Why Finney? Because he won. Or, visiting the chicken-and-egg dilemma, because he saw something in his American audience that made him think his approach would work. So, whether he was a lasting influence or there is an enduring American psyche’, we see our current context through Finney.
Today we’ll learn that the preaching ministry has a goal, and that goal can be quantified. So can wisdom. Finney used “new measures” to gain converts, so we’ll see how to skillfully use them at “anxious meetings.” Hint: does a doctor write out a prescription before he meets his patient? And please don’t quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism when trying to win souls. Did you know that Christ’s ministry was successful “given the circumstances”? We’ll also consider proper pastoral education – which should include instruction on the “laws of the mind” – and see that profanity once saved a soul. And always remember: if a minister is successful, don’t find fault with God who made him successful.
Finney Lecture XI: A Wise Minister Will Be Successful
TEXT. –He that winneth souls is wise. –PROVERBS xi. 30.
I PREACHED last Friday evening from the same text, on the method of dealing with sinners by private Christians. My object at this time is to take up the more public means of grace, with particular reference to the DUTIES OF MINISTERS.
The object of the ministry is to get all the people to feel that the devil has no right to rule this world, but that they ought all to give themselves to God, and vote in the Lord Jesus Christ as the governor of the universe. Now what shall be done? What measures shall we take? Says one, “Be sure and have nothing that is new.” Strange! The object of our measures is to gain attention, and you must have something new. As sure as the effect of a measure becomes stereotyped, it ceases to gain attention, and then you must try something new. You need not make innovations in everything. But whenever the state of things is such that anything more is needed, it must be something new, otherwise it will fail. A minister should never introduce innovations that are not called for. If he does they will embarrass him. He cannot alter the Gospel; that remains the same. But new measures are necessary, from time to time, to awaken attention and bring the Gospel to bear upon the public mind. And then a minister ought to know how to introduce new things, so as to create the least possible resistance or reaction. Mankind are fond of form in religion. They love to have their religious duties stereotyped, so as to leave them at ease; and they are therefore inclined to resist any new movement designed to rouse them up to action and feeling. Hence it is all-important to introduce new things wisely, so as not to give needless occasion or apology for resistance.
…A minister once appointed an anxious meeting, and went to attend it, and instead of going round to the individuals, he began to ask them the catechism, “Wherein doth Christ execute the office of a priest?” About as much in point to a great many of their minds as anything else.
I know a minister who held an anxious meeting, and went to attend it with a written discourse which he had prepared for the occasion. Just as wise as it would be if a physician, going out to visit his patients, should sit down at leisure and write all the prescriptions before he had seen them. A minister needs to know the state of mind of the individuals, before he can know what truth will be proper and useful to administer. I say these things, not because I love to do it, but because truth, and the object before me, requires them to be said. And such instances as I have mentioned are by no means rare.
…1. This is plainly asserted in the text. “He that winneth souls is wise.” That is, if a man wins souls, he does skillfully adapt means to the end, which is, to exercise wisdom. He is the more wise, by how much the greater is the number of sinners that he saves. A blockhead may, indeed, now and then stumble on such truth or such a manner of exhibiting it, as to save a soul. It would be a wonder indeed if any minister did not sometimes have something in his sermons that would meet the case of some individual. But the amount of wisdom is to be decided, “other things being equal,” by the number of cases in which he is successful in converting sinners.
…3. Success in saving souls is evidence that a man understands the Gospel, and understands human nature, that he knows how to adapt means to his end, that he has common sense, and that he has that kind of tact, that practical discernment, to know how to get at people. And if his success is extensive, it shows that he knows how to deal with a great variety of characters, in a great variety of circumstances, who are yet all the enemies of God, and to bring them to Christ. To do this requires great wisdom. And the minister who does it shows that he is wise.
…OBJECTION.–There are many who feel an objection against this subject, arising out of the view they have taken of the ministry of Jesus Christ. They ask us, “What will you say about the ministry of Jesus Christ, was not he wise?” I answer, Yes, infinitely wise. But in regard to his alleged want of success in the conversion of sinners, you will observe the following things:
(1.) That his ministry was vastly more successful than is generally supposed. We read in one of the sacred writers, that after his resurrection and before his ascension “he was seen by above five hundred brethren at once.” If so many as five hundred brethren were found assembled together at one place, we see there must have been a vast number of them scattered over the country.
(2.) Another circumstance to be observed is, that his public ministry was very short, less than three years.
…Many ministers who have little or no success, are hiding themselves behind the ministry of Jesus Christ, as if he was an unsuccessful preacher. Whereas, in fact, he was eminently successful, considering the circumstances in which he labored.
…2. An unsuccessful minister may be pious as well as learned, and yet not wise. It is unfair to infer because a minister is unsuccessful, that therefore he is a hypocrite. There may be something defective in his education, or in his mode of viewing a subject, or of exhibiting it, or such a want of common sense, as will defeat his labors, and prevent his success in winning souls, while he himself may be saved–“yet so as by fire.”
…There is a grand defect in educating ministers. Education ought to be such, as to prepare young men for the peculiar work to which they are destined. But instead of this, they are educated for any thing else. The grand mistake is this. They direct the mind too much to irrelevant matters, which are not necessary to be attended to. In their courses of study, they carry the mind over too wide a field, which diverts their attention from the main thing, and so they get cold in religion, and when they get through, instead of being fitted for their work, they are unfitted for it. Under pretence of disciplining the mind, they in fact scatter the attention, so that when they come to their work, they are awkward, and know nothing how to take hold, or how to act, to win souls.
…Ministers should be educated to know what the Bible is, and what the human mind is, and know how to bring one to bear on the other. They should be brought into contact with mind, and made familiar with all the aspects of society. They should have the Bible in one hand, and the map of the human mind in the other, and know how to use the truth for the salvation of men.
…But when the blessing evidently follows the introduction of the measure itself, the proof is unanswerable, that the measure is wise. It is profane to say that such a measure will do more hurt than good. God knows about that. His object is, to do the greatest amount of good possible. And of course he will not add his blessing to a measure that will do more hurt than good. He may sometimes withhold his blessing from a measure that is calculated to do some good because it will be at the expense of a greater good. But he never will bless a pernicious proceeding. There is no such thing as deceiving God in the matter. He knows whether a given measure is, on the whole, wise, or not. He may bless a course of labours notwithstanding some unwise or injurious measures. But if he blesses the measure itself, it is rebuking God to pronounce it unwise. He who undertakes to do this, let him look to the matter.
10. It is evident that much fault has been found with measures, which have been pre-eminently and continually blessed of God for the promotion of revivals. We know it is said that the horrid oaths of a profane swearer have been the means of awakening another less hardened sinner. But this is a rare case. God does not usually make such a use of profanity. But if a measure is continually or usually blessed, let the man who thinks he is wiser than God, call it in question. TAKE CARE how you find fault with God!