Tricks of Revivalists Exposed


Background Notes

Mr. Walter Balfour (1776-1852) delivered two sermons on the morning and afternoon of Sunday, April 17, 1831, which were then turned into this pamphlet by G.W. Bazin of Boston, MA.  Mr. Balfour used his position of Pastor of the First Universalist Church in Boston in order to rail against the methods of the revivalist preachers and the questionable staying power of their converts.  The Universalist Church came out of the Unitarians, who were themselves derived from the Congregationalist and Methodist churches.

Universalists believed salvation was for all, not just some.  Thus, the Revivalist's emphasis on saving men from the judgment made no sense to them.  In this pamphlet, Mr. Balfour suggested that unless the manner of the revivalists' teachings changed, the congregations would become stagnant and, in his words, a "moral desolation must be produced in the land."

Transcription of Primary Source

1st. Are they got up and carried on by preaching the truth to which our Lord bore witness? Are the converts made by the belief of this truth, as converts were in the days of the apostles? No man will surely affirm this. No, to profess faith in this truth, would be deemed no conversion at all. The truth our Lord bore witness to, is seldom heard; and little regarded by either the converters, or those converted. None think of preaching it, to produce a revival. And what convert ever confesses he was converted by it? No, such people see nothing in this truth fit to convert any body, and it would be heard by them with the most listless indifference. What then is it which produces modern revivals of religion? I answer the doctrine of terror. Every exertion is made, to excite fear and alarm, and drive the minds of the uninformed and unwary, into anxiety about the salvation of their immortal souls from endless hell torments. This is the end proposed, and without this doctrine it never would be attained.

2d. How are the converts made by modern revivals generally distinguished from others. They are, or may be known, by their long faces and demure countenances. By their snivelling and crying. By their telling others, what hell-deserving sinners they are. By their deep sighs and groans. By their using the cant expressions of the sect, picked up at vestry meetings, and whispering meetings, and from one another. By their using scripture words and expressions, without any scriptural ideas attached to them; such as conviction, conversion, repentance, being born again, being brought out, etc. Moreover, you can distinguish them, by their sectarian zeal to their creed and their sect; the first received without examination, and their last joined because it would be for their interest, or, were influenced by others to do it. And last though not least, you can distinguish such converts, by their speaking very freely against Universalists and Unitarians, yea all who think them mistaken in what they believe, or misled in the course they pursue. Such converts indeed hear a voice, but it is the voice of the church or their minister, whom they implicitly listen to, and readily obey. If he says, they must attend meetings early in the morning, it is done. If he says they must attend meetings some five or six times a day, they also do it. And if he says, they must have four days meetings to get up a revival; all hands are at work to accomplish it. If he says they must go round the town with tracts, and intrude themselves where they are not wanted, they have even brass enough to do this. And as for begging money, and getting children to their schools, to be initiated into their creed, these are things of every day employment. Their chief dependance is placed on the minister, and to him they look, for how they are to think, and what they are to do. The truth Christ bore witness to, and sealed with his blood, is a matter of little concern with them; and as for hearing his voice in the scriptures, this cannot be expected, until they are of this truth.

To conclude. If the mode of getting up and carrying on revivals now exhibited in Boston, are encouraged; and if Dr. Beecher spoke truth of Messrs. Beeman and Finney respecting their revivals, "a moral desolation must be produced in the land." Refrain from abusing the Catholics, cease to wonder at the increase of infidelity, when such things pass for the religion of Jesus Christ with an intelligent community. If we wish for a scriptural revival of religion, let us return to the ancient scripture doctrine which produced it.

Curator Notes

Exact Title: 
Tricks of Revivalists Exposed: Substance of two discourses, delivered in the First Universalist Church in Boston, on the morning and afternoon of Sunday, April 17th, 1831
24 pages
Balfour, Walter
G.W. Bazin
Place of Publication: 
Boston, Massachusetts
24 cm.
American Antiquarian Society
Catalog Code: 
Pams. B185 Tric 1831