The Holy Spirit fills
As we left off last week in part one, the conversion of Charles Finney was the biggest shock to ever hit the community of
Finney soon developed a passion to win the young people of Adams to Christ. He told the Rev. Gale:
"For years I have led these young people astray. They have followed my example as an unconverted, skeptical pagan, now I want them to know that if Christ can transform my life, He can change them, too." It wasn't long before all the young people of the town found salvation.
Finney had no idea that the Holy Spirit was grooming him as an instrument for revival. In his own eyes he considered himself just an average, ordinary person with an inquiring mind into the divine principles of God's Word. When he was still lost in sin, he would ask the people about their faith and belief but always their answers would be lacking. It was up to him to answer his own questions and the Word of God was his only source. As Finney, diligently, pursued the Mind of God, the truth of the Gospel began to break in on him.
God was about to do a mighty work on the earth and, as He had done so many times before, He looked for a man, among His Church, that could be trusted. And, as so many times before, He came up empty handed. (Isaiah 41:28)"...I looked, and there was no man; I looked among them, but there was no counselor, who, when asked of them, could answer a word."
The Church, in Finney's day, was a floundering entity that was "lifeless and futile." A few congregations held fast to the Scriptural traditions of Jonathan Edwards and Samuel Hopkins, evangelists of the seventeen hundreds, but, Unitarianism, Universalism, Transcendentalism, and Deism were the norm. The Church of the 1820's was blinded by what I call "doctrinal unbelief" but what Finney called "Stupid Theology." Once again, as He had done so many times before, to the shame of the Church, God had to reach into the ranks of the "unconverted" to find a vessel he could use. Though he would humbly deny it, that man was Finney.
First God had to bring Finney to himself. After a time of searching his soul he came to see himself as God saw him and it broke his heart. The Holy Spirit was leading him into a life style of total sanctification and consecration, that is, giving body, soul, possessions, and everything else to God to be used for His Glory. Finney had a burning desire to be holy in the sight of the Lord. Just as Israel was in the beginning, Finney began to strive to be sanctified, consecrated, holy, to be a representative of God, His glory and His kingdom among the lost of the world. To be separate from the heathen, to be a portal, between heaven and earth, so the power and glory of God could flow unhindered, to be the manifestation of the kingdom of God on the earth, "Israel was holiness to the Lord, the firstfruits of His increase." (Jeremiah 2:3)
Finney would spend a great deal of time in prayer, sometimes literally praying "without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17):
"I also found it very profitable, and felt very much inclined, to hold frequent days of private fasting. On these days I would seek to be entirely alone with God...whenever I let the Spirit take His own course with me and let Him lead and instruct me, I always found it useful in the highest degree. I found I could not live without enjoying the presence of God; I could not rest, study, or attend to anything with the least satisfaction or benefit unless the way was clear between my soul and God...As I have become more and more acquainted with the ministry, I am persuaded that there is something missing in their views of the best way of presenting the Gospel to men, despite all their training, discipline, and education. Namely, they lack the power of the Holy Ghost."
The spiritual battle for New York was underway. Like a wild uncontrolled forest fire Finney traveled throughout New York with great revival meetings and outpourings of the Holy Spirit in cities like Rome, Utica, Troy, and Rochester. Such results were the fruit of hours and hours of intense prayer. It was not Finney's prayers alone that secured such heaven sent revivals. Finney's ministry was supported by the prayers of two powerful prayer warriors, "Fathers" Daniel Nash and Abel Clary. It was their intercessions that laid the groundwork for these mighty moves of God.
Abel Clary was converted about the same time as Finney, and was licensed to preach, but he had such a burden of prayer that he could not preach much. His whole time and strength was given to prayer. He would writhe and groan as in agony, unable to stand under the weight of the burden of the Lord. After Clary's death Finney discovered Clary's prayer journal. Finney found that the exact order of the burden laid upon Clary's heart was the order in which each blessing was poured out upon Finney's ministry.
"Father Daniel Nash" lived a life of almost continual intercession. He joined himself with Finney as a prayer intercessor. He covered Finney's meetings, with prayer, constantly which was no doubt the secret of Finney's success. Nash did not preach and often did not go to the meetings, but remained in his room, or in the woods, wrestling with God in mighty prayer. Often before daybreak people could hear Father Nash for half a mile or more in the woods, or in the church, groaning and travailing in prayer, and the sense of God's presence was overwhelming. Some reported that there must be a lunatic, escaped from the asylum, roaming the countryside.
These two men would precede Finney into an area by two or three days. Day and night, isolated in dark, damp accommodations, these two prayer partners battled the forces of darkness, preparing a way for a great move of God that always followed. The late Leonard Ravenhill relates:
"I met an old lady who told me a story about Charles Finney that has challenged me over the years. Finney went to Bolton to minister, but before he began, two men knocked on the door of her humble cottage, wanting lodging. The poor women looked amazed, for she had no extra accommodations. Finally, for about twenty-five cents a week, the two men, none other than Father Nash and Clary, rented a dark and damp cellar for the period of the Finney meetings (at least two weeks), and there in that self-chosen cell, those prayer partners battled the forces of darkness."
Finney himself relates:
"On one occasion when I got to the town to start a revival a lady contacted me who ran a boarding house. She said, ‘Brother Finney, do you know a Father Nash? He and two other men have been at my boarding house for the last three days, but they haven't eaten a bite of food. I opened the door and peeped in on them because I could hear them groaning and I saw them down on their faces. They have been this way for three days, lying prostrate on the floor and groaning. I thought something awful must have happened to them. I was afraid to go in and I did not know what to do. Would you please come see about them?' No it is not necessary, I replied. They just have the Spirit of Travail in prayer."
Everywhere Charles Finney preached, revival broke out. Entire communities were changed by the power of God. After Finney had preached in the communities, saloons closed, theft stopped, and all kinds of vice and evil came to an end. The revival fire of God swept through these communities, cleansing everything in its path.
As the revival fire grew so did the opposition. Large bands of ruffians, persuaded by the town folks and denominational ministers, would plan various ways to keep Finney from arriving in their town. In one location, Antwerp, New York, religious services had never been held. The area was known as "hell's acres because of its general wickedness. A Presbyterian elder, who heard of the wonders of God, was working through Finney, lived five miles away. When he heard that Finney was going to preach he cancelled all his plans so he could go and receive a touch of God. The road he travelled took him through a Universalist community, and they were so against him going to the meeting, they took the wheels off his buggy to prevent him from keeping his appointment. When Finney heard what they had done to the Elder, he planned a meeting at a school house in that city, which was called Sodom. The text of his message was "Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?" (Matthew 23:33) The Elder who was at the meeting became very uneasy and moved toward the door. He concluded that Finney was going to deal plainly with them and he had become quite nervous about the opposition that he had encountered from them and wanted to keep out of their reach. As Finney finished there was a complete upheaval of the foundations of evil in that place. The people cried and screamed in their sins. Finney, taken by surprise shouted, "All is well, you are not in hell yet...I will pray with you for repentance." Revival penetrated to every part of that town, and some of the neighboring towns shared in the blessing. The people throughout the region tried to retaliate by planning stern measures against Finney. Possibilities discussed included tarring and feathering him, riding him out of town on rail, arresting him and giving him walking papers. At one meeting a man with a gun rose up intent to shoot and kill the evangelist. God's hedge of protection was so obvious, for all of these plans came to nothing, that an awe of the power of God started to grow on the dissenters. Even the best laid plans came to naught.
"My mind soon became very troubled by the extensive working of this system of espionage against me. Mr. Frost of Whitesboro had come to a considerable knowledge of the facts and communicated them to me. I said nothing publicly or privately to anybody on the subject but gave myself to prayer. I looked to God for His direction with great earnestness day after day, asking Him to show me the path of duty and to give me grace to ride out the storm...After a season of great humiliation before Him; there came a great lifting up. God assured me that He would be with me and would uphold me; that no opposition would prevail against me; and that I had nothing to do, in regard to this matter, but to focus on my work and wait for the salvation of God."
Different fear tactics were used by the enemy from ridicule to acts of violence. When during the Oneida revivals, Father Nash remembers:
"The work of God moved forward in power, in some places against dreadful opposition. Mr. Finney and I have been hanged in effigy. Sometimes the opposition made a noise in the house of God; sometimes they gathered around the house and stoned it, and discharged guns through the windows."
It wasn't long before a fear of the Lord fell upon those who dared to "touch His anointed". At one meeting a Universalist stood up in one of the meetings and began to berate Finney and his teachings. On and on he went spewing his blaspheme and curses upon the evangelist and the congregation. The people immediately fell into deep travailing and prayer and after a short while the man left. The Holy Spirit remained on the congregation for hours afterward as they wept with the grieving of the Spirit. The next morning, it was found, the man died in his sleep.
There was a man in Evans' Mills who was not only an infidel, but also a great railer against the Bible. He was very angry at the revival movement. Every day he would be seen railing and blaspheming the meetings refusing to attend them. One morning, after an evening of constantly trying to disrupt the revivals, he fell off the chair at breakfast. A physician was immediately called. The doctor told him he could live only a very short time and if he had anything to say he better say it at once. The man had just enough strength to stammer out, ‘Don't let Finney pray over my corpse." That was the last of the opposition to face Finney in that area.
Despite all the plans to stifle revival, it continued to spread from city to city. Wherever Finney went outpourings of the Holy Spirit were common place. He preached no compromise in the life of a true Christian. His preaching was not about people but to people, not about sinners but that you are sinners, not about hell but you are going to hell unless you repent. And repent they did. It is estimated that over 250,000 people gave their lives to God and continued to live that way.
(Genesis 24:49) "Now if you will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me. And if not, tell me, that I might turn to the right or the left."
Finney preached conviction to the congregation. He told them the truth had been preached and they now knew it was their obligation, even though they had been church members most of their lives, to become true living Christians.
"Those who are now willing to pledge to me and to Christ that you will immediately make your peace with God, please rise up...you who are committed to remain in your present attitude, not to accept Christ please remain seated."
They looked at one another and remained seated. Finney then said, "Then you are committed, you have rejected Christ and His Gospel. You are witnesses one against the other, and God is witness against you all. You may remember as long as you live that you have thus publicly committed yourselves against the Savior, saying, ‘We will not have this Man to reign over us.' (Luke 19:14)
The congregation then rose up in anger and started to leave. Finney then stopped talking and they paused and looked back at him. He said, "I am sorry for you and will preach to you but once more...tomorrow night."
Everyone left the church but one teary eyed Deacon. He grabbed Finney's hand and said," Brother Finney, you have got them. They cannot rest under this; rely upon it. The brethren are all discouraged but I am not. I believe you have done the very thing that needed to be done, and that we shall see the results." They did. The next night the church was filled to capacity, the stirrings of the Holy Spirit was already at work convicting many before the service began. Finney started with:
"Say to the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with them, for the rewards of his hands shall be given him." (Isaiah 2:10,11)
The Spirit of God fell upon the masses with such great power that it "was like opening a firing squad upon them, For more than an hour it was like a ‘Sword piercing even to the division of soul and spirit.' General conviction spread over the entire congregation many of them could not hold up their heads or stand or stay seated in the pews.
(Galatians 6:7,8) "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to the flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life."
An Elder suddenly burst into tears and fell on his knees and wept aloud. This started a general congregational break down. Every man and women went down on his or her knees. They all were weeping and crying out to God with broken hearts. Finney said," This scene continued for nearly an hour, and a more thorough breaking down and confession I have seldom witnessed."
(Genesis 19:14) "Get up, get out of this place for the Lord will destroy this city."
After Finney had preached just a short time, he noticed an "awful solemnity" covering the people. Amazed he later recalled, "The congregation began to fall from their seats in every direction, and cried for mercy. If I had had a sword in each hand, I could not have cut them off their seats as fast as they fell. Indeed nearly the whole congregation were either on their knees or prostrate, I should think, in less than two minutes from this first shock that fell on them. Every one prayed for himself, who was able to speak at all."
Revival in Rome was like a white hot fire. Conviction was everywhere. Finney was preaching every night and thousands were converted. Business sections in town were open for just a few hours a day. The rest of the day was spent in prayer and divine things. The city was in the "most extraordinary state of things. Convictions were so deep and universal that we would sometimes go into a house and find some people in a kneeling posture and some prostrate on the floor. We visited, conversed, and prayed in this manner, from house to house..."
Ministers came from neighboring towns and expressed great astonishment at what they saw and heard. Conversions multiplied so rapidly that there was no way of knowing who had been converted. People traveling through the city in carriage or stage were instantly convicted and had to stop to repent. The state of things in Rome was such that no one could come into the village without feeling awestruck with the impression that God was there in a "strange and wonderful manner." One day it was necessary for the county Sheriff to go to Rome. He said that he was glad to have business there, for he wanted to see for himself what it was that people talked so much about and what the state of things really were. He drove on without any particular impression upon his mind at all, until he crossed the old canal, about a mile from the town. It was then a strange impression came over him, an awe so deep that he could not shake it off. He felt as if God had pervaded the whole atmosphere. He said that it increased the whole way, until he came to the village. Once in Rome, he could not stop weeping, "such an awe, such a solemnity, such a state of things I have never had any idea of before." He returned to Utica and was converted two weeks later.
Finney was so anointed with the Holy Spirit that people were often brought under conviction of sin just by being in his presence or by looking at him. When holding meetings in Utica he visited a large factory. I'll let Finney tell what happened:
I went to the factory to walk through it. As I went through, I observed a great deal of agitation among those who were busy at their work. On passing through an area where a large number of young women were weaving, I observed one women eyeing me, then making a comment to her neighbor. They both laughed. I could see that they were quite agitated by my presence. I went slowly toward them, with sorrow filling my eyes. As the one woman saw me coming, her hands trembled so that she could not do her work. I approached slowly, looking and acting like I was interested in the machinery on each side. This girl grew more and more agitated...trying to calm herself, she looked out the window. When I came within eight or ten feet of her, I looked solemnly at her. She sank down to her knees and burst into tears. The impression caught almost like gunpowder, and in a few moments nearly everyone in the room was in tears. The feeling spread throughout the factory. The owner of the factory said, ‘stop the mill, and let the people be attended to...it is more important that our souls be saved that that the factory run.'
The revival went through the mill with astonishing power and everyone in the mill was converted.
Finney continued spreading the fire of the Gospel throughout New York. He also traveled and preached in Philadelphia and England. Over the years, after his prayer warriors, Fathers Nash and Clary died, Finney retired from evangelizing to becoming the pastor of New York City's Broadway Tabernacle. In 1835, he was appointed professor of Theology at Oberlin College and was named president of the collage in 1852. On August 16, 1875, just two weeks before his eighty-third birthday, Finney went home and joined the multitudes he had brought before the King of Glory.
(2 Timothy 4:2) "Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching."
JJ(Dark) Di Pietro
Cane Creek Church