Page images
PDF
EPUB

of pleasure, whereas it should have been a season of reflection and contrition. I had no time to think, and no good resulted to me.

[blocks in formation]

me.

Och! there is no justice in the Lamb, if heaven is not made for us : an' the everlasting hell, with its brimstone and fire, anʼits gnawing an' gnashing of teeth, an' its theirsi, an' its torture, an' its worm that niver dies, for the likes o' you.' DAME DARKMANS.

When I had been here about three months, spent in the manner I have attempted to relate, a great revival was intended to be gotten up in the place. Mr. P began to talk to me about being so much absent from home. He wished to bring me under its influence at his house. As long as he had no purpose to answer, I was suffered to eat and sleep as often as I pleased away from the parsonage. He. saved meals by it. He, a minister of the gospel, with the confidence of a college reposed in him, permitted me to go from my duty, for the sake of saving a few potatoes and a mouthful of meat a day. He made money by it. He pretended to care most of all for human souls; he prayed daily in the temple for the salvation of sinners ; and yet he suffered me to go on in a headlong career of idleness and folly, when the slightest exertion of authority, or a word about informing my father and the government, would probably have deterred

He wished to be esteemed a Christian, and still was himself swayed by the most sordid motives.

It would be wrong and illiberal to lay the charge of gross hypocrisy at the doors of such men. They are certainly disqualified to hold the stations they occupy in society; but they are,

for the most part, only ignorant of what does indeed constitute the truly elevated and Christian character. They have grown up in the knowledge of words, and plans, and schemes of salvation, but they have never analyzed their own principles. The members of a sect or church, they take for granted that they are governed by principle, when they are only following on blindly where their party leads them. The originators of any sect of religionists are undoubtedly leavened with sincerity, but the proselytism and rancorous hatred of party spirit, buries up the primitive purity of the founder, and the church becomes not so much anxious for Christ's kingdom, as for the victory in the world. But a revival was to be got up.

Mr. P looked, as he said, for the grace of God to purify me. He did not rely upon human

He said he did not doubt but that I was sent to his house, by the special providence of God, to be under good influences, and he 'expected I would be a shining light in the church.' I was requested to remain at home, and I did so, more out of curiosity than any other feeling : for, strange to tell, I did not understand what he meant, precisely, and was as insensible to all his exhortations as an infant.

This was at a period when the Calvinistic sect in New-England began to fear and dread the growing influence of a class — we will not call them a sect - denominated by themselves Liberal Christians, in opposition to the bigotry and intolerance of their brethren; a

means.

term which, taken in its true sense, authorizes no laxity of principle, no license of conduct, but which means a high and elevated piety, embracing all men as brothers, holding out the palm of the happiness of heaven to the whole world, and rejecting in its worship and manner of speech all drawling of the words, and in the countenance all undue length of visage ; making religion more a matter of the head and heart, and not so much dependent upon the exterior carriage of the body.

The Calvinists, or orthodox, beheld at this time their power and infallibility doubted, and in some cases contemned. They began to find men, and influential men, too, who dared to think and reason for themselves, upon the subject of religion. With all the good will of the church of Rome, for power and dictatorial authority, they derided the Catholic. Themselves the exiles of a cruel persecution, they forgot their origin and early arguments for liberty of conscience, whenever others differed from them in opinion. So that, grasping at too much, they lost much which they might have retained by milder measures. All means were resorted to, to increase the numerical strength of the sect. They took infants into the church, and admitted little toddling boys and girls to the rights of communion. Whenever it was in their power, they shackled the human mind, hardly strong enough to bear the load of the fetters, and which not unfrequently sunk under a burthen so unnatural to its years.

The spirit of the American people has always been acted on by public meetings. They love to attend gatherings, whether it be a horse-race, a cattle-show, a political wrangling, or a revival. The farmer will leave his plough in the half-furrowed field, and tackling his weary horses to a large waggon, drive his whole family to one of these meetings. The mother will leave her domestic affairs, and the distended udders of the cows, and, Indian-like, taking her infant in her arms, hurry to the revival. The Calvinists have strong men in their ranks, and they have seized upon this national passion, and perverted it to their use. The origin of protracted meetings is the same with the camp-meetings of the Methodists, whence they adopted the plan, save that one is held in houses of worship, and the other in God's first temple.' The Methodists, governed we believe by a single motive, gained bravely by the camp-meeting, and the orthodox, fearful of their increase, met them, in the protracted meeting, on their own ground.

As favorable seasons for these meetings occur, the clergy are gathered from the surrounding country, at some specified place. Two or three conversions are noised about the village, as a kind of nestegg. Prayer-meetings begin to be held in this house and that, gradually increasing in zeal as the multitude are added, until they have excited the spirit of the whole population. Then no respite is allowed for the ardor to cool. Night and day there pours out one continual stream of denunciation and nervous prayer. Some attend from curiosity, some from idleness; all business is suspended, except the store of the church-merchant, who keeps his back door ajar for sly customers. Children, glad to escape from school, under any pretence, form a large part of the meeting, and indeed all ages and sexes attend, from as many different motives as there are people.

46

VOL. IX.

Now the prayers are as abundant as the drops of rain in a shower. An earnestness of manner is assumed, which terrifies the hearts of the young. In churches dimly lighted, at evening, and into the far watches of the night, low and sepulchral voices may be heard in threatening denunciation of sinners.

These men, with their long necks, peaked faces, and lean bones, bending over the pulpit, with a malicious scowl, enough to frighten the devil himself, looked to my young imagination like demons of hell. One convert after another would fall down

upon

their knees, for this was the sign of yielding ;' so that in one night sometimes hundreds would be converted, or' get religion.' Affrighted nature yielded. No reason was employed, no inducements offered, except exemption from punishment. The happiness of heaven was too mild and refined a theme for them to touch upon, on such occasions. This punishment - the most awful and physically painful they could devise — was threatened with tenfold vengeance, if they neglected the precious present opportunity. Example, fear, love of change, and love of being conspicuous, are not unfrequently the chief agents in revivals in this country, with the young, and love of their pecuniary interests, oftentimes, with the business part of the community. For instance: A man is going to settle in a place where one sect prevails largely, particularly the Hopkinsian sect; his business is of a public nature, or one in which he depends for support upon public patronage; unless he joins that sect, he is thwarted in his business. His store is avoided ; his name is erased from the ticket for office; he is made so uncomfortable, that he finally leaves the place. True, he may sell very low, indeed — much lower than the market price ; and then he turns the tables, and acts upon the avarice of his opposers, with good success. Thus it is not unusual to find, in villages of small size, the Presbyterian tailor and the Liberal tailor — the Presbyterian apothecary and the Liberal apothecary — and so down to knife-grinder and grave-digger.

These good Christian people forget, or seem to forget, that religion is something to be proved by the life, not the professions. If a man say he is their friend, and his conduct be ever so bad, if he does not offend their prejudices by remarks, he is safe. Subscribe to their creed, and you are safe, no matter whether you go to the church or not. It is all the same to them.

I do not mean to say that I believe there are not good and conscientious Christians among the class of Hopkinsian Calvinists; there are very many, I doubt not; but I do mean to say, from my own experience, that the restless, speculating, moving mass of men in business, whose whole souls are absorbed in traffic, and who join this sect for pecuniary advantage, and without any convictions, generally go deep in their exclusive spirit. I mean to say, that the ignorant and illiterate, who have been brought up in this belief, and have received very little education to elevate their minds, are the most sectarian and bitter religious enemies in the world. They make up in zeal and obstinacy of opinion, for their deficiency in practical piety; and the louder they profess, the more credit they obtain.

Go into a Hopkinsian-Presbyterian church, of a Sabbath, and observe the men you have met during the week, in their stores, at

the tavern, and the town-meeting, as they come into church. Their hair is smoothed down in puritanical fashion, and their faces drawn down to imitate the parson. If your eye

is

upon a rich man, whose honesty and fair dealing is a little questionable, mark the cough, the bluster, to attract attention, as much as to say, You thren, I attend in the synagogue - I am a Christian.'

see, my bre

Returning home from the first meeting, I found several ministers of religion, as they called themselves, at our table. As we sat down, we had an unusually long grace from brother E

and after we had eaten, another long grace. The conversation at table was chiefly of the clergy. They criticized each other pretty freely, and seemed in most excellent spirits with themselves. They reminded me of the garrulous politeness of an old gourmand, during the ten minutes preceding the dishing of a feast. They expected sport, undoubtedly, from the scenes they were getting up.

Their conversation was very familiar, and even gross, upon the subject of revivals, and they used the name of our Saviour with a commonness and irreverence that surprised and shocked me.

I was unnoticed, but I brought myself forward, by asking my neighbor at table if he had ever heard Dr. Channing — and then, as well as I could, I endeavored to give a description of his style of preaching. As his naine was mentioned, they simultaneously uttered a low growl, and hoped that my heart might be changed.

At that time, I knew very little of the Bible. I was in love with religion, as a sentiment. I was in the habit of looking upon God as a kind and beneficent father. I had been taught to pray to him with fervor, but still with some sense of the majesty of the being I was addressing. I believed devoutly in the state of a future existence. I hoped to go to heaven to meet my mother. I had no doubt but she must be there, for I knew she was good. I have ever been in the habit of thinking of her as in a state of happiness. To doubt it, would have been appalling to my mind.

You may imagine, reader, what were my feelings, at finding that these men believed, and indeed stated to me, that no person could go to heaven, unless he believed as they did. They spoke it, too, with a sincerity and earnestness of manner, that at first terrified me into the belief that I had been indulging in delusive dreams.

I became, insensibly, much interested in their performances. Meetings were held at all hours of the day during a week's time. The whole town attended. The churches were thronged, and private dwellings overflowed with persons from the age of one year to eighty — old and hoary sinners. Worn out with late hours and constant excitement, their eyes were of an unnatural brightness. Fear of hell was upon them. Many stepped along as if they expected the earth would yawn to receive them. The old and the weak stopped these self-styled saviours in the streets, and besought them, with tears and groans, to save their souls. Lamps burned late in the cottages of the laboring poor. Limbs worn down with labor for bread, were yet required to prostrate themselves for hours in prayer, under the penalty of an eternal damnation. It was as if some mighty judgment was at hand, and each was striving to turn it from his own doors.

But oh! to be in the secret conclave, as I was, after a day spent in this manner! These men would return, with an important, calm, and satisfied look, to the house of the minister. How pleasantly they talked of the great work ‘of the Lord!' How coldly, too, they spake of the exercises ! - appealing to the minister if he thought this one would stick'- that they had brought such a man or woman ander — 'if he thought the people would bear any more - must not give too strong food to babes, etc., - evidently showing, that what they called the work of the Lord' they considered as their own.

They were safe. They had no anxieties for their own salvation, but for that of others. Wonderful disinterestedness of human nature ! Self-righteous men! Elect of the Lord ! — with hearts full of worldliness, and hate for all differing from you in opinion, whether from education, accident, or blind chance — how will you, at that day for which all other days were made, answer to the charge of illiberality, narrow-mindedness, and bigotry, which I, from the recollections of quite early years, here prefer against you!

The most mortifying confession I have to make, is, that I was acted on by these jugglers. My nervous temperament did wonders for them. I attended their meetings, and was with them constantly at home. They talked to me incessantly. I replied as I could. I knew nothing of the arguments in favor of liberal Christianity; so I appealed to the arguments of common sense, and reasoned from analogy, while they swept away all I could say, by text after text, in such quick succession as to overwhelm me. I was impressed with a strong belief in the goodness and mercy of God toward his weak and erring creatures — that when I asked to be forgiven, sincerely, he heard and answered my petition. I trusted in him as the rock of ages, and felt confident that he would be satisfied if I did as well I could. But they would have made me believe that he was a God of terrors — that a large part of mankind would inevitably be lost, and that I should be among the number, unless I yielded my stubborn heart to their guidance. I was for a long while insensible. At last, they came to my room at night, after I was in bed, and prayed by my bed-side, and worked upon my already excited imagination, by every species of horrid representation. I did not know enough to order them away; but at last I did pretend to yield, or I did yield, and prayed for pardon. My mind was in a frenzy. They left me as a convert. I was with them the next day, and was marked among the multitude of converts,

Soon after, I wrote to my father, expressed to him the agony of my mind, and besought to leave the place. He obtained the permission of the government to take me home. In a few days after I had been removed from this scene, I was calm. I had been through the mill' of a pre-concerted, artificial revival, and felt a secret joy, as if possessed of an experience of some consequence. I know the whole process. I have 'experienced religion,' as well as thousands of others, and in the same way. Is it strange that I doubt the efficacy of such a religion ? I never again shall feel with this people. The veil was removed from my eyes when young. I have since often been subjected to this discipline, and whenever I am, this early scene occurs to me, and shields" me from imposition of the senses.

« PreviousContinue »