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. 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 excellences 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.