The Independent New York, February 5, 1874
By President C. G. FINNEY.
Seasons of commercial and business depression are peculiarly favorable to the promotion of revivals of religion. Viewed in this light, they are often the greatest of blessings in disguise.
The business world dreads them before they come and regrets them when they come. In a business point of view, they are a source of general lamentation.
But the spiritual watchmen and women who are waiting prayerfully to reap down the fields as soon as they are white for the harvest see in these so-called calamities the hand of God for good, and hear, as it were within, a voiced saying: “Arise and reap, for the fields are white unto the harvest.”
Such is the state of things in this country at present, and, with your leave, Mr. Editor, I will make some suggestions to the churches on the subject of revivals. If the articles interest your readers, I may, if my health holds out, write more than one. This one I wish to devote to some remarks on the necessity of reviving the churches.
My experience has taught me that the value of a revival to any community depends upon the thoroughness with which the fallow ground is broken up in the hearts of Christians. When the hearts of the membership of the church are hard and blind and they are in a great measure conformed to this world the preacher sows among thorns.
They must be revived. Their hearts must be broken up. They must confess their backsliding. They must repent, have their faith renewed, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ, as a condition of their prevailing either with God or man.
If the church is not revived, it will constantly present a false standard to the eyes of the world, and the converts, if conversions there are, can hardly be recognized as such. They will be weak and doubtful and timid, and with the worldliness of the church before them they will not see the necessity of a thorough reformation in all their habits and ways of life. If such converts are gathered into the church, they will be a weakness, instead of a power.
They will only swell the number of those over whom the pastor and wakeful members are obliged to weep and groan, and for whom they must travail in birth till Christ be formed in them. The thoroughness with which the church is quickened and reformed will decide the type of the revival, as it regards the conversion of the impenitent.
Sometimes but little pains are taken to break up the fallow ground in members of the church. Many professed Christians seem not to know what it is to be in a truly revived spirit. They know not what it is to travail in birth for souls in prayer, with strong crying and tears; and if a revival begins they are apt to get up in their sleep and bustle about, and do more harm than good. Without manifesting any brokenness of heart, they will begin to exhort the impenitent around them, who have known their worldly-mindedness, and produce repellance and disgust, instead of making a saving impression upon them.
If they have manifested worldly mindedness, have been in a great measure blind and conformed to the world, they perishingly need, for their own sake, to be thoroughly broken up in heart and reformed in life. The great deep of their affectional and emotional nature needs to be broken up and thawed out, and their whole mind rendered mellow and yielding to the will of God, before they can truly represent the religion of Christ and be safely recognized as Christians by the world around them.
For the laborers to strike in for the conversion of the impenitent before the church is quickened and brought to hold up the right standard in their lives is always a dangerous and often a useless experiment. Frequently converts are counted by scores and hundreds: but in such cases it often happens, as it did in the days of Christ, when he said: “Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made ye make him two-fold more the child of Hell than yourselves.”
In a few short weeks or months, as a general thing, such converts will be found even more conformed to the world than were the members of the church when the converts first indulged a hope. The very idea of a revival implies the quickening and reviving of the church. And a revival that fails to secure this will almost invariably make the pastor a great deal of trouble and in the end deeply wound the cause of Christ.
A worldly-minded church is the greatest hindrance to the success of the Gospel in any place. The more numerous the membership the greater the hindrance. An awakening (I can scarcely call it a revival) that adds to a worldly church a large number of professed converts will inevitably be to the pastor, sooner or later, a great mortification and distress and to the world a great stumbling-block.
Hence, it is of indispensable importance that means should be unsparingly used and pressed until a thorough waking up of the church is secured. After this is done the work among the impenitent may be expected to be extensive, rapid, thorough; and the converts will almost universally unite with the church in which this wakefulness and revival exists.
I have sometimes labored in churches where it seemed impossible to revive the great mass of the church; and if several churches in the same locality or the same city were making revival efforts at the same time, and Christians enough from the different churches would take hold and enter into the work to secure sound conversions, the Spirit of God would incline the sound converts to unite with the church or churches where the fallow ground had been most thoroughly broken up.
But I must say something upon the manner, as well as the necessity, of breaking up the fallow ground. The first thing to be done is to secure conviction of sin in the church. A revival implies a declension. If a church needs a revival, it is because religion has declined in their lives and hearts.
They are backsliders in heart and filled with their own ways. They have fallen into sin. They have grieved the Holy Spirit. They have disobeyed the Golden Rule. They have dishonored and wounded Christ in the house of his friends. They have betrayed the son of man with a kiss. They have held up a false light. They have been a stumbling-block to the world.
All this should be dwelt upon and held up before them; and they should be besought to take these points into their closets, and on their knees before God bring their hearts and lives face to face with the Golden Rule, with their professions and church covenants, and in the light of these to look at their misrepresentations of the religion of Jesus, the many instances in which their lives have been a stumbling-block to those around them, and let them also consider what Christ had a right to expect of them, what the church had a right to expect of them, what unsaved sinners had a right to expect of them, and consider upon their knees before God their dreadful shortcomings, and in how many instances they have really betrayed the cause of Christ and given occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme.
Let business men consider prayerfully on their knees whether they have obeyed the Golden Rule; let employers consider whether they have obeyed this rule in dealing with the employed; let the employed consider whether they have obeyed the Golden Rule in being faithful to their employers. Let masters and mistresses and servants bring themselves respectively before God at a throne of grace, and inquire whether they have in all respects obeyed the Golden Rule.
Let parents inquire into the spirit and manner of their treatment of their children. Let children inquire solemnly, on their knees at the throne of grace, in what temper and manner they have borne themselves in their relation to their parents. Let husbands and wives also examine themselves in the light of the Golden Rule and in the light of their marriage vows and conjugal relations. Let ministers pray and narrowly look over the spirit and manner in which they have discharged their duties to their churches and congregations.
Let them inquire whether Christ is satisfied with their ministry; let them inquire whether there is any person in their congregation to whom they have not done their duty. Let ministers’ wives inquire of Christ whether he is satisfied with the influence they have exercised and the example they have set before the church and the world. Let magistrates inquire whether they have met the just expectations of the public and of Christ; whether they have conscientiously obey and enforced the laws of their country.
Let all persons in places of public trust carefully and prayerfully face the question, on their knees before God: Have you, in the light of the Gospel, especially of the Golden Rule, done your duty? Let all classes and persons, in all the relations of life, take all these questions solemnly upon their knees before God, and there, in the light of the great law of Christ, settle these questions as in view of the solemn judgment. Let them push these questions to a thorough repentance and breaking down before God. Let them not stop short of a thorough sense of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.