Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney are perhaps the two most famous preachers in American History. One was the primary leader of the First Great Awakening and the other the Second. In most Christian circles in American they are both well-respected and thought of as two outstanding men and theological minds.
But, do people really know how different these men were? Growing up, I thought the first and second Great Awakenings were identical events, with an identical message, just at different times. I could not have been more wrong.
I want to give you two quotes from a sermon given by each of them. In both cases, they are preaching about how human salvation is obtained.
Edwards: “It is rational to suppose that it should be beyond a man’s power to obtain this light by the mere strength of natural reason, for it is not a thing that belongs to reason, to see the beauty and loveliness of spiritual things.”
Finney: “Some persons speak of a change of heart as miraculous. We need nothing added to the constitution of our body or mind, nor is it true in experience, that those who have a new heart, have any alteration of their power whatever.”
Quite simply, Edwards says that God must work to change the heart of man and there is nothing within him that can save him. Finney says the exact opposite. He believed that men have the power within to make themselves right with God. They do not need the supernatural power of God to change their hearts. Like one of my favorite teachers says, “I don’t know what that is, but it isn’t Christian!”
Before you consider Edwards and Finney or the First and Second Great Awakenings as separate but equal, look a little closer.