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Psalmist, “Wilt thou not revive us again ?” Whether it be true or not, as a modern philosopher has said,—that this periodical arrest of the movements of life is peculiar only to the planets, and that whatever may be the organisation existing in the centres of planetary systems, the suns, that there life in all its forms, unvisited by a change of seasons, keeps running on in perpetual and regular activity,—one thing we know, as Christians, that this law of arrested life knows no existence in heaven. There flowers are amaranthine, human frames are incorruptible, the Church of the first-born, whose names are written in its archives, is incapable of decay. On earth alone we see the flower fade in our embrace, the bodies of our beloved ones droop and die; and on earth alone is it that this prayer is relevant to the occasional condition of the Church.
But does the Church need a revival at the present time? If so, is there any hope of her enjoying it ? and what peculiar value is there attaching to a genuine revival which should encourage us to pray for it? Such are the three suggestions of our text : “ Revive us again"--we need it;“Wilt thou not revive us again"—there is hope as well as earnestness in the prayer; “that thy people may rejoice in thee"-the value of a revival is great, leading us to rejoice in God.
I. OUR NEED OF A REVIVAL.
1. The general absence of religious earnestness. When one was asked his opinion respecting the religious movement effected through the instrumentality of Wesley and Whitfield, he replied that it was “Christianity in earnest.” To my mind the reply was more expressive of the prevalent coldness on religious matters, with which that earnestness contrasted, than descriptive of what the movement really was. Christianity in earnest ! did not the reply virtually admit that there might be Christianity without earnestness ? and is it not one of the most prevalent mistakes of the times, that all Christians are not bound to be earnest ? that as each man has some particular view on political matters, yet all men are not obliged enthusiastically to support their peculiar opinions, even so men may be Christians without being necessarily over-earnest in the matter? This is a radical and pernicious mistake; Christianity is more than an opinion; for if it be true that ardency of feeling and force of character depend on the momentousness of what a man believes, then not only is it true that the most intense form of earnestness is only possible to him who believes in the personal and paramount importance of spiritual religion; but a man's Christianity may be measured by the practical earnestness he evinces in connexion therewith, so that instead of saying of that or any similar movement it is “ Christianity in earnest," the proper reply would be, It is Christianity as it is, or should be. Earnestness—nay, even enthusiasm, taking that word in its good meaning is the normal state of Christianity. Were not the early Christians earnest ? so enthusiastic in their religion as to be regarded by those who had never experienced what they felt as “beside" themselves—made mad by what they had learned ? Is not every converted soul in earnest so long as the flame of his first love remains unquenched ? Yes, brethren, for although it be true that earnestness in itself is of little worth, nay, may be as pregnant with evil as with good, so natural, so necessary is it to true Christianity, that in proportion to its absence among Christian men do they need reviving again. Do we need any proof of the want of individual earnestness in these times? Does not that proof meet us everywhere? Where shall we go to find the successors of those men who “sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men as every man had need; and continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people ?" We look not for the particular form their earnestness took—(that religious display of communistic principles was but a providential development of Christian earnestness to meet the special exigencies of the infant Church), but for the same earnest spirit, and, alas ! are met by an apathy and coldness which would be deplored if found in connexion with a professedly human system. Our religion has become a matter of ceremony rather than conviction, of habit rather than feeling. We have traditional faith, unfeeling orthodoxy, unpractical profession--a form of godliness; but anything like the earnestness of primitive Christianity does not, to any appreciable extent, appear to exist. Truly we need to pray,
“ Wilt thou not revive us again ?” 2. Another evidence of our need of a revival is a want of faith in the distinctive doctrines of the Gospel. Systems are distinguished from each other by those real or assumed truths in the possession of which they differ. The Gospel differs from all other systems by its proclamation of doctrines peculiar to itself-truths which are not so much parts of the system as the system itself-doctrines so vital, so essential, that if they are ignored the system itself is destroyed. What these doctrines are I need not state; they are those which stand in the foreground of apostolic teaching, on the pedestal of apostolic argument, doctrines so handled in the Scriptures that those who wrote them, clearly meant them to become prime articles of human faith, and the very promulgation of which instrumentally occasioned the marvellous success of early Christianity.
Now, what is the attitude of some among us, in relation to those fundamental truths? hostility? denial ?—No, there never was, perhaps, less of formal heterodoxy in the Church than there is now. What, then, is that attitude ? I say, and I do só with regret, that, in many instances, it is a want of sympathy for, or a want of faith in, them, They are proclaimed as doctrines, but not as the doctrines. They are spoken of occasionally, but not constantly. The great evil in the Christian Church is, a want of prominence in dealing with those truths. Do you ask me why this has happened ?-why men have departed from apostolic precedent in this matter? I say, it is in a great measure due, I fear, to a morbid worship of intellectualism. In order to keep a-head of the march of intellect in society, and to make the “pulpit a power,” Christian men seek to make an advance on the teachings of apostles, and to become so original as to eliminate from the Bible that which the Holy Spirit never put there. They forsake the old paths, beaten out by inspired thought, for new ones of their own invention. Why is this? Is it merely to satisfy the world in its Athenistic raving for some new thing,” or because those old topics are worn out and have lost their power? Is it the first? Then what right have they to minister to a craving which, from its nature, can never be satisfied ? Christianity comes, not to meet every wish of the soul, but those the gratification of which is needful in order to purity and happiness. True it is that there is much in the Gospel to minister to the highest intellectual powers of man; yet when we remember that its mission is to commend the truth to every man's conscience, and that in a community excessive intellectualism is the worship of the few, rather than of the multitude,—that the highest intellectual advancement of a people is not synonymous with truest progress-and also that Christian teachers are bound to imitate their apostolic predecessors, who preached not to the philosopher, but to the people, -we can recognise no obligation on the part of Christian men in the present day to hold back those distinctive doctrines in order to satisfy the world. Nor are they worn out, nor have they lost their power; but men have lost faith in them, and hence the little prominence given to them in some portions of the Christian Church. And what is this but the evidence of our need of revival ? Nothing but a revival can save us in this particular; for all history shows that God owns and honours those distinctive doctrines so much,
that every genuine revival which has ever happened has been either preceded or followed by an earnest and prominent proclamation of those very truths. The Holy Spirit, who owns only what Himself has inspired, will never sanction that which comes as its substitute. Yes, we need a revival; and nothing less than a revival can preserve to us those grand old doctrines which the Hebrew seer ran out in vision with rapture to embrace, and the early martyr wound round him a mantle of flame rather than deny.
3. We learn our need of a revival from the limited influence of Christian character. In reading the Bible, we discover not only that it is fitted by motive, precept, promise, and example, to produce in its believers a higher and purer character than is possible under any other system, but that its design is only realised when that character is attained. “He gave himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." A spiritually moral character so pure in its motives, so high in its aims, and so inflexible in its conduct, that whenever it exists it will, yea, must, exert an influence on the society in which it is placed. But has this character ever been realised, so as to exert an appreciable influence? Yes, it has existed and made itself felt wherever Chris. tianity has been properly received by its followers; and whatever the world may have thought of Christian doctrine, it has had but one opinion respecting such a character. Pagan, semi-pagan, or civilised, if it has seen no divinity in the truth presented, it has been compelled to to recognise a force in the character lived, as pointing to the believers of different periods, it has said, “See, how these Christians live!” It was thus that the early Christians, not only by “well-doing put to silence the ignorance of foolish men,” but “won” over to Christian doctrine those who had been its most inveterate foes. Yes, in those times men might safely read Christianity in the lives of its professors. When one of such characters was once plying his heathen servant with arguments to prove the doctrine of human sinfulness, the servant replied that his master might say what he pleased, but he could never believe that doctrine to be true, because, in all the years he had served his master, he had never seen any depravity in him. How many similar characters exist in the present day? Has there not come over the Church a general deteroriation of Christian character ? Has it not sunk 80 much to the level of a merely conventional morality as to lose the contrast which gave to it its natural force ? Instead of there being a general striving to become as holy as the grace of God can make us, is
there not rather a clinging to as much imperfection as we deem consistent with a state of salvation? How rarely do we meet with a telling character! With one which reminds you of Him who is at once the master of Christian thought, and the model of Christian conduct. Heedless of the pernicious influence of a mediocre standard, we make the imperfections of others excuses for our own, and wink at the unchristian conduct of professors, lest the reply should meet us, “ Phy• sical heal thyself.” Oh, my brethren, let us not shut our eyes to these things. The evil lies like an incubus on the Christian Church; if we overlook it, the world will not. The inconsistencies of Christian professors arm it with its strongest objections to Christian truth, and unless Christian character becomes raised in its tone by reviving grace, the only difference between the world and the Church will soon be merely one of opinion; and what is that but saying that it will make the Church injurious rather than useful ? for if history has any truth—if past experience is at all reliable—then I say they both prove to us that Christian doctrine, unaccompanied by Christian character, has ever been to the world a curse, rather than a blessing.
4. The alienation of the poor as a class from Christian teaching is an additional evidence of our need of a revival. It is true that the mere fact of any class of men holding back from Christian influence is no special proof of the Church having degenerated, because the natural state of men's minds is hostility to the Gospel ; and in saying, therefore, of any class that it has no sympathy for Christian institutions, is to say that that class needs what all others do—converting grace. But there seems something so radically wrong in the present aspect of what is called the working class, in relation to the Church, that whilst I do not believe in the scripturalness of class salvation, as I never did in the honesty of class legislation, and though I have no desire to speak of one class at the expense of an er, I cannot help feeling that the Church has failed to imitate our Saviour in His treatment of the working classes of His day. No one can help recognising the peculiar relation sustained by the early Church towards the poor; the common people heard Christ gladly, while the wealthy and titled held aloof, maligned His character, and endeavoured to frustrate His plans. Christ's parting legacy was, “ the poor ye have always with you;” and it was from that class, which everywhere represents the greatest number, that Christianity drew her early converts. So that, whether the apostles preached the Gospel at Jerusalem, Corinth, or Rome, it was true, that