OF CHARLES G. FINNEY
In 1792, a hundred years ago, and three hundred years after Columbus discovered America, a great man was born. An obscure village in Connecticut was his birthplace; he had no collegiate or theological training; he was converted when twenty-nine; and yet for forty years he taught in a theological seminary, and for fifteen years was president of a college. His chief education was derived from the study of law, yet he became a mighty preacher of the gospel. It is believed that a hundred thousand persons united with Christian churches as the result of his evangelistic labors, and twenty thousand persons came under his instruction or influence as an educator. In this year 1892, which is the centenary of his birth, it seems fitting that we should commemorate the character and work of Charles G. Finney, and draw some lessons from his example.
For personal reasons, and as a representative of Rochester, I have taken interest in my theme. The city of my birth and residence owes its moral and religious standing more to him than to any other single man. In 1831 the town numbered only ten thousand, and the community was markedly irreligious and skeptical. Mr. Finney's first visit was the occasion of a revival of religion in which the place seemed shaken to
its foundations; twelve hundred persons united with the churches of the Rochester Presbytery; all the leading lawyers, physicians, and business men became Christians; forty of the converts entered the ministry; the whole character of the town was changed.
In the year 1842, at the invitation of the lawyers of the city, Mr. Finney made his second visit to Rochester. The men who had begun a Christian life under his preaching eleven years before had now become pillars in Church and State. They gathered around him like a bodyguard. A thousand persons were converted. Again, in 1856, he made a third visit, and a thousand more joined the churches. It was in this last revival that I myself met with the greatest change I have known since my natural birth,—just as my father, before I was born, was converted under Mr. Finney's preaching in 1831. Circumstances gave me access to him; I came to know the man; I loved him the more, because I saw him misunderstood and heard him misrepresented. I only partially repay a debt of gratitude, when I give my personal reminiscences. To me there is a halo of saintship about his head. That does not prevent me, I think, from perceiving in him certain defects of character and of doctrine, nor, on the other hand, does it prevent me from seeing that this "boldest of hearts that ever braved the sun," was nobly "human at the red-ripe of the heart."
Charles G. Finney was a great man. I have said this already. I must not only repeat it, but I must justify it. He was great in the possession of a natural acuteness and power of consecutive reasoning. So eminent a judge as Sir William Hamilton spoke admiringly of his logical ability, and declared that one who accepted the premises on the first page of his " Systematic Theology" would be forced to go with him to his conclusions at the end of the book. To his mind preaching was persuasion. With Paul he could say: "Therefore knowing the terrors of the Lord, we persuade men."
His ideas of method in preaching were based upon his experience as a lawyer. He stood before an audience, not as a tyrannical schoolmaster before cowering youngsters who were to be brow-beaten and threatened into obedience, not as an artful demagogue before the rabble whose passions were to be roused until the worse appeared the better reason, and action was determined on at the cost of sense. Instead of all this, the audience was his jury, and he was an advocate before it, appealing to intellect and judgment, and asking for decision in his favor only because God and truth were on his side.
So his notion of a sermon was that of a chain of logic, link after link so forged and bound together that escape from his conclusion was impossible. The elaborateness of his sermon-plans would be almost amusing, if they were not so instinct with life and power. His sermon on "Christians the Light of the World," has five main divisions; the subdivisions are respectively eight, six, six, seven, and five, in number; and he concludes with seventeen separate remarks. He had no hesitation in enumerating all these divisions, subdivisions, and remarks, as he went on. The effect was something overwhelming at times. When he preached on the "Searching of Conscience," he specified ninety-five different ways in which men's consciences A PREACHER OF RIGHTEOUSNESS 367
were seared; and in a second sermon he mentioned eighty-four others. Long before he got to the end of his categories, the hearer began to realize that his own wickedness was great and his iniquities were infinite.
He aimed to carry the reason first, and he valued no feeling or action that was not based upon conviction. This implied respect for his hearers as intellectual beings with powers of conscience and will. There were no appeals to thoughtless emotion; there was no dramatizing for mere temporary effect; his speech was conversational and colloquial in the extreme. But he had great natural gifts; he was of noble height and nobly proportioned; he had an eagle eye that seemed to pierce and search the very heart; he had a voice of great compass and clearness; at times he thundered and lightened in the pulpit, and again there was a softness and sweetness in his pleading that moved and melted all. There was an ever-present logic, but it was logic on fire.
The fire was the fire of righteousness. Mr. Finney was a man of mighty conscience. He bowed himself before the majesty of the divine law and he made others bow before it. He deeply felt that everything must yield to the claims of right, and that not an instant's delay in obedience to God could be tolerated. When he had set the truth before a congregation he pressed them to immediate decision. One day, in the great church at Oberlin, he had preached a most searching sermon upon neglects of duty, which suddenly and without warning he concluded with the words: "Let all who are not right with God and who will now forsake their wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts, arise!" A Christian woman who was present and who had been deeply agitated by the sermon, after an instant's hesitation whether she should acknowledge that she had been living all her Christian life like a hypocrite, decided the question by rising. She expected to find herself standing there alone, but when she looked around, two thousand people were on their feet with her.
The unregenerate man who came to reside in Oberlin had a hard time in those days. When he appeared in the Sabbath congregation, Mr. Finney seemed to be leveling his shafts directly at him. The same Mr. Finney sought him out in private and urged him to give his heart to God. His name was mentioned in private circles of prayer. A dozen Christians set themselves singly and together to talk with him and labor for his conversion. The place became hot for him. To many a man the alternative became practically this, either to be converted or to leave town.
There was something very unconventional at times in Mr. Finney's way of impressing truth. A young man of quiet temperament called to see Mr. Finney. The preacher bade him be seated by the stove, while he himself finished a letter he was writing. After five minutes' silence he advanced toward the visitor, with the words: "Well, what is it?" "Mr. Finney," was the answer, "I have been thinking some time about the subject of religion, but I have no feeling at all." The preacher replied only by seizing the poker from the floor and by aiming an apparent blow at the young man's head. The young man, of course, dodged. "Ah," said Mr. Finney, laying the poker down, "you feel now!" Then, without another word, he went back
to his desk and began writing again. His visitor, chagrined, outraged, insulted, as he seemed to himself to be, left the room in anger. But then he began to meditate. It dawned upon him that Mr. Finney might have been acting a parable before him. He had only intended to teach him in this rough way that, if he had so much feeling in view of an iron poker, he had much more reason for feeling in view of hell. That young man was not simply converted,—he became an exemplary Christian, and for forty years he served as deacon in a Baptist church.
The roughness of Mr. Finney's manner belonged chiefly to his early years. It was the result in part of natural impetuosity and in part of defective training. He could at times say hard things of those whose doctrine he opposed and whose practical action he deprecated, as, for example, when he declared that there was a jubilee in hell whenever the Presbyterian General Assembly met. But when we remember that this was in 1831, at the time of the bitter wranglings in the Presbyterian church which preceded the disruption, we shall see that the rough phrase had some shadow of justification.
When Oberbn became a principal station on the underground railroad by which fugitive slaves escaped from bondage, Mr. Finney was asked what he would do if a fugitive could be rescued from the kidnapper only by taking the master's life. "Do?" said he, "do? I would kill him! And yet I would love him with all my heart!" There is so much good theology in that utterance that it has ceased to provoke a smile in me. It illustrates what so many are inclined to deny, namely, the possibility of a conflict between righteousness and love in the divine nature, a conflict that is reconciled oiily by an eternal sacrifice—" the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world."
His logic was on fire with love as well as on fire with righteousness. While he was a very Paul for close dialectic, he was a very John for emotional fervor. I have never known the man who combined such clear and remorseless logic with such a flood of feeling. How often have I heard him in his sermons pursue sinners with the inexorable demands of law, strip them of their excuses, hunt them out from all their refuges of lies, show them up before God and men as desperate and hardened transgressors, and then, after this denunciation, how often have I seen him in view of such amazing depravity burst into loud weeping, and, after a pause, in which he struggled to recover himself, end his address with most pathetic pleading that those whom he addressed would turn from their sins and live. The appeal of compassionate love brought men to repentance, where mere law and indignation would have hardened them in their opposition to God.
When you came to know that sympathetic and tender heart, you had the means of solving many a problem presented by his speech and conduct. To many he seemed a mass of contradictions. Seeing one side of him, they could not believe that there was any other side. The truth is that his sensibilities were ready to meet any call; he hated wrong as vehemently as he loved the right; the same man who flamed out against moral evil would fairly melt in presence of the sorrow which that evil brought in its train.
He never learned the art of concealment; words were never used to hide his meaning; whatsoever the heart felt the lips were apt to utter. All trial and suffering inexpressibly pained him. A woman in important station, was lame. Mr. Finney never could look upon her without pity. But he also could never meet her without expressing his sympathy and sorrow for her infirmity. At last she said to him: "Mr. Finney, do you not see that your constant reference to my lameness must bring to my mind what I try to forget? How can you distress me so?" "My good woman," he replied, "I never thought of that. I am very sorry I have mentioned it. I will never do so again." The next time he saw her hobbling along, his heart was touched just as of old, and the old words of compassion were ready to spring from his lips. But he curbed the impulse, and, as he came up to her, he addressed her with the assurance: "Now I'm not going to say anything about that!"
He was an admirer of beauty, and when he admired he found difficulty in hiding his admiration. In Oberlin he was monarch of all he surveyed, the king who could do no wrong, the very patriarch of the village. As he walked on the board sidewalk one day, he saw approaching him a handsome young lady who had newly come to town. She had never met Mr. Finney. What was her surprise to see this majestic figure stop short in her pathway, and to hear a fatherly voice utter itself to this effect: "My daughter, I have never seen you before. Where are you from? You have very pretty black eyes. Do you love the Lord?" His quick perception of beauty was closely connected with the desire that the beauty might be consecrated to Christ. The thought of the soul's salvation was uppermost after all.
I am quite aware that many will find it difficult to understand how thoughts of this world and of the next could lie so close together. I can only say that Mr. Finney was a child of nature, with a child's simplicity and a child's impulsiveness. One day at his own table a young woman ventured the remark that she expected never to marry. "Never marry ?" answered he. "Why, that is wrong. Why will you never marry?" "Oh, Mr. Finney," was her reply, "the man who wanted me I should never want, and the man I wanted would never want me." "Ah," said he, somewhat mollified, "I see. Your tastes are superior to your attractions. It is sometimes so."
The same simplicity characterized his prayers. He had a childlike confidence in God, and prayer to him was a pouring out of heart before God. Nothing was too great, nothing too small, to attract God's notice and regard. Was he merry? he could be merry before the Lord. Earthly concerns and heavenly,—all were expressed to God. And here was the secret of his power. He talked with God, like Moses, face to face. From the time of his conversion he was accustomed to spend not only whole hours but whole nights in prayer. In those early days there were struggles and visions the narration of which would suggest the possibility of overwrought excitement, if it were not that such great results followed in the power of his preaching and in the conversion of souls. Paul seems to have had just such experiences. Perhaps we should have more of them if we had natures as deep and consecration as entire.
And yet, as years went on, struggle and ecstasy were less marked features of his praying. He brought everything to God, but then he rested in God. Without effort and without delay, he took it for granted that God would hear and answer. No one who ever heard him pray could doubt that to him God was a reality, more real than earthly friends, more present than the worshipers whose prayers he led, more loving than any father upon earth, more considerate of our least necessities, and more willing to respond to our least petitions, than any earthly mother ever was. He could be free with God, because he loved God, and knew that God loved him.
There was a man in Oberlin, who had gone to the length of making a compact with the devil. Goethe makes Mephistopheles say to Faust:
I to thy service here agree to bind me
To run and never rest at call of thee;
When over yonder thou shalt find me,
Then thou shalt do as much for me.
Strange as it may seem, the man I speak of did, in this nineteenth century, so far as his own purpose and act could accomplish it, sell his soul to Satan. He made out a written contract and signed it with his own blood. In a time of deep religious interest this man became deeply convicted of his sins. But he was in despair. He declared that he had sinned against the Holy Ghost, and that for him there was only a fearful looking for of judgment. The case roused the sympathy and the zeal of Mr. Finney. Should Satan be suffered to triumph over Christ? Not so. Jesus could dispossess Satan, and could save to the uttermost. Mr. Finney set himself to obtain this blessing. All night long he prayed for the man's deliverance. It was an awful struggle, but just at the dawn Mr. Finney felt that God had answered him, and he went to his bed. And the next day the man out of whom Satan had been cast was found clothed and in his right mind like the Gadarene demoniac.
There are many stories current about Mr. Finney's prayers, which, if we took them at their face value, would seem to show that at times he was irreverent and even profane. To those who knew him best these stories are susceptible of a very different explanation. Most of them are gross exaggerations. The circumstances and the manner in each particular case, when they are understood, make it plain that the familiarity which he used was as far as possible from that of the sensationalist who makes prayer a means of rousing an audience, or from that of the blasphemer of whom it may be said that God is not in all his thoughts. They were simply the unconventional utterances of a profoundly believing and childlike spirit who was at home with God and who spoke his most casual thoughts into his Father's ear. If God was the God of nature as well as of mind, why could he not answer prayer by physical means as easily as by spiritual? Mr. Finney believed, when the interests of Christ's kingdom required it, that God not only could but would answer by fire, even as he did in the days of Elijah.
The summer of 1853 was marked by a prolonged drought. Agriculture was at a standstill; the roads were turned to dust; the wells were drying up; dumb
creatures were suffering for thirst. Clouds came and went, but all signs failed, and no rain fell. On a certain Sabbath afternoon, at the regular time for service, when the sky was clear, Mr. Finney's heart was touched by the common need, and he was moved to pray for rain. "O Lord," he cried, "thou seest how the earth is parched, and the cattle are dying, and the squirrels in the woods can find no water. We want rain. O Lord, send us rain, for Jesus' sake. Let not the clouds pass over, as they have done, and discharge themselves into the lake; for thou knowest that there is water enough in the lake already. Send rain, O Lord, for thy people and for their cattle!" So he closed his prayer and went on to his sermon. He had hardly begun to preach when the heavens began to darken; after a little a great cloud broke, and the rain came down in torrents. The preacher stopped his preaching and called on the whole congregation to give thanks by singing the hymn
When all thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view, I'm lost
In wonder, love, and praise.
Next to Mr. Finney, Professor Morgan was the greatest personage in Oberlin. A mild and scholarly man, as great in exegesis as was Mr. Finney in theology, he furnished the exact complement to the gifts of his chief. The two were lifelong friends. They always sat together in the pulpit. When Mr. Finney was to preach, Professor Morgan led the devotions of the sanctuary; when Professor Morgan was to preach, Mr. Finney prayed. Professor Morgan often grieved Mr. Finney by his slowness and by the metaphysical nature of his discourse. Mr. Finney felt it necessary to pray for him after this fashion: "Dear Lord, here is Doctor Morgan. He knows more than any of us; but, O Lord, thou knowest how lazy he is. Stir up his activities to-day. Help him to preach. Give him great simplicity, so that we shall not all have to stand on tiptoe to understand what he says."
When Mr. Finney was absent on his evangelizing tours in England and elsewhere, Professor Morgan officiated in the great church. There were seasons of drought then also, and Doctor Morgan tried his hand at praying for rain. And rain did come, but in no great abundance. The whole community reverenced Doctor Morgan, and there was no disposition to depreciate his piety. Yet it became a current saying in Oberlin that, "while Professor Morgan could make it drizzle, it took Mr. Finney to make it pour."
Mr. Finney himself, however, was not always so successful as he desired. He had prayed for rain on a certain occasion, and a slight shower had fallen during the night. Next morning, at family prayers, which took place regularly at 6 A. M. and 6 p. M., he was heard to say: "O Lord, we thank thee for the shower that fell in the night; but we find, by stirring the ground with a stick, that much more rain is needed, and we pray that thou wilt send it when convenient, that is, when it seems good to thee."
At these household prayers all the concerns of the household were laid before the Lord. William, the hired man, was present, and William one morning heard this petition rise: "Dear Lord, bless William,
and help him to remember to shut the barn-doors, for thou knowest that, if I am cumbered with such cares as these, I cannot give my mind to the care of souls." And when a visitor was just about to take her departure from his house, he prayed: "Now, Lord, bless this young lady. Thou knowest I have tried to do her good; but, 0 Lord, thou knowest she is so peculiar!"
He had a great aversion to debt, and he hesitated long before he would consent to dedicate to God a church edifice that was neither wholly completed nor wholly paid for. But he finally surmounted the difficulty thus: "O Lord, we offer this house to thee. It is not yet finished, indeed. But we remember that we have frequently offered ourselves to thee and thou hast accepted us, though thou knowest that we are far from being finished yet."
The possibility of entire sanctification in this life, and the duty of believing prayer that God will grant the blessing, early became a peculiar tenet of the Oberlin theology. If the average inhabitant of Oberlin had been asked to point out some living example of this entire sanctification, he would doubtless have mentioned first of all the name of Mr. Finney. In spite of his peculiarities, his unworldly life, his boundless sympathy, his passion for souls had profoundly impressed his fellow-citizens. And yet I found that Mr. Finney was far from counting himself as entirely sanctified. Many a time has he declared that in revivals of religion the risings of ambition and self-complacency were such as to horrify him. For hours he would lie on his face before God, humbling himself for his sin and crying that he could never preach again until God delivered him from himself.
I once visited him after he had been ill with brain fever, and when he was slowly gathering strength again. Young as I then was, he poured out his heart to me in the most childlike and pathetic way. "Oh," he said, "it has seemed to me, during these weeks, as if Satan had been let loose upon me. All my past sins have come up before me. Thousands of things that I had forgotten loomed up again in my memory. Things I had never dreamed of as sinful showed themselves to torment me. It seemed to me as if I should be overwhelmed by the revelation of my wickedness, and that if God had not reached down to the very depths to save me I should have been lost forever."
How true it is that the best of men are farthest from fancying that they have attained, or are already perfect! This advocate of entire sanctification could use language of himself which would have done credit to Jonathan Edwards. Nor did he practically acknowledge that others had attained to perfect holiness any more than he. After he had fully recovered from his illness and the dialectic element in his nature had begun again to assert itself, I put to him the question: "Mr. Finney, have you ever seen a Christian man who in your judgment was not only free from overt transgression, but was also free from all risings of evil impulse and desire?"
"Well," he replied, "I have seen some persons who thought they had reached that state."
"Ah, yes, Mr. Finney," I said; "but that does not answer my question. What I want to know is this: Have you ever met any one whom you think to have been free from all wrong thoughts and desires, as well
as from all acts of sin?" And that question I could not get him to answer. Theory was one thing and practice was another. Increasing knowledge of God's law and increasing observation of human life led him, I believe, whether he ever modified his theory or not, practically to accept in their plain meaning the words: "There is none that doeth good,—no, not one;" "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
And yet his great merit was that he preached God's law. He applied it to himself as well as to others. He demanded the instant surrender of sin. In his early days he had been addicted to the use of tobacco, and without any particular thought as to its propriety he continued to use it after he began to preach. But one day a good Christian man, seeing the tobacco-box in his hand, said to him: "Brother Finney, do you think it is right to use tobacco?" It was the first time the question had been propounded. "Right? "he replied; "right? No, of course it isn't right. Here, you take this tobacco and keep it till I call for it." And he never touched tobacco afterward.
Not only tobacco and intoxicating drink of every kind were the objects of his pronounced opposition, as harmful in themselves and as utterly unjustifiable expenditures of the Lord's money, but for a time also even tea and coffee came under the ban as unnecessary selfindulgence. It was the criticism of Charles Hodge apparently that restored the balance and brought him to right reason. But during many of the early years of Oberlin's history, there was an ascetic atmosphere in the new town which savored more of the law than of the gospel. Not only was holiness of life insisted on, but you were so plainly told what holiness required, that there was little room left for private judgment. Sensitive consciences found the yoke heavier than they could bear, and it weighed them down into the dust.
Here comes to light a certain one-sidedness in Mr. Finney's conception of Christianity. It was too much law and too little gospel. His preaching of law was searching, convincing, powerful; but it was not sufficiently supplemented by the doctrine of freedom in Christ; faith, indeed, seemed sometimes to bring the Christian under another law whose requisitions were more rigorous and minute than the old. There were persons of an introspective mind, self-distrustful and timid, who were harmed by his preaching. A morbid conscientiousness was developed. The subjective side of religion, with its self-examination and its fears, became the whole of religion to them. They cultivated the analytical element until they lost courage and hope. A more objective religion, a more entire abandonment of heart and life to Christ sometimes followed, but it was after terrible doubts and struggles.
I do not say that all experienced this harmful influence of the continual preaching of law,—for the mass of hearers it perhaps served only as the schoolmaster to bring them to Christ. But weak and fearful souls did get harm as well as good, and the hearing of the gospel of free grace and of an ever-present Christ was like life from the dead. Mr. Finney himself had a vigor and health that prevented him for any long time from being too introspective. His love for beauty and his natural spirits helped to tone down the excessive
rigidity of his early teaching as, for example, when a young woman, stirred up by his denunciations of gay attire, asked him his judgment about wearing a ribbon on her hat. "Do you think I could wear a plainer bonnet?" she asked. "Yes," replied Mr. Finney, "you might wear a chip tied on your head, but I don't think I would."
His preaching of law was providentially ordered. The times needed it. Orthodoxy had stiffened into something very like Antinomianism. In the conviction that it is God that worketh in us, it had been sometimes forgotten that we are to work out our own salvation also. The churches settled down in selfish contentment and put forth no efforts for the rescue of the perishing. It was thought by some that efforts of this sort were presumptuous interferences with God's peculiar work, and that the saints must wait God's time to save sinners. And sinners on their part were lulled to sleep also,—what could they do to promote their own salvation? They could not submit to God, they could not believe, they could not even pray a prayer that was not sin. The sinner's inability was conceived of as a physical inability,—the inability of the man physically dead to raise himself to life.
Against all this Mr. Finney inveighed and stormed. He showed that the cannot is simply a will not; that the only obstacle to the sinner's salvation is the obstinacy and hatefulness of his own evil will; that he is under no necessity of remaining in his sins; while yet it is certain that he will so remain unless God interposes by his Holy Spirit. God's working and man's working are simultaneous. Only when man submits and believes wiL he know that God is working in him. He is not to wait an instant then; waiting is aggravated rebellion and increase of guilt, because it is sinning against light; immediate surrender of the soul to Christ is the first and the only present duty of the sinner.
All this doctrine, which we now see to be perfectly consistent with Scripture and with Calvinism, was a scandal to many of our fathers. They had confounded the logical precedence of God's action with a chronological precedence. They believed in an interval of time between the divine cause and the human effect. Hence they strenuously objected to " the anxious seat"; and when Mr. Finney urged those who would then and there forsake their sins and submit to God to come forward, these objectors declared that Mr. Finney's invitation implied that salvation was a matter of the human will alone; they would have urged the same persons to seek and pray and wait if, perchance, God would have mercy upon them.
Mr. Finney denounced all this as encouraging the sinner to disobey God's commands and to disbelieve his promises. And in this he was right. His preaching, in distinction from the old revivalists, like Nettleton, emphasized the willfulness and guilt of continued disobedience and made renunciation of sin and acceptance of Christ a matter of immediate duty. In this respect his doctrine and his methods are a permanent gain to the church; they have become commonplaces in our belief and practice. They have done much to close the chasm between religion and morality,—for we no longer believe that a formal and idle religion will save.
They have done much to make preaching effective,—for we no longer aim to educate men for future conversion, but rather to bring them to immediate decision for God.
If Mr. Finney had had a profounder conception of law, his theology would have more permanent influence. Great preacher of the law as he was, it may seem presumptuous to criticise him here. But at this very point of strength lay also a point of weakness. Lawyer as he was by instinct and by training, he failed to ground law in the holiness of God, and made it too much a matter of expediency. It was the old error of Grotius. Government was a means to the good of being, rather than an expression of God's nature. From its germinal statement in Jonathan Edwards down to Nathaniel W. Taylor's extended treatment, this idea is the ruling idea of New England theology. And Mr. Finney derived his theology from Taylor as much as from any other man. As Dr. Taylor's system of theology is actually entitled "Moral Government," Mr. Finney's "Systematic Theology" is little more than a treatise on moral government under another name.
How significant and instructive it is to find that, in Horace Bushnell, moral government becomes moral influence only, and in the " New Theology" the very idea of government has dropped out of the system, and a comparatively unmoral fatherhood has usurped the place of righteousness! Be sure that when you divorce government from holiness and make law a matter of expediency, you will not be able long to believe in either moral government or moral law. It will be well for the current theology of New England if it does not go farther and make evolution an exhaustive account of God and the universe, denying free will and sin, Christ's deity and atonement, and that regeneration by the Spirit of God which is the complement of these. For these truths of God's word Mr. Finney would have laid down his life. Yet he held to conceptions of law and of government which were logically inconsistent with their permanent and universal validity and which historically seem to be leading to their overthrow.
Yet Mr. Finney thought he was doing God service when he denounced the Old School views of depravity and of regeneration. He attributed his success largely to his protest against what he called ancient errors. But Mr. Spurgeon perpetually emphasized the very tenets which Mr. Finney denied, yet Mr. Spurgeon was the means of converting as many sinners as Mr. Finney. How plain it is that God uses imperfect agencies to accomplish his purposes! A little truth thoroughly believed makes its way in spite of much error mingled with it. God keeps the wheat and burns the chaff. The word of the Lord abides forever.
It is interesting to compare Mr. Finney and Mr. Spurgeon. They both sprang from a humble stock. Of both it might be said that they had a homely genius. Both hated doctorates and declined them. Mr. Finney and Mr. Spurgeon were greater than Doctor Finney and Doctor Spurgeon ever could have been. Both knew their way straight to the popular heart. Both could use the vernacular English with a swift and straightforward energy which was more effective than any nights of eloquence. Both of them were mighty in prayer and mighty in the Scriptures. Both of them lived for God and for souls. The main difference was
one of emphasis. While Mr. Finney laid the main stress upon law and man's responsibility, Mr. Spurgeon laid it upon the gospel and God's sovereign grace.
But the truth which Mr. Finney accepted he held with a tremendous grip, and he preached it with a tremendous power. He was, above all things, a man of God, a man who lived in hourly communion with God, a man upon whom rested the power of God. There was something sublime in the self-forgetful authority with which he commanded and subdued an audience. No one could despise or ignore that overmastering personality. He appealed to the sinner as though Christ himself were beseeching through his lips, and his warnings were like premonitions of Christ's sentence at the judgment day. Never before any preacher have I so felt that he was a mere vehicle and instrument of the Holy Spirit. The one great aim of his ministry and of his life was to save souls.
He was not greatly interested in theological speculation. Only as theology affected men's salvation was he ardent in his study of it. Theory was valuable only as it had to do with practice. His constant evangelizing kept his doctrine from bringing forth all its natural fruits. The incessant effort to bring sinners to God will counteract the influence of much closet error. The men whose aberrations from the faith surprise and vex us are not men whose strength has been spent in direct personal preaching to sinners,—they are rather the literary and scientific and socialistic essayists who have vibrated between the study and the pulpit, with little knowledge of human sin and little appreciation of the grace of God.
Mr. Finney lived through the days of agitation with regard to slavery, yet he very seldom made slavery the subject of a sermon. He groaned in spirit when he heard that one of his theological students had given a mere literary address in a neighboring town, where he might have preached a sermon. The sneering description: "As dull as Doctor B , when he has nothing
but the gospel to preach," would never have applied to him. The gospel was his one and only theme. I doubt whether he ever delivered a literary or scientific lecture in his life.
And yet how much more powerful he was than he would have been, if he had tried to be orator or statesman or reformer! It is a grander thing to regenerate men than it is to teach them morality. To plant in them a new force is nobler than to guide that force in its exercise. The impartation of new force by regeneration,—this should be the first aim of preaching. Sin and salvation,—these are the preacher's themes. Mr. Finney's history shows that these themes can be made to interest men more deeply than any tricks of oratory can. Men like earnest dealing with their souls. Fear is a power to move them as well as love. Daniel Webster wanted to have the preacher drive him into the corner of the pew, and persuade him that the devil was after him. And this was precisely what Mr. Finney did.
He was raised up at a time of dead orthodoxy in the church and of skeptical apathy in the community, to rouse both church and community from slumber, and to bring in a better day of faith and zeal. The Broadway Tabernacle was the fruit of his first labors in New
York City; and a theological school was projected and begun in this same city, in the years 1834-1835, the object of which was to train men as evangelists. That school was afterward transferred to Oberlin, and Mr. Finney went with it. I have often wondered what the results to the church and the world would have been if the original scheme had been carried out, and Mr. Finney had been permitted in the metropolis to educate young men of gifts and culture to be his successors.
Do we need anything so much, in this day of laxity and skepticism, as the raising up of another Finney to rouse the churches and to set them on fire for God? In this easy-going age, when the doctrine of God's '* Papahood" has well-nigh superseded the doctrine of God's righteousness, ought we not to pray that in that great commercial center, with its three millions of outlying population, there may be established such a school of evangelists as Mr. Finney contemplated? Would to God that Baptists might awake to the possibilities that open before them, and that they might give to the world preachers of law and gospel like Charles G. Finney!