The Oberlin Evangelist
April 13, 1859
President Finney in England.
[by Dr. Campbell of London]
We republish the following article from the pen of Dr. Campbell, of London, who has been long a distinguished editor and minister among the Independents in our mother country. It is an editorial in the Standard, one of the papers which he edits. The article will show the estimation in which Pres. Finney is held by a remarkably independent and able English Theologian, whose opportunities for knowledge have been ample; for it was in his Church that the President chiefly labored during his former visit on the other side of the Atlantic. The many friends and spiritual children of Pres. Finney, we thought would naturally wish to know how their beloved brother and father was received and regarded among the earnest evangelical Christians of Great Britain. A "wide and effectual door" appears to be opened to him in the land to which we Americans, self-sufficient as we may be, are wont to look with a lingering of filial reverence.
This distinguished servant of God, since his arrival among us at the beginning of the year, has been earnestly and successfully prosecuting his evangelistic labors in the town of St. Ives, Huntingdonshire. This county was favored with a share of his labors on the occasion of his last visit to England--ten years ago; and it appears that we are mainly indebted for his present visit to the persevering efforts of friends in that part of the country to whom Mr. Finney's ministrations had been then rendered savingly useful. The fact is a very interesting and instructive one. It was the hope that Mr. Finney would be instrumental in the conversion of various individuals who were spiritually cared for that induced a gentlemen in that county to secure his services in 1848. The result was most satisfactory, and showed that the means used were wise; all these individuals were hopefully converted to God, and are found to this day, in connection with various churches in the county, among the most earnest and influential spirits in all religious and philanthropic movements. These individuals and others, remembering their former baptism under Mr. Finney's ministry, and longing for another to themselves, and to a yet wider circle of their friends here and generally throughout the country, have been instrumental in persuading Mr. Finney once more to cross the Atlantic. Mr. Finney has himself cherished, since his last sojourn in England, a very earnest desire again to visit the British churches, and, now that God's work goes on so successfully in the United States, and ministers generally in that country are so earnest in the work, he has thought that he might now be spared for a season to lend his aid to England; and, as Mr. Finney has enlarged experience of American revival work, and is consequently an authority upon the subject, and as there is among our most earnest ministers and churches in England a cautious desire to see something of the kind among ourselves, Mr. Finney's friends have said to him, "Now seems the opportune occasion to pay us another visit--give us information--remove, if possible, our prejudices against revivals--unite with those of our churches and ministers who are willing, in special efforts, to reach our ungodly masses; and what we think wrong or imprudent in your mode of action we shall endeavor to bear, and what we see worthy we shall endeavor to imitate."
The town of St. Ives, which is the chief commercial town in the county of Huntingdon, containing about 4,000 inhabitants, and the centre of a large number of interesting country villages, has been selected as the sphere of Mr. Finney's first effort. It was considered advisable by those who had the conduct of the effort to make it as far as possible of a perfectly unsectarian character, and so to shape it as to secure, without inconvenience, the sympathy and co-operation of all earnest Christian people. This catholicity of effort has the hearty approval of Mr. Finney himself; and no means better able to conduct such an unsectarian series of services. He seems to have no ecclesiastical leanings, no sectarian bias. He is equally free and hearty and at home with Churchmen and Dissenters, with Calvinists and Arminians. His large heart seems to say, "Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ." No sect need claim him, except it be the sect of all who are zealously earnest for a higher standard of Christian rectitude in the Church, and the conversion of all sects of sinners to God. To realize this Christian unanimity, the leading dissenting ministers and churches of the town were consulted. Three of the largest chapels were at once offered for Mr. Finney's services, which have been occupied on several successive Sundays in rotation; and a large public room was secured for the week-night services, which, being apart from denominational connection, formed a kind of neutral ground for united co-operation. On Sundays the chapels where Mr. Finney preached were crowded to overflowing; and on four week evenings during four successive weeks, the large room has been filled with attentive hearers and worshippers of all classes. Four visible effects have resulted from Mr. Finney's labors in this town.
First. Christians have been more visibly united. The services on Sunday, but specially on week evenings, have furnished occasions for Episcopalians, Independents, Baptists, and Methodists to assemble in each other's sanctuaries, and form united congregations of worshippers. Brethren, who have been comparatively estranged, and who have regarded each other through the jealous eyes of sectarian preferences, have met, have sung the same hymns, have joined in the same prayers, have heard each others' names, have been introduced, have shaken hands, have mutually expressed their convictions and sympathies, have formed friendships, and now, as they meet each other, there is an appropriate interchange of Christian salutation; and thus the visible oneness of God's church has been realised and seen as has not been the case heretofore. It has really been most refreshing to sing now out of "Watts," now out of "Ripon," now from the "Selection," and now from Wesley's Hymn-book; and to hear in prayer, by turns, the methodic Episcopalians, the chaste Independent, the devout Baptist, and the impulsive Methodist; and to see by this temporary amalgamation the toning down of the more vehement and boisterous, and, on the other hand, what is, after all, more needful,--the warming up of the more tame and formal. The desire is now very general that some means may be devised whereby this mingling together of the denominations may be prolonged, and that a more united Christian action may be taken against a common and abounding godlessness.
A second effect produced by Mr. Finney's labors has been an increased spirit of prayer among religious people. As soon as it was known that Mr. Finney would conduct a series of meetings, after the order described above, the ordinary week-evening services in the various chapels were changed into meetings for prayer, to seek the special blessing and direction of the Holy Spirit. While the preaching services have been going on, there have been union prayer-meetings every day at noon for men of business, every afternoon for females, conducted most efficiently by Mrs. Finney, who also labors in her department with a zeal equal to that of her husband, and again half-an-hour before the commencement of the meeting in the evening, and very often after the preaching: while Mr. Finney adjourns to another room to pray with, and suitably instruct, the enquirers. In addition to all these prayer-meetings, there has been the constant pouring out of individual hearts, day and night, for God's Spirit and blessing to descend upon the town. In one of the neighboring villages where Mr. Finney partially laboured before going to St. Ives, prayer-meetings in cottages have been held nearly every evening, conducted by mechanics, shepherds, and farm-laborers, and in the absence of all preaching, have been attended by most blessed effects, many taking part in the exercises who had never done so before, and not a few sinners, in the true spirit of the publican, have been constrained to say tearfully, "God, be merciful to me a sinner." Not only have we more prayer, but what we now have is of a better kind. The old round about theological prayers are fast disappearing. The prayers now, for the most part, are short, earnest, and to the point.
A third effect produced by Mr. Finney's labors has been a complete revolution in the experiences and thinkings of professing Christians. Mr. Finney's habit in his public teaching is to address himself, in the first instance, to professors of religion. His special aim is the elevation of the standard of piety and holiness in the Church. He teaches that the lives of professing Christians and their experiences constitute the worlds' Bible, and that conversions are to be expected only in proportion as Christian people embody Christ's religion in living action. His style of address is remarkable for its artless simplicity. He assumes no airs, no sanctified tones, either before God or men. He is as natural in prayer and preaching as he is in common parlor conversation. His teaching, so far as composition is concerned, is destitute of every ornament; each sermon but amounts to an extended yet thoroughly studied syllogism. Those who are in the habit of going to places of worship to listen to mere verbiage,--who desire only to have their sensibilities effected,--who are fond of flowers and perorations, and who come full of doubts and fears,--generally the effects of disobedience,--to get comfort and encouragement, or who expect the minister to ring changes on certain crotchets, or go the round of a narrow circle of theological beliefs, had better not attend Mr. Finney's ministry; if they do they may rely upon it they will go away either dissatisfied with themselves or very much dissatisfied with the preacher; hence not a few go to hear him once and go away charging him with all manner of heterodox opinions which he does not hold, or wondering what it is all about, and saying, Whence is this man's popularity? To appreciate Mr. Finney's preaching a man must think--patiently think. He must expect to be confounded and staggered, and be made to doubt alternately of himself and of the preacher's orthodoxy. He must take counsel with his own conscience, sound reason, and portions of the Holy Scripture which he has heretofore misunderstood or perhaps altogether overlooked. Mr. Finney in the pulpit very much resembles the professor in the lecture-room; he introduces mental and moral philosophy as freely as he does theology. He obviously believes in man's moral nature, moral government, and the teachings of the Bible. He takes his stand on these great facts, and bears down upon the understandings and consciences of his hearers with a force and majesty, and yet with a kindliness of tone and feeling, which few are able to resist. His teaching is a blending of Paul's logic and John's love. Some of his sermons to professing Christians are awfully searching. He is a perfect moral anatomist. He seems to lay bare the secrets of every heart, and discovers sin even in the purest souls. Antinomianism, formalism, sentimentalism, and every other gilded form of error, come alike and in turn under his stern reproof, and very few dare believe in his presence that they are altogether free from some perversion of the truth. During his meetings in the town he has taken professors of religion through such a course of self-examination--not by any means offensively--as has revealed to many of their consciences the existence of an amount of sinfulness and inconsistency that may well make them tremble, and which accounts for, though it by no means exculpates, the indifference and infidelity of the ungodly. The religious people who have attended his lectures have been greatly humbled. Some of them think they have been self-deceivers throughout; others now know that they have been awfully lukewarm; not a few have received such an amount of instruction as has rendered clear and intelligible what was before to them obscure and mystified; others, again, have been reclaimed from errors which were sapping the foundations of their own faith and that of others; and all of them are made to feel that they must begin again, and that henceforth their religion must be of a more practical character, and that their lives must be much more in harmony with the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus.
It is marvellous how soon Mr. Finney schools a congregation into an appreciation of his style of teaching. At the commencement of these meetings many heard him with impatience, and had quite enough of him in one sermon, and not unfrequently persons would rise and walk out in the middle of the discourse with unmistakable dissatisfaction; but as the meetings progressed, the less thoughtful dropped off, but the more considerate became completely mesmerised, and the whole congregation would listen to a discourse an hour and a-half long sometimes--in many parts dry and abstruse--with wrapt attention, the greater part returning the following evening for a similar mental exercise.
Mr. Finney's theological beliefs are evidently of the type of true evangelical orthodoxy. This is most obvious to those who hear him on a series of subjects. His object in preaching, however, is not so much to state and defend a system of doctrines as to convert sinners to God. He assumes in all his sermons the great and essential elements of the Gospel salvation. It is particularly refreshing to hear him upon the philosophy of the atonement in connection with moral government. His convictions on this subject are of the most positive character, and so expressed as to convince any honest inquirer, and utterly to confound, we think, those whose views upon this great point are, to say the least of it, somewhat suspicious. As to his belief of the influence of the Holy Spirit in conversion, we think we never saw or heard a minister more anointed with this Divine unction. Mr. Finney, in his prayers, seems to plead with a Pentecostal earnestness for this baptism of power and the Holy Ghost; and, in preaching, his prayers really seem to be Pentecostally answered. As you listen to him, and look at him, and watch him narrowly, whether in public or private, you are constrained to say of him what was said of Barnabas, "He is a good man and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith." Mr. Finney lives, and moves, and has his spiritual, and moral, and preaching being in the Holy Ghost. As a matter of practical conviction we are persuaded never man was more orthodox on this all-important subject of Divine influence; and, as we feel the obvious presence of that Spirit's influence in connection with his ministry, we are led to fear that many who have a creed-faith in the doctrine of Divine influence are sadly lacking of the personal anointing of this "Power from on High." Mr. Finney, being an American, and having been educated for the bar, has his own way of stating his convictions of Christian doctrines generally, which, when understood, are found to harmonize with the essential beliefs of the household of faith.
A fourth effect produced has been the conversion to God of not a few of the undecided. Several of all ages, and belonging to various classes in society, who have been under a lengthened process of religious teaching by their own pastors, have been induced, we trust with their whole heart to commence God's service. A very large number of persons have had individual intercourse with Mr. Finney as inquirers after saving truth, and the general impression upon members of the different congregations has been solemn and salutary. Beyond all question, to say nothing of the conversion of sinners, an incalculable measure of good has been effected, an impetus has been given to religious zeal and effort, which requires but to be well organized and judiciously directed by the ministers of the town in order to produce yet higher and happier results. In connection with all these proceedings there has been no undue and improper excitement, no clamor, no boisterousness, no mere exciting of the feelings; in fact, those who are influenced alone by the excitement of the feelings have been left untouched by these efforts, and probably, in the estimation of such, the whole thing has been too dry and technical. Mr. Finney goes shortly, we understand, to labor in the Rev. J. Harcourt's chapel, Borough-road, London, and it is earnestly hoped that he may then return to Huntingdonshire, as he has already excited an interest in almost every town and village in the county, and is earnestly importuned so to do by the ministers and churches generally. We hope this success in St. Ives will be but like the few drops before the teeming shower, and that wherever this man of God may be called to labor it may be in the fulness of the blessing of the gospel of peace. It is proper to state that the Rev's. J.K. Holland and J. Hart (Independent), T.W. Williams (Baptist), R. Roe (Methodist), and several other ministers in the neighborhood, have more or less earnestly assisted Mr. Finney in this combined Christian movement. Mr. Finney, we understand, is to be sustained pecuniarily by subscriptions from any parties who sympathise with this evangelistic mode of action, and by the contributions of those among whom he labors.
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