“Measures to Promote Revivals,” 1835
Evangelist Charles Grandison Finney delivered these lectures in 1834 when he was pastor of New York City’s Chatham Street Chapel (Second Free Presbyterian Church), and they were subsequently published in 1835. In this lecture, Finney defended his controversial “New Measures”—and by extension, many of the new Protestant religious practices that marked the Second Great Awakening—from conservative criticism. Finney argued that evangelists should be free to introduce new forms that made the gospel message relevant and appealing to changing audiences, especially given that the early republic was an age when all sorts of new entertainments (like the American Museum) competed for the public’s attention.
1. If we examine the history of the Church we shall find that there never has been an extensive reformation, except by new measures. Whenever the Churches get settled down into a form of doing things, they soon get to rely upon the outward doing of it, and so retain the form of religion while they lose the substance. And then it has always been found impossible to arouse them so as to bring about a reformation of the evils, and produce a revival of religion, by simply pursuing that established form. Perhaps it is not too much to say, that it is impossible for God Himself to bring about reformations but by new measures. At least, it is a fact that God has always chosen this way, as the wisest and best that He could devise or adopt. . . .
2. The same distinctions, in substance, that now exist, have always existed, in all seasons of reformation and revival of religion. There have always been those who particularly adhered to their forms and notions, and precise way of doing things, as if they had a "Thus saith the Lord" for every one of them. They have called those that differed from them, who were trying to roll the ark of salvation forward, "Methodists," "New Lights," "Radicals," "New School," "New Divinity," and various other opprobrious names.…
5. Without new measures it is impossible that the Church should succeed in gaining the attention of the world to religion. There are so many exciting subjects constantly brought before the public mind, such a running to and fro, so many that cry "Lo here!" and "Lo there!" that the Church cannot maintain her ground without sufficient novelty in measures, to get the public ear. The measures of politicians, of infidels, and heretics, the scrambling after wealth, the increase of luxury, and the ten thousand exciting and counteracting influences that bear upon the Church and upon the world, will gain men's attention, and turn them away from the sanctuary and from the altars of the Lord, unless we increase in wisdom and piety, and wisely adopt such new measures as are calculated to get the attention of men to the Gospel of Christ. I have already said that novelties should be introduced no faster than they are really called for; they should be introduced with the greatest wisdom, and caution, and prayerfulness, and in a manner calculated to excite as little opposition as possible. But new measures we must have. And may God prevent the Church from settling down in any set of forms, or getting the present or any other edition of her measures stereotyped.
6. It is evident that we must have more arousing preaching, to meet the character and wants of the age. Ministers are generally beginning to find this out. And some of them complain of it . . . The character of the age is changed, but these men retain the same stiff, dry, prosing style of preaching, that answered half a century ago.
Look at the Methodists. Many of their ministers are unlearned, in the common sense of the term - many of them taken right from the shop or farm, and yet they have gathered congregations, and pushed their way, and won souls everywhere. Wherever the Methodists have gone, their plain, pointed and simple, but warm and animated, mode of preaching has always gathered congregations. Few Presbyterian ministers have gathered such large assemblies, or won so many souls. Now, are we to be told that we must pursue the same old, formal mode of doing things, amidst all these changes? As well might the North River be rolled back, as the world converted under such preaching. Those who adopt a different style of preaching, as the Methodists have done, will run away from us. We must have powerful preaching, or the devil will have the people, except what the Methodists can save! Many ministers are finding out already, that a Methodist preacher, without the advantages of a liberal education, will draw a congregation around him which a Presbyterian minister, with perhaps ten times as much learning, cannot equal, because he has not the earnest manner of the other, and does not pour out fire upon his hearers when he preaches.
Finally, this zealous adherence to particular forms and modes of doing things, which has led the Church to resist innovations in measures, savors strongly of fanaticism. And what is not a little singular, is, that fanatics of this stamp are always the first to cry out "fanaticism." What is that but fanaticism in the Roman Catholic Church, which causes them to adhere with such pertinacity to their particular modes, and forms, and ceremonies, and fooleries? They act as if all these things were established by Divine authority; as if there were a "Thus saith the Lord" for every one of them. Now, we justly style this a spirit of fanaticism, and esteem it worthy of rebuke. But it is just as absolutely fanatical for the Presbyterian Church, or any other, to be sticklish for her particular forms, and to act as if they were established by Divine authority. The fact is that God has established, in no Church, any particular form, or manner of worship, for promoting the interests of religion. . . .
Source: Lectures on Revivals of Religion, excerpts from Lecture 14: “Measures to Promote Revivals” available online at http://www.ccel.org/f/finney/revival/