Charles G. Finney




[by Rev. John Campbell: Pastor, Tabernacle Moorfields]



Now that Mr. Finney's course has reached its close, it may be permitted us to utter a thought or two relative to a man for whom we have conceived a very high regard, and in whose labours and history we feel the deepest interest. Well, we cannot say that we are much gratified by the idea of Mr. Finney's returning to college duties, and the general ministry of a rural charge. We do not consider that such is the place for the man; and we must be allowed to think that fifteen years ago a mistake was committed when he became located in the midst of academic bowers. In our view, there are few living men to whom such an element is less suited. He is made for the millions,--his place is the pulpit rather than the professor's chair. He is a heaven-born sovereign of the people. The people he loves, and the mass of the people all but idolise him. He seems specially created for oral labour. The structure of his mind is altogether peculiar. The logical faculty is developed in an unusual degree, and hence there is a tendency to argument in excess. He reasons on and on to the extreme of redundancy, often laboring to explain that which requires no further explanation, and to prove what needs no further proof. He is, moreover, strongly addicted to the metaphysical and analytical, and hence whatever he touches becomes more or less arrayed in a dialectical costume. These peculiarities might, at first sight, seem somewhat to unfit him for pulpit labour among the millions: but it is otherwise; he succeeds either through, or in spite of them. Whether he be understood or not, he is listened to, and complaints are not generally heard on the score of his being unintelligible. There rare gifts are of signal service in enabling Mr. Finney to fathom the deepest recesses of the human heart, and to throw light on the darkest portions of human character. For moral anatomy he has no equal among the multitude of great and successful ministers whom it has been our lot to hear. An assembly often quivers under him as does the living subject under the knife of the operator, whom experience has rendered skilful and habit made callous. Multitudes have stood amazed at themselves, as presented in the mirror he exhibits to their astonished view. This peculiar power alone would have rendered Mr. Finney remarkable among public instructors; but this is only one feature of his very complex and multifarious character as a preacher. His declamatory are fully equal to his logical powers. In this walk, we think, he has no superior. He thunders and lightens when his subject requires it, in a manner to shake the heart of an assembly, rousing the most apathetic, and awing the most careless. He would have ranked as a prince among that class of zealous and most useful men whom a godless world has scornfully denominated--Ranters!

But even this is not all; he possess another quality seldom found in combination with the foregoing; he is occasionally, although but seldom, strongly pathetic;--the voice falters, and the eyes become suffused with tears. Thus, then, Mr. Finney largely combines in himself the qualities necessary to constitute the three great classes of public speaking, and is capable, with proper application, of the highest success in them all; but we believe it is only justice to his great character to say, that he never thought five minutes upon the subject. Whatever he is, he is from nature and the gifts of God; art has done nothing for him. The result of the whole is, an extraordinary range of mental and moral contact with the assembly. There is something for men of every class; all, in turns are gratified, and all are occasionally disappointed, according as throughout the discourse the one quality or the other may predominate. Sometimes during an entire sermon he is dry and logical in the extreme, addressing himself to pure intellect, making no provision whatever for either heart or fancy. At other times, both are regaled in a very high degree, as an interdict is then placed on the logical faculty; and there have been a few discourses, also touching and pathetic throughout. In these respects he is the most varied of preachers and in all respect most unequal.

There is another peculiarity about the public speaking of Mr. Finney, which renders it noticeable, and even striking. The style of address, the accent and intonation, and the whole air, is American, and such as presents a striking contrast to that of England. At first, it is unpleasant to the English ear; but the ear soon comes to like it, and at length is charmed with it. The general cast of his preaching is simple even to plainness, and good taste is occasionally violated for the purpose of illustration. The whole air of the man, and of his address, is deeply marked with homeliness and simplicity. As everything beyond the mere outline of his discourse is extemporaneous, there is an utter absence of obvious effort, whether of thought or language. The elaborate, the exquisite, and the ornate, have no place in his pulpit performances. Nature is everywhere apparent in her modest, every-day garb. There is no exhibition,--no speaking for speaking's sake. Mr. Finney may say with Whitefield (whom in many respects, he resembles), "I use market language." There is no room for display of any description. Self seems annihilated. The subject is everything, and the salvation of men is the supreme concern. To crown all, Mr. Finney, beyond the great run of public speakers, is endowed with a voice of remarkable clearness. Its faintest accents were heard in the remotest corner of the edifice where he has been labouring, although eighty feet square, while it is capable of acquiring the swell of the martial trumpet. It is not sweet,--not melodious, but possesses a penetrating clearness of tone, with a distinctness of enunciation, which would render him audible in the largest edifice in Europe. He finds his account exceedingly in this attribute. When he has spoken three hours, there is often no symptom whatever either of hoarseness or fatigue. Indeed, he has appeared to us, not seldom, the only person who was not exhausted! It is certainly a pity that a man so singularly endowed for evangelical labour should be chained down by the dull routine of college duties. If we mistake not, there are a thousand men to be found in the United States, that would perform Mr. Finney's professorial duties as well, perhaps in many respects better, than he; but we doubt if, amongst the three-and-twenty millions of American citizens, and the forty thousand ministers, more or less, that labour among them, there are many, if one, that possess all the qualifications above enumerated. Thus much for the attributes of Mr. Finney as a public instructor; and the opinion is given after hearing him incessantly for about nine months.

But what may be said of the effects of his labours? For, after all, this is the point both with him and with the Church of God. On this point we have little to say at present, in addition to the very copious statements already made in our columns. The attendance, and the visible impression of his labours, have grown rather than diminished up to the present hour. There has, of course, been a great and constant change going on in the audience; but still the crowds are unabated, and the number of inquirers has considerably increased. We are not yet in a position to speak with particularity on the subject of conversion in connection with his second visit. In the former case, it was not till his departure that the effects become fully apparent; and, perhaps, it will be largely so again.

Mr. Finney's mode of dealing with men is peculiar, such as, at times, to subject him to the charge of not preaching the Gospel. What he does, however, is done upon principle. He gave, last Lord's-day morning, a most masterly defence of his own course in descanting on the words of the Prophet, "Break up the fallow ground, and sow not among thorns." Mr. Finney is not disobedient to the heavenly voice; he breaks up the fallow ground, as with a steam-plough, turning-up, crushing, and destroying whatever of roots or weeds may stand in the way.

Of his theology, after what we have said on former occasions, we need here say nothing beyond re-asserting its radical soundness on all the great points of Evangelism. His mode of statement, at times, are not such as a sound, erudite English divine would approve or adopt; he may be occasionally the victim of his own logical subtlety, his statements may sometimes appear to be rash, and his deductions daring, but he always and quickly rights himself, and, with a powerful hand, never fails to vindicate the ways of God to man. On the subject of man's responsibility, he has, in our view, no equal; never was it our lot to see the human spirit so completely divested of every plea, and so shut up to the faith! He may often, with justice, be charged with a limited or defective exhibition of the grace of God. We have heard sermons from him, in which the name of Christ was never mentioned, nor his work so much as referred to,--sermons which might have been preached by a Jew or a Turk; but, in setting forth the claims of justice, he has no superior and few equals; and, when he does preach the Gospel, it flows like the river of the water of life!

But our space forbids enlargement, which is needless, as Mr. Finney will shortly speak for himself deliberately, and upon a large scale. As we stated before, Mr. Tegg has purchased the copyright of Mr. Finney's great work on Theology, which, during his residence in London, he has carried through the press, severely revising, and, to considerable extent, re-writing it. In a few days, that goodly volume of nearly a thousand pages will be before the public, who will then be in a position to judge for themselves.

It is but proper to say, that the extraordinary audiences of Mr. Finney, through so long a period, have not been the sole fruit of mere pulpit attraction. He has been sustained as never was [a] preacher before in this Metropolis nor in these lands. In addition to the aids he derived from the journals under our conduct, other means have been adopted on an unusual scale to awaken public attention. In addition to the issue of two large Addresses, written by the Pastor, of eight thousand copies each, distributed from house to house throughout the surrounding neighborhood, the young men of the Tabernacle have laboured most laudably, and even heroically, to excite the attention of the careless, and to bring them to hear the Word of Life. They actually subscribed among themselves between thirty and forty pounds to work the Press! Fifty thousand copies of another Address, prepared by the Pastor, were circulated by them and the young females throughout the city, and large numbers of other addresses. Besides all this, large bills were extensively posted, and not only so, but carried on the shoulders of men throughout the numerous thoroughfares. There can be no doubt that these measures had a mighty effect in calling together the best sort of material to work upon--the unsophisticated, the men not Gospel proof and sermon hardened, the men with whom Whitefield and Wesley dealt, and who formed the staple of their original converts. These boards, which were borne through the streets, created considerable scandal to not a few worthy people, who are not quite as wise as the children of this generation. And there were not wanting those to blame both the Pastor of the Tabernacle and Mr. Finney, although neither of them had aught more to do with the matter than the Presidents of France and the United States. Neither of them so much as even knew of the thing till it had been some time in operation; but we believe, looking at the subject not through the medium of a diseased decorum, but of common sense, and even of sound discretion, they felt less disposed to censure than to applaud the deed. Would that the spirit which prompted it may extend throughout the length and breadth of the land: Delicacy and propriety are, in their places, virtues to be highly prized; but delicacy may be false and cruel; propriety may be spurious and fatal; and, through an undue regard to them, immortal men may be suffered to go down to hell through a dread of violating the proprieties of an ungodly world and a slumbering Church!

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