EXCITEMENT IN REVIVALS
If I am not entirely mistaken, many excitements that have been supposed to be revivals of religion, have, after all, had but very little true religion in them. It seems to have been nearly or quite overlooked, that all religion is love. And it is remarkable to see to what an extent, in some instances at least, there is a manifestation of fiery zeal, often tinctured strongly with bitterness and sarcasm, instead of the gentleness and sweetness that characterize the true religion of Jesus. If you attend the meetings of any kind, if you converse with the brethren, with the professed converts, with any who are influenced by the excitement, you find that there is a strain of evil speaking, fault-finding, and scolding, which is anything but the true religion of Christ. There is, to be sure, a great excitement, a great deal of bustle and conversation, a great many means and measures--in short, a great deal of everything calculated to promote a certain kind of excitement.
There is, indeed, a powerful revival, but certainly not a revival of pure religion. Sinners are speaking in great bitterness of Christians, and professed Christians are speaking with very little less bitterness of them.
The preaching is very much in a strain of vituperation, and this begets, almost of course, the like spirit and strain in everything else connected with the excitement. There seems to be in it a deep, turbid, and bitter current of feeling that is the very essence of fanaticism. The spirit of Satan, instead of the Spirit of God, has, no doubt, been poured out on the people. It has been an outpouring of a spirit, but not of the Holy Spirit of God. It seems to be a going forth of infernal agencies, a letting loose of the powers of darkness, a season of deep delusions; and, what is surprising is, that even good people are often for a time carried away with it, and for weeks, and perhaps for months, do not discover their mistake. As a brother, who had himself been laboring under this mistake expressed it, "I have been trying to cast out devils through Beelzebub, the prince of devils."
You will very often see the evidence of this state of mind in the very countenances of those who are deeply excited. They look cross, there is a deep dissatisfaction of mind manifested in their countenances. You go to a prayer meeting, or other meeting where numbers who have this kind of excitement are assembled, and you will see a dark cloud gathering on the faces of the excited ones. Instead of that open, sweet, calm, meek, but deeply solemn and humble state of mind which invariably shows itself in the countenance, there is in the eye, and in all the features of the mind a distracted, fanatical, determined look; a self-will and denunciatory expression that seems to say "Stand by thyself, for I am holier than thou."
I hardly know how to describe what I have sometimes witnessed in such cases. And perhaps I can not so describe it as to make myself understood to any except those who, in the providence of God, have fallen under circumstances to witness it. Sometimes this state of mind will not be generally manifested in an excitement. Perhaps a revival of pure religion commences, and there is no manifestation of this spirit at all. But I scarcely ever saw a powerful revival anywhere without seeing more or less of a fanatical spirit, in the course of the revival, manifesting itself in some one or more cases.
If the leader in such revivals keeps himself entirely clear of this spirit, and watches its development narrowly on every side round about, and is entirely faithful and timely in private and personal expostulation and warning, in the case of those who are seized with it, it can, no doubt, generally he prevented.
It will not infrequently manifest itself at first in prayer meetings, if liberty is given; or if liberty is not given for any one to pray who feels disposed, you will sometimes see a man or woman break forth in a prodigiously excited manner, and let off in a torrent of vituperation in their prayers.
There will be in it a strain of bitterness, that will be very shocking to all who do not deeply sympathize with such a state of mind. Now if the minister at once goes to that man or woman immediately after meeting, has a plain and affectionate conversation, and sets before the individual the true state of his mind, he may succeed, in the outset, in so opening his eyes as to detect the delusion and save him from further evil. But if he neglect it, the evil will spread rapidly, the delusions will increase in the mind of the individual himself, and probably in the course of a few days, or, at the utmost, weeks, it will completely change the type of the revival, grieve away the Spirit of God, and let in a flood of infernal agencies to desolate the Church.
I hope my brethren will not understand from what I have said and intend to say on the subject of fanaticism, as it often appears in connection with revivals, anything that shall give occasion to speak reproachfully of the most faithful and pungent dealing with the consciences of backsliders and impenitent sinners.
I am aware--and who that has ever seen revivals is not aware?--that the spirit of complaining, faultfinding, and censoriousness, is by no means confined to those who are endeavoring to promote the excitement of revival, and that the spirit of fanaticism is by no means confined to this class of persons. It is often more appallingly manifested among those who partake not at all of the spirit of promoting revivals. It is very common, indeed, to see the opposers of revivals, both in and out of the Church, manifesting at such times a most turbulent and intolerant spirit, and a form of fanaticism not less disgraceful and unreasonable than that to which I have alluded.
Sometimes even ministers, prominent professors of religion, as well as those without the Church and who are opposed to the revival or excitement, or whatever its character may be, are seen to be filled with the spirit of caviling, censoriousness, complaining, and fault-finding, and whose minds seem occupied almost altogether with real or apparent, or, at least, imagined defects in the spirit of those who are engaged in promoting the work, or in the means used by them.
It is very common to hear this class of persons find fault with really the most unobjectionable things. They seem to have the spirit of calling evil good, and good evil. Anything like faithful and pungent dealing, anything like a thorough searching and probing the heart of backsliders and sinners to the bottom, is by them called abusive, personal, unreasonable, vituperative, and such like things.
Now what I desire to say, brethren, is this, that there are great dangers, and oftentimes great errors, on both sides, to be apprehended and guarded against. I have already intimated that the spirit of fanaticism, as it appears in those who are endeavoring to promote a revival, is generally provoked and developed by a spirit of fanaticism opposed to the revival. An unreasonable opposition on the part of others, seems to develop, oftentimes, in those who are trying to promote the work, a spirit really hostile to the work itself.
For my own part, I have seldom seen a spirit of fanaticism manifest itself among promoters of revivals, only as it was provoked and developed by a spirit of opposition to revivals. When opposition takes on certain forms, and is found to exist among ministers and leading professors of religion, there is then the greatest danger that the good and praying people will be overcome of evil, instead of overcoming evil with good. This should be always guarded against.
I have yet many things to say on the subject of the appearance of a fanatical spirit, in connection with revivals. The particular thing to which I would now call the attention of the brethren is this: There is a class of persons, in seasons of deep excitement, and especially when there is a good deal of preaching on the necessity and reality of Divine influences, the spirit of prayer, being led by the Spirit, being filled with the Spirit, etc., who are extremely apt to give themselves up to be led by impulses.
Mistaking the true manner in which the Spirit of God influences the mind, and not realizing that He enlightens the intelligence, and leads the Christian who is under His influence to be eminently reasonable and rational in all his views and movements, they are looking for the Spirit to make direct impressions on their feelings, and to lead them, through the influence of their feelings, and not through the intelligence. Hence they are very full of impressions. One has an impression that he ought to do such a thing, or say such a thing; to go to such a place; to visit a tavern, for instance, and converse with the inmates of a barroom; or to go and rebuke a minister; or to tell the elders or deacons of the Church that God has revealed it to him that they are right in the way of the revival--in short, there is no end to the forms in which these delusions appear.
Sometimes they are impressed with the conviction that they ought to get up and interrupt the speaker during public preaching, or that they ought to break forth in prayer under circumstances that would manifestly introduce disorder,--and many such like things, are very liable to occur in seasons of deep excitement in revivals of religion. Sometimes they will have particular views presented to their imaginations--that such a minister is right in the way, and leading all the souls under his influence down to hell; that terrible judgments are coming on the place; that the revival is about to cease; or that some other terrible thing is about to take place.
Now if this spirit is watched, it is remarkable to see how uniformly it will take on a severe, denunciatory, and turbulent type. It is remarkable to see how often it will manifest its principle hostility and opposition towards the leading and most efficient influences that are at work in promoting a genuine revival of religion. If this spirit be narrowly watched, it will soon be seen, that it is really opposition to all that is truly good in the work, and that oftentimes its opposition to the highest and best influences employed by the Spirit in the promotion of the revival is truly shocking.
Probably few persons who have seen powerful revivals of religion have not witnessed, with pain and astonishment, things similar to these I have described.
Now these things are exceedingly dangerous in a revival, for the reason that they often appear among those who have been regarded as most engaged in the work, most spiritual and prayerful. They often occur in connection with experiences, or rather succeed experiences, that were manifestly truly Christian and highly spiritual.
Now with respect to these things, let me remark:
1. That oftentimes when persons are really in a spiritual frame of mind, when they are really simple-hearted, unsuspicious, and willing to be led in any direction, Satan often succeeds, by transforming himself into an angel of light, in persuading them to give themselves up to impulses and impressions; and from that moment, he leads them captive at his will.
2. I remark that, as a general rule, the influence of Satan in these things may be distinguished from the influences of the Holy Spirit by this--a mere impression that you must do this or that thing, go and converse with this person or that person, go to this place or that place, is by no means to be regarded. When the Spirit of God leads an individual to take a peculiar interest, feel peculiar compassion and drawing of heart in prayer and labor for particular individuals, this influence may be safely trusted. If you find yourself drawn out in mighty prayer for certain individuals, exercised with great compassion, agonized with strong crying and tears, for a certain family or neighborhood or people, let such an influence be yielded to. If it is all compassion, an affectionate zeal for their salvation, a deep and affectionate interest in their spiritual welfare, you may safely take it for granted that this is from God, and give the mind and the outward developments up to its influence, and put forth all the efforts that may appear reasonable to secure their salvation. But let mere impressions, unconnected with love, compassion, with the spirit of prayer, etc., be strongly guarded against; for to say the least, as a general rule, such impressions are not from God. It would not, perhaps, be too much to say that they never are. God's Spirit leads men by the intelligence, and not through mere impressions made on the sensibility. When the guilt and the danger of an individual is strongly set before the mind, when the great value of his soul is made to be clearly apprehended, when the heart is drawn out in prayer for his conversion and salvation,--this is indeed from God. I have known some cases where persons have rendered themselves highly ridiculous, have greatly injured their own souls and the cause of God, by giving themselves up to an enthusiastic and fanatical following of impressions.