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have heard the word of the truth of the gospel, have trusted in it"-there, from day to day, and from time to time, individual souls are quickened to newness of life, and sealed by new and precious influences of the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption. It is only when such instances multiply apace
-when another and another of God's people are so quickened and refreshed -when the leaven springs and seeks to leaven the whole lump-when the body of believers, being brought nigh to the living Head, are brought nigh to each other in holy love; it is only when some approach to this is vouchsafed to any place or people that we can speak of the time as a time of revival to them.
Viewed then with respect to the church, a time of revival is a time of newness of life. Viewed with respect to the world, whether professing or openly careless, it is a time of multiplied conversions. Multiplied conversions is the great outstanding characteristic of a time of revival. Multitudes, multitudes lying dead in the valley of vision find that it becomes to them the valley of decision. The windows of heaven are opened, and sudden plenty of Divine communications is poured forth. While yet the dreariness of winter seemed almost unbroken, the winter is past and the summer is come. Graces long languishing rise to newness of life; fruits long lingering advance to sound and sudden progress; souls long halting are brought to a blessed and present decision. The kingdom of heaven comes, "and every man presseth into it." "The Son of man is lifted up," and anew draws all men to him. "In those days and in that time the children of Israel come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping as they go, and seek the Lord their God; they ask the way to Zion, with their faces thitherward, saying, Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant, that shall not be forgotten."
Such being the nature of a revival, it will not be difficult for us to appreciate the state of religion which most requires it—which at once demonstrates it as most needful, and yet declares it far away, unless it be brought nigh by and the outpouring of the Spirit in answer thereof. So long as prayer the church is weighed down by a body of sin-so long as there is in all her members a law in the flesh which warreth against the law of the mind-so long as without ceasing there arises from her the voice of distress, "Oh! wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?" the enlightening, convincing, and converting influences of the Spirit will be required at each step of her progress through the wilderness. And so long as the world remains a valley of the shadow of death, everywhere times of revival will be required-everywhere needed-everywhere to be sought.
But yet there are times when a revival is more instantly required, and should be more anxiously sought. If, for instance, in any place or at any time, men who had long heard the gospel, and it may be long enjoyed special privileges, should become not only careless, but confident in their carelessness; not only negligent of the word of God, but contemptuous of it; not only doubters or rejecters, but scoffers of God's holy truth;--if things present and temporal fill every avenue and employ every power of their immortal mind, and this be boasted of as true wisdom;-if every question receives a readier hearing than the question of their own state towards God;-if, as often as it is pressed upon them, it is adjourned and disposed of, as if there was nothing in the world which should cost a man less trouble, or which he might more safely postpone to the future ;-if with a retention of more of the forms of religion, divine truth has lost the hold it once had over men's minds, divine ordinances have ceased to have even the power which they once had among them, and they walk in the midst of them, yea, touch and taste and handle them, with the coldness of a second death, more deep than heathenism itself: or finally, if this coldness has stretched its night-shade over the church her
self, and the things which remain are ready to die in her very bosom-if she has become careless of purity of doctrine, and relaxed in purity of disciplineif she seek to accommodate her teaching to the ever-shifting spirit of the age, and her practice to the taste of a world that knows not her Lord;-if these and such like dismal features mark the state of religion in any place or time, then, beyond all question, at that time and in that place there is a peculiar necessity for all who love the Lord and the souls of men to seek a time of revival. Where Satan holds his seat most firmly there is most need for the power of Jehovah to be revealed. Where darkness is most visible, there it is most desirable to penetrate with the light of life. Where men have most grieved the Spirit of God, most quenched his influences, most striven against them, there is it most needful that he should not depart, lest all should utterly perish in their own corruption.
And these, I fear, are the great leading features of our own times, to a very awful and alarming extent.
Infidelity-cold, careless, and inhuman as it is God-denying-is boldly avowed by many. The gospel is openly classed by such with the bygone impostures of a departing age; all its power is looked on as the deceit of men; and all its claims as only new attempts to enthrall the human mind. And such infidelity is wide-spread as it is deadly. If its lurid lights have been put out or concealed in the high places of the earth, they have found their way in ten thousand grovelling and polluted channels to the dense and crowded streets of the busy, the dark lanes of the poor, and even the dismal dwellings of unprovided disease; and there, triumphing in the miseries she inflicts and the ruin she has wrought, she sits in mockery of her victims, and hears with bitter scorn their fears and cries, as, shivering and bereft of hope, they enter eternity, now too near to be denied, and too terrible to be trifled with.
Even where such things are repudiated, and men cling to the forms of religion, the power is often denied and often scorned too. The peculiar doctrines of Christianity are set aside as doctrines not now to be insisted on; her most essential truths are explained away as unmeaning or unnecessary; and no real credit is given to her most distinct and reiterated statements as to the eternal condition of man, and the connection which God has established betwixt the rejection or reception of the gospel and that eternal condition.
Meanwhile multitudes everywhere are entirely taken up with what they shall eat and what they shall drink: to get gain, to get honour, to get advancement to themselves or their families, is the one thing needful for them. The success of their party, or even the distant movements of the nations of the earth, awaken a deeper interest in them from day to day than the concerns of their own soul or the interests of Christ's kingdom in the world. And the church of Christ-his professing and his real people-has been deeply affected by the atmosphere with which she has been surrounded, and in which she has too much lived and breathed. Her light has become dim and unsteady; her trumpet has given an uncertain sound; her unity has become broken, and her enemies have triumphed over her. We have our sabbaths, our ordinances, our sacraments; but how little are these sabbaths days of the Lord-these ordinances, Divine ordinances-these means, means of grace! We have no famine of the word of the Lord; and yet we have leanness of soul. We have no want of profession; and yet we have the presence of spiritual weakness or decay. The broad features of distinction by which the church is called to be separated from the world have by many been frittered down to meet the tastes and secure the pleasures of the world; and everywhere in their business, in their families, in their pursuits, in their pleasures, in their honours, the professed people of God have lamentably conformed to that world from which Christ came to redeem them.
Even the living members of Christ's church have too much come to hover about the outside of the temple, and not to enter into that which is within the veil. Thus standing without, their mind does not take that deep and firm grasp of the truth which would produce the full experience of its power. They know neither the depths of Satan whereby men are deceived, nor the depths of Divine fulness out of which they may receive grace to trample Satan under their feet. They do not put on the whole armour of God, and hence, in the day of trial, they are sorely worsted by the fiery darts of the evil one. They are not strong in the Lord and in the power of his might, and therefore they are weakened in their way, and overcome of evil at almost every step. Everywhere we have the proof, and in most places the confession, that we "are consumed away with a perpetual consumption;" "but no man stirreth himself up to take hold of God."
If ever, then, there was a nation, if ever there was a church, if ever a state of the church, which required a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, ours is that time, ours that church; and perhaps never, since the words of the holy psalmist breathed out for himself and the people of God in his time the desire of his heart, has there been a time when it was more fit for all who love the Lord to unite together in that earnest prayer, "Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts; look down from heaven, and behold and visit this vine, and the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself.' "Return, O Lord, how long? and let it repent thee concerning thy servants. O satisfy us early with thy mercy; that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad according to the days wherein thou hast afflicted us, and the years wherein we have seen evil. Let thy work appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us; and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it."
But the state of religion requiring a religious revival, and the desirableness of such a time at the present for ourselves, will be more fully manifest by considering the effects which it is calculated to produce on the world and in the church and these will be best seen by considering separately, First, The effects in the church; and, Secondly, The effects on the world.
1st. Here, then, I would observe first of all, that such a revival of true religion meets the darkness and deadness which comes over the church in times of decay. In such times the designs, desires, and doings of the church are apt to become to a lamentable extent low set. Contented with things as they are, she stretches not forward to the things that are before. The Spirit seems gone; and even the things which remain are ready to die. But when a time of revival comes, the Lord again says, "Let there be light." The Spirit of the Lord again moves on the face of the waters, and the freshness and beauty of the new creature comes forth. The very page of nature seems more full of God; the very words of Scripture seem written with a new light and glory and fulness and meaning. Not only are the means of grace earnestly resorted to, but such Divine power attends them as neither earth nor hell can resist; and souls are led through all their doubts to peace and joy in believing. The great doctrines of salvation stand forth in bold relief as all in all. Man's need of Christ, the power and willingness of Christ to save, the efficacy of his atonement, and the freeness of the gospel offer, which men satisfied with themselves had ceased to feel the value of, are found to be that which alone meets the necessities of perishing men. The righteousness of Christ, acceptance in the sight of God only for his righteousness imputed to us and received by faith alone, which many of the professed people of God had set aside as the dogma of a harsh, metaphysical, and antiquated theology, is found to be the saving health of the soul, its happiness, its holiness, its joy.
Conversion, regeneration, the work of God's Spirit, which the world had almost persuaded us to say less about, are written anew, great and glorious realities without which none can enter into the kingdom of heaven. Peace with God, fellowship with the Father, and communion with Christ, which men had almost reasoned out of the church itself, are known and rejoiced in as the life and light and liberty of souls.
2nd. A time of revival meets the heartlessness and hopelessness which comes over the church in times of decay. One great cause of this heartlessness is the want of success, or rather the want of a right improvement of such a sad state. Conversion has become so rare that people have almost ceased to look for it-ministers to seek it as that which must pass upon all churches to mourn over the want of it as a deadly symptom of their state. We live on and on, from sabbath to sabbath, and meet and part from time to time, and no awakening amongst dead souls-no conversion, and yet no deep sense of the awfulness of such a state is felt. But when a time of refreshing comes, it both shows the importance of the thing and the possibility of it. When another and another and another—and those from amongst the most hopeless —are apprehended of the truth and brought back, its glorious trophies; when many feel that they dare no longer trifle with the concerns of eternity, and can no longer go on even with the business of time till these be settled on a sure foundation; then the church is awakened from her lethargy-ministers are roused to feel the dark and destitute state of every soul that has no interest in Christ, and all who know the Lord are stirred up to seek the coming of that kingdom amongst men which is righteousness and peace and joy. Then it is both seen and felt that God can and will convert souls, and that in great numbers at a time. This itself is of amazing importance, especially to ministers. It is success in their high calling; it is doing business in the great work given them to do; it is fulfilling the ministry received in the great object of it towards men; it gives a business aspect to all that before seemed so fruitless and so much in vain and thus it stirs up to newness of life and newness of exertion.
3rd. A time of refreshing from the Lord meets the divisions and distractions which are apt to spring up in a time of decay. It is impossible for those who are reconciled to God in Christ Jesus to be permanently unreconciled to one another; and a time of revival, bringing out all the great realities in which they are at one, and sinking all the minor points on which they are divided, has a blessed tendency to unite their hearts, and so gradually to unite their hands in the work of the Lord. Oh! it is sweet to see how in such a time the holy of all sects and denominations are invincibly drawn together by the constraining influence of the "love of the Spirit." It is sweet to find that the divided and separated body of Christ is yet one. It is sweet to discover, beneath the rents at which the world has so long mocked, cords of love still, which bind them fast together, by binding them all to one great centre, and that centre Christ. It is sweet to find that the name of Christ is yet powerful to calm the troubled waves and hush the howling winds, to still the noise of the waters, and quell the tumults of the people. Yes; his name is as ointment poured forth, very precious, and in a time of revival the alabaster box is opened, and fills the room with its savour. It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard, and went down to the skirts of his garments. The oil of gladness descending from the great High Priest in such times reaches to the remotest of his people. Then does the Lord fulfil his own word: "I will make with my people a Covenant of peace; and I will make them, and the places round about my hill, a blessing; and I will cause the shower to come down in his season: there shall be showers of blessing." Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly;
thy kingdom come, thy will be done, that we all may be one, and that thine own words may be fulfilled: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word: that they all may be one, as thou Father art in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."
But, secondly, if a time of refreshing be so calculated to meet the worst aspects of the church, and so to remove them, it is in this very way also calculated to meet the most dangerous and alarming symptoms that mark and mar the moral and spiritual state of the world. The only book of Christian doctrine or of Christian evidences which most men can think of reading, is the lives of professed Christians. From these they judge what it is to be a Christian, and what claims Christianity has upon them. Alas! this book has in times past been indeed dark and deluding: many blots on the fairest lines; many blanks in the most important passages. Hence the mockery and triumph of the wicked; hence the suspicion and murmurings of pretended friends. But when God sends a time of refreshing to the church these blots are dried up, these blanks are filled, the lines of truth become broad and clear, he who runs may read; and even he who hates is compelled to acknowledge that there is more here than his cold philosophy ever dreamed of, or the boasted powers of human nature can either accomplish or account for. Let us look into this for a moment, and glance also at the effects which a time of revival is fitted to produce upon the world.
And, 1st, It meets directly the infidelity which lurks so deeply and spreads with such deadly power in a time of decay. Nothing tends so much to produce and confirm such infidelity as the inconsistent lives of professed Christians. These live so much as if they did not believe the truth of the Christianity they profess, that those who wish it to be untrue can, and do with the most unhappy success, quote their lives as an answer to their profession, and a denial of their principles. The best way to meet such infidelity, therefore, is to show that wherever Christianity is understood and felt it is a living and sanctifying principle. It does not do what it ought to do, says the careless unbeliever, even in those who profess it; and goes away as if he had advanced an invincible argument against the truth of Christianity. There are many ways of answering such a caviler; but without going farther, his cavil is for ever put to shame when Christianity does accomplish what it professes-when it reaches the soul-when it writes it with a holy love of God—when it calls it to new joys and hopes in Christ; and when it raises it above the gross and grovelling pleasures where once it sought and found its delight. No soul! as the rejector of the gospel would argue :-The best answer to this is a company of fellow-creatures, deeply concerned for the salvation of their immortal souls, feeling the body and time to be nothing, the soul and eternity to be all. No Christ! The best answer to this is a multitude of fellow-sinners seeking Christ; not able to rest till they find him; and when they have found him, rejoicing in him as the pearl of great price, for which they have willingly sold all. No reality in things divine!-The best answer to this is just a multitude of rational and intelligent beings under the deep and lively impression of divine things, feeling that these are realities-all else dim, shadowy, and passing. Oh! if our churches and meetings were filled with such worshippers, infidelity would hide her head ashamed, and would not dare to degrade rational, responsible, and immortal man to the rank of the beasts that perish.
2nd. A revival of religion meets the carnal security of the world in a way which nothing else can do. That security, in virtue of which all earnest concern and all anxious inquiry is adjourned from day to day, like the infidelity out of which it so often arises, is not founded on any reason, but upon the want of all reason. It has no support but what it gathers from the multitudes