or, The Memoirs
CHAPTER IX. Back to
RETURN TO EVANS' MILLS.
AT this time I was earnestly pressed to remain at Evans' Mills, and finally gave them encouragement that I would abide with them, at least one year. Being engaged to marry, I went from there to Whitestown, Oneida county, and was married in October, 1824. My wife had made preparations for housekeeping; and a day or two after our marriage I left her, and returned to Evans' Mills, to obtain conveyance to transport our goods to that place. I told her that she might expect me back in about a week.
The fall previous to this, I had preached a few times, in the evening, at a place called Perch River, still farther northwest from Evans' Mills about a dozen miles. I spent one Sabbath at Evans' Mills, and intended to return for my wife, about the middle of that week. But a messenger from Perch River came up that Sabbath, and said there had been a revival working its way slowly among the people ever since I preached there; and he begged me to go down and preach there, at least once more. I finally sent an appointment to be there Tuesday night. But I found the interest so deep that I stayed and preached Wednesday night, and Thursday night; and I finally gave up returning that week, for my wife, and continued to preach in that neighborhood.
The revival soon spread in the direction of Brownville, a considerable village several miles, I think, in a southwestern direction from that place. Finally, under the pressing invitation of the minister and church at Brownville, I went there and spent the winter, having written to my wife, that such were the circumstances that I must defer coming for her, until God seemed to open the way.
At Brownville there was a very interesting work. But still the church was in such a state that it was very difficult to get them into the work. I could not find much that seemed to me to be sound-hearted piety; and the policy of the minister was really such as to forbid anything like a general sweep of a revival. I labored there that winter with great pain, and had many serious obstacles to overcome. Sometimes I would find that the minister and his wife were away from our meetings, and would learn afterwards that they had stayed away to attend a party.
I was the guest at that place of a Mr. B, one of the elders of the church, and the most intimate and influential friend of the minister. One day as I came down from my room, and was going out to call on some inquirers, I met Mr. B in the hall; and he said to me, "Mr. Finney, what should you think of a man that was praying week after week for the Holy Spirit, and could get no answer?" I replied that I should think he was praying from false motives. "But from what motives," said he, "should a man pray? If he wants to be happy, is that a false motive?" I replied, "Satan might pray with as good a motive as that;" and then quoted the words of the Psalmist: "Uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee." "See!" said I, "the Psalmist did not pray for the Holy Spirit that he might be happy, but that he might be useful, and that sinners might be converted to Christ." I said this and turned and went immediately out; and he turned very short and went back to his room.
I remained out till dinner time; and when I returned, he met me, and immediately began to confess. "Mr. Finney," said he, "I owe you a confession. I was angry when you said that to me; and I must confess that I hoped I should never see you again. What you said," he continued, "forced the conviction upon me, that I never had been converted, that I never had had any higher motive than a mere selfish desire for my own happiness. I went away," said he, "after you left the house, and prayed to God to take my life. I could not endure to have it known that I had always been deceived. I have been most intimate with our minister. I have journeyed with him, and slept with him, and conversed with him, and have been more intimate with him than any other member of the church; and yet I saw that I had always been a deceived hypocrite. The mortification was intolerable; and," said he," I wanted to die, and prayed the Lord to take my life." However, he was all broken down then, and from that time became a new man.
That conversion did a great deal of good. I might relate many other interesting facts connected with this revival; but as there were so many things that pained me, in regard to the relation of the pastor to it, and especially of the pastor's wife, I will forbear.
Early in the spring, 1825, I left Brownville, with my horse and cutter, to go after my wife. I had been absent six months since our marriage; and as mails then were between us, we had seldom been able to exchange letters. I drove on some fifteen miles, and the roads were very slippery. My horse was smooth shod, and I found I must have his shoes reset. I stopped at Le Rayville, a small village about three miles south of Evans' Mills. While my horse was being shod, the people, finding that I was there, ran to me, and wanted to know if I would not preach, at one o'clock, in the schoolhouse; for they had no meeting house.
At one o'clock the house was packed; and while I preached, the Spirit of God came down with great power upon the people. So great and manifest was the outpouring of the Spirit, that in compliance with their earnest entreaty I concluded to spend the night there, and preach again in the evening. But the work increased more and more; and in the evening I appointed another meeting in the morning, and in the morning I appointed another in the evening; and soon I saw that I should not be able to go any farther after my wife. I told a brother that if he would take my horse and cutter and go after my wife, I would remain. He did so, and I went on preaching, from day to day, and from night to night; and there was a powerful revival.
I should have said that, while I was at Brownville, God revealed to me, all at once, in a most unexpected manner, the fact that he was going to pour out His Spirit at Gouverneur, and that I must go there and preach. Of the place I knew absolutely nothing, except that, in that town there was so much opposition manifested to the revival in Antwerp, the year before. I can never tell how, or why, the Spirit of God made that revelation to me. But I knew then, and I have no doubt now, that it was a direct revelation from God to me. I had not thought of the place, that I know of, for months; but in prayer the thing was all shown to me, as clear as light, that I must go and preach in Gouverneur, and that God would pour out His Spirit there.
Very soon after this, I saw one of the members of the church from Gouverneur, who was passing through Brownville. I told him what God had revealed to me. He stared at me as if he supposed that I was insane. But I charged him to go home, and tell the brethren what I said, that they might prepare themselves for my coming, and for the outpouring of the Lord's Spirit. From him I learned that they had no minister; that there were two churches and two meeting houses, in the town, standing near together; that the Baptists had a minister, and the Presbyterians no minister; that an elderly minister lived there who had formerly been their pastor, but had been dismissed; and that they were having, in the Presbyterian church, no regular Sabbath services. From what he said, I gathered that religion was in a very low state; and he himself was as cold as an iceberg.
But now I return to my labors in Le Rayville. After laboring there a few weeks, the great mass of the inhabitants were converted; and among the rest Judge C, a man in point of influence, standing head and shoulders above all the people around him. My wife arrived, of course, a few days after I sent for her; and we accepted the invitation of Judge C and his wife, to become their guests. But after a few weeks, the people urged me to go and preach in a Baptist church in the town of Rutland, where Rutland joins Le Ray. I made an appointment to preach there one afternoon. The weather had become warm, and I walked over, through a pine grove, about three miles to their place of worship. I arrived early, and found the house open, but nobody there. I was warm from having walked so far, and went in and took my seat near the broad aisle, in the center of the house. Very soon people began to come in and take their seats here and there, scattered over the house. Soon the number increased so that they were coming continually. I sat still; and, being an entire stranger there, no person came in that I knew, and I presume that no person that came in knew me.
Presently a young woman came in, who had two or three tall plumes in her bonnet, and was rather gaily dressed. She was slender, tall, dignified, and decidedly handsome. I observed as soon as she came in, that she waved her head and gave a very graceful motion to her plumes. She came as it were sailing around, and up the broad aisle toward where I sat, mincing as she came, at every step, waving her great plumes most gracefully, looking around just enough to see the impression she was making. For such a place the whole thing was so peculiar that it struck me very much. She entered a slip directly behind me, in which, at the time, nobody was sitting. Thus we were near together but each occupying a separate slip. I turned partly around, and looked at her from head to foot. She saw that I was observing her critically, and looked a little abashed. In a low voice I said to her, very earnestly, "Did you come in here to divide the worship of God's house, to make people worship you, to get their attention away from God and His worship?" This made her writhe; and I followed her up, in a voice so low that nobody else heard me, but I made her hear me distinctly. She quailed under the rebuke, and could not hold up her head. She began to tremble, and when I had said enough to fasten the thought of her insufferable vanity on her mind, I arose and went into the pulpit. As soon as she saw me go into the pulpit, and that I was the minister that was about to preach, her agitation began to increase so much so as to attract the attention of those around her. The house was soon full, and I took a text and went on to preach.
The Spirit of the Lord was evidently poured out on the congregation; and at the close of the sermon, I did what I do not know I had ever done before, called upon any who would give their hearts to God, to come forward and take the front seat. The moment I made the call, this young woman was the first to arise. She burst out into the aisle, and came forward, like a person in a state of desperation. She seemed to have lost all sense of the presence of anybody but God. She came rushing forward to the front seats, until she finally fell in the aisle, and shrieked with agony. A large number arose in different parts of the house and came forward; and a goodly number appeared to give their hearts to God upon the spot, and among them this young woman. On inquiry I found that she was rather the belle of the place; that she was an agreeable girl, but was regarded by everybody as very vain and dressy.
Many years afterwards, I saw a man who called my attention to that meeting. I inquired after this young woman. He informed me that he knew her well; that she still resided there, was married, and was a very useful woman; and had always, from that time, been a very earnest Christian.
I preached a few times at this place, and then the question of Gouverneur came up again; and God seemed to say to me, "Go to Gouverneur; the time has come." Brother Nash had come a few days before this, and was spending some time with me. At the time of this last call to Gouverneur, I had some two or three appointments ahead, in that part of Rutland. I said therefore to Brother Nash, "You must go to Gouverneur and see what is there, and come back and make your report."
He started the next morning, and after he had been gone two or three days, returned, saying, that he had found a good many professors of religion, under considerable exercise of mind, and that he was confident that there was a good deal of the Spirit of the Lord among the people; but that they were not aware what the state of things really was. I then informed the people where I was preaching, that I was called to Gouverneur, and could make no more appointments to preach in that place. I requested Brother Nash to return immediately, informing the people that they might expect me on a certain day that week.
CHAPTER X. Back to
REVIVAL AT GOUVERNEUR.
Brother Nash accordingly returned the next day, and made the appointment as I desired. I had to ride nearly thirty miles, I believe, to reach the place. In the morning it rained very hard; but the rain abated in time for me to ride to Antwerp. While I was getting dinner at that place, the rain came on again, and literally poured, until quite late in the afternoon. It seemed in the morning before I started, and at noon, that I should not be able to reach my appointment. However, the rain abated again, in time for me to ride rapidly to Gouverneur. I found that the people had given up expecting me that day, in consequence of the great rain.
Before I reached the village, I met a Mr. S, one of the principal members of the church, returning from the church meeting to his house, which I had just passed. He stopped his carriage, and, addressing me, said, "Is this Mr. Finney?" After my reply in the affirmative, he said, "Please to go back to my house, for I shall insist on your being my guest. You are fatigued with the long ride and the roads are so bad, you will not have any meeting tonight." I replied that I must fulfill my appointment, and asked him if the church meeting had adjourned. He said it had not, when he left; and he thought it possible I might reach the village before they would dismiss.
I rode rapidly on, alighted at the meeting house door, and hurried in. Brother Nash stood in front of the pulpit, having just risen up to dismiss the meeting. On seeing me enter, he held up his hands, and waited till I came near the pulpit, and then he took me right in his arms. After thus embracing me, he introduced me to the congregation. In a word I informed them that I had come to fulfill my appointment; and, the Lord willing, I would preach at a certain hour which I named.
When the hour arrived, the house was filled. The people had heard enough, for and against me, to have their curiosity excited, and there was a general turning out. The Lord gave me a text, and I went into the pulpit and let my heart out to the people. The Word took powerful effect. That was very manifest to everybody, I think. I dismissed the meeting, and that night got some rest.
The village hotel was at that time kept by a Dr. S, an avowed Universalist. The next morning I went out, as usual, to call on the people, and converse with them about their souls, and found the village excited. After making a few calls, I dropped into a tailor's shop, where I found a number of people discussing the subject of the sermon the night before.
Dr. S, at that time, I had never heard of; but I found him among the number at this tailor's shop, and defending his Universalist sentiments. As I went in, the remarks that were made immediately opened the conversation; and Dr. S stepped forward, manifestly sustained by the whole influence of his comrades, to dispute the positions that I had advanced, and to maintain, as opposed to them, the doctrine of universal salvation. Somebody introduced him to me; and I said to him, "Doctor, I should be very happy to converse with you about your views; but if we are going to have a conversation, we must first agree upon the method upon which we are going to discuss." I was too much used to discussing with Universalists, to expect any good to come from it, unless certain terms were agreed upon and adhered to, in the discussion. I proposed, therefore, first, that we should take up one point at a time, and discuss it till we had settled it, or had no more to say upon it, and then another, and another; confining ourselves the point immediately in debate; secondly, that we should not interrupt each other, but each one should be at liberty to give his views upon the point, without interruption; and thirdly, that there should be no cavilling or mere banter, but that we should observe candor and courtesy, and give to every argument due weight, on whichsoever side it was presented. I knew they were all of one way of thinking; and I could easily see that they were banded together, and had come together that morning, for the sake of sustaining each other in their views.
Having settled the preliminaries, we commenced the argument. It did not take long to demolish every position that he assumed. He really knew but little of the Bible. He had a way of disposing of the principal passages, as he remembered them, that are generally arrayed against the doctrine of Universalism. But, as Universalists always do, he dwelt mainly on the utter injustice of endless punishment.
I soon showed him, and those around him, that he had but slender ground to stand on, so far as the Bible was concerned; and he very soon took the position, that whatever the Bible said about it, endless punishment was unjust; and that therefore, if the Bible threatened men with endless punishment, it could not be true. This settled the question, so far as the Bible was concerned. In fact I could easily see that they were all skeptics, and would not at all give in because they saw that the Bible contradicted their views. I then closed in with him on the justice of endless punishment. I saw that his friends became agitated, and felt as if the foundations were giving away under them. Pretty soon one of them went out; and as I proceeded, another went out, and finally they all forsook him, seeing, as they must have done, one after the other, that he was utterly wrong.
He had been their leader; and God gave me thus an opportunity to use him entirely up, in the presence of his followers. When he had nothing more to say, I urged upon him with warmth, the question of immediate attention to salvation, and very kindly bid him good morning, and went away, feeling sure that I should soon hear from that conversation again.
The doctor's wife was a Christian woman, and a member of the church. She told me a day or two after, that the Doctor came home from that conversation apparently greatly agitated, though she did not know where he had been. He would walk the room, and then sit down, but could not remain sitting. He would thus walk and sit alternately; and she could see in his countenance that he was greatly troubled. She said to him, "Doctor, what is the matter?" "Nothing," was his reply. But his agitation increased; and she inquired again, "Doctor, do tell me what is the matter." She suspected that he had somewhere fallen in with me; and she said to him, "Doctor, have you seen Mr. Finney this morning?" This brought him to a stand; and he burst into tears and exclaimed, "Yes! and he has turned my weapons on my own head!" His agony became intense; and as soon as the way was opened for him to speak out, he surrendered himself up to his convictions, and soon after expressed hope in Christ. In a few days his companions were brought in, one after the other, till I believe, the revival made a clean sweep of them.
I have said that there was a Baptist church, and a Presbyterian, each having a meeting house standing upon the green, not far apart; and that the Baptist church had a pastor, but the Presbyterian had none. As soon as the revival broke out, and attracted general attention, the Baptist brethren began to oppose it. They spoke against it, and used very objectionable means indeed to arrest its progress. This encouraged a set of young men to join hand in hand, to strengthen each other in opposition to the work. The Baptist church was quite influential; and the stand that they took greatly emboldened the opposition, and seemed to give it a peculiar bitterness and strength, as might be expected. Those young men seemed to stand like a bulwark in the way of the progress of the work.
In this state of things, Brother Nash and myself, after consultation, made up our minds that that thing must be overcome by prayer, and that it could not be reached in any other way. We therefore retired to a grove and gave ourselves up to prayer until we prevailed, and we felt confident that no power which earth or hell could interpose, would be allowed permanently to stop the revival.
The next Sabbath, after preaching morning and afternoon myself--for I did the preaching altogether, and Brother Nash gave himself up almost continually to prayer--we met at five o'clock in the church, for a prayer meeting. The meeting house was filled. Near the close of the meeting, Brother Nash arose, and addressed that company of young men who had joined hand in hand to resist the revival. I believe they were all there, and they sat braced up against the Spirit of God. It was too solemn for them really to make ridicule of what they heard and saw; and yet their brazen-facedness and stiff-neckedness were apparent to everybody.
Brother Nash addressed them very earnestly, and pointed out the guilt and danger of the course they were taking. Toward the close of his address, he waxed exceeding warm, and said to them, "Now, mark me, young men! God will break your ranks in less than one week, either by converting some of you, or by sending some of you to hell. He will do this as certainly as the Lord is my God!" He was standing where he brought his hand down on the top of the pew before him, so as to make it thoroughly jar. He sat immediately down, dropped his head, and groaned with pain.
The house was as still as death, and most of the people held down their heads. I could see that the young men were agitated. For myself, I regretted that Brother Nash had gone so far. He had committed himself, that God would either take the life of some of them, and send them to hell, or convert some of them, within a week. However on Tuesday morning of the same week, the leader of these young men came to me, in the greatest distress of mind. He was all prepared to submit; and as soon as I came to press him he broke down like a child, confessed, and manifestly gave himself to Christ. Then he said, "What shall I do, Mr. Finney?" I replied "Go immediately to all your young companions, and pray with them, and exhort them at once to turn to the Lord." He did so; and before the week was out, nearly if not all of that class of young men, were hoping in Christ.
There was a merchant living in the village by the name of S. He was a very amiable man, a gentleman, but a deist. His wife was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. She was his second wife; and his first had also been the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. He had thus married into two minister's families. His fathers-in-law had taken the greatest pains to secure his conversion to Christ. He was a reading, reflecting man. Both of his fathers-in-law were old school Presbyterians, and had put into his hands the class of books that presented their peculiar views. This had greatly stumbled him; and the more he had read, the more he was fixed in his convictions that the Bible was a fable.
His wife urgently entreated me to come and converse with her husband. She informed me of his views, and of the pains that had been taken to lead him to embrace the Christian religion. But she said he was so firmly settled in his views, she did not know that any conversation could meet the case. Nevertheless, I promised to call and see him, and did so. His store was in the front part of the building in which they resided. She went into the store, and requested him to come in. He declined. He said it would do no good; that he had talked with ministers enough; that he knew just what I would say, beforehand, and he could not spend the time; beside, it was very repulsive to his feelings. She replied to him, "Mr. S, you have never been in the habit of treating ministers, who called to see you, in this way. I have invited Mr. Finney to call and see you, to have a conversation on the subject of religion; and I shall be greatly grieved and mortified, if you decline to see him."
He greatly respected and loved his wife; and she was indeed a gem of a woman. To oblige her, he consented to come in. Mrs. S introduced me to him, and left the room. I then said to him, "Mr. S, I have not come in here to have any dispute with you at all; but if you are willing to converse, it is possible that I may suggest something that may help you over some of your difficulties, in regard to the Christian religion, as I probably have felt them all myself." As I addressed him in great kindness, he immediately seemed to feel at home with me, and sat down near me and said, "Now, Mr. Finney, there is no need of our having a long conversation on this point. We are both of us so familiar with the arguments, on both sides, that I can state to you, in a very few minutes, just the objections to the Christian religion on which I rest, and which I find myself utterly unable to overcome. I suppose I know beforehand how you will answer them, and that the answer will be utterly unsatisfactory to me. But if you desire it, I will state them."
I begged him to do so; and he began, as nearly as I can recollect, in this way: "You and I agree in believing in the existence of God." "Yes." "Well, we agree that He is infinitely wise, and good, and powerful." "Yes." "We agree that He has, in our very creation, given us certain irresistible convictions of right and wrong, of justice and injustice." "Yes." "Well, we agree, then, that whatever contravenes our irresistible convictions of justice, cannot be from God." "Yes," I said. "What, according to our irresistible convictions, is neither wise nor good, cannot be from God." "Yes," I said, "we agree in that." "Well now," said he, "the Bible teaches us that God has created us with a sinful nature, or that we come into existence totally sinful and incapable of any good, and this in accordance with certain preestablished laws of which God is the author; that notwithstanding this sinful nature, which is utterly incapable of any good, God commands us to obey Him, and to be good, when to do so is utterly impossible to us; and He commands this on pain of eternal death."
I replied, "Mr. S, have you a Bible? Will you not turn to the passage that teaches this?" "Why, there is no need of that," he says; "you admit that the Bible teaches it." "No," I said, "I do not believe any such thing." "Then," he continued, "the Bible teaches that God has imputed Adam's sin to all his posterity; that we inherit the guilt of that sin by nature, and are exposed to eternal damnation for the guilt of Adam's sin. Now," said he, "I do not care who says it, or what book teaches such a thing, I know that such teaching cannot be from God. This is a direct contradiction of my irresistible convictions of right and justice." "Yes," I replied, "and so it is directly in contradiction of my own. But now," said I, "where is this taught in the Bible?"
He began to quote the catechism, as he had done before. "But," I replied, "that is catechism, not Bible." "Why," said he, "you are a Presbyterian minister, are you not? I thought the catechism was good authority for you." "No," I said; "we are talking about the Bible now--whether the Bible is true. Can you say that this is the doctrine of the Bible?" "Oh," he said, "if you are going to deny that it is taught in the Bible why, that is taking such ground as I never knew a Presbyterian minister to take." He then proceeded to say that the Bible commanded men to repent, but at the same time taught them that they could not repent; it commanded them to obey and believe, and yet at the same time taught them that this was impossible. I of course closed with him again, and asked him where these things were taught in the Bible. He quoted catechism; but I would not receive it.
He went on to say that the Bible taught also, that Christ died only for the elect; and yet it commanded all men everywhere, whether elect or non-elect, to believe, on pain of eternal death. "The fact is," said he, "the Bible, in its commands and teachings, contravenes my innate sense of justice at every step. I cannot, I will not receive it!" He became very positive and warm. But I said to him: "Mr. S, there is a mistake in this. These are not the teachings of the Bible. They are the traditions of men rather than the teachings of the Bible." "Well then," said he, "Mr. Finney, do tell me what you do believe!" This he said with a considerable degree of impatience. I said to him, "If you will give me a hearing for a few moments, I will tell you what I do believe." I then began and told him what my views of both the Law and the Gospel were. He was intelligent enough to understand me easily and quickly. In the course of an hour, I should think, I took him over the whole ground of his objections. He became intensely interested; and I saw that the views that I was presenting, were new to him.
When I came to dwell upon the atonement, and showed that it was made for all men, dwelt upon its nature, its design, its extent, and the freeness of salvation through Christ, I saw his feelings rise, till at last he put both hands over his face, threw his head forward upon his knees, and trembled all over with emotion. I saw that the blood rushed to his head, and that the tears began to flow freely. I rose quickly and left the room without saying another word. I saw that an arrow had transfixed him, and I expected him to be converted immediately. It turned out that he was converted before he left the room.
Very soon after, the meeting house bell tolled for a prayer and conference meeting. I went into the meeting and soon after the meeting commenced, Mr. and Mrs. S came in. His countenance showed that he had been greatly moved. The people looked around, and appeared surprised to see Mr. S come into a prayer meeting. He had always been in the habit of attending worship on the Sabbath, I believe; but to come into a prayer meeting, and that in the daytime, was something new. For his sake, I took up a good deal of the time, at that meeting, in remarks, to which he paid the utmost attention.
His wife afterward told me, that as he walked home when the prayer meeting was over, he said, "My dear, where has all my infidelity gone? I cannot recall it. I cannot make it look as if it had any sense in it. It appears to me as if it always had been perfect nonsense. And how I could ever have viewed the subject as I did, or respected my own arguments as I did, I cannot imagine. It seems to me," said he, "as if I had been called to pass judgment on some splendid piece of architecture, some magnificent temple; and that as soon as I came in view of one corner of the structure, I fell into disgust, and turned away and refused to inspect it farther. I condemned the whole, without at all regarding its proportions. Just so I have treated the government of God." She said he had always been particularly bitter against the doctrine of endless punishment. But on this occasion, as they were walking home, he said that, for the manner in which he had treated God, he deserved endless damnation.
His conversion was very clear and decided. He warmly espoused the cause of Christ, and enlisted heartily in the promotion of the revival. He joined the church, and soon after became a deacon; and to the day of his death, as I have been told, was a very useful man.
After the conversion of Mr. S, and of that class of young men to whom I have alluded, I thought it was time, if possible, to put a stop to the opposition of the Baptist church and minister. I therefore had an interview first with a deacon of the Baptist church, who had been very bitter in his opposition; and said to him, "Now you have carried your opposition far enough. You must be satisfied that this is the work of God. I have made no allusion in public to your opposition, and I do not wish to do so, or to appear to know that there is any such thing; but you have gone far enough; and I shall feel it my duty, if you do not stop immediately, to take you in hand, and expose your opposition from the pulpit." Things had got into such a state that I was sure that both God and the public would sustain me in carrying out the measure that I proposed.
He confessed, and said that he was sorry; and promised that he would make confession, and that he would not oppose the work any more. He said that he had made a great mistake, and had been deceived; but that he also had been very wicked about it. He then went after his minister; and I had a long conversation with them together. The minister confessed that he had been all wrong; that he had been deceived, and had been wicked; and that his sectarian feeling had carried him too far. He hoped that I would forgive him, and prayed God to forgive him. I told him that I should take no notice whatever of the opposition of his church, provided they stopped it; which they promised to do.
But I then said to him, "Now a considerable number of the young people, whose parents belong to your church, have been converted." If I recollect right, as many as forty of their young people had been converted in that revival. "Now," said I, "if you go to proselyting, that will create a sectarian feeling in both churches, and will be worse than any opposition which you have offered." I said to him, "In spite of your opposition, the work has gone on; because the Presbyterian brethren have kept clear of a sectarian Spirit, and have had the spirit of prayer. But if you go to proselyting, it will destroy the spirit of prayer, and will stop the revival immediately." He knew it, he said; and therefore he would say nothing about receiving any of the converts, and would not open the doors of the church for their reception, until the revival was over; and then, without any proselyting, let the converts all join which church they pleased.
This was on Friday. The next day, Saturday, was the day for their monthly covenant meeting. When they had gathered, instead of keeping his word, he threw the doors of the church open and invited the converts to come forward and tell their experience and join the church. As many as could be persuaded to do so, told their experience; and the next day there was a great parade in baptizing them. The minister sent off immediately, and secured the help of one of the most proselyting Baptist ministers that I ever knew. He came in and began to preach and lecture on baptism.
They traversed the town for converts in every direction; and whenever they could find anyone to join, they would get up a procession, and march, and sing, and make a great parade in going to the water and baptizing them. This soon so grieved the Presbyterian church, as to destroy their spirit of prayer and faith, and the work came to a dead stand. For six weeks there was not a single conversion. All, both saints and sinners, were discussing the question of baptism.
There was a considerable number of men, and some of them prominent men, in the village, that had been under strong conviction, and appeared to be near conversion, who had been entirely diverted by this discussion of baptism; and indeed, this seemed to be the universal effect. Everybody could see that the revival had stopped; and that the Baptists, although they had opposed the revival from the beginning, were bent upon having all the converts join their church. However, I think that a majority of those converted, could not be persuaded to be immersed, although nothing had been said to them on the other side.
I finally said to the people on the Sabbath, "You see how it is that the work of conversion is suspended, and we do not know that a conversion has occurred now for six weeks; and you know the reason." I did not tell them, at all, how the pastor of the Baptist church had violated his word, nor did I allude to it; for I knew that it would do no good, but much hurt, to inform the people that he had been guilty of taking such a course. But I said to them, "Now I do not want to take up a Sabbath in preaching on this subject; but if you will come on Wednesday afternoon at one o'clock, and bring your Bibles, and your lead pencils to mark the passages, I will read to you all the passages in the Bible that relate to the mode of baptism; and I will give you as nearly as I understand them, the views of our Baptist brethren on all those passages, together with my own; and you shall judge for yourselves where the truth lies."
When Wednesday came, the house was crowded. I saw quite a number of the Baptist brethren present. I began and read, first in the Old Testament, and then in the New, all the passages that had any reference to the mode of baptism, so far as I knew. I gave the views that the Baptists had of those texts, and the reasons for their views. I then gave my own views, and my reasons for them. I saw that the impression was decided and good, and that no bad spirit prevailed; and the people appeared satisfied in regard to the mode of baptism. The Baptist brethren, so far as I know, were quite satisfied that I stated their views fairly, and as strongly as they could state them themselves, and also their reasons for them. Before I dismissed the meeting I said, "If you will come tomorrow, at the same hour, at one o'clock, I will read to you all the passages in the Bible that relate to the subjects of baptism, and pursue the same course as I have done today."
The next day the house was crowded, if possible, more than the day before. Quite a number of the principal Baptist brethren were present; and I observed the old elder, the great proselyter, sitting in the congregation. After going through with the introductory services, I arose and commenced my reading. At this point the elder arose and said, "Mr. Finney, I have an appointment, and cannot stay to hear your readings. But I shall wish to answer you; and how shall I know what course you take?" I replied to him: "Elder, I have before me a little skeleton, wherein I quote all the passages that I shall read, and note the order in which I discuss the subject. You can have my skeleton, if you please, and reply to it." He then went out, and, as I supposed, went away to attend his appointment.
I then took up the covenant made with Abraham; and read everything in the Old Testament that directly bore upon the question of the relation of families and of children, to that covenant. I gave the Baptist view of the passages that I read, together with my own with the reasons on both sides, as I had done the day before. I then took up the New Testament, and went through with all the passages in that, referring to the subject. The people waxed very mellow; and the tears flowed very freely when I held up that covenant, as still the covenant which God makes with parents and their household. The congregation was much moved and melted.
Just before I was through, the deacon of the Presbyterian church had occasion to go out, with a child that had sat with him during the long meeting. He told me afterwards that, as he went into the vestibule of the church, he found the old elder sitting there with the door ajar, and listening to what I was saying, and absolutely weeping himself.
When I was done, the people thronged around me on every side, and with tears thanked me for so full and satisfactory an exhibition of that subject. I should have said that the meeting was attended, not only by members of the church, but by the community generally. The question was intelligently settled, and soon the people ceased to talk about it. In the course of a few days the spirit of prayer returned, and the revival was revived and went on again with great power. Not long after, the ordinances were administered, and a large number of the converts united with the church.
I have already intimated that I was a guest of Mr. S. He had a very interesting family. He and his wife, called by everybody, "Aunt Lucy," had no children of their own; but they had, from time to time, through the yearnings of their hearts, adopted one child after another, until they had ten; and they were so nearly of an age that, at this time, his family was composed of himself, and Aunt Lucy, his wife, and ten young people, I think about equally divided, young men and young women. They were all soon converted, and their conversions were very striking. They were bright converts, and very intelligent young people; and a happier and more lovely family I never saw than they were when they were all converted.
But Aunt Lucy had been converted under other circumstances, when there was no revival; and she had never before seen the freshness, and strength, and joy of converts in a powerful revival. Their faith and love, their joy and peace, completely stumbled her. She began to think that she was never converted; and although she had given herself, heart and soul, to the promotion of the work, yet, right in the midst of it, she fell into despair, in spite of all that could be said or done. She concluded that she never had been converted, and of course that she never could be.
This introduced into the family a matter of great pain and concern. Her husband thought she would go deranged. The young people, who all regarded her as a mother, were filled with concern about her; and indeed the house was thrown into mourning. Mr. S gave up his time to converse and to pray with her, and to try to revive her hope. I had several conversations with her; but in the great light which the experience of those young converts, to which she was daily listening, threw around her, she could not be persuaded to believe, either that she ever was converted, or ever could be.
This state of things continued day after day, till I began myself to think that she would be deranged. The street on which they lived was a thickly settled street, almost a village, for some three miles in extent. The work had extended on that street until there was but one adult unconverted person left. He was a young man, by the name of B H, and he was almost frantic in his opposition to the work. Almost the whole neighborhood gave themselves to prayer for this young man, and his case was in almost everybody's mouth.
One day I came in, and found Aunt Lucy taking on very much about this B H. "Oh dear!" she said; "what will become of him? Why, Mr. S, he will certainly lose his soul! What will become of him?" She seemed to be in the greatest agony, lest that young man should lose his soul. I listened to her for a few moments, and then looked gravely at her, and said: "Aunt Lucy, when you and B H die, God will have to make a partition in hell, and give you a room by yourself." She opened her large blue eyes, and looked at me with a reproving look. "Why, Mr. Finney!" said she. "Just so," I said. "Do you think God will be guilty of so great an impropriety, as to put you and B H in the same place? Here he is, raving against God; and you are almost insane in feeling the abuse which he heaps upon God, and with the fear that he is going to hell. Now can two such persons, in two such opposite states of mind, do you think, be sent to the same place?" I calmly met her reproving gaze, and looked her steadily in the face. In a few moments her features relaxed, and she smiled, the first time for many days. "It is just so, my dear," said Mr. S, "just so. How can you and B H go to the same place?" She laughed and said, "We cannot." From that moment her despair cleared up; and she came out clear, and as happy as any of the young converts. This B H was afterward converted.
About three-quarters of a mile from Mr. S's lived a Mr. M, who was a strong Universalist, and, for a considerable time, kept away from our meetings. One morning, Father Nash, who was at the time with me at Mr. S's, rose up, as his custom was, at a very early hour; and went back to a grove some fifty rods, perhaps, from the road, to have a season of prayer alone. It was before sunrise; and Brother Nash, as usual, became very much engaged in prayer. It was one of those clear mornings, on which it is possible to hear sounds a great distance. Mr. M had risen, and was out of doors at that early hour in the morning, and heard the voice of prayer. He listened, and could distinctly hear Father Nash's voice. He knew it was prayer, he afterward said; though he could not distinguish much that was said. He, however, said that he knew what it was, and who it was. And it lodged an arrow in his heart. He said it brought a sense of the reality of religion over him, such as he never had experienced before. The arrow was fastened. He found no relief, till he found it in believing in Jesus.
I do not know the number of those converted in that revival. It was a large farming town, settled by well-to-do inhabitants. The great majority of them, I am confident, were, in that revival, converted to Christ.
I have not been in that place for many years. But I have often heard from there; and have always understood that there has been a very healthful state of religion in that place, and that they have never had anything like a discussion on the subject of baptism since.
The doctrines preached in promoting that revival, were those that I have preached everywhere. The total moral, voluntary depravity of unregenerate man; the necessity of a radical change of heart, through the truth, by the agency of the Holy Ghost; the divinity and humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ; His vicarious atonement, equal to the wants of all mankind; the gift, divinity and agency of the Holy Ghost: repentance, faith, justification by faith, sanctification by faith; persistence in holiness as a condition of salvation; indeed all the distinctive doctrines of the Gospel, were stated and set forth with as much clearness, and point, and power, as were possible to me under the circumstances. A great spirit of prayer prevailed; and after the discussion on baptism, a spirit of most interesting unity, brotherly love, and Christian fellowship prevailed. I never had occasion finally, to rebuke the opposition of the Baptist brethren publicly. In my readings on the subject of baptism, the Lord enabled me to maintain such a spirit that no controversy was started, and no controversial spirit prevailed. The discussion produced no evil result, but great good, and, so far as I could see, only good.
CHAPTER XI. Back to
REVIVAL AT DE KALB.
FROM Gouverneur I went to De Kalb, another village still farther north, some sixteen miles, I think. Here were a Presbyterian church and minister; but the church was small, and the minister seemed not to have a very strong hold upon the people. However, I think he was decidedly a good man. I began to hold meetings in De Kalb, in different parts of the town. The village was small and the people were very much scattered. The country was new, and the roads were new and bad. But a revival commenced immediately, and went forward with a good deal of power, for a place where the inhabitants were so much scattered.
A few years before, there had been a revival there under the labors of the Methodists. It had been attended with a good deal of excitement; and many cases had occurred of, what the Methodists call, "Falling under the power of God." This the Presbyterians had resisted, and, in consequence, a bad state of feeling had arisen, between the Methodists and the Presbyterians; the Methodists accusing the Presbyterians of having opposed the revival among them because of these cases of falling. As nearly as I could learn, there was a good deal of truth in this, and the Presbyterians had been decidedly in error.
I had not preached long, before, one evening, just at the close of my sermon, I observed a man fall from his seat near the door; and the people gathered around him to take care of him. From what I saw, I was satisfied that it was a case of falling under the power of God, as the Methodists would express it, and supposed that it was a Methodist. I must say that I had a little fear that it might reproduce that state of division and alienation that had before existed. But on inquiry I learned that it was one of the principal members of the Presbyterian church, that had fallen. And it was remarkable that during this revival, there were several cases of this kind among the Presbyterians, and none among the Methodists. This led to such confessions and explanations among the members of the different churches, as to secure a state of great cordiality and good feeling among them.
While laboring at De Kalb, I first became acquainted with Mr. F, of Ogdensburgh. He heard of the revival in De Kalb, and came from Ogdensburgh, some sixteen miles, to see it. He was wealthy, and very benevolent. He proposed to employ me as his missionary, to work in the towns throughout that county, and he would pay me a salary. However, I declined to pledge myself to preach in any particular place, or to confine my labors within any given lines.
Mr. F spent several days with me, in visiting from house to house, and in attending our meetings. He had been educated in Philadelphia, an old school Presbyterian, and was himself an elder in the Presbyterian church in Ogdensburgh. On going away, he left a letter for me, containing three ten dollar bills. A few days later he came up again, and spent two or three days, and attended our meetings, and became very much interested in the work. When he went away he left another letter, containing, as before, three ten dollar bills. Thus I found myself possessed of sixty dollars, with which I immediately purchased a buggy. Before this time, though I had a horse, I had no carriage; and my young wife and myself used to go a good deal on foot, to meeting.
The revival took a very strong hold of the church in this place; and among others, one of the elders of the church, by the name of B, was thoroughly broken up and broken down, and became quite another man. The impression deepened on the public mind from day to day.
One Saturday, just before evening, a German merchant tailor, from Ogdensburgh, by the name of F, called on me, and informed me that Squire F had sent him from Ogdensburgh, to take my measure for a suit of clothes. I had begun to need clothes, and had once, not long before, spoken to the Lord about it, that my clothes were getting shabby; but it had not occurred to me again. Mr. F, however, had observed it; and sent this man, who was a Roman Catholic, to take my measure. I asked him if he would not stay over the Sabbath, and take my measure Monday morning. I said, "It is too late for you to return tonight; and if I allow you to take my measure tonight, you will go home tomorrow." He admitted that he expected to do so. I said, "Then you shall not take it. If you will not stay till Monday morning, I will not be measured for a suit of clothes." He remained.
The same afternoon there were other arrivals from Ogdensburgh; and among them was an Elder S, who was a brother elder in the same church with Mr. F. Mr. S's son, an unconverted young man, came with him.
Elder S attended meeting in the morning, and at the intermission was invited by Elder B to go home with him, and get some refreshment. Elder B was full of the Holy Spirit; and on the way home he preached to Elder S, who was at the time very cold and backward in religion. Elder S was very much penetrated by his words.
Soon after they entered the house the table was spread, and they were invited to sit down and take some refreshment. As they drew around the table, Elder S said to Elder B, "How did you get this blessing?" Elder B replied, "I stopped lying to God." Said he, "All my Christian life I have been making pretenses, and asking God for things that I was not, on the whole, willing to have; and I had gone on and prayed as other people prayed, and often had been insincere, and really lied to God." He continued: "As soon as I made up my mind that I never would say anything to God in prayer, that I did not really mean, God answered me; and the Spirit came down, and I was filled with the Holy Ghost."
At this moment Mr. S, who had not commenced to eat, shoved his chair back from the table, and fell on his knees and began to confess how he had lied to God; and how he had played the hypocrite in his prayers, as well as in his life. The Holy Ghost fell upon him immediately, and filled him as full as he could hold.
In the afternoon the people had assembled for worship, and I was standing in the pulpit reading a hymn. I heard somebody talking very loud, and approaching the house, the door and windows being open. Directly two men came in. Elder B I knew; the other man was a stranger. As soon as he came in at the door, he lifted his eyes to me, came straight into the desk, and took me up in his arms: "God bless you!" said he "God bless you!" He then began and told me, and told the congregation, what the Lord had just done for his soul.
His countenance was all in a glow; and he was so changed in his appearance, that those that knew him were perfectly astonished at the change. His son who had not known of this change in his father, when he saw and heard him, rose up and was hastening out of the church. His father cried out, "Do not leave the house, my son; for I never loved you before." He went on to speak; and the power with which he spoke was perfectly astonishing. The people melted down on every side; and his son broke down almost immediately.
Very soon the Roman Catholic tailor, Mr. F, rose up, and said, "I must tell you what the Lord has done for my soul. I was brought up, a Roman Catholic; and I never dared to read my Bible. I was told that if I did, the devil would carry me off bodily. Sometimes when I dared to look into it, it seemed as if the devil was peering over my shoulder, and had come to carry me off. But," said he, "I see it is all a delusion." And he went on to tell what the Lord had done for him, just there on the spot--what views the Lord had given him of the way of salvation by Jesus Christ. It was evident to everybody that he was converted.
This made a great impression on the congregation. I could not preach. The whole course of the meeting had taken on a type which the Lord had given it. I sat still, and saw the salvation of God. All that afternoon, conversions were multiplied in every part of the congregation. As they arose one after another, and told what the Lord had done, and was doing, for their souls, the impression increased; and so spontaneous a movement by the Holy Ghost, in convicting and converting sinners, I had scarcely ever seen.
The next day this Elder S returned to Ogdensburgh. But, as I understand he made many calls on the way, and conversed and prayed with many families; and thus the revival was extended to Ogdensburgh.
In the early part of October, the synod to which I belonged, met in Utica. I took my wife, and we went down to Utica to attend the synod, and to visit her father's family living near Utica.
Mr. Gale, my theological teacher, had left Adams not long after I left it myself; and had removed to a farm in the town of Western Oneida county, where he was endeavoring to regain his health, and was employed in teaching some young men, who proposed to prepare themselves to preach the Gospel. I spent a few days at the synod at Utica, and then set out on my return to my former field of labor, in St. Lawrence county.
We had not gone more than a dozen miles when we met Mr. Gale in his carriage, on his way to Utica. He leaped from his carriage and said, "God bless you, Brother Finney! I was going down to the synod to see you. You must go home with me; I cannot be denied. I do not believe that I ever was converted; and I wrote the other day to Adams, to know where a letter would reach you, as I wanted to open my mind to you on the subject." He was so importunate that I consented; and we drove immediately to Western.
In reflecting upon what I have said of the revivals of religion, in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, I am not quite sure that I have laid as much stress as I intended upon the manifest agency of the Holy Spirit, in those revivals. I wish it to be distinctly understood, in all that I shall say, in my narrative of the revivals that I have witnessed, that I always in my own mind, and practically, laid the utmost stress upon this fact, underlying, directing, and giving efficiency to the means, without which nothing would be accomplished.
I have said, more than once, that the spirit of prayer that prevailed in those revivals was a very marked feature of them. It was common for young converts to be greatly exercised in prayer; and in some instances, so much so, that they were constrained to pray whole nights, and until their bodily strength was quite exhausted, for the conversion of souls around them. There was a great pressure of the Holy Spirit upon the minds of Christians; and they seemed to bear about with them the burden of immortal souls. They manifested the greatest solemnity of mind, and the greatest watchfulness in all their words and actions. It was very common to find Christians, whenever they met in any place, instead of engaging in conversation, to fall on their knees in prayer.
Not only were prayer meetings greatly multiplied and fully attended, not only was there great solemnity in those meetings; but there was a mighty spirit of secret prayer. Christians prayed a great deal, many of them spending many hours in private prayer. It was also the case that two, or more, would take the promise: "If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven," and make some particular person a subject of prayer; and it was wonderful to what an extent they prevailed. Answers to prayer were so manifestly multiplied on every side, that no one could escape the conviction that God was daily and hourly answering prayer.
If anything occurred that threatened to mar the work, if there was any appearance of any root of bitterness springing up, or any tendency to fanaticism or disorder, Christians would take the alarm, and give themselves to prayer that God would direct and control all things; and it was surprising to see, to what extent, and by what means, God would remove obstacles out of the way, in answer to prayer.
In regard to my own experience, I will say that unless I had the spirit of prayer I could do nothing. If even for a day or an hour I lost the spirit of grace and supplication, I found myself unable to preach with power and efficiency, or to win souls by personal conversation. In this respect my experience was what it has always been.
For several weeks before I left De Kalb to go to the synod, I was very strongly exercised in prayer, and had an experience that was somewhat new to me. I found myself so much exercised, and so borne down with the weight of immortal souls, that I was constrained to pray without ceasing. Some of my experiences, indeed, alarmed me. A spirit of importunity sometimes came upon me so that I would say to God that He had made a promise to answer prayer, and I could not, and would not, be denied. I felt so certain that He would hear me, and that faithfulness to His promises, and to Himself, rendered it impossible that He should not hear and answer, that frequently I found myself saying to Him, "I hope Thou dost not think that I can be denied. I come with Thy faithful promises in my hand, and I cannot be denied." I cannot tell how absurd unbelief looked to me, and how certain it was, in my mind, that God would answer prayer--those prayers that, from day to day, and from hour to hour, I found myself offering in such agony and faith. I had no idea of the shape the answer would take, the locality in which the prayers would be answered, or the exact time of the answer. My impression was that the answer was near, even at the door; and I felt myself strengthened in the divine life, put on the harness for a mighty conflict with the powers of darkness, and expected soon to see a far more powerful outpouring of the Spirit of God, in that new country where I had been laboring.
CHAPTER XII. Back to
REVIVAL AT WESTERN.
I HAVE spoken of my turning aside to Western, as I was returning from the synod at Utica. At this place, commenced that series of revivals, afterward called the western revivals. So far as I know these revivals first attracted the notice, and excited the opposition of certain prominent ministers at the East, and raised the cry of "New Measures."
The churches in that region were mostly Presbyterian. There were in that county, however, three Congregational ministers who called themselves "The Oneida Association," who, at the time, published a pamphlet against those revivals. This much we knew; but as the pamphlet made no public impression that we could learn, no public notice, so far as I am aware, was ever taken of it. We thought it likely that that association had much to do with the opposition that was raised in the East. Their leader, Rev. William R. Weeks, as was well known, embraced and propagated the peculiar doctrines of Dr. Emmons, and insisted very much upon what he called "The divine efficiency scheme." His peculiar views on this subject naturally led him to be suspicious of whatever was not connected with those views, in preaching, and in the means that were used to promote a revival. He seemed to have little or no confidence in any conversions that did not bring men to embrace his views of divine efficiency and divine sovereignty; and as those of us who labored in those revivals had no sympathy with his views in that respect, it was very natural for him to have but little confidence in the genuineness of the revivals. But we never supposed that the whole of the opposition could have originated in representations made by any of the members of that association.
No public replies were made to the letters that found their way into the public prints, nor to anything that was published in opposition to the revivals. Those of us who were engaged in them, had our hands too full, and our hearts too full, to turn aside, to reply to letters, or reports, or publications, that so manifestly misrepresented the character of the work.
The fact that no answers were made at the time, left the public abroad, and without the range of those revivals, and where the facts were not known, to misapprehend their character. So much misapprehension came to exist, that it has been common for good men, in referring to those revivals, to assume, that although they were, upon the whole, revivals of religion; yet, that they were so conducted that great disorders were manifest in them, and that there was much to deplore in their results.
Now all this is an entire mistake. I shall relate as fairly as I can, the characteristics of these revivals, the measures that were used in promoting them, and disclose, to the best of my ability, their real character and results; understanding well, as I do, that there are multitudes of living witnesses, who can attest the truth of what I say, or if, in anything, I am mistaken, can correct me.
And now I will turn to Western, where these revivals commenced, in Oneida county. I have said, that Mr. Gale had settled upon a farm in Western; and was employing some young men, in helping to cultivate the farm, and was engaged in teaching them, and endeavoring to regain his health. I went directly to his house, and for several weeks was his guest. We arrived there Thursday, I think, and that afternoon there was a stated prayer meeting, in the schoolhouse, near the church. The church had no settled minister, and Mr. Gale was unable to preach; indeed, he did not go there to preach, but simply for his health. I believe they usually had a minister, only a part of the time; and for some time previously to my going there, I think, they had had no stated preaching at all, in the Presbyterian church. There were three elders in the church, and a few members; but the church was very small, and religion was at low water mark. There seemed to be no life, or courage, or enterprise, on the part of Christians; and nothing was doing to secure the conversion of sinners, or the sanctification of the church.
In the afternoon Mr. Gale invited me to go to the prayer meeting, and I went. They asked me to take the lead of the meeting; but I declined, expecting to be there only for that afternoon, and preferring rather to hear them pray and talk, than to take part in the meeting myself. The meeting was opened by one of the elders, who read a chapter in the Bible, then a hymn, which they sung. After this he made a long prayer, or perhaps I should say an exhortation, or gave a narrative--I hardly know what to call it. He told the Lord how many years they had been holding that prayer meeting weekly, and that no answer had been given to their prayers. He made such statements and confessions as greatly shocked me. After he had done, another elder took up the same theme. He read a hymn, and, after singing, engaged in a long prayer, in which he went over very nearly the same ground, making such statements as the first one had omitted. Then followed the third elder, in the same strain. By this time I could say with Paul, that my Spirit was stirred within me. They had got through and were about to dismiss the meeting. But one of the elders asked me if I would not make a remark, before they dismissed. I arose and took their statements and confessions for a text; and it seemed to me, at the time, that God inspired me to give them a terrible searching.
When I arose, I had no idea what I should say; but the Spirit of God came upon me, and I took up their prayers, and statements and confessions, and dissected them. I showed them up, and asked if it had been understood that that prayer meeting was a mock prayer meeting whether they had come together professedly to mock God, by implying that all the blame of what had been passing all this time, was to be ascribed to His sovereignty?
At first I observed that they all looked angry. Some of them afterward said, that they were on the point of getting up and going out. But I followed them up on the track of their prayers and confessions, until the elder, who was the principal man among them, and opened the meeting, bursting into tears, exclaimed, "Brother Finney, it is all true!" He fell upon his knees and wept aloud. This was the signal for a general breaking down. Every man and woman went down upon their knees. There were probably not more than a dozen present; but they were the leading members in the church. They all wept, and confessed, and broke their hearts before God. This scene continued, I presume, for an hour; and a more thorough breaking down and confession I have seldom witnessed.
As soon as they recovered themselves somewhat, they besought me to remain and preach to them on the Sabbath. I regarded it as the voice of the Lord, and consented to do so. This was Thursday, at night. On Friday, my mind was greatly exercised. I went off frequently into the church, to engage in secret prayer, and had a mighty hold upon God. The news was circulated, and on Sabbath the church was full of hearers. I preached all day, and God came down with great power upon the people. It was manifest to everybody that the work of grace had begun. I made appointments to preach in different parts of the town, in schoolhouses, and at the center, during the week; and the work increased from day to day.
In the meantime, my own mind was much exercised in prayer; and I found that the spirit of prayer was prevailing, especially among the female members of the church. Mrs. B and Mrs. H, the wives of two of the elders of the church, I found, were, almost immediately, greatly exercised in prayer. Each of them had families of unconverted children; and they laid hold in prayer with an earnestness that, to me, gave promise that their families must be converted. Mrs. H, however, was a woman of very feeble health, and had not ventured out much, to any meeting, for a long time. But, as the day was pleasant, she was out at the prayer meeting to which I have alluded, and seemed to catch the inspiration of that meeting, and took it home with her.
It was the next week, I think, that I called in at Mr. H's, and found him pale and agitated. He said to me "Brother Finney, I think my wife will die. She is so exercised in her mind that she cannot rest day or night, but is given up entirely to prayer. She has been all the morning," said he, "in her room, groaning and struggling in prayer; and I am afraid it will entirely overcome her strength." Hearing my voice in the sitting room, she came out from her bedroom, and upon her face was a most heavenly glow. Her countenance was lighted up with a hope and a joy that were plainly from heaven. She exclaimed, "Brother Finney, the Lord has come! This work will spread over all this region! A cloud of mercy overhangs us all; and we shall see such a work of grace as we have never yet seen." Her husband looked surprised, confounded, and knew not what to say. It was new to him, but not to me. I had witnessed such scenes before, and believed that prayer had prevailed; nay, I felt sure of it in my own soul.
The work went on, spread, and prevailed, until it began to exhibit unmistakable indications of the direction in which the Spirit of God was leading from that place. The distance to home was nine miles, I believe. About half way, was a small village, called Elmer's Hill. There was a large schoolhouse, where I held a weekly lecture; and it soon became manifest that the work was spreading in the direction of Rome and Utica. There was a settlement northeast of Rome, about three miles, called Wright's settlement. Large numbers of persons came down to attend the meetings at Elmer's Hill, from Rome and from Wright's settlement; and the work soon began to take effect among them.
But I must relate a few of the incidents that occurred in the revival at Western. Mrs. B, to whom I have already alluded, had a large family of unconverted children. One of the sons was, I believe, a professor of religion, and lived at Utica; the rest of the family were at home. They were a very amiable family; and the eldest daughter, especially, had been manifestly regarded by the family as almost perfect. I went in several times to converse with her; but I found that the family were so tender of her feelings that I could not strip away her self-righteousness. She had evidently been made to believe that she was almost, if not quite, a Christian. Her life had been so irreproachable, that it was very difficult to convict her of sin. The second daughter was also a very amiable girl; but she did not regard herself as worthy to be compared with the eldest, in respect to amiability and excellence of character.
One day when I was talking with S, the eldest, and trying to make her see herself as a great sinner, notwithstanding her morality, C, the second daughter said to me, "Mr. Finney I think that you are too hard upon S. If you should talk so to me, I should feel that I deserved it; but I don't think that she does." After being defeated several times in my attempts to secure the conviction and conversion of S, I made up my mind to bide my time, and improve some opportunity when I should find her away from home, or alone. It was not long before the opportunity came. I entered into conversation with her, and by God's help stripped the covering from her heart, and she was brought under powerful conviction for sin. The Spirit pursued her with mighty power. The family were surprised and greatly distressed for S; but God pushed the question home till, after a struggle of a few days, she broke thoroughly down, and came out into the kingdom, as beautiful a convert as, perhaps, I have ever seen. Her convictions were so thorough, that when she came out, she was strong in faith, clear in her apprehension of duty and of truth, and immediately became a host in her power for good among her friends and acquaintances.
In the meantime, C, the second daughter, became very much alarmed about herself, and very anxious for the salvation of her own soul. The mother seemed to be in real travail of soul day and night. I called in to see the family almost daily, and sometimes, two or three times a day. One of the children after another was converted; and we were expecting every day to see C come out a bright convert. But for some reason she lingered. It was plain the Spirit was resisted; and one day I called to see her, and found her in the sitting room alone. I asked her how she was getting on, and she replied, "Mr. Finney, I am losing my conviction. I do not feel nearly as much concerned about myself as I have done." Just at this moment, a door was opened, and Mrs. B came into the room, and I told her what C had said. It shocked her so that she groaned aloud, and fell prostrate on the floor. She was unable to rise; and she struggled and groaned out her prayers, in a manner that immediately indicated to me that C must be converted. She was unable to say much in words, but her groans and tears witnessed the extreme agony of her mind. As soon as this scene had occurred, the Spirit of God manifestly came upon C afresh. She fell upon her knees, and before she arose she broke down; and became to all appearance as thorough a convert as S was. The B children, sons and daughters, were all converted at that time, I believe, except the youngest, then a little child. One of the sons has preached the Gospel for many years.
Among other incidents, I recollect the case of a young woman, in a distant part of the town, who came to the meeting at the center almost every day. I had conversed with her several times, and found her deeply convicted, and, indeed, almost in despair. I was expecting to hear, from day to day, that she had been converted; but she remained stationary, or rather despair increased upon her. This led me to suspect that something was wrong at home. I asked her if her parents were Christians. She said they were members of the church. I asked her if they attended meetings. She said, "Yes, on the Sabbath. Do not your parents attend meetings at other times?" "No," was the reply. "Do you have family prayers at home?" "No sir," she said. "We used to have; but we have not had family prayers for a long time." This revealed to me the stumbling block, at once. I inquired when I could probably find her father and mother at home. She said, "almost any time," as they were seldom away from home. Feeling that it was infinitely dangerous to leave this case as it was, I went the next morning to see the family.
This daughter was, I think, an only child; at any rate, she was the only child at home. I found her bowed down, dejected, and sunken in despair. I said to the mother, "The Spirit of the Lord is striving with your daughter." "Yes," she said, "I don't know but He is." I asked her if she was praying for her. She gave me an answer that led me to understand that she did not know what it was to pray for her. I inquired for her husband. She said that he was in the field at work. I asked her to call him in. He came, and as he came in I said to him, "Do you see the state that your daughter is in?" He replied that he thought she felt very bad. "And are you awake, and engaged in prayer for her?" His answer revealed the fact that if he was ever converted he was a miserable backslider, and had no hold upon God whatever. "And," said I, "you do not have family prayers." "No sir." "Now," said I, "I have seen your daughter, day after day, bowed down with conviction, and I have learned that the difficulty is here at home. You have shut up the kingdom of heaven against your daughter. You neither enter yourself, nor will you suffer her to enter. Your unbelief and worldly-mindedness prevent the conversion of your daughter, and will ruin your own soul. Now you must repent. I do not intend to leave this house until you and your wife repent, and get out of the way of your daughter. You must establish family prayer, and build up the altar that has fallen down. Now, my dear sir, will you get down here on your knees, you and your wife, and engage in prayer? And will you promise, that from this time you will do your duty, set up your family altar, and return to God?"
I was so earnest with them, that they both began to weep. My faith was so strong, that I did not trifle when I told them that I would not leave the house, until they would repent, and establish their family altar. I felt that the work must be done, and done then. I cast myself down upon my knees and began to pray; and they knelt down and wept sorely. I confessed for them as well as I could, and tried to lead them to God, and to prevail with God in their behalf. It was a moving scene. They both broke down their hearts, and confessed their sins; and before we rose from our knees the daughter got into liberty, and was manifestly converted. She arose rejoicing in Christ. Many answers to prayer, and many scenes of great interest were presented in this revival.
There was one passage of my own experience that, for the honor of God, I must not omit to relate in this connection. I had preached and prayed almost continually during the time that I had been at Mr. Gale's. As I was accustomed to use my voice in private prayer, for convenience sake, that I might not be heard, I had spread a buffalo robe on the hayloft; where I used to spend much of my time, when not abroad visiting, or engaged in preaching, in secret prayer to God. Mr. Gale had admonished me, several times, that, if I did not take care, I should go beyond my strength and break down. But the Spirit of prayer was upon me, and I would not resist Him; but gave Him scope, and let out my strength freely, in pouring my soul out to God. It was November, and the weather was becoming cold. Mr. Gale and I had been out visiting inquirers with his horse and buggy. We came home and went into the barn, and put out the horse. Instead of going into the house, I crept up into the hayloft to pour out my burdened song to God in prayer. I prayed until my burden left me. I was so far exhausted that I fell down, and lost myself in sleep. I must have fallen asleep almost instantly, I judge, from the fact that I had no recollection of any time elapsing, after the struggle in my soul was over. The first I knew, Mr. Gale came climbing up into the hayloft, and said, "Brother Finney, are you dead?" I awoke, and at first could give no account why I was there asleep, and could form no idea how long I had been there. But this I knew, that my mind was calm and my faith unwavering. The work would go on, of that I felt assured.
I have already said that I was ordained to the ministry by a presbytery. This was years before the division of the Presbyterian church into what is known as the Old and New School Assemblies. The well known doctrine of natural and moral ability and inability, was held by the Presbyterian church, almost universally, in the region where I commenced my ministry. I must here repeat also that Mr. Gale, who, by direction of the presbytery, had attended somewhat to my theological studies, held firmly to the doctrine of the sinner's inability to obey God; and the subject as he presented it in his preaching, as was the case with most of the Presbyterian ministers of that day, left the impression upon the people that they must wait God's time. If they were elect, in due time the Spirit would convert them; if they were non-elect, nothing that they could do for themselves, or that anybody else could do for them, would ever savingly benefit them.
They held the doctrine that moral depravity was constitutional, and belonged to the very nature; that the will, though free to do evil, was utterly impotent to all good; that the work of the Holy Spirit in changing the heart, was a physical operation on the substance or essence of the soul; that the sinner was passive in regeneration, till the Holy Spirit had implanted a new principle in his nature, and that all efforts on his part vere utterly unavailing; that properly speaking there were no means of regeneration, this being a physical recreation of the soul by the direct agency of the Holy Ghost; that the atonement was limited to the elect, and that for the non-elect to be saved was an utter impossibility.
In my studies and controversies with Mr. Gale, I had maintained the opposite of this. I assumed that moral depravity is, and must be, a voluntary attitude of the mind; that it does, and must, consist in the committal of the will to the gratification of the desires, or as the Bible expresses it, of the lusts of the flesh, as opposed to that which the law of God requires. In consistency with this I maintained that the influence of the Spirit of God upon the soul of man is moral, that is persuasive; that Christ represented Him as a teacher; that His work is to convict and convert the sinner, by divine teaching and persuasion.
I held also that there are means of regeneration, and that the truths of the Bible are, in their nature, calculated to lead the sinner to abandon his wickedness and turn to God. I held also that there must be an adaptation of means to the end to be secured; that is, that the intelligence must be enlightened, the unreasonableness of moral depravity must be set before the sinner, and its wickedness and ill-desert clearly revealed to him; that when this was done the mission of Christ could be strongly presented, and could be understood by him; that taking this course with the sinner, had a tendency to convert him to Christ; and that when this was faithfully and prayerfully done, we had a right to expect the Holy Spirit to cooperate with us, giving effect to our feeble effort.
Furthermore, I held that the Holy Spirit operates in the preacher, clearly revealing these truths in their proper order to him, and enabling him to set them before the people, in such proportion, and in such order as is calculated to convert them. I understood then, as I do now, the charge and promise which Christ gave to the apostles and to the church, to be applicable in the present day: "Go and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."
This I regarded as a charge committed to me, to all ministers, and to the church; with the express promise that when we go forth to this work, with a single eye, and with a prayerful heart, Christ will be with us by His Spirit, giving efficiency to our efforts to save souls. It appeared to me then, as it ever has since, that the great failure of the ministry and of the church, in promoting religion, consisted, in great measure, in the want of a suitable adaptation of means to that end. I had sat under Mr. Gale's preaching for years, and could never see any adaptation in his preaching to convert anybody. It did not appear to me as if that could have been his design. I found the same was true of all the sermons that I heard, anywhere. I had on one occasion spoken to Mr. Gale on this subject, and said to him, that of all the causes that were ever plead, the cause of religion, I thought, had the fewest able advocates; and that if advocates at the bar should pursue the same course in pleading the cause of their clients, that ministers do in pleading the cause of Christ with sinners, they would not gain a single case.
But at that time, Mr. Gale could not see it; for what connection was there between means and ends, upon his view of what regeneration consisted in, and the manner in which the Holy Spirit changed the heart?
As an illustration, soon after I began to preach, in the midst of a powerful revival, a young man from the theological seminary at Princeton, came into the place. The former pastor of the church, an elderly gentlemen, lived there, and had a great curiosity to hear this young man preach. The church had no pastor at the time; I therefore had the sole charge of the pulpit, and was conducting things according to my own discretion. He said he had known the young man before he went to college, and he desired very much to see what proficiency he had made; and wanted I should let him preach. I said I was afraid to set him to preach, lest he should mar the work, by not preaching that which was needed at the time. "Oh," said the old gentleman, "he will preach the truth; and there is no connection in religion, you know, between means and ends, and therefore there is no danger of his marring the work." I replied, "That is not my doctrine. I believe there is as much connection between means and ends in religion as in nature; and therefore cannot consent to let him preach."
I have often found it necessary to take substantially the same course in revivals of religion; and sometimes, by doing so, I have found that I gave offense; but I dared not do otherwise. In the midst of a revival of religion, and when souls needed peculiar instruction, adapted to their present condition and their present wants, I dared not put a stranger into the pulpit, where I had the charge, to preach any of his great sermons, and generally too, a sermon not at all adapted to the wants of the people. For this course I have frequently been accused of supposing that I could preach better than others. And I confess I did suppose that I could meet the wants of the people, better than those that knew less about them, or than those that would preach their old written sermons to them; and I supposed that Christ had put the work into my hands in such a sense, that I was under obligation to adapt means to ends, and not call upon others who knew little of the state of things, to attempt to instruct the people. I did in these cases just as I would be done by. I would not allow myself to go in, where another man was laboring to promote a revival, and suffer myself to be put in his place, when I knew little or nothing about the state of the people.
I have said that at Western I was the guest of Mr. Gale, and that he had come to the conclusion that he was never converted. He told me the progress of his mind; that he had firmly believed, as he had so frequently urged upon me, that God would not bless my labors, because I would not preach what he regarded as the truths of the Gospel. But when he found that the Spirit of God did accompany my labors, it led him to the conclusion that he was wrong; and this led him to such an overhauling of his whole state of mind, and of his views as a preacher, as resulted in his coming to the conclusion that he had never been converted, and did not understand the Gospel himself. During the revival in Western, he attended nearly all the meetings; and before many weeks, he told me he had come into an entirely different state of mind in regard to his own soul, and had changed his views of the Gospel, and thought I was right. He said he thanked God that he had had no influence with me, to lead me to adopt his views; that I should have been ruined as a minister if he had prevailed. From this time he became a very efficient worker, so far as his health would permit, in the revival in that region of country.
The doctrine upon which I insisted, that the command to obey God implied the power to do so, created in some places considerable opposition at first. Denying also, as I did, that moral depravity is physical, or the depravity of the nature, and maintaining, as I did, that it is altogether voluntary, and therefore that the Spirit's influences are those of teaching, persuading, convicting, and, of course, a moral influence, I was regarded by many as teaching new and strange doctrines. Indeed, as late as 1832, when I was laboring in Boston for the first time, Dr. Beecher said that he never had heard the doctrine preached before, that the Spirit's influences are moral, as opposed to physical. Therefore, to a considerable extent, ministers and Christians regarded that doctrine as virtually a denial of the Spirit's influence altogether; and hence, although I ever insisted very much, and incessantly, upon the divine agency in conviction and regeneration, and in every Christian exercise; yet it was a long time before the cry ceased to be heard that I denied the agency of the Holy Ghost, in regeneration and conversion. It was said that I taught self-conversion, self-regeneration; and not unfrequently was I rebuked for addressing the sinner, as if the blame of his impenitence all belonged to himself, and for urging him to immediate submission. However, I persisted in this course, and it was seen by ministers and Christians that God owned it as His truth, and blessed it to the salvation of thousands of souls.
I have spoken of the meetings at Elmer's Hill, and have said that people from Rome and Wright's settlement began to come in large numbers; and that the manifest effect of the Word upon those that came, plainly indicated that the work was rapidly extending in that direction.
CHAPTER XIII. Back
REVIVAL AT ROME.
AT this time Rev. Moses Gillett, pastor of the Congregational Church in Rome, hearing what the Lord was doing in Western, came, in company with a Miss H, one of the prominent members of his church, to see the work that was going on. They were both greatly impressed with the work of God. I could see that the Spirit of God was stirring them up to the deepest foundations of their minds. After a few days, Mr. Gillett and Miss H came up again. Miss H was a very devout and earnest Christian girl. On their second coming up, Mr. Gillett said to me, "Brother Finney, it seems to me that I have a new Bible. I never before understood the promises as I do now; I never got hold of them before; I cannot rest," said he; "my mind is full of the subject, and the promises are new to me." This conversation, protracted as it was for some time, gave me to understand that the Lord was preparing him for a great work in his own congregation.
Soon after this, and when the revival was in its full strength at Western, Mr. Gillett persuaded me to exchange a day with him. I consented reluctantly.
On the Saturday before the day of our exchange, on my way to Rome, I greatly regretted that I had consented to the exchange. I felt that it would greatly mar the work in Western, because Mr. Gillett would preach some of his old sermons, which I knew very well could not be adapted to the state of things. However, the people were praying; and it would not stop the work, although it might retard it. I went to Rome and preached three times on the Sabbath. To me it was perfectly manifest that the Word took great effect. I could see during the day that many heads were down, and that a great number of them were bowed down with deep conviction for sin. I preached in the morning on the text: "The carnal mind is enmity against God;" and followed it up with something in the same direction, in the afternoon and evening. I waited on Monday morning, till Mr. Gillett returned from Western. I told him what my impressions were in respect to the state of the people. He did not seem to realize that the work was beginning with such power as I supposed. But he wanted to call for inquirers, if there were any in the congregation, and wished me to be present at the meeting. I have said before, that the means that I had all along used, thus far, in promoting revivals, were much prayer, secret and social, public preaching, personal conversation, and visitation from house to house; and when inquirers became multiplied, I appointed meetings for them, and invited those that were inquiring to meet for instruction, suited to their necessities. These were the means and the only means, that I had thus far used, in attempting to secure the conversion of souls.
Mr. Gillett asked me to be present at the proposed meeting of inquiry. I told him I would; and that he might circulate information through the village, that there would be a meeting of inquiry, on Monday evening. I would go to Western, and return just at evening; it being understood that he was not to let the people know that he expected me to be present. The meeting was called at the house of one of his deacons. When we arrived, we found the large sitting room crowed to its utmost capacity. Mr. Gillett looked around with surprise, and manifest agitation; for he found that the meeting was composed of many of the most intelligent and influential members of his congregation; and especially was largely composed of the prominent young men in the town. We spent a little while in attempting to converse with them; and I soon saw that the feeling was so deep, that there was danger of an outburst of feeling, that would be almost uncontrollable. I therefore said to Mr. Gillett, "It will not do to continue the meeting in this shape. I will make some remarks, such as they need, and then dismiss them."
Nothing had been said or done to create any excitement in the meeting. The feeling was all spontaneous. The work was with such power, that even a few words of conversation would make the stoutest men writhe on their seats, as if a sword had been thrust into their hearts. It would probably not be possible for one who had never witnessed such a scene, to realize what the force of the truth sometimes is, under the power of the Holy Ghost. It was indeed a sword, and a two-edged sword. The pain that it produced when searchingly presented in a few words of conversation, would create a distress that seemed unendurable.
Mr. Gillett became very much agitated. He turned pale; and with a good deal of excitement he said, "What shall we do? What shall we do?" I put my hand on his shoulder, and in a whisper said, "Keep quiet, keep quiet, Brother Gillett." I then addressed them in as gentle but plain a manner as I could; calling their attention at once to their only remedy, and assuring them that it was a present and all-sufficient remedy. I pointed them to Christ, as the Savior of the world; and kept on in this strain as long as they could well endure it, which, indeed, was but a few moments.
Mr. Gillett became so agitated that I stepped up to him, and taking him by the arm I said, "Let us pray." We knelt down in the middle of the room where we had been standing. I led in prayer, in a low, unimpassioned voice; but interceded with the Savior to interpose His blood, then and there, and to lead all these sinners to accept the salvation which He proffered, and to believe to the saving of their souls. The agitation deepened every moment; and as I could hear their sobs, and sighs, I closed my prayer and rose suddenly from my knees. They all arose, and I said, "Now please go home without speaking a word to each other. Try to keep silent, and do not break out into any boisterous manifestation of feeling; but go without saying a word, to your rooms."
At this moment a young man by the name of W, a clerk in Mr. H's store, being one of the first young men in the place, so nearly fainted, that he fell upon some young men that stood near him; and they all of them partially swooned away, and fell together. This had well-nigh produced a loud shrieking; but I hushed them down, and said to the young men, "Please set that door wide open, and go out, and let all retire in silence." They did as I requested. They did not shriek; but they went out sobbing and sighing, and their sobs and sighs could be heard till they got out into the street.
This Mr. W, to whom I have alluded, kept silence till he entered the door where he lived; but he could contain himself any longer. He shut the door, fell upon the floor, and burst out into a loud wailing, in view of his awful condition: This brought the family around him, and scattered conviction among the whole of them.
I afterwards learned that similar scenes occurred in other families. Several, as it was afterwards ascertained, were converted at the meeting, and went home so full of joy, that they could hardly contain themselves.
The next morning, as soon as it was fairly day, people began to call at Mr. Gillett's, to have us go and visit members of their families, whom they represented as being under the greatest conviction. We took a hasty breakfast, and started out. As soon as we were in the streets, the people ran out from many houses, and begged us to go into their houses. As we could only visit but one place at a time, when we went into a house, the neighbors would rush in and fill the largest room. We would stay and give them instruction for a short time, and then go to another house, and the people would follow us.
We found a most extraordinary state of things. Convictions were so deep and universal, that we would sometimes go into a house, and find some in a kneeling posture, and some prostrate on the floor. We visited, and conversed, and prayed in this manner, from house to house, till noon. I then said to Mr. Gillett, "This will never do; we must have a meeting of inquiry. We cannot go from house to house, and we are not meeting the wants of the people at all." He agreed with me; but the question arose, where shall we have the meeting?
A Mr. F, a religious man, at that time kept a hotel, on the corner, at the center of the town. He had a large dining room; and Mr. Gitlett said, "I will step in and see if I cannot be allowed to appoint the meeting of inquiry in his dining room." Without difficulty he obtained consent, and then went immediately to the public schools, and gave notice that at one o'clock there would be a meeting of inquiry at Mr. F's dining room. We went home, and took our dinner, and started for the meeting. We saw people hurrying, and some of them actually running to the meeting. They were coming from every direction. By the time we were there, the room, though a large one, was crammed to its utmost capacity. Men, women, and children crowded the apartment.
This meeting was very much like the one we had had the night before. The feeling was overwhelming. Some men of the strongest nerves were so cut down by the remarks which were made, that they were unable to help themselves, and had to be taken home by their friends. This meeting lasted till nearly night. It resulted in a great number of hopeful conversions, and was the means of greatly extending the work on every side.
I preached that evening, and Mr. Gillett appointed a meeting for inquiry, the next morning, in the courthouse. This was a much larger room than the dining hall, though it was not so central. However, at the hour, the court house was crowded; and we spent a good part of the day in giving instruction, and the work went on with wonderful power. I preached again in the evening, and Mr. Gillett appointed a meeting of inquiry, the next morning, at the church; as no other room in the village was then large enough to hold the inquirers.
At evening, if I rightly remember the order of things; we undertook to hold a prayer and conference meeting in a large schoolhouse. But the meeting was hardly begun before the feeling deepened so much that, to prevent an undesirable outburst of overwhelming feeling, I proposed to Mr. Gillett that we should dismiss the meeting, and request the people to go in silence, and Christians to spend the evening in secret prayer, or in family prayer, as might seem most desirable. Sinners we exhorted not to sleep, until they gave their hearts to God. After this the work became so general that I preached every night, I think, for twenty nights in succession, and twice on the Sabbath. Our prayer meetings during this time were held in the church, in the daytime. The prayer meeting was held one part of the day, and a meeting for inquiry the other part. Every day, if I remember aright, after the work had thus commenced, we held a prayer meeting and a meeting for inquiry, with preaching in the evening. There was a solemnity throughout the whole place, and an awe that made everybody feel that God was there.
Ministers came in from neighboring towns, and expressed great astonishment at what they saw and heard, as well they might. Conversions multiplied so rapidly, that we had no way of learning who were converted.
Therefore every evening, at the close of my sermon, I requested all who had been converted that day, to come forward and report themselves in front of the pulpit, that we might have a little conversation with them. We were every night surprised by the number and the class of persons that came forward.
At one of our morning prayer meetings, the lower part of the church was full. I arose and was making some remarks to the people, when an unconverted man, a merchant, came into the meeting. He came along till he found a seat in front of me, and near where I stood speaking. He had sat but a few moments, when he fell from his seat as if he had been shot. He writhed and groaned in a terrible manner. I stepped to the pew door, and saw that it was altogether an agony of mind.
A skeptical physician sat near him. He stepped out of his slip, and came and examined this man who was thus distressed. He felt his pulse, and examined the case for a few moments. He said nothing, but turned away, and leaned his head against a post that supported the gallery, and manifested great agitation.
He said afterward that he saw at once that it was distress of mind, and it took his skepticism entirely away. He was soon after hopefully converted. We engaged in prayer for the man who fell in the pew; and before he left the house, I believe, his anguish passed away, and he rejoiced in Christ.
Another physician, a very amiable man but a skeptic, had a little daughter and a praying wife. Little H, a girl perhaps eight or nine years old, was strongly convicted of sin, and her mother was greatly interested in her state of mind. But her father was, at first, quite indignant. He said to his wife, "The subject of religion is too high for me. I never could understand it. And do you tell me that that little child understands it so as to be intelligently convicted of sin? I do not believe it. I know better. I cannot endure it. It is fanaticism; it is madness." Nevertheless the mother of the child held fast in prayer. The doctor made these remarks, as I learned, with a good deal of spirit. Immediately he took his horse, and went several miles to see a patient. On his way, as he afterward remarked, that subject took possession of his mind in such a manner, that it was all opened to his understanding; and the whole plan of salvation by Christ was so clear to him that he saw that a child could understand it. He wondered that it had ever seemed so mysterious to him. He regretted exceedingly that he had said what he had to his wife about little H, and felt in haste to get home that he might take it back. He soon came home, another man; told his wife what had passed in his own mind; encouraged dear little H to come to Christ; and both father and daughter have since been earnest Christians, and have lived long and done much good.
But in this revival, as in others that I have known, God did some terrible things in righteousness. On one Sabbath while I was there, as we came out of the pulpit, and were about to leave the church, a man came in haste to Mr. Gillett and myself, and requested us to go to a certain place, saying that a man had fallen down dead there. I was engaged in conversing with somebody, and Mr. Gillett went alone. When I was through with the conversation, I went to Mr. Gillett's house, and he soon returned and related this fact. Three men who had been opposing the work, had met that Sabbath-day, and spent the day in drinking and ridiculing the work. They went on in this way until one of them suddenly fell dead. When Mr. Gillett arrived at the house, and the circumstances were related to him, he said, "There--there is no doubt but that man has been stricken down by God, and has been sent to hell." His companions were speechless. They could say nothing; for it was evident to them that their conduct had brought upon him this awful stroke of divine indignation.
As the work proceeded, it gathered in nearly the whole population. Nearly every one of the lawyers, merchants, and physicians, and almost all the principal men, and indeed, nearly all the adult population of the village, were brought in, especially those who belonged to Mr. Gillett's congregation. He said to me before I left, "So far as my congregation is concerned, the millennium is come already. My people are all converted. Of all my past labors I have not a sermon that is suited at all to my congregation, for they are all Christians." Mr. Gillett afterward reported that, during the twenty days that I spent at Rome, there were five hundred conversions in that town.
During the progress of this work, a good deal of excitement sprung up in Utica, and some there, were disposed to ridicule the work at Rome. Mr. E, who lived at Rome, was a very prominent citizen, and was regarded as standing at the head of society there, in point of wealth and intelligence. But he was skeptical; or, perhaps I should say, he held Unitarian views. He was a very moral and respectable man, and held his peculiar views unobtrusively, saying very little to anybody about them. The first Sabbath I preached there, Mr. H was present; and he was so astonished, as he afterwards told me, at my preaching, that he made up his mind that he would not go again. He went home and said to his family: "That man is mad, and I should not be surprised if he set the town on fire." He stayed away from the meeting for some two weeks. In the meantime the work became so great as to confound his skepticism, and he was in a state of great perplexity.
He was president of a bank in Utica, and used to go down to attend the weekly meeting of the directors. On one of these occasions, one of the directors began to rally him on the state of things in Rome, as if they were all running mad there. Mr. H remarked, "Gentlemen, say what you will, there is something very remarkable in the state of things in Rome. Certainly no human power or eloquence has produced what we see there. I cannot understand it. You say it will soon subside. No doubt the intensity of feeling that is now in Rome, must soon subside, or the people will become insane. But, gentlemen," said he, "there is no accounting for that state of feeling by any philosophy, unless there be something divine in it."
After Mr. H had stayed away from the meeting about two weeks, a few of us assembled one afternoon, to make him a special subject of prayer. The Lord gave us strong faith in praying for him; and we felt the conviction that the Lord was working in his soul. That evening he came to meeting. When he came into the house, Mr. Gillett whispered to me as he sat in the pulpit, and said, "Brother Finney, Mr. H has come. I hope you will not say anything that will offend him." "No," said I, "but I shall not spare him." In those days I was obliged to preach altogether without premeditation; for I had not an hour in a week, which I could take to arrange my thoughts beforehand.
I chose my subject and preached. The Word took a powerful hold; and as I hoped and intended, it took a powerful hold of Mr. H himself. I think it was that very night, when I requested, at the close of the meeting, all those who had been converted that day and evening to come forward and report themselves, Mr. H was one who came deliberately, solemnly forward, and reported himself as having given his heart to God. He appeared humble and penitent, and I have always supposed, was truly converted to Christ.
The state of things in the village, and in the neighborhood round about, was such that no one could come into the village, without feeling awe-stricken with the impression that God was there, in a peculiar and wonderful manner. As an illustration of this, I will relate an incident. The sheriff of the county resided in Utica. There were two courthouses in the county, one at Rome, and the other at Utica; consequently the sheriff, B by name, had much business at Rome. He afterwards told me that he had heard of the state of things at Rome; and he, together with others, had a good deal of laughing, in the hotel where he boarded, about what they had heard.
But one day it was necessary for him to go. to Rome. He said that he was glad to have business there; for he wanted to see for himself what it was that people talked so much about, and what the state of things really was in Rome. He drove on in his one horse sleigh, as he told me, without any particular impression upon his mind at all, until he crossed what was called the old canal, a place about a mile, I think, from the town. He said as soon as he crossed the old canal, a strange impression came over him, an awe so deep that he could not shake it off. He felt as if God pervaded the whole atmosphere. He said that this increased the whole way, till he came to the village. He stopped at Mr. F's hotel, and the hostler came out and took his horse. He observed, he said, that the hostler looked just as he himself felt, as if he were afraid to speak. He went into the house, and found the gentleman there with whom he had business. He said they were manifestly all so much impressed, they could hardly attend to business. He said that several times, in the course of the short time he was there, he had to rise from the table abruptly, and go to the window and look out, and try to divert his attention, to keep from weeping. He observed, he said, that everybody else appeared to feel just as he did. Such an awe, such a solemnity, such a state of things, he had never had any conception of before. He hastened through with his business, and returned to Utica; but, as he said, never to speak lightly of the work at Rome again. A few weeks later, at Utica, he was hopefully converted; the circumstances of which I shall relate in the proper place.
I have spoken of Wright's settlement, a village northeast of Rome, some two or three miles. The revival took powerful effect there, and converted the great mass of the inhabitants.
The means that were used at Rome, were such as I had used before, and no others; preaching, public, social, and private prayer, exhortations, and personal conversation. It is difficult to conceive so deep and universal a state of religious feeling, with no instance of disorder, or tumult, or fanaticism, or anything that was objectionable, as was witnessed at Rome. There are many of the converts of that revival, scattered all through the land, living to this day; and they can testify that in those meetings the greatest order and solemnity prevailed, and the utmost pains were taken to guard against everything that was to be deplored.
The Spirit's work was so spontaneous, so powerful and so overwhelming, as to render it necessary to exercise the greatest caution and wisdom, in conducting all the meetings, in order to prevent an undesirable outburst of feeling, that soon would have exhausted the sensibility of the people, and brought about a reaction. But no reaction followed, as everybody knows who is acquainted with the facts. They kept up a sunrise prayer meeting for several months, and I believe for more that a year afterwards, at all seasons of the year, that was very fully attended, and was as full of interest as perhaps a prayer meeting could well be. The moral state of the people was so greatly changed, that Mr. Gillett often remarked that it did not seem like the same place. Whatever of sin was left, was obliged to hide its head. No open immorality could be tolerated there for a moment. I have given only a very faint outline of what passed at Rome. A faithful description of all the moving incidents that were crowded into that revival, would make a volume of itself.
I should say a few words in regard to the spirit of prayer which prevailed at Rome at this time. I think it was on the Saturday that I came down from Western to exchange with Mr. Gillett, that I met the church in the afternoon in a prayer meeting, in their house of worship. I endeavored to make them understand that God would immediately answer prayer, provided they fulfilled the conditions upon which he had promised to answer prayer; and especially if they believed, in the sense of expecting Him to answer their requests. I observed that the church were greatly interested in my remarks, and their countenances manifested an intense desire to see an answer to their prayers. Near the close of the meeting I recollect making this remark: "I really believe, if you will unite this afternoon in the prayer of faith to God, for the immediate outpouring of His Spirit, that you will receive an answer from heaven, sooner than you would get a message from Albany, by the quickest post that could be sent."
I said this with great emphasis, and felt it; and I observed that the people were startled with my expression of earnestness and faith in respect to an immediate answer to prayer. The fact is, I had so often seen this result in answer to prayer, that I made the remark without any misgiving. Nothing was said by any of the members of the church at the time; but I learned after the work had begun, that three or four members of the church called in at Mr. Gillett's study, and felt so impressed with what had been said about speedy answers to prayer, that they determined to take God at His word, and see whether he would answer while they were yet speaking. One of them told me afterwards that they had wonderful faith given them by the Spirit of God, to pray for an immediate answer; and he added, "The answer did come quicker than we could have got an answer from Albany, by the quickest post we could have sent."
Indeed the town was full of prayer. Go where you would, you heard the voice of prayer. Pass along the street, and if two or three Christians happened to be together, they were praying. Wherever they met they prayed. Wherever there was a sinner unconverted, especially if he manifested any opposition, you would find some two or three brethren or sisters agreeing to make him a particular subject of prayer.
There was the wife of an officer in the United States army residing at Rome, the daughter of a prominent citizen of that place. This lady manifested a good deal of opposition to the work, and, as was reported, said some strong things against it; and this led to her being made a particular subject of prayer. This had come to my knowledge but a short time before the event occurred, which I am about to relate. I believe, in this case, some of the principal women made this lady a particular subject of prayer, as she was a person of prominent influence in the place. She was an educated lady, of great force of character, and of strong will; and of course she made her opposition felt. But almost as soon as this was known, and the spirit of prayer was given for her in particular, the Spirit of God took her case in hand. One evening, almost immediately after I had heard of her case, and perhaps the evening of the very day that the facts came to my knowledge, after the meeting was dismissed, and the people had retired, Mr. Gillett and myself had remained to the very last, conversing with some persons who were deeply bowed down with conviction. As they went away, and we were about to retire, the sexton came hurriedly to us as we were going out, and said, "There is a lady in yonder pew that cannot get out; she is helpless. Will you not come and see her?" We returned, and lo! down in the pew, was this lady of whom I have spoken, perfectly overwhelmed with conviction. The pew had been full, and she had attempted to retire with the others that went out; but as she was the last to go out, she found herself unable to stand, and sunk down upon the floor, and did so without being noticed by those that preceded her. We had some conversation with her, and found that the Lord had stricken her with unutterable conviction of sin. After praying with her, and giving her the solemn charge to give her heart immediately to Christ, I left her; and Mr. Gillett, I believe, helped her home. It was but a few rods to her house. We afterwards learned, that when she got home she went into a chamber by herself and spent the night. It was a cold winter's night. She locked herself in, and spent the night alone. The next day she expressed hope in Christ, and so far as I have known, proved to be soundly converted.
I think I should mention also the conversion of Mrs. Gillett, during this revival. She was a sister of the missionary Mills, who was one of the young men whose zeal led to the organization of the American Board. She was a beautiful woman, considerably younger than her husband, and his second wife. She had been, before Mr. Gillett married her, under conviction for several weeks and had become almost deranged. She had the impression, if I recollect right, that she was not one of the elect, and that there was no salvation for her. Soon after the revival began in Rome, she was powerfully convicted again by the Spirit of the Lord.
She was a woman of refinement, and fond of dress; and as is very common, wore about her head and upon her person some trifling ornaments; nothing, however, that I should have thought of as being any stumbling block in her way, at all. Being her guest, I conversed repeatedly with her as her convictions increased; but it never occurred to me that her fondness for dress could stand in the way of her being converted to God. But as the work became so powerful, her distress became alarming; and Mr. Gillett, knowing what had formally occurred in her case, felt quite alarmed lest she should get into that state of despondency, in which she had been years before. She threw herself upon me for instruction. Every time I came into the house, almost, she would come to me and beg me to pray for her, and tell me that her distress was more than she could bear. She was evidently going fast to despair; but I could see that she was depending too much on me; therefore I tried to avoid her.
It went on thus, until one day I came into the house, and turned into the study. In a few moments, as usual, she was before me, begging me to pray for her, and complaining that there was no salvation for her. I got up abruptly and left her, without praying with her, and saying to her that it was of no use for me to pray for her, that she was depending upon my prayers. When I did so, she sunk down as if she would faint. I left her alone, notwithstanding, and went abruptly from the study to the parlor. In the course of a few moments she came rushing across the hall into the parlor, with her face all in a glow, exclaiming, "O Mr. Finney! I have found the Savior! I have found the Savior! Don't you think that it was the ornaments in my hair that stood in the way of my conversion? I have found when I prayed that they would come up before me; and I would be tempted, as I supposed, to give them up. But," said she, "I thought they were trifles, and that God did not care about such trifles. This was a temptation of Satan. But the ornaments that I wore, continually kept coming up before my mind, whenever I attempted to give my heart to God. When you abruptly left me," she said, "I was driven to desperation. I cast myself down, and, lo! these ornaments came up again; and I said, 'I will not have these things come up again, I will put them away from me forever.'" Said she, "I renounced them, and hated them as things standing in the way of my salvation. As soon as I promised to give them up, the Lord revealed Himself to my soul; and Oh!" said she, "I wonder I have never understood this before. This was really the great difficulty with me before, when I was under conviction, my fondness for dress; and I did not know it."
CHAPTER XIV. Back to
REVIVAL AT UTICA, NEW YORK.
WHEN I had been at Rome about twenty days, one of the elders of Mr. Aiken's church in Utica, a very prominent and a very useful man, died; and I went down to attend his funeral. Mr. Aiken conducted the funeral exercises; and I learned from him that the spirit of prayer was already manifest in his congregation, and in that city. He told me that one of his principal women had been so deeply exercised in her soul about the state of the church, and of the ungodly in that city, that she had prayed for two days and nights, almost incessantly, until her strength was quite overcome; that she had literal travail of soul, to such an extent that when her own strength was exhausted, she could not endure the burden of her mind, unless somebody was engaged in prayer with her, upon whose prayer she could lean--someone who could express her desires to God.
I understood this, and told Mr. Aiken that the work had already begun in her heart. He recognized it, of course; and wished me to commence labor with him and his people immediately. I soon did so, and, be sure, the work began at once. The Word took immediate effect, and the place became filled with the manifested influence of the Holy Spirit. Our meetings were crowded every night and the work spread and went on powerfully, especially in the two Presbyterian congregations; of one of which Mr. Aiken was pastor, and Mr. Brace of the other. I divided my labors between the two congregations.
Soon after I commenced in Utica, I observed to Mr. Aiken, that Mr. B, the sheriff of whom I have made mention, did not attend the meetings, as I saw. But a few evenings afterward, just as I was about to begin to preach, Mr. Aiken whispered to me that Mr. B had come in. He pointed him out to me, as he made his way up the aisle to his seat. I took my text, and proceeded to address the congregation. I had spoken but a few moments, when I observed Mr. B rise up in the slip, turn deliberately around, wrap his great coat about him, and kneel down. I observed that it excited the attention of those that sat near, who knew him, and produced a considerable sensation in that part of the house. The sheriff continued on his knees during the whole service. He then retired to his room at the hotel in which he boarded. He was a man, perhaps fifty years old, and unmarried.
He afterwards told me that his mind was greatly burdened when he went home, and brought up the subject to which he had been listening. I had pressed the congregation to accept Christ, just as he was presented in the Gospel. The question of the present acceptance of Christ, and the whole situation in regard to the sinner's relation to him, and his relation to the sinner, had been the subject of discourse. He said that he had treasured up in his mind the points that had been made, and that he presented them solemnly before himself, and said, "My soul, will you consent to this? Will you accept of Christ, and give up sin, and give up yourself? And will you do it now?" He said he had thrown himself, in the agony of his mind, upon his bed. He made this point with himself, and conjured his soul, to accept now, and here. Right there, he said, his distress left him so suddenly that he fell asleep, and did not wake for several hours. When he did awake, he found his mind full of peace and rest in Christ; and from this moment he became an earnest worker for Christ among his acquaintances.
The hotel at which he boarded, was at that time kept by a Mr. S. The Spirit took powerful hold in that house. Mr. S himself was soon made a subject of prayer, and became converted; and a large number of his family and of his boarders. Indeed that largest hotel in the town became a center of spiritual influence, and many were converted there. The stages, as they passed through, stopped at the hotel; and so powerful was the impression in the community, that I heard of several cases of persons that just stopped for a meal, or to spend a night, being powerfully convicted and converted before they left the town. Indeed, both in this place and in Rome, it was a common remark that nobody could be in the town, or pass through it, without being aware of the presence of God; that a divine influence seemed to pervade the place, and the whole atmosphere to be instinct with a divine life.
A merchant from Lowville came to Utica, to do some business in his line. He stopped at the hotel where Mr. B boarded. He found the whole conversation in the town was such as greatly to annoy him, for he was an unconverted man. He was vexed, and said he could do no business there; it was all religion; and he resolved to go home. He could not go into a store, but religion was intruded upon him, and he could do no business with them. That evening he would go home.
These remarks had been made in the presence of some of the young converts who boarded at the hotel, and I think especially in the presence of Mr. B. As the stage was expected to leave late at night, he was observed to go to the bar, just before he retired, to pay his bill; saying that Mr. S would not probably be up when the stage passed through, and he wished therefore to settle his bill before he retired. Mr. S said that he observed, while he was settling his bill, that his mind was very much exercised, and he suggested to several of the gentleman boarders that they should make him a subject of prayer. They took him, I believe, to Mr. B's room, and conversed with him, and prayed with him and before the stage came, he was a converted man. And so concerned did he feel immediately about the people of his own place, that when the stage came he took passage, and went immediately home. As soon as he arrived at home, he told his family his experience, and called them together and prayed with them. As he was a very prominent citizen, and very outspoken, and everywhere proclaiming what the Lord had done for his soul, it immediately produced a very solemn impression in Lowville, and soon resulted in a great revival in that place.
It was in the midst of the revival in Utica, that we first heard of the opposition to those revivals, that was springing up in the East. Mr. Nettleton wrote some letters to Mr. Aiken, with whom I was laboring; in which it was manifest that he was very much mistaken with regard to the character of those revivals. Mr. Aiken showed me those letters; and they were handed around among the ministers in the neighborhood, as they were intended to be. Among them was one in which Mr. Nettleton stated fully what he regarded as objectionable in the conduct of these revivals; but as no such thing as he complained of were done in those revivals, or had been known at all, we took no other notice of the letters than to read them, and let them pass. Mr. Aiken, however, replied privately to one or two of them, assuring Mr. Nettleton that no such things were done. I do not recollect now whether Mr. Nettleton complained of the fact, that women would sometimes pray in the social meetings. It was true, however, that in a few instances women, and some very prominent women, who were strongly pressed in spirit, would lead in prayer, in the social meetings which we held daily from house to house. No opposition, that I know of, was manifested to this, either at Utica or at Rome. I had no agency in introducing the practice among the people, and do not know whether it had existed there before or not. Indeed it was not a subject of much conversation or thought, so far as I know, in the neighborhood where it occurred.
I have already said that Mr. Weeks, who maintained the most offensive doctrines on the subject of divine efficiency, was known to be opposed to those revivals. For the information of those who may not know that any such doctrines were ever held, I would say, that Mr. Weeks, and those that agreed with him, held that both sin and holiness were produced in the mind by a direct act of almighty power; that God made men sinners or holy, at His sovereign discretion, but in both cases by a direct act of almighty power, an act as irresistible as that of creation itself; that in fact God was the only proper agent in the universe, and that all creatures acted only as they were moved and compelled to act, by His irresistible power; that every sin in the universe, both of men and of devils, was the result of a direct, irresistible act on the part of God. This they attempted to prove from the Bible.
Mr. Weeks' idea of conversion, or regeneration, was that God, who had made men sinners, brought them also, in regenerating them, to admit that He had a right to make them sinners, for His glory, and to send them to hell for the sins which He had directly created in them, or compelled them to commit, by the force of omnipotence. In conversion, that did not bring sinners to accept this view of the subject, he had no confidence. Those that have read Mr. Weeks' nine sermons on the subject, will see that I have not misrepresented his views. And as this view of Mr. Weeks, was embraced, to a considerable extent, by ministers and professors of religion in that region, his known opposition, together with that of some other ministers, greatly emboldened and increased the opposition of others.
The work, however, went on with great power, converting all classes, until Mr. Aiken reported the hopeful conversion of five hundred, in the course of a few weeks, most of them, I believe, belonging to his own congregation. Revivals were comparatively a new thing in that region; and the great mass of the people had not become convinced that they were the work of God. They were not awed by them, as they afterwards became. It seemed to be extensively the impression that those revivals would soon pass away, and would prove to have been but a mere excitement of animal feeling. I do not mean that those that were interested in the work, had any such idea.
One circumstance occurred, in the midst of that revival, that made a powerful impression. The Oneida presbytery met there, while the revival was going on in its full strength. Among others there was an aged clergyman, a stranger to me, who was very much annoyed by the heat and fervor of the revival. He found the public mind all absorbed on the subject of religion; that there was prayer and religious conversation everywhere, even in the stores and other public places. He had never seen a revival, and had never heard what he heard there. He was a Scotchman, and, I believe, had not been very long in this country.
On Friday afternoon, before presbytery adjourned, he arose and made a violent speech against the revival, as it was going on. What he said, greatly shocked and grieved the Christian people who were present. They felt like falling on their faces before God, and crying to Him to prevent what he had said from doing any mischief.
The presbytery adjourned just at evening. Some of the members went home, and others remained overnight. Christians gave themselves to prayer. There was a great crying to God that night, that He would counteract any evil influence that might result from that speech. The next morning, this man was found dead in his bed.
In the course of these revivals, persons from a distance, in almost every direction, hearing what the Lord was doing, or being attracted by curiosity and wonder at what they heard, came to see for themselves; and many of them were converted to Christ. Among these visitors, Dr. Garnet Judd, who soon after went to the Sandwich Islands as a missionary, and has been well-known to lovers of missions for many years, was one. He belonged to the congregation of Mr. Weeks, to whom I have referred. His father, old Dr. Judd, was an earnest Christian man. He came down to Utica and sympathized greatly with the revival.
About the same time a young woman, Miss F T, from some part of New England, came to Utica under the following circumstances: she was teaching a high school, in the neighborhood of Newburgh, New York. As much was said in the newspapers about the revival in Utica, Miss T, among others, became filled with wonder and astonishment, and with a desire to go and see for herself what it meant. She dismissed her school for ten days, and took the stage for Utica. As she passed through Genesee street to the hotel, she observed on one of the signs, the name of B T. She was an entire stranger in Utica, and did not know that she had an acquaintance or relative there. But after stopping a day or two at her hotel, and inquiring who B T was, she dropped him a note, saying that the daughter of a Mr. T, naming her father, was at the hotel, and would be pleased to see him. Mr. T waited upon her and found that she was a distant relative of his, and invited her immediately to his house. She accepted his invitation, and he being an earnest Christian man, immediately took her to all the meetings, and tried to interest her in religion. She was greatly surprised at all that she saw, and a good deal annoyed.
She was an energetic, highly cultivated, and proud young lady; and the manner in which people conversed with her, and pressed upon her the necessity of immediately giving her heart to God, very much disturbed her. The preaching which she heard, from night to night, took a deep hold upon her. The guilt of sinners was largely insisted upon; and their desert and danger of eternal damnation, were made prominent in what she heard. This aroused her opposition; but still the work of conviction went powerfully on in her heart.
In the meantime I had not seen her, to converse with her; but had heard from Mr. T of her state of mind. After writhing under the truth for a few days, she called at my lodging. She sat down upon the sofa in the parlor. I drew up my chair in front of her, and began to press her with the claims of God. She referred to my preaching that sinners deserved to be sent to an eternal hell; and said that she could not receive it, that she did not believe that God was such a being. I replied, "Nor do you yet understand what sin is, in its true nature and ill desert; if you did, you would not complain of God for sending the sinner to an eternal hell." I then spread out that subject before her in conversation, as plainly as I could. Much as she hated to believe it, still the conviction of its truth was becoming irresistible. I conversed in this strain for some time, until I saw that she was ready to sink under the ripened conviction; and then I turned and said a few words about the place which Jesus holds, and what is the real situation of things, in regard to the salvation of those who thus deserved to be damned.
Her countenance waxed pale, in a moment after she threw up her hands and shrieked, and then fell forward upon the arm of the sofa, and let her heart break. I think she had not wept at all before. Her eyes were dry, her countenance haggard and pale, her sensibility all locked up; but now the flood gates were opened, she let her whole gushing heart out before God. I had no occasion to say anymore to her. She soon arose and went to her own lodgings. She almost immediately gave up her school, offered herself as a foreign missionary, was married to a Mr. Gulick, and went out to the Sandwich Islands, I think, at the same time that Dr. Judd went out. Her history, as a missionary, is well known. She has been a very efficient missionary, and has raised several sons, who also are missionaries.
While making my home in Utica, I preached frequently in New Hartford, a village four miles south of Utica. There was a precious and powerful work of grace, a Mr. Coe being at the time pastor of the Presbyterian church. I preached also at Whitesboro, another beautiful village, four miles west of Utica; where also was a powerful revival. The pastor, Mr. John Frost, was a most efficient laborer in the work.
A circumstance occurred in this neighborhood, which I must not fail to notice. There was a cotton manufactory on the Oriskany creek, a little above Whitesboro, a place now called New York Mills. It was owned by a Mr. W, an unconverted man, but a gentleman of high standing and good morals. My brother-in-law, Mr. G A, was at that time superintendent of the factory. I was invited to go and preach at that place, and went up one evening, and preached in the village schoolhouse, which was large, and was crowded with hearers. The Word, I could see, took powerful effect among the people, especially among the young people who were at work in the factory.
The next morning, after breakfast, I went into the factory, to look through it. As I went through, I observed there was a good deal of agitation among those who were busy at their looms, and their mules, and other implements of work. On passing through one of the apartments, where a great number of young women were attending to their weaving, I observed a couple of them eyeing me, and speaking very earnestly to each other; and I could see that they were a good deal agitated, although they both laughed. I went slowly toward them. They saw me coming, and were evidently much excited. One of them was trying to mend a broken thread, and I observed that her hands trembled so that she could not mend it. I approached slowly, looking on each side at the machinery, as I passed; but observed that this girl grew more and more agitated, and could not proceed with her work. When I came within eight or ten feet of her, I looked solemnly at her. She observed it, and was quite overcome, and sunk down, and burst into tears. The impression caught almost like powder, and in a few moments nearly all in the room were in tears. This feeling spread through the factory. Mr. W, the owner of the establishment, was present, and seeing the state of things, he said to the superintendent, "Stop the mill, and let the people attend to religion; for it is more important that our souls should be saved than that this factory run." The gate was immediately shut down, and the factory stopped; but where should we assemble? The superintendent suggested that the mule room was large; and, the mules being run up, we could assemble there. We did so, and a more powerful meeting I scarcely ever attended. It went on with great power. The building was large, and had many people in it, from the garret to the cellar. The revival went through the mill with astonishing power, and in the course of a few days nearly all in the mill were hopefully converted.
As much has been said about the hopeful conversion of Theodore D. Weld, at Utica, it may be well for me to give a correct report of the facts. He had an aunt, Mrs. C, living in Utica, who was a very praying, godly woman. He was the son of an eminent clergyman in New England, and his aunt thought he was a Christian. He used to lead her family in its worship. Before the commencement of the revival, he had become a member of Hamilton College, at Clinton. The work at Utica had attracted so much attention, that many persons from Clinton, and among the rest some of the professors of the college, had been down to Utica, and had reported what was doing there, and a good deal of excitement had resulted. Weld held a very prominent place among the students of Hamilton College, and had a very great influence. Hearing what was going on at Utica, he became very much excited, and his opposition was greatly aroused. He became quite outrageous in his expressions of opposition to the work, as I understood.
This fact became known in Utica; and his aunt, with whom he had boarded, became very anxious about him. To me he was an entire stranger. His aunt wrote him, and asked him to come home and spend a Sabbath, hear the preaching, and become interested in the work. He at first declined, but finally got some of the students together, and told them that he had made up his mind to go down to Utica; that he knew it must be fanaticism or enthusiasm; that he knew it would not move him, they would see that it would not. He came full of opposition, and his aunt soon learned that he did not intend to hear me preach. Mr. Aiken had usually occupied the pulpit in the morning, and I, in the afternoon and evening. His aunt learned that he intended to go to Mr. Aiken's church in the morning, when he expected Mr. Aiken to preach; but that he would not go in the afternoon or evening, because he was determined not to hear me.
In view of this, Mr. Aiken suggested that I should preach in the morning. I consented, and we went to meeting. Mr. Aiken took the introductory exercises, as usual. Mrs. C came to meeting with her family, and among them Mr. Weld. She took pains to have him so seated in the slip that he could not well get out, without herself, and one or two other members of the family, stepping out before him; for she feared, as she said, that he would go out when he saw that I was going to preach. I knew that his influence among the young men of Utica was very great, and that his coming there would have a powerful influence to make them band together in opposition to the work. Mr. Aiken pointed him out to me, as he came in and took his seat.
After the introductory exercises, I arose and named this text: "One sinner destroyeth much good." I had never preached from it, or heard it preached from; but it came home with great power to my mind, and this fact decided the selection of the text. I began to preach, and to show in a great many instances, how one sinner might destroy much good, and how the influence of one man might destroy a great many souls. I suppose that I drew a pretty vivid picture of Weld, and of what his influence was, and what mischief he might do. Once or twice he made an effort to get out; but his aunt perceiving it, would throw herself forward, and lean on the slip in front, and engage in silent prayer, and he could not get out without arousing and annoying her; and therefore he remained in his seat till meeting was out.
The next day I called at a store in Genesee street, to converse with some people there, as it was my custom to go from place to place for conversation; and whom should I find there but Weld? He fell upon me very unceremoniously, and I should think, for nearly or quite an hour, talked to me in a most abusive manner. I had never heard anything like it. I got an opportunity to say but very little to him myself, for his tongue ran incessantly. He was very gifted in language. It soon attracted the attention of all that were in the store and the news ran along the streets, and the clerks gathered in from the neighboring stores, and stood to hear what he had to say. All business ceased in the store, and all gave themselves up to listening to his vituperation. But finally I appealed to him and said, "Mr. Weld, are you the son of a minister of Christ, and is this the way for you to behave?" I said a few words in that direction, and I saw that it stung him; and throwing out something very severe, he immediately left the store.
I went out also, and returned to Mr. Aiken's, where for the time I was lodging. I had been there but a few moments when somebody called at the door, and as no servant was at hand I went to the door myself. And who should come in but Mr. Weld? He looked as if he would sink. He began immediately to make the most humble confession and apology for the manner in which he had treated me; and expressed himself in the strongest terms of self-condemnation. I took him kindly by the hand and had a little conversation with him, assured him that I had laid up nothing against him, and exhorted him earnestly, to give his heart to God. I believe I prayed with him before he went. He left, and I heard no more of him that day.
That evening I preached, I think, at New Hartford, and returned late in the evening. The next morning I heard that he went to his aunt's, greatly impressed and subdued. She asked him to pray in the family. He said that he was at first shocked at the idea. But his enmity arose so much, that he thought that that was one way in which he had not yet expressed his opposition, and therefore he would comply with her request. He knelt down, and began and went on with what his aunt intended should be a prayer; but from his own account of it, it was the most blasphemous strain of vituperation that could well be uttered. He kept on in a most wonderful way, until they all became convulsed with feeling and astonishment; and he kept on so long, that the light went out before he closed. His aunt attempted to converse with him, and to pray with him; but the opposition of his heart was terrible. She became frightened at the state of mind which he manifested. After praying with him, and entreating him to give his heart to God, she retired.
He went to his room; and walked his room by turns, and by turns he lay upon the floor. He continued the whole night in that terrible state of mind, angry, rebellious, and yet so convicted that he could scarcely live. Just at daylight, while walking back and forth in his room, he said, a pressure came upon him that crushed him down to the floor; and with it came a voice that seemed to command him to repent, to repent now. He said it broke him down to the floor, and there he lay, until, late in the morning, his aunt coming up, found him upon the floor calling himself a thousand fools; and to all human appearance, with his heart all broken to pieces.
The next night he rose in meeting, and asked if he might make confession. I answered, yes; and he made public confession before the whole congregation. He said it became him to remove the stumbling block which he had cast before the whole people; and he wanted opportunity to make the most public confession he could. He did make a very humble, earnest, broken-hearted confession.
From that time he became a very efficient helper in the work. He labored diligently; and being a powerful speaker, and much-gifted in prayer and labor, he was instrumental, for several years, in doing a great deal of good, and in the hopeful conversion of a great many souls. At length his health became enfeebled by his great labor. He was obliged to leave college, and he went on a fishing excursion to the coast of Labrador. He returned, the same earnest laborer as before he went away, with health renewed. I found him, for a considerable time, an efficient helper, where I was attempting to labor.
I have said that no public replies were made to the things that found their way into print, in opposition to these revivals; that is, to nothing that was written by Dr. Beecher or Mr. Nettleton. I have also said, that a pamphlet was published by the ministers that composed the Oneida Association, in opposition to the work. To this, I believe, no public answer was given. I recollect that a Unitarian minister, residing at Trenton, in that county, published an abusive pamphlet, in which he greatly misrepresented the work, and made a personal attack upon myself. To this the Rev. Mr. Wetmore, one of the members of the Oneida Presbytery, published a reply.
This revival occurred in the winter and spring of 1826. When the converts had been received into the churches throughout the county, Rev. John Frost, pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Whitesboro, published a pamphlet giving some account of the revival, and stated, if I remember right, that within the bounds of that presbytery, the converts numbered three thousand. I have no copy of any of these pamphlets. I have said that the work spread from Rome and Utica, as from a center, in every direction. Ministers came from a considerable distance, and spent more or less time in attending the meetings, and in various ways helping forward the work. I spread my own labors over as large a field as I could, and labored more or less throughout the bounds of the presbytery. I cannot now remember all the places where I spent more or less time. The pastors of all those churches sympathized deeply with the work; and like good and true men, laid themselves upon the altar, and did all they could to forward the great and glorious movement; and God gave them a rich reward.
The doctrines preached in these revivals were the same that have been already presented. Instead of telling sinners to use the means of grace and pray for a new heart, we called on them to make themselves a new heart and a new spirit, and pressed the duty of instant surrender to God. We told them the Spirit was striving with them to induce them now to give Him their hearts, now to believe, and to enter at once upon a life of devotion to Christ, of faith, and love, and Christian obedience. We taught them that while they were praying for the Holy Spirit, they were constantly resisting Him; and that if they would at once yield to their own convictions of duty, they would be Christians. We tried to show them that everything they did or said before they had submitted, believed, given their hearts to God, was all sin, was not that which God required them to do, but was simply deferring repentance and resisting the Holy Ghost.
Such teaching as this was of course opposed by many; nevertheless it was greatly blessed by the Spirit of God. Formerly it had been supposed necessary that a sinner should remain under conviction a long time; and it was not uncommon to hear old professors of religion, say that they were under conviction many months, or years, before they found relief; and they evidently had the impression that the longer they were under conviction, the greater was the evidence that they were truly converted. We taught the opposite of this. I insisted that if they remained long under conviction, they were in danger of becoming self-righteous, in the sense that they would think that they had prayed a great deal, and done a great deal to persuade God to save them; and that finally they would settle down with a false hope. We told them that under this protracted conviction, they were in danger of grieving the Spirit of God away, and when their distress of mind ceased, a reaction would naturally take place; they would feel less distress, and perhaps obtain a degree of comfort, from which they were in danger of inferring that they were converted; that the bare thought that they were possibly converted, might create a degree of joy, which they might mistake for Christian joy and peace; and that this state of mind might still farther delude them, by being taken as evidence that they were converted.
We tried thoroughly to dispose of this false teaching. We insisted then, as I have ever done since, on immediate submission, as the only thing that God could accept at their hands; and that all delay, under any pretext whatever, was rebellion against God. It became very common under this teaching, for persons to be convicted and converted, in the course of a few hours, and sometimes in the course of a few minutes. Such sudden conversions were alarming to many good people; and of course they predicted that the converts would fall away, and prove not to be soundly converted. But the event proved, that among those sudden conversions, were some of the most influential Christians that ever have been known in that region of country; and this has been in accordance with my own experience, through all my ministry.
I have said that Mr. Aiken privately replied to some of Mr. Nettleton's and Dr. Beecher's letters. Some of Dr. Beecher's letters at the time, found their way into print; but no public notice was taken of them. Mr. Aiken's replies, which he sent through the mail, seemed to make no difference with the opposition of either Mr. Nettleton or Dr. Beecher. From a letter which Dr. Beecher wrote, about this time, to Dr. Taylor of New Haven, it appeared that someone had made the impression upon him, that the brethren engaged in promoting those revivals were untruthful. In that letter, he asserted that the spirit of lying was so predominant in those revivals, that the brethren engaged in promoting them, could not be at all believed. This letter of Dr. Beecher to Dr. Taylor, found its way into print. If it should be republished at this day, the people of the region where those revivals prevailed, would think it very strange that Dr. Beecher should, even in a private letter, ever have written such things, of the ministers and Christians engaged in promoting those great and wonderful revivals.
CHAPTER XV. Back to
REVIVAL AT AUBURN IN 1826.
DR. LANSING, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church at Auburn, came to Utica, to witness the revival there, and urged me to go out and labor for a time with him. In the summer of 1826, I complied with his request, and went there and labored with him for a season. Soon after I went to Auburn, I found that some of the professors in the theological seminary in that place, were taking an attitude hostile to the revival. I had before known that ministers east of Utica were, a considerable number of them, holding correspondence with reference to these revivals, and taking an attitude of hostility to them.
However, until I arrived at Auburn, I was not fully aware of the amount of opposition I was destined to meet, from the ministry; not the ministry in the region where I had labored; but from ministers where I had not labored, and who knew personally nothing of me, but were influenced by the false reports which they heard. But soon after I arrived at Auburn, I learned from various sources that a system of espionage was being carried on, that was destined to result, and intended to result, in an extensive union of ministers and churches to hedge me in, and prevent the spread of the revivals in connection with my labors.
About this time I was informed that Mr. Nettleton had said that I could go no farther East; that all the New England churches especially were closed against me. Mr. Nettleton came and made a stand at Albany; and a letter from Dr. Beecher fell into my possession, in which he exhorted Mr. Nettleton to make a manful stand against me and the revivals in central New York; promising that when the judicatures, as he called them, of New England met, they would all speak out, and sustain him in his opposition.
But for the present I must return to what passed at Auburn. My mind became, soon after I went there, very much impressed with the extensive working of that system of espionage of which I have spoken. Mr. Frost, of Whitesboro, had come to a knowledge of the facts to a considerable extent, and communicated them to me. I said nothing publicly, or as I recollect privately, to anybody on the subject; but gave myself to prayer. I looked to God with great earnestness day after day, to be directed; asking him to show me the path of duty, and give me grace to ride out the storm.
I shall never forget what a scene I passed through one day in my room at Dr. Lansing's. The Lord showed me as in a vision what was before me. He drew so near to me, while I was engaged in prayer, that my flesh literally trembled on my bones. I shook from head to foot, under a full sense of the presence of God. At first, and for some time, it seemed more like being on the top of Sinai, amidst its full thundering, than in the presence of the cross of Christ.
Never in my life, that I recollect, was I so awed and humbled before God as then. Nevertheless, instead of feeling like fleeing, I seemed drawn nearer and nearer to God--seemed to draw nearer and nearer to that Presence that filled me with such unutterable awe and trembling. After a season of great humiliation before Him, there came a great lifting up. God assured me that He would be with me and uphold me; that no opposition should prevail against me; that I had nothing to do, in regard to all this matter, but to keep about my work, and wait for the salvation of God.
The sense of God's presence, and all that passed between God and my soul at that time, I can never describe. It led me to be perfectly trustful, perfectly calm, and to have nothing but the most perfectly kind feelings toward all the brethren that were misled, and were arraying themselves against me. I felt assured that all would come out right; that my true course was to leave everything to God, and to keep about my work; and as the storm gathered and the opposition increased, I never for one moment doubted how it would result. I was never disturbed by it, I never spent a waking hour in thinking of it; when to all outward appearance, it seemed as if all the churches of the land, except where I had labored, would unite to shut me out of their pulpits. This was indeed the avowed determination, as I understood, of the men that led in the opposition. They were so deceived that they thought there was no effectual way but to unite, and, as they expressed it, put him down. But God assured me that they could not put me down.
A passage in the twentieth chapter of Jeremiah was repeatedly set home upon me with great power. It reads thus: "O Lord, thou hast deceived me and I was deceived. [In the margin it reads, 'enticed.'] Thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed. I am in derision daily, everyone mocketh me. For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay. For I heard the defaming of many, and fear was on every side. Report, say they, and we will report it. All my familiars watched for my halting, saying, peradventure he will be enticed, and we shall prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him. But the Lord is with me as a mighty, terrible one; therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail. They shall be greatly ashamed, for they shall not prosper; their everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten. But O Lord of hosts that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them; for unto thee have I opened my cause." Jeremiah 20: 7-12.
I do not mean that this passage literally described my case, or expressed my feelings; but there was so much similarity in the case, that this passage was often a support to my soul. The Lord did not allow me to lay the opposition to heart; and I can truly say, so far as I can recollect, I never had an unkind feeling toward Mr. Nettleton or Dr. Beecher, or any leading opposer of the work, during the whole of their opposition.
I recollect having had a peculiar feeling of horror in respect to the pamphlet published, and the course taken by William R. Weeks, to whom I have made allusion. Those who are acquainted with the history of Mr. Weeks, recollect that soon after this, he began to write a book which he called "The Pilgrim's Progress in the Nineteenth Century." This was published in members, and finally bound up in a volume, with which many of the readers of this narrative may be familiar. He was a man of considerable talent, and I must hope a good man; but as I think much deluded in his philosophy, and exceedingly out of the way in his theology. I do not mention him because I wish to say any evil of him, or of his book; but merely to say that he never ceased, so far as I can learn, to offer more or less opposition, direct and indirect, to revivals that did not favor his peculiar views. He took much pains, without naming him, to defend the course which Mr. Nettleton took, in putting himself at the head of the opposition to those revivals. But God has disposed of all that influence. I have heard nothing of it now for many years.
Notwithstanding the attitude that some of the professors at Auburn were taking, in connection with so many ministers abroad, the Lord soon revived His work in Auburn. Mr. Lansing had a large congregation, and a very intelligent one. The revival soon took effect among the people, and became powerful.
It was at that time that Dr. S of Auburn, who still resides there, was so greatly blessed in his soul, as to become quite another man. Dr. S was an elder in the Presbyterian church when I arrived there. He was a very timid and doting kind of Christian; and had but little Christian efficiency, because he had but little faith. He soon, however, became deeply convicted of sin; and descended into the depths of humiliation and distress, almost to despair. He continued in this state for weeks, until one night, in a prayer meeting, he was quite overcome with his feelings, and sunk down helpless on the floor. Then God opened his eyes to the reality of his salvation in Christ. This occurred just after I had left Auburn, and gone to Troy, New York, to labor. Dr. S soon followed me to Troy, and the first time I saw him there he exclaimed with an emphasis peculiarly his own, "Brother Finney, they have buried the Savior, but Christ is risen." He received such a wonderful baptism of the Holy Ghost, that he has been ever since the rejoicing and the wonder of God's people.
Partly in consequence of the known disapproval of my labors on the part of many ministers, a good deal of opposition sprung up in Auburn; and a number of the leading men, in that large village, took strong ground against the work. But the Spirit of the Lord was among the people with great power.
I recollect that one Sabbath morning, while I was preaching, I was describing the manner in which some men would oppose their families, and if possible, prevent their being converted. I gave so vivid a description of a case of this kind, that I said, "Probably if I were acquainted with you, I could call some of you by name, who treat your families in this manner." At this instant a man cried out in the congregation, "Name me!" and then threw his head forward on the seat before him; and it was plain that he trembled with great emotion. It turned out that he was treating his family in this manner; and that morning had done the same things that I had named. He said, his crying out, "Name me!" was so spontaneous and irresistible that he could not help it. But I fear he was never converted to Christ.
There was a hatter, by the name of H, residing at this time in Auburn. His wife was a Christian woman; but he was a Universalist, and an opposer of the revival. He carried his opposition so far, as to forbid his wife attending our meetings; and, for several successive evenings, she remained at home. One night, as the warning bell rang for meeting, half an hour before the assembly met, Mrs. H was so much exercised in mind about her husband, that she retired for prayer, and spent the half hour in pouring out her soul to God. She told Him how her husband behaved, and that he would not let her attend meeting; and she drew very near to God.
As the bell was tolling for the people to assemble, she came out of her closet, as I learned, and found that her husband had come in from the shop; and, as she entered the sitting room, he asked her if she would not go to meeting; and said that if she would go, he would accompany her. He afterwards informed me that he had made up his mind to attend meeting that night, to see if he could not get something to justify his opposition to his wife; or at least, something to laugh about, and sustain him in ridiculing the whole work. When he proposed to accompany his wife, she was very much surprised, but prepared herself, and they came to meeting.
Of all this, I knew nothing at the time, of course. I had been visiting and laboring with inquirers the whole day, and had had no time whatever, to arrange my thoughts, or even settle upon a text. During the introductory services, a text occurred to my mind. It was the words of the man with the unclean spirit, who cried out, "Let us alone." I took those words and went on to preach, and endeavored to show up the conduct of those sinners that wanted to let be alone, that did not want to have anything to do with Christ.
The Lord gave me power to give a very vivid description of the course that class of men were pursuing. In the midst of my discourse, I observed a person fall from his seat near the broad aisle, who cried out in a most terrific manner. The congregation were very much shocked; and the outcry of the man was so great, that I stopped preaching and stood still. After a few moments, I requested the congregation to sit still, while I should go down and speak with the man. I found him to be this Mr. E, of whom I have been speaking. The Spirit of the Lord had so powerfully convicted him, that he was unable to sit on his seat. When I reached him, he had so far recovered his strength as to be on his knees, with his head on his wife's lap. He was weeping aloud like a child confessing his sins, and accusing himself in a terrible manner. I said a few words to him, to which he seemed to pay but little attention. The Spirit of God had his attention so thoroughly, that I soon desisted from all efforts to make him attend to what I said. When I told the congregation who it was, they all knew him and his character; and it produced tears and sobs in every part of the house. I stood for some little time, to see if he would be quiet enough for me to go on with my sermon; but his loud weeping rendered it impossible. I can never forget the appearance of his wife, as she sat and held his face in her hands upon her lap. There appeared in her face a holy joy and triumph that words cannot express.
We had several prayers, and then I dismissed the meeting, and some persons helped Mr. H to his house. He immediately wished them to send for certain of his companions, with whom he had been in the habit of ridiculing the work of the Lord in that place. He could not rest until he had sent for a great number of them, and had made confession to them; which he did with a very broken heart.
He was so overcome that for two or three days he could not get about town, and continued to send for such men as he wished to see, that he might confess to them, and warn them to flee from the wrath to come. As soon as he was able to get about, he took hold of the work with the utmost humility and simplicity of character, but with great earnestness. Soon after, he was made an elder, or deacon, and he has ever since been a very exemplary and useful Christian. His conversion was so marked and so powerful, and the results were so manifest, that it did very much to silence opposition.
There were several wealthy men in the town who took offense at Dr. Lansing and myself, and the laborers in that revival; and after I left, they got together and formed a new congregation. Most of them were, at the time, unconverted men. Let the reader bear this in mind; for in its proper place, I shall have occasion to notice the results of this opposition and the formation of a new congregation, and the subsequent conversion of nearly every one of those opposers.
While at Auburn, I preached more or less in the neighboring churches round about; and the revival spread in various directions, to Cayuga, and to Skeneateles. This was in the summer and autumn of 1826.
Soon after my arrival at Auburn, a circumstance occurred, of so striking a character, that I must give a brief relation of it. My wife and myself were guests of Dr. Lansing, the pastor of the church. The church were much conformed to the world, and were accused by the unconverted of being leaders in dress, and fashion, and worldliness. As usual I directed my preaching to secure the reformation of the church, and to get them into a revival state. One Sabbath I had preached, as searchingly as I was able, to the church, in regard to their attitude before the world. The Word took deep hold of the people.
At the close of my address, I called, as usual, upon the pastor to pray. He was much impressed with the sermon, and instead of immediately engaging in prayer, he made a short but very earnest address to the church, confirming what I had said to them. At this moment a man arose in the gallery, and said in a very deliberate and distinct manner, "Mr. Lansing, I do not believe that such remarks from you can do any good, while you wear a ruffled shirt and a gold ring, and while your wife and the ladies of your family sit, as they do, before the congregation, dressed as leaders in the fashions of the day." It seemed as if this would kill Dr. Lansing outright. He made no reply, but cast himself across the side of the pulpit, and wept like a child. The congregation was almost as much shocked and affected as himself. They almost universally dropped their heads upon the seat in front of them, and many of them wept on every side. With the exception of the sobs and sighs, the house was profoundly silent. I waited a few moments, and as Dr. Lansing did not move, I arose and offered a short prayer and dismissed the congregation.
I went home with the dear, wounded pastor, and when all the family were returned from church, he took the ring from his finger--it was a slender gold ring that could hardly attract notice--and said, his first wife, when upon her dying bed, took it from her finger, and placed it upon his, with a request that he should wear it for her sake. He had done so, without a thought of its being a stumbling block. Of his ruffles he said, he had worn them from his childhood, and did not think of them as anything improper. Indeed he could not remember when he began to wear them, and of course thought nothing about them. "But," said he, "if these things are an occasion of offense to any, I will not wear them." He was a precious Christian man, and an excellent pastor.
Almost immediately after this, the church were disposed to make to the world a public confession of their backsliding, and want of a Christian spirit. Accordingly a confession was drawn up, covering the whole ground. It was submitted to the church for their approval, and then read before the congregation. The church arose and stood, many of them weeping while the confession was read. From this point the work went forward, with greatly increased power.
The confession was evidently a heart work and no sham; and God most graciously and manifestly accepted it, and the mouths of gainsayers were shut. The fact is that, to a great extent, the churches and ministers were in a low state of grace, and those powerful revivals took them by surprise. I did not much wonder then, nor have I since, that those wonderful works of God were not well understood and received by those who were not in a revival state.
There were a great many interesting conversions in Auburn and its vicinity, and also in all the neighboring towns, throughout that part of the state, as the work spread in every direction. In the Spring of 1831, I was again in Auburn and saw another powerful revival there. The circumstances were peculiar, and deeply interesting, and will be related in their appropriate place in this narrative.
CHAPTER XVI. Back to
REVIVAL AT TROY AND AT NEW LEBANON.
EARLY in the autumn of this year, 1826, I accepted an invitation from the Rev. Dr. Beman and his session, to labor with them in Troy, for the revival of religion. At Troy, I spent the fall and winter, and the revival was powerful in that city. I have already said that Mr. Nettleton had been sent by Dr. Beecher, as I understood, to Albany, to make a stand against the revivals that were spreading in central New York. I had had the greatest confidence in Mr. Nettleton, though I had never seen him. I had had the greatest desire to see him; so much so that I had frequently dreamed of visiting him, and obtaining information from him in regard to the best means of promoting a revival. I felt like sitting at his feet, almost as I would at the feet of an apostle, from what I had heard of his success in promoting revivals. At that time my confidence in him was so great that I think he could have led me, almost or quite, at his discretion.
Soon after my arrival at Troy, I went down to Albany to see him. He was the guest of a family with which I was acquainted. I spent part of an afternoon with him, and conversed with him in regard to his doctrinal views; especially of the views held by the Dutch and Presbyterian churches in regard to the nature of moral depravity. I found that he entirely agreed with me, so far as I had opportunity to converse with him, on all the points of theology upon which we conversed. Indeed there had been no complaint, by Dr. Beecher, or Mr. Nettleton, of our teaching in those revivals. They did not complain at all that we did not teach what they regarded as the true Gospel. What they complained of was something that they supposed was highly objectionable in the measures that we used.
Our conversation was brief, upon every point upon which we touched. I observed that he avoided the subject of promoting revivals. When I told him that I intended to remain in Albany, and hear him preach in the evening, he manifested uneasiness, and remarked that I must not be seen with him. Hence Judge C, who accompanied me from Troy, and who had been in college with Mr. Nettleton, went with me to the meeting, and we sat in the gallery together. I saw enough to satisfy me that I could expect no advice or instruction from him, and that he was there to take a stand against me. I soon found I was not mistaken.
Since writing the last paragraph, my attention has been called to a statement in the biography of Mr. Nettleton, to the effect that he tried in vain to change my views and practices in promoting revivals of religion. I cannot think that Mr. Nettleton ever authorized such a statement, for certainly he never attempted to do it. As I have said, at that time he could have molded me at discretion; but he said not a word to me about my manner of conducting revivals, nor did he ever write a word to me upon the subject. He kept me at arm's length; and although, as I have said, we conversed on some points of theology then much discussed, it was plain that he was unwilling to say anything regarding revivals, and would not allow me to accompany him to meeting. This was the only time I saw him, until I met him in the convention at New Lebanon. At no time did Mr. Nettleton try to correct my views in relation to revivals.
We soon began to feel, in Troy, the influence of Dr. Beecher's letters, over some of the leading members of Dr. Beman's church. This opposition increased, and was doubtless fomented by an outside influence, until finally it was determined to complain of Dr. Beman, and bring his case before the presbytery. This was done; and for several weeks the presbytery sat, and examined the charges against him.
In the meantime, I went on in my labors in the revival. Christian people continued praying mightily to God. I kept up preaching and praying incessantly, and the revival went on with increasing power; Dr. Beman, in the meantime, being under the necessity of giving almost his entire attention to his case before the presbytery. When the presbytery had examined the charges and specifications, I think they were nearly or quite unanimous in dismissing the whole subject, and justifying the course which he had taken. The charge was not for heresy nor were the specifications for heresy, I believe; but for things conjured up by the enemies of the revival, and by those who were misled by an outside influence.
In the midst of the revival it became necessary that I should leave Troy for a week or two, and visit my family at Whitesboro. While I was gone, Rev. Horatio Foote was invited by Dr. Beman to preach. I do not know how often he preached; but this I recollect, that he gave great offense to the already disaffected members of the church. He bore down upon them with the most searching discourses, as I learned. A few of them finally made up their minds to withdraw from the congregation. They did so, and established another congregation; but this was after I had left Troy, I do not recollect how long.
The failure of this effort to break Dr. Beman down, considerably discomfited the outside movement, in opposition to the revival. A great many very interesting incidents occurred during this revival, that I must pass in silence, lest they should appear to reflect too severely on the opposers of the work.
In this revival, as in those that had preceded, there was a very earnest spirit of prayer. We had a prayer meeting from house to house, daily, at eleven o'clock. At one of those meetings I recollect that a Mr. S, cashier of a bank in that city, was so pressed by the spirit of prayer, that when the meeting was dismissed he was unable to rise from his knees, as we had all just been kneeling in prayer. He remained upon his knees, and writhed and groaned in agony. He said, "Pray for Mr. --, president of the bank of which he was cashier. This president was a wealthy, unconverted man. When it was seen that his soul was in travail for that man, the praying people knelt down, and wrestled in prayer for his conversion. As soon as the mind of Mr. S was so relieved that he could go home, we all retired; and soon after the president of the bank, for whom we prayed, expressed hope in Christ. He had not before this, I believe, attended any of the meetings; and it was not known that he was concerned about his salvation. But prayer prevailed, and God soon took his case in hand.
The father of Judge C who was at Albany with me, was living with his son whose guest I was at the time. The old gentleman had been a judge in Vermont. He was remarkably correct in his outward life, a venerable man, whose house, in Vermont, had been the home of ministers who visited the place; and he was to all appearance quite satisfied with his amiable and self- righteous life. His wife had told me of her anxiety for his conversion, and his son had repeatedly expressed fear that his father's self-righteousness would never be overcome, and that his natural amiability would ruin his soul.
One Sabbath morning, the Holy Spirit opened the case to my apprehension, and showed me how to reach it. In a few moments I had the whole subject in my mind. I went down stairs, and told the old lady and her son what I was about to do, and exhorted them to pray earnestly for him. I followed out the divine showing, and the Word took such powerful hold of him that he spent a sleepless night. His wife informed me that he had spent a night of anguish, that his self-righteousness was thoroughly annihilated, and that he was almost in despair. His son had told me that he had long prided himself, as being better than members of the church. He soon became clearly converted, and lived a Christian life to the end.
Before I left Troy, a young lady, a Miss S, from New Lebanon, in Columbia county, who was an only daughter of one of the deacons or elders of the church in New Lebanon, came to Troy, as I understood, to purchase a dress for a ball which she wished to attend. She had a young lady relative in Troy, who was numbered among the young converts, and was a zealous Christian. She invited Miss S to attend with her all the meetings. This aroused the enmity of her heart. She was very restive; but her cousin plead with her to stay from day to day, and to attend the meetings, until, before she left, she was thoroughly converted to Christ.
As soon as her eyes were opened, and her peace was made with God, she went immediately home, and began her labors for a revival in that place. Religion in New Lebanon was, at that time, in a very low state. The young people were nearly all unconverted; and the old members of the church were in a very cold and inefficient state. Miss S's father had become very formal; and for a long time religious matters had been in a great measure neglected in the place. They had an aged minister, a good man, I trust, but a man that did not seem to know how to perform revival work.
Miss S first began at home, and besought her father to give up his old prayer, as she expressed it, and wake up, and be engaged in religion. As she was a great favorite in the family, and especially with her father, her conversion and conversation greatly affected him. He was very soon aroused, and became quite another man, and felt deeply that they must have a revival of religion. The daughter went also to the house of her pastor, and began with a daughter of his who was in her sins. She was soon converted; and they two united in prayer for a revival of religion, and went to work, from house to house, in stirring up the people.
In the course of a week or two, there was so much interest excited that Miss S came out herself to Troy, to beg me to go there to preach. She was requested to do so by the pastor and by members of the church. I went out and preached. The Spirit of the Lord was poured out, and the revival soon went forward with great power. Very interesting incidents occurred almost every day. Striking conversions were multiplied, and a great and blessed change came over the religious aspect of the whole place.
Here we were out of the region poisoned by the influence of the opposition raised by Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton; consequently we heard but little of opposition at this place during the revival, especially from professors of religion. Everything seemed to go on harmoniously, so far as I know, in the church. They were soon led to feel that they greatly needed a revival, and seemed to be very thankful that God had visited them. Most of the prominent men in the community were converted.
Among these was a Dr. W, who was said to be an infidel. He at first manifested a good deal of hostility to the revival, and declared that the people were mad. But he was made a particular subject of prayer by Miss S, and some others who laid hold upon his case, and who had great faith that, notwithstanding his fiery opposition, he would soon be converted. One Sunday morning he came to meeting, and I could see that those who felt for him were burdened. Their heads were down, and they were in a prayerful state during nearly the whole sermon. It was plain, however, before night, that the doctor's opposition began to give way. He listened through the day, and that night he spent in a deeply exercised state of mind. The next morning he called on me, subdued like a little child, and confessed that he had been all wrong. He was very frank in opening his heart, and declaring the change that had come over him. It was plain that he was another man; and from that day he took hold of the work and went forward with all his might.
There was also a Mr. T, a merchant, probably the most prominent and wealthy citizen of the town at that time, but a skeptic. I recollect one evening I preached on the text, "The carnal mind is enmity against God." He was present. He had been a very moral man, in the common acceptation of that term; and it had been very difficult to fasten anything upon his mind that would convict him of sin. His wife was a Christian woman, and the Lord had converted his daughter. The state of things in the town and in his family, had so far interested him, that he would come to meeting and hear what was said. The next day after this sermon on moral depravity, he confessed himself convinced. He told me it came home to him with resistless power. He saw it was all true, and assured me his mind was made up to serve the Lord the rest of his life.
I recollect also that John T. Avery, a noted evangelist, who has labored in many places for many years, was present at that meeting. His family lived in New Lebanon. He was born and brought up there; and was at this time a lad, perhaps fifteen or sixteen years of age. The next morning after that sermon was preached, he came to me, one of the most interesting youthful converts that I have ever seen. He began and told me what had been passing in his mind for several days; and then he added, "I was completely rolled up in the sermon, and it carried me right along. I could understand it. I gave up; I gave all to Christ." This he said in a manner not to be forgotten. But why should I multiply cases? I might spend hours in relating incidents, and the conversion of particular individuals. But I must not enter too much into particulars.
But I must mention a little incident, connected somewhat with the opposition that had been manifested at Troy. The presbytery of Columbia had a meeting, somewhere within its bounds, while I was at New Lebanon; and being informed that I was laboring in one of their churches, they appointed a committee to visit the place, and inquire into the state of things; for they had been led to believe, from Troy and other places, and from the opposition of Mr. Nettleton and the letters of Dr. Beecher, that my method of conducting revivals was so very objectionable, that it was the duty of presbytery to inquire into it. They appointed two of their number, as I afterward understood, to visit the place; and they attempted to do so. As I afterward learned, though I do not recollect to have heard it at the time, the news reached New Lebanon, of this action of the presbytery, and it was feared that it might create some division, and make some disturbance, if this committee came. Some of the most engaged Christians made this a particular subject of prayer; and for a day or two before the time when they were expected, they prayed much that the Lord would overrule this thing, and not suffer it to divide the church, or introduce any element of discord. The committee were expected to be there on the Sabbath, and attend the meetings. But the day before, a violent snowstorm set in; and the snow fell so deep that they found it impossible to get through, were detained over the Sabbath, and on Monday, found their way back to their own congregations. Those brethren were the Rev. J B and the Rev. Mr. C. Mr. C was pastor of the Presbyterian church at Hudson, New York; and Mr. B was pastor of the Presbyterian church in Chatham, a village some fifteen or sixteen miles below Albany.
Soon after this, I received a letter from Mr. B, informing me that the presbytery had appointed him one of a committee to visit me, and make some inquiry in regard to my mode of conducting revivals, and inviting me to come and spend a Sabbath with him, and preach for him. I did so. As I understood afterward, his report to the presbytery was, that it was unnecessary and useless for them to take any farther action in the case; that the Lord was in the work, and they should take heed lest they be found fighting against God. I heard no more of opposition from that source. I have never doubted that the presbytery of Columbia were honestly alarmed at what they had heard. I have never called in question the propriety of the course which they took; and I ever admired their manifest honesty, in receiving testimony from proper sources. So far as I know, they thereafter sympathized with the work that was going on.
About this time, a proposition was made by somebody, I know not who, to hold a convention or consultation on the subject of conducting revivals.
Correspondence was entered into between the Western brethren who had been engaged in those revivals, and the Eastern brethren who had been opposing them. It was finally agreed to hold the convention on a certain day, I think in July, 1827, in New Lebanon, where I had been laboring. I had left New Lebanon, and had been spending a short time at the village of Little Falls, on the Mohawk, near Utica. Some very interesting incidents occurred there during my short stay; but nothing so marked as naturally to find a place in this narrative, as I was obliged to leave after a very short stay in that place, and return to New Lebanon to attend the convention.
It would seem that the design of this meeting has since been, by many, very much misunderstood. I find there is an impression in the public mind, that some complaint had been alleged against myself; and that this meeting was for the trial of myself, as complained of, before a council. But this was by no means the case. I had nothing to do with getting up the convention. Nor was I any more particularly concerned in its results, than any of the members that attended. The design was to get at the facts of those revivals that had been so much opposed, to consult in reference to them, compare views, and see if we could not come to a better understanding than had existed, between the Eastern opposers of the revivals, and the brethren who had been instrumental in promoting them.
I arrived in New Lebanon a day or two before the convention met. On the appointed day, the invited members arrived. They were not men that had been appointed by any ecclesiastical bodies; but they had been invited by the brethren most concerned, East and West, to come together for consultation. None of us were men representing any churches or ecclesiastical bodies whatever. We came together with no authority to act for the church, or any branch of it; but simply, as I have said, to consult, to compare views, to see if anything was wrong in fact; and if so, to agree to correct what was wrong, on either side. For myself, I supposed that as soon as the brethren came together, and exchanged views, and the facts were understood, that the brethren from the East who had opposed the revivals, especially Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton, would see their error, and that they had been misled; and that the thing would be disposed of; for I was certain that the things of which they complained in their letters, had no foundation in fact.
Of the brethren that composed this convention I can remember the following: from the East there were Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton, Dr. Joel Hawes from Hartford, Dr. Dutton from New Haven, Dr. Humphrey, president of Amherst College, Rev. Justin Edwards of Andover, and a considerable number of other brethren whose names I do not recollect. From the West, that is from central New York where those revivals had been in progress, there were, Dr. Beman of Troy, Dr. Lansing of Auburn, Mr. Aiken of Utica, Mr. Frost of Whitesboro, Mr. Gillett of Rome, Mr. Coe of New Hartford, Mr. Gale of Western, Mr. Weeks of Paris Hill, and perhaps some others whose names I do not now recollect, and myself.
We soon discovered that some policy was on foot in organizing the convention, on the part of Dr. Beecher. However we regarded it not. The convention was organized, and I believe Dr. Humphrey presided as moderator. There was not the least unkindness of feeling, that I know of, existing among the members of the convention toward each other. It is true that the members from the West regarded with suspicion Mr. Weeks, as I have already intimated, as being the man who was responsible, in a considerable degree, for the misapprehension of the Eastern brethren. As soon as the convention was duly organized, and the business before us was stated and understood, the inquiry was raised by the brethren from the West in regard to the source whence Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton had received their information. We had been particularly solicitous to find out who it was that was misleading those brethren, and giving them such a view of the revivals, as to make them feel justified in the course they were taking. We wanted to know whence all this mysterious opposition had proceeded. We therefore raised the inquiry at once; and wished to know of those brethren from what source they had received their information, as touching those revivals. It was discovered at once that this was an embarrassing question.
I should have observed before, and now wish to be distinctly understood to say, that no opposition had been manifested by any of the ministers from the East, who attended the convention, except Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton. It was not difficult to see from the outset that Dr. Beecher felt himself committed, and that his reputation was at stake; that as his letters, some of them, had found their way into the public prints, he would be held responsible for them, should they not prove to have been called for. It was very plain that he and Mr. Nettleton were both very sensitive. It was also very apparent, that Dr. Beecher had secured the attendance of these most influential of the New England ministers, in order to sustain himself before the public, and justify himself in the course he had taken. As for Mr. Nettleton, Dr. Beecher had assured him that he would be sustained by New England; and that all the New England church judicatories would seek out in his favor, and sustain him.
When the question was raised as to the sources of the information, Dr. Beecher replied: "We have not come here to be catechised; and our spiritual dignity forbids us to answer any such questions." For myself I thought this was strange, that when such letters had been written and published as had appeared in opposition to those revivals; when such things had been affirmed as facts, which were no facts at all; and when such a storm of opposition had been raised throughout the length and breadth of the land; and we had come together to consider the whole question, that we were not allowed to know the source from which their information had been obtained. But we found ourselves utterly unable to learn anything about it.
The convention sat several days; but as the facts came out in regard to the revivals, Mr. Nettleton became so very nervous that he was unable to attend several of our sessions. He plainly saw that he was losing ground, and that nothing could be ascertained that could justify the course that he was taking. This must have been very visible also to Dr. Beecher.
I should have said before, that when the question came up, how the facts were to be learned about those revivals, Dr. Beecher took the ground that the testimony of those brethren from the West, who had been engaged in promoting them, should not be received; that as we were, in a sense, parties to the question, and had been ourselves, the objects of his censure, it was like testifying in our own case; that we were therefore not admissible as witnesses, and the facts should not be received from us. But to this, the Brethren from the East would not listen for a moment. Dr. Humphrey very firmly remarked, that we were the best witnesses that could be produced; that we knew what we had done, and what had been done, in those revivals of religion; that we were therefore the most competent and the most credible witnesses; and that our statements were to be received without hesitation, by the convention. To this, so far as I know, there was a universal agreement, with the exception of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton.
This decision, however, it was very plain at the time, greatly affected both Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton. They saw that if the facts came out, from the brethren who had witnessed the revivals, who had been on the ground, and knew all about them, they might entirely overrule all the misapprehensions and all the misstatements that had been made and entertained upon the subject. Our meeting was very fraternal throughout; there was no sparring or bitterness manifested; but, with the exception of the two brethren whom I have named, Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton, the brethren from the East appeared candid, and desirous to know the truth, and glad to learn the particulars of the Western revivals.
There were several points of discussion during the convention, especially one on the propriety of women taking any part in social meetings. Dr. Beecher brought up that objection, and argued it at length, insisting upon it, that the practice was unscriptural and inadmissible. To this Dr. Beman replied in a very short address, showing conclusively, that this practice was familiar to the apostles; and that in the eleventh chapter of Corinthians, the apostle called the attention of the church to the fact that Christian women had given a shock to Eastern ideas, by their practice of taking part, and praying in their religious meetings, without their veils. He showed clearly that the apostle did not complain of their taking part in the meeting, but of the fact that they did so, laying aside their veils; which had given a shock to the prevalent sentiment, and occasion of reproach to heathen opposers. The apostle did not reprove the practice of their praying, but simply admonished them to wear their veils when they did so. To this reply of Dr. Beman, no answer was made or attempted. It was manifestly too conclusive to admit of any refutation.
Near the close of the convention, Mr. Nettleton came in, manifestly very much agitated; and said that he would now give the convention to understand the reasons he had for the course he had taken. He had what he called a historical letter, in which he professed to give the reasons, and state the facts, upon which he had founded his opposition. I was glad to hear the announcement that he wished to read this letter to the convention. A copy of it had been sent to Mr. Aiken, when I was laboring with him in Utica, and Mr. Aiken had given it to me. I had it in my possession at the convention, and should have called it up in due time, had not Mr. Nettleton done so.
He went on to read the letter. It was a statement, under distinct heads, of the things of which he complained; and which he had been informed, were practiced in those revivals, and especially by myself. It is evident that the letter was aimed at me particularly, though, perhaps, I was seldom mentioned in it, by name. Yet the things complained of were so presented, that there was no mistaking the design. The convention listened attentively to the whole letter, which was as long as a sermon. Mr. Nettleton then observed, that the convention had before them the facts upon which he had acted, and which he supposed had called for and justified his proceedings.
When he sat down I arose, and expressed my satisfaction that that letter had been read; and remarked that I had a copy of it, and should have read it in due time, if Mr. Nettleton had not done so. I then affirmed that so far as I was personally concerned, not one of those facts mentioned there, and complained of, was true. And I added, "All the brethren are here, with whom I have performed all these labors and they know whether I am chargeable with any of these things, in any of their congregations. If they know or believe that any of these things are true of me, let them say so now and here."
They all at once affirmed, either by expressly saying so, or by their manifest acquiescence, that they knew of no such thing. Mr. Weeks was present; and I expected, therefore, that if anything was said in reply to my explicit denial of all the facts charged in Mr. Nettleton's letter, with respect to myself, that it would come from Mr. Weeks. I supposed that if he had written to Dr. Beecher or Mr. Nettleton, affirming those facts, that he would feel called upon, then and there, to speak out, and justify what he had written. But he said not a word. No one there pretended to justify a single sentence in Mr. Nettleton's historical letter, that related to myself. This of course was astounding to Mr. Nettleton and Dr. Beecher. If any of their supposed facts had been received from Mr. Weeks, no doubt they expected him to speak out, and justify what he had written. But he said nothing intimating that he had any knowledge of any of the facts that Mr. Nettleton had presented in his letter. The reading of this letter, and what immediately followed, prepared the way for closing up the convention.
And now follow some things that I am sorry to be obliged to mention. Mr. Justin Edwards had been present during all the discussions; and had attended, I believe, all the sessions of the convention. He was a very intimate friend of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton, and he must have seen clearly how the whole thing stood. At whose suggestion, I do not know, near the close of the convention, he brought in a string of resolutions, in which, from step to step, he resolved to disapprove of such, and such, and such measures in the promotion of revivals. He went over, in his resolutions, nearly, if not quite, every specification contained in Mr. Nettleton's historical letter, disapproving of all the things of which Mr. Nettleton had complained.
When he had read his resolutions, it was said immediately by several of the brethren from the West, "We approve of these resolutions, but what is their design? It is manifest that their design is to make the public impression that such things have been practiced; and that this convention, condemning those practices, condemns the brethren that have been engaged in those revivals; and that this convention justifies, therefore, the opposition that has been made." Dr. Beecher insisted that the deign of the resolutions was entirely prospective; that nothing was asserted or implied with respect to the past, but that they were merely to serve as landmarks, and to let it be known that the convention disapproved of such things, if they ever should exist, with no implication whatever that any such things had been done.
It was immediately replied, that from the fact that such complaints had gone abroad, and it was publicly known that such charges had been made, it was evident that these resolutions were designed to sustain the brethren who had made the opposition, and to make the impression that such things had been done in those revivals, as were condemned in the resolutions. It was indeed perfectly plain that such was the meaning of those resolutions on the part of Mr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton.
The brethren from the West said, "Of course we shall vote for these resolutions. We believe in these things as much as you do; and we as much disapprove of the practices condemned in these resolutions as you do yourselves; therefore we cannot help voting for them. But we believe that they are intended to justify this opposition, to have a retrospective rather than a prospective application." However we passed the resolutions, I believe unanimously; and I recollect saying that, for my part, I was willing that these resolutions should go forth, and that all the facts should be left to the publication and adjudication of the solemn judgment. I then proposed that, before we dismissed, we should pass a resolution against lukewarmness in religion, and condemning it as strongly as any of the practices mentioned in the resolutions. Dr. Beecher declared that there was no danger of lukewarmness at all; whereupon the convention adjourned sine die.
How the publication of the whole proceedings was received by the public, I need not say. In the second volume of the biography of Dr. Beecher, page 101, I find the following note by the editor. He says, "A careful perusal of the minutes of this convention has satisfied us, that there was no radical difference of views between the Western brethren and those from New England, and that but for the influence of one individual, the same settlement might have been made there, which was afterward effected at Philadelphia." This is no doubt true. The fact is that had not Mr. Nettleton listened to false reports, and got committed against those revivals, no convention would have been held upon this subject, or thought of. It was all the more wonderful that he should have credited such reports since he had so often been made the subject of manifold misrepresentations. But he was nearly worn out, had become exceedingly nervous, and was of course fearful, and easily excited, and withal had the infirmity, attributed to him by Dr. Beecher in his biography, of never giving up his own will. I am sure that I say this with entirely kind feelings toward Mr. Nettleton. I never entertained or had any other.
After this convention, the reaction of public feeling was overwhelming. Late in the fall of the same year I met Mr. Nettleton in the city of New York. He told me he was there, to give his letters against the Western revivals to the public, in pamphlet form. I asked him if he would publish his historical letter which he read before the convention. He said he must publish his letters, to justify what he had done. I told him if he published that letter it would react against himself, as all who were acquainted with those revivals would see that he was acting without a valid reason. He replied that he should publish his letters, and would risk the reaction. He published several other letters, but that one he did not publish, so far as I could learn. If it had been true, the publication of it would have made the impression that his opposition had been called for. But as it was not true, it was well for him that he did not publish it.
Here I must take a slight notice of some things I find in Dr. Beecher's biography, about which I think there must have been some misunderstanding. The biography represents him as having justified his opposition to those revivals--that is, to the manner in which they were conducted--until the day of his death; and as having maintained that the evils complained of were real and were corrected by the opposition. If this was his opinion after that convention, he must still have believed that the brethren who testified that no such things had been done, were a set of liars; and he must have wholly rejected our united testimony. But as he and Mr. Nettleton were exceedingly anxious to justify their opposition, if they still believed those statements in the historical letter to be true, why did they not publish it, and appeal to those who were on the ground and witnessed the revivals? Had the letter been true, its publication would have been their justification. If they still believed it true, why was it not published with Mr. Nettleton's other letters? That the developments made at that convention, had shaken the confidence of Dr. Beecher in the wisdom and justice of Mr. Nettleton's opposition, I had inferred from the fact that during my labors in Boston, a year and a half after the convention, and after Mr. Nettleton's letters were published, Dr. Beecher, speaking of that convention, remarked, that after that, he would not have had Mr. Nettleton come to Boston for a thousand dollars. Is it possible that, until his death, Dr. Beecher continued to believe that the pastors of those churches where those revivals occurred, were liars, and not to be believed in regard to facts which must have been within their personal knowledge?
I find in the biographies of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton, much complaint of the bad spirit that prevailed in those revivals. Their mistake lies in their attributing a spirit of denunciation to the wrong side. I never heard the name of Dr. Beecher or Mr. Nettleton mentioned, during those revivals, in public, that I recollect, and certainly not censoriously. They were never, even in private conversation, spoken of, to my knowledge, with the least bitterness. The friends and promoters of those revivals were in a sweet, Christian spirit, and as far as possible from being denunciatory. If they had been in a denunciatory spirit, those blessed revivals could never have been promoted by them, and the revivals could never have turned out as gloriously as they did. No, the denunciation was on the side of the opposition. A quotation from Dr. Beecher's biography will illustrate the animus of the opposition. In the second volume, page 101, Dr. Beecher is represented as saying to me, at the convention at New Lebanon, "Finney, I know your plan, and you know I do; you mean to come to Connecticut, and carry a streak of fire to Boston. But if you attempt it, as the Lord liveth, I'll meet you at the state line, and call out all the artillerymen, and fight every inch of the way to Boston, and then I'll fight you there." I do not remember this; but, as Dr. Beecher does, let it illustrate the spirit of his opposition. The fact is, he was grossly deceived at every step. I had no design nor desire to go to Connecticut, nor to Boston. The above, and many other things which I find in his biography, show how completely he was deceived, and how utterly ignorant he was of the character, and motives, and doings, of those who had labored in those glorious revivals. I write these things with no pleasure. I find much in this biography that surprises me, and leads me to the conclusion that, by some mistake, Dr. Beecher has been misunderstood and misrepresented. But I pass by other matters.
After this convention I heard no more of the opposition of Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton. Opposition in that form had spent itself. The results of the revivals were such as to shut the mouths of gainsayers, and convince everybody that they were indeed pure and glorious revivals of religion, and as far from anything objectionable as any revivals that ever were witnessed in this world. Let any one read the Acts of the Apostles, and the record of the revivals of their day; and then read what they say, in their epistles, of the reaction, backsliding, and apostacies that followed. Then let them find out the truth respecting the glorious revivals of which I have been writing, their commencement, progress, and results, which have been more and more manifest for nearly forty years, and they cannot fail to see that these revivals were as truly from God as those.
Revivals should increase in purity and power, as intelligence increases. The converts in apostolic times were either Jews, with all their prejudice and ignorance, or degraded heathen. The art of printing had not been discovered. Copies of the Old Testament, and of the written word of God, were not to be had, except by the rich who were able to purchase manuscript copies. Christianity had no literature that was accessible to the masses. The means of instruction were not at hand. With so much darkness and ignorance, with so many false notions of religion, with so much to mislead and debase, and so few facilities for sustaining a religious reformation, it was not to be expected that revivals of religion should be pure and free from errors.
We have, and preach, the same Gospel that the apostles preached. We have every facility for guarding against error in doctrine and practice, and for securing a sound Gospel religion. The people among whom these great revivals prevailed, were an intelligent, cultivated people. They had not only the means of secular, but also of religious education, abounding in their midst. Nearly every church had an educated, able, and faithful pastor. These pastors were well able to judge of the soundness, and discretion of an evangelist, whose labors they wished to enjoy. They were well able to judge of the propriety of the measures employed. God set His seal to the doctrines that were preached, and to the means that were used to carry forward that great work, in a most striking and remarkable manner. The results are now found in all parts of the land. The converts of those revivals are still living, and laboring for Christ and for souls, in almost or quite every state in this Union. It is but just to say that they are among the most intelligent and useful Christians in this, or any other country.
As I have since labored extensively in this country, and in Great Britain, and no exceptions have been taken to my measures, it has been assumed and asserted that since the opposition made by Mr. Nettleton and Dr. Beecher, I have been reformed, and have given up the measures they complained of. This is an entire mistake. I have always and everywhere, used all the measures I used in those revivals and have often added other measures, whenever I have deemed it expedient. I have never seen the necessity of reformation in this respect. Were I to live my life over again, I think that, with the experience of more than forty years in revival labors, I should, under the same circumstances, use substantially the same measures that I did then.
And let me not be understood to take credit to myself. No indeed. It was no wisdom of my own that directed me. I was made to feel my ignorance and dependence, and led to look to God continually for His guidance. I had no doubt then, nor have I ever had, that God led me by His Spirit, to take the course I did. So clearly did He lead me from day to day, that I never did or could doubt that I was divinely directed.
That the brethren who opposed those revivals were good men, I do not doubt. That they were misled, and grossly and most injuriously deceived, I have just as little doubt. If they died under the belief that they had just reasons for what they did, and wrote, and said, and that they corrected the evils of which they complained, they died grossly deceived in this respect. It is not for the safety of the church, the honor of revivals, or the glory of Christ, that posterity should believe that those evils existed, and were corrected, by such a spirit, and in such a manner as has been represented. I should have remained silent had not so marked an effort been made to perpetuate and confirm the delusion, that the opposition to those revivals was justifiable and successful. The fact is, it was neither.
I have no doubt that Dr. Beecher was led, by somebody, to believe that his opposition was called for. From his biography, it appears that at Philadelphia, the next spring after the convention, it was agreed by himself, Dr. Beman and others, to drop the subject and publish no more in regard to those revivals. The truth is, that all the controversy and all the publishing had been on the side of the opposition. Previously to the meeting at Philadelphia, Mr. Nettleton had published his letters, and I saw nothing farther in print upon the subject.
I was not a party to the agreement entered into at Philadelphia; nevertheless, had not Dr. Beecher's biography reopened this subject, with the manifest design to justify the course that he took, and rivet the impression upon the public mind, that in making that opposition to those revivals he performed a great and good work, I should not feel called upon to say, what I cannot now be justified in withholding. I write from personal knowledge, and to me it matters not who may have given to Dr. Beecher the supposed facts upon which he acted. Those asserted facts were no facts, as I stated before the convention; to which statement every brother with whom I had labored assented. This was proof, if anything can be proven by human testimony. This testimony, it would seem, Dr. Beecher did not believe, if his biographer has not misrepresented him. And what will the churches in Oneida county say to this? Will they, can they believe, that such men as Rev. Dr. Aiken, Rev. John Frost, Rev. Moses Gillett, Rev. Mr. Coe, and the other men from that county, who attended that convention, deliberately falsified upon a subject which was within their own personal knowledge? It matters not who Dr. Beecher's informants were; certainly none of the pastors where those revivals prevailed, ever gave him any information that justified his course; and no other men understood the matter as well as they did. I submit that, as the convention decided; they were the best possible witnesses of what was said and done in their own congregations; and their testimony was unanimous that no such things were done as were charged.
I had read the strong, and even terrible charges against the brethren who labored in those revivals, contained in Dr. Beecher's letter to Dr. Taylor, in which he states that his correspondence will justify what he was doing and writing against those brethren. When I learned that this matter was to be spread before the public in Dr. Beecher's biography, I hoped that, at last, we should get at the authors of those reports, through the publication of his correspondence. But I see nothing in his correspondence to justify his course. Are these charges to be virtually repeated and stereotyped, and the correspondence, by which they are said to be justified, concealed? If, as it seems, Dr. Beecher, until the day of his death, continued to reject our united testimony, may we not know by whose counter testimony ours is impeached?
On page 103, of the second volume of Dr. Beecher's autobiography, we have the following: "In the spring of 1828, said Dr. Beecher in conversation on the subject, I found out that Mr. Finney's friends were laying their plans to make in impression on the general assembly, that held its session at Philadelphia, and to get one of their men into Mr. Skinner's place. Skinner's church had just asked me to preach for them; and I wrote back that I would supply, if they wished, while the assembly was in session. That blocked somebody's wheels. I stayed till the close, when Beman preached half a day. That defeated their plans. They failed." What this means I cannot say. In reading the above, and what follows to the end of the chapter, together with what I find elsewhere on this subject, in this biography, I stand amazed in view of the suspicions and delusions under which Dr. Beecher's mind was laboring. If any of my friends were trying to get into Dr. Skinner's pulpit which he had vacated, I have no recollection of ever having heard of it. I was, at that time, a minister in the Presbyterian church, and was preaching in Philadelphia when the assembly was in session and while Dr. Beecher was there. I was as ignorant as a child of all this management revealed in the biography. I shared none of the terrors and distractions, that seem to have so much distressed Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton. If any of my friends were sharing in the state of mind in which these brethren were, I knew it not.
The truthful record of my labors up to the time of the convention, and from that time onward, will show how little I knew or cared what Dr. Beecher and Mr. Nettleton were saying or doing about me. I bless the Lord that I was kept from being diverted from my work by their opposition, and that I never gave myself any uneasiness about it. When at Auburn, as I have related, God had given me the assurance that He would overrule all opposition, without my turning aside to answer my opposers. This I never forgot. Under this divine assurance I went forward with a single eye, and a trustful spirit; and now when I read what agitations, suspicions, and misapprehensions possessed the minds of these brethren, I stand amazed at their delusion and consequent anxiety, respecting myself and my labors. At the very time that Dr. Beecher was in Philadelphia, managing with members of the general assembly, as related in his biography, I was laboring in that city, and had been for several months, in different churches, in the midst of a powerful revival of religion, perfectly ignorant of Dr. Beecher's errand there. I cannot be too thankful that God kept me from being agitated, and changed in my spirit, or views of labor, by all the opposition of those days.
Introduction ---New Window
CHAPTERS 1-8 of page 1 ---New Window
CHAPTERS 9-16 of page 2 (this page)
CHAPTERS 17-24 of page 3 ---New Window
CHAPTERS 25-36 of page 4 ---New Window
"Sermons from the Penny Pulpit"
by C. G. Finney
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