The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To The Advance
15 August 1868
[Published in The Advance (Chicago), Volume 1, Number 52 (27 August 1868), page 1.]
The following article appeared in The Advance (Chicago), Volume 1 (26 March 1868), page 1 :
FAITH AND THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
I have before me a letter, written more than thirty-six years ago, in which I have found much to excite the most solemn reflections, as indicating the necessity of faith without bounds, and the illimitable influence which the Holy Spirit strives to possess over individuals and the world.
The missive referred to bears all the marks of well-preserved age, having been cherished ever since its receipt, in 1831, by the pious man to whom it was addressed, until his death in 1866; since then it has been in my possession.
The writer of it was a clergyman, of what denomination I cannot positively speak, but it matters little. His life, his health, his whole soul, were devoted to his Master's service "in season and out of season," and his reward came early and certainly. A few days after he had penned this epistle, so full of holy love and fear, he was found dead upon his knees, in the privacy of his closet. The angel of death had surprised--no, taken him home--in the act of devotion--thus giving a solemn emphasis to the following passage from the letter now under consideration: "I have felt a little like praying that I may be overwhelmed with the Holy Ghost, DIE in the operation, and go to heaven thus; but God knows." Death, under such circumstances, assumes the grandeur of the translation of Enoch, and should inspire every Christian should with renewed hope in the promise of Christ. To him or her whose faith is enlarged by Christian love, yet checked by occasional doubts of the efficacy of prayer, or the unbounded measure of Divine grace, the lesson of this now blessed minister is especially commended.
H. M. H.
VERONA, Oneida Co., N.Y.,
Nov. 7, 1831
MY DEAR SIR:
* * * We still continue our meeting, but, except on the Sabbath, have not met in the daytime since Friday. I believe five or six obtained hopes the evening after you left us, two or three the next evening, and two or three last evening. Many people were at meeting yesterday. The lower room was crowded in the evening. It is said Mrs. B-----'s son was at our meeting, and on his knees, last evening. * * I am almost worn out--almost good for nothing; have been sick so much that I cannot bear much exposure, nor much hard labor.
We think the prospect is still favorable here, and are looking for God to do more. Some of our members cry mightily to God; others seem to take no interest in the work. This seems wonderful to me, although I have seen a great deal of it, and have been troubled a great deal with it. How such Christians will fare hereafter, I do not know. Sometimes I am afraid for them. I do not know a Christian can be uninterested in a revival of religion, or not be glad when souls are converted. Brother Adams used to say, "Show me a person who does not feel interested when he hears of a revival, and I will show you a hypocrite."
* * * Since you were here, I have been thinking of prayer--particularly of praying for the Holy Ghost and its descent. It seems to me I have always limited God in this respect. I do not mean to say that I have never thought it my privilege to pray that I might be entirely filled with the Holy Spirit, myself, nor do I say that I never felt at liberty to ask the same for other individuals. This I have often done. But I never felt, till since you left us, that I might rationally ask for the whole influence of the Spirit to come down, not only on individuals, but on a whole people, region, country, and world. On Saturday I set myself to do this, and the Devil was very angry with me yesterday for it.
I am now convinced that it is my duty and privilege, and the duty of every other Christian, to pray for as much of the Holy Spirit as came down on the day of Pentecost, and a great deal more. I know not why we may not ask for the entire and utmost influence of the Spirit to come down, and, asking in faith, see the full answer. * * *
My confidence in God is greatly increased. My expectations from him are greatly enlarged. I have never before felt so firmly that God will soon convert the world. I think I never did so freely ask the Holy Ghost for all mankind on earth. My body is in pain, but I am happy in my God.
I think I never saw so clearly how freely God can give the Holy Spirit, nor so clearly how willing he is to give it to each, to all. I think--I believe, he will soon work wonders. I believe that revivals are just begun. All that has been done is nothing to what is needed; and why has so little been done? Because we have had no faith in the Word of God, or next to none. Christians have measured the Almighty by themselves, and ministers have done the same. They have thought that God could not do much, and they have thought he would not do much; and it has been to them according to their faith--I might say according to their unbelief. They have expected little or nothing from God; and when, in answer to the prayers of a few who had a little faith, he has come and done wonders, many have disbelieved it, though they saw it with their own eyes; others have been astonished, saying--"We have seen strange things today."
It seems to me that, compared with what I ought to have done, I have never had or exercised any faith. I suppose I have believed in Christ, to the saving of my soul; I suppose I have had something like full faith for the salvation of individuals, and for the descent of the Spirit on particular places. I may add, I have for years expected that God would work wonders in the United States of America. But still I have expected nothing, and asked nothing, compared with what I might have done had I fairly believe the Word of God.
I have only just begun to understand what Jesus meant when he said, "All things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive." I suppose millions have gone to hell because I had no more faith to pray for them, and I do not see why I do not deserve to be damned for this. When God speaks, he means what he says as really as we mean what we say when we speak, and much more so. We ought simply to believe what he says. It requires no stretch of thought, or imagination, to do this. It is only to believe that he means just what he says, as we believe an honest neighbor, of common honesty, have no temptation to misrepresent matters of fact, we feel that what he says is true, and act o the strength of his testimony. He says, "Work for me to-day, and I will pay you two dollars in cash at night." Circumstances admitting, we go immediately at work for him, not doubting but he will fulfill his word. So God says, "Only believe my Word, and pray, and I will do all you ask. Simply believe me, and ask what you will, and it shall be done." Now, if we do not credit the testimony of God as readily as we do the testimony of our neighbor, we do not use God as well as we do our neighbor; but who does believe God as readily as his neighbor? Brother L-----, have you and I used God as well as we use even a wicked neighbor? Have we had as much confidence in his Word as in the word of a sinner? I verily thank that I, for one, have been much more in the habit of believing my neighbors than of believing God.
Perhaps I shall be told that the purpose of God stood in the way. If so, I reply, I know nothing about an unrevealed purpose, and it can be no rule of action for me. Besides, had I been a better man, and exercised more faith, for anything that I know, the purpose of God would have been different form what it is. Nay, I know it would have been different concerning me; for if I had been more faithful, he would have appointed me a greater reward than I shall now receive. Besides, my unbelief, which was my sin, was one of the reasons why God could not save any more souls. Had ny faith been as great as he commanded, he would have saved more than he has done, and his purpose concerning them would have been different from what it now is.
Ministers and churches had excused themselves for their unbelief, ignorance and indolence, and laid the blame to the unknown purpose of God; and in doing this they have been a curse to the world. I suppose I have done the world much more hurt than good, and I fear that many others are in the same predicament. Thus, by my unbelief, I have robbed God, robbed heaven, benefitted hell, cheated sinners out of their souls, and cheated myself; so that my portion will be small in heaven, for it will be according to the service which I shall have done for God. I wonder he does not let me go to hell! Wretch that I am, I suppose, however, that I shall just escape, as Paul did, because I did it ignorantly and in unbelief. The fact is, when I was born into the kingdom, I was cheated out of my senses as to those around me. I have only just begun to recover them, and I have been delirious so long that it is probable I never shall half regain my reason till I get to heaven.
TUESDAY MORNING, 8th.--There is nothing new concerning this people, except it be that I have been greatly exercised this morning for them. I know that God will work here. I pray that he may do it now.
The minister and deacon form A----- have been here this morning, requesting me to go there. I have given them no particular encouragement. I cannot say that I wish to go anywhere at present, unless I wish to go to heaven. I have felt a little like praying that I may be overwhelmed with the Holy Ghost, die in the operation and go to heaven thus; but God knows.
Now, Brother L-----, pray that the Holy Ghost, in all its fullness, the entire Godhead, may come down on you, your people, on us all, on all the world. Pray that it may come now. Tell your brethren and sisters thus to pray. Faith like a grain of mustard seed will shake the world; and, blessed be God! he will soon shake it.
My nerves are unstrung, my body is in pain, I am all but sick, if not quite so. This is a solemn day, indeed. The Lord have mercy on this people! The Lord have mercy on us all! We have not fairly begun to live according to his standard. We have been fools, and wicked fools. The Lord awake us! * *
The following article was published in The Advance (Chicago), Volume 1, Number 52 (27 August 1868), page 1:
PRAYER FOR OTHERS
By Rev. C. G. Finney
In The Advance of May 21, I find an article from President Mahan, in reference to certain supposed teachings on the subject of "The Prayer of Faith," in the great revivals that occurred in Central and Western New York from 1825 onward.
He states this doctrine of prayer, as expressed in a conversation he had with a college room-mate, at the time, as follows:
"You and I are absolutely required and bound to pray for the conversion of every impenitent student in the college, and to believe when we pray, that that event will actually occur, and if we should thus pray and believe, every such individual would be converted." "You believe, then, that God holds us strictly responsible for the conversion of all those individuals?" "I do." "Are we not similarly responsible for the conversion of every sinner in this village, town, and region of country?" "We are." "For the same reason are we not similarly bound to pray for the conversion of every sinner on earth, and to believe, when we pray, that he will be converted?" "We are bound thus to believe."
Brother Mahan regards this as a great error, and so do I, and so I always have done since I have known anything of prayer.
And yet he says: "Years before the conversion of Pres. Finney, this doctrine was taught in the leading churches in Central and Western New York. As a doctrine then extensively received, it was adopted by Pres. Finney and most of his co-operators."
If any one possesses my "Lectures on Revivals of Religion," he will find on the 64th page of that volume a lecture especially on "The Prayer of Faith," in which my views on that subject are expressly stated. They are the same that I taught during those great revivals, and have ever taught. These lectures were delivered in New York City very soon after I was engaged in those revivals in Central and Western New York. On the 76th page of this volume is a paragraph in which the particular point animadverted upon by Pres. Mahan is stated. The paragraph is as follows:
It is often asked, Is it our duty to pray the prayer of faith for the salvation of all men? I answer, No; for that is not a thing according to the will of God. It is directly contrary to His revealed will. We have no evidence that all will be saved. We should feel benevolently to all, and in itself considered, desire their salvation. But God has revealed it to us that many of the human race shall be damned, And it cannot be a duty to believe that they shall all be saved, in the face of a revelation to the contrary.
In the English edition of my "Systematic Theology," page 175, in speaking of what is implied in entire obedience to the law of God, is the passage:
Nor does it [that is, holiness, or entire obedience to the law of God] imply the conversion of all men in answer to our prayers. It has been maintained by some, that entire obedience implies the offering of prevailing prayer for the conversion of all men. To this I reply--
(1.) Then Christ did not obey, for he offered no such prayer.
(2.) The law of God makes no such demand, either expressly or impliedly.
(3.) We have no right to believe that all men will be converted in answer to our prayers, unless we have an express or implied promise to that effect.
(4.) As, therefore, there is no such promise, we are under no obligation to offer such prayer.
Nor does the non-conversion of the world imply that there are no saints in the world who fully obey God's law.
Now whatever may have been taught on the subject in the region where those revivals prevailed previous to their occurrence, I do not recollect ever to have heard any such doctrine promulgated during my labors in that region. Pres. Mahan, in his article, refers to a letter of the Rev. Daniel Nash upon the subject, recently published in The Advance. That letter of Mr. Nash I have not seen. He labored with me in that region, and was much with me until near the close of his life. He was a wonderful man in prayer, and held very strong views on the subject of being led in prayer by the Holy Ghost; but I do not recollect ever hearing him express any such sentiments as those attributed to myself and him by Pres. Mahan.
Oberlin, Aug. 15, 1868.
Mahan's reply was published in The Advance, 10 September 1868, page 2:
THE PRAYER OF FAITH
By Pres. A. Mahan
I shall no doubt be permitted to say a few words in explanation of certain statements made by my dear friend, Rev. C. G. Finney, in The Advance of Aug. 24. The only statement in my article in regard to the "prayer of faith," which he objects to, or repudiates, is the admission of my class and room-mate, that it did not follow, as a necessary consequence, from the doctrine which he held, that "we are to pray for the conversion of every sinner on earth, and to believe, when we pray, that he will be converted." The opposite of this my brother affirms, and proves that he did hold and teach. Now I never, in this article, nor any where else, attributed to him any such sentiment. On the other hand, I distinctly stated that very few, if any, would at that time have admitted this one element of the doctrine. What real occasion, then, had Br. Finney, to vindicate himself against me, as having imputed to him such a dogma? None whatever.
But what is the doctrine of the Prayer of Faith as actually taught by him, as well as others, at that time? This we learn from his own Lecture on the subject--the Lecture to which he refers--and which is based upon the following text: "Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall receive them." The kind of faith represented by the words, "prayer of faith," as employed by Bro. Finney, he clearly and definitely sets forth, in the third proposition which he deduces from this passage, and which he proposes to "show when we are bound to exercise this faith, or to believe that we shall receive the thing that we ask for." This belief, that we shall receive the identical thing that we pray for, is the specific form of faith represented by the words, "prayer of faith." This kind of faith, he endeavors to show in his first proposition, "is an indispensable condition of prevailing prayer," "the kind of faith that insures the blessing," "the faith which secures the very blessing which it seeks." This, he endeavors to show in his second proposition, is just what "we are to believe when we pray." "We are to believe," he says, " that we shall receive the very things that we ask for." I italicize as he did. In this connection, he specifies the conversion of children as examples of the objects of this form of prayer. He then, in his third proposition, specifies four conditions in each, and all of which "we are bound to make this prayer, to wit: when "God has especially promised the thing"--"where there is a general promise in the scriptures, which you may reasonably apply to the case before you"--"where there is any prophetic declaration that the thing prayed for is agreeable to the will of God"--"when the signs of the times, or the providence of God, indicate that a particular blessing is about to be bestowed"--and "when the spirit of God is upon you, and incites strong desires for any blessing." In his fourth proposition, he endeavors to show, "that this kind of faith always obtains the object."
Such is this doctrine of the Prayer of Faith as held and taught by one of its most illustrious expounders. It is undeniable that no one can have the Spirit, as Bro. Finney demonstrates in a subsequent Lecture, that all may have, without being filled by the Spirit with desires for the conversion, not only of all his children, if he have any, but of every impenitent sinner in the community around him, and thus have fulfilled in himself the conditions on which, as we are taught, we are bound to exercise the specific kind of "faith which secures the very blessing it seeks." We have thus rolled upon us the responsibility of absolutely insuring the conversion of all these individuals. This was the doctrine taught in the churches from the time of Mr. Nettleton through the era of the great Revivals, the doctrine under the pressure of which, that man of God, Mr. Nash, died on his knees. Had Mr. Finney read the letter on which I commented, he would have perceived that I represented the case just as Mr. Nash did. Nor do I perceive, though Bro. Finney may, how any advocate of this doctrine can, with logical consistency, escape the final consequence, admitted by my classmate to result from it. God specifically requires us to pray "for all men." Are we to pray in faith or in unbelief? In faith; or the divine declaration that "whatsoever is not of faith is sin," is not true. My inference from this obvious fact is that the true idea of the Prayer of Faith was not then generally taught, and is not correctly given in the Lecture under consideration.
Let us apply this exposition of this doctrine to our Saviour, and see if in consistency with it, his sinlessness can be vindicated. from what he uttered, when weeping over Jerusalem, it is undeniable that, in former years, he had often desired with the greatest intensity the salvation of that people. From the character of Christ, and his known relations to the Father, it is equally undeniable that Christ was distinctly conscious of these desires, as induced in him by the Spirit of God. Here, then, was an absolute and conscious fulfillment of one of the conditions on which, according to this view, the obligation was absolute to exercise that specific form of faith which would have insured the salvation of that people. They were not saved. Christ, then, was not sinless, or we have here, in particulars perfectly essential, a false view of the doctrine of the Prayer of Faith. So I have regarded this view from the time when I first heard of it, and, as I stated in my first communication, early foreshadowed the results which have followed from its presentation--the general practical distrust which now exists in the churches in regard to the revealed efficacy of prayer.
Notwithstanding this and other errors, which then obtained, I did not do as that foolish pastor in the city of Cypher did, repudiate measures which God was obviously blessing, and stand coldly aloof from men with whom God was obviously working. On the other hand, I entered, heart and soul, into the work, fellowshipping all who had fellowship with God, and cordially working with all with whom He manifestly worked, and preaching the truth as I understood it. If any shall suppose that the above presentation has, in the least, rippled the surface of the deep affection which I entertain for Mr. Finney, they are greatly mistaken. I cherish the fond hope that some servant of God will be permitted to unfold to the church the doctrine of the Prayer of Faith as really taught in the scriptures. Then will the spirit of prayer, with a power never known before, come back to her heart, and all her membership, as a host of princes, will each, and all united, "have power with God and with men." Till that Spirit shall be poured upon us, faith will be weakness and prayer will be hindered.
[To be checked]
Parts of this letter were reprinted in William W. Patton, Prayer and its Remarkable Answers (Chicago: J. S. Goodman, 1876), pp. 96-7.
Probably Luther Myrick.
"The Prayer of Faith" by Asa Mahan, published in The Advance (21 May 1868), page 1.
Nash's letter dated, Verona, 7 November 1831, was published under the title "Faith and the Gift of the Holy Spirit" in The Advance (26 March 1868), page 1.