OPPOSITION to MY PREACHING by Charles Finney
During the early part of my ministry especially, I used to
get knocked back by other preachers because of the way that I preached.
They used to complain that I let down the dignity of the
pulpit, that I was a disgrace to the ministerial profession,
that I talked like a lawyer at the bar, and that I talked to
the people in a colloquial manner. They complained that
I said “you” instead of preaching about sin and sinners
and saying “they”. They also told me that I said “hell”
with such emphasis that I often shocked people. They
said I urged people to respond as if they might not have
a moment to live, and sometimes they said that I
After I had preached for some time and God had poured
out His blessing everywhere I went, I used to say to
ministers that I did not dare to make the changes that
they wanted. I said, “Show me the fruits of your ministry.
If you can prove by your results that you have found a
better way, then I will adopt your views.”
They would often complain that I was guilty of repetition
in my preaching. I would take the same thought and turn
it over and over, and illustrate it in various ways. I told
them that I felt it was necessary to do this, to make
myself understood. Then they would say that the
educated people in my congregation would lose interest.
But the facts soon silenced them. They found that under
my preaching, judges and lawyers and educated men
were converted in their droves, but under their methods,
such a thing almost never occurred.
I never bore any grudge towards other ministers for the
rough way they often treated me. I knew they were only
trying to help. One time a well-known temperance
lecturer from Connecticut came down to hear me preach.
He was indignant. He said I should stop preaching and
go to Princeton immediately to learn theology.
I don’t want to give the impression that I thought that my
views or methods were perfect, for I had no such thought.
I was aware that I was but a child, so to speak. I had not
been to the higher schools of learning, so I never had
any higher ambition than to go into new settlements and
places where the Gospel was not being preached. I was
often surprised, in the first year of my preaching, that
educated people found my preaching so compelling.
This was more than I had expected. In fact, it was more
then I had dared to hope.
I am still totally convinced that to a large extent the
schools are ruining the ministers. Preachers these days
have wonderful facilities and are vastly more learned, so
far as theological, historical, and Biblical learning is
concerned, than perhaps any age in history. Yet with all
their learning, they do not know how to use it. They are,
to a great extent, like David in Saul’s armor.
Ministers need one thing above all others, and that is
the singleness of the eye. If they feel they have a reputation to
protect, they will do little good.
I could name ministers who are still alive today who
were deeply ashamed of me when I first began to preach
because I was so undignified, used such common
language and spoke to the people with such directness.
I was aware from the start that I would meet with
opposition, and that there was a wide gulf between my
views and the views of other ministers. I never really felt
like one of them, or that they regarded me as truly
belonging to their fraternity. I have bred a lawyer. I came
straight from the law office into the pulpit and talked to
the people as I would have spoken to a jury.
When a city is on fire, the fire captain does not read his
men an essay or a fine piece of rhetoric. It is a matter of
urgency, and he has to make every word count.
This is the way it always is when men are urgent and
serious. Their language is pointed, direct, and simple.
Their sentences are short and powerful. They appeal for
Ministers usually avoid preaching directly to the people.
They will preach to them about others, and the sins of
others, but rarely will they ever say: “You are guilty of
these sins, and the Lord requires this of you.” They
often preach ‘about the Gospel instead of preaching the
Gospel. They often preach ‘about’ sinners instead of
preaching to them. They go to great lengths to avoid
being personal. But I have always gone down a different
line than this. I have often said, “Do not think that I am
talking about anybody else. I am talking to you and you and you.”
Ministers told me at first that people would never put up
with this – that they would get up and leave, and never
come back. But they were mistaken. A lot depends on
the spirit in which it is said. If it is done in the spirit of
love, with an honest desire for their very best, there are
very few who will continue to resent it. At the time they
may feel rebuked and upset, but deep down they know
that they needed it, and it will ultimately do them good.
People are not fools. They have little respect for a man
who will go into the pulpit and preach smooth things?
There is a part of them that despises it.
I became aware that a large number of ministers east
of Utica were writing letters about the revivals, and taking
a hostile stand against them. But until I came to Auburn
in 1826 I was not fully aware of the amount of opposition
I was destined to meet from these ministers – who did
not personally know me but were influenced by false
reports. I learned that a secret network was developing
with the aim of uniting the ministers and churches to
hedge me in, and prevent the revivals from spreading.
I was told that all the New England churches in
particular were closed to me. I became quite upset by
all of this. I didn’t say anything to anyone but gave
myself to prayer. I asked God to direct me and to give
me the grace to ride out the storm.
One day I was in my room and the Lord showed me a
vision of what lay ahead. He drew so near to me while
I was praying that I literally trembled. I shook from head
to foot, under a full sense of the presence of God. It
seemed more like being on the top of Sinai, with all the
thunderings than in the presence of the cross of Christ.
Never in my life was I so awed and humbled before God.
But instead of wanting to run away, I felt drawn nearer
and nearer to this Presence that filled me with such awe
and trembling. After a period of great brokenness before
Him, there came a great lifting up. God assured me that
He would be with me and hold me up – that no opposition
would succeed against me. He showed me that there
was nothing I should do, but to keep ministering and
allow Him to vindicate my ministry.
The sense of God’s presence, and all that passed
between myself and God at that time, I can never
describe. It led me to be perfectly trusting, perfectly
calm, and to have nothing but the best attitude towards
all the brothers who were misled and were aligning
themselves against me. I felt sure that everything would
turn out alright in the end – that the best course for me
to take was to leave everything to God and just keep
ongoing. As the storm gathered and the opposition
increased, I never doubted for one moment how it would
result. I was never disturbed by it. I never spent a
waking hour thinking about it – even when it seemed as
if all the churches in the land, except where I had
ministered, would unite to shut me out of their pulpits.
This was what the leaders of this opposition had vowed
to do. They were so deceived that they thought they
had no choice but to unite and, as they expressed it,
“put him down.” But God assured me that they would
never put me down.
-[From the book, “Charles Finney – Most Powerful Revivals”]