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Lord out of heaven.” As it falls upon the paths we are treading, we may observe and record its disclosures; and we shall attempt to do so, as we best can.
Boston, September, 1827.
For the New Jerusalem Magazine.
THOUGHTS ON “REVIVALS OF RELIGION.”
Much controversy exists at the present day on the subject of * revivals.” By one body of professing christians they are considered as essential to the production of any great change in the religious character of a community, and by another their efficacy is questioned or denied. This difference is not surprising, for the doctrines which are insisted on by the former, as chiefly operative in these cases, are rejected by their opponents as false and dangerous. Without entering into this controversy, we shall make a few remarks on the general subject.
The word revival has been used so long and so frequently, that it has become a technical and almost a cant term. Yet it does not seem in itself objectionable. It is countenanced and authorized by the sacred scriptures; as in Psalm lxxxv. 6, “Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?” Psalm cxxxviii. 7, “ Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me.
Habakkuk, iii. 2,“ O Lord revive thy work in the midst of the years." The idea conveyed by the term to common minds, or the sense in which it is generally used, may be objectionable and erroneous, but that there is such a thing as a declension and revival of religion in the heart, no one who knows what religion is, can doubt. Every one who attends to the operations of his own mind, on whatever subject, may trace an illustration of that general law of human nature of which these revolutions are the result. Every one whose heart is directed the attainment of a particular object, has his intervals of heat and cold towards it ; his affections are not uniformly alive and operative. His internal day has its evening, as well as morning and noon; and his internal year its autumn, as well as its spring and summer. Our affections and thoughts are in a perpetual alternation of flux and reflux, of light and darkness. Every ruling affection of the heart, whether good or evil, is subject to this universal law. When, therefore, we “ ask the way to Zion, with our faces thitherward,” we still find ourselves subject to the same law. Our path lies through a wilderness,
great and terrible,” though we may often be refreshed by manna from heaven, and water from the rock. Nor are we, perhaps, to expect, in any stage of our spiritual existence, an exemption from this law, for it seems to be inseparable from finite being.
The angels of heaven have their changes of state; for though “there is no night there,” yet there is an evening twilight in the revolution of their minds, “ere the day” again “ dawn, and the day spring arise in their hearts." The Infinite alone, is alone the unchangeable. It is he alone who “never slumbers nor sleeps," “the same yesterday, today, and for ever."
If, then, this law be inherent in, or inseparable from, finite existence, still more strongly must it operate on man as a sinner, born in the loves of self and the world, the “ thoughts of whose heart are only evil continually," and who “must be born again before he can see the kingdom of God.”
While, however, we assume it to be true that alternations or changes of state are a necessary concomitant of finite being, it is important to guard against misunderstanding. The common idea of divine laws we believe to be fundamentally wrong. They are generally considered as the voluntary edicts of one who is omnipotent, operating by arbitrary power, and changeable by arbitrary will; and consequently, that though the laws he has given
holy, just, and good,” yet he might have promulgated others, equally obligatory, had he seen fit. This error seems to us to infect the whole system of modern theology. But those who entertain this opinion, surely forget that the laws of Him who is immutable must be immutable as himself ; that “ He is not a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent. We are not, therefore, to regard the law of which we have been speaking as the voluntary imposition of a hard master, which could or can be abrogated by his will, but as proceeding from the necessary imperfection of created existences. The Divine cannot create a god like himself, but can only impart those capacities, moral and intellectual, which shall render man, by obedience to his precepts, an image and likeness of himself.
If the foregoing principles are correct, it follows that the church in general, like the individuals
who compose it, will always be subject to revolutions of state. The inference is justified by facts. The christian church, from its commencement, has been in a state of perpetual fluctuation. Vital religion, though disguised by various forms of false doctrine, has prevailed more at one time and less at another. From the preaching of the apostles to the present day, amidst all the errors of popery and protestanism, witnesses have at times been raised up by the Divine Providence, who have shown as “lights in the world," and have “testified of the truth” in their day and generation. If these witnesses were not themselves free from much of the false doctrine which
prevailed in their time, still, for the time, they were the only adequate mediums. Of these changes, the external history of the church is an image, while she migrated from the East, through the South, to the West and the North.
To come down to our own times. It might perhaps be expected that the execution of the last judgment in the spiritual world, and the increased power of influx into the natural, should produce great revolutions in the existing christian churches of all denominations. It would be reasonable to suppose that the minds of men, strongly and more strongly acted upon by spiritual influences, would manifest themselves in operations and processes similar to those which are now going on in the religious world. However pure these influences may be in their origin, and however powerful in themselves, they can only act in a manner consistent with the free will of man. They must operate on minds as they find them, upon such doctrines and principles in the understanding, and such affections in the heart, as either already exist, or can be freely received. Consequently, though new light may be continually breaking in from the spiritual world, yet so various and refractory are the mediums through which it passes, that it cannot come forth in its original brightness." False doctrine, therefore, may for a long time remain unsubverted in the minds of men, and it will often happen that spiritual influx will show itself, only in the lowest and most general forms of literal truth. Still, even by this, much is done. The seed thus sown may yet“ bring forth, some an hundred fold, some sixty fold, some thirty fold," as the truths, thus received, are cherished in the conscience and the life. It is a great work to bring men to feel that they are sinners, that they stand in need of redemption, that their redeemer must be divine, that there is a heaven and a hell, and that all are judged according to their works; though they may have gross and external ideas of the nature of sin, of redemption, of a redeemer, of heaven and hell, and of the christian life.
Whatever, therefore, may be the doctrinal errors inculcated at the present day, and which are considered as operative in producing those changes in sentiment and feeling denominated revivals, there is much truth necessarily communicated of a general and elementary kind. Whatever be the proximate cause, the effect is so far good as men “ cease to do evil, and learn to do well,” though from no higher motives than the fear of punishment in hell, or the hope of reward in heaven. Revivals of religion, therefore, must always be regarded with interest, notwithstanding the irregularities that often attend them, as evidences of awakened attention and serious inquiry, and as the harbingers of better days
John must first preach repentance in the wilderness of the natural man, before the way of the Lord can be prepared," or his “ glory revealed.”
For the New Jerusalem Magazine.
THOUGHTS ON THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE. WHEREVER the light of christianity extends, there will be found to exist some belief in the divine providence. It is so fully announced in the sacred scriptures that the Lord “ careth for” us, that none who read can deny the general truth. But, though this doctrine be so generally received that it may be said to be coextensive with christianity, it is by no means received and understood by all in the same manner.
The divine providence itself is one and the same. It is simply the operation of divine love in divine wisdom. Its end is the salvation of man, or the formation of a heaven from the human race; its means are the light of infinite wisdom. In the per
In the perfect adaptation of all things to this end, there is often an appearance of unmerited hardship on the one hand, or of undeserved prosperity on the other, in the dispensations of God to man. The human heart, always unsatisfied, has often been ready to exclaim against the partiality of the. divine government; and, even when awed into submission, has seldom been able to solve the difficulty without a reference to a future state of retribution, where the inequalities of the present life shall be duly adjusted. But in the light of the New Jerusalem, instead of a future state of retribution, to rectify the errors and imperfections of the present state, we discover that this world, and the events thereof, are, equally with the spiritual world, under the government of infinite love and wisdom. Yet saith the house of Israel, the way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel, are not my ways equal ? are not your ways unequal ?
The doctrine of divine providence, like all other doctrines of revelation, is at first received and understood only in a general form. It is seen merely as a general, obscure principle; and the divine government is little regarded, and seldom appealed to, except in cases of apparently peculiar difficulty and danger; or perhaps some remarkable deliverance may awaken a grateful acknowledgment. With many, the doctrine appears to end nearly where it began, and to be made but little account of in the daily occurrences of life. It is a hard thing for the natural man to admit his need of divine aid and assistance, and much harder to become willing to receive it, and cooperate with it. The first imperfection he feels, is a sense of his own weakness, and inability to effect his purposes. He therefore begins to devise the means of increasing his power; and his wishes and prayers are directed to this end. He finds an obstacle to the execution of his
purposes, and would fain have the power to remove it. But this implies no distrust of the wisdom of the purposes themselves.
Such is the state of feeling with the natural man, with regard to the things which he desires; and his state of feeling with regard to those events which oppose his desires, is in exact correspond
His first submission to the divine providence, as manifested in events of this nature, is a submission to an imperious necessity, merely because he is unable to resist it. The Almighty seems to make bare his arm, and he trembles at the power of the offended Majesty of Heaven; but he discovers in the dispensation no wisdom, much less the riches of divine love.
But, although selfdistrust appears not to enter into the composition of the natural man, yet it is one of the earliest and commonest dictates of human prudence. We so often find ourselves in error—that we have mistaken the way that leads to the ends in view, that we are forced to acknowledge our shortsightedness and fallibility. This acknowledgment is often followed by states of temporary humility, sorrow, and grief, which are fraught with most important consequences. They are induced in the course and operation of the providence of Him who does not “afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men.”
In these states, we know that we are not the sole arbiters of our own destiny—that there is a power above us; and we must necessarily, in that very day, choose, in some sense, whom we will serve. The Lord's spirit is striving with us, and his commandments plead anew their divine authority. Happy for us, if, in these seasons of doubt and uncertainty, we turn from the idols of selfderived intelligence and human prudence, to Him who is the way, the truth, and the life, and seek that right understanding which is with all those who do his commandments. Our submission to those events in our life which, in the course of Divine Providence, oppose our anticipations and desires, will now assume a corresponding character. Acknowledging the wisdom and justice of the Lord, we shall be permitted to see, in a degree, the necessity and use of his dispensations to usward. Instead of blind and servile subjects of arbitrary power, we become, as it were, free and enlightened subjects of laws of acknowledged wisdom and justice. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends ; for all things that I have heard of my father, I have made known unto you.
But our work does not end here. If we examine ourselves, we shall find that, though our understandings acknowledge a wisdom of God in his works and government, yet our wills are exceedingly prone to qualify and explain away the very essence of the whole thing. Our understandings, being unable to see in every instance the necessity and use of the dispensation, must be continually deriving strength and light from our conviction of the general truth, or we shall be in danger of losing the very benefit