Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Charles Finney’

Sinful Humility (Colossians 2:18-19)

February 11, 2010 6 comments

When the Revivalist movement swept Canada and the United States, holiness and humility got a little extra face time.  And, as far as that goes, we’re fine with holiness and humility getting some props.  We certainly need to emphasize these things.  So long, that is, as we emphasize them Biblically.  And that brings up one of the glaring ironies of the Revivalist movement, still strongly promoted in some circles in our day.  Because the “holiness” and “humility” preached among the Revivalists is not true holiness or humility.  In fact, we might argue that they are sinful holiness, and sinful humility.

Revivalistic holiness is not Biblical holiness.  It is nothing more than moralism.  Moralism sets up a false standard.  Rather than preaching what is right and acceptable according to the standard of God’s Word, moralism preaches what is moral according to the times.  A false standard produces a false holiness, and false holiness is sinful holiness.  As we have discussed previously, we must presuppose the authority of God’s Word in defining our standards of righteousness and holiness.  “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.”  Paul warns us to “beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”

There might not be any one man who has been more guilty of preaching the rudiments of the world and the traditions of men than Charles Grandison Finney.  Finney absolutely denied the doctrine of original sin, preached that man was basically good, denied the doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement, denied that Christ’s atonement paid for the sin of any man, denied that the new birth was supernatural, believed that Christ died for a purpose not for people, and preached that salvation is the result of men repudiating sin, continually repenting and staying clean, in order to keep in good standing with God.  In short, Finney based his theology on logic rather than on Scripture.  As a result, Finney developed standards of holiness based on moralistic values and the traditions of men, rather than presupposing the pure standard of God’s Word.  Finney preached a form of Christian perfectionism that exalted the self and relied on the flesh in order to obtain holiness.  This kind of holiness, the kind that is generated from the sinful flesh, can only be sinful.

But we like Finney.  And Finney wanted holiness.  We want holiness, so we like the holiness that Finney preached.  Do you want to defend the Finney standards?  Do you think that a wrong standard is better than no standard?  Or perhaps you would defend Finney by saying, “at least he preached holiness.”  Then perhaps you should consider this… So did the Pharisees.  Finney is not the first to develop his own standards of holiness.  The Pharisees, in fact, beat him to it by more than a millenium.  What do you think of the kind of holiness that the Pharisees indulged in?  Would you consider Pharisaical holiness to be true holiness?  Christ didn’t (Matthew 23:3).  To be sure, they were very tedious about keeping all of the traditions and laws that they had invented.  They were expert gnat-strainers.  They also excelled at heavy-burden-binding (Matthew 23:4).  But they were not so scrupulous about keeping God’s law, especially the weightier matters (Matthew 23:23) like judgment, mercy, and faith.  Their kind of holiness is very unholy, for it fails to observe the whole of God’s law.

The same can be said for the kind of humility — I believe our modern day apostles of revivalism call it “brokenness” — preached by the revivalists in the Finney tradition.  The humility they promote mirrors the kind of humility that Paul was speaking of in Colossians 2:18.  Granted, he was referring to Gnostic humility.  But false humility is false, whether Gnostic, Finneyistic, or perfectionistic.  In the case Paul describes in Colossians, they were worshipping angels, as if they could not go directly to the Lord but instead relied on an intermediate agency to bring their requests to God.  They promoted this kind of thing in the name of “humility.”  They believed that praying through angels made them more humble.  But their humility was not the result of a Scriptural understanding of God.  Rather, it was a “voluntary humility.”  The Greek word for “voluntary” is a participle form of the word thelos, which means “will” or “desire.”  It means to take delight in, to devote oneself to a thing, delighting in it.  The idea is that they were humble for the sake of being humble, because they delighted in humility, rather than because they were humbled by a proper view of God.  It was a gratuitious kind of humility, and they developed a fixation on humility itself as an end.  This kind of humility is sinful.  This kind of humility actually produces pride and makes a man more self-absorbed, because he becomes enamored with his own humility.  This is the kind of “brokenness” or humility promoted amongst the modern-day Finneyists.  This kind of humility strips a man of all actual humility, and instead vainly puffs him up by his own fleshly mind.

Paul said, “Let no man beguile you of your reward” in this sort of humility.  The phrase “beguile you of your reward” comes from a single Greek word, katabrabeuo.  The prefix kata means “against,” and brabueo means “to act as a judge or empire.”  A.T. Robertson tells us that the word brabeus is used for the judge at the games, and the word brabeion is used for the prize awarded to the victor.  The Gnostics warned these Colossian believers that if they did not humble themselves and seek the mediation of angels, that they would lose their reward.  But Paul warns the Colossians that if in fact they followed Gnostic teaching, the Righteous Judge would strip them of their prize.

Instead, they need to hold fast the Head, which is Christ (v. 10).  From the Head, all the body by joints and bands has nourishment ministered to it.  By the Head, the body being knit together (v. 2), increaseth with the increase of God.  Revival, holiness, and humility, contrary to what Charles Finney taught, are not natural results of human effort.  Rather, they are the result of God working in us, producing in us that vital life and communion that increases us with the increase of God.

Contrary to the Fundamentals of Revivalist Preaching, revival is never the result of meritorious power with God.  Obtaining new heights of holiness and new degrees of humility do not make us especially powerful with God.  I believe that Charles Spurgeon was addressing the perfectionism preached by Finney when he said, in his sermon “Power with God,”

when we speak of having power with God, we must not suppose that any man can have any meritorious power with God. It has been thought, by some people, that a man can attain to a certain degree of merit, and that, then, he will receive heaven’s blessings; — if he offers a certain number of prayers, if he does this, or feels that, or suffers the other, then he will stand in high favor with God. Many are living under this delusion; and, in their way, are trying to get power with God by what they are, or do, or suffer. They think they would get power with God if they were to feel sin more, or if they were to weep more, or if they were to repent more. It is always something that they are to do, or something they are to produce in themselves, which they are to bring before God, so that, when he sees it, he will say, “Now I will have mercy upon you, and grant you the blessing you crave.” O dear friends, all this is contrary to the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ! There is far more power with God in the humble acknowledgment of sinfulness than in a boastful claim of cleanliness, — much more power in pleading that grace will forgive than in asking that justice should reward; because, when we plead our emptiness and sin, we plead the truth; but when we talk about our goodness and meritorious doings, we plead a lie; and lies can never have any power in the presence of the God of truth. O brethren and sisters, let us for ever shake off from us, as we would shake a viper from our hand, all idea that, by any goodness of ours, which even the Spirit of God might work in us, we should be able to deserve anything at God’s hands, and to claim as right anything from the justice of our Maker! [1]

He went on to point out the pride of those who think themselves to have obtained a higher sanctification…

Have you ever tried to go to God as a fully-sanctified man? I did so once; I had heard some of the “perfect” brethren, who are travelling to heaven by the “high level” railway, and I thought I would try their plan of praying. I went before the Lord as a consecrated and sanctified man. I knocked at the gate; I had been accustomed to gain admittance the first time I knocked; but, this time, I did not. I knocked again, and kept on knocking, though I did not feel quite easy in my conscience about what I was doing. At last, I clamoured loudly to be let in; and when they asked me who I was, I replied that I was a perfectly-consecrated and fully sanctified man; but they said that they did not know me! The fact was, they had never seen me in that character before. At last, when I felt that I must get in, and must have a hearing, I knocked again; and when the keeper of the gate asked, “Who is there?” I answered, “I am Charles Spurgeon, a poor sinner, who has no sanctification or perfection of his own to talk about, but who is trusting alone to Jesus Christ, the sinners’ Savior.” The gatekeeper said, “Oh, it is you, is it? Come in; we know you well enough, we have known you these many years, and then I went in directly. I believe that is the best way of praying, and the way to win the day. It is when you have got on your fine feathers and top-knots that the Lord will not know you; when you have taken them all off, and gone to him, as you went at the first, then you can say to him, —

“Once a sinner near despair
Sought thy mercy-seat by prayer;
Mercy heard, and set him free,
Lord, that mercy came to me;” —

“and I am that poor publican, who dared not lift so much as his eyes towards heaven, but smote upon his breast, and cried, ’God be merciful to me a sinner,’ and he went home to his house justified rather than the brother over there, who talked so proudly about the higher life, but who went home without a blessing. “Yes, my brother, you are strong when you are weak, and you are perfect when you know that you are imperfect, and you are nearest to heaven when you think you are farthest off. The less you esteem yourself, the higher is God’s esteem of you. [1]


[1]Spurgeon, Charles H.: Spurgeon’s Sermons: Volume 52. electronic ed. Albany, OR : Ages Software, 1998 (Logos Library System; Spurgeon’s Sermons 52)

A Modern Revival That Wasn’t

In the late 1960s, early 1970s, mega churches exploded with growth in California.   Popular evangelical pastor and author John MacArthur talks about it in an interview with Albert Mohler:

I can trace certain trends and a visible process over the past twenty-two years. When I first came to this church as pastor, I started to preach this way and people flooded the place. It was an interesting time. It was just after the publication of The Living Bible — for what it is worth — and that certainly gave people a fresh insight into Scripture. Then came the New American Standard Version, the “Jesus Movement,” Calvary Chapel, and the intensive interest in personal Bible study. People came to church carrying Bibles with covers featuring a dove and a cross, and all that. Christian bookstores and publishers began to flourish. Maranatha Music hit — and Christian music exploded.  I really think that one hundred years from now the 1970s and the early 1980s will look like a revival — and that period really was.

MacArthur elsewhere says that the Jesus Movement was a primary cause for the phenomenal growth of his church:

We kind of caught the wave of that, the tail end of the Jesus Movement. There were new Bible translations, that was huge. People were beginning to understand the Bible in new ways. There was just a wave, I think, at that time when I came that the Lord sort of allowed us to catch that I think a real moving of the Holy Spirit in a special way.

Churches in southern California became huge at this period of time, filling up with the proselytes of the Jesus movement.   Like so many other fads that start in California, those churches in turn had a huge impact on the church all over the United States through their radio ministries with now well-known names in addition to MacArthur—Chuck Swindoll, Chuck Smith, and Greg Laurie—among many others.   These churches took on a flavor that was admired and mimicked all over the country before there was a Hybels, Osteen, or Rick Warren.

This was the beginnings, even by testimony of those who were part of it, of something that still today has a major influence in Christianity, evangelicalism, and fundamentalism.  The leadership that pioneered this direction and style made decisions about how they would function that continue to affect churches all over the world.  They were uniquely non-denominational, choosing to forego the typical church brands that repulsed the spirit of that era’s seekers.   They made plain choices in their evaluation of cultural issues that clearly impact the belief and practice of churches today.

Was that place and period truly subject to God-given revival?  Does what occurred represent what we would see as revival according to a scriptural understanding?  Did the leadership make decisions befitting of a movement of God among men?  Or was this a bevy of deceit that has since caused more problems than good?

What Kind of Movement Was It?

The Jesus Movement was born out of the  sixties counterculture.   Young people, distrustful of authority, attempted to find fulfillment in an anti-establishment attitude and behavior that characterized the war protesters.  Disenchanted with the status quo, they became hippies.  The Jesus Movement contrasted with established churches both in style and substance, keeping  many of the mannerisms and appearance of the hippies yet tweaking the content of the message.    The hippie culture infiltrated and then changed churches into its image.

Sally Thomas in First Things, The Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life characterizes the start of the Jesus Movement in an article entitled “Grooving on Jesus”:

There’s no denying that, in many places, have it your way was an effective formula. Witness the nondenominational Calvary Chapel phenomenon. In 1968, Pastor Chuck Smith, encouraged by other conservative evangelical California pastors, recruited a youth pastor, the groovily named Lonnie Frisbee, from the Christian-coffeehouse counterculture as a “hippie liaison” to draw in the unchurched.  The results were electrifying. Traditional hymn-sandwich services gave way to an effusively emotive worship atmosphere more like the quasi-religious atmosphere of a Grateful Dead concert.

The Calvary Chapel was a struggling congregation of less than thirty until Lonnie Frisbee started bringing hippies to the meetings.  Thomas explains what happened:

Hundreds of shaggy young people clutching Bibles in zippered leather cases turned up for Wednesday-night Bible study with Frisbees. The church outgrew its space, outgrew it again, and ultimately multiplied into a network of churches, its own freestanding denomination.

Rock music itself had already swept the nation through its collection of noncomformists and malcontents.   The Jesus movement was the beginnings of Christian rock.  It began when some hippie and street musicians of the late 1960s and early 1970s converted to this brand of Christianity. They continued to play the same style of music they had played previously, but began to write lyrics with a quasi-Christian message.  Many music groups developed out of this, and some became leaders within the Jesus movement, rockers like Larry NormanKeith Green,  and others.

The same Chuck Smith  founded the first Christian rock label when he launched Maranatha Music as an outlet for the Jesus music bands performing at Calvary worship services.  It was here where the whole contemporary Christian music industry got its start as well as the new viewpoint that the music itself was amoral.   The new innovation was that only the words communicated any moral content.  The only ones still who hold this deceived position are those who like and support Christian rock, country, rap, rhythm and blues, and even grunge.

The churches that saw amazing numeric growth were those receptive of the hippie lifestyle, not expecting it to change.  The Jesus movement was a trojan horse to wheel the world into the church.  There were several keys for contextualizing God to this worldly crowd:  non-denominationalism (an anti-establishment move), toleration, come-as-you-are dress, modern language translations, long hair on men, pants on women, the world’s music, and little application of scripture to the culture (dismissive of worldliness).

John MacArthur calls this time period of the Jesus Movement a genuine revival.  This is when his church saw amazing numeric success.  You see pictures of MacArthur in those days on his book covers wearing long hair.  This is when, more than ever, you would hear the accusations of “legalism” and calls for grace.   It was obvious in the counterculture hippie movement that the long hair was rebellion.   If you moved that direction with your hair, you were making a statement that contradicted God’s Word in 1 Corinthians 11:14.  Although MacArthur’s hair wasn’t as long as Lonnie Frisbee‘s, it was a clear signal to hippies that he wasn’t a part of the establishment.

A later contribution as a polemic for worldliness and the new view of grace to vindicate the worldly practices of this Southern California “laid-back” style was Chuck Swindoll’s 1990 book, fittingly named Grace Awakening.  The Jesus Movement was a Grace Awakening in the opinion of the participants.   Here are some of the statements by Swindoll that typify the defense necessary subsequent to lowering the barriers to the world:

[It is a] freedom from the demands of other people, from all the shoulds and oughts of the general public.

I can be me—fully and freely.  It is a freedom to know Him in an independent and personal way.

It means I’m free to choose righteousness or disobedience.

At one point in the book, inspired by an “awakening of grace,” Swindoll asked why it is that we couldn’t visualize God in a pair of bermuda shorts.

Revivalism?

You can’t explain a true revival outside of the gospel.  When measures are adopted to produce results, you have revivalism.  The Jesus Movement was very careful to adapt its methods to the tastes of the hippy culture.  They liked rock music.  Rock music was a new method to gather and excite a crowd.  They labeled and relabeled their churches with names not packed with the theological dogma of denominationalism.

When you hear MacArthur talk about that time period that fueled the numerical growth of his church, you read of the key conditions that must be met for God to work in a tremendous way:  new translations of scripture and even the paraphrase, the Living Bible, use of contemporary Christian music, and verse-by-verse teaching.

David Wells writes in No Place for Truth, speaking of fundamentalism and evangelicalism (p. 129):

Strong, authoritarian preachers emerged whose very demeanor banished doubt on sight.  The stronghold of faith was thus made invincible. . . .Fundamentalism was a walled city; evangelicalism is a city.  Fundamentalism always had an air of embattlement about it, of being an island in a sea of unremitting hostility.  Evangelicalism has reacted against this sense of psychological isolation.  It has lowered the barricades.  It is open to the world.

Chuck Smith, MacArthur, and many others used the verse by verse expository type of teaching.  Smith would sit on a stool in front of a microphone before a sea of hippies and work his way through the text.  Certainly whatever good that did occur could result from the Bible they did get.  However, what was missing was strong, authoritarian preachers, who wouldn’t lower the barrier for the world, who by their very demeanor would banish doubt on sight.

Like Finney’s Second Great Awakening, the numerical success is the main evidence for the revival.  Iain Murray writes in Revival and Revivalism (p. 283):

Numbers seen to be responding were claimed as more than sufficient evidence for the rightness of the changes in practice and teaching.  If the argument for the new measures had been based upon the testimony of Scripture or the witness of church history, the likelihood of the propaganda succeeding would have been small, but these were not the grounds on which the case for the new measures was based.  The proof urged for them was much simpler:  people had only to look at what could be seen across the country.

Finney himself wrote in his Memoirs (p. 83):

I used to say to ministers, whenever they contended with me . . . Show me the fruits of your ministry. . . . Much fault has been found with measures which had been preeminently and continually blessed by God for the promotion of revivals.

For the numerical success, the cooperation with Lonnie Frisbee, hippies, and rock bands was a necessary measure for continuing revival for Chuck Smith.  Then numerical success validated the new measures.  This was the way to revival that others had missed and became necessary to continue.  Then, like Finney, new theological explanations must be developed that would authenticate the fellowship with the world.  John MacArthur said this about that time at his church:

[I]t doubled about every two years for the first ten, just kept doubling and it went from three hundred, to six hundred, to twelve hundred. Obviously our growth has slowed down eventually. But in those early years it was amazing growth. We were doing something that was fresh, expositing the Scripture, there was a new hunger for that. We kind of caught the wave of that, the tail end of the Jesus Movement.

In his break-down of revivalism, Murray writes (p. 22):

Revival are not brought about by the fulfillment of ‘conditions’ any more than conversion of a single individual is secured by any series of human actions.

I believe that the Jesus Movement and Finney’s revival were both authored by human measures uniquely adapted to their time.  Murray explains it this way (p. 298):

[A]ll christian rightly want to see success, and the new measures seemed to offer that possibility in a way not known before. . . . [T]he introduction of the new measures in a time of real revival gave weight to the claim that their ‘successes’ were due to divine blessing. . . [T]he illusion was ultimately accepted because the alleged successes received far more publicity than did the evidence of harm done to the life of the churches.

The Jesus movement was a revival in the tradition of the Second Great Awakening.  It wasn’t.  However, the numerical successes have influenced thousands of pastors and churches to follow the style of the Southern California mega-churches.  If there is a new wave today, it is the manner of Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, or in another way, that of Mark Driscoll and those imitating him.

Rotten Fruit

Lonnie Frisbee, as much as anyone, ignited the Calvary Chapel phenomena.  He sat cross-legged in the front lawn of a local public school, wearing a long robe, beard, and shoulder length hair, the identical circumstance at which Greg Laurie made a profession of faith.  Lonnie Frisbee died of a AIDS, a long time closet homosexual.   Frisbee not only led in the beginning of the spread of the Calvary Chapel, but also the Vineyard churches.

Recently Phil Johnson, a right hand man of John MacArthur, has written a lengthy series against contextualization, coming from Acts 17.  In a comment on vv. 16-18, he writes:

What’s crucial to notice here, first of all, is Paul’s relationship to the culture. He doesn’t try to assimilate. He doesn’t embrace the culture and look for ways to shape the gospel to suit it. He is repulsed by it.

As part of the Jesus movement, the churches of Southern California embraced the culture and did try to assimilate, including Johnson’s own Grace Community Church.

A new type of Jesus movement is exploding all over the country, perhaps best represented by Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill in the Seattle, WA area. They have embraced the grunge culture of Seattle.  Driscoll’s presentation, the design of the building, the dress, and activity are like the world where Mars Hill exists.  John MacArthur wrote about it in an article he entitled, “Grunge Christianity: Counterculture’s Death-Spiral and the Vulgarization of the Gospel”:

You have no doubt heard the arguments: We need to take the message out of the bottle. We can’t minister effectively if we don’t speak the language of contemporary counterculture. If we don’t vernacularize the gospel, contextualize the church, and reimagine Christanity for each succeeding generation, how can we possibly reach young people? Above all else, we have got to stay in step with the times.

Those arguments have been stressed to the point that many evangelicals now seem to think unstylishness is just about the worst imaginable threat to the expansion of the gospel and the influence of the church. They don’t really care if they are worldly. They just don’t want to be thought uncool.

We could turn the clock back to the early seventies and say the same thing about MacArthur’s compromise with the Jesus Movement.  We could even look today at the youth conference of his church, called Resolved, that dresses up the room to fit the vernacular of secular culture, to make the preachers “cool” with the young people.  What I see Driscoll doing is operating with the same strategy as the Jesus Movement and Lonnie Frisbee, except with the world having gotten that much worse and his targeting the Seattle grunge culture.

Even John Piper, whose churches have followed the Jesus Movement pattern of rock music, is rethinking this now.  He was in a recent Q & A along with D. A. Carson, and he was asked, “What are some of the biggest issues you think the church and evangelical scholars will need to deal with in the next twenty years?”  As part of his answer he said:

Whether the ethos of the explosion of contemporary worship music and worship forms (i.e., chummy rock music) can sustain the gravitas of the glory of God over the long haul.

How could he be questioning the gravitas of rock music?  That’s a done and settled case, isn’t it?  Piper knows in his heart that the rock music is a self-gratifying sell-out to the world.  He said it in a very understated way, but you can still catch his thinking on it.

One of the tragic casualties of the Jesus Movement and its offspring is spiritual discernment.   People see numbers and they assume it must be God.  They have a feeling and it must be the Holy Spirit.  They want to see something spectacular and so they produce it.  And then the methods are copied with very little evaluation.  Later they defend it by calling it grace, so grace becomes a casualty as well.  Many evangelicals and fundamentalists who decry the revivalism of Finney latch on to the revivalist children of the Jesus movement.

Holiness is more than moral purity.  It is separation from that which is common and profane.  God in His unique and supreme attributes retains a majestic separation far above His creation.  He desires a difference be put between the sacred and the profane.  As He is holy, He calls on His own to be holy as well (1 Peter 1:14-16).  The angels hovering about His throne repeat “holy, holy, holy.”   He says, “Come out from among them and be ye separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17).   The Jesus Movement was not compatible with holiness or separation, but that wasn’t a problem for its adherents, as long as they could catch its wave.

The Jesus Movement birthed modern day non-denominational evangelicalism, it’s music, methods, and mega-churches.   It made worldliness the norm for the church.  It spawned even worse paganism in churches for today.  It concocted the entire Christian music industry with its Dove awards and entertainers.  It encouraged an all-time low for reverence in the house of God.  It watered down grace.  It demeaned Christianity.  As much as or more than anything that Finney did, it profaned the holiness of God.  It contaminated and perverted true worship of God. It produced a wicked generation that seeks after signs.

Of Man-Made Revivals

I don’t suppose that we could discuss revival without discussing Charles Finney.  His name is the most closely associated with revival of any name in the last two hundred years.  Whether we like it or not, his influence still permeates Baptist Fundamentalism.  He left his mark on us.  One of our commenters has listed out Finney’s “new measures.”  Whether these things were “new” or not, the practical things that Finney promoted for churches to do are still with us.  In fact, I would point out that more than a couple things on that list would get a church in hot water if they stopped doing them.  Finney’s new measures have become the standards in Independent Baptist Churches.

If we take Finney’s definition of revival as a stand-alone definition, we would probably find ourselves in agreement with most of it, at least in principle.  No doubt we would find a few points to qualify and perhaps to differ with, but for the most part, we would find little to disagree with.  Finney defined revival in five points, which I reproduce for you here:

It presupposes that the Church is sunk down in a backslidden state, and a revival consists in the return of the Church from her backslidings, and in the conversion of sinners. 

  1. A revival always includes conviction of sin on the part of the Church.  Backslidden professors cannot wake up and begin right away in the service of God, without deep searchings of heart.  The fountains of sin need to be broken up.  In a true revival, Christians are always brought under such conviction; they see their sins in such a light that often they find it impossible to maintain a hope of their acceptance with God.  It does not always go to that extent, but there are always, in a genuine revival, deep convictions of sin, and often cases of abandoning all hope.
  2. Backslidden Christians will be brought to repentance.  A revival is nothing else than a new beginning of obedience to God.  Just as in the case of a converted sinner, the first step is a deep repentance, a breaking down of heart, a getting down into the dust before God, with deep humility, and a forsaking of sin.
  3. Christians will have their faith renewed.  While they are in their backslidden state they are blind to the state of sinners.  Their hearts are hard as marble.  The truths of the Bible appear like a dream.  They admit it to be true; their conscience and their judgment assent to it; but their faith does not see it standing out in bold relief, in all the burning realities of eternity.  But when they enter into a revival, they no longer see “men as trees, walking,” but they see things in that strong light which will renew the love of God in their hearts.  This will lead them to labour zealously to bring others to Him.  They will feel grieved that others do not love God, when they love Him so much.  And they will set themselves feelingly to persuade their neighbours to give Him their hearts.  So their love to men will be renewed.  They will be filled with a tender and burning love for souls.  They will have a longing desire for the salvation of the whole world.  They will be in an agaony for individuals whom they want to have saved – their friends, relations, enemies.  They will not only be urging them to give their hearts to God, but they will carry them to God in the arms of faith, and with strong crying and tears beseech God to have mercy on them, and save their souls from endless burnings.
  4. A revival breaks the power of the world and of sin over Christians.  It brings them to such vantage-ground that they get a fresh impulse towards heaven; they have a new foretaste of heaven, and new desires after union with God; thus the charm of the world is broken, and the power of sin overcome.
  5. When the Churches are thus awakened and reformed, the reformation and salvation of sinners will follow.  Their hearts will be broken down and changed.  Very often the most abandoned profligates are among the subjects.  Harlots, and drunkards, and infidels, and all sorts of abandoned characters, are awakened and converted.  The worst of human beings are softened and reclaimed, and made to appear as lovely specimens of the beauty of holiness.

Can we agree with the tenor of the definition given here?  Perhaps, if we consider it all by itself, and out of context with the rest of Finney’s teaching.  But in context, we cannot agree with Finney’s view of what a revival is.  Our first reason?  In the section before Finney’s definition of revival, he explains what a revival is not.  And in that section, Finney says that a revival is not a miracle.  “A miracle” he says “has been generally defined to be a Divine interference, setting aside, or suspending, the laws of nature.  A revival is not a miracle in this sense.”

In fact, Finney denies that revival is God’s work altogether.  In his second point, Finney says, “There is nothing in religion beyond the ordinary powers of nature.  It consists entirely in the right exercise of the powers of nature.  It is just that, and nothing else.”  In fact, Finney denies that salvation changes anything about a man at all. 

“When mankind become religious, they are not enabled to put forth exertions which they were unable before to put forth.  They only exert powers which they had before, in a different way, and use them for the glory of God.”

Finney continues.  “A revival is not a miracle, nor dependent on a miracle, in any sense.  It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means – as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means.”  In other words, revival is entirely a work of man, and not a work of God in any way whatsoever.

Now, Finney does hedge a little on that.  Even Finney recognized that his denial of Divine intervention might be a little strong.  And so he interjects in the next paragraph, “But means will not produce a revival, we all know, without the blessing of God.  No more will grain, when it is sown, produce a crop without the blessing of God.”  So, Finney believes that revival is entirely the work of man, and that God simply gives a little shove to start your sled down the big sled hill.  “A revival is as naturally a result of the use of the appropriate means as a crop is of the use of its appropriate means.”

Finney attempted to combat the hyper-Calvinism of his day, a hyper-Calvinism that taught people to do nothing for God, to preach the gospel to no man, and to make no effort for revival whatsoever, but rather to wait for God to do what He would when He would.  Thomas Ross has rightly pointed out that Finney attempted to combat their Hyper-Calvinism with his very own brand of Pelagianism.  A perfect illustration of this comes in the following illustration…

Suppose a man were to go and preach this doctrine among farmers, regarding their sowing of grain.  Let him tell them that God is a Sovereign, and will give them a crop only when it pleases Him, and that for them to plough, and plant, and labour, as if they expected to raise a crop, is very wrong, that it amounts to taking the work out of the hands of God, that it is an interference with His Sovereignty, and that there is no connection between the means and the result on which they can depend.  Suppose the farmers should believe such a doctrine?  Why, they would starve the world to death.

Just such results would follow on the Church being persuaded that promoting religion is somehow so mysteriously a subject of Divine Sovereignty, that there is no natural connection between the means and the end.  In fact, what are the results?  Why, generation after generation has gone to hell, while the Church has been dreaming and waiting for God to save them without the use of the means.  It has been the devil’s most successful means of destroying souls!  The connection is as clear in religion as it is when the farmer sows his grain.

On the one hand, we have the very wrong-headed and un-Biblical teachings of hyper-Calvinists, who waited for God to act sovereignly without ever doing anything.  These are the theologians who don’t change light bulbs, because if God wanted them changed, He would change them Himself.  In fairness, it should be pointed out that this view of God is not shared even among many Calvinists.  Our earliest missionaries, men like William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton, were all Calvinists.  Charles Spurgeon was a Calvinist.  Was there a more zealous gospel preacher than him?  So, this kind of hyper-Calvinism is not truly representative of Calvinism as a whole.  But it is representative of much of the Calvinism of Finney’s day.  Why is that?  Well, because Calvinism clearly leans in that direction.  And, men being what they are, tend to mix their sin in with their theology, whatever side of the teeter-totter that might be, and then spoil it.  Men want to be lazy and disobedient.  And so much the better if they can blame it on God, or rationalize it with high-sounding words about God’s sovereignty.

But Finney’s response was to confront this hyper-Calvinism with a full blown Pelagianism.  In Logic, we learn about the relationship between statements that is called “contrariety.”  Not to be confused with contradiction, contrariety is the sort of answer that, when confronted with a statement like “God saves everybody” replies, “Nuh-uh… God doesn’t save anyone.”  In the relationship of contrariety, both cannot be right, but both can be wrong.  Both Finney and the hyper-Calvinists can’t be right.  But they can both be wrong.  And Finney’s response to the hyper-Calvinists is as wrong as they are.  The hyper-C’s say that God does all of revival and man does nothing.  Finney replies that man does all of revival, and God does nothing. 

The Psalmist prayed, “Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee.”  Revival is the work of God.  It is a miracle.  When the farmer sows a thousand seeds, God works a thousand miracles… he performs a thousand resurrections.  But not always.  There are times when the seed is sown, but the rain does not come or the locusts devour or the birds snatch the seed, and a famine comes.  We must always be seeking a revival.  But we can’t put it on the calendar.  God must send a revival, or we will not have one.

We have had enough of the man-made forms of revival.  Whether it takes ten years or ten decades, we want the next one to come from God.  Man-made revivals are like man-made ham.  Spit it out, and wait for the real thing.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 67 other followers