"talking to God as a man talks to his neighbor" -- 9/07/16

Today's selection -- from Heaven's Ditch by Jack Kelly. In the Second Great Awakening of the early 1800s, preachers rose to prominence in the western perimeter of the young United States -- in places like Kentucky and western New York state -- who were untrained by established seminaries. They led revival meetings such as the famous Cane Ridge Revival which was attended by thousands and characterized by singing, shouting, and weeping. The established religious leaders of Boston frowned on this new trend, and one of them, Lyman Beecher (father of famed author Harriet Beecher Stowe) took it upon himself to confront Charles Finney, one of the most famous of this new breed of preacher:

"[Lyman Beecher] loathed the unrestrained enthusiasm that had erupted at Cane Ridge, the exhibitionism that made Chris­tians seem like lunatics. The success of [Charles] Finney's unorthodox 'meth­ods' threatened to infect New England, the bastion of Puritan piety, with a similar mania. ...

"In the autumn of 1826, Charles Finney was feeling the wrath of Beecher's New England colleagues. They circulated a caustic book­let taking him to task for 'his shocking blasphemies, his novel and repulsive sentiments, and his theatrical and frantic gesticulations.' The controversy came to a head in July 1827. Beecher, hoping to calm the waters, invited Finney and some of his supporters to a meeting with leading clerics. He was willing to cross the Berkshire Mountains and hold the conclave at New Lebanon, in eastern New York. Finney agreed.

"At fifty-two, Beecher arrived brimming with energy and au­thority. He brought with him prominent ministers from Andover, Hartford, and Amherst, the cream of New England's religious estab­lishment. Finney's entourage included pastors from Troy, Utica, and Auburn. It was to be a contest of West versus East, innovation versus tradition, youth versus age. Finney was not technically on trial, but his methods were to be judged. ...

"The New England clerics lambasted the westerners for their colloquial language and their praying for sinners by name. Finney's alleged practice of in­vading a town without an invitation from a local clergyman incensed them. ..

"The New Englanders could not countenance Finney's excessive familiarity with the Almighty in public prayers, 'talking to God as a man talks to his neighbor.' They said that pressuring congregants by inducing them to come to the front of the church was inappropriate. Hours of discussion were devoted to a motion declaring that 'audible groaning in prayer is, in all ordinary cases, to be discouraged.'

Charles Finney

"In spite of his relative newness to the ministry, Finney coun­terpunched effectively. He argued that the supporters of orthodoxy were themselves in the wrong when they published diatribes critical of him and his followers. Late in the meeting, he proposed a reso­lution condemning 'lukewarmness in religion.' Beecher was flab­bergasted at the implied criticism. He threatened Finney that if the younger man tried to bring his methods to New England he would 'meet you at the State line, and call out the artillery-men, and fight every inch of the way to Boston, and I'll fight you there.'

"When the meeting ended, Finney stood unscathed; Beecher went home rattled. He reportedly told a follower, 'We crossed the mountains expecting to meet a company of boys, but we found them to be full-grown men.' "

 | www.delanceyplace.com


Jack Kelly


Heaven's Ditch: God, Gold, and Murder on the Erie Canal


St. Martin's Press


Copyright 2016 by Jack Kelly


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