Finney: Popularity & Respect

Charles Finney 4Being popular as a preacher or teacher cannot be our goal. Here are some plain words from Charles Finney on that subject:

My experience has been, that even in respect to personal popularity, “honesty is the best policy” in a minister; that if he means to maintain his hold upon the confidence, and respect, and affection of any people, he must be faithful to their souls. He must let them see that he is not courting them for any purpose of popularity, but that he is trying to save their souls.

Men are not fools. They have no solid respect for a man that will go into the pulpit and preach smooth things. They cordially despise it in their inmost souls. And let no man think that he will gain permanent respect, that he will be permanently honored by his people, unless as an ambassador of Christ he deals faithfully with their souls.

I think those comments stand on their own merit and don’t require anything more from me today.

Finney: Allow God to Search Our Hearts

Revival LecturesWe’re very good at wanting other people to know about their sins, but not quite as enthusiastic about hearing of our own. Charles Finney nails it in his Revival Lectures:

Perhaps you have resisted the Spirit of God. Perhaps you are in the habit of resisting the Spirit. You resist conviction. In preaching, when something has been said that reached your case, your heart has risen up against it.

Many are willing to hear plain and searching preaching, so long as they can apply it all to other people; a misanthropic spirit makes them take a satisfaction in hearing others searched and rebuked; but if the truth touches them, they directly cry out that the preaching is “personal” and “abusive.”

We all need to allow God to lay open the intent of our hearts. We should welcome the “searching.” Anything that pulls us away from sin and toward righteousness is a blessing, even if we don’t always recognize it as such.

We need to keep in mind the plea of the psalmist David:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.

Finney: The Ultimate Intention of Our Choices

I’ve often heard people say—and ministers of the Gospel teach—that the motives for our actions can be mixed; that is to say, when we choose to do something, we might do so both for God and for us simultaneously. In other words, our actions are partly holy in intention and partly selfish. Charles Finney disagreed with this formulation. In his Systematic Theology, he explained why:

Finney's Systematic TheologyWhenever a moral being prefers or chooses his own gratification, or his own interest, in preference to a higher good, because it is his own, he chooses it as an end, for its own sake, and as an ultimate end, not designing it as a means of promoting any other and higher end, nor because it is a part of universal good.

Every sin, then, consists in an act of will. It consists in preferring self-gratification, or self-interest, to the authority of God, the glory of God, and the good of the universe. It is, therefore, and must be, a supreme choice, or intention.

Sin and holiness, then, both consist in supreme, ultimate, and opposite choices, or intentions, and cannot by any possibility, coexist. . . .

Now, whatever complexity there may have been in the considerations that led the way to this choice or intention, it is self-evident that the intention must be one, simple, and indivisible. . . .

Holiness, then, must always consist in singleness of eye or intention.

Examine MotivesI think we sometimes fool ourselves into believing we have done something “good enough” because at least “part” of our motive was for God’s glory, when, in fact, we can never have a truly mixed motive. As Finney said, we confuse the concept of mixed motive with all the considerations that ran through our mind before making our decision. But when that decision is made, it is either for God or for ourselves.

There’s nothing wrong with a regular examination of our motives. It is a requirement for the Christian life.

Finney: On Being Direct

Charles Finney spends quite a bit of time in his autobiography pointing out the differences between him and other ministers of the Gospel in the manner in which they communicate the message. He says he never really preaches; he just talks to the people. Other ministers, trained as they were at the colleges of the nineteenth century, would always “preach,” but never really connect with the people to whom they were preaching.

Finney's MemoirsFinney also relates his impressions of how ministers typically would avoid getting too personal, afraid they might offend people. He says that’s doing them a disservice:

Ministers generally avoid preaching what the people before them will understand as addressed particularly to them. They will preach to them about other people, and the sins of other people, instead of addressing them and saying, “You are guilty of these sins;” and “The Lord requires this of you.”

They often preach about the Gospel instead of preaching the Gospel. They often preach about sinners instead of preaching to them. They studiously avoid being personal, in the sense of making the impression on any one present that he is the man.

Now I have thought it my duty to pursue a different course; and I always have pursued a different course. I have often said, “Do not think I am talking about anybody else; but I mean you, and you, and you.”

Ministers told me at first that people would never endure this; but would get up and go out, and never come to hear me again. But this is all a mistake. Very much, in this as in everything else, depends on the spirit in which it is said. If the people see that it is said in the spirit of love, with a yearning desire to do them good; if they cannot call it an ebullition of personal animosity, but if they see, and cannot deny that it is telling the truth in love; that it is coming right home to them to save them individually, there are very few that will continue to resent it.

If at the time they feel pointed at and rebuked, nevertheless the conviction is upon them that they needed it, and it will surely ultimately do them great good.

The key in that passage is Finney’s caution that any pointing out of sin must be done in love, and that people need to understand the great desire is to help them eternally. What was true in Finney’s time is still true today.

Finney: No “Little” Sins

Revival LecturesIs there any such thing as an inconsequential sin? A sin that doesn’t really matter all that much? Charles Finney didn’t think so, and here’s his rationale in his Revival Lectures:

There are multitudes of such things by which the Spirit of God is grieved. People call them “little” sins, but God will not call them little.

I was struck with this thought when I saw a little notice in The Evangelist. The publishers stated that they had many thousands of dollars in the hands of subscribers, which sums were justly due, but that it would cost them as much as it was worth to send an agent to collect the money. I suppose it is so with other religious papers, that subscribers either put the publisher to the trouble and expense of sending an agent to collect his due, or else they cheat him out of it.

There is, doubtless, a large amount of money held back in this way by professors of religion, just because it is in such small sums, or because they are so far off that they cannot be sued. And yet these people will pray, and appear very pious, and wonder why they do not “enjoy” religion, and have the Spirit of God!

It is this looseness of moral principle, this want of conscience about little matters, that grieves away the Holy Ghost.

The world is watching the Christians. What do they see? Each of us will have to give an account before God for the faithfulness of our testimony. Hypocrisy is never a small thing.

Finney & Effective Communication

Charles Finney 1Charles Finney had a lot to say about the effective means of communicating a message, particularly the most important message of all—the Gospel. He was continually criticized by other ministers for using plain language in his messages; he should show off his learning with superb rhetoric, they argued. Finney argued back in this way in his autobiography:

The captain of a fire company, when a city is on fire, does not read to his company an essay, or exhibit a fine specimen of rhetoric when he shouts to them and directs their movements. It is a question of urgency, and he intends that every word shall be understood. He is entirely in earnest with them; and they feel that criticism would be out of place in regard to the language he uses.

So it always is when men are entirely in earnest. Their language is in point, direct and simple. Their sentences are short, cogent, powerful. The appeal is made directly for action; and hence all such discourses take effect. This is the reason why, formerly, the ignorant Methodist preachers, and the earnest Baptist preachers produced so much more effect than our most learned theologians and divines. They do so now.

The impassioned utterance of a common exhorter will often move a congregation far beyond anything that those splendid exhibitions of rhetoric can effect. Great sermons lead the people to praise the preacher. Good preaching leads the people to praise the Saviour.

Finney’s exhortation here doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for great learning and wonderful rhetoric. He’s simply saying you have to be careful not to speak over people’s heads. They have to understand what you are saying. When I teach, I try to do the same. Even though I possess a history doctorate, it does no good to show off in-depth knowledge that many in the class cannot follow. It’s far more important to ensure they grasp the essentials of what I’m teaching. Plain language, directness, and, in my case, really good cartoons, are what accomplish that purpose.

The Finney-Robertson Message Is the Gospel Message

Finney's Systematic TheologyHow do I combine Phil Robertson and Charles Finney? Rather easily. Robertson spoke clearly on the nature of sin, yet also said we had to love everyone, even those caught up in sin. Finney, in his Systematic Theology, puts it this way:

The command is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 19:19). This says nothing about the character of my neighbor. It is the value of His [God’s] interests, of His well-being, that the law requires me to regard. It does not require me to love my righteous neighbor merely, nor to love my righteous neighbor better than I do my wicked neighbor. It is my neighbor that I am to love. . . .

But while the law requires that this should be willed to all . . . irrespective of character, it cannot, and does not require us to will that . . . any moral agent in particular, shall be actually blessed but upon condition that he be holy. Our obligation to the unholy is to will that they might be holy, and perfectly blessed.

While we are to desire the best for all, we need to recognize the basic Gospel truth that sin must be done away with first. No one who remains in sin can receive the ultimate blessing of God. Sin separates from God; only through repentance and faith in the work of Christ on the Cross can any of us enter into His kingdom. That’s Finney’s message, and it’s Robertson’s message as well. But more than that, it’s the Biblical message.