The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To John Moore
[Published in Letters on Revivals of Religion, Addressed to Ministers of the Gospel, edited by John Moore (Manchester: W. Bremner, 1861), pp. -10.]
Ten years after his Lectures on Revivals of Religion were published, Finney wrote a series of letters on the same subject which were serialized in The Oberlin Evangelist, from 29 January 1845 to 24 June 1846. In 1861 John Moore brought out an edition of these Letters. Finney started off with some "Introductory Observations" in which he mentioned the previous publication of his Lectures on Revivals of Religion, and in reference to those remarks Moore wrote in a footnote (pp. -10):
These Lectures were collected and published in one volume more than twenty-five years ago. It is to be regretted that Mr. Finney has not yet been able to prepare a new edition of this important work. For several years have I urged the necessity of this upon his attention, for his best friends cannot but admit that "there are some things which rather mar the work than add value to it." A greatly improved edition, with Introductory Prefaces by the Rev. J. A. James, Dr. Payne, and Dr. N. S. S. Beman, was given to the British public by the Rev. Dr. Patton [page 10] some years ago: still, it is greatly to be desired that the Church should possess these Lectures, carefully revised by Mr. Finney's own pen. Dr. Patton remarks, that "much of the harsh and denunciatory matter was probably uttered under the excitement of extempore preaching, and would not be retained by Mr. Finney if he should, with deliberation, prepare an edition for the press." This opinion I am able to confirm by Mr. Finney's own statements, oral and written. I would also add, that on some matters of minor moment his views have been modified. Thus, in a communication relative to his "indiscriminate censure of the use of stimulants," contained in the twentieth Lecture, he says, "Since preaching these Lectures I have had much experience in regard to the utility and importance, in certain cases, of the use of tea and coffee. To the readers of that volume it is due in candour to say, that as I have advanced in life, after much suffering from debility, and much experimenting upon other tonics, I have found that tea and coffee meet the necessities of declining years better than anything I know. I still believe that the young and vigorous should avoid their use. If they do not resort to them until declining strength demands some stimulant, I am persuaded that then they will find a decided advantage in using them. I resorted to their use at the age of fifty-eight, and with great reluctance." It is due, however, to Mr. Finney to remark, that on all the fundamental questions discussed in these "Lectures on Revivals," his views remain unchanged. In a very recent letter he observes, "After all my additional experience in promoting revivals, I am surprised to find myself so well satisfied with the sentiments inculcated in my Lectures; all my subsequent experience has been only illustrative and confirmatory of what is found in that volume."
An introductory preface to the book is dated 1 March 1861.
This was a remark by N. S. S. Beman in the letter to Dr. Patton, dated Birmingham, 19 June 1839, published in the Preface to the edition to which Moore refers. It was copied by William Patton in his Introduction.
The section to which Moore is referring reads:
It is well known, or ought to be, that TEA AND COFFEE have no nutriment in them. They are mere stimulants. They go through the system without being digested. The milk and sugar you put in them are nourishing. And so they would be just as much so, if you mixed them with rum, and made milk punch. But the tea and the coffee afford no nourishment. And yet I dare say, that a majority of the families in this city give more in a year for their tea and coffee, than they do to save the world from hell. Probably this is true respecting entire churches. Even agents of benevolent societies will dare to go through churches soliciting funds, for the support of missionary and other institutions, and yet use tea and coffee, and in some cases tobacco. Strange! There is now in this city, an agent employed in soliciting funds, who uses all three of these worse than useless stimulants (Lectures on Revivals of Religion, edited by William G. McLoughlin [Cambridge MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1960], p. 416).
This section was omitted in the edition put out by William Patton.
Finney's attitude towards the use of stimulants, and that of the Oberlin colony, was discussed by Alfred Vance Churchill in his historical sketch of Oberlin. Born in 1864, Alfred had known Finney as he grew up in Oberlin. He was the son of Charles Churchill who had been one of Finney's favourite pupils, and who was later a close friend and colleague, and a leader in the community. In discussing the dietary experiments that were carried on at Oberlin Alfred wrote:
In our colony, in the early years, there was a strong sentiment against tea and coffee. There were extremists, no doubt, who thought it "wicked" to use them; I knew some of these later on. But such fanatics were in the minority, and I believe their importance has been exaggerated. ...
In any case it is certain that the leaders of the Colony in the early days felt that they must abstain from "all stimulants" including tea; and among them for a time was Finney. Finney, however, as a staunch upholder of the liberty of the individual conscience, would never have forced his personal views on others. ...
There is a story of Finney's total abstinence period that must be related here. One day a good brother called at the house and was shown into Finney's study. What was his horror on seeing the great preacher in the very act of raising to his lips a steaming--a fragrant cup of the forbidden brew. "Is it possible--do mine eyes behold--my nostrils breathe? -- Brother Finney -- oh my brother!" "Brother," replied his embarrassed victim, "I can assure you my tea is very weak." That Finney--sublime theologian and matchless logician--could descend to such feeble casuistry! I can hear my father's almost inaudible laughter (deep, loving laughter) as he thought on this and told me the story (Alfred Vance Churchill, "Midwestern: The Founding of Oberlin (2)" Northwest Ohio Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Summer 1951), pp. 164-65).