The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To the Editor of The Wesleyan Times
25 October 1859
[Published in The Wesleyan Times (London), 31 October 1859, p. 700.]
The following editorial, from the pen of John Kirk, was published in The Christian News (Glasgow), 15 October 1859, p. 5:
MR. FINNEY'S MEETINGS.
We need not say that we have watched the progress of Professor Finney's success in Scotland with intense interest. Our readers have been impatient with us, and have often said, 'How is it we have so little Revival news from Edinburgh?' We have been disposed to say in reply, have patience with us, and you shall be fully satisfied. We do not regard Mr Finney's efforts, and their results under the blessing of the Most High, as we do the merely local series of meetings, however deeply interesting the results of a local effort may be, or in whatever exciting or soul-stirring incidents and changes a local revival may issue. The agent who for forty years has had one unbroken chain of success in revival work, and whose labours have spread his name throughout the Church in England and America, must feel himself, and be regarded by others, as in a very different position on entering Scotland, from any of us when occupying a field of gospel work embracing simply a limited locality. We are constrained by the nature of the case to take a broader view of his work, and to think of results of a great and general character. It is only now that we find ourselves in circumstances enabling us to indicate from facts what may be looked for, if Mr Finney's visit to Scotland is duly prolonged and improved by our churches. First of all, we may give, in outline, the state of the work in Edinburgh. The attendance keeps up steadily at 400 to 450 each week evening. On Sabbath evening last it was close on 2,000. The still quiet interest, throughout addresses always about an hour in length, is fully sustained, and on some evenings is visibly intense throughout. On one evening, when Mr Finney asked those who were prepared to profess publicly their entire submission and consecration to the Saviour, at least 200 stood up, and held up their right hands in declaration of their choice. We might probably name a larger number, but purposely keep within the truth. The Sabbath-school of about 150 children has not one scholar who is not awakened, and more than the half of the school have given satisfactory evidence of a thorough conversion to God. The number of grown-up persons, many of them advanced in years, who are inquiring, is so great, that every office-bearer and member of the church who can do anything to direct them has full occupation. Whole families, numbers of whole families, servants and all, are alive to eternal things, so as to be most anxious for conversation on the gospel, and some whole families are rejoicing in Christ. A long list of applicants for fellowship are already on the church book, almost every one the fruit of the meetings. The list is daily increasing. The whole of the members of the church, with almost no exception, seem to have found out that if they could not even get to a single meeting in a week before, they can get to four or five, or even seven, in a week now. All this is the result of both prayer and preaching, which seems cool to those accustomed to anything like excitement. Everything said is through the understanding to the conscience or the heart. Not one effect can be the result of tones of voice, or anything but truth sent home by the Spirit of God in answer to prayer. There are instances of strong men feeling their bodily strength overcome by the agitation of their minds, and a few of persons unable to keep from sobbing aloud under the pressure of anxiety; one or two instances of persons crying aloud for joy when they saw the truth regarding Jesus, and Jesus in that truth,--but in this direction, with an extraordinary amount of awakening, in a good many cases compelling persons to take their beds with overwhelming anxiety of mind, there has not been one instance of disturbance to any service, or the very least symptom of an effort on the part of the preacher to produce excited emotions merely. The gratitude of the people seems unbounded. But we have not yet noticed what we are disposed to regard as the most deeply interesting feature of the movement. Mrs Finney, while strictly confining herself to the sphere of a true lady, according to the most stringent notions of 'woman's place,' is at least equally efficient with her husband. Every afternoon (except Saturday and Sabbath), she presides over a meeting of about 150 or 200 women, who meet for prayer and conference on such subjects as come peculiarly under the eyes and upon the hearts of Christian mothers and sisters at such a time. She is assisted admirably by the wife of the pastor and other ladies of other denominations, and while the interest increases, good is visibly arising daily in this lady's meeting itself, while it tells with wonderful power on the other services. Numbers of individuals, some of them most hopeless cases apparently, have become anxious at once on being made the subjects of prayer in this meeting, and are now decided for God. The young converts among the women, and some of the young women members of the church, are banding themselves together in meetings for united prayer, after the example of the older; and, if ever we either saw or heard anything like the real work of a present God, it is going on. Numbers of instance of restitution to injured parties have occurred. Family prayer has commenced in many families where it was unknown before. Such is the work itself, so far as viewed within the congregation in connexion with which it began. It has not been, by any means, confined within that congregation. Many ministers of other churches have attended. One of the Independent ministers became so interested as to ask Mr Finney to preach for him, and to move for a transfer of the meetings to his chapel. A number of gentlemen connected with various denominations combined to endeavour to remove the meetings to Queen Street Hall, and free them from all denominational connexion. It is perhaps premature to say why all this failed. Mr Finney had a full attendance in the Hall. Mr Kirk was so occupied with inquirers as to be utterly unable to attend, and would have been delighted to see the other denominations take up the work, and open a wider field for the truly distinguished American; but it is now beyond doubt that the most glorious evidence of God's hand will be ignored or denied, if it comes along with that of which Mr Finney cannot disrobe himself--uncompromising Christianity. As a minister said of this effort to diffuse the good more widely by introducing Mr Finney to a wider circle, 'We'll take care of him'--it would be the most sheer self-delusion to imagine that the 'Revivalists' among the Presbyterian denominations are less than rigorously determined that, so long as they possibly can, the whole work of God in connexion with the Evangelical movement will be shut out as an unclean thing from their thoughts and those of their people. There are exceptions to this rule. Here and there ministers are liberal enough to say a word or two about our 'doing good,' and in a rare instance, one connected with us, if very 'good-natured,' will be allowed to pray in a union meeting, or even to address it; but, as a great general rule, it is determined that no one connected with the Evangelical movement shall either pray, or speak in public, or converse with an inquirer, if he can be possibly prevented. A wall of adamant is being reared to heaven around us, that we may be shut in like lepers, and excluded from revival society. If a tract bears our imprimatur, or a single sentence is allowed in a paper that directs attention to our efforts, the tract is burned, and the papers sent back to the publishers in a bundle. We write with documentary evidence at hand. What we say will be incredible to many, but it is only a faint idea of the reality we can convey. Mr Finney stands committed to the poor outcasts we are speaking of. Some are sorry, or, at least, say they are sorry that he is so situated. The matter comes simply to this. If the brethren of the Evangelical Union had not invited Mr Finney to Scotland, he would never have been invited at all. If he had come without invitation, his first sermon really making known his views of divine truth, would have been his last, even if he had been admitted to a Free Church pulpit. His every address cuts at the roots of the favourite doctrine of man's inability to obey God. To deny this inability is the greatest sin of heterodoxy in Scotland. It is more than anything else the deadly fault of 'Morisonians,' but it is yet more strongly and constantly committed by Professor Finney than by Professor Morison. The idea, which so hides all sin on the part of dead churches, that a revival is a sovereign visitation of God that comes when He wills, and is not the result of the use of appropriate means in truth and prayer, as all our readers know, has no mercy at Mr Finney's hands. His spirit rises in tremendous rebuke in front of everything that palliates the barren ministry, and the fire of his eloquence burns intensely when he speaks of spirit-dealing office-bearers of the Christian church. Is any one really so simple as to imagine that such a man could be allowed to labour one week among the Presbyterian churches of Scotland? He is surely simple if he can do so. What then is to be done? The answer is at hand. An Evangelical Union church will gain a power from Mr. Finney's labours of incalculable value. If duly taken advantage of, our movement as a whole will acquire an influence and power from the kind of effort in which Mr Finney and Mrs Finney excel, which will sooner or later demonstrate that God is not with those only who compromise with error and sin. We have clear and true views of truth, and many of our ministers and people are not only true children of God, but filling up fast with his Spirit; but we lack beyond all question that degree of spirituality and spiritual power by which due use may be made of the truth we know. We are in this respect far too like the generality of professing Christians in our country. Our God is supplying our need; but it is still great, and it is just this need which Mr Finney's labours are peculiarly calculated to supply. This is the view forced upon us by the effect of Mr Finney's labours in Edinburgh so far as they have gone. We lay it before our brethren, not with the slightest idea that all our churches can be favoured as Brighton Street has been, but as suggesting the good that may arise from Mr Finney's visits to the great centres of influence among the churches, and also the kind of new power which we need in order that we may really do for our country that which it so cryingly requires. To free it from the incubus of a theology and religion which makes the whisky-seller eligible even for the eldership and secures large congregations, hundreds of them going on from year to year without so much as one conversion to God being known, is the work cut out for the Evangelical Union. That work is far begun, and if we are prepared to give ourselves to such a work, and to do it in all the strength God will give us, we may quiet our hearts in view of all that man or devil can do to hinder. The fear need never be of anything without us. Let our own hearts be only full of God, in the very way in which men's hearts have been uniformly filled in connexion with such meetings as we have been describing, and we shall have a victory, not for ourselves, but for the salvation of our native land.
The following notice under the heading "Scotland" appeared in The Wesleyan Times (London), 24 October 1859, p. 693:
Professor Finney is still labouring in Edinburgh, chiefly in connexion with the congregation of the Rev. John Kirk, of the Evangelical Union. The attendance at his week-evening meeting is from 400 to 450, and on Sabbath from 1,200 to 1,800. Great good is said to be doing under his ministrations. The Christian News, the organ of this body in Scotland, gives an elaborate account of all the works under his care, and states that the number of inquirers is so great that every office-bearer and every member of the church that can do anything is called into requisition. Mrs. Finney is also labouring hard--holding prayer-meetings four times a week, which are attended by 150 to 200 females. The orthodox bodies, however, stand rather shy of Professor Finney and his lady. Few or no invitations are given by the other sects; and thus he is becoming identified in his labours, doctrines, and methods of instruction with the "Morisonian" body.
Finney's letter is as follows:
TO THE EDITOR OF THE WESLEYAN TIMES.
SIR,--In your issue of the 24th inst., I perceive a notice of my labour in this city, in which is the following sentence. Speaking of me the writer says:--"Few or no invitations are given by the other sects, and thus he is becoming identified in his labours, doctrines, and methods of instruction with the Morisonian body." Did this writer mean to assert that I am changing my "doctrines and methods of instruction" so as to identify myself with the Morisonians? Within the present year I have laboured in this country in connexion with Independents, Baptists, Wesleyan Methodists, Free Methodists, and Morisonians, or Evangelical Unionists. Does this writer suppose that by so doing I have perpetually changed my "doctrines and methods of instruction?" If so he is greatly mistaken. I everywhere preach the Gospel as I understand it, and always the same Gospel. I do not know how far my own views of the Gospel may accord with those of the church to which, for a few weeks, I am now preaching; but it seems to me to be a strange assertion that because I am for these few weeks labouring in this denomination therefore I am becoming "identified with them in doctrines and modes of instruction." They appear to me to be a good people, and I am happy to labour with them, but it should not be supposed that an evangelist becomes "identified in doctrines and modes of instruction" with the different denominations with which he may labour. From the nature of my work as an evangelist, I would preach in a Jewish synagogue, or in St. Peter's at Rome, if it was open to me; but would it be fair to infer that I had become a Papist or a Jew? Did Christ "identify Himself in doctrines and modes of instruction" with the Jewish teachers by preaching in their synagogues? I write this note because it would seem that in this country the impression exists that if an evangelist labours for a time with any denomination of Christians he "identifies himself in doctrine and modes of instruction" with their peculiar views. I have never understood this. Evangelists must take broad evangelical grounds, and preach the essentials of Gospel truth, without entering into sectarian peculiarities, and should not be understood as committing himself to the peculiarities of any particular sect with which for the time being he is labouring. I am by church relation a Congregationalist, or, as you call them, an Independent. But I am no sectarian. I never withhold what I regard as the Gospel. I do not spend time upon sectarian peculiarities except to expose any ism that seems to hinder the salvation of souls. The work of revival is going on prosperously here.--Your brother, C. G. FINNEY.
Edinburgh, October 25, 1859.
This letter was republished in an article under the heading "Mr Finney's Position" in The Christian News (5 November 1859), p. 2.