The result of Charles Finney’s encounters with the Holy Spirit are well documented: when he preached multitudes came to Christ.
The Apostle Paul talked about preaching with the ‘demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ (1 Cor 2:4). While we may be convinced that such demonstrations may differ from culture to culture, the following can certainly be understood as an example of a 19th Century American revivalism.
These events took place three years after Finney received his ‘baptism of the Spirit’ in 1824 in a packed school hall in Antwerp, Jefferson County, New York, and are recounted by him.
An ‘ungodly people’
‘While I was [preaching] I observed the people looked as if they were angry. Many of the men were in their shirt sleeves and they looked at each other and at me, as if they were ready to pitch into me and chastise me for something on the spot…their anger arose higher and higher.
As soon as I had finished the narrative I turned upon them and said, that I understood that they had never had a religious meeting in that place; and that therefore I had a right to take it for granted, and was compelled to take it for granted, that they were an ungodly people. I pressed that home upon them with more and more energy, with my heart full to bursting.’
‘The congregation began to fall from their seats’
‘I had not spoken to them in this strain of direct application, I should think more than a quarter of an hour, when all at once and awful solemnity seemed to settle down upon them; and a some thing flashed over the congregation – a kind of shimmering – as if there was some agitation in the atmosphere itself.
The congregation began to fall from their seats; and they fell 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 upon them. Every one prayed for himself who was able to speak at all. I, of course was obliged to stop preaching, for they no longer paid any attention.
I saw the old man who had invited me there to preach sitting about in the middle of the house, and looking around with utter amazement. I raised my voice almost to a scream to make him hear, and pointing to him said, ‘Can’t you pray?’…
‘You are not in Hell yet!’
I then spake as loud as I could, and tried to make them attend to me. I said to them, “You are not in hell yet; and now let me direct you to Christ.” For a few moments I tried to hold forth the Gospel to them; but scarcely any of them paid any attention.
My heart was so overflowing with joy at such a scene that I could hardly contain myself. A little way from where I stood was an open fire-place. I recollect very well that my joy was so great, that I could not help laughing in a most spasmodic manner.
I knelt down and stuck my head into that fire-place and hung my pocket handkerchief over my head, lest they should see me laugh; for I was aware that they would not understand that it was irrepressible, holy joy that made me laugh. It was with much difficulty that I refrained from shouting, and giving glory to God.’
One by one Finney spoke to individuals, leading them to Christ. Years later he had the joy of receiving funding for his ministry from some of those converted in that very meeting.
More next time…
For the first part of the Finney story click here
From The Memoirs of Charles Finney—The Complete Restored Text Edited by G.M. Rosell and R.A.G. Dupuis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1989) p.101-102
© 2012 Lex Loizides / Church History Blog