Finney Friday: The New Measures

“Perhaps it is not too much to say, that it is impossible for God himself to bring about reformations but by new measures.” – Charles Finney

Today Finney lectures on three of his revivalistic techniques or “new measures.”  Maybe you didn’t know Old Testament festivals were “protracted meetings” and  baptism was the apostles’ “anxious seat?”  If not, maybe you’re one of those nit-picky Presbyterian Old Schoolers we’ll read about next week.  For now just put that peevishness away, because this is “all philosophical, and according to the laws of the mind.”

Lecture XIV: Measures to Promote Revivals

. . .There are three things in particular which have chiefly attracted remark, and therefore I shall speak of them. They are Anxious Meetings, Protracted Meetings, and the Anxious Seat. These are all opposed, and are called new measures.

(1.) Anxious Meetings. The first that I ever heard of under that name, was in New England, where they were appointed for the purpose of holding personal conversation with anxious sinners, and to adapt instruction to the cases of individuals, so as to lead them immediately to Christ. The design of them is evidently philosophical, but they have been opposed because they were new. There are two modes of conducting an anxious meeting, either of which may effect the object of them.

(a.) By spending a few moments in personal conversation and learning the state of mind of each individual, and then in a address to the whole, take up all their errors and remove their difficulties together.

(b.) By going round to each, and taking up each individual case, and going over the whole ground with each one separately, and getting them to promise to give up their hearts to God. Either way they are important, and have been found most successful in practice. But multitudes have objected to them because they were new.

(2.) Protracted Meetings. These are not new, but have always been practiced, in some form or other, ever since there was a church on earth. The Jewish festivals were nothing else but protracted meetings. In regard to the manner, they were conducted differently from what they are now. But the design was the same, to devote a series of days to religious services, in order to make a more powerful impression of divine things upon the minds of the people. All denominations of Christians, when religion prospers among them, hold protracted meetings. In Scotland they used to begin on Thursday at all their communion seasons, and continue until after the Sabbath. The Episcopalians, Baptists, and Methodists all hold protracted meetings. Yet now in our day they have been opposed, particularly among Presbyterians, and called new measures, and regarded as fraught with all manner of evil, notwithstanding they have been so manifestly and so extensively blessed.  . . .

(3.) The Anxious Seat. By this I mean the appointment of some particular seat in the place of meeting, where the anxious may come and be addressed particularly, and be made subjects of prayer, and sometimes be conversed with individually. Of late this measure has met with more opposition than any of the others. What is the great objection? I cannot see it. The design of the anxious seat is undoubtedly philosophical, and according to the laws of mind. It has two bearings:

1. When a person is seriously troubled in mind, everybody knows that there is a powerful tendency to conceal it. When a person is borne down with a sense of his condition, if you can get him willing to have it known, if you can get him to break away from the chains of pride, you have gained an important point towards his conversion. This is agreeable to the philosophy of the human mind. How many thousands are there who will bless God to eternity, that when pressed by the truth they were ever brought to take this step, by which they threw off the idea that it was a dreadful thing to have anybody know that they were serious about their souls.

2. Another bearing of the anxious seat, is to detect deception and delusion, and thus prevent false hopes. It has been opposed on the ground, that it was calculated to create delusion and false hopes. But this objection is unreasonable. The truth is the other way. Suppose I were preaching on the subject of Temperance, and that I should first show the evils of intemperance, and bring up the drunkard and his family, and show the various evils produced, till every heart is beating with emotion. Then I portray the great danger of moderate drinking, and show how it leads to intoxication and ruin, and that there is no safety but in TOTAL ABSTINENCE, till a hundred hearts are ready to say, “I will never drink another drop of ardent spirit in the world; if I do, I shall expect to find a drunkard’s grave.” Now, I stop short, and let the pledge be circulated, and everyone that is fully resolved is ready to sign it. But how many will begin to draw back and hesitate, when you begin to call on them to sign a pledge of total abstinence. One says to himself “Shall I sign it, or not? I thought my mind was made up, but this signing a pledge never to drink again, I do not know about that.” Thus you see that when a person is called upon to give a pledge, if he is found not to be decided, he makes it manifest that he was not sincere. That is, he never came to that resolution on the subject, which could be relied on to control his future life. Just so with the awakened sinner. Preach to him, and at the moment he thinks he is willing to do anything; he thinks he is determined to serve the Lord; but bring him to the test, call on him to do one thing, to take one step that shall identify him with the people of God, or cross his pride–his pride comes up, and he refuses; his delusion is brought out, and he finds himself a lost sinner still; whereas, if you had not done it, he might have gone away flattering himself that he was a Christian. If you say to him, “There is the anxious seat, come out and avow your determination to be on the Lord’s side,” and if he is not willing to do so small a thing as that, then he is not willing to do anything, and there he is, brought out before his own conscience. It uncovers the delusion of the human heart, and prevents a great many spurious conversions, by showing those who might otherwise imagine themselves willing to do anything for Christ, that in fact they are willing to do nothing.

The church has always felt it necessary to have something of the kind to answer this very purpose. In the days of the apostles baptism answered this purpose. The gospel was preached to the people, and then all those who were willing to be on the side of Christ were called on to be baptized. It held the precise place that the anxious seat does now, as a public manifestation of their determination to be Christians. …

Now what objection is there against taking a particular seat, or rising up, or going into the lecture-room? They all mean the same thing, when properly conducted. And they are not novelties in principle at all. The thing has always been done in substance. In Joshua’s day, he called on the people to decide what they would do, and they spoke right out in the meeting, “We will serve the Lord; the Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.”

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4 Responses to Finney Friday: The New Measures

  1. Zrim says:

    But is it enough for Reformed logicians to begin seeing the limits of philosophy and laws of the mind?

  2. mikelmann says:

    Are you suggesting that epistemological cross-examination is also a new measure that is “philosophical and according to the laws of the mind”?

  3. Zrim says:

    No, only that it all has its limitations and that without a robust doctrine of limits anything, even epistemological cross-examination, can become a new measure. After all, even life itself can become an idol.

  4. dr p says:

    This seems less a problem of doctrine and reason than of GIGO; ie presuppositions, respect for and knowledge of church history, and an healthy distrust of one’s own wisdom.

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