Preface to John Gillies's Historical Collections of Accounts of Revival

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Horatius Bonar, a Scottish clergyman and songwriter of the nineteenth century, wrote the preface to John Gillies's Historical Collections of Accounts of Revival. In this excerpt, Bonar described the phenomenon of revival from the perspective of a later century.


The world is still sleeping its “sleep of death.” It has been a slumber of many generations;—sometimes deeper, sometimes lighter,—yet still a slumber like that of the tomb, as if destined to continue till the last trumpet sound; and then there shall be no more sleep.

Yet God has not left it to sleep on unwarned. He has spoken in a voice that might reach the dullest ears and quicken the coldest heart. Ten thousand times has He thus spoken and still He speaks. But the world refuses to hear. Its myriads slumber on, as if this sleep of death were the very blessedness of its being.

Yet in one sense the world’s sleep has never been universal. Never has there been an age when it could be said there is not one awake. The multitude has always slept, but there has always been a little flock awake. Even in the world’s deepest midnight there have been always children of the light and of the day. In the midst of a slumbering world some have been in every age awake. God’s voice had reached them, and His mighty power had raised them, and they walked the earth, awake among sleepers, the living among the dead.

The volume before us contains not the history of the sleeping many, but of the waking few. Its object is to trace out their story and record it for a memorial to all generations. The world has written at large the history of its sleeping multitudes, it becomes the Church of Christ to record the simpler, briefer annals of its awakened ones. Doubtless, their record is on high, written more imperishably than the world can ever accomplish for its sons, yet still it is well for earth to have a record of those of whom the world was not worthy.

Their story is as full of interest as it is of importance. The waking up of each soul would be matter enough for a history,—its various shakingd and startings up, ere it was fully aroused; the word or the stroke that effected the work; the time, the way in which it became awake for eternity and for God, as well as its new course of light after it awoke,—all these are fraught with an interest to which nothing of time or earth can ever once be compared. And then, when the voice of God awakes not one, but thousands, it may be in a day; when whole villages and districts seems as if arising and putting on new life,—how intensely, how unutterably interesting! At such a crisis it seems as if the world itself were actually beginning to awake,—as if the shock that had broken the slumbers of so many were about to shake the whole world together. Yet alas! the tokens of life soon vanish. The half-awakened sleepers sink back into deeper slumber, and the startled world lies down in still more sad and desperate security.

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