Good read: Willing to Believe

Out of the same God Alone series by RC Sproul in his Renewing Your Mind broadcasts which prompted my own mini investigation and polemic against Charles Finney came a recommendation for his book Willing to Believe subtitled The Controversy over Free Will which I ordered from CBD.

This book is very readable, full of interesting insights as expected, charting the history of the controversy from Pelagius, through Augustine, Cassian (semi-Pelagian), Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Edwards, Finney and Chafer. This is just what I needed to get a handle on the differences and developments of the the understanding of grace and the monergistic work of God in salvation vs the various synergistic heresies developed along the way.

Luther particularly was delightful to read in the lengthy quotations and I shall definitely be ordering The Bondage of the Will (his polemical to response to the Diatribe of Erasmus of Rotterdam) which is full of passion and precision. The other person I was introduced to in this context was Edwards — his writing is clear and exceedingly precise. He is also a thorough going Augustinian in his theology not withstanding some comments by Rick Joyner to the contrary who spoke of his “softening” of the hard doctrines of Augustine/Calvin, but it appears that while they may be put in a very clear way they are not compromised at all, but rather established. Jonathan Edward’s books Freedom of the Will and The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended are also now added to my to-read list.

The chapter on Finney is devastating — I didn’t not know the book had a chapter on Charles Finney else I doubt I would have written on him, but more on Finney later… James Arminius was also well met, he seems a very godly and insightful man who had adopted a misguided assumption and was trying to defend the justice of God from that vantage point’s accusations. Some of his followers into modern times are on a path to outright heresy by following this assumption to the logical God-sovereignty-denying conclusions of Open Theology.

My one gripe with this book is that the footnotes are at the back of the book — nothing is more annoying than desiring to read every single footnote one has to flip back and forth. I much prefer the footnotes right there at the bottom of the page where I can view them in context, if I want to or not, without any intrusion in the reading experience.

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Let them be fondly cherished…

Wonderfully moving commentary by John Calvin on Ephesians 6:4 “And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.” where he says that “bring them up in” should be understood as “let them be fondly cherished in”.

Parents, on the other hand, are exhorted not to irritate their children by unreasonable severity. This would excite hatred, and would lead them to throw off the yoke altogether. Accordingly, in writing to the Colossians, he adds, “lest they be discouraged.” (Col 3:21.) Kind and liberal treatment has rather a tendency to cherish reverence for their parents, and to increase the cheerfulness and activity of their obedience, while a harsh and unkind manner rouses them to obstinacy, and destroys the natural affections. But Paul goes on to say, “let them be fondly cherished;” for the Greek word, (ἐκτρέφετε,) which is translated bring up, unquestionably conveys the idea of gentleness and forbearance. To guard them, however, against the opposite and frequent evil of excessive indulgence, he again draws the rein which he had slackened, and adds, in the instruction and reproof of the Lord. It is not the will of God that parents, in the exercise of kindness, shall spare and corrupt their children. Let their conduct towards their children be at once mild and considerate, so as to guide them in the fear of the Lord, and correct them also when they go astray. That age is so apt to become wanton, that it requires frequent admonition and restraint.
Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 41: Galatians and Ephesians

– HT: Ian Hamilton in his excellent talk on Reformed Piety and Godliness, part of the The Faith of Our Fathers conference.

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The Morning Star of the Refomation

In our desire to “honour the fathers” and flowing out of a desire to understand some of the reformation better I had ordered some DVDs. The first was John Wycliffe who is known as the Morning Star of the Reformation. He preached many radical doctrines about 150 years before Luther nailed his theses.
I highly recommend this DVD, not because it is a fantastic quality production like the Luther movie, it isn’t, but because it is very encouraging even with the cheesy acting — what comes through very clearly is God’s glory being displayed in life very much dedicated to Him. Wycliffe is an inspiration in his dedication to “sola scriptura”, his love for the scriptures, his desire to see the ignorant taught the truth of God’s word and the poor uplifted and freed from usurious landlords (true religion as James 1:27 puts it), his completely uncompromising stubbornness in holding to the truth, his demands for moral purity in the church, his dangerous assault on the church for its opulent wealth and corruption, his amazing challenge to the doctrine of transubstantiation… One is struck by how he was providentially spared several times (by interventions of John of Gaunt and the Queen) and preserved to conceive of and then complete his great work of translating the bible into the vernacular. Additionally to that his contribution to the Bohemia is also wonderfully highlighted — the students who ardently translated his every word to take back with them to Prague where it sparked such a fire in the heart of Jan Hus.

One of the things that stands out in this history, and comes out in the life of Jan Hus and Martin Luther too is that all of the them had this seemingly naive view that if they could just explain their position from the scriptures then everyone would agree with them. Wycliffe and Hus were not desiring to split with the Roman church, but were desiring to correct and reform from within, as such the though if they were erring then someone could simply point it out from the scriptures and they would certainly recant, and they expected the same from their accusers. Neither got a chance to really dialogue their views, nor was there any great desire to even countenance their views, reasons of politics and expedience trumped any desire for doctrinal purity.

A couple of other things which are interesting is his take on prosperity — he wanted radical poverty for the church. I think he would have knocked a few heads in our day — at least those with opulent churches and fat salaried staff. The other thing was the he would have stood closer to Calvin than to Luther on the sacrament of communion. One gets the impression they would have all loved each other and disagreed (loudly) like brothers, not like enemies. The other was the place the Oxford England had as the centre of learning and study in Europe at the time — another of God’s providences to the bring the people to the scriptures if they scriptures won’t be taken to them. Another funny thing is that many decades later, by decree of the Council of Constance (the one that condemned Hus), his bones were exhumed and burned and thrown into the stream called Swift, where: “This brook conveyed them into Avon, the Avon into the Severn, the Severn into the narrow seas, they into the main ocean; and thus the ashes of Wicliffe were the emblem of his doctrine, which is now dispersed all the world over.” (see the biography by David J. Deane)

From Wycliffe’s translation: “For God louede so the world, that he ȝaf his oon bigetun sone, that ech man that bileueth in him perische not, but haue euerlastynge lijf.” Wonderful stuff! You can read the whole chunks of the bible like this — it takes a bit of time, but if you do it you will notice that is sounds most familiar and not strange to our ears even though it looks quite different. It took about a year to copy his bible out by hand. Another indication of the amazing effectiveness of Gutenberg’s printing press in the later magisterial reformation.

John of Gaunt was the third son of Edward III who started the Hundred Year War with France and the grandson of Edward I (Longshanks, The Hammer of the Scots). John of Gaunt (or Ghent really) was also a patron of Geoffrey Chaucer who was a contemporary of Wycliffe, he was the Duke of Lancaster and his house fought the Yorkists in the War of the Roses.

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The pen of the old goose of Bohemia

I read this wonderful anecdote on Reformation Sunday (with a disclaimer since I struggled to find the reference to the source at the time), which sadly appears to be fiction:

We step a moment out of the domain of history, to narrate a dream which the Elector Frederick of Saxony had on the night preceding the memorable day on which Luther affixed his “Theses” to the door of the castle-church.

The elector told it the next morning to his brother, Duke John, who was then residing with him at his palace of Schweinitz, six leagues from Wittemberg. The dream is recorded by all the chroniclers of the time. Of its truth there is no doubt, however we may interpret it. We cite it here as a compendious and dramatic epitome of the affair of the “Theses,” and the movement which grew out of them.

On the morning of the 31st October, 1517, the elector said to Duke John, “Brother, I must tell you a dream which I had last night, and the meaning of which I should like much to know. It is so deeply impressed on my mind, that I will never forget it, were I to live a thousand years. For I dreamed it thrice, and each time with new circumstances.”

Duke John: “Is it a good or a bad dream?”

The Elector: “I know not; God knows.”

Duke John: “Don’t be uneasy at it; but be so good as tell it to me.”

The Elector: “Having gone to bed last night, fatigued and out of spirits, I fell asleep shortly after my prayer, and slept calmly for about two hours and a half; I then awoke, and continued awake to midnight, all sorts of thoughts passing through my mind. Among other things, I thought how I was to observe the Feast of All Saints. I prayed for the poor souls in purgatory; and supplicated God to guide me, my counsels, and my people according to truth. I again fell asleep, and then dreamed that Almighty God sent me a monk, who was a true son of the Apostle Paul. All the saints accompanied him by order of God, in order to bear testimony before me, and to declare that he did not come to contrive any plot, but that all that he did was according to the will of God. They asked me to have the goodness graciously to permit him to write something on the door of the church of the Castle of Wittemberg. This I granted through my chancellor. Thereupon the monk went to the church, and began to write in such large characters that I could read the writing at Schweinitz. The pen which he used was so large that its end reached as far as Rome, where it pierced the ears of a lion that was crouching there, and caused the triple crown upon the head of the Pope to shake. All the cardinals and princes, running hastily up, tried to prevent it from falling. You and I, brother, wished also to assist, and I stretched out my arm; – but at this moment I awoke, with my arm in the air, quite amazed, and very much enraged at the monk for not managing his pen better. I recollected myself a little; it was only a dream.

“I was still half asleep, and once more closed my eyes. The dream returned. The lion, still annoyed by the pen, began to roar with all his might, so much so that the whole city of Rome, and all the States of the Holy Empire, ran to see what the matter was. The Pope requested them to oppose this monk, and applied particularly to me, on account of his being in my country. I again awoke, repeated the Lord’s prayer, entreated God to preserve his Holiness, and once more fell asleep.”

“Then I dreamed that all the princes of the Empire, and we among them, hastened to Rome, and strove, one after another, to break the pen; but the more we tried the stiffer it became, sounding as if it had been made of iron. We at length desisted. I then asked the monk (for I was sometimes at Rome, and sometimes at Wittemberg) where he got this pen, and why it was so strong. ‘The pen,’ replied he, ‘belonged to an old goose of Bohemia, a hundred years old. I got it from one of my old schoolmasters. As to its strength, it is owing to the impossibility of depriving it of its pith or marrow; and I am quite astonished at it myself.’ Suddenly I heard a loud noise – a large number of other pens had sprung out of the long pen of the monk. I awoke a third time: it was daylight.”

Duke John: “Chancellor, what is your opinion? Would we had a Joseph, or a Daniel, enlightened by God!”

Chancellor: “Your highness knows the common proverb, that the dreams of young girls, learned men, and great lords have usually some hidden meaning. The meaning of this dream, however, we shall not be able to know for some time – not till the things to which it relates have taken place. Wherefore, leave the accomplishment to God, and place it fully in his hand.”

Duke John: “I am of your opinion, Chancellor; ’tis not fit for us to annoy ourselves in attempting to discover the meaning. God will overrule all for his glory.”

Elector: “May our faithful God do so; yet I shall never forget, this dream. I have, indeed, thought of an interpretation, but I keep it to myself. Time, perhaps, will show if I have been a good diviner.”[5]

So passed the morning of the 31st October, 1517, in the royal castle of Schweinitz. The events of the evening at Wittemberg we have already detailed. The elector has hardly made an end of telling his dream when the monk comes with his hammer to interpret it.

I since found the source, this excerpt found in many places on the ‘net comes from The History of Protestantism by J. A. Wylie. And he footnotes the source to be:

“[5] D’Aubigne, Hist. Reform. (Collins, 1870, pp. 79, 80), from an MS. in the archives of Weimar, taken down from the mouth of Spalatin, and which was published at the last jubilee of the Reformation, 1817.”

So Spalatin is said to have dictated it. He was the secretary and advisor of Prince Frederick Elector and he features quite a bit in the Luther movie.

However Shaff says in his History of the Christian Church Volume VII in a footnote that:

The prophetic dream of the Elector, so often told, is a poetic fiction. Köstlin discredits it, I. 786 sq. ….. Merle d’Aubigné relates the dream at great length as being, “beyond reasonable doubt, true in the essential parts.” He appeals to an original MS., written from the dictation of Spalatin, in the archives of Weimar, which was published in 1817. But that MS., according to the testimony of Dr. Burkhardt, the librarian, is only a copy of the eighteenth century. No trace of such a dream can be found before 1591. Spalatin, in his own writings and his letters to Luther and Melanchthon, nowhere refers to it.

So 1591 is the earliest reference to this dream (although frustratingly he doesn’t say where that 1591 reference comes from which is a long way before 1817) and we have no real corroboration… Nice story, but its likely not true. More’s the pity. But Luther was grateful to that old Goose (John Huss) who prophesied of him.

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Denomination Blues

But you’d better have Jesus, I tell you that’s all.
— Washington Phillips

Wonderful lyrics in this blues song! Continues into Part 2, (unfortunately the video is terrible so just do the audio…)

Part I:
1. I want to tell you, an actual fact,
Every man don’t understand the Bible alike
But that’s all, I tell you that’s all
But you’d better have Jesus, I tell you that’s all.

2. Well, denominations have no right to fight
They ought to just treat each other right. That’s all…

3. The primitive Baptists, they believe,
You can’t get to heaven unless you wash your feet. And that’s all…

4. The only primitive that has any part
Is the one that does the washin’ with (?) the pure in heart. And that’s all…

5. Now the missionary Baptists, they believe
Go under the water and not to wash his feet. And that’s all…

6. Now the AME Methodists, they believe,
Sprinkle the head and not to wash their feet. And that’s all…

7. Now the African Methodists, they believe the same,
Because the new denomination, they the same but the name. And that’s all…

8. Now the holiness people when they came in
Said “Boys we can make it by living above sin”. But that’s all…

9. Now the Church of God has it in their mind
That they can get to heaven without the sacrament wine. But that’s all…

Part 2:
10. You’re fightin’ each other, and think you’re doing well
And the sinners on the outside going to hell. And that’s all…

11. Now the preachers is preachin’, and think they’re doing well
All they want is your money and you can go to hell. And that’s all…

12. There’s another kind of preacher that’s high in speech
They have to go to college to learn how to preach. And that’s all…

13. But you can go to the college, and you can go to the school
But if you ain’t got Jesus you’re an educated fool. And that’s all…

14. That kind of a man, he’s hard to convince
a man can’t preach unlessen he’s sinned. And that’s all…

15. When people jump from church to church,
You know their conversion don’t amount to much. And that’s all…

16. When Jesus came here on that dividing day
Gonna call the sheep, tell ‘em drive the goats away. And that’ll be all…

17. It’s right to stand together, it’s wrong to stand apart
‘Cause none’s going to heaven but the pure in heart. And that’s all

– thanks to Rivers for most of these lyrics and to Blaine Hammond for some very helpful corrections. Please note there are still some of the lyrics I am uncertain of.

Interesting history of the man Exhuming the Legend of Washington Phillips by Michael Corcoran

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“The old Puritans made a parade of work…”

Wonderfully quotable introduction to Spurgeon’s sermon 57 “The Incarnation and Birth of Christ” on December 23rd, 1855…

THIS is the season of the year when, whether we wish it or not, we are compelled to think of the birth of Christ. I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas-day. There are no probabilities whatever that our Saviour Jesus Christ was born on that day, and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin; doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred. However, I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas-days in the year; for there is work enough in the world, and a little more rest would not hurt labouring people. Christmas-day is really a boon to us; particularly as it enables us to assemble round the family hearth and meet our friends once more. Still, although we do not fall exactly in the track of other people, I see no harm in thinking of the incarnation and birth of the Lord Jesus. We do not wish to be classed with those

“Who with more care keep holiday
The wrong, than others the right way.”

The old Puritans made a parade of work on Christmas-day, just to show that they protested against the observance of it. But we believe they entered that protest so completely, that we are willing, as their descendants, to take the good accidentally conferred by the day, and leave its superstitions to the superstitious.

I love the part where after roundly dismissing Christmas he says “However, I wish there were ten or a dozen Christmas-days in the year; for there is work enough in the world, and a little more rest would not hurt labouring people” — it sounds richly Narnian along with a great Sabbath full of rest and feasting.

We hold much closer to those old Puritans, shunning Christmas by and large, but I love that last paragraph and his honouring justification — makes me chuckle it does.

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Good read: Counted Righteous in Christ

Many thanks to Brett, from whom I borrowed this book: Counted Righteous in Christ by John Piper. It is subtitled “Should we abandon the imputation of Christ’s righteousness?” and is a well reasoned defence of the doctrine of imputation — the second foundation of our justification in Christ which is under attack in our day as “passé”. This new development in justification theology robs us of a very great and comforting truth, and all it leaves us with is “our own faith as our righteousness”, which is no very good news!

This does get technical, but I still rate it highly readable — it is challenging but not convoluted. The thing is that the challenge to imputation is stated so subtly and the words are cut so fine, it takes a while to appreciate the distinctions. Strangely I find John Piper much better to read than to listen to, I have downloaded several of his audio sermons, but given up listening to him, still I recommend his writing though.

I was very encouraged and it was good to go over many familiar scriptures from Romans with a fine tooth comb as it were and be reminded of the wonderful riches we have in Christ Jesus our righteousness!

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Fast Money: it softens sufferings dread; it offers work and bread

A wonderfully inspiring story from a pre-WWII town in Austria called Worgl that was in the grip of the Depression, but was saved (temporarily) by a very insightful mayor, one Michael Unterguggenberger. He issued a local stamp script money…

“On July 31, 1932 the town administrator purchased the first lot of Bills from the Welfare Committee for a total face value of 1,800 Schillings and used it to pay wages. These first wages paid out were returned to the community on almost the same day as tax payments. By the third day it was thought that the Bills had been counterfeited because the 1000 Schillings issued had already accounted for 5,100 Schillings in unpaid taxes. Michael Unterguggenberger knew better, the velocity of money had increased and his Worgl money was working. “

And the people loved it…

One eyewitness report was written by Claude Bourdet, master engineer from the Zürich Polytechnic. “I visited Wörgl in August 1933, exactly one year after the launch of the experiment. One has to acknowledge that the result borders on the miraculous. The roads, notorious for their dreadful state, match now the Italian Autostrade. The Mayor’s office complex has been beautifully restored as a charming chalet with blossoming gladioli. A new concrete bridge carries the proud plaque: “Built with Free Money in the year 1933.” Everywhere one sees new streetlights, as well as one street named after Silvio Gesell. The workers at the many building sites are all zealous supporters of the Free Money system….

The Free Money notes themselves were very instructive as to the theory of monetary velocity, on the back of the Bills was printed the following declaration:

“To all whom it may concern ! Sluggishly circulating money has provoked an unprecedented trade depression and plunged millions into utter misery. Economically considered, the destruction of the world has started. – It is time, through determined and intelligent action, to endeavour to arrest the downward plunge of the trade machine and thereby to save mankind from fratricidal wars, chaos, and dissolution. Human beings live by exchanging their services. Sluggish circulation has largely stopped this exchange and thrown millions of willing workers out of employment. – We must therefore revive this exchange of services and by its means bring the unemployed back to the ranks of the producers. Such is the object of the labour certificate issued by the market town of Wörgl : it softens sufferings dread; it offers work and bread.”

Read the whole article (copied below because the site seems to be unavailable quite often), it has a sad ending, but it is instructive. Reminds me of the LETS trading/bartering scheme I read of in a Getaway magazine years ago — also a wonderful idea to stimulate the local economy in the absence of money, which then artificially constrains the productivity of otherwise very productive people.
Continue reading

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Honest as a Huguenot

Great news, well worth a read from BBC News Christian faith plus Chinese productivity where “…such a factory is not a one-off: it is part of a growing number of businesses run by Christian entrepreneurs in one of China’s key enterprise zones, whose success is now being studied by the Chinese government. ”

Reminded me of Douglas Wilson saying that during the great persecution of the Huguenots in France there was a idiom common even among their enemies “as honest as a Huguenot”… they would honest to the point of death, and everyone knew this and respected them for it. As he said, we are in no danger of this happening in our midst — as “honest as a Christian”? “honest as a charismatic”? “honest as an evangelical”? nope there is no way anything like this would catch on in South Africa or anywhere in the west I know of… and sadly not because we are slandered, but rather because we are not worthy, it is simply not true of us.

… but in China it is happening, people are inadvertently praising Jesus Christ by praising His people’s lives and work! Praise God! — this is a wonderful testimony and witness. God bless China with more Christians.

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Charles Finney — Pelagian Heretic

I listen to R.C. Sproul’s Renewing Your Mind radio broadcasts regularly via MP3 podcasts. I started listening last week to the the excellent series called God Alone on the five solas of the Reformation. He starts off in the talk Grace Alone (Part 2) by saying that Pelagianism, as discussed in Grace Alone (Part 1), periodically rears it’s head in the church and that one of the manifestations of this was in the 19th century in Charles Finney’s teaching. He said that Charles Finney in his Systematic Theology “denies the Fall, denies original sin, categorically denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone” (and he said most evangelicals don’t believe him when he says this, even though it is so clearly stated in Finney’s writings).

Amazing stuff, here is someone generally honoured in many evangelical circles, who is a serious heretic. I have since found corroboration of these statements via online readings from his Systematic Theology:

See Lecture XIV, the answer to

“Objection. Does a Christian cease to be a Christian, whenever he commits a sin?” and he says “The Christian, therefore, is justified no longer than he obeys, and must be condemned when he disobeys; or Antinomianism is true.”

And in Lecture XV he says

“But again, to the question, can man be justified while sin remains in him? Surely he cannot, either upon legal or gospel principles, unless the law be repealed. That he cannot be justified by the law, while there is a particle of sin in him, is too plain to need proof. But can he be pardoned and accepted, and then justified, in the gospel sense, while sin, any degree of sin, remains in him? Certainly not.”

See his muddle of justification in Lecture 56.

He believes in some kind of funny atonement which is a public justice spectacle (not substitutionary atonement) so as to keep the universe from boiling over in revolt (so much for the sovereignty of God), see Lecture 35

“7. The value of the atonement may be estimated, by considering the fact, that it provides for the pardon of sin, in a way that forbids the hope of impunity in any other case. This, the good of the universe imperiously demanded. If sin is to be forgiven at all under the government of God it should be known to be forgiven upon principles that will by no means encourage rebellion, or hold out the least hope of impunity, should rebellion break out in any other part of the universe.”

and this of course means the atonement is really political showmanship, not an effectual payment of sin debts

“10. It is objected that, if the atonement was not a payment of the debt of sinners, but general in its nature, as we have mentioned, it secures the salvation of no one. It is true, that the atonement, of itself, does not secure the salvation of any one; but the promise and oath of God, that Christ shall have a seed to serve him, provide that security. ”

And there is nothing original about sin according Mr Finney… Lecture 38

Moral depravity is sin. Sin is violation of moral law. We have seen that sin must consist in choice, in the choice of self indulgence or self-gratification as an end.
5. Moral depravity cannot consist in any attribute of nature or constitution, nor in any lapsed and fallen state of nature; for this is physical and not moral depravity.


Moral depravity, as I use the term, does not consist in, nor imply a sinful nature, in the sense that the substance of the human soul is sinful in itself. It is not a constitutional sinfulness. It is not an involuntary sinfulness. Moral depravity, as I use the term, consists in selfishness; in a state of voluntary committal of the will to self-gratification.

and in order to be saved you just gotta make up your mind…

It therefore follows, that while sinners are selfish, or unregenerate, it is impossible for them to put forth a holy volition.
They are under the necessity of first changing their hearts, or their choice of an end, before they can put forth any volitions to secure any other than a selfish end. And this is plainly the everywhere assumed philosophy of the Bible. That uniformly represents the unregenerate as totally depraved, and calls upon them to repent, to make to themselves a new heart, and never admits directly, or by way of implication, that they can do anything good or acceptable to God, while in the exercise of a wicked or selfish heart.

So I guess Jesus must have meant (John 6:44) that no-one can come to him unless… uh, they decide to come? They want to? Goodness me, what rot. I really don’t think that Mr Finney would have had a very warm reception with Mr Whitefield and Mr Edwards (the fathers of the First Great Awakening) with whom his is very undeservingly lumped together as the father of the Second Great Awakening. I think that Mr Finney might have been chased off before finishing his first beer… Oh, of course, that zealously temperate pelagian wouldn’t have lifted a glass with these brothers.

Many thanks to

for providing some references which I could verify with online sources of Finney’s books.

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