Finney Friday: Fanatical Foes, Picky Presbyterians

(Old School Princeton)

Today Finney describes the Old School opposition to his New Measures, shows his preference for Methodist ministers because they “pour fire” on hearers, complains about Princeton, and likens New Measure critics to Roman Catholics.

Lecture XIV: Measures to Promote Revivals

2. The same distinctions, in substance, that now exist, have always existed, in all seasons of reformation and revival of religion. There have always been those who particularly adhered to their forms and notions, and precise way of doing things, as if they had a “Thus saith the Lord” for every one of them. They have called those that differed from them, who were trying to roll the ark of salvation forward, Methodists, New Lights, Radicals, New School, New Divinity, and various other opprobrious names. And the declensions that have followed have been uniformly owing to two causes, which should by no means be overlooked by the church.

(1.) The Old School, or Old Measure party, have persevered in their opposition, and eagerly seized hold of any real or apparent indiscretion in the friends of the work.

In such cases, the churches have gradually lost their confidence in the opposition to new measures, and the cry of “New Divinity,” and “Innovation” has ceased to alarm them. They see that the blessing of God is with those that are thus accused of new measures and innovation, and the continued opposition of the Old School, together with the continued success of the New School, have destroyed their confidence in the opposition, and they get tired of hearing the incessant cry of “New Lights,” and “New Divinity,” and “New Measures.” Thus the scale has turned, and the churches have pronounced a verdict in favor of the New School, and of condemnation against the Old School.

(2.) …when the battle had been fought, and the victory gained, the rash zeal of some well-meaning but headlong individuals, has brought about a reaction that has spread a pall over the churches for years. This was the case, as is well known, in the days of President Edwards. Here is a rock, upon which a light-house is now built, and upon which if the church now run aground, both parties are entirely without excuse. It is now well known, or ought to be known, that the declension which followed the revivals in those days, together with the declensions which have repeatedly occurred, were owing to the combined influence of the continued and pertinacious opposition of the Old School, and the ultimate bad spirit and recklessness of some individuals of the New School.. . .

3. The present cry against new measures is highly ridiculous, when we consider the quarter from which it comes, and all the circumstances in the case. It is truly astonishing that grave ministers should really feel alarmed at the new measures of the present day, as if new measures were something new under the sun, and as if the present form and manner of doing things had descended from the apostles, and were established by a “Thus saith the Lord:” when the truth is, that every step of the church’s advance from the gross darkness of Popery, has been through the introduction of one new measure after another. We now look with astonishment, and are inclined to look almost with contempt, upon the cry of “Innovation,” that has preceded our day; and as we review the fears that multitudes in the church have entertained in by-gone days with respect to innovation, we find it difficult to account for what appear to us the groundless and absurd, at least, if not ridiculous objections and difficulties which they made. But, my hearers, is it not wonderful, that at this late day, after the church has had so much experience in these matters, that grave and pious men should seriously feel alarmed at the introduction of the simple, the philosophical, and greatly prospered measures of the last ten years? As if new measures were something not to be tolerated, of highly disastrous tendency, and that should wake the notes and echoes of alarm in every nook and corner of the church.

4. We see why it is that those who have been making the ado about new measures have not been successful in promoting revivals.

They have been taken up with the evils, real or imaginary, which have attended this great and blessed work of God. That there have been evils, no one will pretend to deny. But I do believe, that no revival ever existed since the world began, of so great power and extent as the one that has prevailed for the last ten years, which has not been attended with as great or greater evils. Still a large portion of the church have been frightening themselves and others, by giving constant attention to the evils of revivals. One of the professors in a Presbyterian Theological Seminary, felt it his duty to write a series of letters to Presbyterians, which were extensively circulated, the object of which seemed to be to sound the note of alarm throughout all the borders of the church, in regard to the evils attending revivals. While men are taken up with the evils instead of the excellencies of a blessed work of God, how can it be expected that they will be useful in promoting it? I would say all this in great kindness, but still it is a point upon which I must not be silent….

6. It is evident that we must have more exciting preaching, to meet the character and wants of the age. …Look at the Methodists. Many of their ministers are unlearned, in the common sense of the term, many of them taken right from the shop or the farm, and yet they have gathered congregations, and pushed their way, and won souls everywhere. Wherever the Methodists have gone, their plain, pointed and simple, but warm and animated mode of preaching has always gathered congregations. Few Presbyterian ministers have gathered so large assemblies, or won so many souls. Now are we to be told that we must pursue the same old, formal mode of doing things, amidst all these changes? As well might the North River be rolled back, as the world converted under such preaching. Those who adopt a different style of preaching, as the Methodists have done, will run away from us. The world will escape from under the influence of this old fashioned or rather new fashioned ministry. It is impossible that the public mind should be held by such preaching. We must have exciting, powerful preaching, or the devil will have the people, except what the Methodists can save. It is impossible that our ministers should continue to do good, unless we have innovations in regard to the style of preaching. Many ministers are finding it out already, that a Methodist preacher, without the advantages of a liberal education will draw a congregation around him which a Presbyterian minister, with perhaps ten times as much learning, cannot equal, because he has not the earnest manner of the other, and does not pour out fire upon his hearers when he preaches.

7. …Some young men in Princeton, a few years ago, came out with an essay upon the “evils of revivals.” I should like to know, now, how many of those young men have enjoyed revivals among their people, since they have been in the ministry; and if any have, I should like to know whether they have not repented of that piece about the evils of revivals.

If I had a voice so loud as to be heard at Princeton, I would speak to those young men on this subject. It is high time to talk plainly on this point. The church is groaning in all her borders for the want of suitable ministers. Good men are laboring and are willing to labor night and day to assist in educating young men for the ministry, to promote revivals of religion; and when they come out of the seminary, some of them are as shy of all the measures that God blesses as they are of popery itself….

FINALLY.–This zealous adherence to particular forms and modes of doing things, which has led the church to resist innovations in measures, savors strongly of fanaticism. And what is not a little singular, is that fanatics of this stamp are always the first to cry out “fanaticism.” What is that but fanaticism in the Roman Catholic Church, that causes them to adhere with such pertinacity to their particular modes, and forms, and ceremonies, and fooleries? They act as if all these things were established by divine authority; as if there were a “Thus saith the Lord” for every one of them. Now we justly style this a spirit of fanaticism, and esteem it worthy of rebuke. But it is just as absolutely fanatical, for the Presbyterian Church, or any other church, to be sticklish for her particular forms, and to act as if they were established by divine authority. The fact is, that God has established, in no church, any particular form, or manner of worship, for promoting the interests of religion. The scriptures are entirely silent on these subjects, under the gospel dispensation, and the church is left to exercise her own discretion in relation to all such matters. And I hope it will not be thought unkind, when I say again, that to me it appears, that the unkind, angry zeal for a certain mode and manner of doing things, and the overbearing, exterminating cry against new measures, SAVORS STRONGLY OF FANATICISM.

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6 Responses to Finney Friday: Fanatical Foes, Picky Presbyterians

  1. dr p says:

    Innnerestin’, as the entirety of the mass is a new measure to dazzle and capture, so I’m not sure that the noble ecclesiast has his ad hominems straight. I’m sure that worship in the high places was also captivating. Of course, since revivals seem to follow the same patterns, could one not say that revivalists are equally fanatical about their forms? Enquiring minds want to know…

  2. matt says:

    Makes me think of when I recently went to a Foursquare church as a lark. They kept singing repeatedly “more power, more power, more power”. In this one song, they must have said it 70 times.

    Give us reformation not revival.

  3. John Yeazel says:

    This is bringing back memories of my early years in Christiandom (ages 18-24; 1975-1981) when my brother introduced me to Christianity while I was visiting him the weekend before I went to Wittenburg university in Springfield, Ohio. He and his cronies were heavily into the Shepharding movement of Derek Prince, Ern Baxter, Bob Mumford, Charles Simpson and Don Basham. They also had just recently started to attend The Church of the Living God (a non-denominational charismatic church) about 5 miles out from downtown Traverse City, Michigan. I forget the name of the road it was on- just off River Rd. where my brother now lived. The churches claim to fame was that they all held a vigil and fast to prevent the band who dressed up with black and white makeup on their faces and the lead singer had an operation on his tongue in order to be able to stick it out farther (I forget the name of the band now) from playing at the downtown auditorium. The band ended up having to cancel the concert due to electrical problems in the auditorium.

    Along with the Shepharding movement writers and New Wine magazine they drunk deeply from the wells of Watchman Nee and some from Charles Finney. I ended up reading large amounts of both writers. Finney’s autobiography was daunting and intimidating. He wrote of his experiences of just walking into buildings, where Revivals were scheduled, and people breaking down in sobs of penitance. HIs systematic theology was very clearly written, but I did not know at the time, contrary to reformation theology which I was beginning to get glimpses of through the writings of Francis Schaeffer, Rushdoony and the reconstructionists (which were not real clear in their faithful adherence to the reformation heritage).

    Finney is a prime example of a celebrity pastor gone bad without his adherents realizing it. The “success” of his revivals is what they constantly refered to when defending themselves against the old schoolers. They were so drunk on the succes that they could not listen to the legitimate critiques of the Princeton seminary and some of its alumni (Nevin being the most outspoken critique). They spent lots of time, in the later years of the revivals, defending themselves from lots of the nonsense that went on during and after the revivals. The whole point of their theology was aimed at teaching others how to win souls and keep them on the sanctifed road to success, without being “fanatics.” They did it a lot better than business guru’s, NFL coaches and NCAA division I coaches do it today because they had a thoughtful theology behind it which has always resonated with Americans.

    So, I guess the question to ask is, is it the reformational theologies churches responsibility to try to stem the tide against the new innovations which always seem to be a plague upon the church. These new innovations always seem to attract some of the most talented and charismatic people too. They are so difficult to deal with, and so bent on them thinking they are right that after dealing with them a few times you always want to give up and just let them do their thing.

  4. dr p says:

    @JY: think of how many new measures the confessional churches have brought in: Christian Counseling, Christian reconstructionism, theonomy, FV, liturgical chaos (eg Tyler), paedocommunion, etc ad nauseam.. Sad to say, the pot is calling the kettle black. This is not merely a matter of confession, as that would be the ecclesial version of legislating morality in general society. We’re talking issues of the heart here, known in KJV language as voluntary humility, will-worship, prying into “the secret things (which) belong to God.”

  5. John Yeazel says:

    dr p,

    I think probing deeper into the matter is a lack of faith in Word (Law and Gospel) and Sacrament ministry to accomplish the redemptive purposes of God. New measures are just man’s appointed means of grace which are a veil to the frustration and lack of patience in God’s appointed means. Mankind likes to do it my way (like Frank Sinatra and his talented brotherhood of rat packs, ie.,Dean Martin, Sammie Davis Jr. and all his other cronies who crooned with class). They were pretty cool and charismatic themselves. Mankind does not come into the world, and in most cases is not adequately taught, how resistant they are to God’s appointed means, ie., how deep the extent of their sin actually is. Finney and his legacy plays on the inherent guilt of man by manipulating responses to this masked guilt. It works in a surface sort of way and therefore new measures will probably always find their way into churches until the Lord returns.

  6. dr p says:

    @JY: on that note, Finney’s calling the confessional churches Romish is even more farcical, as Rome’s faux sacraments were themselves new measures.

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