Revivalist Charles G. Finney Emphasizes Human Choice in Salvation, 1836
Charles Grandison Finney left a successful law practice when he believed God called him to become a preacher. He enjoyed great success, particularly in Upstate New York, a region that Finney called “the burned over district.” Finney’s revivals emphasized human action, and he encouraged his converts to join various reform organizations, including avoiding alcohol and eventually opposing slavery.
Thus the world is divided into two great political parties; the difference between them is, that one party choose Satan as the god of this world, yield obedience to his laws, and are devoted to his interest. Selfishness is the law of Satan’s empire, and all impenitent sinners yield it a willing obedience. The other partychoose Jehovah for their governor, and consecrate themselves, with all their interests, to his service and glory. Nor does this change imply a constitutional alteration of the powers of body or mind, any more than a change of mind in regard to the form or administration of a human government….
Because you have all the powers of moral agency; and the thing required is, not to alter these powers, but to employ them in the service of your Maker. God has created these powers, and you can and do use them. He gives you power to obey or disobey; and your sin is, that while he sustains these powers, you prostitute them to the service of sin and Satan….
Sinners make their own wicked hearts. Their preference of sin is their own voluntary act. They make self-gratification the rule to which they conform all their conduct. When they come into being, the first principle that we discover in their conduct, is their determination to gratify themselves. It soon comes to pass that any effort to thwart them in the gratification of their appetites, is met by them with stout resistance, they seem to set their hearts fully to pursue their own happiness, and gratify themselves, come what will; and thus they will successively make war on their nurse, their parents, and their God, when ever they find that their requirements prohibit the pursuit of this end. Now this is purely a voluntary state of mind. This state of mind is not a subject of creation, it is entirely the result of temptation to selfishness, arising out of the circumstances under which the child comes into being. This preference to self-interest, is suffered by the sinner to grow with his growth, and strengthen with his strength, until this desperately wicked heart bears him onward to the gates of hell…
Some persons, as I have already observed, seem disposed to be passive, to wait for some mysterious influence, like an electric shock, to change their hearts. But in this attitude, and with these views, they may wait till the day of judgment, and God will never do their duty for them. The fact is, sinners, that God requires you to turn, and what he requires of you, he cannot do for you. It must be your own voluntary act. It is not the appropriate work of God to do what he requires of you. Do not wait then for him to do your duty, but do it immediately yourself, on pain of eternal death….
And now, sinner, while the subject is before you, will you yield? To keep yourself away from under the motives of the Gospel, by neglecting church, and neglecting your Bible, will prove fatal to your soul. And to be careless when you do attend, or to hear with attention and refuse to make up your mind and yield, will be equally fatal. And now, “I beseech you, by the mercies of God, that you at this time render your body and soul, a living sacrifice to God, which is your reasonable service.” Let the truth take hold upon your conscience–throw down your rebellious weapons–give up your refuges of lies–fix your mind steadfastly upon the world of considerations that should instantly decide you to close in with the offer of reconciliation while it now lies before you. Another moment’s delay, and it may be too late for ever. The Spirit of God may depart from you–the offer of life may be made no more, and this one more slighted offer of mercy may close up your account, and seal you over to all the horrors of eternal death. Hear, then, O sinner, I beseech you, and obey the word of the Lord–“Make you a new heart and a new spirit, for why will ye die?”
Charles Grandison Finney, Sermons on Various Subjects (New York: 1834), 8, 13, 16, 20, 28.