The Oberlin Evangelist
October 23, 1850
British Estimate of Prof. Finney's Usefulness and Orthodoxy
Our readers will remember that once and again Dr. Campbell of the British Banner, with whom Prof. F. has been laboring some four months past, has promised to tell the public what he thinks of Prof. Finney's peculiar views and peculiar traits of character. This promise he has fulfilled in the Banner of Sept. 12. Our readers will be gratified to see so much candor and honesty, coupled with the most obvious demonstrations of a Christian spirit in every form. Dr. Campbell evidently has a deep sense of the responsibility which rests on him to speak "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" upon this subject. We cannot but wish that the same spirit had always been manifested among the ministry in this country. Perhaps the course of things in this country is in harmony with the ancient doctrine--"A prophet is not without honor, save" &c.
The critique on Prof. Finney's Theological volumes we commend to the candid attention of our American brethren in the ministry.
Rev. C. G. Finney
As we intimated in our last, the labors of Mr. Finney in London are for the present at an end; these labors have now extended over a period of eighteen weeks, comprising ninety discourses, averaging considerably upwards of an hour and a quarter, besides often three or four addresses at the inquiry-meetings on the same evening. He has also, at the close of the regular services, addressed the Supplementary Meeting, at some length, every Sabbath evening; his addresses at the Weekly Prayer-meeting were seldom within an hour. It is perhaps not saying too much to affirm, that no Protestant minister in Europe has, during the same period, put forth such a measure of intellectual and physical effort. Labor seems to him a luxury; and to benefit his fellow-creatures his chief joy. His motto may truly be, "This one thing I do." For sights--even the sights of London--he cares nothing; and at this moment he knows little more of our mighty Metropolis, with its manifold and multiform wonders, than when he arrived in it some nine months ago. His studies are of the same character; for books, whether ancient or modern, he seems to care but little when engaged in these great and continuous efforts to promote the salvation of men. His library is composed, then, of the works of the Prophets and Apostles, which form his peculiar treasures. He very much does what the admirable James Hervey, on his death-bed, wished he had done,--he makes the Psalms of David, the writings of the Prophets and Apostles, his chief companions, holding everything else in very secondary estimation. In conformity with the same principle of exclusiveness and of consecration, he declines the visits of friendship, and rejects all the invitations of hospitality. "Into whatsoever house he enters, he there abides, and goes not from house to house." His devotion to the one pursuit is complete, admirably exemplifying the Apostolic language, "We will give ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word." Those who have seen him most are best able to explain the cause of the extraordinary effects which have attended his efforts, and the wondrous grasp he has taken upon the multitudes in this great city, so far as they can be explained, for by much the larger part must be altogether resolved into the presence of an unseen power, the visible cause is so wholly disproportioned to the effect. His preaching is not only void of everything that is meretricious, but for the most part of even legitimate ornament and genuine rhetorical qualities. It is altogether unlike that of any man we have ever heard. As we stated on a former occasion, at first it is to strangers anything but attractive; nay, it is oft-times repulsive, exciting in the breast of the auditor any emotion but that of pleasure, and often ending with the purpose never to hear him again; but on the next occasion, notwithstanding, the parties somehow find themselves there. It is scarcely extravagant to say, that he occasionally offends wherever offence is possible--in language, in figure, and in statement; and is surprisingly successful in clothing genuine orthodoxy in the speckled garb of heresy. Such is the prominence he often gives to some great truth which he considers too much overlooked in popular theology that it assumes a novel and alarming appearance, so much so that the less intelligent are too ready to pronounce it unsound, and to retire proclaiming their discover. Two circumstances contribute to the peculiarities of Mr. Finney:
First, his mind is one of a very metaphysical character, resembling not a little that of the late Dr. M'All, of whom the late venerable Matthew Wilks said, "he was not satisfied with pulling every feather from the wing, but picked every fibre from every feather." His tendency is to push everything far beyond what is common, and, as a rule, beyond what is necessary, and perhaps desirable. The result is, that he often appears to depart from the common path, when in fact he only travels further on in the same direction, which, however, has all the novelty of a deviation to the eye of those accustomed to stop at a nearer point of the horizon. Of this we could specify some curious examples; one of a highly interesting character occurred a few evenings ago, when after the service a conference casually arose in the vestry between him and a few ministers--men of superior intelligence, who had been led to entertain doubts of his correctness on some momentous points, not from vague report, but from what they themselves had heard from his own lips. After much interesting and pleasant discussion, it was found that he and they were perfectly at one. We had it from good authority that the results were the same at a meeting of ministers who conferred with Mr. Finney at Birmingham. The same remarks apply to his writings, which are in most respects but his recorded preachings; the written having all the peculiarity of the oral expression. Since our last we have looked very carefully into his two volumes of Theology--a very interesting and an original production. On this work were a clever man disposed to lay aside his candor, and call forth the full resources of his logic, he might find enough to supply material for two volumes of animadversion, quite as large as the work itself. But on carefully examining every portion of the text in connection with the context, and one portion of the work in connection with the rest, it will be found thoroughly orthodox: that is, in harmony with the system denominated Modern or Moderate Calvinism, although abounding in the most exceptionable, sometimes the most alarming phraseology.
The other peculiarity of Mr. Finney is, that, while trained for law, he took up theology at his own hand; and hence, perhaps, many of his peculiarities of view and of statement, and also most of those things which may be considered excrescences, and which were better away. The case bears very strongly the same marks which, in this country, distinguish all self-taught men of strong and original intellectual powers. They are apt to look upon what is really in their own case a discovery, as something not previously known to mankind, although patent as the path of ocean before the birth of their remotest ancestors. The late Dr. Adam Clarke was a remarkable instance of this. Such men are in danger sometimes of assuming an air of dogmatism, and of over-estimating the importance of points upon which they differ from the received standards, and carrying themselves as if they were "the people, and wisdom would die" with them. The certain result of such notions, when expressed or published, is opposition, and for the most part controversy, which only tends to enlarge the grounds of the dispute--clothing figures with all the importance of facts, converting word into things, and expressions into principles. The war goes on till the matter is at length settled by the majority branding the innovator with the stamp of heterodoxy, which but too frequently accompanies him to the end of his journey.
There is no point on which Mr. Finney has encountered so much opposition and incurred so much obloquy as that of Gospel holiness. The periodical press, north and south, sounded the trumpet of alarm against the "Oberlin Professors," Finney and Mahan, whilst their replies were unjustly refused admission to their columns. At length, however, they took the matter in their own hands, and published such replies as silenced, if not convinced, the chief of their opponents, and thus obtained for them rest, but not till the calumnious cry had filled the land, and its echoes had been wafted across the Atlantic to Great Britain. Such was the alarm occasioned by Mr. Finney's Lectures, on Sanctification, that one of the great Ecclesiastical bodies deemed it necessary to issue a formal reply, by way of antidote to the "Oberlin Professors," who were accused of inculcating Sinless Perfection--the perfection of mature growth, instead of their real tenet, full orbed holiness, admitting of continued increase. To this manifesto, Mr. Finney produced a reply. We have carefully weighed both, and have no hesitation in stating, that in our humble judgment, the reply is in all points the most triumphant; while its matter is, if possible, excelled by its sweet and tender spirit. Its logic is irresistible; reasoning from the data of Inspiration, his argument cannot be overthrown. It very strikingly exemplifies what we have already said of traveling in the same path a league or a furlong further; while the course is confounded with heretical and perilous deviation.
We deem it proper to prove and illustrate the chief of these assertions, and we shall confine ourselves to the every essence of the Christian scheme. Speaking of Justification, and its conditions, he says:--
"Repentance is also a condition of Justification."
"Faith in Christ is another condition of Justification."
"Sanctification is another condition of Justification."
Now, every well-taught Theologian will at once see the wholly incongruous character of these statements, and in particular recoil from the last as entirely unscriptural, as involving the great turning point of the Evangelical system, and as setting forth not the Protestant, but the Papal view of the matter. But before they reach the close of the paragraph, they will see that it is a mere metaphysical refinement by which the subject is generalized into "the will's entire obedience to God,"--"whole-hearted obedience to God," not in opposition to, or exclusive of, "simple faith," but as comprehensive of it. Referring to the general view, he says:--
"If this view of the subject be correct, it follows that God justifies sinners, not upon condition of their ceasing to sin, but while they continue to sin, by virtue of their being regarded by the law as perfectly obedient in Christ, the covenant and mystical head; that is, that although they indulge in more or less sin continually, and are never at any moment in this life, entirely obedient to his law, yet God accounts them righteous because Christ obeyed for them." Now, we need not say, that we utterly deny any such conclusion, and stand opposed to the whole representation as in all points most incorrect. Mr. Finney says, "by sanctification being a condition of justification, the following things are intended:--
"(1.) That present, full, and entire consecration of heart and life to God and his service, is an unalterable condition of present pardon of past sin, and of present acceptance with God.
"(2.) That the penitent soul remains justified no longer than this full-hearted consecration continues;"
But Mr. Finney, in his reply to the "Warning against Error," has expressed himself even more fully and more alarmingly; let us hear him:--
"With regard to the ground or foundation of justification, I hold and expressly teach, that the following are not grounds of justification:--
"1. Not the obedience of Christ for us.
"2. Not our own obedience either to the law or gospel.
"3. Not the atonement of Christ.
"4. Not anything in the mediatorial work of Christ.
"5. Not the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
"These are all conditions of our justification in the sense that we can not be justified without them.
"But the ground or fundamental reason of our justification is the disinterested and infinite love of God."--John iii. 16.
It were difficult, we think, within the same space, to utter a larger amount of exceptionable language--difficult more strongly to shock the feelings of the Evangelical Churches, and to alarm the simple, not to say the enlightened; and yet the whole thing turns upon the use of the terms, "condition," and "ground." In the phraseology of English divines and expounders of the Word of God, the terms are used as synonymous, whereas here there is a distinction strong and vital. Here, too, there are five great matters clumped together as if they were homogeneous, and all made "conditions," of justification, while none, nor all united, form a "ground" of it; that ground being solely the "Love of God." Now, the theologians and ministers of England, instead of holding "the love of God" to be the "ground" of the sinner's justification--that, through which God "can be just and yet the justifier of the ungodly"--that, whereby he can be a "just God and yet a Savior"--that through which the broken law is magnified and made honorable"--view it as the source, the well-spring, the fountain of the whole scheme of Mercy.
We need not enlarge. These are the worst, as well as the most striking specimens the Works of Mr. Finney can present of his peculiarities of view and of statement--peculiarities, which have brought upon him so much opposition, in one light by no means unmerited, although, in another, altogether so. We can not but consider it as a misfortune that he should, by the use of language, so extensively, so unnecessarily, and yet almost studiously [peculiar,] upon points so vital, run in the teeth of the established views of the universal Church, since there is nothing gained by it, while the loss is very great.
But, independent of these peculiarities, the power which attends the ministrations of Mr. Finney is an established fact; his strength, however consists not in his peculiarities; these are his weaknesses. His holiness, real and apparent, rather than his metaphysics, is the rod of his might; the power of God, beyond all question, is remarkably with him. But what is blessed, is, not his peculiarities, which after all, are comparatively few, and practically, insignificant, but the mass of glorious truth which he holds in common with all Evangelical ministers; add to this, his deep and all but matchless power of dealing with the human heart, which distinguishes him from the great bulk of the ministry of modern times, and places him in the front of the most efficient Evangelists the world has seen.
We have deemed it a simple act of duty to give this deliberate public expression of opinion to the views and ministry of a man for whom we entertain sincere and deep admiration, and to whom we are inexpressibly grateful for the signal services he has rendered in that portion of the vineyard with which we stand associated. And this we do spontaneously, for Mr. Finney will know of these lines only when the public shall know of them, on their appearance in our columns on this the day of publication. He is deaf to the clamors of prejudice and the protestations of ignorance, and on personal grounds, wholly indifferent as to what the world's opinion is. With us it is not so; we hold it not unimportant that they should think correctly; and hence, having had means beyond those of any other man in England, of accurately ascertaining his true character as a man, and his real views as a minister, we feel bound to testify to the world our heart-felt convictions. It is an act of simple justice which we owe to the most single-minded, disinterested, and every way devoted man it has ever been our lot to meet.
We have been prompted to this act, not simply on account of Mr. Finney, but as it bears on the cause of Christ for the time to come. What Mr. Finney may deem it his duty to do we can not tell; for the present, he is about to retire to the Continent for a time, there to recruit his health, which after these prolonged exertions, always requires temporary repose. We think it greatly to be desired, that those labors should be resumed in the Metropolis; for sure we are, if we may judge by the effects already apparent, the results would be transcendent. We can not doubt, that there was a Providence in his coming to this country; and we are pleased to think, that the same Providence which regulated the past, will determine the future.
But, while we speak of the Metropolis, we would not confine ourselves to that. There are at least ten or a dozen great towns and cities in England, where he might spend in each three months with the utmost benefit to the Churches and to the souls of men.
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