GREAT RELIGIOUS REVIVALS.
Religious revivals have ever been a source of interest to students of sociology, history and religion. There have been times in the past in this country when different sections were interested in religious matters, but there have only been a few times when all parts of the country have been awaked at the same time. These events have been designated as periods of great religious awakening, and are admirably described in a paper by Rev. James Brand of Oberlin, Ohio, read before the World's Congress of Religions, held in Chicago in 1893. Dr. Brand says:
"The first century of religious history in this country was largely devoted to church polity and the relation of religion to the state. Spiritually it was a rather barren period. There had been some revivals from 1670 to 1712, but they were local and limited in extent. The first great movement which really molded American Christianity was in 17401760, called "The Great Awakening," under the leadership of Jonathan Edwards Whitefield, Wesley and the Tennants, of New Jersey. This movement was probably the most influential force which has ever acted upon the development of the Christian religion since the Protestant reformation. In 1740 the population of New England was not more than 18 307
250,000, and in all the colonies about 2,000,000. Yet it is estimated that more than 50,000 persons were converted to Christ in that revival—a far greater proportion than at any other period of our history. This movement overthrew the so-called "half-way covenant," a pernicious system which had filled both the churches and pulpits with unconverted men. In 1740 men without any pretense of piety studied theology, and "if neither heretical or openly immoral were ordained to the ministry," and multitudes of men were received to church membership without any claim to Christian life. The great awakening reversed that stage of things. Students of theology were converted in great numbers, and prominent men to the number of twenty, who had been long in the pulpits in and about Boston, regarded George Whitefield as the means, under God, of their conversion to Christ. This revival was not confined to New England or to any one body of Christians. All denominations in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and the South were equally blessed. The movement awakened the public mind more fully to the claims of home missions, especially among the Indians. It likewise gave a great impulse to Christian education. The founding of Princeton college was one of the direct fruits. Dartmouth college, founded in 1769, also sprang from the same impulse. The proposition that in the preaching of the gospel the distinction should be maintained between the regenerate and unregenerate, and that the church must be composed of converted souls only, has been accepted by substantially all evangelical demoninations since that time. The great doctrines made especially prominent in this religious movement were those required to meet the peculiar circumstances of the times, viz., the sinfulness of sin, the necessity of conversion and justification by faith in Christ alone. These doctrines were the mighty forces wielded by the leaders of that time, and resulted in the recasting of the religious opinions of the eighteenth century.
"The second general evangelistic movement, 17971810, generally called the revival of 1800, was hardly less important as a factor in our Christian life than its predecessor. It, too, followed a period of formalism and religious barrenness. It was the epoch of French infidelity and of Paine's "Age of Reason," from which this revival emancipated America while France was left a spiritual wreck. Up to this time almost nothing had been done in the line of foreign missions, and there were hardly any permanent institutions of a national character for the spread of the gospel apart from the churches and three or four colleges. From this movement sprang, as by magic, nearly all the great national religious institutions of to-day. The "Plan of Union" in 1801 to evangelize New Connecticut—Andover Seminary in 1808 to provide trained pastors; the American Board, representing two or three denominations, in 1801; the American Baptist Missionary Union, 1814; the American Education Society, 1815; the Methodist Episcopal Missionary Society, in 1819; the Yale Theological Department, in 1822; American Temperance Society, in 1826; American Home Missionary Society, 1830; East Windsor Theological Seminary, in 1833. Here, again, all religious bodies were equally enriched and enlarged by the stupendous impulse given to religious thought and activity by this revival. The leading characteristic of this movement, so far as doctrines were concerned, was the sovereignty of God. The success of the colonies in the Revolutionary war, the establishment of national independence, the awakening forces of material and industrial development, together with the prevailing rationalistic and atheistic influence of France, had produced a spirit of pride and self-sufficiency which was hostile to the authority of God, and, of course, antagonistic to the gospel. To meet this state of the public mind, evangelistic leaders were naturally led to lay special emphasis upon the absolute and eternal dominion of God, as the infinitely wise and benevolent Ruler of the universe, and man as His subject, fallen, dependent, guilty, to whom pardon was offered. Here was found the divine corrective of the perils which were threatening to overwhelm the country in barren and self-destructive materialism.
"The third great movement was in 1830-1840. The tendency of the human mind is to grasp certain truths which have proved specially effective in one set of circumstances and press them into service under different circumstances, to the neglect of other truths. Thus the severity of God, which had needed such peculiar emphasis in 1800, came to be urged to the exclusion of those truths which touch the freedom and responsibility of man. When, therefore, this third revival period began, the truths most needed were the freedom of the will, the nature of the moral law, the ability and, therefore, the absolute obligation of man to obey God and make himself a new heart. Accordingly, these were the mighty weapons which were wielded by the great leaders, Finney, Nettleton, Albert Barnes and others, in the revival of that period. Thus a counter corrective was administered which tended not only to correct and convert vast multitudes of souls, but also to establish the scriptural balance of truth.
"The fourth pentecostal season, which may be called national in its scope, was in 1857-9. At that time inordinate worldliness, the passion for gain and luxury, had been taking possession of the people. The spirit of reckless speculation and other immoral methods of gratifying material ambition had overreached itself and plunged the nation into a financial panic. The Divine Spirit seized this state of things to convict men of their sins. The result was a great turning to God all over the land. In this awakening no great leaders seem to stand out pre-eminent. But the plain lessons of the revival are God's rebuke of worldliness, the fact that it is better to be righteous than to be rich, and that nations, like individuals, are in His hands.
"The latest evangelistic movements which are meeting this new era and are destined to be as helpful to American Christianity as any preceding ones are those under the present leadership of men like Messrs. Moody and Mills and their confreres. These revivals, though perhaps lacking the tremendous seriousness and profundity of conviction which came from the Calvinist preachers dwelling on the nature and attributes of God, nevertheless exhibit a more truly balanced Gospel than any preceding ones. They announce pre-eminently a Gospel of hope. They emphasize the love of God, the sufficiency of Christ, the guilt and unreason of sin, the privilege of serving Christ and the duty of immediate surrender. If men said, 'Is not the Gospel being overgrown?' They said, 'No, that cannot be.' If they said, 'Is the doctrine broad enough and deep enough to lead the progress of the race in all stages of its development and be the text-book of religious teaching to the end of time?'"