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The Great Means


Charles Finney claimed that the right use of the right means would infallibly produce converts. He was, of course, wrong. But neither does God bring revival without the use of means. This the orthodox ministers who opposed and were opposed by Finney knew. Iain Murray writes:

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From the general introduction to the period of the Second Great Awakening we turn to some particular observations.

In the first place, if it be asked, What special means were used to promote these revivals? The answer is that there were none. The significance of this fact will be more apparent in later pages. This is not to say that the spiritual leaders of this new era held the view that the gospel could be advanced without means being employed. They were united in regarding such an attitude as a serious abuse of the doctrine of divine sovereignty. As Ebenezer Porter affirmed:

The God of this universe is not dependent on instruments . . . He could fill the world with Bibles by a word,—or give every inhabitant of the globe a knowledge of the gospel by inspiration. But he chooses that human agency should be employed in printing and reading and explaining the Scriptures. God is able to sanctify the four hundred millions of Asia, in one instant, without the agency of missionaries; but we do not expect him to do this without means, any more than we expect him to rain down food from the clouds, or turn stones into bread.

These men were united in the belief that God has appointed the means of prayer and preaching for the spread of the gospel and that these are the great means in the use of which he requires the churches to be faithful. There are no greater means which may be employed at special times to secure supposedly greater results. It is therefore the Spirit of God who makes the same means more effective at some seasons than at others.

This has perhaps not always been as evident as it was in 1800. Sometimes revivals have coincided with the emergence of hitherto unknown preachers whose abilities have been credited with securing change. But in the case of the Second Great Awakening, nearly all the preachers prominent at the outset had already been labouring for many years. . . .

The facts are indisputable. A considerable body of men, for a long period before the Second Great Awakening, preached the same message as they did during the revival but with vastly different consequences—the same men, the same actions, performed with the same abilities, yet the results were so amazingly different! The conclusion has to be drawn that the change in the churches after 1798 and 1800 cannot be explained in terms of the means used. Nothing was clearer to those who saw the events than that God was sovereignty pleased to bless human instrumentality in such a way that the success could be attributed to him alone. . . . Jeremiah Hallock, a leader in Connecticut, wrote: ‘As means did not begin this work of themselves, so neither did they carry it on. But as this was the work of the Omnipotent Spirit, so the effects produced proclaimed its sovereign, divine author.’ Asahel Hooker, another eminent Connecticut pastor, drew the same conclusion after seeing the same change among his own people: ‘It is the evident design of Providence to confound all attempts which should be made by philosophy and human reason to account for the effects wrought without ascribing them to God, as the marvelous work of the Spirit and grace.’

—Iain Murray, Revival & Revivalism (Banner of Truth, 2002), 126–128.



Posted 2007·05·08 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Asahel Hooker · Church History · Ebenezer Porter · Iain Murray · Jeremiah Hallock · Revival & Revivalism

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