The Collected Works of Theodore Parker/Volume 03/Discourse 12

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[FROM THE BOSTON DAILY BEE, OF MARCH 17, 1868.]

EXCESSES OF THE REVIVAL—
THEODORE PARKER'S CASE.

In an article on Saturday, we spoke in general terms of the remarkable religious interest now existing in this city and in other localities, and expressed some opinions in regard to the dangers to which such seasons of religions awakening are liable, and the blemishes which sometimes disfigure them and mar their usefulness. We had no hesitation in thus commenting publicly on this matter, since it seems, to be the fashion to noise the thing abroad, and some of our contemporaries go even so far, and we think it a great deal too far, in such a case, as to parade before the public in the papers the names of the individuals who speak and pray at these meetings. At the least it may be assumed that the cause of truth and of pure and undefiled religion will receive no detriment from a little plain speaking in relation to what we call the excesses of the revival movement. There are many things incidental to these seasons of religious interest which we cannot approve; men under the influence of excitement of urgent appeals, or even admonished by an awakened conscience, make a thousand absurd statements, and equally absurd promises and prayers. They see with great distinctness the mote in their brother's eye, and fondly imagining that the beam has been cast out of their own, they seem to suppose that a brief period of unusual devotion, of increased fervour, of abandonment of ordinary duties in order to give their whole energies to the work of regenerating individual souls, will make up for years of coldness, selfishness, and neglect of God and duty—not that they are conscious of entertaining such notions, but that they do the sequel proves; they act as though personal religion and vital piety could be accomplished by the job; they forget that the injunction, "Fear God and keep His commandments," besides comprising the whole duty of man, is of binding force and constant application in all places and for ever, and too often they seem to think that exhortations and prayers will answer in place of the fulfilment of the precept commanding to us to "do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly" before God.

Thqy make good resolves in abundance, but forget the truthful words of the poet:

"—— and on reason build resolve,
That column of true majesty in man."

These are some of the defects most noticeable in revivals, and we instance them not because we would in aught detract from the just merits of these religious movements, but as showing that these like all human efforts are imperfect, and hence should be carefully scrutinized and judged with candour and charity. Perhaps no mistake is more common with those most zealous in these revivals, than that of turning away their attention entirely from themselves, and exerting themselves strenuously to save the souls of their neighbours, perhaps forgetting that to his own master each one must stand or fall, or mayhap forgetting self altogether in their new and zealous benevolence for the salvation of others. At all events this extraordinary manifestation of anxiety for the spiritual welfare of others, leads to some exhibitions not at all calculated to reflect credit upon religion, or to inspire confidence in revivals, or in the sanity and common sense of some of those who participate in them. To illustrate: at many of the prayer-meetings of late, Rev. Theodore Parker has been made the subject of special prayer, and we give below some specimens of the way in which the mercy of God is implored for this somewhat eccentric but distinguished preacher. The words of these supplications were taken down by a reporter as they were uttered. One brother prayed for Mr Parker in the following language:

"O Lord, if this man (Parker) is a subject of grace, convert him and bring him into the kingdom of thy dear Son: but if he is beyond the reach of the saving influence of the gospel, remove him out of the way, and let his influence die with him!"

Now, is this that spirit which instructs us to "pray for all men everywhere!" Is this "lifting up holy hands without wrath or doubting?" Did this Christian mean to ask God to kill Theodore Parker, or would he have the only other possible interpretation put upon his petition, namely, that God would "remove" Mr Parker to some other locality, so that some other community might be subjected to the influence of his preaching and example, baneful as the suppliant evidently thinks it is ? Upon one horn or the other of this dilemma must this prayer be hung, and in* either view it is as unchristian as it is absurd. Another prayed thus:

"Lord, if this man will still persist in speaking in public, induce the people to leave him and come and till this house instead of that!"

Who gave the preacher and brethren of the street church a monopoly of free speech, of prayer, or of exhortation, that they should pray God to shut Mr Parker's mouth? In that same church where this prayer was offered, we have often seen, during this very season, men, women, and children, standing in crowds in the porch, waiting in vain an invitation to take a seat in the pews that were not half filled ; but at Music Hall, where Mr Parker preaches, there is a free gospel, so far at least as the opportunity of hearing it is concerned. Is it a wonder that the people choose the latter ? Would it not be better than offering such prayers as these, if the wealthy members of the churches, instead of sweeping contemptuously, clad in their silks, furs, and satins, past the stranger and the poor, who would like to hear the word of God, would kindly, and like Christians, give these visitors, the people, a chance to sit down in the house of God? Another prayed as follows:

"O Lord, send confusion and distraction into his study this afternoon and prevent bis finishing his preparation for his labours to-morrow, or if he shall attempt to desecrate thy holy day by attempting to speak to the people, meet him there, O Lord, and confound him so that he shall not he able to speak!"

Columns might be written upon that as a text, but comment on such rant is wholly unnecessary. We cannot help, however, suggesting that "confusion and distraction" are very little likely to aid Mr Parker in reforming his theology, nor do we think that the praying brother would be injured if he had a little less of confusion and distraction on his own mind. Another prayed thus, after naming Mr Parker:

"Lord, we know that we cannot argue bim down, and the more we say against him, the more the people flock after him, the more they love and revere him. O Lord, what shall be done for Boston, if thou dost not take some of these matters in hand!" What a confession nave we here Is it true that Mr Parker's logic and eloquence are unanswerable? We do not think so, and laymen as we are we would sooner undertake to argue him down, than to pray him out of his stronghold with such petitions as those that were offered up on the occasion referred to, and a few of which we have quoted. One of the brethren exhorted his brethren to pray that "God would put a hook in Theodore Parker's jaws so that he may not be able to speak!" Is that a way of making him less revered and loved by the people?

We have no space or inclination here to discuss the peculiar views of Rev. Theodore Parker, nor is it pertinent to our purpose. We may remark, however, that we do not agree with him in his ideas of the Bible and of religion—in other words, we are not one of his disciples, and never heard him preach but once, though we have read with much interest many of his lectures and sermons. But we would remind these zealous brethren that if his [Parker's] work be of God, they cannot overthrow it, and if it is of Satan, we have no doubt that it will come to nought. At all events, the style of supplication and remarks indulged in at these meetings in relation to Mr Parker, is very far from being either wise, considerate, or calculated to do any good to him or anybody else ; it partakes not of the spirit of charity, "which endureth all things," which "vaunteth not itself," and "thinketh no evil."

The sooner all this unseemly demonstration ceases, whether it proceeds from ignorance, zeal without knowledge, Phariseeism, or bigotry, the better for the cause of religion, the progress of the revival, and the conversion and reformation of individual souls.


This document was handed to Mr Parker in his pulpit on the morning of Sunday, March 7, 1858. It comes from a responsible man:—

"The writer attended a prayer-meeting, yesterday, p. H. [March 6,] at Park-street church. There were about forty men present [being about the same number that once conspired to destroy Paul]. The sole object of the meeting, as we learned after going in, was to pray for the conversion of the notorious infidel, Theodore Parker. The following are some of the forms of prayer employed:—

"’O Lord, if this man (Parker) it a subject of grace, convert him and bring him into the kingdom of thy dear Son; but if he is beyond the reach of the saving influence of the gospel, remove him out of the way, and let his influence die with him! '

"’O Lord, send confusion and distraction into his study this afternoon, and prevent his finishing his preparation for his labours to-morrow, or if he shall attempt to desecrate thy holy day by attempting to speak to the people, meet him there, Lord, and confound him so that he shall not be able to speak!'

""One prayed thus:—

"'O Lord; we know that we cannot argue him down, and the more we say against him the more will the people flock after him, and the more will they love and revere him. Lord, what shall be done for Boston, if thou dost not take this and some other matters in hand!'

Another prayed thus:—

"O Lord, if this man will still persist in speaking in public, induce the people to leave him and come and fill this house instead of that.’

"One exhorted his brethren to pray that 'God will put a hook in this man's jaws, so that he may not be able to speak.’

"One prayed thus:—

"'O Lord, meet this infidel on his way, who, like another Saul of Tarsus, is persecuting the church of God, and cause a light to shine around him, which shall bring him trembling to the earth, and make him an able defender of the faith which he has so long laboured to destroy.’

"One requested his brethren, whether in their places of business, or walking in the streets, or wherever they might be, to pray far Mr Parker every day when the clock should strike one.

"P.S. — In the meeting above referred to, prayers were offered for no other person besides Theodore Parker.

"Sunday, March 7th." The following document, in the form of a certificate of stock, was issued at Philadelphia, and thence sent to Mr Parker by a highly excellent gentleman of that place. It is a remarkable specimen of a Protestant indulgence, for sins past, present, or to come:—

"AMERICAN SYSTEMATIC BENEFICENCE SOCIETY."

AUXILIARY TO EVERY BENEVOLENT INSTITUTION IN THE LAND.

[Vignette, angel with a trumpet, sounding :]

’Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will to men.’

[Figure of the globe, with the inscription :]

’The field is the world.’

[And below :]

Foreign Mission, Home Mission, Sabbath School, Seamen's Friend, Education, Bible and Tract Societies.

9——

—— Shares.

One hundred per cent stock.

This certifies that —— —— is the holder of —— shares in the Sabbath School Charity Fund.

"Stockholders are guaranteed to receive one hundred times as much as they put in [Matthew xix. 29.] Those who continue to pay into the fund as much as six cents a week, for three years in succession, to be life members of the American Systematic Beneficence Society. Those who do this for six years to be honorary managers for life. Those who do this for ten years to be honorary vice-presidents for life. Those who do this [from love to Christ] while they live will have a free admission through the gates into the heavenly city, a snow-white robe, a heavenly harp, a crown of gold, and a seat at the right hand of the final Judge.

W. J. E. Taylor, Rec. Sec'y. M. W. Baldwin, Pres.
John Gulliver, Cor. Sec'y. Geo. H. Stuart, Vice-Pres.
Thomas Cooper Treasurer."