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It is a spirit of fanaticism, of spiritual pride, censoriousness, and insubordination to the order of the Gospel, which, if not met by the timely and decided disapprobation of ministers and churches, threatens to become one of the greatest evils which is likely to befall the cause of Christ."
These admirable paragraphs need no comment. It required no small amount of moral courage to pen such a letter; and if the ministers of Christ throughout the land, had then come out and supported this timely and powerfu Itestimony, the good done might have been unspeakable.
It was at the same critical season that the venerated Asahel Nettleton lifted up his warning voice, against the rising and dangerous evils, which Dr. Beecher, as we have seen, then rebuked with such nobility and truth.
Since the days of Edwards no man has arisen in our country, so eminently fitted as he to do justice to this subject. His experience, his wisdom, and success in revivals of religion, so far as we know, are without a parallel.
Mr. Nettleton united with Dr. Beecher in deploring, and in labouring to correct, the evils already mentioned. He rebuked them with the heroic spirit of an apostle, he foretold their desolations with a prophet's ken, and when no longer sustained by
“Zions friends and his," he weekly withdrew, shunning, perhaps, the very painful, but otherwise inevitable alternative of silent acquiescence of public and protracted controversy. We welcome his recent return to his native land. We trust he has been restored to us at this solemn crisis, with renovated health, to renew his labours of love, attended as heretofore, with the peculiar smiles of the great head of the Church.
We find the following notice of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton's letters on “the new measures,” in the Preface to these Lectures.
“ It was originally the author's intention to have republished the well known letters of Dn Beecher and Mr. Nettleton written several years ago, in which the same general views which this volume inculcates, are defended with great zeal and ability. But upon examination he finds they are so much identified with the occasion in which they originated, that he thinks it best to omit them."
Now our reason for their introduction here is, that the
“occasion with which they are identified, and in which they originated," was the very point at which the present abuses of revivals arose; and at which therefore the inquiry into their nature ought to begin.
But the letters in the Appendix, written several years after those of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton, fully confirm their sentiments, and sustain their views.
Take the following as examples:
“ Many of those who become truly pious, entertain for a while, hopes, which they afterwards are convinced to be unfounded ; and to pronounce such persons converted at once, and hurry their admission to the Lord's table, would be the most effectual method of preventing their saving conversion. There may be an error on the other side, of too long a delay, and of discouraging real believers from approaching the table of their Lord; but the error is on the safest side. As to apostolical precedent, it is just as strong for a community of goods; and after all, there is no undoubted case of any convert being immediately received to the Lord's supper."-Dr. Alexander.
“But the great, shall I say the fatal error in the management of revivals, is the hasty admission of the subjects to the privileges of the church. Convictions, we have reason to apprehend, are often mistaken for conversion ;-a momentary impulse for the renew. ing of the Holy Ghost, without which no man can see the Lord.” - Dr. Proudfit.
“ Another remark I would make, is, that we have carefully guarded against a speedy admission to the privileges of the church. Seldom in times of revival have we admitted persons to the communion in less than six months after they first became serious.”Dr. M Dowell.*
* The whole number received into the church, during my ministry, is six hundred and seventy-four. None of these have presented themselves for examination, under two and three months, after they began to cherish a hope of having passed from death unto life."
“ Neither have I seen it to be proper, even in seasons of the greatest excitement, to call upon impenitent sinners, either in our public meetings, or in the inquiring room, to manifest their determination to seek religion, or to give any pledge that they would do it.”—Dr. Hyde.
“A sinner may be converted at too great an expense. I mean, that measures may be adopted, that shall issue in the conversion of a sinner, which measures may, at the same time, by exciting preju.
* Whose experience in pure, enlarged, and repeated revivals, is hardly exceeded in the Presbyterian Church.
dice and enmity, be the occasion of a vast deal more evil than good."- Dr. Hawes.
“ The distinguishing doctrines, and the ecclesiastical order of our church, have, at such periods, always suffered. The doctrines of God's sovereignty, original sin, the entire dependence of the sinner on the special influence of the Holy Spirit in the work of regeneration and conversion, and justification solely by the righte. ousness of Christ imputed to the believing penitent, and received by faith alone, have almost invariably been either denied, or perverted and misrepresented, in a manner that was equivalent to a denial. The order of our church has been disregarded.”
“ It has even happened that a minister who has led others into extravagance, has at length found himself left behind them, and been considered and treated as a mere formalist, for whose conversion prayer needed to be made, and has been made accord. ingly, in the social meetings of his former disciples.”—Dr. Green.
“If you ask me, what means and measures have been most eminently blessed, in the revivals which have fallen under my own personal observation, in college and elsewhere, I answer,substantially the same as were “mighty through God, to the pull. ing down of strong holds” in the Apostolic age--the same as were employed by Edwards, and Bellamy, and Brainard, almost a century ago—the same that have been so remarkably owned of God, under the labours of our beloved brother,* now in a foreign land.”Dr. Humphrey.
“We have known here nothing, except by report, of the new measures,' for building up the kingdom of Christ. We have no machinery for making converts ; and we could allow none to be introduced. We should be afraid to make, or suffer an impression upon the young men under our care, many of whom will be ministers of Jesus Christ, that the Gospel can be helped, or the work of the Holy Ghost facilitated by human devices. And I think we shall hold, on this subject, to our general principles, too long settled by the experience of ages, and confirmed by the blessing of God attending the application of them, to be now thrown away in the ardour of questionable excitements, or for the love of innovation, or even to escape the imputation of being the enemies of revivals. I cannot tell you how much I sometimes fear, when I look abroad upon our country, that Christianity will degenerate in our keeping. Yet let us hold to the old foundations."--Dr. Lord.
“ The use of anxious seats, and putting the people to the test of a public vote, under the influence of strong feeling.'
“Public confession of sins, in the face of promiscuous assemblies.”
* The Rev. Mr. Nettleton.
6 Calling upon zealous but unauthorized persons to perform the appropriate duties of ordained ministers."
“ Hasty admission to the communion, of very young persons, or of those who have given but little proof of their knowledge of the Gospel, or of their having experienced a gracious change of heart.”
6 A neglect of the ministers of the Gospel, who are not con. sidered thorough-going revival men.”—Dr. Neill.
“ Reliance on means, instead of reliance upon the spirit of God.”
“ A tendency to exaggeration is specially to be avoided.”
“A tendency to spiritual pride needs frequently to be corrected.” -Dr. Wayland.
“ The agency of the Holy Spirit, as the beginning and ending, has been almost or entirely set aside. A revival has been represented and sought for as an article of manufacture for which you have only to set the machinery and raise the steam of excitement, caring little with what fuel, and converts will be made to hand. Artifices to catch attention ; devices to entrap the careless; representations to create impression ; an exaggerated style of preaching to produce alarm, have in some cases been put in requi. sition, over which truth, and reverence, and humility, and faith must weep, and which have done more to injure revivals in certain places, than all the direct opposition of coldness and unbelief." -Rev. C. P. M Ilvaine.
“From these two excesses two special evils are sure to follow; one among the ignorant, the other among the learned and refined. That among the ignorant is gross, palpable disorder. The other evil referred to is, that these excesses, (I speak not of the disorders,) prejudice men of learning and taste against revivals, and arm the influence of society against them. And thus, while they throw discredit on the most precious of God's works and obscure his glory where it was chiefly to be shown, they lay stumbling blocks before the blind, over which millions will fall into hell."-Dr. Griffin.
From the above extracts it must be apparent that dissatisfaction at the measures referred to, does not result from sectarian feelings, for here are the representatives of six different denominations: nor from party-spirit, for here are venerable, and learned, and pious men of all the schools, we were going to say, except that which has adopted these excesses, making one great common party, in defence of a great common cause: nor from inexperience in revivals, or secret opposition to them, for here are men who have been for a series of years, and still are, the accredited friends and successful promoters, under God, of revivals of religion.
It is proper to say before closing this article, that we, by no means, intend to charge these abuses indiscriminately upon all who, in part, approve, or use what are called the new measures. Some of our best and most beloved brethren, who live far away from the seat of these evils, and have not yet seen the issue from the beginning, filled with a praiseworthy desire to realise the blessings of a revival of religion, have, we fear, without due reflection, introduced some of them into their congregations. It is, however, a grave question, "What shall be the end thereof?” They ought well to weigh the whole matter, at a crisis such as this, and to enquire whether the transition, which they and their people need, be not rather to a new spirit, than to new measures.
In regard also to protracted meetings we say, that unless, in connection with abuses, they are not to be numbered among new measures. They are as old as the Kirk of Scotland, yea, as the Church of Christ; and are virtually recommended in our directory for worship. Nor is a measure evil because it is new, any more than because it is old. Protracted meetings, when properly conducted, (a people being properly prepared for them) are often highly useful. They combine the labours and prayers, of many ministers, and of a whole church at once; they protract and deepen the impression of the truth upon the principle and after the manner of the Sabbath; they arrest attention, throw off for a time, the weight of the world's cares, and callings, and especially amidst the intensity and pressure of a city life, give time for the mind to think, and the heart to feel. It must be admitted, however, that they have been greatly abused; and afford peculiar inducements to substitute excitement, for divine impression, and concentrated means, for continued devotion.
We only add, that there are those to be found in the church, who oppose revivals of religion, if we may speak so, on principle, and who do well nigh as much harm as all our errorists and innovators. They give an ill savour to orthodoxy, by identifying it with inactivity, and utter deadness of spirit. Their opposition favours, as their life aids, in producing the opposite extreme, in the Church of God. 'To them belongs no small part of the evils of which we speak; and we should esteem it a real calamity to be called to choose between these evils. It were like selecting between stupor and intoxication; between madness and death.
In fine, from the signs of the times, our hope is high, that