Tuesday, July 17, 2012

John Williamson Nevin on the need for innovative religious services

"Let the power of religion be present in the soul of him who is called to serve at the altar, and no strange fire will be needed to kindle the sacrifice. He will require no new measures. His strength will appear rather in resuscitating, and clothing with their ancient force the institutions and services already established for his use. The freshness of a divine life, always young and always new, will stand forth to view in forms that before seemed sapless and dead. Attention will be engaged; interest excited; souls drawn to the sanctuary. Sinners will be awakened and born into the family of God. Christians will be builded up in faith, and made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. Religion will grow. This is the true idea of evangelical power.

"But let a preacher be inwardly weak, though ambitious at the same time of making an impression in the name of religion, and he will find it necessary to go to work in a different way. Old forms must needs be dull and spiritless in his hands. His sermons have neither edge nor point. The visitation and no skill to make it of any account. Still he desires to be doing something in his spiritual vocation to convince others and to satisfy himself that he is not without strength.

"What then is to be done? He must resort to quackery; not with clear consciousness, of course; but instinctively, as it were, by the pressure of inward want. He will seek to do by the flesh what he finds himself too weak to effect by the spirit. Thus it becomes possible for him to make himself felt. New measures fall in exactly with his taste, and are turned to fruitful account by his zeal. He becomes theatrical; has recourse to solemn tricks; cries aloud; takes strange attitudes; tells exciting stories: calls out the anxious, etc. In this way possibly he comes to be known as a revivalist, and is counted among those who preach the Gospel 'with the demonstration of the Spirit and with power.' And yet when all is done he remains as before without true spiritual strength. New measures are the refuge of weakness."

from 'The Anxious Bench'

see a summary of it here

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