Articles in THE INDEPENDENT of NEW YORK
The GOSPEL TRUTH
HINDRANCES TO REVIVALS.
BY PRESIDENT CHARLES G. FINNEY.
NEW YORK, MARCH 26, 1874
I address this article to those who believe that regeneration is a moral and not a physical change; that it is a voluntary, intelligent, and intelligible change; that it is a change in the moral attitude of the soul toward God--a radical change of moral action, and consequently a radical change of moral character. I address those who believe that regeneration is induced by the Holy Spirit in the use of appropriate truth--that truth which reveals the nature and guilt of sin, the character, law, and Gospel of God. I address those who believe that there are appropriate means of regeneration and sanctification. Some hindrances of revivals amount to preventives, others retard the progress of revivals, while others still bring them to a close. As revivals are induced by the Holy Spirit, in the use of appropriate truth, it follows that whatever so grieves and offends the Holy Spirit as to necessitate his withholding of his divine illumination and co-operation will prevent a revival. Among the preventives are such as the following:
1. A belligerent, sectarian pulpit. Preaching which is of this character always begets in a church a spirit of bigotry, fanaticism, and uncharitableness. These are the opposite of true religion. A church fed with such food will not be in a state to prevail with God in prayer. It will not be in a state with which the Holy Spirit can have any sympathy. It is not in accordance with the character and revealed designs of the Holy Spirit to convert souls to such a spirit and temper as that. By such pulpit teaching, illustrated by such a spirit, and by such lives as will result from it, the outside world will not come to an understanding of what true religion is; and, hence, no revival can be expected under such circumstances. I believe the history of the Church will justify this conclusion.
2. The habitual inculcation from the pulpit of what are called the hyper-Calvinistic doctrines will prevent a revival. Some men who have occasionally preached those doctrines, and at other times have laid them aside and poured forth the doctrines of free salvation, have been blessed with powerful revivals under their ministry. But the revivals occur not in connection with their dwelling upon those abstract hyper-Calvinistic doctrines, but as a result of their practical preaching of a practical Gospel. In my younger days I often heard it admitted that it would not do to preach the "doctrines" in revivals of religion.
3. The habitual ignoring or withholding of any truth the belief of which is essential to and implied in a sound conversion will prevent a revival; such, for example, as the doctrine of moral depravity, the divinity and atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, the necessity of regeneration, the divine authority of the Bible, the spirituality and binding nature of the moral law, justification by Christ, through faith, and, in short, whatever must be believed as a condition and means of our sanctification and preparedness for Heaven.
4. Diverting excitements, if strong and permanent, will prevent a revival. Hence, it has always been the policy of Satan to keep the church and, if possible, the ministry in a state of worldly excitement. It is not very material what particular form these excitements take on --whether a pressure of business, of politics, of worldly amusements, of balls, or parties, or theaters, or games, or clubs. Whatever strongly excites the masses to the extent of diverting their attention will prevent a revival of religion. A revival of religion necessarily occupies the attention of those who are the subjects of it, whether they are in the church or out of it. The Holy Spirit converts people by teaching them; hence, he must have their attention. He does not gain or hold their attention by force; hence, whatever exciting topic comes to absorb the public attention and divert it from the great truths of salvation will prevent a revival. It is astonishing to see how careless professors of religion and sometimes ministers are in regard to the promotion and existence of those excitements that will effectually prevent a revival. We often see communities that perishingly need a revival of religion deliberately plan[n]ing and carrying into execution at those seasons of the year most favorable to revivals the very means of preventing them. They will commit themselves to attend a series of lectures on purely worldly subjects, or engage in a round of parties, perhaps dances, and any number of worldly amusements and entertainments, which are calculated, if not deliberately designed, to keep the people in a giddy whirl until the opening business season demands the attention of business men, and leaves the pleasure-seeker in a state of mind which is anything but favorable to a revival of religion. I am sorry to say that ministers sometimes are drawn into this snare, and give their influence to a course of action which they ought to know will divert their people from the promotion of the revival of religion so much needed. Such ministers may render themselves popular for a time with the worldly professors and ungodly sinners; but the day of judgment will undoubtedly show that they were a nuisance in the community where they exercised their influence. Such cases are, I trust, comparatively rare. It is generally true that such worldly movements originate with the worldly spirits in the church, combining their influence with worldly, pleasure-loving outsiders. They plan and lead off in the execution of those diverting and exciting pastimes, to the great grief of their pastor, in spite of what he is able or rather dares to do to prevent it. He has looked forward to the period when the excursionists should return to their homes, the business world get relief from its great pressure, and long evenings be favorable to occupying the attention of the whole people with the great question of salvation. Then he has promised himself that he will lead off, and persuade his church to follow, and gather a harvest of souls for Christ. This has been his hope and his comfort. But lo! before he is aware of it the leading members of his church are committed, with the leaders of the outside world, to go in for a course of pleasure-seeking, that will effectually prevent a revival. Thus his hopes are dashed, his hands are tied, and it is charged upon him that his labors are not blessed. Sinners are left unconverted, the mass of churchmembers become a stumbling-block to the world, Christ's religion is misrepresented. He is grieved and dishonored, the masses are unsaved and lost, and their blood is required at the hands of those who have stood in the way of a revival.
5. A spirit of division and controversy in the church and community will effectually prevent a revival of religion. Much has been said and justly said of the evil influence of balls and dancing parties. These are bad enough, and, if persisted in, will no doubt effectually prevent revivals. But they are not half so sinful or so dangerous or so sure to prevent a revival as a quarrel. There are men, and women too, who would be horror-stricken if a ball were to be gotten up in their neighborhood, who will not hesitate to originate and perpetuate neighborhood and church bickerings and quarrels. They would consider it a mortal sin to dance; and are yet the stirrers up of strife, jealousies, animosities, and bad feeling, as far as their influence extends. They will not dance; but they will do much worse. Dancing is bad enough; but bitter words and a divisive spirit are much worse.
Of all the mischief-makers in a church, of all the nuisances in society, of all the anti-Christian influences that obstruct and prevent revivals of religion, a divisive spirit and bitter tongue are the most to be dreaded. Sometimes a single self-willed, influential man or woman may for years effectually prevent a revival of religion. Two or three such men or women may counteract all the influence of a most faithful pastor, keep a church in a state of bitterness and turmoil, prevent a revival of religion, and ruin a generation of souls.
6. Church pride and ambition will some times effectually prevent a revival. A proud, ambitious people will build and furnish extravagant churches, lay themselves out to exceed all their neighbors in this respect, get up everything on an extravagant and worldly scale, endeavor to draw in the wealthy and aristocratic classes, and make a congregation of the élite of the town. They must have a minister that will flatter their vanity, indulge them in their pride and ambition, without rebuke, apologize for their extravagance, justify their grasping after wealth, and, in short, politely meet their wishes. What comes of all this but spiritual death and the absence of revivals of religion?
7. A penurious church will prevent a revival of religion. A penurious spirit is an abomination to God. It is dishonest, selfish, a misrepresentation of Christ's religion, the opposite of his spirit. Where a church is niggardly and parsimonious in their treatment of a minister, inattentive to his wants, tardy in paying his salary, planning to avoid all expense, close-fisted in regard to supporting the Sabbath-school, missionary societies, and the cause of Christ generally, they may expect that God will withhold from them his sympathy; that he will do nothing to manifest his approbation of such a course; that, since they tenaciously withhold from him, he is constrained to withhold from them. I beseech those churches that are not favored with revivals of religion to inquire into the reasons. They may rest assured that the fault is at their own door. God never withholds his Spirit when he can honorably bestow it.
8. Opposition to or neglect of needed reforms will often prevent revivals of religion. The Holy Spirit is a reformer, and where churches will not co-operate in the promotion of greatly needed reforms, especially if they set their faces against them, they need not expect a revival of religion.
But I must notice several things that will retard and oftentimes bring a revival of religion to a close.
1. The want of consecutiveness and logical consistency and connection in the pulpit teaching. Ministers sometimes seem to have no plan in their teaching. They will preach one thing in the morning, and in the afternoon something that will divert attention from the morning's discourse, and in the evening something entirely irrelevant to both. This is tempting God. It is a violation of the laws of Nature. It is embarrassing the Spirit's teaching. To carry forward a revival successfully, the preaching should be consecutive as to the order of subjects, logical in form, so as to leave no loophole through which a sinner can escape, and the sermons should follow one another in such a manner as to hedge the sinner and the backslider in on every side and shut him up to immediate repentance and faith in Christ. Instead of this, we sometimes hear a minister preach, perhaps, one sermon that seems to be a good beginning for a revival. The hopes of the church are excited, the spirit of prayer stimulated; but lo! perhaps the very next sermon or the very next Sabbath will introduce something wholly irrelevant, not in the least degree following up what was so hopefully begun. Thus the praying ones are disappointed, their hearts grieved, and they cannot help feeling that the minister lacks steadiness of aim, also unction and common sense.
2. Irrelevant exhortations and prayer in prayer and conference meetings will much retard and often effectually destroy an existing revival. Often has my soul been agonized in prayer and conference meetings by hearing some brother, whose heart, it was evident, was not at all in the work, introduce some altogether irrelevant topic, and draw the attention and prayer and feeling of the meeting into a channel not at all connected with the matter in hand--the conversion of the persons present or in the immediate neighborhood. Of course, that meeting is a failure, so far as the interests of the revival are concerned. If I had room, I should like to illustrate each of these particulars by facts that have come under my own observation. By doing so, I could easily expand each of these articles into a volume of considerable size. But, of necessity, I study to be as brief as is possibly consistent with perspicuity. It often pains me to leave out the illustrative facts.
3. The development of a sectarian spirit in a revival will always retard and often effectually arrest it. If the churches of different denominations begin never so secretly to proselyte, it will be seen by those who are spiritually minded in the falling off of the spirit of prayer. The praying, wakeful people will feel that something is the matter; that the Spirit of God is grieved. Conversions are less frequent, the work is partially if not altogether suspended. If the sectarian spirit becomes general, the work must come to a close; and yet each denomination is but "earnestly contending for the faith once delivered to the saints," as they think. Yet it is almost never a jealousy for the truth, but a desire to build up their own particular denomination, that is at the bottom of their efforts.
4. The introduction of a controversial spirit will retard and greatly and, if persisted in, will ruin a revival.
5. Uncharitableness on the part of Christians will destroy their spirit of prayer, retard and, if persisted in, destroy a revival of religion.
6. The breaking out of a fanatical spirit in a revival will retard or destroy it. I use the term fanatical here in the sense of a bitter, denunciatory, and fault-finding spirit. This needs to be closely watched. I have seldom seen a revival in which it did not make its appearance sooner or later and to a considerable extent. It is the policy of Satan to pour himself stealthily into the hearts of Christians and introduce a spirit of censoriousness and bitterness that will ruin the work. Not only is the Spirit of God poured out in revivals of religion; but often Satan will pour himself out into the hearts of the people. He needs to be closely watched; and, if his agency is detected, private reproof and expostulation should be resorted to.
7. Any falling off of prevailing prayer will immediately manifest itself in the manifest partial relief of convicted sinners and less frequent conversions.
8. The creeping in of a spirit of unbelief with regard to the continuation of the work will retard it and often effectually destroy it.
9. A revival of religion will be greatly retarded if a spirit of gallantry, gossip, and flirtation amongst the young is suffered to prevail.
10. Whatever relieves the pressure upon the consciences of the ungodly and upon the hearts of the praying ones will retard a revival. A revival will not cease while the travail of soul continues among God's people and the pressure of obligation upon the hearts of the unconverted.
11. Mistaking presumption for faith will often effectually destroy a revival. Instead of lying low and walking softly before God, instead of feeling intense anxiety and travail of soul for the salvation of sinners, Christians will sometimes begin prematurely to rejoice over the converts, while they throw off the pressure and neglect the persistent use of means. In this way revivals are often brought to a sudden close.
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