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On Revivals of Religion: Review of Charles G. Finney – Part IV by Albert Dod

By April 9, 2011April 12th, 2016False Teachers


The way is thus laid perfectly open for the entrance of his converts into the church. But how shall they be kept there? There are two new measures proposed by him that might seem to aim at this end, but both of them inadequate.

The first is, that they shall be kept in ignorance of the standards of the church they have entered. Young converts, he says, ought to be indoctrinated, but he avowedly excludes from the means of indoctrination, ‘teaching the catechism.’ This would answer if he could only keep in the first ones, until he had introduced a majority into every church who should know nothing of the catechism or confession of faith.

The other measure proposed is, that his converts should not be made to ‘file in behind the old, stiff, dry, cold members and elders.’ No doubt, if they could be permitted to take the lead and manage all things in their own way, there would be no difficulty. But there is reason to apprehend, that age, combined with Christian experience and clothed with official pre-eminence, will still insist upon its right to direct the young and inexperienced.

Nothing can be more evident than that these new measures are remarkably adapted to form and propagate a false religion. Indeed, we have little doubt that the whole system has originated in a total misconception of the true nature of religion. This charge4 was, in substance, alleged against Mr. Finney several years since, and substantiated from the only production which he had then given to the public. It was fully made out, to the conviction, we imagine, of every candid mind that examined the evidences, but its only effect upon Mr. Finney, so far as we can perceive, has been to induce him to throw in an unintelligible paragraph upon the difference between emotion and principle. ‘One of the first things,’ he says, ‘young converts should be taught, is to distinguish between emotion and principle in religion . . . By emotion I mean, that state of mind of which we are conscious, and which we call feeling, an involuntary state of mind that arises of course when we are in certain circumstances, or under certain influences. But these emotions should be carefully distinguished from religious principle. By principle, I do not mean any substance or root or seed or sprout implanted in the soul. But I mean the voluntary decision of the mind, the firm determination to act our duty and to obey the will of God, by which a Christian should always be governed.’

Does he intend here, by maintaining that our emotions are involuntary, to deny them any moral character? Does he mean to tell us, that the emotion of complacency towards holiness is not an adequate or proper motive for the cultivation of holiness in ourselves? Are all those actions which are prompted by our emotions divested of morality, or, if moral, are they sinful? And, then, what a definition of a principle, as distinguished from an emotion? A voluntary decision of mind? A man decides to do some act because he thinks it right. His decision is a principle. He had stumbled into this arrant nonsense, over his dislike to mental dispositions. But we will not puzzle ourselves or our readers in the attempt further to analyze this mysterious paragraph. Whatever may be its meaning or design, it will not turn aside the charge that the general tendency of Mr. Finney’s representations is to give an undue predominance to the imaginative emotions in religion.


We are susceptible of two very different classes of emotion,–the one connected with the imagination, the other with the moral sense; the one awakened by objects that are grand, terrible, etc., the other called into exercise by the perception of moral qualities. These two kinds of emotion produce widely different effects upon the animal frame. Let a predominant emotion of terror fill the mind and it will fever the blood, quicken the pulse, blanch the cheek, and agitate the whole frame. Each moment that the emotion becomes more intense, the bodily excitement increases, and it may be heightened until life is destroyed by it. But let the mind be occupied with disapprobation of moral evil, and in the intensest degree of this emotion, how feeble in comparison is its effect upon the powers and functions of animal life? This close sympathy of the imaginative emotions with the bodily frame gives them a dangerous pre-eminence. The same object often calls into simultaneous action emotions belonging to both these classes. The contemplation of his sinful life may call up at once in the mind of a man abhorrence of sin and dread of its evil consequences, and there is reason to fear that, without great care, the latter feeling will absorb the former. Now, it is just here that we think Mr. Finney has erred, and gone over into the regions of enthusiastic excitement. He is evidently possessed of an ardent temperament, and the calm and gentle excitement attending the exercise of the moral emotions, disconnected with the imaginative, has not sufficient relish for him. It is comparatively tame and tasteless. For the same reason, he discards as ‘animal excitement,’ all the gentler feelings; such as like the ‘soft and plaintive music of an Eolian harp.’ spread themselves through the soul and dissolve it in tender sadness or pity. He turns from these to the stronger and more boisterous emotions, which, stirring both soul and body like the sound of the trumpet, can yield the luxurious play and revel of intense sensation. When a feeling of this character is awakened by religious objects, though it should swallow up the accompanying emotion inspired by conscience, yet the imaginative mind entertains no doubt of the religious character of the passion which fills and moves it. It is this region, where prevails the awakening din of the storm and tempest of pious passion, that Mr. Finney, as it appears to us, has constructed the chief dwelling-place of religion.

For the proof of this, we appeal to the general tone of swelling extravagance which marks all his sentiments, and to the habitual tenor of his illustrations and instructions. He teaches in various places and ways, that the progress of religion in the heart cannot properly be set forth under the symbol of the growth of ‘any root or sprout or seed, implanted in the mind.’ Now it so happens that one of these figures, the growth of a seed, was employed for this very purpose, on more than one occasion, by our Lord himself, and by his apostles. And it must be acknowledged that this is a very fit and instructive emblem, if the progress of religion be dependent on the growth of principle–that is, of that which is the beginning, or which lays the ground for a series of actions, and determines them to be what they are; but inappropriate and deceptive, as he represents it to be, if religion has its origin in a ‘deep-seated’ act of the mind, and for its increase depends of the fitful gusts of passionate fervor.

To the same effect are the many representations which he puts forth, of the repugnance which the Christian will feel when brought into contact with a fellow Christian who is more spiritual than himself. This electric repulsion will take place only when their minds are under the dominion of the imaginative emotions. The Christian, whose religion is the offspring of principle, and has its range among the emotions of the moral sense, will love Christian excellence, and be attracted by it in proportion to its purity and brightness. The effect of greater holiness than his own, whether seen in men, in angels, or in God, will be to increase his admiration and draw him onward in the divine life. This repellent effect of the exhibition of greater piety, Mr.Finney supposes, will take place only in those who are considerably below it. If those around are anywhere ‘near the mark,’ it will ‘kindle and burn’ among them, until it has warmed them all up to its own temperature. Hence, in a prayer meeting, if a spiritual man leads, who is ‘far ahead’ of the rest, ‘his prayer will repel them;’ but it ‘will awaken them if they are not so far behind as to revolt at it and resist it.’ And again he says, ‘In the midst of the warm expressions that are flowing forth, let an individual come in who is cold, and pour his cold breath out, like the damp of death, and it will make every Christian that has any feeling, want to get out of the meeting.’ A precise account this of the operation of a kind of religion which has cut loose from principle and conscience, and surrendered itself to the emotions of the imagination. And in accommodation to this species of religion must all the arrangements of the prayer meeting be ordered. ‘There should be,’ he says, ‘but one definite object before the meeting.’ Forgetful,–perhaps we ought to say, reckless,–of the model our Savior has given us, in which there are as many objects brought before the mind as it contains sentences, he censures and ridicules every prayer which is not confined to a single point. Unless some short passage of Scripture can be found which bears upon this specific point, he says, no portion of the Bible should be read at the meeting. ‘Do not drag in the Word of God to make up a part of the meeting as a mere matter of form,–this is an insult to God.’ There must be no ‘joyful singing.’ ‘When singing is introduced in a prayer meeting, the hymns should be short, and so selected as to bring out something solemn, some striking words.’ There must be no adoration of the Deity.

Yes, incredible as it may appear, Mr. Finney proscribes and burlesques that sublimest, holiest exercise of the human mind, in which it rises to the contemplation of Infinite Excellence, and prostrates itself before it, rehearsing the perfections which it feels it cannot worthily celebrate. ‘Some men,’ he says, ‘will spin out a long prayer in telling God who and what he is!!’ The tendency of all this is easily perceived. We have mentioned the correspondence which always takes place between the movements of imaginative emotions and of the animal frame. Mr. Finney contends that the spirit of prayer is, in its very nature and essence, a spirit of agony; and he mentions with commendation a state of mind in which ‘there is but one way to keep from groaning, and that is by resisting the Holy Ghost.’ Nay, he brings forward, with very special praise, the case of a man ‘who prayed until he bled at the nose!!’ Another pattern is afforded by a woman, ‘who got into such a state of mind that she could not live without prayer. She could not rest, day nor night, unless there was somebody praying. Then she would be at ease; but if they ceased, she would shriek with agony.’ Of himself he says, ‘Brethren, in my present state of health, I find it impossible to pray as much as I have been in the habit of doing, and continue to preach . . . Now will not you, who are in health, throw yourselves into this work, and bear this burden, and lay yourselves out in prayer?’


Again, it is well known that persons who are under the dominion of imagination soon become a prey to delusion. All their inward impressions are projected into the form of external realities. The forebodings of mind are to them the shadows of coming events, and they assume the character and authority of prophets. This peculiarity is fully endorsed by Mr. Finney, under the name of ‘spiritual discernment.’ There was a woman, in a certain place–almost all his stories of this kind are about women–who ‘became anxious about sinners, and went to praying for them–and she finally came to her minister and talked with him, and asked him to appoint an anxious meeting, for she felt that one was needed. The minister put her off, for he felt nothing of it. The next week she came again, and besought him to appoint an anxious meeting; she knew there would be somebody to come, for she felt as if God was going to pour out his Spirit. He put her off again. And finally she said to him, `If you don’t appoint an anxious meeting I shall die, for there is certainly going to be a revival’ The next Sabbath he appointed a meeting.’ The result of course was, as in all other published predictions of this kind, that the oracle was fulfilled. He had several other stories to the same effect; and the expectation of these women founded on no evidence save that of individual feeling, he calls ‘spiritual discernment;’ and gives warrant to those who possess it to arraign their ministers and elders, and fellow members of the church, as ‘blind’ and ‘sleepy.’ ‘Devoted, praying Christians,’ he says, ‘often see these things so clearly, and look so far ahead, as greatly to stumble others. They sometimes almost seem to prophesy.’ They do indeed not only almost, but altogether, seem to prophesy, and so has many an enthusiast before them. This disposition to put faith in spectral illusions is indeed a very common mark of enthusiasm, and the reason of it is well understood by all who are acquainted with the philosophy of the human feelings.


In like contradiction to the true nature of religion, but in perfect keeping with the false notion of it which we suppose Mr.Finney to have adopted, are his opinions respecting the absolute necessity of excitement to the general prosperity of religion in the world, and to its growth in the Christian’s heart. ‘The state of the world is still such, and probably will be till the millennium is fully come, that religion must be mainly promoted by these excitements.’ His professed theory on this subject is that there must be an alternation of excitement and decline–that after a great religious stir among the people, they will decline and keep on declining ’till God can have time so to speak, to shape the course of events so as to produce another excitement,’–then comes another decline, and so on. He represents this same spasmodic action as taking place in each Christian’s experience. It is impossible, he thinks, to keep a Christian in such a state as not to do injury to a revival, unless he pass through the process of ‘breaking down’ every few days. ‘I have never labored,’ he says, ‘in revivals in company with any one who could keep in the work and be fit to manage a revival continually, who did not pass through this process of breaking down as often as once in two or three weeks.’ He adds, ‘I was surprised to find a few years since that the phrase `breaking down’ was a stumbling block to certain ministers and professors of religion–they laid themselves open to the rebuke administered to Nicodemus, `Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?”

We are surprised that any one should have been ignorant of the meaning of this ‘breaking down.’ It is very intelligible. In consequence of the law to which we have several times referred, when the imaginative emotions are strongly excited the bodily frame sympathizes powerfully with the excitement, and all the chords of the system are so tensely strung that they cannot long bear it. Hence follows reaction, exhaustion, ‘breaking down.’ If religion be founded in principle, if its peculiar and cherished emotions be those of the conscience, then can there be no call for this breaking down and jumping up–this cicadic movement. But we have dwelt at sufficient length upon this point. We were anxious to present as complete evidence of the truth of our position as our limits would permit; for we do believe that Mr. Finney’s mistaken views of the nature of religion lie at the bottom of his measures, and have given to them their character and form; and that these measures, therefore, wherever used, will tend to propagate a false form of religion.

These measures might have had their origin in the ‘New divinity,’ for they are in harmony with the theology as well as the religion of the system. Historical facts, however, have guided us in assigning their origin to erroneous views of religion. The new measures we believe were in full action before the theology of New Haven shed its light upon the world. We recollect that it was matter of surprise to many when the conjunction took place between the coarse, bustling fanaticism of the New Measures, and the refined, intellectual abstractions of the New Divinity. It was a union between Mars and Minerva–unnatural, and boding no good to the church. But our readers will have observed that there is a close and logical connection between Mr. Finney’s theology and his measures. The demand created for the one by the other, and the mutual assistance which they render, are so evident, that we will spend no time in the explanation of them.


There is one argument of Mr. Finney in favor of the new measures which we have not noticed, and to which we should not now allude, but for a purpose which will soon disclose itself. This argument is, in true importance, on a perfect level with that drawn from the small-clothes, wigs, and fur caps. It consists in producing the names of a great number of wise and eminent men who have been prominent in introducing innovations. All this has nothing to do with the question–it is perfectly puerile indeed to introduce it–unless these men introduced such innovations as he contends for. Among these new-measure men he introduces the name of President Edwards. And on several occasions he makes such a use of the name of this great man, as is calculated to leave upon the reader’s mind the impression that Edwards had sanctioned his proceedings. He has no right thus to slander the dead, or impose upon the living. It is well known that Davenport, against whose extravagant fanaticism Edwards wrote at length, is redivius in Mr. Finney, and that the same scenes over which he grieved and wept have been re-acted in our day under Mr. Finney’s auspices.

For one of his measures, lay exhortation, he does distinctly claim the authority of Edwards. ‘So much opposition,’ he says, ‘was made to this practice nearly a hundred years ago that President Edwards actually had to take up the subject and write a labored defence of the rights and duties of laymen.’ We were not surprised by Mr. Finney’s ignorance in confounding Mary, Queen of Scots, with ‘bloody Queen Mary’ of England; we do not demand from him historical accuracy; we do not look indeed for anything like a thorough knowledge of any one subject, for, should he obtain it, it would surely pine away and die for want of company. But we were not quite prepared for such ignorance of Edwards’s opinions and writings. Can it be ignorance? Charity would dispose us to think so, but we cannot. In the same work from which Mr. Finney has taken long extracts, and to which he often refers, as if familiar with its contents, Edwards makes known with all plainness his opposition to lay exhortation. He expressly condemns all lay teaching which is not ‘in the way of conversation.’ He censures the layman ‘when in a set speech, of design, he directs himself to a multitude, as looking that they should compose themselves to attend to what he has to say . . . and more still, when meetings are appointed on purpose to hear lay persons exhort, and they take it as their business to be speakers.’ In a published letter of his to a friend, who had erred in this matter, he tells him, ‘You have lately gone out of the way of your duty, and done that which did not belong to you, in exhorting a public congregation; . . . you ought to do what good you can by private, brotherly, humble admonitions and counsels; but ’tis too much for you to exhort public congregations, or solemnly to set yourself by a set speech, to counsel a room full of people, unless it be children or those that are much your inferiors.’

These are the sentiments of Edwards, and it is hardly possible that Mr. Finney should have been unacquainted with them. Whence then this bold misrepresentation? This is one illustration of that unscrupulousness in the use of means for the attainment of his ends, which he too often manifests. With perfect nonchalance, he will make figures, facts, Scripture, everything, bend to the purpose he has in hand. We have often been reminded, while reading his pages, of the calculator who, being applied to, to make some computations, asked his employer with perfect gravity, ‘On which side, sir, do you wish the balance to come out?’

Another illustration of Mr. F’s peculiar facility in this way is at hand, and we will give it. In one of his Lectures, when endeavoring to persuade the people not to contradict the truth preached, by their lives, and, as usual, inflating every sentiment to the utmost degree for the accomplishment of his purpose, he says, ‘If Jesus Christ were to come and preach, and the church contradict it, it would fail–it has been tried once.’ But in another Lecture, where he is laboring might and main to prove that every minister will be successful in exact proportion to the amount of wisdom he employs in his ministration, he is met with the objection that Jesus Christ was not successful in his ministry. But, reader, you do not know the man if you imagine that this difficulty staggers him at all. Not in the least. In disposing of it he begins by showing that ‘his ministry was vastly more successful than is generally supposed,’ and ends by proving that ‘in fact, he was eminently successful.’ And no doubt, if his argument required it, he could prove that Christ was neither successful nor unsuccessful. This unscrupulous use of any means that seem to offer present help, whether for the attainment of their objects within the camp or without, was early noted as a peculiar mark of the new-measure men. Dr. Beecher says, in a letter written eight years since, ‘I do know, as incident to these new measures, there is a spirit of the most marvellous duplicity and double-dealing and lying, surpassing anything which has come up in my day.’5 And the heaviness of this accusation will not be much lightened by any one who has been an attentive observer of their movements since.


There only remains to be noticed, the argument for the new measures which Mr.Finney draws from their success. We shall not stop to dispute with him the position which he assumes, that the success of any measure demonstrates its wisdom and excellence. No man can maintain the ground which he takes upon this subject, without denying that it forms any part of the plan of God in the government of the world, to bring good out of evil. But there is no need of discussing this matter now. We will grant him the benefit of the criterion. It is too late in the day for the effect of this appeal to success. The time was when an argument of this nature might have been plausibly maintained. Appearances were somewhat in favor of the new measures. At least wherever they were carried, converts were multiplied, and though the churches were distracted, ministers unsettled, and various evils wrought, yet it might have been contended that, on the whole, the balance was in their favor. But it is too late now for Mr. Finney to appeal, in defence of his measures, to the number of converts made by them, to the flourishing state of religion in the western part of New York, where they have been most used, and to the few trivial evils which have been incident to them. Indeed, he seems to have a suspicion that the public possess more information on this subject than they did a few years since, and he pours out his wrathful effusions on the informers. He is animated with a most special dislike to letter-writing. ‘Some men,’ he says, ‘in high standing in the church, have circulated letters which never were printed. Others have had their letters printed and circulated. There seems to have been a system of letter-writing about the country.’ ‘If Christians in the United States expect revivals to spread, they must give up writing letters’, etc. ‘If the Church will do all her duty, the millennium may come in this country in three years; but if this writing of letters is to be kept up, etc . . . the curse of God will be on this nation, and that before long.’ ‘Go forward. Who would leave such a work and go to writing letters?’ ‘If others choose to publish their slang and stuff, let the Lord’s servants keep to their work.’

Who will not feel thankful that Jack Cade’s day is gone, and a man cannot now be hung ‘with pen and ink-horn around his neck,’ for being able to write his name? But thanks to these much abused letter-writers, we have received their testimony, and neither Mr. Finney’s assertions nor his ravings will shake the public confidence in it. It is now generally understood that the numerous converts of the new measures have been, in most cases, like the morning cloud and the early dew. In some places, not a half, a fifth, or even a tenth part of them remain. They have early ‘broken down,’ and have never got up again. And of those that yet remain, how many are found revelling in the excesses of enthusiastic excitement, ready to start after every new vagary that offers, and mistaking the looming appearances, the ‘fata morgana’ of the falsely refracting atmosphere in which they dwell, for splendid realities! How many more, the chief part of whose religion consists in censuring the established order of things around them, in seeking to innovate upon the decent and orderly solemnities of divine worship, and in condemning as unconverted, or cold and dead, the ministers, elders, and church-members, who refuse to join them! From the very nature of these measures they must encounter the conscientious and decided opposition of many devout Christians, and hence wherever they have been introduced, the churches have been distracted by internal dissensions, and in many cases rent asunder. Ministers who have opposed them have been forced to abandon their charges; and those who have yielded to them have been unsettled by their inability to stimulate sufficiently the seared surface of the public mind; so that it is now a difficult matter among the western churches of New York to find a pastor who has been with his present flock more than two or three years.

Change and confusion are the order of the day. New ministers and new measures must be tried, to heighten an excitement already too great to admit of increase, or to produce one where the sensibility has been previously worn out by overaction. Rash and reckless men have everywhere rushed in and pushed matters to extremes, which the originators of these measures did not at first contemplate. Trickery of the most disgusting and revolting character has been employed in the conduct of religious assemblies; and the blasphemous boasts of the revival preachers have been rife throughout the land. Mothers have whipped their children with rods to make them submit to God; and in this have done right, if there be truth in the theology, and fitness in the measures of Mr. Finney. Men of taste and refinement have been driven into scepticism by these frantic absurdities of what claims to be the purest form of religion, or they have sought refuge in other denominations from these disorderly scenes in ours.

Doctrinal errors and fanatical delusions of the wildest kind have started into rank existence. The imposture of Matthias and Perfectionism of New Haven, are monster-growths, in different directions, of this same monster-trunk.6 And no one can tell what new and yet more monstrous growths it will cast out. No form of enthusiasm develops at once, or soon, all its latent tendencies. Though its present course may be comparatively regular and near the truth, no mind can predict in what erratic wanderings it may be subsequently involved. The path of the comet within the limits of the solar system can scarcely be distinguished, by the nicest observations, from the regular orbit of the planet; but it ultimately rushes off into unknown fields of space; and the course of enthusiasm while in sight, like that of the comet, will not suffice to furnish us with the elements of its orbit. To what blackness of darkness it may finally rush, we know not. We might fill a volume with describing evils already wrought by the new divinity and new measure system, and then fill many more by collating this system with history, and showing what evils are yet within the limits of its capabilities.

We would not be understood to mean that no good has been produced under the preaching of the new divinity, and the operation of the new measures. They have, doubtless, in some cases, been overruled for good, and been made instrumental in producing true conversions. But we do maintain, for we fully believe it to be true, that the tendency of this system, of all that is peculiar to it as a system of doctrine and of action, is unredeemedly bad. We have brought forward every argument which we could find in Mr. Finney’s pages, in favor of his reforms, and in canvassing them have presented our own objections. And our readers must now judge between us.


We have one more objection still to present, and it would alone be sufficient to outweigh all the considerations which Mr. Finney has presented in favor of his measures. We mean the spirit which accompanies them. We shall be under the necessity of giving a much briefer development, and fewer illustrations of this spirit than we had intended, but we shall succeed, we think, in showing that it is the essential spirit of fanaticism.

The first feature of it to which we invite attention, is its coarseness and severity. Mr. Finney’s language is habitually low and vulgar. He revels in such Saxonisms as these: ‘Let hell boil over if it will, and spew out as many devils as there are stones in the pavement.’ ‘Look at that sensitive young lady; is she an impenitent sinner? then she only needs to die to be as very a devil as there is in hell.’ ‘Devil’ and ‘hell’ are, indeed, familiar to him, ‘as household words.’ The young men in some of our theological seminaries, he says, ‘are taught to look upon new measures as if they were the very inventions of the devil. So when they come out, they look about and watch, and start, as if the devil was there.’ We imagine that all the young men in our seminaries know that there are men who are equal to these things, without any help from the devil. In condemning those who pray, ‘Lord, these sinners are seeking thee, sorrowing,’ he says, ‘It is a LIE.’

The men who had promised to pay, each, a yearly sum to the Oneida Institute, but who afterwards refused, on the ground, as one of them assured us, that the pledge under which they subscribed, that a thorough course of instruction should be established in the institution, had been violated, are rated after this manner: ‘Is this honest? Will such honesty as this get them admitted into Heaven? What! break your promise, and go up and carry a lie in your right hand before God? If you refuse or neglect to fulfil your promise, you are a liar, and if you persist in this you shall have your part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.’ He subsequently adds, ‘You cannot pray until you pay that money.’

In dealing with impenitent sinners, he will allow no symptoms of compassion or pity. The church, in all her conduct, must show that she ‘blames them.’ We must at all times make it plain, by our deportment, that we ‘take God’s part against the sinner.’ He thinks it a dreadful error even for us to make use of our Savior’s language in praying for sinners, ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’ Every sentence and every term must be charged with fierce accusation against them. To this harsh severity all the tender amenities of social intercourse, and the still more tender charities of the domestic affections, must be sacrificed. He maintains that parents can never pray for their children ‘in such a way as to have their prayers answered, until they feel that their children are rebels.’ And he narrates a story to show that no mother can expect her son to be converted, ‘until she is made to take strong ground against him as a rebel.’ Had we space for comment here, we might easily show that no spirit can claim fellowship with the gospel of Jesus Christ, which thus runs rough-shod over all the tender sympathies and affections of the human heart. But it is thoroughly consistent with the fierceness of fanatical zeal, which has its play among the stronger passions of our nature, and looks with contempt upon whatever is kind, tender, gentle, or compassionate.


The next feature of Mr. Finney’s spirit to which we turn, is its extravagance. It is a peculiar mark of the fanatic that every dogma, every little peculiarity to which he is attached, is made to be infallibly certain, and infinitely important. Should he admit anything less than this he would feel the ground sliding from under him. To hold natural sentiments, and express them plainly, and with proper limitations, would be to sink all his advantage and bring himself down to a level with others. His own mind, too, is often in an uneasy and self-doubting state which needs confirmation. Hence for the double purpose of making a strong impression on others, and of strengthening himself, every opinion and sentiment are inflated entirely beyond their natural limits. To quote all the illustrations of this disposition to extravagance which Mr. Finney’s lectures afford, would be to cite no inconsiderable portion of the whole volume which contains them. The minutest things are made matters of indispensable necessity. Every rag which he touches is henceforth endowed with the power of working miracles.

He is himself addicted to telling stories and parables from the pulpit to illustrate the truth, and we have no objection to this provided it is done–as Mr. F, says the devil wishes it done–so as to comport with the proper dignity of the pulpit. We have known many preachers who excelled in this style of preaching. But Mr.F. is not content with maintaining that this is a good, and for some men, the best way of presenting and enforcing the truth. No, nothing less will satisfy him than that ‘truths not thus illustrated are generally just as well calculated to convert sinners as a mathematical demonstration.’ Many excellent men, who have no taste or turn for this illustrative method of preaching, will be astonished and grieved to learn that to deliver a plain, unvarnished statement of scriptural truth to their congregations, is as hopeless a means of doing good, as to prove to them that two sides of a triangle are greater than the third side.

Again, Mr. Finney is given to extemporaneous preaching, and of course, this is not merely the best, it is the only way of preaching. He can find no resting place for the sole of his foot but on the broad ground that ‘we never can have the full meaning of the gospel till we throw away our notes.’ We do not like forms of prayer, not thinking them adapted to promote the spirit of prayer; and we shall always oppose them, unless they should be found necessary to protect us from such prayers as Mr. Finney is in the habit of offering. But we can by no means agree with him in saying that ‘forms of prayer are not only absurd in themselves, but they are the very device of the devil.’ We have seen many a pious old lady, when she had finished reading a portion of her Bible, placing a piece of paper or a string, or perchance her spectacles, between the leaves, that she might readily open to the place again, and it certainly never occurred to us that this custom was any evidence of want of piety. But Mr. Finney says to all such, ‘The fact that you fold a leaf or put in a string demonstrates that you read rather as a task than from love or reverence for the Word of God.’

Of the prayers of pious females, who have assembled by themselves without inviting impenitent sinners to be present, he says, ‘such prayers will do no good–they insult God.’ To those who are in the habit of praying with submission to the divine will, he says, ‘You have no right to put in an if, and say, Lord, if it be thy will, give us thy Holy Spirit; this is to insult God.’ Mr. Finney, like all other fanatics, makes additions of his own to the scriptural code of morals. Matthias forbade his disciples the use of pork. Mr. Finney condemns tea, coffee and tobacco, evening parties, ribbons, and many other things. He is just as confident in supporting his false standard, as extravagant too in denouncing those who transgress it, and in launching against them the thunderbolts of divine vengeance, as if it had been communicated to him by express revelation. He says, ‘if you are not doing these things’–among which he had enumerated the disuse of tea, coffee and tobacco–‘and if your soul is not agonized for the poor, benighted heathen, why are you such a hypocrite as to pretend to be a Christian? Why, your profession is an insult to Jesus Christ.’

Again, he says, ‘Perhaps he is looking upon it (the use of tobacco) as a small sin,’ and then proceeds to prove that the sin is as gross as a merchant’s clerk would commit in robbing the money drawer. He lifts up his hands in astonishment at an agent who is in the city soliciting funds for some charitable purpose, and actually uses all three of these abominations; and he enters his protest against the Home Missionary Society for aiding churches in which the members use tea, coffee, or tobacco.

Again, speaking of the ministry as refusing to give up the use of coffee, he cries out, ‘Is this Christianity? What business have you to use Christ’s money for such a purpose?’ Matthias surely could not have raved in better style over a delinquent caught in the horrible act of eating a piece of pork.

Of evening parties, even when none but ‘Christian friends are invited, so as to have it a religious party,’ he says, ‘this is the grand device of the devil.’ These social assemblies are often concluded with prayer:–‘now this,’ he says, ‘I regard as one of the worst features about them.’ When there is to be a circle of such parties in a congregation he advises them ‘to dismiss their minister and let him go and preach where the people would be ready to receive the word and profit by it, and not have him stay and be distressed, and grieved, and killed, by attempting to promote religion among them while they are engaged heart and hand in the service of the devil.’

To the young lady who wears ‘a gaudy ribbon and ornaments upon her dress,’ he cries, ‘Take care. You might just as well write on your clothes, No truth in religion.’ And over this fondness for dress, tight-lacing, etc., he says, ‘Heaven puts on the robes of mourning, and hell may hold a jubilee.’

The man who stands aloof from the temperance cause has ‘his hands all over red with blood,’–he who drinks cider, beer, or anything else, until ‘you can smell his breath,’ is a drunkard–and no slave holder ‘can be a fit subject for Christian communion and fellowship.’

We had marked some twenty other passages, many of them worse than any we have given, but we suppose enough has been furnished to satisfy our readers of Mr. Finney’s extravagance.


We turn then, to his spiritual pride and arrogance. We have not been able to find one sentence in his book which wears the semblance of humility. But there is arrogance and assumption beyond anything which it has ever been our fortune previously to encounter. Such a swelling, strutting consciousness of self-importance looks forth from almost every page, that we have been compelled again and again to turn from it, not in anger but in pity. Any one who should read his book and believe it, would be led to suppose that until he came forth in the plenitude of his wisdom and goodness to instruct mankind, all had been darkness. The Bible had been misunderstood, and its doctrines perverted; ministers had been preaching ‘an endless train of fooleries;’ the pulpit had never ‘grappled with mind;’ ‘very little common sense had been exercised about prayer meetings;’ everything had been managed in the most ignorant and bungling way. But he comes and all things are set right, or at least would be, if his measures were not opposed. All the wise and good, however, fully agree with him.

We encounter this arrogant and exclusive spirit at the very outset. In his preface he says, ‘But whatever may be the result of saying the truth as it respects some, I have reason to believe that the great body of praying people will receive and be benefitted by what I have said.’ Speaking, in one of his Lectures, of ‘ministers, who by their lives and preaching give evidence to the church, that their object is to do good and win souls to Christ,’ he says, ‘This class of ministers will recognize the truth of all that I have said or wish to say.’ In the full magnitude of a self-constituted bishop of all the churches, fully entitled by his superior wisdom to rebuke with authority all other ministers, he exclaims in another place, ‘I will never spare ministers from the naked truth.’ ‘If the whole church,’ he says, ‘as a body had gone to work ten years ago, and continued it, as a few individuals, whom I could name, have done, there would not now be an impenitent sinner in the land.’ The greatest appearance of modest humility which we have seen in him, is his refusing, on this occasion, to name himself at the head of the ‘few individuals.’

He claims, in no guarded terms, the exclusive approbation of God for his doctrines and measures. ‘They’ (the church) ‘see that the blessing of God is with those that are thus accused of new measures and innovation.’ Desirous as he is to monopolize the favor of Heaven, we do not wonder at finding him, in another place, declaring, with great naivete, ‘I have been pained to see that some men, in giving accounts of revivals, have evidently felt themselves obliged to be particular in detailing the measures used, to avoid the inference that new measures were introduced.’ And if the accounts of all the revivals that have occurred without any help from the new measures, were as much noised abroad as those aided by them have been, he would be still more ‘pained’ by the more abundant evidence that the symbol of the Divine presence does not shine exclusively upon his camp.

In presenting to his hearers ‘the consequences of not being filled with the Spirit,’ he says to them, ‘You will be much troubled with fears about fanaticism–you will be much disturbed by the measures that are used in revivals; if any measures are adopted that are decided and direct, you will think they are all new, and will be stumbled at them just in proportion to your want of spirituality; you will stand and cavil at them, because you are so blind as not to see their adaptedness, while all heaven is rejoicing in them.’

Again, of those that are opposed to ‘new measures,’ to ‘this new-light preaching,’ and to ‘these evangelists who go about the country preaching,’ he says, ‘Such men will sleep on till they are awakened by the judgment trumpet, without any revival, unless they are willing that God should come in his own way.’

This fanatical claim to the exclusive favor of God, this arrogant identification of all his opinions and measures with the Divine will, is very frequently put forth. After having proved that his system has been greatly prospered, that it has been successful beyond anything the world had yet seen, he says, ‘If a measure is continually and usually blessed, let the man who thinks he is wiser than God call it in question–take care how you find fault with God.’ Of the Cedar-Street Church, in New York, which had taken a decided stand against the new divinity and new measures, or, as Mr. Finney states it, had pursued a course ‘calculated to excite an unreasonable and groundless suspicion against many ministers who are laboring successfully to promote revivals,’ he says, ‘They may pretend to be mighty pious, and jealous for the honor of God, but God will not believe they are sincere.’ Of this same church he afterwards says, in allusion to their requiring an assent to the Confession of Faith from all applicants for admission to the Lord’s Supper, a step which would exclude his converts, unless their consciences should be as elastic as their teacher’s, ‘No doubt Jesus Christ is angry with such a church, and he will show his displeasure in a way that admits of no mistake, if they do not repent.’

In the prospect of a rupture with France, he tells his people, ‘No doubt’–it will be observed that he never has any doubt about the divine feelings, when his measures are in question–‘No doubt God is holding the rod of war over this nation; the nation is under His displeasure, because the church has conducted in such a manner with respect to revivals.’

The ‘dear fathers,’ who have the training of our young men for the ministry, he thinks unfit for their office, and in this opinion he is perfectly confident that he has ‘the mind of the Lord.’ ‘Those dear fathers,’ he says, ‘will not, I suppose, see this; and will perhaps think hard of me for saying it; but it is the cause of Christ.’ But we have given specimens enough of this offensive self-glorification.


In close connection with this trait stands his censoriousness. The passages we have already adduced, for other purposes, so far illustrate this disposition, that it will not be necessary to produce many in addition. Of those who have circulated what he calls ‘slanderous reports of revival men and measures,’ he says, ‘It is impossible, from the very laws of their mind, that they should engage in this work of death, this mischief of hell, if they truly loved the cause of Christ.’

‘Hell’ is with him nothing more nor less than the state prison of his system, to which all are condemned who dissent or doubt. Again he says, ‘No doubt the devil laughs, if they can laugh in hell, to hear a man pretend to be very much engaged in religion, and a great lover of revivals, and yet all the while on the look-out for fear some new measures should be introduced.’ And of prayers which ask ‘that sinners may have more conviction,’ or ‘that sinners may go home, solemn and tender, and take the subject into consideration,’ he says, ‘All such prayers are just such prayers as the devil wants.’

This is but a common and very vulgar method of cursing. It contains no argument. It would be very easy for his opponents to reply, that the devil is thus exclusively busy among the adversaries to the new opinions and measures, because he is aware that among their friends his work is well enough done without him. And the argument would be as good in the one case as in the other.

Mr. Finney has some mystical notions respecting the ‘prayer of faith,’–notions in which none, we believe, out of his own coterie agree with him.7 But here as elsewhere, he condemns without mercy all dissentients. Having spoken of a public examination at a theological seminary, in the course of which his peculiar opinions on this subject were controverted, he says, ‘Now, to teach such sentiments as these, is to trifle with the Word of God.’ And he declares, that all persons who have not known by experience the truth of his enthusiastic views of this matter, ‘have great reason to doubt their piety,’ and adds, ‘this is by no means uncharitable.’

Everything which has, at any time, or in any quarter of the land, been said or done that seems adapted to operate to the prejudice of his measures, is dragged into the pulpit, and made the occasion of denunciation against the transgressors. ‘Some young men in Princeton came out a few years ago with an essay on the evils of revivals.’ We cannot see what necessity there was for Mr. Finney to tell the people of Chatham-Street Chapel, that the young men in Princeton, some years before, had published their opposition to the new measures. But he does tell them, and adds, ‘I should like to know how many of those young men have enjoyed revivals among their people, since they have been in the ministry; and if any have, I should like to know whether they have not repented of that piece about the evils of revivals?’ We can inform Mr. Finney, that that ‘piece’ affords ‘no place for repentance,’ though it should be sought ‘carefully with tears.’

He tells his people again, that ‘one of the professors in a Presbyterian theological seminary felt it his duty to write a series of letters to Presbyterians [Ed. refering to Samuel Miller, D. D.], which were extensively circulated;’ and in these letters the new measures were condemned. This incident is made the occasion of a tirade, in the course of which he breaks out with the exclamation, it is a ‘shame and a sin that theological professors, who preach but seldom, who are withdrawn from the active duties of the ministry, should sit in their studies, and write their letters, advisory or dictatorial, to ministers and churches who are in the field, and who are in circumstances to judge what needs to be done.’ And he says it is ‘dangerous and ridiculous ÿfor our theological professors, who are withdrawn from the field of combat, to be allowed to dictate in regard to the measures and movements of the church.’ We shall see whether his theological professorship will put a bridle on his tongue.

It will be seen that no venerableness of years or wisdom or Christian excellence can turn aside the fulminations of his displeasure. To disapprove of his measures, no matter with what otherwise excellent qualities this disapproval may be associated, is to give decisive evidence of wickedness, and not only to offend him, but to insult God. Nor is he ever startled by the number of his victims. All, whether a few individuals or a whole church, who will not fall down and worship the golden image which he has set up, are doomed to the fiery furnace.

The General Assembly, a few years since, issued a Pastoral Letter, in which the new measures were condemned. But neither Mr.Finney’s modesty nor his tenderness is at all troubled by the array of the whole church against him. When he saw their pastoral letter he says, ‘My soul was sick, an unutterable feeling of distress came over my mind, and I felt that God would visit the Presbyterian Church for conduct like this.’ How to the very life is the fanaticism of this sentence,–this turning from general opposition to solace and strengthen himself in the singular prerogative which he enjoys of a back-door entrance into the court of Heaven, and of unquestioned access to its magazines of wrath.

In a like spirit he says of the ‘Act and Testimony warfare,’ that ‘the blood of millions who will go to hell before the church will get over the shock, will be found in the skirts of the men who have got up and carried on this dreadful contention.’ And of the General Assembly, that ‘No doubt there is a jubilee in hell every year about the time of meeting of the General Assembly.’ Of all ministers, be they few or many, ‘who will not turn out of their tracks to do anything new,’ he says, ‘they will grieve the Holy Spirit away, and God will visit them with his curse.’

At the close of these extracts, for we must put a period to them from other causes than lack of materials to furnish more like them, we would ask, was there ever a fanatic who was more intelligible in his claim to a close relationship of his own with the Most High, or more indiscriminate and wholesale in his condemnation of those who refused submission to his peculiar dogmas? Was there ever a Dominic who was more exclusive or more fierce?


There remains one more feature of Mr.Finney’s spirit to be noticed, his irreverence and profaneness. This is a topic which we would gladly have avoided. It is painful to us to contemplate this trait of character, and we would not willingly shock the minds of others, as we have been shocked by some of the passages which we must quote under this head. But it is necessary to a correct understanding of the spirit of the new measures, that this feature should be exhibited. It has been seen all along that Mr. Finney’s theology is not a barren vine, and we trust it has at the same time been seen, that its fruit is the grapes of Sodom and the clusters of Gomorrah. We will now show what are the practical results of his theory of the divine government; though for reasons just hinted, we shall give no more illustrations under this allegation than are necessary distinctly to sustain it.

In urging the necessity of new measures to the production of revivals, he says, ‘Perhaps it is not too much to say, that it is impossible for God himself to bring about reformations but by new measures.’ Here we might pause, for the man who is capable of uttering such a sentence as this, is capable of almost any degree of profaneness. But lest it might be urged that this may be a solitary instance of unpremeditated rashness, we must furnish a few more. He says of a certain class of people that ‘they seem determined to leave it to God alone to convert the world, and say, If he wants the world converted let him do it. They ought to know,’ he continues, ‘that this is impossible: so far as we know, neither God nor man can convert the world without the co-operation of the church.’

Again, when speaking of the duties of church members ‘in regard to politics,’ he says, ‘God cannot sustain this free and blessed country, which we love and pray for, unless the church will take right ground.’ In rebuking those who do not ‘exhibit their light,’ he tells them, ‘God will not take the trouble to keep a light burning that is hid.’ To cast ridicule upon a certain kind of prayers, he says, that they who offer them pray in such a manner, that ‘everybody wishes them to stop, and God wishes so too, undoubtedly.’ And in reference to the subscribers to the New York Evangelist, who have neglected to pay in their dues, he says, ‘Why, it would be disgraceful to God to dwell and have communion with such persons.’

We will close these extracts with two passages of a still more extraordinary character. Speaking of the Savior, he says, ‘He was afraid he should die in the garden before he came to the cross.’ And yet again, and more astounding still, he says ‘Jesus Christ when he was praying in the garden, was in such an agony that he sweat as it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground;–I have never known a person sweat blood, but I have known a person pray till the blood started from the nose’!! Who that has ever dwelt in holy contemplation over the sacred mysteries of his Savior’s sufferings, does not feel indignant at this unhallowed, vulgar profanation of them? And what extremes can appall the mind that could perpetrate this without shrinking?

Let it be noted that the spirit which we have here pictured, is not the spirit of Mr. Finney alone. Had it belonged to the man, we should not have troubled ourselves to exhibit it. But it is the spirit of the system, and therefore deserves our careful notice. And it is seen to be, as Dr. Beecher called it eight years ago, ‘a spirit of fanaticism, of spiritual pride, censoriousness, and insubordination to the order of the gospel.’8 It is prurient, bustling and revolutionary–harsh, intolerant and vindictive. Can the tree which produces such fruit be good? The system from which it springs is bad in all its parts, root, trunk, branches, and fruit. The speculative error of its theology and religion is concrete in it measures and spirit. Let it prevail through the church, and the very name revival will be a by-word and a hissing. Already has it produced, we fear, to some extent this deplorable result. Such have already been its effects, that there can be no doubt, if it should affect still larger masses, and be relieved from the opposing influences which have somewhat restrained its outbreakings, it will spread desolation and ruin, and ages yet to come will deplore the waste of God’s heritage. To the firm opposition of the friends of truth, in reliance upon the Great Head of the Church, and prayer for His blessing, we look for protection from such disaster.


We have spoken our minds plainly on this subject. We intended from the beginning not to be misunderstood. It is high time that all the friends of pure doctrine and of decent order, in the house of God, should speak plainly. Mr. Finney was kindly and tenderly expostulated with at the commencement of his career. Mr. Nettleton, than whom no one living was better qualified or entitled to give counsel on this subject, discharged fully his duty towards him. Others did the same. But their advice was spurned, their counsels were disregarded. To envy or blindness did he impute their doubts of the propriety of his course. He had a light of his own, and by it ‘he saw a hand they could not see.’ All the known means of kindness and expostulation have been tried to induce him to abandon his peculiarities, but without success. It is the clear duty of the Church now to meet him and his co-reformers with open and firm opposition. Let us not be deluded with the idea that opposition will exasperate and do harm. Under cover of the silence and inaction which this fear has already produced, this fanaticism has spread, until now twelve thousand copies of such a work as these Lectures on Revivals are called for by its cravings. And there is danger that this spirit will spread still more extensively. The elements of fanaticism exist in the breast of every community, and may be easily called into action by causes which we might be disposed to overlook as contemptible.

We conclude this article, as we did our former, by pointing out to Mr. Finney his duty to leave our church. It is an instructive illustration of the fact that fanaticism debilitates the conscience, that this man can doubt the piety of any one who uses coffee; and call him a cheat, who sends a letter to another on his own business, without paying the postage; while he remains, apparently without remorse, with the sin of broken vows upon him. In this position we leave him before the public. Nor will we withdraw our charges against him until he goes out from among us, for he is not of us.


3 We are aware that the Editor of the New York Evangelist has said that, ‘before Mr. Finney arose, Mr. Nettleton was much blamed for his irregularities and imprudence.’ This piece of information it seems came to Mr. Leavitt, all the way round by St. Louis. Such statements are intended to cast over Mr. Finney the broad mantle of Mr. Nettleton’s reputation; or possibly the design may be to make Mr. Nettleton jointly responsible for the evils which are now seen to be pouring in upon the church, through the flood-gates which the modern reformers have hoisted. Whatever may be the object, it is exceedingly unfair and dishonorable to attempt to associate the name of Mr. Nettleton with a class of men, of whom we know, and they too, he has ever said, ‘Oh, my soul, come not thou into their secret!’ Would it not be well for the Rev. Editor, before putting forth statements which reach him by such a circuitous route, to make some inquiry as to their truth nearer home? Mr. Nettleton’s life has been spent chiefly in New England, and we challenge Mr. Leavitt to produce, as authority for his statement, the opinion of any settled minister in New England, of the denomination to which Mr. Nettleton belongs, who was not an avowed enemy to all revivals. Back

4 See a pamphlet, published in 1828, entitled, Letters of the Rev. Dr. Beecher and Rev. Mr. Nettleton on the New Measures in promoting Revivals of Religion. This pamphlet contains a masterly discussion of the subject. Though it was written before the new measures had as fully disclosed themselves as now, its allegations have been more than sustained, and all its prophecies of evil time has already converted into history. We fear that the continued press of new publications has crowded this pamphlet out of sight. It deserves more than an emphemeral existence, and we shall be glad if this notice has, in any degree, the effect of calling attention to it. It has never been answered. Mr. Finney, we are told, makes it his rule never to reply to any attacks upon him; it should have been added, save by bitter vituperations from the pulpit. A very convenient principle this. Back

5 This letter was addressed to the Editor of the Christian Spectator. It seems that there had been some symptoms of a disposition on the part of this Editor, to compromise with the new measures, from a desire to promote the circulation of his work in those regions where these measures were then burning in all their fury. Dr. B. immediately writes this letter of strong remonstrance, in which in the most rousing strain, he exhorts to firm, open and decided resistance. ‘The more thoroughly we do the work,’ he says, ‘of entire demolition of these new measures, the sooner and safer we can conciliate.’ His opinion of Mr. Finney, at that time, may be gathered from the following extract. ‘Now, that such a man as he (Mr. Nettleton) should be traduced, and exposed to all manner of evil falsely, in order to save from deserved reprehension such a man as Finney (who, whatever talents or piety he may possess, is as far removed from the talent, wisdom, and judgment, and experience of Nettleton, as any corporal in the French army was removed from the talent and generalship of Bonaparte), is what neither my reason, nor my conscience, nor my heart will endure.’ These were Dr. Beecher’s sentiments in 1827. Since that time he is understood to have patronised the Coporal, when he visited Boston; and but lately he delivered a high eulogy upon him at the West, in the course of which he says, ‘I have felt the beating of his great, warm heart before God,’ and professes to have heard more truth from him than from any other man in the same space of time. Dr. B’s opinions, expressed in the letter from which we have quoted, profess to have been formed from the most full and accurate acquaintance with facts. Dr. Beecher has an undoubted right to change any of his opinions, but he cannot expect the public to give him their confidence if he makes such changes as this, without rendering a more satisfactory account of them than he has yet given of this one. Back

6 See the history of Matthias and his Impostures, by Col. William L. Stone. Col. Stone has rendered an important service to the public by the publication of this work. It furnishes a train of facts which will astonish those who have looked upon this noted imposture as a sudden and isolated freak of the human mind. It was our purpose to make copious extracts from this work to illustrate the opinion of its author, that the delusion of Matthias and his victims ‘originated in the same spirit of fanaticism which has transformed so many Christian communities in the northern and western parts of New York, and states contigious, into places of moral waste and spiritual desolation.’ But we must content ourselves with this reference. We hope the work will circulate widely. It furnishes a salutary lesson of warning to all who can learn from the past. Back

7 It was our purpose, had our limits permitted, to notice at length his wild opinions on this subject. We the less regret the necessary exclusion of our intended remarks on this topic, as we are able to refer the reader to a very excellent discussion of it, in two lectures, lately published, from the pen of Dr. Richards, of the Auburn Seminary. Since the publication of these lectures, Mr. Finney no doubt has another argument for proving that this venerable servant of Christ is not ‘such a man as is needed for training our young ministers in these days of excitement and action.’ Back

8 See Dr. Beecher’s Letter in the pamphlet on New Measures, before referred to.

Copyright © 1998 Naphtali Press