Preface to the Second Edition to John Williamson Nevin’s The Anxious Bench

In coming before the public with a Second edition of the Anxious Bench, it seems proper to introduce it with a short Preface.

The publication, as was to be expected, has produced considerable excitement. At least half a dozen of replies to it, shorter or longer, have been announced in different quarters, proceeding from no less than five different religious denominations. Various assaults, in addition to this, have been made upon it, from the pulpit; to say nothing of the innumerable reproaches it has been required to suffer, in a more private way.

All this however, calls for no very special notice, in return. I am sorry to say, that of all the published replies to the tract, which have come under my observation, not one is entitled to any respect, as an honest and intelligent argument on the other side. In no case, has the question at issue been fairly accepted and candidly met. I do not feel myself required at all then, to enter into a formal vindication of the tract, as assailed in those publications. I consider it to be in itself, a full and triumphant answer to all they contain against it, in the way of objection or reproach. If permitted to speak for itself, by being seriously and attentively read, it may safely be left to please its own cause. In such circumstances, it would be idle to enter into a controversial review of the manifold misrepresentations, to which it has been subjected. The only proper reply to them, is a republication of the tract itself.

With the reproaches that have been showered upon me personally, in different quarters, I have not a I lowed myself to be much disturbed. I had looked for it all beforehand; knowing well the spirit of the system, with which I was called to deal. I knew of course, that I should be calumniated as an enemy to revivals, and an opposer of vital godliness. But I felt satisfied at the same time, that the calumny would in due season correct itself, and recoil with disgrace on the heads of those from whom it might proceed. It has begun to do so already, and will continue to do so, no doubt, more and more.

Some have wondered, that I did not take more pains to define my position with regard to revivals, by writing a chapter on the subject, so as to cut off occasion for the reproach now mentioned. But this would have been, in some measure to justify and invite the wrong, which it was proposed to prevent. There is gross insolence in the assumption, that a man should at all need to vindicate himself in this way, in venturing to speak against the system of New Measures. And then, it is not by formal protestations, when all is done, that the point, in any such case, can be fully settled. A chapter on revivals would be of little account in my tract, if my own character, and the whole spirit of the tract itself, were not such as to show an honest zeal in favor of serious religion. The publications which have come out in reply to it, all affect an extraordinary interest in the subject of revivals, exhibited often with a very blustering air; but in the case of some of them, this pretension is utterly belied, to all who have the least amount of spiritual discernment, by the tone of feeling with which they are characterized throughout. They carry in them no savor at all of the wisdom, that cometh from above, no sympathy whatever with the mind of Jesus Christ. The remark is made of some of these publications, not of the whole of them indiscriminately.

Nor would any special protestation in favor of revivals be of much account, to guard the tract from being perversely used, by those who are in fact opposed to this precious interest. The only true and proper provision against such abuse must be found, if it exist at all, in the general spirit of the tract itself. Let this be right, and it must be considered enough. It may be perverted still; but men can pervert the bible too, if they please.

Fears have been expressed, that in the present position of the German Churches particularly, the publication may operate disastrously upon the interests of vital godliness. But in my own view, there is no good reason for any such fears. I believe its operation has been salutary already, and trust it will be found more salutary still, in time to come. It has engaged attention extensively to the subject of which it treats, and is likely to go farther than anything that has appeared before, in correcting the confusion and mystification, in which it has been so unhappily involved, in certain parts of the country, to the great prejudice of religion. It may be hoped now, that the subject of New Measures will be so examined and understood, that all shall come to make a proper distinction, between the system of the Anxious Bench, and the power of evangelical godliness, working in its true forms. In the case of the German Churches, this would be a result of the very highest consequence. If the present tract may open the way for its accomplishment, its mission will be one in which all the friends of true religion in these Churches will have occasion to rejoice.

But instead of lending their help to secure this most desirable object, the friends of the Anxious Bench seem concerned, to maintain as long as possible the very mystification, that stands in its way. They tell us, we must not speak against New Measures, because this term is made to include, in some parts of the country, revivals and other kindred interests and then, when we propose to correct this gross mistake, by proper instruction, they set themselves with all their might to counteract the attempt, and insist that the people shall be suffered to confound these different forms of religion as before. Those who act thus, are themselves enemies in fact to the cause of revivals. From no other quarter, has it been made to suffer so seriously. Its greatest misfortune is, that it should lie at the mercy of such hands.

It is with a very bad grace, that reference is made occasionally by some, to the idea of a foreign spirit in the tract, as related to the German Churches. It is in full sympathy with the true life of these Churches, as it stood in the beginning. The charge of seeking to force a foreign spirit on them, lies with clear right against the other side. The system of New Measures has no affinity whatever, with the life of the Reformation, as embodied in the Augsburg Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. It could not have found any favor in the eyes of Zuingli or Calvin. Luther would have denounced it, in the most unmerciful terms. His soul was too large, too deep, too free, to hold communion with a style of religion so mechanical and shallow. Those who are actively laboring to bring the Church of Luther, in this country, into subjection to the system, cannot be said to be true to his memory or name. The challenge, Why are you a Lutheran ? is one which they would

do well seriously to consider. It is most certain, that the interest they are pushing forward, in this view, is not Lutheranism, in any sense that agrees with the true historical life of the Church. It involves a different theory of religion, that stands in no fellowship with the views, either of the fathers and founders of the Church, or of its most evangelical representatives in modern Germany. It is another element altogether that surrounds us, in the writings of such men as Olshausen, Tholuck, Sartorius, and Neander. The system in question, is in its principle and soul neither Calvinism nor Lutheranism, but Wesleyan Methodism. Those who are urging it upon the old German Churches, are in fact doing as much as they can, to turn them over into the arms of Methodism. This may be done, without any change of denominational name. Already the life of Methodism, in this country, is actively at work among other sects, which own no fellowship with it in form. So in the present case, names may continue to stand as before; but they will be only as the garnished sepulchers of a glory, that belonged to other days.

But is not Methodism, Christianity? And is it not better that the German Churches should rise in this form, than not rise at all 1 Most certainly so, I reply, if that be the only alternative. But that is not the only alternative. Their resurrection may just as well take place, in the type of their own true, original, glorious life, as it is still to be found enshrined in their symbolical books. And whatever there may be that is good in Methodism, this life of the Reformation I affirm to be immeasurably more excellent and sound. Wesley was a small man as compared with Melancthon. Olshausen, with all his mysticism, is a commentator of the inmost sanctuary in comparison with Adam Clark. If the original, distinctive life of the Churches of the Reformation, be not the object to be reached after, in the efforts that are made to build up the interests of German Christianity, in this country, it were better to say so at once openly and plainly. If we must have Methodism, let us have it, under its own proper title, and in its own proper shape. Why keep up the walls of denominational partition, in such a case, with no distinctive spiritual being to uphold or protect? A sect without a soul, has no right to live. Zeal for a separate denominational name, that utters no separate religious idea, is the very essence of sectarian bigotry and schism.

In opposing the Anxious Bench, I mean no disrespect of course to the many excellent men, in different Churches, who have given it their countenance. This has been done by some of the best ministers in the land, for whom I entertain the very highest regard. Not a few are to be found, who themselves condemn their own former judgment, in so doing ; which does not imply surely any want of proper self-respect. The system of the Anxious Bench, in its full development, is one which these persons have always disapproved; only they have not considered this particular measure to be a part of the system. That this should be the case need not seem strange; for in the view of the measure here taken, it is supposed to be in its simple form, on the bright side of this system, and close upon the boundary that separates it from the territory of truth. The tract exhibits the measure in this view, not as the origin of the system historically, not as necessarily conducting in all cases to worse things that lie beyond; but as constitutionally involving the principle of those worse things, under the least startling form, and legitimately opening the way for their introduction, if circumstances should permit. It would seem to show the correctness of this view, that while the answers to the tract protest against it, as a false and arbitrary classification, they all conform to it notwithstanding^ in spite of themselves, in a practical way. They defend the use of the bench as the Thermopylae of New Measures; and their argument, such as it is, has just as much force to justify the system in full, as it has to justify this measure in particular. An effort is made indeed to mystify the subject, by dragging into connection with it interests of a different order altogether ; but still it is plain enough, that this is done with violence, and the controversy falls back always in the end, to its proper limits.

The abuse of a thing, it is said, is no argument against its proper use; and therefore the object, in the present case, should be to reform and regulate, rather than to abolish. To this I reply, the whole system contemplated in the tract is an abuse, from which it is of the utmost importance that the worship of the sanctuary, and the cause of revivals, should be rescued. Belonging as it does to this system, then, and contributing to its support, the Anxious Bench is a nuisance, that can never be fully abated except by its entire removal. Its tendencies, as shown in the tract, are decidedly bad, without any compensation of a solid kind. It may be used with moderation ; but it will stand still in the same relation to the system it represents, that moderate drinking holds to intemperance in its more advanced forms. Popery started, in the beginning, under forms apparently the most innocent and safe. What might seem to be, for instance, more rational and becoming than the sign of the cross, as used by Christians, on all occasions, in the early Church ? And yet, when the corruptions of Rome were thrown off by the protestant world, in the 16th century, this and other similar forms were required to pass away with the general mass. And why is it that the sign of the cross, as once used, is now counted a dangerous superstition, not to be permitted among protestants? Simply, because it falls naturally over to that vast system of abuses, of which it forms a part in the Romish Church. Thus it represents that system, and furnishes a specimen of it constitutionally, under the most plausible shape. Such is the position of the Anxious Bench, as a particular measure, in the general case now under consideration. It is just as easy to conceive of a judicious and salutary use of the sign of the cross, as it is to conceive of a judicious and salutary use of the anxious bench ; and I have no doubt at all, but that the first has been owned and blessed of God full as extensively, to say the least, as this has ever been the case with the last.

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