Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

to make it a substitute for experimental religion. As religion always manifests itself in a beautifully consistent moral life, the danger to the unrenewed man is, that he will rest his everlasting well-being upon his outward morality, which has no necessary connection with that inward holiness imparted by the Holy Spirit, and "without which no man shall see the Lord." And yet, great as is the danger from this source, we would exhort men with all the heart to morality. If they will not perform those actions which are good in their influence from holy motives, we would not say, "Do not perform them at all." But we would rather say, "Be moral men." Your own temporal comfort requires it. The temporal interests of the community demand it. Morality is good policy. Cease from the sin of profanity if you indulge in it, of intemperance, of Sabbath-breaking, of falsehood, of fraud, of covetousness, and from all other immoralities. Refrain at once and forever from them all. You can, and should break off from them all; and, like one of old, be able to say in regard to all the commands pertaining to the outward life: “All these things have I kept from my youth up." But when you have done this, and thus "made clean the outside of the cup, and the platter," and are as beautiful outwardly, as the "whited sepulchre," it must be said also of you, "One thing thou lackest," — the one thing needful, the renewing grace of God. Do you that are moral think this an hard saying, and pointing to professing Christians, ask, what do they more than others? They may claim nothing more in outward morality, but as Christians they do claim the hope of a work of grace wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit. Through divine grace, their affections, motives, and purposes are holy; and whatever they do, they do all to the glory of God. "Yet not they, but the grace of God which is with them." You aim at outward morality, and neglect the heart; they at inward piety, not neglecting to exemplify it in the outward life and conduct. You would commend yourselves to man. They to God and to man. You would be abundantly satisfied to be able to say with the Pharisee: "All these things have I kept from my youth up." They would remember the declaration of Christ: "For I say unto you that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."

VOL. II.

22

THE REVIVAL IN NEW ENGLAND.

IN speaking of the great revival in New England near the middle of the last century, it is not our purpose to go into a full history of it. This has been satisfactorily done by others.* But we propose to glance at the state of the churches at the time when the revival commenced; to show how it was regarded and treated by different classes; and to speak of its immediate results, in preparing the way for a division among the Congre gational churches, and for the lapse of a portion of them into Arminianism and Unitarianism.

This revival commenced in a time of deep spiritual declension. Many of the churches had been seriously corrupted, by the admission of unworthy members, and by the ministry of teachers who gave no decisive evidence of piety. Such, at least, was the judgment of Whitefield, at the time of his first visit to New England. "I fear," says he, "that many rest in a headknowledge, are close Pharisees, and have only a name to live. It must needs be so, when the power of godliness is dwindled away, and the form only of religion has become fashionable amongst a people."+

The clergy of New England, at the period we are speaking of, were in general orthodox, or reputedly so. They maintained regularly the forms of religion, but in some instances had well nigh lost its spirit, and in others, it may be feared, had never felt it. The churches, also, to which they ministered were in a cold and formal state, consisting to a considerable extent of those who had not experienced, and who perhaps did not pretend to have experienced, the saving power of religion on their hearts. Arminianism was frequently talked of, with complacence by some, and with dread by others; but as yet there was no general and open dissent from the religious principles of the fathers of New England.

It was in this state of things that the great revivals of religion, which occurred towards the middle of the last century, commenced. There had been instances of revival before in different

* See Prince's Chris. History, in two volumes. See also Tracy's "Great Awakening."

See Journal at New England, Pp. 70–96.

places, but they were becoming unfrequent, and were comparatively unknown. In the years 1734 and 1735, a new era began to open. The work commenced in Northampton, under the searching and powerful ministry of Mr. Edwards, and here it spread and prevailed, "till there was scarcely a person in the town, either old or young, that was left unconcerned about the things of the eternal world." Soon after, it extended into the neighboring towns, and nearly the whole of the old county of Hampshire was visited and revived.

In the year 1738, Mr. Whitefield first visited this country. He commenced his labors in the Southern provinces, and did not reach New England until the autumn of 1740. At this time, his labors in Boston, and in other places, were followed by a very unusual and general attention to religion. "Multitudes were greatly awakened and affected with his lively ministry. Great numbers in Boston," says Mr. Prince, "were so happily concerned about their souls, as we had never seen anything like it before." In the winter following, Mr. Gilbert Tennent came into New England, where his labors also were abundant, and were greatly blessed. The revival in Boston exceeded anything ever before witnessed in this part of the country. "The very face of the town seemed to be changed, so as to occasion great surprise to the strangers who visited it." From Boston, the work spread in every direction over the settled portions of New England. In the "Christian History," mention is made of some fifty towns, in which the Spirit of God was specially poured out, at nearly the same time.

If now we pause, and contemplate the state of the churches at the time when this great revival commenced, we shall see that, in all probability, it must have encountered a violent opposition. And this opposition would be likely to come, not merely from the scoffer and the infidel, but from multitudes in the churches, and from not a few of the ministers. For in these revival scenes, religion was presented in a new and glowing aspect. It was exhibited, not as mere form, but as feeling and substance; not as a matter of cold speculation affecting only the head, but as reaching, stirring, warming, renewing all the affections of the soul. Many, therefore, in the churches, and in the ministry, felt themselves reproved and condemned by these new exhibitions of religion. If this was religion, they saw and felt that they had none

of it. They had experienced no such thing. They were constrained, therefore, either to renounce their hope, and take the humbling attitude of inquirers and learners, or to condemn and oppose the revival, as mere frenzy and delusion. Some, to be sure, both ministers and church-members, were induced to take the former course; but many were left, as might have been expected, to take the latter. They condemned the revival, condemned the fruits of it, and condemned the measures which were taken to promote it. They closed their houses of worship against Whitefield, and Tennent, and the other revival preachers; and spoke of the whole work, either as a tumult of the passions, or as a delusion from an evil spirit.

Let us not be understood, however, as representing all those who stood aloof from the revival, and declined promoting it, as unconverted persons. Without doubt, there were some true friends to Christ, who, on account of the influence of family connections, or of an undue regard for established customs and forms, or of false reports, or of indiscretions among those who were engaged in the revival, were led to regard the work with suspicion and hesitation. The number of those to whom this exception applies, however, was not large; and it is evident, that the many who originally and steadily opposed this revival, did it not only from mistaken views, but with improper motives. Certainly, their opposition, at the first, was as unreasonable, as it was unrelenting and virulent. It displayed a much greater lack of charity than it condemned; and was conducted, often, in a use of the most unworthy means.

The effect of this opposition was unhappy, not only on the enemies of the revival, but on its friends. Instead of making them more watchful and humble, more distrustful of themselves, and more prayerfully dependent on the Lord, it seemed, in some instances, to wound their pride, to enkindle their resentment, to induce them to return railing for railing, and to put them upon the adoption of new and exceptionable measures for carrying on the work. In this way, their wily opponents gained a prodigious advantage over them; and they pushed it to the utmost of their power. Still more, therefore, were some of the revivalists exasperated, and the sound of contention waxed louder and louder.

In this stage of the work, it was impossible for persons of tried wisdom and humble piety so to speak, as to make themselves

heard and regarded. The excellent Mr. Edwards published his "Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England;" a work which cannot be too highly esteemed, and which was productive of immediate good, both in this country and in Scotland; but to accomplish all that he intended and hoped, it was too late. Confusion and contention extensively prevailed, and the Holy Spirit was in great measure grieved away.

Looking back on the revival which has been described, at the distance now of a full century, we come to the same general conclusion with the judicious Edwards, who lived in the midst of it. It was, undoubtedly, a great and glorious work of God's Holy Spirit, commencing in the midst of deep declension, and prevailing for a season with much power, and with the best effects. But through the unreasonable opposition of ungodly men, and the delusions of Satan, and the errors of some who were striving to promote it, it became at length corrupted and defaced, and liable in many points to objection and censure.

One immediate result of this great excitement throughout New England, was a permanent division among the ministers and churches, in regard to religious sentiment and feeling. Those on the one part were greatly elevated in their views of divine truth, and of experimental religion. They obtained clearer ideas of the precious doctrines of grace; felt more of their redeeming power; proclaimed them with much greater plainness, earnestness, and force; and lived in nearer conformity to their sanctifying influence. In this view, the revival was an inestimable blessing to this country. It rekindled the holy fire, when it was well nigh extinguished, and gave a tone and spirit to the prevailing religion of New England, which it has never lost.

But to those on the other part, who discountenanced and opposed the revival, and by this means failed of its beneficial results, its consequences were directly the opposite. The most of this class soon settled down into avowed Arminianism, or into a strange and criminal indifference in regard to religious truth. If men would but attend upon external observances with a cold morality, and frown upon everything which had the appearance of engagedness and zeal, and think well of their neighbors who were as lifeless as themselves, it was of little consequence what they believed or rejected. They might be Calvinists, or Arminians, or

VOL. II.

22*

« AnteriorContinuar »