The Second Awakening Looks at the First

Thanks to This Day in Presbyterian History, here are some excerpts from an article in The Charleston Observer, dated 14 Apr 1838:

11. No heavier curse can fall upon a community, than a spurious revival. Stupidity is dreadful; but it is mercy compared with false excitement. Lukewarmness is deplorable; but it leaves room for repentance. Infidelity is horrible; but it may yield to conviction. Hypocrisy and self deception are worse than all. The fire of God’s wrath only can remove them. They are the offspring of spurious revivals and combine in their character all, and more than all that is fearful in stupidity, lukewarmness and infidelity together.

12. A genuine revival is noiseless, orderly, solemn and even awful. God is in the midst of it. And his presence carries death to levity, presumption, arrogance and proud display. It inspires an awe like that felt at the foot of Sinai. It creates a trembling throughout the whole camp. It is marked by deep and often long continued conviction of sin; overwhelming sorrow for the hardness of the heart; earnest pleadings with a holy and just God for light and direction; a disposition to retire from observation, and vent the souls anguish in the closet; love for the Bible; abhorrence of all lightness of speech and behavior; clear apprehension of the law of God, in its purity, spirituality, compass and ends; great fears of self deception; thorough searchings of the heart; many, many tears and heart-breakings, in view of past offenses; and many strong fears that the day of mercy may have gone by forever.–Where religious excitement is not attended by marks like those both among Christians and sinners, we have no confidence in it.–Some souls may be converted; but more are likely to be ruined, beyond all hope of recovery.

13. The spirit of a genuine revival repudiates all excesses of feeling, speech, and action. It abhors all irregularities; all eccentricities in the manner of the preacher; all wild incoherent ravings; all personalities of address; praying for individuals by name in public assemblies, irreverent familiarity with the name of God; and calling on individuals in promiscuous meetings, to tell what God hath done for their souls. It rejects whatever is theatrical in gesture, pompous or vulgar in expression, and offensive to a cool dispassionate judgment, in stories and anecdotes. It demands solemnity; deep, heartfelt, all pervading solemnity in the preacher, the church and the congregation.

18. It is a fact, not to be disguised, that there is a vast difference between the revivals which blessed the Church in the days of Edwards, Strong, Griffin and Payson, and the revivals of the past ten or fifteen years. They are not to be named together. There are individual exceptions, no doubt. But we speak of them as classes. And in the first class, the whole truth of God was declared plainly, pungently, argumentatively, and without compromise. The whole reliance of Ministers and Churches was on the Holy Spirit. They stood still, and saw the salvation of the Lord. When the pillar of fire moved before them, they moved. When it passed behind them they passed in holy awe. And long did those revivals continue; deep and all penetrating was their influence; lasting as time and eternity were their visible and happy effects.

In the second class, the truth of God is half wrapt up; doctrines offensive to the carnal heart may not be preached, lest the revival stop; total depravity; the sinner’s utter helplessness; eternal election; God’s absolute sovereignty; the resistless agency of the Holy Spirit, must all yield to the doctrine of the sinner’s ability; this is the grand fulcrum on which rests the whole moral machinery, by which he is to be renewed, and sanctified and transferred to heaven! And then, in order to complete success, protracted meetings of various kinds, extending from four to forty days must be maintained, and the most popular, not the most spiritual preachers in all the country must be called in, to give repeated and powerful impulses to the work. And when these means are exhausted, and the excitement once begins to flag, the Minister loses his order, the Church remits her prayer meetings; and the mass of community move on as if nothing had happened.

In such revivals we have little confidence. “Except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”

This entry was posted in Ecclesiology, evangelicals, Protestant preaching, Quotes, Reformed piety, Revivalism, Second Great Awakening. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Second Awakening Looks at the First

  1. RubeRad says:

    A genuine revival is noiseless, orderly, solemn and even awful.

    I.e. Awe-full. See also from the old (“blue”) Trinity Hymnal:
    How sweet and aweful is the place
    With Christ within the doors…

    Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
    And enter while there’s room,
    When thousands make a wretched choice,
    And rather starve than come?

  2. Zrim says:

    Interesting how the description of “revival” sounds a lot like what happens ordinarily and in the routine course of things. But “revival” connotes something extraordinary, i.e to bring back to life or consciousness; resuscitate; to impart new health, vigor, or spirit to; to restore to use, currency, activity, or notice; to restore the validity or effectiveness of; to renew in the mind; recall.

    So why use a word that doesn’t really capture the meaning?

    So I’m with the Curmudgeon:

    Attend a conservative Presbyterian Church for a few weeks, and you will almost certainly hear the word “revival.” Ministers preach the need for revival, pray for God to send revival, tell stories of past revivals, and hope for future revivals.

    It would appear there is universal agreement that revival is Biblical, salutary, to be longed for, and key to a future for God’s people. Revival is indispensable for the health of the individual and the church. Revival is necessary for the reclaiming of the culture and probably the survival of the nation.

    The Revivals denigrated the place of ordinary worship and the introduced novelties into worship. The Revivals were indifferent toward the authority and government of the church and created para-church organizations. The Revivals elevated experiences of the heart over the practices of a life.

    Revivals, like all things that emphasize and rely on experiences, are not sustainable. Experiences are about feelings, godly or otherwise. Feelings by nature and necessity fade and fluctuate. When one relies on experiences he is setting himself up for disappointment and disillusionment. Experiences are like romantic love. You can’t build a lifetime marriage relationship on romantic love, nor can you build a lifetime relationship with God on even the sweetest frame.

    Perhaps I can suggest a more excellent way. Have confidence in ordinary worship and the ordinary means of grace, the read and preached Word, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the public prayers. Encourage the ordinary Christian life lived by ordinary observant Christians.

  3. RubeRad says:

    Interesting how the description of “revival” sounds a lot like what happens ordinarily and in the routine course of things. So why use a word that doesn’t really capture the meaning?

    Hey, it’s not my words, just quoting from the 1830’s. He was making the same argument that the 2GA was too focused on the extraordinary, and advocating for an understanding of “revival” that is more focused on the ordinary.

  4. Zrim says:

    I was referring to his words (“A genuine revival is noiseless, orderly, solemn and even awful”). And my point is that revival doesn’t really connote ordinariness. It connotes extraordinariness. And if a genuine revival is marked by biblical virtues of orderliness, etc. then has something extraordinary really happened?

    My own sense is that when folks plainly use the term revival they mean that something extraordinary has happened, and I don’t quite understand why some want to claim the term for orthopraxis (order and solemnity) when it so often aligns better with that which is less-than-orthopraxis (excitement and enthusiasm). Why not let the enthusiasts have the term and be content with Reformation? But maybe some like pounding square pegs into round holes and holding balloons under water.

  5. RubeRad says:

    Why not let the enthusiasts have the term and be content with Reformation?

    I get your point; you don’t like 1(PG)A any more than 2GA. But my point is that it is interesting to see how this guy from the midst of the 2GA viewed it as compared to 1GA.

    Would you not say that we (CO, DGH, RSC, WHI/ModRef, WSCAL, etc) are in the midst of a revival of the Ordinary Means? (Dare I say movement?)

  6. Zrim says:

    I’d settle for a return to the ordinary means.

  7. RubeRad says:

    Yes, that sounds more like you. And yet to juxtapose “revival” and “ordinary means” is to attempt to reclaim/redefine the word. Some people may want to keep a word, some are OK to abandon it. Same deal with “evangelical”. And “catholic”. And “dispensation“.

  8. Zrim says:

    For what it’s worth, I’ve yet to be convinced that “evangelical” and “catholic” don’t subsume “Reformed.” How “revival” is co-extensive with “Reformed” mystifies. Maybe it’s the difference between Lutheran-leaning Reformed (nay) and Baptist-friendly Reformed (yea).

  9. Pingback: 1973 Prophecy – The Vision by David Wilkerson – A Must See! «

  10. Pingback: Can Presbyterians Revive? | The Confessional Outhouse

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