We might have closed our studies of the Way of Salvation with Sanctification, without giving any attention to the subject of Revivals. We remember, however, that, in the estimation of many, revivals are the most essential part of the Way; so much so that, in certain quarters, few, if any, souls are expected to be brought into the way of life, otherwise than through so-called "revivals of religion." According to this widespread idea, the ingathering of souls, the upbuilding of the Church, her activity, power and very life, are dependent upon the revival system.

In view of all this, we have concluded to bring our studies to a close with an examination of this system. Before we enter upon the subject itself, however, we desire to have it distinctly understood that we intend to discuss the system, and not the people who believe and practice it. There doubtless are very excellent Christian people who favor a religion built up and dependent on such movements, and there may be very unchristian people who oppose it. With this we have nothing to do. We are not discussing persons, but doctrines and systems. The advocates of modern revivalism claim the right to hold, defend and propagate their views. We only demand the same right. If we do not favor or practice their way, our people have not only a right to ask, but it is our duty to give grounds and reasons for our position.

In discussing this subject, we intend, as usual, to speak with all candor and plainness. We desire to approach and view this subject, as every subject, from the fair, firm standpoint of the opening words of the Formula of Concord, viz.: "We believe, teach and confess that the only rule and standard, according to which all doctrines and teachings should be esteemed and judged, are nothing else than the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testament." We wish to test it by the infallible Word. By it, we are willing to be judged. According to it, our views and doctrines must stand or fall.

What then is a revival? The word revive means to bring back to life. It presupposes the existence of life, which for a time had languished or died. Life was present, it failed and was restored.

Strictly speaking, therefore, we can only use this word of the bringing back of a life that had been there formerly and was lost. Applying it to spiritual life, strictly speaking, only a person who has once had the new life in him, but lost it for awhile and regained it, can be said to be revived. So, likewise, only a church or a community that was once spiritually alive, but had grown languid and lifeless, can be said to be revived. On the other hand, it is an improper use of terms to apply the word revival to the work of a foreign missionary, who for the first time preaches the life-giving Word, and through it gathers converts and organizes Churches. In his case it is a first bringing, and not a restoring, of life.

All those Old Testament reformations and restorations to the true worship and service of the true God, after a time of decline and apostasy, were revivals according to the strict sense of the word. For these revivals patriarchs and prophets labored and prayed.

On the other hand, the labors and successes of the apostles in the New Testament were not strictly revivals. They preached the Gospel instead of the law. They preached a Redeemer who had come, instead of one who was to come. It was largely a new faith, a new life, a new way of life that they taught, and in so far a new Church that they established. Its types, shadows and roots, had all been in the old covenant and Church. But so different were the fulfillments from the promises, that it was truly called a New Dispensation. And, therefore, the labors of the apostles to establish this dispensation were largely missionary labors. It was not so much the restoring of an old faith and life, as the bringing in of a new. We find their parallel in foreign mission work much more than in regular Church work. It is by overlooking this distinction that many erroneous doctrines and practices have crept into the Church, e.g., as to infant baptism, conversion and modern revivalism.

As to revivals, popularly so-called, we maintain, first of all, that it ought to be the policy and aim of the Church to preclude their necessity.

It is generally admitted that they are only needed, longed for and obtained, after a period of spiritual decline and general worldliness. A Church that is alive and active needs no revival. A lifeless Church does. Better then, far better, to use every right endeavor to keep the Church alive and active, than permit it to grow cold and worldly, with a view and hope of a glorious awakening. Prevention is better than cure. We would rather pay a family physician to prevent disease and keep us well, than to employ even the most distinguished doctor to cure a sick household; especially if the probability were that, in some cases, the healing would be only partial, and in others it would eventuate in an aggravation of the disease.

In the chapters on the Baptismal Covenant and Conversion, we showed that it is possible to keep that covenant and thus always grow in Grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. While we sorrowfully admitted that the cases of such as do it are not as numerous as is possible and most desirable, we also learned that they might be far more numerous, if parents and teachers understood their responsibility and did their duty to the baptized children. We verily believe that thus it might become the rule, instead of the exception, that the children of Christian parents would grow up as Christ's lambs from baptism, would love Him with their earliest love and never wander into the ways of sin. We also firmly believe that those thus early consecrated, trained, taught and nurtured in faith and love, make the healthiest, the strongest and most reliable members and workers in the Church.

Neither can we for a moment doubt but that such is the good and gracious will of Him who desires the little children to be baptized into Him. It certainly seems repugnant to all that we have ever learned of our God and Saviour, that it should be His will that our dear children, who have been conceived and born in sin, and are therefore by nature, or by birth, the children of wrath, should remain in this state of sin and condemnation until they are old enough to be converted at a revival. Yet it must be either that, or a denial of the Bible doctrine of original sin, if we accept the teachings and practices of modern revivalism. For either of these positions we are not prepared.

Therefore it is our great aim and object to recall the Church to the old paths. Therefore we are concerned to see the Church firmly established on the old foundations of the doctrine of original sin, of baptism for the remission of sins, of training up in that baptismal covenant by the constant, diligent and persevering teaching of God's Word, in the family, in the Sunday-school, in the catechetical class and from the pulpit. In proportion as this is accomplished, in that proportion will we preclude the necessity of conversions and, consequently, of revivals.

Who will say, that a congregation made up of such as are "sanctified from the womb," "lent to the Lord," from birth, having "known the Holy Scripture" from childhood, would not be a healthy, living Church? Such a Church would need no revival.

Would it be possible to have such a Church? Is it possible for any one member to grow up and remain a child of God? If possible for one, why not for a whole congregation? Are the means of Grace inadequate? No, no! The whole trouble lies in the neglect or abuse of the means. With their proper use, the whole aspect of religious life might be different from what it is. It is not a fatal necessity that one, or more, or all the members of a church must periodically grow cold, lose their first love, and backslide from their God. It is not God's will, but their fault, that it should be so.

While the church at Ephesus lost its first love, and that at Pergamos permitted false doctrine to creep into it and be a stumbling block, and that at Thyatira suffered Jezebel to seduce Christ's servants, and that at Sardis did not have her works found perfect before God, and that of Laodicea had become lukewarm; yet the church at Smyrna, with all her tribulation and poverty and persecution, remained rich and faithful in the sight of God, and that at Philadelphia had kept the Word of God's patience, and her enemies were to know that God loved her. While the former five were censured, the latter two were approved. The former might have remained as faithful as the latter. It was their own fault and sin that the former needed a revival. The latter needed none. Which were the better off?

We believe that where there is a sound, faithful and earnest pastor, and a docile, sincere, earnest, united and active people, many will grow up in their baptismal covenant; and among those who wander more or less therefrom, there will be frequent conversions, under the faithful use of the ordinary services and ordinances of the Church. Such, we believe, were the pastorates of Richard Baxter, at Kidderminster; of Ludwig Harms, at Hermansburg; of Oberlin, at Steinthal; and of our late lamented Dr. Greenwald, at Easton and Lancaster. None of these churches, after their pastors were fairly established in them, needed revivals. And such, doubtless, have been thousands of quiet, faithful pastorates, some known to the world, and others known only to God. Blessed are those churches in which the work of Grace is constantly and effectively going on, according to God's Way of Salvation.

chapter xxii sanctification
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