Finney Friday

Charles Finney, 1792-1875

Continuing our look at the Second Great Awakening, today we’ll consider excerpts from Charles Finney’s Lecture 1: What a Revival Is.

There is so little principle in the church, so little firmness and stability of purpose, that unless the religious feelings are awakened and kept excited, counter worldly feeling and excitement will prevail, and men will not obey God. They have so little knowledge, and their principles are so weak, that unless they are excited, they will go back from the path of duty, and do nothing to promote the glory of God. The state of the world is still such, and probably will be till the millennium is fully come, that religion must be mainly promoted by means of revivals. How long and how often has the experiment been tried, to bring the church to act steadily for God, without these periodical excitements. Many good men have supposed, and still suppose, that the best way to promote religion, is to go along uniformly, and gather in the ungodly gradually, and without excitement. But however sound such reasoning may appear in the abstract, facts demonstrate its futility. If the church were far enough advanced in knowledge, and had stability of principle enough to keep awake, such a course would do; but the church is so little enlightened, and there are so many counteracting causes, that she will not go steadily to work without a special interest being awakened.

…But as yet the state of the Christian world is such, that to expect to promote religion without excitements is unphilosophical and absurd. The great political, and other worldly excitements that agitate Christendom, are all unfriendly to religion, and divert the mind from the interests of the soul. Now these excitements can only be counteracted by religious excitements. And until there is religious principle in the world to put down irreligious excitements, it is vain to try to promote religion, except by counteracting excitements. This is true in philosophy, and it is a historical fact.

…If Christians have deep feeling on the subject of religion themselves, they will produce deep feeling wherever they go. And if they are cold, or light and trifling, they inevitably destroy all deep feeling, even in awakened sinners.

…And yet some people are terribly alarmed at all direct efforts to promote a revival, and they cry out, “You are trying to get up a revival in your own strength. Take care, you are interfering with the sovereignty of God. Better keep along in the usual course, and let God give a revival when he thinks it is best. God is a sovereign, and it is very wrong for you to attempt to get up a revival, just because you think a revival is needed.” This is just such preaching as the devil wants. And men cannot do the devil’s work more effectually than by preaching up the sovereignty of God, as a reason why we should not put forth efforts to produce a revival.

…You see the error of those who are beginning to think that religion can be better promoted in the world without revivals, and who are disposed to give up all efforts to produce religious awakenings. Because there are evils arising in some instances out of great excitements on the subject of religion, they are of opinion that it is best to dispense with them altogether. This cannot, and must not be. True, there is danger of abuses. In cases of great religious as well as all other excitements, more or less incidental evils may be expected of course. But this is no reason why they should be given up. The best things are always liable to abuses. Great and manifold evils have originated in the providential and moral governments of God. But these foreseen perversions and evils were not considered a sufficient reason for giving them up. For the establishment of these governments was on the whole the best that could be done for the production of the greatest amount of happiness. So in revivals of religion, it is found by experience, that in the present state of the world, religion cannot be promoted to any considerable extent without them. The evils which are sometimes complained of, when they are real, are incidental, and of small importance when compared with the amount of good produced by revivals. The sentiment should not be admitted by the church for a moment, that revivals may be given up. It is fraught with all that is dangerous to the interests of Zion, is death to the cause of missions, and brings in its train the damnation of the world.

See the full lecture here.

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42 Responses to Finney Friday

  1. Echo_ohcE says:

    I haven’t read the post other than the word “Finney”.

    I once was assigned to read some of Finney’s Systematic Theology in seminary, and write a brief one page response to it.

    I concluded that Finney’s pages would be of more use if they were used to wipe my backside rather than to read them.

    Sometimes a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

  2. I got lost somewhere in the transition between wiping your backside and a spoonful of sugar.

    But here’s the thing: Finney won. If you DO spend five minutes on this, you will see a commitment to excitement that still exists today in rallies, big churchdom, and an ongoing belief that special conferences are where edification really takes place.

  3. Zrim says:

    That’s right, but it also trickles down into even the staunchest of Reformed churches where passion in preaching is privileged over comportment and decorum.

    And so I’ll never forget a visit to a small PCA in southern Florida a few years back that had an otherwise exquisite expression of Reformed worship but a guest Welch ranter who made up for being disorganized and unprepared by screaching and banging and moralizing for over an hour, reminding us that he’d been a student of Martin Lloyd-Jones. And undoing in his speech everything that the liturgy sought to establish. Perhaps most unsettling was the regular pastor (robed, mind you) sitting in front nodding in affirmation his antics.

  4. mikelmann says:

    I’m guessing you’d need a Barna-sized sampling to prove this, but my hunch is that the average Reformed pewsitter believes more in excitement than in the means of grace. She’s the one who’s sulking because the music isn’t peppier. He’s the one who sleepily endures a service where he holds membership but can’t wait for his next visit to Mecca the next great conference. Where there is no excitement, the Spirit isn’t really moving…

  5. dr p says:

    @MM & Zrim: don’t forget that “real” edification also happens at cliques – er, small groups and home Bible studies where wisdom, Darwin-like, slithers out of the primordial soup of mis-, dis-, and uninformed opinion cum exuberant illogic. A Protestant poet-sirrah could turn these conferences, cliques, and assorted huckstering into a latter day Canterbury Tales.

  6. mikelmann says:

    dr. p, I really like the way you said whatever you just said.

  7. Zrim says:

    DP, here’s a small group I could actually attend:

  8. dr p says:

    @MM: the Darwinian model, whilst the quintessence of suckitude for describing the origins of life, provides the perfect illustration of small group dynamics: think of a morass of ignorance, heresy, anti- and pseudo-intellectualism, and garden variety inanity as the primordial soup; add time (they seem interminable) and energy (excitement, enthusiasm) and eventually wisdom evolves…or so it is claimed. Lead such a study after pouring over a portion of Scripture, systematic theology textbook, Westminster standards, and historic Protestant commentaries, and then wait the nanosecond or two for a female of either gender who didn’t even do the assigned readings to ejaculate “but that’s not what it means to me” and then proceed to chase after a school of red herrings. Dare to disagree with said female and she will be “devastated” by your criticism; you will then find yourself as welcome as flatulence in a crowded elevator. This has been my experience, and the main reason I avoid these things like the plague they are; guess I’ll have to settle for Word and Sacrament.
    @Echo_ohcE: any pages of Finney left for morass wiping?
    @Zrim: great video; the stained glass voice and beatific smile made it all too realistic and requires a dram or two of Old Granddad to purge the memories.

  9. Echo_ohcE says:


  10. Echo_ohcE says:

    My irreverent comment about the lack of worth of Finney was the spoonful of suger that helped me get the medicine of the assignment down. After all, I had to READ Finney, which was an incredibly distasteful assignment. But putting that in my paper made me feel better. What was really gratifying was that the professor for whom I had written it did not get mad at me for it.

    You’re right. Finney won. Or perhaps Finney just gave voice to something that had won a long time ago. “It is a wicked generation that ask for a sign.” The Jews wanted a magic show. Sensationalism ALWAYS sells. Exciting is tantalizing.

  11. mikelmann says:

    dr. p, try going to a charismatic small group attended by art students, outcasts, and half-crazies. Great guitar playing, wonderful metaphors, and words directly from the Spirit as we discussed passages from the Salvador Dali Study Bible.

  12. dr p says:

    @MM: my last charismaiac experience involved a nurse from New Zealand who related the Down Under prophecy of an hurricane called holiness, and a retired local nurse whose husband ended up with a lung tumour despite the church’s masks, rattles, and dancing widdershins. At that point I realised that there was much worse that a Proddie can do than attend mass.

  13. As a Lutheran I enter with fear and trembling into this discussion- especially with some of Dr. P’s responses in some other posts. I have not checked into the Outhouse in awhile- I have to work to hard to come up with posts that defend some of the things that Walther said, plus I have been really busy at work lately and too tired to work too hard on theological defenses of the Lutheran faith contra Reformed types.

    I did get a kick out of a lot of the comments on this post. I have seen the shallow small group video before and being one of those who used to attend numerous small groups during my evangelical and charismatic days you cannot help but laugh out loud at your former foibles. Although I cannot really say I allowed many people into my inner thoughts and feelings much at those groups- they probably would not have let me back in. Hiding your sins is also an art that one eventually gets quite good at when attending too many small groups. You really cannot do much with your sins when there is no Word and Sacrament ministry except suppress and hide them good.

  14. John Yeazel says:

    My name and everything else somehow got changed. I am only Lutherman3821 over at Presbyterian Blue

  15. John Yeazel says:

    Is that a true story?- I guess I can accept it all except the Salvador Dali study Bible- I highly doubt there is such a thing. This is coming from a guy who when I told him how ultra- talented he was he stated this: “Well I do have my talents, L-man. I can throw an olive ceiling height and catch it in my mouth. I once flicked a plastic bottle cap with so much velocity that it cracked a computer monitor. Then, my left inside-out ap hulyo kick is first rate.” I wonder where he stole that line- he must have heard or read that somewhere.

    You also seem to be quite the prolific writer these days- where do you find the time?

  16. mikelmann says:

    Yeazel, it’s all true except for the SDSB, but that would have been fitting. Same for my “talents,” although I need an extra-tall ceiling for a proper olive toss.

    But really, think of combining the psyche of art students with charismania, then throw in a few people more or less off the street and you almost do expect clocks to bend. Still there’s a soft place in my heart for those folks, and there aren’t that many soft places in there.

  17. dr p says:

    @JY: I’ve had most of my vaccines, and I’m unaware of an adult contracting tetanus even if his last booster is > 10 yrs out – so don’t worry about me biting. As a former LCMSer I must say that I prefer the Lutheran liturgical will-worship to traditional Presbyterian will-worship any day. Reformed or Lutheran, I’ve never met a true quia dude; hyper-quatenus yes, but truly quia, never. I’ve gone back and forth between Presbies and Lutherans over the years; my last exodus from the estate of sin and Missouri was after my rat-bag congregation ran out my pastor, who was a truly decent man with an orthodox head and pastor’s heart. Sometimes, existentially, the best place to be is in the local congregation that simply sucks least.

  18. John Yeazel says:

    Dr. P (notice I capitalize), Where have you been since the Outhouse came into existence?- you’re a hoot. You are going to have to tell me how you came across this website for misfits and contrarians. I can relate to your local congregation stories although I like the Pastor and most of the people in the current LCMS congregation I am attending. What’s up with the true quia dude and hyper-quatenus- huh?

  19. John Yeazel says:

    That is unless you want to undergo and go through a mini-inquisition like the Spanish type without the torture devices.

  20. John Yeazel says:

    I once made the mistake of confessing a sin at a group meeting and it was a big mistake- a definite mini-inquisition soon ensued.

  21. dr p says:

    @JY: thanks for the kind words. I came across this site quite serendipitously whilst looking for online communities of curmudgeons. Having been through sundry and diverse expressions of Christianity since coming to faith, I realised quickly that merely thinking that: God meant something specific and had original intents when inspiring Scripture, making “what it means to me today” signally irrelevant; words mean things; He has something to say in how He is to be worshiped and obeyed; history matters, and that a church should differ from a tank of piranhas in more ways than the presence or absence of fins and scales, means that I fit in nowhere and hence can go anywhere I feel comfortable with a clean conscience.

    As for the Lutheran thing: to hold office in the LCMS one must subscribe to the Formula of Concord in toto because (quia) it is the teaching of Scripture, as opposed to insofar as (quatenus) it is the teaching of Scripture: IOW there are no confessional scruples as are permitted in the NAPARC churches. As one who neither holds nor desires to hold ecclesiastical office – and who believes that the Reformed office of elder is a fraud – I don’t have to subscribe to anything, but merely swear to respect the discipline of the church and guard its purity and peace.

  22. RubeRad says:

    and who believes that the Reformed office of elder is a fraud

    Wait, what? I know this is an outhouse, but still you can’t just drop a bomb like that and walk away…

  23. Bruce Settergren says:

    I think he means that those holding the office of elder are frauds, but I could be wrong.

  24. Zrim says:

    DP, just curious. Would you consider the following to be quia-ish or quantenus-y (when I signed it I took it as quia-ish):

    Form of Subscription

    We, the undersigned, servants of the divine Word in the ______________ Christian Reformed Church in Classis _____________, by means of our signatures declare truthfully and in good conscience
    before the Lord
    that we sincerely believe
    that all the articles
    and points of doctrine
    set forth in the Belgic Confession,
    the Heidelberg Catechism,
    and the Canons of Dort fully agree with the Word of God.

    We promise therefore
    to teach these doctrines diligently,
    to defend them faithfully,
    and not to contradict them,
    publicly or privately,
    directly or indirectly,
    in our preaching, teaching,
    or writing.

    We pledge moreover
    not only to reject all errors
    that conflict with these doctrines,
    but also to refute them,
    and to do everything we can
    to keep the church free from them.

    We promise further that if in the future
    we come to have any difficulty with
    these doctrines
    or reach views differing from them,
    we will not propose, defend, preach,
    or teach such views,
    either publicly or privately,
    until we have first disclosed them
    to the consistory, classis, or synod
    for examination. We are prepared moreover
    to submit to the judgment
    of the consistory, classis, or synod,
    realizing that the consequence
    of refusal to do so
    is suspension from office.

    We promise in addition
    that if, to maintain unity
    and purity in doctrine,
    the consistory, classis, or synod
    considers it proper at any time_
    on sufficient grounds of concern_
    to require a fuller explanation
    of our views
    concerning any article
    in the three confessions
    mentioned above,
    we are always willing and ready
    to comply with such a request,
    realizing here also that
    the consequence of refusal to do so
    is suspension from office.

    Should we consider ourselves wronged,
    by the judgment of the consistory
    or classis, we reserve for ourselves the right of appeal;
    but until a decision is made
    on such an appeal,
    we will acquiesce in the determination
    and judgment
    already made.

  25. Anonymous says:

    @Zrim: quatenusy (has an outhouse ring to it, no?), as the standards are said to agtree with Scripture. To be truly quious in our context, somebody subscribing to the Westminster standards would be outre.
    @RubeRad & Bruce: I’m an episcoplailan at heart, hence view ordaining laymen to this made-up office is like clergyman laying hands on a Big Mac and pronouncing it to be New York strip; sorry, but it’s still a Big Mac.

  26. dr p says:

    correction: above post is mine

  27. Bruce Settergren says:

    Using the term fraud is a poor choice of words. To me ‘fraud’ has to carry with it the idea of a perpetrator intent on deception with nefarious ends in view. I don’t see any such carryings-on in the Presbyterian system.

  28. Zrim says:

    DP, I understand someone subscribing WCF/TFU would be out per Lutheranism (that seems pretty obvious). But it almost sounds like you’re saying the only way to be quious is to be Lutheran, which sounds more like quious on steroids. Can’t Reformed be just as quious as you?

  29. dr p says:

    @Bruce: something can be fraudulent without malicious intent, which I don’t attribute to the Westminster divines; the synonym “fake” would have been better, although perhaps bogus would have been best.
    @Zrim: qiua subscription doesn’t require one to be Lutheran, but being Lutheran requires quia subscription. Westminster types allow for confessional scruples whilst Formula of Concord types don’t. I don’t recall calling myself a quia subscriber; in fact, in an earlier post, I stated that I don’t fit in anywhere. We would allow a Lutheran to commune with us if he were in good standing in his church and not living in unrepented-of sin; it would be much less likely for one of us to be able to commune at an LCMS altar (“pulpit and altar fellowship”) because of our different postions vis-a-vis the sacrament of the altar. We are being properly ecumenical, whilst they are being sectarian.

  30. RubeRad says:

    Indeed, I was recently fenced from an LCMS table. I attended a local Christmas Eve midnight service, and the bulletin said (I paraphrase from memory) that the table was open to all who had been baptized, and catechized to a Formula of Concord understanding of the presence of body & blood.

  31. John Yeazel says:

    You certainly do speak your mind Dr. P- I do not think Lutherans look at themselves as secterian by barring others from the Supper; they look at it as protecting those who do not believe in the true presence of the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament. And how do you know if someone is living in unrepented-of-sin- that seems very problematic to me. I’m not sure your categories of why Lutherans and the Reformed close the table are kosher according to their confessions of faith. Anyone else want to respond to this.

    Do you mind giving us some more backround of who you are? You never know who you are dialoging with on the internet. Do you have a seminary education, are you a doctor, lawyer, professor? Who are some of the theologians you agree with the most? etc, etc.

  32. dr p says:

    @JY: I’m a physician with no formal seminary training, although I’ve done a fair amount of reading on my own and discuss matters with my betters. Please review re: Lutheran position on unionism and syncretism – it’s more than excommunicating other Christian. As for how one knows about sin, the Lutheran practice of auricular confession is returning in high church circles; otherwise you’ve got a good point. The question becomes, however, since one cannot know these things for sure, how does close communion actually protect people? ISTM there is a logic to the Reformed fencing from the pulpit. What gets my goat is Lutheran – as well as some of the more persnickety Scots – mislabeling exclusion as love, which sounds more like a line from “What’s Up, Tiger Lilly?” than a theological opinion warranting serious consideration. Another fanged and clawed member of my colorectal menagerie is the confusion of admitting ignorance with playing fast and loose with the truth; as in medicine, I prefer admitting my ignorance than demonstrating it (so do my patients). There are very clear teachings in Scripture, as well as less clear, and those which the unstable wrest unto their own destruction – a theological version of strength of recommendation taxonomy. I see theological systems as models in the scientific sense; no model is perfect, but represents a human systematisation of the data of Scripture. Here’s a f’rinstance: I believe in the local presence of God in the elements of the supper, but as a sacramental (properly vague term) rather than a corporeal sense, just as God was present in the burning bush and the shechinah. The Lutheran insistence on a corporeal presence requires the rationalistic doctrine of ubiquity (funny, Lutherans always accuse us of rationalism – just as RevFisk) and implies means of physical detection; Westminster dodges the question. Anyway, I’ve been both barred and admitted to LCMS tables after discussions with ministers. Do I fail to discern the Lord’s Body because I don’t hold to the FC understanding of the Real Presence? If yes, then so does and has the vast majority of Christendom in time and space, putting me in some very fine company indeed. What are your thoughts on this, as well as the LCMS’s lack of episcopacy and diaconate?

    As for theologians, my faves are Luther, Calvin, and Knox. My favourite commentaries are Poole and Calvin, and I reach for my copy of Dabney when I have a question in systematic theology.. I admit strong sympathy with the historically understood RPW, but see its practice as rather too low mass – hence my previous remark admiring the Lutheran liturgy. My readings in Church of the East, OO, and EO authors have really caused me to ponder polity, worship, and the nature of the church itself, and I am not at all easy with where they lead (sounds like a personal problem to me). One good place they have lead me is away from drawing my circle of fellowship only slightly wider than my shoes.

    Sorry to be so largiloquent – it’s your turn.

  33. John Yeazel says:

    Thanks for your candor and response Dr. P without getting offended- I am really not prepared to give you a thoughtful and adequately researched response at this time but if you hang around I certainly will do my best. I have some other things I need to get done before I go to work tonight. I just volunteered to work night shift hours (midnight to 8:00 Am) in order to make some more money so i will not be able to spend much more time on the internet right now. Good riddance until another time.

  34. matt says:

    Didn’t Billy Graham call Finney the best preacher ever or something to that effect?
    And if so, apparently it didn’t/doesn’t matter to Graham that Finney was a heretic?

  35. RubeRad says:

    (a) I wouldn’t be surprised if he did, and (b) I’d be surprised if it did…

  36. mikelmann says:

    Matt, it’s all about scoreboard. Finney got the most converts so he was the best preacher. Just like the good churches have lots of members, and the really good pastors are celebrity pastors. Don’t get all nit picky about how it’s done.

  37. dr p says:

    @MM: it’s also about the quality of the members rather than the mere quantity – remember Rev Smith’s /How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious/.

  38. Zrim says:

    Matt, it goes like this:

    Jerry Falwell calls him “one of my heroes and a hero to many evangelicals, including Billy Graham.” I recall wandering through the Billy Graham Center some years ago, observing the place of honor given to Charles Finney in the evangelical tradition, reinforced by the first class in theology I had at a Christian college, where Finney’s work was required reading. The New York revivalist was the oft-quoted and celebrated champion of the Christian singer Keith Green and the Youth With A Mission organization. He is particularly esteemed among the leaders of the Christian Right and the Christian Left, by both Jerry Falwell and Jim Wallis (Sojourners’ magazine), and his imprint can be seen in movements that appear to be diverse, but in reality are merely heirs to Finney’s legacy. From the Vineyard movement and the Church Growth Movement to the political and social crusades, televangelism, and the Promise Keepers movement, as a former Wheaton College president rather glowingly cheered, “Finney, lives on!”

    Bill Clinton was once asked what was the difference between a Democrat and a Republican. His thumbnail was if you think the 60s were mostly a good thing, you’re probably a Democrat. If you think they were mostly bad, you’re probably a Republican. Perhaps the same could be done religiously with the phenomenon of Graham. If you think his legacy is mostly a good thing, you’re probably an eeeevangelical. If you think mostly a bad thing thing, you’re probably a confessional Protestant.

  39. mikelmann says:

    Back in the artsy charismanic Bible study there was a young drummer who came across a Keith Green tract reprinting a Finney excerpt. The tract, as he understood it, required that he specifically confess every sin he had ever commited. Well, he actually tried to do it – every single one, ever – and only stopped that self-flagellation after consulting with the study leader.

  40. matt says:

    Thanks for all the great info, gents. I am, have been and always will be a confessional Protestant – and I thank God for causing me to be such.

  41. matt says:

    @Zrim: I remember seeing this AJ Jacobs guy on tv when he began his shenanigans. He’s just another fool, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. He makes me think of B. Maher when he claimed the Bible is all metaphorical.

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