In 1929 Andrew Jackson became President of the United States. The country, especially the Northeast, was entering a time of social history which Alice Felt Tyler labeled FREEDOM’S FERMENT. Up to this time the present northeastern section of our country was considered the center of the nation. Considering the religious and political activity which was occurring there between 1820 and 1850 and what it produced in later years, one wonders if “ferment” is strong enough to describe it.
A focus needs to be placed upon this period because of the abundant evidence that it was then that “revivalism” began to be almost a religion in itself. True revivals are outpourings of God’s Holy Spirit upon praying people and those around them, and the resulting effects and manifestations of those outpourings. They are spontaneous by their very nature. “Revivalism” is movement which seeks to produce revivals of religion among people by human endeavor.
“At first revivals in America were unplanned events. There was no thought of staging a revival of religion; it just happened – it was God’s will. By the middle of the nineteenth century that attitude had changed. There grew up a body of religious specialists, preachers who went from town to town, and whose business it was to organize and promote revivals. These men were called revivalists or evangelists.” (page 12, THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD: REVIVALIN AMERICA by Daniel Cohen) In the past there had been revivals. The revival which began under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards in 1734 among New England Congregationalists had profound effects upon society. This “movement … has had simply inestimable influence upon the culture of at least a good third of the population of the United States, and influenced even more; which moreover has reacted upon Dissent in England and given it weapons for the struggle with Catholic cult and Puritan discipline.” (page 151, THE RELIGIOUS BACKGROUND OF AMERICANCULTURE by Thomas Cuming Hall)
“Again in 1742-43 a similar wave of renewed zeal for a personal religious experience swept the country and there joined it two new apostles of Dissent, Wesley and Whitefield, who came not only from England but out of the bosom of the most pronounced Anglo-Catholic tradition”…”Their gospel was the intensely individualistic proclamation of a way of escape for the soul from eternal damnation. The test of conversion was an emotional reaction rather than an intellectual acceptance of a creedal statement and neither man was really interested in theology as such, or really competent to deal with its questions.” (page 151 and 154, Hall)
In New England the Edwards revival became known as the “New Light stir.” It divided the Congregationalists into two factions, finally separating many of the revival party into a new religious group denominated “Separates.” “Into these (churches) none were admitted who did not profess vital religion.” (page 12, HISTORY OFTHE VIRGINIA BAPTISTS by Robert Baylor Semple) These new churches had moved very close to the historical Baptist position regarding this Spiritual pillar of primitive Christian religion, differing significantly only on the subject of baptism. Many of their members went one step farther and became Baptists. Of such people, Shubael Stearns, Daniel Marshall, and fourteen others formed a “Separate Baptist” church in North Carolina in 1755. Within a very few years great revival among them and their converts filled the Carolinas, Virginia, and regions beyond with Baptist churches and their religious sentiments. Years later, they united with Regular Baptists already in the South, long after the Regulars had also been affected and greatly increased by the revival, to form the most dominate religious force in the southern United States.
Similar revivals, though not as far-reaching, had been sparked among the Dutch Reformed churches of New Jersey in the early 1720’s through the “pietistic” preaching of Theodore Frelinghuysen. The same type of preaching by the Tennent brothers aroused the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians in the same region shortly thereafter. These revival fires, and later rekindlings, also split the Reformed and Presbyterian churches of America into “new side” and “old side” factions. The Puritan denominations (Reformed, Presbyterian, and Congregational) were never again quite the same after these revivals swept through their communities. Although these denominations did finally recover much of the composure they had before these waves of emotional religion went through their ranks, time proved that they were all permanently altered by that influence.
There can be no doubt as to the genuineness of the Edwards and Whitefield revivals. As a result of them, and of the continuing Baptist revival more than any other factor, the Episcopalian church was disestablished in the South. In time, their effects also did much to relieve the stranglehold in which theocratic Puritanism held New England. It is doubtful whether the revival had much effect upon the upper classes of the Northeast. Unitarianism and Universalism soon began to supplant Calvinistic theology among Congregationalists in New England. Before the revolution, “already the beginnings of an organized Unitarianism may be noticed.” (page 160, A RELIGIOUS HISTORY OF AMERICA by Edwin S. Gaustad) Unitarianism continued its rise among the upper classes especially through that period when “rationalism was prevalent” in the United States immediately following the revolution. Deism became popular in the revolutionary and post-revolutionary years, and apparently it continued so until its influence was swept away by the waves of revival which began with the nineteenth century. From the intellectual standpoint, there is no doubt the miserable failure of the new French republic was also a contributor to Americans turning away from Deism and rationalism. The prevailing revival presented to them a better way to consider, which many sought and heartily embraced.
One of the most lasting effects of the earlier revival in America (1720-1790) was that the tides of it rolled southward through all the colonies (later states), conquering the whole south- east section of this new nation for the Lord. How these successive waves of revival affected the middle colonies is a question most puzzling. It was there, in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, that revival fires were first seen burning, and it was to this region that many various types of dissenters had fled to escape persecution. This region, like Rhode Island in New England, became a refuge for dissenting Christians, and more of a “melting pot.” Presbyterians were strong in numbers in the middle colonies. The early revival gave a “pietistic” flavor to part of the Presbyterians for many years thereafter. One effect of this seasoning was a very considerable success in the progress of that denomination. This same influence was always fought against from within the ranks of the Presbyterians. A breach was made in their denomination because of the revival influence, but that division did not last. There always seemed to be among them a tenacity for bringing the factions back together. Perhaps this partly accounts for a gradual alteration then occurring in American Presbyterianism (as in all of American Puritanism) rather than a permanent rift such as occurred among Anglicans (Episcopalians), which ultimately created the Methodist Episcopal Church.
“The real Puritan had no love of liberty except what he himself needed in order to force the kingdom of God upon men …” (page 166, T. C. Hall) While this statement by Hall seems a little too harsh for classification of all “Puritans,” it is undeniable that this tendency was very strong among them, making modification of it absolutely necessary. Evidently, the revival served to greatly modify this Puritan view. “The central dream of Calvin of a theocratic state in which the Church could depend upon the State to enforce the revealed will of God and to govern in accordance with the precepts of religion had by 1777 so completely passed from even the minds of the few actual Puritans that may have still survived that no one thought it seriously worth while even to broach the subject.” (page 167, Hall) Presbyterianism appears to have drifted along for a century still officially holding to their strict Calvinistic creed, while allowing many contradicting beliefs and practices to exist quietly among them.
After the revolution, many preachers – most of them Baptists, Methodists, and evangelical Presbyterians – crossed the mountains to preach among the people on the frontier. In the year 1800, another vast revival had its beginnings on the western frontier. According to historians, it began among Presbyterians, but the greatest force of it was soon found among Baptists and Methodists. There can be no question as to the genuineness of this revival. The continuing effects of it were destined to subdue the remainder of the South from Virginia to Texas before the beginning of the next century. The South became a Baptist kingdom, with Methodists building a comparable kingdom beside them. These spiritual kingdoms were later shaken by the upheavals and devastation of a great civil war, but they emerged from it to grow even stronger. They became especially popular among the vast populations of poor citizens, both black and white, by supplying their greatest comfort in times of great hardships. Other denominations established strongholds there also.
This second “great awakening” revival also had a quickening effect upon many areas farther east. It is thought to have affected to some degree all but the upper classes of the society of that time. The western parts of the North were not forgotten, but people there were not affected nearly so much as those south of the Ohio River. Later, much of this region was evangelized by many preachers going north from the southern regions.
Much too much has been made of particular happenings such as the McGready revival in southwestern Kentucky and the following Cane Ridge revival in northern Kentucky. Historians have a habit of emphasizing well-known local manifestations of revival religion, in the same manner that they did the Edwards and Whitefield revivals of the previous century, leaving a false impression that all of the religious fervor of the times sprang from them. It may be easily ascertained that from the time of the first noticeable revivals in the Northeast, until the American civil war, successive revivals occurred in many different localities in nearly all periods. Some were more widespread and noticeable than others. One has reason to suspect when reading these accounts that many historians who were not Baptists tended to be biased against them. It appears in their reporting that they were reluctant to tell of the many great Baptist victories. Most Baptist reporters have seemed willing to credit Methodists and Presbyterians where credit was due for their roles in spreading the revival. Even so, the lasting monuments which credit the Baptists with success are at least three in number. The first is the fact that no religion of the times so conquered and dominated vast areas and impressed upon them their special principles without forcing anyone by law. Second is the fact that the ancient Baptist principle of freedom from governmental support or restraint of religion was successfully pleaded, not forced, into federal constitutional law primarily through the influence of Baptists upon many popular and influential statesmen of those times. Third is the fact that the Baptist spirit of separation from other Christian sects based on differing convictions of truth, without malice or persecution toward them, has been imparted to other sects not traditionally tolerant of dissent. This third influence has proved effective to such a marvelous extent that since that time in the United States, such persecution as was before that age commonplace has since been regarded as unthinkable by ALL Americans.
It seems that historians are quite ready to honor the Methodists. It would also seem that many writers are even more ready to give credit to the Presbyterians and Congregationalists, who whenever they did subdue anything by the power of The Holy Spirit and for God’s glory, soon relinquished it to return again to their former spirit. Perhaps the greatest reason for a lack of recognition given to Baptists is due to a characteristic of their own. The literary realm has always noticed great men. Among the Baptists of former times there were none. Only Jesus Christ was exalted among them. Preachers and people all labored diligently to keep it so. This historical character trait of the sect is quite distinct from that found in all of the “reform” movements, which were built around “great” men. Colorful characters attract reporters in their day, and historians when they are gone. Humble people do not. Protestants boast of Luther (Lutheran); Calvin (Reformed); Knox (Presbyterian); Edwards (Congregational); John and Charles Wesley, Whitefield, and Asbury (Methodist); Fox and Penn (Quaker); and many others beside. Who have Baptists ever exalted but Jesus Christ? Others may accuse Roger Williams of being the founder of American Baptists, but Baptists deny it. Williams ought indeed to be regarded as a great man by American history for his contribution to the American tradition of religious freedom. He is regarded as the chief architect of the Rhode Island colony’s novel policy in that regard, but his membership in a controversial “Baptist church” lasted less than one year. The Baptist rise in England during the middle of the seventeenth century is nothing short of phenomenal, but they boasted no great men. Only two of their characters have been noticeably honored with anything like the typical honor of Protestant heroes: John Bunyan (1628-1688) and Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892). Hardly anyone would contradict the assertion that both of these men made a notable contribution to the cause of Christianity, but neither of them were strict denominational Baptists. Both regarded themselves and their denomination to be a branch of Protestant religion. To them, Baptist churches were merely the best expression of local churches among the Protestants. Perhaps this liberal stance contributed much to the reason the world took such favorable notice of their considerable talents. Perhaps they were too much the friends of the recognized religious world. Had they insisted upon more separation from other denominations, with denial of their church authority, their popularity would have probably been much less, especially among succeeding generations. While Baptists quietly and humbly subdued much territory for the Lord, they attracted little notice except occasionally when they were being persecuted.
When George Fox burst upon the scene in 1647 to found his Society of Friends (Quaker religion), much notice was taken of much that he did. History has amplified that fame. Methodist exploits in Britain and America in the middle to late eighteenth century have been well reported, and highly praised by many. Posterity has made legendary figures of the Methodist founders, George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers. Some such works and workers indeed deserve much respect among men, but not, in the humble opinion of a traditional Baptist, that degree of praise since lavished upon them. Much has been said in praise of Jonathan Edwards, and others, in the tradition established for the Protestant reformers.
Yet the phenomenon of Baptists filling the southern colonies and much of the rest of the country during one of the world’s greatest recorded revivals is not colorful enough to detail. How many Americans have ever heard of Shubael Stearns, Daniel Marshall, Samuel Harriss, Isaac Backus, or even John Leland? How many Baptists have ever heard of these champions of both Christian and American liberty? The Kentucky camp meeting revivals of the nineteenth century are still “cussed” or discussed by foes and friends of those occurrences, while the much quieter grassroots revival which rolled the tide of Spiritual and Biblical Christianity to the west of Texas is hardly chronicled by popular writers. Historians tend to not notice the real ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in local revivals, solid pastoral churches, and the moral improvement of communities and worldly society. In these matters which “salt” the earth, Baptists have had more success than any sect of religion. Writers tend to notice disorder, upheavals, and reports of strange happenings. This is true regarding current events. In a real measure it was also true of past events. Most of the religious history of the United States is not colorful enough to report. Reporters find the social history of the “horrid evil” of slavery (a 1789 Baptist label – page 105, HISTORY OF THE BAPTISTS OF VIRGINIA by Robert Baylor Semple) profitable journalism more than a century later, but early American religious history is apparently too “Baptist” for popular or modern interest.
No one who knows the facts can honestly deny that God and America were more favorable to Baptists than to any other religious sect for more than a century. Their influence and increase in numbers exceeded that of any other sect, even while all churches of that name still insisted on memberships of adult baptized believers only. All of their members must have related a credible experience of spiritual regeneration before acceptance for Baptism, and were required to continually maintain a Biblical Christian walk through life to keep from being excluded as unworthy members. Most Catholic and Protestant sects counted members who were essentially born into their church by unconscious submission to infant “christening” as a child of a “Christian” family. Most of these could scarcely get out except by death. Because of Baptists’ rigid discipline in the use of BOTH keys to the Kingdom of Christ entrusted to His church, their ratio of influence to numbers of church members was always much higher than that of other sects. Only the Methodists rivaled the Baptists in numbers of converts, during the latter years of the “great awakenings” and beyond, but never did they match them in terms of influence upon society and government during those years.
The period from Andrew Jackson’s election until the first rumblings of civil war was a time when some religious historians say “Methodism” triumphed in America. “The term ‘Methodist’ was used, not as the name of a religious denomination, but as shorthand for a type of popular religious enthusiasm which burst through lines of denominational division and penetrated Protestant church life in general – in upstate New York and back country New England as well as in Kentucky and Tennessee, in Virginia and the Carolinas as well as in Indiana and Illinois. Presbyterian, Baptist, and Congregational churches succumbed to theological emphases, religious fervor, and revivalist techniques which in the public mind were most commonly associated with the Methodists.” (page 3,Gaustad). In the preceding quote Mr. Gaustad did what many writers have done in associating all emotional Christian religion with the Methodists. It is true that they were at that time the most noted for their emotional religion of any of the larger denominations. Baptists were, in most cases, more likely to limit the degree of their emotional display; but any notion that strong emphasis on personal Spiritual experience was a Methodist innovation is false. That such emphasis is one of the pillars of early Methodism, and has been so from the time that the Wesleys and George Whitefield were all recipients of such a conversion experience, is a known fact. The movement was established in the early years upon the spiritual experiences of these three founders. Even so, such experience as makes the spirit of man a new creation in Christ Jesus was one of the landmark doctrines of Baptist churches when they first appeared in Britain, more than a century before the Methodist founders were converted. Baptists derived this teaching, and the spirit which accompanies it, from the influence of their Dutch Anabaptist predecessors. Tens of thousands of Dutch refugees fled from persecutions in their homeland to England before 1680. Where they settled in England is where they and their descendants remained and where “Baptists” began to appear in great numbers a half-century later. (pages 13 and 79, BAPTIST CONFESSIONS OF FAITH by W. L. Lumpkin) These Anabaptists inherited a peculiar claim from their Waldensian predecessors, who insisted their fathers had maintained the primitive Christian faith in their Alpine valleys since separating themselves from the worldly “catholic church” in the days of “Pope Sylvester” and the emperor Constantine. Such a spirit of religious freedom as adorned these sects, the only spirit consistent with true inward holiness, was never present among the Protestant reformers. The notion is not credible that it could have been so indelibly impressed upon the Baptists from Catholic, Anglican, Puritan, or Presbyterian sources. Neither did the Methodists receive it by such a route. Anglican priests John and Charles Wesley received the gospel of their salvation and its strongly experimental message, which resulting Methodism proclaimed, from Moravian Brethren evangelists, who were protestant descendants of the ancient Hussites, whose very existence was largely owed to Waldensian influence in fourteenth century Bohemia. After George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers all received a genuine conversion experience, their Methodist movements became a revival of that spiritual and experimental emphasis which had long been a fundamental doctrine of Baptists and their spiritual predecessors. Methodists were used to produce a great spiritual revival among adherents to the Church of England.
Because it was genuine, this so-called “Methodist” revival of the early 1800’s helped to reinforce this same emphasis on spiritual and experimental religion among Baptists also. In this it was similar to the Edwards and Whitefield revivals of the previous century. That emphasis remained very strong among Baptists until well into the twentieth century. Not until after the “revivalism” of Protestant “fundamentalism” infiltrated Baptist ranks did this precious doctrine begin to be eliminated from among most American Baptist churches.
Still, even now, there are many remnants of the old-time Baptists in this country clutching tenaciously to this treasured truth and the practice of it. The Methodists, so often accused in times past of carrying their emotion to excess, have now backed away from strong emphasis on heartfelt and experimental religion and have left THEIR mantle of emotional religion to their “Holiness” and “Pentecostal” offspring.
It was not until this century that any “great man” was raised up under the name of “Baptist.” That occurrence came long after the churches who proudly claimed him had forsaken that vital and spiritual element which graced their denomination for so long.
It was the period immediately following the “second great awakening,” as it has sometimes been called, that experienced an obvious change in the manner of “revivals.”
“It was not a Methodist but a Presbyterian, Charles G. Finney, who became the most prominent and influential representative of this religion of the common people.” (referring to revivalism) “Although many others were involved and the tide itself had been gathering strength for a quarter of a century before Finney burst upon the scene, Finney was destined to be the chief symbol of the cresting tide of popular religion in the 1830’s and 1840’s.” (pages 3-4, Gaustad) In the previous quote, Gaustad seemed not to discern the great difference between Charles Finney and the evangelists of the second great awakening.
At one time, Puritan religion (Congregational, Presbyterian, and Reformed) dominated the northeastern United States. About the time of the revolution Unitarianism and Universalism with all of their modernistic tendencies began to make some inroads among the upper classes. This trend continued into the late 1800’s when it gave way to the “modernism” of today, that form of “Christianity” which seeks to accommodate all the hypotheses of modern science. Then also occurred a great migration of European Roman Catholics and Lutherans to the North. Despite all of the many claims of great revivals in this region from the 1820’s onward, the march of this section of the country away from Spiritual Christianity has been steady. Lasting social changes resulting from the Edwards and Whitefield revivals convincingly declare their genuineness. The same can be said for the great revival which began on the western frontier in 1800. The same cannot be convincingly argued for that type of “revival” which began to take over in the Northeast after 1820. This is appropriately called “revivalism.”
In Finney’s time, revivalism became a religion in itself. He was one of the first of note to regard a revival as an activity which could be brought into effect by human endeavors. Following the years of his greatest success as an “evangelist,” he formulated methods by which revivals could be promoted. Apparently Finney did not speak against religious emotion, but rather welcomed it as an effective means to move people to God. In his own account of his conversion, he said that he experienced much agony, followed by an overpowering blessing from the Holy Spirit. (page 20, FINNEY’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY, and page 316, Volume 4, SCHAFF-HERZOG ENCYCLOPEDIA, “Finney”) What Finney did eliminate from the previously standard procedures of earlier revival preachers was the waiting upon God which he did not believe was necessary. “He called upon his hearers to come to an immediate decision and submit to God. ‘Instead of telling sinners to use the means of grace, and pray for a new heart, I called upon them to make themselves a new heart and spirit, and pressed the duty of immediate surrender to God.'” “These meetings were often accompanied by violent bodily manifestations; and Finney was in the habit of calling upon audiences to go forward to the anxious bench, or to rise in attestation to new resolutions.” “Finney’s preaching reached all classes, but especially lawyers and educated men …” This change in the appeal of the “gospel” to the more educated classes ought to be noted. Finney’s forceful methods arose partially from his belief in the “plenary (complete) ability of the sinner to repent.” Still he believed “in the necessity of a radical change of heart through the truth by the agency of the Holy Spirit.” (pages 316-317, Volume 4, Schaff-Herzog, “Finney”) The changes he made in evangelistic methods removed only half of the well established barrier against the approaching great apostasy of wholesale soul-deception. He still insisted upon a “radical change of heart.” His revivalistic successors would omit this demand also, in the days of D. L. Moody, and thereafter.
Before Finney’s time, it was as customary to wait for God to send a revival as it was to wait for God to give the grace needed to repent. Charles Finney apparently thought it was unnecessary to wait for either. He began a race of revivalists who followed this idea to an ever increasing extreme. The deceptive effects of this trend continually increased. “It is important to understand that eighteenth and early nineteenth century Christians did not believe that revivals were something that could somehow be created – these were religious excitements inspired directly by God. Men could pray for revival, and through-out the 1780’s and 90’s, the clergymen and their diminished flocks prayed and fasted with vigor – but there was no thought of ‘promoting a revival’ as is done today. Indeed, such a thought was quite inconceivable. (pages 54-55, THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD: REVIVALISM IN AMERICA, by Daniel Cohen.)
Finney’s revivalism started trends of human efforts replacing Divine power in evangelism, increasing the popularity of revival movements among rich and educated people, and inability of revivals which boasted great numbers of conversions to create any lasting change in surrounding society. It was among the setting of Quakers and Shakers, prohibitionism and abolitionism, and other similar religious and political activity that Charles Finney began his religious career. “The scene of Finney’s early activity – northern, central, and western New York – provides an ideal case-study of the religious ferment of the Jacksonian era, for upstate New York was the nineteenth-century equivalent of twentieth-century southern California. As a result of the successive revival fires which swept the area, it was called the ‘burned-over district.’ Here in concentrated form was a motley sampler of tendencies present throughout the nation. Here anything and everything was to be found. Here in microcosm these tendencies were exhibited in their full intensity, and here the diverse consequences of the dynamics of revivalism found their most dramatic expression. (pages 5-6, Gaustad) During and shortly after Finney’s revivalistic career, there arose within the areas of his greatest success a great variety of new religious and social movements to be added to the many which were already there. Although some fanatics have always risen up after the outbreak of every revival, working their mischief in the name of the Lord, never in modern times was so much of such activity seen. Joseph Smith claimed a vision from God, presented some additional “scriptures” which he called the “Book of Mormon,” and founded a new religious sect. William Miller predicted the return of Christ in 1844 and began the Adventist movement. John Humphrey Noyes, a Finney convert in 1831, founded the first religious “free love” society. Modern spiritualism began in that region during this period. Campbellism had its rapid rise on the western fringes of this region (Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia, and Ohio) about this time, and Transcendentalism was at its peak among New Englanders. The “women’s rights” movement began here in the late 1840’s. In the years following the Civil War, the movement later called “Jehovah’s Witnesses” was begun by Charles T. Russell in Pennsylvania, Christian Science was launched in New England, “modernism” (reinterpreting the Bible to accommodate the pseudo-scientific theories of evolution and uniformitarian earth formation) entered American religion forcefully in the Northeast. Other movements of lesser influence and fame also arose out of this religious and social chaos. Thus the lasting results of this “revival” place a serious question upon its Divine authorship. Perhaps the only comparable happening in history was the pandemonium that seemed to occur all around the Mediterranean Sea among many professing “Christians” of the second century, following the deaths of the last apostles of Jesus Christ. Then, the abundant mixing of many false doctrines with Christian teaching began to produce happenings, in both action and reaction, the final result of which would be such a “falling away” as would finally produce the spiritual ignorance of a millennium of “dark ages.” Similarly, what was arising here, in the wake of the two great awakenings, by the ingenuity of proud and presumptuous religious men, can now be perceived to be the very beginnings of a second great apostasy of worldwide proportions and dire consequences.
Although our study of Charles Finney’s revivalism has been extensive, the effect of Finney’s contribution remains somewhat puzzling. Some historians might stand ready to contradict our view that Finney’s revival did not significantly improve society in the northeast United States. Lyman Beecher was an evangelistic Presbyterian, who also pastored Congregational churches in New England, who was very influential during the peak of Finney’s revivalistic success. Although he had threatened to oppose Finney, if ever he came toward Boston, that threat was never carried out. (page 94, Cohen) After 1831, “Lyman Beecher, who rivals Finney as the era’s most prominent evangelist, declared that the awakening of 1831 ‘was the greatest work of God, and the greatest revival of religion that the world has ever seen.’ Beecher based his statement not only on the number of conversions but on a profound change in what conversion meant. For the revival of 1831, more than any other event, marked the acceptance of an activist and millenialist evangelicalism as the faith of the northern middle class … Within a few years free agency, perfectionism, and millenialism were middle class orthodoxy.” (pages4-5, A SHOPKEEPER’S MILLENIUM, by Paul E. Johnson) Finney’s “revival” seems to have been the last straw that broke the back of rigid Calvinism among most Presbyterians.
There is reason to believe that many souls were truly saved under Charles Finney’s ministry. Yet so much human effort incorporated into his meetings was sure to cause much deception also. Paul Johnson went to great length to prove that Finney’s revival in Rochester, New York in 1831 served primarily to convert business men and masters rather than the working class. These people, after their conversions, became aggressive and influential evangelists unto the poorer classes. Not all of that influence was spiritual persuasion. “The most powerful source of the working man’s revival” (1832-1836) “was the simple coercive fact that wage earners worked for men who insisted on seeing them in church. In 1836 a free-thought editor announced that clerks were being forced to attend revival meetings. He quoted one of them: ‘I don’t give a d_ _n. I get five dollars more in a month than before I got religion.'” (page 121, Johnson) It may be that the coercive factor was not as common a motivator as Mr. Johnson or the free-thought editor made it appear, but is to be feared, judging by the existing evidence regarding the Finney revival, that the zeal which puts men to work FOR the Lord rather than BY the Lord was far too common.
Out of this revival came militant social reform movements. “Perhaps the most obvious example in which revivalists have directly instigated a conservative application of God’s will to inhibit or restrain social actions is the temperance movement, which culminated in the Prohibition Amendment to the Constitution. The most obvious example of the radical influence of revivalism has been the anti-slavery movement, which culminated in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution.” (page 127,Gaustad) “Revivalists like Finney, Moody, and Sunday were brought to large urban centers of the East by wealthy laymen and influential church leaders in their day because they had, or were thought to have had, a method and talent for reaching the poor and the unchurched which the local ministry lacked. Urban mass revivalism was designed to save the cities from the dangers of political corruption, labor unrest, infidelity, and vice – thereby maintaining the purity, freedom, and faith of the American way of life.” (page 128, Gaustad) That Finney’s revival brought about a temporary social change cannot be denied, but is very doubtful that much of that change was made through the work of God’s Holy Spirit. Finney’s predicted millenium did not come. (page 4, Johnson) Social and political strife and a civil war did come. Some years after that war, revivalists began again to TAKE the business of God into their own hands. Finney’s postmillenialism was supplanted by Moody’s premillenialism. His perfectionism faded away also, except among the new “holiness” groups, by the time of D. L. Moody’s heyday in the last two decades of the century. The activism of Charles Finney grew even stronger in later revivalists until little was left for the immediate power of God to do in their evangelism. They seemed to be saying that God had done all that He was going to do nearly two-thousand years ago, and that it was up to man to do the rest. Emphasis upon consciousness of the workings of God in conversion became almost non-existent. In D. L. Moody’s day, the “pietism” which influenced and initiated the great awakenings was all but forgotten, and that prayerful waiting for God which was rewarded with gracious outpourings of the Holy Spirit, in His own time, was eliminated. Charles Finney seemed to stand at a junction of the revival road where there was a diverging path leading off to disaster, and he was facing the wrong direction. The pathway he chose later forked into two “revivalist” movements, the so-called “fundamentalist,” which soon subverted the evangelism of most Baptist and mainstream Protestant churches by denying most of the Holy Spirit’s work in conversion, and the “holiness/pentecostal,” which also drew away many disciples seeking an unscriptural degree of sanctification to the confusion and obscuring of true experimental religion.
Following the Civil War, there arose a movement among conservative Protestant scholars as a protest against the “modernism” that was then beginning to make inroads among them. It drew the solid support of the revivalists of that time and many who came after them. The famous revivalists were often claimed as the figureheads of this movement because of their popularity and the fact that all of them agreed with the movement’s insistence upon a literal interpretation of the Bible. Shortly after the beginning of the twentieth century, this movement became known as “fundamentalism.” By that time the “revivalists” and “fundamentalists,” excepting those in the holiness/pentecostal movement, had virtually become one camp, and they remain generally so to this day. Despite all their conferences held, organizations formed, and defenses written, for the purpose of defeating the “modernist” influence, and all the pitched battles they fought against it, the war was ultimately lost. They proved themselves to be an impotent force for stopping anything that is destroying Biblical Christianity. Why is this so? They are themselves unwittingly the greatest foe of true salvation and Christian conversion. All of the immensely popular efforts of the “great evangelists,” then, and later, and of their numerous less famous imitators, have proven unable to produce significant social or Spiritual betterment of the nation. (The same charge could be accurately made against the popular holiness/pentecostal revivalistic movement.) They couldn’t even win the battle over origins against pseudo-scientific “evolutionists” for the minds of our school children. Neither have they done much to stop the “higher critics'” leaven from destroying our secular society’s confidence in the rest of the Bible beyond Genesis. Finney before the Civil War; Moody after the Civil War; and Sunday after the turn of the century were all very popular among many wealthy and very influential people. All three of them, and many other such fundamentalist revivalists also, were very popular among the masses, and were highly honored among all classes. One would think that surely their ideas would produce increasingly righteous actions in the people who admired them and the society those people formed, but if genuine Biblical truth was to judge the actions produced, it was not to be so. Unless one believes that Prohibition was a howling success, their defeat in such considerations might be regarded as a total rout by sin-loving secular forces.
The most remarkable achievement of these later popular revivalist movements, the coincident fundamentalists vs. modernists war over “evolution,” the fundamentalists vs. sinners Prohibition war, etc., was their success in winning the sympathy of Baptists and other truly evangelical Christians in all parts of the country. Through sympathy and cooperation in such political and social interests as alcohol prohibition and opposing evolution theory, plus envy of the great numbers of conversions claimed by famous revivalists and their imitators, many who formerly seemed immune gradually became infected with the emphases of the “fundamentalist” movement. A bias against heart-felt religion, a dispensational premillenial interpretation of Bible prophecy, and revivalistic religion centered on certain human personalities, were first among these distinguishing emphases. The rural churches which had risen so numerously among the poor classes of the Southeast were among the last to succumb in great numbers to this subversive movement which earlier had gained its greatest momentum in the northern cities. Thus the North invaded the South once more, this time bringing lasting destruction instead of corrective discipline. The first time, northerners came with weapons of carnal warfare, to crush the evils of slavery and schism. As terrible as the experience was, that defeat ultimately rendered them better. This was a widely heralded accomplishment. The second invasion was a spiritual, secret, and gradual one. It was so invisible to carnal human minds that many Baptists, Methodists, and other local evangelical Christians never perceived it. It destroyed very much of the primitive Spiritual Christianity the great awakenings had served to re-establish, and replaced it with an unfeeling head-religion which exalted the Bible to an idolatrous extreme and misinterpreted it so as to eliminate the actual operations of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of human souls. The Southland had already become a “Bible Belt” before this class of “fundamentalists” affected it. The resulting embrace ultimately became an embrace of death.
This infection was at the heart of the “Fundamental Baptist” movement, which led many churches from the ranks of the Southern Baptist Convention in the early part of the twentieth century. By the time this separation had begun, the infection had already spread among and badly affected the Southern Baptists in many localities. Most Baptists in the North had surrendered to it many years earlier. Even the “Landmark Baptist” groups, whose churches are more numerous in the western states, were badly affected by it before they parted company with the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptists gradually, one church at a time, adopted the salvation call of Billy Sunday. Those who did so turned scornful toward heart-felt salvation, mournful and prayerful seeking after God for salvation, lost sinners praying, and religious emotional display. As a whole, they did not for many years begin to adopt the normal dispensational premillenial view of prophecy characteristic of most modern “fundamentalists.” They did, however, quickly exalt revivalism after the order of the fundamentalists. While the Landmarkers generally never exalted revivalism, many of their preachers and churches have let traditional Baptist emphasis on the Holy Spirit’s necessary work in conversion slip away so as to approximate typical fundamentalist fashion in evangelism. These folks had already generally adopted the basic views of Darbyite dispensationalism consistent with the “fundamentalists” through the strong influence of Elder J. R. Graves, who embraced similar views in the previous century.
Another outgrowth of revivalism, which took a different path from the one being examined here, was the “holiness” movement, acknowledged by most students of “church history” to be an offspring of the Methodist movement. This movement arose primarily among dissatisfied Methodists, who believed that their denomination was neglecting to teach the holiness doctrine of John Wesley and was, in fact, turning away from it. While the Methodists backed away from the threshold of full blown “emotionalism,” the “holiness” movement zealously crossed it, virtually without restraint. Within a few years the holiness movement had begotten the “pentecostal” movement. Some of these groups of extremists for emotional religion were born in California amidst a religious ferment in the early 1900’s. Other similar groups were springing up in other places. It appears that such attempts to recover every extreme of perceived Biblical activity, were inevitable ultimate results of the Protestant ideal, especially of the Wesleyan ideals of a “revived” Protestant church and possible bodily perfection. Thus several fronts of “pentecostal” religion were formed in various localities, all basically following the same ideas. “Pentecostal” fervor rapidly spread across the nation, finding fertile ground for its growth in the South, where emotional religion was still popular from days of old. Being independent of any episcopacy, and professing to be non-denominational, they were unrestrained by any earthly influence other than public opinion (which they scorned whenever it opposed them) from carrying emotionalism to whatever limits they thought they could stretch the Holy Scriptures. Not only Methodists, but also many members of Baptist churches and other evangelical congregations who had a taste for emotional religion, were enticed by their thrilling activities to join these holiness and pentecostal movements. In the 20th century, Baptist churches have had their feathers plucked from both sides simultaneously. The fundamentalist revivalists have subverted their people at one extreme while the holiness and pentecostal revivalists have subverted them at the opposite extreme. While these movements appear to be opposite extremes, and in some points certainly are, a close inspection in the historical context reveals them to be two horns of the same revivalist dragon. Both have very successfully deceived disciples into depreciating the vital experience of regeneration, the first in favor of an unwarranted trust in the words of the Bible, and the latter in favor of an unwarranted trust in other supposed spiritual experiences. Each of them have also strengthened the other in their extremes by provoking much reactionary bias. The unspiritual influence of fundamentalism creeping into traditional churches caused many spiritual people to seek refuge in holiness and pentecostal churches. Similarly, in reaction to the excessive emotion and extra-scriptural tendencies of the holiness and pentecostal movements, numbers of nominal Baptists have been moved to embrace the Bible worshipping tendencies of the fundamentalist movement. It is easy to see why many Baptists may have become confused by the narrowness of the pathway they were trying to travel. Opposite evils were pulling at them from each side. Of these two extremes, fundamentalism seems to pose the most immediate danger, particularly because of its willingness to be identified as “Baptist,” instead of the nondenominational revivalism of which it really consists. Pentecostals seem quite proud of their claims of being “nondenominational” and of their opinion that their movement is the most perfected of the Protestant reformed, revived, and restored “church,” by virtue of their imagined spiritual superiority. The manner of holiness and pentecostal religion is less conducive to a true regeneration experience than the former standard evangelism because of its abundant spiritual confusion, which opens a wide door to seducing spirits. It is even more certain that the manner of popular modern “fundamentalist” religion is not conducive to soul salvation, because of its prejudice against all direct conscious spiritual experience. Being “born again” IS such an experience. Opportunity for any sincerely seeking lost sinner to be eternally saved seems to be somewhat greater among holiness or pentecostal worshippers. This is only because of the relative emphasis given by them to the importance of persistent prayer with expectation of a direct answer from God, compared to a near denial to lost sinners of value in such efforts by most modern fundamentalists. However, the inclination toward spiritual confusion in “pentecostal” worship is often extreme. A stage is also set for a greater risk of demonic influence and deception. A lot depends on the relative degree of pentecostalism and emotionalism in a particular assembly, as there exists a lot of variation from one to another. The typical fundamentalist will not allow protracted prayer on the part of a lost sinner. Rather, he will quickly assure him that such is altogether unnecessary, that it is vain to seek God while waiting for a spiritual change of heart, and that words from the Bible will supply all necessary assurance regarding personal salvation.
It is not within the scope of this book to include a thorough treatment of pentecostal and holiness religion, but it has been necessary for the sake of perspective to mention it as a simultaneous outgrowth of revivalism, a movement which has diverged to an opposite extreme from fundamentalism. It would not be needful to expose that extreme if most people were at all aware of the course of religious history, for it has been a frequent and ordinary error throughout all the Christian era. From the end of the apostolic age, many false claims of direct revelation have been used to rule against the Bible. The Gnostics did it, perhaps first, and the Catholics have abused it endlessly. It is nothing new, although it may take a slightly new and variant form.
The Protestant mission from its very beginnings has been reform of the Catholic church. Once started, that reform became endless. The first reformers intended only to reform a few things, but they were soon followed by more extensive reformers. The tool of Protestant reform is the Bible. From this reform instinct of the Protestant spirit there has appeared within the last two centuries a dangerous extreme in a direction heretofore almost unknown in the history of Christianity. Now, in the end of the world, movements have arisen which use interpretations of the Bible to rule out the Holy Spirit, whereas proper use of Scripture would only rule out many false claims of the Holy Spirit’s operations. Early Protestants may have been often glad to avoid the Holy Spirit, as they also avoided part of His Biblical doctrine, but the present tendency to disallow His immediate operations, on supposedly Biblical grounds, did not then prevail. Perhaps Scotch Sandemanians were the first Protestants to attempt this disallowance to any noticeable degree, and their direct successors, Alexander Campbell and his “disciples,” have carried this error to its greatest extreme. Even so, a more dangerous movement, because of its subtle use of this deceptive doctrine, has since arisen from the mainstream of Protestantism. While professing to believe in the immediate leadership of the Holy Spirit, typical Protestant “fundamentalists” actually deny most direct manifestations of the Holy Spirit with those activities which normally attend them while attempting to justify that denial with Biblical arguments. Such a development came gradually out of the continuing Protestant reform. Possessing a militant, haughty, and legalistic spirit of Puritan reform cloaked with the outward form of “revivalism,” while denying the true fire of pietism which ignited the great revivals they seek to imitate, they parallel its practices at a safe distance and paraphrase its teachings to rule out the actual workings of the Holy Spirit. Modern “fundamentalists” of the “independent” variety, and many others within other denominational groups, are often quick to categorize with Pentecostal religion all people who believe in the absolute necessity of conscious spiritual experience in the process of creating true saving faith and in its subsequent assurances, and who are consistent enough to maintain that principle in actual practice. Their cry goes up that such evidence is “subjective,” as if experience with the Living God would be viewed as anything but subjective, seeing that He is an Invisible Spirit. Our people have often been classed with the Pentecostals in a reviling manner by persons holding the “fundamentalist” view of the Holy Spirit. No further evidence is needed to corroborate the testimony that they make such false accusations. It has been learned by subjective experience, which is evidence of the highest order, whenever it is real.
It has been written of the Pentecostal movement by one of the leading fundamentalist “preachers” of our time: “the movement has added a stronger subjective religious experience than is accepted by most conservative Christians.” (page 71, THEFUNDAMENTALIST PHENOMENON, edited by Jerry Falwell) The correct word should have been “additional” or “different,” rather than “stronger.” While I do not doubt that Mr. Falwell correctly stated the opinion of himself and all who are in his fellowship, what could possibly be a stronger subjective religious experience than one which comes directly from God and regenerates the human spirit? If questioned about this, it is certain that Mr. Falwell and his comrades would profess that they believe in subjective experience, yet they often reveal by their abundant words that they know nothing of it as it really comes to lost sinners in the gracious Divine act of spiritual regeneration. The following is an example of such revealing words. In this book edited by Mr. Falwell, B. B. Warfield, one of the leading fundamentalist theologians in the early twentieth century, is quoted as follows:
“To this Warfield added the argument of the personal experience of the believer. Though admittedly subjective, Warfield, like all Christians announced: ‘The supreme proof of every Christian of the Deity of his Lord is in his own inner experience of the transforming power of his Lord upon the heart and life. Not more surely does he who feels the present warmth of the Sun know that the Sun exists, than he who has experienced the recreative power of the Lord know Him to be his Lord and his God.'” (page 9,Falwell) What Warfield wrote is true, and every true Christian KNOWS that it is true. Such a statement would have been applauded by the preachers participating in the great awakening revivals. In Warfield’s day, the time of the beginnings of the “fundamentalist” movement, D. L. Moody’s evangelism and its justifying doctrines had not yet taken over the minds of all of its Bible scholars. Falwell’s writer went on to prove with his own words that he did not comprehend what Warfield meant, while earnestly trying to convince his readers that he did, by concluding his comments on this matter with the following statement: “Evangelical-Fundamentalists will not let go of the Scripture that has led them to their personal experiential relationship with the loving Christ. For them to deny the Scripture which brought them to Christ, would be like scientists denying the formula that proved the results of an experiment.” This last statement reveals exactly what modern “fundamentalists” believe about assurance of salvation, that the “formula” (the Holy Scripture) proves the results (new creature and indwelling Christ) of the experiment. Every true Christian and every good scientist believe the opposite of what he expressed, that the results (indwelling Spirit and conscious awareness of His presence) prove the formula (Scripture) to be true. This difference may appear subtle, especially to one who has never experienced the spiritual birth, but it is one of infinite importance and eternal consequence. If one has not properly “experimented” with the power of God according to the formula of truth, consequently, he has also not obtained sufficient evidence in his heart that he has been saved. Although the Bible is true, that one has not yet attained the faith of salvation. When one must look to the Bible (the formula) to convince himself that he has the fellowship and blessing of Jesus (results), obviously he does not have the experimental knowledge of that transforming inner experience Warfield wrote about for subjective evidence. Thus Falwell’s writer proved himself ignorant of the one experience he “must” have before he can see or enter the Kingdom of God, the spiritual “birth from above” Jesus commended to Nicodemus. (John 3:3-8) This is a real experience with the Holy Spirit which results in eternal salvation AND lasting experimental knowledge of God. It is astonishing that he could not discern that his statement was an absolute contradiction of his quote from Mr. Warfield. Fundamentalists typically testify that they know God through the Book He inspired, which they believe. True Christians testify that they know the Bible is true because they have come to know the God who inspired its writers. Yet the true child of God must come to believe all the fundamental doctrines of the Bible as soon as he has learned and understood them. To deny them deliberately would be to reproach his master and to injure his fellowship with his Lord.
Mr. Falwell is one of the foremost leaders of that wing of revivalism today known as fundamentalism. He is far down that road which Charles Finney stopped and surveyed and proceeded to travel. Falwell admits that “Finney became the first professional evangelist and the father of modern evangelism” and that “by the end of the nineteenth century there would be significant changes in the methodology of revivalism through the influence of Charles Finney and ultimately Dwight L. Moody.” (pages 67 & 68, Falwell) We agree with these few statements from editor Falwell and his writers, but contrary to these fundamentalists, we believe that the direction and path Finney and Moody chose were wrong. When revival in America degenerated into “revivalism” in America the honor was taken away from God, and He denied His revival power to the erring participants.
America and the world is in desperate need of a revival from God, but as long as people suppose that it will come as a result of such REVIVALISM, they will be forever disappointed. Our NEED for the LIVING GOD and His fellowship must be sensed, and men and women, in the agony of their souls, must plead for Divine deliverance until “He come and rain righteousness upon us.” (Hosea 10:12) The “fallow ground,” where “pietism” once flourished, needs to be sown once again, for it has lain fallow for more than a century in much of our nation. Optimism, enthusiasm, activism, organization, crusades, rallies, and all such means of revivalism are not the means of God. They are the means of men. They are the methods of popular revivalistic religious leaders of our time. We must heartily agree with the concluding statement of Mr. Daniel Cohen in his refreshingly objective book on revival and revivalism in America: “Organized mass evangelism is a powerful tool, but these mass techniques have really distorted the appeal to deep religious emotions that originally gave rise to revivalism. If there is indeed a real spiritual change coming, the revivalists, who represent the status quo, will not lead it, probably won’t understand it, and will almost certainly oppose it.” (page 209, Cohen)The history of all true revivals of past centuries seems to justify his conclusion. So does this FUNDAMENTAL ERROR in the evangelism of modern revivalism.