or, The Memoirs
CHAPTER XVII. Back
REVIVAL IN STEPHENTOWN.
AFTER this convention, I remained a short time in New Lebanon. I do not think the convention injured the religious state of the people in that place. It would have done so, had any facts come out to justify the opposition which they knew had been made to the revivals that had been the subject of discussion. But, as it resulted, the church in New Lebanon were, I believe, edified and strengthened by what they knew of the convention. Indeed, everything had been conducted in a spirit tending to edify rather than stumble the people.
Soon after the adjournment of the convention, on the Sabbath, as I came out of the pulpit, a young lady by the name of S, from Stephentown, was introduced to me. She asked me if I could not go up to their town and preach. I replied, that my hands were full, and that I did not see that I could. I saw her utterance was choked with deep feeling; but as I had not time to converse with her then, I went to my lodging.
Afterward I made inquiry about Stephentown, a place north of, and adjoining New Lebanon. Many years before, a wealthy individual had died, and given to the Presbyterian church in that place, a fund, the interest of which was sufficient to support a pastor. Soon after this, a Mr. B, who had been a chaplain in the Revolutionary army, was settled there as pastor of the church. He remained until the church ran down, and he finally became an open infidel. This had produced a most disastrous influence in that town. He remained among them, openly hostile to the Christian religion.
After he had ceased to be pastor of the church, they had had one or two ministers settled. Nevertheless, the church declined, and the state of religion grew worse and worse; until, finally, they had left their meeting house, as so few attended meeting, and held their services on the Sabbath, in a small schoolhouse, which stood near the church.
The last minister they had had, affirmed that he stayed until not more than half-a-dozen people in the town would attend on the Sabbath; and although there was a fund for his support, and his salary was regularly paid, yet he could not think it his duty to spend his time in laboring in such a field. He had, therefore, been dismissed. No other denomination had taken possession of the field, so as to excite any public interest, and the whole town was a complete moral waste. Three elders of the Presbyterian church remained, and about twenty members. The only unmarried person in the church, was this Miss S, of whom I have spoken. Nearly the whole town was in a state of impenitence. It was a large, rich, farming town, with no considerable village in it.
On the next Sabbath, Miss S met me again, as I came out of the pulpit, and begged me to go up there and preach; and asked me if I knew anything of the state of things there. I informed her that I did; but I told her I did not know how I could go. She appeared greatly affected, too much so to converse, for she could not control her feelings. These facts, with what I had heard, began to take hold of me; and my mind began to be profoundly stirred in respect to the state of things in Stephentown. I finally told her that if the elders of the church desired me to come, she might have a notice given out that I would come up, the Lord willing, and preach in their church, the next Sabbath at five o'clock in the afternoon. This would allow me to preach twice in New Lebanon, after which I could ride up to Stephentown and preach at five o'clock. This seemed to light up her countenance and lift the load from her heart. She went home and had the notice given.
Accordingly the next Sabbath, after preaching the second time, one of the young converts at New Lebanon offered to take me up to Stephentown in his carriage. When he came in his buggy to take me, I asked him, "Have you a steady horse?" Oh yes!" he replied, "perfectly so;" and smiling, asked, "What made you ask the question?" "Because," I replied, "if the Lord wants me to go to Stephentown, the devil will prevent it if he can; and if you have not a steady horse, he will try to make him kill me." He smiled, and we rode on; and, strange to tell, before we got there, that horse ran away twice, and came near killing us. His owner expressed the greatest astonishment, and said he had never known such a thing before.
However, in due time we arrived in safety at Mr. S's, the father of Miss S whom I have mentioned. He lived about half a mile from the church, in the direction of New Lebanon. As we went in, we met Maria--for that was her name--who tearfully, yet joyfully received us, and showed me to a room where I could be alone, as it was not quite time for meeting. Soon after I heard her praying in a room over my head. When it was time for meeting, we all went, and found a very large gathering. The congregation was solemn and attentive, but nothing very particular occurred that evening. I spent the night at Mr. S's, and this Maria seemed to be praying over my room nearly all night. I could hear her low, trembling voice, interrupted often by sobs and manifest weeping. I had made no appointment to come again; but before I left in the morning, she plead so hard, that I consented to have an appointment made for me for five o'clock the next Sabbath.
When I came up on the next Sabbath, nearly the same things occurred as before; but the congregation was more crowded; and as the house was old, for fear the galleries would break down, they had been strongly propped during the week. I could see a manifest increase of solemnity and interest, the second time I preached there. I then left an appointment to preach again. At the third service the Spirit of God was poured out on the congregation.
There was a Judge P, that lived in a small village in one part of the town, who had a large family of unconverted children. At the close of the service as I came out of the pulpit, Miss S stepped up to me, and pointed me to a pew--the house had then the old square pews--in which sat a young woman greatly overcome with her feelings. I went in to speak to her, and found her to be one of the daughters of this Judge P. Her convictions were very deep. I sat down by her and gave her instructions; and I think, before she left the house she was converted. She was a very intelligent, earnest young woman, and became a very useful Christian. She was afterwards the wife of the evangelist Underwood, who has been so well known in many of the churches, in New Jersey especially, and in New England. She and Miss S seemed immediately to unite their prayers. But I could not see as yet, much movement among the older members of the church. They stood in such relations to each other, that a good deal of repentance and confession had to pass among them, as a condition of their getting into the work.
The state of things in Stephentown, now demanded that I should leave New Lebanon, and take up my quarters there. I did so. The spirit of prayer in the meantime had come powerfully upon me, as had been the case for some time with Miss S. The praying power so manifestly spreading and increasing, the work soon took on a very powerful type; so much so that the Word of the Lord would cut the strongest men down, and render them entirely helpless. I could name many cases of this kind.
One of the first that I recollect was on Sabbath, when I was preaching on the text, "God is love." There was a man by the name of J, a man of strong nerves, and of considerable prominence as a farmer, in the town. He sat almost immediately before me, near the pulpit. The first that I observed was that he fell, and writhed in agony for a few moments; but afterwards became still, and nearly motionless, but entirely helpless. He remained in this state until the meeting was out, when he was taken home. He was very soon converted, and became an effective worker, in bringing his friends to Christ.
In the course of this revival, Zebulon R. Shipherd, a celebrated lawyer from Washington county, New York, being in attendance upon the court at Albany, and hearing of the revival at Stephentown, so disposed of his business as to come out and labor with me in the revival. He was an earnest Christian man, attended all the meetings, and enjoyed them greatly. He was there when the November elections occurred through the State. I looked forward to the election day with considerable solicitude, fearing that the excitement of that day would greatly retard the work. I exhorted Christians to watch and pray greatly, that the work might not be arrested by any excitement that should occur on that day.
On the evening of election day I preached. When I came out of the pulpit after preaching, Mr. Shipherd--who, by the way, was the father of Rev. J. J. Shipherd who afterward established Oberlin--beckoned to me from a pew where he sat, to come to him. It was a pew in the corner of the house, at the left hand of the pulpit. I went to him, and found one of the gentlemen who had sat at the table to receive votes during the day, so overcome with conviction of sin as to be unable to leave his seat. I went in and had some conversation with him, and prayed with him, and he was manifestly converted. A considerable portion of the congregation had, in the meantime, sat down. As I came out of the pew, and was about to retire, my attention was called to another pew, at the right hand side of the pulpit, where was another of those men that had been prominent at the election, and had been receiving votes, precisely in the same condition of mind. He was too much overpowered by the state of his feelings to leave the house. I went and conversed with him also; and, if I recollect, he was converted before he left the house. I mention these cases as specimens of the type of the work in that place.
I have mentioned the family of Mr. P as being large. I recollect there were sixteen members of that family, children and grandchildren, hopefully converted; all of whom I think, united with the church before I left. There was another family in the town by the name of M; which was also a large and very influential family, one of the most so of any in town. Most of the people lived scattered along on a street which, if I recollect right, was about five miles in length. On inquiry I found there was not a religious family on that whole street, and not a single house in which family prayer was maintained.
I made an appointment to preach in a schoolhouse, on that street, and when I arrived the house was very much crowded. I took for my text: "The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked." The Lord gave me a very clear view of the subject, and I was enabled to bring out the truth effectively. I told them that I understood that there was not a praying family in that whole district. The fact is, the town was in an awful state. The influence of Mr. B, their former minister, now an infidel, had borne its legitimate fruit; and there was but very little conviction of the truth and reality of religion left, among the impenitent in that town. This meeting that I have spoken of, resulted in the conviction of nearly all that were present, I believe, at the meeting. The revival spread in that neighborhood; and I recollect that in this M family, there were seventeen hopeful conversions.
But there were several families in the town who were quite prominent in influence, who did not attend the meetings. It seemed that they were so much under the influence of Mr. B, that they were determined not to attend. However, in the midst of the revival, this Mr. B died a horrible death; and this put an end to his opposition.
I have said there were several families in town that did not attend meeting; and I could devise no means by which they could be induced to attend. The Miss S of New Lebanon, who was converted at Troy, heard that these families did not attend, and came up to Stephentown; and as her father was a man very well known and very much respected, she was received with respect and deference in any family that she wished to visit. She went and called on one of these families. I believe she was acquainted with their daughters, and induced them to accompany her to meeting. They soon became so interested that they needed no influence to persuade them to attend. She then went to another, with the same result, and to another; and finally, I believe, secured the attendance of all those families that had stayed away. These families were nearly or quite all converted before I left the town. Indeed nearly all the principal inhabitants of the town were gathered into the church, and the town was morally renovated. I have never been there since that time, which was in the fall of 1827. But I have often heard from there, and the revival produced permanent results. The converts turned out to be sound; and the church has maintained a good degree of spiritual vigor.
As elsewhere, the striking characteristics of this revival, were a mighty spirit of prevailing prayer; overwhelming conviction of sin; sudden and powerful conversions to Christ; great love and abounding joy of the converts, and their great earnestness, activity, and usefulness in their prayers and labors for others. This revival occurred in the town adjoining New Lebanon, and immediately after the Convention. The opposition had, at that convention, received its death-blow. I have seldom labored in a revival with greater comfort to myself, or with less opposition, than in Stephentown. At first the people chafed a little under the preaching, but with such power was it set home by the Holy Spirit, that I soon heard no more complaint.
CHAPTER XVIII. Back
REVIVALS AT WILMINGTON AND AT PHILADELPHIA.
WHILE I was laboring at New Lebanon, the preceding summer, Rev. Mr. Gilbert of Wilmington, Delaware, whose father resided in New Lebanon, came there on a visit. Mr. Gilbert was very old-school in his theological views, but a good and earnest man. His love of souls overruled all difficulty on nice questions of theological difference, between him and myself. He heard me preach in New Lebanon, and saw the results; and he was very earnest that I should come, and aid him in Wilmington.
As soon as I could see my way clear to leave Stephentown, therefore, I went to Wilmington, and engaged in labors with Mr. Gilbert. I soon found that his teaching had placed the church in a position that rendered it impossible to promote a revival among them, till their views could be corrected. They seemed to be afraid to make any effort, lest they should take the work out of the hands of God. They had the oldest of the old-school views of doctrine; and consequently their theory was that God would convert sinners in His own time; and that therefore to urge them to immediate repentance, and in short to attempt to promote a revival, was to attempt to make men Christians by human agency, and human strength, and thus to dishonor God by taking the work out of His hands. I observed also, that in their prayers there was no urgency for an immediate outpouring of the Spirit, and that this was all in accordance with the views in which they had been educated.
It was plain that nothing could be done, unless Mr. Gilbert's view could be changed upon this subject. I therefore spent hours each day in conversing with him on his peculiar views. We talked the subject all over in a brotherly manner; and after laboring with him in this way for two or three weeks, I saw that his mind was prepared to have my own views brought before his people. The next Sabbath, I took for my text: "Make to yourselves a new heart and a new spirit; for why will ye die?" I went thoroughly into the subject of the sinner's responsibility; and showed what a new heart is not, and what it is. I preached about two hours; and did not sit down till I had gone as thoroughly over the whole subject, as very rapid speaking would enable me to do, in that length of time.
The congregation became intensely interested, and great numbers rose and stood on their feet, in every part of the house. The house was completely filled, and there were strange looks in the assembly. Some looked distressed and offended, others intensely interested. Not unfrequently, when I brought out strongly the contrast between my own views, and the views in which they had been instructed, some laughed, some wept, some were manifestly angry; but I do not recollect that anyone left the house. It was a strange excitement.
In the meantime, Mr. Gilbert moved himself from one end of the sofa to the other, in the pulpit behind me. I could hear him breathe and sigh, and could not help observing that he was himself in the greatest anxiety. However, I knew I had him, in his convictions, fast; but whether he would make up his mind to withstand what would be said by his people, I did not know. But I was preaching to please the Lord, and not man. I thought that it might be the last time I should ever preach there; but purposed, at all events, to tell them the truth, and the whole truth, on that subject, whatever the result might be.
I endeavored to show that if man were as helpless as their views represented him to be, he was not to blame for his sins. If he had lost in Adam all power of obedience, so that obedience had become impossible to him, and that not by his own act or consent, but by the act of Adam, it was mere nonsense to say that he could be blamed for what he could not help. I had endeavored also to show that, in that case, the atonement was no grace, but really a debt due to mankind, on the part of God, for having placed them in a condition so deplorable and so unfortunate. Indeed, the Lord helped me to show up I think, with irresistible clearness the peculiar dogmas of old schoolism and their inevitable results.
When I was through, I did not call upon Mr. Gilbert to pray, for I dared not; but prayed myself that the Lord would set home the Word, make it understood, and give a candid mind to weigh what had been said, and to receive the truth, and to reject what might be erroneous. I then dismissed the assembly, and went down the pulpit stairs, Mr. Gilbert following me. The congregation withdrew very slowly, and many seemed to be standing and waiting for something, in almost every part of the house. The aisles were cleared pretty nearly; and the rest of the congregation seemed to remain in a waiting position, as if they supposed they should hear from Mr. Gilbert, upon what had been said. Mrs. Gilbert, however, went immediately out.
As I came down the pulpit stairs, I observed two ladies sitting on the left hand of the aisle through which we must pass, to whom I had been introduced, and who, I knew, were particular friends and supporters of Mr. Gilbert. I saw that they looked partly grieved, and partly offended, and greatly astonished. The first we reached, who was near the pulpit stairs, took hold of Mr. Gilbert as he was following behind me, and said to him, "Mr. Gilbert, what do you think of that?" She spoke in a loud whisper. He replied in the same manner, "It is worth five hundred dollars." That greatly gratified me, and affected me very much. She replied, "Then you have never preached the Gosepl." "Well," said he, "I am sorry to say I never have." We passed along, and then the other lady said to him about the same things, and received a similar reply. That was enough for me; I made my way to the door and went out. Those that had gone out were standing, many of them, in front of the house, discussing vehemently the things that had been said. As I passed along the streets going to Mr. Gilbert's, where I lodged, I found the streets full of excitement and discussion. The people were comparing views; and from the few words that escaped from those that did not observe me as I passed along, I saw that the impression was decidedly in favor of what had been said.
When I arrived at Mr. Gilbert's, his wife accosted me as soon as I entered, by saying, "Mr. Finney, how dared you preach any such thing in our pulpit?" I replied, "Mrs. Gilbert, I did not dare to preach anything else; it is the truth of God." She replied, "Well, it is true that God was in justice bound to make an atonement for mankind. I have always felt it, though I never dared say it. I believed that if the doctrine preached by Mr. Gilbert was true, God was under obligation, as a matter of justice, to make an atonement, and to save me from those circumstances in which it was impossible for me to help myself, and from a condemnation which I did not deserve."
Just at this moment Mr. Gilbert entered. "There," said I, "Brother Gilbert, you see the results of your preaching, here in your own family;" and then repeated to him what his wife had just said. He replied, "I have sometimes thought that my wife was one of the most pious women that I ever knew; and at other times I have thought that she had no religion at all." "Why!" I exclaimed, "she has always thought that God owed her, as a matter of justice, the salvation provided in Christ; how can she be a Christian?" This was all said, by each of us, with the greatest solemnity and earnestness. Upon my making the last remark, she got up and left the room. The house was very solemn; and for two days, I believe, I did not see her. She then came out clear, not only in the truth, but in the state of her own mind; having passed through a complete revolution of views and experience.
From this point the work went forward. The truth was worked out admirably by the Holy Spirit. Mr. Gilbert's views became greatly changed; and also his style of preaching, and manner of presenting the Gospel. So far as I know, until the day of his death, his views remained corrected, new school as opposed to the old school views which he had before maintained.
The effect of this sermon upon many of Mr. Gilbert's church members was very peculiar. I have spoken of the lady who asked him what he thought of it. She afterwards told me that she was so offended, to think that all her views of religion were so overthrown, that she promised herself she never would pray again. She had been in the habit of so far justifying herself because of her sinful nature, and had taken, in her own mind, such a opposition as Mrs. Gilbert had held, that my preaching on that subject had completely subverted her views, her religion, and all. She remained in this state of rebellion, if I recollect right, for some six weeks, before she would pray again. She then broke down, and became thoroughly changed in her views and religious experience. And this, I believe, was the case with a large number of that church.
In the meantime I had been induced to go up and preach for Mr. Patterson, at Philadelphia, twice each week. I went up on the steamboat and preached in the evening, and returned the next day and preached at Wilmington; thus alternating my evening services between Wilmington and Philadelphia. The distance was about forty miles. The Word took so much effect in Philadelphia as to convince me that it was my duty to leave Mr. Gilbert to carry on the work in Wilmington, while I gave my whole time to labor in Philadelphia.
Rev. James Patterson, with whom I first labored in Philadelphia, held the views of theology then held at Princeton, since known as the theology of the old school Presbyterians. But he was a godly man, and cared a great deal more for the salvation of souls, than for nice questions about ability and inability, or any of those points of doctrine upon which the old and new school Presbyterians differ. His wife held the New England views of theology; that is, she believed in a general, as opposed to a restricted atonement, and agreed with what was called New England orthodoxy, as distinguished from Princeton orthodoxy.
It will be remembered that at this time I belonged to the Presbyterian church myself. I had been licensed and ordained by a presbytery, composed mostly of men educated at Princeton. I have also said that when I was licensed to preach the Gospel, I was asked whether I received the Presbyterian Confession of Faith, as containing the substance of Christian doctrine. I replied that I did, so far as I understood it. But not expecting to be asked any such question, I had never examined it with any attention, and I think I had never read it through. But when I came to read the Confession of Faith and ponder it, I saw that although I could receive it, as I now know multitudes of Presbyterians do, as containing the substance of Christian doctrine, yet there were several points upon which I could not put the same construction that was put on them at Princeton; and I accordingly, everywhere, gave the people to understand that I did not accept that construction; or if that was the true construction, then I entirely differed from the Confession of Faith. I suppose that Mr. Patterson understood this before I went to labor with him; as when I took that course in his pulpit he expressed no surprise. Indeed, he did not at all object to it.
The revival took such hold in his congregation as greatly to interest him; and as he saw that God was blessing the Word as I presented it, he stood firmly by me, and never, in any case, objected to anything that I advanced. Sometimes when we returned from meeting, Mrs. Patterson would smilingly remark, "Now you see Mr. Patterson, that Mr. Finney does not agree with you on those points upon which we have so often conversed." He would always, in the greatness of his Christian faith and love, reply, "Well, the Lord blesses it."
The interest became so great that our congregations were packed at every meeting. One day Mr. Patterson said to me, "Brother Finney, if the Presbyterian ministers in this city find out your views, and what you are preaching to the people, they will hunt you out of the city as they would a wolf." I replied, "I cannot help it. I can preach no other doctrine; and if they must drive me out of the city, let them do it, and take the responsibility. But I do not believe that they can get me out."
However, the ministers did not take the course that he predicted, by any means; but nearly all received me to their pulpits. When they learned what was going on at Mr. Patterson's church and that many of their own church members were greatly interested, they invited me to preach for them; and if I recollect right, I preached in all of the Presbyterian churches except that of Arch street.
Philadelphia was at that time a unit, almost, in regard to the views of theology held at Princeton. Dr. Skinner held to some extent, what have since been known as new school views; and differed enough from the tone of theology round about him, to be suspected as not altogether sound, according to the prevailing orthodoxy. I have ever regarded it as a most remarkable thing, that, so far as I know, my doctrinal views did not prove a stumbling block in that city; so was my orthodoxy openly called in question, by any of the ministers or churches. I preached in the Dutch church to Dr. Livingston's congregation; and I found that he sympathized with my views, and encouraged me, with all his influence, to go on and preach the preaching that the Lord had bidden me. I did not hesitate everywhere, and on all occasions, to present my own views of theology, and those which I had everywhere presented, to the churches.
Mr. Patterson was himself, I believe, greatly surprised that I met no open opposition from the ministers or churches, on account of my theological views. Indeed, I did not present them at all in a controversial way; but simply employed them in my instructions to saints; and sinners, in a way so natural as not, perhaps, to excite very much attention, except with discriminating theologians. But many things that I said were new to the people. For example, one night I preached on this text: "There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." This was a sermon on the atonement, in which I took the view that I have always held, of its nature and of its universality; and stated, as strongly as I could, those points of difference between my own views and those that were held by limited atonement theologians. This sermon attracted so much attention, and excited so much interest, that I was urged to preach on the same subject in other churches. The more I preached upon it, the more desirous people were to hear; and the excitement became so general, that I preached on that subject seven different evenings in succession, in as many different churches.
It would seem that the people had heard much said against what was called Hopkinsianism; the two great points of which were understood to be, that man ought to be willing to be damned for the glory of God, and that God was the author of sin. In preaching, I sometimes noticed these points, and took occasion to denounce Hopkinsianism; and said that they appeared to have too much of it in Philadelphia; that their great neglect in attending to the salvation of their souls looked very much as if they were willing to be damned; and that they must hold that God was the author of sin, for they maintained that their nature was sinful. This I turned over and over, and these two points I dwelt upon. I heard again and again that the people said, "Well, he is no Hopkinsian." Indeed, I felt it my duty to expose all the hiding places of sinners, and to hunt them out from under those peculiar views of orthodoxy, in which I found them entrenched.
The revival spread, and took a powerful hold. All our meetings for preaching, for prayer, and for inquiry, were crowded. There were a great many more inquirers than we could well attend to. It was late in the fall when I took my lodgings in Philadelphia, and I continued to labor there without any intermission until the following August, 1828.
As in other places, there were some cases of very bitter opposition on the part of individuals. In one case, a man whose wife was very deeply convicted, was so enraged that he came in, and took his wife out of meeting by force. Another case I recollect as a very striking one, of a German whose name I cannot now recall. He was a tobacconist. He had a very amiable and intelligent wife; and was himself, as I afterwards found, when I became acquainted with him, an intelligent man. He was, however, a skeptic, and had no confidence in religion at all. His wife, however, came to our meetings, and became very much concerned about her soul; and after a severe struggle of many days, she was thoroughly converted. As she attended meetings frequently, and became very much interested, it soon attracted the attention of her husband, and he began to oppose her being a Christian. He had, as I learned, a hasty temper, and was a man of athletic frame, and of great resolution and fixedness of purpose. As his wife became more and more interested, his opposition increased, till finally he forbade her attending meetings any more.
She then called to see me, and asked my advice with regard to what course she should take. I told her that her first obligation was to God; that she was undoubtedly under obligation to obey His commands, even if they conflicted with the commands of her husband; and that, while I advised her to avoid giving him offense if she could, and do her duty to God, still in no case to omit, what she regarded as her duty to God, for the sake of complying with his wishes. I told her that, as he was an infidel, his opinions on religious subjects were not to be respected, and that she could not safely follow his advice. She was well aware of this. He was a man that paid no attention to religion at all, except to oppose it.
In accordance with my advice; she attended the meetings as she had opportunity, and received instructions; and she soon came into the liberty of the Gospel, had great faith and peace of mind, and enjoyed much of the presence of God. This highly displeased her husband; and he finally went so far as to threaten her life, if she went to meeting again. She had so frequently seen him angry, that she had no confidence that he would fulfill his threat. She told him calmly that whatever it cost her, her mind was made up to do her duty to God; that she felt it her duty to avail herself of the opportunity to get the instruction she needed; and that she must attend those meetings, whenever she could do it without neglecting her duty to her family.
One Sabbath evening, when he found she was going to meeting, he renewed his threat that if she went he would take her life. She told me afterward that she had no thought that it was anything but a vain threat. She calmly replied to him that her duty was plain; that there was no reason why she should remain at home at that time, but simply to comply with his unreasonable wishes; and that to stay at home, under such circumstances; would be entirely inconsistent with her duty to God and to herself. She therefore went to meeting. When she returned from meeting, she found him in a great rage. As soon as she entered the door he locked it after her, and took out the key, and then drew a dagger and swore he would take her life. She ran upstairs. He caught a light to follow her. The servant girl blew out the light as he passed by her. This left them both in the dark. She ran up and through the rooms in the second story, found her way down into the kitchen, and then to the cellar. He could not follow her in the dark; and she got out of the cellar window, and went to a friend's house and spent the night.
Taking it for granted that he would be ashamed of his rage before morning, she went home early, and entered the house, and found things in the greatest disorder. He had broken some of the furniture, and acted like a man distracted. He again locked the door, as soon as she was fairly in the house; and drawing a dagger, he threw himself upon his knees and held up his hands, and took the most horrible oath that he would there take her life. She looked at him with astonishment and fled. She ran up stairs, but it was light, and he followed her. She ran from room to room, till finally, she entered the last, from which there was no escape. She turned around and faced him. She threw herself upon her knees, as he was about to strike her with his dagger, and lifted up her hands to heaven, and cried for mercy upon herself and upon him. At this point God arrested him. She said he looked at her for a moment, dropped his dagger, and fell upon the floor and cried for mercy himself. He then and there broke down confessed his sins to God and to her; and begged God, and begged her, to forgive him.
From that moment he was a wonderfully changed man. He became one of the most earnest Christian converts. He was greatly attached to myself; and some year or two after this, as he heard that I was to come to Philadelphia, in a certain steamboat, he was the first man in Philadelphia that met and greeted me. I received him and his wife into the church, before I left Philadelphia, and baptized their children. I have not seen or heard from them for many years.
But while there were individual cases of singular bitterness and opposition to religion, still I was not annoyed or hindered by anything like public opposition. The ministers received me kindly; and in no instance that I recollect, did they speak publicly, if indeed they did privately, against the work that was going on.
After preaching in Mr. Patterson's church for several months, and, more or less, in nearly all the Presbyterian churches in the city, it was thought best that I should take up a central position, and preach steadily in one place. In Race street there was a large German church, the pastor of which was a Mr. Helfenstein. The elders of the congregation, together with their pastor, requested me to occupy their pulpit. Their house was then, I think, the largest house of worship in the city. It was always crowded; and it was said, it seated three thousand people, when the house was packed and the aisles were filled. There I preached statedly for many months. I had an opportunity to preach to a great many Sabbath-school teachers. Indeed it was said that the Sabbath-school teachers throughout the city generally attended my ministry.
About midsummer of 1829, I left for a short time, and visited my wife's parents in Oneida county, and then returned to Philadelphia, and labored there until about midwinter. I do not recollect exact dates, but think that in all, I labored in Philadelphia about a year and a half. In all this time there was no abatement of the revival, that I could see. The converts became numerous in every part of the city; but I never had any knowledge, nor could I form any estimate of their exact number. I never had labored anywhere where I was received more cordially; and where Christians, and especially converts, appeared better than they did there. There was no jar or schism among them, that I ever knew of; and I never heard of any disastrous influence resulting from that revival.
There were a great many interesting facts connected with this revival. I recollect that a young woman who was the daughter of a minister of the old school stamp, attended my ministry at Mr. Patterson's church, and became awfully convicted. Her convictions were so deep, that she finally fell into a most distressing despair. She told me she had been taught from her childhood by her father, that if she was one of the elect, she would be converted in due time; and that until she was converted, and her nature changed by the Spirit of God, she could do nothing for herself, but to read her Bible, and pray for a new heart.
When she was quite young she had been greatly convicted of sin, but had followed her father's instruction, had read her Bible, and prayed for a new heart, and thought that was all that was required of her. She waited to be converted, and thus for evidence that she was one of the elect. In the midst of her great struggle of soul on the subject of her salvation, something had come up relative to the question of marriage; and she promised God that she never would give her hand to any man till she was a Christian. When she made the promise, she said that she expected God would very soon convert her. But her convictions passed away. She was not converted; and still that promise to God was upon her soul, and she dared not break it.
When she was about eighteen years of age, a young man proposed to make her his wife. She approved, but as that vow was upon her, she could not consent to be married until she was a Christian. She said they greatly loved each other, and he urged her to be married without delay. But without telling him her real reason, she kept deferring it from time to time, for some five years, if I recollect right, waiting for God to convert her. Finally in riding one day, the young man was thrown from the carriage, and instantly killed. This aroused the enmity of her heart against God. She accused God of dealing hardly with her. She said that she had been waiting for Him to convert her, and had been faithful to her promise, not to get married until she was converted; that she had kept her lover for years waiting for her to get ready; and now, behold! God had cut him off, and she was still unconverted.
She had learned that the young man was a Universalist; and now she was greatly interested to believe that Universalism was true, and would not believe that God had sent him to hell; and if He had sent him to hell, she could not be reconciled to it at all. Thus she had been warring with God, for a considerable time, before she came to our meetings, supposing that the blame of her not being converted, was chargeable upon God, and not upon herself.
When she heard my preaching, and found that all her refuges of lies were torn away, and saw that she should have given her heart to God long before, and all would have been well; she saw that she herself had been entirely to blame, and that the instructions of her father on all those points had been entirely wrong; and remembering, as she did, how she had blamed God, and what a blasphemous attitude she had maintained before Him, she very naturally despaired of mercy. I reasoned with her, and tried to show her the long suffering of God, and encouraged her to hope, to believe, and to lay hold upon eternal life. But her sense of sin was so great, that she seemed unable to grasp the promise, and sunk down deeper and deeper into despair, from day to day.
After laboring with her a great deal, I became greatly distressed about her case. At the close of every meeting she would follow me home, with her despairing complaints, and would exhaust me by appeals to my sympathy and Christian compassion for her soul. After this state of things had continued for many weeks, one morning she called upon me in company with an aunt of hers, who had become greatly concerned about her, and who thought her on the very verge of a desperate insanity. I was myself of the opinion that it would result in that, if she would not believe. Catharine--for that was her name--came into my room in her usually despairing way; but with a look of wildness in her face that indicated a state of mind that was unendurable; and at the moment, I think it was the Spirit of God that suggested to my mind, to take an entirely different course with her from what I had ever taken.
I said to her, "Catharine, you profess to believe that God is good." "Oh yes!" she said, I believe that." "Well, you have often told me that His goodness forbids Him to have mercy on you--that your sins have been so great that it would be a dishonor to Him to forgive you and save you. You have often confessed to me that you believed that God would forgive you if He wisely could; but that your forgiveness would be an injury to Him, to His government, and to His universe, and therefore He cannot forgive you." "Yes," she said, "I believe that." I replied, "Then your difficulty is that you want God to sin, to act unwisely and injure Himself and the universe for the sake of saving you." She opened and set her large blue eyes upon me, and looked partly surprised and partly indignant. But I proceeded: "Yes! you are in great trouble and anguish of mind, because God will not do wrong, because He will persist in being good, whatever may become of you. You go about in the greatest distress of mind, because God will not be persuaded to violate His own sense of propriety and duty, and save you to His own injury, and that of the entire universe. You think yourself of more consequence than God and all the universe; and cannot be happy unless God makes Himself and everybody else unhappy, in making you happy."
I pressed this upon her. She looked with the utmost astonishment at me, and after a few moments she submitted. She seemed to be almost instantly subdued, like a little child. She said, "I accept it. Let God send me to hell, if He thinks that is the best thing to be done. I do not want Him to save me at His own expense, and at the expense of the universe. Let Him do what seemeth Him good." I got up instantly and left the room; and to get entirely away from her, I went out and got into a carriage and rode away. When I returned she had gone of course; but in the afternoon she and her aunt returned, to declare what God had done for her soul. She was filled with joy and peace, and became one of the most submissive, humble, beautiful converts that I have known.
Another young woman, I recollect, a very beautiful girl, perhaps twenty years old, called to see me under great conviction of sin. I asked her, among other things, if she was convinced that she had been so wicked, that God might in justice send her to hell. She replied in the strongest language, "Yes! I deserve a thousand hells." She was gaily, and I think, richly dressed. I had a very thorough conversation with her, and she broke down in heart, and gave herself to Christ. She was a very humble, broken-hearted convert. I learned that she went home and gathered up a great many of her artificial flowers and ornaments, with which she had decked herself, and of which she was very vain, and passed through the room with them in her hands. They asked her what she was going to do with them. She said she was going to burn them up. Said she, "I will never wear them again." "Well," they said to her, "if you will not wear them, you can sell them; don't burn them." But she said, "If I sell them, somebody else will be as vain of them, as I have been myself; I will burn them up." And she actually put them into the fire.
A few days after this she called on me, and said that she had, in passing through the market, I think that morning, observed a very richly dressed lady, in the market. Her compassions were so stirred, that she went up to her and asked if she might speak to her. The lady replied that she might. She said to her, "My dear madam, are you not proud of your dress, and are you not vain, and neglecting the salvation of your soul?" She said that she herself burst into tears as she said it, and told the lady a little of her own experience, how she had been attached to dress, and how it had well-nigh ruined her soul. "Now," said she, "you are a beautiful lady, and are finely dressed; are you not in the same state of mind that I was in myself?" She said the lady wept, and confessed that that had been her snare; and she was afraid that her love of dress and society would ruin her soul. She confessed that she had been neglecting the salvation of her soul, because she did not know how to break away from the circle in which she moved. The young lady wanted to know if I thought she had done wrong, in what she said to the lady. I told her, no! that I wished all Christians were as faithful as she; and that I hoped she would never cease to warn her own sex, against that which had so nearly ruined her own soul.
In the spring of 1829, when the Delaware was high, the lumber men came down with their rafts from the region of the high land, where they had been getting the lumber out, during the winter. At that time there was a large tract of country, along the northern region of Pennsylvania, called by many the lumber region, that extended up toward the head waters of the Delaware river. Many persons were engaged in getting out lumber there, summer and winter. Much of this lumber was floated down in the spring of the year, when the water was high, to Philadelphia. They would get out their lumber when the river was low; and when the snow went off, and the spring rains came on, they would throw it into the river and float it down to where they could build rafts, or otherwise embark it for the Philadelphia market.
Many of the lumber men were raising families in that region, and there was a large tract of country there unsettled and unoccupied, except by these lumber men. They had no schools, and at that time, had no churches or religious privileges at all. I knew a minister who told me he was born in that lumber region; and that when he was twenty years old, he had never attended a religious meeting, and did not know his alphabet.
These men that came down with lumber, attended our meetings, and quite a number of them were hopefully converted. They went back into the wilderness, and began to pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and to tell the people around them what they had seen in Philadelphia, and to exhort them to attend to their salvation. Their efforts were immediately blessed, and the revival began to take hold, and to spread among those lumber men. It went on in a most powerful and remarkable manner. It spread to such an extent that in many cases persons would be convicted and converted, who had not attended any meetings, and who were almost as ignorant as heathen. Men who were getting out lumber, and were living in little shanties alone, or where two or three or more were together, would be seized with such conviction that it would lead them to wander off and inquire what they should do; and they would be converted, and thus the revival spread. There was the greatest simplicity manifested by the converts.
An aged minister who had been somewhat acquainted with the state of things, related to me as an instance of what was going on there, the following fact. He said one man in a certain place, had a little shanty by himself where he slept nights, and was getting out his shingles during the day. He began to feel that he was a sinner, and his convictions increased upon him until he broke down, confessed his sins, and repented; and the Spirit of God revealed to him so much of the way of salvation, that he evidently knew the Savior. But he had never attended a prayer meeting, or heard a prayer, that he recollected, in his life. His feelings became such, that he finally felt constrained to go and tell some of his acquaintances, that were getting out lumber in another place, how he felt. But when he arrived, he found that they felt, a good many of them, just as he did; and that they were holding prayer meetings. He attended their prayer meetings, and heard them pray, and finally prayed himself; and this was the form of his prayer: "Lord you have got me down and I hope You will keep me down. And since You have had so good luck with me, I hope You will try other sinners."
I have said that this work began in the spring of 1829. In the spring of 1831, I was at Auburn again. Two or three men from this lumber region, came there to see me, and to inquire how they could get some ministers to go in there. They said that not less than five thousand people had been converted in that lumber region; that the revival had extended itself along for eighty miles, and there was not a single minister of the Gospel there.
I have never been in that region; but from all I have ever heard about it, I have regarded that as one of the most remarkable revivals that have occurred in this country. It was carried on almost independently of the ministry, among a class of people very ignorant, in regard to all ordinary instruction; and yet so clear and wonderful were the teachings of God, that I have always understood the revival was remarkably free from fanaticism, or wildness, or anything that was objectionable. I may have been misinformed in some respects, but report the matter as I have understood it. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth! The spark that was struck into the hearts of those few lumber men that came to Philadelphia, spread over that forest, and resulted in the salvation of a multitude of souls.
I found Mr. Patterson to be one of the truest and holiest men that I have ever labored with. His preaching was quite remarkable. He preached with great earnestness; but there was often no connection in what he said, and very little relation to his text. He has often said to me, "When I preach, I preach from Genesis to Revelation." He would take a text, and after making a few remarks upon it, or perhaps none at all, some other text would be suggested to him, upon which he would make some very pertinent and striking remarks, and then another text; and thus his sermons were made up of pithy and striking remarks upon a great number of texts, as they arose in his mind.
He was a tall man, of striking figure and powerful voice. He would preach with the tears rolling down his cheeks, and with an earnestness and pathos that were very striking. It was impossible to hear him preach without being impressed with a sense of his intense earnestness and his great honesty. I only heard him preach occasionally; and when I first did so, was pained, thinking that such was the rambling nature of his preaching that it could not take effect. However, I found myself mistaken. I found that notwithstanding the rambling nature of his preaching, his great earnestness and unction fastened the truth on the hearts of his hearers; and I think I never heard him preach without finding that some persons were deeply convicted by what he said.
He always used to have a revival of religion every winter; and at the time when I labored with him, I think he told me he had had a revival for fourteen winters in succession. He had a praying people. When I was laboring with him I recollect that for two or three days, at one time, there seemed to be something in the way. The work seemed to be in a measure suspended; and I began to feel alarmed lest something had grieved the Holy Spirit. One evening at prayer meeting, while this state of things was becoming manifest, one of his elders arose and made a confession. He said, "Brethren, the Spirit of God has been grieved, and I have grieved Him. I have been in the habit," said he, "of praying for Brother Patterson, and for the preaching, on Saturday night, until midnight. This has been my habit for many years, to spend Saturday night, till midnight, in imploring the blessing of God upon the labors of the Sabbath. Last Saturday night," he continued, "I was fatigued, and omitted it. I thought the work was going on so pleasantly and so powerfully, that I might indulge myself, and go to bed without looking to God for a blessing on the labors of the Sabbath. On the Sabbath," said he, "I was impressed with the conviction that I had grieved the Spirit; and I saw that there was not the usual manifestation of the influence of the Spirit upon the congregation. I have felt convicted ever since; and have felt that it was my duty to make this public confession. I do not know," said he, "who beside myself has grieved the Spirit of God; but I am sure that I have done so."
I have spoken of Mr. Patterson's orthodoxy. When I first began to labor with him, I felt considerably tried, in some instances, with what he would say to convicted sinners. For example: the first meeting for inquirers that we had, the number in attendance was very large. We spent some time in conversing with different persons, and moving around from place to place, giving instructions. The first I knew Mr. Patterson arose, and in a very excited manner, said, "My friends, you have turned your faces onward, and now I exhort you to press forward." He went on in an exhortation of a few moments, in which he made, distinctly, the impression that they were now in the right way; and that they had only to press forward as they were doing then and they would be saved. His remarks pained me exceedingly; for they seemed to me to tend to self-righteousness--to make the impression that they were doing very well, and that if they continued to do their duty, as they were then doing it, they would be saved.
This was not my view of their condition at all; and I felt pained to hear such instructions given, and perplexed with the question how I should counteract it. However, at the close of the meeting, when, according to my custom, I summed up the results of our conversation, and made an address to them, I alluded to what Mr. Patterson had said, and remarked that they must not misunderstand what he had said; that what he had said was true of those that had really turned to God, and set their faces Zionward, by giving their hearts to God. But they must not think of applying this to those of them who were convicted, but had not yet repented, believed, and given their hearts to God; that instead of their faces being turned Zionward, they were really turning their backs upon Christ; that they were still resisting the Holy Spirit; that they were still in the way to hell; that every moment they resisted they were waxing worse; and that every moment they remained impenitent, without submission, repentance, and faith, they were increasing their condemnation. The Lord gave me a very clear view of the subject. Mr. Patterson listened with the greatest possible attention. I never shall forget with what earnestness he looked at me, and with what interest he saw the discriminations that I made.
I kept on in my address until I could see, and until I felt, that the impression made by what had been said, had not only been corrected, but that a great pressure was bearing upon them to submit immediately. I then called upon them to kneel down, and then and there commit themselves forever to the Lord, renouncing all their sins, and giving themselves up to the disposal of sovereign goodness, with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. I explained to them, as plainly as I could, the nature of the atonement, and the salvation presented in the Gospel. I then prayed with them, and have reason to believe that a great number of them were converted on the spot.
After this I never heard anything from Mr. Patterson that was at all objectionable, in giving instruction to inquiring sinners. Indeed, I found him remarkably teachable, and his mind open to just discriminations. He seemed particularly quick to get hold of those truths that needed to be presented to inquiring sinners; and I presume to the day of his death, he never again presented such a view of the subject as the one to which I have alluded. I respect and reverence his very name. He was a lovely Christian man, and a faithful minister of Jesus Christ.
CHAPTER XIX. Back to
REVIVAL AT READING.
AS I found myself in Philadelphia, in the heart of the Presbyterian church, and where Princeton views were almost universally embraced, I must say still more emphatically than I have done, if possible, that the greatest difficulty I met with in promoting revivals of religion, was the false instruction given to the people, and especially to inquiring sinners. Indeed, in all my ministerial life, in every place and country where I have labored, I have found this difficulty to a greater or less extent; and I am satisfied that multitudes are living in sin, who would immediately be converted if they were truly instructed. The foundation of the error of which I speak, is the dogma that human nature is sinful in itself; and that, therefore, sinners are entirely unable to become Christians. It is admitted, either expressly or virtually, that sinners may want to be Christians, and that they really do want to be Christians, and often try to be Christians, and yet somehow fail.
It had been the practice, and still is to some extent, when ministers were preaching repentance, and urging the people to repent, to save their orthodoxy by telling them that they could not repent, any more than they could make a world. But the sinner must be set to do something; and with all their orthodoxy, they could not bear to tell him that he had nothing to do. They must therefore, set him self-righteously to pray for a new heart. They would sometimes tell him to do his duty, to press forward in duty, to read his Bible, to use the means of grace; in short, they would tell him to do anything and everything, but the very thing which God commands him to do. God commands him to repent now, to believe now, to make to him a new heart now. But they were afraid to urge God's claims in this form, because they were continually telling the sinner that he had no ability whatever to do these things.
As an illustration of what I have found in this and other countries, more or less, ever since I have been in the ministry, I will refer to a sermon that I heard from the Rev. Baptist Noel, in England, a good man, and orthodox in the common acceptation of the term. His text was: "Repent and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord." In the first place he represented repentance not as a voluntary, but as an involuntary change, as consisting in sorrow for sin, a mere state of the sensibility. He then insisted upon its being the sinner's duty to repent, and urged the claims of God upon him. But he was preaching to an orthodox congregation; and he must not, and did not, fail to remind them that they could not repent; that although God required it of them, still He knew that it was impossible for them to repent, only as He gave them repentance. "You ask, then," he said, "what you shall do. Go home," said he, in reply," and pray for repentance; and if it does not come, pray again for repentance; and still if it does not come, keep praying till it does come." Here he left them. The congregation was large, and the people very attentive; and I actually found it difficult to keep from screaming to the people, to repent, and not to think that they were doing their duty in merely praying for repentance.
Such instructions always pained me exceedingly; and much of my labor in the ministry has consisted in correcting these views, and in pressing the sinner immediately to do just what God commands him to do. When he has inquired of me, if the Spirit of God has nothing to do with it, I have said, "Yes; as a matter of fact you will not do it of yourself. But the Spirit of God is now striving with you to lead you to do just what He would have you do. He is striving to lead you to repentance, to lead you to believe; and is striving with you, not to secure the performance of mere outward acts, but to change your heart." The church, to a very great extent, have instructed sinners to begin on the outside in religion; and by what they have called an outward performance of duty, to secure an inward change of their will and affections.
But I have ever treated this as totally wrong, unorthodox, and in the highest degree dangerous. Almost innumerable instances have occurred, in which I have found the results of this teaching, of which I have complained, to be a misapprehension of duty on the part of sinners; and I think I may say I have found thousands of sinners, of all ages, who are living under this delusion, and would never think themselves called upon to do anything more than merely to pray for a new heart, live a moral life, read their Bibles, attend meeting, use the means of grace, and leave all the responsibility of their conversion and salvation with God.
From Philadelphia in the winter of 1829-30, I went to Reading, a city about forty miles west of Philadelphia. At this place an incident occurred, which I shall mention in its place, that was a striking illustration of the kind of teaching to which I have alluded, and of its natural results. In Reading there were several German churches, and one Presbyterian church. The pastor of the latter was the Rev. Dr. Greer. At his request, and that of the elders of the church, I went out to labor there for a time.
I soon found, however, that neither Dr. Greer, nor any of his people, had any just idea of what they needed, or what a revival really was. None of them had ever seen a revival, so far as I could learn. Besides, all revival efforts, for that winter, had been forestalled, by an arrangement to have a ball every alternate week, which was attended by many of the members of the church, one of the leading elders in Dr. Greer's church being one of the managers. I could not learn that Dr. Greer had ever said anything against this. They had no preaching during the week, and I believe no religious meetings of any kind.
When I found what the state of things was, I thought it my duty to tell Dr. Greer that those balls would very soon be given up, or I should not be allowed to occupy his pulpit; that those balls, attended by his church members, and headed by one of his elders, would not long consist with my preaching. But he said, "Go on; take your own course." I did so; and preached three times on the Sabbath, and four times, I think, during the week, for about three weeks, before I said anything about any other meetings. We had no prayer meetings, I believe, for the reason that the lay members had never been in the habit of taking part in such meetings.
However, on the third Sabbath, I think, I gave notice that a meeting for inquiry would be held in the lecture room, in the basement of the church, on Monday evening. I stated as clearly as possible the object of the meeting, and mentioned the class of persons that I desired to attend; inviting those, and those only, that were seriously impressed with the state of their souls, and had made up their minds to attend immediately to the subject, and desired to receive instruction on the particular question of what they should do to be saved. Dr. Greer made no objection to this, as he had left everything to my judgment. But I do not think he had an idea that many, if any, would attend such a meeting, under such an invitation; as to do so would be, to make an open acknowledgment that they were anxious for the salvation of their souls, and had made up their minds to attend to the subject at once.
Monday was rather a snowy, cold day. I think I observed that conviction was taking hold of the congregation; yet I felt doubtful how many would attend a meeting of inquirers. However, when evening came, I went to the meeting. Dr. Greer came in, and behold! the lecture room, a large one I think nearly as large as the body of the church above, was full; and on looking around Dr. Greer observed that most of the impenitent persons in his congregation were present; and among them, those who were regarded as the most respectable and influential.
He said nothing publicly. But he said to me, "I know nothing about such a meeting as this; take it into your own hands, and manage it in your own way." I opened the meeting by a short address, in which I explained to them what I wished; that is to have a few moments conversation with each of them, and to have them state to me frankly how they felt on the subject, what their convictions were, what their determinations were, what their difficulties were.
I told them that if they were sick and called a physician, he would wish to know their symptoms, and that they should tell him how they were, and how they had been. I said to them, "I cannot adapt instruction to your present state of mind, unless you reveal it to me. The thing, therefore, that I want, is that you reveal, in as few words as you can, your exact state of mind at the present time. I will now pass around among you, and give each of you an opportunity to say in the fewest words, what your state of mind is." Dr. Greer said not a word, but followed me around, and stood or sat by me and heard all that I had to say. He kept near me, for I spoke to each one in a low voice, so as not to be heard by others than those in the immediate vicinity. I found a great deal of conviction and feeling in the meeting. They were greatly pressed with conviction. Conviction had taken hold of all classes, the high and the low, the rich and the poor.
Dr. Greer was greatly moved. Though he said nothing, still it was evident to me that his interest was intense. To see his congregation in such a state as that, was what he had never had any conception of. I saw that with difficulty, at times, he controlled his emotions.
When I had spent as much time as was allowed me in personal conversation, I then went back to the desk, and gave them an address; in which, according to my custom, I summed up the results of what I had found that was interesting, in the communications that they had made to me. Avoiding all personalities, I took up the representative cases, and dissected, and corrected, and taught them. I tried to strip away their misapprehensions and mistakes, to correct the impression that they had, that they must simply use means and wait for God to convert them; and in an address of perhaps a half or three-quarters of an hour, I set before them the whole situation, as clearly as I possibly could. After praying with them I called on those that felt prepared to submit, and who were willing then and there to pledge themselves to live wholly to God, who were willing to commit themselves to the sovereign mercy of God in Christ Jesus, who were willing to give up all sin, and to renounce it forever, to kneel down, and while I prayed, to commit themselves to Christ, and inwardly to do what I exhorted them to do. I called on those only to kneel down, who were willing to do what God required of them, and what I presented before them. Dr. Greer looked very much surprised at the test I put, and the manner in which I pressed them to instant submission.
As soon as I saw that they thoroughly understood me, I called on them to kneel, and knelt myself. Dr. Greer knelt by my side, but said nothing. I presented the case in prayer to God, and held right to the point of now submitting, believing, and consecrating themselves to God. There was an awful solemnity pervading the congregation, and the stillness of death, with the exception of my own voice in prayer, and the sobs, and sighs, and weeping that were heard more or less throughout the congregation.
After spreading the case before God we rose from our knees, and without saying anything farther I pronounced the blessing and dismissed them. Dr. Greer took me cordially by the hand, and smiling said, "I will see you in the morning." He went his way, and I went to my lodgings. At about eleven o'clock, I should judge, a messenger came running over to my lodgings, and called me, and said that Dr. Greer was dead. I inquired what it meant. He said he had just retired, and was taken with a fit of apoplexy, and died immediately. He was greatly respected and beloved by his people, and I am persuaded he deserved to be. He was a man of thorough education, and I trust of earnest piety. But his theological education had not at all fitted him for the work of the ministry, that is to win souls to Christ. He was besides rather a timid man. He did not like to face his people, and resist the encroachments of sin as he needed to do. His sudden death was a great shock, and became the subject of constant conversation throughout the town.
Although I found a goodly number had, to all human appearance, submitted at the meeting on Monday evening, still the death of Dr. Greer, under such extraordinary circumstances, proved a great diversion of the public mind for a week or more. But after his funeral was over, and the usual evening services got into their proper channel, the work took on a powerful type, and went forward in a most encouraging manner.
Many very interesting incidents occurred in this revival. I recollect on one very snowy night, when the snow had already fallen deep, and was drifting in a terrible manner under a fierce gale of wind, I was called up about midnight, to go and visit a man who, they informed me, was under such awful conviction that he could not live, unless something could be done for him. The man's name was B. He was a stalwart man, very muscular, a man of great force of will and strength of nerve, physically a fine specimen of humanity. His wife was a professor of religion; but he had cared for none of these things.
He had been at the meeting that evening, and the sermon had torn him to pieces. He went home in a terrible state of mind, his convictions and distress increasing till it overcame his bodily strength; and his family feared he would die. Although it was in the midst of such a terrific storm, they dispatched a messenger for me. We had to face the storm, and walked perhaps fifty or sixty rods. I heard his moanings, or rather howlings, before I got near the house. When I entered I found him sitting on the floor, his wife, I believe, supporting his head and what a look in his face! It was indescribable. Accustomed as I was to seeing persons under great convictions, I must confess that his appearance gave me a tremendous shock. He was writhing in agony, grinding his teeth, and literally gnawing his tongue for pain. He cried out to me, "Oh, Mr. Finney! I am lost! I am a lost soul!" I was greatly shocked and exclaimed, "If this is conviction, what is hell?" However, I recovered myself as soon as I could, and sat down by his side. At first he found it difficult to attend; but I soon led his thoughts to the way of salvation through Christ. I pressed the Savior upon his attention and upon his acceptance. His burden was soon removed. He was persuaded to trust the Savior, and he came out free and joyful in hope.
Of course, from day to day, I had my hands, my head, and my heart entirely full. There was no pastor to help me, and the work spread on every hand. The elder of the church to whom I have alluded as being one of the managers of their stated balls soon broke down his heart before the Lord, and entered into the work; and, as a consequence, his family were soon converted. The revival made a thorough sweep in the families of those members of the church that entered into the work.
I said that in this place a circumstance occurred, that illustrated the influence of that old school teaching of which I have complained. Very early one morning a lawyer, belonging to one of the most respectable families in the town, called at my room, in the greatest agitation of mind. I saw he was a man of first-rate intelligence, and a gentleman; but I had nowhere seen him, to know him. He came in and introduced himself, and said he was a lost sinner--that he had made up his mind that there was no hope for him. He then informed me that when he was in Princeton College, he and two of his classmates became very anxious about their souls. They went together to Dr. Ashbel Green, who was then president of the college, and asked him what they should do to be saved. He said the doctor told them he was very glad to have them come and make the inquiry; and then told them to keep out of all bad company, to read their Bible statedly, and to pray God to give them a new heart. "Continue this," he said, "and press forward in duty; and the Spirit of God will convert you; or else He will leave you, and you will return back to your sins again." "Well, I inquired, how did it terminate?" "Oh," said he, "we did just as he told us to do. We kept out of bad company, and prayed that God would make us a new heart. But after a little while our convictions wore away, and we did not care to pray any longer. We lost all interest in the subject;" and then bursting into tears he said, "My two companions are in drunkard's graves, and if I cannot repent I shall soon be in one myself." This remark led me to observe that he had indications of being a man that made too free use of ardent spirits. However, this was early in the morning; and he was entirely free from drink, and in terrible anxiety about his soul.
I tried to instruct him, and to show him the error that he had fallen into, under such instructions as he had received, and that he had resisted and grieved the Spirit, by waiting for God to do what He had commanded him to do. I tried to show him that, in the very nature of the case, God could not do for him what He required him to do. God required him to repent, and God could not repent for him; required him to believe, but God could not believe for him; God required him to submit, but could not submit for him. I then tried to make him understand the agency that the Spirit of God has in giving the sinner repentance and a new heart; that it is a divine persuasion; that the Spirit leads him to see his sins, urges him to give them up and to flee from the wrath to come. He presents to him the Savior, the atonement, the plan of salvation, and urges him to accept it.
I asked him if he did not feel this urgency upon himself, in these truths revealed in his own mind; and a call, now to submit, to believe, to make himself a new heart. "Oh yes!" he said, "Oh yes! I see and feel all this. But am I not given up of God? Is not my day of grace past?" I said to him, "No! It is plain the Spirit of God is still calling you, still urging you to repentance; you acknowledge that you feel this urgency in your own mind." He inquired, "Is this, then, what the Spirit of God is doing, to show me all this?" I assured him that it was; and that he was to understand this as a divine call, and as evidence conclusive that he was not abandoned, and had not sinned away the day of grace, but that God was striving to save him still. I then asked him if he would respond to the call, if he would come to Jesus, if he would lay hold upon eternal life then and there.
He was an intelligent man, and the Spirit of God was upon and teaching him, and making him understand every word that I said. When I saw that the way was fully prepared, I called on him to kneel down and submit; and he did so, and to all human appearance, became a thorough convert right upon the spot. "Oh!" he afterwards said, "if Dr. Green had only told us this that you have told me, we should all have been converted immediately. But my friends and companions are lost; and what a wonder of mercy it is that I am saved!"
I recollect a very interesting incident in the case of a merchant in Reading, one branch of whose business was the making of whiskey. He had just been fitting up a very large distillery at a good deal of expense. He had constructed it with all the latest improvements, on a large scale, and was going deeply into the business. But as soon as he was converted, he gave up all thought of going any farther with that business. It was a spontaneous conclusion of his own mind. He said at once, "I shall have nothing to do with that. I shall tear my distillery down. I will neither work it, nor sell it to be worked."
His wife was a good woman, and a sister to Mr. B, whose conversion I have mentioned as occurring on that stormy night. The merchant's name was OB. The revival took a powerful hold in his family, and several of them were converted. I do not recollect now how many there were; but I think every impenitent person in his household was converted. His brother also, and his brother's wife, and, I know not how many, but quite a large circle of relatives were among the converts. But Mr. OB himself was in feeble health, and was rapidly passing away with the consumption. I visited him frequently, and found him full of joy.
We had been examining candidates for admission to the church, and a large number were to be admitted on a certain Sabbath. Among them were those members of his own family, and those relatives of his that had been converted. Sabbath morning came. It was soon found Mr. OB could not live through the day. He called his wife to his bedside and said to her, "My dear, I am going to spend the Sabbath in heaven. Let all the family go, and all the friends, and unite with the church below; and I will join the church above." Before meeting time he was dead. Friends were called in to lay him in his shroud; his family and relatives gathered around his corpse, and then turned away and came to meeting; and, as he had desired, united with the church militant, while he went to unite with the church triumphant.
Their pastor had but just gone before; and I think it was that morning, I had said to Mr. OB, "Give my love to Brother Greer, when you get to heaven." He smiled with holy joy and said to me, "Do you think I shall know him?" I said, "Yes, undoubtedly you will know him. Give him my love, and tell him the work is going on gloriously." "I will, I will," said he. His wife and family sat at the communion table, showing in their countenance mingled joy and sorrow. There was a kind of holy triumph manifested, as their attention was called to the fact that the husband, and father; and brother, and friend, was sitting that day at the table of Jesus on high, while they were gathered around His table on earth.
There was much that was moving and interesting in that revival, in a great many respects. It was among a population that had had no conception of revivals of religion. The German population supposed themselves to have been made Christians by baptism, and especially by receiving the communion. Nearly every one of them, if asked when they became Christians, would reply that they took their communion at such a time of Dr. M, or some other German divine. And when I asked them if they thought that was religion, they would say, yes, they supposed it was. Indeed that was the idea of Dr. M himself. In walking with him to the grave of Dr. Greer, on the occasion of his funeral, he told me he had made sixteen hundred Christians by baptism, and giving them the communion, since he had been pastor of that church. He seemed himself to have no other idea of becoming a Christian than simply to learn the catechism, and to be baptized and partake of the communion.
The revival had to encounter that view of things; and the influence was at first, almost altogether in that direction. It was held, as I was informed, and I have no doubt of it, that for them to begin to think of being religious, by being converted, and to establish family prayer, or to give themselves to secret prayer, was not only fanaticism, but was virtually saying that their ancestors had all gone to hell; for they had done no such thing. The German ministers would preach against all those things, as I was informed by those that heard them, and speak severely of those that forsook the ways of their fathers, and thought necessary to be converted, and to maintain family and secret prayer.
The great majorities, I think, of Dr. Greer's congregation were converted in this revival. At first I had considerable difficulty in getting rid of the influence of the daily press. I think there were two or more daily newspapers published there at the time. I learned that the editors were drinking men; and were not infrequently carried home, on public occasions, in a state of intoxication. The people were a good deal under the influence of the daily press. I mean the German population particularly. These editors began to give the people religious advice, and to speak against the revival, and the preaching. This threw the people into a state of perplexity. It went on from day to day, and from week to week, till finally the state of things became such that I thought it my duty to notice it. I therefore went into the pulpit when the house was crowded, and took for my text: "Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do." I then went on to show in what way sinners would fulfill the desires of the devil, pointing out a great many ways in which they would perform his dirty work, and do for him what he could not do for himself.
After I had got the subject well before the people, I applied it to the course pursued by the editors of those daily papers. I asked the people if they did not think that those editors were fulfilling the desires of the devil; if they did not believe the devil desired them to do just what they did? I then asked them if it was suitable and decent, for men of their character, to attempt to give religious instruction to the people? I told the people what I understood their character to be, and turned my hand upon them pretty heavily, that such men should attempt to instruct the people, in regard to their duties to God and their neighbors. I said, "If I had a family in the place I would not have such a paper in the house; I should fear to have it under my roof; I should consider it too filthy to be touched with my fingers, and would take the tongs and throw it into the street." In some way the papers got into the street the next morning, pretty plentifully, and I neither saw nor heard any more of their opposition.
I continued in Reading until late in the spring. There were many very striking conversions; and so far as I know, Dr. Greer's congregation was left entirely united, greatly encouraged and strengthened, and with large additions made to their number. I have never been in that place since.
From Reading I went to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, at that time and until his death, the home of the late President Buchanan. The Presbyterian church at Lancaster had no pastor, and I found religion in a very low state. They had never had a revival of religion, and manifestly had no just conception of what it was, or of the appropriate means of securing it. I remained at Lancaster but a very short time. However the work of God was immediately revived, the Spirit of God being poured out almost at once upon the people. I was the guest of an aged gentleman by the name of K, who was one of the elders of the church, and indeed the leading man in the church.
A fact occurred in relation to him, while I was in his family, that revealed the real state of things in a religious point of view, in that church. A former pastor of the church had invited Mr. K to join the church and hold the office of elder. I should say that the facts I am about to communicate respecting this event, were related to me by himself. One Sabbath evening after hearing a couple of very searching sermons, the old gentleman could not sleep. He was so greatly exercised in his mind, that he could not endure it until morning. He called me up in the middle of the night, stated what his convictions were, and then said that he knew he had never been converted. He said that when he was requested to join the church and become an elder, he knew that he was not a converted man. But the subject was pressed upon him till he finally consulted Rev. Dr. C, an aged minister of a Presbyterian church not far from Lancaster. He stated to him the fact that he had never been converted, and yet that he was desired to join the church that he might become an elder. Dr. C, in view of all the circumstances, advised him to join and accept the office, which he did.
His convictions at the time I speak of, were very deep. I gave him such instructions as I thought he needed, pressed him to accept the Savior; and dealt with him just as I would with any other inquiring sinner. It was a very solemn time. He professed at the time to submit and accept the Savior. Of his subsequent history I know nothing. He was certainly a gentleman of high character, and never to my knowledge did anything outwardly, to disgrace the position which he held. Those who are acquainted with the state of the church of which Dr. C was pastor, in regard to the eldership at that time, will not wonder at the advice which he gave to Mr. K.
Among the incidents that occurred, during my short stay at Lancaster, I recall the following. One evening I preached on a subject that led me to insist upon the immediate acceptance of Christ. The house was very much crowded, literally packed. At the close of my sermon I made a strong appeal to the people to decide at once; and I think I called on those whose minds were made up, and who would then accept the Savior, to rise up, that we might know who they were, and that we might make them subjects of prayer. As I learned the next day; there were two men sitting near one of the doors of the church, one of whom was very much affected under the appeal that was made, and could not avoid manifesting very strong emotion, which was observed by his neighbor. However, the man did not rise up, nor give his heart to God. I had pressed the thought upon them, that might be the last opportunity that some of them would ever have, to meet and decide this question; that in so large a congregation it was not unlikely that there were those there who would then decide their everlasting destiny, one way or the other. It was not unlikely that God would hold some of them to the decision that they then made.
After the meeting was dismissed, as I learned the next day, these two men went out together, and one said to the other, "I saw you felt very deeply under the appeals Mr. Finney made." "I did," he replied. "I never felt so before in my life; and especially when he reminded us that might be the last time we should ever have an opportunity to accept the offer of mercy." They went on conversing in this way, for some distance, and then separated, each one going to his own home. It was a dark night, and the one who had felt so deeply, and was so pressed with the conviction that he might then be rejecting his last offer, fell over the curbstone, and broke his neck. This was reported to me the next day.
I established prayer meetings in Lancaster, and insisted upon the elders of the church taking part in them. This they did at my earnest request, although, as I learned, they had never been accustomed to do it before. The interest seemed to increase from day to day, and hopeful conversions multiplied. I do not recollect now why I did not remain longer than I did; but I left at so early a period as not to be able to give anything like a detailed account of the work there.
CHAPTER XX. Back to
REVIVALS IN COLUMBIA, AND IN NEW YORK CITY.
FROM Lancaster, about mid-summer, 1830, I returned to Oneida county, New York, and spent a short time at my father-in-law's. I think it was at that time, during my stay in Whitestown, that a circumstance occurred of great interest, and which I will relate. A messenger came from the town of Columbia, in Herkimer county, requesting me to go down and assist in a work of grace there, which was already commenced. Such representations were made to me as induced me to go. However, I did not expect to remain there, as I had other more pressing calls for labor. I went down, however, to see; and to lend such aid as I was able for a short time.
At Columbia was a large German church, the membership of which had been received, according to their custom, upon examination of their doctrinal knowledge, instead of their Christian experience. Consequently the church had been composed mostly, as I was informed, of unconverted persons. Both the church and congregation were large. Their pastor was a young man by the name of H. He was of German descent, and from Pennsylvania.
He gave me the following account of himself, and of the state of things in Columbia. He said he studied theology with a German doctor of divinity, at the place where he lived, who did not encourage experimental religion at all. He said that one of his fellow students was religiously inclined, and used to pray in his closet. Their teacher suspected this, and in some way came to a knowledge of the fact. He warned the young man against it, as a very dangerous practice, and said he would become insane if he persisted in it, and he should be blamed himself for allowing a student to take such a course. Mr. H said that he himself had no religion. He had joined the church in the common way, and had no thought that anything else was requisite, so far as piety was concerned, to become a minister. But his mother was a pious woman. She knew better, and was greatly distressed that a son of her's should enter the sacred ministry, who had never been converted. When he had received a call to the church in Columbia, and was about to leave home, his mother had a very serious talk with him, impressed upon him the fact of his responsibility, and said some things that bore powerfully upon his conscience. He said that this conversation of his mother he could not get rid of; that it bore upon his mind heavily, and his convictions of sin deepened until he was nearly in despair.
This continued for many months. He had no one to consult, and did not open his mind to anybody. But after a severe and protracted struggle he was converted, came into the light, saw where he was, and where he had been, and saw the condition of his church, and of all those churches which had admitted their members in the way in which he had been admitted. His wife was unconverted. He immediately gave himself to labor for her conversion, and, under God, he soon secured it. His soul was full of the subject; and he read his Bible, and prayed and preached with all his might. But he was a young convert, and had had no instruction such as he needed, and he felt at a loss what to do. He rode about the town, and conversed with the elders of the church, and with the principal members, and satisfied himself that one or two of his leading elders, and several of his female members, knew what it was to be converted.
After much prayer and consideration, he made up his mind what to do. On the Sabbath he gave them notice that there would be a meeting of the church, on a certain day during the week, for the transaction of business, and wished all the church, especially, to be present. His own conversion, and preaching, and visiting, and conversing around the town had already created a good deal of excitement, so that religion came to be the common topic of conversation; and his call for a church meeting was responded to, so that, on the day appointed, the church were nearly all present.
He then addressed them in regard to the real state of the church, and the error they had fallen into in regard to the conditions on which members had been received. He made a speech to them, partly in German, and partly in English, so as to have all classes understand as far as he could; and after talking until they were a good deal moved, he proposed to disband the church and form a new one, insisting upon it that this was essential to the prosperity of religion. He had an understanding with those members of the church that he was satisfied were truly converted, that they should lead in voting for the disbanding of the church. The motion was put; whereupon the converted members arose as requested. They were very influential members, and the people looking around and seeing these on their feet, rose up, and finally they kept rising till the vote was nearly or quite unanimous. The pastor then said, There is now no church in Columbia; and we propose to form one of Christians, of people who have been converted.
He then, before the congregation, related his own experience, and called on his wife, and she did the same. Then the converted elders and members followed, one after another, as long as any could come forward, and relate a Christian experience. These, they proceeded to form into a church. He then said to the others, "Your church relations are dissolved. You are out in the world; and until you are converted, and in the church, you cannot have your children baptized, and you cannot partake of the ordinances of the church." This created a great panic; for according to their views, it was an awful thing not to partake of the sacrament, and not to have their children baptized; for this was the way in which they themselves had been made Christians.
Mr. H then labored with all his might. He visited, and preached, and prayed, and held meetings, and the interest increased. Thus the work had been going on for sometime, when he heard that I was in Oneida county, and sent the messenger for me. I found him a warm-hearted young convert. He listened to my preaching with almost irrepressible joy. I found the congregation large and interested; and so far as I could judge, the work was in a very prosperous, healthful state. That revival continued to spread until it reached and converted nearly all the inhabitants of the town. Galesburg, in Illinois, was settled by a colony from Columbia, who were nearly all converts, I believe, of the revival. The founder of the colony and of Knox College, located there, was Mr. Gale, my former pastor at Adams.
I have told facts, as I remember them, as related to me by Mr. H. I found his views evangelical, and his heart warm; and he was surrounded by a congregation as thoroughly interested in religion as could well be desired.
They would hang on my lips, as I held forth to them the Gospel of Christ, with an interest, an attention, and a patience, that was in the highest degree interesting and affecting. Mr. H himself, was like a little child, teachable, and humble, and earnest. That work continued for over a year, as I understood, spreading throughout that large and interesting population of farmers.
After I returned to Whitestown, I was invited to visit the city of New York. Anson G. Phelps, since well-known as a great contributor, by will, to the leading benevolent institutions of our country, hearing that I had not been invited to the pulpits of that city, hired a vacant church in Vandewater street, and sent me an urgent request to come there and preach. I did so, and there we had a powerful revival. I found Dr. Phelps very much engaged in the work, and not hesitating at any expense that was necessary to promote it. The church which he hired, could be had only for three months. Accordingly Mr. Phelps, before the three months were out, purchased a church in Prince street, near Broadway. This church had been built by the Universalists, and was sold to Mr. Phelps, who bought and paid for it himself. From Vandewater street, we went therefore, to Prince street, and there formed a church, mostly of persons that had been converted during our meetings in Vandewater street. I continued my labors in Prince street for some months, I think until quite the latter part of summer.
I was very much struck, during my labors there, with the piety of Mr. Phelps. While we continued at Vandewater street, myself and wife, with our only child, were guests in his family. I had observed that, while Mr. Phelps was a man literally loaded with business, somehow he preserved a highly spiritual frame of mind; and that he would come directly from his business to our prayer meetings, and enter into them with such spirit, as to show clearly that his mind was not absorbed in business, to the exclusion of spiritual things. As I watched him from day to day, I became more and more interested in his interior life, as it was manifested in his outward life. One night I had occasion to go downstairs, I should think about twelve or one o'clock at night, to get something for our little child. I supposed the family were all asleep, but to my surprise I found Mr. Phelps sitting by his fire, in his nightdress, and saw that I had broken in upon his secret devotions. I apologized by saying that I supposed he was in bed. He replied, "Brother Finney, I have a great deal of business pressing me during the day, and have but little time for secret devotion; and my custom is, after having a nap at night, to arise and have a season of communion with God." After his death, which occurred not many years ago, it was found that he had kept a journal during these hours in the night, comprising several transcript volumes. This journal revealed the secret workings of his mind, and the real progress of his interior life.
I never knew the number converted while I was in Prince and Vandewater streets; but it must have been large. There was one case of conversion that I must not omit to mention. A young woman visited me one day, under great conviction of sin. On conversing with her, I found that she had many things upon her conscience. She had been in the habit of pilfering, as she told me, from her very childhood. She was the daughter, and the only child, I think, of a widow lady; and she had been in the habit of taking from her schoolmates and others, handkerchiefs, and breastpins, and pencils, and whatever she had an opportunity to steal. She made confession respecting some of these things to me, and asked me what she should do about it. I told her she must go and return them, and make confession to those from whom she had taken them.
This of course greatly tried her; yet her convictions were so deep that she dare not keep them, and she began the work of making confession and restitution. But as she went forward with it, she continued to recall more and more instances of the kind, and kept visiting me frequently, and confessing to me her thefts of almost every kind of articles that a young woman could use. I asked her if her mother knew that she had these things. She said, yes; but that she had always told her mother that they were given her. She said to me on one occasion, "Mr. Finney, I suppose I have stolen a million of times. I find I have many things that I know I stole, but I cannot recollect from whom." I refused altogether to compromise with her, and insisted on her making restitution in every case, in which she could, by any means, recall the facts. From time to time she would come to me, and report what she had done. I asked her, what the people said when she returned the articles. She replied, "Some of them say that I am crazy; some of them say that I am a fool; and some of them are very much affected."
"Do they all forgive you?" I asked. "Oh yes!" said she, "they all forgive me; but some of them think that I had better not do as I am doing."
One day she informed me that she had a shawl which she had stolen from a daughter of Bishop Hobart, then Bishop of New York, whose residence was on St. John's square, and near St. John's church. As usual, I told her she must restore it. A few days after, she called and related to me the result. She said she folded up the shawl in a paper, and went with it, and rung the bell at the Bishop's door; and when the servant can, she handed him the bundle, directed to the Bishop. She made no explanation, but turned immediately away, and ran around the corner into another street, lest someone should look out and see which way she went, and find out who she was. But after she got around the corner, her conscience smote her, and she said to herself, "I have not done this thing right. Somebody else may be suspected of having stolen the shawl, unless I make known to the Bishop who did it."
She turned around, went immediately back, and inquired if she could see the Bishop. Being informed that she could, she was conducted to his study. She then confessed to him, told him about the shawl, and all that had passed. "Well," said I, "and how did the Bishop receive you?" "Oh," said she, "when I told him, he wept, laid his hand on my head, and said he forgave me, and prayed God to forgive me." "And have you been at peace in your mind," said I, "about that transaction since?" "Oh yes!" said she. This process continued for weeks, and I think for months. This girl was going from place to place in all parts of the city, restoring things that she had stolen, and making confession. Sometimes her convictions would be so awful, that it seemed as if she would be deranged.
One morning she sent for me to come to her mother's residence. I did so, and when I arrived I was introduced to her room, and found her with her hair hanging over her shoulders, and her clothes in disorder, walking the room in an agony of despair, and with a look that was frightful, because it indicated that she was well-nigh deranged. Said I, "My dear child, what is the matter?" She held in her hand, as she was walking, a little Testament. She turned to me and said, "Mr. Finney, I stole this Testament." I have stolen God's word; and will God ever forgive me? I cannot recollect which of the girls it was that I stole it from. I stole it from one of my schoolmates, and it was so long ago that I had really forgotten that I had stolen it. It occurred to me this morning; and it seems to me that God can never forgive me for stealing His word." I assured her that there was no reason for her despair. "But," said she, "what shall I do? I cannot remember where I got it." I told her, "Keep it as a constant remembrance of your former sins, and use it for the good you may now get from it."
"Oh," said she, "if I could only remember where I got it, I would instantly restore it." "Well," said I, "if you can ever recollect where you got it, make an instant restitution, either by restoring that, or giving another as good." "I will," said she.
All this process was exceedingly affecting to me; but as it proceeded, the state of mind that resulted from these transactions was truly wonderful. A depth of humility, a deep knowledge of herself and her own depravity, a brokenness of heart, and contrition of spirit, and finally, a faith, and joy, and love, and peace, like a river, succeeded; and she became one of the most delightful young Christians that I have known.
When the time drew near that I expected to leave New York, I thought that someone in the church ought to be acquainted with her, who could watch over her. Up to this time, whatever had passed between us had been a secret, secretly kept to myself. But as I was about to leave, I narrated the fact to Mr. Phelps and the narration affected him greatly. He said, "Brother Finney, introduce me to her. I will be her friend; I will watch over her for her good." He did so, as I afterwards learned. I have not seen the young woman for many years, and I think not since I related the fact to Mr. Phelps. But when I returned from England the last time, in visiting one of Mr. Phelps' daughters, in the coupe of the conversation, this case was alluded to. I then inquired, "Did your father introduce you to that young woman?" "Oh yes!" she replied, "we all knew her;" meaning, as I supposed, all the daughters of the family. "Well, what do you know of her?" said I. "Oh," said she, "she is a very earnest Christian woman. She is married, and her husband is in business in this city. She is a member of the church, and lives in street," pointing to the place, not far from where we then were. I inquired, "Has she always maintained a consistent Christian character?" "Oh yes!" was the reply; "she is an excellent, praying woman." In some way, I have been informed, and I cannot recollect now the source of the information, that the woman said that she never had had a temptation to pilfer, from the time of her conversion; that she had never known what it was to have the desire to do so.
This revival prepared the way, in New York, for the organization of the Free Presbyterian churches in the city. Those churches were composed afterward, largely, of the converts of that revival. Many of them had belonged to the church in Prince street.
At this point of my narrative, in order to render intelligible many things that I shall have to say hereafter, I must give a little account of the circumstances connected with the conversion of Mr. Lewis Tappan, and his connection afterward with my own labors. This account I received from himself. His conversion occurred before I was personally acquainted with him, under the following circumstances: He was a Unitarian, and lived in Boston. His brother Arthur, then a very extensive dry goods merchant in New York, was orthodox, and an earnest Christian man. The revivals through central New York had created a good deal of excitement among the Unitarians; and their newspapers had a good deal to say against them. Especially were there strange stories in circulation about myself, representing me as a half-crazed fanatic. These stories had been related to Lewis Tappan by Mr. W, a leading Unitarian minister of Boston, and he believed them. They were credited by many of the Unitarians in New England, and throughout the State of New York.
While these stories were in circulation, Lewis Tappan visited his brother Arthur in New York, and they fell into conversation in regard to those revivals. Lewis called Arthur's attention to the strange fanaticism connected with these revivals, especially to what was said of myself. He asserted that I gave out publicly that I was the Brigadier General of Jesus Christ. This, and like reports were in circulation, and Lewis insisted upon their truth. Arthur utterly discredited them and told Lewis that they were all nonsense and false, and that he ought not to believe any of them. Lewis, relying upon the statements of Mr. W, proposed to bet five hundred dollars that he could prove these reports to be true; especially the one already referred to. Arthur replied, "Lewis, you know that I do not bet; but I will tell you what I will do. If you can prove by credible testimony, that that is true, and that the reports about Mr. Finney are true, I will give you five hundred dollars. I make this offer to lead you to investigate. I want you to know that these stories are false, and that the source whence they come is utterly unreliable." Lewis, not doubting that he could bring the proof, inasmuch as these things had been so confidently asserted by the Unitarians, wrote to Rev. Mr. P, Unitarian ministry in Trenton Falls, New York, to whom Mr. W had referred him, and authorized him to expend five hundred dollars, if need be, in procuring sufficient testimony that the story was true; such testimony as would lead to the conviction of a party in a court of justice. Mr. P, accordingly, undertook to procure the testimony, but after great painstaking, was unable to furnish any, except what was contained in a small Universalist newspaper, printed in Buffalo, in which it had been asserted that Mr. Finney claimed that he was a Brigadier General of Jesus Christ. Nowhere could he get the least proof that the report was true. Many persons had heard, and believed, that I had said these things somewhere; but as he followed up the reports from town to town, by his correspondence, he could not learn that these things had been said, anywhere.
This in connection with other matters, he said, led him to reflect seriously upon the nature of the opposition, and upon the source whence it had come. Knowing as he did what stress had been laid upon these stories by the Unitarians, and the use they had made of them to oppose the revivals in New York and other places, his confidence in them was greatly shaken. Thus his prejudices against the revivals and orthodox people became softened. He was led to review the theological writings of the Orthodox and the Unitarians with great seriousness, and the result was that he embraced orthodox views. The mother of the Tappans was a very godly, praying woman. She had never had any sympathy with Unitarianism. She had lived a very praying life, and had left a strong impression upon her children.
As soon as Lewis Tappan was converted, he became as firm and zealous in his support of orthodox views and revivals of religion, as he had been in his opposition to them. About the time that I left New York, after my first labors there in Vandewater and Prince streets, Mr. Tappan and some other good brethren, became dissatisfied with the state of things in New York, and after much prayer and consideration, concluded to organize a new congregation, and introduce new measures for the conversion of men. They obtained a place to hold worship, and called the Rev. Joel Parker, who was then pastor of the Third Presbyterian church in Rochester, to come to their aid. Mr. Parker arrived in New York, and began his labors, I think about the time that I closed my labors in Prince street. The First Free Presbyterian church was formed in New York, about this time, and Mr. Parker became its pastor. They labored especially among that class of the population that had not been in the habit of attending meeting anywhere, and were very successful. They finally fitted up the upper story of some warehouses in Dey street, that would hold a good congregation, and there they continued their labors.
CHAPTER XXI. Back to
REVIVAL IN ROCHESTER, 1830.
LEAVING New York I spent a few weeks in Whitestown; and, as was common, being pressed to go in many directions, I was greatly at a loss what was my duty. But among others, an urgent invitation was received from the Third Presbyterian church in Rochester, of which Mr. Parker had been pastor, to go there and supply them for a season.
I inquired into the circumstances, and found that on several accounts it was a very unpromising field of labor. There were but three Presbyterian churches in Rochester. The Third church, that extended the invitation, had no minister, and religion was in a low state. The Second church, or the Brick Church, as it was called, had a pastor, an excellent man; but in regard to his preaching there was considerable division in the church, and he was restive and about to leave. There was a controversy existing between an elder of the Third church and the pastor of the First church, that was about to be tried before the presbytery. This and other matters had aroused unchristian feeling, to some extent, in both churches; and altogether it seemed a forbidding field of labor at that time. The friends at Rochester were exceedingly anxious to have me go there--I mean the members of the Third church. Being left without a pastor, they felt as if there was great danger that they would be scattered, and perhaps annihilated as a church, unless something could be done to revive religion among them.
With these pressing invitations before me, I felt, as I have often done, greatly perplexed. I remained at my father-in-law's, and considered the subject, until I felt that I must take hold and work somewhere. Accordingly we packed our trunks and went down to Utica, about seven miles distant, where I had many praying friends. We arrived there in the afternoon, and in the evening quite a number of the leading brethren, in whose prayers and wisdom I had a great deal of confidence, at my request met for consultation and prayer, in regard to my next field of labor. I laid all the facts before them in regard to Rochester; and so far as I was acquainted with them, the leading facts in respect to the other fields to which I was invited at that time. Rochester seemed to be the least inviting of them all.
After talking the matter all over, and having several seasons of prayer, interspersed with conversation, the brethren gave their opinions one after another, in relation to what they thought it wise for me to do. They were unanimous in the opinion that Rochester was too uninviting a field of labor, to be put at all in competition with New York, or Philadelphia, and some other fields to which I was then invited. They were firm in the conviction that I should go east from Utica, and not west. At the time, this was my own impression and conviction; and I retired from this meeting, as I supposed, settled not to go to Rochester, but to New York or Philadelphia. This was before railroads existed; and when we parted that evening I expected to take the canal boat, which was the most convenient way for a family to travel, and start in the morning for New York.
But after I retired to my lodging the question was presented to my mind under a different aspect. Something seemed to question me: "What are the reasons that deter you from going to Rochester?" I could readily enumerate them, but then the question returned: "Ah! but are these good reasons? Certainly you are needed at Rochester all the more because of these difficulties. Do you shun the field because there are so many things that need to be corrected, because there is so much that is wrong? But if all was right, you would not be needed." I soon came to the conclusion that we were all wrong; and that the reasons that had determined us against my going to Rochester, were the most cogent reasons for my going. I felt ashamed to shrink from undertaking the work because of its difficulties; and it was strongly impressed upon me, that the Lord would be with me, and that was my field. My mind became entirely decided, before I retired to rest, that Rochester was the place to which the Lord would have me go. I informed my wife of my decision; and accordingly, early in the morning, before the people were generally moving in the city, the packet boat came along, and we embarked and went westward instead of eastward.
The brethren in Utica were greatly surprised when they learned of this change in our destination, and awaited the result with a good deal of solicitude.
We arrived in Rochester early in the morning, and were invited to take up our lodgings for the time with Mr. Josiah Bissell, who was the leading elder in the Third church, and who was the person that had complained to the presbytery respecting Dr. Penny. On my arrival I met my cousin, Mr. S, in the street, who invited me to his house. He was an elder in the First church, and hearing that I was expected at Rochester, was very anxious to have his pastor, Dr. Penny, meet and converse with me, and be prepared to cooperate with me in my labors. I declined his kind invitation, informing him that I was to be the guest of Mr. Bissell. But he called on me again after breakfast, and informed me that he had arranged an interview between myself and Dr. Penny, at his house. I hastened to meet the doctor, and we had a cheering Christian interview. When I commenced my labors, Dr. Penny attended our meetings, and soon invited me to his pulpit. Mr. S exerted himself to bring about a good understanding between the pastors and churches and a great change soon manifested itself in the attitude and spiritual state of the churches.
There were very soon some very marked conversions. The wife of a prominent lawyer in that city, was one of the first converts. She was a woman of high standing, a lady of culture and extensive influence. Her conversion was a very marked one. The first that I saw her, a friend of her's came with her to my room, and introduced her. The lady who introduced her was a Christian woman, who had found that she was very much exercised in her mind, and persuaded her to come and see me.
Mrs. M had been a gay worldly woman, and very fond of society. She afterward told me that when I first came there, she greatly regretted it, and feared there would be a revival; and a revival would greatly interfere with the pleasures and amusements that she had promised herself that winter. On conversing with her I found that the Spirit of the Lord was indeed dealing with her, in an unsparing manner. She was bowed down with great conviction of sin. After considerable conversation with her, I pressed her earnestly to renounce sin, and the world, and self, and everything for Christ. I saw that she was a very proud woman, and this struck me as rather the most marked feature of her character. At the conclusion of our conversation we knelt down to pray; and my mind being full of the subject of the pride of her heart, as it was manifested, I very soon introduced the text: "Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." I turned this subject over in prayer; and almost immediately I heard Mrs. M, as she was kneeling by my side, repeating that text: "Except ye be converted and become as little children as little children Except ye be converted and become as little children." I observed that her mind was taken with that, and the Spirit of God was pressing it upon her heart. I therefore continued to pray, holding that subject before her mind, and holding her up before God as needing that very thing, to be converted--to become as a little child.
I felt that the Lord was answering prayer. I felt sure that He was doing the very work that I asked Him to do. Her heart broke down, her sensibility gushed forth, and before we rose from our knees, she was indeed a little child. When I stopped praying, and opened my eyes and looked at her, her face was turned up toward heaven, and the tears streaming down; and she was in the attitude of praying that she might be made a little child. She rose up, became peaceful, settled into a joyous faith, and retired. From that moment she was outspoken in her religious convictions, and zealous for the conversion of her friends. Her conversion, of course, produced much excitement among that class of people to which she belonged.
I had never, I believe, except in rare instances, until I went to Rochester, used as a means of promoting revivals, what has since been called the anxious seat. I had sometimes asked persons in the congregation to stand up; but this I had not frequently done. However, in studying upon the subject, I had often felt the necessity of some measure that would bring sinners to a stand. From my own experience and observation I had found, that with the higher classes especially, the greatest obstacle to be overcome was their fear of being known as anxious inquirers. They were too proud to take any position that would reveal them to others as anxious for their souls.
I had found also that something was needed, to make the impression on them that they were expected at once to give up their hearts; something that would call them to act, and act as publicly before the world, as they had in their sins; something that would commit them publicly to the service of Christ. When I had called them simply to stand up in the public congregations I found that this had a very good effect; and so far as it went, it answered the purpose for which it was intended. But after all, I had felt for some time, that something more was necessary to bring them out from among the mass of the ungodly, to a public renunciation of their sinful ways, and a public committal of themselves to God.
At Rochester, if I recollect right, I first introduced this measure; This was years after the cry had been raised of new measures. A few days after the conversion of Mrs. M, I made a call, I think for the first time, upon all that class of persons whose convictions were so ripe that they were willing to renounce their sins and give themselves to God, to come forward to certain seats which I requested to be vacated, and offer themselves up to God, while we made them subjects of prayer. A much larger number came forward than I expected, and among them was another prominent lady; and several others of her acquaintance, and belonging to the same circle of society, came forward. This increased the interest among that class of people; and it was soon seen that the Lord was aiming at the conversion of the highest classes of society. My meetings soon became thronged with that class. The lawyers, physicians, merchants, and indeed all the most intelligent people, became more and more interested, and more and more easily influenced.
Very soon the work took effect, extensively, among the lawyers in that city. There has always been a large number of the leading lawyers of the state, resident at Rochester. The work soon got hold of numbers of these. They became very anxious, and came freely to our meetings of inquiry; and numbers of them came forward to the anxious seat, as it has since been called, and publicly gave their hearts to God. I recollect one evening after preaching, three of them followed me to my room, all of them deeply convicted; and all of them had been, I believe, on the anxious seat, but were not clear in their minds, and felt that they could not go home until they were convinced their peace was made with God. I conversed with them, and prayed with them; and I believe, before they left, they all found peace in believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I should have said that very soon after the work commenced, the difficulties between Mr. Bissell and Dr. Penny were healed; and all the distractions and collisions that had existed there were adjusted; so that a spirit of universal kindness and fellowship pervaded all the churches.
On one occasion I had an appointment in the First church. There had been a military parade in the city that day. The militia had been called out, and I had feared that the excitement of the parade, might divert the attention of the people, and mar the work of the Lord. The house was filled in every part. Dr. Penny had introduced the services, and was engaged in the first prayer, when I heard something which I supposed to be the report of a gun, and the jingling of glass, as if a window had been broken. My thought was that some careless person from the military parade on the outside, had fired so near the window as to break a pane of glass. But before I had time to think again, Dr. Penny leaped from the pulpit almost over me, for I was kneeling by the sofa behind him. The pulpit was in the front of the church, between the two doors. The rear wall of the church stood upon the brink of the canal. The congregation, in a moment, fell into a perfect panic, and rushed for the doors and the windows, as if they were all distracted. One elderly woman held up a window in the rear of the church, where several, as I was informed, leaped out into the canal. The rush was terrific. Some jumped over the galleries into the aisles below; they ran over each other in the aisles.
I stood up in the pulpit, and not knowing what had happened, put up my hands, and cried at the top of my voice, "Be quiet! Be quiet!" Directly a couple of women rushing up into the pulpit, one on the one side, and the other on the other side, caught hold of me, in a state of distraction. Dr. Penny ran out into the streets, and they were getting out in every direction, as fast as possible. As I did not know that there was any danger, the scene looked so ludicrous to me, that I could scarcely refrain from laughing. They rushed over each other in the aisles, so that in several instances I observed men that had been crushed down, rising up and throwing off others that had rushed upon them. All at length got out.
Several were considerably hurt, but no one killed. But the house was strewn with all sorts of womens apparel. Bonnets, shawls, gloves, handkerchiefs, and parts of dresses, were scattered in every direction. The men had very generally gone out without their hats, I believe; and many persons had been seriously bruised in the awful rush.
I afterwards learned that the walls of the church had been settling for some time, the ground being very damp from its proximity to the canal. It had been spoken of, in the congregation, as not in a satisfactory state; and some were afraid that either the tower would fall, or the roof, or the walls of the building would come down. Of this I had heard nothing myself. The original alarm was created by a timber from the roof, falling end downwards, and breaking through the ceiling, above the lamp in front of the organ.
On examining the house, it was found that the walls had spread in such a manner, that there was indeed danger of the roof falling in. The pressure that night in the gallery was so great as to spread the walls on each side, until there was real danger. At the time this occurred, I greatly feared, as I suppose others did, that the public attention would be diverted, and the work greatly hindered. But the Spirit of the Lord had taken hold of the work in earnest, and nothing seemed to stay it.
The Brick church was thrown open to us, and from that time our meetings alternated between the Second and Third churches, the people of the First church and congregation attending as far as they could get into the house. The three churches, and indeed Christians of every denomination generally, seemed to make common cause, and went to work with a will, to pull sinners out of the fire. We were obliged to hold meetings almost continually. I preached nearly every night, and three times on the Sabbath. We held our meetings of inquiry, after the work took on such a powerful type, very frequently in the morning.
One morning I recollect we had been holding a meeting of inquiry, and a gentleman was present and was converted there, who was the son-in-law of a very praying, godly woman belonging to the Third church. She had been very anxious about him, and had been spending much time in prayer for him. When he returned from the meeting of inquiry, he was full of joy and peace and hope. She had been spending the time in earnest prayer that God would convert him at that meeting. As soon as she met him and he declared his conversion to her, and from his countenance she saw that it was really so, it overcame her, and she swooned away and fell dead.
There was at that time a high school in Rochester, presided over by a Mr. B, the son of A B, then pastor of the church at Brighton, near Rochester. Mr. B was a skeptic, but was at the head of a very large and flourishing school. As the school was made up of both sexes, a Miss A was his assistant and associate in the school, at that time. Miss A was a Christian woman. The students attended the religious services, and many of them soon became deeply anxious about their souls. One morning Mr. B found that his classes could not recite. When he came to have them before him, they were so anxious about their souls that they wept, and he saw that they were in such a state, that it very much confounded him. He called his associate, Miss A, and told her that the young people were so exercised about their souls that they could not recite; and asked if they had not better send for Mr. Finney to give them instruction. She afterwards informed me of this, and said that she was very glad to have him make the inquiry, and most cordially advised him to send for me. He did so, and the revival took tremendous hold of that school. Mr. B himself was soon hopefully converted, and nearly every person in the school. A few years since, Miss A informed me that more than forty persons, that were then converted in that school, had become ministers. That was a fact that I had not known before. She named many of them to me at the time. A large number of them had become foreign missionaries.
After remaining a few weeks at Josiah Bissell's, we took lodgings in a more central position, at the house of Mr. B, a lawyer of the city, who was a professedly Christian man. His wife's sister was with them, and was an impenitent girl. She was a young woman of fine appearance, an exquisite singer, and a cultivated lady; and, as we soon learned, was engaged in marriage to a man, who was then judge of the supreme court of the state. He was a very proud man, and resisted the anxious seat, and spoke against it. He was absent a good deal from the city, in holding court, and was not that winter converted. A large number of the lawyers, however, were converted; and the young lady to whom he was engaged was converted. I mention this because the Judge afterwards married her; which no doubt led to his own conversion in a revival which occurred some ten years later, the leading particulars of which I shall mention in another part of my narrative.
This revival made a great change in the moral state and subsequent history of Rochester. The great majority of the leading men and women in the city, were converted. A great number of very striking incidents occurred, that I shall not soon forget. One day the lady who first visited me and whose conversion I have mentioned, called on me in company with a friend of hers with whom she wished me to converse. I did so, but found her to all appearance very much hardened, and rather disposed to trifle with the subject. Her husband was a merchant, and they were persons of high standing in the community. When I pressed her to attend to the subject, she said she would not do it, because her husband would not attend to it, and she was not going to leave him. I asked her if she was willing to be lost because her husband would not attend to it; and if it was not folly to neglect her soul because he did his. She replied very promptly, "If he goes to hell, I want to go. I want to go where he does. I do not want to be separated from him, at any rate." It seemed that I could make very little, if any, impression upon her. But from night to night I had been making appeals to the congregation, and calling forward those that were prepared to give their hearts to God; and large numbers were converted every evening.
As I learned afterwards, when this woman went home, her husband said to her, "My dear, I mean to go forward tonight, and give my heart to God." "What!" said she; "I have today told Mr. Finney that I would not become a Christian, or have anything to do with it; that you did not become a Christian, and I would not; and that if you went to hell, I should go with you." "Well," said he, "I do not mean to go to hell. I have made up my mind to go forward tonight, and give my heart to Christ." "Well," said she, "then I will not go to meeting, I do not want to see it. And if you have a mind after all, to become a Christian, you may; I won't." When the time came, he went to meeting alone. The pulpit was between the doors, in the front of the church. The house was a good deal crowded; but he finally got a seat near one of the aisles, in quite the back path of the church. At the close of the meeting, as I had done at other times, I called for those that were anxious and whose minds were made up, to come forward, and take certain seats and occupy a certain space about the pulpit, where we could commend them to God in prayer. It afterward appeared that the wife herself had come to the meeting, had passed up the other aisle, and taken a seat almost opposite him, in the extreme part of the house. When I made the call, he started immediately. She was watching, and as soon as she saw him on his feet, and making his way along the crowded aisle, she also started down the other aisle, and they met in front of the pulpit, and knelt down together as subjects of prayer.
A large number obtained hope on the spot; but this husband and wife did not. They went home, too proud to say much to each other about what they had done, and spent a very restless night. The next day, about ten o'clock, he called to see me, and was shown into my room. My wife occupied a front room on the second floor; and I a room in the rear on the same floor. While I was conversing with him, the servant informed me that a lady was waiting in Mrs. Finney's room to see me. I excused myself for a few moments, and requested him to wait, while I went in to see her. I found that it was the woman who but the day before had been so stubborn, and the wife of the man who was then in my room. Neither of them knew that the other had called to see me. I conversed with her, and found that she was on the very verge of submitting to Christ. I had learned that he was also, to all appearance, in the same state. I then returned to him and said, "I am going to pray with a lady in Mrs. Finney's room, and we will go in there, if you please, and all join in prayer, together." He followed me, and found his own wife. They looked at each other with surprise, but we were both greatly affected, each to find the other there. We knelt down to pray. I had not proceeded far in prayer before she began to weep, and to pray audibly for her husband. I stopped and listened, and found that she had lost all concern for herself, and was struggling in an agony of prayer for his conversion. His heart seemed to break and give way, and just at this time the bell rang for our dinner. I thought it would be well to leave them together alone. I therefore touched my wife, and we rose silently and went down to dinner, leaving them in prayer. We took a hasty dinner and returned, and found them as mellow, and as humble, and as loving as could be desired.
I have not said much, as yet, of the spirit of prayer that prevailed in this revival, which I must not omit to mention. When I was on my way to Rochester, as we passed through a village, some thirty miles east of Rochester, a brother minister whom I knew, seeing me on the canalboat, jumped aboard to have a little conversation with me, intending to ride but a little way and return. He, however, became interested in conversation, and upon finding where I was going, he made up his mind to keep on and go with me to Rochester. We had been there but a few days when this minister became so convicted that he could not help weeping aloud, at one time, as he passed along the street. The Lord gave him a powerful spirit of prayer, and his heart was broken. As he and I prayed much together, I was struck with his faith in regard to what the Lord was going to do there. I recollect he would say, "Lord, I do not know how it is; but I seem to know that Thou art going to do a great work in this city." The spirit of prayer was poured out powerfully, so much so, that some persons stayed away from the public services to pray, being unable to restrain their feelings under preaching.
And here I must introduce the name of a man, whom I shall have occasion to mention frequently, Mr. Abel Clary. He was the son of a very excellent man, and an elder of the church where I was converted. He was converted in the same revival in which I was. He had been licensed to preach; but his spirit of prayer was such, he was so burdened with the souls of men, that he was not able to preach much, his whole time and strength being given to prayer. The burden of his soul would frequently be so great that he was unable to stand, and he would writhe and groan in agony. I was well acquainted with him, and knew something of the wonderful spirit of prayer that was upon him. He was a very silent man, as almost all are who have that powerful spirit of prayer.
The first I knew of his being at Rochester, a gentleman who lived about a mile west of the city, called on me one day, and asked me if I knew a Mr. Abel Clary, a minister. I told him that I knew him well. "Well," said he, "he is at my house, and has been there for some time, and I don't know what to think of him." I said, "I have not seen him at any of our meetings." "No," he replied, "he cannot go to meeting," he said. "He prays nearly all the time, day and night, and in such an agony of mind that I do not know what to make of it. Sometimes he cannot even stand on his knees, but will lie prostrate on the floor, and groan and pray in a manner that quite astonishes me." I said to the brother, "I understand it; please keep still. It will all come out right; he will surely prevail."
I knew at the time a considerable number of men who were exercised in the same way. A Deacon P, of Camden, Oneida county; a Deacon T, of Rodman, Jefferson county; a Deacon B, of Adams, in the same country; this Mr. Clary, and many others among the men, and a large number of women, partook of the same spirit, and spent a great part of their time in prayer. Father Nash, as we called him, who in several of my fields of labor came to me and aided me, was another of those men that had such a powerful spirit of prevailing prayer. This Mr. Clary continued in Rochester as long as I did, and did not leave it until after I had left. He never, that I could learn, appeared in public, but gave himself wholly to prayer.
I have said that the moral aspect of things was greatly changed by this revival. It was a young city, full of thrift and enterprise, and full of sin. The inhabitants were intelligent and enterprising, in the highest degree; but as the revival swept through the town, and converted the great mass of the most influential people, both men and women, the change in the order, sobriety, and morality of the city was wonderful.
At a subsequent period, which I shall mention in its place, I was conversing with a lawyer, who was converted at this revival of who I have been speaking, and who soon after had been made district attorney of the city. His business was to superintend the prosecution of criminals. From his position he was made thoroughly acquainted with the history of crime in that city. In speaking of the revival in which he was converted, he said to me, many years afterward: "I have been examining the records of the criminal courts, and I find this striking fact, that whereas our city has increased since that revival, threefold, there are not one-third as many prosecutions for crime, as there had been up to that time. This is, "he said," the wonderful influence that revival had upon the community. Indeed by the power of that revival, public sentiment has been molded. The public affairs of the city have been, in a great measure in the hands of Christian men; and the controlling influences in the community have been on the side of Christ."
Among other conversions I must not forget to mention that of Mr. P, a prominent citizen of that place, a bookseller. Mr. P was an infidel; not an atheist, but a disbeliever in the divine authority of the Bible. He was a reader and a thinker, a man of keen, shrewd mind, strong will, and most decided character. He was, I believe, a man of good outward morals, and a gentleman highly respected. He came to my room early one morning, and said to me, "Mr. Finney, there is a great movement here on the subject of religion, but I am a skeptic, and I want you to prove to me that the Bible is true." The Lord enabled me at once to discern his state of mind, so far as to decide the course I should take with him. I said to him, "Do you believe in the existence of God?" "O yes!" he said, I am not an atheist. "Well, do you believe that you have treated God as you ought? Have you respected His authority? Have you loved Him? Have you done that which you thought would please Him, and with the design to please Him? Don't you admit that you ought to love Him, and ought to worship Him, and ought to obey Him, according to the best light you have?" "O yes!" he said, I admit all this. "But have you done so?" I asked. "Why, no," he answered, "I cannot say that I have." "Well then," I replied, "why should I give you farther information, and farther light, if you will not do your duty and obey the light you already have? Now," said I, "when you will make up your mind to live up to your convictions, to obey God according to the best light you have; when you will make up your mind to repent of your neglect thus far, and to please God just as well as you know how, the rest of your life, I will try to show you that the Bible is from God. Until then it is of no use for me to do any such thing." I did not sit down, and I think had not asked him to sit down. He replied, "I do not know but that is fair;" and retired.
I heard no more of him until the next morning. Soon after I arose, he came to my room again; and as soon as he entered, he clapped his hands and said, "Mr. Finney, God has wrought a miracle! I went down to the store," he continued, "after I left your room, thinking of what you had said; and I made up my mind that I would repent of what I knew was wrong in my relations to God, and that hereafter I would live according to the best light I had. And when I made up my mind to this," said he, "my feelings so overcame me that I fell; and I do not know but I should have died, if it had not been for Mr. -- , who was with me in the store." From this time he has been, as all who know him are aware, a praying, earnest Christian man. For many years he has been one of the trustees of Oberlin College, has stood by us through all our trials, and has aided us with his means and his whole influence.
During this great revival, persons wrote letters from Rochester, to their friends abroad, giving an account of the work, which were read in different churches throughout several states, and were instrumental in producing great revivals of religion. Many persons came in from abroad to witness the great work of God, and were converted. I recollect that a physician was so attracted by what he heard of the work that he came from Newark, New Jersey, to Rochester, to see what the Lord was doing, and was himself converted there. He was a man of talents and high culture, and has been for years an ardent Christian laborer for immortal souls.
One evening, I recollect, when I made a call for the anxious to come forward and submit, a man of influence in a neighboring town came forward himself, and several members of his family, and gave themselves to God. Indeed, the work spread like waves in every direction. I preached in as many places round about, as I had time and strength to do, while my main labors were in Rochester. I went to Canandaigua and preached several times. There the Word took effect, and many were converted. The pastor, Rev. Ansel Eddy, entered heartily into the work. A former pastor, an elderly man, an Englishmen by birth, also did what he could to forward the work. Wherever I went, the Word of God took immediate effect; and it seemed only necessary to present the law of God, and the claims of Christ, in such relations and proportions as were calculated to secure the conversion of men, and they would be converted by scores.
The greatness of the work at Rochester, at that time, attracted so much of the attention of ministers and Christians throughout the State of New York, throughout New England, and in many parts of the United States, that the very fame of it was an efficient instrument in the hands of the Spirit of God in promoting the greatest revival of religion throughout the land, that this country had then ever witnessed. Years after this, in conversing with Dr. Beecher about this powerful revival and its results, he remarked: "That was the greatest work of God, and the greatest revival of religion, that the world has ever seen, in so short a time. One hundred thousand," he remarked, "were reported as having connected themselves with churches, as the results of that great revival. This," he said, "is unparalleled in the history of the church, and of the progress of religion." He spoke of this having been done in one year; and said that in no year during the Christian era, had we any account of so great a revival of religion.
From the time of the New Lebanon convention, of which I have spoken, open and public opposition to revivals of religion was less and less manifested, and especially did I meet with much less personal opposition than I had met with before. It gradually but greatly subsided. At Rochester I felt nothing of it. Indeed the waters of salvation had risen so high, revivals had become so powerful and extensive, and people had time to become acquainted with them and their results, in such measure, that men were afraid to oppose them as they had done. Ministers had come to understand them better, and the most ungodly sinners had been convinced that they were indeed the work of God. So manifestly were the great mass of the conversions sound, the converts really regenerated and made new creatures, so thoroughly were individuals and whole communities reformed, and so permanent and unquestionable were the results, that the conviction became nearly universal, that they were the work of God.
CHAPTER XXII. Back
REVIVAL IN AUBURN, BUFFALO, PROVIDENCE AND BOSTON.
DURING the latter part of the time that I was at Rochester, my health was poor. I was overdone; and some of the leading physicians, I learned, had made up their minds that I never would preach any more. My labors in Rochester at that time, had continued through six months; and near their close, Rev. Dr. Wisner, of Ithaca, came down and spent some time, witnessing and helping forward the work. In the meantime, I was invited to many fields; and among others I was urged by Dr. Nott, president of Union College, at Schenectady, to go and labor with him, and if possible secure the conversion of his numerous students. I made up my mind to comply with his request.
In company with Dr. Wisner and Josiah Bissell, I started in the stage, in the spring of the year 1831, when the going was exceedingly bad. I left my wife and children for the time at Rochester; as the traveling was too dangerous, and the journey too fatiguing for them. When we arrived at Geneva, Dr. Wisner insisted on my going home with him, to rest awhile. I declined, and said I must keep about my work. He pressed me very hard to go; and finally told me that the physicians in Rochester had told him to take me home with him, for I was going to die; that I would never labor anymore in revivals, for I had the consumption, and could live but a little while. I replied that I had been told this before, but that it was a mistake; that the doctors did not understand my case; that I was only fatigued, and a little rest would bring me up.
Dr. Wisner finally gave up his importunity, and I passed on in the stage to Auburn. The going was so very bad, that sometimes we could not get on more than two miles an hour, and we had been two or three days in going from Rochester to Auburn. As I had many dear friends in Auburn, and was very much fatigued, I made up my mind to stop there, and rest till the next stage. I had paid my fare quite through to Schenectady; but could stop over, if I chose, for one or more days. I stopped at the house of Mr. T S, a son of Chief-Justice S. He was an earnest Christian man, and a very dear friend of mine; consequently I went to his house, instead of stopping at the hotel, and concluded to rest there till the next stage.
In the morning, after sleeping quietly at Mr. S's, I had risen, and was preparing to take the stage, which was to arrive in the early part of the day, when a gentleman came in with the request for me to remain--a request in writing, signed by that large number of influential men, of whom I have spoken before, as resisting the revival in that place in 1826. These men had set themselves against the revival, on the former occasion, and carried their opposition so far as to break from Dr. Lansing's congregation, and form a new one. In the meantime, Dr. Lansing had been called to another field of labor; and Rev. Josiah Hopkins, of Vermont, was settled as pastor of the First church. The paper to which I have alluded, contained an earnest appeal to me to stop and labor for their salvation, signed by a long list of unconverted men, most of them among the most prominent citizens in the city. This was very striking to me. In this paper they alluded to the opposition they had formerly made to my labors, and besought me to overlook it, and stop and preach the Gospel to them.
This request did not come from the pastor, nor from his church, but from those who had formerly led in the opposition to the work. But the pastor and the members of his church pressed me with all their influence, to remain and preach, and comply with the request of these men. They appeared as much surprised as I was myself, at the change in the attitude of those men. I went to my room, and spread the subject before God, and soon made up my mind what to do. I told the pastor and his elders that I was very much fatigued, and nearly worn out; but that upon certain conditions I would remain. I would preach twice upon the Sabbath, and two evenings during the week; but that they should take all the rest of the labor upon their own hands; that they must not expect me to attend any other meetings than those at which I preached; and that they must take upon themselves the labor of instructing inquirers, and conducting the prayer and other meetings. I knew that they understood how to labor with sinners, and could well trust them to perform that part of the work. I furthermore stipulated that neither they nor their people should visit me, except in extreme cases, at my lodgings; for that I must have my days, Sundays excepted, that I might rest, and also my evenings, except those when I preached. There were three preaching services on the Sabbath, one of which was filled by Mr. Hopkins. I preached in the morning and evening, I think, of each Sabbath, and he in the afternoon.
The Word took immediate effect. On the first or second Sabbath evening that I preached, I saw that the Word was taking such powerful hold that at the close I called for those whose minds were made up, to come forward, publicly renounce their sins, and give themselves to Christ. Much to my own surprise, and very much to the surprise of the pastor and many members of the church, the first man that I observed as coming forward and leading the way, was the man that had led, and exerted more influence than any other one man, in the opposition to the former revival. He came forward promptly, followed by a large number of the persons who had signed that paper; and that evening there was such a demonstration made, as to produce a general interest throughout the place.
I have spoken of Mr. Clary as the praying man, who was at Rochester. He had a brother, a physician, living in Auburn. I think it was the second Sabbath that I was at Auburn at this time, I observed in the congregation the solemn face of this Mr. Clary. He looked as if he was borne down with an agony of prayer. Being well acquainted with him, and knowing the great gift of God that was upon him, the spirit of prayer, I was very glad to see him there. He sat in the pew with his brother, the Doctor, who was also a professor of religion, but who knew nothing by experience, I should think, of his Brother Abel's great power with God.
At intermission, as soon as I came down from the pulpit, Mr. Clary, with his brother, met me at the pulpit stairs, and the Doctor invited me to go home with him and spend the intermission and get some refreshments. I did so.
After arriving at his house we were soon summoned to the dinner table. We gathered about the table, and Dr. Clary turned to his brother and said, "Brother Abel, will you ask a blessing?" Brother Abel bowed his head and began, audibly, to ask a blessing. He had uttered but a sentence or two when he broke instantly down, moved suddenly back from the table, and fled to his chamber. The Doctor supposed he had been taken suddenly ill, and rose up and followed him. In a few moments he came down and said, "Mr. Finney, Brother Abel wants to see you." Said I, "What ails him?" Said he, "I do not know; but he says you know. He appears in great distress, but I think it is the state of his mind." I understood it in a moment, and went to his room. He lay groaning upon the bed, the Spirit making intercession for him, and in him, with groanings that could not be uttered. I had hardly entered the room, when he made out to say; "Pray, Brother Finney." I knelt down and helped him in prayer, by leading his soul out for the conversion of sinners. I continued to pray until his distress passed away, and then I returned to the dinner table.
I understood that this was the voice of God. I saw the Spirit of prayer was upon him, and I felt His influence upon myself, and took it for granted that the work would move on powerfully. It did so. I believe, but am not quite sure, that every one of those men that signed that paper, making a long list of names, was converted during that revival. But a few years since, Dr. S, of Auburn, wrote to me to know if I had preserved that paper, wishing, as he said, to ascertain whether every one of the men that signed it, was not at that time converted. The paper has been mislaid; and although it is probably among my numerous papers and letters, and may sometime be found, yet I could not, at the time, answer his inquiry.
I stayed, at this time, at Auburn, six Sabbaths, preaching, as I have said, twice on the Sabbath, and twice during the week, and leaving all the rest of the labor for the pastor and members of the church. Here, as at Rochester, there was, at this time, little or no open opposition. Ministers and Christians took hold of the work, and everybody that had a mind to work found enough to do, and good success in labor.
The pastor told me afterward, that he found that in the six weeks that I was there, five hundred souls had been converted. The means that were used, were the same that had been used at Rochester. This revival seemed to be only a wave of divine power, reaching Auburn from the center at Rochester, whence such a mighty influence had gone out over the length and breadth of the land.
Near the close of my labor here, a messenger arrived from Buffalo, with an earnest request that I should visit that city. The revival in Rochester had prepared the way in Auburn, as in every other place round about, and had also prepared the way in Buffalo. At Buffalo, the messenger informed me, the work had begun, and a few souls had been hopefully converted; but they felt that other means needed to be used, and they urged me so hard, that from Auburn I turned back through Rochester to Buffalo. I spent but about one month, I think, at Buffalo; during which time a large number of persons were hopefully converted.
The work at Buffalo, as at Auburn and Rochester, took effect very generally among the more influential classes. Rev. Dr. Lord, then a lawyer, was converted at that time, I think; also Mr. H, the father of Rev. Dr. H, of Buffalo. There were many circumstances connected with his conversion, that I have never forgotten. He was one of the most wealthy and influential men in Buffalo, and a man of outwardly good morals, fair character, and high standing as a citizen, but an impenitent sinner. His wife was a Christian woman, and had long been praying for him, and hoping that he would be converted. But when I began to preach there, and insisted that the sinner's "cannot" is his "will not", that the difficulty to be overcome was the voluntary wickedness of sinners, and that they were wholly unwilling to be Christians, Mr. H rebelled very decidedly against such teaching. He insisted upon it that it was false in his case; for he was conscious of being willing to be a Christian, and that he had long been willing.
As his wife informed me of the position that he occupied, I did not spare him; but from day to day, I hunted him from his refuges, and answered all his objections, and met all his excuses. He became more and more excited. He was a man of strong will; and he declared that he did not, and would not, believe such teaching. He said so much in opposition to the teaching, as to draw around him some men with whom he had no sympathy at all, except in their opposition to the work. But I did not hesitate to press him in every sermon, in one shape or another, with his unwillingness to be a Christian.
After his conversion, he told me that he was shocked and ashamed, when he found that some scoffers had taken refuge behind him. One evening, he said, he sat directly across the aisle from a notorious scoffer. He said that repeatedly while I was preaching, this man, with whom he had no sympathy at all on other subjects, would look toward him and smile, and give great indications of his fellowship with Mr. H's opposition to the revival. He said that on discovering this, his heart rose up with indignation; and he said to himself, "I am not going to be in sympathy with that class of men; I will have nothing to do with them."
However, that very night, at the close of my sermon, I pressed the consciences of sinners so hard, and made so strong an appeal to them to give up their voluntary opposition and come to Christ, that he could not contain himself. As soon as meeting was out, altogether contrary to his custom, he began to resist, and to speak against what had been said, before he got out of the house. The aisles were full, and people were crowding around him on every side. Indeed he made some profane expression, as his wife informed me, which very much disturbed her, as she felt that by his opposition he was very likely to grieve the Spirit of God away, and lose his soul.
That night he could not sleep. His mind was so exercised that he rose as soon as there was any light, left his house and went off to a considerable distance, where there was then a grove, near a place where he had some waterworks which he called the hydraulics. There in the grove he knelt down to pray. He said he had felt, during the night, as if he must get away by himself, so that he could speak aloud and let out his voice and his heart, as he was pressed beyond endurance with the sense of his sins, and with the necessity of immediately making his peace with God. But to his surprise and mortification, when he knelt down and attempted to pray, he found that his heart would not pray. He had no words; he had no desires that he could express in words. He said that it appeared to him that his heart was as hard as marble, and that he had not the least feeling on the subject. He stood upon his knees disappointed and confounded, and found that if he opened his mouth to pray, he had nothing in the form of prayer that he could sincerely utter.
In this state it occurred to him that he could say the Lord's prayer. So he began, "Our Father which art in heaven." He said as soon as he uttered the words, he was convicted of his hypocrisy in calling God his Father. When he added the petition, "Hallowed be thy name," he said it almost shocked him. He saw that he was not sincere, that his words did not at all express the state of his mind. He did not care to have God's name hallowed. Then he uttered the next petition, "Thy kingdom come." Upon this, he said, he almost choked. He saw that he did not want the kingdom of God to come; that it was hypocritical in him to say so, and that he could not say it, as really expressing the sincere desire of his heart. And then came the petition, "Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven." He said his heart rose up against that, and he could not say it. Here he was brought face to face with the will of God. He had been told from day to day that he was opposed to this will; that he was not willing to accept it; that it was his voluntary opposition to God, to His law, and His will, that was the only obstacle in the way of his conversion. This consideration he had resisted and fought with desperation. But here on his knees, with the Lord's prayer in his mouth, he was brought face to face with that question; and he saw with perfect clearness that what he had been told, was true: that he was not willing that God's will should be done; and that he did not do it himself, because he would not.
Here the whole question of his rebellion, in its nature and its extent, was brought so strongly before him, that he saw it would cost him a mighty struggle, to give up that voluntary opposition to God. And then, he said, he gathered up all the strength of his will and cried aloud, "Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven." He said he was perfectly conscious that his will went with his words; that he accepted the will of God, and the whole will of God; that he made a full surrender to God, and accepted Christ just as He was offered in the Gospel. He gave up his sins, and embraced the will of God as his universal rule of life. The language of his heart was, "Lord, do with me as seemeth thee good. Let thy will be done with me, and with all creatures on earth, as it is done in heaven." He said he prayed freely, as soon as his will surrendered; and his heart poured itself out like a flood. His rebellion all passed away, his feelings subsided into a great calm, and a sweet peace seemed to fill all his soul.
He rose from his knees and went to his house, and told his anxious wife, who had been praying for him so earnestly, what the Lord had done for his soul; and confessed that he had been all wrong in his opposition, and entirely deceived as it respected his willingness to be a Christian. From that time he became an earnest laborer for the promotion of the work of God. His subsequent life attested the reality of the change, and he lived and died a useful, Christian man. From Buffalo I went, in June, I think, to my father-in-law's, in Whitestown. I spent a part of the summer in journeying for recreation, and for the restoration of my health and strength.
Early in the autumn of 1831, I accepted an invitation to hold what was then called a protracted meeting, or a series of meetings, in Providence. I labored mostly in the church of which Rev. Dr. Wilson was at that time pastor. I think I remained there about three weeks, holding meetings every evening, and preaching three times on the Sabbath. The Lord poured out His Spirit immediately upon the people, and the work of grace commenced and went forward in a most interesting manner. However, my stay was too short to secure so general a work of grace in that place, as occurred afterwards in 1842, when I spent some two months there; the particulars of which I shall relate in its proper connection.
There were many interesting conversions at that time; and several of the men who have had a leading Christian influence in that city, from that time to the present day, were converted. This was also true of the women; many very interesting cases of conversion among them occurred. I remember with great distinctness the conversion of one young lady, which I will in brief relate. I had observed in the congregation, on the Sabbath, a young woman of great personal beauty, sitting in a pew with a young man who I afterwards learned was her brother. She had a very intellectual, and a very earnest look, and seemed to listen to every word I said, with the utmost attention and seriousness.
I was the guest of Mr. Josiah Chapin; and in going from the church with him to his own house, I observed this young brother and sister going up the same street. I pointed them out to Mr. Chapin, and asked him who they were. He informed me that they were a Mr. and a Miss A, brother and sister, and remarked that she was considered the most beautiful girl in Providence. I asked him if she was a professor of religion; and he said, no. I told him I thought her very seriously impressed, and asked him if he did not think it would be well for me to call and see her. He spoke discouragingly in regard to that, and thought it would be a waste of time, and that possibly I might not be cordially received. He thought that she was a girl so much caressed and flattered, and that her surroundings were such, that she probably entertained but little serious thought in regard to the salvation of her soul. But he was mistaken; and I was right in supposing that the Spirit of the Lord was striving with her.
I did not call upon her; but a few days after this, she called to see me. I knew her at once, and inquired of her in regard to the state of her soul. She was very thoroughly awakened; but her real convictions of sin, were not ripened into that state that I wished to see and which I thought was necessary, before she could be really brought intelligently to accept the righteousness of Christ. I therefore spent an hour or two, for her call was considerably protracted, in trying to show her the depravity of her heart. She at first recoiled from my searching questions. But her convictions seemed to ripen as I conversed with her; and she became more and more profoundly serious.
When I had said to her what I thought was necessary to secure a ripened and thorough conviction, under the influence of the Spirit of God, she got up with a manifest feeling of dissatisfaction, and left me. I was confident the Spirit of God had so thoroughly taken hold of her case, that what I had said to her would not be shaken off, but on the contrary that it would work the conviction that I sought to produce.
Two or three days afterwards she called on me again. I could see at once that she was greatly bowed down in her spirit. As soon as she came in she sat down, and threw her heart open to me. With the utmost candor she said to me, "Mr. Finney, I thought when I was here before, that your questions and treatment of me were pretty severe. But," said she, "I see now that I am all that you represented me to be. Indeed," said she, "had it not been for my pride and regard for my reputation, I should have been as wicked a girl as there is in Providence. I can see," said she, "clearly that my life has been restrained by pride, and a regard to my reputation, and not from any regard to God, or His law or Gospel. I can see that God has made use of my pride and ambition, to restrain me from disgraceful iniquities. I have been petted and flattered, and have stood upon my dignity; and have maintained my reputation, from purely selfish motives." She went on spontaneously, and owned up, and showed that her convictions were thorough and permanent. She did not appear to be excited, but calm, and in the highest degree rational, in everything that she said. It was evident, however, that she had a fervent nature, a strong will, and an uncommonly well-balanced and cultivated intellect.
After conversing with her for some time, and giving her as thorough instruction as I could, we bowed before the Lord in prayer; and she, to all human appearance, gave herself unreservedly to Christ. She was in a state of mind, at this time, that seemed to render it easy for her to renounce the world. She has always been a very interesting Christian. Not many years after her conversion, she was married to a wealthy gentleman in the city of New York. For several years I had no direct correspondence with her. Her husband took her into a circle of society with which I had no particular acquaintance; and, until after he died, I did not renew my acquaintance with her. Since then I have had much Christian correspondence with her, and have never ceased to be greatly interested in her religious life. I mention this case, because I have ever regarded it as a wonderful triumph of the grace of God over the fascinations of the world. The grace of God was too strong for the world, even in a case like this, in which every worldly fascination was surrounding her.
While I was at Providence, the question of my going to Boston was agitated by the ministers and deacons of the several Congregational churches of that city. I was not myself aware of what they were doing there; but Dr. Wisner, then pastor of the Old South church, came over to Providence and attended our meetings. I afterward learned that he was sent over by the ministers, to spy out the land and bring back a report. I had several conversations with him, and he manifested an almost enthusiastic interest in what he saw and heard in Providence. About the time he was there, some very striking conversions took place.
The work at Providence was of a peculiarly searching character, as it respected professors of religion. Old hopes were terribly shaken, and there was a great shaking among the dry bones in the different churches. So terribly was a deacon of one of the churches searched on one occasion, that he said to me, as I came out of the pulpit, "Mr. Finney, I do not believe there are ten real Christians in Providence. We are all wrong," said he; "we have been deceived." Dr. Wisner, I believe, was thoroughly convinced that the work was genuine, and for the time, extensive; and that there was no indication of influences or results that were to be deplored.
After Dr. Wisner returned to Boston, I soon received a request from the Congregational ministers and churches, to go to that city and labor. Dr. Lyman Beecher was at that time pastor of the Bowdoin street church; his son, Edward Beecher, was either pastor or stated supply at Park street; a Mr. Green was pastor of the Essex street church, but had gone to Europe for his health, and that church was without any stated supply at the time. Dr. Fay was pastor of the Congregational church in Charlestown; and Dr. Jenks was pastor of the Congregational church in Green street. I do not recollect who were the pastors of the other churches at the time.
I began my labors by preaching around in the different churches on the Sabbath, and on week evenings I preached in Park street. I soon saw that the Word of God was taking effect, and that the interest was increasing from day to day. But I perceived also that there needed to be a great searching among professed Christians. I could not learn that there was among them anything like the spirit of prayer that had prevailed in the revivals at the West and in New York City. There seemed to be a peculiar type of religion there, not exhibiting that freedom and strength of faith which I had been in the habit of seeing in New York.
I therefore began to preach some searching sermons to Christians. Indeed I gave out on the Sabbath, that I would preach a series of sermons to Christians, in Park street, on certain evenings of the week. But I soon found that these sermons were not at all palatable to the Christians of Boston. It was something they never had been used to, and the attendance at Park street became less and less, especially on those evenings when I preached to professed Christians. This was new to me. I had never before seen professed Christians shrink back, as they did at that time in Boston, from searching sermons. But I heard, again and again, of speeches like these: "What will the Unitarians say, if such things are true of us who are orthodox? If Mr. Finney preaches to us in this way, the Unitarians will triumph over us, and say, that at least the orthodox are no better Christians than Unitarians." It was evident that they somewhat resented my plain dealing, and that my searching sermons astonished, and even offended, very many of them. However, as the work went forward, this state of things changed greatly; and after a few weeks they would listen to searching preaching, and came to appreciate it.
I found in Boston, as I had everywhere else, that there was a method of dealing with inquiring sinners, that was very trying to me. I used sometimes to hold meetings of inquiry with Dr. Beecher, in the basement of his church. One evening when there was a large attendance, and a feeling of great searching and solemnity among the inquirers, at the close, as was my custom, I made an address in which I tried to point out to them exactly what the Lord required of them. My object was to bring them to renounce themselves and their all, and give themselves and all they possessed to Christ. I tried to show them that they were not their own, but were bought with a price; and pointed out to them the sense in which they were expected to forsake all that they had, and deliver everything to Christ as belonging to Him.
I made this point as clear as I possibly could, and saw that the impression upon the inquirers seemed to be very deep. I was about to call on them to kneel down, while we presented them to God in prayer; when Dr. Beecher arose, and said to them, "You need not be afraid to give up all to Christ, your property and all, for He will give it right back to you." Without making any just discriminations at all, as to the sense in which they were to give up their possessions, and the sense in which the Lord would allow them to retain them, he simply exhorted them not to be afraid to give up all, as they had been urged to do, as the Lord would give it right back to them. I saw that he was making a false impression, and I felt in an agony. I saw that his language was calculated to make an impression, the direct opposite of the truth.
After he had finished his remarks, as wisely and carefully as I could, I led them to see that, in the sense of which God required them to give up their possessions, he would never give them back, and they must not entertain such a thought. I tried to say what I said, in such a way as not to appear to contradict Dr. Beecher, but yet thoroughly to correct the impression that I saw he had made. I told them that the Lord did not require them to relinquish all their possessions, to quit their business, and houses, and possessions, and never to have possession of them again; but He did require them to renounce the ownership of them, to understand and realize that these things were not their's, but the Lord's; that His claim was absolute, and His property in themselves and in everything else, so entirely above the right of every other being in the universe, that what He required of them was to use themselves and everything else as belonging to Him; and never to think that they had a right to use their time, their strength, their substance, their influence, or anything else which they possessed, as if it were their own, and not the Lord's.
Dr. Beecher made no objection to what I said, either at the time, or ever, so far as I know; and it is not probable that he intended anything inconsistent with this, in what he said. Yet his language was calculated to make the impression that God would restore their possessions to them, in the sense in which they had relinquished them, and given them up to Him.
The members of the orthodox churches of Boston, at this time, generally, I believe, received my views of doctrine without question. I know that Dr. Beecher did; for he told me that he had never seen a man with whose theological views he so entirely accorded, as he did with mine. There was one point of my orthodoxy, however, to which many of them at the time objected. There was a Mr. Rand, who published, I think, a periodical in Boston at that time, who wrote an earnest article against my views on the subject of the divine agency in regeneration. I preached that the divine agency was that of teaching and persuasion, that the influence was a moral, and not a physical one. President Edwards had held the contrary; and Mr. Rand held with President Edwards, that the divine agency exercised in regeneration, was a physical one; that it produced a change of nature, instead of a change in the voluntary attitude and preference of the soul. Mr. Rand regarded my views on this subject as quite out of the way.
There were some other points of doctrine upon which he dwelt in a critical manner; such, for example, as my views of the voluntary nature of moral depravity, and the sinner's activity in regeneration.
Dr. Wisner wrote a reply, and justified my views, with the exception of those that I maintained on the persuasive or moral influence of the Holy Spirit. He was not then prepared to take the ground, against President Edwards, and the general orthodox view of New England, that the Spirit's agency was not physical, but only moral. Dr. Woods, of Andover, also published an article in one of the periodicals, I believe the one published at Andover, under this title: "The Holy Ghost the author of regeneration." This was, I think, the title; at any rate the design was to prove that regeneration was the work of God. He quoted of course, that class of scriptures that assert the divine agency, in the work of changing the heart.
To this, I made no reply in writing; but in my preaching I said that was only a half truth; that the Bible just as plainly asserts that regeneration is the work of man; and I quoted those passages that affirm it. Paul said to one of the churches, that he had begotten them, that is regenerated them; for the same word is used as in other passages, where regeneration is ascribed to God. It is easy, therefore, to show that God has an agency in regeneration, and that His agency is that of teaching or persuasion. It is also easy to show that the subject has an agency; that the acts of repentance, faith, and love are his own; and that the Spirit persuades him to put forth these acts, by presenting to him the truth. As the truth is the instrument, the Holy Spirit must be one of the agents; and a preacher, or some human, intelligent agent, generally, also cooperates in the work. There was nothing at all unchristian, that I recollect, in any of the discussions that we had, at that time; nothing that grieved the Spirit or produced any unkind feelings among the brethren.
After I had spent some weeks, in preaching about in the different congregations, I consented to supply Mr. Green's church in Essex street statedly, for a time. I therefore concentrated my labors upon that field. We had a blessed work of grace; and a large number of persons were converted in different parts of the city.
I had become fatigued, as I had labored about ten years as an evangelist, without anything more than a few days or weeks of rest, during the whole period. The ministerial brethren were true men, had taken hold of the work as well as they knew how, and labored faithfully and efficiently in securing good results.
By this time, a second free church had been formed in New York City. Mr. Joel Parker's church, the first free church, had grown so large, that a colony had gone off, and formed a second church; to which Rev. Mr. Barrows, of late years professor at Andover, had been preaching. Some earnest brethren wrote to me from New York, proposing to lease a theater, and fit it up for a church, upon condition that I would come there and preach. They proposed to get what was called the Chatham street theater, in the heart of the most irreligious population of New York. It was owned by men who were very willing to have it transformed into a church. At this time we had three children, and I could not well take my family with me, while laboring as an evangelist. My strength, too, had become a good deal exhausted; and on praying and looking the matter over, I concluded that I would accept the call from the Second Free church, and labor, for a time at least, in New York.
CHAPTER XXIII. Back
LABORS IN NEW YORK CITY IN 1832, AND ONWARD.
MR. LEWIS TAPPAN, with other Christian brethren, leased the Chatham street theatre, and fitted it up for a church, and as a suitable place to accommodate the various charitable societies, in holding their anniversaries. They called me, and I accepted the pastorate of the second Free Presbyterian church. I left Boston in April, 1832, and commenced labors in that theatre, at that time. The Spirit of the Lord was immediately poured out upon us, and we had an extensive revival that spring and summer.
About midsummer the cholera appeared in New York, for the first time. The panic became great, and a great many Christian people fled into the country. The cholera was very severe in the city that summer, more so than it ever has been since; and it was especially fatal in the part of the city where I resided. I recollect counting, from the door of our house, five hearses drawn up at the same time, at different doors within sight. I remained in New York until quite the latter part of summer, not being willing to leave the city while the mortality was so great. But I found that the influence was undermining my health, and in the latter part of summer I went into the country, for two or three weeks. On my return, I was installed as pastor of the church. During the installation services, I was taken ill; and soon after I got home, it was plain that I was seized with the cholera. The gentleman at the next door, was seized about the same time, and before morning he was dead. The means used for my recovery, gave my system a terrible shock from which it took me long to recover. However, toward spring I was able to preach again. I invited two ministerial brethren to help me in holding a series of meetings. We preached in turn for two or three weeks, but very little was accomplished. I saw that it was not the way to promote a revival there, and I drew the meeting, in that form, to a close.
On the next Sabbath, I made appointments to preach every evening during the week and a revival immediately commenced, and became very powerful. I continued to preach for twenty evenings in succession, beside preaching on the Sabbath. My health was not yet vigorous, and after preaching twenty evenings, I suspended that form of my labors. The converts known to us numbered five hundred, and our church became so large, that very soon a colony was sent off to form another church; and a suitable building was erected for that purpose, on the corner of Madison and Catharine streets.
The work continued to go forward, in a very interesting manner. We held meetings of inquiry once or twice a week, and sometimes oftener, and found that every week, a goodly number of conversions was reported. The church were a praying, working people. They were thoroughly united, were well trained in regard to labors for the conversion of sinners, and were a most devoted and efficient church of Christ. They would go out into the highways and hedges, and bring people to hear preaching, whenever they were called upon to do so. Both men and women would undertake this work. When we wished to give notice of any extra meetings, little slips of paper, on which was printed an invitation to attend the services, would be carried from house to house, in every direction, by the members of the church; especially in that part of the city in which Chatham street chapel, as we called it, was located. By the distribution of these slips, and by oral invitations, the house could be filled, any evening in the week. Our ladies were not afraid to go and gather in all classes, from the neighborhood round about. It was something new to have religious services in that theatre, instead of such scenes as had formerly been enacted there.
There were three rooms, connected with the front part of the theatre, long, large rooms, which were fitted up for prayer meetings, and for a lecture room. These rooms had been used for very different purposes, while the main building was occupied as a theatre. But, when fitted up for our purpose, they were exceedingly convenient. There were three tiers of galleries; and those rooms were connected with the galleries respectively, one above the other.
I instructed my church members to scatter themselves over the whole house, and to keep their eyes open, in regard to any that were seriously affected under preaching, and if possible, to detain them after preaching, for conversation and prayer. They were true to their teaching, and were on the lookout at every meeting to see, with whom the Word of God was taking effect; and they had faith enough to dismiss their fears, and to speak to any whom they saw to be affected by the Word. In this way the conversion of a great many souls was secured. They would invite them into those rooms, and there we could converse and pray with them, and thus gather up the results of every sermon.
A case which I this moment recollect, will illustrate the manner in which the members would work. The firm of Naylor and Company, who were at that time the great cutlery manufacturers in Sheffield, England, had a house in New York, and a partner by the name of H. Mr. H was a worldly man, had traveled a great deal, and had resided in several of the principal cities of Europe. One of the clerks of that establishment had come to our meetings and been converted, and felt very anxious for the conversion of Mr. H. The young man, for some time, hesitated about asking him to attend our meetings, but he finally ventured to do so; and in compliance with his earnest entreaty, Mr. H came one evening to meeting.
As it happened, he sat near the broad aisle, over against where Mr. Tappan sat. Mr. Tappan saw that, during the sermon, he manifested a good deal of emotion; and seemed uneasy at times, as if he were on the point of going out. Mr. H afterwards acknowledged to me, that he was several times on the point of leaving, because he was so affected by the sermon. But he remained till the blessing was pronounced. Mr. Tappan kept his eye upon him, and as soon as the blessing was pronounced, introduced himself as Mr. Tappan, a partner of Arthur Tappan and Company, a firm well known to everybody in New York.
I have heard Mr. H himself relate the facts, with great emotion. He said that Mr. Tappan stepped up to him, and took him gently by the button of his coat, and spoke very kindly to him, and asked him if he would not remain for prayer and conversation. He tried to excuse himself and to get away; but Mr. Tappan was so gentlemanly and so kind, that he could not even get away from him. He was importunate, and, as Mr. H expressed it, "He held fast to my button, so that," said he, "an ounce weight at my button was the means of saving my soul." The people retired, and Mr. H among others, was persuaded to remain. According to our custom we had a thorough conversation; and Mr. H was either then, or very soon after, hopefully converted.
When I first went to Chatham street chapel, I informed the brethren that I did not wish to fill up the house with Christians from other churches as my object was to gather from the world. I wanted to secure the conversion of the ungodly, to the utmost possible extent. We therefore gave ourselves to labor for that class of persons, and by the blessing of God, with good success. Conversions were multiplied so much, that our church would soon become so large, that we would send off a colony; and when I left New York, I think, we had seven free churches, whose members were laboring with all their might to secure the salvation of souls. They were supported mostly by collections, that were taken up from Sabbath to Sabbath. If at any time there was a deficiency in the treasury, there were a number of brethren of property, who would at once supply the deficiency from their own purses; so that we never had the least difficulty in meeting the pecuniary demands.
A more harmonious, prayerful, and efficient people, I never knew, than were the members of those free churches. They were not among the rich, although there were several men of property belonging to them. In general they were gathered from the middle and lower classes of the people. This was what we aimed to accomplish, to preach the Gospel especially to the poor.
When I first went to New York, I had made up my mind on the question of slavery, and was exceedingly anxious to arouse public attention to the subject. I did not, however, turn aside to make it a hobby, or divert the attention of the people from the work of converting souls. Nevertheless, in my prayers and preaching, I so often alluded to slavery, and denounced it, that a considerable excitement came to exist among the people.
While I was laboring at Chatham street chapel, some events occurred connected with the presbytery, that led to the formation of a Congregational church, and to my becoming its pastor. A member came to us from one of the old churches; and we were soon informed that, before he came, he had committed an offense for which he needed to be disciplined. I supposed that, since he had been recommended to us as a member of another church in good standing, and since the offense had been committed before he left that church, that it belonged to them to discipline him. The question was brought before the Third Presbytery of New York, to which I then belonged, and they decided that he was under our jurisdiction, and that it belonged to us to take the case in hand, and discipline him. We did so.
But soon another case occurred, in which a woman came from one of the churches, and united with us, and we found that she had been guilty of an offense, before she came to us, which called for discipline. In accordance with the ruling of the presbytery in the other case, we went forward and excommunicated her. She appealed from the decision of the session, to the presbytery; and they decided that the offense was not committed under our jurisdiction, and ruled in a manner directly opposite to their former ruling. I expostulated, and told them that I did not know how to act; that the two cases were precisely similar, and that their rulings in the two cases were entirely inconsistent, and opposed to each other. Dr. Cox replied that they would not be governed by their own precedent, or by any other precedent; and talked so warmly, and pressed the case so hard, that the presbytery went with him.
Soon after this, the question came up of building the Tabernacle in Broadway. The men that built it, and the leading members who formed the church there, built it with the understanding that I should be its pastor, and they formed a Congregational church. I then took my dismission from the presbytery, and became pastor of that Congregational church.
But I should have said that in January, 1834, I was obliged to leave on account of my health, and take a sea voyage. I went up the Mediterranean, therefore, in a small brig, in the midst of winter. We had a very stormy passage. My stateroom was small, and I was on the whole, very uncomfortable; and the voyage did not much improve my health. I spent some weeks at Malta, and also in Sicily. I was gone about six months. On my return, I found that there was a great excitement in New York. The members of my church, together with other abolitionists in New York, had held a meeting on the fourth of July, and had an address on the subject of slaveholding. A mob was stirred up, and this was the beginning of that series of mobs that spread in many directions, whenever and wherever there was an anti-slavery gathering, or a voice lifted up against the abominable institution of slavery.
However, I went forward in my labors in Chatham street. The work of God immediately revived and went forward with great interest, numbers being converted at almost or quite every meeting. I continued to labor thus in Chatham street, and the church continued to flourish, and to extend its influence and its labors, in every direction, until the Tabernacle in Broadway was completed.
The plan of the interior of that house was my own. I had observed the defects of churches in regard to sound; and was sure that I could give the plan of a church, in which I could easily speak to a much larger congregation than any house would hold, that I had ever seen. An architect was consulted, and I gave him my plan. But he objected to it, that it would not appear well, and feared that it would injure his reputation, to build a church with such an interior as that. I told him that if he would not build it on that plan, he was not the man to superintend its construction at all. It was finally built in accordance with my ideas; and it was a most commodious, and comfortable place to speak in.
In this connection I must relate the origin of the New York Evangelist. When I first went to the city of New York, and before I went there, the New York Observer, in the hands of Mr. Morse, had gone into the controversy originating in Mr. Nettleton's opposition to the revivals in central New York. The Observer had sustained Mr. Nettleton's course, and refused to publish anything on the other side. The writings of Mr. Nettleton and his friends, Mr. Morse would publish in the Observer; but if any reply was made, by any of the friends of those revivals, he would not publish it. In this state of things, our friends had no organ through which they could communicate with the public to correct misapprehensions.
Judge Jonas Platt, of the supreme court, was then living in New York, and was a friend of mine. His son and daughter had been hopefully converted in the revival at Utica. Considerable effort was made, by the friends of those revivals, to get a hearing on the question in debate, but all in vain. Judge Platt found one day, pasted on the inside of the cover of one of his old law books, a letter written by one of the pastors in New York, against Whitefield, at the time he was in this country. That letter of the New York pastor struck Judge Platt, as so strongly resembling the opposition made by Mr. Nettleton, that he sent it to the New York Observer, and wished it to be published as a literary curiosity, it having been written nearly a hundred years before. Mr. Morse refused to publish it, assigning as a reason, that the people would regard it as applying to the opposition of Mr. Nettleton.
At length, some of the friends of the revivals in New York, assembled and talked the matter over, of establishing a new paper that should deal fairly with those questions. They finally commenced the enterprise. I assisted them in getting out the first number, in which I invited ministers and laymen to consider, and discuss several questions in theology, and also questions relating to the best means of promoting revivals of religion.
The first editor of the paper was a Mr. Saxton, a young man who had formerly labored a good deal with Mr. Nettleton, but who strongly disapproved of the course he had been taking, in opposing what he then called the western revivals. This young man continued in the editorial chair about a year, and discussed, with considerable ability, many of the questions that had been proposed for discussion. The paper changed editors two or three times, perhaps, in the course of as many years; and finally Rev. Joshua Leavitt was called, and accepted the editorial chair. He, as everybody knows, was an able editor. The paper soon went into extensive circulation, and proved itself a medium through which the friends of revivals, as they then existed, could communicate their thoughts to the public.
I have spoken of the building of the Tabernacle, and of the excitement in New York on the subject of slavery. When the Tabernacle was in the process of completion, its walls being up, and the roof on, a story was set in circulation that it was going to be an amalgamation church, in which colored and white people were to be compelled to sit promiscuously, over the house. Such was the state of the public mind in New York, at that time, that this report created a great excitement, and somebody set the building on fire. The firemen were in such a state of mind that they refused to put it out, and left the interior and roof to be consumed. However the gentlemen who had undertaken to build it, went forward and completed it.
As the excitement increased on the subject of slavery, Mr. Leavitt espoused the cause of the slave, and advocated it in the New York Evangelist. I watched the discussion with a good deal of attention and anxiety, and when I was about to leave, on the sea voyage to which I have referred, I admonished Mr. Leavitt to be careful and not go too fast, in the discussion of the anti-slavery question, lest he should destroy his paper. On my homeward passage my mind became exceedingly exercised on the question of revivals. I feared that they would decline throughout the country. I feared that the opposition that had been made to them, had grieved the Holy Spirit. My own health, it appeared to me, had nearly or quite broken down; and I knew of no other evangelist that would take the field, and aid pastors in revival work. This view of the subject distressed me so much that one day I found myself unable to rest. My soul was in an utter agony. I spent almost the entire day in prayer in my stateroom, or walking the deck in intense agony, in view of the state of things. In fact I felt crushed with the burden that was on my soul. There was no one on board to whom I could open my mind, or say a word.
It was the spirit of prayer that was upon me; that which I had often before experienced in kind, but perhaps never before to such a degree, for so long a time. I besought the Lord to go on with His work, and to provide Himself with such instrumentalities as were necessary. It was a long summer day, in the early part of July. After a day of unspeakable wrestling and agony in my soul, just at night, the subject cleared up to my mind. The Spirit led me to believe that all would come out right, and that God had yet a work for me to do; that I might be at rest; that the Lord would go forward with His work and give me strength to take any part in it that He desired. But I had not the least idea what the course of His providence would be.
On arriving at New York I found, as I have said, the mob excitement, on the subject of slavery, very intense. I remained but a day or two in New York, and went into the country, to the place where my family were spending the summer. On my return to New York, in the fall, Mr. Leavitt came to me and said, "Brother Finney, I have ruined the Evangelist. I have not been as prudent as you cautioned me to be, and I have gone so far ahead of public intelligence and feeling on the subject, that my subscription list is rapidly failing; and we shall not be able to continue its publication beyond the first of January, unless you can do something to bring the paper back to public favor again." I told him my health was such that I did not know what I could do; but I would make it a subject of prayer. He said if I could write a series of articles on revivals, he had no doubt it would restore the paper immediately to public favor. After considering it a day or two, I proposed to preach a course of lectures to my people, on revivals of religion, which he might report for his paper. He caught at this at once. Said he, "That is the very thing;" and in the next number of his paper he advertised the course of lectures. This had the effect he desired, and he soon after told me that the subscription list was very rapidly increasing; and, stretching out his long arms, he said, "I have as many new subscribers every day, as would fill my arms with papers, to supply them each a single number." He had told me before, that his subscription list had fallen off at the rate of sixty a day. But now he said it was increasing more rapidly than it ever had decreased.
I began the course of lectures immediately, and continued them through the winter, preaching one each week. Mr. Leavitt could not write shorthand, but would sit and take notes, abridging what he wrote, in such a way that he could understand it himself; and then the next day he would sit down and fill out his notes, and send them to the press. I did not see what he had reported, until I saw it published in his paper. I did not myself write the lectures, of course; they were wholly extemporaneous. I did not make up my mind, from time to time, what the next lecture should be, until I saw his report of my last. Then I could see what was the next question that would naturally need discussion. Brother Leavitt's reports were meager, as it respects the matter contained in the lectures. The lectures averaged, if I remember right, not less than an hour and three quarters, in their delivery. But all that he could catch and report, could be read, probably in thirty minutes.
These lectures were afterward published in a book, and called, "Finney's Lectures on Revivals." Twelve thousand copies of them were sold, as fast as they could be printed. And here, for the glory of Christ, I would say, that they have been reprinted in England and France; they were translated into Welsh; and on the continent were translated into French and, I believe, into German; and were very extensively circulated throughout Europe, and the colonies of Great Britain. They were, I presume, to be found wherever the English language is spoken. After they had been printed in Welsh, the Congregational ministers of the Principality of Wales, at one of their public meetings, appointed a committee to inform me of the great revival that had resulted from the translation of those lectures into the Welsh language. This they did by letter. One publisher in London informed me, that his father had published eighty thousand volumes of them. These revival lectures, meager as was the report of them, and feeble as they were in themselves, have been instrumental, as I have learned, in promoting revivals in England, and Scotland, and Wales, on the continent in various places, in Canada East and West, in Nova Scotia, and in some of the islands of the sea.
In England and Scotland, I have often been refreshed by meeting with ministers and laymen, in great numbers, that had been converted, directly or indirectly, through the instrumentality of those lectures. I recollect the last time that I was abroad, one evening, three very prominent ministers of the Gospel introduced themselves to me, after the sermon, and said that when they were in college they got hold of my revival lectures, which had resulted in their becoming ministers. I found persons in England, in all the different denominations, who had not only read those revival lectures, but had been greatly blessed in reading them. When they were first published in the New York Evangelist, the reading of them resulted in revivals of religion, in multitudes of places throughout this country.
But this was not of man's wisdom. Let the reader remember that long day of agony and prayer at sea, that God would do something to forward the work of revivals, and enable me, if He desired to do it, to take such a course as to help forward the work. I felt certain then that my prayers would be answered; and I have regarded all that I have since been able to accomplish, as, in a very important sense, an answer to the prayers of that day. The spirit of prayer came upon me as a sovereign grace, bestowed upon me without the least merit, and in despite of all my sinfulness. He pressed my soul in prayer, until I was enabled to prevail; and through infinite riches of grace in Christ Jesus, I have been many years witnessing the wonderful results of that day of wrestling with God. In answer to that day's agony, He has continued to give me the spirit of prayer.
Soon after I returned to New York, I commenced my labors in the Tabernacle. The Spirit of the Lord was poured out upon us, and we had a precious revival, as long as I continued to be pastor of that church. While in New York, I had many applications from young men, to take them as students in theology. I, however, had too much on my hands, to undertake such a work. But the brethren who built the Tabernacle had this in view; and prepared a room under the choir, which we expected to use for prayer meetings, but more especially for a theological lecture room. The number of applications had been so large, that I had made up my mind to deliver a course of theological lectures in that room each year, and let such students as chose, attend them gratuitously.
But about this time, and before I had opened my lectures in New York, the breaking up at Lane Seminary took place, on account of the prohibition by the trustees, of the discussion of the question of slavery among the students. When this occurred, Mr. Arthur Tappan proposed to me, that if I would go to some point in Ohio, and take rooms where I could gather those young men, and give them my views in theology, and prepare them for the work of preaching throughout the West, he would be at the entire expense of the undertaking. He was very earnest in this proposal. But I did not know how to leave New York; and I did not see how I could accomplish the wishes of Mr. Tappan, although I strongly sympathized with him in regard to helping those young men. They were most of them converts in those great revivals, in which I had taken more or less part.
While this subject was under consideration, I think, in January, 1835, Rev. John Jay Shipherd, of Oberlin, and Rev. Asa Mahan, of Cincinnati, arrived in New York, to persuade me to go to Oberlin, as professor of theology. Mr. Mahan had been one of the trustees of Lane Seminary--the only one, I think, that had resisted the prohibition of free discussion. Mr. Shipherd had founded a colony, and organized a school at Oberlin, about a year before this time, and had obtained a charter broad enough for a university. Mr. Mahan had never been in Oberlin. The trees had been removed from the college square, some dwelling-houses and one college building had been erected, and about a hundred pupils had been gathered, in the preparatory or academic department of the institution.
The proposal they laid before me was, to come on, and take those students that had left Lane Seminary, and teach them theology. These students had themselves proposed to go to Oberlin, in case I would accept the call. This proposal met the views of Arthur and Lewis Tappan, and many of the friends of the slave, who sympathized with Mr. Tappan, in his wish to have those young men instructed, and brought into the ministry. We had several consultations on the subject. The brethren in New York who were interested in the question, offered, if I would go and spend half of each year in Oberlin, to endow the institution, so far as the professorships were concerned, and to do it immediately.
I had understood that the trustees of Lane Seminary had acted over the heads of the faculty; and, in the absence of several of them, had passed the obnoxious resolution that had caused the students to leave. I said, therefore, to Mr. Shipherd, that I would not go at any rate, unless two points were conceded by the trustees. One was, that they should never interfere with the internal regulation of the school, but should leave that entirely to the discretion of the faculty. The other was, that we should be allowed to receive colored people on the same conditions that we did white people; that there should be no discrimination made on account of color.
When these conditions were forwarded to Oberlin, the trustees were called together, and after a great struggle to overcome their own prejudices, and the prejudices of the community, they passed resolutions complying with the conditions proposed. This difficulty being removed, the friends in New York were called together, to see what they could do about endowing the institution. In the course of an hour or two, they had a subscription filled for the endowment of eight professorships; as many, it was supposed, as the institution would need for several years.
But after this endowment fund was subscribed, I felt a great difficulty in giving up that admirable place for preaching the Gospel, where such crowds were gathered within the sound of my voice. I felt, too, assured that in this new enterprise, we should have great opposition from many sources. I therefore told Arthur Tappan that my mind did not feel at rest upon the subject; that we should meet with great opposition because of our anti-slavery principles; and that we could expect to get but very scanty funds to put up our buildings, and to procure all the requisite apparatus of a college; that therefore I did not see my way clear, after all, to commit myself, unless something could be done that should guarantee us the funds that were indispensable.
Arthur Tappan's heart was as large as all New York, and I might say, as large as the world. When I laid the case thus before him, he said, "Brother Finney, my own income averages about a hundred thousand dollars a year. Now if you will go to Oberlin, take hold of that work, and go on, and see that the buildings are put up, and a library and everything provided, I will pledge you my entire income, except what I need to provide for my family, till you are beyond pecuniary want." Having perfect confidence in brother Tappan I said, "That will do. Thus far the difficulties are out of the way."
But still there was a great difficulty in leaving my church in New York. I had never thought of having my labors at Oberlin interfere with my revival labors and preaching. It was therefore agreed between myself and the church, that I should spend my winters in New York, and my summers at Oberlin; and that the church would be at the expense of my going and coming.
When this was arranged, I took my family, and arrived in Oberlin at the beginning of summer, 1835.
CHAPTER XXIV. Back
EARLY LABORS IN OBERLIN.
THE students from Lane Seminary came to Oberlin, and the trustees put up barracks, in which they were lodged, and other students thronged to us from every direction. After I was engaged to come, the brethren at Oberlin wrote, requesting me to bring a large tent, to hold meetings in; as there was no room in the place, large enough to accommodate the people. I made this request known to some of my brethren, who told me to go and get a tent made, and they would furnish the money. I went and engaged the tent, and they handed me the money to pay for it. It was a circular tent, a hundred feet in diameter, furnished with all the equipment for putting it up. At the top of the center pole which supported the tent, was a streamer, upon which was written in very large characters, "Holiness to the Lord." This tent was of great service to us. When the weather would permit, we spread it upon the square every Sabbath, and held public services in it; and several of our earliest commencements were held in it. It was used, to some extent also, for holding protracted meetings in the region round about, where there were no churches large enough to meet the necessities.
I have spoken of the promise of Arthur Tappan to supply us with funds, to the extent of his whole income, till we were beyond pecuniary want. Upon this understanding with him, I entered upon the work. But it was farther understood between us, that his pledge should not be known to the trustees, lest they should fail to make due efforts, as he desired, not merely to collect funds, but to make the wants and objects of the institution known throughout the land. In accordance with this understanding, the work here was pushed as fast as it could well be, considering that we were in the heart of a great forest, and in a location, at that time in many respects undesirable.
We had only fairly entered upon the work of putting up our buildings, and had arranged to need a large amount of money, when the great commercial crash prostrated Mr. Tappan, and nearly all the men who had subscribed for the fund for the support of the faculty. The commercial crash went over the country, and prostrated the great mass of wealthy men. It left us, not only without funds for the support of the faculty, but thirty thousand dollars in debt; without any prospect, that we could see, of obtaining funds from the friends of the college in this country. Mr. Tappan wrote me at this time, acknowledging expressly the promise he had made me, and expressing the deepest regret that he was prostrated, and wholly unable to fulfill his pledge. Our necessities were then great, and to human view it would seem that the college must be a failure.
The great mass of the people of Ohio were utterly opposed to our enterprise, because of its abolition character. The towns around us were hostile to our movement, and in some places threats were made to come and tear down our buildings. A democratic legislature was, in the meantime, endeavoring to get some hold of us, that would enable them to abrogate our charter. In this state of things there was, of course, a great crying to God among the people here.
In the meantime, my revival lectures had been very extensively circulated in England; and we were aware that the British public would strongly sympathize with us, if they knew our objects, our prospects, and our condition. We therefore sent an agency to England, composed of Rev. John Keep and Mr. William Dawes, having obtained for them letters of recommendation, and expressions of confidence in our enterprise, from some of the leading anti-slavery men of the country. They went to England, and laid our objects and our wants before the British public. They generously responded, and gave us six thousand pounds sterling. This very nearly canceled our indebtedness.
Our friends, scattered throughout the northern states, who were abolitionists and friends of revivals, generously aided us to the extent of their ability. But we had to struggle with poverty and many trials, for a course of years. Sometimes we did not know, from day to day, how we were to be provided for. But with the blessing of God we helped ourselves, as best we could.
At one time, I saw no means of providing for my family through the winter. Thanksgiving day came, and found us so poor that I had been obliged to sell my traveling trunk, which I had used in my evangelistic labors, to supply the place of a cow which I had lost. I rose on the morning of Thanksgiving, and spread our necessities before the Lord. I finally concluded by saying that, if help did not come, I should assume that it was best that it should not; and would be entirely satisfied with any course that the Lord would see it wise to take. I went and preached, and enjoyed my own preaching as well, I think, as I ever did. I had a blessed day to my own soul; and I could see that the people enjoyed it exceedingly.
After the meeting, I was detained a little while in conversation with some brethren, and my wife returned home. When I reached the gate, she was standing in the open door, with a letter in her hand. As I approached she smilingly said, "The answer has come, my dear;" and handed me the letter containing a check from Mr. Josiah Chapin of Providence, for two hundred dollars. He had been here the previous summer, with his wife. I had said nothing about my wants at all, as I never was in the habit of mentioning them to anybody. But in the letter containing the check, he said he had learned that the endowment fund had failed, and that I was in want of help. He intimated that I might expect more, from time to time. He continued to send me six hundred dollars a year, for several years; and on this I managed to live.
I should have said that, agreeably to my arrangement in New York, I spent my summers at Oberlin, and my winters at New York, for two or three years. We had a blessed reviving, whenever I returned to preach there. We also had a revival here continually. Very few students came here then without being converted. But my health soon became such that I found, I must relinquish one of these fields of labor. But the interests connected with the college, seemed to forbid utterly that I should leave it. I therefore took a dismission from my church in New York, and the winter months which I was to have spent in New York, I spent in laboring, in various places, to promote revivals of religion.
The lectures on revivals of religion were preached while I was still pastor of the Presbyterian church in Chatham street chapel. The two following winters, I gave lectures to Christians in the Broadway Tabernacle which were also reported by Mr. Leavitt, and published in the New York Evangelist. These also have been printed in a volume in this country and in Europe. Those sermons to Christians were very much the result of a searching that was going on in my own mind. I mean that the Spirit of God was showing me many things, in regard to the question of sanctification, that led me to preach those sermons to Christians.
Many Christians regarded those lectures as rather an exhibition of the Law, than of the Gospel. But I did not, and do not, so regard them. For me the Law and Gospel have but one rule of life; and every violation of the spirit of the Law, is also a violation of the spirit of the Gospel. But I have long been satisfied that the higher forms of Christian experience are attained only as a result of a terribly searching application of God's Law to the human conscience and heart. The result of my labors up to that time had shown me more clearly than I had known before, the great weakness of Christians, and that the older members of the church, as a general thing, were making very little progress in grace. I found that they would fall back from a revival state, even sooner than young converts. It had been so in the revival in which I myself was converted. I saw clearly that this was owing to their early teaching; that is, to the views which they had been led to entertain, when they were young converts.
I was also led into a state of great dissatisfaction with my own want of stability in faith and love. To be candid, and tell the truth, I must say, to the praise of God's grace, He did not suffer me to backslide, to anything like the same extent, to which manifestly many Christians did backslide. But I often felt myself weak in the presence of temptation; and needed frequently to hold days of fasting and prayer, and to spend much time in overhauling my own religious life, in order to retain that communion with God, and that hold upon the divine strength, that would enable me efficiently to labor for the promotion of revivals of religion.
In looking at the state of the Christian church, as it had been revealed to me in my revival labors, I was led earnestly to inquire whether there was not something higher and more enduring than the Christian church was aware of; whether there were not promises, and means provided in the Gospel, for the establishment of Christians in altogether a higher form of Christian life. I had known somewhat of the view of sanctification entertained by our Methodist brethren. But as their idea of sanctification seemed to me to relate almost altogether to states of the sensibility, I could not receive their teaching. However, I gave myself earnestly to search the Scriptures, and to read whatever came to hand upon the subject, until my mind was satisfied that an altogether higher and more stable form of Christian life was attainable, and was the privilege of all Christians.
This led me to preach in the Broadway Tabernacle, two sermons on Christian perfection. Those sermons are now included in the volume of lectures preached to Christians. In those sermons I defined what Christian perfection is, and endeavored to show that it is attainable in this life, and the sense in which it is attainable. But about this time, the question of Christian perfection, in the antinomian sense of the term, came to be agitated a good deal at New Haven, at Albany, and somewhat in New York City. I examined these views, as published in the periodical entitled "The Perfectionist." But I could not accept them. Yet I was satisfied that the doctrine of sanctification in this life, and entire sanctification, in the sense that it was the privilege of Christians to live without known sin, was a doctrine taught in the Bible, and that abundant means were provided for the securing of that attainment.
The last winter that I spent in New York, the Lord was pleased to visit my soul with a great refreshing. After a season of great searching of heart, He brought me, as He has often done, into a large place, and gave me much of that divine sweetness in my soul, of which President Edwards speaks as attained in his own experience. That winter I had a thorough breaking up; so much so that sometimes, for a considerable period, I could not refrain from loud weeping in view of my own sins, and of the love of God in Christ. Such seasons were frequent that winter, and resulted in the great renewal of my spiritual strength, and enlargement of my views in regard to the privileges of Christians, and the abundance of the grace of God.
It is well known that my views on the question of sanctification have been the subject of a good deal of criticism. To be faithful to history, I must say some things that I would otherwise pass by in silence. Oberlin College was established by Mr. Shipherd, very much against the feelings and wishes of the men most concerned in building up Western Reserve College, at Hudson. Mr. Shipherd once informed me that the principal financial agent of that college, asserted to him that he would do all he could to put this college down. As soon as they heard, at Hudson, that I had received a call to Oberlin, as professor of theology, the trustees elected me as professor of pastoral theology and sacred eloquence, at Western Reserve College; so that I held the two invitations at the same time. I did not, in writing, commit myself to either, but came on to survey the ground, and then decide upon the path of duty.
That spring, the general assembly of the Presbyterian church held their meeting at Pittsburgh. When I arrived at Cleveland, I was informed that two of the professors from Hudson, had been waiting at Cleveland for my arrival, designing to have me go first, at any rate, to Hudson. But I had been delayed on Lake Erie by adverse winds; and the brethren who had been waiting for me at Cleveland, had gone to be at the opening of the general assembly; and had left word with a brother, to see me immediately on my arrival, and by all means to get me to go to Hudson. But in Cleveland I found a letter awaiting me, from Arthur Tappan, of New York. He had in some way become acquainted with the fact, that strong efforts were making to induce me to go to Hudson, rather than to Oberlin.
The college at Hudson, at that time, had its buildings and apparatus, reputation and influence, and was already an established college. Oberlin had nothing. It had no permanent buildings, and was composed of a little colony settled in the woods; and just beginning to put up their own houses, and clear away the immense forest, and make a place for a college. It had, to be sure, its charter, and perhaps a hundred students on the ground; but everything was still to be done. This letter of brother Tappan was written to put me on my guard against supposing that I could be instrumental in securing, at Hudson, what we desired to secure at Oberlin.
I left my family at Cleveland, hired a horse and buggy, and came out to Oberlin, without going to Hudson. I thought at least that I would see Oberlin first. When I arrived at Elyria, I found some old acquaintances there, whom I had known in central New York. They informed me that the trustees of Western Reserve College thought that, if they could secure my presence at Hudson, it would, at least in a great measure, defeat Oberlin; and that at Hudson there was an old school influence, of sufficient power to compel me to fall in with their views and course of action. This was in precise accordance with the information which I had received from Mr. Tappan.
I came to Oberlin, and saw that there was nothing to prevent the building up of a college, on the principles that seemed to me, not only to lie at the foundation of all success in establishing a college here at the West; but on principles of reform, such as I knew were dear to the hearts of those who had undertaken the support and building up of Oberlin College. The brethren that were here on the ground, were heartily in favor of building up a school on radical principles of reform. I therefore wrote to the trustees of Hudson, declining to accept their invitation, and took up my abode at Oberlin. I had nothing ill to say of Hudson, and I knew no ill of it.
After a year or two, the cry of antinomian perfectionism was heard, and this charge brought against us. Letters were written, and ecclesiastical bodies were visited, and much pains taken to represent our views here, as entirely heretical. Such representations were made to ecclesiastical bodies, throughout the length and breadth of the land, as to lead many of them to pass resolutions, warning the churches against the influence of Oberlin theology. There seemed to be a general union of ministerial influence against us. We understood very well here, what had set this on foot, and by what means all this excitement was raised. But we said nothing. We had no controversy with those Brethren that, we were aware, were taking pains to raise such a powerful public sentiment against us. I may not enter into particulars; but suffice it to say, that the weapons that were thus formed against us, reacted most disastrously upon those who used them, until at length there was a change of nearly all the members of the board of trustees and the faculty, at Hudson, and the general management of the college fell into other hands.
I scarcely ever heard anything said at Oberlin, at that time, against Hudson, or at any time. We kept about our own business, and felt that in respect to opposition from that quarter, our strength was to sit still; and we were not mistaken. We felt confident that it was not God's plan to suffer such opposition to prevail. I wish to be distinctly understood, that I am not at all aware that any of the present leaders and managers of that college, have sympathized with what was at that time done, or that they so much as know the course that was then taken.
The ministers, far and near, carried their opposition to a great extreme. At that time a convention was called to meet at Cleveland, to consider the subject of Western education, and the support of Western colleges. The call had been so worded that we went out from Oberlin, expecting to take part in the proceedings of the convention. When we arrived there, we found Dr. Beecher on the ground; and soon saw that a course of proceedings was on foot, to shut out Oberlin brethren, and those that sympathized with Oberlin, from the convention. I was therefore not allowed a seat in the convention as a member; yet I attended several of its sessions. I recollect hearing it distinctly said, by one of the ministers from the neighborhood, who was there, that he regarded Oberlin doctrines and influence as worse than those of Roman Catholicism.
That speech was a representative one, and seemed to be about the view that was entertained by that body. I do not mean by all of them, by any means. Some who had been educated in theology at Oberlin, were so related to the churches and the convention, that they were admitted to seats, having come there from different parts of the country. These were very outspoken upon the principles and practices of Oberlin, so far as they were called in question. The object of the convention evidently was, to hedge in Oberlin on every side, and crush us, by a public sentiment that would refuse us all support. But let me be distinctly understood to say, that I do not in the least degree blame the members of that convention, or but very few of them; for I knew that they had been misled, and were acting under an entire misapprehension of the facts. Dr. Lyman Beecher was the leading spirit in that convention.
The policy that we pursued was to let opposition alone. We kept about our own business, and always had as many students as we knew what to do with. Our hands were always full of labor, and we were always greatly encouraged in our efforts.
A few years after the meeting of this convention, one of the leading ministers who was there, came and spent a day or two at our house. He said to me among other things: "Brother Finney, Oberlin is to us a great wonder." Said he, "I have, for many years been connected with a college as one of its professors. College life and principles, and the conditions upon which colleges are built up, are very familiar to me. We have always thought," said he, "that colleges could not exist unless they were patronized by the ministry. We knew that young men who were about to go to college, would generally consult their pastors, in regard to what colleges they should select, and be guided by their judgment. Now," said he, "the ministers almost universally arrayed themselves against Oberlin. They were deceived by the cry of antinomian perfectionism, and in respect to your views of reform; and ecclesiastical bodies united, far and near, Congregational, and Presbyterian, and of all denominations. They warned their churches against you, they discouraged young men universally from coming to Oberlin, and still the Lord has built you up. You have been supported with funds, better than almost any college in the West; you have had by far more students, and the blessing of God has been upon you, so that your success has been wonderful. Now," said he, "this is a perfect anomaly in the history of colleges. The opposers of Oberlin have been unfounded, and God has stood by you, and sustained you, through all this opposition, so that you have hardly felt it."
It is difficult now for people to realize the opposition that we met with, when we first established this college. As an illustration of it, and as a representative case, I will relate a laughable fact that occurred about the time of which I am speaking. I had occasion to go to Akron, to preach on the Sabbath. I went with a horse and buggy. On my way, beyond the village of Medina, I observed, in the road before me, a woman walking with a little bundle in her hand. As I drew near her, I observed she was an elderly woman, nicely dressed, but walking, as I thought, with some difficulty, on account of her age. As I came up to her I reined up my horse, and asked her, how far she was going on that road. She told me; and I then asked if she would accept a seat in my buggy, and ride. "Oh," she replied, "I should be very thankful for a ride, for I find I have undertaken too long a walk." I helped her into my buggy, and drove on. I found her a very intelligent lady, and very free and homelike in her conversation.
After riding for some distance, she said, "May I ask to whom I am indebted for this ride?" I told her who I was. She then inquired from whence I came. I told her I was from Oberlin. This announcement startled her. She made a motion as if she would sit as far from me as she could; and turning and looking earnestly at me, she said, "From Oberlin! why," said she, "our minister said he would just as soon send a son to state prison as to Oberlin!" Of course I smiled and soothed the old lady's fears, if she had any; and made her understand she was in no danger from me. I relate this simply as an illustration of the spirit that prevailed very extensively when this college was first established. Misrepresentations and misapprehensions abounded on every side; and these misapprehensions extended into almost every corner of the United States.
However there was a great number of laymen, and no inconsiderable number of ministers, on the whole, in different parts of the country, who had no confidence in this opposition; who sympathized with our aims, our views, our efforts, and who stood firmly by us through thick and thin; and knowing, as they did, the straitness to which, for the time, we were reduced because of this opposition, they gave their money and their influence freely to help us forward.
I have spoken of Mr. Chapin, of Providence, as having for several years, sent me six hundred dollars a year, on which to support my family. When he had done it as long as he thought it his duty, which he did, indeed, until financial difficulties rendered it inconvenient for him longer to do so; Mr. Willard Sears of Boston took his place, and for several years suffered me to draw on him for the same amount, annually, that Mr. Chapin had paid. In the meantime, efforts were constantly made to sustain the other members of the faculty; and by the grace of God we rode out the gale. After a few years the panic, in a measure, subsided.
President Mahan, Professor Cowles, Professor Morgan, and myself, published on the subject of sanctification. We established a periodical, The Oberlin Evangelist, and afterwards, The Oberlin Quarterly, in which we disabused the public, in a great measure, in regard to what our real views were. In 1846, I published two volumes on Systematic Theology; and in this work I discussed the subject of entire sanctification, more at large. After this work was published, it was reviewed by a committee of the Presbytery of Troy, New York. Then Dr. Hodge of Princeton, published, in the Biblical Repertory, a lengthy criticism upon my theology. This was from the old school standpoint. Then Dr. Duffield, of the New School Presbyterian church, living at Detroit, reviewed me, professedly from the new school standpoint, though his review was far enough from consistent new- schoolism. To these different reviews, as they appeared, I published replies; and for many years past, so far as I am aware, no disposition has been shown to impugn our orthodoxy.
I have thus far narrated the principal facts connected with the establishment and struggles of the school at Oberlin, so far as I have been concerned with them. And being the professor of theology, the theological opposition was directed, of course, principally toward myself; which has led me, of necessity, to speak more freely of my relations to it all, than I otherwise should have done. But let me not be misunderstood. I am not contending that the brethren who thus opposed, were wicked in their opposition. No doubt the great mass of them were really misled, and acted according to their views of right, as they then understood it.
I must say, for the honor of the grace of God, that none of the opposition that we met with, ruffled our spirits here, or disturbed us, in such a sense as to provoke us into a spirit of controversy or ill feeling. We were well aware of the pains that had been taken to lead to these misapprehensions, and could easily understand how it was, that we were opposed in the spirit and manner in which we were assailed.
During these years of smoke and dust, of misapprehension and opposition from without, the Lord was blessing us richly within. We not only prospered in our own souls here, as a church, but we had a continuous revival, or were, in what might properly be regarded as a revival state. Our students were converted by scores; and the Lord overshadowed us continually with the cloud of His mercy. Gales of divine influence swept over us from year to year, producing abundantly the fruits of the Spirit love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.
I have always attributed our success in this good work entirely to the grace of God. It was no wisdom or goodness of our own that has achieved this success. Nothing but continued divine influence, pervading the community, sustained us under our trials, and kept us in an attitude of mind in which we could be efficient in the work we had undertaken. We have always felt that if the Lord withheld His Spirit, no outward circumstances could make us truly prosperous.
We have had trials among ourselves. Frequent subjects of public discussion have come up; and we have sometimes spent days, and even weeks, in discussing great questions of duty and expediency, on which we have not thought alike. But these questions have none of them permanently divided us. Our principle has been to accord to each other the right of private judgment. We have generally come to a substantial agreement on subjects upon which we had differed; and when we have found ourselves unable to see alike, the minority have submitted themselves to the judgment of the majority, and the idea of rending the church to pieces, because in some things we could not see alike, has never been entertained by us. We have to a very great extent preserved the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; and perhaps no community has existed for such a length of time, and passed through such trials and changes as we have, that has on the whole maintained a greater spirit of harmony, Christian forbearance, and brotherly love.
When the question of entire sanctification first came up here for public discussion, and when the subject first attracted the general attention of the church, we were in the midst of a powerful revival. When the revival was going on hopefully, one day President Mahan had been preaching a searching discourse. I observed in the course of his preaching that he had left one point untouched, that appeared to me of great importance in that connection. He would often ask me, when he closed his sermon, if I had any remarks to make, and thus he did on this occasion. I arose and pressed the point that he had omitted. It was the distinction between desire and will. From the course of thought he had presented, and from the attitude in which I saw that the congregation was at the time, I saw, or thought I saw, that the pressing of that distinction, just at that point, upon the people, would throw much light upon the question whether they were really Christians or not, whether they were really consecrated persons, or whether they merely had desires without being in fact willing to obey God.
When this distinction was made clear, just in that connection, I recollect the Holy Spirit fell upon the congregation in a most remarkable manner. A large number of persons dropped down their heads, and some groaned so that they could be heard throughout the house. It cut up the false hopes of deceived professors on every side. Several arose on the spot, and said that they had been deceived, and that they could see wherein; and this was carried to such an extent as greatly astonished me, and indeed produced a general feeling of astonishment, I think, in the congregation.
The work went on with power; and old professors obtained new hopes, or were reconverted, in such numbers, that a very great and important change came over the whole community. President Mahan had been greatly blessed, among others, with some of our professors. He came manifestly into an entirely new form of Christian experience, at that time.
In a meeting a few days after this, one of our theological students arose, and put the inquiry, whether the Gospel did not provide for Christians, all the conditions of an established faith, and hope, and love; whether there was not something better and higher than Christians had generally experienced; in short, whether sanctification was not attainable in this life; that is, sanctification in such a sense that Christians could have unbroken peace, and not come into condemnation, or have the feeling of condemnation or a consciousness of sin. Brother Mahan immediately answered, "Yes." What occurred at this meeting, brought the question of sanctification prominently before us, as a practical question. We had no theories on the subject, no philosophy to maintain, but simply took it up as a Bible question.
In this form it existed among us, as an experimental truth, which we did not attempt to reduce to a theological formula; nor did we attempt to explain its philosophy, until years afterwards. But the discussion of this question was a great blessing to us, and to a great number of our students, who are now scattered in various parts of the country, or have gone abroad as missionaries to different parts of the world.
Introduction ---New Window
CHAPTERS 1-8 of page 1 ---New Window
CHAPTERS 9-16 of page 2 ---New Window
CHAPTERS 17-24 of page 3 (this page)
CHAPTERS 25-36 of page 4 ---New Window
"Sermons from the Penny Pulpit"
by C. G. Finney
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