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in England and America, would only prove that good things may be abused and discredited. By such reasoning we can prove that Christ came not to bring peace on earth, but a sword:" that his Gospel is of evil tendency. After the experience of many years, the Churchmen of Rhode Island have not found the practice in question of evil tendency: their members have not gone from them, nor have they become preachers among other sects. The effect has been very much the contrary: many from other denominations have united with us, and have become firmly attached to the Episcopal Church. Of these, several are now among the most useful ministers in our Church, and are labouring in various parts of the United States. The meetings have been of no little use in removing the prejudices against this Church, which throughout New England so much and unhappily prevail; in convincing many that our religion does not consist wholly of forms and ceremonies; that we, no less than other Christians, have a serious concern for the salvation of ourselves and others.
The most candid of those who are opposed to prayer meetings admit that this subject is "a question of expediency." That God's word forbids such meetings, no one probably will venture to affirm. That the Church forbids them, no one has been able to shew; and should she disapprove, nothing hinders that she should forbid them. And if it be, as certainly it is, a question of expediency, what judges can be more fit or competent to decide the question than our parochial clergy, each one in his own parish? Any clergyman who is incapable of judging in this case, cannot be qualified for the pastoral charge. Supposing that they are so qualified-and their being continued in that office is a proof that they are so esteemed-to their decision we may safely leave the question. They best know, each one in his own parish, what the people need, and what means and efforts it pleases
God to bless among them. No one can be ignorant, that what is profitable in one place, and among one people, may in another place be worse than useless. Some things our Saviour has commanded, and others he has forbidden, and others still he has left to the discretion of his ministers, and other Christians, to be done or not, as prudence dictates or circumstances require. In his own example, too, has he taught that "all things which are lawful are not expedient.' In some places he found the people so hardened and indisposed to profit by his ministry, that he could not, with wisdom and fitness, work many miracles among them; and his practice was to teach the people as they were able to hear. His Apostles followed his example, feeding with milk those who were unable to receive the stronger meat of the word. As far as truth would admit, and circumstances required, their ministry was accommodated to the ignorance, and state, and prejudices of the people: they became all things to all men, that by all means they might save some. St. Paul, especially, who excelled in spiritual gifts, and laboured more abundantly than the other Apostles, while with unshaken fidelity he adhered to the true foundation of Christ, and in whatever is sinful was rigid and unaccommodating, in other things extended the conciliating system farther than any of us now would deem expedient. Let us be permitted, at an humble distance, to follow the steps of this "blessed Apostle;" and we shall no longer hear the pious members of our communion condemned or censured for meeting together to speak of the Lord's mercies, to pray for themselves and others, and to exhort each other to stedfastness and perseverance.
There is reason to fear that some write and speak against these meetings more from prejudice than knowledge. They who have not attended them, can be no better qualified to judge of their use than they who have not attended our public wor
Bishop Griswold on Prayer Meetings and Revivals.
ship to judge of our Liturgy. By the
ed than in Rhode Island. If others make an ill use of the ordinance of preaching, or of the celebration of Christmas, or of conference meetings, let those who are disposed and accustomed to make a good use of the same things enjoy these privileges quietly, and without reproach. A large part of our communicants in this State do not attend the meetings; and for this I have never heard them blamed. If they spend their evenings better, we rejoice and bless God. Happy would it be did all observe the most excellent rule of charity given in the fourteenth chapter to the Romans!
Then he that re
gardeth the day, would regard it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he would not regard it:" he would neither presume nor desire to "judge another man's servant, but to his own Master let him stand or fall." The evil most to be feared, and most prevalent among us, is lukewarmness. With shame must we acknowledge, that we incline to be cold rather than hot. Enthusiasm is as rare in our churches as a scorching sun is in a northern winter: the mercury of our zeal is constantly below the degree of temperate.
The chief object of this communication being to apologize for those who think it their privilege and find it profitable to attend meetings for prayer and religious conference, by a fair statement of their motives and conduct, and by obviating the objections which are so often and so confidently urged against them, it will be proper to bring into view such other things as are connected, or supposed to be directly or indirectly connected. Of this description are religious awakenings.
It is well known, that what are called awakenings, or revivals, or reformations (the name is not material), are very frequent, and have for many years been frequent, in various parts of the United States, especially in those called New England. By great numbers of Christians these are viewed as the special outpour
ings of the Divine Spirit-the extraordinary, if not miraculous, work of God. Others think these periods of excitement to be the work or delusion of the adversary, to discredit true religion, and bring into contempt the orthodox faith: or they judge them to be, at best, but the natural effects of eloquence or terror operating upon the sympathy or feelings or passions of weak minds. But, whatever may be our opinion of the cause or the effect of these awakenings, whether we suppose that they aid or that they injure true religion, it is certain that they have become a subject of serious importance, and claim the attention of all Christians, Episcopalians, among whom they are less frequent, not excepted. These excitements frequently occur in places where we have parishes, and our people, who have sympathy and feelings and like passions as other men, are of course in some manner affected. A part of our people, it may be, view these seasons with indifference, caring for none of these things: others, we are sorry to say, condemn them as fanatical delusions, and treat them with censure, ridicule, and contempt: but not a few, at such seasons, are awakened to a very serious concern for the salvation of themselves and others.
It is the intention of the present writer, if he can rightly judge of his own motives, to treat this subject with candour and impartiality. It is not intended to dictate or to judge, but to take facts as they are, and reason from them. This is certainly a subject which not a little concerns our Church. In some instances, people are drawn from our communion by these excitements: in others, members have in consequence been added unto us: and the results, it is believed, have generally been very much influenced by the conduct of our people, either in opposing and censuring the work (as it is called), or in availing ourselves of the excitement. It is very desirable, to say the least, that we, on this as on other
subjects, should be of one mind. It is indispensably our duty to God, to his church, and to ourselves, that we consider seriously of the subject; and when we see our fellow-sinners with agonizing solicitude and concern calling on God for mercy, and inquiring what they shall do to be saved, so to judge of them, and to conduct ourselves, that we can answer with confidence to our own heart, and to God, who “ is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." After devout prayer to God to enlighten our minds and direct our ways, perhaps nothing will be more likely to unite us in opinion, and in practice, than frankly and candidly stating our feelings and views on this subject. It is with the humble hope that such in some small degree may be the effect, that mine are now offered.
And they are now offered in connection with the subject of prayer meetings, because it is in seasons of great religious excitement that such meetings are most frequent, and are believed to be most necessary, or most useful; and because, generally speaking, and almost perhaps without exception, they who disapprove of one disapprove of the other, and consider them as kindred evils. There can be no doubt but the meetings are often instrumental in exciting religious awakenings; and the awakenings multiply the meetings.
Whether such awakenings are the Lord's work, caused by some extraordinary operation of the Divine Spirit; or his ordinary blessing and spiritual aid bestowed upon the awakened attention and more earnest prayers of his people; or whether, as others think, it is a natural effect from a natural cause, or an artifice and work of the adversary, to disgrace religion and frustrate its salutary effects; are points on which the opinions of men, even of true Christians, differ. And they are points, we may add, on which it would be well if some were less forward to judge and to decide. That the same thing should by some
Christians be extolled as the glorious work of God and power of his grace, and by others be denounced as the artifice of Satan to frustrate the salvation of men, is a fact of awful consideration, and should, we might reasonably conceive, cause those who are truly pious to pause and reflect. This extreme difference of opinion should remind us all how fallible is human judgment respecting the ways of God. It might be well for some of us to hearken to the advice of Gamaliel : Refrain from these men, and let them alone, lest haply ye be found to fight against God." For are we sure that it is not the Lord's work? Should the work be His, to oppose it would be to fight against God, to sin against the Holy Ghost. When it it is considered that these awakenings have seldom, if ever, appeared but in modern times, and are now very limited in their extent; that the Lord has in times past governed, and still does in most parts of the world govern, his church, and save the souls of men, without producing these extraordinary excitements: when it is further considered what vain confidence of boasting, what spiritual pride, what uncharitable judgment, what extravagant enthusiasm, and gross irregularities, have in some instances unhappily attended these revivals: when also are brought into view the numbers converted who fall away, or disgrace their religious profession; and the coldness or low state of religious feeling which usually succeeds these extraordinary excitements; it is natural, and certainly seems reasonable, to hesitate, and to doubt how far they are the work of God. And though it is certainly true that vast numbers, at such seasons, are converted from infidelity, and reformed from various vices, and become zealous, stedfast, and pious Christians; yet it may well be questioned whether there are more such Christians in consequence of the awakenings. Generally, during the intervals between such awakenings, coldness
prevails, and few, if any, are converted, or added to the church. And perhaps, had the Lord's word gone forward in its steady, uniform, and usual course, a still greater number would have been added to his fold. Suppose, in a large parish, during the course of fifty years, there are six of these extraordinary awakenings, and at each season (besides all who after fall away) one hundred of such as should be saved are added to the Lord; yet it is possible, and perhaps much more than possible, that, had no such excitement occurred, as many, or still more, might in the same period of fifty years have been added to the church. Another evil resulting from these revivals is, that very many people imbibe erroneous notions of conversion, and of their own duty. They are led to suppose that feelings, and raptures, and strong assurance, are the chief evidence of true religion; and (which is still worse) that little or nothing on their part is necessary to a change of heart and acceptance with God, but to wait till such a work, by the power of his grace, is wrought upon them. Hence the use of means is much neglected, and in many instances despised and this is one of the two principal causes of the coldness which usually follows those seasons of refreshment. The other cause is easily found in that principle of re-action which is natural to the human passions.
But all these evils, great and numberless and deplorable as they are, will not authorize us wholly to condemn these awakenings, as being the work of man only, or of evil spirits; nor as being, all things considered, useless. The awakening may still be from the Spirit of God; the conviction which alarms the soul, and the anxious concern to flee from the wrath to come, may be the fruit of the true seed sown in the heart; whilst the evil is to be ascribed to the opposition and wickedness of men, and to that enemy who is ever wakeful and ready to
sow his tares. Be it admitted that these excitements are a novelty; that nothing like them was known in former times (which, however, is not strictly the fact); still, the Lord, who governs all things, is not, as far as we know, restricted to any one mode in the operations of his grace. There are many gifts and ministrations, all by the same Spirit; and they are accommodated, we have good reason to believe, to times and seasons; to the occasional exigencies of his church, and the wants of mankind. At the Reformation there was a great change from what had long and generally been practised; but its being a change is itself no good proof that the hand of God was not in the work. These awakenings, in many cases certainly, appear to be the effect of human effort. And may not the like be said of all conversions, of all faith, and all religious knowledge? "How shall they believe except they hear, and how shall they hear without a preacher?" And who does not know, that generally, in all ages of the church, according to the zeal with which the Gospel is preached are the fruits of the ministry? Besides, what seems an evil may by a wise Providence be permitted, and more than permitted, to counteract a greater evil. Religious fervour, though extravagant, may be much preferable to coldness. Ignorant enthusiasts are made instrumental in awakening many to righteousness; to rouse from their slumbers those ministers of Christ who are reposing upon their orthodoxy and correct. ness; to teach us that knowledge without zeal is more offensive to God than zeal without knowledge. If "the unlearned and unstable can by great efforts produce so much; still more fruit, and better, would be the effect of as great efforts guided by better knowledge and a more reasonable faith.
And though various irregularities have attended these awakenings, they are not a necessary effect; and they must justly be attributed to the
infirmities and the wickedness of men, who often by perverting the best things make them the worst. They arise especially from the opposition which some make to the work; and still more from the very injudicious efforts of many, on such occasions, to excite terror in those affected, and work their feelings up to enthusiasm. Would it not be better, either to let them alone, hoping that, if the work is of men, it will come to nought; or to conduct those who are awakened into the way of righteousness and peace? In such seasons of general excitement there is less need of preaching the Law, and setting before men "the terrors of the Lord:" they should rather be gently conducted to the arms of his mercy. There is then need to tell them, as Paul did the jailor, "Do thyself no harm.” Teach them to hope with fear, and to rejoice with trembling; to look unto God with penitence, unto Christ with faith, and upon all their fellow-sinners with charity and love. Then probably all would be convinced that the work is the Lord's, however marvellous in our eyes.
In confirmation of this, the present writer can bring an instance, which occurred within his own personal knowledge, in a town where were several religious societies of various denominations, one of which was Episcopal. There had never before been an extraordinary excitement in that place; nor was there at the time any such in the vicinity. No great or unusual efforts had been made to cause, or that might be supposed to cause, such excitement. The Episcopal minister had endeavoured for many months to preach the doctrines of the cross with seriousness and fidelity. What he first noticed of any change in his congregation was an unusual seriousness; and, especially, that when dismissed they left the church silent and thoughtful. Observing their increasing religious concern, he began to meet with a few of them on one