|From the Book : Testimonies Return|
By: Lewis A. Drummond
The brilliant young barrister soon laid his law books aside and began preaching the Gospel. He received an appointment by the Female Missionary Society of western New York towns of Evans Mills and Antwerp. Before long, under his powerful preaching, a revival broke out with such magnitude that virtually every person in the area was saved. Each small frontier community became like the City of God. The fascinating stories of conversions that took place are almost like reading the Book of Acts
As the spiritual awakening of the 1820's spread, so did the reputation of Charles Finney. In the beautiful Oneida Lake country a tremendous spiritual awakening occurred. The movement became known as the Great Western Revival. In that revival Finney's former pastor, George W. Gale, was actually converted he had ministered for years without truly knowing Christ.
It was also during the Great Western Revival that the well-known Cotton Mill Revival broke out. Finney was being given a tour of the local mill near Utica. Along with his brother-in-law, the mill owner and the plant superintendent, the four entered a large weaving room amid the din of weaving machines. The workers kept eyeing Finney, knowing who he was. Conviction spread over the entire factory. Finney had not spoken a word, yet the Holy Spirit seemed to blanket the entire building. The owner of the mill, deeply moved, said to the superintendent,
Stop the mill and let the people attend to religion;
For it is more important that our souls be saved
Than that this factory run.
Practically everyone in the mill was converted. The evangelist said, A more powerful meeting I scarcely ever attended.
All was not easy, however. Finney had his opponents. Father Nash, Finney's prayer warrior, wrote concerning the Great Western Revival: Mr. Finney and I have been burned in effigy. Sometimes the opposers make a noise in the house of God. There were even those intent on killing the evangelist.
It was in the significant Utica revival that Theodore Dwight Weld, the great abolitionist, found Christ. The social reform that followed Finney's revivalism is a tremendous story in itself. It is correct to say that he had a fervent social consciousness as well as a deep commitment to evangelism.
The zenith of Finney's evangelistic ministry came in the winter of 1830-1831. He had been invited to preach in Rochester, New York; and in all of his 10 years of revivalism, never was there a more powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit than in that city. All of Rochester was caught up in the revival. An unbelievable number of lawyers and leading businessmen were converted. The Rochester Observer reported: We have never known a revival more general among all the classes the students, the mechanic, the professional man and the politician a new song has been put in their mouths.
The New York Evangelist reported: The Spirit of God is subduing all others and ranks of society.
Finney held three Rochester Crusades during his revival years. Thousand came to Christ, including the great theologian A. H. Strong. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle recorded these words: No real history of Rochester, probably, has ever been written than did not give space to the Finney revival.
Actually, a revival spirit began sweeping the entire nation in the early 1980's. The famous Boston pastor, Lyman Beecher, described it as the greatest work of God and the greatest revival of religion that the world has ever seen in so short a time.
After those days of revivalism, Finney became a pastor of New York City. He served both the Chatham Street Chapel and the Broadway Tabernacle. Later he became professor of theology and then president at Oberlin College in Ohio. He stayed there the rest of his days. But settling in Oberlin did not end Finney's revivalistic travels. He continued his ministry of evangelism when school was out. He made two significant trips to Britain and made a profound impact on the British Isles. When he preached in the famous Whitefield Tabernacle, thousands of Londoners were converted.
Furthermore, Finney's writing ministry was significant. His Lectures on Revivals of Religion spawned revivals all over the world and remains in print to this day. Men like George Williams, founder of YMCA, William Booth, organizer of the Salvation Army; and missionary David Livingstone were all deeply impressed by the Revival Lectures. Finney's Memoirs is likewise still printed and continues to bless readers.
After many long and fruitful years Charles G. Finney died at the age of 82 on August 16, 1875. Although he became a theologian, author and educator in his own right, he will be revered by many as the father of modern revivalism. He was a milestone in the history of evangelism.
Charles Finney stood as the watershed between men of awakening like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards in the 18th Century, and mass evangelists like D. L. Moody in the 19th Century, thus forming the historical transition between the two approaches to revivalistic evangelism. Consequently, as one historian said, He sparked a revival in America which literally altered the course of history.
How did the lawyer-evangelist accomplish such a feat? Baptist historian Leon McBeth put his finger on it when he wrote, Finney is often credited with taming the exuberant camp meeting and tailoring it to fit the local church, thus inventing the local church revival as it is known today.
Moreover, in the setting of local revivalism, Finney either invented or popularized a multitude of systematic revival methods. The list of these revolutionary and innovative new measures, as they ere called in Finney's day, is most impressive. He put into popular use:
1) The modern invitation: calling people to come out openly in seeking Christ, epitomizing in the anxious seat.
2) Public prayer meetings, praying for specific lost individuals with familiarity with God in prayer, as someone put it.
3) Women leading in public prayer, even leading the prayer meetings themselves.
4) House-to-house visitation to win the lost.
5) Integrating new converts into the church immediately on the basis of their profession of faith.
6) The protracted meeting revivals themselves.
Above all, Finney systematized these new measures into a rational approach to local revivalism. He is thus largely responsible for programming revival efforts in the fashion we see them today. Such measures brought Finney into conflict with leading churchmen of his day.
But at a conference that became known as the New Lebanon convention the issues were legitimate and could have a place of integrity in revivalism. Finney convinced Lyman Beecher and other church leaders that his ministry was legitimate and blessed of God. Modern evangelism on a local level was born.
Today Finney's revival methods are standard and rarely questioned. Those of revivalistic spirit have much to thank God for in the life and innovative ministry of the converted lawyer who so profoundly influenced his day that his legacy lives n to the present moment.
Decision, November 1985, page 12-13.