THE ORIGINAL CAUSE
There comes with religious convictions a desire to “serve the Lord.” People desire to help God or do something for God. The notion that men can help God can easily be made to appear absurd if God’s omnipotence is compared to man’s utter impotence. What could men possibly do to help God? Indeed we may serve God, and this He wants us to do, but the manner of service to God which pleases Him is that such as is rendered by a faithful servant or slave. Complete obedience to His every wish, a worshipful attendance to His person, and a beggar’s dependence upon His goodness and generosity is acceptable to God for service when done sincerely from a motive of love. Such a manner of service is impossible without humiliating the servant and exalting his Lord. This relationship is a right one, but it is very contemptible to the natural man.
God does not need an employee to work for him. He does not need an assistant to help him. He does not need big, strong, courageous men. He needs humble slaves clothed in humility. He needs those who are swift to execute his every desire without doubting. He needs loving, trusting, dependent children. God cannot use human pride, so he must expunge it from his people. He “resisteth the proud.” He hates “a proud look.” In men, “pride goeth before destruction.” Pride, in effect, renders men totally displeasing to God. Truly God uses whomsoever He pleases. He even uses the Devil, as in Job’s case, to strengthen faith in countless generations of His children. He used Nebuchadnezzar, Judas, and other wicked men. The fact that God uses a person to achieve His purposes does not necessarily mean that he is at all pleased with that person.
We must understand that God uses submissive children for certain special services. He needs servants who are willing to be used as tools in the hands of God. These should be active to place themselves in God’s hands but passive when being used by God. It is God’s work in which the true Christian delights. “We are His workmanship.” “He worketh in us to will and to do of his good pleasure.” What we do “for God” may fall into ruin sooner or later, but “whatsoever God doeth, it shall be forever.” Faith in the goodness and wisdom of God is what makes a true Christian willing to first be made a worthy instrument according to God’s will and then to be used of Him without resistance as He desires.
It is abundantly evident that the American revivals commonly called the “great awakenings” were the works of God. No organizing or planning on the part of men brought them about. The one active effort toward such occurrences was prayer. People then believed, as did their spiritual ancestors in Europe, in burdened, agonizing, heart-rending, protracted prayer to God. They also believed in waiting patiently between prayers until God was pleased to bless them. When He did pour out His blessing there would be a revival. Christians would receive abundant revelation and wisdom, and sinners would be subdued, broken, and regenerated by God during the revival. So they prayed, and when God was pleased, so it happened. As it always happens with every visible thing that God works, Satan soon began a counterfeiting operation for producing revivals. His workshop for this deed was the minds of certain men.
Charles G. Finney was a lawyer. Whether he was actually saved is not here being questioned. His account of his conversion seems credible enough. However, some of the ultimate fruits of his labors make the motives behind his works questionable. What is evident is that he always remained a lawyer. He was more a lawyer for God than a preacher for God. He addressed men and women about God as if he stood before a judge and jury in a courtroom. His “hypnotic stare” and “piercing eyes,” or as one described it, “blazing gaze,” were able to break down people emotionally in the pew in much the same manner as they might be used when dealing with a witness in a courtroom, and to convince sinners of God’s power in much the same way a lawyer would set about to convince a jury. After his greatest “revival” days were past, Finney set about in legal fashion to formulate rules governing the promotion of revivals of religion. Perhaps some of his observations were technically correct, but it is to be greatly feared that he was wrong to try to analyze the actions and reactions to human stimuli of Him whose ways are “past finding out.” Finney’s doctrine and practice were close enough to the truth to make it likely that many souls profited eternally from his efforts, although it is undoubtedly also true that many were deceived by too much human persuasion. Be that as it will surely be revealed at the final judgment, it is certain that his methods were picked up, amplified and modified by others who followed him and used to bring great ruin upon the human race. Many men have generated errors which they tried to add to their understanding of truth. Others later magnified their errors until molehills became mountains. So it happened with Charles Finney’s evangelism. His error was his urgency. He began as a lawyer for God the moment he was converted. He had no spiritual infancy or childhood training. He was “born” full grown, never needing a period of spiritual infancy, or so it would seem that he thought. Unlike renowned preachers of the past such as Bunyan, Edwards, Whitfield, Wesley, Newton and many others, Finney did not practice waiting for God. He did not teach others to wait for God to act. He seemed to believe that man could act first, and that man’s actions would produce definite and predictable reaction by God. God was made to appear, instead of an omnipotent person above human comprehension, a force which could be analyzed and formulated, then stimulated to produce a predictable result. Finney’s learned mind erred in trying to make God’s actions as predictable as those of electricity, magnetism, or mechanics.
There were many who would follow Finney’s example but would carry his ideas to much greater extremes and a greater distance away from eternal truth and practices conducive to eternal salvation.
The most successful of these was, without controversy, Dwight L. Moody. By nature Moody was a super-salesman. Before his conversion, it was said of him that he could bring people in from the streets and sell shoes to them in the store where he worked. After his supposed conversion, he immediately began the same type of salesmanship for God and religion at which he had been so talented for himself. Unlike Finney and most of the preceding famous evangelists, Moody professed no deep inner conversion experience. He never taught the deep inner workings of the Holy Spirit to others. Like Finney, Moody had no comprehension of the word, “wait.” What would not immediately happen, he attempted to induce to happen. Also like Finney, Moody appeared to be born again full grown. He did not need childhood training. He was, from the cradle, ready to “help God” save the world. Also like Finney, following Moody’s conversion he remained what he was before his conversion. Finney arose instantly from his spiritual cradle a lawyer of religion and Moody came forth from the womb selling it for nothing to every taker. No one man has ever had such an influence upon American religion as D. L. Moody. His theology, his methods, and his personality have all but replaced those pre-existing in several American denominations of religion before his time.
Second in influence in changing American religion was Billy Sunday. Known to be a popular baseball player who loved to please the spectators, this showman greatly advanced the principles of D. L. Moody with outlandish acrobatics and crude comparisons of religion to a ballgame. His audiences loved his performances and easily accepted his offers of easy salvation to be received at will without cost. Again, we see a man who had no time to wait for God. Sinners’ prayer became totally unnecessary according to the practice and methods of Billy Sunday. At least Moody had retained a pretence of prayer and Finney had valued the heartfelt yearnings of anxious souls even while he did have a hurry-up emphasis in his ministry. Although he was far from being Biblical in his teachings, Sunday was to become an idol for many young aspiring ministers. Thus he became a great corrupter of evangelism in America. Sunday’s methods in evangelism gradually became the standard of both the American Baptist and the Southern Baptist Conventions. Sunday was an entertainer, and a very successful promoter of his performances. Again, this man’s methods were his own and he seemed to be born with them. He may have borrowed much from both D. L. Moody and Wilbur Chapman, but he went beyond them in the carnal methods which he employed. He had no deep inner experience and openly announced his lack of any. His evangelistic career was occasioned by the resignation from the evangelistic circuit of J. Wilbur Chapman, a disciple of D. L. Moody, in whose evangelistic organization he was employed for some time. He became Chapman’s successor, but he greatly surpassed him in “stardom” in his famous career.
The icing on the cake which used the Baptist denomination for flour and the doctrines of Moody and Sunday for leaven was a contemporary evangelist named Billy Graham. Unlike Moody, who was originally a Congregationalist, or Sunday who was nominally a Presbyterian, Graham wore the name “Baptist.” Without doubt, much of the Baptist denomination was already corrupted with Moody and Sunday doctrines and practices before Graham appeared on the scene. No one man, however, has done more to marry the name “Baptist” to the ways of Moody and Sunday than Billy Graham. This impressive speaker, a salesman (like Moody), and a performer (like Sunday), has made use of his Baptist springboard and the means of radio and television popularity, enhanced by his movie-star appearance and manners, to complete the ruin of the Baptist denomination as a distinguishing name for the true churches of God. Again, in Graham, we see another man using his natural abilities to do “work for God.” No doubt if Billy Graham had become a movie actor he could have been one of the greatest in Hollywood. Instead, he has used this ability, plus a remarkable talent for politics and diplomacy, to greatly advance the religion of Moody and Sunday, the easy way to become a “Christian.”
It is important to note at this point the fact that there were some movements which departed from the Baptist conventions in the early part of this century. Although their expressed reasons for leaving the ranks of the conventions had to do with “unscriptural” methods the conventions tolerated, it is now manifest that they carried with them in their exodus the worst errors found among the convention Baptists, namely, the doctrines and practices of D. L. Moody and Billy Sunday. In some cases the churches and groups of churches who separated themselves have become worse, that is, more deceptive, than many churches and associations which lingered with the conventions for many years afterward. Most notable among these are the “independent fundamentalists,” who expressed a D. L. Moody type of abhorrence for the “modernistic” ideas coming into fashion at that time. Whereas some convention Baptist theologians were questioning and denying the virgin birth of Jesus, His Deity, and other fundamentals of Christianity, these generally non-theologically oriented “evangelicals” believed the Bible simply and literally. When they came away from the conventions they retained the very doctrine and practice of D. L. Moody. Whether modernization of the Baptist denomination was lagging behind Billy Sunday’s progressive “handshake religion” or there was an effort among these “fundamentalists” to revert to earlier methods is uncertain. What is known is that the methods and ideas of D. L. Moody became the textbook of many “fundamentalists.” Although fundamentalist leaders honor and respect Billy Sunday, they usually try for a more credible practice than the “sawdust trail” of the outlandish evangelist. If one desires to know the methods, reasoning, and origin of “independent fundamentalism,” he may find them all embodied in one man. He needs search no farther back into history than D. L. Moody.
Meanwhile, convention Baptists have contented themselves with a near duplicate of Billy Sunday’s altar call. While it may be true that in 1920 many Baptist theologians were then turning to what “fundamentalists” call “modernism,” many did not. Even so, most “Baptist” people and churches in name have long since held to basically fundamental Bible interpretation on all major points of Christian orthodoxy. Billy Graham has been definite enough on these major points so as to be viewed by most observers as a fundamentalist. He does have an ability to smooth over these points to the satisfaction and admiration of nearly everyone. So he maintains his great popularity.
What most of the “Baptist” denomination has generally embraced as a change far removed from the historical Baptist position, is the Moody-Sunday-Graham doctrine and practice of cheap and easy salvation, obtainable without cost whenever and wherever man decides to “accept” it.
Even the Arkansas based “Landmark Baptist” movement has largely gone astray on this point. Their principal leader at the time of their separation from convention Baptists, Mr. Ben M. Bogard, in his debate with N. B. Hardeman said of his own practice, “Instantaneously you can accept Jesus by faith and be saved now. … Suppose I get up and say, ‘Now is the time. Will you accept Jesus now?’ A man walks down the aisle and takes me by the hand and says, ‘I take it.”’ (page 116, BOGARD-HARDEMAN DEBATE) Any clearer expression of Moody-Sunday evangelism is not possible. It is evident that even this great debater and hero of “Landmark Baptists” was practicing Billy Sunday evangelism at that time in his ministry, a practice which could not be found among his Baptist predecessors, nor scarcely anywhere else (except among a people the Baptists once called “Campbellites“) prior to D. L. Moody.
It is clear how that one small departure from right principles such as was manifested in Charles Finney can, with the passing of time, when magnified and extended, cause the growth of an apostasy of unbelievable proportions. Finney had no time to wait for God. He felt he ought to help the Lord, to hurry God’s work along. His forefathers had been used by God as tools. Finney undertook to assist God. His successors learned how to USE God.