Demonstrations of the Spirit’s Power – Charles Finney

Antwerp, Jefferson County, NY in the 1800s

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

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6 thoughts on “Demonstrations of the Spirit’s Power – Charles Finney

  1. Dave Recker June 18, 2012 / 1:15 pm

    Oh that God would raise up more anointed men like him.We are desperate for a move of God like this.

  2. John Peel June 19, 2012 / 9:45 am

    If ever there was a challenge to the current day tendency to make the Gospel acceptable it’s this. How many of us would be prepared to reprove those who seemed angry at what we said for fear of offending? Of course there was a Holy Spirit “givenness” in Finney’s response but I am stirred to ask myself whether my gentleness at times is more Spirit quenching than Spirit given!

  3. Mark Shearar November 1, 2013 / 1:51 pm

    Really enjoying reading these. I wonder what John MacArthur and his “strange fire” and cessasionist beliefs would have to say about the incredible baptism in the Holy Spirit that Finney describes, not to mention the laughter and falling over! So many falsely believe that Charismatics focus too much on “feelings” and “emotion” and “physical sensations” (as though these things were diametrically opposed to walking by faith and not by sight) and that it’s a new thing in the Church, yet described here and in the previous posts are descriptions from almost 200 years ago of these very same things!

  4. Keith Wilson January 11, 2015 / 12:56 am

    God do it again! in our time, Lord I have heard of your fame, I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” O that You would rend the heavens and come down!

  5. Deana F Metzger May 31, 2016 / 12:38 am

    Amazing, please Lord let us witness such a day and such a man

  6. Justice Carmon September 3, 2017 / 6:21 am

    Thank you. I have NEVER heard this before – but I know it is true. You cannot preach and convert like Finney did without the great power of the Holy Spirit.

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