes the whole winter. Abominable! This is the grand device of the devil, because it appears so innocent, and so proper, to promote good feeling, and increase the acquaintance of Christians with each other. And so, instead of prayer meetings, they will have these parties.
The evils of these parties are very great. They are often got up at great expense; and the most abominable gluttony is practiced in them. 48 I have been told that in some instances professed Christians have made great entertainments, and excused the ungodly prodigality in the use of Jesus Christ's money, by giving what was left, after the feast was ended, to the poor! Thus making it a virtue to feast and riot, even to surfeiting, on the bounties of God's providence, under pretense of benefiting the poor. This is the same in principle with a splendid ball which was given some years ago, in a neighboring city. The ball was got up for the benefit of the poor, and each gentleman was to pay a certain sum, and after the ball was ended, whatever remained of the funds thus raised, was to be given to the poor.
Truly this is strange charity: to eat, and drink, and dance, and when they have rioted and feasted until they can enjoy it no longer, they deal out to the poor the crumbs that have fallen from the table. I do not see, however, why such a ball is not quite as pious as such Christian parties. The evil of balls does not consist simply in the exercise of dancing, but in the dissipation, and surfeiting, and temptations connected with them.
But it is said they are Christian parties, and that they are all, or nearly all, professors of religion, who attend them. And furthermore, that they are concluded, often, with prayer. Now I regard this as one of the worst features about them; that after the waste of time and money, the excess in eating and drinking, the vain conversation, and nameless fooleries, with which such a season is filled up, an attempt should be made to sanctify it, and palm it off upon God, by concluding it with prayer. Say what you will, it would not be more absurd or incongruous, or impious, to close a ball, or a theatrical performance, or a card party with prayer.
Has it come to this; that professors of religion (who profess to desire the salvation of the world), when calls are made upon them from the four winds of heaven, to send the Gospel, to furnish Bibles, and tracts, and missionaries, to save the world from death, should waste large sums of money in an evening, and then go to the Missionary Meeting and pray for the heathen?
In some instances, I have been told, they find a salve for their consciences in the fact that their minister attends their parties. This, of course, would give weight to such an example; for if one professor of religion made a party and invited the minister, others would do the same. The next step they take may be for each to give a ball, and appoint their minister a manager! Why not? And perhaps, by and by, he will do them the favor to play the fiddle. In my estimation he might quite as well do it, as go and conclude such a party with prayer. I should advise any congregation that is calculating to have a circle of parties, in the meantime to dismiss their minister, and let him go and preach where the people would be ready to receive the Word and profit by it, rather than have him stay and be grieved, and killed, by attempting to promote religion among them, while they are engaged, heart and hand, in the service of the devil.
Professors of religion should never arrange anything that may divert public attention from religion, without having first consulted their minister, and made it a subject of special prayer. And if they find it will have an adverse effect, they ought never to do it. Subjects will often come up before the public which have this tendency; some course of Lectures, some show, or the like. Professors ought to be wise, and understand what they are about, and not give countenance to any such thing until they see what influence it will have, and whether it will hinder a revival. If it will do that, let them have nothing to do with it. Every such thing should be estimated by its bearing upon Christ's Kingdom.
II. SEVERAL THINGS WHICH CHURCHES MUST DO.
That is to say, things which they must do if they would promote a revival and aid their minister.
1. They must attend to his temporal wants. A minister who gives himself wholly to his work cannot be engaged in worldly employments, and of course is entirely dependent on his people for the supply of his temporal wants, including the support of his family. I need not argue this point here, for you all understand this perfectly. It is the command of God, that "they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:14). But now look around and see how many Churches do in this matter.
For instance, when they want a minister, they will cast about and see how cheaply they can get one. They will calculate to a farthing how much his salt will cost, and how much his flour, and then set his salary so low as to subject him to extreme inconvenience to pay his way and keep his family.
A minister must have his mind at ease, to study and labor with effect, and he cannot screw down prices, and barter, and look out for the best chances to buy to advantage what he needs. If he be obliged to do this, his mind is embarrassed. Unless his temporal wants are so supplied, that his thoughts may be abstracted from them, how can he do his duty?
2. Be honest with your minister. Do not measure out and calculate with how much salt and how many bushels of grain he can possibly get along.
Remember, you are dealing with Christ, and He calls you to place His ministers in such a situation, that, with ordinary prudence, temporal embarrassment may be out of the question.
3. Be punctual with him. Sometimes Churches, when they are about to welcome a minister, have a great deal of pride about giving a salary, and they will get up a subscription list, and make out, in the total, an amount which they never do pay, and very likely never expected to pay. And so, after one, two, three, or four years, the society gets three or four hundred dollars in debt to the minister, and then they expect him to forego it. And all the while they wonder why there is no revival! This may be the very reason - because the Church has LIED. They have faithfully promised to pay so much, and have not done it. God cannot consistently pour out His Spirit on such a Church.
4. Pay him his salary without being asked. Nothing is so embarrassing to a minister as to be obliged to dun his people for his salary. Often he creates enemies and gives offense by being obliged to call, and call, for his money - even then not getting it as he was promised. They would have paid it if their credit had been at stake; but when it is nothing but conscience and the blessing of God, they "let it lie along." If any one of them had a note due at the bank, you would see him careful and prompt to be on the ground before three o'clock, lest he should lose his character. But they know the minister will not ask them for his salary, so they are careless, and then let it run into arrears, and he must suffer the inconvenience. This is not so common in the city as it is in the country. But in the country I have known some heartrending cases of distress and misery, by the negligence and cruelty of congregations in withholding that which was due. Churches live in habitual lying and cheating, and then wonder why they have no revival. How can they wonder?
5. Pray for your minister. Even the apostles used to urge the Churches to pray for them. This is more important than you imagine. Ministers do not ask people to pray for them simply as men, nor that they may be filled with an abundance of the Spirit's influences, merely to promote their own personal enjoyment. But they know that unless the Church greatly desires a blessing upon the labors of a minister, it is tempting God for him to expect it. How often does a minister go into his pulpit, feeling that his heart is ready to break for the blessing of God, while he also feels that there is no room to expect it, for there is no reason to believe that the Church desires it! Perhaps he has been for hours on his knees in supplication, and yet, because the Church does not desire a blessing, he feels as if his words would bound back in his face.
I have seen Christians who would be in an agony, when the minister was going into the pulpit, for fear his mind should be in a cloud, or his heart cold, or he should have no unction, and so a blessing should not come. I have labored with a man of this sort. He would pray until he got an assurance in his mind that God would be with me in preaching, and sometimes he would pray himself ill. I have known the time when he has been in darkness for a season, while the people were gathering, and his mind was full of anxiety, and he would go again and again to pray, till finally he would come into the room with a placid face, and say: "The Lord has come, and He will be with us." And I do not know that I ever found him mistaken.
I have known a Church bear up their minister in prayer from day to day, and watch with anxiety unutterable, to see that he had the Holy Ghost with him in his labors! When Christians feel and pray thus, oh, what feelings and what looks are manifest in the congregation! They have felt anxiety unutterable to have the Word come with power and take effect; and when they see their prayer answered, and when they hear a word or a sentence come WARM from the heart, taking effect among the people, you can see their whole souls look out of their eyes! How different is the case where the Christians feel that the Minster is praying, and so there is no need for them to do so. They are mistaken. The Church must desire and pray for the blessing. God says He will be inquired of by the house of Israel. I wish you to feel that there can be no substitute for this.
I have seen cases in revivals, where the Church was kept in the background in regard to prayer, and persons from abroad were called on to pray in all the meetings. This is always unhappy, even if there should be a revival, for the revival must be less powerful and less salutary in its influences upon the Church. I do not know but that I have sometimes offended Christians and ministers from other places, by continuing to call on members of the Church to pray, and not on visitors. It was not from any disrespect, but because the object was to get that Church which was chiefly concerned, to desire, and pray, and agonize for a blessing.
In a certain place, a "protracted meeting" was held, with no good results; but, on the contrary, great evils were produced. I was led to make inquiry for the reason, and it came out that throughout their meetings not one member of their own Church was called on to pray, but all the prayers were made by persons from elsewhere. No wonder there was no good done. The leader of the meeting meant well, but he undertook to promote a revival without getting the Church into the work. He let a lazy Church lie still and do nothing, and so there could be no good result.
Churches should pray for ministers as the agents for breaking down sinners with the word of truth. Prayer for a minister is often made in a set and formal way, and confined to the prayer meetings. They will say their prayers in the old way, as they have always done: "Lord, bless Thy ministering servant whom Thou hast stationed on this part of Zion's walls!" and so on; and it amounts to nothing, because there is no heart in it. The fact often is that they never thought of praying for him in secret; they never have agonized in private for a blessing on his labors. They may not omit it wholly in their meetings, for if they do that, it becomes evident that they care very little indeed about the labors of their minister. But that is not the most important place. The way to present effectual prayer for your minister is, when you are in secret, to wrestle with God for success to attend his labors.
I knew a case of a minister in ill health, who became depressed and cast down in his mind, and was very much in darkness, so that he did not feel as if he could preach any longer. An individual of the Church was awakened to feel for the minister in such a situation, and to pray that he might have the Holy Ghost to attend his preaching. One Sabbath morning, this person's mind was very much exercised, so that he began to pray as soon as it was light, and prayed again and again for a blessing that day.
And the Lord in some way directed the minister within hearing of his prayer. The person was telling the Lord just what he thought of the minister's situation and state of mind, and pleading, as if he would not be denied, for a blessing. The minister went into the pulpit and preached, and the light broke in upon him, and the Word was with power, and a revival commenced that very day.
6. A minister should be provided for by the Church, and his support guaranteed, irrespective of the ungodly. Otherwise he may be obliged either to starve his family, or to keep back a part of the truth so as not to offend sinners. I once expostulated with a minister whom I found was afraid to come out fully with the truth. I told him I was surprised he did not bear upon certain points. He told me he was so situated that he must please certain men, who would be touched thereby. It was the ungodly that chiefly supported him, and this made him dependent and temporizing.
And yet perhaps that very Church which left the minister dependent on the ungodly for his bread, would turn round and abuse him for his want of faith, and his fear of men. The Church ought always to say to the minister: "We will support you; go to work; let the truth pour down on the people, and we will stand by you."
7. See that everything is so arranged that people can sit comfortably in the meeting. If people do not sit in ease, it is difficult to get or to keep their attention. And if they are not attentive, they cannot be converted. They have come to hear for their lives, and they ought to be so situated that they can hear with all their souls, and have nothing in their bodily position to call for attention. Churches do not realize how important it is that the place of meeting should be made comfortable. I do not mean showy. All your glare and glory of rich chandeliers, and rich carpets, and splendid pulpits, make for the opposite extreme, taking off the attention just as effectually, and defeating every object for which a sinner should come to a meeting. You need not expect a revival there.
8. See that the house of God is kept clean. The house of God should be kept as clean as you want your own house to be kept. Churches are often kept excessively slovenly. I have seen them where people used so much tobacco, and took so little care about neatness, that it was impossible to preach with comfort. Once, in a protracted meeting, the thing was charged upon the Church (and they had to acknowledge it), that they paid more money for tobacco than they did for the cause of Missions. There is an importance in these things, which is not realized. See that man! What is he doing? I am preaching to him about eternal life, and he is thinking about the dirty pew.
9. It is important that the house should be just warm enough, but not too warm. Suppose a minister comes into a house and finds it cold; he sees, as soon as he gets in, that he might as well have stayed at home; the people are shivering, their feet are chilled, and they feel as if they should take cold; and the minister wishes he were at home, for he knows he cannot do anything; but he must preach, or the congregation will be disappointed.
Or, he may find the house too warm, and the people, instead of listening to the truth, are fanning themselves and panting for breath. By and by a woman faints, and makes a stir, and the train of thought and feeling is all lost, and so a whole sermon is wasted. These little things take off the attention of people from the words of eternal life. And very often it is so, that if you drop a single link in the chain of argument, you lose the whole, and the people are damned, just because the careless Church does not see to the proper regulation of these little matters.
10. The house should be well ventilated. Of all houses, a church should be the most perfectly ventilated. If there be no change of the air, it passes through so many lungs that it becomes bad; its vitality is exhausted, and the people pant, they know not why, and feel an almost irresistible desire to sleep; the minister preaches in vain; the sermon is lost, and worse than lost. I have often wondered that this matter should be so little the subject of thought. The elders and officials will sit and hear a whole sermon, while the people are all but ready to die for the want of air, and the minister is wasting his strength in preaching where the room is just like an exhausted receiver; there they sit and never think to do anything in the matter. They should take it upon themselves to see that this is regulated rightly; that the house is just warm enough, and the air kept pure. How important it is that they should be awake on this subject; that the minister may labor to the best advantage, and the people give their undivided attention to the truth which is to save their souls.
It is very common, when things are wrong, to have it all laid to the sexton, or caretaker. Often, however, the sexton is not to blame. If the building is cold and uncomfortable, very often it is because the fuel is not good, or the stoves not suitable, or the place is so open it cannot be warmed. If it is warm, perhaps somebody has intermeddled, and heaped on fuel without discretion. Or, if the sexton is in fault, perhaps it is because the Church does not pay him enough for his services, and he cannot afford to give the attention necessary to keep the place in order. Churches sometimes screw down the sexton's salary to the lowest point, so that he is obliged to slight his work. Or they will select one who is incompetent, for the sake of getting him cheap. Let an adequate payment be made for the work, and it can be done, and done faithfully. If one sexton will not do it rightly, another will, and the Church must see that it is done aright. What economy! To pay a minister's salary, and then, for the want of a small sum added to the sexton's wages, everything is so out of order that the minister's labors are all lost, souls are lost, and your children and neighbors go down to hell!
Sometimes this uncleanliness, and negligence, and confusion, are chargeable to the minister. Perhaps he uses tobacco, and sets the example of defiling the house of God. Perhaps the pulpit will be the filthiest place in the house. I have sometimes been in pulpits that were too loathsome to be occupied by human beings. If a minister has no more piety and decency than this, no wonder things are "at loose ends" in the congregation. And generally it is even so.
11. People should leave their very young children at home. I have often known children to cry just at that stage of the services that would most effectually destroy the effect of the meeting. If children weep, they should instantly be removed. I have sometimes known a mother, or a nurse, sit and toss her child, while its cries were diverting the attention of the whole congregation.
12. The members of the Church should aid the minister by visiting from house to house, and trying to save souls. Do not leave all this to the minister. It is impossible he should do it, even if he were to give all his time, and neglect his study and private prayer. Church members should take pains and qualify themselves for this duty, so that they can be useful in it.
13. They should hold Bible classes. Suitable individuals should be selected to hold Bible classes, for the instruction of the young people, and where those who are awakened or affected by the preaching, can be received and be converted. As soon as persons are seen to be touched, let them be invited to join the Bible class, where they will be properly treated, and probably they will be converted. The Church should select the best men for this service, and should all be on the look out to fill up the Bible classes. It has been done in this congregation. It is a very common thing when persons are impressed, that they are observed by somebody, and invited to join the Bible class. They accept the invitation, and there they are converted. We want more teachers, able and willing to take charge of such classes.
14. Churches should sustain Sabbath Schools, and in this way aid their minister in saving souls. How can a minister attend to this and preach?
Unless the Church will take off these responsibilities, and cares, and labors, he must either neglect them, or be crushed. Let the members be WIDE AWAKE, let them watch and bring in children to the school, teach them faithfully, and lay themselves out to promote a revival in the school.
15. They should watch over the members of the Church. They should visit each other, in order to stir each other up, know each other's spiritual state, and "consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works"
(Hebrews 10:24). The minister cannot do it, he has not time; it is impossible he should study and prepare sermons, and at the same time visit all the members of the Church as often as is necessary to keep them advancing. The members are bound to watch over each other's spiritual welfare. But how is this done? Many do not know one another. They meet and pass as strangers, and never ask about one another's spiritual condition. But if they hear anything bad of one, they go and tell it to others. Instead of watching over them for their good, they watch for their halting. How can they watch for good when they are not even acquainted with each other?
16. The Church should watch for the elect of preaching. If the members are praying for the success of the preached Word, they will watch for it, of course. They should keep a look-out, and when any in the congregation give evidence that the Word of God has taken hold of them, they should follow it up. Wherever there are any exhibitions of feeling, those persons should be attended to, instantly, and not left till their impressions wear off. They should be spoken to, or visited, or got into the anxious meeting, or into the Bible class, or brought to the minister. If the members do not attend to this, they neglect their duty. If they attend to it, they may do incalculable good.
There was a pious young woman, who lived in a very cold and wicked place. She alone had the spirit of prayer, and she had been praying for a blessing upon the Word. At length she saw an individual in the congregation who seemed to be affected by the preaching, and as soon as the minister came from the pulpit, she came forward, agitated and trembling, and begged him to go and converse with the person immediately. He did so, the individual was soon converted, and a revival followed. Now, one of your stupid professors would not have seen that that individual was awakened, but would have stumbled over half a dozen such without noticing. Professors should watch every sermon, and see how it affects the congregation. I do not mean that they should be stretching their necks and staring about the house; but they should observe, as they may, and if they find any person affected by preaching, they should put themselves in his way, and guide him to the Savior.
17. Beware, and do not give away all the preaching to others. If you do not take your portion, you will starve, and become like spiritual skeletons.
Christians should take their portion to themselves. Though the sermon should be quite searching to them, they should still make the honest application, lay it alongside their heart, and practice it, and live by it.
Otherwise, the preaching will do them no good.
18. Be ready to aid your minister in carrying out his plans for doing good.
When the minister is wise to devise plans for usefulness, and the Church ready to execute them, they may carry all before them. But when the members hang back from every enterprise until they are actually dragged into it - when they are opposing every proposal, because it will cost something, they are a dead weight upon a minister.
I was once attending a "protracted meeting," where we were embarrassed because there were no lamps to the building. I urged the people to get them, but they thought the expense would be too much! I then proposed to get them myself, and was about to do it, but found it would give offense, and we went without. But the blessing did not come, to any great extent. How could it? The Church began by calculating to a nicety how much it would cost, and they would not go beyond that exact figure to save souls from hell.
So, where a minister appoints such a meeting, such people object, because it will cost something. If they can offer unto the Lord that which costs nothing, they will do it. Miserable helpers they are! Such a people can have no revival. A minister might as well have a millstone about his neck, as such a Church. He had better leave them, if he cannot teach them better, and go where he will not be so hampered.
19. Church members should make it a point to attend prayer meetings, and attend in time. Some will always attend the preaching, because they have nothing to do but to sit and hear and be entertained, but they will not attend prayer meetings for fear they should be called on to do something.
Such members tie up the hands of the minister, and discourage his heart.
Why do they employ a minister? Is it to amuse them by preaching? Or is it that he may teach them the will of God, that they may do it?
20. Church members ought to study and inquire what they can do, and then do it. Christians should be trained like a band of soldiers. It is the duty and office of a minister to train them for usefulness, to teach and direct them, and lead them on in such a way as to produce the greatest amount of moral influence. And then the Christians should stand their ground and do their duty, otherwise they will be right in the way. But I could write a book as large as this Bible before me, in detailing the various particulars which ought to be attended to.
1. You see that a minister's want of success may not be wholly on account of a want of wisdom in the exercise of his office. I am not excusing negligent ministers; I never will spare ministers from the naked truth, nor apply flattering titles to men. If they are blameworthy, let them be blamed. And, no doubt, they are always more or less to blame when the Word produces no effect. But it is far from being true that they are always the principal persons to blame. Sometimes the Church is much more to blame than the minister; if an apostle or an angel from heaven, were to preach, he could not produce a revival of religion in that Church. Perhaps they are dishonest to their minister, or covetous, or careless about the conveniences of public worship. Alas! what a state many country churches are in, where, for the want of a small expenditure, everything is inconvenient and uncomfortable, and the labors of the preacher are lost.
They "dwell in ceiled houses" themselves, and let "the house of God lie waste" (Haggai 1:4). Or the professors of religion counteract all the influence of the preaching by their ungodly lives. Or perhaps their worldly show (as in most of the Churches in this city) annihilates the influence of the Gospel.
2. Churches should remember that they are exceedingly guilty, to employ a minister and then not aid him in his work. The Lord Jesus Christ has sent an ambassador to sinners, to turn them from their evil ways, and he fails of his errand, because Churches refuse to do their duty. Instead of recommending his message, and seconding his entreaties, and holding up his hands in all the ways that are proper, they stand right in the way, and contradict his message, and counteract his influence, and souls perish. No doubt, in most of the congregations in the United States, the minister is often hindered so much that for a great part of the time he might as well be on a foreign mission as be there, for any effect of his preaching in the conversion of sinners, for he has to preach over the heads of an inactive and stupid Church.
Yet these very Churches are not willing to have their minister absent a few days to attend a "protracted meeting." "We cannot spare him; he is our minister, and we like to have our minister here"; while at the same time, they hinder all he can do at home. If he could, he would tear himself right away, and go where there is no minister, and where the people would be willing to receive the Gospel. But there he must stay, though he cannot get the Church into a state to have a revival once in three years, to last three months at a time. It. might be well for him to say to the Church: "Whenever you are determined to take one of these long naps, I wish you would let me know it, so that I can go and labor somewhere else in the meantime, till you are ready to wake again."
3. Many Churches cannot be blessed with a revival, because they are "sponging" out of other Churches, and out of the treasury of the Lord, for the support of their minister, when they are abundantly able to support him themselves. Perhaps they are depending on the Home Missionary Society, or on other Churches, while they are not exercising any self -denial for the sake of the Gospel. I have been amazed to see how some Churches live. One Church, as I have said, actually confessed that the members spent more money for tobacco than they gave for Missions. And yet they had no minister, because "they were not able to support one"!
There is actually one man in that Church who is himself able to support a minister, but still they have no minister and no preaching!
The Churches have not been instructed in their duty on this subject. I stopped in a place where there was no preaching. I inquired of an elder in the Church why it was so, and he said it was "because they were so poor." I asked him how much he was worth; he did not give me a direct answer, but said that another elder's income was about five thousand dollars a year; and I finally found out that this man's was about the same.
"Here," said I, "are two elders, each of you able to support a minister, and because you cannot get outside help, you have no preaching. 'Why, if you had preaching' it would not be blessed." Finally, he confessed that he was able to support a minister, and the two together agreed that they would do it.
It is common for Churches to ask for help, when in fact they do not need any help, and when it would be a great deal better for them to support their own minister. If they get funds from the Home Missionary Society, when they ought to raise sufficient themselves, they may expect the curse of the Lord upon them, and this will be a sufficient reason for the Gospel proving to them a curse, rather than a blessing. Of how many might it be said: "Ye have robbed God, even this whole Church (Malachi. 3:9).
I know a Church which employed a minister for half the time, and felt unable to pay his salary for that. A Women's Working Society in a neighboring town appropriated their funds to this object, and assisted this Church in paying the minister's salary. The result was, as might be expected; he did them little or no good. They had no revival under his preaching, nor could they ever expect any, while acting on such a principle. There was one m an in that congregation who could support a minister all the time. I was informed by a member, that the Church members were supposed to be worth two hundred thousand dollars. Now if this be true, here is a Church with an income, at seven per cent., of fourteen thousand dollars a year, who felt themselves too poor to pay two hundred dollars for the support of a minister to preach half the time, but would suffer the women of a neighboring town to work with their own hands to aid them in paying the sum. Among the elders of this Church, I found, too, that several used tobacco; two of them, however, subsequently signed a covenant, written on the blank leaf of their Bible, in which they pledged themselves to abandon that sin for ever.
It was in a great measure simply for want of right instruction that this Church was pursuing such a course, for, when the subject was taken up, and their duty laid before them, the wealthy man of whom I am speaking said that he would pay the whole salary himself, if he thought it would not be resented by the congregation, and do more hurt than good; and that if the Church would procure a minister, and go ahead and raise a part of his salary, he would make up the remainder. They can now not only support a minister half the time, but all the time, and pay his salary themselves.
And they will find it good and profitable to do so.
As I have gone from place to place laboring in revivals, I have always found that Churches were blessed in proportion to their liberality. Where they have manifested a disposition to support the Gospel, and to pour out their substance liberally into the treasury of the Lord, they have been blessed both in spiritual and in temporal things. But where they have been parsimonious, and let the minister preach for them for little or nothing, these Churches have been cursed instead of blessed. And, as a general thing, in revivals of religion, I have found it to be true that young converts are most inclined to join those Churches which are most liberal in making efforts to support the Gospel.
The Churches are very much in the dark on this subject. They have not been taught their duty. I have, in many instances, found an exceeding readiness to respond, when the subject was laid before them. I knew an elder who was talking about getting a minister for half the time, because the Church was poor, although his own income was considerable. I asked him whether his income would not enable him alone to support a minister all the time? He said it would. And on being asked what other use he could make of the Lord's money which he possessed, that would prove so beneficial to the interest of Christ's Kingdom, as to employ a minister not only half, but all the time, in his own town, he concluded to set himself about it. A minister has been obtained accordingly, and I believe they find no difficulty in paying him his full salary.
The fact is, that a minister can do but little by preaching only half the time. If on one Sabbath an impression be made, it is lost before a fortnight comes round. As a matter of economy, a Church should lay itself out to support the Gospel all the time. If they get the right sort of a minister, and keep him steadily at work, they may have a revival, and thus the ungodly will be converted, and come in and help them; so that in one year they may have a great accession to their strength. But if they employ a minister only half the time, year after year may roll away, while sinners are going to hell, and no accession be made to the strength of the Church from the ranks of the ungodly.
The fact is, that professors of religion have not been made to feel that all their possessions are the Lord's. Hence they have talked about giving their property for the support of the Gospel! As if the Lord Jesus Christ were a beggar, and they were called upon to support His Gospel as an act of almsgiving!
A certain merchant was paying a large part of his minister's salary: one of the members of the Church was relating the fact to a minister from another place, and spoke of the sacrifice which this merchant was making. At this moment the merchant came in. "Brother," said the minister, "you are a merchant. Suppose you employ a clerk to sell goods, and a schoolmaster to teach your children; and you order your clerk to pay your schoolmaster, out of the store, such an amount, for his services in teaching.
Now, suppose your clerk gave out that he had to pay this schoolmaster his salary, and should speak of the sacrifices that he was making to do it: what would you say to this?" "Why," said the merchant, "I should say it was ridiculous." "Well," said the minister, "God employs you to sell goods as His clerk, and your minister He employs to teach His children, and He requires you to pay the salary out of the income of the store.
Now, do you call this your sacrifice, and say that you are making a great sacrifice to pay this minister's salary? No: you are just as much bound to sell goods for God as he is to preach for God. You have no more right to sell goods for the purpose of laying up money than he has to preach the Gospel for the same purpose. You are bound to be as pious, and aim as singly at the glory of God, in selling goods, as he is in preaching the Gospel. And thus you are as fully to give up your whole time for the service of God as he does. You and your family may lawfully live out of the profits of this store, and so may the minister and his family, just as lawfully, If you sell goods from these motives, selling goods is just as much serving God as preaching; and a man who sells goods on these principles, and acts in conformity to them, is just as pious - just as much in the service of God - as he is who preaches the Gospel. Every man is bound to serve God in his calling; the minister by teaching; the merchant by selling goods; the farmer by tilling his fields; and the lawyer and the physician by plying the duties of their professions. It is equally unlawful for any one of these to labor for the meat that perisheth. All they do is to be for God, and all they earn, after comfortably supporting their families, is to be dedicated to the spread of the Gospel and the salvation of the world."
It has long enough been supposed that ministers must be more pious than other men, that they must not love the world, that they must labor for God: that they must live as frugally as possible, and lay out their whole time, and health, and strength, and life, to build up the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. This is true. But although other men are not called to labor in the same field, and to give up their time to public instruction, yet they are just as absolutely bound to consider their whole time as God's; and have no
more right to love the world, or accumulate wealth, or lay it up for their children, or spend it upon their lusts, than ministers have.
It is high time for the Church to be acquainted with these principles. The Home Missionary Society may labor till the Day of Judgment to convert people, but will never succeed, till the Churches are led to understand and feel their duty in this respect. Why, the very fact that they are asking and receiving aid in supporting their minister from the Society while they are able to support him themselves, is probably the very reason why his labors among them are not more blessed.
I would that the American Home Missionary Society possessed a hundred times the means that it now does, of aiding feeble Churches that are unable to help themselves. But it is neither good economy nor piety to give funds to those who are able, but unwilling, to support the Gospel. For it is in vain to attempt to help them, while they are able, but unwilling, to help themselves.
If the Missionary Society had a ton of gold, it would be no charity to give it to such a Church. But let the Church bring in all the tithes to God's storehouse, and He will open the windows of heaven and pour down a blessing (Malachi 3:10). But let the Churches know assuredly that, if they are unwilling to help themselves to the extent of their ability, they show the reason why such small success attends the labors of their ministers.
Here they are, "sponging" their support from the Lord's treasury! How many Churches lay out their money for tea, and coffee, and tobacco, and then come and ask aid from the Home Missionary Society! I will protest against aiding a people who use tea and tobacco, and live without the least self-denial, wanting to offer God only that which costs them nothing (2 Samuel 24:24).
Finally: if they mean to be blessed, let them do their duty - all their duty, put their shoulder to the wheel, gird on the Gospel armor, and come up to the work. Then, if the Church is in the field, the car of salvation will move on, though all hell oppose, and sinners will be converted and saved. But if a Church will leave all the labor to the minister, and sit still and look on while he is working, and themselves doing nothing but complain of him, they will not only fail of a revival of religion, but, if they continue slothful and censorious, will, by and by, find themselves in hell for their disobedience and unprofitableness in the service of Christ.
MEASURES TO PROMOTE REVIVALS
These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, and teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans.
- Acts 16:20, 21.
"These men," here spoken of, were Paul and Silas, who went to Philippi to preach the Gospel, and very much disturbed the people of that city, who supposed that the preaching would interfere with their worldly gains.
And so they arraigned the preachers of the Gospel before the magistrates of the city, as culprits, and charged them with teaching doctrines, and especially employing measures, that were not lawful.
In discoursing from these words I design to show:
I. That, under the Gospel dispensation, God has established no particular system of measures to be employed, and invariably adhered to, in promoting religion.
II. That our present forms of public worship, and everything, so far as measures are concerned, have been arrived at by degrees, and by a succession of New Measures.
I. GOD HAS ESTABLISHED NO PARTICULAR MEASURES.
Under the Jewish dispensation, there were particular forms enjoined and prescribed by God Himself, from which it was not lawful to depart. But these forms were all typical, and were designed to shadow forth Christ, or something connected with the new dispensation that Christ was to introduce. And therefore they were fixed, and all their details particularly prescribed by Divine authority. But it was never so under the Gospel.
When Christ came, the ceremonial or typical dispensation was abrogated, because the design of those forms was fulfilled, and they were therefore of no further use. He being the Antitype, the types were of course done away at His coming. THE GOSPEL was then preached as the appointed means of promoting religion; and it was left to the discretion of the Church to determine, from time to time, what measures should be adopted, and what forms pursued, in giving the Gospel its power.
We are left in the dark as to the measures pursued by the apostles and primitive preachers, except so far as we can gather from occasional hints in the Book of Acts. We do not know how many times they sang, how many times they prayed, in public worship, nor even whether they sang or prayed at all in their ordinary meetings for preaching. When Jesus Christ was on earth, laboring among His disciples, He had nothing to do with forms or measures. He did from time to time in this respect just as it would be natural for any man to do in such cases, without anything like a set form or mode. The Jews accused Him of disregarding their forms. His object was to preach and teach mankind the true religion. And when the apostles preached afterwards, with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven, we hear nothing about their having a particular system of measures for carrying on their work; nor do we hear of one apostle doing a thing in a particular way because others did it in that way. Their commission was: "Go and preach the Gospel, and disciple all nations." It did not prescribe any forms. It did not admit any. No person can pretend to get any set of forms or particular directions as to measures, out of this commission. Do it - the best way you can; ask wisdom from God; use the faculties He has given you; seek the direction of the Holy Ghost; go forward and do it.
This was their commission. And their object was to make known the Gospel in the most effectual way, to make the truth stand out strikingly, so as to obtain the attention and secure the obedience of the greatest number possible. No person can find any form of doing this laid down in the Bible. It is preaching the Gospel which there stands out prominently as the great thing. The form is left out of the question.
It is manifest that in preaching the Gospel there must be some kind of measures adopted. The Gospel must be presented before the minds of the people, and measures must be taken so that they can hear it, and be induced to attend to it. This is done by building churches, holding stated or other meetings, and so on. Without some measures, the Gospel can never be made to take effect among men.
II. PRESENT FORMS ARRIVED AT BY DEGREES.
Our present forms of public worship, and everything so far as measures are concerned, have been arrived at by degrees, and by a succession of New Measures.
1. I will mention some things in regard to the ministry.
Many years ago, ministers were accustomed to wear a peculiar habit. It is so now in Roman Catholic countries. It used to be so here. Ministers had a peculiar dress as much as soldiers. They used to wear a cocked hat, bands (instead of a cravat or stock), small clothes, and a wig. No matter how much hair a man had on his head, he must cut it off and wear a wig. And he must wear a gown. All these things were customary, and every clergyman was held bound to wear them, and it was not considered proper for him to officiate without them. 50 All these had doubtless been introduced by a succession of innovations, for we have no good reason for believing that the apostles and primitive ministers dressed differently from other men.
But now all these things have been given up, one by one, in America, by a succession of innovations or new measures, until now, in many places, a minister can go into the pulpit and preach without attracting special notice, although dressed like any other man. And in regard to each of these alterations the Church complained as much as if it had been a Divine institution given up. It was denounced as an innovation. When ministers began to lay aside their cocked hats, and wear headgear like other men's, it grieved the elderly people very much; it looked so "undignified," they said, for a minister to wear a round hat. When, in 1827, I wore a fur cap, a minister said: "That is too bad, for a minister."
When ministers first began, a few years since, to wear white hats, it was thought by many to be a sad and very undignified innovation. And even now they are so bigoted in some places that a clergyman lately told me how, in traveling through New England last summer, with a white hat, he could perceive that it injured his influence. This spirit should not be looked upon as harmless; I have good reason to know that it is not harmless. There is at this day scarcely a minister in the land who does not feel himself obliged to wear a black coat, as much as if it were a Divine institution. The Church is yet filled with a kind of superstitious reverence for such things. Thinking men see this to be mere bigotry, and are exceedingly in danger of viewing everything about religion in the same light on this account.
So, in like manner, when ministers laid aside their bands, and wore cravats or stocks, it was said they were becoming secular, and many found fault.
Even now, in some places, a minister would not dare to be seen in the pulpit in a cravat or stock. The people would feel as if they had no clergyman, if he had no bands. A minister in this city asked another, but a few days since, "if it would do to wear a black stock in the pulpit?" He wore one in his ordinary intercourse with his people, but doubted whether it would do to wear it in the pulpit.
So in regard to small clothes: they used to be thought essential to the ministerial character. Even now, in Roman Catholic countries, every priest wears small clothes. Even the little boys there, who are training for the priest's office, wear their cocked hats, and black stockings, and small clothes. This would look ridiculous amongst us. But it used to be practiced in America. The time was when good people would have been shocked if a minister had gone into the pulpit wearing pantaloons instead of small clothes. 51 They would have thought he was certainly going to ruin the Church by his innovations. I have been told that, some years ago, in New England, a certain elderly clergyman was so opposed to the "new measure" of a minister's wearing pantaloons that he would, on no account, allow them in his pulpit. A young man who was going to preach for him had no small clothes, and the old minister would not let him officiate in pantaloons, but said: "My people would think I had brought a fop into the pulpit, if they saw a man there with pantaloons on; and it would produce an excitement among them." And so, finally, the young man was obliged to borrow a pair of the old gentleman's clothes, and they were too short for him, and he made a ridiculous figure enough. But anything was better than such a terrible innovation as preaching in pantaloons! Reason, however, has triumphed.
Just so it was in regard to wigs. I remember one minister, who, though quite a young man, used to wear an enormous white wig. And the people talked as if there were a Divine right about it, and it was as hard to give it up, almost, as to give up the Bible itself. Gowns also were considered essential to the ministerial character. And even now, in many congregations in this country, the people will not tolerate a minister in the pulpit, unless he has a flowing silk gown, with enormous sleeves as big as his body. Even in some of the Congregational churches in New England, they cannot bear to give it up.
Now, how came people to suppose a minister must have a gown or a wig, in order to preach with effect? Why was it that every clergyman was held obliged to use these things? How is it that not one of these things has been given up in the Churches, without producing a shock among them? They have all been given up, one by one, and many congregations have been distracted for a time by the innovation. But will any one pretend that the cause of religion has been injured by it? People felt as if they could hardly worship God without them, but plainly their attachment to them was no part of their religion, that is, no part of the Christian religion. It was mere superstition. And when these things were taken away, they complained, as Micah did: "Ye have taken away my gods" (Judges 18:24). No doubt, however, religious character was improved by removing these objects of superstitious reverence. So that the Church, on the whole, has been greatly the gainer by the innovations. Thus you see that the present mode of a minister's dress has been gained by a series of new measures.
2. In regard to the order of public worship.
The same difficulties have been met in the effecting of every change, because the professing Christians have felt as if God had established just the mode which they were used to.
(a) Psalm Books. Formerly it was customary to sing the Psalms. By and by there was introduced a version of the Psalms in rhyme. This was "very bad," to be sure. When ministers tried to introduce them, the Churches were distracted, the people displayed violent opposition, and great trouble was created by the innovation. But the new measure triumphed.
Yet when another version was brought forward, in a better style of poetry, its introduction was opposed, with much contention, as yet a further new measure. Finally came Watts's version, which is still opposed in many Churches. No longer ago than 1828, when I was in Philadelphia, I was told that a minister there was preaching a course of Lectures on Psalmody, to his congregation, for the purpose of bringing them to use a better version of psalms and hymns than the one they were accustomed to. And even now, in a great many congregations, there are people who will rise and leave, if a psalm or hymn is given out from a new book. If Watts's version of the Psalms should be adopted, they would secede and form a new congregation, rather than tolerate such an innovation! The same sort of feeling has been excited by introducing the "Village Hymns" in prayer meetings. In one Presbyterian congregation in New York, within a few years, the minister's wife wished to introduce the Village Hymns into the women's prayer meetings, not daring to go any further. She thought she was going to succeed. But some of the careful souls found out that it was "made in New England," and refused to admit it.
(b) "Lining" the hymns. Formerly, when there were but few books, it was the custom to "line" the hymns, as it was called. The deacon used to stand up before the pulpit, and read the psalm or hymn, a line at a time, or two lines at a time, when then the rest would join in. By and by, they began to introduce books, and let every one sing from his own book. And what an innovation! Alas, what confusion and disorder it made! How could the good people worship God in singing without having the deacon to "line" the hymn in a "holy" tone; for the holiness of it seemed to consist very much in the tone, which was such that you could hardly tell whether he was reading or singing.
Choirs. Afterwards, another innovation was brought in. It was thought best to have a select choir of singers sit by themselves, so as to give an opportunity to improve the music. But this was bitterly opposed. How many congregations were torn and rent in sunder by the desire of ministers
and some leading individuals, to bring about an improvement in the cultivation of music, by forming choirs! People talked about "innovations," and "new measures," and thought great evils were coming to the Churches, because the singers were seated by themselves, and cultivated music, and learned new tunes that the old people could not sing.
It used not to be so when they were young, and they would not tolerate such novelties in the Church.
(d) Pitchpipes. When music was cultivated, and choirs seated together, then the singers wanted a pitchpipe. Formerly, when the lines were given out by the deacon or clerk, he would strike off into the tune, and the rest would follow as well as they could. But when the leaders of choirs began to use pitchpipes for the purpose of pitching all their voices on precisely the same key, what vast confusion it made! I heard a clergyman say that an elder in the town where he used to live, would get up and leave the service whenever he heard the chorister blow his pipe. "Away with your whistle," said he; "what, whistle in the house of God!" He thought it a profanation.
(e) Instrumental music By and by, in some congregations' various instruments were introduced for the purpose of aiding the singers, and improving the music. When the bass viol was first introduced, it made a great commotion. People insisted they might just as well have a fiddle in the house of God. "Why, it is a fiddle, it is made just like a fiddle, only a little larger; and who can worship where there is a fiddle? By and by you will want to dance in the meeting house." Who has not heard these things talked of as though they were matters of the most vital importance to the cause of religion and the purity of the Church? Ministers, in grave ecclesiastical assemblies, have spent days in discussing them. In a synod in the Presbyterian Church, it was seriously talked of by some, as a matter worthy of discipline in a certain Church, that "they had an organ in the house of God." This was only a few years ago. And there are many Churches now that would not tolerate an organ. They would not be half so much excited on being reminded that sinners are going to hell, as on hearing that "there is going to be an organ in the meeting house." 52 In how many places is it easier to get the Church to do anything else than work in a natural way to do what is needed, and wisest, and best, for promoting religion and saving souls? They act as if they had a "Thus saith the Lord"
for every custom and practice that has been handed down to them, or that they have long followed themselves, even though it is absurd and injurious.
(f) Extemporary prayers. How many people are there who talk just as if the Prayer Book was of Divine institution! And I suppose multitudes believe it is. And in some parts of the Church a man would not be tolerated to pray without his book being before him.
(g) Preaching without notes. A few years since a lady in Philadelphia was invited to hear a certain minister preach, and she refused, because he did not read his sermons. She seemed to think it would be profane for a man to go into the pulpit and talk, just as if he were talking to the people about some interesting and important subject. Just as if God had enjoined the use of notes and written sermons. They do not know that notes themselves are an innovation, and a modern one too. They were introduced in a time of political difficulty in England. The ministers were afraid they should be accused of preaching something against the Government unless they could show what they had preached, by having all written beforehand. And, with a time serving spirit, they yielded to political considerations, and imposed a yoke of bondage upon the Church. And now, in many places, extempore preaching is not tolerated.
(h) Kneeling in prayer. This has made a great disturbance in many parts of the country. The time has been in the Congregational Churches in New England, when a man or woman would be ashamed to be seen kneeling at a prayer meeting, for fear of being taken for a Methodist. I have prayed in families where I was the only person that would kneel. The others all stood. Others, again, talk as if there were no other posture but kneeling, that could be acceptable in prayer.
3. In regard to the labors of laymen.
(a) Lay prayers. Much objection was formerly made against allowing any man to pray or to take a part in managing a prayer meeting, unless he was a clergyman. It used to be said that for a layman to pray in public, was interfering with the dignity of ministers, and was not to be tolerated. A minister in Pennsylvania told me that a few years ago he appointed a prayer meeting in the Church, and the elders opposed it and "turned it out of house." They said they would not have such work; they had hired a minister to do the praying, and he should do it; and they were not going to have common men praying.
Ministers and many others have very extensively objected against a layman's praying in public, especially in the presence of a minister; that would let down the authority of the clergy, and was not to be tolerated. At a synod held in this State, there was a synodical prayer meeting appointed. The committee of arrangements, as it was to be a formal thing, designated beforehand the persons who were to take part, and named two clergymen and one layman. The layman was a man of talent and information equal to most ministers. But a Doctor of Divinity got up and seriously objected to a layman being asked to pray before that synod. It was not usual, he said; it infringed upon the rights of the clergy, and he wished no innovations! What a state of things!
(b) Lay exhortation. This has been made a question of vast importance, one which has agitated all New England and many other parts of the country, whether laymen ought to be allowed to exhort in public meetings.
Many ministers have labored to shut up the mouths of laymen entirely. 54 Such persons overlooked the practice of the primitive Churches. So much opposition was made to this practice, nearly a hundred years ago, that President Edwards had actually to take up the subject, and write a labored defense of the rights and duties of laymen. But the opposition has not entirely ceased to this day. "What, a man that is not a minister, to talk in public! It will create confusion; it will let down the ministry: what will people think of ministers, if we allow common men to do the same things that we do?" Astonishing!
But now all these things are gone by in most places, and laymen can preach and exhort without the least objection. The evils that were feared, from the labors of laymen, have not been realized, and many ministers are glad to induce laymen to exercise their gifts in doing good.
4. Women's prayer meetings. Within the last few years women's prayer meetings have been extensively opposed. What dreadful things! A minister said that when he first attempted to establish these meetings, he had all the clergy around opposed to him. "Set women to pray? Why, the next thing, I suppose, will be to set them to preach!" Serious apprehensions were entertained for the safety of Zion if women should be allowed to get together to pray, and even now it is not tolerated in some Churches.
So it has been in regard to all the active movements of the Church.
Missions and Sunday Schools have been opposed, and have gained their present hold only by a succession of struggles and a series of innovations.
A Baptist Association in Pennsylvania, some years since, disclaimed all fellowship with any minister that had been liberally educated, or that supported Missions, Bible Societies, Sabbath Schools, Temperance Societies, etc. All these were denounced as New Measures, not found in the Bible, and that would necessarily lead to distraction and confusion in the Churches. The same thing has been done by some among the German Churches. And in many Presbyterian Churches there are found those who will take the same ground, and denounce all these things, with the exception, perhaps, of an educated ministry, as innovations, new measures, "going in your own strength," and the like, and as calculated to do great evil.
5. I will mention several men who, in Divine providence, have been set forward as prominent in introducing innovations.
(a) The apostles - who were great innovators, as you all know. After the Resurrection, and after the Holy Spirit was poured out upon them, they set out to remodel the Church. They broke down the Jewish system of measures, and rooted it out, so as to leave scarcely a vestige.
(b) Luther and the Reformers. You all know what difficulties they had to contend with, and the reason was, that they were trying to introduce new measures - new modes of performing the public duties of religion, and new expedients to bring the Gospel with power to the hearts of men. All the strange and ridiculous things of the Roman Catholics were held to by Rome with pertinacious obstinacy, as if they were of Divine authority; and such an excitement was raised by the attempt to change them, as well-nigh involved all Europe in bloodshed.
Wesley and his coadjutors. Wesley did not, at first, break from the Established Church in England, but formed little classes everywhere, which grew into a Church within a Church. He remained in the Episcopal Church; but he introduced so much of new measures as to fill all England with excitement, and uproar, and opposition; and he was everywhere denounced as an innovator and a stirrer up of sedition - a teacher of new things which it was not lawful to receive.
Whitefield was a man of the same school, and, like Wesley, was an innovator. I believe he and several individuals of his associates were expelled from College for getting up such a new measure as a social prayer meeting. They would pray together and expound the Scriptures, and this 55 was such a daring novelty that it could not be borne. When Whitefield came to America what an astonishing opposition was raised! Often he well nigh lost his life, and barely escaped by the skin of his teeth. 56 Now, everybody looks upon him as the glory of the age in which he lived. And many of our own denomination have so far divested themselves of prejudice as to think Wesley not only a good, but a wise and pre-eminently useful man. Then, almost the entire Church viewed them with animosity, fearing that the innovations they introduced would destroy the Church.
(d) President Edwards. This great man was famous in his day for new measures. Among other innovations, he refused to baptize the children of impenitent parents. The practice of baptizing the children of the ungodly had been introduced into the New England Churches in the preceding century, and had become nearly universal. President Edwards saw that the practice was wrong, and he refused to do it, and the refusal shook all the Churches of New England. A hundred ministers joined and determined to put him down. He wrote a book on the subject, and defeated them all. It produced one of the greatest excitements there ever was in New England.
Nothing, unless it was the Revolutionary War, ever produced an equal excitement.
The General Association of Connecticut refused to countenance Whitefield, he was such an innovator. "Why, he will preach out of doors, and anywhere!" Awful! What a terrible thing that a man should preach in the fields or in the streets! Cast him out! All these were devoted men, seeking out ways to do good and save souls.
And precisely the same kind of opposition was experienced by all, obstructing their path and trying to destroy their character and influence.
A book, still extant, was written in President Edwards' time, by a doctor of divinity, and signed by a multitude of ministers, against Whitefield and Edwards, their associates and their measures. A letter was published in this city by a minister against Whitefield, which brought up the same objections against innovations that we hear now. In the time of the late opposition to revivals in the State of New York, a copy of this letter was taken to the editor of a religious periodical with a request that he would publish it. He refused, and gave for a reason, that if published, many would apply it to the controversy that is going on now. I mention it merely to show how identical is the opposition that is raised in different ages against all new measures designed to advance the cause of religion. 58 6. In the present generation, many things have been introduced which have proved useful, but have been opposed on the ground that they were innovations. And as many are still unsettled in regard to them, I have thought it best to make some remarks concerning them. There are three things, in particular, which have chiefly attracted remark, and therefore I shall speak of them. They are: anxious meetings, protracted meetings, and the anxious seat. These are all opposed, and are called " new measures."
(a) Anxious meetings. The first that I ever heard of under that name were in New England, where they were appointed for the purpose of holding personal conversation with anxious sinners, and to adapt instruction to the cases of individuals, so as to lead them immediately to Christ. The design of them is evidently philosophical, but they have been opposed because they were new. There are two modes of conducting an anxious meeting, either of which may effect the object in view.
(1) By spending a few moments in personal conversation, in order to learn the state of mind of each individual, and then, in an address to the whole meeting, to take up their errors and remove their difficulties.
(2) By going round to each, and taking up each individual case, and going over the whole ground with each one separately, and getting them to promise to give their hearts to God. Either way the meetings are important, and have been found most successful in practice. But multitudes have objected against them because they were new.
(b) Protracted meetings. These are not new, but have always been 59 practiced, in some form or another, ever since there was a Church on earth.
The Jewish festivals were nothing else but protracted meetings. In regard to the manner, they were conducted differently from what they are now.
But the design was the same: to devote a series of days to religious services, in order to make a more powerful impression of Divine things on the minds of the people. All denominations of Christians, when religion prospers among them, hold protracted meetings. In Scotland they used to begin on Thursday, at all their Communion seasons, and continue until after the Sabbath. The Episcopalians, Baptists, and Methodists, all hold protracted meetings. Yet now, in our day, they have been opposed, particularly among Presbyterians, 60 and called "new measures," and regarded as fraught with all manner of evil, notwithstanding that they have been so manifestly and so extensively blessed. I will suggest a few things that ought to be considered in regard to them.
(1) In appointing them, regard should be had for the circumstances of the people; whether the Church is able to give attention and devote time to carrying on the meeting. In some instances this rule has been neglected.
Some have thought it right to break in upon the necessary business of the community. In the country they would appoint the meeting in the harvest time, and in the city in the height of the business season, when all the men are necessarily occupied, and pressed with their temporal labors.
In defense of this course it is said, that our business should always be made to yield to God's business; that eternal things are of so much more importance than temporal things, that worldly business of any kind, and at anytime, should be made to yield and give place to a protracted meeting.
But the worldly business in which we are engaged is not our business. It is as much God's business, and as much our duty, as our prayers and protracted meetings are. If we do not consider our business in this light, we have not yet taken the first lesson in religion; we have not learned to do all things to the glory of God. With this view of the subject - separating our business from religion, we are living six days for ourselves, and the seventh for God. REAL DUTIES NEVER INTERFERE WITH EACH OTHER.
Weekdays have their appropriate duties, and the Sabbath its appropriate duties, and we are to be equally pious on every day of the week, and in the performance of the duties of every day. We are to plow, and sow, and sell our goods, and attend to our various callings, with the same singleness of view to the glory of God, with which we go to Church on the Sabbath, and pray in our families, and read our Bibles. This is a first principle in religion. He that does not know and act on this principle, has not learned the "A B C" of piety, as yet. Now, there are particular seasons of the year, in which God, in His providence, calls upon men to attend to business, because worldly business at the time is particularly urgent, and must be done at that season, if done at all; seed time and harvest for the farmer, and the business seasons for the merchant. And we have no right to say, in those particular seasons, that we will quit our business and have a protracted meeting. The fact is, the business is not ours. And unless God, by some special indication of His providence, shows it to be His pleasure that we should turn aside and have a protracted meeting at such times, I look upon it as tempting God to appoint one. It is saying: "O God, this worldly business is our business, and we are willing to lay it aside for Thy business." Unless God has indicated it to be His pleasure to pour out His Spirit, and revive His work at such a season, and has thus called upon His people to quit, for the time being, their ordinary employments, and attend especially to a protracted meeting, it appears to me that God might say to us in such circumstances: "Who hath required this at your hand?"
God has a right to dispose of our time as He pleases, to require us to give up any portion of our time, or all our time, to duties of instruction and devotion. And when circumstances plainly call for it, it is our duty to lay aside every other business, and make direct and continuous efforts for the salvation of souls. If we transact our business upon right principles, and from right motives, and wholly for the glory of God, we shall never object to go aside to attend a protracted meeting, whenever there appears to be a call for it in the providence of God.
A man who considers himself a steward or a clerk, does not consider it a hardship to rest from his labors on the Sabbath, but a privilege. The selfish owner may feel unwilling to suspend his business on the Sabbath. But the clerk who transacts business, not for himself, but for his employer, considers it a privilege to rest on the Sabbath. So we, if we do our business for God, will not think it hard if He makes it our duty to suspend our worldly business and attend a protracted meeting. We should rather consider it in the light of a holiday. Whenever, therefore, you hear a man pleading that he cannot leave his business to attend a protracted meeting - that it is his duty to attend to business, there is reason to fear that he considers the business as his own, and the meeting as God's business. If he felt that the business of the store or the farm was as much God's business as attending a protracted meeting, he would, doubtless, be very willing to rest from his worldly toils, and go up to the house of God and be refreshed, whenever there was an indication on the part of God, that the community was called to that work. It is highly worthy of remark, that the Jewish festivals were appointed at those seasons of the year when there was the least pressure of indispensable worldly business.
In some instances, such meetings have been appointed in the very pressure of business seasons, and have been followed with no good results, evidently for the want of attention to the rule here laid down. In other cases, meetings have been appointed in seasons when there was a great pressure of worldly business, and have been signally blessed. But in those cases the blessing followed because the meeting was appointed in obedience to the indications of the will of God, and by those who had spiritual discernment, and understood the signs of the times. In many instances, doubtless, individuals have attended who really supposed themselves to be giving up their own business to attend to God's business, and in such cases they made what they supposed to be a real sacrifice, and God in mercy granted them the blessing.
(2) Ordinarily, a protracted meeting should be conducted throughout, and the labor chiefly performed, by the same minister, if possible. Sometimes protracted meetings have been held, and dependence placed on ministers coming in from day to day, and there has been no blessing. The reason has been obvious. They did not come in a state of mind which was right for entering into such work; and they did not know the state of people's minds, so as to know what to preach. Suppose a person who is sick should call a different physician every day. Neither would know what the symptoms had been, what was the course of the disease or of the treatment, what remedies had been tried, or what the patient could bear.
The method would certainly kill the patient. Just so in a protracted meeting, carried on by a succession of ministers. None of them get into the spirit of it, and generally they do more harm than good.
A protracted meeting should not, ordinarily, be appointed, unless they can secure the right kind of help, and get a minister or two who will agree to stay on the ground till the meeting is finished. Then they will probably secure a rich blessing.
(3) There should not be so many public meetings as to interfere with the duties of private prayer and of the family. Otherwise Christians will lose their spirituality and let go their hold of God; and the protracted meeting will prove a failure.
(4) Families should not put themselves out so much, in entertaining strangers, as to neglect prayer and other duties. It is often the case that when a protracted meeting is held, some of the principal families in the Church, I mean those who are principally relied on to sustain the meetings, do not get into the work at all. And the reason is, that they are "cumbered with much serving." They often take needless trouble to provide for guests who come from a distance to the meeting, and lay themselves out very foolishly to make an entertainment, not only comfortable but sumptuous.
It should always be understood that it is the duty of families to have as little working and parade as possible, and to get along with their hospitality in the easiest way, so that they may all have time to pray, and go to the meeting, and to attend to the things of the Kingdom.
(5) By all means guard against unnecessarily keeping late hours. If people keep late hours, night after night, they will inevitably wear out the body; their health will fail, and there will be a reaction. They sometimes allow themselves to get so excited as to lose their sleep, and become irregular in their meals, till they break down. Unless the greatest pains are taken to keep regular, the excitement will get so great, that nature will give way, and the work will stop.
(6) All sectarianism should be carefully avoided. If a sectarian spirit breaks out, either in the preaching, or praying, or in conversation, it will counteract all the good of the meeting.
(7) Be watchful against placing dependence on a protracted meeting, as if that of itself would produce a revival. This is a point of great danger, and has always been so. This is the great reason why the Church in successive generations has always had to give up her measures - because Christians had come to rely on them for success. So it has been in some places, in regard to protracted meetings. They have been so blessed, that in some places the people have thought that if they could only have a protracted meeting, they would have a blessing, and sinners would be converted of course. And so they have appointed their meeting, without any preparation in the Church, and have just sent for some minister of note and set him to preaching, as if that, would convert sinners. It is obvious that the blessing would be withheld from a meeting got up in this way.
(8) Avoid adopting the idea that a revival cannot be enjoyed without a protracted meeting. Some Churches have got into a morbid state of feeling on this subject. Their zeal has become all spasmodic and feverish, so that they never think of doing anything to promote a revival, only in that way.
When a protracted meeting is held, they seem to be wonderfully zealous, but then sink down to a torpid state till another protracted meeting produces another spasm. And now multitudes in the Church think it is necessary to give up protracted meetings because they are abused in this way. This ought to be guarded against, in every Church, so that they may not be driven to give them up, and lose all the benefits that protracted meetings are calculated to produce.
The anxious seat
By this I mean the appointment of some particular seat in the place of meeting, where the anxious may come and be addressed particularly, and be made subjects of prayer, and sometimes be conversed with individually. Of late, this measure has met with more opposition than any of the others.
What is the great objection? I cannot see it. The design of the anxious seat is undoubtedly philosophical, and according to the laws of mind. It has two bearings:
(a) When a person is seriously troubled in mind, everybody knows there is a powerful tendency to conceal it. When a person is borne down with a sense of his condition, if you can get him willing to have it known, if you can get him to break away from the chains of pride, you have gained an important point towards his conversion. This is agreeable to the philosophy of the human mind. How many thousands are there who will bless God to eternity, that, when pressed by the truth, they were ever brought to take this step, by which they threw off the idea that it was a dreadful thing to have anybody know that they were serious about their souls.
(b) Another bearing of the anxious seat is to detect deception and delusion, and thus prevent false hopes. It has been opposed on the ground that it was calculated to create delusion and false hopes. But this objection is unreasonable. The truth is the other way.
Suppose I were preaching on the subject of Temperance; and that I should first show the evils of intemperance, and bring up the drunkard and his family, and show the various evils produced, till every heart were beating with emotion. Then I portray the great danger of moderate drinking, and show how it leads to intoxication and ruin, and that there is no safety but in TOTAL ABSTINENCE, till a hundred hearts are ready to say: "I will never drink another drop of ardent spirit in the world; if I do, I may expect to find a drunkard's grave." Now I stop short, and let the pledge be circulated, and every one that is fully resolved is ready to sign it. But how many will begin to draw back and hesitate, when you call on them to sign a pledge of total abstinence! One says to himself: "Shall I sign it or not? I thought my mind was made up, but this signing a pledge never to drink again - I do not know about that." Thus you see that when a person is called upon to give a pledge, if he is found not to be decided, he makes it manifest that he was not sincere. That is, that he never came to that resolution on the subject, which could be relied on to control his future life.
Just so with the awakened sinner. Preach to him, and, at the moment, he thinks he is willing to do anything; he thinks he is determined to serve the Lord; but bring him to the test; call on him to do one thing, to take one step, that shall identify him with the people of God or cross his pride, and his pride comes up, and he refuses; his delusion is brought out, and he finds himself a lost sinner still; whereas, if you had not done it, he might have gone away flattering himself that he was a Christian. If you say to him: "There is the anxious seat, come out and avow your determination to be on the Lord's side," and if he is not willing to do so small a thing as that, then he is not willing to do anything, and there he is, brought out before his own conscience. It uncovers the delusion of the human heart, and prevents a great many spurious conversions, by showing those who might otherwise imagine themselves willing to do anything for Christ that in fact they are willing to do nothing.
The Church has always felt it necessary to have something of the kind to answer this very purpose. In the days of the apostles baptism answered this purpose. The Gospel was preached to the people, and then all those who were willing to be on the side of Christ were called on to be baptized.
It held the precise place that the anxious seat does now, as a public manifestation of a determination to be a Christian.
In modern times, even those who have been violently opposed to the anxious seat, have been obliged to adopt some substitute, or they could not get along in promoting a revival. Some have adopted the expedient of inviting the people who are anxious for their souls, to stay, for conversation, after the rest of the congregation have retired. But what is the difference? This is as much setting up a test as the other. Others, who would be much ashamed to employ the anxious seat, have asked those who have any feeling on the subject, to retain their seats when the rest retire. Others have called the anxious to withdraw into a Lecture room.
The object of all these is the same, and the principle is the same - to bring people out from the refuge of false shame. One man I heard of, who was very far gone in his opposition to new measures. In one of his meetings he requested all those who were willing to submit to God, or desired to be made subjects of prayer, to signify it by leaning forward and putting their heads down upon the pew before them. Who does not see that this was a mere evasion of the anxious seat, that it was designed to answer the same purpose, and that the plan was adopted because it was felt that something of the kind was important?
Now, what objection is there against taking a particular seat, or rising up, or going into the Lecture room? They all mean the same thing; and they are not novelties in principle at all. The thing has always been done in substance. In Joshua's day he called on the people to decide what they would do, and they spoke right out in the meeting: "The Lord our God will we serve, and His voice will we obey" (Joshua 24:24).
1. If we examine the history of the Church we shall find that there never has been an extensive reformation, except by new measures. Whenever the Churches get settled down into a norm of doing things, they soon get to rely upon the outward doing of it, and so retain the form of religion while they lose the substance. And then it has always been found impossible to arouse them so as to bring about a reformation of the evils, and produce a revival of religion, by simply pursuing that established form. Perhaps it is not too much to say, that it is impossible for God Himself to bring about reformations but by new measures. At least, it is a fact that God has always chosen this way, as the wisest and best that He could devise or adopt. And although it has always been the case, that the very measures which God has chosen to employ, and which He has blessed in reviving His work, have been opposed as new measures, and have been denounced, yet He has continued to act upon the same principle. When He has found that a certain mode has lost its influence by having become a form, He has brought up some new measure, which would BREAK IN upon lazy habits, and WAKE UP a slumbering Church. And great good has resulted.
2. The same distinctions, in substance, that now exist, have always existed, in all seasons of reformation and revival of religion. There have always been those who particularly adhered to their forms and notions, and precise way of doing things, as if they had a "Thus saith the Lord" for every one of them. They have called those that differed from them, who were trying to roll the ark of salvation forward, "Methodists," "New Lights," "Radicals," "New School," "New Divinity," and various other opprobrious names. And the declensions that have followed have been uniformly owing to two causes, which should be by no means overlooked by the Church.
(a) The Old School, or Old Measure party, have persevered in their opposition, eagerly seizing hold of any real or apparent indiscretions in the friends of the work In such cases the Churches have gradually lost their confidence in the opposition to new measures, and the cry of "innovation" has ceased to alarm them. Thus the scale has turned.
(b) But now mark me: right here, in this state of things, the devil has, again and again, taken the advantage. When the battle has been fought and the victory gained, the rash zeal of some well-meaning, but headstrong individuals, has brought about a reaction, that has spread a pall over the Churches for years. This was the case, as is well known, in the days of President Edwards. 62 Here is a rock, upon which a lighthouse is now built, and upon which if the Church now run aground, both parties are entirely without excuse. It is now well known, or ought to be known, that the declension which followed the revival in those days, together with the declensions which have repeatedly occurred, were owing to the combined influence of the continued and pertinacious opposition of the old School, and the ultimate bad spirit and recklessness of some individuals of the New School.
The note of alarm should be distinctly sounded to both parties, lest the devil should prevail against us at the very point, and under the very circumstances where he has so often prevailed. Will the Church never learn wisdom from experience? When will it come to pass that the Church will be revived, and religion prevail, without exciting such opposition in the Church as eventually brings about a reaction?
3. It is truly astonishing that grave ministers should really feel alarmed at the new measures of the present day, as if new measures were something new under the sun, and as if the present form and manner of doing things had descended from the apostles, and were established by a "Thus saith the Lord"; when the truth is, that every step of the Church's advance from the gross darkness of Popery, has been through the introduction of one new measure after another. We now look with astonishment, and are inclined to look almost with contempt, upon the cry of "innovation" that has preceded our day; and as we review the fears that multitudes in the Church have entertained in bygone days, with respect to innovation, we find it difficult to account for what appear to us the groundless and absurd, at least, if not ridiculous, objections and difficulties which they made. But, is it not wonderful, at this late day, after the Church has had so much experience in these matters, that grave and pious men should seriously feel alarmed at the introduction of the simple, the philosophical, and greatly prospered measures of the last ten years? As if new measures were something not to be tolerated, of highly disastrous tendency, that should wake the notes and echoes of alarm in every nook and corner of the Church.
4. We see why it is that those who have been making the ado about new measures have not been successful in promoting revivals.
They have been taken up with the evils, real or imaginary, which have attended this great and blessed work of God. That there have been evils, no one will pretend to deny. But I believe that no revival ever existed since the world began, of as great power and extent as the one that has prevailed for the last ten years, which has not been attended with as great or greater evils. Still, a large portion of the Church have been frightening themselves and others, by giving constant attention to the evils of revivals. One of the professors in a Presbyterian Theological Seminary felt it his duty to write a series of letters to Presbyterians, which were extensively circulated, the object of which seemed to be to sound the note of alarm through all the borders of the Church, in regard to the evils attending revivals. While men are taken up with the evils instead of the excellencies following a blessed work of God, how can it be expected that they will be useful in promoting it? I would say all this in great kindness, but it is a point upon which I must not be silent.
5. Without new measures it is impossible that the Church should succeed in gaining the attention of the world to religion. There are so many exciting subjects constantly brought before the public mind, such a running to and fro, so many that cry "Lo here!" and "Lo there!" that the Church cannot maintain her ground without sufficient novelty in measures, to get the public ear. The measures of politicians, of infidels, and heretics, the scrambling after wealth, the increase of luxury, and the ten thousand exciting and counteracting influences that bear upon the Church and upon the world, will gain men's attention, and turn them away from the sanctuary and from the altars of the Lord, unless we increase in wisdom and piety, and wisely adopt such new measures as are calculated to get the attention of men to the Gospel of Christ. I have already said that novelties should be introduced no faster than they are really called for; they should be introduced with the greatest wisdom, and caution, and prayerfulness, and in a manner calculated to excite as little opposition as possible. But new measures we must have. And may God prevent the Church from settling down in any set of forms, or getting the present or any other edition of her measures stereotyped.
6. It is evident that we must have more arousing preaching, to meet the character and wants of the age. Ministers are generally beginning to find this out. And some of them complain of it, and suppose it to be "owing to new measures," as they call them. They say that such ministers as our fathers would have been glad to hear, cannot now be heard, cannot get a pastorate, nor secure an audience. And they think that new measures have perverted the taste of the people. But this is not the difficulty. The character of the age is changed, but these men retain the same stiff, dry, prosing style of preaching, that answered half a century ago.
Look at the Methodists. Many of their ministers are unlearned, in the common sense of the term - many of them taken right from the shop or farm, and yet they have gathered congregations, and pushed their way, and won souls everywhere. Wherever the Methodists have gone, their plain, pointed and simple, but warm and animated, mode of preaching has always gathered congregations. Few Presbyterian ministers have gathered such large assemblies, or won so many souls. Now, are we to be told that we must pursue the same old, formal mode of doing things, amidst all these changes? As well might the North River be rolled back, as the world converted under such preaching. Those who adopt a different style of preaching, as the Methodists have done, will run away from us. We must have powerful preaching, or the devil will have the people, except what the Methodists can save! Many ministers are finding out already, that a Methodist preacher, without the advantages of a liberal education, will draw a congregation around him which a Presbyterian minister, with perhaps ten times as much learning, cannot equal, because he has not the earnest manner of the other, and does not pour out fire upon his hearers when he preaches.
7. We see the importance of having young ministers obtain right views of revival. In a multitude of cases I have seen that great pains are taken to frighten our young men, who are preparing for the ministry, about "the evils of revivals," and the like. Young men in some theological seminaries are taught to look upon new measures as if they were the very inventions of the devil. How can such men have revivals? So when they come out, they look about and watch, and start, as if the devil were there. Some young men in Princeton a few years ago came out with an essay upon the "Evils of Revivals." I should like to know, now, how many of those young men have enjoyed revivals among their people, since they have been in the ministry; and if any have, I should like to know whether they have not repented of that piece about "the evils of revivals"?
If I had a voice so loud as to be heard at Princeton, I would speak to those young men on this subject. It is high time to talk plainly. The Church is groaning in all her borders for the want of suitable ministers. Good men are laboring, and are willing to labor night and day, to assist in educating young men for the ministry, to promote revivals of religion; and yet when young men come out of the seminary some of them are as shy of all the measures that God blesses as they are of Popery itself.
Shall it be so always? Must we educate young men for the ministry, and have them come out frightened to death about new measures? They ought to know that new measures are no new thing in the Church. Let them go to work, and keep at work, and not be frightened. I have been pained to see that some men, in giving accounts of revivals, have evidently felt it necessary to be particular in detailing the measures used, to avoid the inference that new measures were introduced; evidently feeling that even the Church would undervalue the revival unless it appeared to have been promoted without new measures. Besides, this caution in detailing the measures in order to demonstrate that there is nothing new, looks like admitting that new measures are wrong because they are new, and that a revival is more valuable when it is not promoted by new measures. In this way, I apprehend that much evil has been done; and if the practice is to continue, it must come to this, that a revival must be judged of by the fact that it occurred in connection with new, or with old, measures. I never will countenance such a spirit, or condescend to guard an account of a revival against the imputation of old or new measures. I believe new measures are right; that is, that it is no objection to a measure, that it is new, or old.
Let a minister enter fully into his work, and pour out his heart to God for a blessing, and whenever he sees the want of any measure to bring the truth more powerfully before the minds of the people, let him adopt it and not be afraid, and God will not withhold His blessing. If ministers will not go forward, if they will not preach the Gospel with power and earnestness, if they will not turn out of their tracks to do anything new for the purpose of saving souls, they will grieve the Holy Spirit away, and God will visit them with His curse, and raise up other ministers to do His work in the world.
8. It is the right and duty of ministers to adopt new measures for promoting revivals. In some places the Church members have opposed their minister when he has attempted to employ those measures which God has blessed for a revival, and have gone so far as to give up their prayer meetings, and give up laboring to save souls, and stand aloof from everything, because their minister has adopted what they call "new measures" - no matter how reasonable the measures are in themselves, nor how seasonable, nor how much God may bless them. It is enough that they are called "new"; they will not have anything to do with new measures, nor will they tolerate them among the people. And thus they fall out by the way, and grieve away the Spirit of God, and put a stop to the revival, when the world around them is going to hell.
Finally, this zealous adherence to particular forms and modes of doing things, which has led the Church to resist innovations in measures, savors strongly of fanaticism. And what is not a little singular, is, that fanatics of this stamp are always the first to cry out "fanaticism." What is that but fanaticism in the Roman Catholic Church, which causes them to adhere with such pertinacity to their particular modes, and forms, and ceremonies, and fooleries? They act as if all these things were established by Divine authority; as if there were a "Thus saith the Lord" for every one of them. Now, we justly style this a spirit of fanaticism, and esteem it worthy of rebuke. But it is just as absolutely fanatical for the Presbyterian Church, or any other, to be sticklish for her particular forms, and to act as if they were established by Divine authority. The fact is that God has established, in no Church, any particular form, or manner of worship, for promoting the interests of religion. The Scriptures are entirely silent on these subjects, under the Gospel dispensation, and the Church is left to exercise her own discretion in relation to all such matters. And I hope it will not be thought unkind, when I say again, that to me it appears that the unkind, angry zeal, for a certain mode and manner of doing things, and the overbearing, exterminating cry against new measures, SAVOR STRONGLY OF FANATICISM.
The only thing insisted upon under the Gospel dispensation,
in regard to measures, is that there should be decency and order. "Let
all things be done decently and in order" (1 Corinthians 14:40). We are
required to guard against all confusion and disorderly conduct. But what
is meant by decency and order? Will it be said that an anxious meeting,
or a protracted meeting, or an anxious seat, is inconsistent with decency
and order? I should most sincerely deprecate, and most firmly resist, whatever
was indecent and disorderly in the worship of God's house. But I do not
suppose that by "order," we are to understand any particular set mode,
in which any Church may have been accustomed to perform its service.
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