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I never love to hear a minister say, in the progress of a revival, that so many have been converted already,—forty, fifty, or any other definite number. "Ten were brought out last week, eight the week before, and twelve are already rejoicing this week, &c. &c." It is not given us to know the hearts of men in the most powerful revival. Multitudes hear the word with joy who are never converted. The good seed springs up, but it is in “stony places.' There is “no deepness of earth, and when the sun is up, it withereth.” If you count all who get hopes
, and appear well, as the work advances, you will be sure to overrate the number. Some, in whom you have much confidence, will by and by “ fall away.” At the end of three or four months after the supposed conversion of a hundred persons, you must expect to see a considerable number returning to the
beggarly elements of the world,” sorely disappointing their pious friends. And is not this one reason, why certain revivalists, who make the most noise in the country, are so anxious to get their converts into the church as soon as possible ? Is it uncharitable to think, that they want to swell the list beyond what they could any how expect to do, if they were to wait for the chaff to blow off?
You do not tell me whether the revival in Lembraces children or not. This is not unfrequently the case, and I have no doubt that many are renewed at a very tender age. But if there is any considerable number of the children of your congregation excited to make the great enquiry, “what shall we do," I am sure, that while you rejoice to see
them flocking around for advice, it will occasion you a great deal of solicitude. You will find it extremely difficult to determine, how much of the interest which they manifest arises from mere sympathy, and how much from the striving of the Spirit-how much they talk and exhort and pray from imitation, and how much from the impulse of religious feeling. You will often be astonished at the apparent maturity of their views and genuineness of their experience, and will probably look upon that many more of them as truly converted, than really are. A few months will convince you, that much of what appeared so promising was “the morning cloud and the early dew." Some however will, it is to be hoped, give increasing evidence of a real change of heart, and the question of receiving them into the church, will come up at no distant day. They may wish very much to be admitted, and their friends perhaps will urge it; but I hope you will take time and look at the question in all its bearings, before you give your consent. A great many young people in some parts of the land are now in the churches, who are quite sure they never had any religion, and who exceedingly regret that they were encouraged, or allowed to make a profession at so early an age. It appears to me, the cases are very rare, in which children should be received under fourteen; and that it is not safe to admit many, till they are still older. The true way, I cannot help
. thinking is, to form them into a class of catechumens, under such a course of religious instruction, as is best calculated to imbue their minds with the essen
tial doctrines of the gospel ; to make them acquainted with the nature and evidences of true piety, and to prepare them for admission to the Lord's table, after a suitable probation. Precisely how long they should be kept in the class of catechumens, I am not prepared to say. Doubtless some may be admitted into the church earlier than others; but I think there is more danger of moving too fast, than too slow.
Although the probation of adults, in general, should be shorter, it seems to me, that as siderable number have signified a desire to join the church, it is the duty of the pastor to meet them weekly or oftener, for a considerable length of time, for the express purpose of explaining to them the articles of faith, the nature and obligations of the covenant, and for carefully going over the whole ground of christian experience, that they may act with a full understanding of what they believe and promise, when they make a public profession. You will remember, that after the great revival of 1827, in your Junior year, this course was adopted, and it is one which I have always felt it my duty to pursue, both before I came here and since.
But, my dear son, I have no time to enlarge, and am sure that if I had, I could not do full justice to the subject of revivals. It is a great subject. It is an exceedingly difficult subject; and I rejoice to refer you to much better instruction and advice than I can give you. President Edwards has treated it with great discrimination and ability. Next to the Bible, I recommend to you the study of his invaluable narrative of the wonderful work of God in America a
century ago. Dr. Sprague's Lectures are well worth your perusal; and the Appendix, consisting of about twenty letters from distinguished ministers of different denominations, you should not fail to have on your table for daily reference. A volume entitled The Great Awakening, by the Rev. Joseph Tracy, and lately published in Boston, I would likewise warmly recommend to your notice. It is a condensed compilation of great value, and every pastor in the land ought to possess it. That you may be greatly assisted by such helps as you can obtain, and above all, that you may be taught of God, and made eminently wise and successful in winning souls to Christ, is the prayer of
Your Affectionate Father.
MY DEAR E.
There are several miscellaneous topics of considerable importance, upon which I have not yet touched, and to which I feel bound to devote one or two letters.
The first is, how ought you to treat opposers, if there should be any such in your congregation? It would be remarkable indeed, if there should be none to take off the “woe," and if it is desirable you should know who they are, it is quite as important that you should seem not to know anything about it. If they speak against you, have no ear and no memory for it. When you want any little favor, go to them as soon as to any of your best friends. They will rarely refuse you, and no man can long remain the enemy of one whom he is in the habit of obliging. Ask their advice in matters pertaining to their profession or line of business, and follow it as far as you
If one of this class avoids you, take no notice of it. If, when you meet him, he passes by without seeing you, let him pass on, and the next time you meet him, offer him your hand. In the mean time, if he is in affliction, visit him ; if he is hungry, feed him ; if he is thirsty, give him drink. It is always right in this way to “heap coals of fire on his head.”
The opposite course of assaulting an opposer with your new ropes and green withs,” will never