CHARLES G. FINNEY
May 7, 1851
Shall American Revivals Enjoy the Sympathy and Confidence of Anglo Saxon Churches?
This is the real question involved in the late efforts made by certain editors and ministers in Massachusetts to disparage Prof. Finney's labors, and traduce the revivals of which, some twenty or twenty-five years ago, he was honored of God as the humble instrument. The great question is not--Shall Bro. Finney be sustained? but this--Shall modern revivals be sustained?
With our views of the magnitude of the question thus put to issue, we cannot withhold from our readers the following letter, which appears in the New York Evangelist for April 17, 1851.
Letter from Rev. Charles G. Finney.
London, Dec. 12, 1850
Since I have been in England I have been pained and surprised to hear the glorious revivals of religion with which our country has been so blessed, especially within the last twenty-five or thirty years, spoken of as resulting in disaster to the churches where they have occurred. Special pains have been taken to convince the churches of this country that my own influence has been particularly injurious in labors in those revivals. It has been asserted with the utmost solemnity, "that no man living or dead has done so much injury to the cause of revivals" as I have done; that the churches where I have labored "have wept tears of blood in view of the results" of my labors in their midst; that all appeared well for a time, but the results have been as above described.
Now, dear brethren, are these things so? This is the opposite of that which to this day I had supposed to be true. Especial reference has been made to the revivals in Western New York, between the years 1825 and 1837. At the time of those revivals, I know, as has always been the case in such extensive outpourings of the Holy Spirit that much was said against them, and that too, in some instances, from sources that misled good men, and excited alarm and even hostility for a time, in certain quarters where I had supposed the most cordial sympathy would have existed, had those who were misled as to facts been in the midst of those thrilling and sacred scenes. But until of late I did not know that the facts were so utterly misapprehended by many even to this day. I had no idea that any one now called in question the general purity and soundness of those revivals, or would say any such things as have been said about them.
As to my doctrinal views, and the immediate results of my labors, the brethren in England can judge for themselves. From my preaching and my published works they understand my views; and of what at present occurs under their own eyes they can well judge. But they are assured in the most solemn manner by editors and anonymous correspondents, and perhaps some of them by responsible names, that such things are true about those revivals as I am an utter stranger to. If they are true, none needs to know them more than myself.
I have read every thing that I could obtain, both in sacred and church history, of revivals in all countries and in all times. I have labored much in revivals. I have witnessed all their phenomena and results for many years, and can now say that I have, up to this day, regarded the revivals during the period above mentioned, so far as I had any knowledge of them, as quite equal in purity and in every thing valuable and glorious in revivals to any I ever saw, read, or heard of, in any place, at any time. I heard much said, and saw much in print and in manuscript, concerning those revivals, that I knew to be false. I had supposed until now that this was generally, if not universally, admitted at present; but it seems to me that much misapprehension and misrepresentation still prevails even on that side [of] the Atlantic. I ask myself, Is it possible that such things can yet be said about those revivals, and about my influence in promoting them?
And now, will you allow me to ask, Where have I done so much to disparage revivals? What churches have I labored in where so much evil has resulted? When have they "wept tears of blood" or any other tears, because of evils that have resulted from my labors? I had supposed that it was now well understood that much, very much of the religious stamina, efficiency and moral power of those churches, were the fruits of those revivals; that as a general rule, as least, the converts of those revivals have given as decisive evidence of being born of God as any members of those churches. Where, I ask, have I rent churches, introduced divisions, led the church astray, or unsettled pastors? I appeal to those who know. Let those churches and ministers who have been so injured by any fault of mine, speak.
Give us facts, names, dates, places, not hearsay. I have heard much talk; give us truth. Do not tell us what you have heard; tell us what you know, or prove what you say, not by loose report but by credible witnesses. If any such facts as are reported, have occurred under my ministry, tell us when and where. I want to know them myself, and I want others to know them. I ask not that you should speak in my praise, but speak against me and my labors, if you have aught to say. But give your name, your residence, your facts. Publish them in the face of the churches and ministers where they occurred. I will not deny them, if they are true. But I beseech my brethren slander not those glorious revivals. If there ever were genuine revivals, I believe those were such. If there is any true religion in the world, I believe it is found in the mass of those precious converts, who have ever since made up no small portion of the membership of those churches. Things may have resulted to some of those churches of which I am not informed. But I have frequently been at the place where most of them occurred, and I must say that if any churches were blessed by revivals they have been.
But if these reports are false, I beseech my brethren not to hinder me in my efforts to do good by following me across the Atlantic with falsehood. The brethren who circulate such reports are misled. I am not willing to believe that they intend to lie. I have, as you know, never been in the habit of replying to reports, nor would I now, were I in my own country, where I am known. But I am among strangers. God is, as heretofore, blessing my labors. The brethren here see and rejoice in it. But they are told of disastrous results bye and bye. To this I can make no answer, as some on the other side of the water profess that such has been the case there. Then I am in the dark. I ask When? who? where?
If any one wonders how good men could have engaged in opposition to those revivals, unless something very wrong existed in them, l ask how it is that now the revivals in the days of Edwards and Whitefield, &c., are so generally lauded, when in their day the most extensive opposition to those revivals and to those ministers existed among the leading ministers. I recommend to those who make the opposition an occasion of stumbling, to read Dr. Chauncey's book against those revivals, and see what a great number of the principal ministers in the United States opposed them. But enough. For my own sake I would not speak. But for the cause of revivals I will speak.
The work of the Lord prospers here. I have not written the above because the brethren here desire it, but because I wish to know if there are any such facts as are reported, and where they occurred.
To this letter the Editor calls special attention--alludes to the "unfriendly criticisms in this country," which, transported to England, were used to the detriment of God's precious work there in progress and thus called forth this fraternal appeal from Prof. Finney;--and adds, "We saw these remarks at the time; but knowing their source, and supposing them designed mainly for the home market, they excited no feeling but sorrow, that there should still be Christian men among us in whom prejudice and the memory of old animosities should retain such a tenacious life." He proceeds to show that those Western New York revivals are worthy of Christian confidence--have to a very great extent given type and character to American revivals; that their fruits are their credentials--beyond impeachment and above suspicion; that although not faultless--that is, not unaccompanied by evils, and perhaps not unexceptionable in regard to modes of effort and measure, yet "we have never thought them to be the result of system or principle, or any thing more than the incidents of an excitement powerful enough to stir up society to its very bottom." The revivals in question, "have a grand attestation of their utility and blessedness in the history of those churches ever since."
Such are briefly the general views held by the N.Y. Evangelist.
Our readers need not be told that we deprecate and mourn over that infirmity of Christian men which is so painfully manifest in these misapprehensions of the Western New York revivals, of Prof. Finney's labors in them, and of the general character of his labors and of their results in both America and Europe. A sad comment on human weakness! A mournful development illustrative of the power and the mischief of prejudice among even good men! Here, if any where, is the occasion for "tears of blood!"
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