In recent decades, some have been quite negative about the ministry of Charles Finney. It’s easy to criticize someone who is no longer here, but are the criticisms valid?
I had heard so much criticism against the man that in spite of being blessed by biographies of his life and understanding how God used him in revival, I was leery to touch his famous Revival Lectures. When I finally did, I understood why the enemy would not want anyone to read the work. Those lectures build faith.
The first half of the book is phenomenal. It builds faith regarding revival. Yet in the second half, there were elements I could not agree with. Finney lived in a day of truly extreme Calvinism, and he bucked the system with his emphasis on faith. Still, he was Calvinistic himself (just to a lesser degree), pushing the perseverance of the saints to such an extreme that none of us would be saved—including himself.
The positive side of Finney is his emphasis on the laws of faith. If you don’t understand faith, and especially if you think that faith is a work because it is a human responsibility, then you will misunderstand Finney. You will think he is promoting a human formula for revival. You will think he was man-centered. But if you understand that faith is not a work, but dependence on the worker, Jesus, based on the sure Word of God, then you will understand Finney. You will know he urges his readers to take God at His Word. You will know that faith is God-dependence and that it is impossible for God-dependence to be man-centered.
In 1858, four men in Ulster read a few key books that ignited faith in their hearts to seek God for a mighty outpouring of His Spirit in revival. Two of those were Finney’s Revival Lectures and a book on the life of George Mueller. The men sought the Lord in faith, and God sent the 1859 Revival of Ulster (Northern Ireland).
Jonathan Goforth read Finney, and God ignited faith in his heart for revival leading to the Manchurian Revival of 1908.
My point is that your understanding of faith will affect whether you understand what Finney was after. I do not believe Finney was correct in all of his theology, but his grasp of faith shows why he was used of God along with many others in the Second Great Awakening.
John Van Gelderen