||delphia > REVIVAL LECTURES by Charles G. Finney (page 4 of 5)
Charles G. Finney
A Voice from the Philadelphian Church Age
by Charles Grandison Finney
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Table of Contents
- LECTURE XV. - HINDRANCES TO
A revival of religion is a great work - Several things which may put a stop to it
- What must be done for the continuance of a revival.
LECTURE XVI. - THE NECESSITY
AND EFFECT OF UNION.
We are to be agreed in prayer - We are likewise to be agreed in everything that is
essential to the blessing we seek.
LECTURE XVII. - FALSE COMFORTS
The necessity and design of instructing anxious sinners - Anxious sinners are always
seeking comfort - The false comforts that are often administered.
LECTURE XVIII. - DIRECTIONS
What is a proper direction to be given to sinners when they make inquiry for salvation
- What is a proper answer to such inquiry - Several errors into which anxious sinners
are apt to fall.
HINDRANCES TO REVIVALS
I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down:
why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you.? - Nehemiah. 6:3.
This servant of God had come down from Babylon to rebuild the temple and re-establish
the worship of God at Jerusalem, the city of his fathers' sepulchers. When it was
discovered by Sanballat and certain individuals who were his allies, who had long
enjoyed the desolations of Zion, that the temple and the holy city were about to
be rebuilt, they raised a great opposition. Sanballat and the other leaders tried,
in several ways, to divert Nehemiah and his friends, and prevent them from going
forward in their work; at one time they threatened them, and then complained that
they were going to rebel against the king. They found, however, that they could not
frighten Nehemiah, and then they sought to delude him by artifice and fraud, and
draw him off from the vigorous prosecution of his work. But the words sum up his
position: "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the
work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you?"
It has always been the case, whenever any of the servants of God do anything in His
cause, and there appears to be a probability that they will succeed, that Satan by
his agents regularly attempts to divert their minds and nullify their labors. So
it has been during the last ten years, in which there have been such remarkable revivals
through the length and breadth of the land. These revivals have been very great and
powerful, and extensive.
It has been estimated that not less than TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND persons have been converted
to God in that time. And the devil has been busy in his devices to divert and distract
the people of God, and turn off their energies from pushing forward the great work
In remarking upon the subject, I propose:
I. To show that a revival of religion is a great work.
II. To mention several things which may put a stop to it.
III. To show what must be done for the continuance of this great revival.
I. A REVIVAL OF RELIGION IS A GREAT WORK.
It is a great work, because in it are great interests involved. In a revival of religion,
there are involved both the glory of God, so far as it respects the government of
this world, and the salvation of men; two things, therefore, that are of infinite
importance are involved in it. The greatness of a work is to be estimated by the
greatness of the consequences depending on it; this is the measure of its importance.
II. THINGS WHICH MAY STOP A REVIVAL.
Some have talked very foolishly on this subject, as if nothing could hinder a genuine
revival. They say: "If your revival is a work of God, it cannot be stopped:
can any created being stop God?" Now I ask if this is common sense? Formerly,
it used to be the established belief that a revival could not be stopped, because
it was the work of God. And so they supposed it would go on, whatever might be done
to hinder it, in the Church or out of it. But the farmer might just as well reason
so, and think he could go and cut down his wheat and not hurt the crop, because it
is God that makes grain grow. A revival is the work of God, and so is a crop of wheat;
and God is as much dependent on the use of means in one case as the other.
And therefore a revival is as liable to be injured as a wheat field.
- 1. A revival will stop whenever the Church believes it
is going to cease.
- The Church is the instrument with which God carries on
this work, and Christians are to work in it voluntarily and with their hearts. Nothing
is more fatal to a revival than for its friends to predict that it is going to stop.
No matter what the enemies of the work may say about it, predicting that it will
come to nothing, they cannot stop it in this way; but the friends must labor and
pray in faith to carry it on. It is a contradiction to say they are laboring and
praying in faith to carry on the work, and yet believe that it is going to stop.
If they lose their faith, it will stop, of course. Whenever the friends of revivals
begin to prophesy that the revival is going to stop, they should be instantly rebuked,
in the name of the Lord. If the idea should once begin to prevail, and if you cannot
counteract it and root it out, the revival will infallibly cease; for it is indispensable
to the work that Christians should labor and pray in faith to promote it, and it
is a contradiction to say that they can labor in faith for its continuance while
they believe that it is about to cease.
- 2. A revival will cease when Christians consent that ii
- Sometimes Christians see that the revival is in danger
of ceasing, and that if something effectual is not done, it will come to a standstill.
If this should distress them, and drive them to prayer, and to fresh efforts, the
work will not cease. When Christians love the work of God and the salvation of souls
so well that they are distressed at a mere apprehension of a decline, it will drive
them to agony and effort to prevent its ceasing; but if they see the danger, and
do not try to avert it, or to renew the work, they consent that it Should stop. There
are many people who see revivals declining, and that they are in great danger of
ceasing altogether, and yet they manifest but little distress, and seem to care but
little about it. Whole Churches see the position that must ensue unless there can
be an awakening; and yet they are at ease, and do not groan and agonize in prayer
that God would revive His work. Some are even predicting that there is now going
to be a great reaction, and a great dearth come over the Church, as there did after
the day of Whitefield and Edwards. And yet they are not startled at their own foreboding.
THEY CONSENT TO IT. It seems as if they were the devil's trumpeters, sent out to
scatter dismay throughout the ranks of God's elect.
- 3. A revival will cease whenever Christians become mechanical
in their attempts to promote it. When their faith is strong, and their hearts are
warm and mellow, and their prayers full of holy emotion, and their words with power,
then the work goes on. But when their prayers begin to be cold and without emotion,
and they begin to labor mechanically, and to use words without feeling, then the
revival will cease.
- 4. The revival will cease, whenever Christians get the
idea that the work will go on without their aid. They are co-workers with God in
promoting a revival, and the work can be carried on just as far as the Church will
carry it on, and no farther. God has been for one thousand eight hundred years trying
to get the Church into the work. He has been calling and urging, commanding, entreating,
pressing and encouraging, to get Christians to take hold. He has stood all this while
ready to make bare his arm to carry on the work with them. But the Church has been
unwilling to do her part, seeming determined to leave it to God alone to convert
the world, and saying: "If He wants the world converted, let Him do it."
The Church ought to know that this is impossible. Sinners cannot be converted without
their own agency, for conversion consists in their voluntary turning to God. Nor
can sinners be converted without the appropriate moral influences to turn them; that
is, without truth and the reality of things being brought full before their minds
either by direct revelation or by men. God cannot convert the world by physical omnipotence,
but He is dependent on the moral influence of the Church.
- 5. The work will cease when the Church prefers to attend
to selfish concerns rather than God's business. I do not admit that men have any
business which is properly their own, but they think so, and in fact prefer to attend
to what they consider as their own, rather than work for God.
- They begin to think they canoe afford sufficient time from
their worldly employments, to carry on a revival. They pretend they are obliged to
give up attending to religion, and they let their hearts go out again after the world.
And the work must cease, of course.
- 6. When Christians get proud of their "great revival,"
it will cease. I mean those Christians who have been instrumental in promoting it.
It is almost always the case in a revival, that a part of the Church proves too proud
or too worldly to take any part in the work. They are determined to stand aloof,
and wait, and see what it will come to. The pride of this part of the Church cannot
stop the revival, for the revival never rested on them. It began without them, and
it can go on without them. They may fold their arms and do nothing but look out and
find fault; and still the work may go on. But when the part of the Church that does
the work begins to think what a great revival they have had, how they have labored
and prayed, how bold and how zealous they have been, and how much good they have
done, then the work will be likely to decline. Perhaps it has been published in the
papers what a revival there has been in that Church, and how absorbed the members
have been, so they think how high they will stand in the estimation of other Churches,
all over the land, because they have had such a great revival. And so they get puffed
up, and vain, and they can no longer enjoy the presence of God. The Spirit withdraws
from them, and the revival ceases.
- 7. The revival will stop when the Church gets exhausted
- Multitudes of Christians commit a great mistake here in
time of revival.
They are so thoughtless, and have so little judgment, that they will break up all
their habits of living, neglect to eat and sleep at the proper hours, and let the
excitement run away with them, so that they overdo their bodies, and are so imprudent
that they soon become exhausted, and it is impossible for them to continue in the
work. Revivals often cease from negligence and imprudence, in this respect, on the
part of those engaged in carrying them on, and declensions follow.
- 8. A revival will cease when the Church begins to speculate
about abstract doctrines, which have nothing to do with practice. If the Christians
turn their attention away from the things of salvation, and go to studying or disputing
about abstract points, the revival will cease, of course.
- 9. When Christians begin to proselytize. When the Baptists
are so opposed to the Presbyterians, or the Presbyterians to the Baptists, or both
against the Methodists, or Episcopalians against the rest, that they begin to make
efforts to get the converts to join their Church, you soon see the last of the revival.
Perhaps a revival will go on for a time, and all sectarian difficulties are banished,
till somebody circulates a book, privately, to gain proselytes. Perhaps some over-zealous
deacon, or some mischief-making woman, or some proselytizing minister, cannot keep
still any longer, but begins to work the work of the devil, by attempting to gain
proselytes, and so stirs up bitterness; and, raising a selfish strife, grieves away
the Spirit, and drives Christians into parties. No more revival there!
- 10. When Christians refuse to render to the Lord according
to the benefits received. This is a fruitful source of religious declensions. God
has opened the windows of heaven to a Church, and poured them out a blessing, and
then He reasonably expects them to bring in the tithes into His storehouse, and devise
and execute liberal things for Zion; but they have refused; they have not laid themselves
out accordingly to promote the cause of Christ, and so the Spirit has been grieved,
and the blessing withdrawn, and in some instances a great reaction has taken place,
because the Church would not be liberal, when God had been so bountiful. I have known
Churches which were evidently cursed with barrenness for such a course. They had
a glorious revival, and afterwards perhaps their buildings needed repairing, or something
else was needed which would cost a little money, and they refused to do it, and so
for their niggardly spirit God gave them up.
- 11. When the Church, in any way, grieves the Holy Spirit.
- (a) When Christians do not feel their dependence
on the Spirit. Whenever they get strong in their own strength, God curses their blessings.
In many instances, their sin against their own mercies, because they get lifted up
with their success, and take the credit to themselves, and do not give all the glory
to God. As He says: "If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart,
to give glory unto My name, saith the Lord of hosts, I will even send a curse upon
you, and I will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already, because ye
do not lay it to heart" (Malachi 2:2). There has been a great deal of this,
undoubtedly. I have seen many things in the newspapers that suggested a disposition
in men to take credit for success in promoting revivals. There is doubtless a great
temptation to this, and it requires the utmost watchfulness, on the part of ministers
and Churches, to guard against it and not to grieve the Spirit away by vainglorying
(b) The Spirit may be grieved by a Spirit of boasting of the revival.
Sometimes, as soon as a revival commences, you will see it blazed out in the newspapers.
And most commonly this will kill the revival. There was a case in a neighboring State,
where a revival commenced, and instantly there came out a letter from the pastor,
telling that he had a revival. I saw the letter, and said to myself, "That is
the last we shall hear of this revival." And so it was. In a few days the work
totally ceased. I could mention cases and places, where persons have published such
things as to puff up the Church, and make the people so proud that little more could
be done for the revival.
Some, under pretense of publishing things to the praise and glory of God, have published
things that savored so strongly of a disposition to exalt themselves - making their
own agency stand out conspicuously - as were evidently calculated to make an unhappy
impression. At a protracted meeting held in this Church, a year ago last fall, there
were five hundred hopefully converted, whose names and places of residence we knew.
A considerable number of them joined this Church. Many of them united with other
Churches. Nothing was said of this in the papers. I have several times been asked
why we were so silent on the subject. I could only reply, that there was such a tendency
to self-exaltation in the Churches, that I was afraid to publish anything on the
subject. Perhaps I erred. But I have so often seen mischief done by premature publications,
that I thought it best to say nothing about it. In the revival in this city, four
years ago, so much was said in the papers that appeared so much like self-exaltation,
that I was afraid to publish. I am not speaking against the practice itself, of publishing
accounts of revivals. But the manner of doing it is of vast importance. If it be
done so as to excite vanity, it is always fatal to the revival.
So, too, the Spirit is grieved by saying or publishing things that are calculated
to undervalue the work of God. When a blessed work of God is spoken lightly of, not
rendering to God the glory due to His Name, the Spirit is grieved. If anything be
said about a revival, give only the plain and naked facts, just as they are, and
let them pass for what they are worth.
- 12. A revival may be expected to cease, when Christians
lose the spirit of brotherly love. Jesus Christ will not continue with people in
a revival any longer than they continue in the exercise of brotherly love. When Christians
are in the spirit of a revival, they feel this love, and then you will hear them
call each other "Brother" and "Sister," very affectionately.
- But when they begin to get cold, they lose this warmth
and glow of affection for one another, and then this calling "Brother"
and "Sister" will seem silly, and they will leave it off. In some Churches
they never call each other so; but where there is a revival Christians naturally
do it. I never saw a revival, and probably there never was one, in which they did
not do it. But as soon as this begins to cease, the Spirit of God is grieved, and
departs from among them.
- 13. A revival will decline and cease, unless Christians
are frequently re-converted. By this I mean, that Christians, in order to keep in
the spirit of revival, commonly need to be frequently convicted, and humbled and
broken down before God, and "re-converted." This is something which many
do not understand, when we talk about a Christian being re-converted. But the fact
is, that in a revival, the Christian's heart is liable to get crusted over, and lose
its exquisite relish for Divine things; his unction and prevalence in prayer abate,
and then he must be converted over again. It is impossible to keep him in such a
state as not to do injury to the work, unless he passes through such a process every
few days. I have never labored in revivals in company with any one who would keep
in the work and be fit to manage a revival continually, who did not pass through
this process of breaking down as often as once in two or three weeks.
- Revivals decline, commonly, because it is found impossible
to make Christians realize their guilt and dependence, so as to break down before
God. It is important that ministers should understand this, and learn how to break
down the Church, and break down themselves when they need it, or else Christians
will soon become mechanical in their work, and lose their fervor and their power
of prevailing with God. This was the process through which Peter passed, when he
had denied the Savior, and by which breaking down, the Lord prepared him for the
great work on the day of Pentecost. I was surprised, a few years since, to find that
the phrase "breaking down" was a stumbling block to certain ministers and
professors of religion. They laid themselves open to the rebuke administered to Nicodemus:
"Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?"
(John 3:10.) I am confident that until some of them know what it is to be "broken
down," they will never do much more for the cause of revival.
- 14. A revival cannot continue when Christians will not
- When the Church has enjoyed a revival, and begins to grow
fat upon it, and to run into self-indulgence, the revival will soon cease. Unless
they sympathize with the Son of God, who gave up all to save sinners; unless they
are willing to give up their luxuries, and their ease, and devote themselves to the
work, the Christians need not expect that the Spirit of God will be poured out upon
them. This is undoubtedly one of the principal causes of personal declension. Let
Christians in a revival BEWARE, when they first find an inclination creeping upon
them to shrink from self-denial, and to give in to one self-indulgence after another.
It is the device of Satan, to "bait" them off from the work of God, and
make them dull and gross, lazy and fearful, useless and sensual; and so drive away
the Spirit and destroy the revival.
- 15. A revival will be stopped by controversies about new
- Nothing is more certain to overthrow a revival than this.
- 16. Revivals can be put down by the continued opposition
of the Old School, combined with a bad spirit in the New School. If those who do
nothing to promote revivals continue their opposition, and if those who are laboring
to promote them allow themselves to get impatient, and get into a bad spirit, the
revival will cease. When the Old School write letters in the newspapers, against
revivals or revival men, and the New School write letters back again, in an angry,
contentious spirit, revivals will cease.
- LET THEM KEEP ABOUT THEIR WORK, and neither talk about
the opposition, nor preach upon it, nor rush into print about it. If others choose
to publish "slang," let the Lord's people keep to their work. None of the
slander will stop the revival, while those who are engaged in it mind their business,
and keep to the work.
In one place where there was a revival, certain ministers formed a combination against
the pastor of the Church, and a plan was set on foot to ruin him, and they actually
got him prosecuted before his Presbytery, and had a trial that lasted six weeks,
right in the midst of the revival; but the work still went on. The praying members
of the Church laid themselves out so in the work, that it continued triumphantly
throughout the whole scene. The pastor was called off, to attend his trial, but there
was another minister that labored among the people, and the members did not even
go to the trial, but kept praying and laboring for souls, and the revival rode out
the storm. In many places, opposition has risen up in the Church, but a few humble
souls have kept at their work, and our gracious God has stretched out His naked arm
and made the revival go forward in spite of all opposition.
But whenever those who are actively engaged in promoting a revival get excited at
the unreasonableness and pertinacity of the opposition, and feel as if they must
answer the cavils, and refute the slanders, then they get down to the plain of Ono
(Nehemiah 6:2) and the work must cease.
- 17. Any diversion of the public mind will hinder a revival.
In the case I have specified, where the minister was put on trial before his Presbytery,
the reason why it did not ruin the revival was, that the praying members of the Church
would not suffer themselves to be diverted. They kept on praying and laboring for
souls, and so public attention was kept to the revival, in spite of all the efforts
of the devil.
- But whenever Satan succeeds in absorbing public attention
in any other subject, he will put an end to the revival. No matter what the subject
is. If an angel from heaven were to come down, and preach, or pass about the streets,
it might be the worst thing in the world for a revival, for it would turn sinners
off from their own sins, and turn the Church off from praying for souls, to follow
this glorious being, and gaze upon him, and the revival would cease.
- 18. Resistance to the Temperance reformation will put a
stop to revivals in a Church. The time has come that it can no longer be innocent
in a Church to stand aloof from this glorious reformation. The time was when this
could be done ignorantly. The time has been when ministers and Christians could enjoy
revivals, notwithstanding that ardent spirit was used among them. But since light
has been thrown upon the subject, and it has been found that the use is injurious,
no member or minister can be innocent and stand neutral in the cause. They must speak
out and take sides. And if they do not take ground on one side, their influence is
on the other. Show me a minister that has taken ground against the Temperance reformation
who has had a revival. Show me one who now stands aloof from it who has a revival.
Show me one who now temporizes upon this point, who does not come out and take a
stand in favor of Temperance, who has a revival. It used not to be so. But now the
subject has come up, and has been discussed, and is understood, no man can shut his
eyes upon the truth. The man's hands are RED WITH BLOOD who stands aloof from the
Temperance cause. And can he have a revival?
- 19. Revivals are hindered when ministers and Churches take
wrong ground in regard to any question involving human rights. Take the subject of
SLAVERY, for instance. The time was when this subject was not before the public mind.
John Newton continued in the slave trade after his conversion. And so had his mind
been perverted, and so completely was his conscience seared, in regard to this most
nefarious traffic, that the sinfulness of it never occurred to his thoughts until
some time after he became a child of God. Had light been poured upon his mind previously
to his conversion, he never could have been converted without previously abandoning
this sin. And after his conversion, when convinced of its iniquity, he could no longer
enjoy the presence of God without abandoning the sin for ever.
- So, doubtless, many slave dealers and slave holders in
our country have been converted, notwithstanding their participation in this abomination,
because the sinfulness of it was not apparent to their minds. So ministers and Churches,
to a great extent throughout the land, have held their peace, and borne no testimony
against this abomination, existing in the Church and in the nation. But recently,
the subject has come up for discussion, and the providence of God has brought it
distinctly before the eyes of all men. Light is now shed upon this subject, as it
has been upon the cause of Temperance. Facts are exhibited, and principles established,
and light thrown in upon the minds of men, and this monster is dragged from his horrid
den, and exhibited before the Church, and it is demanded of Christians: "IS
THIS SIN?" Their testimony must be given on this subject.
They are God's witnesses. They are sworn to tell "the truth, the whole truth,
and nothing but the truth." It is impossible that their testimony should not
be given, on one side or the other. Their silence can no longer be accounted for
upon the principle of ignorance, that they have never had their attention turned
to the subject. Consequently, the silence of Christians upon the subject is virtually
saying that they do not consider slavery as a sin.
The truth is, this is a subject on which they cannot be silent without guilt.
The time has come, in the providence of God, when every southern breeze is loaded
down with the cries of lamentation, mourning, and woe. Two millions of degraded heathen
in our own land stretch their hands, all shackled and bleeding, and send forth to
the Church of God the agonizing cry for help. And shall the Church, in her efforts
to reclaim and save the world, deafen her ears to this voice of agony and despair?
God forbid! The Church cannot turn away from this question. It is a question for
the Church and for the nation to decide, and God will push it to a decision. It is
in vain for us to resist it for fear of distraction, contention, and strife. It is
in vain to account it an act of piety to turn away the ear from hearing this cry
The Church must testify, and testify "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing
but the truth," on this subject, or she is perjured, and the Spirit of God departs
from her. She is under oath to testify, and ministers and Churches who do not pronounce
it sin, bear false testimony for God. It is doubtless true, that one of the reasons
for the low state of religion at the present time is that many Churches have taken
the wrong side on the subject of slavery, have suffered prejudice to prevail over
principle, and have feared to call this abomination by its true name.
- 20. Another thing that hinders revivals is, neglecting
the claims of Missions. If Christians confine their attention to their own Church,
do not read even their Missionary Magazine, or use any other means to inform themselves
on the subject of the claims of the world, but reject the light, and will not do
what God calls them to do in this cause, the Spirit of God will depart from them.
- 21. When a Church rejects the calls of God upon it for
educating young men for the ministry, it will hinder and destroy a revival. Look
at the Presbyterian Church. Look at the two hundred thousand souls converted within
ten years: consider that there are resources sufficient to fill the world with ministers,
and yet observe that the ministry is not increasing so fast as the population of
our own country; so that unless something more can be done to provide ministers,
we shall become heathen ourselves.
- The Churches do not press upon young men the duty of going
into the ministry. God pours His Spirit on the Churches, and converts hundreds of
thousands of souls, and if then the laborers do not come forth into the harvest,
what can be expected but that the curse of God will come upon the Churches, and His
Spirit will be withdrawn, and revivals will cease?
Upon this subject no minister, no Church, should be silent or inactive.
- 22. Slandering revivals will often put them down. The great
revival in the days of President Edwards suffered greatly by the conduct of the Church
in this respect. It is to be expected that the enemies of God will revile, misrepresent,
and slander revivals. But when the Church herself engages in this work, and many
of her most influential members are aiding and abetting in calumniating and misrepresenting
a glorious work of God, it is reasonable that the Spirit should be grieved away.
It cannot be denied that this has been done to a grievous and God-dishonoring extent.
It has been estimated that in one year, since the revival commenced, ONE HUNDRED
THOUSAND SOULS were converted to God in the United States. This is undoubtedly the
greatest number that were ever converted in one year, since the world began. It could
not be expected that, in an excitement of this extent, among human beings, there
should be nothing to deplore. To expect perfection in such a work as this, of such
extent, and carried on by human instrumentality, is utterly unreasonable and absurd.
- Evils doubtless did exist and have existed. They were to
be expected of course, and guarded against as far as possible. But I do not believe
the world's history can furnish one instance in which a revival, approaching to this
in extent and influence, has been attended with so few evils, and with so little
that is honestly to be deplored.
But how has this blessed work of God been treated! Admitting all the evils complained
of to be real, which is far from being true, they would only be like spots upon the
disc of the glorious sun; things hardly to be thought of in comparison with the infinite
greatness and excellence of the work. And yet how has a great portion of the Presbyterian
Church received and treated this blessed work of God? At the General Assembly, that
grave body of men that represent the Presbyterian Church, in the midst of this great
work, instead of appointing a day of thanksgiving, instead of praising and glorifying
God for the greatness of His work, we hear from them the voice of rebuke. From the
reports that were given of the speeches, it appears that the house was filled with
complainings. Instead of devising measures to forward the work, their attention seemed
to be taken up with the comparatively trifling evils that were incidental to it.
And after much complaining, they absolutely appointed a committee, and sent forth
a "Pastoral Letter," calculated to excite suspicion, to quench the zeal
of God's people, and to turn them from giving glory to God for the greatness of the
blessing into finding fault and carping about "the evils." When I heard
what was done at that General Assembly, when I read their speeches, when I saw their
Pastoral Letter, my soul was sick, an unutterable feeling of distress came over my
mind, and I felt that God would "visit" the Presbyterian Church for conduct
like this. And ever since, the glory has been departing, and revivals have been becoming
less and less frequent - less and less powerful.
And now I wish it could be known whether those ministers who poured out those complainings
on the floor of the General Assembly, and who were instrumental in getting up that
Pastoral Letter, have since been blessed in promoting revivals of religion; whether
the Spirit of God has been upon them; and whether their Churches can witness that
they have an unction from the Holy One.
- 23. Ecclesiastical difficulties are calculated to grieve
away the Spirit, and destroy revivals. It has always been the policy of the devil
to turn off the attention of ministers from the work of the Lord to disputes and
ecclesiastical litigations. President Edwards was obliged to be taken up for a long
time in disputes before ecclesiastical councils; and in our days, and in the midst
of these great revivals of religion, these difficulties have been alarmingly and
shamefully multiplied. Some of the most efficient ministers in the Church have been
called off from their direct efforts to win souls to Christ, to reply to charges
preferred against them, or against their fellow-laborers in the ministry, which could
never be sustained. Oh, tell it not in Gath! When will those ministers and professors
of religion, who do little or nothing themselves, let others alone, and let them
work for God?
- 24. Another thing by which revivals may be hindered is
censoriousness, on either side, and especially in those who have been engaged in
carrying forward a revival. It is to be expected that the opposers of the work will
watch for the halting of its friends, and be sure to censure them for all that is
wrong, and not infrequently for that which is right, in their conduct.
- Especially is it to be expected that many censorious and
unchristian remarks will be made about those who are the most prominent instruments
in promoting the work. This censoriousness on the part of the opposers of the work,
whether in or out of the Church, will not, however, of itself put a stop to the revival.
While its promoters keep humble, and in a prayerful spirit, while they do not retaliate,
but possess their souls in patience, while they do not suffer themselves to be diverted,
to recriminate, and grieve away the spirit of prayer, the work will go forward.
Censoriousness in those who are opposed to the work is but little to be dreaded,
for they have not the Spirit, and nothing depends on them, for they can hinder the
work only just so far as they themselves have influence personally. But the others
have the power of the Holy Spirit, and the work depends on their keeping in a right
temper. If they get wrong, and grieve away the Spirit, there is no help: the work
Whatever provocation, therefore, the promoters of the blessed work may have had,
if it ceases, the responsibility will be theirs. And one of the most alarming facts
in regard to this matter is that, in many instances, those who have been engaged
in carrying forward the work appear to have lost the Spirit. They are becoming diverted;
are beginning to think that the opposition is no longer to be tolerated, and that
they must come out and reply in the newspapers. It should be known, and universally
understood, that whenever the friends and promoters of this greatest of revivals
suffer themselves to be called off to newspaper janglings, to attempt to defend themselves,
and reply to those who write against them, the spirit of prayer will be entirely
grieved away, and the work will cease. Nothing is more detrimental to revivals of
religion (and so it has always been found) than for the promoters of it to listen
to the opposition, and begin to reply.
This was found to be true in the days of President Edwards, as those who are acquainted
with his book on Revivals are well aware.
II. THINGS WHICH OUGHT TO BE DONE.
I proceed to mention some things which ought to be done to continue this great and
glorious revival of religion, which has been in progress for the last ten years.
- 1. There should be great and deep repentings on the part
of ministers. WE, my brethren, must humble ourselves before God. It will not do for
us to suppose that it is enough to call on the people to repent. We must take the
lead in repentance, and then call on the Churches to follow.
- Especially must those repent who have taken the lead in
producing feelings of opposition and distrust in regard to revivals. Some ministers
have confined their opposition against revivals and revival measures to their own
congregations, and have created such suspicions among their own people as to prevent
the work from spreading and prevailing among them. Such ministers will do well to
consider the remarks of President Edwards on this subject:
"If ministers preach never so good doctrine, and are never so painful and laborious
in their work, yet, if at such a day as this, they show to their people that they
are not well-affected to this work, but are very doubtful and suspicious of it, they
will be very likely to do their people a great deal more hurt than good; for the
very fame of such a great and extraordinary work of God, if their people were suffered
to believe it to be His work, and the example of other towns, together with what
preaching they might hear occasionally, would be likely to have a much greater influence
upon the minds of their people, to awaken and animate them in religion, than all
their labors with them. And besides, their minister's opinion would not only beget
in them a suspicion of the work they hear of abroad, whereby the mighty hand of God
that appears in it loses its influence upon their minds, but it will also tend to
create a suspicion of everything of the like nature, that shall appear among themselves,
as being something of the same distemper that has become so epidemical in the land;
and that is, in effect, to create a suspicion of all vital religion, and to put the
people upon talking against it, and discouraging it, wherever it appears, and knocking
it on the head as fast as it rises. And we that are ministers, by looking on this
work, from year to year, with a displeased countenance, shall effectually keep the
sheep from their pasture, instead of doing the part of shepherds to them by feeding
them; and our people had a great deal better be without any settled minister at all
at such a day as this." Others have been more public, having aimed at exerting
a wider influence.
Some have written pieces for the public papers. Some men, in high standing in the
Church, have circulated letters which were never printed; others have had their letters
printed and circulated. There seems to have been a system of letter-writing about
the country calculated to create distrust. In the days of President Edwards, substantially
the same course was pursued, in view of which he says, in his work on Revivals:
"Great care should be taken that the press should be improved to no purpose
contrary to the interest of this work. We read that when God fought against Sisera,
for the deliverance of His oppressed Church, they that handled the pen of the writer
came to the help of the Lord (Judges 5:14). Whatever class of men in Israel they
were that are intended, yet as the words were indicted by a Spirit that had a perfect
view of all events to the end of the world, it is not unlikely that they have respect
to authors, those that should fight against the kingdom of Satan with their pens.
Those, therefore, that publish pamphlets to the disadvantage of this work, and tending
either directly or indirectly to bring it under suspicion, and to discourage or hinder
it, would do well thoroughly to consider whether this be not indeed the work of God;
and whether, if it be, it is not likely that God will go forth as fire, to consume
all that stand in His way, and so burn up those pamphlets; and whether there be not
danger that the fire that is kindled in them will scorch the authors."
All these must repent. God never will forgive them, nor will they ever enjoy His
blessing on their preaching, or be honored to labor in revivals, till they repent.
This duty President Edwards pressed upon ministers in his day, in the most forcible
terms. There doubtless have been now, as there were then, faults on both sides. And
there must be deep repentance, and mutual confessions of faults on both sides.
"There must be a great deal done at confessing of faults on both sides: for
undoubtedly many and great are the faults that have been committed, in the jangling
and confusions, and mixtures of light and darkness, that have been of late. There
is hardly any duty more contrary to our corrupt dispositions and mortifying to the
pride of man; but it must be done.
Repentance of faults is, in a peculiar manner, a proper duty, when the kingdom of
heaven is at hand, or when we especially expect or desire that it should come; as
appears by John the Baptist's preaching. And if God does now loudly call upon us
to repent, then He also calls upon us to make proper manifestations of our repentance.
"I am persuaded that those who have openly opposed this work, or have from time
to time spoken lightly of it, cannot be excused in the sight of God, without openly
confessing their fault therein: especially if they be ministers. If they have in
any way, either directly or indirectly, opposed the work, or have so behaved in their
public performances or private conversation as to prejudice the minds of their people
against the work; if, hereafter, they shall be convinced of the goodness and divinity
of what they have opposed, they ought by no means to palliate the matter, and excuse
themselves, and pretend that they always thought so, and that it was only such and
such imprudences that they objected against; but they ought openly to declare their
conviction, and condemn themselves for what they have done; for it is Christ that
they have spoken against, in speaking lightly of, and prejudicing others against,
this work. And though they have done it ignorantly and in unbelief, yet when they
find out Who it is that they have opposed, undoubtedly God will hold them bound publicly
to confess it.
"And on the other hand, if those who have been zealous to promote the work have,
in any of the aforementioned instances, openly gone much out of the way, and done
that which was contrary to Christian rules, whereby they have openly injured others
or greatly violated good order, and so done that which has wounded religion, they
must publicly confess it, and humble themselves, as they would gather out the stones,
and prepare the way of God's people. They who have laid great stumbling-blocks in
others' way by their open transgression, are bound to remove them by their open repentance."
There are ministers in our day, I say it not in unkindness, but in faithfulness,
and I would that I had them all here before me while I say it, who seem to have been
engaged much of their time, for years, in doing little else than acting and talking
and writing in such a way as to create suspicion in regard to revivals. And I cannot
doubt that their Churches would, as President Edwards says, be better with no minister
at all, unless they will repent and regain God's blessing.
- 2. Those Churches which have opposed revivals must humble
themselves and repent. Churches which have stood aloof, or hindered the work, must
repent of their sin, or God will not go with them. Look at those Churches which have
been throwing suspicion upon revivals. Do they enjoy revivals? Does the Holy Ghost
descend upon them, to enlarge them and build them up? There is one of the Churches
in this city, where the Session has been publishing in the newspapers what it calls
its "Act and Testimony," calculated to excite an unreasonable and groundless
suspicion against many ministers who are laboring successfully to promote revivals.
- And what is the state of that Church? Have they had a revival?
Why, it appears from the official report, that it has dwindled in one year twenty-seven
per cent. And all such Churches will continue to dwindle, in spite of everything
else that can be done, unless they repent and have a revival. They may pretend to
be mighty pious, and jealous for the honor of God, but God will not believe they
are sincere. And He will manifest His displeasure by not pouring out His Spirit.
If I had a voice loud enough, I should like to make all those Churches and ministers
that have slandered revivals, hear me, when I say that I believe they have helped
to bring the pall of death over the Church, and that the curse of God is on them
already, and will remain unless they repent. God has already sent leanness into their
souls, and many of them know it.
- 3. Those who have been engaged in promoting the work must
- Whenever a wrong spirit has been manifested, or they have
got irritated and provoked at the opposition, and lost their temper, or mistaken
Christian faithfulness for hard words and a wrong spirit, they must repent.
Those who are opposed can never stop a revival alone, unless those who promote it
get wrong. So we must repent if we have said things that were censorious, or proud,
or arrogant, or severe. Such a time as this is no time to stand justifying ourselves.
Our first call is to repent. Let each one repent of his own sins, and not fall out
about who is most to blame.
- 4. The Church must take right ground in regard to politics.
Do not suppose that I am going to preach a political sermon, or that I wish to have
you join in getting up a Christian party in politics. No, you must not believe that.
But the time has come that Christians must vote for honest men, and take consistent
ground in politics. They must let the world see that the Church will uphold no man
in office who is known to be a knave, or an adulterer, or a Sabbath-breaker, or a
gambler, or a drunkard. Such is the spread of intelligence and the facility of communication
in our country, that every man can know for whom he gives his vote. And if he will
give his vote only for honest men, the country will be obliged to have upright rulers.
All parties will be compelled to put up honest men as candidates.
- Christians have been exceedingly guilty in this matter.
But the time has come when they must act differently. As on the subjects of Slavery
and Temperance, so on this subject the Church must act rightly or the country will
be ruined. God cannot sustain this free and blessed country, which we love and pray
for, unless the Church will take right ground. Politics are a part of a religion
in such a country as this, and Christians must do their duty to the country as a
part of their duty to God. It seems sometimes as if the foundations of the nation
are becoming rotten, and Christians seem to act as if they think God does not see
what they do in politics. But I tell you He does see it, and He will bless or curse
this nation, according to the course they take.
- 5. The Churches must take right ground on the subject of
Slavery. Here the question arises, What is right ground?
- (a) I will state some of the things that should
(1) First of all, a bad spirit should be avoided. Nothing is more calculated to injure
religion, and to injure the slaves themselves, than for Christians to get into an
angry controversy on the subject. It is a subject upon which there needs to be no
angry controversy among Christians. Slave-holding professors, like rum-selling professors,
may endeavor to justify themselves, and may be angry with those who press their consciences,
and call upon them to give up their sins. Those proud professors of religion, who
think a man to blame, or think it is a shame to him, to have a black skin, may allow
their prejudices so far to prevail, as to shut their ears and be disposed to quarrel
with those who urge the subject upon them. But I repeat it, the subject of Slavery
is a subject upon which Christians, praying men, need not and must not differ.
(2) Another thing to be avoided is an attempt to take neutral ground on this subject.
Christians can no more take neutral ground on this subject, since it has come up
for discussion, than they can take neutral ground on the subject of the sanctification
of the Sabbath. It is a great national sin. It is a sin of the Church. The Churches,
by their silence, and by permitting shareholders to belong to their communion, have
been consenting to it. All denominations have been more or less guilty, although
the Quakers have of late years washed their hands of it. It is in vain for the Churches
to pretend it is merely a political sin. I repeat, it is the sin of the Church, to
which all denominations have consented. They have virtually declared that it is lawful.
The very fact of suffering slave-holders quietly to remain in good standing in their
Churches, is the strongest and most public expression of their view that it is not
sin. For the Church, therefore, to pretend to take neutral ground on the subject,
is perfectly absurd. The fact is that she is not on neutral ground at all. While
she tolerates slave-holders in her communion SHE JUSTIFIES THE PRACTICE:. And as
well might an enemy of God pretend that he was neither a saint nor a sinner, that
he was going to take neutral ground, and pray, "good Lord and good devil,"
because he did not know which side would be the most popular!
(3) Great care should be taken to avoid a censorious spirit on either side. It is
a subject on which there has been, and probably will be for some time to come, a
difference of opinion among Christians, as to the best method of disposing of the
question: and it ought to be treated with great forbearance.
(b) I will mention several things that, in my judgment, the Church is imperatively
called upon to do, on this subject:
(1) Christians, of all denominations, should lay aside prejudice, and inform themselves
on this subject, without any delay. Vast multitudes of professors of religion have
indulged prejudice to such a degree, as to be unwilling to read and hear, and come
to a right understanding of the subject. But Christians cannot pray in this state
of mind. I defy any one to possess the spirit of prayer while he is too prejudiced
to examine this or any other question of duty. If the light did not shine, Christians
might remain in the dark upon this point, and still possess the spirit of prayer.
But if they refuse to come to the light, they cannot pray. Where ministers, individual
Christians, or whole Churches, resist truth upon this point, when it is so extensively
diffused and before the public mind, I do not believe they will or can enjoy a revival
(2) Writings, containing temperate and judicious discussions on this subject, and
such developments of facts as are before the public, should be quietly and extensively
circulated, and should be carefully and prayerfully examined by the whole Church.
I do not mean by this, that the attention of the Church should be so absorbed by
this as to neglect the main question of saving souls in the midst of them; I do not
mean that such premature movements on this subject should be made, as to astound
the Christian community, and involve them in a broil; but that praying men should
act judiciously, and that, as soon as sufficient information can be diffused through
the community, the Churches should meekly, but firmly, take decided ground on the
subject, and express, before the whole nation and the world, their abhorrence of
The anti-Masonic excitement which prevailed a few years since made such desolations
in the Churches, and produced so much alienation of feeling and ill-will among ministers
and people, and the introduction of this subject has been attended with such commotions,
that many good ministers, who are themselves entirely opposed to slavery, dread to
introduce the subject, through fear that their people have not religion enough to
consider it calmly, and decide upon it in the spirit of the Gospel. I know there
is danger of this. But still, the subject must be presented to the Churches. Let
there be no mistake here. William Morgan's expose of freemasonry was published in
1826; the subsequent discussion continued until 1830. In the meantime the Churches
had very generally borne testimony against freemasonry, and resolved that they could
not have adhering masons in fellowship. As a consequence, the Masonic lodges generally
disbanded. There was a general stampede of Christians from the lodges. This prepared
the way, and in 1830 the greatest revival the world had then seen commenced in the
center of the anti-Masonic region, and spread over the whole field where the Church
action had been taken.
Perhaps no Church in this country has had a more severe trial upon this subject,
than this, which was a Church of young, and for the most part, inexperienced Christians.
And many circumstances conspired, in my absence, to produce confusion and wrong-feeling
among them. But so far as I am now acquainted with the state of feeling in this Church,
I know of no ill-will among the members on this subject. There are doubtless those
who feel upon this subject, in very different degrees: and yet I can honestly say
that I am not aware of the least difference in sentiment among them. We have from
the beginning taken the same ground on the subject of Slavery that we have on Temperance.
We have excluded slave-holders, and all concerned in the traffic, from our communion.
By some, out of this Church, this course has been censured as unwarrantable and uncharitable,
and I would by no means make my own judgment, or the example of this Church, a rule
for the government of other ministers and Churches. Still, I conscientiously believe
that the time is not far distant, when the Churches will be united in this expression
of abhorrence against this sin. If I do not baptize slavery by some soft and Christian
name, if I call it SIN, both consistency and conscience conduct to the inevitable
conclusion, that while this sin is persevered in, its perpetrators cannot be fit
subjects for Christian communion and fellowship.
To this it is objected that there are many ministers in the Presbyterian Church who
are shareholders. And it is said to be very inconsistent that we should refuse to
suffer slave-holders to come to our Communion, and yet belong to the same Church
with them, sit with them in ecclesiastical bodies, and acknowledge them as ministers.
To this I answer, that I have not the power to deal with those ministers, and certainly
I am not to withdraw from the Church because some of its ministers or members are
slave-holders. My duty is to belong to the Church, even if the devil should belong
to it. When I have authority, I exclude slave-holders from the Communion, and I always
will as long as I live. But where I have no authority, if the table of Christ be
spread, I will sit down to it in obedience to His commandment, whoever else may sit
down or stay away.
I do not mean, by any means, to denounce all those slave-holding ministers and professors
as hypocrites, and to say that they are not Christians. But this I say, that while
they continue in this attitude, the cause of Christ and of humanity demands that
they should not be recognized as such, unless we mean to be partakers of other men's
sins. It is no more inconsistent to exclude shareholders because they belong to the
Presbyterian Church, than it is to exclude persons who drink or sell ardent spirit.
For there are many rum-sellers belonging to the Presbyterian Church.
I believe the time has come - although I am no prophet, I believe it will be found
to have come, that the revival in the United States will prevail no further and no
faster than the Church takes right ground upon this subject.
The Church is God's witness. The fact is, that Slavery is, pre-eminently, the sin
of the Church. It is the very fact that ministers and professors of religion of different
denominations hold slaves, which sanctifies the whole abomination, in the eyes of
ungodly men. Who does not know that on the subject of Temperance, every drunkard
in the land will skulk behind some rum-selling deacon, or wine-drinking minister?
It is the most common objection and refuge of the intemperate, and of moderate drinkers,
that it is practiced by professors of religion. It is this that creates the imperious
necessity for excluding traffickers in ardent spirit, and rum-drinkers, from the
Communion. Let the Churches of all denominations speak out on the subject of Temperance;
let them close their doors against all who have anything to do with the death-dealing
abomination, and the cause of Temperance is triumphant. A few years would annihilate
the traffic. Just so with Slavery.
It is the Church that mainly supports this sin. Her united testimony upon the subject
would settle the question. Let Christians of all denominations meekly, but firmly,
come forth, and pronounce their verdict; let them wash their hands of this thing;
let them give forth and write on the head and front of this great abomination, "SIN,"
and in three years, a public sentiment would be formed that would carry all before
it, and there would not be a shackled slave, nor a bristling, cruel slavedriver,
in this land.
Still it may be said, that in many Churches, this subject cannot be introduced without
creating confusion and ill-will. This may be. It has been so on the subject of Temperance,
and upon the subject of revivals too. In some Churches, neither Temperance nor revivals
can be introduced without producing dissension. Sabbath Schools, and missionary operations,
and everything of the kind, have been opposed, and have produced dissensions in many
Churches. But is this a sufficient reason for excluding these subjects? And where
Churches have excluded these subjects for fear of contention, have they been blessed
Everybody knows that they have not. But where Churches have taken firm ground on
these subjects, although individuals, and sometimes numbers, have opposed, still
they have been blessed with revivals. Where any of these subjects are carefully and
prayerfully introduced; where they are brought forward with a right spirit, and the
true relative importance is attached to each of them; if in such cases, there are
those who will make disturbance and resist, let the blame fall where it ought. There
are some individuals, who are themselves disposed to quarrel with this subject, who
are always ready to exclaim: "Do not introduce these things into the Church,
they will create opposition." And if the minister and praying people feel it
their duty to bring the matter forward, they will themselves create a disturbance
and then say: "There, I told you so; now see what your introducing this subject
has done; it will tear the Church all to pieces." And while they are themselves
doing all they can to create a division, they are charging the division upon the
subject, and not upon themselves. There are some such people in many of our Churches.
And neither Sabbath Schools, nor Missions, nor Antislavery, nor anything else that
honors God or benefits the souls of men, will be carried on in the Churches, without
these careful souls being offended by it.
There might infinitely better be no Church in the world, than that she should attempt
to remain neutral, or give a false testimony on a subject of such importance as Slavery,
especially since the subject has come up, and it is impossible, from the nature of
the case, that her testimony should not be in the scale, on the one side or the other.
Do you ask: "What shall be done? Shall we make it the all-absorbing topic of
conversation, and divert attention from the all-important subject of the salvation
of souls in the midst of us?" I answer: "No." Let a Church express
its opinion upon the subject, and be at peace. So far as I know, we are entirely
at peace upon this subject. We have expressed our opinion; we have closed our Communion
against slave-holders, and are attending to other things. I am not aware of the least
unhealthy excitement among us on this subject. And where it has become an absorbing
topic of conversation in places, in most instances, I believe, it has been owing
to the pertinacious and unreasonable opposition of a few individuals against even
granting the subject a hearing.
- 6. If the Church wishes to promote revivals, she must sanctify
the Sabbath. There is a vast deal of Sabbath breaking in the land. Merchants break
it, travelers break it, the Government breaks it. A few years ago an attempt was
made in the western part of this State, to establish and sustain a Sabbath-keeping
line of boats and coaches. But it was found that the Church would not sustain the
enterprise. Many professors of religion would not travel in these coaches, and would
not have their goods forwarded in canal-boats that would be detained from traveling
on the Sabbath. At one time, Christians were much engaged in petitioning Congress
to suspend the Sabbath mails, and now they seem to be ashamed of it. But one thing
is most certain, that unless something is done, and done speedily, and done effectually,
to promote the sanctification of the Sabbath by the Church, the Sabbath will go by
the board, and we shall not only have our mails running on the Sabbath, and post-offices
open, but, by and by, our courts of justice, and halls of legislation, will be kept
open on the Sabbath. And what can the Church do, what will this nation do, without
- 7. The Church must take right ground on all the subjects
of practical morality which come up for discussion from time to time.
- There are those in the Churches who are standing aloof
from the subject of moral reform, and who are afraid to have anything said in the
pulpit against lewdness. On this subject, the Church need not expect to be permitted
to take neutral ground. In the providence of God, it is up for discussion. The evils
have been exhibited; the call has been made for reform. And what is to reform mankind
but the truth? And who shall present the truth if not the Church and the ministry?
Away with the idea, that Christians can remain neutral, and yet enjoy the approbation
and blessing of God!
In all such cases, the minister who holds his peace is counted among those on the
other side. Everybody knows that it is so in a revival. It is not necessary for a
person to rail out against the work. If he will only keep still and take neutral
ground, the enemies of the revival will all consider him as on their side. So on
the subject of Temperance. It is not needful that a person should rail at the Cold-water
Society, in order to be on the best terms with drunkards and moderate drinkers. Only
let him plead for the moderate use of wine, only let him continue to drink it as
a luxury, and all the drunkards account him on their side. On all these subjects,
when they come up, the Churches and ministers must take the right ground, and take
it openly, and stand to the cause, and carry it through, if they expect to enjoy
the blessing of God in revivals. They must cast out from their communions such members
as, in contempt of the light that is shed upon them, continue to drink or traffic
in ardent spirit.
- 8. There must be more done for all the great objects of
Christian benevolence. There must be much greater effort for the cause of Missions,
and Education, and the Bible, and all other branches of religious enterprise, or
the Church will displease God. Look at it. Think of the mercies we have received,
of the wealth, numbers, and prosperity of the Church. Have we rendered unto God according
to the benefits we have received, so as to show that the Church is bountiful, and
willing to give money, and to work for God? No. Far from it. Have we multiplied our
means and enlarged our plans, in proportion as the Church has increased? Is God satisfied
with what has been done, or has He reason to be? After such a revival as has been
enjoyed by the Churches of America for the last ten years, we ought to have done
ten times as much as we have for Missions, Bibles, Education, Tracts, Churches, and
for all causes that are designed to promote religion and save souls. If the Churches
do not wake up on this subject, and lay themselves out on a larger scale, they may
expect that the revival in the United States will cease.
- 9. If Christians expect revivals to spread and prevail,
till the world is converted, they must give up writing letters and publishing pieces
calculated to excite suspicion and jealousy in regard to revivals, and must take
hold of the work themselves. If the whole Church, as a body, had gone to work ten
years ago, and continued it as a few individuals, whom I could name, have done, there
might not now have been an impenitent sinner in the land. The millennium would have
fully come into the United States before this day. Instead of standing still, or
writing letters, let ministers who think we are going wrong, just buckle on the harness
and go forward, and show us a more excellent way. Let them teach us by their example
how to do better. I do not deny that some may have made mistakes and committed errors.
I do not deny that many things which are wrong have been done in revivals. But is
that the way to correct them, brethren? So did not Paul. He corrected his brethren
by telling them kindly that he would show them a more excellent way. Let our brethren
take hold and go forward. Let us hear the cry from all their pulpits: "To the
- Let them lead on where the Lord will go with them and make
bare His arm, and I, for one, will follow. Only let them GO ON, and let us have the
people converted to God, and let all minor questions cease.
If not, and if revivals do cease in this land, the ministers and Churches will be
guilty of all the blood of all the souls that shall go to hell in consequence of
it. There is no need that the work should cease. If the Church will do all her duty,
the millennium may come in this country in three years. But if it is to be always
so, that in the time of revival, two-thirds of the Church will hang back and do nothing
but find fault, the curse of God will be on this nation, and that before long.
- 1. It is high time there should be great searchings of
heart among Christians and ministers. Brethren, this is no time to resist the truth,
or to cavil and find fault because the truth is spoken out plainly. It is no time
to recriminate or to strive, but we must search our own hearts, and humble ourselves
- 2. We must repent and forsake our sins, and amend our ways
and our doings, or the revival will cease. Our ecclesiastical difficulties MUST CEASE,
and all minor differences must be laid aside and given up, to unite in promoting
the great interests of religion. If not, revivals will cease from among us, and the
blood of lost millions will be found on our skirts.
- 3. If the Church would do all her duty, she would soon
complete the triumph of religion in the world. But if a system of insinuation and
denunciation is to be kept up, not only will revivals cease, but the blood of millions
who will go to hell before the Church will get over the shock, will be found on the
skirts of the men who have got up and carried on this dreadful contention.
- 4. Those who have circulated slanderous reports in regard
to revivals, must repent. A great deal has been said about heresy, and about some
men's denying the Spirit's influence, which is wholly groundless, and has been made
up out of nothing. And those who have made up the reports, and those who have circulated
them against their brethren, must repent and pray to God for His forgiveness.
- 5. We see the constant tendency there is in Christians
to declension and backsliding. This is true in all converts of all revivals. Look
at the revival in President Edwards' day. The work went on till thirty thousand books
and pamphlets, on one side and the other, that they carried all by the board, and
the revival ceased. Those who had opposed the work grew obstinate and violent, and
those who promoted it lost their meekness, and got ill-tempered, and were then driven
into the very evils that had been falsely charged upon them.
- And now, what shall we do? This great and glorious work
of God seems to be indicating a decline. The revival is not dead - blessed be God
for that - it is not dead! Now, we hear from all parts of the land that Christians
are reading on the subject, and inquiring about the revival. In some places there
are now powerful revivals. And what shall we do, to lift up the standard, to move
this entire nation and turn all this great people to the Lord? We must DO RIGHT.
We must all have a better spirit, we must get down in the dust, we must act unitedly,
we must take hold of this great work with all our hearts, and then God will bless
us, and the work will go on.
What is the condition of this nation? No doubt God is holding the rod of WAR over
the heads of this nation. He is waiting, before He lets loose His judgments, to see
whether the Church will do right. The nation IS under His displeasure, because the
Church has acted in such a manner with respect to revivals. And now suppose war should
come, where would be our revivals? How quickly would war swallow up the revival spirit.
The spirit of war is anything but the spirit of revival Who will attend to the claims
of religion when the public mind is engrossed by the all absorbing topic of war.
See now how this nation is, all at once, brought upon the brink of war. God brandishes
His blazing sword over our heads. Will the Church repent? It is THE CHURCH that God
chiefly has in view. How shall we avoid the curse of war? Only by a reformation in
the Church. It is in vain to look to politicians to avert war. Perhaps they would
generally be in favor of war. Very likely the things they would do to avert it would
run us right into it. If the Church will not feel, will not awaken, will not act,
where shall we look for help? If the Church absolutely will not move, will not tremble
in view of the just judgments of God hanging over our heads, we are certainly nigh
unto cursing, as a nation.
- 6. Whatever is done must be done quickly. The scales are
on a poise. If we do not go forward, we must go back. Things cannot remain as they
are. If we do not have a more powerful revival than we have had, very soon we shall
have none at all. We have had such a great revival that now small revivals do not
interest the public mind. You must act as individuals. Do your own duty.
- 7. It is common, when things get all wrong in the Church,
for each individual to find fault both with the Church, and with his brethren, and
to overlook his own share of the blame. But, as individual members of the Church
of Christ, let each one act rightly, and get down in the dust, and never speak proudly,
or censoriously. GO FORWARD. Who would leave such a work, and go down into the plain
of Ono? Let us mind our work, and leave the issue with God.
THE NECESSITY AND EFFECT OF UNION.
Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree
on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My
Father which is in heaven. - Matthew 18:19.
I have already used this text in preaching upon the subject of prayer meetings. At
present I design to enter more into the spirit and meaning of the words. The evident
design of our Lord, in this text, was to teach the importance and influence of union
in prayer and effort to promote religion.
He states the strongest possible case, by taking the number "two," as the
least number between whom there can be an agreement, and says that "where two
of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be
done for them of My Father which is in heaven." It is the fact of their agreement
upon which He lays the stress; and mentioning the number "two" appears
to have been designed merely to afford encouragement to the smallest number between
whom there can be an agreement. But what are we to understand by being "agreed
the things we shall ask? I will answer this question under the two following heads:
I. We are to be agreed in prayer.
II. We are to be agreed in everything that is essential to obtaining the blessing
that we seek.
I. AGREEING IN PRAYER.
In order to come within the promise, we are to be agreed in prayer.
- 1. We should agree in our desires for the object. It is
necessary to have desires for the object, and to be agreed in those desires. Very
often individuals pray in words for the same thing, when they are by no means agreed
in desiring that thing. Nay, perhaps some of them, in their hearts, desire the very
opposite. People are called on to pray for an object, and they all pray for it in
words, but God knows they often do not desire it; and perhaps He sees that the hearts
of some are, all the while, resisting the prayer.
- 2. We must agree in the motive from which we desire the
object. It is not enough that our desires for an object should be the same, but the
reason why must be the same. An individual may desire a revival, for the glory of
God and the salvation of sinners. Another member of the Church may also desire a
revival, but from very different motives. Some, perhaps, desire a revival in order
to have the congregation built up and strengthened, so as to make it more easy for
them to pay their expenses in supporting the Gospel. Another desires a revival for
the sake of having the Church increased so as to be more numerous and more respectable.
Others desire a revival because they have been opposed or evil spoken of, and they
wish to have it known that whatever may be thought or said, God blesses them.
- Sometimes people desire a revival from mere natural affection,
so as to have their friends converted and saved. If they mean to be so united in
prayer as to obtain a blessing, they must not only desire the blessing, and be agreed
in desiring it, but they must also agree in desiring it for the same reasons.
- 3. We must be agreed in desiring it for good reasons. These
desires must not only be united, and from the same motives, but they must be from
good motives. The supreme motive must be to honor and glorify God.
- People may even desire a revival, and agree in desiring
it, and agree in the motives, and yet if these motives are not good, God will not
grant their desires. Thus, parents may be agreed in prayer for the conversion of
their children, and may have the same feelings and the same motives, and yet if they
have no higher motives than because they are their children, their prayers will not
be granted. They are agreed in the reason, but it is not the right reason.
In like manner, any number of persons might be agreed in their desires and motives,
but if their motives are selfish, their being agreed in them will only make them
more offensive to God. "How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the
Spirit of the Lord?" (Acts 5:9). I have seen a great deal of this, where Churches
have been engaged in prayer for an object, and their motives were evidently selfish.
Sometimes they are engaged in prayer for a revival, and you would think by their
earnestness and union that they would certainly move God to grant the blessing, till
you find out their reason. And what is it? Why, they see their congregation is about
to be broken up, unless something can be done. Or they see some other denomination
gaining ground, and there is no way to counteract this but by having a revival in
their Church. All their praying is therefore only an attempt to get the Almighty
to help them out of their difficulty; it is purely selfish and therefore offensive
to God. A woman, in Philadelphia, was invited to attend a women's prayer meeting
at a certain place. She inquired what they met there for, and for what they were
going to pray?
She was answered that they were going to pray for the outpouring of the Spirit upon
the city. "Well," she said, "I shall not go; if they were going to
pray for our congregation, I would go, but I am not going there to pray for other
Churches!" Oh, what a spirit!
I have had a multitude of letters and requests that I would visit such-and-such places,
and endeavor to promote a revival, and many reasons have been urged why I should
go; but when I came to weigh their reasons, I have sometimes found every one of them
to be selfish. And God would look upon every one with abhorrence.
In prayer meetings, too, how often do we hear people offer such reasons why they
desire certain blessings, as are not right in the sight of God; reasons which, if
they are the true ones, would render their prayers not acceptable to God, because
their motive was not right.
There are many things said in favor of the cause of Foreign Missions, which are of
this character, appealing to wrong motives. How often are we told of six hundred
millions of heathens, who are in danger of going to hell, and how little is said
of the guilt of six hundred millions engaged as rebels against God, or of the dishonor
and contempt poured upon God our Maker by such a world of outlaws. Now, I know that
God refers to those motives which appeal to our mere natural sympathies, and compassion,
and uses them, but always in subordination to His glory. If these lower motives be
placed foremost, it must always produce a defective piety, and a great deal that
is false. Until the Church will look at the dishonor done to God, little will be
done. It is this which must be made to stand out before the world, it is this which
must be deeply felt by the Church, it is this which must be fully exhibited to sinners,
before the world can ever be converted.
Parents never agree in praying for the conversion of their children in such a way
as to have their prayers answered, until they feel that their children are rebels.
Parents often pray very earnestly for their children, because they wish God to save
them, and they almost think hardly of God if He does not save their children. But
if they would have their prayers prevail, they must come to take God's part against
their children, even though for their perverseness and incorrigible wickedness He
should be obliged to send them to hell. I knew a woman who was very anxious for the
salvation of her son, and she used to pray for him with agony, but still he remained
impenitent, until at length she became convinced that her prayers and agonies had
been nothing but the fond yearnings of parental feeling, and were not dictated at
all by a just view of her son's character as a willful and wicked rebel against God.
And there was never any impression made on his mind until she was made to take strong
ground against him as a rebel, and to look on him as deserving to be sent to hell.
And then he was converted. The reason was, she never before was influenced by the
right motive in prayer - desiring his salvation with a supreme regard to the glory
- 4. If we would be so united as to prevail in prayer, we
must agree in faith.
- That is, we must concur in expecting the blessing prayed
for. We must understand the reason why it is to be expected, we must see the evidence
on which faith ought to rest, and must absolutely believe that the blessing will
come, or we do not bring ourselves within the promise. Faith is always understood
as an indispensable condition of prevailing prayer. If it is not expressed in any
particular case, it is always implied, for no prayer can be effectual but that which
is offered in faith. And in order that united prayer may prevail, there must be united
- 5. So, again, we must be agreed as to the time when we
desire the blessing to come. If two or more agree in desiring a particular blessing,
and one of them desires to have it come now, while others are not quite ready to
have it yet, it is plain they are not agreed. They are not united in regard to one
essential point. If the blessing is to come in answer to their united prayer, it
must come as they prayed for it. And if it comes, it must come at some time. But
if they disagree as to the time when they shall have it, plainly it can never come
in answer to their prayer.
- Suppose a Church should undertake to pray for a revival,
and should all be agreed in desiring a revival, but not as to the time when it shall
Suppose some wish to have the revival come now, and are all prepared, with their
hearts waiting for the Spirit of God to come down, and are willing to give time and
attention and labor to it NOW. But others are not quite ready, they have something
else to attend to just at present, some worldly object which they want to accomplish,
some piece of business in hand, wanting just to finish this thing, and then they
would have the revival come. They cannot possibly find time to attend to it now;
they are not prepared to humble themselves, to search their hearts, and break up
their fallow ground, and put themselves in a posture to receive the blessing. Is
it not plain that there is no real union, for they are not agreed in that which is
essential? While some are praying that the revival may come now, others are praying,
with equal earnestness, that it may not.
Suppose the question were now put to this Church, whether you are agreed in praying
for a revival of religion here? Do you all desire a revival, and would you all like
to have it now? Would you be heartily agreed now to break down in the dust, and open
your hearts to the Holy Ghost, if He should come tonight? I do not ask what you would
say, if I should propose the question. Perhaps if I should put it now, you would
all rise up and vote that you were agreed in desiring a revival, and agreed to have
it now. You know how you ought to feel, and what you ought to say, and you know you
ought to be ready for a revival now. But, I ask: "Would GOD see to it to be
so in your hearts that you are agreed on this point?
Have any two of you agreed on this point, and prayed accordingly? If not, when will
you be agreed to pray for a revival? And if this Church cannot be agreed among themselves,
how can you expect a revival? It is of no use for you to stand up here and say you
are agreed, when God reads the heart, and sees that you are not agreed. Here is the
promise: 'Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching
anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in
heaven.' Now this is either true or false. Which ground will you take? If it is true,
then it is true that you are not agreed, and never have been, except in those cases
where you have had a revival."
But we must agree, not only on a time, but it must be the present time, or we are
not agreed in everything essential to the work. Unless we agree to have a revival
now, we shall not now use the means, and until the means are used it cannot come.
It is plain, then, that we must be agreed on the present time; that is, we are not
agreed, in the sense of the text, until we are agreed that now we will have the blessing,
and act accordingly. To agree upon a future time is of no use, for when that future
time comes we must then be agreed upon that present time, and use means accordingly;
so that you see you are never properly agreed, until you agree that now is the time.
II. AGREEMENT IN ESSENTIAL THINGS.
You see the language of the text: "If two of you shall agree as touching anything
that they shall ask." Many people seem to read it as if it referred merely to
an agreement in asking, and they understand it to promise, that whenever two are
agreed in asking for any blessing, it shall be given. But Christ says there must
be an agreement "as touching" the thing prayed for.
That is, the agreement or union must comprise everything that is essential to the
endowment and reception of the blessing.
- 1. If Christians would enjoy the benefits of this promise
in praying for a revival, they must be agreed in believing revivals of religion to
- There are many individuals, even in the Church, who do
not in their hearts believe that the revivals which take place are the work of God.
Some of them may pray in words for an outpouring of the Spirit and a revival of religion,
while in their hearts they doubt whether there are any such things known in modern
times. In united prayer there must be no hypocrisy.
- 2. They must agree in feeling the necessity of revivals.
There are some who believe in the reality of revivals, as a work of God, while at
the same time, they are unsettled as to the necessity of having them in order to
the success of the Gospel. They think there is a real work of God in revivals, but,
after all, perhaps it is quite as well to have sinners converted and brought into
the Church in a more quiet and gradual way, and without so much excitement. Whenever
revivals are abroad in the land, and prevail, and are popular, they may appear in
favor of them, and may put up their cold prayers for a revival, while at the same
time they would be sorry, on the whole, to have a revival come among them. They think
it is so much safer and better to indoctrinate the people, and spread the matter
before them in a calm way, and so bring them in gradually, and not run into the danger
of having "animal feeling" or "wild fire" in their congregations!
- 3. They must be agreed in regard to the importance of revivals.
Men are not blessed with revivals, in answer to prayers that are not half in earnest.
- They must feel the infinite importance of a revival, before
they will pray so as to prevail. Blessings of this kind are not granted but in answer
to such prayers as arise from a sense of their importance. As I have shown before,
on the subject of prevailing prayer, it is when men desire the blessing with UNUTTERABLE
AGONY, that they offer such prayer as will infallibly prevail with God. Those who
feel less as to the importance of a revival may pray for it in words, but they will
never have the blessing.
But when a Church has been united in prayer, and really felt the importance of a
revival, it has never failed of having one. I do not believe a case can be found,
of such a Church being turned empty away. Such an agreement, when sincere, will secure
an agreement also on all other subjects that are indispensable.
- 4. They must be agreed also, in having correct Scriptural
views about several things connected with revivals.
- (a) The necessity of Divine agency to produce a
revival. It is not enough that they all hold this in theory, and pray for it in words.
They must fully understand and deeply feel this necessity; they must realize their
entire dependence on the Spirit of God, or the whole will fail.
(b) Why Divine agency is necessary. There must be an agreement on correct
principles in regard to the reason that Divine agency is so indispensable. If they
get wrong ideas on this point they will be hindered.
If Christians get the idea that this necessity of Divine influence lies in the inability
of sinners, or if they feel as if God were under obligation to give the Holy Spirit,
in order to make sinners able to obey the Gospel, they insult God, and their prayers
will not avail. For in that case they must feel that it is a mere matter of common
justice for God to pour out His Spirit, before He can justly require Christians to
work, or sinners to repent.
Suppose a Church gets the idea that sinners are poor unfortunate creatures, who come
into the world with such a nature that they cannot help sinning, and that sinners
are just as unable to repent and believe the Gospel as they are to fly to the moon,
how can it be felt that the sinner is a rebel against God, and that he deserves to
be sent to hell? How can they feel that the sinner is to blame? And how can they
take God's part when they pray? If they do not take God's part against the sinner,
they cannot expect God will regard their prayers, for they do not pray with right
motives. No doubt one great reason why so many prayers are not answered, is, that
those who pray do in fact take the sinner's part against God. They pray as if the
sinner were a poor unfortunate being, to be pitied, rather than as if he were a guilty
wretch, to be blamed. And the reason is, that they do not believe sinners are able
to obey God. If a person does not believe that sinners are able to obey their Maker,
and really believes that the Spirit's influences are necessary to make them able,
it is impossible, with these views, to offer acceptable and prevailing prayer for
the sinner; and it is not wonderful that persons with these views should not prevail
with God, and should doubt about the efficacy of the prayer of faith.
How often do you hear people pray for sinners in this style: "O Lord, help this
poor soul to do what he is required to do; O Lord, enable him to do so-and-so."
Now this language implies that they take the sinner's part, and not God's. If it
were understood by those who use it, as it is sometimes explained, and if people
meant by it what they ought to mean when they plead for sinners, I would not find
so much fault with it. The truth is, that when people use this language, they often
mean just what the language itself would be naturally, at first sight, understood
to mean, which is just as if they should pray: "Lord, Thou command these poor
sinners to repent, when, O Lord, Thou knowest they cannot repent, unless Thou givest
them Thy Spirit to enable them to do so, though Thou hast declared that Thou wilt
send them to hell if they do not, whether they ever receive Thy Spirit or not; and
now, Lord, this seems very hard, and we pray Thee to have pity upon these poor creatures,
and do not deal so hardly with them, for Christ's sake."
Who does not see that such a prayer, or a prayer which means this, in whatever language
it may be couched, is an insult to God, charging Him with infinite injustice, if
He should continue to exact from sinners a duty which they are unable to perform
without that aid which He will not grant! People may pray in this way till the Day
of Judgment, and never obtain a blessing, because they take the sinner's part against
God. They cannot pray successfully, until they understand that the sinner is a rebel,
and obstinate in his rebellion - so obstinate, that he never will, without the Holy
Spirit, do what he might, as well as not, instantly do, and that this obstinacy is
the reason, and the only reason, why he needs the influence of the Holy Spirit for
his conversion. The only ground on which the sinner needs Divine agency is, to overcome
his obstinacy, and make him willing to do what he can do, and what God justly requires
him to do.
And Christians are never in an attitude in which God can hear their united prayers,
unless they are agreed in so understanding their dependence on God, as to feel it
in perfect consistency with the sinner's blame. If it is the other way, they are
agreed in understanding it wrongly, and their prayers for Divine help to the unfortunate,
instead of Divine favor to make a rebel submit, are wide of the mark, are an insult
to God, and they never will obtain favor in heaven.
(c) They must be agreed in understanding that revivals are not miracles, but
that they are brought about by the use of means, like other events. No wonder revivals
formerly came so seldom and continued so short a time, when people generally regarded
them as miracles, or like a mere shower of rain, that will come on a place, continue
a little while, and then blow over; that is, as something over which we have no control.
For what can people do to get a shower of rain? Or how can they make it rain any
longer than it does rain? It is necessary that those who pray should be agreed in
understanding a revival as something to be brought about by means, or they never
will be agreed in using them.
(d) They must be agreed in understanding that human agency is just as indispensable
to a revival as Divine agency. Such a thing as a revival of religion, I venture to
say, never did occur without Divine agency, and never did occur without human agency.
How often do people say: "God can, if He pleases, carry on the work without
means." But I have no faith in it, for there is no evidence for it. What is
religion? Obedience to God's law. But the law cannot be obeyed unless it is known.
And how can God make sinners obey but by making known His commandments? And how can
He make them known but by revealing them Himself, or sending them to others - that
is, by bringing THE TRUTH to bear on a person's mind till he obeys it? God never
did, and never can, convert a sinner, except with the truth. What is conversion?
Obeying the truth. He may Himself directly communicate it to the sinner; but then,
the sinner's own agency is indispensable, for conversion consists in the right employment
of the sinner's own agency. And ordinarily, He employs the agency of others also,
in printing, writing, conversation, and preaching. God has put the Gospel treasure
in earthen vessels. He has seen fit to employ men in preaching the Word; that is,
He has seen that human agency is that which He can best employ in saving sinners.
And if there ever was a case (of which we have no evidence), there is not one in
a thousand, if one in a million, converted in any other way than through the truth,
made known and urged by human instrumentality. And as Christians must be united in
using those means, it is plainly necessary that they should be united in understanding
the true reason why means are to be used, and the true principles on which they are
to be governed and applied.
- 5. It is important that there should be union in regard
to the measures essential to the promotion of a revival. Let individuals agree to
do anything whatever, yet if they are not agreed in their measures, they will run
into confusion, and counteract one another. Set them to sail a ship, and they never
can get along without agreement. If they attempt to do business, as merchants, when
they are not agreed in their measures, what will they do?
- Why, they will only undo each other's work, and thwart
the whole business of the concern. All this is preeminently true in regard to the
work of promoting a revival. Otherwise, the members of the Church will counteract
each other's influence, and they need not expect a revival.
(a) The Church must be agreed in regard to the meetings which are held, as
to what meetings, and how many, and where and when they shall be held.
Some people always desire to multiply meetings in a revival, as if the more meetings
they had, the more religion there would be. Others are always opposed to any new
meetings in a revival. Some are always for having a protracted meeting; and others
are never ready to hold a protracted meeting at all. Whatever difference there may
be, it is essential that the Church should come to a good understanding on the subject,
so that they can go on together in harmony, and labor with zeal and effect.
(b) They must be agreed as to the manner of conducting meetings. It is necessary
that the Church should be united and cordial on this subject, if it is expected to
offer united prayer with effect. Sometimes there are individuals who want to adopt
every new thing they can hear of or imagine, while others are totally unwilling to
have anything altered in regard to the management of the meetings, but would have
everything done precisely in the way to which they are accustomed. They ought to
be agreed in some way, either to have the meetings altered, or to keep them on in
the old way. The best possible way is, for the Church to agree in this, that they
will let the meetings go on and take their course, just as the Spirit of God shapes
them, and not even attempt to make the two meetings just alike. The Church never
will give the fullest effect to the truth, until there is agreement in this principle:
That, in promoting a revival, they will accommodate their measures to circumstances,
and not attempt to interrupt the natural course which pious feeling and sound judgment
indicate, but cast themselves entirely upon the guidance and direction of the Holy
Spirit, introducing any measure, at any time, that shall seem called for in the Providence
of God, without laying any stress upon its being new or old.
- 6. They must be agreed in the manner of dealing with impenitent
- It is a point immensely important that the Church should
be agreed as to the treatment of sinners. Suppose that there is no agreement, so
that one will tell a sinner one thing and another. What confusion! How can they agree
in prayer, when it is plain that they are not agreed as to the things for which they
shall pray? Go among such a people, and hear them pray for sinners; attend a prayer
meeting and listen. Here is one man who prays that the sinners present may repent.
Another prays that they may be convicted; and perhaps, if he be very much concerned,
will go so far as to pray that they may be deeply convicted. Another prays that sinners
may go home solemn and pensive, and silent, meditating on the truths they have heard.
Another prays in such a manner that you can see he is afraid to have them converted
now. Another prays very solemnly that they may not attempt to do anything in their
own strength. And so on. How easy it is to see that the Church is not agreed as touching
the things they ask for; hence they have no interest in the promise.
If you set such people to talk with sinners, they will be just as discordant, for
it is plain that they are not agreed, and have no clear views in regard to what a
sinner must do to be saved, or of what ought to be said to sinners in order to bring
them to repent. The consequence is, that sinners who are awakened and anxious presently
get confounded, and do not know what to do; and perhaps they give up in despair,
or conclude that in reality there is nothing rational or consistent in religion.
One will tell the sinner he must repent immediately. Another will give him a book
(Doddridge's "Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul," perhaps), and
tell him to read it. Another will tell him to pray and persevere, and then, in God's
time, he will obtain the blessing. A revival can never go on for any length of time,
amidst such difficulties. Even if it should begin, it must soon run out; unless,
perhaps, the body of the Church will keep still and say nothing, letting others carry
on the work. And even then the work will suffer materially for want of cooperation
and support. A Church ought to be agreed. Christians ought to have a clear understanding
of this subject, and all speak the same thing and give the same directions; then,
the sinner will find no one to take his part, but will get no relief or comfort till
- 7. They must be agreed in removing the impediments to a
revival. If a Church expects a revival, it must clear the stumbling blocks out of
- (a) In the exercise of discipline. If there are
rotten members in the Church, they should be removed, and the Church should agree
to cut them off. If they remain, they are such a reproach to religion as to hinder
Sometimes when an attempt is made to cast them out, this creates a division, and
thus the work is stopped. Sometimes the offenders are persons of influence, or they
have family friends who will take their part, and make a party, and thus create a
bad spirit, and prevent a revival.
(b) In mutual confessions. Whenever wrong has been done to any, there should
be a full confession. I do not mean a cold and forced acknowledgment, such as saying:
"If I have done wrong, I am sorry for it;" but a hearty confession, going
the full length of the wrong, and showing that it comes out of a broken heart.
(c) Forgiveness of enemies. A great obstruction to revivals is often found
in the fact that active and leading individuals harbor a revengeful and unforgiving
spirit towards those who have injured them, which destroys their spirituality, makes
them harsh and disagreeable in their manner, and prevents them from enjoying either
communion with God in prayer, or the blessing of God to give them success in labor.
But let the members of the Church be truly agreed, in confessing their faults, and
in cherishing a tender, merciful, forgiving, Christ-like spirit toward any who, they
think, have done them wrong, and then the Spirit will come down upon them not by
- 8. They must be agreed in making all the necessary preparations
for a revival. They should be agreed in having all necessary preparation made, and
in bearing their part of the labor or expense involved. There should be an equality,
a few should not be burdened while the rest do little or nothing, but every one should
bear his proportion, according to his ability.
- Then there will be neither envying nor jealousy, nor any
of those mutual recriminations and altercations and disrespectful remarks about one
another, which are so inconsistent with brotherly love, and put such a stumbling
block in the way of sinners.
- 9. They must be agreed in doing heartily whatever is necessary
to be done for the promotion of the revival. Sometimes a slight disagreement about
a very little thing will be allowed to break in and destroy a revival. A minister
told me that he once went to labor in a place as an evangelist, and the Spirit of
God was evidently present, and sinners began to inquire, and things looked quite
favorable, until some of the members of the Church began to agitate the inquiry:
how they should pay the evangelist. They said: "If he stays among us any longer,
he will expect us to give him something"; and they did not see how they could
afford to do so. And they talked about it, until the minds of the brethren got distracted
and divided, and the preacher went away. Look at it. There God stood in the door
of that Church, with His hands full of mercies, but these parsimonious and wicked
professors thought it would cost something to have a revival, and their expenses
were about as much as they felt willing or able to bear; and so they let the preacher
depart, and the work ceased.
- He would not have left, at the time, whether they gave
him anything or not; for what he should receive, or whether he should receive anything
from them, was a question about which he felt no concern. But the Church, by its
parsimonious spirit, got into such a state as to grieve the Spirit, and he saw that
to stay longer with them would do no good. Oh, how will those professors feel when
they meet sinners from that town in judgment, when it will all come out, that God
was ready and waiting to grant them a blessing, but they allowed themselves to get
agitated and divided by inquiring how much they should have to pay!
- 10. They must be agreed in laboring to carry on the work.
It is not enough that they should agree to pray for a revival, but they should agree
also in laboring to promote it. They should set themselves to it systematically,
to visit and converse and pray with their neighbors; to look out for opportunities
of doing good; to watch the effect of the preaching, and watch the signs of the times,
that they may know when anything needs to be done, and do it. They should be agreed
to labor: they should be agreed how to labor: they should be agreed to live accordingly.
- 11. They must agree in a determination to persevere. It
will not answer for some members to begin to move and bluster about, and then as
soon as the least thing happens that seems unfavorable, to get discouraged, and faint,
and one-half of them give over. They should be all united, and agreed to persevere,
and labor, and pray, and hold on, until the blessing comes. In a word, if Christians
expect to unite in prayer and effort, so as to prevail with God, they must be agreed
in speaking and doing the same things, in walking by the same rule, and maintaining
the same principles, and in persevering till they obtain the blessing, so as not
to hinder or thwart each other's efforts. All this is evidently implied in being
agreed as touching the things for which they are praying.
- 1. We see why it is that so many of the children of professing
parents are not converted.
- It is because the parents have not been agreed as touching
the things they should pray for in behalf of their children. Perhaps they never had
any kind of agreement respecting them. Perhaps they were never agreed even as to
what was the very best thing they could ask for them. Sometimes parents are not agreed
in a anything, but their opinions clash, and they are perpetually disagreeing, and
their children see it. Then it is no wonder that the children remain unconverted.
Or perhaps they may not be agreed as touching the salvation of their children. Are
they sincere in desiring it? Do they agree to seek it, and agree from right motives?
Do they agree in regard to the importance of it? Are they agreed how the children
ought to be dealt with, so as to effect their conversion; what shall be said to them;
how it shall be said; when; and by whom? Probably few cases will be found where children
remain unconverted, but where inquiry would prove that the parents were never truly
agreed as touching these things. In many cases, indeed, it is quite evident that
they are not agreed.
Often there is such disagreement that we could not expect any good to result, or,
indeed, anything but ruin to the children. The husband and wife often disagree entirely
and fundamentally in regard to the manner of bringing up their children. Perhaps
the wife is fond of dress, and display, and visiting; while the husband is plain
and humble, and is grieved and distressed, and mourns and prays to see how his children
are puffed up with vanity. Or it may be that the father is ambitious, and wants to
have his daughters fashionably educated and make a display, and his sons become great
men; so he will send his daughters to a fashionable school, where they may learn
anything but their duty to God, and will be all the while pushing his sons forward,
and goading their ambitions; while the mother grieves and weeps in secret to see
her dear children hurried on to destruction, her influence counteracted, and her
sons and daughters trained up to serve the God of this world, and to go to hell.
- 2. We see the hypocrisy of those who profess to be praying
for a revival while they are doing nothing to promote it. There are many who appear
to be very zealous in praying for a revival, while they are not doing anything at
all to bring it about. What do they mean? Are they agreed as touching the things
they ask for? Certainly not. They cannot be agreed in offering acceptable prayer
for a revival until they are prepared to do what God requires them to do to promote
it. What would you think of the farmer who should pray for a crop and neither plow
nor sow? Would you think such prayers pious, or an insult to God?
- 3. We see why so many prayers that are offered in the Church
are never answered. It is because those who offered them never were agreed as touching
the things they asked for. Perhaps the minister never laid the subject before them,
never explained what it is to be agreed, nor showed them its importance, nor set
before them the great encouragement which the promise before us affords to Churches
that will agree. Perhaps the members have never conferred together, to compare views,
to see whether they understood the subject alike - whether they were agreed in regard
to the motives, grounds, and importance of being united in prayer and labor for a
revival. Suppose you were to go through the Churches and learn the precise views
and feelings of the members on this subject. How many would you find who are agreed
even in regard to the essential and indispensable things, concerning which it is
necessary Christians should be agreed in order to unite in prevailing prayer? Perhaps
no two could be found who are agreed, and if two were found whose views and desires
are alike, it would probably be ascertained that they are unacquainted with each
other, and, of course, neither act nor pray together.
- 4. We see why it is that the text has been generally understood
to mean something different from what it says. People have first read it wrongly.
- They have read as if it were: "If any two of you shall
agree to ask anything, it shall be done." And as they have often agreed to ask
for things, and the things were not done, they have said: "The literal meaning
of the text cannot be true, for we have tried it and know it is not true. How many
prayer meetings have we held, and how many petitions have we put up, in which we
have perfectly agreed in asking for blessings, and yet they have not been granted."
Now the fact is, that they have never yet understood what it is to be agreed as touching
the things they are to ask for. I am sure this is no strained construction of the
text, but is its true and obvious meaning, as a plain, pious reader would understand
it, if he inquired seriously and earnestly the true import. They must be agreed not
only in asking, but in everything else that is indispensable to the existence of
the thing prayed for. Suppose two of you agree in desiring to go to London together.
If you are not agreed in regard to the means, what route you shall take, and what
ship you will go in, you will never get there together. Just so in praying for a
revival: you must be agreed in regard to the means and circumstances, and everything
essential to the existence and progress of a revival.
- 5. We may ordinarily expect a revival of religion to prevail
and extend among those without the Church, just in proportion to the union of prayer
and effort within. If there is a general union within the Church, the revival will
be general. If the union continues so will the revival. If anything outside breaks
in upon this perfect union in prayer and effort, it will limit the revival. How great
and powerful would be the revival in a city, if all the Churches in the city were
thus united in promoting it.
- Here is another fact, which I have witnessed, worthy of
notice. I have observed that a revival will prevail outside the Church, among persons
in that class of society, amongst whom it prevails within the Church. If the women
in the Church are most awake and prayerful. the work may ordinarily be expected to
prevail mostly amongst women out of the Church, and more women will be converted
than men. If the young people in the Church are most awake, then assuredly the work
is most likely to prevail among the youth. If the heads of families and the principal
men in the Church are awake, the revival is, I have observed, more likely to prevail
among that class out of the Church. I have known a revival mostly confined to women,
with few men converted, apparently because the men within the Church did not take
active part. Again, I have repeatedly known the greatest number of converts to be
among men, owing apparently to the fact that the men within the Church were the most
active. When the revival does not reach a particular class of the impenitent, pains
should be taken to arouse that portion of the Church who are of their own age and
standing, to make more direct efforts for their conversion.
There seems to be a philosophy in this fact, which has often been illustrated. Different
classes of professors naturally feel a sympathy for the impenitent of their own sex
and age and rank, and more naturally pray for them, and for more influence over them;
and this seems to be at least one of the reasons why revivals are apt to be the most
powerful and general in that class without the Church who are most awake within the
Church. Christians should understand this, and feel their responsibility.
One great reason why, in revivals, so few of the principal men are converted, doubtless
is that class in the Church are often so worldly that they cannot be aroused. The
revival will generally prevail mostly in those families where the professors belonging
to them are awake; and the impenitent belonging to those families where the professors
are not awake are apt to be left unconverted. One principal reason obviously is that
when the professors in a family or neighborhood are awake, there is not only prayer
offered for sinners in the midst of them, but there are corresponding influences
acting on the impenitent among them. If they are awake, their looks and lives and
warnings all tend to promote the conversion of their impenitent friends. But if they
are asleep, all their influence tends to prevent such conversions. Their coldness
grieves the Spirit, their worldliness contradicts the Gospel, and all their intercourse
with their impenitent friends is in favor of impenitence, and calculated to perpetuate
- 6. We see why different denominations have been suffered
to spring up in the Church, and under the government of God.
- Christians often see and deplore the evils that have arisen
to the Church of God, from the division of His people into jarring sects; and they
have wondered and been perplexed to think that God should suffer it to be so.
But in the light of this subject we can see that, considering what diversities of
opinions and feelings and views actually exist in the Church, much good results from
this division. Considering this diversity of opinion, many would never agree to pray
and labor together, so as to do it with success, and so it is better they should
separate, and let those unite who are agreed.
In all cases where there cannot be a cordial agreement in labor, it is better that
each denomination should labor by itself, so long as the difference exists. I have
sometimes seen revivals broken up by attempting to unite Christians of different
denominations in prayer and labor together, while they were not agreed as to the
principles or measures by which the work was to be promoted. They would undo each
other's work, destroy each other's influence, perplex the anxious, and give occasion
to the enemies of God to blaspheme; and soon their feelings would get soured, and,
the Spirit being grieved away, the work would stop, and perhaps painful confusion
and controversy follow.
- 7. We see why God sometimes suffers Churches to be divided.
It is because He finds that the members are so much at variance that they will not
pray and labor together with effect. Sometimes Church communities that are in such
a state will still keep together from worldly considerations and worldly policy,
because it is so much easier for the whole to support public worship; and so they
continue, jealous and jangling, for years, accomplishing little or nothing for the
salvation of sinners. In such cases God has often let something occur among them,
that would tear them asunder, and then each party would go to work in its own way,
and perhaps both would prosper. As soon as they were separated, everything settled
down in peace. I have known some cases where this has been done with the happiest
results, and both Churches have been speedily blessed with revivals.
- 8. It is evident that many more Churches need to be divided.
How many there are that hold together, and yet do no good, for the simple reason
that they are not sufficiently agreed. They do not think alike, nor feel alike, on
the subjects connected with revivals, and while this is so, they never can work together.
Unless they can be brought to such a change of views and feelings on the subject
as will unite them, they are only a hindrance to each other and to the work of God.
In many cases they see and feel that this is so, and yet they keep together, conscientiously,
for fear a division should dishonor religion, when in fact the division that now
exists may be making religion a by-word and a reproach. Far better would it be if
they would agree to divide amicably, like Abraham and Lot. "If thou wilt take
the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand,
then I will go to the left" (Genesis 13:9). Let them separate, and each party
work in its own way; and they may both enjoy the blessing.
- 9. We see why a few individuals, who are perfectly united,
may be successful in gathering and building up a new Church, and may prosper much
more than a much larger number who are not agreed among themselves. If I were going
to gather a new Church, I would rather have five persons, or three, or even two,
who were perfectly agreed as to the things they were to pray for, and the manner
in which they should labor for all that is essential to the prosperity of a Church,
and who would stand by me, and stand by each other, than begin with a Church of five
hundred members, who were not agreed.
- 10. We see what glorious things may be expected for Zion,
whenever the Churches generally shall be agreed on these subjects. When ministers
shall lay aside their prejudices, and their misconstructions, and their jealousies,
and shall see eye to eye; and when the Churches shall understand the Bible alike,
and see their duty alike, and pray alike, and shall be "agreed as touching the
things that they shall ask," a nation shall be born in a day.
- Only let them feel as the heart of one man, and be agreed
as to what ought to be done for the salvation of the world, and the millennium will
come at once.
- 11. There is vast ignorance in the Churches on the subject
- After all the revivals that have been enjoyed, and all
that has been said and written and printed concerning revivals, there are very few
who have any real, consistent knowledge on the subject. And when there is a revival,
how few are there who can take hold to labor and promote it as if they understood
what they were about. How few persons are to be found who have ever taken up revivals
of religion as a subject to be studied and understood. Everybody knows that in a
revival Christians must pray, and do some things which they have not been in the
habit of doing. But multitudes know nothing of the REASON WHY they should do this,
or why one thing is better than another, and, having no principles to guide them,
when anything occurs which they did not expect, they are all at fault, and know not
what to do.
If men should go to work to build a house of worship, and know as little how to proceed
as many ministers and professors know how to build the spiritual temple of God, they
never would get a house up; and yet people make themselves believe that they are
building the Church of God, when they know not what they are about, but are utterly
unable to give a reason why they are doing as they do, or why one thing should be
done rather than another. There are multitudes in the Church who never seem to suppose
that the work of promoting revivals of religion is one that requires study, and thought,
and knowledge of principles, and skill in applying the Word of God so as to give
every one his portion in season.
And so they go on, generally doing little or nothing, because they are attempting
nothing; and if they ever do awaken, they go headlong to work, without any system
or plan, as if God had left this part of our duty out of the reach of sound judgment
and good sense.
- 12. There is vast ignorance among ministers upon this subject,
and one great reason of this ignorance is that many get the idea that they already
understand all about revivals, when in reality they know next to nothing about them.
I once knew a minister come in where there was a powerful revival, and bluster about
and find fault with many things, speaking of his "knowledge of revivals,"
that he had "been in seventeen of them," and so on, when it was evident
that he knew nothing as he ought of revivals.
- 13. How important it is that the Church should be trained
and instructed, so as to know what to do in a revival. Members should be trained
and disciplined like an army; each one having a place to fill, and something to do,
knowing where he belongs, and what he has to do, and how to do it.
- Instead of this, how often do you see a Church in a time
of revival take hold of the work to promote it, just like a troop of children thinking
to build a house. How few there are who really know how to do - what?
Why, the very thing for which God suffers Christians to live in this world, the very
thing for which ALONE He would ever let them remain away from heaven a day; and this
is the very thing, of all others, that they do not study, and do not try to understand.
- 14. We see why revivals are often so short, and why they
so often produce a reaction. It is because the Church does not understand the subject.
Revivals are short, because professors have been stirred up to a kind of spasmodical
action. They have gone to work by impulse, rather than from deliberate conviction
of duty, and have been guided by their feelings rather than by a sound understanding
of what they ought to do; they did not know either what to do, what they could do,
what they could not, or how to husband their strength, or what the state of things
would bear. Perhaps their zeal led them into some indiscretions, and they lost their
hold on God, and so the enemy prevailed. The Church ought to be so trained as to
know what to do, so as never to fail, and never to suffer defeat or reaction, when
an attempt is made to promote a revival.
- Christians should understand all the tactics of the devil,
and know where to guard against his devices, so that they may know him when they
see him - and not mistake him for an angel of light come to give them lessons of
wisdom in promoting the revival - and so that they can cooperate wisely with the
minister, and with one another, and with the Holy Ghost, in carrying on the work.
No person who has been conversant with revivals can overlook the fact that the ignorance
of professors of religion concerning revivals, and their blunders in the matter,
are among the common things that put revivals down, and bring back a fearful reaction
upon the Church. How long shall this be so? It ought not to be so; it need not be
so; shall it always be so?
- 15. We see that every Church is justly responsible for
the souls that are in its charge. If God has given such a promise, and if it is true
that where so many as two are agreed, as touching the things they ask for, it shall
be done, then certainly Christians are responsible, and if sinners are lost, their
blood will be found upon the Church.
- 16. We see the guilt of ministers, in not informing themselves,
and rightly and speedily instructing the Churches, upon this momentous subject.
- Why, what is the end of the Christian ministry? What have
they to do, but to instruct and marshal the sacramental host, and lead them on to
conquest? What, will they let the Church remain in ignorance on the very subject,
and the only point of duty, for the performance of which they are in the world -
the salvation of sinners? Some ministers have acted as mysteriously about revivals
as if they thought Christians were either incapable of understanding how to promote
them, or that it was of no importance that they should know. But this is all wrong.
No minister has yet begun even to understand his duty, if he has neglected to teach
his people to work for God in the promotion of revivals. What is he about?
What does he mean? Why is he a minister? To what end has he taken the sacred office?
Is it that he "may eat a piece of bread"? (1 Samuel 2:36).
- 17. We see that pious parents can render the salvation
of their children certain. Only let them pray in faith, and be agreed as touching
the things they shall ask for, and God has promised them the desire of their hearts.
- Who can be agreed so well as parents? Let them be agreed
in prayer, and agreed what to do, and agreed in doing all their duty; let them thus
train up their children in the way they should go, and when they are old they will
not depart from it.
And now, do you believe you are agreed, according to the meaning of this promise?
I know that where a few individuals may be agreed in some things, they may produce
some effect. But while the body of the Church is not agreed, there will always be
so many things to counteract, that they will accomplish but little. THE CHURCH MUST
BE AGREED. Oh, if we could find but one Church perfectly and heartily agreed in all
these points, so that they could pray and labor together, all as one, what good would
be done! Oh, what do Christians think, how can they keep still, when God has brought
down His blessings so that if any two were agreed as touching the things they ask
for, it would be done? Alas! alas! how bitter will be the remembrance of the jangling
in the Church, when Christians come to see the crowds of lost souls that have gone
down to hell, because we were not agreed to labor and pray for their salvation.
- 18. Finally, in the light of this promise we see the awful
guilt of the Church.
- God has given it to be the precious inheritance of His
people at all times, and in all places, that, if His people agree, their prayers
will be answered.
We see the awful guilt of the members of this Church, who listen to Lectures about
revivals, and then go away and have no revival; and also the guilt of members of
other Churches who hear and go home and refuse to do their duty. How can you meet
the thousands of impenitent sinners around you at the bar of God, and see them sink
away into everlasting burning?
Have you been united in heart to pray for them? If you have not, why have you disagreed?
Why have you not prayed with this promise until you have prevailed.
You will now either be agreed, and pray for the Holy Ghost, and receive Him before
you leave the place, or the anger of the Lord will be upon you.
Should you now agree to pray in the sense of this promise, for the Spirit of God
to come down on this city, the Heavenly Dove would fly through this city in the midst
of the night and would rouse the consciences and break up the guilty slumbers of
the wicked. What, then, is the crimson guilt of those professors of religion who
are sleeping in sight of such a promise? They seem to have skipped over it, or entirely
to have forgotten it. Multitudes of sinners are going to hell in all directions,
and yet this blessed promise is neglected; yea, more, is practically despised by
the Church, There it stands in the solemn record, and the Church might take hold
of it in such a manner that vast numbers might be saved - but they are not agreed,
therefore souls will perish. And where is the responsibility? Who can take this promise
and look the perishing in the face at the Day of Judgment?
FALSE COMFORTS FOR SINNERS
How then comfort ye me in vain, seeing in your answers
there remaineth falsehood? - Job 21:34.
Jobs ' three friends insisted that the afflictions which he suffered were sent as
a punishment for his sins, and were evidence conclusive that he was a hypocrite,
and not a good man, as he professed to be. A lengthy argument ensued, in which Job
referred to all past experience, to prove that men are not dealt with in this way
according to their character; that the distinction is not observed in the allotments
of Providence. His friends maintained the opposite, and intimated that this world
is also a place of rewards and punishments, in which men receive good or evil, according
to their deeds.
In this chapter, Job urges, by appealing to common sense and common observation and
experience, that this cannot be true, because it is a matter of fact that the wicked
are often prosperous in this world and throughout life, and hence he infers that
their judgment and punishment must be reserved for a future state. "The wicked
is reserved to the day of destruction," and "they shall be brought forth
to the day of wrath" (v. 30).
And inasmuch as the friends who came to comfort him, being in the dark on this fundamental
point, had not been able to understand his case, and so could not afford him any
comfort, but rather aggravated his grief, Job insisted upon it that he would still
look to a future state for consolation.
He rebuked them by exclaiming, in the bitterness of his soul:
"How then comfort ye me in vain, seeing in your answers there remaineth falsehood?"
My present purpose is to make some remarks upon the various methods employed in comforting
anxious sinners; and I design:
I. To notice briefly the necessity and design of instructing anxious sinners.
II. To show that anxious sinners are always seeking comfort. Their supreme object,
indeed, is to get comfort in their distress.
III. To notice some of the false comforts often administered.
IV. Errors made in praying for sinners.
I. INSTRUCTING ANXIOUS SINNERS.
The very idea of anxiety implies some instruction. A sinner will not be anxious at
all about his future state, unless he has light enough to know that he is a sinner,
and that he is in danger of punishment and needs forgiveness. But men are to be converted,
not by physical force, nor by a change wrought in their nature or constitution by
creative power, but by the truth, made effectual by the Holy Spirit. Conversion is
yielding to the truth. Therefore, the more the truth can be brought to bear on the
mind, other things being equal, so much the more probable is it that the individual
will be converted. Unless the truth is brought to bear upon him, it is certain he
will not be converted. If it be brought to bear, it is not absolutely certain that
it will be effectual, but the probability is in proportion to the extent to which
the truth is brought to bear.
The great design of dealing with an anxious sinner is to clear up all his difficulties
and darkness, do away with all his errors, sap the foundation of his self-righteous
hopes, and sweep away every vestige of comfort that he can find in himself. There
is often much difficulty in all this, and much instruction is required. Sinners often
cling with a death-grasp to their false dependencies. The last place to which a sinner
ever betakes himself for relief is to Jesus Christ. Sinners had rather be saved in
any other way in the world. They had rather make any sacrifice, go to any expense,
or endure any suffering, than just throw themselves as guilty and lost rebels upon
Christ alone for salvation. This is the very last way in which they are ever willing
to be saved. It cuts up all their self-righteousness, and annihilates their pride
and self-satisfaction so completely that they are exceedingly unwilling to adopt
it. But it is as true in philosophy as it is in fact, that this is, after all, the
only way in which a sinner could find relief. If God should attempt to relieve sinners
and save them without humbling their pride and turning them from their sins, He could
not do it.
Now, the object of instructing an anxious sinner should be to bring his mind, by
the shortest route, to the practical conclusion that there is, in fact, no other
way in which he can be relieved and saved, but to renounce himself, and rest in Christ
alone. To do this with effect requires great skill.
It requires a thorough knowledge of the human heart, a clear understanding of the
plan of salvation, and a precise and definite idea of the very thing that a sinner
MUST DO in order to be saved. The ability to impart such instruction effectually
is one of the rarest qualifications in the ministry. It is distressing to see how
few ministers and how few professors of religion there are who have in their own
mind so distinct an idea of the thing to be done, that they can go to an anxious
sinner and tell him exactly what he has to do, and how to do it, and can show him
clearly that there is no possible way for him to be saved, but by doing that very
thing which they tell him, and can make him feel the certainty that he must do it,
and that unless he does that very thing he will be lost.
II. ANXIOUS SINNERS ARE ALWAYS SEEKING COMFORT.
Sinners often imagine they are seeking Jesus Christ, and seeking religion, but this
is a mistake. No person ever sought religion, and yet remained irreligious. What
is religion? It is obeying God. Seeking religion is seeking to obey God. The soul
that hungers and thirsts after righteousness is the soul of a Christian. To say that
a person can seek to obey God, and yet not obey Him, is absurd; for, if he is seeking
religion, he is not an impenitent sinner. To seek religion implies a willingness
to obey God, and a willingness to obey God is religion. It is a contradiction to
say that an impenitent sinner is seeking religion. It is the same as to say that
he seeks and actually longs to obey God, and God will not let him; or that he longs
to embrace Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ will not let him come. The fact is, the
anxious sinner is seeking a hope, he is seeking pardon, and comfort, and deliverance
from hell. He is anxiously looking for some one to comfort him and make him feel
better, without being obliged to conform to such humiliating conditions as those
of the Gospel. And his anxiety and distress continue, only because he will not yield
to these terms. Unfortunately, anxious sinners find comforters enough to their liking.
Miserable comforters they are, too, "seeing in their answers there remaineth
falsehood." No doubt, millions and millions are now in hell, because there were
those around them who gave them false comfort, who had so much false pity, or were
themselves so much in the dark, that they would not let sinners remain in anxiety
till they had submitted their hearts to God, but administered falsehood.
III. WAYS IN WHICH FALSE COMFORT IS GIVEN.
There is an endless variety of ways in which false comfort is given to anxious sinners.
The more I observe the ways in which even good people deal with anxious sinners,
the more I feel grieved at the endless falsehoods with which they attempt to comfort
their anxious friends, and thus, in fact, deceive them and beguile them out of their
salvation. It often reminds me of the manner in which people act when any one is
ill. Let any one of you be ill, with almost any disease in the world, and you will
find that every person you meet with has a remedy for that disorder, a certain cure,
a specific, a panacea; and you will find such a world of quackery all around you
that if you do not take care and SHUT IT ALL OUT, you will certainly lose your life.
A man must exercise his own judgment, for he will find as many remedies as he has
friends, and each one is tenacious of his own medicine, and perhaps will think it
hard if it is not taken. And no doubt this miserable system of quackery kills a great
This is true to no greater extent respecting the diseases of the body than respecting
the diseases of the mind. People have their specifics and their panaceas, to comfort
distressed souls; and whenever they begin to talk with an anxious sinner, they will
bring in their false comforts - so much that if he does not TAKE CARE, and mind the
Word of God, he will infallibly be deceived to his own destruction. I propose to
mention a few of the falsehoods that are often brought forward in attempting to comfort
anxious sinners. Time would fail me even to name them all.
The direct object of many persons is to comfort sinners; and they are often so intent
upon this that when they see their friends distressed, they pity them, they feel
very compassionate: "Oh, oh, I cannot bear to see them so distressed, I must
comfort them somehow"; and so they try one way, and another, and all to comfort
them! Now, God desires they should be comforted. He is benevolent, and has kind feelings,
and His heart yearns over them, when He sees them so distressed. But He sees that
there is only one way to give a sinner real comfort. He has more benevolence and
compassion than all men, and wishes to comfort them. But He has fixed the terms,
as unyielding as His Throne, on which He will give a sinner relief. He will not alter.
He knows that nothing else will do the sinner effectual good, for nothing can make
him happy, until he repents of his sins and forsakes them, and turns to God. And
therefore God will not yield. Our object should be the same as that of God. We should
feel compassion and benevolence just as He does, and be as ready to give comfort,
but we should also be sure that it is of the right kind.
Our prime object should be to induce the sinner to obey God. His comfort ought to
be, both with us and with himself, only a secondary object; and while we are more
anxious to relieve his distress than to have him cease to abuse and dishonor God,
we are not likely, by our instructions, to do him any real good. This is a fundamental
distinction in dealing with anxious sinners, but it is evidently overlooked by many,
who seem to have no higher motives than sympathy or compassion for the sinner. If
in preaching the Gospel or instructing the anxious, we are not actuated by a high
regard to the honor of God, and rise no higher than to desire to relieve the distressed;
this is going no farther than a constitutional sympathy, or compassion, would carry
us. The overlooking of this principle has often misled professors of religion, and
when they have heard others dealing faithfully with anxious sinners, they have accused
them of cruelty. I have often had professors bring anxious sinners to me, and beg
me to comfort them; and then, when I have probed the conscience of the sinner to
the quick, they have shuddered, and sometimes taken his part. It is sometimes impossible
to deal effectually with young people who are anxious, in the presence of their parents,
because the parents have so much more compassion for their children than regard to
the honor of God. This is a position which is all wrong; and with such views and
feelings you had better hold your tongue than say anything to the anxious.
- 1. One of the ways in which people give false comfort to
distressed sinners is by asking them: "What have you done? You are not so bad!"
- They see them distressed and cry out: "Why, what have
you done?" as if they had never done anything wicked, and had in reality no
occasion to feel distressed at all. A fashionable lady was spiritually awakened,
and she was going to see a minister, to converse with him, when she was met by a
friend, who turned her back, and drove off her anxiety by the cry: "What have
you done to make you feel so? I am sure you have never committed any sin that need
make you feel so!"
I have often met with cases of this kind. A mother will tell her son, who is anxious,
what an obedient child he has always been, how good and how kind, and she begs him
"not to take on so." So a husband will tell his wife, or a wife her husband:
"How good you are!" and say: "Why, you are not so bad. You have been
to hear that frightful minister, who frightens people, and you have got excited.
Be comforted, for I am sure you have not been bad enough to justify such distress."
When the truth is, they have been a great deal worse than they think they have. No
sinner ever has an idea of his sins greater than they really are. No sinner ever
has an adequate idea of how great a sinner he is. It is not probable that any man
could live under a full sight of his sins. God has, in mercy, spared all His creatures
on earth that worst of sights, a naked human heart. The sinner's guilt is much more
deep and damning than he thinks, and his danger is much greater than he thinks it
is; and if he should see his sins as they are, probably he would not live one moment.
True, a sinner may have false notions on the subject, which may create distress,
but which have no foundation. He may think he has committed the unpardonable sin,
or that he has grieved away the Spirit, or sinned away his day of grace. But to tell
the most moral and naturally amiable person in the world that he is good enough,
or that he is not so bad as he thinks he is, is not giving him rational comfort,
but is deceiving him and ruining his soul. Let those who do it, beware.
- 2. Others tell awakened sinners that "conversion is
a progressive work," and in this way ease their anxiety. When a man is distressed,
because he sees himself to be such a sinner, and that unless he turns to God he will
be lost, it is a great relief to have some friend hold out the idea that he can get
better by degrees, and that he is now "coming on," little by little. They
tell him: "You cannot expect to get along all at once; I do not believe in these
sudden conversions, you must wait and let it work; you have begun well, and, by and
by, you will get comfort." All this is false as the bottomless pit. The truth
is, regeneration, or conversion, is not a progressive work.
- What is regeneration? What is it but the beginning of obedience
And is the beginning of a thing progressive? It is the first act of genuine obedience
to God - the first voluntary action of the mind, that is what God approves, or that
can be regarded as obedience to God. That is conversion. When persons talk about
conversion as a progressive work, it is absurd. They show that they know just as
much about regeneration or conversion as Nicodemus did. They know nothing about it
as they ought to know, and are no more fit to conduct an anxious meeting, or to advise
or instruct anxious sinners, than Nicodemus was.
- 3. Another way in which anxious sinners are deceived with
false comfort is by being advised to "dismiss the subject for the present."
Men who are supposed to be wise and good have assumed to be so much wiser than God,
that when God is dealing with a sinner, by His Spirit, and is endeavoring to bring
him to an immediate decision, they think God is crowding too hard, and that it is
necessary for them to interfere. They will advise the person to take a ride, or to
go into company, or engage in business or do something that will relieve his mind
a little, at least for the present. They might just as well say to God in plain words:
"O God, Thou art too hard, Thou goest too fast, Thou wilt make him crazy, or
kill him; he cannot stand it, poor creature; if he be so pressed he will die."
Just so they take sides against God, and practically tell the sinner himself: "God
will make you crazy if you do not dismiss the subject, and resist the Spirit, and
drive Him away from your mind."
- Such advice, if it be truly conviction of sin that distresses
the sinner, is, in no case, either safe or lawful. The strivings of the Spirit, to
bring the sinner to Christ, will never hurt him, nor drive him crazy. He may make
himself deranged by resisting; but it is blasphemous to think that the blessed, wise,
and benevolent Spirit of God would ever act with so little care, as to derange and
destroy the soul which He came to sanctify and save. The proper course to take with
a sinner, when the striving of the Spirit throws him into distress, is, to instruct
him, clear up his views, correct his mistakes, and make the way of salvation so plain,
that he may see it right before him. Not to dismiss the subject, but to fall in with
the Spirit, and thus hush all those dreadful agonies which are produced by resisting
the Holy Ghost. REMEMBER, if an awakened sinner should voluntarily dismiss the subject
once, probably he will never take it up again.
- 4. Sometimes an awakened sinner is comforted by being told
that "religion does not consist in feeling bad." I once heard of a Doctor
of Divinity giving an anxious sinner such counsel, when he was actually writhing
under the arrows of the Almighty. Said he: "Religion is cheerful, religion is
not gloomy; do not be distressed, but dismiss your fears; be comforted, you should
not feel so bad," and such like miserable comforts, when, in fact, the man had
infinite reason to be distressed, for he was resisting the Holy Ghost, and was in
danger of grieving Him away for ever.
- It is true, religion does not consist in "feeling
bad"; but the sinner has reason to be distressed, because he has no religion.
If he had religion, he would not feel so. Were he a Christian, he would rejoice.
But to tell an impenitent sinner to be cheerful! Why, you might as well preach this
doctrine in hell, and tell them there: "Cheer up here, cheer up: do not feel
The sinner is on the very verge of hell, he is in rebellion against God, and his
danger is infinitely greater than he imagines. Oh, what a doctrine of devils it is
to tell a rebel against Heaven not to be distressed! What is all his distress but
rebellion itself? He is not comforted, because he refuses to be comforted. God is
ready to comfort him. You need not think to be more compassionate than God. He will
fill the sinner with comfort, in an instant, on submission. There stands the sinner,
struggling against God, and against the Holy Ghost, and against conscience, until
he is distressed almost to death, but still he will not yield; and now some one comes
in, saying: "Oh, I hate to see you feel so bad, do not be so distressed; cheer
up, cheer up; religion does not consist in being gloomy; be comforted."
- 5. Whatever involves the subject of religion in mystery
is calculated to give a sinner false comfort. When a sinner is anxious on the subject
of religion, very likely, if you becloud it in mystery, he will feel relieved. The
sinner's distress arises from the pressure of present obligation. Enlighten him on
this point, and clear it up, and if he will not yield, it will only increase his
distress. But tell him that regeneration is all a mystery, something he cannot understand,
and, by leaving him all in a fog, you relieve his anxiety.
- It is his clear view of the nature and duty of repentance,
that produces his distress. It is the light that brings agony to his mind, while
he refuses to obey. It is that which makes up the pains of hell. And it will almost
make hell in the sinner's breast here, if only made clear enough. Only cover up this
light, and his anxiety will immediately become far less acute and thrilling, but
if you take up a clear light, and flash it broadly upon his soul, then, if he will
not yield, you kindle up the tortures of hell in his bosom.
- 6. Whatever relieves the sinner from a sense of blame is
calculated to give him false comfort. The more a man feels himself to blame, the
deeper is his distress; so, anything that lessens his sense of blame, of course lessens
his distress - but it is a comfort full of death. If anything will help him to divide
the blame, and throw a part of it upon God, it will afford him comfort, but it is
a relief that will destroy his soul.
- 7. To tell him of his inability is false comfort. Suppose
you say to an anxious sinner: "What can you do? You are a poor feeble creature,
you can do nothing." You will thereby make him feel a kind of despondency, but
it is not that keen agony of remorse with which God wrings the soul when He is laboring
to bring the sinner to repentance.
- If you tell him he is unable to comply with the Gospel,
he naturally falls in with that relief. He says to himself: "Yes, I am unable,
I am a poor, feeble creature, I cannot do this, and certainly God cannot send me
to hell for not doing what I cannot do." Why, if I believed that a sinner was
unable, I would tell him plainly: "Do not be afraid, you are not to blame for
not complying with the call of the Gospel: for you are unable, and God will not send
you to hell for not doing what you have no strength to do - 'Shall not the Judge
of all the earth do right?'" I know it is not common for those who talk about
the sinner being "unable," to be so consistent, and carry out their theory.
But the sinner infers all this, and so he feels relieved. It is all false, and all
the comfort derived from it is only treasuring up wrath against the Day of Wrath.
- 8. Whatever makes the impression on a sinner's mind that
he is to be passive in religion is calculated to give him false comfort. Give him
the idea that he has nothing to do but to wait God's time; tell him conversion is
the work of God, and he ought to leave it to Him; and that he must be careful not
to try to take the work out of God's hand; and he will infer as before, that he is
not to blame, and will feel relieved. If he has only to stand still, and let God
do the work, just as a man holds still to have his arm amputated, he feels relieved.
But such instruction as this, is all wrong. If the sinner is thus to stand still,
and let God do it, he instantly infers that he is not to blame for not doing it himself;
and the inference is not only natural but legitimate.
- It is true that there is a sense in which conversion is
the work of God. But it is false, as it is often represented. It is also true that
there is a sense in which conversion is the sinner's own act. It is ridiculous, therefore,
to say that a sinner is passive in regeneration, or passive in being converted, for
conversion is his own act. The thing to be done is that which cannot be done for
him. It is something which he must do, or it will never be done.
- 9. Telling a sinner to wait God's time. Some years ago,
in Philadelphia, I met a woman who was anxious about her soul, and had been a long
time in that state. I conversed with her, and endeavored to learn her state. She
told me a good many things, and finally said she knew she ought to be willing to
wait on God as long as He had waited upon her. She said that God had waited on her
a great many years before she would give any attention to His call, and now she believed
it was her duty to wait God's time to show mercy to her and convert her soul. And
she said this was the instruction she had received. She must be patient, she thought,
and wait God's time, and, by and by, He would give her relief. Oh, amazing folly!
- Here is the sinner in rebellion. God comes with pardon
in one hand and a sword in the other, and tells the sinner to repent and receive
pardon, or refuse and perish. And now here comes a minister of the Gospel and tells
the sinner to "wait God's time." Virtually he says that God is not ready
to have him repent now, and is not ready to pardon him now, and thus, in fact, throws
off the blame of his impenitence upon God. Instead of pointing out the sinner's guilt,
in not submitting at once to God, he points out God's "insincerity" - in
making an offer, when, in fact, He was not ready to grant the blessing!
I have often thought such teachers needed the rebuke of Elijah, when he met the priests
of Baal. "Cry aloud: for he is a God; either he is talking, or he is pursuing,
or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked" (1 Kings
18:27). The minister who ventures to intimate that God is not ready, and tells the
sinner to wait God's time, might almost as well tell him that God is asleep, or gone
on a journey, and cannot attend to him at present. Miserable comforters, indeed!
It is little less than outrageous blasphemy of God. How many have gone to the judgment,
red all over with the blood of souls that they have deceived and destroyed - by telling
them God was not ready to save them, and that they must wait God's time. No doubt
such a doctrine is exceedingly calculated to afford present relief to an anxious
sinner. It warrants him to say: "God is not ready, I must wait God's time, and
so I can live in sin a while longer, till He gets ready to attend to me, and then
I will get religion."
- 10. It is false comfort to tell an anxious sinner to do
anything for relief, which he can do, and not submit his heart to God. An anxious
sinner is often willing to do anything else, but the very thing which God requires
him to do. He is willing to go to the ends of the earth, or to pay his money, or
to endure suffering, or do anything but make full and instantaneous submission to
God. Now, if you will compromise the matter with him, and tell him of something else
that he may do, and yet evade that point, he will be very much comforted. He likes
that instruction. He says: "Oh, yes, I will do that; I like that minister, he
is not so severe as others, he seems to understand my particular case, and knows
how to make allowances."
- It often reminds me of the conduct of a patient who is
very sick, but has a great dislike for a certain physician and a particular medicine,
but that is the very physician who alone understands treating his disease, and that
the only remedy for it. Now, the patient is willing to do anything else, and call
in any other physician. He is anxious and in distress, is asking all his friends
if they cannot tell him what he shall do. He will take all the nostrums and quack
medicines in the country - before he will submit to the only course that can bring
him relief. By and by, after he has tried everything without receiving any benefit,
if he survives the experiment he gives up this unreasonable opposition, calls in
the physician, takes the proper medicine, and is cured. Just so it is with sinners.
They will eagerly do anything, if you will only let them off from this intolerable
pressure of present obligation to submit to God.
I will mention a few of the things the telling of which to sinners distracts their
attention from the point of immediate submission.
(a) Telling a sinner he must use the means - attend meetings and pray.
Tell an anxious sinner this: "You must use the means"; and he is relieved.
"Oh, yes, I will do that, if that be all. I thought that God required me to
repent and submit to Him now. But if 'using the means' will answer, I will do that
with all my heart." He was distressed before, because he was cornered, and did
not know which way to turn. Conscience had beset him, like a wall of fire, and urged
him to repent NOW. But this relieves him at once; he feels better, and is very thankful
that he has found such a good adviser in his distress! But he may "use the means,"
as he says, till the Day of Judgment, and not be a particle the better for it, but
only hasten his way to death. What is the sinner's use of means, but rebellion against
God? God uses means - the Church uses means, to convert and save sinners, to impress
them, and bring them to submission. But what has the sinner to do with such means?
It is just telling him: "You need not submit to God now, but just use the means
awhile, and see if you cannot melt God's heart down to you, so that He will yield
this point of unconditional submission." It is a mere cavil to evade the duty
of immediate submission to God. It is true that sinners, actuated by a regard to
their own happiness, often give attention to the subject of religion, attend meetings,
and pray, and read, and many such things. But in all this they have no regard to
the honor of God, nor do they so much as intend to obey Him. Their design is not
obedience, for if it were, they would not be impenitent sinners. They are not, therefore,
using means to be Christians, but to obtain pardon, and a hope. It is absurd to say
that an impenitent sinner is using means to repent, for this is the same as to say
he is willing to repent; or, in other words, that he does repent, and so is not an
impenitent sinner. So, to say that an unconverted sinner uses means with the design
to become a Christian, is a contradiction; for it is saying that he is willing to
be a Christian, which is the same as to say he is a Christian already.
(b) Telling a sinner to pray for a new heart. I once heard a celebrated Sunday-school
teacher do this. He was almost the father of Sunday Schools in America. He called
a little girl up to him, and began to talk to her. "My little girl, are you
a Christian?" "No, sir." "Well, you cannot be a Christian yourself,
can you?" "No, sir." "No, you cannot be a Christian yourself,
you cannot change your heart yourself, but you must pray for a new heart, that is
all you can do; pray to God, God will give you a new heart." He was an aged
and venerable man, but I almost felt disposed to rebuke him in the name of the Lord;
I could not bear to hear him deceive that child, telling her, practically, she could
not be a Christian. Does God say: "Pray for a new heart"? Never. He says:
"Make you a new heart"
(Ezekiel 18:31). The sinner is not to be told to pray to God to do his duty for him,
but to go and do it himself. I know the Psalmist prayed: "Create in me a clean
heart, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). He had faith, and
prayed in faith. But that is a very different thing from setting an obstinate rebel
to pray for a new heart. An anxious sinner will be delighted with such instruction,
saying: "I knew I needed a new heart, and that I ought to repent, but I thought
I must do it myself. I am very willing to ask God to do it; I hated to do it myself,
but have no objection that God should do it, if He will, and I will pray for it,
if that is all that is required."
(c) Telling the sinner to persevere. And suppose he does persevere? He is
as certain to be lost as if he had been in hell ever since the foundation of the
world. His anxiety arises only from his resistance; and if he would submit, it would
cease; and will you tell him to persevere in the very thing that causes his distress?
Suppose my child should, in a fit of passion, throw a book or something on the floor.
I tell him: "Take it up," but instead of minding what I say, he runs off
and plays. "Take it up!" He sees I am in earnest, and begins to look serious.
"Take it up, or I shall get a rod." And I put up my arm to get the rod.
He stands still. "Take it up, or you must be whipped." He comes slowly
along to the place, and begins to weep. "Take it up, my child, or you will certainly
be punished." Now he is in distress, and sobs and sighs as if his bosom would
burst; but he still remains as stubborn as if he knew I could not punish him. Now
I begin to press him with motives to submit and obey, but there he stands, in agony,
and at length bursts out: "Oh, father, I do feel so bad, I think I am growing
better." And now, suppose a neighbor to come in and see the child standing there,
in all his agony and stubbornness. The neighbor asks him what he is standing there
for, and what is he doing. "Oh, I am using means to pick up that book."
If this neighbor should tell the child: "Persevere, persevere, my boy, you will
get it by and by," what should I do? Why, I would ask him to leave the house;
what does he mean by encouraging my child in rebellion?
Now, God calls the sinner to repent, He threatens him, He draws the glittering sword,
He persuades him, He uses motives, and the sinner is distressed to agony, for he
sees himself driven to the dreadful alternative of giving up his sins or going to
hell. He ought instantly to lay down his weapons, and break his heart at once. But
he resists, and struggles against conviction, and that creates his distress. Now,
will you tell him to persevere? Persevere in what? In struggling against God! That
is just the direction the devil would give. All the devil wants is, to see him persevere
just in the way he is going on, and his destruction is sure.
(d) Telling a sinner to press forward. That is, to say to him: "You are
in a good way, only press forward, and you will get to heaven." This is on the
supposition that his face is toward heaven, when in fact his face is toward hell,
and he is pressing forward, and never more rapidly than now, while he is resisting
the Holy Ghost. Often have I heard this direction given, when the sinner was in as
bad a way as he could be. What you ought to tell him is: "STOP, sinner, stop,
do not take another step that way, it leads to hell." God tells him to stop,
and because he does not wish to stop, he is distressed. Now, why should you attempt
to comfort him in this way?
(e) Telling a sinner that he must "try" to repent and give his heart
"Oh, yes," says the sinner, "I am willing to try, I have often tried
to do it, and I will try again." Does God tell you to "try" to repent?
All the world would be willing to "try" to repent, in their way. Giving
this direction implies that it is very difficult to repent, and perhaps impossible,
and that the best thing a sinner can do is, to try and see whether he can do it or
not. What is this, but substituting your own commandment in the place of God's. God
requires nothing short of repentance and a holy heart; anything short of that is
comforting the sinner in vain, "seeing in your answers there remaineth falsehood."
(f) Telling him to pray for repentance. "Oh, yes, I will pray for repentance,
if that is all. I was distressed because I thought God required me to repent; but
I can wait." And so he feels relieved, and is quite comfortable.
(g) Telling a sinner to pray for conviction, or pray for the Holy Ghost to
show him his sins, or to labor to get more light on the subject of his guilt, in
order to increase his conviction.
All this is just what the sinner wants, because it lets him off from the pressure
of present obligation. He wants just a little more time. Anything that will defer
that present pressure of obligation to repent immediately, is a relief. What does
he want more conviction for? Does God give any such direction to an impenitent sinner?
God takes it for granted that he has conviction enough already. And so he has. Do
you say he cannot realize all his sins? If he can realize only one of them, let him
repent of that one, and he is a Christian. Suppose he could see them all, what reason
is there to think he would repent of them all, any more than he would repent of that
one that he does see? All this is comforting the sinner by setting him to do that
which he can do, and yet not submit his heart to God.
- 11. Another way in which false comfort is given to anxious
sinners is, to tell them God is trying their faith by keeping them in the furnace,
and they must wait patiently upon the Lord. Just as if God were in fault, or stood
in the way of a sinner becoming a Christian. Or as if an impenitent sinner had faith!
What an abomination! Suppose somebody should tell my child, while he was standing
by the book as I have described: "Wait patiently, my boy, your father is trying
your faith." No. The sinner is trying the patience and forbearance of God. God
is not setting Himself to torture a sinner, and teach him a lesson of patience. But
He is waiting upon him, and laboring to bring him at once into such a state of mind
as will render it consistent to fill his soul with the peace of heaven. And shall
the sinner be encouraged to resist, by the idea that God is bantering? TAKE CARE!
- God has said His Spirit shall not always strive.
- 12. Another false comfort is, saying to the sinner: "Do
your duty, and leave your conversion with God." I once heard an elder of a Church
say to an anxious sinner: "Do your duty, and leave your conversion to God; He
will do it in His own time and way." That was just the same as telling him,
that it was not his duty to be converted NOW. He did not say: "Do your duty,
and leave your salvation with God." That would have been proper enough, for
it would have been simply telling him to submit to God, and would have included conversion
as the first duty of all. But he told him to leave his conversion to God. And this
elder, that gave such advice, was a man of liberal education too. How absurd! As
if the sinner could do his duty and not be converted! God has required him: "Make
you a new heart" (Ezekiel 18:31); and do you beware how you comfort him with
an answer of falsehood.
- 13. Sometimes professors of religion will try to comfort
a sinner, by telling him: "Do not be discouraged; I was a long time in this
way before I found comfort." They will tell him: "I was under conviction
so many weeks - or perhaps so many months, or sometimes years - and have gone through
all this, and know just how you feel; your experience is the same as mine precisely.
After so long a time I found relief; and I doubt not you will find it by and by.
Do not despair, God will comfort you soon." Tell a sinner to take courage in
his rebellion! Oh, horrible! Such professors ought to be ashamed. Suppose you were
under conviction so many weeks, and afterwards found relief, it is the very last
thing you ought to tell an anxious sinner.
- What is it but encouraging him to hold out, when his business
is to submit? Did you hold out so many weeks while the Spirit was striving with you?
You only deserved so much the more to be lost, for your obstinacy and stupidity.
Sinner! it is no sign that God will spare you so long, or that His Spirit will remain
with you to be resisted. And remember, if the Spirit is taken away, you will be sent
- 14. Another false comfort is to say: "I have faith
to believe you will be converted." You have faith to believe? On what does your
faith rest? On the promise of God? On the influences of the Holy Ghost? Then you
are counteracting your own faith. The very design and object of the Spirit of God
is to tear away from the sinner his last vestige of a hope while remaining in sin;
to annihilate every crag and twig he may cling to. And the object of your instruction
should be the same. You should fall in with the plan of God. It is only in this way
that you can ever do any good - by urging him to submit at once, and leave his soul
in the hands of God. But when one that he thinks is a Christian, tells him: "I
have faith to believe you will be converted," it upholds him in a false expectation.
Instead of tearing him away from his false hopes, and throwing him upon Christ, you
just turn him aside to depend upon your faith, and to find comfort because you have
faith for him. This is all false comfort, that worketh death.
- 15. Sometimes professors of religion try to comfort an
anxious sinner by telling him: "I will pray for you." This is false comfort,
for it leads the sinner to trust in those prayers, instead of trusting in Christ.
The sinner says "He is a good man, and God hears the prayers of good men; no
doubt his prayers will prevail, some time, and I shall be converted: I do not think
I shall be lost." And his anxiety, his agony, is all gone. A woman said to a
minister: "I have no hope now, but I have faith in your prayers." Just
such faith is this as the devil wants them to have - faith in prayers instead of
faith in Christ.
- 16. It is equally false comfort to say: "I rejoice
to see you in this way, and I hope you will be faithful, and hold out." What
is this but rejoicing to see him in rebellion against God? For that is precisely
the ground on which he stands. He is resisting conviction, and resisting conscience,
and resisting the Holy Ghost, and yet you rejoice to see him in this way, and hope
he will be faithful, and hold out! There is a sense, indeed, in which it may be said
that his situation is more hopeful than when he was in stupidity. For God has convinced
him, and may succeed in turning and subduing him. But that is not the sense in which
the sinner himself will understand it. He will suppose that you think him in a hopeful
way, because he is doing better than formerly; when, in fact, his guilt and danger
are greater than they ever were before. Instead of rejoicing, you ought to be distressed
and in agony, to see him thus resisting the Holy Ghost, for every moment he does
this, he is in danger of being left of God, and given up to hardness of heart and
- 17. Again, it is said: "You will have your pay for
this, by-and-by: God will reward you." I once heard a sinner say: "I feel
very bad, I have strong hopes that I shall get my reward." But that individual
afterwards said: "Nowhere can there be found so black a sinner as I am, and
no sin of my life seems so black as that expression." He was overwhelmed with
contrition, that he should ever have had such an idea, as to think that God should
reward him for suffering so much distress, when he had brought it all upon himself,
needlessly, by his wicked resistance to the truth. The truth is, what such "instructors"
are seeking is, to comfort the sinner; being all in the dark themselves on the subject
of religion, they, of course, give him false comfort.
- 18. Another false comfort is, to tell the sinner he has
not repented enough.
- The truth is, he has not really repented at all. As soon
as the sinner repents, God always comforts him. This direction implies that his feelings
are right as far as they go. To tell him that he has any repentance, is to tell him
a lie, and cheat him out of his soul.
- 19. People sometimes comfort a sinner by telling him: "If
you are elected, you will be brought in." I once heard of a case where a person
under great distress of mind was sent to converse with a neighboring minister. They
talked for a long time. As the person went away, the minister said to him: "I
should like to send a line by you to your father." His father was a pious man.
The minister wrote the letter, and forgot to seal it. As the sinner was going home,
he saw that the letter was not sealed, and he thought to himself, that probably the
minister had written about him, and his curiosity at length led him to open and read
it. And there he found it written to this purport: "Dear Sir, - I found your
son under conviction, and in great distress, and it seems not easy to say anything
to give him relief. But, if he is one of the elect, he is sure to be brought in."
He had wanted to say something to comfort the father; but now, mark: that letter
had well-nigh ruined the son's soul; for he settled down on the doctrine of Election,
saying: "If I am elected, I shall be brought in;" and his conviction was
gone. Years afterwards he was awakened and converted, but only after a great struggle,
and never until that false impression had been obliterated from his mind, and he
had been made to see that he had nothing at all to do with the doctrine of Election,
but that if he did not repent he would be lost.
- 20. It is very common for some people to tell an awakened
sinner: "You are in a very prosperous way. I am glad to see you so, and feel
encouraged about you." It sometimes seems as if the Church were in league with
the devil to help sinners to resist the Holy Ghost. The thing that the Holy Ghost
wants to make the sinner feel is, that all his ways are wrong, and that they lead
to hell. And everybody is conspiring to make the opposite impression! The Spirit
is trying to discourage him, and they are trying to encourage him; the Spirit to
distress him by showing him that he is all wrong, and they to comfort him by saying
he is doing well. Has it come to this, that the worst counteraction to the truth
and the greatest obstacle to the Spirit, shall spring from the Church. Sinner, do
not believe them! You are not in a hopeful way. You are not doing well, but ill -
as ill as you can, while resisting the Holy Ghost.
- 21. Another fatal way in which false comfort is given to
sinners, is by applying to them certain Scripture promises which were designed only
for saints. This is a grand device of the devil. It is much practiced by the Universalists.
But Christians often do it. For example:
- (a) "Blessed are they that mourn: for they
shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). How often has this passage been applied to
anxious sinners, who were in distress because they would not submit to God. "Blessed
are they that mourn." That is true, where they mourn with godly sorrow. But
what is this sinner mourning about? He is mourning because God's law is holy, and
the terms of salvation so fixed that he cannot bring them down to his mind. Will
you tell such a rebel: "Blessed are they that mourn"? You might just as
well apply it to those that are in hell! There is mourning there, too.
The sinner is mourning because there is no other way of salvation, because God is
so holy that He requires him to give up all his sins, and he feels that the time
has come, that he must either give them up, or be lost. Shall we tell him, he shall
be comforted? Shall we tell the devil: "You mourn now; but the Bible says, you
are blessed if you mourn; and you shall be comforted by and by!"
(b) "Seek, and ye shall find" (Matthew 7:7). This is said to sinners
in such a way as to imply that the anxious sinner is seeking religion. This promise
was made in reference to Christians, who ask in faith, and seek to do the will of
God, and it is not applicable to those who are seeking hope or comfort; but to holy
seeking. To apply it to an impenitent sinner is only to deceive him, for his seeking
is not of this character. To tell him: "You are seeking, are you? Well, seek,
and you shall find," is to cherish a fatal delusion. While he remains impenitent,
he has not a desire which the devil might not have, and yet remain a devil still.
If the sinner had a desire to do his duty, if he were seeking to do the will of God,
and give up his sins, he would be a Christian. But to comfort an impenitent sinner
with such a promise - you might just as well comfort Satan!
(c) "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap,
if we faint not" (Galatians 6:9). To apply this for a sinner's comfort, is absurd.
As if he were doing something to please God! He has never done well, and never has
done more ill than now. Suppose my neighbor, who came in while I was trying to subdue
my child, should say to the child, "In due season you shall reap, if you faint
not," what should I say? "Reap? Yes, you shall reap; if you do not give
up your obstinacy, you shall reap indeed, for I will apply the rod." So the
struggling sinner shall reap the damnation of hell, if he does not give up his sins.
- 22. Some professors of religion, when they attempt to converse
with awakened sinners, are very fond of saying: "I will tell you my experience."
- This is a dangerous snare, and often gives the devil a
handle to lead the sinner to hell, by getting him to copy your experience. If you
tell it to the sinner, and he thinks it is a Christian experience, he will almost
infallibly be trying to imitate it, so that, instead of following the Gospel, or
the leadings of the Spirit in his own soul, he is following your example. This is
absurd as well as dangerous. No two were ever exercised just alike. Men's experiences
are as much unlike as are their countenances. Such a course is likely to mislead
him. The design is, often, to encourage him at the very point where he ought not
to be encouraged, before he has submitted to God. And it is calculated to impede
the work of God in his soul.
- 23. How many times will people tell an awakened sinner
that God has begun a good work in him, and will carry it on. I have known parents
talk so with their children, and, as soon as they have seen their children awakened,
give up all anxiety about them, and settle down at ease, thinking that now God had
begun a work in their children He would carry it on. It would be just as rational
for a farmer to say about his grain, as soon as it comes up out of the ground: "Well,
God has begun a good work in my field, and He will carry it on." What would
be thought of a farmer who should neglect to put up his fence, because God has begun
the work of giving him a crop of grain? If you tell a sinner so, and he believes
you, it will certainly be his destruction, for it will prevent his doing that which
is absolutely indispensable to his being saved. If, as soon as the sinner is awakened,
he is taught that, God having begun a good work, that only needs to be carried on,
He will surely carry it on, he sees that there is no further occasion to be anxious,
for, in fact, he has nothing more to do. And so he will be relieved from that intolerable
pressure of present obligation to repent and submit to God. And if he is relieved
from his sense of obligation to do it, he will never do it.
- 24. Some will tell the sinner: "Well, you have broken
off your sins, have you?" "Oh, yes," says the sinner; when it is all
false; he has never forsaken his sins for a moment, he has only exchanged one form
of sin for another; only placed himself in a new attitude of resistance. And to tell
him that he has broken them off is to give him false comfort.
- 25. Sometimes this direction is given for the purpose of
relieving the agony of an anxious sinner: "Do what you can, and God will do
the rest"; or: "Do what you can, and God will help you." This is the
same as telling a sinner: "You cannot do what God requires you to do, but if
you do what you can, God will help you as to the rest." Now, sinners often get
the idea that they have done all they can, when, in fact, they have done nothing
at all, except that they have resisted God with all their might. I have often heard
them say: "I have done all I can, and I get no relief, what can I do more?"
Now, you can see how comforting it must be to such a one to have a professor of religion
come in and say: "If you will do what you can, God will help you." It relieves
all his keen distress at once. He may be uneasy, and unhappy, but his agony is gone.
- 26. Again, they say: "You should be thankful for what
you have, and hope for more." If the sinner is convicted, they tell him he should
be thankful for conviction, and hope for conversion. If he has any feeling, he should
be thankful for what feeling he has, just as if his feeling were religious feeling,when
he has no more religion than Satan. He has reason to be thankful, indeed: thankful
that he is out of hell, and thankful that God is yet waiting on him. But it is ridiculous
to tell him that he should be thankful in regard to the state of his mind, when he
is all the while resisting his Maker with all his might.
IV. ERRORS MADE IN PRAYING FOR SINNERS.
I will here mention a few errors that are made in praying for sinners, by which an
unhappy impression is made on their minds, in consequence of which they often obtain
false comfort in their distress.
- 1. People sometimes pray for sinners as if they deserved
TO BE PITIED more than BLAMED. They pray for them as "MOURNERS": "Lord,
help these pensive mourners"! As if they were just mourners, like one that had
lost a friend, or met with some other calamity, which he could not help, and so were
greatly to be pitied, sitting there, sad, pensive, and sighing. The Bible never talks
so. It pities sinners, but it pities them as mad and guilty rebels, deserving to
go to hell; not as poor pensive mourners, who want to be relieved, but can do nothing
but sit and mourn.
- 2. Praying for them as "poor sinners." Does the
Bible ever use such language as this? The Bible never speaks of them as "poor
sinners," as if they deserved to be pitied more than blamed. Christ pities sinners
in His heart. And so does God pity them. He feels in His heart all the gushings of
compassion for them, when He sees them going on, obstinate and willful in gratifying
their own lusts, at the peril of His eternal wrath. But He never lets an impression
escape from Him, as if the sinner were just a "poor creature" - to be pitied,
as if he could not help his position. The idea that he is poor, rather than wicked;
unfortunate, rather than guilty, relieves the sinner greatly. I have seen the sinner
writhe with agony under the truth, in a meeting, until somebody began to pray for
him as a "poor" creature. And then he would gush out into tears, and weep
profusely, and think he was greatly benefitted by such a prayer, saying: "Oh,
what a good prayer that was!" If you go now and converse with that sinner, you
will probably find that he is still pitying himself as a poor unfortunate creature
- perhaps even weeping over his unhappy condition; but his conviction of sin, his
deep impressions of awful guilt, are all gone.
- 3. Praying that God would "help the sinner to repent."
"O Lord, enable this poor sinner to repent now." This conveys the idea
to the sinner's mind, that he is now trying with all his might to repent, and that
he cannot do it, and therefore Christians are calling on God to help him, and enable
him to do it. Most professors of religion pray for sinners, not that God would make
them willing to repent, but that He would enable them, or make them able. No wonder
their prayers are not heard. They relieve the sinner of his sense of responsibility,
and that relieves his distress. But it is an insult to God, as if God had commanded
a sinner to do what He could not do.
- 4. People sometimes pray: "Lord, these sinners are
seeking Thee, sorrowing." This language is an allusion to what took place at
the time when Jesus was a little boy, and went into the Temple to talk with the rabbis
and doctors. His parents, you recollect, went a day's journey towards home before
they missed him; then they turned back, and, after looking all around, they found
the little Jesus standing in the Temple disputing with the learned men. Then "His
mother said unto Him, Son, why hast Thou thus dealt with us? behold, Thy father and
I have sought Thee sorrowing" (Luke 2:48). And so this prayer represents sinners
as seeking Jesus, but He hides Himself from them, and they look all around, and hunt,
and try to find Him, and wonder where He is, and say: "Lord, we have sought
Jesus these three days sorrowing." It is a LIE! No sinner ever sought Jesus
with all his heart three days, or three minutes, and could not find Him. Jesus "stands
at the door, and knocks" (Revelation 3:20).
- He is right before the sinner, pleading with him, and facing
him with all his false pretenses. Seeking Jesus! The sinner may cry: "Oh, how
I am sorrowing, and seeking Jesus," but it is no such thing; Jesus is seeking
And yet how many oppressed consciences are relieved and comforted by hearing one
of these prayers.
- 5. "Lord, have mercy on these sinners, who are seeking
Thy love to know." This is a favorite expression with many; as if sinners were
seeking to know the love of Christ, and could not. No such thing. They are not seeking
the love of Christ, but seeking to get to heaven without Jesus Christ. As if they
were seeking it, and He was so hard-hearted that He would not let them have it!
- 6. "Lord, have mercy on these penitent souls";
calling anxious sinners "penitent souls"! If they are truly penitent, they
are Christians. To make the impression on an unconverted sinner that he is penitent,
is to make him believe a lie. But it is very comforting to the sinner, and he likes
to take it up, and pray it over again: "O Lord, I am a poor penitent soul, I
am very penitent, I am so distressed, Lord, have mercy on a poor penitent."
- Dreadful delusion, to lead an impenitent sinner to pray
as a penitent!
- 7. Sometimes people pray for anxious sinners as "humble
souls." "O Lord, these sinners have humbled themselves." But that
is not true, they have not humbled themselves; if they had, the Lord would have raised
them up and comforted them, as He has promised. There is a hymn of this character
that has done much mischief. It begins:
- Come, HUMBLE sinner, in whose breast A thousand thoughts
This hymn was once given by a minister to an awakened sinner, as one applicable to
his case. He began to read: "Come, humble sinner." He stopped: "Humble
sinner: that is not applicable to me, I am not a humble sinner." Ah, how well
was it for him that the Holy Ghost had taught him better than the hymn! If the hymn
had said: "Come, anxious sinner," or "guilty sinner," or "trembling
sinner," it would have been well enough, but to call him a "humble"
sinner would not do. There are vast numbers of hymns of the same character. It is
very common to find sinners quoting the false sentiments of some hymn, to excuse
themselves in rebellion against God.
A minister told me he heard a prayer, quite lately, in these words: "O Lord,
these sinners have humbled themselves, and come to Thee as well as they know how;
if they knew any better, they would do better; but, O Lord, as they have come to
Thee in the best manner they can, we pray Thee to accept them and show mercy."
- 8. Many pray: "Father, forgive them; for they know
not what they do" (Luke 23:34). This is the prayer which Christ made for His
murderers; and, in their case, it was true; they did not know what they were doing,
for they did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. But it cannot be said
of sinners under the Gospel that they do not know what they are doing. They do know
what they are doing. They do not see the full extent of it; but they do know that
they are sinning against God, and rejecting Christ; and the difficulty is that they
are unwilling to submit to God. But such a prayer is calculated to make the sinner
feel relieved, and make him say: "Lord, how canst Thou blame me so? I am a poor
ignorant creature, I do not know how to do what is required of me; if I knew how,
I would do it."
- 9. Another expression is: "Lord, direct these sinners,
who are inquiring the way to Zion with their faces thitherward." But this language
is only applicable to Christians. Sinners have not their faces towards Zion; their
faces are set towards hell! And how can a sinner be said to be "inquiring the
way" to Zion, when he has no disposition to go there? The real difficulty is
that he is unwilling to WALK in the way in which he knows he ought to go.
- 10. People pray that sinners "may have more conviction."
Or, they pray that sinners may "go home solemn and tender, and take the subject
into consideration," instead of praying that they may repent now. Or, they pray
as if they supposed the sinner to be willing to do what is required.
- All such prayers are just such prayers as the devil wants;
he wishes to have such prayers, and I dare say he does not care how many such are
Sometimes, in an anxious meeting, or when sinners have been called to the anxious
seats, after the minister has made plain the way of salvation, and taken away all
stumbling blocks out of the path, just when the sinners are ready to YIELD some one
will be called on to pray, and instead of praying that they may repent now, he begins:
"O' Lord, we pray that these sinners may be solemn, that they may have a deep
sense of their sinfulness, that they may go home impressed with their lost condition,
that they may attempt nothing in their own strength, that they may not lose their
convictions, and that, in Thine own time and way, they may be brought into the glorious
light and liberty of the sons of God."
Instead of bringing them right up to the point of immediate submission, on the spot,
it gives them time to breathe, it lessens the pressure of conviction, so that a sinner
breathes freely again, and feels relieved, and sits down at his ease. Thus, when
the sinner is brought up, as it were, and stands at the gate of the Kingdom, such
a prayer, instead of pushing him in, sets him back again: "There, poor thing,
sit there till God helps you."
- 11. Christians sometimes pray in such a manner as to make
the impression that CHRIST IS THE SINNER'S FRIEND in a different sense from that
in which God the Father is his Friend. They pray to Christ: "O Thou Friend of
sinners," as if God were full of vengeance, just going to crush the poor wretch,
till Jesus Christ comes in and takes his part, and delivers him. Now, this is all
wrong. The Father and the Son are perfectly agreed, their feelings are all the same,
and both are equally disposed to have sinners saved. And to make such an impression
deceives the sinner, and leads to wrong feelings towards God. To represent God the
Father as standing over him, with the sword of justice in His hand, eager to strike
the blow, till Christ interposes, is not right. The Father is as much the sinner's
Friend as the Son. His compassion is equal. But if the sinner get this unfavorable
idea of God the Father, how is he ever to love Him with all his heart, so as to say:
- 12. The impression is often made, by the manner of praying,
that you do not expect sinners to repent now, or that you expect God to fulfill what
is their duty, or that you wish to encourage them to trust in your prayers.
- And so, sinners are ruined. Never pray so as to make the
impression on sinners, that you secretly hope they are Christians already, or that
you feel strong confidence they will be, by and by, or that you half believe they
are converted now. This is always unhappy. In this way, multitudes are deceived with
false comfort, and prevented, just at the critical point, from making the final surrender
of themselves to God.
- 1. Many persons who deal in this way with anxious sinners,
do so from false pity. They feel so much sympathy and compassion, that they cannot
bear to tell sinners the truth which is necessary to save them. As well might a surgeon,
when he sees that a man's arm must be amputated, or death must result, indulge this
feeling of false pity, and just put on a plaster, and give him an opiate. There is
no benevolence in that. True benevolence would lead the surgeon to be cool and calm,
and, with a keen knife, cut the limb off, and save the life. It is false tenderness
to do anything short of that. I once saw a woman under distress of mind, who for
months had been driven well nigh to despair. Her friends had tried all the false
comforts without effect, and they brought her to see a minister.
- She was emaciated, and worn out with agony. The minister
set his eye upon her, and poured in the truth upon her mind, and rebuked her in a
most pointed manner. The woman who was with her interfered: she thought it cruel,
and said: "Oh, do comfort her, she is so distressed, do not trouble her any
more, she cannot bear it." Whereupon the minister turned, and rebuked her, and
sent her away, and then poured in the truth upon the anxious sinner like fire, so
that in five minutes she was converted, and went home full of joy. The plain truth
swept all her false notions away, and in a few moments she was joyful in God.
- 2. The treatment of anxious sinners, which ministers such
false comforts is, in fact, cruelty. It is cruel as the grave, as cruel as hell,
for it is calculated to send the sinner down to the burning abyss. Christians feel
compassion for the anxious, and so they ought. But the last thing they ought to do
is to flinch just at the point where it comes to a crisis. They should feel compassion,
but they should show it just as the surgeon does, when he deliberately goes to work,
in the right and best way, and cuts off the man's arm, and thus cures him and saves
his life. Just so Christians should let the sinner see their compassion and tenderness,
but they should take God's part, fully and decidedly. They should lay open to the
sinner the worst of his case, expose his guilt and danger, and then lead him right
up to the cross, and insist on instant submission. They must have firmness enough
to do this work thoroughly; and, if they see the sinner distressed and in agony,
still they must press him right on, and not give way in the least till he yields.
- To do this often requires nerve. I have often been placed
in circumstances where I have realized this. I have found myself surrounded with
anxious sinners, in such distress as to make every nerve tremble; some overcome with
emotion and lying on the floor; some applying camphor to prevent their fainting;
others shrieking out as if they were just going to hell. Now, suppose any one should
give false comfort in such a case as this? Suppose he had not nerve enough to bring
them right up to the point of instant and absolute submission? How unfit would such
a man be, to be trusted in such a case!
- 3. Sometimes sinners become deranged through despair and
anguish of mind. Whenever this is the case, it is almost always because those who
deal with them try to encourage them with false comfort, and thus lead them to such
a conflict with the Holy Ghost. They try to hold them up, while God is trying to
break them down. And, by and by, the sinner's mind gets confused with this contrariety
of influences, and he either goes deranged, or is driven to despair.
- 4. If you are going to deal with sinners, remember that
you are soon to meet them in Judgment, therefore be sure to treat them in such a
way that if they are lost, it will be their own fault. Do not try to comfort them
with false notions now, and have them reproach you with it then. Better to suppress
your false sympathy, and let the naked truth "pierce even to the dividing asunder
of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow" (Hebrews 4:12), than to soothe
them with false comfort, and beguile them away from God!
- 5. Sinner, if you converse with any Christians, and they
tell you to do anything, first ask: "If I do that, shall I be saved?" You
may be anxious, and not be saved. You may pray, and not be saved. You may read your
Bible, and not be saved. You may use means, in your own way, and not be saved. Whatever
they tell you to do, if you can do it and not be saved, do not attend to such instructions.
They are calculated to give you false comfort, and divert your attention from the
main thing to be done, and beguile you down to hell. Do not follow any such directions,
lest you should die while doing so, for then there is no retrievement.
- 6. Finally; let a Christian never tell a sinner anything,
or give him any direction, that will lead him to stop short of, or that does not
include, submission to God. To let him stop at any point short of this, is infinitely
dangerous. Suppose you are at an anxious meeting, or a prayer meeting, and you tell
a sinner to pray, or to read, or to do anything that comes short of saving repentance,
and he should fall and break his neck that night, of whom would his blood be required?
A youth in New England once met a minister in the street, and asked him "what
he should do to be saved?"
- The minister told him to go home, and go into his room,
and kneel down and give his heart to God. "Sir," said the boy, "I
feel so bad, I am afraid I shall not live to get home." The minister saw his
error, felt the rebuke thus unconsciously given by a youth, and then told him: "Well,
then, give your heart to God here, and then go home to your room and tell Him of
It is enough to make one's heart bleed to see so many miserable comforters for anxious
sinners "in whose answers there remaineth falsehood." What a vast amount
of spiritual quackery there is in the world, and how many "forgers of lies"
there are, "physicians of no value" (Job 13:4) who know no better than
to comfort sinners with false hopes, and delude them with their "old wives'
fables" (1 Timothy 4:7) and nonsense, or who give way to false tenderness and
sympathy, till they have not firmness enough to see the sword of the Spirit applied,
cutting men to the soul, and laying open the sinner's naked heart. Alas, that so
many are ever put into the ministry, who have not skill enough to stand by and see
the Spirit of God to do His work, in breaking up the old foundations, and crushing
all the rotten hopes of a sinner, and breaking him down at the feet of Jesus.
DIRECTIONS TO SINNERS
What must I do to be saved?
- Acts 16:30.
These are the words of the jailer at Philippi - the question which he put to Paul
and Silas, who were then under his care as prisoners. Satan had, in many ways, opposed
these servants of God in their work of preaching the Gospel, and had been as often
defeated and disgraced. But here he devised a new and peculiar project for frustrating
their labors. There was a certain woman at Philippi, who was possessed with a spirit
of divination, or, in other words, the spirit of the devil, and brought her masters
much gain by her soothsaying. The devil set this woman to follow Paul and Silas about
the streets, and as soon as they had begun to gain the attention of the people, she
would come in and cry: "These men are the servants of the most high God, which
shew unto us the way of salvation" (v. 17). That is, she undertook to second
the exhortations of the preachers, and added her testimony, as if to give additional
weight to their instructions.
The effect of it was just what Satan desired. The people all knew that this was a
wicked, base woman; and when they heard her attempting to recommend this new preaching,
they were disgusted, and concluded that it was all of a piece. The devil knew that
it would not do him any good to set such a person to oppose the preaching of the
apostles, or to speak against it. The time had gone by for that to succeed. And,
therefore, he takes the opposite ground, and by setting her to praise them as the
servants of God, and to bear her polluted testimony in favor of their instructions,
he led people to suppose the apostles were of the same character with her, and had
the same spirit that she had. Paul saw that if things went on so, he would be totally
baffled, and could never succeed in establishing a Church at Philippi. So he turns
round upon her, and commands the foul spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, to come
out of her. "When her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone"
they raised a great persecution, and "caught Paul and Silas," and made
a great ado, and brought them before the magistrates, and raised such a clamor that
the magistrates shut up the messengers of the Gospel in prison, and the jailer "made
their feet fast in the stocks."
Thus, the enemy thought they had put down the excitement. But "at midnight Paul
and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them" (v.
25). This old prison, that had so long echoed to the voice of blasphemy and oaths,
now resounded with the praises of God; and these walls, that had stood so firm, now
trembled under the power of prayer. The stocks were unloosed, the gates thrown open,
and every one's bands broken. The jailer was aroused from his sleep, and when he
saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword, knowing that if the prisoners had escaped
he must pay for it with his life, and was about to kill himself. But Paul, who had
no notion of escaping clandestinely, cried out to him instantly: "Do thyself
no harm: for we are all here." And the jailer "called for a light, and
sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before his prisoners, Paul and Silas,
and brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
In my last Lecture, I dwelt at some length on the false instructions given to sinners
under conviction, and the false comforts too often administered, and the erroneous
instructions which such persons receive. It is my design now, to show what are the
instructions that should be given to anxious sinners in order to their speedy and
effectual conversion; or, in other words, to explain to you, what answer should be
given to those who make the inquiry: "What must I do to be saved?" I propose:
I. To show what is not a proper direction to be given to sinners, when they make
the inquiry in the text.
II. To show what is a proper answer to the inquiry.
III. To specify several errors into which anxious sinners are apt to fall.
I. WHAT ARE NOT PROPER DIRECTIONS.
No more important inquiry was ever made than this: "What must I do to be saved?"
Mankind are apt enough to inquire: "What shall I eat, and what shall I drink?"
and the question may be answered in various ways, with little danger. But when a
sinner asks in earnest: "What must I do to be saved?" it is of infinite
importance that he should receive the right answer.
- 1. No direction should be given to a sinner that will leave
him still "in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity" (Acts
8:23). No answer is proper to be given, by complying with which he would not go to
heaven, if he should die the next moment.
- 2. No direction should be given that does not include a
change of heart, or a right heart, or hearty obedience to Christ. In other words,
nothing is proper which does not imply actually becoming a Christian. Any other direction
that falls short of this, is of no use. It will not bring him any nearer to the Kingdom,
it will do no good, but will lead him to defer the very thing which he must do in
order to be saved. The sinner should be told plainly, at once, what he must do if
he would not be lost; and he should be told nothing that does not include a right
state of heart.
- Whatever you may do, sinner, that does not include a right
heart, is sin.
Whether you read the Bible or not, you are in sin, so long as you remain in rebellion.
Whether you go to religious services or stay away; whether you pray or not, it is
nothing but rebellion, every moment. It is surprising that a sinner should suppose
himself to be doing service to God when he prays, and reads his Bible. Should a rebel
against the Government read the statute-book while he continues in rebellion, and
has no design to obey; should he ask for pardon while he holds on to his weapons
of resistance and warfare; would you think him doing his country a service, and lay
it under obligation to show him favor? No; you would say that all his reading and
praying were only an insult to the majesty both of the lawgiver and the law. So you,
sinner, while you remain in impenitence, are insulting God, and setting him at defiance,
whether you read His Word, and pray, or let it alone. No matter what place or what
attitude your body is in, on your knees or in the house of God; so long as your heart
is not right, so long as you resist the Holy Ghost, and reject Christ, you are a
rebel against your Maker.
II. WHAT IS A PROPER ANSWER.
Generally, you may give the sinner any direction, or tell him to do anything, that
includes a right heart; and if you make him understand, and he follows the directions,
he will be saved. The Spirit of God, in striving with sinners, suits His strivings
to the state of mind in which He finds them. His great object in striving with them
is, to dislodge them from their hiding-places, and bring them to submit to God at
once. These objections, difficulties, and states of mind, are as various as the circumstances
of mankind - as many as there are individuals. The characters of individuals afford
an endless diversity. What is to be done with each one, and how he is to be converted,
depends on his particular errors. It is necessary to ascertain his errors; to find
out what he understands, and what he needs to be taught more perfectly; to see what
points the Spirit of God is pressing upon his conscience, and to press the same things,
and thus bring him to Christ.
The most common directions are the following:
- 1. It is generally in point, and a safe and suitable direction,
to tell a sinner to repent. I say, generally. For sometimes the Spirit of God seems
not so much to direct the sinner's attention to his own sins as to some other thing.
In the days of the apostles, the minds of the people seem to have been agitated mainly
on the question, whether Jesus was the true Messiah.
- And so the apostles directed much of their instruction
to this point, to prove that he was the Christ. And whenever anxious sinners asked
them what they must do, they most commonly exhorted them to "believe on the
Lord Jesus Christ." They bore down on this point, because here was where the
Spirit of God was striving, and this was the subject that especially agitated the
minds of the people, and, consequently, this would probably be the first thing a
person would do on submitting to God. It was the grand point at issue between God
and the Jew and Gentile of those days, whether Jesus Christ was the Son of God. It
was the point in dispute. To bring the sinner to yield this controverted question
was the way the most effectually to humble him.
At other times, it will be found that the Spirit of God is dealing with sinners chiefly
in reference to their own sins. Sometimes He deals with them in regard to a particular
duty, as prayer - perhaps family prayer.
The sinner will be found to be contesting that point with God, whether it is right
for him to pray, or whether he ought to pray in his family. I have known striking
cases of this kind, where the individual was struggling on this point, and as soon
as he fell on his knees to pray, he yielded his heart, showing that this was the
very point which the Spirit of God was contesting, and the hinge on which his controversy
with God all turned.
That was conversion.
The direction to repent is always proper, but will not always be effectual, for there
may be some other thing that the sinner needs to be told also.
And where it is the pertinent direction, sinners need not only to be told to repent,
but to have it explained to them what repentance is. Since there has been so much
mysticism, and false philosophy, and false theology, thrown round the subject, it
has become necessary to tell sinners not only what you mean by repentance, but also
to tell them what you do not mean.
Words that used to be plain, and easily understood, have now become so perverted
that they need to be explained to sinners, or they will often convey a wrong impression
to their minds. This is the case with the word "repentance." Many suppose
that remorse, or a sense of guilt, is repentance. Then, hell is full of repentance,
for it is full of remorse, unutterable and eternal. Others feel regret that they
have done such a thing, and they call that repenting. But they only regret that they
have sinned, because of the consequences, and not because they abhor sin. This is
not repentance. Others suppose that convictions of sin and strong fears of hell are
repentance. Others consider the remonstrances of conscience as repentance; they say:
"I never do anything wrong without repenting and feeling sorry I did it."
Sinners must be shown that all these things are not repentance. They are not only
consistent with the utmost wickedness, but the devil might have them all and yet
remain a devil. Repentance is a change of mind, as regards God and towards sin. It
is not only a change of views, but a change of the ultimate preference or choice
of the soul. It is a voluntary change, and by consequence involves a change of feeling
and of action toward God and toward sin. It is what is naturally understood by a
change of mind on any subject of interest and importance. We hear that a man has
changed his mind in politics; everybody understands that he has undergone a change
in his views, his feelings, and his conduct. This is repentance, on that subject:
it is a change of mind, but not toward God.
Evangelical repentance is a change of willing, of feeling, and of life, in respect
Repentance always implies abhorrence of sin. It of course involves the love of God
and the forsaking of sin. The sinner who truly repents does not feel as impenitent
sinners think they should feel at giving up their sins, if they should become religious.
Impenitent sinners look upon religion in this way: that if they become pious, they
should be obliged to stay away from balls and parties, and obliged to give up theatres,
or gambling, or other things that they now take delight in. And they see not however
they could enjoy themselves, if they should break off from all those things. But
this is very far from being a correct view of the matter, Religion does not make
them unhappy, by shutting them out from things in which they delight, because the
first step in it, is, to repent, to change their mind in regard to all these things.
They do not seem to realize, that the person who has repented has no disposition
for these things; he has given them up, and turned his mind away from them. Sinners
feel as if they should want to go to such places, and want to mingle in such scenes,
just as much as they do now, and that it will be such a continual sacrifice as to
make them unhappy. This is a great mistake.
I know there are some professors, who would be very glad to betake themselves to
their former practices, were it not that they feel constrained, by fear of losing
their character, or the like. But, mark me: if they feel so, it is because they have
no religion; they do not hate sin. If they desire their former ways, they have no
religion, they have never repented; for repentance always consists in a change of
views and feelings. If they were really converted, instead of choosing such things,
they would turn away from them with loathing. Instead of lusting after the flesh-pots
of Egypt, and desiring to go into their former circles, parties, balls, and the like,
they would find their highest pleasure in obeying God.
- 2. Sinners should be told to believe the Gospel. Here,
also, they need to have it explained to them, and to be told what is not faith, and
- Nothing is more common, than for a sinner, when told to
believe the Gospel, to say: "I do believe it." The fact is, he has been
brought up to admit the fact that the Gospel is true, but he does not believe it:
he knows nothing about the evidence of it, and all his faith is a mere admission
without evidence. He holds it to be true, in a kind of loose, indefinite sense, so
that he is always ready to say: "I do believe the Bible." It is strange
that they do not see that they are deceived in thinking that they believe, for they
must see that they have never acted upon these truths, as they do upon those things
which they do believe. Yet it is often quite difficult to convince them that they
do not believe.
But the fact is, that the careless sinner does not believe the Gospel at all.
The idea that the careless sinner is an intellectual believer, is absurd. The devil
is an intellectual believer, and that is what makes him tremble. What makes a sinner
anxious is, that he begins to be an intellectual believer, and that makes him feel.
No being in heaven, earth, or hell, can intellectually believe the truths of the
Gospel, and not feel on the subject. The anxious sinner has faith of the same kind
with devils, but he has not so much of it, and, therefore, he does not feel so much.
The man who does not feel or act at all, on the subject of religion, is an infidel,
let his professions be what they may. He who feels nothing, and does nothing, believes
nothing. This is a philosophical fact.
Faith does not consist in an intellectual conviction that Christ died for you in
particular, or in a belief that you are a Christian, or that you ever shall be, or
that your sins are forgiven. But faith is that trust or confidence in God, and in
Christ, which commits the whole soul to Him in all His relations to us. It is a voluntary
trust in His person, His veracity, His word. This was the faith of Abraham: he had
that confidence in what God said, which led him to act as accepting its truth. This
is the way the apostle illustrates it in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. "Faith
is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (v. 1).
And he goes on to illustrate it by various examples. "Through faith we understand
that the worlds were framed" (v. 3); that is, we believe this, and act accordingly.
Take the case of Noah. Noah was warned of God of things not seen as yet, that is,
he was assured that God was going to drown the world, and he believed it, and acted
accordingly; he prepared an ark to save his family, and by so doing, he condemned
the world that would not believe; his actions gave evidence that he was sincere.
Abraham, too, was called of God to leave his country, with the promise that he should
be the gainer by it; and he obeyed and went out, without knowing whither he went.
Read the whole chapter, and you will find many instances of the same kind. The whole
design of the chapter is to illustrate the nature of faith, and to show that it invariably
results in action. The sinner should have it explained to him, and be made to see
that the faith which the Gospel requires, is just that confidence in Christ which
leads him to act on what He say as being a certain fact. This is believing in Christ.
- 3. Another direction, proper to be given to the sinner,
is, that he should give his heart to God. God says: "My son, give Me thine heart"
(Proverbs 23:26). But here also there needs to be explanation, to make him understand
what it is. It is amazing that there should be any darkness here.
- It is the language of common life, in everybody's mouth,
and everybody understands just what it means, when we use it in regard to anything
But when it comes to religion, they seem to be all in the dark. Ask a sinner, no
matter what may be his age, or education, what it means to give the heart to God,
and, strange as it may appear, he is at a loss for an answer. Ask a woman, what it
is to give her heart to her husband; or a man, what it is to give his heart to his
wife; and they understand it. But then they are totally blind as to giving their
hearts to God. I suppose I have asked more than a thousand anxious sinners this question.
When I have told them, they must give their hearts to God, they have always said
that they were willing to do it, and sometimes, that they were anxious to do it,
and they have even seemed to be in an agony of desire about it. Then I have asked
them, what they understood to be meant by giving their hearts to God, since they
were so willing to do it. And very seldom have I received a correct or rational answer
from a sinner of any age. I have sometimes had the strangest answers that could be
Now, to give your heart to God is the same thing as to give your heart to anybody
else; the same as for a woman to give her heart to her husband.
Ask that woman if she understands this. "Oh, yes, that is plain enough; it is
to place my affections with him, and strive to please him in everything."
Very well, place your affections on God, and strive to please Him in everything.
But when they come to the subject of religion, people suppose there is some wonderful
mystery about it. Some talk as if they suppose it means taking out this bundle of
muscles, or fleshy organ, in their bosom, and giving it to God. Sinner, what God
asks of you, is, that you should love Him supremely.
- 4. "Submit to God," is also a proper direction
to anxious sinners. And oh, how dark sinners are here, too! Scarcely a sinner can
be found who will not tell you that he is willing to submit to God. But they do not
- They need to be told what true submission is. Sometimes
they think it means that they should be willing to be sent to perdition. Sometimes
they place themselves in this attitude, and call it submission; they say that, if
they are elected they will be saved; and if not, they will be lost. This is not submission.
True submission is yielding obedience to God. Suppose a rebel, in arms against the
Government, is called on to submit, what would he understand by it? Why, that he
should yield the point, and lay down his arms, and obey the laws. That is just what
it means for a sinner to submit to God. He must cease his strife and conflict against
his Maker, and take the attitude of a willing and obedient child, willing to be and
do whatever God requires. "Here am I" (1 Samuel 3:8); "Lord, what
wilt Thou have me to do?" (Acts 9:6.)
Suppose a company of soldiers had rebelled, and the Government had raised an army
to put them down, and had driven them into a stronghold, where they were out of provisions,
and had no way to escape. Suppose the rebels to have met, in this extremity, to consider
what should be done; and one rises up, saying: "Well, comrades, I am convinced
we are all wrong from the beginning, and now the reward of our deeds is likely to
overtake us, and we cannot escape; and as for remaining here to die, I am resolved
not to do it; I am going to throw myself on the mercy of the commander in chief."
That man submits. He ceases from that moment to be a rebel in his heart, just as
soon as he comes to this conclusion. So it is with the sinner when he yields the
point, and consents in his heart to do, and be, whatever God shall require. The sinner
may be in doubt what to do, and may feel afraid to put himself in God's hands, thinking
that if he does, perhaps God will send him down to hell, as he deserves. But it is
his business to leave all that question with God, to resist his Maker no longer,
to make no conditions, but to trust wholly to God's benevolence and wisdom to appoint
his future condition. Until he has done this, he has done nothing to the purpose.
- 5. Another proper direction to be given to sinners, is
to confess and forsake their sins. They must confess to God their sins against God,
and confess to men their sins against men; and forsake them all. A man does not forsake
his sins till he has made all the reparation in his power. If he has stolen money,
or defrauded his neighbor out of property, he does not forsake his sins by merely
resolving not to steal any more, not to cheat again; he must make reparation to the
extent of his power. So, if he has slandered any one, he does not forsake his sin
by merely saying he will not do so again; he must make reparation. So, in like manner,
if he has robbed God, as all sinners have, he must make reparation, as far as he
- Suppose a man has made money in rebellion against God,
and has withheld from Him his time, talents, and service, has lived and rioted upon
the bounties of His providence, and refused to lay himself out for the salvation
of the world; he has robbed God. Now, if he should die, feeling this money to be
his own, and should he leave it to his heirs without consulting the will of God -
why, he is just as certain to go to hell as a highway robber. He has never made any
satisfaction to God. With all his whining and pious talk, he has never confessed
HIS SIN to God, nor forsaken his sin, for he has neither felt nor acknowledged himself
to be the steward of God. If he refuses to hold the property in his possession as
the steward of God; if he accounts it his own, and as such gives it to his children,
he says in effect, to God: "That property is not Thine, it is mine, and I will
give it to my children." He has continued to persevere in his sin, for he does
not relinquish the ownership of that of which he has robbed God.
What would a merchant think if his clerk should take all the capital and set up a
store of his own, and die with it in his hands? Will such a man go to heaven? "No,"
you say. God would prove Himself unjust, to let such a character go unpunished. What,
then, shall we say of the man who has robbed God all his life? God sent him to be
His clerk, to manage some of His affairs, but he has stolen all the money, and says
it is his: he keeps it, and, dying, leaves it to his children, as if it were all
his own lawful property. Has that man forsaken sin? I tell you, No. If he has not
surrendered himself and all he has to God, he has not taken the first step in the
way to heaven.
- 6. Another proper direction to be given to sinners is:
"Choose you this day whom ye will serve" (Joshua 24:15). Under the Old
Testament dispensation, this, or something equivalent to it, was the most common
direction given. It was not common to call on men to believe in Christ until the
days of John the Baptist. He baptized those who came to him, with the baptism of
repentance, and directed them to believe on Him who should come after him. Under
Joshua, the text was something which the people all understood more easily than they
would a call to believe on the distant Messiah; it was: "Choose you this day
whom ye will serve." On another occasion, Moses said to them: "I call heaven
and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death,
blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live"
(Deuteronomy 30:19). The direction was accommodated to the people's knowledge. And
it is as good now as it was then. Sinners are called upon to choose - what? Whether
they will serve God or the world; whether they will follow holiness or sin. Let them
be made to understand what is meant by choosing, and what is to be chosen, and then
if the thing be done from the heart, they will be saved.
- Any of these directions, if complied with, will constitute
The particular exercises may vary in different cases. Sometimes the first exercise
in conversion is submission to God, sometimes repentance, sometimes faith, sometimes
the choice of God and His service; in short, whatever their thoughts are taken up
with at the time. If their thoughts are directed to Christ at the moment, the first
exercise will be faith. If to sin, the first exercise will be repentance. If to their
future course of life, it is choosing the service of God. If to the Divine government,
it is submission.
It is important to find out just where the Holy Spirit is pressing the sinner at
the time, and then take care to push that point. If it is in regard to Christ, press
that; if it is in regard to his future course of life, push him right up to an immediate
choice of obedience to God.
It is a great error to suppose that any one particular exercise is always foremost
in conversion, or that every sinner must have faith first, or submission first. It
is not true, either in philosophy or in fact. There is a great variety in people's
exercises. Whatever point is taken hold of between God and the sinner, when the sinner
YIELDS that, he is converted. Whatever the particular exercise may be, if it includes
obedience of heart to God on any point, it is true conversion. When he yields one
point to God's authority, he is ready to yield all. When he changes his mind, and
obeys in one thing, because it is God's will, he will obey in other things, so far
as he sees it to be God's will. Where there is right choice, then, whenever the mind
is directed to any one point of duty, he is ready to follow. It matters very little
which of these directions be given, if it is only made plain, and if it is to the
point, so as to serve as a test of obedience to God. If it is to the point that the
Spirit of God is debating with the sinner's mind, so as to fall in with the Spirit's
work, and not to divert the sinner's attention from the very point in controversy,
let it be made perfectly clear, and then pressed till the sinner yields, and he will
III. ERRORS INTO WHICH ANXIOUS SINNERS ARE APT TO FALL
- 1. The first error is, in supposing that they must make
themselves better, or prepare themselves, so as in some way to recommend themselves
to the mercy of God. It is marvelous that sinners will not understand that all they
have to do is to accept salvation, all prepared to their hands, from God. But they
all, learned or unlearned, at first betake themselves to a legal course to get relief.
This is one principal reason why they will not become Christians at once. They imagine
that they must be, in some way or other, prepared to come. They must change their
dress, and make themselves look a little better; they are not willing to come just
as they are, in their rags and poverty. They must have something more on, before
they can approach God. They should be shown, at once, that it is impossible they
should be any better until they do what God requires. Every pulse that beats, every
breath they draw, they are growing worse, because they are standing out in rebellion
against God, so long as they do not do the very thing which God requires of them
as the first thing to be done.
- 2. Another error is, in supposing that they must suffer
a considerable time under conviction, as a kind of punishment, before they are properly
ready to come to Christ. So they will pray for conviction; and they think that if
they are ground down to the earth with distress, for a sufficient time, then God
will pity them, and be more ready to help them when He sees them so very miserable!
They should be made to understand clearly that they are thus unhappy and miserable,
merely because they refuse to accept the relief which God offers.
- 3. Sometimes sinners imagine they must wait for different
feelings before they submit to God. They say: "I do not think I feel right yet,
to accept Christ; I do not think I am prepared to be converted yet." They ought
to be made to see that what God requires of them is to will right. If they obey and
submit with the will, the feelings will adjust themselves in due time. It is not
a question of feeling, but of willing and acting.
- The feelings are involuntary, and have no moral character
except what they derive from the action of the will, with which action they sympathize.
Before the will is right, the feelings will not be, of course. The sinner should
come to Christ by accepting Him at once; and this he must do, not in obedience to
his feelings, but in obedience to his conscience. Obey, submit, trust. Give up all
instantly, and your feelings will come right. Do not wait for better feelings, but
commit your whole being to God at once, and this will soon result in the feelings
for which you are waiting. What God requires of you is the present act of your mind,
in turning from sin to holiness, and from the service of Satan to the service of
the living God.
- 4. Another error of sinners is to suppose that they must
wait till their hearts are changed. "What?" say they, "am I to believe
in Christ before my heart is changed? Do you mean that I am to repent before my heart
is changed?" Now, the simple answer to all this is that the change of heart
is the very thing in question. God requires sinners to love Him: that is to change
their hearts. God requires the sinner to believe the Gospel. That is to change his
heart. God requires him to repent. That is to change his heart. God does not tell
him to wait till his heart is changed, and then repent and believe, and love God.
The very word itself, repent, signifies a change of mind or heart. To do either of
these things is to change your heart, and to "make you a new heart" (Ezekiel
18:31), just as God requires.
- 5. Sinners often get the idea that they are perfectly willing
to do what God requires. Tell them to do this thing, or that, to repent, or believe,
or give God their hearts, and they say: "Oh, yes, I am perfectly willing to
do that; I wish I could do it, I would give anything if I could do it." They
ought to understand that being truly willing is doing it, but there is a difference
between willing and desiring. People often desire to be Christians, when they are
wholly unwilling to be so. When we see anything which appears to be a good, we are
so constituted that we desire it. We necessarily desire it when it is before our
minds. We cannot help desiring it in proportion as its goodness is presented to our
minds. But yet we may not be willing to have it, under all the circumstances. A man
may desire on many accounts to go to Philadelphia, while, for still more weighty
reasons, he chooses not to go there. So the sinner may desire to be a Christian.
He may see that if he were a Christian he would be a deal more happy, and that he
should go to heaven when he dies; but yet he is not willing to be a Christian.
- WILLING to obey Christ is to be a Christian. When an individual
actually chooses to obey God, he is a Christian. But all such desires as do not terminate
in actual choice, are nothing.
- 6. The sinner will sometimes say that he offers to give
God his heart, but he intimates that God is unwilling. But this is absurd. What does
- Why, that you should love Him. Now for you to say that
you are willing to give God your heart, but that God is unwilling, is the same as
saying that you are willing to love God, but God is not willing to be loved by you,
and will not suffer you to love Him. It is important to clear up all these points
in the sinner's mind, that he may have no dark and mysterious corner to rest in,
where the truth will not reach him.
- 7. Sinners sometimes get the idea that they repent, when
they are only convicted. Whenever the sinner is found resting in any LIE let the
truth sweep it away, however much it may pain and distress him. If he has any error
of this kind, you must tear it away from him.
- 8. Sinners are often wholly taken up with looking at themselves,
to see if they cannot find something there, some kind of feeling or other, that will
recommend them to God. Evidently for want of proper instruction, David Brainerd was
a long time taken up with his state of mind, looking for some feelings that would
recommend him to God. Sometimes he imagined that he had such feelings, and would
tell God, in prayer, that now he felt as he should, in order to receive His mercy;
and then he would see that he had been all wrong. Thus the poor man, for want of
correct instruction, was driven almost to despair, and it is easy to see that his
Christian exercises through life were greatly modified, and his comfort and usefulness
much impaired, by the false philosophy he had adopted on this point. You must turn
the sinner away from himself.
- 1. The labor of ministers is greatly increased, and the
difficulties in the way of salvation are greatly multiplied, by the false instructions
that have been given to sinners. The consequence has been that directions which used
to be plain are now obscure. People have been taught so long that there is something
awfully mysterious and unintelligible about conversion, that they do not try to understand
- It was once sufficient, as we learn from the Bible, to
tell sinners to repent, or to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; but now, faith has
been talked about as a principle, instead of an act; and repentance as some thing
put into the mind, instead of an exercise of the mind; and sinners are perplexed.
Ministers are charged with preaching heresy, because they presume to teach that faith
is an exercise, and not a principle; and that sin is an act, and not a part of the
constitution of man. And sinners have become so sophisticated, that you have to be
at great pains in explaining, not only what you do mean, but what you do not mean,
otherwise they will be almost sure to misunderstand you, and either gain a false
relief from their anxiety, by throwing their duty off upon God, or else run into
despair from the supposed impracticability of doing what is requisite for their salvation.
It is often a matter of the greatest difficulty to lead sinners out of the theological
labyrinths and mazes into which they have been deluded, and to lead them along the
straight and simple way of the Gospel. It seems as if the greatest ingenuity had
been employed to mystify the minds of the people, and to weave a most subtle web
of false philosophy, calculated to involve a sinner in endless darkness. It is necessary
to be as plain as A B C, and the best educated have to be talked to like children.
Tell a sinner to believe, and he stares, saying: "Why, how you talk! Is not
faith a principle? And how am I to believe till I get this principle?" So, if
a minister tells a sinner, in the very words that the apostle used in the great revival
on the Day of Pentecost: "Repent, every one of you" (Acts 2:38), he is
answered: "Oh, I guess you are an Arminian; I do not want any of your Arminian
teaching; do you not deny the Spirit's influences?" It is enough to make humanity
weep, to see the fog and darkness that have been thrown around the plain directions
of the Gospel.
- 2. These false instructions to sinners are infinitely worse
than none. The Lord Jesus Christ found it more difficult to get the people to yield
up their false notions of theology than anything else. This has been the great difficulty
with the Jews to this day, that they have received false notions in theology, have
perverted the truth on certain points, and you cannot make them understand the plainest
points in the Gospel. So it is with sinners: the most difficult thing to be done
is to get them away from these "refuges of lies," which they have found
in false theology. They are so fond of holding on to these refuges (because they
excuse the sinner, and condemn God), that it is found to be the most perplexing,
and difficult, and discouraging part of a minister's labor, to drive them out.
- 3. No wonder the Gospel has taken so little effect, encumbered
as it has been with these strange dogmas. The truth is, that very little of the Gospel
has come out upon the world, for these hundreds of years, without being clogged and
obscured by false theology. People have been told that they must repent, and, in
the same breath, told that they could not repent, until the truth itself has been
all mixed up with error, so as to produce the same practical effect with error. The
Gospel that was preached has been another gospel, or no gospel at all.
- 4. You can understand what is meant by "healing slightly
the hurt of the daughter of God's people" (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11), and the danger
of doing it. It is very easy, when sinners are under conviction, to say something
that shall smooth over the case, and relieve their anxiety, so that they will either
get a false hope, or will be converted with their views so obscure, that they will
always be poor, feeble, wavering, doubting, inefficient Christians.
- 5. Much depends on the manner in which a person is dealt
with, when under conviction. Much of his future comfort and usefulness depends on
the clearness, strength, and firmness with which the directions of the Gospel are
given, when he is under conviction. If those who deal with him are afraid to use
the probe thoroughly, he will always be a poor, sickly, doubting Christian. The true
mode is to deal thoroughly and plainly with the sinner, to tear away every excuse
he can offer, and to show him plainly what he is and what he ought to be; then he
will bless God to all eternity that he fell in with those who would be so faithful
with his soul. For the want of this thorough and searching management, many are converted
who seem to be stillborn; and the reason is, they never were faithfully dealt with.
We may charitably hope they are Christians, but still it is uncertain and doubtful:
their conversion seems rather a change of opinion than a change of heart. But if,
when sinners are under conviction, you pour in the truth, put in the probe, break
up the old foundations, sweep away their "refuges of lies," and use the
Word of God like fire and like a hammer, you will find that they will come out with
clear views, and strong faith, and firm principles - not doubting, halting, irresolute
Christians, but such as follow the Lord wholly. That is the way to make strong Christians.
This has been eminently the case in many revivals of modern days.
- I have heard old Christians say of the converts: "These
converts have, at the very outset, all the clearness of view, and strength of faith,
of old Christians. They seem to understand the doctrines of religion, and to know
what to do, and how to promote revivals, better than one in a hundred of the old
members in the Church."
I once knew a young man who was converted away from home. The place where he lived
had no minister, and no preaching, and no religion. He went home three days after
he was converted, and immediately set himself to work to labor for a revival. He
set up meetings in his neighborhood, and prayed and labored, and a revival broke
out - of which he had the principal management throughout a powerful work, in which
most of the principal men of the place were converted. The truth was, he had been
so dealt with that he knew what he was about. He understood the subject and knew
where he stood himself. He was not all the while troubled with doubts, whether he
was himself a Christian. He knew that he was serving God, and that God was with him,
and so he went boldly and resolutely forward to his object. But if you undertake
to make converts, without clearing up all their errors and tearing away their false
hopes, you may make a host of hypocrites, or of puny, dwarfish Christians, always
doubting and easily turned back from a revival spirit, and worth nothing.
The way is, to bring them right out to the light. When a man is converted in this
way, you can depend on him, and will know where to find him.
- 6. Protracted seasons of conviction are generally owing
to defective instruction. Wherever clear and faithful instructions are given to sinners,
there you will generally find that convictions are deep and pungent, but short.
- 7. Where clear and discriminating instructions are given
to convicted sinners, if they do not soon submit, their convictions will generally
leave them. Convictions in such cases are generally short. Where the truth is brought
to bear upon the sinner's mind, and he directly resists the very truth that must
convert him, there is nothing more to be done. The Spirit will soon leave him, for
the very weapons He uses are resisted. Where instructions are not clear, but are
mixed up with errors, the Spirit may strive, even for years, in great mercy, to get
sinners through the fog of false instruction; but not so where their duty is clearly
explained to them, and they are brought right up to the single point of immediate
submission, all their false pretenses being exposed, and the path of duty made perfectly
plain. Then, if they do not submit, the Spirit of God forsakes them, and their state
is well-nigh hopeless.
- If there be sinners in this house, and you see your duty
clearly, TAKE CARE how you delay. If you do not submit, you may expect the Spirit
of God will forsake you, and you are LOST.
- 8. A vast deal of the direction given to anxious sinners
amounts to little less than the popish doctrine of indulgences. The Pope used to
sell indulgences to sin, and this led to the Reformation under Luther.
- Sometimes people would purchase an indulgence to sin for
a certain time, or to commit some particular sin, or a number of sins. Now, there
is a vast deal in Protestant Churches which is little less than the same thing. What
does it differ from this, to tell a sinner to wait? It amounts to telling him to
continue in sin for a while longer, while he is waiting for God to convert him. And
what is that but an indulgence to commit sin? Any direction given to sinners that
does not require them immediately to obey God is an indulgence to sin. It is in effect
giving them liberty to continue in sin against God. Such directions are not only
wicked, but ruinous and cruel. If they do not destroy the soul, as no doubt they
often do, they defer, at all events, the sinner's enjoyment of God and of Christ,
and he stands a great chance of being lost for ever, while listening to such instructions.
Oh, how dangerous it is to give a sinner reason to think he may wait a moment, before
giving his heart to God!
- 9. So far as I have had opportunity to observe, those persons
with whom conversion was most sudden have commonly turned out to be the best Christians.
I know the reverse of this has often been held and maintained.
- But I am satisfied there is no reason for it, although
multitudes, even now, regard it as a suspicious circumstance, if a man has been converted
very suddenly. But the Bible gives no warrant for this supposition. There is not
a case of protracted conviction recorded in the whole Bible. All the conversions
recorded there are sudden conversions. And I am persuaded there never would be such
multitudes of tedious convictions which often end in nothing, after all, if it were
not for those theological perversions which have filled the world with Cannot-ism.
In Bible days, sinners were told to repent, and they did it then. Cannot-ism had
not been broached in that day. It is this speculation about the inability of sinners
to obey God, that lays the foundation for all the protracted anguish and distress,
and perhaps ruin, into which so many are led. Where a sinner is brought to see what
he has to do, and he takes his stand at once, AND DOES IT, you generally find that
such a person proves a decided character. You will not find him one of those that
you always have to warp up to duty, like a ship, against wind and tide. Look at those
professors who always have to be dragged forward in duty, and you will generally
find that they had not clear and consistent directions when they were converted.
Most likely, too, they will be very much "afraid of these sudden conversions."
Afraid of sudden conversions! Some of the best Christians of my acquaintance were
convicted and converted in the space of a few minutes.
In one-quarter of the time that I have been speaking, many of them were awakened,
and came right out on the Lord's side, and have been shining lights in the Church
ever since, and have generally manifested the same decision of character in religion
that they did when they first came out and took a stand on His side.
LECTURES 1-5 of page 1
LECTURES 6-10 of page 2
LECTURES 11-14 of page 3 ---New Window
LECTURES 15-18 of page 4 (this page)
LECTURES 19-22 of page 5 ---New Window
"Sermons from the Penny Pulpit"
by C. G. Finney
Main Page ---New Window
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