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Besides these labours in conferences and prayer-meetings, to which brethren of the church of Christ are called, a species of labour as important, and perhaps more uniformly blessed, is private conversation with the impenitent. The cases where personal applications have been found to be useful, are almost as numerous as the instances of conversion. When a large assembly is collected, and a minister of the gospel is addressing the consciences of his hearers in a plain and pungent manner, the sinner, although he may feel deeply the truths that are brought into view, yet is strongly inclined to hold up a shield, which he intends shall either receive the arrow and retain it, or cause it to glance off and hit his neighbour who sits near him. But when an impenitent person is addressed individually, and the truths of the gospel are set home to his conscience, and he is told plainly, “thou art the man,” he has no opportunity of evading the attack. If his conscience is not seared as with a kot iron; if the capacity of feeling still remains, he will tremble under an exhibition of the terrors of the law; he will shew by his sighs and his tears, that the truths of the gospel are now, as they ever have been, the sword of the Spirit. It is by a plain exposition of the law of God, with its tremendous penalties, accompanied by the divine blessing, that the conscience is alarmed, and the sinner is induced to give up his dependence on himself, on any works which he has done or can do, and to repent of his manifold transgressions. It is in this manner, that he consents to cast himself on the mere mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to trust in his willingness, ability, and faithfulness to save, even unto the uttermost, all that will come unto God by him. These personal exhortations and reproofs should be made privately; when the individual is alone, or in company with none but a few very intimate friends. An entire seclusion from society is the best state in which to confer with an awakened sinner. Here, there will be no fear of disclosure ; no alarm, lest a neighbour should be witness to confessions which are always irksome and unpleasant to an unrenewed mind. The heart too will be unlocked, and will appear to view in its true character, disrobed of the coverings with which caution and prudence have enveloped it; and with apparent frankness exhibiting the base and grovelling passions and appetites by which it has been go long governed. The christian brother will likewise have much advantage, on an occasion of this kind, from an entire exclusion of spectators. He will be able to make close inquiries concerning habits, and more pungent reproofs relative to omissions in duty. He will learn the nature of the disease in this particular case, better, and will be able to apply the specific remedy which the circumstances imperiously demand. But it is unnecessary to enlarge on this point. Many instances might be mentioned, where the faithful labours of ministers, and private christians, in personal applications to the impenitent, have been most abundantly blessed. A few facts concerning this subject I will take the liberty to particularize.
A christian residing in the country, some time since, passed by an old man who was cutting wood. After he had rode beyond him an eighth of a mile, it occurred powerfully to his mind, perhaps this old man is not a christian. He returned, and asked him if he had made any preparation for eternity. The old man replied, that he had no reason to hope that he had made his peace with God. The clergyman then said, “is it not high time of day po and departed. The man when first accosted, raised his axe over his shoulder, as if on the point of striking it on the wood, but his attention was so arrested by the conversation, that he kept the axe in that position until the clergyman had rode to the distance of a quarter of a mile. He went to his house and passed a sleepless night, was soon under deep conviction of sin, and in the course of a week or two, began to have peace and joy in believing
Two young ladies, who were thoughtless and light-minded, were called upon by two brethren, and conversed with on the subject of their salvation. They listened with attention, soon wept, and promised no longer to neglect a subject of such infinite moment. The impressions on the minds of both were permanent. They became convinced of sin, and in two or three weeks gave good evidence of a radical change of heart.
· Another case was that of a young man of a moral character, but careless and indifferent, who was solemnly urged by his minister to attend to the great work for which he was created. The impressive manner in which he was urged, he could not forget; the words of the minister would recur to his mind, until he became thoughtful, solemn, awakened, convinced of sin, and converted unto God. This happy result was but two or three days after the conversation took place.
The late J. M. Esq. who lived in a neighboring county, and who was eminently useful as a servant of Christ, informed the writer of this article, that he lived to be upwards of forty years of age, before his attention was excited to the great subject of the salvation of his soul; and it was accomplished in the following manner. Being at that time occupied as a farmer, he went one morning to a neighbouring town with a load of grain. On his way, a man with whom he was acquainted spoke to him as follows: “Good morning, sir : I take notice that unless a man lays up property by the time he is forty years of age, he never accumulates any.” This remark made an impression. It immediately occurred to Mr. M., if this is true relative to wealth, why is it not true concerning religion. I am now more than forty years of age, and have no reason to suppose myself a christian. Is it probable I ever shall be a christian? This train of thought occupied his mind for a time. He soon became convinced of sin, and fled to the Lord Jesus Christ for deliverance. “If I am a christian,” to use his own language, “it is owing to that single remark, which in the hand of the Holy Spirit wrought out my conversion.” I have mentioned this case to shew that a word dropped in season, may with the divine blessing be the means of producing the most excellent effects.
I will state, as a further proof of the utility of personal application, that a man highly distinguished for his usefulness, and success in revivals of religion, has ever been indefatigable in visiting and conversing with individuals. As soon as he learns that sinners are awakened and inquiring, he immediately calls upon them, and converses familiarly, pungently, and kindly with them, respecting their views concerning religion, the worth of the soul, their hopes and fears relative to their safety, and their exposure to the wrath of Almighty God while in a state of impenitence. These visits are repeated again and again, and the same persons who have been laboured with individually, are gathered together in the inquiry meeting, and addressed collectively. The late revival at Thetford, in Vermont, as related by the minister, began in the fall of 1821. The church appointed a committee to call on every family in the society, and to converse with them on the subject of religion ; and before taking leave, to pray with them. Before the committee had gone through the parish the revival began, and extended soon on every side, until it became a general and powerful work. Many other cases in point inight be related, but I fear the patience of your readers has been already exhausted.
If I were asked by a brother in communion with a church which had never been roused from a state of lethargy, what kind of labour was first in importance, and what should be first commenced, I would answer, let every species of labour be entered upon immediately, and let them be persevered in unremittingly. Let no brother decline doing his part, because he is not learned or eloquent. If he cannot exhort to the acceptance of his neighbours, he can pray; and let this be done with earnestness. “Whatsoever you do, do it with all your might.” If you expect and pray for a little revival; if you have any, it will undoubtedly be small. If you expect a great and powerful one, let many labourers be at work, and let many hearts and eyes be turned towards the throne of grace, looking for a rich and abundant shower.
If we had not the most convincing evidence, that the churches of our Lord and Master did fall asleep, and remain in this state for years, it would be difficult to persuade a christian, in whose bosom the flame of divine love had been enkindled, that such a case was possible. But we cannot shut our eyes to evidence as clear as The beams of the vertical sun. Yes, churches and ministers become dull and cold. Although they are commanded to watch and pray that they enter not into temptation ; although they are placed as sentinels on the walls of Zion; yet they betray the trust reposed in them, and sleep as do others. They not only slumber, but they get into a deep sleep; so that it requires the voice of the AlInighty to rouse them. It seems more difficult, many times, to awaken sleeping churches, than it is to excite the attention of sinners, who are dead in trespasses and sins. A fact which bears upon this point, I will relate.
In a neighbouring town, where conferences were held for a time, by brethren from a distance, it was soon observed that there was a greater degree of solemnity than usual on the minds of the impenitent. They were awakenel. They were convinced of sin. From fifteen to twenty remained in a state of conviction for three or four weeks, without one instance of conversion. During this time the church slept, and although efforts were frequently made for the purpose, they could not be roused; yet at the close of this period, a
small number, shaking off their sloth, met together with the express design of praying for these poor trembling sinners. Then conversions began, and one and another was born into the Redeemer's kingdom, and a small revival took place. Until christians began to pray, it might be truly said, “ the children came to the birth, and there was not strength to bring forth.”
As many churches have been awakened, within the two preceding years, by visits of the brethren of New-Haven; and as christians in various parts of our country have frequently inquired relative to the nature of these visits, I will take the liberty of giving a brief account of them, notwithstanding the length of this communication.
For a long time previous to the autumn of 1821, the churches in the vicinity of New Haven had been in a dull and lifeless state. This was so apparent, that had the enquiry been made, whether any spiritual life remained, the proper answer would have been, to use the language of a highly respected minister, “they are freezing in orthodoxy.” Several of their ministers, hearing of the revival in New Haven, earnestly requested some of the brethren to visit their churches, and to exhort them to activity and to prayer. Our brethren have usually gone out on these visits after the primitive manner, two together; in some instances three, but never singly. The meetings have generally been held in the meeting-houses, because no other building was sufficiently large to contain the numbers which assembled. The manner in which the worship has been carried on in these assemblies, has been similar to that, which has been customary at conferences throughout New-England, for many years. The services are commenced by singing a psalm or hymn; then a prayer; a portion of the scripture next succeeds ; after which some free remarks are made relative to the duties of christians, particularly the obligations they are under to labour and pray for the salvation of those who are perishing around them; and the impenitent are exhorted earnestly to repent and believe, to flee from the wrath to come, and to lay hold on that eternal life which is freely offered to them by the Lord Jesus Christ. Remarkable cases of revivals and individual conversions are then narrated ; a second prayer is made, and the exercises are closed by singing a hymn. When the congregation is dismissed, a request is made that the brethren and sisters of the church will remain, as it is wished to see them alone, and to converse with them freely and familiarly. At this interview great plainness is used. They are asked, whether their labours and prayers have been abundant for an out-pouring of the Holy Spirit? If they have not, as is the case in almost every instance, they are informed that their sloth and inactivity is sinful; they are urged with earnestness to humble themselves before God for their past neglect of duties; to repent; and in the strength of the Lord to form resolutions of new obedience; and in order to shew that the cause of their Master is dear to their hearts, to be up and doing his work with vigorous effort. They are informed that if they really wish for a revival of religion, and labour for it with earnestness, and pray for it with faith and importunity, the Lord will give it to them, for " he is more ready to give his Holy Spirit to them that ask him, than
parents are to give good gifts to their children,” and that he has said, “ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” The members of the church are then called upon to decide, who will be on the Lord's side ? who will engage to set up prayer-meetings, to ask for a revival of religion? Those who will enter into these engagements, are requested to rise. In all cases when this request has been made, the brethren and sisters have risen up to an individual, and before separating, prayer-meetings and conferences have been agreed upon and located. Among these, there is one fixed for every Saturday evening, when the churches visited unite with the churches in New-Haven, in calling down a blessing from heaven.A second visit is usually made to the same place, in the course of two or three weeks, and in a few instances à third. The effect of these visits has been, in most cases, excellent. The churches and ministers have soon started from their slumbers, and have been roused to activity in their Master's cause. Their labours have been reduced to system, and have been conducted with regularity and order. The Lord has heard their prayers, and has granted them revivals of religion ; and great numbers have been added to the churches, of such persons, as to the eye of christian charity, will be saved. “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, it shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities : and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts: I will go also.” It is within the bounds of truth to say, that revivals of religion have existed in twenty-five churches and congregations, which were visited in the manner above mentioned. But the brethren do not ascribe these events to themselves; they are merely instruments in the divine hand in awakening the churches, who, uniting their efforts with them, are likewise instruments in accomplishing these noble results. The efficiency is all of God. “Not unto us, they say, “not unto us, but to thy great name give glory."
I propose in my next number to make some observations on the prayer of faith.
FOR THE PILGRIM.
FROM a very lucid view of North-western America, as recently exhibited to a “Society of Enquiry respecting Missions,” by one of its members, I am permitted to extract the following anecdote. It formed a part of a private communication made to the writer, by a gentleman of intelligence and high respectability in one of our principal sea-ports, in answer to his enquiries respecting the “character, customs, language and religion of the Indians, west of the Stony Mountains."