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“It would be impossible to estimate the influence exerted on revival movements all over the world during the past hundred years by Charles Finney’s lectures on prayer in his Revivals of Religion.” Arthur Wallis
“Finney never made an altar call within the first twenty eight nights of preaching. Most of our evangelists don’t have twenty eight sermons. Twenty eight nights in a row and he never made an altar call. He didn’t preach the love of God. He… didn’t say “you’re a sinner, God loves you.” He said “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps 7:11) which the Word of God says. He didn’t preach grace, he preached Law. He didn’t preach love, he preached judgment. He didn’t preach heaven, he preached hell. He didn’t say “you’re a wonderful person” he said “you’re a rebel”. But he got results. 64% of D. L. Moodys converts backslid, 72% of the converts Finney got stood because he knew how to attack the human will, not just the emotions.” Leonard Ravenhill
The writings of Gordon C. Olson and that of Charles G. Finney are very precious writings to me, as these were anointed men with keen minds who espoused the wonderful truths of the Bible with clarity and precision.
What I like the most about the theology of Gordon Olson and Charles Finney is that they taught the freedom of the will. They held to the orthodox doctrine of man’s free will, the voluntary nature of sin, and the avoidability of sin, just like all of the Early Church Fathers taught. It wasn’t until Augustine’s time that the doctrine of original sin and total inability was brought into the Church from Gnosticism. While much modern theology today has been polluted with the Gnostic/Augustinian/Calvinistic doctrine of man’s total inability, these men of God boldly taught the Scriptural and orthodox doctrine of free will. Finney laid the full weight of responsibility for sin upon the sinner, showing that they had absolutely no excuse or justification for their sin, and the consequence was a deep conviction that lead to genuine conversion.
I was delighted that on one of my preaching tours I came across this very small and rare booklet written by Gordon Olson about the amazing revivals of Finney. I found it in the library of a pastor who personally knew Gordon Olson. This was a very valuable and rare find. I have been studying the writings of Gordon Olson and Charles Finney for many years and never even heard of this little booklet before. I wonder how many others knew of its existence before now. It is my pleasure to present this little booklet to you now. My prayer is that believers will be deeply challenged and changed as they read about the successful revivals that Charles Finney had and why it was that God was able to use Finney in such a mighty way in winning genuine converts to Christ.
~ Jesse Morrell
THE SECRET OF SUCCESS
IN THE MINISTRY OF
CHARLES G. FINNEY
By Gordon C. Olson
Chapter I: Conversion and the Endowment with the Holy Spirit
Chapter II: Prevailing Prayer
Chapter III: God-authorized Message
Chapter IV: The Work of the Holy Spirit
Chapter V: Finney’s Theology
Chapter VI: Conclusion
We cannot hope in this brief survey to put forth any kind of a comprehensive view of the theological concepts which Finney presented. In various instances in his Autobiography he enumerates for us the general truths that were presented. For the present we must be content with these. He has left for us extensive discussions on his theological opinions in his books and sermons, the most important of which are available for further study. “A” will stand for Finney’s autobiography or Memoirs, 1876, “t’ top of page, etc. “St” will stand for Finney’s Systematic Theology, 1851. 1878, author’s Preface, Item I. “Ms” refers to additional materials appearing in the hand-written original of the Autobiography of over 1000 pages (by a stenographer), in the Oberlin College historical vault, Ohio, which was compared page by page.
– Gordon C. Olson
After writing Finney’s life in Telugu in 1962, I met Mr. Gordon C. Olson in 1966. I found one of the foremost of C. F. Finney scholars encouraged me to continue my own studies in Finney’s theological writings. I did some editorial work in this book but I am completely responsible for the fifth chapter, “Finney’s Theology.” It is my great pleasure to introduce Mr. Gordon C. Olson to our Indian readers.
CONVERSION AND THE ENDOWMENT
OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Charles Grandison Finney was a descendant of the New England Puritans, and was born in Connecticut in 1792. He moved with his parents to western New York when two years of age. This part of New York was than a frontier wilderness, with few educational or religious facilities. Finney had a good common school education, and at twenty years of age he went to New England to attend high school. However, soon afterward he went to New Jersey to teach school and to continue his studies. There he became quite proficient in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and in other college studies. In 1818 he commenced the study of law in the office of Squire Wright, of Adams, near his old home in western New York (J. Gilchrist Lawson, Deeper Experience of Famous Christians, 1911, pp. 243-4). At that time, he says, he was “almost as ignorant of religious as a heathen” (A-7). As his curiosity was excited by quotations from the Bible, he purchased the first copy of the Bible he had ever owned and began to read it. He began moreover to attend prayer meetings and church.
On a Sabbath evening in the autumn of 1821 he reached the conclusion that he should at once settle his mind and make his peace with God. The next two or three days he spent much time in Bible reading and prayer. Without realizing his pride of heart he was careful to hide his Bible when visitors entered the office and to stop the key-hole of his door when he prayed. His agitation increased and by Tuesday night he had reached a state of mind bordering on despair. The next morning he went to a grove on the north side of the village so that he might be free from interruption when he prayed. While he was kneeling by the side of a log he thought he heard a rustling in the leaves as if someone was approaching. Opening his eyes and seeing no one, he realized his great pride of heart and he exclaimed: “What! Such a degraded sinner as I am, and ashamed to have any human being and a sinner like myself find me on my knees endeavoring to make my peace with my offended God!” The sin appeared awful and infinite. He wrote, “It broke me down before the Lord.” He resumed his prayers and persisted until at last peace came, when with a light heart he started to his office, saying, “If ever I am converted I will preach the Gospel.” (Frank G Beardsley, Religious Progress Through Religious Revivals, 1943, pp. 57, 58). His conversion, which occurred on the 10th of October 1821, was remarkable for its suddenness, and thoroughness. God’s Word dropped into his mind with a flood of light: “Then shall ye go and prayer unto me, and I will hearken unto you. Then shall ye seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13).
Finney had returned to the office and was about to take a seat by the fire. Suddenly he received the endowment of the Holy Spirit. He says, ‘The Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that something seemed to go through me, body and soul. I could feel the impression like a wave of electricity going through and through me” (A-20). Immediately he forsook the law in order to preach. He was received under the care of the presbytery (1822) and in 1824 was licensed to preach. He at once turned his attention to revival labors, which he continued with few interruptions until 1860 when age prevented his travelling. He assumed pastorate work from 1832 to 1835. In the same year, he went to OberlinCollege as professor of theology and he continued to labour there until his death on August 16th, 1875, as instructor, pastor, and from 1852 to 1861 college president.
One of the many biographers of Finney, I am not aware that any have given the prominence to the intimate and persistent prayer life in which he lived. In my present review of his Autobiography, I have tabulated over sixty references that he has made to his prayer life or to the importance’s of prayer. Before his conversion he had been given pause by the inconsistencies and ineffectiveness of the prayer being offered in Adams. The bad example he saw there may have lead him to seek the reality of God’s promises after he had enlisted in the cause of Christ. His prayers were accompanied with the greatest agony and concern. The original manuscript of the autobiography contained much more vivid expressions of his extreme burden for men’s souls than the printed version. We have quoted some of the references as to how important prayer was in his Bible study. That God quickened his mind to see the living reality of truth is evident from the fruit of his life. He truly took to heart the words of the Lord Jesus, “With out me ye can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). “The Lord taught me, in those early days of my Christian experience, many very important truths in regard to the spirit of prayer” (A-36m). He early learned what it was to prevail with God until the climax of the prayer of faith was reached, or until the good Lord made known to him that this prayer could not be answered for good and wise reasons. Taking upon himself the burden of an unsaved lady sick unto death – “at this time the Lord gave me power to prevail. I was enabled to roll the burden upon him; and I obtained the assurance in y own mind that the woman would not die, and indeed that she would never die in her sins” (A-7). The manuscript adds a deeper touch to this earnestness. “I felt something almost like a cramp seizing me in the region of my heart,” and experienced “a kind of spasm inwardly.” Speaking of his groaning in prayer, he said they came from a “terrible pressure on my mind.” What would happen if more Christians prayed like this for souls?
In his early revival labors, when “the people were threatening me” and “were full of wrath,” he agreed with a deacon to spend the whole day in fasting and prayer. “Just at evening the Lord gave us great enlargement and promise of victory” (A-6m). After earnest preaching to a full house, the next day “I found a state of wonderful conviction of sin and alarm for their souls” (A-66m). Finney was instrumental in bringing, ‘Father Nash’ to new spiritual vitality. This man, for years, experienced remarkable prayer victories. He was so burdened for souls that he could not attend meetings, but travelled from place to place to take hold of God in prayer for various pressing needs (A-70m). He put hard cases on his list and prayed over them until something happened. (A-71m). The stress upon prayer in his own life lead Finney to stress prayer wherever he went. Young Christians were immediately taught to take hold of God in a great burden of prayer for their friends. “I laid great stress upon prayer as an indispensable condition for promoting a revival.” (A-77m). Thus “a wonderful spirit of prayer prevailed among Christians, and great unity of feeling” (A-76t).
“I endeavored to make them understand,” wrote Finney of his labors in Rome, N.Y., “that God would immediately answer prayer, provided they fulfilled the conditions upon which he had promised to answer prayer; and especially if they believed, in the sense of expecting him to answer their requests” (A-170b). He told them: “I really believe, if you will unite this afternoon in the prayer of faith to God for the immediate outpouring of His Spirit, that you will receive an answer from heaven, sooner than you would get a message from Albany by the quickest post that could be sent” (A-171t). Here was a firm faith in God inspiring faith in others. “The fact is, I had so often seen this result in answer to prayer, that I made the remark without any misgiving.” (171m). A wonderful faith was kindled. “Indeed the town was full of prayer. Go where you would, you heard the voice of prayer.”
Mention must be made of perhaps the most important day of prayer of Finney’s life. He was sent on a sea voyage for about six months seeking to regain his health and strength. “On my homeward passage,” he writes, “my mind became exceedingly exercised on the question of revivals. I feared that they would decline throughout the country. I feared that the opposition that had been made to them had grieved the Holy Spirit. My own health, it appeared to me, had nearly or quite broken down; and I knew of no other evangelist that would take the field and aid pastors in revival work. This view of the subject distressed me so much that one day I found myself unable to rest. My soul was in utter agony. I spent almost the entire day in prayer (on knees) in my state room, or walking the deck in intense agony in view of the state of things.” (The manuscript says, “in such pain as to wring y hands and almost gnaw my tongue, as it were, for pain and agony.”) “In fact I felt crushed with the burden that was on my soul. There was no one on board to whom I could open my mind, or say a word. It was the spirit of prayer that was upon me, that which I often before experienced in kind but perhaps never before to such a degree, for so long a time. I besought the Lord to go on with His work, and to provide Himself with such instrumentalities as were necessary. It was a long summer day, in the early part of July. After a day of unspeakable wrestling and agony in my soul, just at night, the subject cleared up to my mind. The spirit led me to believe that all would come out right, and that God had yet a work for me to do; that I might be at rest that the Lord would go forward with his work and give me strength to take any part in it that he desired. But I had not the least idea what the course of His providence would be” (A-328m-9). Shortly after this he was inspired to preach his “Lectures on Revivals,” and other lectures, which were translated into many languages and widely circulated. These with his autobiography have become classics on evangelism. Finney believed that these great movements of the Holy Spirit upon him resulted directly from that heartfelt day of prayer at sea (A-331).
One other very important aspect of Finney’s labors needs to be stressed, namely, his refusal to allow himself to get into a spirit of controversy and retaliate by harsh words against those who did all they could to hinder his usefulness. This opposition came mainly from the Christian ministers. If we allow bitterness to fill our souls, he reasoned, the spirit of grace is crowded out and our usefulness, impaired. Finney prevailed with God over these great heartbreaks of opposition from brethren and received grace to let God deal with it. “We had our hands too full, and our hearts too full, to turn aside to reply to letters or reports or publications that so manifestly misrepresented the character of the work” (A-145t). In 1826 “I looked to God with great earnestness day after day, to be dissected: asking hit o show me the path o duty and give me grace to ride out the storm (of organized ministerial opposition). The Lord showed me as in a vision what was before me. He drew so near to me while I was engaged in prayer that my flesh literally trembled on my bones. I shook from head to foot, under a full sense of the presence of God… Never in y life that I recollect was I so awed and humbled before God as then. Nevertheless, instead of feeling like fleeing, I seemed drawn nearer to God – seemed to draw nearer and nearer to that presence that filled me with such unutterable awe and trembling. After a season of great humiliation before him, there came a great lifting up. God assured me that he could be with me and uphold me; that no opposition would prevail against me; that I had nothing to do in regard to all this matter but to keep about my work and wait for the salvation of God… God assured me that they could not put me down.” (A-193m-194). He attended calmly a widely attended convention of ministers called to discuss the alleged evils of his labors. “I cannot be too thankful that God kept me from being agitated and changed in my spirit or views of labor by all the opposition of these days.” (A-225b). He later declared himself similarly unmoved by all the opposition to his work in founding OberlinCollege (A-348m).
The prayer of faith is a very remarkable and misunderstood thing. It does not automatically for to those who wish to live a life of ease. It comes to those who are willing to follow the Lord’s words: “Let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Lk. 9:23). The prayer of faith grows upon us as we share the burdens of the Godhead over a lost world. We climb higher, step by step, until the serene presence of God makes unbelief look foolish. The prayer of faith that “moves mountains” is ours; its inspiration comes from God.
Finney writes further: “In regard to my own experience, I will say that unless I had the spirit of prayer I could do nothing. If even for a day or an hour I lost the spirit of grace and supplication, I found myself unable to preach with power and efficiency, or win souls by personal conversation” (A-142m). “I found myself having more or less power in preaching, and in personal labors for souls, just in proportion as I had the spirit of prevailing prayer. I have found that unless I kept myself and have been kept in such relations to God as to have daily and hourly access to him in prayer, my efforts to win souls were abortive; but that when I could prevail with God in prayer, I could prevail with man in preaching, exhortation, and conversation.” (Ms).
Hand in hand, of course, with the Christian’s prayer life that C. G. Finney exemplified goes his daily round of meditation on Holy Scriptures. God never intended that men should set their minds to devise great theological speculations, but rather that they should occupy their minds with the simple Biblical revelations concerning the Godhead especially as found in the Gospels. Each sincere servant of Christ faces a sifting process as he seeks to discern God’s mind and message. In this the anointing of the Holy Spirit has been promised (1 Jn. 2:27), in fulfillment of the Saviors words (Jn. 16:12-15). We have before us the noblest example that our race has to offer, one whose method of approach to God and truth cannot be improved upon. We have every testimony of his sincerity and humility and of the extreme fertility of his mind in logical processes. We also have recorded on the pages of world history what happened when the conclusions he arrived at were proclaimed. This by no stretch of imagination could have occurred apart from Divine approval and energy. Each inquirer for truth must decide the source of this message which has moved multitudes of the most intelligent citizens of our land and of the world.
Charles Finney wrote, “I almost always get on my knees in prayer; and it has been a common experience with me, upon receiving a subject from the Holy Spirit, to have it make so strong an impression on my mind as to make me tremble, so that I could with difficulty write. When subjects are thus given me that seem to go through me, body and soul, I can in a few moments make out a skeleton that enable e to retain the view presented by the Spirit; and I find that such sermons always tell with great power upon the people” (A-96m). “Some of the most telling sermons that I have ever preached in Oberlin, I have thus received after the bell had rung for church, and I was obliged to go and our them off from my full heart, without jotting down more than the briefest possible skeleton. They were not mine, but from the Holy Spirit in me.” (A-96m&b). “And let no man say that this is claiming a higher inspiration than is promised to ministers, or than ministers have a right to expect. For I believe that all ministers, called by Christ to preach the Gospel, ought to be, and may be, in such a sense inspired, as to “preach the Gospel with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven” (I Pet. 1:12) (A-96b-97t).
Further he writes, “But one great thing above all others ministers need, and that is singleness of eye. If they have a reputation to secure and to nurse, they will do but little good” (A-88m). Speaking of learned discourses to make superficial impressions, he said: “As for real eloquence, that gushing, impressive, and persuasive oratory that naturally flows from an educated man whose soul is on fire with his subject, and who is free to pour out his heart to a waiting and earnest people, they have none of it” (A-90m). When men are entirely in earnest, “their language is pointed direct and simple. Their sentences are short, cogent, powerful. The appeal is made directly for action; and hence all such discourses take” (A-90b). “Very much, in this as in everything else, depends on the spirit in which it is said. If the people see that it is said in the spirit of love, with a yearning desire to do them good; if they cannot call personal animosity in it but they see and cannot deny that it is telling the truth in love; that it is coming right home to them to save the individually, there are very few that will continue to resent it” (A-92b). “Men are not fools. They have no solid respect for a man that will go into the pulpit and preach smooth things. They cordially despise it in their inmost souls” (A-93m).
In the glorious revivals led by Charles Finney, no one was ever led into an assurance of salvation in the present commission of conscious sin. Very great energies were put forth so that all would understand what salvation really was and exactly what its requirements were. “The means that I had all along used in promoting revivals were much prayer, secret and social, public preaching, personal conversation, and visitation from house to house; and when inquirers became multiplied, I appointed meetings for them and invited those that were inquiring to meet for instruction, suited to their necessities” (A-160m). When there was sincere and deep conviction, Finney would proceed with the Gospel. “I then addressed them in as gentle but plain a manner as I called their attention at once to their only remedy, and assured them that it was a present and all-sufficient remedy. I pointed them to Christ, as the Savior of the world. I led in prayer in a low, unimpassioned voice, but interceded with the Savior to interpose His blood, then and there, and to lead all these sinners to accept the salvation which He offered, and to believe to the saving of their souls. The agitation deepened every moment; and as I could hear their sobs and sighs I closed my prayer and rose suddenly from my knees. They all arose, and I said, “No please go home without speaking a word to each other. Try to keep silent and do not break out into any boisterous manifestation of feeling; but go without saying a word to your rooms” (A-160m). Souls were given time, under the powerful influence of truth, to seek God for themselves until they had a direct consciousness of an intelligent meeting with God, with a full assurance that they had confessed all the sins that they could think of and had been gloriously forgiven through a committal of faith in the atoning death of Christ.
“I held also,” writes Finney, “that there are means of regeneration, and that the truths of the Bible are in their nature calculated to lead the sinner to abandon his wickedness and turn to God. I held that there must be an adaptation of means to the end to be secured; that is, that the intelligence must be enlightened, the unreasonableness of moral depravity must be set before the sinner, and its wickedness and ill-desert clearly revealed to him; that when this was done the mission of Christ could be strongly presented and could be understood by him; that taking this course with the sinner had a tendency to convert him to Christ; and that when this was faithfully and prayerfully done, we had a right to expect the Holy Spirit to co-operate with us, giving effect to our feeble efforts. Furthermore, I held that the Holy Spirit operates in the preacher, clearly revealing these truths in their proper order to him and enabling him to set them before the people, in such proportion and in such order as is calculated to convert them” (A-154).
“Instead of telling sinners to use the means of grace and pray for a new heart, we called on them to make themselves a new heart and a new spirit, and pressed the duty of instant surrender to God. We told them the Spirit was striving with them to induce them now to give Him their hearts, now to believe and to enter at once upon a life of devotion to Christ, of faith, and love, and Christian obedience; We taught them that while they were praying for the Holy Spirit, they were constantly resisting Him; and that if they would at once yield to their own convictions of duty, they would be Christians. We tried to show them that everything they did or said before they had submitted, believed, given their hearts to God, was all sin; was not that which God required them to do, but was simply deferring repentance and resisting the Holy Spirit. Such teaching as this was, of course, opposed by many; nevertheless it was greatly blessed by the Spirit of God” (A-189t).
“The measures,” he wrote, “were simply preaching the Gospel and abundant prayer, in private, in social circles, and in public prayer meetings: much stress being always laid upon prayer as an essential means of promoting the revival. Sinners were not encouraged to expect the Holy Spirit to convert them while they were passive; and never told to wait God’s time, but were taught unequivocally that their first and immediate duty was to submit themselves to God, to renounce their own will, their own way, and themselves, and instantly to deliver up all that they were, and all that they had, to their rightful owner, the Lord Jesus Christ. They were taught here as everywhere in those revivals, that the only obstacle in the way was their own stubborn will; that God was trying to gain their unqualified consent to give up their sins, and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their righteousness and salvation. The point was frequently urged upon them to give their consent; and they were told that the only difficulty was to get their own honest and earnest consent to the terms upon which Christ would save them, and the lowest terms upon which they possibly could be saved” (A-363m).
THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
After the assurance of salvation, the anointing of the spirit will not be given to make us happy, but to make us useful. In the process, to be sure, the abundant joy of God will be ours as we join our hands with His. One day Finney was asked, “What would you think of a man that was praying week after week for the Spirit, and could get no answer?” Finney replied, “I should think he was praying from false motives.” “But from what motives,” he said, “should a man pray? If he wants to be happy, is that a false motive?” Finney replied, “Satan might pray with as good a motive as that.” Then he quoted the words of the Psalmist: Uphold me with thy free Spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee (51:12). “See!” said Finney, “The Psalmist did not pray for the Holy Spirit that he might be happy, but that he might be useful, and then sinners might be converted to Christ.” (A-112m).
“The baptism itself,” wrote Finney, “was a Divine purifying, an anointing bestowing on them, a Divine illumination, filling them with faith, and love, with peace and power, so that their words were made sharp in the hearts of God’s enemies, quick and powerful, like a two-edged sword… Without the direct teaching of the Holy Spirit, a man will never make much progress in preaching the Gospel. The fact is unless he can preach the Gospel as an experience, present religion to mankind as a matter of consciousness, his speculations and theories will come far short of preaching the Gospel” (A-56).
It is the Spirit’s office first to convict the sinner of sin, o righteousness, and of judgment to come; and when taught the need of the Savior, to present the Savior in His Divine nature, His offices and relations, His atonement and mercy and His willingness, readiness, and ability to save unto the uttermost. Thus Christ promised the Holy Spirit as a teacher to lead men by Divine moral persuasion to renounce their sins and give themselves to God. That which the sinner is conscious of under His agency is not the personal presence of any Divine agency in his mind, but the truth he sees clearly, so that it makes a deep impression. His difficulties are cleared up; his errors corrected; his mind enlightened; the truth presses on his conscience and he feels an urgency upon his spirit to submit immediately to God. It is the truth that engages his attention. If he is a reader of the Bible, he will infer of course that the urgency that is upon him is from the Spirit of God. It is often well that he should be told that this is the way in which the Spirit of God works within; that in resisting the truths that are set before his mind, he is resisting the Holy Spirit; and that in accepting these truths cordially he yields to Divine teaching. But he should understand distinctly that the Spirit’s work is not to convert him while he is passive, waiting God’s time; but the Spirit of God converts or turns him by inducing him to turn himself; that the act of submission is his own act and the Spirit is persuasiveness leading the sinner to trust the Savior; that He gives us faith by inducing us to believe; that He leads us to perform every duty, to repent, to believe, to submit, to love, by presenting the truths which are calculated to lead to these acts, in so clear a light as to overcome our reluctance, to induce us voluntarily, with all sincerity and with all our hearts, to turn to God, to trust Him, to love Him, to obey Him.
Although Finney was a man of deep emotions he always stressed the fact that the understanding of people had to be aroused if true conversion was to take place and thus emotional excesses had to be avoided. In one revival where emotionality was excessive, Finney writes, “I told them that I thought the inquirers needed more opportunity to think than they had when there was no much noise: that they needed instruction; and needed to be led by one voice in prayer, and that there should not be any confusion or anything bordering on it, if we expected them to listen and become intelligently converted” (A-463t). During a time of great conviction, he wrote, “I kept cool myself and endeavored to keep the people in an attitude in which they would listen to instruction, and would act understandably, in everything they did. Still in some instances persons for a few days were too much excited for the healthy action of their minds, though I do not recollect any case of real insanity” (A-464t). At times, hearts were so torn apart that great caution had to be exercised, he recalls, to prevent damaging emotional outbreaks. In this respect Finney was given great wisdom from above to delicate situations. It is most refreshing to our prayer life, in our day of spiritual torpor to realize that problems of over-enthusiasm have existed in earlier generations.
But Finney’s high standards for genuine conversion did not limit his effectiveness as an evangelist. One of his revivals in Utica, N.Y., spread across a factory through Finney’s solemn and compassionate attitude as he was passing through. Noticing one young lady seemingly responding to the Holy Spirit he wrote: “When I came within eight or ten feet of her, I looked solemnly at her. She observed it, and was quite overcome, and sunk down and burst into tears. This feeling spread through the factory. The owner of the establishment was present, and seeing the state of things he said to his superintendent, “Stop the mill and let the people tend to religion; for it is more important that our souls should be saved than that this factory run”… “The revival went through the mill with astonishing power, and in the course of a day days nearly all in the mill were hopefully converted.” (A-183b).
One prominent church historian has said that Finney’s “whole theology was controlled by two fundamental purposes – to make men Christian and to keep them so – and hence was theology of both conversion and sanctification.” Very fundamental to Finney’s theology is his assertion; “Especially do I urge to their logical consequences, the two admissions that the will is free, and that sin and holiness are voluntary acts of mind.” (ST-xm).
Regeneration and Conversion are synonymous terms, descriptive of an act in which the Holy Spirit and the human will cooperate. Truth, however, is in all cases instrumental through which conversion is secured by the Spirit. “Sinners were not encouraged,” writes Finney, “to expect the Spirit to convert them while they were passive; and never told to wait God’s time, but were taught unequivocally that their first and immediate duty was to submit themselves to renounce their own will, their own way, and themselves, and instantly to deliver up all that they were, and all that they had, to their rightful owner, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (A-363).
True Repentance: “It involves a change of opinion respecting the nature of sin, and this change of opinion,” Finney writes again, “followed by a corresponding change of felling toward sin. Feeling is the result of thought. When this change of opinion is such as to produce a corresponding change of feeling, the opinion is right and the feeling corresponds. This is true repentance… The individual who truly repents not only sees sin to be detestable and vile, and worthy of abhorrence; but he really abhors it, and hates it in his heart.” (Lectures to Professing Christians. pp.156, 158).
Faith: “Two things,” writes he, “are indispensable to evangelical or saving faith. The first is, the intellectual conviction o the truth of a thing. And here I do not mean merely the abstract truth of it, but in its bearing on you. The truth, in its relation to you, or its bearing on your conduct, must be received intellectually. And then true faith becomes a corresponding state of the heart. This always enters into the essence of true faith. When a man’s understanding is convinced and he admits the truth in its relation to himself, then there must be a hearty approbation of it in its bearing or relation to himself. But intellectual conviction, when accompanied with a corresponding state of the affections, is saving faith. Hence it follows that where there is true saving faith, there is always corresponding conduct.” (LPC-12, 13).
Atonement: The atonement of Christ was intended as a satisfaction of public justice – “The Atonement,” according to Finney, “is an illustrious exhibition of cumulative justice, in which the government of God, by an act of God, by an act of infinite grace, commutes or substitutes the sufferings of Christ for the eternal damnation of sinners” (ST-223). “The question might be asked – Why did Christ die at all, if not for us? He had never sinned; He did not die on His own account as a sinner; nor did He die as the infants of our race do, with a moral nature yet undeveloped, and who yet belong to a sinning race. The only account to be given of his death is, that He died not for Himself, but for us, as sinners” (Gospel Themes, 211).
Justification by faith: “When we say that men are justified by faith and holiness,” explains Finney, “we do not mean that they are accepted on the grounds of law, but that they are treated as if they were righteous on account of their faith and works of faith. This is the method which God takes, in justifying a sinner. Not that faith is the foundation of justification. The foundation is Christ. But this is the manner in which sinners are pardoned, and accepted, and justified: that if they repent, believe, and become holy, their past sins shall be forgiven, for the sake of Christ” (LPC-29).
Sanctification and Christian perfection: “Now, as entire sanctification consists in perfect obedience to the law of God,” reasons Finney, “and as the law requires nothing more than the right use of whatever strength we have, it is, of course, forever settled that a state of entire sanctification is attainable in this life, on the ground of natural ability” (ST-407). Finney noted that this “natural ability” could not be expressed as a life of entire devotion to God apart from Christ in dwelling in His fullness. The union of man’s will and God’s grace provide the key to sanctification. “This class of persons (whose standard is public opinion) do not trouble themselves about elevating the standard of piety, which is so low in the church that it is impossible to bring the great mass of sinners to repentance. They think the standard at the present time is high enough… while the real friends of God and men are complaining of the church, because the standard of piety so low, and trying to wake up the church to elevate the tone of religion. It all seems to this class of person like censoriousness, and a meddlesome, uneasy disposition, and as denoting a bad spirit in them” (LPC-111).
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). It is on this verse that Finney bases his notion of Christian perfection. “It is perfect obedience to the law of God,” he explains. “The law of God requires perfect disinterested impartial benevolence, which is love to God and love to our neighbor.” Christian perfection is our duty. God requires it under the Law and the Gospel. If God were to discharge us from this obligation He would be giving us a license to sin. “Are we not always to infer,” Finney argues, “when God commands a thing, that there is a natural possibility of doing that which he commands? If God requires something of men, it means that they possess the requisite faculties” (LPC-341;344). “True saints will make it manifest that saintliness is their character, by their carefulness in avoiding sin. They will show that they hate sin in themselves, and that they hate it in others… They will not justify it in themselves, and they will not justify it in others… In short they aim at perfect holiness. I do not mean to say,” he adds, “that every true friend of God is perfect but if he is an affectionate and obedient child, his aim is to obey always” (LPC-292).
Charles G. Finney is regarded by many as the greatest evangelist and theologian since the days of the apostles. As a preacher he was forceful, direct, personal, and dramatic. During the year 1857-58, for example, over one hundred thousand persons were led to Christ. Finney seemed to have the power of impressing the conscience of men with the necessity of holy living in such a manner as to obtain results. By actual research it was ascertained that over eighty-five percent of his converts remained true to God till their dying die. It is said that at Gouveneur, New York, not a dance or a theatre could be held for years following his meetings. “Finney’s Systematic Theology” is probably the greatest work on theology outside the Scriptures. The wonderful anointing of God’s Spirit, combined with Finney’s remarkable reasoning powers and his legal training, enabled him to present clearer views of Christian doctrine than has any other theologian since the days of early Christianity. (J. Gilchrist Lawson, Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians, 1971, pp.243-4)
CHARLES G. FINNEY
I. The first forty years (1792-1832)
1792: Augustine 29, born in Warren, Connecticut, U.S.A.
1794: Parent trek West via Ox-Cart to Hanover, New York. Elementary schooling in frontier schools. Two years in Indian school at Hamilton’s Oneida Institute at Clinton, N.Y.
1808: Parents go West by Ox-Cart again, settling in the virgin wilderness of LakeOntario, at HendersonBay, in the village of Henderson, New York.
1808-1812: Schooling at Teachers Rural School.
1813-1815: Schooling at WarrenAcademy, Warren, Connecticut.
1815-1817: Schooling at a TeachersSchool, near New York City.
1818-1821: Reads law in office of Judge Benjamin Wright at Adams, N.Y.
1821: October 10. Converted to Christian faith.
1822-1823: Takes an elementary theological course under Pastor George W. Gale, First Presbyterian Church, Adams, N.Y.
1823: Licensed to preach, December 30th.
1824: Launches out to Evans Mills, N.Y., to preach.
1824-1832: Era of Great Revivals.
II. The second forty years. (1832-1872).
1832: On April 29th, begins New York City Pastorate in Chatham Street Theatre.
1833-35: Broadway Tabernacle built, burnt, built again and occupied.
1834-35: In fall and winter; Revival Lectures delivered.
1835: During summer, goes to Oberlin, Ohio to build up a Department of Theology at OberlinCollege.
1835-1837: Three summers at Oberlin and winters in Broadway residence.
1836-1837: John Wesley’s Plain Account of Christian Perfection and The Biography of James Brainard Taylor falls in Finney’s hands.
1836-1837: Lectures to Professing Christians. In 1837 Discontinues New York Pastorate.
1837-1872: Resumes previously held Pastorate at First Congregational Church, Oberlin.
III. The last three years (1872-1875)
1872-1875: Three years of student contacts, marked by life-changing and God-anointing preaching.
1875: Died on August 16th.
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