This day, August 18th, marks the death, in 1873, of the Rev. Gardiner Spring. He was already 76 years old when he proposed his “Resolutions” at the General Assembly of the Old School Presbyterian Church in 1861. Those were the Resolutions that split the denomination North and South. But long before Spring achieved infamy with his “Resolutions,” he had been, since 1810, the pastor of the Brick Church in New York City. In fact, his entire ministerial career of 63 years was spent at this one church.
Born in 1785, he was educated at Yale and for a short time practiced law before entering Andover Theological Seminary to prepare for the ministry. A powerful preacher, he became a prominent pastor in that City and in the Church at large. Spring made great use of the press as an auxiliary to his preaching of the gospel, and a number of his works remain in print to this day. In 1816, Rev. Spring brought the following message on New Year’s Day, a message having to do with the subject of the revivals of religion.
To read or download the entire message in PDF format, click here.
SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.
2 Chronicles 29:16-17:—
And the Priests went into the inner part of the house of the Lord to cleanse it, and brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the Lord into the court of the house of the Lord. And the Levites took it, to carry it out abroad into the brook Kidron. Now they began on the first day of the first month to sanctify.
The passage just recited may give a direction to our thoughts. When Hezekiah came to the throne Aof Judah, he found religion in a low and languishing state. His father Ahaz was not only an idolatrous king, but notorious for his impiety. The torrent of vice, irreligion, and idolatry, had already swept away the ten tribes of Israel, and threatened to destroy Judah and Benjamin. With this state of things, the heart of pious Hezekiah was deeply affected. He could not bear to see the holy temple debased, and the idols of the Gentiles exalted; and though but a youthful prince, he made a bold, persevering, and successful attempt to effect a revival of the Jewish religion. He destroyed the high places; cut down the groves; brake the graven images; commanded the doors of the Lord’s house to be opened and repaired; and exhorted the Priests and Levites to purify the temple; to restore the morning and evening sacrifice; to reinstate the observation of the Passover; and to withhold no exertion to promote a radical reformation in the principles and habits of the people.
The humble child of God in this distant age of the world, will read the account of the benevolent efforts of Hezekiah and his associates, with devout admiration. As he looks back toward this illustrious period in the Jewish history, his heart will beat high with hope. Success is not restricted to the exertions of Hezekiah. A revival of religion is within our reach at the commencement of the present year, as really as it was within his, twenty-five hundred years ago. But to bring this subject more fully before you, I propose to show,
What a revival of religion is;
The necessity of a revival among ourselves;
What ought to be done in attempting it;—and
The reasons why we may hope to succeed in the attempt.
I. What is a revival of religion?
We have never seen a general revival of the Christian interest in this city. In two or three of our congregations, there have been some seasons of unusual solemnity, which have from time to time resulted in very hopeful accessions to the number of God’s professing people. But we have not been visited with any general outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Hence, we talk about revivals of religion without any definite meaning; and hence, many honest minds are prejudiced against them. Some identify them with the illusions of a disturbed fancy; while others give them a place among the most exceptionable extravagancies, and the wildest expressions of enthusiasm. But we mean none of these things when we speak of revivals of religion. It is no illusion—no reverie—we present to your view; but those plain exhibitions of the power and grace of God which commend themselves to the reason and conscience of every impartial mind.
The showers of divine grace often begin like other showers, with here and there a drop. The revival in the days of Hezekiah, arose from a very small beginning. In the early states of a work of grace, God is usually pleased to affect the hearts of some of His own people. Here and there, an individual Christian is aroused from his stupor. The objects of faith begin to predominate over the objects of sense and his languishing graces to be in more lively and constant exercise. In the progress of the work, the quickening power of grace pervades the church. Bowed down under a sense of their own stupidity and the impending danger of sinners, the great body of professing Christians are anxious and prayerful. In the mean time, the influences of the Holy Spirit are extended to the world; and the conversion of one or two, or a very small number, frequently proves the occasion of a very general concern among a whole people.
Every thing now begins to put on a new face. Ministers are animated; Christians are solemn; sinners are alarmed. The house of God is thronged with anxious worshipers; opportunities for prayer and religious conference are multiplied; breathless silence pervades every seat, and deep solemnity every bosom. Not an eye wanders; not a heart is indifferent;—while eternal objects are brought near, and eternal truth is seen in its wide connections, and felt in its quickening and condemning power. The Lord is there. His stately steppings are seen; His own almighty and invisible hand is felt; His Spirit is passing from heart to heart, in His awakening, convincing, regenerating, and sanctifying agency upon the souls of men.
Those who have been long careless and indifferent to the concerns of the soul, are awakened to a sense of their sinfulness, their danger, and their duty. Those who “have cast off fear and restrained prayer,” have become anxious and prayerful. Those who have been “stout-hearted and far from righteousness,” are subdued by the power of God, and brought nigh by the blood of Christ.
The king of Zion takes away the heart of stone and gives the heart of flesh. He causes “the captive exile to hasten, that he may be loosed, lest he die in the pit and his bread should fail.” He takes off the tattered garments of the prodigal; clothes him with the best robe, and gives him a cordial welcome to all the munificence of His grace. He brings those who have been long in bondage out of the prison house; knocks off the chains that bind them down to sin and death; bestows the immunities of sons and daughters, and receives them into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
And is there any thing in all this so full of mystery, that it has no claim to our confidence? Behold that thoughtless man! Year after year has passed aaway, while he has been adding sin to sin, and heaping up wrath against the day of wrath. But the Spirit of all grace suddenly arrests him in his mad career. The conviction is fastened upon his conscience that he is a sinner. Fallen by his iniquity, he views himself obnoxious to the wrath of an offended God. He sees that he is under the dominion of a “carnal mind;” his sins pass in awful review before him, and he is filled with keen distress and anguish. He is sensible that every day is bringing him nearer to the world of perdition, and he begins to ask, if there can be any hope for a wretch like him? But, O! how his strength withers, how his hopes die! He is as helpless as he is wretched, and as culpable as he is helpless. The “arrows of the almighty stick fast within him, the poison whereof drinketh up his spirits.”
But behold him now! In the last extremity, as he is cut off from every hope, the arm of sovereign mercy is made bare for his relief. The heart of adamant melts; the will that has hitherto resisted the divine Spirit, and rebelled against the divine sovereignty, is subdued; the lofty looks are brought low; the selfish mind has become benevolent; the proud, humble, the stubborn rebel, the meek child of God. Jesus tells the despairing sinner where to find a beam of hope; the voice of the Son of God proclaims “forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace;” the Angel of peace invites and sweetly urges the soul, stained with pollution, to repair to the blood of sprinkling; stung with the guilt of sin, to look up to Jesus for healing and life.
Is this an idle tale? Nay, believer, you have felt it all. And if there is no mystery in this, why should it be thought incredible, that instances of the same nature should be multiplied, and greatly multiplied in any given period? If there are dispensations of grace above the ordinary operations of the Spirit, they may exist in very different degrees at different times. And if the immediate and special influences of the Holy Ghost are to be expected in the edification of a single saint, or the conversion of a single sinner, why may they not be expected in the edification and conversion of multitudes? It is not above the reach of God’s power; nor beyond the limits of His sovereignty. God can as easily send down a shower, as a single drop; He can as easily convert two as one; three thousand as one hundred.
Now this is a revival of religion. We do not pretend to have traced the features it uniformly bears, because it bears no uniform features. God is sovereign. “The wind bloweth where it listeth.” Still, wherever God is pleased to manifest His power and grace, in enlarging the views, in enlivening and invigorating the graces of His own people, and in turning the hears of considerable numbers of His enemies, at the same time, to seek and secure His pardoning mercy, there is a revival of religion.
Such signal revivals of the Christian interest have been no uncommon thing in our world. We have many instances in the Old Testament, of God’s deeply impressing the minds of the whole nation of Israel, and turning the hearts of multitudes to Himself as the heart of one man. Beside the memorable instance recorded in our text, if you advert to the history of the rising generation in the wilderness, to the reigns of David and Solomon, of Asa and Jehoshaphat, of Joash, Uzziah and Josiah; you will find a succession of seasons, in which God has remarkably appeared and displayed His power and glory in building up Zion. After the great declension of the church during the long captivity and stupidity of the Jews in Babylon, her vital interests were revived during the ministrations of Ezra.
In the days of John the Baptist also, the Spirit was poured out in copious effusions, and the kingdom of heaven sustained an unusual pressure. In a manner still more remarkable, did the ascended Redeemer shed forth the influences of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, and subdued three thousand to the sceptre of His grace. And on the following day, he brought about two thousand more to renounce their enmity to the cross, and joyfully accept the offers of mercy. Just after this, He manifested the same saving influence upon multitudes in Samaria. And upon the dispersion of the disciples after the martyrdom of Stephen, the power of divine grace attended their labours in the distant and remote parts of Judea, and even as far as the territories of Greece. Phenice, and Cyprus were visted, and Antioch still more graciously.
If we pass along to later periods, we find the word of life has had free course, and the Spirit of grace has been poured out from time to time, in copious measures. Unusual outpourings of the Spirit of God accompanied the labours of many of the Reformers in the 16th century, both in Germany, France, Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, the Low Countries, and in Britain. [See Fleming’s Fulfilling of the Scriptures.] A very solemn and extraordinary revival of religion took place in the West of Scotland, about the year 1625. In 1630, the divine presence was signally manifested during a communion season, at the church of Shotts, a small town between Glasgow and Edinburgh, at which nearly five hundred are said to have been awakened, the most of whom gave good evidence of a saving change of heart in their subsequent lives.
The year 1638 is also a season long to be remembered by the church of Scotland, as a “season of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.” A work of great extent and power also took place in the North of Ireland, in the province of Ulster, in 1628, which is related to have been “one of the largest manifestations of the Spirit, one of the most solemn times of the down-pouring thereof, since the days of the Apostles hath been seen.” To these exhibitions of divine grace in the Old World, we may add a very general awakening during the plague in London, in the year 1665, in which hundreds and thousands were hopefully brought out of darkness into God’s marvellous light.
It would be a delightful employment to pass down and survey these monuments of divine mercy in later periods||. The grace of God has made this Western World the scene of wonders. From the early settlement of this country, God “has made his work appear unto his servants, and his glory unto their children.” From the year 1680 to 1744, there was a cluster of revivals, and particularly under the ministrations of the Rev. Messrs. Whitfield, Prince, Stoddard, Edwards, the two Tennants, and Mr. Brainard.
And if we come down to later periods, these outpourings of the Divine Spirit have been multiplied and extended both in the Old World and in the New. Since the commencement of the nineteenth century, and during the past year, there have probably been more revivals of religion than have ever taken place in an equal period before. Such remarkable seasons are still to be expected, and we have reason to believe will more frequently occur from this time to the latter day of glory. The “day spring from on high” is yet to visit this benighted world in the brightness of its rising; Zion is yet to be “clothed with the robes of righteousness and the garments of salvation;” the tree of life is yet to open its foliage and scatter far and wide the leaves that are for “the healing of the nations.”
Having thus endeavoured to show what a revival of religion is, we pass
II. To show the necessity of such a revival among ourselves.
This necessity is of the most pressing kind. We may not feel it; and this is among the unequivocal tokens of existing darkness. In all its forms, spiritual declension possesses a hardening, infatuating tendency. “Thou sayest, I am rich and increased in goods, and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked!” When a church once begins to forsake God, they are more and more disposed to forsake him. Their coldness degenerates into negligence, and their negligence into universal declension. It is the natural operation of this Laodicean spirit to make the subjects of it insensible to their true character and deplorable state. “Ephraim,” saith the prophet, “Ephraim hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned; yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, and he knoweth it not.” But shall we sleep over the verge of apostacy? Let us be aroused from our lethargy, and look at our real condition.
We cannot but be deeply impressed.
1. With a conviction of the worldliness of professing Christians.
The great object of professing Christians in the midst of us seems to be, to become rich. If we should judge from their habitual deportment, we should not imagine that the thought has ever entered their minds, that the providence of God assembled them from various parts of our land, for the purpose of building up his kingdom in this populous city; but simply for the purpose of becoming rich. Though God has said, “they that will be rich fall into temptation, and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition;” yet they “will be rich.” Their “chief end” does not appear to be so much “to glorify God and enjoy him for ever,” as to obtain and enjoy the world. They “mind earthly things,” heartily, supremely, habitually. There is reason to fear that their highest aim is the attainment of wealth. Unlike expectants of glory, they “set their affections on things that are on the earth.” Wealth is the centre of their wishes; the point toward which their desires seem to preserve an invariable tendency. They “lift up their souls unto vanity and pant after the dust of the earth.” You do not find either the young or the old, either male or female, wasting their ardour and exhausting the strength of their affections for the ho-nour of God and the salvation of souls; but their thoughts, their time, their talents, their privileges, are swallowed up in the world. How many who have named the name of Christ, and avouched him for “all their salvation and all their desire,” still “make gold their hope, and say unto the fine gold, Thou art my confidence!” How many who profess to have no portion beneath the skies, live as though wealth were their idol, mammon their God! And while this lamentable fact stares us in the face, does it not demonstrate that something must be done for the languishing, depressed state of the church? Christian brethren, it is this worldly spirit that blights our hopes―that chills religion to the very heart;―that withers your graces-―poisons your comforts, and blasts the fair game of your Redeemer’s cause. While this spirit pervades the professing people of God, how can it be otherwise than that there will be few to weep over the woes of Jerusalem?―-few who are jealous for her honour, or affected by her reproach?―few who struggle for her prosperity, or are in travail for the birth of her children? In such a state, does not the daughter of
Zion need help from above? We must be hardened, indeed, not to feel her exigency. Where is our hope without a season of “refreshing from the presence of the Lord?
2. Another evidence of our need of a revival of religion, is the stupidity and indifference of God’s people, in regard to the power of godliness in their own hearts, and the interest of the Redeemer’s kingdom around them.
It cannot be denied, that there are seasons when the people of God in the midst of us, appear to be roused from their languor. But these seasons are so short―so very short―that for the most part we may be said to be in a state of deplorable stupidity. Nor can any thing less be expected from the predominating spirit of the world. The mind is always active. The affections are always placed on some one supreme object. Believers never do, and never can for-sake God, while they are in the exercise of supreme love to him. Spiritual declension essentially consists in loving the creature more than the Creator. It is by placing their affections upon the world, rather than God, that his people ever lose sight of the permanent realities of religion. It is by choosing another God before him; it is by wandering after idols, that they ever relax their zeal and become remiss in their duty. And do we not discover decisive evidences of the truth and influence of this principle among ourselves? Who among us appear to realize the importance, to see the beauty, and enjoy the comforts of religion? Who among us appear to “savor the things that be of God” rather than “those that be of men?” Where is that deep and affecting impression of divine objects which is wont to have an abiding influence upon the hearts and lives of true believers? Ah, brethren! the throb of spiritual life is languid and low. The people of God have become cold and indifferent to all that concerns the interests of the Redeemer’s kingdom both within them and without them. They have lost their first love. There is a chilling stupidity that pervades the church. You have forgotten God, and you have forgotten man. You disregard the languor of saints and the impending danger of sinners. Religion has become a dull, languid thing. The sacred flame which once enlightened and warmed, is reduced to a solitary spark; and all fervent, steady zeal for the honour of God and the salvation of souls, seems to have become well nigh extinct. There is not altogether a want of external attention to the word and ordinances; but they are cold and heartless. There is much parade, and show, and noise about religion; this is the fatal deception of our city; but where is its vital energy and ardour? There is a species of religious dissipation in our Christian community, which hardens the hearts of professing Christians, and fortifies the consciences of the impenitent against the arrows of conviction.
Both the people of God and the men of the world attend upon the services of the sanctuary, with a portion of the same kind of feeling with which they would attend upon the diversions of the theatre, or listen to an argument at the bar. They hear; but it is a sound which “plays round the head, but comes not to the heart.” They are pleased, but not affected; they are interested, but not humbled; they go away sometimes extolling the merit and as often the demerit of the preacher, but seldom steal silently to their closets under the condemning power of pungent truth. There is an awful blank in our religious duties. There is a something wanting; and I know not what it is, unless the vital savor is gone; unless the life-giving spirit is fled. “Our leanness! our leanness!” “For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt.” “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? O, we need his healing power. These desolations must be repaired. The Lord must arise and plead his own cause. I add.
3. Another evidence of our need of the outpouring of the Spirit of God is our signal abuse of prosperity.
It is but a little time since our city was covered with a cloud. In the recent desolations of our land, we were not exempt from our portion of calamity. But the silver clarion of peace has again vibrated on our ears, and the rich blessings of peace have been again restored in unexampled profusion. Worldly prosperity has been flowing in upon us in deep, wide channels; and all classes of men have been growing rich. But I hardly dare ask, what return has been made to the Father of mercies for these multiplied favors? In “the day of adversity,” we began to “consider;” but God has “spoken to us in our prosperity, and we have said, We will not hear.” It is a mournful fact, that from the evening the glad tidings of returning peace thrilled the bosom of our city, we have been forsaking God, and God has been forsaking us. As a people, we have from that hour, been making our calculations for time and not for eternity; we have been “seeking our own and not the things that are Christ’s.” There has been less seriousness, less attention to religious duties of every kind, less time, if not less property and talent devoted to the Redeemer, than were called forth during the season of our depression and distress.
Do not these things speak a language that is full of meaning? The affecting truth must be told. Prosperity has made us as a people presumptuous and hardened in sin. It has imparted both the power and the disposition to dishonour the God who made us and the Saviour who bought us. Heaven’s mercies have only made us worse. The better God has treated us, the worse we have treated him. The more God has done for us, the more we have done against him. The more he regards our prosperity, the more do we disregard his glory.―”Do ye thus requite the Lord, O foolish people and unwise?” How true is that divine axiom, “Let favour be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness; in the land of up-rightness he will deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord.” If unrivalled goodness has no other effect than to harden and stupify; if it does but entrench unbelievers in their rebellion, and increase the languor and enhance the sinfulness of believers; do we not need the humbling quickening influences of the Holy Spirit? The full tide of worldly prosperity seems to have set in with a resistless current. Thousands are floating calmly and imperceptibly upon its surface, and will ere long plunge down the precipice or be drifted beyond the hope of return. It is time to be alarmed. It is time to tremble for the church of Christ. While “the enemy is thus coming in like a flood,” must not the Spirit of the Lord “lift up a standard against him?”
It would be easy to protract the lamentable detail of facts which are calculated to show us the indispensable necessity of a revival of religion. I have confined myself chiefly to those that are found among professing Christians, because these are the most alarming. A view of these supercedes the necessity of surveying those which spring up in such rank exuberance, in a less kindly soil. If wicked men “cast off fear and restrain prayer;” if the multitude “make light” of the gospel banquet; if “one goeth to his farm and another to his merchandise;” if some murmur and complain, and all “begin to make excuse;” is it not the natural result of the worldliness and stupidity of Christians? Yes, it is this, that casts so dark a shade over the prospects of the church. It is this, that is the prolific source of mischiefs to the souls of men. It is this, that weakens the strength of Zion, and strengthens the weakness of her enemies. This is the fatal stumbling block over which thousands stumble and fall into the gulph of perdition. It is this that shuts the doors of heaven upon many who might enter in, and that has long stood between God and his blessing upon us as a people. How can it be expected that sinners will hearken to the voice of the Son of God, when saints will not hearken? How can we hope that the world will regard what the church will not regard? “Shall horses run upon the rock, or will one plough there with oxen?” How few will be brought to the saving knowledge of Jesus, unless the Lord revive the languid graces of his own people, and pour out his Spirit upon his enemies? The people of God are so intoxicated by the world, so stupified by indifference, so oppressed by criminal unbelief, that we need the effusions of his grace. “Evil men and seducers are waxing worse and worse,” and we need help from on high. Dying men are daily descending to the tomb, and we must have help from on high. When I look around upon my audience, and think of the probability that, before the return of another year, many of them will be sinking in the regions of interminable woe, I feel the necessity, the pressing necessity of a revival of religion.
To read the rest of Rev. Spring’s sermon, click here. and continue reading from page 19 of the PDF [page 20 of the original printing].