REMARKS ON RELIGIOUS REVIVALS
It is always cheering to the saints of God to witness the outpouring of his Spirit in quickening and bringing into his gospel fold the subjects of his saving grace, and the more clearly we can trace the work of God in revivals of religion, the more abundantly we rejoice. But wherever we detect the finger-prints of men in their production, our joy is dampened, and our confidence in them shaken. We have been a member in the Baptist church more than fifty years, and in that time have witnessed many revivals. Some that have afforded us inexpressible joy and gratitude to God, and others which have filled us with the most fearful apprehensions. That men, by their activity and zeal, can get up revivals of religion, or religious revivals, by stirring appeals to the passions and to the natural judgment of unregenerated sinners, which will attract and gather them in excited crowds, and produce intense excitement, and ultimately draw large numbers into the church, we cannot doubt, and for a time the cause may seem to flourish, but when the net has been drawn to the shore, a large proportion of the fish are found to be of no value to the church of God. Every plant, says the divine Master, which my Father has not planted, shall be rooted up. From this declaration we infer that every one that comes into the church without his saving grace, shall be expelled without his favor.
Well do we remember the old fashioned revivals, in which God’s holy arm was made bare for the salvation of sinners, when such things as protracted meetings, anxious benches, coming forward publicly for prayers, and the like, had not been introduced in the Baptist churches. Then the Baptists were one people and one communion the world over. When we heard of a revival among the Baptists we knew what the term signified; and those gathered into the churches were not offended at the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in the election, predestination, irresistible calling, and complete salvation of his children; nor with the faithful exposure of all manner of heresy, will-worship, delusion and idolatry abounding in the world. Then the Baptists, as a distinct people, were not reckoned with the popular denominations of the earth. Then they desired no revival that was or could be gotten up; they delighted only in those revivals which come down from above, in which they had the evidence that they were seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. But after the importation from England of a theory which was labeled “Fuller’s Gospel”, very soon the poison of Fuller’s heresy began to spread, and many Baptist churches, which about that time began to enjoy some respite from the oppression of the New England Puritans, began to show symptoms of infection. The truth is, the Baptists never could endure prosperity to any great extent, without, like Israel of old, running into idolatry.
Following an under current of Fullerism, which had promised to raise the Baptists from the degradation of a dunghill (to use Fuller’s classic language) to a respectable position among the popular religious denominations, came in stealthily at first, but more openly afterwards, a lusting after the leeks and onions, and especially the fleshpots of Egypt. This manna from above, on which the saints had been so long and so miraculously fed, began to be regarded as light food. The Anakims, their neighbors, who lived on the productions of the earth, grew up to be giants, and looked down with contempt upon the poor, little dwarfish Baptists; and under these circumstances many of the Baptists betrayed a desire to become like the nations round about them. Thus hardening their hearts, as in the day of provocation, became vain in their imaginations. This spirit of discontent and rebellion soon produced wide-spread murmuring among them; that the place where they dwelt was too strait, and some were heard to say, “Go to, let us make brick, and we will build a tower,” etc. The more enterprising and zealous complained that their brethren were too inert, inactive, and withal, too tight-laced, folding their hands and waiting for God to build up his cause. But their active and sprightly companions sprang forward to steady the ark of God, which seemed to them to jostle on the new cart. A new era had begun, the law of Christ, as the only standard for faith and order in the house of God, was ignored by the enterprising, for they said, “If we wait for God to do the work, it will never be done. The day of miracles is past, and we must ‘Up and make us gods to go before us.’”
The ministry which God had hitherto given and sustained among the Baptists, came to be regarded as inefficient, they were too illiterate, too slow, too tight-laced; or, in other words, too confident that what God had begun he would himself perform until the day of Jesus Christ, and so inert had they become that they declared that even if the olive should not blossom, and there should be no herd in the stall, they would still trust in the Lord, and even though he should slay them, they still would trust in him. The wise and prudent ones, therefore, determined to get these sleepy drones out of the way, and soon Baptist colleges began to arise, Theological Schools were instituted, Baptist State Educational Societies were chartered by the Legislature, Sabbath Schools and Bible Classes, for teaching “Every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord,” were multiplied. Missionary Societies were organized, and plans matured for collecting Missionary funds. High sounding titles of a flattering kind were given to men. Presidents, directors, life membership, etc., became merchantable commodities, and were bought and sold in the market. The antiquated notion that it required grace to save sinners, where money was plenty, and that “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” was thought to belong to a former age, was not adapted to this day of improvements. Baptist meeting houses now began to wear steeples and towers, or domes of imposing dimensions; bells were found necessary to drive the bad spirits away and call the multitudes together; a learned but graceless ministry filled the pulpits, and the Baptists began to look respectable in the adulterous eyes of the world. Now to fill up these costly and splendid edifices with paying converts something more attractive to the world than the preaching of Christ and him crucified, was deemed necessary. Protracted meetings, anxious benches, exciting appeals to the carnal passions of men, women and children were regarded as the most effective agencies, and hence they were brought into requisition. Much experimenting was required to demonstrate the comparative efficiency of the new inventions. Union prayer meetings, monthly concerts of prayer, with numerous other contrivances of men, were tried, with a view to either scare people into religion, or to scare religion into the people. At the time of the introduction of these new things among professed Baptists, the party in favor of them was in the minority, but with all this machinery under their control they were soon multiplied into an overwhelming majority, and as there was no legitimate affinity between the old primitive order and these machine-made Baptists, a formal separation became inevitable, and ultimately took place. In the division the old order was called by a number of names, among which were, Old School or Primitive Baptists; the new order are known as New School or Missionary Baptists. These two kinds of Baptists have become so distinct that neither claim any relationship to the other. Indeed, the Primitive Baptists have no greater opposers or more bitter enemies to contend with on earth than are found in the ranks of the New School.
Perhaps brother Strickland and others are ready to ask us, What has this recital of past history to do with the revivals of which that brother writes? We reply, Simply this, to hold up the history of the past as a beacon upon the walls, that our dear brethren in the ecstasy of their feelings caused by the revival, may remember the rocks on which the Baptists of former times have been wrecked, divided and split.
By no means would we utter a word to dampen the spirits of precious brethren who are enjoying the gracious smiles of their covenant God. We have greatly mistaken the characters of brethren Strickland and Hume, if they would designedly depart from the ancient landmarks of Zion, or forsake the footsteps of the flock of our Redeemer. But, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall,” is an apostolic admonition. May we all heed it. There are a few expressions in brother Strickland’s account of the revival that we feel constrained to notice, not in a fault-finding spirit, but in all love and tenderness. At our time of life, being now more than three score years of age, and about half that time have conducted the publication of this paper, we are aware that the time of our departure is not very far distant. We feel desirous, before the grave shall close over our mortal body, to faithfully, but affectionately, warn all our dear brethren in Christ to shun the appearance of evil in all things. Adhere strictly to the precepts and examples of our Lord and Master in all your religious deportment, and we trust that neither of our ministering brethren, nor any of the precious converts of their late revivals, will be hurt with us, or mistake our design in reviewing the expressions to which we have alluded.
First. Brethren, your meetings have been protracted. Now, where the Spirit of the Lord is manifested, drawing the hearts of the saints together, and in the display of his quickening power and grace, in causing the dead to hear the voice of the Son of God, and they feel disposed to protract such meetings for the worship of God and the edification of the saints, as did the apostles in the early days of christianity, we have not the slightest objection to offer. At such seasons we have sometimes felt to say,
“My willing soul would stay
In such a frame as this;
Would sit and sing herself away
To everlasting bliss.”
But to appoint a protracted meeting as a means of grace, or for the purpose of getting up a revival, or producing an excitement, is, in our view, like attempting to do by our enchantments that which we know can only be done by the mighty power of God himself. A meeting was once protracted at Jerusalem, after the ascension of our Redeemer, because Jesus had commanded the apostles to tarry at Jerusalem for a specific reason. And they, with other disciples, were in one place, and of one accord, until the day of Pentecost was fully come. A glorious revival took place while they were together, not as a result of their being together, but as the result of the Mediatorial triumph of the Son of God. They did not claim that they had gotten up this revival, but they assure us that it did not come up, but it came down. While they, in obedience to Jesus, were all of one accord in one place, “Suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.” (Acts 2:2) Thus we have the testimony that this reviving sound came from above, and God poured out on them of his Spirit. So all spiritual blessings are given the saints in Christ, according as he hath chosen them in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world. (Eph. 1:3,4) And every good and perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning. On this occasion a vast multitude were quickened, and made to gladly receive the word; and they were baptized, and added to the church. The apostles did not claim this as resulting from anything they had done to produce it, but told us frankly that this was something God had long had in store; it was that which had been spoken of by Joel more than seven hundred years before, and some seven hundred years before any of them were born. The protraction of the meeting in Indiana, we should judge, was like that at Jerusalem, were it not for a remark of brother Strickland in another part of the letter, which seems to reflect severely on ministers who have not enjoyed similar revivals, as dull, cold and inefficient, under whose labors no church can prosper. Now we must in all candor, and in kindness, contend that revivals that are at all profitable to the church of God, are not the result of the vivacity, warmth or efficiency of the minister. All the ministers of Christ are in themselves dull, cold and inefficient, until animated with a live coal from off the altar of the Lord. Paul, with all his inspiration, disclaimed all efficiency in himself, and exclaimed, “And who is sufficient for these things?” Or what is efficient? Jesus has said to his disciples, “Without me ye can do nothing.” Where then is the efficiency for these things?
Again, brother Strickland remarks, “Neither can any minister of Christ be profitable and fully efficient as a minister of the cross of Christ unless the church does her duty.”
Does our dear brother mean that the will or works of men or angels can give efficiency to the preached gospel? That the success of the gospel really rests upon duties faithfully performed by the church? How then did Paul affirm that the excellency of the gospel is not of us, but of God? Why are we told that Paul may plant, Apollos may water, but God alone can give the increase? We have no reason to doubt that the church, and all the saints, ministers included, are sometimes, if not at all times, remiss in the discharge of their duties, but we would greatly prefer to hear our brother say, When God pours out his Spirit upon the thirsty hill of Zion, the plants of his right hand planting will be revived, the church will awake to a sense of neglected duties, the dull ministers will lift up the voice with renewed energy, sinners will be pricked in the heart, and the redeemed of the Lord will be gathered into the fold, and all will be the result of those seasons of refreshing which come from the presence of the Lord.
We also believe that God has intimately connected the prosperity of his church and kingdom with the faithfulness of her members and her gifts, but we do not believe that connection is such as to make the prosperity of the kingdom to depend on the faithfulness of either the members or the gifts. For, “Their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.” But when God’s set time to favor Zion comes, God sends her prosperity, and in a way that she shall see, and feel, and confess, that it is “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” And when God gives prosperity to his church, then, and only then, her vine will flourish, and her pomegranates will give a goodly smell. When he commands the north winds to blow, and the south winds to come, then the spices will flow out. This will enliven the dull minister if he be a servant of God, and this will wake up the sleepy spouse of the Redeemer, and thus the connection of faithfulness in the church, and her prosperity is effected, so that the praise is not of men, but of God.
That there are ministers and members of churches who are worldly, and allow much of the precious time allotted for social religious intercourse to be spent in worldly conversation, talking of politics, or of the war, is very probable; but it is an exciting time, and we are yet in the flesh, compassed with infirmities, so that it is hardly to be expected that we can divest ourselves from all anxiety on the subject. But it is to be hoped that the saints will, as far as possible, divest themselves from these cares when we meet to worship God, and with the poet say,
“Far from my thoughts, vain world, be gone,
Let my religious hours alone;
Fain would my faith my Savior see,
But wait a visit, Lord, from thee.”
When Paul says we are laborers together with God, we are not to understand that we are fellow-laborers with God, or co-laborers, for we, that is, Paul and Apollos, were laborers together. They were not laboring to help God build the church, for his church is not made with hands, it is God’s building, an house, which stands eternal in the heavens. We are God’s husbandry, or plantation, or garden, where he implants the seeds of grace, which spring up and bring forth fruit to God. Paul and Apollos were laboring together in planting or preaching the word: “So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”
One remark further of brother Strickland we must notice, wherein he speaks of a class of preachers who have too much to say against error, especially the abominable, God-dishonoring and heaven-daring doctrines of Arminians, who give their (the Arminians) errors more attention than they give to the errors of their own brethren. (Brother Strickland will not probably classify us with that sort, as we sometimes pay some attention, as he will perceive, to errors of our brethren.) These, he complains, “Dwell long and loud on the doctrine of predestination and election, to the exclusion of practical and experimental religion.”
Now we are somewhat puzzled to know how to understand this complaint. What more exalted theme has ever moved the tongues or thrilled the hearts of men or angels, than that of the doctrine of predestination and election, we cannot conceive. Is not the predestinating government of God worthy of our loudest, longest notes? Why should they not dwell long and loud upon the doctrine affirmed by the Holy Ghost, proclaimed by God himself, reiterated by patriarchs and prophets, heralded by inspired apostles, and lying as the basis of all our hopes for heaven and immortality? How the preaching of this doctrine can exclude practical or experimental religion, we cannot understand, since no practice or experience can be worth having in its absence. If God has not chosen us in Christ, and predestinated us to the adoption of children, and if God hath not before ordained us to walk in good works, all our practice and all our experience will leave us far short of heaven and eternal happiness. “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” If there be no election and predestination, then there can be no inheritance of glory for us or for anybody else. Then let the brethren shun not to proclaim election and predestination, and expose the abomination of Antichrist, and exhort the saints to stand fast in the doctrine of God our Savior, and to walk in all his ordinances, and see that in the excitement of revivals none be admitted to fellowship who do not love the doctrine of salvation by grace alone.
We trust that our brother will not be offended with us for the candor with which we have remarked on his letter, but carefully examine the points to which we have called his attention, and may the Lord give us all the light and wisdom we need, and crown us in his kingdom. Amen.
June 1, 1862.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 201 – 209