The Oberlin Evangelist
August 28, 1850
As our readers will recollect, the British Banner has more than once promised to speak more fully of Prof. Finney's labors in London after time should have revealed their riper results. One installment of this promise comes in the Banner for July 24,--a minute, graphic, life-like picture of the preacher and gospel-laborer. We publish it entire, assured that it cannot fail to be read with interest.
MISSION AND MINISTRY
As many of our readers are anxious to know the progress of Mr. Finney in the metropolis, we shall give a few words of report. He continues, as heretofore, to preach five times a week,--Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, and latterly attending, also, and delivering an address at the prayer-meeting on the Monday evening, and then on Thursday evening meeting all enquirers. This is an amount of labor which, at this season of the year, it may be supposed that most men would sensibly feel, if not sink under; but with Mr. Finney it is otherwise. We have never heard him complain of fatigue, and scarcely ever say the weather is hot! He seems, indeed, in his very element. This remarkable man would appear destined by Providence for this species of labor. He speaks with an ease altogether peculiar; to a large extent his style is colloquial, interspersed, nevertheless, with lofty flights and impetuous bursts of a more oratorical character, when the delivery becomes intense, the voice acquires an ocean swell, accompanied by very energetic action. But these bursts are never long continued; he quickly returns to an easy level, and for many minutes together proceeds in a state of earnest repose, during which the address is colloquial, but still with a measure of inflexion, always forcible and always solemn. It is a peculiar sort of style, altogether unlike that of any other preacher we ever heard--so much so, that simple people, whose taste has been formed upon the established model, have difficulty in considering it preaching at all. They scarcely know what to call it. "It is speaking," they say, and they are not greatly out. It is speaking such as may be heard in Parliament, and to a large extent in courts of law. It would correspond very well with first class Westminister oratory, and would have fitted its possessor for eminence at the bar to which he was originally destined. His voice is clear and remarkably strong; nevertheless admitting, although for that purpose rarely used, of the deepest pathos. The hearer is principally affected by a sense of power; no pity is ever felt for the speaker. The idea that he must be fatigued, or that he will injure himself, never enters the mind, and it is somewhat strange, that while he never tires himself, it is the same with his hearers--they never tire! Rarely, on Sabbath or week days, does he preach less than an hour and a half; and we remember no case of complaint, or any manifestation of weariness, even in London, of all places the least inclined to favor prolonged exercises of a religious character. To all appearance they would sit till sunrise. Yet never a man had less of the meretricious or clap-trap than Mr. Finney; the austerity of his manner, the severity of his address, the terrible force with which he comes down upon the ungodly, shutting up men in the prison-house of an awful accountability, and practical as is his address to professors, yet, it would seem somehow, that the more he lashes the more he is loved. Never man had less of the soft and sentimental,--the luscious in doctrine, or the spurious in experience, which has so frequently, in London, crowded houses with thoughtless, frivolous multitudes. This may be accounted for, partly by his manner, perhaps very largely so--and also by his matter; for while in one respect he is mechanical, in others he is original, natural, and very varied. His mode of conducting services is peculiar to himself. In a pastoral light, his devotional exercises are exceedingly defective. Although he has now preached three months in this great house, the hearer would scarcely ever have discovered that there was either Church or pastor, or officer or schools, sickness or death, or any species of local labor requiring either prayer or sympathy; that there was a nation with its manifold wants, a Senate or a Sovereign. Of a Queen or Parliament he has never been heard to make mention. So it is as to the world, the cause of missions, and so forth. The prayer grows out of the coming sermon; he speaks as if all flesh were before him; sin and death, redemption, and its application to the wants of the perishing portion of the multitude--these things alone concern Mr. Finney; and from beginning to end, the petition is made to bear upon the conversion of his auditory. This is the case as a rule, to which there is scarcely an exception. His prayers, too, are interspersed with a dash of peculiarity, sometimes of eccentricity; but the effect is to fix attention on the part of the fallen multitude, although it rather grates, occasionally, upon the spiritual portion of his auditory. Then, as to his sermons, there is the same uniformity; he announces his text in the bluntest, simplest way possible, and without a word of prelude or preparation, intimates what he means to do, by dividing his text; then he dashes on from head to head till he has done, or rather, till his time is up, for his thoughts never seems run out. Having finished that, he never fails to conclude with what he calls "a few remarks," and these remarks are always peculiarly striking, pungent, and carefully drawn out of the subject. Then, in a moment, he stops short, prays, pronounces the benediction, and so the matter ends.
The least informed portion of the people, and those that hear him only once or twice, may be strongly tempted, on certain occasions, to doubt whether he preaches the gospel, and whether he is altogether sound in the faith; but those who hear him, as we have heard him, for three months, will be at perfect ease upon that point, being fully satisfied of his perfect soundness in all respects, although he does not preach all points in every sermon, and does not always base his address on gospel considerations to the extent that is customary in England. There is one striking peculiarity which often exposes him to the charge of heresy, but which, we think, constitutes his remarkable excellence,--in speaking to the multitude, he always addresses them not as unfortunate, but as criminal, ever pressing upon them the doctrine, that nothing prevents them from repenting and believing but their pride and love of sin; and never calls on men to do other than repent and believe--nothing to obtain faith and repentance. Under his preaching no man could ever have been led to conclude that there was no sin in unbelief--none in impenitence. The result is, a remarkable cogency in his appeals. The Atonement--the love of the Father--the abundance of mercy,--these points are exhibited in all their fulness, and men are summoned to an immediate surrender. But it could never be gathered by the sinner, from his addresses, that any power is necessary either to dispose or to enable him to receive the truth. Mr. Finney addresses him as if no such help or power was either needed or provided; and in this, we must contend that he pursues the true apostolic path, from which much preaching of modern times has grievously deviated. But, when Mr. Finney comes to address Christians, and to speak of the operations of the Spirit, he pours himself forth in strains to which an Apostle would have listened with approbation.
Up to this present time, notwithstanding the effect of summer upon metropolitan audiences, his congregations are at all times as crowded as ever; and the effect during the last two or three weeks seems to be greatly increased. It was never our lot to be present on an occasion of more overwhelming solemnity than that which characterised the services of the Tabernacle last Lord's-day evening. The house seemed full of the Divine presence. At the close of the lengthened service we do not think that less than a thousand people left the Tabernacle--while the church remained behind for prayer--to go to the British Institution in the capacity of "inquirers," to be more especially addressed. The scene was such as we certainly never before witnessed. On Monday evening, too, at the prayer-meeting, where there was a considerable congregation assembled, he spoke on the subject of prayer, delivering an address superior to anything, on that subject, that we ever listened to; and, before one of his auditors was aware of it, he had spoken a full hour; after which, having addressed inquirers, he requested them to assemble in the large vestry, that they might be spoken to individually, and give their names, when a large number came forward. The total of those who have done this we have not yet fully ascertained; but it must be large; and there seems every reason to conclude that his visit will be a great blessing to the city, for people come from all parts of it to hear him, although retiring somewhat after the ancient fashion, some saying, "He is a good man, he is a great man, he is an angel from heaven!" and others, "Nay, but he deceives the people; that is not the Gospel!" But many of these come back and change their mind. During these twelve weeks he has held on his course with undeviating steadfastness; and we cannot doubt that the result will be, to a very large extent, the promotion of human salvation. The period of Mr. Finney's stay is not finally determined; the appearances are such as to render his presence very desirable for some time to come.
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