So far I've read only the introduction and the first letter, "Superficial Revivals."
Finney describes characteristics of believers (or, as I suspect would be a more accurate term, professing believers) in these increasingly superficial revivals: "Christians are much less spiritual in revivals, much less prevalent in prayer, not so deeply humbled and quickened and thoroughly baptized with the Holy Ghost as they were formerly."
He goes on to give three causes (apparently not an exhaustive list) of this superficiality:
1. There is much less probing of the heart by a deep and thorough exhibition of human depravity, than was formerly the case.In the first two points, Finney seems to be emphasizing the responsibility of the preacher to "talk up" human depravity until people feel really guilty; he seems to emphasize man's work over God's. Perhaps this is not his intention (I could be biased in my interpretation of his writing because of my previous knowledge of his techniques), but it seems as though Finney was concerned that he had to convince the audience of their sinful condition himself rather than trusting the Holy Spirit to bring conviction to hearts.
2. I fear that stress enough is not laid upon the horrible guilt of this depravity.
3. I have thought that, at least in a great many instances, stress enough has not been laid upon the necessity of Divine influence upon the hearts of Christians and of sinners.
Finney's third point was especially interesting to me--it's what makes me suspect that he did not mean for his first two points to come across as they did:
I have thought that, at least in a great many instances, stress enough has not been laid upon the necessity of Divine influence upon the hearts of Christians and of sinners. I am confident that I have sometimes erred in this respect myself. In order to rout sinners and backsliders from their self-justifying pleas and refuges, I have laid . . . too much stress upon the natural ability of sinners, to the neglect of showing them the nature and extent of their dependence upon the grace of God and the influence of His Spirit.Not the type of language I'd expected from Finney!