CHARLES G. FINNEY
Articles in THE INDEPENDENT of NEW YORK
HINDRANCES TO REVIVALS.
BY PRESIDENT C. G. FINNEY.
NEW YORK, APRIL 16, 1874
My former article upon this subject was too long, and yet I did not say half that needs to be said upon this particular point. If you think this article worth publishing, please give it a place. My experience has taught me that revivals of religion are not prevented by the wickedness of the outside world, who make no pretensions to religion. I have found that, so far as human instrumentality is concerned, it required much less preaching and labor to promote revivals where there were few professed Christians and where outbreaking wickedness was rampant than it does to wake up a sleepy church and convert a mass of gospel-hardened moralists. I have also observed that the combinations of wicked men to resist a revival when it is in progress, cannot long materially stay its course. If the Christian people are awake, united, and lie low before God; if they continue humble and prayerful and filled with the Holy Ghost, the wickedness of the unconverted cannot stay the progress of a revival, and in several very striking instances that have come under my observation God has silenced opposition and broken through the ranks of rebels combined against him by the very marked and sudden death of one or more of the leaders of the opposition.
But the danger to revivals is to be apprehended from the wickedness of the church or some of its members. I have several times been reminded of God's dealing in the case of Achan. In revivals of religion the same principle upon which God acted in that case will be revealed in his treatment of a church whose membership are allowed to cover up their sins. I have witnessed many illustrations of this principle. I once labored in a church from which a member had been excommunicated for accusing one of the elders of the church of gross immorality, of which she was personally cognizant. The Spirit of God was poured out freely upon the unconverted and upon the members of other churches that came in large numbers to the meetings. I soon became convinced that there was some "accursed thing" covered up in that church that grieved and offended the Holy Spirit. Some of the members were greatly exercised in mind, and from past experience I was led to believe that there was something covered up among the leaders of the church. After a few weeks' labor under those circumstances, the excommunicated woman to whom I have referred was terribly searched and apparently most soundly converted. She came back to the church; but was not received with confidence by the membership, because she refused to confess that she had slandered the elder in question. She still insisted that what she had said of him was true. She requested to meet the eldership and pastor, that she might confront the accused elder fact to face. The meeting took place. She told her story as at first. The elder flatly denied it; and the pastor, believing him, set at naught her pretensions to conversion. But a few days elapsed till the convicted elder was broken down, and obliged to confess that the woman's story was true. But here they made a fatal mistake--or perhaps I should say committed a great sin. Instead of requiring the elder to make public confession to the church, and receiving the woman back again to the fold, they covered the matter up, discarded her, and allowed the offending elder to remain in the confidence of the church and the world. This was the ruin of the revival, so far as that church was concerned. Hundreds united with the other churches, but scarcely any with this one. The pastor was soon afer dismissed. The church had to be reconstructed before they could enjoy the favor of God. I have seen several cases where it was evident there was an "Achan" in the camp, and the blessing of God was withheld until the "Achan" was searched out and either made public confession or was expelled from the church. Sometimes, in the midst of a powerful revival, all at once there would be a manifest suspension of Divine influence. The wakeful members would feel in their deepest hearts that some prominent member or members of the church had sinned and grieved the Holy Spirit. After a mighty struggle in prayer, the "Achan" would be discovered, the sin confessed, and then the work would go on again with power. In a state of feeble health, I was once spending a few weeks in a neighborhood where there was a church without a pastor, and who, when they had preaching, drew upon the funds of the Home Missionary Society for a part of the minister's support. While I was there they obtained the labors of an evangelist, who preached to them from day to day and from week to week without success. He saw and I saw that there was some iniquity in the church that forbade the effectual pouring out of the Spirit upon them. I made inquiry; but could not learn that there was any division in the church or any particular form of known sin covered up among them. But I observed that the meetinghouse was becoming unendurably filthy with tobacco spittle. One day, after sermon, I rose and called the attention of the church to that fact. On inquiry and calculation, I found that that church expended more for tobacco than they did for the support of the Gospel. After dealing with them thoroughly upon this point, a covenant was drawn up, which pledged the signers thereto to abstain wholly from the use of tobacco, and to pay the amount hitherto expended for that article wholly into the treasury of the Lord for the support of the Gospel. The tobacco users, I believe, almost to a man signed this covenant; and thereupon a new spirit immediately pervaded their meetings. There was liberty and power in prayer and preaching, and it was a striking contrast to what had gone before. The Spirit was poured out, and there was every indication of the coming on of a powerful and widespread revival. The floor of the house was cleansed and God was evidently in our midst. This hopeful state of things continued, I should think, for more than a week; when it became apparent that the Spirit was grieved that his agency was withheld. Fears began to be entertained by many of the most wakeful of the church that the brethren were breaking their covenant to abstain from the use of tobacco. The floor of the house continued clean, and, of course, did not justify the fear and suspicion that the covenant was broken. But soon it became so unmistakably evident that there was some "accursed thing" that prevented the work of the Spirit that the question was publicly asked if the brethren were not breaking their covenant with each other and with God. It was soon ascertained that they were, and that they were unwilling to repent and renew their covenant. This was decisive. All hopeful appearances almost immediately vanished, the evangelist left the ground for another field, and the meetings were entirely suspended.
Sometimes the half-heartedness of a pastor and his jealousy of the influence of an evangelist will either prevent a revival, or suspend and break it up after it has commenced. In such cases this want of honest earnestness in a pastor will be perceived by the church, and will greatly if not wholly destroy their confidence in him as a pastor and lead to his dismissal. The enemies of revivals will charge this dismissal of the pastor, oftentimes, upon the evangelist. So far as my observation has gone, the honest earnestness of a pastor in promoting a revival, in connection with the labors of an evangelist, greatly increase the confidence of the church in him and enhances his influence. I have said that sometimes God will rebuke opposition and break through the rank of opposers by some manifest rebuke of the opposition. In one instance an elderly and well-known man set up a most determined opposition to the meetings, and became so outrageous and blasphemous in his opposition as to excite the attention of the whole community. Of course, he became the leader of the opposition. But in the midst of the revival, whilst sitting at breakfast, he suddenly fell from his chair in a fit. A physician was called, who said to him: "If you have anything to say, lose no time, for you can live but a short time." He replied, "Don't let Finney pray over my corpse," and expired immediately. I could relate other cases in which God has rebuked opposition in a similar manner. In one city where I was laboring in the midst of a powerful revival of religion the presbytery met to transact their usual business. Among them was an aged minister, who was opposed to revivals. The city was greatly moved by the revival influence, so that everywhere the conversation was about the great work of God that was progressing in their midst. The ministers of the presbytery became very much interested, and the subject was much alluded to by the members of the presbytery at every session. This old minister was so annoyed that just before the close of presbytery he rose to bear his testimony against the revival. I was not present, but was informed that he made a very bitter speech, that greatly distressed the praying people. They felt that his speech would do great injury--would embolden opposers and stir up opposition. Much agonizing prayer was offered that evening that God would interpose and avert the threatened mischief. The next morning the old minister was found dead in his bed. This counteracted the influence of his speech and in a great measure silenced the opposition. I forbear to give names and places, because I would not would the feelings of relatives and friends of those deceased persons. I would give other illustrations, but this article is long enough.
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