Charles Finney (1792–1875) was a Presbyterian minister and is often referred to as “The Father of Modern Revivalism.” Everywhere he preached, people were greatly moved and impacted by the word of God, and lives were changed not only for a season but for eternity. He was prolific writer, and much of what he wrote has been preserved through the generations, and has proven to be quite valuable for the church today.
This series of posts from Finney will violate our regular weekly schedule, and the four parts will be published twice a week, completing this series in two weeks rather than four. We hope you agree that the extra reading will be worth it.
For more about Finney’s life, might we suggest this biographical sketch previously posted to our blog?
The Enduement of Power (Part 3), by Charles Finney
Who May Expect This Enduement of Power?
“If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” —John 14:15–17
I need not now give other instances of the manifestation of this “power from on high,” since its existence is admitted, and has been witnessed in every age of the Church. The two instances given in the former chapter were exceptional in certain respects. But I could multiply to almost any extent accounts of instances of the manifestation of this power upon individuals and upon masses. This power has often been manifested in private conversation, in public exhortation, in public and social prayer, and in every manner of communicating truth. It is well understood that oftentimes an invisible but all-subduing power attends the communication of God’s truth; and that the manifestation of this power is seen to accompany the labors of some individuals much more strikingly than it does those of others. If it would not try the patience of my readers, I should like to notice many illustrations of this remark, and name the persons who were manifestly endued with this power, and the places where such manifestations were made. But I pass to the consideration of the question: “Who have a right to expect this enduement of power to win souls to Christ?”
1. The command to disciple all nations was given to the whole Church, and not merely to the apostles. I believe this is generally admitted. The injunction to tarry at Jerusalem until they received this enduement was also given to the then existing Christian Church. The promise of this enduement appears to have been given to all whose duty it was to labor for the conversion of the world. The promise, as usual, was coextensive with the command.
2. The work to be done is many-sided, and a variety of gifts is essential to its accomplishment. These were richly bestowed by Christ on the day of Pentecost, and have been richly multiplied by Him in every age of the Church. But all other gifts are unavailing without the addition of this marvelous power to impress God’s saving truth upon the soul. Are we to conclude that this power is a gift promised to and designed for only a select few; or was it promised as a gift common to all God’s people? May they all be endued with this power from on high by fulfilling the conditions of its bestowment? This is a momentous question. For, if it is not promised to all, to whom is it promised? The promise is nugatory and void, for uncertainty, unless we can ascertain to whom it is made. 1. The promise certainly was not confined to the apostles, neither was the enduement confined to them; for in the apostolic age Stephen, with many others — and, indeed, the whole Church — possessed this power. Again, it was not then, nor has it been since, confined to ordained ministers of the gospel. It has always been possessed by laymen, and in many instances in an eminent degree. I have myself known a great many laymen who were marvelously gifted in winning souls to Christ. Who has not heard of Father Carpenter (mentioned by Dr. Mahan in another part of this volume) a layman, but little educated, and of quite limited natural ability? He labored in Southern New York and New Jersey as a layman; and hundreds — I think I may say thousands were the seals of his labors. I could name scores of laymen whose exhortations and conversations have been instrumental in converting hundreds upon hundreds of souls. This enduement was not at first, nor has it been since, confined to the male sex. Women have possessed it, and very often in a remarkable degree. Paul had his female helpers in proclaiming the gospel, whose usefulness he was frank to acknowledge. In every age of the Church, and especially wherever revivals of religion have existed, this power has been given to women as well as men. I am rejoiced to know that the American Board is learning more and more the power and usefulness of female labors in the missionary field. However men may interpret the Bible, whatever prejudices may exist in any branch of the Church against the public gospel labors of females, the fact remains that God imparts to females, often in an eminent degree, the power to win souls to Christ. I have myself known a goodly number of women who have been amongst the most efficient laborers for souls that I could anywhere find. I could name women of diverse ages and culture upon whom this power from on high rested in a degree too manifest to be overlooked or denied. This enduement, then, is not confined to either sex. This power has been possessed by both young and old, by young converts, and by ripe Christians. Many have possessed it from their first conversion, whilst others have failed to obtain it until they had been in the Church for many years. I have known ministers, who had labored many years without it, at last come to possess it in an eminent degree. Facts undeniably prove that this enduement of power from on high is and has been a gift common to Christians of all ages and sexes, and of every degree of condition. So that all Christians, by virtue of their relation to Christ, may ask and receive this enduement of power to win souls to Him. It is evident that the promise was not originally made to any particular individuals, to the exclusion of others. It is also manifest that the bestowment of the gift has not been confined to office, age, or sex. So far as my observation has gone, I have found it to exist as frequently among laymen as clergymen, and nearly as often among women as men, and quite as often among young converts as older professors of religion. Were it necessary, I could summon a cloud of witnesses as proofs and illustrations of what I here assert.
I have said that Christians belonging to all classes possess this enduement of power savingly to impress the souls of men — young converts, old professors of religion, ministers, laymen, women, old and young, and of every degree of human culture. The history of the Church affords evidence that there has always been a sprinkling of Christians, of ministers, and laymen and women, that have been peculiarly gifted in winning souls to Christ. Now, I must not fail to add, and that with emphasis, that these persons have been without exception, especially anointed for this work. After the first faith they have received the special enduement of power from on high. Men and women vary indefinitely in their natural powers of persuasion, but no human eloquence can ever convert a soul. Unless the Spirit of God sets home and makes the truth of God effectual, all human eloquence and learning will be in vain. And it is a fact worthy of all attention and consideration, that, with very little human culture, this enduement of power will make a Christian wise and efficient in bringing souls to Christ. The apostles, with the exception of Paul, had but little culture; and yet witness the effect of the fisherman Peter’s first sermon, after receiving his first baptism of this power. I have referred to Father Carpenter. Whoever was acquainted with him, and has known anything of the results of his labors, must have been astonished at his success, considering his very limited culture. It is very humiliating to human learning and pride, and always has been; nevertheless, it has been Christ’s method from the first to choose the weak things of this world to confound the wise. I have said that this enduement of power is often given to females. The Church has greatly erred in keeping them back, and not encouraging them in personal efforts to win souls to Christ. From my own experience and observation lam convinced that, were they encouraged by conversation, exhortation, persuasion, and every suitable method to make efforts to win souls, it would be found that there is in the Church a great host of women endued with this power. This enduement of power is sometimes bestowed immediately after conversion. It was in my own case. I possessed it from the very first as fully as I have done in any period of my life. It is not a thing into which people can gradually grow by forming habits of persuasion and conversation. It is a gift -an anointing, instantaneously received, and that may be enlarged or diminished as the possessor of it uses it more or less faithfully and intensely for the purposes for which it was given. It is oftentimes possessed and then lost, or its manifestation suspended by something that quenches the light of the Spirit in the soul. I have myself seen striking examples of this. I have said that this power often rests upon those who have very little human culture. This is a notorious fact; but it does not follow from this that culture is to be despised or to be little accounted of. Where this power exists, the more learning and eloquence the better. But it is painful to observe the constant tendency to substitute culture for this power, or human learning and eloquence in place of this Divine enduement. I fear this tendency is increasing in the Church. The churches are calling for men of great learning and eloquence, instead of men who are deeply baptized with the Holy Ghost. The seminaries of learning are much in fault in this thing. They do not lay half stress enough upon the possession of this enduement as an essential qualification for usefulness in the world. The manifest possession of this enduement of power should be considered an indispensable qualification for a professor in college or in a theological seminary, and the want of it should be regarded as a disqualification for a professorship, especially in a theological seminary. A theological professor who does not believe in this enduement of power, and who does not possess it in a manifest degree, cannot fail to be a stumblingblock to his students. If he does not urge it upon them as the most important of all qualifications for the ministry, if he does not speak of it and treat it as altogether indispensable to success in the ministry, his teaching and his influence will be vitally defective; they will be a snare and a stumblingblock. This must be true, or this whole question of the enduement of power from on high must be a delusion. This enduement is nothing, or it is everything in the sense of being wholly indispensable to success. It is a notorious fact and no delusion; and the want of it should be regarded by the churches as a disqualification for the pastoral office, or for superintendent of the Sabbath School, or for deacons or elders of the church, or for home or foreign missionaries. Pastors should urge the necessity of this enduement upon their churches, and raise up helpers in the gospel, and surround themselves with a host of men and women who are richly endued with power from on high. If a pastor has to work alone, if he has no members, or but a few, who are endued with t his power, it is generally because he does not possess it himself; or, if he does possess it, he fails in so presenting and urging it as to procure its acceptance by the members of his church.