Sin is the most expensive thing in the universe. Nothing else can cost so much.
- Charles G. Finney
Arguably one of the most spiritually powerful men to walk the Earth since Christ’s Apostles, Charles G. Finney's insights into the person and working of God, as revealed in Scripture, come with the highest authority.
An unusually Spirit filled product of early 1800’s, his participation in America’s Second Great Awaking was so profound as to garnish him the title of “The Father of Modern Revivalism. While all his work is penetrating, his famous sermon, Power From On High, as insightful as it is troubling. In many ways, his piercing words are more relevant today than ever. A must read, it should be a hallmark of Christendom. We also highly recommend the late Keith Green's update of Charles Finney's track on repentance and following Christ from Last Day's Ministries entitled: "Breaking Up The Fallow Ground." Also click here for free online access to many of Charles Finney's other messages.
Charles Grandison Finney was born in 1792, and as the “Father of American revivalism,” and was said to have paved the way for such notables as Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham.
George Williams was converted by Finney’s writings and inspired to found the YMCA. William and Katherine Booth, founders of the Salvation Army, were also said to be heavily influenced by Finney:
“Charles Grandison Finney wrote Lectures on Revival, which greatly influenced Catherine and William Booth. Their approach to revivalism copied Finney’s ‘American’ methods…. The Booths and hundreds of others committed to memory his manual for successful evangelism.”
In the book, “Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians” a chapter on Finney explains:
“The writer is inclined to regard Charles G. Finney as the greatest evangelist and theologian since the days of the apostles. It is estimated that during the year 1857-58 over a hundred thousand persons were led to Christ as the direct or indirect result of Finney's labours, while five hundred thousand persons professed conversion to Christ in the great revival which began in his meetings. Another remarkable fact is that it was found by actual research that over eighty-five in every hundred persons professing conversion to Christ in Finney's meetings remained true to God, whereas seventy per cent of those professing conversion in the meetings of even so great an evangelist as Moody afterwards became backsliders. Finney seems to have had the power of impressing the consciences of men with the necessity of holy living in such a manner as to procure the most lasting results. It is said that at Governeur, New York, not a dance or theatrical play could be held in the place for six years after Finney held meetings there.” - Emphasis QC's
“He continued to preach the gospel, with increasing power and results, visiting many of the leading cities of America and Great Britain. Sometimes the power of God was so manifest in his meetings that almost the entire audience fell on their knees in prayer or were prostrated on the floor. When in the pulpit he sometimes felt almost lifted off his feet by the power of the Spirit of God. Some persons believe that the moral work of the Holy Spirit is not accompanied by any physical manifestations; but both in Bible times and in Finney's meetings remarkable physical manifestations seemed to accompany the moral work of the Holy Spirit when the moral work was deep and powerful. At times, when Finney was speaking, the power of the Spirit seemed to descend like a cloud of glory upon him. Often a hallowed calm, noticeable even to the unsaved, seemed to settle down upon cities where he was holding meetings. Sinners were often brought under conviction of sin almost as soon as they entered these cities.” - Emphasis QC's
In regards to Finney, The Christian History Institute writes:
“There were many things wrong with the United States then, and Charles Finney, among others, became convinced that the gospel was meant by God to do more than just get people saved. It was also to clean up society, and one instrument for doing this in the 19th century was called the Benevolent Empire. This was a great network of volunteer societies organized to attack social problems… Since the late 1820s, Finney had been moving to include social reform in his program for awakening, and he felt very seriously that converts should immediately be put to urgent work in the battle against sin. “Every member must work or quit. No honorary members” in the Kingdom of God, he wrote. During the first three decades of the 1800s, Lewis Tappan and many other influential Christian laypeople organized thousands of societies that touched every phase of American life. Slavery, temperance, vice, world peace, women’s rights, Sabbath observance, prison reform, profanity, education—all these and more had specific societies devoted to their betterment… By 1834 the total annual income of the “Benevolent Empire” was about today’s equivalent of one hundred thirty million dollars, which rivaled the entire budget of the federal government in those days!”
Beyond Finney’s spiritual concerns and care for the poor and needy, he championed such causes as slavery and women’s rights. He did so by preaching and becoming president of Oberlin College, the first college in the United States to admit African-Americans, and the first to admit women.
Charles Finney preached and wrote extensively, often regarding various aspects of sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. This included “Power From On High” were Finney lists 27 conditions for walking in the power of the Spirit. QC highly recommends this and all of Finney’s work. That being said, most may find such radical discipleship overwhelming, and Finney’s fine tuned minutia too much too soon.
Power From On High by Charles G. Finney
Please permit me to correct a misapprehension of some of the members of the late Council at Oberlin of the brief remarks which I made to them; first on Saturday morning, and afterwards on the Lord's Day. In my first remarks to them I called attention to the mission of the Church to disciple all nations, as recorded by Matthew and Luke, and stated that this commission was given by Christ to the whole Church, and that every member of the Church is under obligation to make it his lifework to convert the world. I then raised two inquiries:
1. What do we need to secure success in this great work?
2. How can we get it?
1. We need the enduement of power from on high. Christ had previously informed the disciples that without Him they could do nothing. When He gave them the commission to convert the world, He added, “But tarry ye in Jerusalem till ye be endued with power from on high. Ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. Lo, I send upon you the promise of My Father.” This baptism of the Holy Ghost, this thing promised by the Father, this enduement of power from on high, Christ has expressly informed us is the indispensable condition of performing the work which he has set before us.
2. How shall we get it? Christ expressly promised it to the whole Church, and to every individual whose duty it is to labor for the conversion of the world. He admonished the first disciples not to undertake the work until they had received this enduement of power from on high. Both the promise and the admonition apply equally to all Christians of every age and nation. No one has, at any time, any right to expect success, unless he first secures this enduement of power from on high. The example of the first disciples teaches us how to secure this enduement. They first consecrated themselves to his work, and continued in prayer and supplication until the Holy Ghost fell upon them on the Day of Pentecost, and they received the promised enduement of power from on high. This, then, is the way to get it.
The Council desired me to say more upon this subject; consequently, on the Lord's Day, I took for my text the assertion of Christ, that the Father is more willing to give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him than we are to give good gifts to our children.
1. I said, This text informs us that it is infinitely easy to obtain the Holy Spirit, or this enduement of power from the Father.
2. That this is made a constant subject of prayer. Everybody prays for this, at all times, and yet, with all this intercession, how few, comparatively, are really endued with this spirit of power from on high! This want is not met. The want of power is a subject of constant complaint. Christ says, “Everyone that asketh receiveth,” but there certainly is a “great gulf” between the asking and receiving, that is a great stumbling-block to many. How, then, is this discrepancy to be explained? I then proceeded to show why this enduement is not received. I said:
(1) We are not willing, upon the whole, to have what we desire and ask.
(2) God has expressly informed us that if we regard iniquity in our hearts He will not hear us. But the petitioner is often self indulgent. This is iniquity, and God will not hear him.
(3) He is uncharitable.
(6) Resists conviction of sin.
(7) Refuses to confess to all the parties concerned.
(8) Refuses to make restitution to injured parties.
(9) He is prejudiced and uncandid.
(10) He is resentful.
(11) Has a revengeful spirit.
(12) Has a worldly ambition.
(13) He has committed himself on some point, and become dishonest, and neglects and rejects further light.
(14) He is denominationally selfish.
(15) Selfish for his own congregation.
(16) He resists the teachings of the Holy Spirit.
(17) He grieves the Holy Spirit by dissension.
(18) He quenches the Spirit by persistence in justifying wrong.
(19) He grieves Him by a want of watchfulness.
(20) He resists Him by indulging evil tempers.
(21) Also by dishonesties in business.
(22) Also by indolence and impatience in waiting upon the Lord.
(23) By many forms of selfishness.
(24) By negligence in business, in study, in prayer.
(25) By undertaking too much business, too much study, and too little prayer.
(26) By a want of entire consecration.
(27) Last and greatest, by unbelief. He prays for this enduement without expecting to receive it. “He that believeth not God, hath made Him a liar.” This, then, is the greatest sin of all. What an insult, what a blasphemy, to accuse God of lying!
I was obliged to conclude that these and other forms of indulged sin explained why so little is received, while so much is asked. I said I had not time to present the other side. Some of the brethren afterward inquired, “What is the other side?” The other side presents the certainty that we shall receive the promised enduement of power from on high, and be successful in winning souls, if we ask, and fulfill the plainly revealed conditions of prevailing prayer.
Observe, what I said upon the Lord’s Day was upon the same subject, and in addition to what I had previously said. The misapprehension alluded to was this: If we first get rid of all these forms of sin, which prevent our receiving this enduement, have we not already obtained the blessing? What more do we need?
Answer. There is a great difference between the peace and the power of the Holy Spirit in the soul. The disciples were Christians before the Day of Pentecost, and, as such, had a measure of the Holy Spirit. They must have had the peace of sins forgiven, and of a justified state, but yet they had not the enduement of power necessary to the accomplishment of the work assigned them. They had the peace which Christ had given them, but not the power which He had promised. This may be true of all Christians, and right here is, I think, the great mistake of the Church, and of the ministry. They rest in conversion, and do not seek until they obtain this enduement of power from on high. Hence so many professors have no power with either God or man. They prevail with neither. They cling to a hope in Christ, and even enter the ministry, overlooking the admonition to wait until they are endued with power from on high. But let anyone bring all the tithes and offerings into God’s treasury, let him lay all upon the altar, and prove God herewith, and he shall find that God “will open the windows of heaven, and pour him out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
WHAT IS IT?
THE apostles and brethren, on the Day of Pentecost, received it. What did they receive? What power did they exercise after that event? They received a powerful baptism of the Holy Ghost, a vast increase of divine illumination. This baptism imparted a great diversity of gifts that were used for the accomplishment of their work. It manifestly included the following things:
The power of a holy life. The power of a self–sacrificing life. (The manifestation of these must have had great influence with those to whom they proclaimed the gospel.) The power of a cross–bearing life. The power of great meekness, which this baptism enabled them everywhere to exhibit. The power of a loving enthusiasm in proclaiming the gospel. The power of teaching. The power of a loving and living faith. The gift of tongues. An increase of power to work miracles. The gift of inspiration, or the revelation of many truths before unrecognized by them. The power of moral courage to proclaim the gospel and do the bidding of Christ, whatever it cost them.
In their circumstances all these enduements were essential to their success; but neither separately nor all together did they constitute that power from on high which Christ promised, and which they manifestly received. That which they manifestly received as the supreme, crowning, and all-important means of success was the power to prevail with both God and man, the power to fasten saving impressions upon the minds of men. This last was doubtless the thing which they understood Christ to promise. He had commissioned the Church to convert the world to Him.
All that I have named above were only means, which could never secure the end unless they were vitalized and made effectual by the power of God. The apostles, doubtless, understood this; and, laying themselves and their all upon the altar, they besieged a Throne of Grace in the spirit of entire consecration to their work.
They did, in fact, receive the gifts before mentioned; but supremely and principally this power to savingly impress men. It was manifested right upon the spot. They began to address the multitude; and, wonderful to tell, three thousand were converted the same hour. But, observe, here was no new power manifested by them upon this occasion, save the gift of tongues. They wrought no miracle at that time, and used these tongues simply as the means of making themselves understood. Let it be noted that they had not had time to exhibit any other gifts of the Spirit which have been above named. They had not at that time the advantage of exhibiting a holy life, or any of the powerful graces and gifts of the Spirit. What was said on the occasion, as recorded in the gospel, could not have made the impression that it did, had it not been uttered by them with a new power to make a saving impression upon the people. This power was not the power of inspiration, for they only declared certain facts of their own knowledge. It was not the power of human learning and culture, for they had but little. It was not the power of human eloquence, for there appears to have been but little of it. It was God speaking in and through them. It was a power from on high — God in them making a saving impression upon those to whom they spoke. This power to savingly impress abode with and upon them. It was, doubtless, the great and main thing promised by Christ, and received by the apostles and primitive Christians. It has existed, to a greater or less extent, in the Church ever since. It is a mysterious fact often manifested in a most surprising manner. Sometimes a single sentence, a word, a gesture, or even a look, will convey this power in an overcoming manner.
To the honor of God alone I will say a little of my own experience in this matter. I was powerfully converted on the morning of the 10th of October. In the evening of the same day, and on the morning of the following day, I received overwhelming baptisms of the Holy Ghost, that went through me, as it seemed to me, body and soul. I immediately found myself endued with such power from on high that a few words dropped here and there to individuals were the means of their immediate conversion. My words seemed to fasten like barbed arrows in the souls of men. They cut like a sword. They broke the heart like a hammer. Multitudes can attest to this. Oftentimes a word dropped, without my remembering it, would fasten conviction, and often result in almost immediate conversion.
Sometimes I would find myself, in a great measure, empty of this power. I would go out and visit, and find that I made no saving impression. I would exhort and pray, with the same result. I would then set apart a day for private fasting and prayer, fearing that this power had departed from me, and would inquire anxiously after the reason of this apparent emptiness. After humbling myself, and crying out for help, the power would return upon me with all its freshness. This has been the experience of my life. I could fill a volume with the history of my own experience and observation with respect to this power from on high. It is a fact of consciousness and of observation, but a great mystery. I have said that sometimes a look has in it the power of God. I have often witnessed this.
This power is a great marvel. I have many times seen people unable to endure the word. The most simple and ordinary statements would cut men off from their seats like a sword, would take away their bodily strength, and render them almost as helpless as dead men. Several times it has been true in my experience that I could not raise my voice, or say anything in prayer or exhortation except in the mildest manner, without wholly overcoming those that were present. This was not because I was preaching terror to the people; but the sweetest sounds of the gospel would overcome them. This power seems sometimes to pervade the atmosphere of one who is highly charged with it. Many times great numbers of persons in a community will be clothed with this power, when the very atmosphere of the whole place seems to be charged with the life of God.
Strangers coming into it, and passing through the place, will be instantly smitten with conviction of sin, and in many instances converted to Christ. When Christians humble themselves, and consecrate their all afresh to Christ, and ask for this power, they will often receive such a baptism that they will be instrumental in converting more souls in one day than in all their lifetime before. While Christians remain humble enough to retain this power the work of conversion will go on, till whole communities and regions of country are converted to Christ. The same is true of ministers. But this article is long enough. If you will allow me, I have more to say upon this subject.
ENDUEMENT OF POWER FROM ON HIGH
In this article I propose to consider the conditions upon which this enduement of power can be obtained. Let us borrow a little light from the Scriptures. I will not cumber your paper with quotations from the Bible, but simply state a few facts that will readily be recognized by all readers of the Scriptures. If the readers of this article will read in the last chapter of Matthew and of Luke the commission which Christ gave to His disciples, and in connection read the first and second chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, they will be prepared to appreciate what I have to say in this article.
1st. The disciples had already been converted to Christ, and their faith had been confirmed by His resurrection. But here let me say that conversion to Christ is not to be confounded with a consecration to the great work of the world’s conversion. In conversion the soul has to do directly and personally with Christ. It yields up its prejudices, its antagonisms, its self-righteousness, its unbelief, its selfishness; accepts Him, trusts Him, and supremely loves Him. All this the disciples had, more or less, distinctly done. But as yet they had received no definite commission, and no particular enduement of power to fulfill a commission.
2nd. But when Christ had dispelled their great bewilderment resulting from His crucifixion, and confirmed their faith by repeated interviews with them, He gave them their great commission to win all nations to Himself. But He admonished them to tarry at Jerusalem till they were endued with power from on high, which He said they should receive not many days hence. Now observe what they did. They assembled, the men and women, for prayer. They accepted the commission, and, doubtless, came to an understanding of the nature of the commission, and the necessity of the spiritual enduement which Christ had promised. As they continued day after day in prayer and conference they, no doubt, came to appreciate more and more the difficulties that would beset them, and to feel more and more their inadequacy to the task. A consideration of the circumstances and results leads to the conclusion that they, one and all, consecrated themselves, with all they had, to the conversion of the world as their life-work. They must have renounced utterly the idea of living to themselves in any form, and devoted themselves with all their powers to the work set before them. This consecration of themselves to the work, this selfrenunciation, this dying to all that the world could offer them, must, in the order of nature, have preceded their intelligent seeking of the promised enduement of power from on high. They then continued, with one accord, in prayer for the promised baptism of the Spirit, which baptism included all that was essential to their success.
Observe, they had a work set before them. They had a promise of power to perform it. They were admonished to wait until the promise was fulfilled. How did they wait? Not in listlessness and inactivity; not in making preparations by study and otherwise to get along without it; not by going about their business, and offering an occasional prayer that the promise might be fulfilled; but they continued in prayer, and persisted in their suit till the answer came. They understood that it was to be a baptism of the Holy Ghost. They understood that it was to be received from Christ. They prayed in faith. They held on, with the firmest expectation, until the enduement came. Now, let these facts instruct us as to the conditions of receiving this enduement of power.
1. We, as Christians, have the same commission to fulfill. As truly as they did, we need an enduement of power from on high. Of course, the same injunction, to wait upon God till we receive it, is given to us.
2. We have the same promise that they had. Now, let us take substantially and in spirit the same course that they did. They were Christians, and had a measure of the Spirit to lead them in prayer and in consecration. So have we. Every Christian possesses a measure of the Spirit of Christ, enough of the Holy Spirit to lead us to true consecration and inspire us with the faith that is essential to our prevalence in prayer. Let us, then, not grieve or resist Him: but accept the commission, fully consecrate ourselves, with all we have, to the saving of souls as our great and our only life-work. Let us get on to the altar with all we have and are, and lie there and persist in prayer till we receive the enduement.
Now, observe, conversion to Christ is not to be confounded with the acceptance of this commission to convert the world. The first is a personal transaction between the soul and Christ relating to its own salvation. The second is the soul’s acceptance of the service in which Christ proposes to employ it. Christ does not require us to make brick without straw. To whom He gives the commission He also gives the admonition and the promise. If the commission is heartily accepted, if the promise is believed, if the admonition to wait upon the Lord till our strength is renewed be complied with, we shall receive the enduement.
3. It is of the last importance that all Christians should understand that this commission to convert the world is given to them by Christ individually. Everyone has the great responsibility devolved upon him or her to win as many souls as possible to Christ. This is the great privilege and the great duty of all the disciples of Christ. There are a great many departments in this work. But in every department we may and ought to possess this power, that, whether we preach, or pray, or write, or print, or trade, or travel, take care of children, or administer the government of the state, or whatever we do, our whole life and influence should be permeated with this power.
Christ says: “If any man believe in Me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” — that is, a Christian influence, having in it the element of power to impress the truth of Christ upon the hearts of men, shall proceed from Him. The great want of the Church at present is, first, the realizing conviction that this commission to convert the world is given to each of Christ’s disciples as his life-work. I fear I must say that the great mass of professing Christians seem never to have been impressed with this truth. The work of saving souls they leave to ministers.
The second great want is a realizing conviction of the necessity of this enduement of power upon every individual soul. Many professors of religion suppose it belongs especially and only to such as are called to preach the Gospel as a life-work. They fail to realize that all are called to preach the Gospel, that the whole life of every Christian is to be a proclamation of the glad tidings.
A third want is an earnest faith in the promise of this enduement. A vast many professors of religion, and even ministers, seem to doubt whether this promise is to the whole Church and to every Christian. Consequently, they have no faith to lay hold of it. If it does not belong to all, they don’t know to whom it does belong. Of course they cannot lay hold of the promise by faith. A fourth want is that persistence in waiting upon God for it that is enjoined in the Scriptures. They faint before they have prevailed, and, hence, the enduement is not received. Multitudes seem to satisfy themselves with a hope of eternal life for themselves. They never get ready to dismiss the question of their own salvation, leaving that, as settled, with Christ. They don’t get ready to accept the great commission to work for the salvation of others, because their faith is so weak that they do not steadily leave the question of their own salvation in the hands of Christ; and even some ministers of the Gospel, I find, are in the same condition, and halting in the same way, unable to give themselves wholly to the work of saving others, because in a measure unsettled about their own salvation.
It is amazing to witness the extent to which the Church has practically lost sight of the necessity of this enduement of power. Much is said of our dependence upon the Holy Spirit by almost everybody; but how little is this dependence realized. Christians and even ministers go to work without it. I mourn to be obliged to say that the ranks of the ministry seem to be filling up with those who do not possess it. May the Lord have mercy upon us! Will this last remark be thought uncharitable? If so, let the report of the Home Missionary Society, for example, be heard upon this subject. Surely, something is wrong.
An average of five souls won to Christ by each missionary of that Society in a year’s toil certainly indicates a most alarming weakness in the ministry. Have all or even a majority of these ministers been endued with the power which Christ promised? If not, why not? But, if they have, is this all that Christ intended by His promise? In a former article I have said that the reception of this enduement of power is instantaneous. I do not mean to assert that in every instance the recipient was aware of the precise time at which the power commenced to work mightily within him. It may have commenced like the dew and increased to a shower. I have alluded to the report of the Home Missionary Society. Not that I suppose that the brethren employed by that Society are exceptionally weak in faith and power as laborers for God. On the contrary, from my acquaintance with some of them, I regard them as among our most devoted and self-denying laborers in the cause of God.
This fact illustrates the alarming weakness that pervades every branch of the Church, both clergy and laity. Are we not weak? Are we not criminally weak? It has been suggested that by writing thus I should offend the ministry and the Church. I cannot believe that the statement of so palpable a fact will be regarded as an offense. The fact is, there is something sadly defective in the education of the ministry and of the Church. The ministry is weak, because the Church is weak. And then, again, the Church is kept weak by the weakness of the ministry. Oh for a conviction of the necessity of this enduement of power and faith in the promise of Christ!
IS IT A HARD SAYING?
In a former article I said that the want of an enduement of power from on high should be deemed a disqualification for a pastor, a deacon or elder, a Sabbath school superintendent, a professor in a Christian college, and especially for a professor in a theological seminary. Is this a hard saying? Is this an uncharitable saying? Is it unjust? Is it unreasonable? Is it unscriptural? Suppose any one of the Apostles, or those present on the day of Pentecost, had failed, through apathy, selfishness, unbelief, indolence, or ignorance, to obtain this enduement of power, would it have been uncharitable, unjust, unreasonable, or unscriptural, to have accounted him disqualified for the work which Christ had appointed them?
Christ had expressly informed them that without this enduement they could do nothing. He had expressly enjoined it upon them not to attempt it in their own strength, but to tarry at Jerusalem until they received the necessary power from on high. He had also expressly promised that if they tarried, in the sense which He intended, they should receive it “not many days hence.” They evidently understood Him to enjoin upon them to tarry in the sense of a constant waiting upon Him in prayer and supplication for the blessing. Now, suppose that any one of them had stayed away and attended to his own business, and waited for the sovereignty of God to confer this power. He of course would have been disqualified for the work; and if his fellow-Christians, who had obtained this power, had deemed him so, would it have been uncharitable, unreasonable, unscriptural?
And is it not true of all to whom the command to disciple the world is given, and to whom the promise of this power is made, if through any shortcoming or fault of theirs they fail to obtain this gift, that they are in fact disqualified for the work, and especially for any official station? Are they not, in fact, disqualified for leadership in the sacramental host? Are they qualified for teachers of those who are to do the work? If it is a fact that they do lack this power, however this defect is to be accounted for, it is also a fact that they are not qualified for teachers of God’s people; and if they are seen to be disqualified because they lack this power, it must be reasonable and right and Scriptural so to deem them, and so to speak of them, and so to treat them. Who has a right to complain? Surely, they have not. Shall the Church of God be burdened with teachers and leaders who lack this fundamental qualification, when their failing to possess it must be their own fault?
The manifest apathy, indolence, ignorance, and unbelief that exist upon this subject are truly amazing. They are inexcusable. They must be highly criminal. With such a command to convert the world ringing in our ears; with such an injunction to wait in constant, wrestling prayer till we receive the power; with such a promise, made by such a Savior, held out to us of all the help we need from Christ Himself, what excuse can we offer for being powerless in this great work? What an awful responsibility rests upon us, upon the whole Church, upon every Christian! One might ask, How is apathy, how is indolence, how is the common fatal neglect possible, under such circumstances? If any of the primitive Christians to whom this commandment was given had failed to receive this power, should we not think them greatly to blame? If such default had been sin in them, how much more in us with all the light of history and of fact lazing upon us, which they had not received?
Some ministers and many Christians treat this matter as if it were to be left to the sovereignty of God, without any persistent effort to obtain this enduement. Did the primitive Christians so understand and treat it? No, indeed. They gave themselves no rest till this baptism of power came upon them. I once heard a minister preaching upon the subject of the baptism of the Holy Ghost. He treated it as a reality; and when he came to the question of how it was to be obtained, he said truly that it was to be obtained as the Apostles obtained it on the day of Pentecost. I was much gratified, and listened eagerly to hear him press the obligation on his hearers to give themselves no rest till they had obtained it. But in this I was disappointed: for before he sat down he seemed to relieve the audience from the feeling of obligation to obtain the baptism, and left the impression that the matter was to be left to the discretion of God, and said what appeared to imply a censure of those that vehemently and persistently urged upon God the fulfillment of the promise. Neither did he hold out to them the certainty of their obtaining the blessing if they fulfilled the conditions. The sermon was in most respects a good one; but think the audience left without any feeling of encouragement or sense of obligation to seek earnestly the baptism. This is a common fault of the sermons that I hear. There is much that is instructive in them; but they fail to leave either a sense of obligation or a feeling of great encouragement, as to the use of means, upon the congregation. They are greatly defective in their winding up. They neither leave the conscience under a pressure nor the whole mind under the stimulus of hope. The doctrine is often good, but the “what then?” is often left out. Many ministers and professors of religion seem to be theorizing, criticizing, and endeavoring to justify their neglect of this attainment.
So did not the Apostles and other Christians. It was not a question which they endeavored to grasp with their intellects before they embraced it with their hearts. It was with them, as it should be with us, a question of faith in a promise. I find many persons endeavoring to grasp with their intellect and settle as a theory questions of pure experience. They are puzzling themselves with endeavors to apprehend with the intellect that which is to be received as a conscious experience through faith.
There is need of a great reformation in the Church on this particular point. The Churches should wake up to the facts in the case, and take a new position, a firm stand in regard to the qualifications of ministers and Church officers. They should refuse to settle a man as pastor of whose qualifications for the office in this respect they are not well satisfied. Whatever else he may have to recommend him, if his record does not show that he has this enduement of power to win souls to Christ, they should deem him unqualified. It used to be the custom of Churches, and I believe in some places is so still, in presenting a call to the pastorate, to certify that, having witnessed the spiritual fruits of his labors, they deem him qualified and called of God to the work of the ministry. Churches should be well satisfied in some way that they call a fruitful minister, and not a dry stalk — that is, a mere intellect, a mere head with little heart; an elegant writer, but with no unction; a great logician, but of little faith; a fervid imagination, it may be, with no Holy Ghost power.
The Churches should hold the theological seminaries to a strict account in this matter; and until they do, I fear the theological seminaries will never wake up to their responsibility. Some years since, one branch of the Scotch Church was so tried with the want of unction and power in the ministers furnished them by their theological seminary that they passed a resolution that until the seminary reformed in this respect they would not employ ministers that were educated there. This was a necessary, a just, a timely rebuke, which I believe had a very salutary effect. A theological seminary ought by all means to be a school not merely for the teaching of doctrine, but also, and even more especially, for the development of Christian experience. To be sure the intellect should be well furnished in those schools; but it is immeasurably more important that the pupils should be led to a thorough personal knowledge of Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, and to be made conformable to His death. A theological seminary that aims mainly at the culture of the intellect, and sends out learned men who lack this enduement of power from on high, is a snare and a stumbling-block to the Church.
The seminaries should recommend no one to the Churches, however great his intellectual attainments, unless he has this most essential of all attainments, the enduement of power from on high. The seminaries should be held as incompetent to educate men for the ministry if it is seen that they send out men as ministers who have not this most essential qualification. The Churches should inform themselves, and look to those seminaries which furnish not merely the best educated, but the most unctuousand spiritually powerful ministers. It is amazing that, while it is generally admitted that the enduement of power from on high is a reality, and essential to ministerial success, practically it should be treated by the Churches and by the schools as of comparatively little importance.
In theory it is admitted to be everything; but in practice treated as if it were nothing. From the Apostles to the present day it has been seen that men of very little human culture, but endued with this power, have been highly successful in winning souls to Christ; whilst men of the greatest learning, with all that the schools have done for them, have been powerless so far as the proper work of the ministry is concerned. And yet we go on laying ten times more stress on human culture than we do on the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Practically human culture is treated as infinitely more important than the enduement of power from on high. The seminaries are furnished with learned men, but often not with men of spiritual power; hence, they do not insist upon this enduement of power as indispensable to the work of the ministry. Students are pressed almost beyond endurance with study and the culture of the intellect, while scarcely an hour in a day is given to instruction in Christian experience. Indeed, I do not know that so much as one course of lectures on Christian experience is given in the theological seminaries. But religion is an experience. It is a consciousness. Personal intercourse with God is the secret of the whole of it.
There is a world of most essential learning in this direction wholly neglected by the theological seminaries. With them doctrine, philosophy, theology, Church history, sermonizing are everything, and real heart- union with God nothing. Spiritual power to prevail with God and to prevail with man has but little place in their teaching. I have often been surprised at the judgment men form in regard to the prospective usefulness of young men preparing for the ministry. Even professors are very apt, I see, to deceive themselves on this subject. If a young man is a good scholar, a fine writer, makes good progress in exegesis, and stands high in intellectual culture, they have strong hopes of him, even though they must know in many such cases that these young men cannot pray; that they have no unction, no power in prayer, no spirit of wrestling, of agonizing, and prevailing with God. Yet they are expecting them, because of their culture, to make their mark in the ministry, to be highly useful. For my part, I expect no such thing of this class of men.
I have infinitely more hope of the usefulness of a man who, at any cost, will keep up daily intercourse with God; who is yearning for and struggling after the highest possible spiritual attainment; who will not live without daily prevalence in prayer and being clothed with power from on high. Churches, presbyteries, associations, and whoever license young men for the ministry, are often very faulty in this respect. They will spend hours in informing themselves of the intellectual culture of the candidates, but scarcely as many minutes in ascertaining their heart culture, and what they know of the power of Christ to save from sin, what they know of the power of prayer, and whether and to what extent they are endued with power from on high to win souls to Christ. The whole proceeding on such occasions cannot but leave the impression that human learning is preferred to spiritual unction.
Oh! that it were different, and that we were all agreed, practically, now and for ever, to hold fast to the promise of Christ, and never think ourselves or anybody else to be fit for the great work of the Church till we have received a rich enduement of power from on high I beg of my brethren, and especially my younger brethren, not to conceive of these articles as written in the spirit of reproach. I beg the Churches, I beg the seminaries, to receive a word of exhortation from an old man, who has had some experience in these things, and one whose heart mourns and is weighed down in view of the shortcomings of the Church, the ministers, and the seminaries on this subject. Brethren, I beseech you to more thoroughly consider this matter, to wake up and lay it to heart, and rest not till this subject of the enduement of power from on high is brought forward into its proper place, and takes that prominent and practical position in view of the whole Church that Christ designed it should.
PREVAILING prayer is that which secures an answer. Saying prayers is not offering prevailing prayer. The prevalence of prayer does not depend so much on quantity as on quality. I do not know how better to approach this subject than by relating a fact of my own experience before I was converted. I relate it because I fear such experiences are but too common among unconverted men.
I do not recollect having ever attended a prayer meeting until after I began the study of law. Then, for the first time, I lived in a neighborhood where there was a prayer meeting weekly. I had neither known, heard, nor seen much of religion; hence I had no settled opinions about it. Partly from curiosity and partly from an uneasiness of mind upon the subject, which I could not well define, I began to attend that prayer meeting. About the same time I bought the first Bible that I ever owned, and began to read it. I listened to the prayers which I heard offered in those prayer meetings with all the attention that I could give to prayers so cold and formal. In every prayer they prayed for the gift and outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Both in their prayers and in their remarks, which were occasionally interspersed, they acknowledged that they did not prevail with God. This was most evident, and had almost made me a skeptic.
Seeing me so frequently in their prayer meeting, the leader, on one occasion, asked me if I did not wish them to pray for me. I replied: “No.” I said: “I suppose that I need to be prayed for, but your prayers are not answered. You confess it yourselves.” I then expressed my astonishment at this fact, in view of what the Bible said about the prevalence of prayer.
Indeed, for some time my mind was much perplexed and in doubt in view of Christ’s teaching on the subject of prayer and the manifest facts before me, from week to week, in this prayer meeting. Was Christ a divine teacher? Did He actually teach what the Gospels attributed to Him? Did He mean what He said? Did prayer really avail to secure blessings from God? If so, what was I to make of what I witnessed from week to week and month to month in that prayer meeting? Were they real Christians? Was that which I heard real prayer, in the Bible sense? Was it such prayer as Christ had promised to answer? Here I found the solution. I became convinced that they were under a delusion; that they did not prevail because they had no right to prevail. They did not comply with the conditions upon which God had promised to hear prayer. Their prayers were just such as God had promised not to answer. It was evident they were overlooking the fact that they were in danger of praying themselves into skepticism in regard to the value of prayer. In reading my Bible I noticed such revealed conditions as the following:
(a)Faith in God as the answerer of prayer. This, it is plain, involves the expectation of receiving what we ask.
(b)Another revealed condition is the asking according to the revealed will of God. This plainly implies asking not only for such things as God is willing to grant, but also asking in such a state of mind as God can accept. I fear it is common for professed Christians to overlook the state of mind in which God requires them to be as a condition of answering their prayers. For example: In offering the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come,” it is plain that sincerity is a condition of prevailing with God. But sincerity in offering this petition implies the whole heart and life devotion of the petitioner to the building up of this kingdom. It implies the sincere and thorough consecration of all that we have and all that we are to this end. To utter this petition in any other state of mind involves hypocrisy, and is an abomination.
So in the next petition, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” God has not promised to hear this petition unless it be sincerely offered. But sincerity implies a state of mind that accepts the whole revealed will of God, so far as we understand it, as they accept it in heaven. It implies a loving, confiding, universal obedience to the whole known will of God, whether that will is revealed in His Word, by His Spirit, or in His providence. It implies that we hold ourselves and all that we have and are as absolutely and cordially at God’s disposal as do the inhabitants of heaven. If we fall short of this, and withhold anything whatever from God, we “regard iniquity in our hearts,” and God will not hear us. Sincerity in offering this petition implies a state of entire and universal consecration to God. Anything short of this is withholding from God that which is His due. It is “turning away our ear from hearing the law.” But what saith the Scriptures? “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination.” Do professed christians understand this?
What is true of offering these two petitions is true of all prayer. Do Christians lay this to heart? Do they consider that all professed prayer is an abomination if it be not offered in a state of entire consecration of all that we have and are to God? If we do not offer ourselves with and in our prayers, with all that we have; if we are not in a state of mind that cordially accepts and, so far as we know, perfectly conforms to the whole will of God, our prayer is an abomination. How awfully profane is the use very frequently made of the Lord’s Prayer, both in public and in private. To hear men and women chatter over the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” while their lives are anything but conformed to the known will of God is shocking and revolting. To hear men pray, “Thy kingdom come,” while it is most evident that they are making little or no sacrifice or effort to promote this kingdom, forces the conviction of bare-faced hypocrisy. Such is not prevailing prayer.
(c)Unselfishness is a condition of prevailing prayer. “Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts”(James 4:3).
(d) Another condition of prevailing prayer is a conscience void of offense toward God and man. 1 John 3:20, 22: “If our heart (conscience) condemn us, God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things; if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God, and whatsoever we ask we receive of Him, because we keep His command- ments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” Here two things are made plain: first, that to prevail with God we must keep a conscience void of offense; and, second, that we must keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
(e) A pure heart is also a condition of prevailing prayer. Psalm 66 18: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”
(f) All due confession and restitution to God and man is another condition of prevailing prayer. Proverbs 28:13: “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper. Whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall find mercy.”
(g) Clean hands is another condition. Psalm 26:6: “I will wash mine hands in innocence, so will I compass thine altar, O Lord.” I Timothy 6:8: “I will that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”
(h) The settling of disputes and animosities among brethren is a condition. Matthew 5:23, 24: “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way. First be reconciled to thy brother, then come and offer thy gift.”
(I) Humility is another condition of prevailing prayer. James 4:6: “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.”
(j) Taking up the stumbling-blocks is another condition. Ezekiel 14:3: “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumbling-block of their iniquity before their face. Should I be inquired of at all by them?”
(k) A forgiving spirit is a condition. Matthew 6:12: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”; 15: “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive your trespasses.”
(l) The exercise of a truthful spirit is a condition. Psalm 51:6: Behold, Thou desireth truth in the inward parts.” If the heart be not in a truthful state, if it be not entirely sincere and unselfish, we regard iniquity in our hearts; and, therefore, the Lord will not hear us.
(m)Praying in the name of Christ is a condition of prevailing prayer.
(n) The inspiration of the Holy Spirit is another condition. All truly prevailing prayer is inspired by the Holy Ghost. Romans 8:26, 27: “For we know not what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And He that searcheth the heart knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” This is the true spirit of prayer. This is being led by the Spirit in prayer. It is the only really prevailing prayer. Do professed Christians really understand this? Do they believe that unless they live and walk in the Spirit, unless they are taught how to pray by the intercession of the Spirit in them, they cannot prevail with God?
(o) Fervency is a condition. A prayer, to be prevailing, must be fervent. James 5:16: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
(p) Perseverance or persistence in prayer is often a condition of prevailing. See the case of Jacob, of Daniel, of Elijah, of the Syrophoenician woman, of the unjust judge, and the teaching of the Bible generally.
(q) Travail of soul is often a condition of prevailing prayer. “As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children.” “My little children,” said Paul, “for whom I travail in birth again, till Christ be formed in you.” This implies that he had travailed in birth for them before they were converted. Indeed, travail of soul in prayer is the only real revival prayer. If anyone does not know what this is, he does not understand the spirit of prayer. He is not in a revival state. He does not understand the passage already quoted — Romans 8:26, 27. Until he understands this agonizing prayer he does not know the real secret of revival power.
(r) Another condition of prevailing prayer is the consistent use of means to secure the object prayed for, if means are within our reach, and are known by us to be necessary to the securing of the end. To pray for a revival of religion, and use no other means, is to tempt God. This, I could plainly see, was the case of those who offered prayer in the prayer meeting of which I have spoken. They continued to offer prayer for a revival of religion, but out of meeting they were as silent as death on the subject, and opened not their mouths to those around them. They continued this inconsistency until a prominent impenitent man in the community administered to them in my presence a terrible rebuke. He expressed just what I deeply felt. He rose, and with the utmost solemnity and tearfulness said: “Christian people, what can you mean? You continue to pray in these meetings for a revival of religion. You often exhort each other here to wake up and use means to promote a revival. You assure each other, and assure us who are impenitent, that we are in the way to hell; and I believe it. You also insist that if you should wake up, and use the appropriate means, there would be a revival, and we should be converted. You tell us of our great danger, and that our souls are worth more than all worlds; and yet you keep about your comparatively trifling employments and use no such means. We have no revival and our souls are not saved.” Here he broke down and fell, sobbing, back into his seat. This rebuke fell heavily upon that prayer meeting, as I shall ever remember. It did them good; for it was not long before the members of that prayer meeting broke down, and we had a revival. I was present in the first meeting in which the revival spirit was manifest.
Oh! how changed was the tone of their prayers, confessions, and supplications. I remarked, in returning home, to a friend: “What a change has come over these Christians. This must be the beginning of a revival.” Yes; a wonderful change comes over all the meetings whenever the Christian people are revived. Then their confessions mean something. They mean reformation and restitution. They mean work. They mean the use of means. They mean the opening of their pockets, their hearts and hands, and the devotion of all their powers to the promotion of the work.
(s) Prevailing prayer is specific. It is offered for a definite object. We cannot prevail for everything at once. In all the cases recorded in the Bible in which prayer was answered, it is noteworthy that the petitioner prayed for a definite object.
(t) Another condition of prevailing prayer is that we mean what we say in prayer; that we make no false pretenses; in short, that we are entirely childlike and sincere, speaking out of the heart, nothing more nor less than we mean, feel, and believe.
(u) Another condition of prevailing prayer is a state of mind that assumes the good faith of God in all His promises.
(v) Another condition is “watching unto prayer” as well as “praying in the Holy Ghost.” By this I mean guarding against everything that can quench or grieve the Spirit of God in our hearts. Also watching for the answer, in a state of mind that will diligently use all necessary means, at any expense, and add entreaty to entreaty. When the fallow ground is thoroughly broken up in the hearts of Christians, when they have confessed and made restitution — if the work be thorough and honest — they will naturally and inevitably fulfill the conditions, and will prevail in prayer. But it cannot be too distinctly understood that none others will. What we commonly hear in prayer and conference meetings is not prevailing prayer. It is often astonishing and lamentable to witness the delusions that prevail upon the subject. Who that has witnessed real revivals of religion has not been struck with the change that comes over the whole spirit and manner of the prayers of really revived Christians? I do not think I ever could have been converted if I had not discovered the solution of the question: “Why is it that so much that is called prayer is not answered?”
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