In an article titled "Finney's Revival Methods," William Farley wrote:
"Finney’s techniques were novel. He did not evangelize like his predecessors, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and Asahel Nettleton. To secure conversions, he deliberately raised the emotional timbre of the meetings. He adopted and popularized the Methodist practice of asking converts to come to the altar or sit on an anxious seat to signify their decision to follow Christ. To wear people down so they would make a commitment, he lengthened his meetings. Sometimes his meetings lasted 4 hours or longer. These forms of manipulation did not escape his critics...Finney achieved significant success, but because of his new measures, a ground swell of resistance arose."
"Although Methodists, and some Baptists, had been practicing these techniques for sometime, Finney popularized them. They remain in use today. As Murray notes, “What happened there [Western New York under Finney] became a watershed in evangelical history and introduced the first major controversy on the meaning of revival between leaders who equally professed their belief in the work of the Holy Spirit.” (Charles Finney: The Controversial Evangelist by William P. Farley - see here)
There is somewhat of a contradiction in these words. First, Farley says that "Finney's techniques were novel" and then says certain groups "had been practicing these techniques for some time." The truth is that Finney, rather than introducing wholly new techniques, rather "popularized" them. But, he is correct about how the revival methods of Finney created a tumult among many, especially among those who were strongly Calvinistic. It is certainly true that Finney's Pelagianism determined the kind of evangelistic methods he used, just as Calvinism determines the kind Calvinists use. Doctrine always effects practice. Still, one must wonder which is worse, the extremism of Finney or the extremism of the Hardshell Black Rockers.
In July, 1827 the "New Lebanon Conference" was held in New Lebanon, New York by Presbyterian ministers to resolve disputes concerning the so-called New Measures for evangelism popularized primarily by Charles Finney. William Weeks was one of the participants. In "A letter on protracted meetings addressed to the church in Paris [N.Y.]" (see here) Weeks, a critic of Finney's revival methods, wrote (1832):
"Another bad effect which I think is greatly to be feared, in every place, is, that by a resort to these extraordinary measures, the ordinary means of grace will come to be undervalued and despised...While I think the ordinary means of grace to have been divinely appointed, I cannot, with a clear conscience, willingly contribute any influence of mine to bring them into disrepute."
Such a statement reminds us of the inner turmoil of mind and spirit that Calvinist John Leland often experienced in contemplating the way in which he ought to address and appeal to sinners. He, thankfully, did not go to either extreme. He rejected the methods of Finney and the Camp Meeting Methodists, one extreme, but he also rejected the "Gillite method," another extreme, and determined to preach with "a little Arminianism" mixed in.
"The glorious justice of God, and his holy sovereignty, his right to do what he will with his own, and his purpose to form some into vessels of mercy and others into vessels of wrath, and the duty of the sinner to be reconciled to these things, I have not heard clearly exhibited at any of these meetings. Rarely, indeed, have I heard a single sentence, on such occasions, which would not be approved by the most thorough Arminian. On the contrary, I have heard several Arminian sentiments plainly stated, and strongly urged. That God does on the whole desire the salvation of every sinner, I take to be the fundamental error of both Arminians and Uniyersalists."
What this writer says I find objectionable. He seems to think, like some Calvinists, that the Gospel cannot be preached by Arminians, and that one cannot preach the Gospel unless one preaches on election and predestination. When Paul says "I declare unto the Gospel which I preached unto you," in I Cor. 15:1, he relates just what that Gospel entailed and says:
"For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures..." (vs. 3-4)
There is nothing in these words about God's sovereignty or about election and predestination. Certainly these doctrines are not opposed to the Gospel and may be declared in conjunction with preaching the Gospel, but the Gospel may be preached when nothing is said about them. Further, if Arminians do not preach the Gospel, then they don't believe the Gospel, and are therefore lost. That is an extreme view and one that is, thankfully, false.
Further, it is not wrong to tell others that God desires their salvation, or that of all men. This is what Paul said: "Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." (I Tim. 2: 4) Many Calvinists, such as Charles Spurgeon and John Piper, do not limit the "all men" to only the elect. What they teach is that God loves all men, but that he especially loves the elect, and that he desires all men to be saved, but especially desires the elect to be saved. God desires all to come to a knowledge of the truth, but especially desires that the elect come to a knowledge of the truth. Wrote Paul:
"For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe." (I Tim. 4: 10)
God desires and wills the salvation of all men in the same way that he desires that all men keep his commandments. The truth is, as many able Calvinistic theologians have shown, the Bible sometimes uses the word "will" and "desire," in reference to God, in two distinct senses, and various adjectives are used to make such a distinction. God's sovereign will is that will of purpose whereby God sees to it that what he wills shall infallibly come to pass, and is equivalent with his predestining things. On the other hand, his prescriptive will denotes what God has commanded men to do of their own wills. The former cannot be frustrated but the latter can.
Certainly men should be taught the basics of the Gospel in order to be called upon to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. How can they believe in his person if nothing is taught them about his person? Certainly men should be exhorted to believe in his death, burial, and resurrection, and in his atoning sacrifice for sin, but how shall they believe in such if they are not first taught concerning these things? Likewise, men should be commanded to repent, but they need to be taught what it is that God dislikes and condemns so that they know what it is they need to repent of.
"Sinners are urged to rise, to take certain seats, to kneel, to go to certain places, and the like, with an earnestness which indicates that by doing so they are almost sure of being converted, and by refusing almost sure of being lost. And, on a late occasion, after a preacher had been some time urging the impenitent to resort to the anxious room to be conversed with, he closed by saying, as I took it down at the time, "Go, and the Holy Spirit will seal you unto the day of redemption. Now, all this appears entirely consistent with Arminian sentiments, and with the idea that conversion is the work of man; but does not appear to me to be at all according to what the Bible teaches of the character of unregenerate doings, and of the true state of the sinner. It appears to me to be extremely well adapted "to flatter the sinner into a false hope, and to strengthen and encourage that hope when once imbibed, and thus lead to a whole life of false religion. And when, in addition to these measures, the general strain of what is said to sinners is adapted to work upon their selfish feelings and animal passions, as most of what I have heard has been, and some of it extremely well adapted to work up those feelings to a high pitch, it would be strange if some affections were not excited which they might readily mistake for true religion."
These words of condemnation are similar to those of the Black Rock brethren and of other Arminian hating Calvinists. No one denies that there is a danger in certain kinds of altar calls, and that they sometimes produce false conversions and beget false hopes. But, the abuse of a thing does not make the thing itself wrong. I have already shown how the old Kehukee preachers, in the 1700s, used to invite sinners under conviction of sin to come forward to be prayed for. Elder Wilson Thompson did the same thing. Charles Spurgeon invited sinners seeking salvation to an "inquiry room," a place where they were counseled and instructed on the plan of salvation. As far as the harm of producing shallow ground hearers, or false conversions, I will have more to say shortly.
"How many of them are true converts, is not necessary for me to know. 1 would not limit the Holy One of Israel. I do not know how much truth must be before the mind, in order to render it consistent for God to change the sinner's heart. But, so much appears to me very plain: Such measures, and such instruction as I have described, are extremely well adapted to produce a false hope, and to promote selfish religion; and for that reason, I cannot in conscience adopt them, or countenance them. I should expect to be chargeable with the blood of perishing sinners, if I aid."
The concerns that Weeks speaks of should be a concern to all evangelists. But, one should be careful not to go to an opposite extreme. But, more on this shortly.
"I do not object to the sinner's being told that it is his duly to repent now, without waiting for further reflection, or reading, or self-examination. It has been my uniform practice, as you know, to tell him this. Yet, while I tell him he ought to repent now of all the sin he is conscious of, and love all the truth he knows, I feel bound to tell him that he ought also to look into his own heart, and compare it with the divine requirements; that he ought to read his Bible, and look at truth and duty; that he ought especially to look at the divine character, in all its parts; and by all these means endeavor to obtain a clearer view of his sins, in their number, and magnitude, and aggravation, and repent of all, and a clearer view of God, in his whole character, and love it all."
I think this is a valid point and one which every evangelist should exercise the utmost care about. At least Weeks did not go to the extreme that the Hardshells did in opposing Finney's methods, for he continued to tell sinners to repent. Jesus dealt with what has been called hasty or precipitate disciples (learners).
"And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." (Luke 9 57, 58)
Jesus perceived that the prospective disciple who hastily said to him - "I will follow you anywhere," was lacking sufficient time to consider all that was involved in such a momentous decision. He was being rash and precipitate.
This "would be disciple" of Jesus was "quick to jump at the chance" to follow Jesus and join his society, and he is often called the "hasty" or "rash" disciple, in contrast to others who were rather "procrastinating" disciples, those who were finding reasons to postpone following Christ.
The hasty disciple is a careless individual. Many become professing Christians for the wrong reasons, entering the visible church from a carnal and ambitious spirit, being naturally venturous, audacious, bold, brash, and breakneck.
Some do become Christians out of a devil-may-care attitude, being foolhardy and doing things headlong, being headstrong, immature and impetuous, habitually acting impulsively, as a madcap, being precipitate, and reckless, and thoughtless.
Such hasty and impetuous disciples make ill-advised and ill-considered decisions. Is it an ill advised decision to follow Jesus? No, if you are informed as to what it means to follow him, and knowing this, still desire to do so; Yes, if you are being hasty of spirit, rash, and therefore not properly understanding "what you are getting yourself into."
This is why Jesus said this to such rash disciples - "For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?"
Certainly this warning can be given when giving altar calls and certainly do not prevent the use of altar calls altogether. They also do not prevent evangelists from giving a sense of urgency in calling upon sinners to believe and repent. The Bible is full of addresses to the lost where they are urged not to delay in their turning to God in faith and repentance.
"On the whole, so far as my observation has extended, there has been, and is, a strong tendency to Arminianism, and increased opposition to the doctrines of grace. The fundamental principles of Arminianism are strongly urged, and dwelt upon, and embraced, and the whole system seems to be fast coming in. Attachment to the Calvinistic doctrines, those doctrines which used to be considered essential to revivals, is now made a ground of reproach; and a disposition to insist upon them, is considered not only injudicious, but wrong."
If Calvinists think that too much Arminianism is promoted in many of the revivals of men like Finney, then they ought to show a better way. Did Spurgeon not do this? He was not opposed to protracted and revival meetings. Just because some abuse them does not mean they are themselves wrong. The Black Rockers would have been better to have practiced properly conducted revival meetings and asked others to follow their example. I agree that sinners ought to be told to look to Christ for what they need. Sinners who are not under conviction should be instructed to cry out to God to convict them. Sinners who are struggling to believe should be told to ask the Lord for faith. Sinners struggling with turning away from their sins should be told to call out to the Lord to deliver them. I agree that many Arminians fail to point the struggling sinner to Christ, giving the sinner the impression that he already has the power and will he needs to believe and repent.
"The grand difficulty in the way of the sinner's conversion has been represented to be the love of worldly gratifications; and sinners have been exhorted to part with these for the joys of heaven. And, to submit to this, has been the self denial to which sinners have been urged. Instead of being called upon to submit to the justice of God, they have been called upon to submit to be saved, as if every sinner did not already wish to be saved." (William R. Weeks)
All this may be true, but such does not justify doing completely away with revival, evangelistic, and protracted meetings, as the Black Rockers did.
Fear Of False Conversions
What are the fears of the Hyper Calvinists in regard to the kinds of evangelistic and revival meetings held by the camp meetings of the Methodists or those of Finney? Are they afraid that one of the non-elect might be saved? Are they afraid that there will be false converts? However, doesn't even sound and biblical preaching produce such? Does the preaching of the Hyper Calvinists ever produce false conversions? Certainly the teaching of the parable of the sower and the seed falling on four kinds of soil shows that even genuine Gospel preaching will produce shallow and thorny ground Christians. Did not the preaching of Jesus and the Apostles produce such professors? Did it not produce converts like Simon Magus? Now, if it be a question as to which style of evangelistic preaching and revival meetings will produce less false conversions, let us be concerned but not overly concerned or go to extremes one way of the other.
A Christian has to be out of his right mind to object to churches holding revival meetings of several days span. Not only are most churches annual revival meetings designed for evangelistic purposes, but in order to revive the existing church. Further, it is not presumption on the part of the church to hold them. Surely the church should be praying in advance that the Lord would be pleased with their efforts and not to think that revival will be automatic by simply holding a revival meeting. Surely they should be looking to the Lord to bless their seeking him in revival.
Revivals are not, in themselves, a usurping of the sovereignty of the Lord, especially if done in the manner described above. Beebe judged that such meetings were intended to "induce" the Lord to do what he did not want to do. But, this is a mischaracterization. Still, Jesus taught us to pray with a purpose to move God to do what he would not have done had there been no prayer. Jesus said:
"And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?" (Luke 18: 1-7)
Would the unjust judge have granted the widow's request had she not persisted in her petitioning of the judge? Was she not trying to "induce" him to grant her request? Jesus says that we should persist in prayer for the same reason, in order to move the Lord to do for us what he would not have done without our persisting in prayer.
It is no wonder that the Hardshells have been called "antinomians." It is not because they are opposed to the rule of law in the life of Christians, but because they deny that Christians have responsibilities and that God uses them. They have, for this reason been compared to the servant with one talent and who buried it in the ground. What reason did that servant give to the Lord for his doing so?
"I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine." (Matt. 25: 24-25)
This servant excused himself from his duties because he knew that his Lord was sovereign and did not need him, his Lord being able to reap even where there had been no sowing. This is the same reasoning that the Antinomian Hyper Calvinist Hardshells offer for their failing to fulfill the Great Commission, and for taking the Gospel to the heathen.