Revival Excitements

In reading the Memoirs of the late Mr. William Dawson I met with the following anecdote:

Mr. Dawson, it seems, was one day accosted by an individual who said he had been present at a certain meeting; that he liked the preaching very well indeed, but was much dissatisfied with the prayer-meeting, adding, that he usually lost all the good he had received during the sermon, by remaining in these noisy meetings. Mr. Dawson replied, that he should have united with the people of God in the prayer-meeting, if he desired to retain or obtain good. “O!” said the gentleman, “I went into the gallery, where I leaned over the front, and saw the whole. But I could get no good; I lost, indeed, all the benefit I had received during the sermon.”

“It is easy to account for that,” rejoined Mr. Dawson.

“How so?” inquired the other.

“You mounted to the top of the house, and, on looking down your neighbor’s chimney to see what kind of a fire he kept, you got your eyes filled with smoke. Had you entered by the door, gone into the room, and mingled with the family around the household hearth, you would have enjoyed the benefit of the fire, as well as they. Sir, you have got the smoke in your eyes!

A few years ago, and at a time when the church of God in the United States was engaged in a mighty struggle for the salvation of sinners, — when she was grappling with the powers of darkness, and with unconverted thousands, with tremendous energy and amazing success, — an ingenious dialogue came out from the press, which had a very good effect upon the public mind.

I am sorry I did not preserve the article. I have forgotten the precise language, but I can give you the substance of it. Some of the sentiments uttered by one of the characters are indeed, most foolish and irrational; nor would I insert them, but for the necessity of meeting those unreasonable objections proposed by the opponents of revivals. It was a supposed dialogue between the Prophet Elijah and an old Carmelite. The scene is laid upon the top of Mount Carmel. All around, as far as the eye can reach, is desolation. During three entire years and six months there had not been a single shower of rain. The streams and fountains are all exhausted and dried up. The hills and mountains, and vales and woodlands, trees, fields, and gardens are withered, -scorched as by the sweeping fire on a western prairie.

‘The earth was made of iron, — heaven of brass;
And fissures in the soil were gaping wide
For the fresh rain that came not herbs and grass
Fell sear and dead, and strewn on every side
Were yellow leaves and buds and blossoms died;
And spring to autumn turned, gray without fruit;
And night and day went round as wont, yet brought
No cheering interchange for hopeless thought.

No dews the eve, no mist the morning gave,
To slake the craving of the fiery drought.
Mildew, and death, and desolation wave
O’er parched hill and dale, like cypress o’er the grave;
The wells and mountain springs were dry and dank,
And Canaan’s face became a chaos and a blank!

The herds have perished from the field, and multitudes of the inhabitants have slept their last sleep; the land is full of orphans and widows. This is a very bleak picture. Behold yonder mountain! Near to its summit is a man; but he is prostrated open the earth, pleading with God in behalf of the desolated country. It is Elijah the prophet. And, lo! beside him stands an old, hard-hearted, croaking Carmelite. Long has it been since a drop of rain has fallen from heaven upon his shriveled body — so long, in fact, that he has arrived at the same contentment (if not malignant joy) which many sinners in Zion feel when they behold the moral landscape around them, unwatered for years by the reviving showers of grace from the throne of God; when the population of sinners is just in the same wretched condition, spiritually, as the material landscape was around Mount Carmel.

The Carmelite stands in a very anxious attitude, as if deprecating the power of the prophet’s prayer. (Indeed, the prophet had already told King Ahab, in the old man’s hearing, “Get thee up eat and drink; for there is a sound of abundance of rain.” (1 Kings 18:41) At a distance is the prophet’s servant, ascending a higher part of the mountain, in order to get a view of the sea; for his master had said, “Go up, now, and look toward the sea.” Elijah has cast himself again upon the ground, with “his face between his knees,” — a painful and humiliating posture; but perhaps not more so than the position chosen by many a minister of God, when pleading with God for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The patience of the old Carmelite is quite exhausted. “So much praying and groaning” is to him intolerable; and he begins to mingle his gruff sounds with the sighs and supplications of the prophet.

Carmelite. Prophet of God, I am afraid you are praying for rain. Now, I am a friend to rain; but I want it to come in the right way, as it ought to come. I have, indeed, been thinking seriously that the prophet should beware of what he is doing, seeing he cannot secure us against consequences.

Elijah — Your fears have taken a strange direction. Have you no apprehensions for the entire destruction of your country? Lift up your eyes, and behold the desolation! Tell me if you can behold a green thing within the whole range of your vision [Awfully illustrative of the state of thousands of these Leed sinners.] Is not the canopy of death spread over the whole face of creation? If God do not interfere, how terrible must be the consequences!

[The prophet is much affected, and addresses himself to God in earnest and prevailing prayer.]

Carmelite — I wish you to understand that I am decidedly in favor of rain [a revival], and that I have no desire to see these scenes of wretchedness protracted, nor that my country or my fellowmen should remain any longer in jeopardy; but I want such rain as our forefathers had. I wish it to come exactly in the same way, too, and that it should produce the same delightful effects. Long experience has taught me to deplore the evils of excessive rain [revivals]. For this cause, I have been grievously persecuted by the ardent and enthusiastic creatures around me, as if I were an enemy to rain [revivals]; just because I have endeavored to show them the evils which proceed from certain kinds of rain.

Elijah — Deploring the evils of rain! You have been strangely employed, these three years and six months.

[The servant returns, and tells the prophet, “There is nothing.” “Go again,” was the reply, “seven times;” and the prophet falls down again before God in prayer.]

Carmelite — I saw how anxious the people were for rain. I was met with the disgusting and worn-out term [revival] at every corner. I have often told them what genuine rain would do; but it must come in the natural and ordinary way, and not by these forced measures, as if the noisy uproar of thousands could shake the heavens, and bring down rain, whether or no. So, to keep them quiet, I set myself about showing them what evils rains have done to Israel during years gone by. I have urged hem again and again to leave the world to the government of God, and to mind their own business; that he would do what was right; and that, if the nation would keep meddling in this way with the plans of the Almighty, he might send them rain the most ruinous; that, instead of prayer and all this stir, they should wait quietly till God sent it. And now, for these prudential remarks, the propriety of which none have successfully called in question, they have set me down as an enemy to rain [revivals] altogether; and have turned the affair into a plea for downright persecution.

Elijah — Strange infatuation!

[The servant returns The Carmelite, finding the prophet too intent upon prevailing with God for rain to attend to his senseless speculations, begins to address the servant, — conduct not unlike that of some during vigorous efforts for a revival. If the minister says, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down; why should the work cease, while I leave it and come down to you?” –Neh. 6:3, — they will then endeavor to weaken the faith, or to perplex and annoy the zealous leaders and members of his church.]

Carmelite — Servant, your master is praying for rain, and you are looking for the evidences of its coming; but we want such rains [revivals] as they had in the days of Abraham, Moses, and Samuel [Wesley, Whitefield, &c.], If he would only pray for such rain, I could agree with him.

Servant. If rain come from heaven at all, must it not be of the very same kind as that which fell in the days of these servants of God? Beware how you eulogize the dead prophets, while you persecute the living one.

Carmelite — I can show, in a dozen instances, where modern rains [revivals] differ from those in former times, in their effects and in their consequences.

Servant — Stay; let me go again, and see whether my master prevails with God.

Carmelite — Stay, hear me:

1. We want smiling heavens with the rain, to inspire men’s hearts with joy; but should your master succeed, black clouds will overspread the whole sky. The gloom will be dreadful; nobody, in fact, will have a heart to do anything, for looking after this rain.

2. It absorbs all attention; nothing, from morning till night, is talked of but rain, rain. I have not been able to have a pleasant conversation with my neighbors upon Mount Carmel for months; nothing but rain and this Elijah are talked about. It is a complete mania. I am disgusted. Young and old are clamoring. The very children, who never saw a drop fall from heaven, are prattling about rain. What enthusiasm! I wish I could change my residence; and I would do so but for these reasons: A. I suppose the mania is general all over the country. B. My presence here may have some influence in checking this wild enthusiasm; and, C. I want to philosophize upon this rain and its results, when they appear.

3. I have some particular friends who think exactly as I do upon these subjects. All the little sociable parties, which formerly made society agreeable, are broken up. I have no wish the country should be destroyed for want of good rain; but I want the people to act like rational beings. Nor do I wish to see society split and rent by these commotions. But see what the end is to be; all cannot see alike, nor be equally enthusiastic about rain [a revival]. This mania — I can call it nothing else — is bringing about divisions, very fast. It has began its operations in families; wives and husbands, parents and children, masters and servants, are divided upon this matter. These hot-headed fanatics will rend the nation in twain, as they are splitting the society in our neighborhood into pieces. Such fault-finding, and charging people with sins they have never committed, — just as if the heavens could not have a dry season without its being occasioned by the sins of the people! Your master, it seems, has converted King Ahab himself to be as wild about rain as any of them. He is preparing to return to his capital, post-haste, expecting abundance of rain, when there is not a cloud to be seen, and the heavens are blue and bright; — no more signs of rain, except an increased uproar among the people, than there was this time last year. It is a sad thing when great men lend their influence to such fanaticism. Ahab was once a wise king; but Jezebel, however, still retains her good sense. And behold, the prophet! He is about to kill himself, in his efforts for rain [a revival]; as if he could bring it before the appointed season!

4. Again: In seasons of extraordinary rain many clouds discharge themselves at once. Rivers are suddenly swollen, leave their channel, and overflow the hitherto pleasant vale; indeed, they often sweep away flocks and herds and grain. It is even dangerous to live in the vicinity of Carmel at such times owing to the higher lands sliding down upon the rich pastures beneath. Servant — I think you have had little trouble in that way, during the last few years.

Carmelite — I am speaking now of what we may expect, if the prophet obtain his request. But I must proceed. Gusts of wind attend modern rains; indeed, such tornadoes, that houses are unroofed, and trees overturned. Frequently, the lightning and thunder are terrific. Many a tall and handsome tree I have seen shattered to pieces. But this is not all. If tenements have not been thrown down or unroofed, they have been so rent and torn as to become leaky, greatly to the injury of the health and comfort of the inhabitants. Indeed, I have known people who have been killed outright. Families have been broken up. I cannot tell you one half of the evils arising from late rains [revivals], with lightning and thunder. I have said nothing about the noise. At such times one can scarcely think, much less hear anyone speak. Rain, lightning, and thunder, are almost synonymous.

Servant — O no. You are getting too much excited, I fear.

Carmelite — Remember, I have lived much longer than you; you are but a young man yet. Now, it is a fact, that when we have no rain [revivals], we have none of these strange noises and disturbances. I have known the very ground to tremble beneath its peals and extravagances. We generally know the evil is approaching, when this phenomenon occurs. Perhaps lightning and thunder [powerful preaching and mighty praying] bring down rain; I cannot tell.

[The servant goes to the mountain peak, and returns; Elijah continues in fervent prayer.]

Carmelite — These rains come so often out of season — at the very time we do not want them. During summer, rain will fall upon the ripe fruit and mown grass, and upon the hay when nicely dried, and upon the grain, as well as upon the pasture-field. If it would rain where it was most wanted, I should not have a word to say, but why give those places a superabundance which have enough already?

Servant — Pause, Carmelite; I must hasten to my post of observation. My master, you see, is deeply affected.

Carmelite — I shall ascend with you; I cannot endure all this praying; I wish he were of my mind, and he would take the matter more easily.

Servant — I question whether you are much at ease in your own mind, any more than the prophet.

Carmelite — It is not to be wondered at. I have seen so many evils arising from these things, that I cannot look upon the prophet without concern. Think, for instance, of the effects of rain [revivals] upon the poor. I have known many laboring men kept within doors by rain, when their families have been almost starving. Others, not a few, have spent their evenings indoors doing nothing but talking about rain. Ay! and when they should have been asleep too; then they would have been better prepared to work for their masters: yes, and pay their awful debts. Even you, yourself, would be much better employed, if you were about other work, than thus running yourself out of breath, up and down this mountain, looking for rain; and you might, in my opinion, be doing more good in the world.

Servant — I am aware hard climbing does not suit you. Allow me, however, to say, I am in the employ of a good master, who pays me liberal wages; nor will he ask you or your party to assist him in defraying expenses.

Carmelite — These rains [revivals] nourish noxious weeds, thorns, thistles, and brambles. Behold, how clean the fields are now!

Servant — Yes, but the wheat also has been all parched up and destroyed!

Carmelite — I am not speaking of wheat now; but, as you are on that subject, I will tell you what I have seen in relation to wheat.

Servant — But can wheat grow, if totally deprived of rain? Has wheat no dependence upon moisture? Can the moisture remain in the fields, unless recruited by rain? Is there anything of the kind in the weedless and grainless fields which now draw your admiration?

Carmelite — I cannot answer all your objections but in rainy seasons [times of revival] I have noticed that there is chaff — much chaff. Now, if it be good rain, why not make the wheat grow without chaff. But the chaff– worthless ingredient — has always, since the beginning of my observations upon such matters, been in close connection with wheat. Have you ever found a grain of wheat [a new convert] produced by these modern rains [revivals] without chaff along with it? I have stood by many a threshing-floor, and could not but be annoyed and surprised at the overseer and his threshers, to see their eyes sparkling with joy, because of the immense bulk of what they called “a heap of wheat,” when I knew (and they could not but have known) that the greater part of it was chaff.

Servant — Certainly, they were better off in those days than we are now; for, surely, it was better to have a little wheat, amidst much chaff, than to have none at all! Besides, the chaff could be easily separated from the wheat, and was so, doubtless, in due time.

Carmelite — Ay! That is what I want to impress upon you. It was on this account I pitied them, because I knew there was no foundation for such self-congratulations. And when I warned them of the deception, and foretold that the heap would be reduced more than one-half at the winnowing and sifting time [reaction after the revival], some paid no attention, others set me down as envious at the successes of others, and a few whispered that I was jealous of my own credit as a farmer; and some insinuated that I was an enemy to good wheat altogether, which was most unreasonable. However, I was patient, and the sifting season did come. Because you know there is always, after these modern rains, a winnowing time; when the chaff and the wheat are both held up in one sieve, and then to see how dissimilar their fall, — the wheat reaching the floor, and but very little of it, while the chaff was carried quite away. Ay! that was the time for me! Then I could talk with my enemies in the gate, and prove my discernment and prudence by facts the most undeniable.

Servant — It is well if you did not rejoice at the humiliation of your industrious neighbors. Tell me, had you any desire that there should have been less chaff in the day of trial?

Carmelite — There may be pride in the activity of a farmer, as in any other employment; and I like to see proud, positive, and self-willed people humbled. Facts, too, are worth knowing; and I always state them to those who seem anxious for extraordinary rain.

Servant — It is well, however, to remind you, how little business you have had of that kind during the last three years. The threshing-floors of Israel have, of late, I am sorry to say, afforded little chance for such speculations. There is not a farmer at present in Israel, I venture to say, who would not be willing to have a “heap” upon his floor, although the third part of it were chaff.

Carmelite — My remarks, of course, apply to past years, before we were visited with this clear, invigorating weather, which you denominate a dangerous drought. Besides, you cannot deny that the farmers have been far more industrious in plowing and sowing than when we had such torrents of rain; and I may add, they have had access of late to very low lands for agricultural purposes.

Servant — They have sowed much, but gathered little; there has been no parade of harvest labors of late years, nor, indeed, any period distinguished as the harvest.

Carmelite — Modern rains [revivals] are transient in their influence; in a few days or weeks, the ground is as dry as ever.

Servant — In that case, another shower is needed. [Here the servant is on the tip-toe of expectation, looking very earnestly toward the sea.]

Carmelite — You have been speaking of the necessity of another shower; but there you fall into a great mistake. Had we rain of the right kind, the benefits would not pass away so soon. The health of the citizens, too, would be improved. There are many widows, of late, in Israel.

Servant — But nineteen out of twenty have become widows since rain has ceased to fall.

Carmelite — If men could only be persuaded to dwell upon the top of Gilboa, where there is neither dew nor rain [no revivals of religion], what health and vigor would they enjoy; and be free also, from all this din and persecution about rain! But…

[Here the servant interrupts him, by pointing to a little cloud rising out of the seas.]

“Saw ye not the cloud arise,
Little as a human hand?
Now it spreads along the skies,
Hangs o’er all the thirsty land.
Lo, the promise of a shower,
Drops already from above,
But the Lord will shortly pour
All the Spirit of his love!”

Carmelite — Horrible! We shall have nothing, by and by, but confusion worse confounded.

Servant — It is just as the prophet told Ahab; there is a sound of abundance of rain.

Elijah and his servant hurry down from the mount; and the old Carmelite hastened to his cave, to brood over the evils of rain [revivals], and the delusions of the people.

The winds are howling, the lightnings are playing, and the thunders roaring through the vault of heaven. The rain is descending far and wide over the thirsty landscape. The pulse of life throbs once more through the arteries and veins of reviving nature. The drooping plants lift up their heads; the flowers bloom as if by miracle, and spread their fragrance all around; while the withered trees freshen into green, and wave royally their leafy branches on high.

The Carmelite continues in his cave, while thousands are rejoicing in the abounding mercies of a benevolent God.

Weeks and months have passed away; the landscape looks like a new creation, and one smile of universal joy plays upon the renovated cheek of nature. But none of these things move the old Carmelite. He is out, the first fair day, plodding along, with his head down, yet on the look-out for facts. Nor does he notice the innocent flowers [new converts] blooming around his footsteps, nor the green foliage of the trees, nor the revived appearance of the cedars in Lebanon [effects of the revival upon the church], nor the verdant meadows and pasture-fields, where creatures are sporting themselves, exuberant in all the happiness of which their natures are capable; nor the boundless fields of grain, wide waving over hill and dale, rich in the cheerful promise of an abundant harvest. The cheerful voices of many people ring out on the air in songs of thanksgiving to the God of Israel; but he hurries on, with a mind filled and running over with philosophical musings. But whither is he going? From place to place, to see whether the streams have kept their proper channels and if the low lands have not been injured; what houses have been unroofed, or have become leaky; whether any persons have been terrified out of their senses by the thunder and lightning [alarming preaching]; or, if any quarrels or dissensions have arisen in families because of differences of opinion about the rain [revival]. The state of general health is an object of interest, of course; in a word, he is out collecting facts, that by them he might cool down the enthusiasm of the population for rain [revivals].

Finding himself very unsuccessful with the people, although he found quite enough to satisfy his own mind on the subject, he returned to his cave, to await with some impatience the results of the harvest.

Time, that brings everything else in its season, brought this event also; so, staff in hand, he paid a visit to all the farms [churches and classes], that he might view the heaps on the threshing-floors, and thus be enabled to give some friendly hints respecting chaff; and to lift his prophetic voice as to the results of winnowing and sifting. And no man ever looked so contented nor so wise, as when he saw the chaff fly in all directions; although he repeatedly declared he was sorry to see the disappointment of his neighbors [the reaction after the revival].

He revisited them all, to sympathize with them in their misfortunes: but, to his surprise, he found the farmers all very happy; it was a time of general rejoicing, in fact, each congratulating the other, that their heaps of clean, pure wheat had not been so large for very many years; that during the last three years of drought, instead of having heaps of increase, to compare with those of the harvest first celebrated, they had had nothing of the kind, by which to institute anything like a comparison.

This circumstance rather perplexed the old Carmelite; but prejudice is an ingenious feeling. He suggested that, by the time the next harvest came round, there would be little of this kind of wheat left. But the agriculturists assured him that the wheat was of the very first quality; that some, it was likely, would be sent off to supply deficiencies on other farms [churches and classes at a distance], and some would be shipped off to other countries; but that it was not their intention, by the help of God, to let three years pass, as during the last drought, without a harvest. They informed him of their intention to plow and sow again, and that already they had begun to make larger preparation than ever for another harvest; that they had better wheat, to begin with, — more experience, also; and God was now propitious; he would, they were sure, give them the early and latter rain [a succession of revivals], and the appointed weeks of harvest. The old Carmelite, convinced in himself that they were incurable, left them in their glory, and returned to his cave, mourning over the delusions, stubborn prejudices, and miseries of mankind.

And now, dear sir, you cannot fail to see yourself in the character of the old Carmelite. I have incorporated in the above dialogue some of the most prominent objections against revivals; and I wish you could as clearly see their worthlessness, and as heartily disapprove of them, as you do those of the old Carmelite against rain.

There are a few other objections, which I might, perhaps, have noticed had it been evident you had studied that famous verse of Horace:

“With touch so soft, so tender of his friend,
He handled every fault which he would mend:
That the calm patient, with a smile, endures
The playful hand, which pleases while it cures.”

There is one which relates to myself, not unworthy of notice. Such frequent preaching must necessarily become superficial, and vapid [vapid adj. insipid; lacking interest; flat, dull (vapid moralizing). — Oxford Dict.] in the extreme.”

The best reply I have at hand is the following, once given by an aged divine: “‘Better one excellent sermon,’ says an objector, ‘than many mean and ordinary. One border of true pearl is worth more than a thousand glass or sophisticate stones; one picture drawn with true and rich colors is more valuable than many slubbered [sic = spelling is correct] over with slight wash colors.’ I grant it; and, it were to be wished, that they who preach but seldom did it always more accurately, and with power, that the defect in the number might be supplied in the weight of their sermons, but certainly experience shows the contrary. Water, you know, corrupts in the conduit, if it be so stopped as either to run not at all, or but sparingly; the golden spouts, my friend, which adorn the temple, and which run most frequently and fully, yield the sweetest and most wholesome supply of water; and, St. Basil observes the like of wells, — that they grow better, the more water is drawn out of them. However, considering the dullness of hearing, mean capacity, and brittleness of memory of all, I wish those that are of most eminent gifts to dispense the mysteries of salvation were to preach more frequently than they usually do, with all due respect to their plea, — accurate preparation; because Cato spoke truly when defending himself for distributing silver among his soldiers, whereas other captains bestowed gold on them; — ‘It is better that many should carry away silver than a few only gold.’