19th Century Evangelist Charles Finney was one of the more controversial figures on the religious landscape in America.
Converted after fairly rigourous intellectual inquiry, he had an astonishing experience of God’s love and power.
He certainly wasn’t the first to speak of a ‘baptism in the Spirit’ (see Matt 3:11, Mark 1:8) nor would he be the last, but his description of the experience is helpful for those seeking God for a similar dynamic in their spiritual lives.
You can read his introduction to the experience here.
‘A mighty baptism in the Holy Ghost’
His journal records the occasion:
‘But as I returned and was about to take a seat by the fire, I received a mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without expecting it, without ever having the thought in my mind that there was any such thing for me, without any recollection that I had ever heard the thing mentioned by any person in the world, at a moment entirely unexpected by me, the Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me, body and soul.
I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity, going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love for I could not express it in any other way.
And yet it did not seem like water, but rather as the breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings; and it seemed to me, as these waves passed over me, that they literally moved my hair like a passing breeze.
No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. It seemed to me that I should burst.
‘So happy that I cannot live!’
I wept aloud with joy and love; and I do not know but I should say, I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart. These waves came over me, and over me, and over me, one after the other, until I recollect I cried out, “I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.” I said, “Lord, I cannot bear any more;” yet I had no fear of death.
How long I continued in this state I do not know. But it was late in the evening when a member of my choir – for I was the leader of the choir – came into the office to see me. He was a member of the church.
He found me in this state of loud weeping, and said, “Mr. Finney, what ails you?” I could make him no answer for some time. He then said, “Are you in pain?” I gathered myself up as best I could, and replied, “No, but so happy that I cannot live.
He turned and left the office, and in a few minutes returned with one of the elders of the church, whose shop was nearly across the way from our office.
The Laughing Elder
This elder was a very serious man; and in my presence had been very watchful, and I had scarcely ever seen him laugh. When he came in I was very much in the state in which I was when the young man went out to call him. He asked me how I felt, and I began to tell him.
Instead of saying anything, he fell into a most spasmodic laugh. It seemed as if it was impossible for him to keep from laughing from the very bottom of his heart. It seemed to be a spasm that was irresistible.’[i]
Further prayers were said and the fact one of the elders of the church couldn’t resist laughing when he saw Finney in a relatively helpless state made Finney doubt whether or not he had been presumptuous. Nevertheless he slept.
‘…When I awoke in the morning the sun had risen, and was pouring a clear light into my room. Words cannot express the impression that this sunlight made upon me. Instantly the baptism that I had received the night before, returned upon me in the same manner.
I arose upon my knees in the bed and wept aloud with joy, and remained for some time too much overwhelmed with the baptism of the Spirit to do anything but pour out my soul to God.
It seemed as if this morning’s baptism was accompanied with a gentle reproof, as if the Spirit seemed to say to me, ‘Will you doubt? Will you doubt?’ I cried, ‘No! I will not doubt; I cannot doubt!’’ [ii]
That such experiences of God’s power are recorded throughout church history should challenge us to seek God for authentic encounters with His majesty that we might have an impact on our generation as Finney and others did on theirs.
Next time we’ll look at how Finney began to seek to minister to others…click here
For the first instalment of the Finney Story click here
© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog
[i] The Memoirs of Charles Finney, Ed. Rosell and Dupuis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1989), p.22-24
[ii] ibid p.25