The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To Thomas Brainerd
21 October 1828
[MS in Thomas Brainerd Papers, R.G. 292, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Department of History and Records Management Services, Philadelphia. The letter has a number of editorial amendments to prepare it for publication. It was published in Mary Brainerd, The Life of Rev. Thomas Brainerd D.D. for thirty years pastor of old Pine Street Church, Philadelphia (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1870), pages 52-55. Also published in: The New-York Evangelist, (23 September 1875), page 4; "Charles G. Finney's Common Sense" The Christian Standard, (21 December 1878), pages 11-12; Holiness Mission Journal, Volume 15, Number 3 (March 1922), page 29; Louis G. Parkhurst, editor, Principles of Victory, pages 23-24.]
One of the converts of the Oneida revivals was a young law student, Thomas Brainerd. After Finney's death in August 1875, Finney's widow, Rebecca, received a letter from Mary Brainerd, the widow of Thomas Brainerd:
Upper Montclair, N.J. Dec.1-1875.
Dear Mrs. Finney,
With thousands of other people, I have deeply felt the death of Mr. Finney -- while we have nothing to say concerning it, but what implies gratitude to God for sparing his valuable life so long and filling it with such blessed results. With no personal acquaintance, I have cherished the greatest admiration and veneration for Mr. Finney. My husband, (Thomas Brainerd) was converted from the "Law" to the "Gospel", by Mr. Finney's preaching, at Rome, N.Y. in 1825. And I sent, recently, to the N.Y. Evangelist, for publication, a letter written to him by Mr. Finney during his student life at Andover Theo. Sem. This letter was published in Mr. Brainerd's biography -- with other allusions to Mr. Finney, which you may have noticed in the book.
And in a later letter, dated 29 February 1876, to President Fairchild, she wrote:
In Mr. Brainerd's Life, is a letter which has been republished in the New York Evangelist, since the death of Mr. Finney.
After his conversion, Thomas Brainerd had spent a year in Philadelphia, teaching, in order to earn money to pay for his theological training. While he was in Philadelphia he was connected with the church of the Rev. James Patterson in the northern part of the city. It was to that church, during that time (early in the year 1828), that Finney had gone to labour. After Brainerd had left Philadelphia and had gone to Andover, he had written to Finney:
Andover Sept 6th 1828
Revd & Dear Sir
Deeply sensible of my many and great obligations and aware of your solicitude for the welfare of all your spiritual children, I improve the earliest opportunity to transmit a letter to you. When I reached Philadelphia last winter I did not anticipate the pleasure of meeting there one whom I hope to remember with sincere affection and gratitude not only to the end of life but through eternity. Your presence in the city Phila made a home for me in that land of strangers and while I live I trust I shall be benefitted by the opportunity with which I have been favoured for some months past of again listening to your close and powerful preaching.
Brainerd went on to give news of friends in New Lebanon where he had spent some time on the way; and gave anecdotes of the journey. He continued:
I was well received by the faculty of the seminary and found among the students much of brotherly feeling. The location of this Seminary is extremely beautiful - on a high verdant hill - in a thickly settled country. The buildings large elegant and convenient. The faculty are learned, rhetorical and prudent - very anxious for the improvement of their pupils in Biblical literature. Professor Stewart is a man of profound erudition warm religious feelings and possesses as much independence in what he considers to be duty as Messrs Patterson and Finney. I wish Sir you could become acquainted. I know you would like him. The only thing in this school of the prophets (Andover) with which I am not pleased is the restraint which is put upon nature - every man is to be brought to just such a standard of action. In the prayer meetings all, who had, pray systematically grammatically rhetoricaly moderately & coldly[.] At first I could not keep my mind any where. It was so still among them - so gentle - so indifferent. But I perceive I can enjoy their meetings the better the more I attend them and perhaps by the time I become a senior I may pray as properly - and as lifeless. But I can assure you of this Sir - That my opinion of good preaching will not change that I shall always admire that pointed manner which aims at the heart and appeals to the conscience of all men in the sight of God. Daily I try to pray for you and the scene of your labours. I hope you do not quite forget me in your prayers. Please to remember me to Mr. & Mrs Patterson and believe me to remain -
Yours in Christian Bonds - T. Brainard
More than half of the Students are favourable to you - and those that are not, say nothing about new measures. The opposition has blown over. Br. Abbott will tell the rest about me and the Seminary.
The letter was sent to Finney in Philadelphia "P[e]r Mr Abbott".
Finney's reply which Mary Brainerd sent to The New-York Evangelist, was published in Volume 46, Number 38 (September 23, 1875), page 4, under the caption "Effective Preaching: A Characteristic Letter." An editorial introduction stated: "It has never before been published, and is worthy to be printed in letters of gold." In fact, the letter had already appeared five years earlier in Mary Brainerd's biography of Thomas Brainerd. The version in The New-York Evangelist has a number of changes and omissions.
Philadelphia 21st Oct 1828.
My Dr. Brainard.
Your letter by Br. Abbott
came duly to hand, & afforded much pleasure.
As he is about to return, I seize a moment
in which to mention a thing or two.
First be careful, amid the various specimens of
publick speaking which are constantly before
you, not to become a copyist. Be Brainard or
you will be nobody. I have seen many young
men spoiled by setting up a model & attempti
ng to fashion themselves after it. In this they fail.
In the attempt however, they spoil themselves by loos
ing themselves under their borrowed manner, &
often, to observing eyes, render themselves very
ridiculous & disgusting.
Be careful, My Dr. B. not to suffer yourself to
be criticised out of a natural & colloquial
style of communication. I can not speak of
Andover particularly as to style & manner, but
I am certain that much that is called pulpit
eloquence at the present [day], is mere wash, & noise
& foppery. I have the greatest confidence in the
piety, & theology of Andover, but there are three
principle defects in the specimens which I have
seen from there, which I shall mention to you
with perfect freedom. Their young men are not
half enough in earnest. A hearer would be very apt
often to catch the impression that they were performing
professional duty. This makes infidels, however logically
they may reason. Unless they appear to believe their own
message, it would be a miracle if others believed it.
They are too stiff, there is not enough of nature in
their manner. They are not colloquial enough.
Their style is too elevated, their periods too round, too
much dress & drapery & millinary & verbage about
their preaching. They are, or seem to be afraid of being
called vulgar. They are not by the multitude under
stood. I do not mean that these things are peculiar
to Andover, they are the common defects of most
theological students. The more I preach, & the more
I hear others preach the more I am impressed with
the ripe conviction, that a prominent reason why preaching
produces so little effect is, because it is not understood.
Young men are often afraid and ashamed of using
common words. From this error stand off wide. Keep
clear, or you make shipwreck of your usefulness.
I am called vulgar & yet I find that I often use language
that a great part of my hearers dont understand.
The remark is often made to me. "I never understood
preaching until I heard you". Dont think by this, that
I mean to make myself a standard. By no means
I only mean to advert to the fact that if a man will
be understood, he must dare to be called vulgar.
There is another thing however of infinite importance to a
student of divinity & that in which it is not slander
to say almost all ministers greatly fail.
I mean a spirit of prayer.
I am convinced that nothing in the whole christian
religion is so difficult & so rarely attained, as a
praying heart. Without this you are as weak as
weakness itself. With it you are irresistable.
This would be thought a strange remark by
some, & to savour strongly of fanaticism.
But I tell you my Dr B. before the Millennium
comes the church have to turn over a new leaf
& take a new lesson on the subject of prayer.
You remember this! When I think how almost certa
in you are to loose what of the praying spirit you
ever had, & come out of the Seminary very wise
but very dry, & go about "sowing seed" without
unction & life & spirituality. I am distressed, & could
I raise my voice with sufficient strength, you w[ould]
hear me cry "Brainard beware! Lay down y[our]
books and pray"! Frequent seasons of secret fasting &
prayer, is in my own mind, wholly indispensable
to the keeping up an intercourse with God.
My Dr brother let me say again & again, if you
loose your spirit of prayer you will do nothing, or
next to nothing, though you had the [intellectual] mental
endowments of an angel. My beloved B. will you
remember this? If you loose your spiritually, you
had better stop & break off in the midst of your prepa
rations & repent & return to God, or go about some
other employment, for I can not contemplate a more
loathsome & abominable object than an earthly minded
minister. The blessed Lord deliver & preserve his dear chh
from the guidance & influence of men who know not
what it is to pray. Yours in the best of bonds, *
C. G. Finney
[across the left hand side of page 3]
P.S. On running over this letter, it occurred to me that the impression might be made upon your mind by it, that I suppose that the faults in the man[ner] of preaching which I have mentioned are more prominent in Andover students than in others. This is not my meaning. Upon the whole I give, in my own mind, the decided prefference to Andover above all the Seminaries. & think the faults less conspicuous in their S[t]udents than in others. But yet they are faulty in these things generally. They are too measured & dryly systematick to be what they ought to be.
* [On this letter was endorsed, in the handwriting of Thomas Brainerd]
O Lord, assist me to remember and practice the precepts contained in this letter, for Christ's sake. Amen.
The next May while Thomas Brainerd was on vacation from Andover Theological Seminary, he wrote a second letter to Finney in which he said:
I shall return to the Seminary in 3 weeks to spend a year or two more there. Do not fear My Dear Sir that I shall have a cold manner when I come out nature has fitted me for a warm preacher and if every spark of purity is not extinguished in the seminary I shall certainly be a Zealous if not a successful minister I thank you for your advice in your last letter and hope to profit by it through life.
Brainerd went on to become an eminent Presbyterian minister, who "lived and laboured for revivals". He eventually settled in Philadelphia where he was pastor of the Old Pine Street Church for thirty years. He was to contact Finney again twenty-seven years later.