Beyond the necessary study of the liberal arts curriculum, he gave his time to theological study and the development of a capacity for spiritual discernment. During a revival in at Yale, Nettleton was effective as a spiritual counselor. His career at Yale prompted the judgment from Timothy Dwight, "He will make one of the most useful men this country has ever seen. Three factors converged to preclude that possibility for Nettleton. One, a debt incurred while in school needed to be paid and he felt he must stay until that was done. Meanwhile, his preaching in destitute areas of Connecticut was so effective that leaders of the Congregational church urged upon him the duty to stay.
Third, his contraction of typhus in eliminated all remaining hopes he had of work on the mission field. In , at the invitation of the pastors of churches, Nettleton began itinerating.
Nettleton had seen the effects, and in fact had interviewed some eyewitnesses, of the inordinate affectations of James Davenport in the Great Awakening. He entered into this ministry with several convictions. One, he must do nothing to win affection from or destroy the influence of the settled pastorate.
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No lasting good could be done without the support and long-term influence of faithful pastors. Two, he would not seek to stir up interest where it was clear the Spirit of God had not preceded him. If he in fact detected a spirit of "enthusiasm" he would work to root it out.
He had no fear at all that in his opposition to this type of misguided zeal he was "quenching the spirit. He felt he could be of no use if a church's anticipation fostered hope and excitement because of confidence in the human instrument, rather than remorse for sin and desire for the favor of God. Four, he believed that those converted during seasons of revival had a fervour for God purer and more sustained than those who made professions in times without general revival.
Nettleton made the following observation in During the leisure occasioned by my late illness, I have been looking over the regions where God has revived his work for the two years past. The thousands who have professed Christ in this time, in general appear to run well.
Hitherto, I think they have exhibited more of the Christian temper, and a better example, than the same number who have professed religion when there was no revival When I look back on revivals which took place ten or fifteen years ago, I have been agreeably surprised to find so many of the subjects of them continuing to adorn their profession. Take the whole number who professed religion as the fruit of these revivals, and take the same number who professed religion when there was no general revival, and I do think that the former have outshined the latter.
I have not made a particular estimate, but from what I have seen, I do believe that the number of excommunications from the latter is more than double in proportion to the former. This involved preaching three times on Sabbaths, usually twice, maybe thrice, during the week, and numbers of personal interviews and visits to homes where small but spiritually interested groups would be gathered. This schedule came to a halt in October, , when after visiting a sick person he contracted typhus fever.
For more than two years he was unable to engage in any revival activity, but took advantage of the time to compile his Village Hymns for Social Worship.
After that time he could engage in far less strenuous activity, was more selective in engagements, and took longer periods of rest between revival efforts. Though the impression of his person was less powerful than before, accounts of his visits to churches still abound with testimonies of the effectual working of the Spirit of God. He went to the United Kingdom in , ostensibly to rest, but preached frequently.
In addition, he regularly had opportunity, as well as necessity, to distinguish between revivals in America and the more recent impact of the New Measures excitements. One report of the revivals in America concentrated on methods, events, and results characteristic of the New Measures fervor. Nettleton responded, "I am exhausted in my attempts to vindicate our revivals. I can only tell the good ministers here, that I do not, and never did, approve of the practice mentioned in the above letter. At that time he was drawn into a controversy with Charles Finney.
The controversy was never really about methods although that issue first prompted the initial meetings between Nettleton and Finney. Though Finney declared "He could have led me almost or quite at his discretion," there is no evidence in any of Finney's relationships with older, more experienced and wiser people that he had any penchant for being led. Nettleton had written publicly opposing the methods employed in Finney's meetings. Near the close of the meeting, Nettleton read a letter outlining the disturbing practices and the conference approved resolutions rejecting the use of such practices.
Finney and his followers, while clearly advocating some of the measures which give rise to these complaints, denied that these measures consisted of such abuses as outlined in the letter. Several factors conspired against any satisfactory resolution to this conflict, especially in the dynamics of the New Lebanon Conference. One, the issue continued to be reduced to one of methods and the underlying theological distinctions garnered only brief attention.
The orthodox participants, in fact, seemed unaware at this time that distinction in methods arose from radically different theological assumptions. Only in the next few years was the reason for this impasse in the discussion understood more fully. Two, one of Nettleton's chief protagonists, Lyman Beecher, agreed with Finney's anthropology and would soon be visibly aligned with the theological shift voiced in by Nathan W.
This practice is typically absent in modern evangelists' ministries. He also refused to preach in any community where he had not been invited. He witnessed early in ministry the problems that can result from a pastor who feels as though he is competing with an evangelist.
He also would sometimes refuse to preach in a church if he believed the request was not sincere. He rejected the idea that he was the cause of any revival and shunned those who looked to him rather than God to bring revival to their community.
Beginning in , and frequently for the remainder of his life, health problems limited Nettleton's travels and ministry. During one of those periods he compiled and edited "Village Hymns for Social Worship," a popular hymnal in New England for many decades.
This theology blended perfectly with the revival techniques of Finney. Only in the next few years was the reason for this impasse in the discussion understood more fully. He wished for God's non-existence. The number of people converted to Christianity as a result of his ministry was estimated by one biographer at 30, Nettleton responded, "I am exhausted in my attempts to vindicate our revivals. One report of the revivals in America concentrated on methods, events, and results characteristic of the New Measures fervor.
In , he became alarmed by the "new measures" being employed by many Presbyterian ministers in western New York state, especially by Charles Grandison Finney. Nettleton's theology was distinctly Reformed. He believed that salvation was a work of God alone and therefore rejected Finney's practice of giving altar calls during church services and revival meetings.
The introduction of the altar call, Nettleton believed, exemplified a denial of the doctrines of original sin and total depravity. He became Finney's most vocal critic and was the driving force behind the New Lebanon Conference in July, , in which he, Lyman Beecher, and other more conservative ministers attempted to persuade Finney and his allies to change their methods.
The conference essentially ended in a stand off, and Finney's approach to evangelism became increasingly popular among Presbyterians and Congregationalists, to Nettleton's frustration. Nettleton mentored many young ministers, including James Brainerd Taylor — , the Connecticut-born Second Great Awakening evangelist and primary founder of Princeton University 's Philadelphian Society of Nassau Hall —, spiritual parent of the Princeton Christian Fellowship.
Although the means and theology of Charles Grandison Finney were to have a greater impact on the history of American evangelism,  Bennet Tyler wrote of the effects of revivals of which Nettleton was the instrument: Another historian has written of the effects of the Second Great Awakening as a whole although not specifically of Nettleton: The emancipating glory of the great awakenings had made Christian liberty, Christian equality and Christian fraternity the passion of the land. The treasured gospel…passed into the hands of the baptized many. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Bonar, Nettleton and His Labours Edinburgh: Finney and the Spirit of American Revivalism" Wm.