WHY SO FEW REVIVALS?
I am rejoiced to perceive that the inquiry is beginning to agitate the Church, "Why are there not more revivals, as well as why is their character so changed?" The inquiry is also made, "What can be done to promote them, and to promote them under a desirable and permanent type?"
Now, my dear brethren, I hope and trust that you will not be offended with me if I speak my mind on this subject with great plainness. The circumstances of the Church, the decline of revivals, and the whole aspect of the Christian world, demand it.
I have seen in the public papers various reasons assigned for this declension of revivals, this absence of revival influence, this powerless preaching of the gospel.
Now it does appear to me that we who are ministers, instead of looking abroad and searching for the fundamental difficulty beyond and out of ourselves, should see that whatever else may be an occasion of the great falling off and decline in revivals, our own spiritual state is certainly one, if not the primary and fundamental, reason of this decline. Want of personal holiness, unction, power in prayer, and in preaching the Word, the want of holy living and consecration to the work of self-denial, and energetic effort in the ministry,--these, no doubt, are the principal reasons why revivals are so few and far between, and of so superficial character at the present day.
The fact is, ministers have turned aside, in a great degree, to vain janglings; have given up their attention to Church politics, Church government, and ecclesiastical proceedings of various kinds. The ministers have been diverted, to an alarming and most injurious extent, from promoting revivals of religion out of the Church and holiness in the Church.
I appeal to you, my brethren, of all denominations, if it is not a fact in your own experience and observation, that ministers have to a great and alarming extent suffered themselves to be diverted from the direct work of promoting the conversion of sinners and sanctification of the Church. This is too notorious to need any proof. The journals of the day, the movements of ecclesiastical bodies, the doctrinal collisions, and--shall I say?--ambitious projects, that have come up and figured before the public within the last few years, bear no dubious testimony to the fact that the great mass of ministers are turned aside from promoting revivals and the holiness and entire consecration of the Church.
Now, my beloved brethren, while this is so, does it not become us to take this home, confess it, bewail it, and first of all understand that whatever else needs to be corrected and set right, we must ourselves repent and receive a new unction for the work?
Beloved brethren, it is of no use for us to go abroad and search for reasons, while the principal of all the reasons lies at our own door. While our hearts are cold, our zeal in revivals abated; while we are turned aside, and running here and there to attend Conventions, Councils, ecclesiastical bodies; while we are engaged in reading the vituperative publications of the day, and entering into Church politics and jangling about Church government and all these things--it is no wonder that both the Church and the world are asleep on the subject of revivals.
Until the leaders enter into the work, until the ministry are baptized with the Holy Spirit, until we are awake and in the field with our armor on, and our souls anointed with the Holy Spirit, it certainly ill becomes us to be looking around at a distance for the cause of the decline of revivals.
I have no doubt that there are many causes which, the Lord willing, we will search out. But this is the first, the greatest, the most God-dishonoring of all--that the ministry are not in the work, that the shepherds have in a measure forsaken their flock; that is, they are not leading them into the green pastures and beside the still waters, are not themselves so anointed and full of faith and power as to be instrumental in leading the Church into the field for the promotion of revivals.
To a considerable extent the Churches seem not to be well aware of the state of the ministry, and for the reason that they themselves are in a state of decline. The decline of vital godliness in the ministry has been, of course, the occasion of so much decline in the Churches that they are hardly aware either of their own state or of the spiritual state of the ministry.
Now, my dear brethren, I hope it will not be said that, by writing in this way, I am letting down the influence of the ministry and encouraging a fault finding spirit in the Church. I would by no means do this. But I think that we may rest assured that, unless we are frank enough, and humble enough, and honest enough, to look the true state of things in the face, confess, forsake our sins, and return to the work and engage in the promotion of revivals, God will undoubtedly rebuke us, will raise up other instruments to do His work, and set us aside; will alienate the heart of the Churches from us, destroy our influence with them, and raise up, we know not whom, to go forth and possess the land.
Among all the Conventions of the present day, I have thought that one of a different character from any that have been might be greatly useful. If we could have a Ministerial Convention, for prayer, confessing our faults one to another, and getting into a revival spirit, and devising the best ways and means for the universal promotion of revivals throughout the length and breadth of the land, I should rejoice in it. It has appeared to me that of all the Conventions of the day, one of this kind might be the most useful.
What shall we say, brethren? Are we not greatly in fault? Have not the ministry, to a great extent, lost the spirit of revivals? Is there not a great lack of unction and power amongst us? And have we not suffered ourselves to be greatly and criminally diverted from this great work?
If so, my dear brethren, shall we not return? Shall we not see our fault, confess it to the Churches, to the world, and return, and, in the name of the Lord lift up our banner?
I hope my brethren will bear with me, while I further insist on the general delinquency of ministers, especially of late, in regard to revivals.
There has been so manifest and so lamentable a falling off from a revival spirit among the ministers of Christ as to become a matter of general, if not universal, observation. Nothing is more common than the remark that ministers, as a general fact, have lost the spirit of revivals, have become very zealous in ecclesiastical matters, censorious, afraid of revivals, of revival men and measures, and that they do little or nothing directly for the promotion of revivals of religion. Now I do not think that this is a universal fact, but as a general remark it is too obvious to need proof, and I think must be conceded by all.
Now, dearly beloved brethren, unless there is a spirit of a revival in the ministry, it is in vain to expect it in the Church. The proper place for the shepherd is before or in advance of the sheep. The sheep will follow him whithersoever he goes; but if he attempt to drive them before him, he will scatter them in every direction. If the shepherd fall away from a revival spirit, the sheep will naturally decline also. If he advance in the work of the Lord, they will almost as a thing of course follow him wherever he leads.
The greatest of all difficulties in the way of the promotion of revivals has been a superficial work of grace in the hearts of ministers themselves. If this is not true, I am greatly mistaken.
My brethren, believe me, I speak not this censoriously, or in the spirit of fault-finding; it is the full and deliberate conviction of my own mind--an opinion formed, not hastily, but from protracted observation, and from an intimate acquaintance with great numbers of the ministers of Christ of different denominations.
While the ministers of Christ are filled with the Spirit of God, the Church, as a general thing, will not backslide. I say as a general thing. There may, in some instances, be influences brought to bear on the churches that will divert them from the promotion of holiness in their own hearts and the conversion of the impenitent, in spite of all that the most wakeful and vigilant ministry can do. Great political excitements, great commercial embarrassments, great depressions or elevations in the business and pecuniary state of the Church or the world, may, in a great measure, divert the mass of professors of religion for a time from deep spirituality, although the ministers may be awake. And yet it is my deliberate opinion that a thoroughly wakeful, prayerful, energetic ministry, by their influence, would generally, if not universally, prevent all the calamities and disturbances, by so deeply engaging the Church and the community in general on religious subjects, that war, great political excitements, great commercial excitements, speculations, or embarrassments, would not be likely to occur. However this may be, I can not believe it to be otherwise than a general truth, that if the ministry are baptized with the Holy Spirit, and deeply anointed with the revival influence, so the Church will be-- "Like priest like people."
And now brethren, it does seem to me that when we ourselves are thoroughly in a revival spirit, our call to the Churches to arise and engage in the general promotion of revivals will be immediately responded to on the part of the Church. Let the ministry only come out in the true spirit of revivals, and I doubt whether any minister in the land can preach for three Sabbaths to his Church, in the Spirit, without finding the spirit of revival waking up in the Church. Let this experiment once be tried; let us wake up to the importance of this subject, confess and forsake our own sins, and cry aloud to the Church, and spare not: let us lift up our voice like a trumpet, and rally the host of God's elect; and if they are deaf to the call, then let us inquire most earnestly what is next to be done. But until we are anointed to the work, do not let us tempt the Lord or abuse the Church, by looking out of ourselves and away from ourselves for the cause of decline in revivals.
Do not misunderstand me. I know that the Church is in a state of decline, and needs greatly to be quickened and aroused; but I am confident that the prime cause of this decline in the Church is to be found in the fact that the ministers have been diverted from their appropriate work. And I am also confident that the only remedy for this state of things is, first and foremost of all, for ministers to come into a deeply spiritual and revived state of mind. And as soon as this comes to pass, there will be a general revival. And I am not looking for it to come unless ministers do thoroughly wake up to their own state and the state of the Church.