19th century revivalist Charles Finney was often called “America’s foremost revivalist,” and he was a major leader of the Second Great Awakening in America, which had a great impact on the social history of the United States.
In Lecture XV of Charles Finney’s Lectures on Revivals of Religion, Hindrances to Revivals, Finney describes why churches in his day rarely saw revival…and he points to one major sin: slavery.
Today, many Christians believe the church in America is doomed to rarely see revival for many of the same reasons. Only the sin America is seeped in today is child killing through legalized abortion.
In an effort to show just how similar these two evils are, I have substituted the word “slavery” with (“abortion”) in Finney’s lecture below:
The church must take right ground in regard to politics. Do not suppose, now, that I am going to preach a political sermon, or that I wish to have you join and get up a Christian party in politics. No, I do not believe in that.
But the time has come that Christians must vote for honest men, and take consistent ground in politics, or the Lord will curse them. They must be honest men themselves, and instead of voting for a man because he belongs to their party, Bank or Anti-Bank, Jackson, or Anti-Jackson, they must find out whether he is honest and upright, and fit to be trusted. They must let the world see that the church will uphold no man in office, who is known to be a knave, or an adulterer, or a Sabbath-breaker, or a gambler. Such is the spread of intelligence and the facility of communication in our country, that every man can know for whom he gives his vote. And if he will give his vote only for honest men, the country will be obliged to have upright rulers. . . . As on the subject of slavery (abortion) and temperance, so on this subject, the church must act right or the country will be ruined. God cannot sustain this free and blessed country, which we love and pray for, unless the church will take right ground. Politics are a part of religion in such a country as this, and Christians must do their duty to the country as a part of their duty to God. It seems sometimes as if the foundations of the nation were becoming rotten, and Christians seem to act as if they thought God did not see what they do in politics. But I tell you, he does see it, and he will bless or curse this nation, according to the course they take.
Revivals are hindered when ministers and churches take wrong ground in regard to any question involving human rights.
Take the subject of SLAVERY (abortion), for instance. The time was when this subject was not before the public mind. John Newton continued in the slave trade (abortion industry) after his conversion. And so had his mind been perverted, and so completely was his conscience seared, in regard to this most nefarious traffic, that the sinfulness of it never occurred to his thoughts until some time after he became a child of God. Had light been poured upon his mind previously to his conversion, he never could have been converted without previously abandoning this sin. And after his conversion, when convinced of its iniquity, he could no longer enjoy the presence of God, without abandoning the sin for ever.
So, doubtless, many slave dealers and slave holders (abortionists and abortion workers and supporters) in our own country have been converted, notwithstanding their participation in this abomination, because the sinfulness of it was not apparent to their minds. So ministers and churches, to a great extent throughout the land, have held their peace, and borne no testimony against this abominable abomination, existing in the church and in the nation. But recently, the subject has come up for discussion, and the providence of God has brought it distinctly before the eyes of all men. Light is now shed upon this subject, as it has been upon the cause of temperance. Facts are exhibited, and principles established, and light thrown in upon the minds of men, and this monster is dragged from his horrid den, and exhibited before the church, and it is demanded of them, “IS THIS SIN?”
Their testimony must be given on this subject. They are God’s witnesses. They are sworn to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” It is impossible that their testimony should not be given, on one side or the other. Their silence can no longer be accounted for upon the principle of ignorance, and that they have never had their attention turned to the subject. Consequently, the silence of Christians upon the subject is virtually saying that they do not consider slavery (abortion) as a sin.
The truth is, it is a subject upon which they cannot be silent without guilt. The time has come, in the providence of God, when every southern breeze is loaded down with the cries of lamentation, mourning and woe. Two millions (55 million unborn) of degraded heathen in our own land stretch their hands, all shackled and bleeding, and send forth to the church of God the agonizing cry for help. And shall the church, in her efforts to reclaim and save the world, deafen her ears to this voice of agony and despair? God forbid. The church cannot turn away from this question. It is a question for the church and for the nation to decide, and God will push it to a decision.
It is in vain for the churches to resist it for fear of distraction, contention, and strife. It is in vain to account it an act of piety to turn away the ear from hearing this cry of distress.
The church must testify, and testify “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” on this subject, or she is perjured, and the Spirit of God departs from her. She is under oath to testify, and ministers and churches who do not pronounce it sin bear false testimony for God.
It is doubtless true that one of the reasons for the low state of religion at the present time is that many churches have taken the wrong side on the subject of slavery (child killing-abortion), have suffered prejudice to prevail over principle, and have feared to call this abomination by its true name….
But I repeat it, the subject of slavery (abortion) is a subject upon which Christians, praying men, need not and must not differ.
Another thing to be avoided is an attempt to take neutral ground on this subject. Christians can no more take neutral ground on this subject, since it has come up for discussion, than they can take neutral ground on the subject of the sanctification of the Sabbath. It is a great national sin. It is a sin of the church. The churches by their silence, and by permitting slaveholders (abortionists) to belong to their communion, have been consenting to it.
All denominations have been more or less guilty, although the Quakers have of late years washed their hands of it. It is in vain for the churches to pretend it is merely a political sin. I repeat it, it is the sin of the church, to which all denominations have consented. They have virtually declared that it is lawful. The very fact of suffering slaveholders (abortionists) quietly to remain in good standing in their churches, is the strongest and most public expression of their views that it is not sin.
For the church, therefore, to pretend to take neutral ground on the subject, is perfectly absurd. The fact is that she is not on neutral ground at all. While she tolerates slaveholders (abortionists, those who have and support abortion) in her communion SHE JUSTIFIES THE PRACTICE. And as well might an enemy of God pretend that he was neither saint nor sinner, that he was going to take neutral ground, and pray “good Lord and good devil,” because he did not know which side would be the most popular…
Still it may be said, that in many churches, this subject cannot be introduced without creating confusion and ill-will. This may be. It has been so upon the subject of temperance, and upon the subject of revivals too. In some churches, neither temperance nor revivals can be introduced without producing dissension. Sabbath-schools, and missionary operations, and everything of the kind have been opposed, and have produced dissensions in many churches. But is this a sufficient reason for excluding these subjects? And where churches have excluded these subjects for fear of contention, have they been blessed with revivals? Every body knows that they have not. But where churches have taken firm ground on these subjects, although individuals and sometimes numbers have opposed, still they have been blessed with revivals. Where any of these subjects are carefully and prayerfully introduced; where they are brought forward with a right spirit, and the true relative importance is attached to each one of them; if in such cases, there are those who will make disturbance and resist, let the blame fall where it ought.
There are some individuals, who are themselves disposed to quarrel with this subject, who are always ready to exclaim, “Do not introduce these things into the church, they will create opposition.” And if the minister and praying people feel it their duty to bring the matter forward, they will themselves create a disturbance, and then say, “There, I told you so; now see what your introducing this subject has done; it will tear the church all to pieces.”
And while they are themselves doing all they can to create division, they are charging the division upon the subject, and not upon themselves. There are some such people in many of our churches. And neither sabbath-schools, nor missions, nor revivals, nor anti-slavery (anti-abortion), nor anything else that honors God or benefits the souls of men, will be carried in the churches, without these careful souls being offended by it…
What is the condition of this nation? No doubt, God is holding the rod of WAR over the heads of this nation. He is waiting before he lets loose his judgments, to see whether the church will do right. The nation is under his displeasure, because the church has conducted in such a manner with respect to revivals. And now suppose war should come, where would be our revivals? How quickly would war swallow up the revival spirit. The spirit of war is anything but the spirit of revivals. Who will attend to the claims of religion, when the public mind is engrossed by the all-absorbing topic of war. See now, how this nation is, all at once, brought upon the brink of war. God brandishes his blazing sword over our heads.
Will the church repent? It is THE CHURCH that God chiefly has in view. How shall we avoid the curse of war? Only by a reformation in the church. It is in vain to look to politicians to avert war. Perhaps they would generally be in favor of war. Very likely the things they would do to avert it would run us right into it. If the church will not feel, will not awake, will not act, where shall we look for help? If the church absolutely will not move, will not tremble in view of the just judgments of God hanging over our heads, we are certainly nigh unto cursing, as a nation…The churches did take hold of temperance and other branches of reform to such an extent as to avoid those evils against which they were warned. Upon the question of slavery (abortion) the church was too late in her testimony to avoid the war. But the slaveholders were much alarmed and exasperated by the constantly growing opposition to their institution throughout all that region of the north where revival influences had been felt. They took up arms to defend and perpetuate the abomination, and by so doing abolished it.
Full Work here.
Finney was appointed professor of theology at Oberlin College (1835), minister of the First Congregational Church at Oberlin (1837), and was named president of the college in 1852. His Lectures on Revivals (1835) became a handbook for American revivalists. Finney died at Oberlin on Aug. 16, 1875.