[b]Revivals Under Finney[/b]
Any history of revivals prepared by human hands must contemplate them chiefly on their human side. The facts to be set forth and the problems to be studied therein relate primarily to the human agents. This does not deny the presence of a divine agency, and should never be allowed to disparage or dishonor it. The presence and power of the Spirit of God are always to be assumed wherever souls are new-born to holiness. One of the most vital problems we have to study pertains to the interworking of the human with the divine-the laws that control the glorious fact- man, a "laborer with God," the gospel "treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God and not of man;" a Paul to plant and an Apollos to water, but one mightier than either to "give the increase."
Comparing one with another the various waves of revival power that have passed over portions of our country within the past one hundred and forty years, it is noticeable that in some the human agents have appeared in groups, with perhaps some one central figure, more prominent than the rest; while in others the human agency has been almost exclusively that of some one man. Of the latter sort are the revivals that have been associated with the name of Charles G. Finney. Contemplated on their human side, these revivals appear in the light of history to have been very largely due to his personal influence and labors. Let it not be supposed that for this reason there has been in them more of man and less of God, or that any more honor is due to the human instrument than if the labor had been shared by so many that no one name could legitimately appear in history at all.
Mr. Finney's personal prominence in these great revivals serves to simplify their study as bearing upon the philosophy of revivals-the relation of the human element to the divine. It becomes mainly the study of one man. Naturally it must contemplate this one man as a preacher of the gospel, for the pulpit must be the throne of his power. To reach the sources of his pulpit power, we must needs study his original endowments, mental and moral; his antecedent education; his experiences at the point of his conversion and in his subsequent spiritual life; his practical views of the gospel scheme; his way of putting the great truths of the gospel before his hearers; and, if last, not least, his power with God in prayer.
Mr. Finney was born in Warren, Conn. August 29th 1792; but at the age of two years was removed with his parents to Oneida county. N. Y., and, shortly after, to Jefferson county, near Lake Ontario, then a very new settlement and but scantily supplied with higher schools or instructive preaching. His own narrative ("Autobiography:" A. S. Barnes & Co.1876) speaks of attending common schools summer and winter till the age of fifteen, after which he enjoyed still better opportunities in high schools for some three years in New Jersey, and spent also considerable time in teaching.
He never enjoyed the advantages of a college course, but readily mastered the branches taught then in the higher schools, and ultimately obtained some knowledge of Latin, Greek, and, in later years, of Hebrew. Three years (1818-1821) he devoted to the study and practice of the law-a training which developed in his mind the great principles of law and jurisprudence; prepared him in some points for Bible study by schooling him in the science of interpretation; and, moreover, through his practice at the bar, initiated him into the skill of direct personal address, thinking on his feet, and adjusting his appeals to the men before him and the very case in hand. It is remarkable that the Bible was first brought to his particular notice by the references to it, which he met in his law books. So he bought his first Bible to add to his law library.
It was during these years of his law studies (then aged 26-29) that he was gradually brought face to face with religious truth and the claims of God upon his heart. Leading the choir in church, and hence mainly constant in attendance; occasionally dropping into a prayer meeting, and there struck with the fact that so many prayers were apparently unanswered, while yet the Scripture promises seemed to him very definite and strong; agitating profoundly the question whether the Bible must be accepted as from God; his mind opening more and more to the mighty conviction of personal responsibility to his Maker-to a sense of sin and of personal need of a Redeemer- he came at length to see that he must be born again and to feel that now is the accepted time.
With his natural simplicity and frankness he tells us in his narrative of his conversion, how he found himself very proud without having been aware of it; how he kept shy of religious people, put his Bible out of sight, and dared not pray above his breath, and yet how some unknown power held the truth pressing more and more upon his conscience. At the vital point (in his own words) "something seemed to confront me with questions like these-indeed it seemed as if the inquiry was within myself, as if an inward voice said to me: 'what are you waiting for? Did you not promise to give your heart to God? And what are you trying to do? Would you work out a righteousness of your own?'
"Just at this point the whole question of gospel salvation opened to my mind in a manner most marvellous to me at the time. I think I then saw, as clearly as I ever have in my life, the reality and fullness of the atonement of Christ. I saw that his was a finished work, and that instead of having or needing any righteousness of my own to recommend me to God, I had to submit myself to the righteousness of God through Christ.
Gospel salvation seemed to me to be an offer of something to be accepted; and that it was full and complete, and all that was necessary on my part was to get my own consent to give up my sins and accept Christ. Salvation, it seemed to me, instead of being a thing to be wrought out by my own works, was a thing to be found entirely in the Lord Jesus Christ, who presented himself before me as my God and Savior. After this distinct revelation had stood for some little time before my mind, the question seemed to be put, 'Will you accept it now, to-day?' I replied 'Yes, I will accept it today, or I will die in the attempt.'"
Having found a closet in the forest, a yet deeper sense of his great pride came over him: "Just at this moment I again thought I heard some one approach me, and I opened my eyes to see whether it were so. Right there I saw that my pride of heart was the great difficulty in my way. An overwhelming sense of my wickedness in being ashamed to have a human being see me on my knees before God took such powerful possession of me that I cried at the top of my voice and exclaimed that I would not leave that place though all the men on earth and all the devils in hell should surround me. 'What!' I said, 'such a degraded sinner as I am, on my knees confessing my sins to the great and holy God, yet 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, infinite. It broke me down before the Lord."
"Just at this point this passage of scripture seemed to drop into my mind with a flood of light: 'then shall ye go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. Then shall ye seek me, and find me when ye shall search for me with all your heart.' Instantly I seized hold of this with my heart. I had believed the Bible before intellectually, but never had the truth been in my mind that faith was a voluntary trust instead of an intellectual state. I was as conscious as I was of my existence, of trusting at that moment in God's veracity. Somehow I knew that was a passage of scripture, though I do not think I had ever read it. I knew it was God's word, and God's voice, as it were, that spoke to me. I cried to Him, "Lord, I take thee at thy word. Now thou knowest that I do search for thee with all my heart, and that I have come here to pray to thee; and thou hast promised to hear me."
He then gave me other promises, especially some most precious promises respecting Jesus Christ. I can never in words make any human being understand how precious and true those promises appeared to me. I took them one after the other as infallible truth-the assertions of God who could not lie. They did not seem so much to fall into my intellect as into my heart, to be put within the grasp of my voluntary powers of mind, and I seized hold of them, appropriated them and fastened upon them with the grasp of a drowning man."
"The question whether I was converted had not occurred to me, but on my way back I recollect saying with great emphasis, 'If I am ever converted, I will preach the Gospel." Then came a peace of soul, which he could not understand. At first it led him to fear he had grieved the Spirit. He says, "The repose of my mind was unspeakably great. I can never describe it in words. The thought of God was sweet; the most profound spiritual tranquillity had taken full possession of me."
SI Moderator - Greg Gordon