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  • OPPOSITION to MY PREACHING by Charles Finney


    by Charles Finney

    During the early part of my ministry especially, I used to

    get knocked back by other preachers because of the

    way that I preached.

    They used to complain that I let down the dignity of the

    pulpit, that I was a disgrace to the ministerial profession,

    that I talked like a lawyer at the bar, and that I talked to

    the people in a colloquial manner. They complained that

    I said "you" instead of preaching about sin and sinners

    and saying "they". They also told me that I said "hell"

    with such emphasis that I often shocked people. They

    said I urged people to respond as if they might not have

    a moment to live, and sometimes they said that I

    condemned people.

    After I had preached for some time and God had poured

    out His blessing everywhere I went, I used to say to

    ministers that I did not dare to make the changes that

    they wanted. I said, "Show me the fruits of your ministry.

    If you can prove by your results that you have found a

    better way, then I will adopt your views."

    They would often complain that I was guilty of repetition

    in my preaching. I would take the same thought and turn

    it over and over, and illustrate it in various ways. I told

    them that I felt it was necessary to do this, to make

    myself understood. Then they would say that the

    educated people in my congregation would lose interest.

    But the facts soon silenced them. They found that under

    my preaching, judges and lawyers and educated men

    were converted in their droves, but under their methods

    such a thing almost never occurred.

    I never bore any grudge towards other ministers for the

    rough way they often treated me. I knew they were only

    trying to help. One time a well-known temperance

    lecturer from Connecticut came down to hear me preach.

    He was indignant. He said I should stop preaching and

    go to Princeton immediately to learn theology.

    I don't want to give the impression that I thought that my

    views or methods were perfect, for I had no such thought.

    I was aware that I was but a child, so to speak. I had not

    been to the higher schools of learning, so I never had

    any higher ambition than to go into new settlements and

    places where the Gospel was not being preached. I was

    often surprised, in the first year of my preaching, that

    educated people found my preaching so compelling.

    This was more than I had expected. In fact it was more

    than I had dared to hope.

    I am still totally convinced that to a large extent the

    schools are ruining the ministers. Preachers these days

    have wonderful facilities, and are vastly more learned, so

    far as theological, historical and Biblical learning is

    concerned, than perhaps any age in history. Yet with all

    their learning, they do not know how to use it. They are,

    to a great extent, like David in Saul's armor.

    Ministers need one thing above all others, and that is

    singleness of eye. If they feel they have a reputation to

    protect, they will do little good.

    I could name ministers who are still alive today who

    were deeply ashamed of me when I first began to preach

    because I was so undignified, used such common

    language and spoke to the people with such directness.

    I was aware from the start that I would meet with

    opposition, and that there was a wide gulf between my

    views and the views of other ministers. I never really felt

    like one of them, or that they regarded me as truly

    belonging to their fraternity. I was bred a lawyer. I came

    straight from the law office into the pulpit, and talked to

    the people as I would have spoken to a jury.

    When a city is on fire, the fire captain does not read his

    men an essay or a fine piece of rhetoric. It is a matter of

    urgency, and he has to make every word count.

    This is the way it always is when men are urgent and

    serious. Their language is pointed, direct and simple.

    Their sentences are short and powerful. They appeal for

    direct action.

    Ministers usually avoid preaching directly to the people.

    They will preach to them about others, and the sins of

    others, but rarely will they ever say: "You are guilty of

    these sins, and the Lord requires this of you." They

    often preach 'about' the Gospel instead of preaching the

    Gospel. They often preach 'about' sinners instead of

    preaching to them. They go to great lengths to avoid

    being personal. But I have always gone down a different

    line than this. I have often said, "Do not think that I am

    talking about anybody else. I am talking to you and you and you."

    Ministers told me at first that people would never put up

    with this - that they would get up and leave, and never

    come back. But they were mistaken. A lot depends on

    the spirit in which it is said. If it is done in the spirit of

    love, with an honest desire for their very best, there are

    very few who will continue to resent it. At the time they

    may feel rebuked and upset, but deep down they know

    that they needed it, and it will ultimately do them good.

    People are not fools. They have little respect for a man

    who will go into the pulpit and preach smooth things.

    There is a part of them that despises it.

    I became aware that a large number of ministers east

    of Utica were writing letters about the revivals, and taking

    a hostile stand against them. But until I came to Auburn

    in 1826 I was not fully aware of the amount of opposition

    I was destined to meet from these ministers - who did

    not personally know me but were influenced by false

    reports. I learned that a secret network was developing

    with the aim of uniting the ministers and churches to

    hedge me in, and prevent the revivals from spreading.

    I was told that all the New England churches in

    particular were closed to me. I became quite upset by

    all of this. I didn't say anything to anyone, but gave

    myself to prayer. I asked God to direct me and to give

    me the grace to ride out the storm.

    One day I was in my room and the Lord showed me a

    vision of what lay ahead. He drew so near to me while

    I was praying that I literally trembled. I shook from head

    to foot, under a full sense of the presence of God. It

    seemed more like being on the top of Sinai, with all the

    thunderings, than in the presence of the cross of Christ.

    Never in my life was I so awed and humbled before God.

    But instead of wanting to run away, I felt drawn nearer

    and nearer to this Presence that filled me with such awe

    and trembling. After a period of great brokenness before

    Him, there came a great lifting up. God assured me that

    He would be with me and hold me up - that no opposition

    would succeed against me. He showed me that there

    was nothing I should do, but to keep ministering and

    allow Him to vindicate my ministry.

    The sense of God's presence, and all that passed

    between myself and God at that time, I can never

    describe. It led me to be perfectly trusting, perfectly

    calm, and to have nothing but the best attitude towards

    all the brothers who were misled and were aligning

    themselves against me. I felt sure that everything would

    turn out alright in the end - that the best course for me

    to take was to leave everything to God and just keep

    on going. As the storm gathered and the opposition

    increased, I never doubted for one moment how it would

    result. I was never disturbed by it. I never spent a

    waking hour thinking about it - even when it seemed as

    if all the churches in the land, except where I had

    ministered, would unite to shut me out of their pulpits.

    This was what the leaders of this opposition had vowed

    to do. They were so deceived that they thought they

    had no choice but to unite and, as they expressed it,

    "put him down." But God assured me that they would

    never put me down.

    -[From the book, "Charles Finney - Most Powerful Revivals"]