Undoubtedly one of the greatest and most important of these religious movements was that one which swept over Presbyterian and Congregational Churches of New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, about the middle of the last century. It is generally known, and spoken of as "the great awakening." Its leading spirits were such staunch and loyal Calvinists as Jonathan Edwards, the Tennents, Blair, and others. In the matter of doctrinal preaching and instruction it was certainly very far in advance of the so-called revivals of the present day. And yet in many of its direct results it was anything but salutary. It was the principal cause of the division of the Presbyterian Church into Old and New School.
Let us hear what some of the eminent theologians of these Churches say of the results of "the great awakening:"
Dr. Sereno E. Dwight, the biographer of Jonathan Edwards, and one of his descendants, says: "It is deserving perhaps of inquiry, whether the subsequent slumbers of the American Church for nearly seventy years may not be ascribed, in an important degree, to the fatal reaction of these unhappy measures."
Jonathan Edwards, himself the most zealous and successful promoter of the whole movement, in 1750, when its fruits could be fairly tested, writes thus: -- "Multitudes of fair and high professors, in one place and another, have sadly backslidden; sinners are desperately hardened; experimental religion is more than ever out of credit with the far greater part, and the doctrines of Grace and those principles in religion that do chiefly concern the power of godliness are far more than ever discarded. Arminianism and Pelagianism have made strange progress within a few years.... Many professors are gone off to great lengths in enthusiasm and extravagance in their notions and practices. Great contentions, separations, and confusions in our religious state prevail in many parts of the land."
The above is from a letter to a friend in Scotland. We give also a brief quotation from his farewell sermon to his church at Nottingham:
"Another thing that vastly concerns your future prosperity is that you should watch against the encroachments of error, and particularly Arminianism and doctrines of like tendency.... These doctrines at this day are much more prevalent than they were formerly. The progress they have made in the land within this seven years (i.e., since the revival), seems to have been vastly greater than at any time in the like space before. And they are still prevailing and creeping into almost all parts of the land, threatening the utter ruin of the credit of those doctrines which are the peculiar glory of the Gospel and the interests of vital piety."
Dr. Van Rensselaer, in commenting on these and other serious words of the great Jonathan Edwards, says:
"And what was the final result? Arminianism led the way to Socinianism, and near the beginning of the present century there was but a single orthodox Congregational church in Boston. Harvard University had lapsed into heresy, and about a third of the churches of the Puritans denied the faith held by their fathers." And all this he traces back to that "great awakening." He further says: "A work so great and extensive was accompanied by incidents which made many good men doubtful as to its effects on the Church. Special seasons of religious interest are seasons of danger and temptation even under the guidance of the most enlightened and prudent.... Good men differ much in their estimate of the awakening, and the fruits of the work in many places afforded reason of much apprehension.... In its earlier stages the revival was unquestionably the occasion of the conversion of many souls. It was like one of those mighty rains of summer which refresh many a plant and tree, but which are accompanied, in many places, with hail and storm and overflowing desolation, and which are followed by a long, dreary drought. The Presbyterian Church welcomes fair revivals, sent by the Holy Spirit, but is averse to man-made schemes for getting up temporary excitements which have been so prevalent in our day."
During the years between 1830-1850, another revival agitation swept over the American Church. It was during this time, especially, that our English Lutheran churches caught the contagion, introduced the "new measures," such as the "mourner's bench," protracted meetings, the admission of members without catechetical instruction, and many other novelties. In not a few places, so-called Lutherans vied with the most fanatical sects in their wild extravagances. Those who adhered to the time-honored method and spirit of conservative Lutheranism, who preached the Word in all its simplicity, catechised the young, taught that the Spirit and Grace of God can only be expected to operate through Christ's own means, through Word and Sacrament, were denounced as formalists, who knew nothing of vital piety. Among the leading advocates of the new way was the Rev. Reuben Weiser. This now departed brother, with many other serious and thoughtful men, afterwards saw the error of his ways, and frankly and publicly confessed his change of conviction in the Lutheran Observer. He says:
"In 1842 Dr. J.W. Nevin, of the German Reformed Church, published a pamphlet called 'The Anxious Bench.' It was, for that time, a bold and vigorous arraignment of the whole modern revival system. He warned the German churches against this style of religion, but his warning was not much heeded at the time. I felt it my duty to reply to Dr. Nevin in a pamphlet called "The Mourners' Bench." At that time I was in the midst of the most extensive revival of my whole ministry. I was honest and sincere in my views, for I had not seen many of the evils that were almost certain to follow in the wake of revivals as they were then conducted. Personally, I respected and esteemed Dr. Nevin highly, but as he had opposed my cherished views, I felt it my duty to write against him. I said some things long since regretted, and now, after the lapse of nearly half a century, make this amende honorable. And it must be a source of pleasure to Dr. Nevin, who is still living, that the views which he so ably advocated in the face of much bitter opposition, have been generally adopted by nearly all the Churches."
Dr. Weiser proceeds: "Many of our churches that fostered this system were in the end injured by it.... Under the revival system it was very natural for the people to become dissatisfied with the ordinary means of Grace. There was a constant longing for excitement, and when the ebullition of feeling abated, many thought they had 'lost their religion.' The next move was that as the preacher was so dead and lifeless they must get another who had more fire, and thus the old pastor was sent adrift."
Elsewhere Dr. Weiser has clearly expressed himself as having become firmly convinced that the old churchly method of careful and systematic instruction of the young, is the only sure and safe way of building up the Church. He also quotes Dr. Morris as saying: "The mourners' bench was introduced into Lutheran churches in imitation of the Methodists, and disorders, such as shouting, clapping of hands, groaning, and singing of choruses of doggerel verses to the most frivolous tunes, whilst ministers or members, and sometimes women, were engaged in speaking to the mourners. Feelings were aroused, as usual, by portraying the horrors of hell, reciting affecting stories, alluding to deaths in families, violent vociferation, and other means. At prayer often all would pray as loud as the leader. These exercises would continue night after night, until the physical energies were exhausted."
Dr. H.E. Jacobs, in his preface to Rev. G.H. Trabert's tract on Genuine versus Spurious Revivals, writes thus of the system: "This system, if system it may be called, is in many of its elements simply a reproduction of the Romish errors against which our fathers bore testimony in the days of the Reformation. Wide as is the apparent difference, we find in both the same corruption of the doctrine of justification by faith alone without works, the same ignoring of the depths of natural depravity, the same exaltation of human strength and merit, the same figment of human preparation for God's Grace, the same confounding of the fruits of faith with the conditions of faith, the same aversion to the careful study of God's Word, the same indifference to sound doctrine, and the same substitution of subjective frames of mind and forms of experience for the great objective facts of Christianity, as the grounds of God's favor.
"In both cases, all spiritual strength, which is inseparable from complete dependence solely upon the Word and promise of God, and not in any way upon human sensations and preparations, is either withheld, destroyed, or greatly hindered; and uncertainty and vacillation, despair, infidelity and ruin, often end the sad story of those who are thus left without any firm support amidst the trials of life, and under the strokes of God's judgments.
"The same Church which in the days of the Reformation raised her voice against these errors, when she found the entire life of Christianity endangered by them, can be silent in the present hour, when the same errors appear all around her, only by betraying her trust, and incurring the guilt of the faithless watchman who fails to give alarm."
Let us hear also the testimony of our late lamented Dr. Krauth. He says, as quoted by Rev. Trabert: "How often are the urging that we are all one, the holding of union meetings, the effusive rapture of all-forgiving, all-forgetting, all-embracing love, the preliminary to the meanest sectarian tricks, dividing congregations, tearing families to pieces, and luring away the unstable. The short millennium of such love is followed by the fresh loosing of the Satan of malevolence out of his prison, and the clashing in battle of the Gog and Magog of sectarian rivalry. There is no surer preparation for bitter strife, heart-burnings, and hatred, than these pseudo unionistic combinations. One union revival has torn religious communities into hateful divisions which have never been healed.... And none have suffered so much, by these arts, as our Lutheran people, who, free from guile themselves, did not suspect it in others. Well might we ask with the 'Apology:' 'Are they not ashamed to talk in such terms of love, and preach love, and cry love, and do everything but practice love?'"
In conclusion we wish to present the testimony of some of the most eminent divines of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Of all others they will certainly not be accused of being prejudiced against modern revivals. And of all modern revivals, those conducted by the Evangelists, Moody and Sankey, are probably the least objectionable.
At the close of the celebrated "Hippodrome revival," in New York City, conducted by Messrs Moody and Sankey, in the spring of 1876, the Methodist Episcopal ministers, at a stated meeting, reviewed the revival and its results. The New York Herald gave the following account of their meeting, which we copy from Rev. Trabert's tract: "The Methodist ministers had under consideration the question of the value of special evangelistic efforts in regular Church work, with particular reference to the number of Hippodrome converts who may have united with their churches. For two weeks a member of the Hippodrome committee had distributed cards to the preachers with the names of persons who declared themselves converts of Mr. Moody's meetings. Four thousand had been reported as the fruits of the ten weeks special effort. Ten thousand inquirers had been reported.
"Dr. Robert Crook took the ground that special evangelistic agencies are not necessary, and that the work is more permanent and successful when performed through the regular church channels. Rev. J. Selleck, of Lexington avenue church, had sent about sixty of his members as singers and ushers, and had not only received not a single convert from that place into his church, but had been unable to gather in the members he gave them, who were still running here and there after sensations! Rev. J.F. Richmond had received a number of cards, and could report two or three converts who would unite with his church, but in connection with Hope Chapel he had not much success. He had gone to five places indicated on the cards as residences of converts, but could find none of them. This was his experience also with many others whom he had sought out. Rev. John Jones had received many cards, and had found out some direct frauds, and many others nearly so. He did discover eight persons converted at Mr. Moody's meetings, six of whom would unite with his church. Rev. C.G. Goss did not think any one effort or kind of effort was going to convert the world. We could not measure religious efforts by financial or numerical measurements. As to the general question, he had the history of ten city churches always known as revival churches. In 1869 they had reported one hundred probationers each. In 1870 they reported a net loss of five hundred, making, with the probationers reported, a loss of fifteen hundred in one year, in ten churches.
"Bedford street church was an example of a revival church: St. Paul's the opposite. The former reported, in twenty years, twenty-five hundred probationers. But the increase of her membership for that period was only one hundred and twenty-eight. He could not account for this. On the other hand, St. Paul's reported four hundred and forty-eight probationers, for twenty-five years, and her increase in membership has been two hundred and eighty-six. This was to him an argument in favor of regular church work."