In approaching Charles Finney we need to briefly look at the transition years between him and the earlier writings of Wesley and Fletcher. Timothy Smith implies that Methodism adopted the Pentecostal terminology direct from Finney but this is disputable on the evidence of the very text that he appeals to George Peck’s, Christian Perfection[i].19 George Peck can be quite critical of Finney and believes the view that he sets out is the orthodox Wesleyan one. Before proceeding it is important to let Smith speak for himself; he says,
The transfer of Finney’s Pentecostal language into American Methodism was direct and immediate. George.O.Peck, editor of the influential Methodist weekly, the New York Christian Advocate, paid close attention to Finney’s lectures as they appeared in The Oberlin Evangelist in 1839 and 1840. In the fall of the latter year, he became the first Methodist I know since John Fletcher to have equated the experience of entire sanctification with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.[ii]
In a footnote Smith describes Peck’s Christian Perfection as a response to Finney when he says “this volume consists of his lectures in New York City in response to developments at Oberlin.”[iii] Daniel Steele offers a very different explanation for the writing of Peck’s volume, he says,
In addition to these are the testimonies of some who held the so-called Zinderzorf theory of entire sanctification in the new birth. A notable instance is that of Dr. Francis Hodgson, who was tried about sixty years ago by his conference for this heresy……. The New York conference which tried him, at the same time requested Dr. George Peck to write a refutation of this error. Thus originated Peck’s Christian Perfection, which was for a long time in the course of conference studies[iv].
Peck himself says,
The writer professes no new light-broaches no new theory; his views, as far as he understands the subject, are strictly Wesleyan. These views he endeavoured to free from false glosses, to vindicate against objections, and to enforce by reasons which address themselves to the highest principles and susceptibilities of our nature[v].
This statement shows clearly that Peck did not see himself as departing from the orthodox teaching of the Methodism of his day. It seems that what was being taught in the church was a minor development of John Wesley’s and John Fletcher’s teaching, indeed Peck, appeals to Wesley and Fletcher in the development of his thinking. The most credible view seems to be that entire sanctification was preached and taught within the churches but the orthodox view had to be defended in print when it was criticised from both within Methodism and from without. Indeed the material gathered by Allan Coppedge in his article “Entire Sanctification in Early American Methodism 1812-1835”, points in the same direction[vi]. It seems evident that although there had been a decline in Holiness preaching in the early years of the nineteenth century as Peters demonstrates[vii] there had not been an entire abandonment of classic Wesleyan teaching. Indeed, it is quite probable that others were advancing in their formulation of this doctrine. Peck is more indebted to Fletcher in his theology than he is to Finney. His quotations from, The Last Check, show this dependence clearly. Peck should therefore be seen as one who stands consciously and consistently in the Wesleyan tradition. In the light of the above we need to ask, how much was Charles Finney influenced by Wesleyan thinking? In 1837 Finney gave some lectures on Christian perfection in which he shows an awareness of perfectionist literature, he says,
I will say despite the errors into which some of these so called perfectionists have fallen, the Bible does teach Christian perfection, and the Bible doctrine on this subject is what nobody needs to fear, but what everybody needs to know. I disclaim, entirely, the charge of maintaining the peculiarities, whatever they be, of modern perfectionists. I have read their publications and have much knowledge of them as individuals, and I cannot assent to many of their views. But the doctrine of Christian perfection is a duty is one which I have always maintained, I have become more convinced of it in these last few months, and that it is attainable in this life[viii].
A few pages later Charles Finney explicitly refers to John Wesley and his views of Christian perfection, he said,
I have recently read Mr. Wesley’s Plain Account of Christian Perfection, a book I never saw until lately. I find some expressions in it to which I should object, but I believe it is the expression rather than the sentiments. And I think, with this qualification, it is an admirable book, and I wish every member of this church to read it[ix].
The above quotations were written two years before Finney started to articulate his view of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This seems to demonstrate clearly the influence of Wesleyan thinking upon Finney. It raises the question, did some of the books Finney read identify the baptism of the Holy Spirit with entire sanctification?
Charles Finney’s thinking developed over the years, his earliest teaching about the baptism of the Holy Spirit was given in 1839-40 and is contained in the collection of essays and letters compiled by Timothy Smith under the title The Promise of The Spirit[x]. His mature thinking is contained in his, Power from on High[xi]. Some editions of Power from on High were under the same cover as Asa Mahan’s Baptism with the Holy Ghost[xii]. Finney and Mahan were good friends and both made significant contributions to the development of the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Asa Mahan’s teaching will therefore be examined in the next chapter.
The Development of Charles Finney’s teaching: Although Charles Finney did not start teaching about the baptism with the Holy Spirit until 1839-1840, one can see in some of his early writings, the seed from which his thinking developed. This can be seen in some of his comments in his, Lectures on Revival[xiii]. These lectures were delivered in 1834 and show Finney’s views in an embryonic form. Chapter 7, shows the need for Christians to be filled with the Holy Spirit and yet Finney has not yet embraced the doctrine of entire sanctification, as can be seen in his reference to the struggle caused by “your remaining corruption’s”[xiv]32. But Finney is already stressing the need to be filled with the Spirit and correlating this with power for evangelism. Finney says,
You will know how to use tools and strategies to convert unbelievers. The Holy Spirit in you will lead you to use means wisely. You will adapt them well and avoid hurting people. No one void of God’s Spirit is fit to direct the tactics of revival. Their hands are all thumbs–unable to take hold–and they act as if they missed out on common sense. But the person led by the Spirit will have correct timing and apply the truth to fullest advantage.[xv]
Finney taught at this stage that being filled with the Spirit gave assurance and power. Finney strongly exhorts believers to be filled with the Spirit but at this time he has not yet developed the teaching on the baptism of the Spirit. It is important to note at this early stage Finney is already using the altar terminology which is normally associated with Pheobe Palmer. An example of this is when Finney says,
True conversion involves consecrating ourselves and all we have to Him, as far as we understand what this implies. But new believers are in no way aware of everything involved in consecration’s highest forms. At first their only thought is to lay their soul naked upon the altar and give their whole hearts to God–their possessions or other things close to them. They surrendered everything they thought of at the time about every appetite, passion, inclination, desire and love– everything they call their own–and thoroughly surrender them all to God. Gaining such knowledge takes time.
And yet fully surrendering everything we are, have, desire and love, as quickly as these objects come to mind, is a condition of growth in God’s favour[xvi].
The emphasis on consecration here is also similar to later Keswick teaching.
One passage that proves that Finney had not yet accepted the teaching of the baptism of the Spirit as a second work of grace, is his comment made in the context of his discussion of growth in grace, Finney says,
The fact is that every step of progress in the Christian life is taken by a fresh appropriation of Christ by faith, a fuller baptism of the Holy Spirit. As our weaknesses, infirmities, and recurring sins are revealed to us by the circumstances we face, our only help is found in Christ. We grow only as we step by step appropriate Him more fully, as we fully “put him on.” We mature only as fast as we are emptied of self-dependence, as we renounce any expectation of forming holy habits through our own obedience, as we partake by faith of deeper and deeper baptisms of the Holy Spirit, and as we thoroughly put on the Lord Jesus Christ.[xvii]
Finney seems to have some concept of a baptism of the Holy Spirit but this seems to be a very profound spiritual experience which enables the believer to grow in grace. Although he would stress growth in grace to his dying day, his views on sanctification and the baptism with the Holy Spirit were to develop over the years.
In his sermon on Christian Perfection published in 1837 and quoted above, Finney clearly embraces entire sanctification but his views seem closer to Wesley than to Fletcher. Finney was forced by his early revival ministry to ask himself some searching questions and as a result try to be more effective in ministry. The result of this was he gave closer attention to the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Finney published the results of his reflections in the Oberlin Evangelist in the period 1839-1840 (and reprinted as The Promise of The Spirit). It is in these articles and letters that he first teaches the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Timothy Smith thinks that in these articles we have the roots of much of the holiness teaching of the nineteenth century[xviii], however, Finney’s comments are somewhat vague. The biggest problem at this point is that Finney mentions the baptism of the Spirit and the need for it, but he never defines it! Indeed Finney seems to presume that his readers will know what he is talking about, but did they? The context of the surrounding sermons might cause one to think that he is referring to entire sanctification but one cannot be sure.
Finney’s letter of 6th May 1840[xix] is concerned about grounding new Christians in their faith so that they would grow in the knowledge and grace of God. Point 5 develops the idea of entire sanctification and is followed by point 6 where Finney teaches the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is an example of Finney presuming his readers would understand him although he does not define his terms. The irony of the matter is that Finney does not do what he call for in this letter when he says,
Converts should therefore have their attention definitely directed to what this blessing is–its nature, how it is to be obtained, to what extent and with what degree of permanency it may be expected. In short, they need to be baptized into the very death of Christ and by this baptism to be slain and buried and planted and crucified and raised to a life of holiness in Christ. Anything short of this will leave the convert to inevitable backsliding; and to this attainment I am persuaded he may be led by suitable painstaking on the part of his religious teachers.[xx]
Finney clearly links entire sanctification and the baptism of the Holy Spirit but the question must be asked: Is the baptism an experience of cleansing or empowering? The context gives no clear answer to this question. In his next letter dated 3rd June 1840[xxi], Finney seems to see the baptism in terms of power.
Now the thing which they need and must have, before they will have power with God or man, is the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Without this they will forever remain in the dark in regard to spiritual wants of the church. And however learned, philosophical, metaphysical, logical or, if you please, theological their sermons may be, they will always be wide of the mark and never meet the necessities of the church until they are baptised with the Holy Ghost. They need to be set apart to the work by the anointing of God.[xxii]
In this letter Finney refers to being endued with power from on high, powerful ministries are ascribed to the baptism of the Spirit. At this stage ambiguities are apparent in Finney’s teaching. Purity and power are both taught but the link between them and the baptism of the Holy Spirit is never explicated. John Gresham notices the difference between the two letters when he says,
In the second letter, Finney stressed the importance that ministers be baptized with the Holy Spirit. In the context he stressed not the sanctifying effects of this Baptism, but its empowering. This was the one needful thing, more important than ministerial education, that the minister of the gospel be “endued with power from on high” that he receive this anointing which would give him “power with God or man.” The “main design and bearing” of this baptism of the apostles at Pentecost, as well as ministers today, “was to fill them with light and love and power in preaching the Gospel.”[xxiii]
Finney’s use of Pentecostal language to describe the baptism with the Holy Spirit is seen in its fullest development in his book Power from on High[xxiv]. The title shows that Finney’s concern at this point is receiving the power of the Holy Spirit. It is this book which has had a profound effect on Pentecostal and Charismatic views of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It would appear that R.A Torrey was also influenced by Finney’s teaching at this point. An extract from the early pages of, Power from on High, will illustrate this emphasis on power, Finney said,
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 in 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 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 unrecognised by them. The power of moral courage to proclaim the gospel and do the bidding of Christ whatever it cost them.[xxv]
The above quote clearly shows that at the end of his life, Finney was emphasising the power dimension of the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Power from on High was first published in 1870.). Even areas that had been emphasised by some as entire sanctification are now seen in terms of empowerment rather than cleansing.
One question that arises from time to time is, how do I receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit? No clear answer to this question is given by Finney. A.M. Hills commented on this when he said,
Signally useful as that beloved man of God, President Finney, was, I cannot but believe that he would have led many more into an experience of sanctification, had he held a different philosophy. He himself had experienced a marvellous baptism with the Holy Spirit, which made him an example to the world of “holiness and power.” But when he tried to lead others into an experience similar to his own, something stood in his way. President Mahan says of him: “No one ever disciplined believers so severely, and with such intense and tireless patience as Brother Finney. Appalled at the backsliding which followed his revivals, he put forth the most earnest efforts to induce among believers permanence in the divine life. He gathered his theological students together and instructed them in renunciation of sin and consecration to Christ, and purpose of obedience. They would renew their renunciations, consecrations, and purpose, with all the intensity with which their natures were capable. But they were not told to exercise faith for the blessing; and all their human efforts and consecrations ended in dismal failure, and left them in groaning bondage, under the law of sin and death.” If he had only told them to exercise their faith in Jesus, and receive the Holy Spirit as their Sanctifier, “to will and to do” in them, they would have received the establishing and keeping blessing.[xxvi]
It is encouraging to see that one so close to Charles Finney as A.M. Hills, should find the same lack of clarity at certain points and this also underlines some of the ambiguities that Finney shows regarding purity and power. With these ambiguities in mind it is interesting to note that the early Pentecostal leaders came from holiness backgrounds and wanted to emphasise both purity and power.
When one reads what Finney has to say about the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the ambiguities noted above, it is not surprising that both Holiness and Pentecostal/Charismatic writers claim him for themselves. Gary B McGee makes this helpful comment,
Belief in a second work of grace was not confined to the Methodist circuit. For example, Charles G. Finney believed that Spirit baptism provided divine empowerment to achieve Christian perfection at the same time that his theology refused to sit comfortably in either Wesleyan or Reformed categories.[xxvii]
McGee rightly perceives that Finney’s teaching does not fit neatly into any theological schema, but it is interesting that this Pentecostal scholar interprets Finney’s teaching in terms of endument of power. Finney’s teaching seems to have influenced the early Pentecostal leaders either directly or indirectly through Moody and Torrey.
Finney’s contribution to the development of the doctrine of the baptism of the Spirit was motivated by pastoral concerns, this may account for the fact that this subject is omitted from his Systematic Theology[xxviii]. Finney’s influence as a revivalist and teacher undoubtedly gave an impetus to the interest in the subject of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. If Finney had not taught the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, one wonders if the subject would have developed in the way it has. Certainly, the power motif has by the end of Finney’s life taken a place of greater importance than purity.
Asa Mahan is a crucial person in the development of the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As already noted, Asa Mahan was a friend of Charles Finney and it is also important to note that he was friendly with the Palmers. Through these connection he was to influence both the Holiness Revival and the Keswick movement. Asa Mahan was the first person to publish a complete book on the baptism of the Holy Spirit entitled, The Baptism of the Holy Ghost
. It is in this volume that we encounter Mahan’s use of Pentecostal language with its emphasis on power. Because of this one must ask, does his doctrine stress power at the expense of purity? The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate that for Mahan, the baptism of the Holy Ghost is an endument with power from on high so that one may live a holy life. This is not to deny that Mahan sees a close connection between entire sanctification and the baptism of the Holy Ghost, rather he affirms the connection but places the emphasis on power not cleansing. However, it should be acknowledged that Mahan believed that his teaching was consistent with the holiness testimony of Methodism, Mahan said,
We may now clearly apprehend, we remark once more, what will hereafter constitute the glory or the shame of Methodism. The central article of her creed is the great central truth of the Gospel, to wit: full and free redemption in Jesus Christ. In the holding and advocacy of that truth, her ministry and membership glory before the world. In her early founders and favourite memoirs, Christ and the promises of his grace are fully and distinctly revealed to all her membership and to all the world as “a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness.” Now if this denomination shall remain true to her heaven-descended mission by continuing to hold and advocate that great truth, and by a living faith shall exemplify its all purifying influence, both before the Church and the world this will be her “wisdom and understanding,” in the judgement of all nations, who shall hear of this great salvation.
One cannot do justice to Mahan’s views unless one sees his conscious dependence upon Methodism. Although Mahan was not Wesleyan in the totality of his theology, there is no doubt that he perceived himself to be Wesleyan at this point. Indeed Mahan would have rejected outright the later Pentecostal developments as can be seen from this statement,
No careful reader of the Scriptures at the present time confounds the gift or the promise of the Spirit with any miraculous endowments. It is undeniable that these endowments had for ages been in the world, while the “Holy Ghost was not given” until after “Jesus was glorified.” We are also positively taught, as we have seen, that “the sealing and earnest of the Spirit” were never accompanied, except in a few instances, by any form of miraculous gifts. “The promise of the Spirit” is to all believers in common. Miraculous gifts may, or may not, be imparted to any, and never were imparted but to a few.
Having seen that Mahan saw himself to be in continuity with Wesleyan thinking, it is now time to explore Mahan’s presentation of the Baptism of the Holy Ghost, noting both the continuities and the discontinuities with Wesleyan Theology.
In his opening chapter Mahan makes it quite clear that he is speaking of the believer being endued with power from on high; he ties this into the subsequent nature of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Also, Mahan emphasised that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was to be received by faith. Mahan at this point seems to be stating his doctrine more clearly than Finney. For Mahan the role of faith is vital and his emphasis here certainly influenced holiness teaching and the later Pentecostal movement. One paragraph from Mahan illustrates this quite clearly,
The indwelling presence and power of the Spirit, “the baptism of the Holy Ghost,” are, according to the express teachings of inspiration, to be sought and received by faith in God’s word of promise, on the part of the believer, after he has believed; just as pardon and eternal life are to be sought by the sinner prior to justification. “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.” Between the believer and the gift of the Spirit, lies a divine promise: “the promise of the Spirit.” If this promise is not embraced by faith, the gift, “the sealing and earnest of the Spirit,” will not be vouchsafed.
Statements like those above, have appeared in both holiness and Pentecostal/Charismatic publications showing the influence of Asa Mahan either directly or indirectly.
Mahan also stressed that Jesus himself had been transformed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit and, if this is the case, the believer is in more desperate need of power for service.
In these early statements the power motif is to the fore but it is power for serving the Lord in holiness of life.
Mahan in his exposition of Zechariah 13:1, brings together the themes of purity and power, he said,
But when the Holy Ghost falls upon the believer, and his soul is “filled with the Spirit,” in that baptism of fire, of love, of light, and joy in God, there is a cloudless apprehension of truth, and every truth apprehended has transforming power upon the heart and character….
Now it is this higher form of experience and attainment, this baptism of fire, of love, of power, and of spiritual purification, this outpouring of the Spirit promised to the Church in these latter days, that special reference is had in the text.
Mahan envisages a time of great moral and spiritual power coming upon the church. He sees the baptism of the Holy Ghost brining purification and power to the church. Some of Mahan’s statements at first glance seem to be Wesleyan, yet one finds that the power motif has the predominance. Perhaps this is best illustrated by a statement from the very end of the book,
There are two distinct and opposite states and relations in which the believer in Jesus may be contemplated. In the one state he has repented of sin, “believed to the saving of his soul,.” Entertains sincere purposes of obedience, and is not utterly barren of good works. In the other state, he has all these with “the power of the Spirit” superadded….. In the latter state, the equally marked characteristics of that experience are, courage and strength; “everlasting consolations, and good hope through grace;” “victories by the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony;” “full assurance of hope,” and “full assurance of understanding;” “all-sufficiency in all things,” and thereby “abounding unto every good work;” immortal fellowships and “fullness of joy;” and God as “everlasting light,” while “the days of our mourning are ended.”
Mahan stressed the element of power in the baptism of the Holy Spirit but this was always linked to holy living. Although he mentions purification as a result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, he has moved away from the Wesleyan view that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is an act of divine cleansing. Mahan believed in entire sanctification and makes a connection between it and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Although Asa Mahan emphasised power in his book, it is always power to lead a holy life in service of a Holy God. He did not seek power for power’s sake but for the glory of God.
[i]George Peck Christian Perfection (Salem ,Ohio. Schmul Publishers .1990)
[ii]Timothy Smith, The Promise of the Spirit (by Charles Finney,) (Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishers. 1980), 25
[iii]Promise of the Spirit footnote 69,32.
[iv]Daniel Steele Defense of Christian Perfection (Salem, Ohio, Schmul Publishing, 1984),70
[v]George Peck Christian Perfection. (Salem, Ohio. Schmul Publishing, 1990), 3.
[vi]Allan Coppedge ‘Entire Sanctification in Early American Methodism 1812-1835’. Wesleyan Theological Journal 13
[vii]J. L. Peters Christian Perfection and American Methodism, (Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House. 1985.)
[viii]C. Finney Principles of Holiness. ( Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishers 1984) 23.
[ix]C. Finney Principles of Holiness 33.
[x]C. Finney, The Promise of the Spirit (Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishers, 1980)
[xi]C. Finney Power from on High ( Fort Washington. CLC. 1996)
[xii]A. Mahan The Baptism of the Holy Ghost (Pickett Publishing. 1870.)
[xiii]C. Finney, Lectures on Revival. (Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishing, 1988)
[xiv]Lectures on Revival section 7. 79
[xv]Lectures on Revival 80
[xvi]Lectures on Revival. 278.
[xvii] Lectures on Revival 281
[xviii]See his introduction in The Promise of the Spirit 9-33..
[xix]The Promise of the Spirit 259-263.
[xx]The Promise of the Spirit. 262
[xxi]The Promise of the Spirit 263-265
[xxii]The Promise of the Spirit. 263-264
[xxiii] John L Gresham Charles G. Finney’s Doctrine of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. (Peabody, Hendrickson Publishers. 1987). 18.
[xxiv]Charles Finney. Power From on High (Fort Washington, CLC. 1996).
[xxv]43 Charles Finney Power from on High. (Fort Washington, CLC. 1996), 7.
[xxvi]44 A.M.Hills, Fundamental Christian Theology vol..2 (Salem, Ohio. Schmul Publishing. 1980). 253
[xxvii]45 Gary B McGee, Systematic Theology, (edited by Stanley Horton Springfield. Miss. Logion Press, 1995).
[xxviii]Charles Finney Systematic Theology (Minneapolis, Bethany House Publishers 1994)