I had the privilege recently of reading William Buell Sprague’s 1832 book* Lectures on Revivals of Religion. This work is a series of 9 lectures that Dr. Sprague gives defending the biblical warrant for revival and instructing churches on how to promote true revival and guard against counterfeits. This post focuses on lectures 6 and 7.
The Awakened Sinner
Sprague’s sixth lecture focuses on the awakened sinner. The idea of an awakened sinner does not mean a “halfway” Christian. Rather, Sprague speaks of the person who is not yet saved, but through the preaching of the gospel has come to have a genuine inquiry unto the state of his or her soul. This inquiring state does not guarantee that a person will become a Christian. But it is during this season of inquiry that gospel ministers should take full advantage to counsel the awakened sinner in hopes that he or she will surrender to Christ.
To counsel an awakened sinner, the minister must “teach him what God has done for his salvation; and what God requires him to do; and the reasonableness of that requirement; and the necessity of it being complied with” (p. 157). The minister must first assess the awakened sinner’s understanding of the truth and the corresponding amount of feeling of conviction. The sinner should be exhorted to close with Christ and warned that to delay is to only increase guilt. The sinner should know that there are wrong ways to come to Jesus, like the way of self-righteousness or only seeking comfort from a guilty conscience rather than obedience to Christ’s beckoning. The awakened sinner should be counseled to understand repentance and faith and to use the means of grace such as Bible reading and time in the prayer closet while understanding that these means of grace are not substitutes for repentance and faith.
This lecture reinforces what I know to be true and reprimands me for any dependence upon shortcuts to see genuine conversions. It is not that conversions to Christ cannot happen quickly! They certainly can and the moment of regeneration and conversion is instantaneous. But the time with an “awakened sinner” might be several meetings or weeks or perhaps months on occasion and this requires godly wisdom, genuine compassion, and love for the truth. There is not quick “pray this prayer” that magically moves a sinner from death to life.
Lecture 7 is a treatment due to young converts. By young, Sprague means new converts. Those who have recently professed Christ should be followed-up with for two reasons. First, there is a possibility they have been self-deceived. Just because a person professes Christ, does not mean they are truly a believer. Self-deception is actually one of the themes of Dr. Sprague’s entire series of lectures. The 21st century church would do well to heed his counsel. Secondly, a recent convert should be followed-up with for the purpose of encouragement in the faith and holiness.
Sprague goes on to give ten means by which these two goals are met.
- A new convert must be warned against the danger of overconfidence by being shown the “evidences of Christian character” (p. 190) and “the importance of habitual self-examination” (p. 191).
- He must be warned that his conversion is the beginning of a long and arduous faith journey and that how he begins this pilgrimage in his habits and disciplines will affect him for a long time.
- He must be instructed that God’s Word is sufficient and the highest authority of his life and that there is danger in neglecting any duty therein.
- He must find out and guard against his besetting sins.
- He must not neglect the duty of prayer and reject the allurement of the world which is always after his soul.
- He must also be instructed to not only attend church but to be participatory in public prayer or leading devotions as he is able.
- Finally, at the proper time, he should make a public profession of his faith. “It is his [privilege and] duty to dome into the church” (p. 211).
Sprague gives wise counsel to ministers for instructing recent converts. There is nothing I disagree with in what was written in this seventh lecture. However, I think a more focused emphasis on the local church would be helpful to recent converts. Much of what Sprague wrote dealt with individual application, which is certainly not unimportant. However, the local church is such a vital part of the Christian’s life that it needs to be especially emphasized (Hebrews 3:12-13).