Article of the Month




Charles Finney and the
Disappearance of Revival

by Clive Taylor


SOME TWENTY YEARS AGO, PROGRESSIVE ENGLISH CHURCHMEN WERE horrified to discover that mass evangelism was again raising its head! They had assumed that its effective life had died out with Moody and Sankey, Torrey and Alexander. Evangelicals, on the other hand, hailed the crusades as a sign of renewed life and blessing for the Church: with a heightening of interest generally, considerable numbers were converted. Many saw the movement as the answer to the churches’ apathy and to the increasing godlessness of Britain. At the same time a prominent preacher who had himself experienced revival viewed the crusades with some misgivings, suggesting that the resultant blessing would effectively mask the depth of the real problem. It was suggested that genuine revival would be delayed for at least ten years. It was replied that evangelism could supply the solution as well as old fashioned revival.

At this distance in time we can assess more easily the true situation, and we can see clearly that for all the apparent blessing received, mass evangelism—or "revivalism"—has been quite unable to stem the increasing tide of unbelief, secularism and the wickedness and evil arising in the Western world. Some still continue to see the answer as more efficient mass evangelism of the crusade type; others look to renewal through the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the Charismatic movement, and yet a third group claims that nothing less than a "Holy Ghost Revival" in the historic mould will meet the need. While agreeing with the necessity of true revival a fourth group (including the editors of Reformation Today) increasingly see the necessity of reformation in doctrine, practice and experience.

Strangely, the first three emphases come into focus in the figure of Charles Finney and many in each of these three groups look to him as the mentor. "The Father of Modern Evangelism," "The Father of the Modem Soul Saving Movement". Popularly it is claimed that he saved American church life and evangelism from the dead orthodoxy of the early nineteenth century and that his approach can save the twentieth century Church from its present malaise. His official biographer, Miller, wrote: "His Lectures on Revivals of Religion have been to the blessing of millions and constitute the hope for the present day". He goes on: "his was a marvellous life to the converting of half a million souls," and he speaks of the blessing received during his ministry as, "unparalleled since the days of the apostles". The prominent place that Finney holds is undoubtedly deserved and though many of the assessments made of his work are grossly overstated and superficial we soon realise, when we come to grips with him, what a profound effect he has had upon the Church worldwide. It should be stressed therefore that this subject is of more than academic interest. Finney’s teaching and methodology are all-pervasive. In some ways he is a far greater influence in practice than Karl Barth. Moreover few lives in history show more clearly the interrelation between theology and practice, and how a theological idea may radically change the evangelistic methods of the Church throughout the earth.

Finney’s Life Marks a Watershed in Church History

A man of tremendous personality, force, and perhaps genius, Finney represents in belief and practice a bridge between the old religious world and the new. The great changes working themselves out in nineteenth century history became embodied in his life and experiences. He was a symptom of the changing times.

Theologically the old world of Reformed historical Christianity was behind him: the world where the Bible was the word from the mouth of the living God, infallible and inerrant in which was to be found the sole authority for the beliefs and practices of Christians. Before him lay the new world with its modern approach to Scripture, an approach in which man is the judge of the Bible’s trustworthiness and value: a world of criticism and rationalism where the plain teaching of Scripture can be rejected if it cuts across enlightened reason! This critical and rationalistic spirit can be clearly seen in embryo in the young Finney. It is no accident, but rather significant and symptomatic that in his major work, Lectures on Systematic Theology, the first two hundred pages are largely philosophical discussion with a mere handful of references to Scripture. It is as unlike the older biblically based systematic theologies as it is like the philosophical theologies of the modern church. Finney is the turning point. Behind him are the doctrines of historic Christianity, before him the world of liberalism and the autonomy of man. Preceding him are the evangelical and Reformed doctrines of the faith embodied in the Canons of Dort, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Westminster Confession and the other, great credal confessions. These Finney rejected. For him they misunderstood Scripture. What was already beginning to be called the New Divinity, New School Theology, or Taylorism was adopted and propagated by Finney as Gospel truth. To this extent he made common cause with Liberalism and Modernism and led the way to the undoctrinal and untheological evangelism of the latter part of the last century, which in this present century has become much more accentuated.

This severance with the old doctrine led inevitably to a change in practice. The practice before Finney was of Biblical evangelism, where the Church’s methods were controlled by and subjected to the dictates of Scripture. It is significant, surely, that the modern Church is largely ignorant of the history of evangelism before Moody and Sankey. The pragmatic approach, rampant in American life, where anything that got results was commended, was applied to evangelistic endeavour. It is universally admitted that the pioneer in the new methods was Charles Finney. Says his biographer Miller: "He was the innovator, he was the bringer in of the new measures". He led the van for Moody and Sankey, Billy Sunday and even for the aberrations of Amy Semple MacPherson and Marjoe. These are his lineal descendants. Quantity becomes the great mark of success. We are told, for example, that whereas certain skilful evangelists can expect in America to lead a soul to Christ in 35 minutes, it takes two or three hours in Britain! The old methods of evangelism so blessed by God appear to have suffered the same fate as craftsmanship, being driven out by mass production. Nowadays the old ways are hardly recognised to be evangelism at all, and those who speak out for love of truth against pragmatic and psychological evangelism are likely to be pilloried as opponents of God and salvation. This is exactly how Finney reacted to those who criticised his new measures in the nineteenth century. He claimed they were hyper-Calvinists, spiritually dead and unconcerned for men’s souls whereas the ministries and testimonies of these men bore eloquent proof to the contrary.

The confusion as to what evangelism and the Gospel ought to be is due not only to ignorance of Church history, but, more seriously, to a dislike of Biblical exposition and doctrine of apostolic evangelism.

To put the whole matter in perspective it will help us to examine Finney’s early life and experience and see how it was interwoven with his theology.

Finney’s Early Life and Christian Experience

Born in 1792, Charles Finney was brought up in the centre of New York State. The prevailing theological view of the churches in the area seems to have been Princetonian Calvinism. Finney suggests in his autobiography that he grew up with little opportunity to hear the Gospel, but this seems unlikely. In a paper on Finney (to which I am much indebted) given at the Puritan Conference, Paul Cook maintains that we are to treat Finney’s comments about this with caution. Finney’s account was written late in life and seems to be an interpretation of the facts in the light of his later theological position. Finney claims, for example, that the churches were almost all hyper-Calvinistic and that there was little evidence of spiritual life and zeal until he commenced his labours. This is far from the truth. There had been many revivals before Finney’s day and those involved were invariably distinctively Reformed in their doctrinal position. These revivals were still in evidence prior to Finney’s conversion. There is no doubt whatsoever that Jefferson County near the St. Lawrence River, where Finney came as a newly qualified young lawyer, had seen successive revivals for years. Gale, the young pastor of the church which Finney began to attend out of "professional interest", had seen 65 people converted in the early months of his ministry there.

Charles Finney was converted two years after this in 1821 and he interprets the experience as being due almost wholly to an effort of his own will and resolution. "I made up my mind that I would settle the question of my soul’s salvation at once."2 This is in accord with his later theological position, as though the experience were divorced from any external influences and due only to his own willingness. Yet in spite of Finney’s interpretation the sovereignty of God seems marked indeed. "My conscience was awakened, I had a great shame for sin, my mind was enlightened, I had a vision of Christ and I was broken down under an outpouring of the Spirit." That certainly does not sound like a purely subjective experience but rather God at work in power. Despite the impression he gives, it would appear that the prayers of his mother and his sweetheart, as well as the preaching of Pastor Gale and the prayer meetings he attended, were all instruments in the hands of God leading to his conversion.

His friend, A. T. Pierson, described Finney as ". . . a born reformer, impassioned to the borders of impetuosity, positive to the borders of bigotry and original to the borders of heresy."3

With this temperament, a legal training, acute mental ability and the physical energy of the backwoodsman, he commenced his Christian life. A novice in theological understanding, he soon came into conflict with the Biblical and Reformed theology of George Gale, the minister. To Finney, Gale’s was a false theology. As a lawyer he objected to it on rational and pragmatic grounds. He felt it to be inhibiting in practice. The classic Westminster Confession of Faith he arrogantly dismissed. "Dogmas . . . sustained for the most part by passages of Scripture that were totally irrelevant, and not in a single instance sustained by passages which, in a court of law, would have been considered at all conclusive."4 Here we see a novice, self-opinionated and puffed up. He refused to accept Gale’s views on the atonement, regeneration, faith, repentance, and the slavery of the will. When it is remembered that these are the historic evangelical doctrines, not peripheral matters, but central, pivotal fundamentals of the faith, we realise how serious a division there was.

Paul Cook points out that the key to the situation is that Finney attributes infallibility to the human reason: ". . . there can be no error in the a priori intuitions of reason"5 even in matters of religion. This is the crux of his whole theology.

Finney’s Theology

It is not easy to set out Finney’s early views with exactness, for his systematic treatment came later in life. Nevertheless, the essential characteristics of his Pelagianism were clearly present in his disputation with Gale and were to be developed later with logical precision in his

Lectures on Systematic Theology.

Like modem theologians such as Karl Barth he uses scriptural terms and classic phraseology, but gives them new meanings. He speaks of "justification", "repentance" and "faith", but the words are devalued and debased in content.


In his view of sin, Finney assumes, firstly, that moral qualities attach only to deliberate acts. Men are not sinners by nature, they are sinners because they commit sins. He refused to accept that dispositions and states of nature may be in themselves sinful. For him it followed that love, malice, hatred, etc., are non moral, neither good nor bad in themselves.

A second assumption is that there is no depravity attached to the human constitution as such. Pure will and external temptations are the only real factors in sinfulness. Finney could not fail to recognise the universal moral depravity of the world however, and he suggests that this is due to the effect of the world on the weak human physical (not moral) constitution of man. Children, when they come into the world, are like little animals. They are neutral with a non-moral nature. (Thus, a child dying in infancy has no need of the grace of God or the atoning work of Christ.) Only when they are old enough to make moral judgements, to deliberately will, do they become moral beings and at that point they become morally depraved.6 The fact that all children exhibit moral depravity is attributed to their weakened physical constitution received from their parents, it is this that makes them prone to self-gratification, though in itself not sinful. Finney believed that a few generations on a correct diet (he was a strong advocate of a Grahamic diet—no meat, tea, coffee or other injurious substances) would remove these physical defects from mankind. Clearly for Finney there is no place for the doctrine of original sin, of the imputation of Adam’s guilt to all his progeny or of the corruption of the human heart from birth onwards. There is, in fact, no "heart" at all in this view of things, for he gives it a sense only equivalent to will? Man, then, is good or bad only insofar as his actions are unselfish or not; he is not sinful in his own being. We do well to note a most serious divergence from Scripture here, for in Scripture holiness and unholiness attach to the person himself as an intelligent moral creature.

Thirdly, Finney assumes that man is always neutral—everywhere and always he has a plenary and inalienable ability to obey God in everything he demands, that is, obligation implies ability. Here we are led to the very core of Finney’s theological system. It actually arose out of an espousal of the philosophical theories of the German, Dr. Immanuel Kant. Paul Cook pertinently describes the first lecture in the Systematic Theology as a "hotch-potch" of Kantian philosophy, particularly in this emphasis on "I ought, therefore I can". In its exact theological form, Finney’s theological system appears to be very close to the New School Divinity of N. W. Taylor, which was the old heresy of Pelagius, in modern dress. Pelagius is the true father of all these children. Jerome described Pelagianism as the first organised system of self salvation taught in the Church.


Finney’s doctrine of salvation is built up on the foundation of obligation implying ability. We are commanded to be born again, therefore we must be able to do this.8 Regeneration, in his thinking (and how modern is this emphasis), becomes no more than a radical change of intention. There is no real change of heart or nature. No renewal and revival of the depraved constitution, merely a change of will and this is wholly within man’s natural power. He says in one passage: "We are saved by free grace drawing and securing the concurrence of the will" (John 6:44). On examination, we discover with B. B. Warfield that "drawing" is simply illumination or teaching, nothing more than better motivation or argument to move the sinner’s will. God’s power is limited to persuasion. Using Finney’s own illustration, God’s ability to draw men is akin to a statesman swaying the Senate by argument, or an advocate addressing the jury.9 (He describes the evangelist’s task in the same terms!) The only power available to God is the power to motivate. This is a far cry from the sovereign act of an omnipotent God, which constitutes Biblical regeneration. It is also a far cry from the dragging in of the net which is the point of John 6:44: "No man can come to me except the Father drag (draw A.V.) him". In Finney’s teaching there is no divine transforming energy, merely better communication! God speaks continually in the hope that man will consent, he can do no more. Finney reasons that in any case we need nothing more, for all are able to repent and, when sufficiently motivated, will do so. There is no barrier whatsoever except selfish desires. "At any moment man can put these away," he says, "and turn to Christ." Salvation becomes, therefore, little more than a change of purpose, or commitment to a new way—it is a human action. This is plainly contrary to Scripture where the new birth, or regeneration, is wholly the work of God, and this is why Finney and those who follow his views speak of consecration, or commitment, or surrender rather than of regeneration. In contemporary fashion he confuses regeneration and conversion. "We regenerate ourselves"—only the man can alter his choice.10 "Sinners can go to hell," he says, "in spite of God, neither God nor any other being can regenerate him if he will not turn."11 How great a divergence this is from the Biblical approach where repentance and faith are gifts of God, and where men cry to God to turn them that they might turn to Him. Finney fails to see that conversion is the outward effect of the inward, imparted, divine life, for his view is that the work of the Holy Spirit is external and limited.


So far as justification is concerned, Finney could not logically have such a doctrine, since he had no doctrine of depravity. If there is no imputed guilt, there is no need of Christ’s imputed righteousness. He rejects the Reformation view that justification is a forensic act on the grounds of Christ’s atoning work upon the cross. He says quite plainly: "The doctrine of an imputed righteousness, or that Christ’s obedience to the law was accounted as our obedience, is founded on a most false and nonsensical assumption;" In his view the sinner is not declared just but is treated as just by amnesty. Finney was well aware that he contradicted Augustinian soteriology at almost every point, and that his doctrine of depravity led him to deny and ignore classic Reformed teaching. For him, Christ’s death shows us what God is like as a moral governor. The death of Christ becomes more a means of legal satisfaction than a vicarious atonement. One searches in vain for emphasis on expiation, or propitiation. Moreover, it is interesting to see that his modern disciples take his theology to its logical conclusion, and in so doing make common cause with liberal views of salvation, in refusing to speak of the wrath of God against depravity and sin, while proclaiming an all-loving God unable to do more for sinners than plead that they use their will aright. Such theology is man-centred rather than God-centred.


Moving on to sanctification, he argues somewhat along these lines: if a man comes to God in repentance and faith—that is, he turns his will, or changes his choice, for these terms hold no other meaning for Finney than this—God freely pardons all his past sin. This act of "regeneration" he regards as "an entire present change . . . from entire sinfulness to entire holiness ... (leading to) ... full obedience for the time being, after which it is only a question of maintenance."12 That is, regeneration brings one into a state of present sinlessness or, if you will, perfect sanctification. This change is a single act, because repentance involves a total change of choice. Thus his first righteous act is also his last, for he becomes entirely holy.13 For Finney, the moment a man was converted he ceased to be a sinner—all his sinful acts were forgiven. As there was no sinful nature, and therefore no basis from which sin could spring, the man must be perfect. "At this point," says Benjamin Warfield, "we are astonished to discover that this perfect Christian, according to Finney, can backslide!" This, however, is logical because if the man has the natural ability, when he wills, to turn to Christ, then he may also reject Christ at will. He becomes a religious yo-yo—up and down, in and out of the Kingdom of Heaven at will. When Finney speaks of "backsliding" it has the real significance of apostasy, since it is a total act. Man must begin all over again; there is the coming out at the second meeting, the third, fourth and so on. In his actual practice we discover that this was the effect of the preaching of his gospel. His converts fell continually. It is no accident that they knew little peace, stability and assurance. These cannot be known outside of a true grasp and experience of justification by faith. How can there be assurance of salvation, if all depends on capricious, human choice rather than the sovereign will and work of God? As J. C. Ryle put it, "There can be no assurance for Arminians," and we may add even less for the products of Finney’s Pelagian gospel. Again, the effects of his man-centred approach are everywhere to be seen in the modern evangelistic scene, where his ideas and methods prevail. There is little stability, peace and assurance and despite "total surrender", "total availability", etc., there is little evidence of solid, Biblical, holy living either.

His Ministry and Revival Methods

Soon after his conversion experience he began to exercise a powerful influence in the locality, and he was soon to be found within the bounds of the Christian ministry. He approached the elders of the local presbytery, knowing full well that much of what he believed flatly contradicted the stated constitutional beliefs of the Presbyterian Church. The elders, nevertheless, accepted him, since his obvious zeal and energy for Christ’s cause, coupled with his remarkable conversion experience, led them to fear to deny him entrance lest they should hinder God’s work: and, says Finney, because they were confused over the New School Divinity which was coming into fashion, they refused to ask him questions about his theology. It may be that they were timid in the face of his personal force and precocity. In this way he entered into his ministerial vows. Someone, commenting later, said that it is interesting that he should regard coffee drinking as a serious sin, and yet be so unconcerned about dishonesty and broken ministerial vows. (There are, of course, modem parallels.)

Immediately after his ordination in 1823 he began itinerant preaching, causing division and schism wherever he went for the next two years. This was due in part at least, to his own attitude and spirit, which were so severely critical and censorious of all efforts to evangelise but his own. He set up a reaction amongst the ministers of churches, whom he then dubbed dead and hyper-Calvinistic. At the same time, he was working during a season of unusual blessing as a result of the Holy Spirit’s work and we must not overlook or discount the fact that he with others enjoyed the blessings of rains from heaven and fruitful harvests of an order that has not been witnessed for over a hundred years. He laboured in the context of revival. It appears to me that the problems arose when Finney endeavoured to impose his own ideas and methods on God’s work, instead of following the leading of Scripture and the Holy Spirit. He believed that his work as an evangelist involved stirring up men to choice and action—this was the distinctive characteristic of his ministry and the most significant element for the future. He moved to the west of New York State and immediately commenced a remarkable work known today as the Western Revivals.14 He deliberately set out to promote excitement, to stir the area by impassioned preaching, for which he had great ability. It appears that Finney took the expertise of a talented lawyer, unsubdued by Christian experience and immediately pressed into service in the headstrong manner of the novice. We find today that the new convert, who is an expert in some field— Freudian psychology, business tycoon, pop star, opera-singing, weight-lifting, ballet teaching—on being converted is encouraged to use all and every technique for witness. Whether it be Pop or Rock music, or modem high pressure salesmanship, it is used uncritically and rashly, out of harmony with the Gospel it desires to promote. Finney’s approach was without doubt one of force,15 his method being denunciation of the most violent kind, bordering on defamation. It is strange that Finney, who argued so strongly that God could only work by love and persuasion and not coercion, should find it necessary to exert pressure which God could not. The explanation lies in his understanding of the work of the advocate. It is the advocate’s task to turn the jury’s mind, to sway the jury in his client’s favour. The members of the jury are free to choose as they will, and they must come to their decision before the case is over. This approach was brought in to serve gospel ends. It was Finney’s deliberate policy to break down the will of his hearers. Since they could turn if they would, a battle resulted between the preacher and the will to make it turn. To that end he used every possible means—coarse and violent language, the anxious seat, suitable music, the protracted appeal, and many other means which came to be regarded as the "new measures". This met with considerable opposition, naturally, since the approach was almost wholly novel in the history of evangelism, and Finney engaged in powerful polemics against the opposition, claiming that they were fighting God.

As to the results of his work, there are two sides to the picture. "Flood tides of revival glory," said his biographer, Miller, were seen in the Rochester revivals, 10,000 were converted in one meeting, the whole city converted by 1832 and hundreds of thousands were gathered in the complete series of Western Revivals (1825-32). One finds other writers lauding the ‘success in similar terms, but there is serious misrepresentation, for they fail to stress the situation as it was a few years after! Dr. A. B. Dod writing in 1835 said: "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 fifth or even a tenth part of them remain."16 Those who did remain were a constant source of trouble in the churches, being fanatical, discontented and censorious. Dod was decidedly against Finney and his work. He was of the Princetonian School and he found many pastors, evangelists and revival leaders to stand with him against the new measures. This then might well be dismissed as a biased judgement. B. B. Warfield gives, however, a number of comments from Finney’s close friends and fellow labourers. James Boyle writing to Finney in 1834: "I have revisited many of these fields (where we laboured) and groaned in spirit to see the sad, frigid, casual, contentious state into which the churches had fallen"17—this written three months after Finney had left. Asa Mahan, Finney’s fellow worker and close friend for the whole of his life, tells us that everyone who was concerned in these revivals suffered a sad, subsequent lapse; the people were left like a dead coal which could not be reignited; the pastors were shorn of all their spiritual power and all of the evangelists, with the exception of brother Finney and father Nash, became quite unfit to be evangelists and pastors. Finney himself said, "I was able to bring many to temporary repentance and faith!" He said again in 1835, "They soon relapse into their former state". In his Systematic Theology he confesses that the greater number of his "converts" were a disgrace to religion. As for the lasting aspect the results in the churches were disastrous.

If it is true that there were genuine revivals up to 1832, then after 1832 there were none. Churches burned up with false fire had become terrified of the true fire of the Spirit, and his work was quenched. In 1832 the opposition was so fierce that Finney moved to a New York City Church where he began to set out his Lectures on Revivals of Religion as an apologia for his novel methods. Through this work his personal fame and the methods he employed spread throughout the evangelical world.

The immediate effects of this Pelagian gospel ran true to type, with temporary excitement, and temporary decisions which tended to fade when the external stimulus was withdrawn. A more lasting effect was in the area of sanctification, the creation of a whole new class of religious people who now made their appearance in Church history as the "carnal" Christians. They had made a profession and there had been an external change, but they now bore all the marks of the worldly man. Finney claims that the reason for this state of affairs was that he did not preach sanctification enough. Though some attempt has been made to comment on Finney’s doctrine of sanctification, it is not at all clear what he really believed on the matter. He says quite properly that all good in man is due to the indwelling Christ; from first to last it is the Spirit’s work and it is not by works of the law. (He was too good a Pelagian however to admit quietism and he leaves a large place for human endeavour, even to the point, in practice, of legalism.) It does appear that enlightenment by the indwelling Christ and not divine power was the means of sanctification. He says that we do not need Christ’s strength, as we have sufficient of our own,18 but what we do need is inducement. At the end of his life he flirted for a time with Oberlin perfectionism of Mahan’s type; "perfection" being "complete righteousness which is adjusted to fluctuating ability". Mahan, his fellow worker at Oberlin, published his views on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and for a time Finney espoused similar views and his letters on this subject were published in a popular and influential book, Power from on High, in which he defines the baptism of power as the ability to fasten saving impressions on the minds of men, as did the apostles at Pentecost. He is thinking here of his early experiences in the Revivals, when a single look from the evangelist was sufficient to break down souls and to lead them to conversion. In modern terms, Finney had charisma.

Warfield's comment is pertinent here. "If it is not the Word but the preacher that is the power of God unto Salvation, the evangelist has become a Sacrament." The evangelist, not the word preached, is now the key to the situation. It is not so much the clarity of the message as the personality of the messenger which counts. "It is interesting," says Warfield again, "that the God who cannot work alone is now aided by the supernatural evangelist." It may well be that Finney, at the end of his long life tragically was looking for some such power as had been lost in 1832, when the Spirit departed.

The Legacy of His Teaching and Methods

The long term effects were immense. Due to the widespread acceptance of his ideas, religion became increasingly man-centred, for his gospel was anthropocentric even though he began in the midst of genuine religious revival. The age in which we live is almost wholly man-centred and God appears strangely unwilling to work with us. It is no accident that the popular liberal and progressive theologies are also humanistic, for here again there is a basic Pelagian tendency. In consequence, preaching is persuasion, not teaching, and often degenerates into scolding. Men can turn by their own ability and they won’t! In some of the worst forms of preaching Christ is reduced to the level of a beggar pleading pathetically to get into a man’s house. By losing sight of Christ’s power to reveal himself to whomsoever he will (Matt. 11:27) and of sinners’ inability and spiritual impotence, the true nature of the free offers of the Gospel is destroyed. It is no longer a question of salvation by God’s power but rather, "I will save myself when I feel like it."

More serious still is the effect upon revivals of religion. In the time of Jonathan Edwards, a revival was regarded as a supernatural and miraculous work of the sovereign Holy Spirit, to be prayed down from heaven. By the time Finney’s lectures had leavened their way into the Church, revival had become something for man to promote and work up. It is significant that his apologia for his methods of promoting revivals is based on his psychology of man rather than on the teaching of Scripture.

Finney began in revival and ended with organised "revivalism". He began in revival and he ended up with modern evangelism. For the most part the Church has continued in that line ever since. Today one reads in American literature: "Don’t have your revival until you have seen samples of our colour posters." Or, more dramatically: "Revivals arranged, results guaranteed; terms moderate!" It is possible to subscribe to a correspondence course on Finney’s methods, at the end of which one is qualified to have a revival!

We have come in the twentieth century to think automatically in terms of new methods and new measures, instead of a new, wholehearted turning to God in repentance and faith with a genuine recognition of our total inability as sinners to do God’s work for him. The absence of revival from God is a matter of grief. Is it true that so long as we continue to rely on man we continue to grieve the Spirit and hinder the return of revival? Is it true that we neglect the urgent need of reformation at our peril? Surely this whole subject is of momentous importance for us today.


This article was one of a series of papers delivered in 1973 for the Annual Evangelical and Reformed Conference of South Africa, at Koegheim in Natal. Clive Tyler was a tutor at the Kalk Bay Bible Institute in the Cape at that time.


  1. "Finney on Revival." Paper given by Paul Cook at the Puritan Conference, London, and published with the title One Steadfast High Intent, p. 5.
  2. Memoirs of C. G. Finney written by himself. 1876, chap. 2.
  3. A. T. Pierson, Evangelistic Work, 1892, p. 140 (quoted by P. Cook).
  4. Finney: Autobiography. pp. 45 ff.
  5. Ibid., pp. 6 ff.
  6. Finney: Lectures on Systematic Theology. 1851, pp. 388 ff.
  7. B. B. Warfield. Perfectionism, 1958 (Presbyterian and Reformed), pp. 179 f.
  8. Ibid.. op. cit., p. 173.
  9. Finney. Sermons on Important Subjects, p. 30. Cf. Warfield, p. 175.
  10. Cook, see above, p. 9 also Finney Lectures on Systematic Theology, pp. 411 ff.
  11. B. B. Warfield, op. cit., P. 193.
  12. Finney, Lectures on Systematic Theology, pp. 593 and 537.
  13. B. B. Warfield, op. cit., pp. 203 f.
  14. Finney, Memoirs, p. 144.
  15. Fowler, Historical Sketch of Presbyterianism. 1877, p. 264.
  16. A. B. Dod. Princeton Review, 1847, p. 141.
  17. B. B. Warfield, op. cit., pp. 26ff.
  18. Ibid., p.193. Finney, Systematic Theology, p. 693.


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