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Charles G. Finney

(29/08/1792 - 16/8/1875)




A Mighty Winner of Souls


CHARLES G. FINNEY

A STUDY IN EVANGELISM
written by
FRANK GRENVILLE BEARDSLEY,
Ph.D., S.T.D. Author of
History of American Revivals, etc.
COPYRIGHT 1937
AMERICAN TRACT SOCIETY
TO MY WIFE
MARY EVANNA BEARDSLEY
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

PREFATORY

MULTITUDES, today, are looking with eager expectation and ardent hope for a new era in evangelism. Methods are changing. The day of the professional evangelist, at least for the present, is past. The "preaching mission" is taking the place of the old-fashioned revival meetings. That America and the world need a great spiritual awakening goes without saying. A widespread indifference to the claims of religion is all too prevalent, church attendance is sadly neglected, the enrolment in our Sunday Schools has suffered a serious decline, and great numbers, religiously speaking, are without compass or rudder or sail.

Nothing will serve to promote an interest in evangelism more than a study of the lives and measures of the men who were successful in winning souls in the past, not that we may attempt to reproduce their methods, but that we may catch something of their spirit and discover those principles which underlie all true evangelism.

No man in his day and generation was more signally blessed of God in winning souls than Charles G. Finney. Thousands and tens of thousands in this and other lands were brought to Christ through his instrumentality. It is hoped that this brief study of his life and labors may stimulate others to renewed effort in seeking to bring men to a saving knowledge of Him who is our Redeemer and Lord.

FRANK G. BEARDSLEY.

CHAPTER I

EARLY LIFE

 

EVER since the Great Awakening, when George Whitefield travelled throughout the colonies from Maine to Georgia stirring the multitudes by the power of his impassioned eloquence, almost every American generation has had its revival preachers. These itinerant evangelists have made it their business to go from place to place arousing lukewarm and indifferent professors of religion and exhorting sinners to repentance. No name bulks larger in the history of American evangelism than that of Charles G. Finney, who, with some intermissions as a pastor and teacher, continued his evangelistic labors for nearly half a century and whose writings still receive a wide acceptance.

Paradoxical as it may seem, Finney was not converted in a religious revival and never attended an evangelistic meeting until he began to conduct such services himself. After a conversion almost as remarkable as that of Saul of Tarsus he abandoned the practice of law and, with no preparation for the ministry aside from some months spent in the study of his pastor, began to preach the Gospel.

At the outset of his ministry he had no thought of preaching elsewhere than in the backwoods and rural districts. But within a few years his services were in demand in the great cities, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. At the height of his evangelistic career he organized Broadway Tabernacle, one of the leading Congregational churches in the country, from the pastorate of which he was called to Oberlin College, recently started in the pioneer wilds of Northern Ohio. From his work as a teacher and administrator he was frequently summoned to various cities throughout the country, and twice he spent extended periods in Great Britain. The story of his life reads like a romance, and from it we may gain some insight into the sources of his power as a preacher of righteousness and a winner of souls.

The son of Sylvester Finney, a farmer and a veteran of the Revolutionary War, he was born in Warren, Litchfield County, Connecticut, August 29, 1792. He was named Charles Grandison after a character in one of Richardson's novels. Shortly after the War for Independence the movement of population to the westward had begun. In the venturesome spirit of their Pioneer ancestors sturdy New Englanders, former soldiers, of the Revolution and others, set out with their families and portable possessions in ox carts and covered wagons for the unoccupied regions to the west of the Hudson River and beyond. When Finney was two years of age his parents, following this tide of emigration, removed to Oneida County, New York, locating temporarily at Brotherton, but taking up their permanent abode in the vicinity of Hanover, now Kirkland, but at that time a part of Paris.

The outdoor life on the farm, the "chores" in which at an early age he was expected to participate, and, as he grew older, the work of tilling the soil and felling timber, developed in the youth Finney a strong and rugged constitution which stood him well in hand amidst the arduous activities of his later life. During the hunting season with his long barreled flintlock rifle he scoured the woods in the pursuit of game. He became an expert shot and until long past middle life enjoyed hunting as a diversion and means of recreation. He joined in the rude sports of the period. Said his grandson, "When he was twenty he excelled every man and boy he met, in every species of toil or sport. No man could throw him; no man could knock his hat off; no man could run faster, jump farther, leap higher or throw a ball with greater force and precision. When his family moved to the shore of Henderson's Bay, near Sackett's Harbor, he added to his accomplishments rowing, swimming, and sailing."

True to their antecedents and traditions the pioneers from New England established schools in the wilderness, the principal aim of which was to teach the pupils to read and spell correctly, to write legibly, and to cipher with sufficient accuracy to keep family accounts correctly and compute interest on a debt. The teachers, who usually boarded " 'round" as a part of their compensation, as a rule had seldom gone beyond the rudimentary branches themselves. Occasionally a theological student, who sought thus to augment his funds to continue his course at Harvard or Yale, was employed for a term or two. The course of instruction was crude. All of the appliances of the modern teacher, maps, charts, globes, and models, were lacking. Textbooks were few. Webster's blue-backed "Speller" had come into common use; Hodder's and Pike's arithmetics were the only ones available in that branch; while Jedidiah Morse's Universal Geography, an 18mo volume with four maps, covered that field.

After completing such studies as could be taken in the rural schools, young Finney attended, for two years, Hamilton Oneida Institute, at Clinton, New York, only a few miles distant from his father's farm in Oneida County. This institute had been projected in 1793 by Samuel Kirkland, famous as a missionary to the Indians, to provide instruction for Indians and whites. Named in honor of Alexander Hamilton, one of its first trustees, the school was incorporated as Hamilton College in 1812. The corner stone for the first building was laid July 1, 1794, by Baron von Steuben of Revolutionary fame, but owing to the lack of funds, the building was not completed for several years, and it was not until 1798 that the Institute was opened for instruction.

During Finney's student days in Hamilton Oneida Institute the principal was Seth Norton who later became professor of languages in Hamilton College. He was a graduate of Yale College and had been a tutor there two years previous to his entrance upon the principalship of the Institute. A fine classical scholar and a lover of music as well, he succeeded in instilling within the mind of Finney an intense love of music, teaching him to sing, to read music at sight, and to play upon the violin and bass viol, or violoncello as it is called today. With the first money which he earned in teaching Finney purchased a base viol upon which he became a skilled performer.

About 1808 his parents moved to Henderson, on Lake Ontario, in Jefferson County, New York. The next four years he taught at Henderson, two months in the summer and three months in the winter. He was the idol of his pupils, participating with zest in their sports before and after school. Although there were older and larger boys than he in school, he could excel them all in their feats of strength and skill. He commanded the respect of those who were disposed to be unruly and in the schoolroom he maintained perfect discipline. At the first hint of disorder a flash of his eye would quell the disturber at once.

In the summer of 1812, when an invasion from Canada was threatened, Finney went to Sackett's Harbor with the intention of enlisting in the navy. The town was a scene of confusion and disorder. Drunken militiamen jostled one another in the streets, quarreling, cursing, and polluting the very atmosphere with their oaths and ribald jests. Said his grandson: "He heard more profanity and obscenity in that one day, than he had heard in all his life before. To cap the climax, he was accosted by an abandoned woman--a follower of the camp--young, pretty, and saucy. He looked at her in wonder and, when he comprehended the nature of her request, he was so overcome with pity for her degradation and lack of shame that his cheeks burned, and before he could check it he was shedding tears and sobbing violently. She, moved to shame by this extraordinary spectacle, wept too, and without another word they parted. In narrating the incident fifty-five years later he was visibly affected and remarked: 'Oh, if I had only been a Christian at that time! The young woman might have been saved! Perhaps God brought about this meeting on purpose to open her eyes and she may have repented.'"

The threatened invasion proved a fiasco and, deeply distressed by all that he had seen and heard, Finney returned to his home. Later that same year, having abandoned the idea of enlisting in the navy, he went back to his native town, Warren, Connecticut, where for a period of two years he attended an academy or high school. During this time he supported himself by working on his uncle's farm in summer and conducting a singing school in winter largely attended by the young people from miles around. In the academy he manifested those qualities of leadership for which he was afterwards distinguished, acquiring a reputation for wit and oratory in the literary society and serving as editor of the school journal which, in the form of manuscript, passed from hand to hand. It was his intention to take a full classical course at Yale College, but his teacher, a Yale graduate, persuaded him that this would be a waste of time, since with the habits of study which he had acquired he would be able in two years easily to complete privately the four years' work required for graduation.

Listening to this advice Finney spent the next two years teaching in New Jersey, returning to Warren from time to time to report progress to his teacher and to receive further suggestions as to his studies. Although not a college graduate, he acquired a working knowledge of the ancient languages, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, but in his Autobiography he speaks modestly of his linguistic attainments, saying, "I never possessed so much knowledge of the ancient languages as to think myself capable of independently criticising our English translation of the Bible."

After an absence of four years he returned to New York State. It was then his purpose to join his former teacher in the establishment of an academy at some point in the South, but owing to the ill health of his mother and the importunities of his father he was persuaded to relinquish the undertaking.

After deliberating at length as to his future he finally decided to prepare himself for the legal profession, and sometime during the year 1818 he went to Adams, Jefferson County, New York, a few miles distant from the home of his parents, to enter the office of Judge Benjamin Wright, the leading attorney in that section of the state. Active in politics and a warm personal friend of Governor De Witt Clinton, Judge Wright was appointed by the latter a Canal Commissioner and at a later time Surrogate of Jefferson County. After reading law in his office for a period of two years Finney was duly admitted to the bar and entered at once into partnership with his preceptor in the law.

As a law student and young attorney Finney entered whole-heartedly into the social and religious life of the community. He took an active part in the work of the Masonic fraternity. At the age of twenty-one, while attending school in Warren, Connecticut, and living at the home of his uncle, the latter suggested that, as he was away from home and among strangers, it would be an advantage to him to become a member of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, since as such he would find friends everywhere. Accepting his advice he applied for membership in the lodge at Warren and after passing through the required preliminaries he was duly raised to the "Sublime degree of Master Mason." On commencing his legal studies he "demitted" to the lodge at Adams and after a time was elected its secretary. By assiduous attention to the ritual and lectures of the different "degrees" he developed into what his Masonic brethren termed a "bright Mason."

Up to this time his religious privileges had been meager. Neither of his parents was religiously inclined and his opportunities for church attendance had been limited. There was no church in the vicinity of his father's farm in Oneida County until about a year before their departure to Jefferson County. The town of Henderson was marked by a similar absence of religious services. Infrequently in the communities where he had lived some illiterate itinerant preacher had held forth, to the no small amusement of the inhabitants, who took a keen delight in criticizing the grammatical errors which they heard and exposing to ridicule the ludicrous misstatements that had been made.

Until he attended school in New England he had never lived in a praying community, and the type of religious life with which he there came into contact did not impress him deeply. The minister of the parish was an aged man, whose sermons for the most part were dry, doctrinal disquisitions which he read in a dull, monotonous fashion so that they did not appeal to the ardent nature of young Finney. In New Jersey where he taught school the preaching was in German, which to say the least was not edifying to one who did not understand the language. In view of these limited opportunities it was not strange that he should have said of himself: "When I went to Adams to study law, I was almost as ignorant of religion as a heathen. I had been brought up mostly in the woods. I had little regard to the Sabbath, and had no definite knowledge of religious truth."

At Adams, where he was invited to lead the choir, he was brought under the preaching of Rev. George W. Gale, a Princeton graduate, whose theology was strongly tinctured with the hyper-Calvinism of the period. The preaching of this good man was a source of much perplexity to the young attorney. He held that men were sinful by nature, that the will was so enslaved as to be utterly incapable of a right choice, and that conversion was a physical change, to be wrought independently of man's agency through the electing grace of God. If he preached on repentance he would be sure to inform his hearers that they could not repent, or if he spoke on saving faith he would tell them that they could not believe until their natures were changed by the Holy Spirit.

Writing of Mr. Gale's preaching Finney said: "I now think that I criticised his sermons unmercifully. ...Indeed, I found it impossible to attach any meaning to the terms which he used with great formality and frequency. What did he mean by repentance? Was it a mere feeling of sorrow for sin? Was it altogether a passive state of mind, or did it involve a voluntary element? If it was a change of mind, in what sense was it a change of mind? What did he mean by the term 'regeneration'? What did such language mean when applied to a spiritual change? What did he mean by faith? Was it merely an intellectual state? Was it merely a conviction or persuasion that the things stated in the gospel were true? What did he mean by sanctification? Did it involve any physical change in the subject, or any physical influence on the part of God? I could not tell; neither did he seem to know himself. I sometimes told him that he seemed to begin in the middle of his discourse, and to assume many things which, to my mind, needed to be proved. I must say, I was rather perplexed than edified by his preaching."

To Finney there was an element of unreality in the pastor's preaching. He was not at all convinced that, even in the minister's own thinking, the doctrines which entered into his theological system had any real relation to life. One Sunday evening after service he took Mr. Gale to task for some statement which he had made, saying, "You do not believe what you preach; were I in your place, holding to the teachings which you declare, I would ring the church bell and cry in the streets 'Fire! Fire!'" Even though he made no pretensions to the way of faith Finney felt that the gripping power of religion ought to possess one's very being and stir him to the innermost depths of his nature.

Occasionally Mr. Gale would drop into the young attorney's office to engage him in religious conversation, but such were the objections which the latter raised and the questions which he propounded that the minister concluded that he must be thoroughly hardened, and when some of his parishioners proposed making Finney a subject of prayer he discouraged the idea because in his judgment it would be useless, and he went so far as to express the opinion that such was the young attorney's influence over the young people of the community that there could be no hope for their conversion so long as he remained in Adams. Notwithstanding the pastor's pessimistic attitude a little company of young people in his congregation, among them the young woman who subsequently became Finney's wife, banded themselves together to intercede with God for his salvation.

Finney not only opposed the theological views of his pastor, but he was unsparing in his criticism of the members of the church for their inconsistencies and particularly for their want of faith. He was in the habit of attending prayer meeting whenever his duties would permit, and one evening when someone asked him if he did not wish to be prayed for, he arose with the caustic reply: "I suppose I need to be prayed for; I am conscious that I am a sinner; but I do not see that it will do any good for you to pray for me; you are continually asking, but you do not receive. You have been praying for the Holy Spirit to descend upon yourselves, and yet complaining of your leanness. You have prayed enough since I have attended these meetings to have prayed the devil out of Adams, if there is any virtue in your prayers. But here you are praying on and complaining still."

While it is doubtless true, as Finney intimates, that the unanswered prayers of Christian people were a great stumblingblock to him, nevertheless from the sharpness of his reply it is evident that the prayers of the young people were having their effect and that he was in the throes of that spiritual conflict which was to culminate in his conversion.

In the meanwhile he had purchased his first copy of the Bible. In the legal works which he had studied, the Mosaic Institutes were frequently referred to as an authority for many of the principles of common law. His curiosity having become aroused he purchased a copy of the sacred Scriptures. A candid examination of its contents convinced him that it was precisely what it claimed to be--the Word of God.

His study of the Scriptures, his attendance at the services of worship, together with a consideration of the problems thus arising were not without their effect and, to use his own expression, he "became very restless." The young disciple of Blackstone was not far from the Kingdom of God. He realized that he was not fit for heaven should he die, while the question whether he should accept salvation or continue the pursuit of a worldly life kept coming before his mind with great urgency and pungent force. He was approaching the crisis of his life, and soon it was to be said of him as of old it had been said of Saul of Tarsus, "behold, he prayeth."

 

CHAPTER II

"BEHOLD, HE PRAYETH"

 

ON THE evening of Sunday, October 7, 1821, after the services of worship were over, Finney reached the momentous decision that he would at once settle the question of his soul's salvation and if possible make his peace with God. On the following two days when not occupied with the duties of his profession he spent much time in prayer and a perusal of the Scriptures. These pursuits served but to deepen his convictions, and to conceal his emotions he resorted to the common subterfuge of avoiding his pastor and all religious people as much as possible. He stopped the keyhole of his door when he prayed, and was careful to keep his Bible out of sight whenever visitors appeared in the office.

Up to this time he had kept his copy of the Bible on a table with his law books and no thought of shame had occurred in connection with reading the sacred volume. Such, however, is the perversity of the human heart that, when the soul reaches its spiritual crisis, concealment is sought for these very emotions which under divine grace are calculated to issue in salvation. By Tuesday night his agitation of mind had increased until he had been brought to a condition well-nigh verging on despair. He was distressed with a presentiment that he was about to die, and he was sure that he would be lost if he did. The following morning as he was going to his office an inward voice seemed to admonish him: "What are you waiting for? Did you not promise to give your heart to God? And what are you trying to do? Are you endeavoring to work out a righteousness of your own?"

As he revolved these problems in his mind the truth was impressed upon him that salvation was a gift, not to be wrought out by works, but to be appropriated by faith in Jesus Christ. The whole plan of salvation seemed to be revealed to him with great clearness as a finished work of grace through the atoning merits of the Son of God; instead of needing any righteousness of his own to commend him to God he needed but to submit himself to the righteousness of God that was in Christ Jesus. After pondering the matter for some moments this question came to his mind, "Will you accept it now, today?" He replied: "Yes, I will accept it today, or I will die in the attempt."

As a place suited to his purpose he sought the seclusion of a piece of woods where he had been in the habit of taking daily walks in pleasant weather. To escape observation he skulked along under a fence, and on reaching the cover of the forest he kneeled down beside a log and attempted to pray, but to his dismay he found he could not. His lips seemed to be sealed and his heart refused to pray. In an agony of spirit he communed with himself: "I cannot pray. My heart is dead to God and will not pray."

In view of Finney's subsequent insistence upon immediate submission to God as an essential condition to salvation, and his exhortation to sinners "to make themselves new hearts," the question might be raised as to the cause of the difficulty which he now experienced in making his peace with God. To this the reply might be given that, while he had revolted from the old idea of a physical and involuntary regeneration and the fact had just been impressed upon him that salvation was not of works but of faith, still the various steps in the process of salvation had not been clearly unfolded to him. Consequently he was as a blind man groping in the darkness with no one to direct him to the pathway of light.

His submission moreover was not complete. After several unsuccessful attempts to pray, once or twice he fancied that he heard a rustling in the leaves, and opening his eyes to see if anyone was present he was appalled at the thought of his own wickedness and pride of heart in being ashamed to have anyone see him in the attitude of prayer. "What!" he exclaimed, "such a degraded sinner as I am, on my knees, confessing my sins to a great and holy God, and ashamed to have any human being, and a sinner like myself, find me on my knees, endeavoring to make my peace with an offended God!" In deep agony of spirit he cried aloud to God for mercy.

At this juncture a passage of Scripture came into his mind as clearly as if he had just read it: "And ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." He did not remember ever having read this passage before, but he seized upon it with avidity and exclaimed: "Lord, I take thee at thy word. Thou knowest that I do search for thee with all my heart." Other passages occurred to him, and he continued thus to pray and accept promises until with a light heart he found himself tripping through the bushes toward the road and saying, "If ever I am converted I will preach the gospel."

On reaching the road that led to the village he found that his mind had suddenly become quiet and peaceful. He could not understand it. His sense of guilt was gone and he was unable to revive his conviction of sin. He thought that he must have quenched the Holy Spirit; and remembering the boldness of language which he had used in accepting the promises of God he suspected that he had committed the unpardonable sin. But try as he would he could not make himself anxious about it.

When he arrived in the village he found that the whole forenoon had passed, but having no appetite for dinner he went to his office and taking down his bass viol he began to play and sing some sacred songs. His heart was so melted at the words and the tears began to flow so freely that he was obliged to desist. The afternoon was occupied by Judge Wright and himself in transferring their books and furniture to another office. By evening everything had been set in order and his partner, having bidden him good night, departed for home.

As soon as Finney closed the door a deep feeling came upon him. He said: "The rising of my soul was so great that I rushed to the back room of the law office to pray, when it seemed to me as if I met the Lord Jesus face to face. It did not occur to me then, nor for some time afterward, that this was a wholly mental state. On the contrary it seemed to me that I saw him as I would see any other man. I wept aloud like a child. It seemed to me that I bathed his feet with my tears. I literally bellowed out the unutterable gushings of my heart." Soon after there came upon him a "mighty baptism of the Holy Ghost" and wave after wave of divine influence seemed to sweep over him. At last he cried out, "I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me, Lord I cannot bear any more."

Late that evening a member of the choir came into the office and on finding Finney in tears inquired, "Mr. Finney, what ails you? Are you in pain?" "No, but so happy that I cannot live." The visitor hurried out and brought in an elder of the church, to whom Finney began to narrate his experience. While he was thus engaged a young man of the neighborhood who was preparing for college stepped into the office and on listening to Finney's story was so impressed that he exclaimed, "Do pray for me!" Not long afterwards the young man was converted.

The following morning, although he had not yet received the assurance of sins forgiven, a similar baptism came upon him. In this enraptured state he was taught the doctrine of justification by faith. He realized that through faith in Jesus Christ forgiveness was a present experience. The consciousness of sin and the guilt of sin were gone, and he experienced no more sense of condemnation for his past sins than if he had never sinned.

Such in brief is the story of the remarkable conversion of this remarkable man. His conversion was as profound and as strongly marked as that of the Apostle Paul. Those who knew him in after years have said that he was not the sort of man in whom they would have expected such experiences. He was too rugged and the type of his mind seemed too masculine for him to be moved in any such way. That the change thus wrought was the work of God is evidenced by his whole subsequent life.

The practice of law immediately lost all of its attractions. That very morning a deacon of the church, who had employed him as his attorney in a suit at law, called at the office to remind him that the trial was to take place at ten o'clock. Finney replied: "I have enlisted in the service of Christ and have a retainer to plead his cause. You must therefore seek another attorney to attend the suit." With bowed head the deacon left the office and straightway settled the case. He then gave himself to prayer and soon entered into a deeper religious experience.

The news of Finney's conversion created intense excitement throughout the town of Adams and was received with incredulity. Some time before, a man had said to his wife who was a praying woman: "If religion is true, why don't you Christians convert Finney? If you can convert him, I will believe that there is something in religion." So hopeless, if not impossible, seemed the task. An old lawyer when he heard the rumor said: "There is nothing in it. It is just a practical joke. Finney is making sport of the Christian people in the place and is trying to see what he can make them believe." Even Mr. Gale, the minister, refused to believe the report and declared it to be untrue.

That evening, although no appointment had been made for a service, the people of the village by common consent flocked to the church which was filled to overflowing. Mr. Gale was present but no one seemed disposed to open the meeting, whereupon Finney arose and went forward. Although used to addressing courts, juries, and public gatherings, at first as his great expressive eyes swept over the audience he was panic-stricken and involuntarily exclaimed to himself, "My God, is it I?" But mustering courage and gaining confidence as he proceeded, he gave a graphic account of what had happened, telling of the purpose which he had formed to become a Christian, of the mighty struggle which had surged within him as he knelt by the side of the log in the woods, of the great pride of his heart which seemed to be a tremendous stumblingblock in the way of his submission to God, and finally of his knowledge of sins forgiven together with the joy and peace which he had received in believing.

As he unfolded the story of his remarkable conversion his fellow townsmen were profoundly moved. The man who had asked his wife why they didn't convert Finney was present, but so agitated did he become that in the midst of the service he went home without taking his hat. The old lawyer who had declared that the story of his conversion was a hoax was also on hand, and he too left before the meeting was over affirming that Finney was insane. He said, "He is in earnest, there is no mistake; but he is deranged, that is clear." Mr. Gale arose at the close of Finney's remarks and made apology for refusing to believe the report of his conversion and for discouraging the people in their purpose to make him a subject of prayer.

Following this meeting Finney summoned the members of his choir together, and, acknowledging that he had been a stumblingblock in the way of their salvation, urged them to accept Christ at once. Within a short time everyone of them was converted and united with the church. Among their number was a daughter of Judge Wright who became the mother of Bishop Henry B. Whipple of Minnesota. A revival followed which resulted in numerous conversions and extended throughout the entire county. Daily meetings were sustained for several weeks, and a number of the leading men in the community were influenced to turn to God.

It frequently happens that when a person passes through a profound religious experience a tendency develops on the part of others to attempt to reproduce it. The idea also develops that such an experience is necessary. This proved the case in Adams at that time, and it is interesting to note that many were converted in the woods and on the very spot where Finney had made his submission to God.

Among those who were thus affected was Judge Wright, Finney's law partner. On the morning after his conversion, when the Judge came into the office, Finney said a few words to him on the subject of salvation. These words pierced him like an arrow and without making any reply he dropped his head. A few minutes later he left the office. In the days that followed several persons were converted in the woods, and when Judge Wright heard them narrate their experience he resolved that he never should go to the woods to pray. To him it seemed an unnecessary procedure. He said, "I have a parlor to pray in, I am not going to the woods." Weeks passed by and his convictions deepened. He tried to persuade himself that it was not pride that kept him from Christ, and so when he would be going home from meeting he would kneel in the street and pray. He would even look about for a mud puddle in which to pray, to show that he had no pride in the matter, but still no peace came. Realizing at last that pride was, nevertheless, the great obstacle in the way of his salvation he decided to yield. On going to the woods and kneeling down to pray he was filled with such a sense of peace and joy that he was well-nigh overcome.

Ten years after Finney's conversion he had become a noted evangelist and the log in the woods by the side of which he had kneeled down to pray likewise had become noted and was pointed out to strangers visiting the town of Adams. About that time Jedidiah Burchard conducted a series of meetings in the community. A young man who had been brought under the influence of these meetings decided that he must go to the woods and be converted in precisely the same way as Mr. Finney. He kneeled down beside the log for a long time, but no peace of mind came to him and in amazement he said to himself: "I know that this is the log where Mr. Finney kneeled, and I am sure that I have humbled myself as low as he did. What is the matter?" Greatly troubled he started on his homeward way thinking that perhaps he was not among the elect or else had sinned away his day of grace. As he pondered the matter he finally asked himself, "What is religion?" Then the thought occurred to him: "It is serving God; it is obedience. Why not commence now, right here?" He said "I will," and so on his homeward way he realized that religion is not a great experience, but obedience to God, no less truly than had Mr. Finney in the woods ten years before.

No man's conversion was more thorough and radical than that of Charles G. Finney. He interpreted very literally the words of Jesus, "whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." He soon came to the conclusion that it was his duty to withdraw from the Masonic fraternity. In the membership of the lodge at Adams there were a number of men as thoroughly irreligious as any he had ever known, men who were very intemperate and very profane, the kind of men with whom he never would have thought of associating had they not been Freemasons. After his conversion Finney attended a meeting of the lodge and although called upon to offer prayer he was depressed and felt strangely out of place. Instinctively he recoiled from further fellowship with men whom he knew to be out of sympathy with religion. Finally without consulting anyone he requested his discharge from the lodge and thereafter refused to be recognized as a Freemason.

Not long after his conversion Finney visited his aged parents at Henderson. His father met him at the gate, saying, "How do you do, Charles?" to which he replied: "I am very well, father, body and soul. But father, you are an old man; all of your children have grown up and have left your house; and I never heard a prayer in my father's house." His father dropped his head and burst into tears saying: "I know it, Charles. Come in and pray yourself." He did so with the result that his father and mother were deeply moved and soon after both were converted. He remained in town two or three days conversing with everybody whom he met upon the great theme of salvation. Within a week a meeting was started in the town which was followed by far reaching results for good. "From this meeting," said Finney, "the work of the Lord spread forth in every direction all over the town. And thus it spread at that time from Adams as a centre, throughout nearly all the towns in the county."

 

CHAPTER III

GOD'S ADVOCATE

 

"ABOUT as much mystery," says Professor G. Frederick Wright, "hangs over the first year and a half of Finney's life subsequent to his conversion as that which shrouds the corresponding period of the Apostle Paul's renewed life." So far as we are able to learn, for several months he seems to have been occupied chiefly in furthering, by personal efforts and otherwise, the interests of the religious revival which had swept over the town of Adams and the surrounding country as a result of his conversion.

The purpose which he had expressed on his homeward way from the woods, to preach the Gospel if he were converted, remained uppermost in his mind. He had been very fond of his profession, but after his conversion he found no pleasure in attending to legal business. Many pressing invitations came to him to conduct lawsuits, but he uniformly refused. He said: "I did not dare to trust myself in the excitement of a contested lawsuit; and furthermore, the business itself of conducting other people's controversies appeared odious and offensive to me."

Possessed of gifts, as he undoubtedly was, which would have given him a place at the very forefront of the legal profession, together with the prospects for political preferment which would naturally have come his way as a rising young attorney, it was no small sacrifice for Finney to turn aside from the law. His magnetic and commanding personality, his brilliant mind, his incisive logic, his eloquence and persuasive power as a speaker, all would have combined to make him an outstanding figure in the forum and at the bar.

His friends viewed his decision with dismay. Horatio N. Davis, who had been one of his pupils at Henderson, said: "When he abandoned the profession and decided to study for the ministry we all felt that he had made an awful mistake. That if he had continued in the practice he was destined, in a very short time, to attain to the highest position at the bar and in politics."

From the standpoint of purely worldly advantage the ministry at that time had little or nothing to offer. But Finney had made up his mind that, at whatever cost, he would devote his life to the preaching of the Gospel. Accordingly on June 25, 1823, at a meeting held at Adams, he was taken under the care of the St. Lawrence Presbytery "with a view to the gospel ministry." Writing of this epoch in his life he says:

"Some of the ministers urged me to go to Princeton to study theology; but I declined. When they asked me why I would not go to Princeton, I told them that my pecuniary circumstances forbade it. This was true; but they said they would see that my expenses were paid. Still I refused to go; and, when urged to give my reasons, I plainly told them that I would not put myself under such an influence as they had been under; that I was confident they had been wrongly educated, and they were not ministers that met my ideal of what a minister of Christ should be. I told them this reluctantly, but I could not withhold it."

His remarks seem to have occasioned no offence, and according to the records of the Presbytery he was "directed to pursue his studies under the direction of Rev. Messrs. Gale and Boardman." The former was his pastor and the latter, the Rev. George Smith Boardman, also a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, was for many years pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Watertown, New York. Finney's studies, however, seem to have been under the direction of his pastor chiefly. He boarded for a time in the home of Mr. Gale who gave him every encouragement, kindly offered him the use of his library, and expressed a willingness to assist him in every way that he could.

Modern methods in theological education were then just in their beginnings. The Congregationalists had founded their first theological seminary at Andover, Massachusetts, in 1808, and the Presbyterians their seminary at Princeton in 1812. Prior to that time the usual practice for young men who were preparing for the ministry, was to "read" theology under the guidance of some experienced pastor. From 1773 to 1827, during his pastorate at Franklin, Massachusetts, a hundred young men were prepared for the ministry under the celebrated Dr. Nathaniel Emmons. This method of theological instruction continued well into the nineteenth century, and in some instances almost down to the present day.

It was after this fashion that Finney was to receive his theological training. The only data which we have covering this period in his life are his Memoirs. From all that can be gathered his doctrinal education seems to have consisted chiefly in controversial discussions with his instructor. But he could not be persuaded to accept the hyper-Calvinistic viewpoint of the latter, who held that men were sinners by birth, with a constitution morally depraved and a will so enslaved as to be utterly unable to comply with the terms of the Gospel--to repent, believe or do anything that God required of them. They were free to commit sin, but were not free to do right. For this sinful nature, received from Adam by natural generation, as well as their own transgressions, all mankind was doomed to eternal damnation. Christ died only for the elect, exact justice having been satisfied by His sufferings on the cross, whereby their debt was paid and the penalty required by the divine law was discharged in full. Regeneration was a physical change wrought by the Holy Spirit acting directly upon the substance of the soul. In this process the sinner was passive. Nothing he could do, nothing anyone else could do for him, would avail for his salvation. In due time, if he was of the elect, God would convert him, but if he was of the nonelect he would remain without hope and without God in the world.

The idea of a necessitated will was particularly repugnant to the logical and analytical mind of the young attorney. He was convinced that ability was commensurate with responsibility, that men were not sinners by birth but from choice, that they were endowed by nature with all the powers of moral agency and what was required of them was not to alter these powers but to use them in the service of their Maker. Regeneration was not a physical change, a change in the substance of the soul, but a change in the general preference of the mind, effected by the moral influence of the Holy Spirit in persuading men through motives to embrace the truths of the Gospel. It was the duty, therefore, of men to repent, believe, and obey the Gospel.

The views of the two men were diametrically opposite and when Finney, unconvinced by the arguments of his pastor, refused to accept his theological viewpoint Mr. Gale said repeatedly: "Mr. Finney, if you continue to argue and reason, you will land in infidelity, just as some of the students at Princeton have done who reasoned upon the subject and refused to accept the Confession of Faith. You must not be so opinionated, but accept the teachings of the great doctors of the church."

As an attorney and a student of the law Finney had been trained to exact thinking. That one should suffer his reason to abdicate and accept a ready-made theology was to him unthinkable. In the preface to his Lectures on Systematic Theology, published some twenty years later, he said:

"My brother, sister, friend--reason, study, think. . . . You were made to think. It will do you good to think; to develope your powers of study. God designed that religion should require thought; intense thought and should thoroughly develope our powers of thought. The Bible itself is written in a style so condensed as to require much intense study. Many know nothing of the Bible or of religion because they will not think and study."

What Finney afterwards commended to others, he scrupulously practiced as a student of theology. Believing that the truth was supreme and that it must justify itself in the light of human reason, he would accept nothing on Mr. Gale's say-so or on the authority of the theologians of the day.

Finally Mr. Gale said to him: "You ought to defer to the opinions of the great and good men, who by much study and deliberation have come to such conclusions. It is unbecoming in one so young and inexperienced as yourself, bred in the profession of the law and having no theological education, to oppose the views of trained and learned theologians. The decisions of the church ought to be respected and you should surrender your own judgment to the superior wisdom of others."

Finney felt that there was considerable force to this argument; yet he could not suffer his reason to abdicate, or surrender his own judgment to merely human opinion. He said: "I found myself utterly unable to accept doctrines on the ground of authority. If I tried to accept those doctrines as mere dogmas, I could not do it. I could not be honest in doing it; I could not respect myself in doing it. Often when I left Mr. Gale I would go to my room and spend a long time on my knees over my Bible. Indeed I read my Bible on my knees a great deal during those days of conflict, beseeching the Lord to teach me his own mind on those points. I had no where to go but directly to the Bible and to the philosophy or workings of my own mind, as revealed in consciousness."

Independently working out his theological doctrines, as he did upon bended knees and with the Holy Bible open before him, he nevertheless found it a sore trial to disagree with his pastor and instructor. Often he was greatly depressed and discouraged. There were times when he felt almost persuaded to relinquish studying for the ministry altogether. But he received encouragement and comfort from an elder of the church to whom he freely opened his mind. This man had been trained in the old views, but after protracted conversations with Finney he became satisfied that the views of the latter were correct. Frequently he would visit him to pray with him and encourage him in his studies, until Finney became more firmly decided than ever that, come what might, he would preach the Gospel.

Another incident served to confirm him in his views. A Universalist minister about this time began to promulgate his tenets in the community. He inveighed against the doctrine of endless punishment and affirmed that a God of love could not punish men forever and forever. After hearing one of his discourses Finney arose and said: "This Universalist preacher holds forth doctrines that are new to me, and I do not believe that they are taught in the Bible. But I am going to examine the subject, and if I cannot show that they are false I will become a Universalist myself."

To his friends this seemed like a startling if not a rash and presumptuous statement to make, but it was characteristic of Finney's frankness, and of his confidence that the truths of religion would stand the test of reason and that all of God's ways could be justified to men. After thoroughly preparing himself by an intensive study of the Scriptures upon the subject, during the following week he delivered two lectures in which he answered the arguments of the Universalist to the general satisfaction of the people.

Seeing that he could accomplish nothing further along that line, the Universalist now undertook to propagate his views of universal salvation on the ground that the provisions of the atonement of Christ were ample for the whole race, and since the debt of all mankind had been paid the electing love of God must include all men and thus secure their salvation.

Mr. Gale was ill at the time and so he asked his pupil to answer these arguments. This Finney did by admitting that the provisions of the atonement were ample for the whole race; but he dissented from the view that Christ had literally paid the debt of sinners. On the contrary he affirmed that Christ had died to remove an insurmountable difficulty in the way of God's forgiving sinners, so as to make it possible for Him to proclaim a universal amnesty; the interests of "public justice" demanded some substitute for the penalties of a broken law; and since Christ had honored the law in His obedience and death, it was safe for God to pardon any and all men who would repent of their sins and believe in Him. Christ's death did not cancel sin in the sense of a literal payment of debt, but was a condition to the forgiveness of sin, since it satisfied the demands of "public justice." The Universalist was vanquished by these arguments much to the surprise of Mr. Gale, who was greatly nonplused at the result, but unconvinced as yet of the correctness of his pupil's views.

Finney not only worked out his own system of theology, based as it was upon his prayerful and independent study of the Scriptures interpreted in the light of the vivid religious experience through which he had passed, but he had his own notions as to how the Gospel should be preached. Written sermons at that time were the order of the day. But Finney preached as he would address a jury. "What would be thought of a lawyer," he asked, "who should stand up before a jury and read an essay to them? He would lose his case!"

As an attorney sought to win a verdict for his client, so he aimed at bringing men to a decision for Jesus Christ. He was God's advocate pleading with the souls of men to turn from the error of their ways and accept the proffered gift of salvation. He sought to convert men by the truth and like Paul of old he "reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come." His preaching was in a high degree logical and analytical. In fact the criticism was made that there was a tendency to excess in this particular, his sermons sometimes having as high as forty to fifty divisions, or "heads." These divisions often consisted of a single sentence, but so clear was the thought and so logical the application that the most simple statement went like a winged arrow to its mark.

He sought to express his thoughts in the simplest language in order that everyone might understand his message, and his illustrations were drawn from the ordinary vocations in life. He said: "When I came to preach the gospel, my mind was so anxious to be thoroughly understood, that I studied in the most earnest manner, on the one hand to avoid what was vulgar, and on the other to express my thought with the greatest simplicity of language."

His manner of delivery was colloquial and repetitious, often arguing truths that seemed to need no further argument, and repeating statements that apparently had been taken for granted. He said: "I talked to the people as I would have talked to a jury. 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."

He was often criticized for his lawyerlike method of presenting the truth and for letting down the dignity of the pulpit. But to his hearers it seemed as if he were conversing with them personally about matters of great mutual concern. Those who heard him often said: "Why it didn't seem like preaching. It seemed as if Mr. Finney had taken me alone, and was conversing with me face to face."

Mr. Finney's manner of preparation for the pulpit was unique. During the earlier years of his ministry, amidst the stress and strain of his work, when he had but little time for thought or study and the only preparation which he could get was upon his knees, often he would enter the pulpit without knowing from what text he should preach and depending solely upon the Holy Spirit to suggest to him the subject of his discourse as well as the manner in which it should be treated. These sermons which he delivered with such power he never regarded as the products of his own brain. He said: "If I did not preach from inspiration, I don't know how I did preach."

It must not be supposed that he advocated preaching without preparation. He said: "My habit has always been to study the gospel, and the best application of it, all the time. I do not confine myself to hours and days of writing my sermons; but my mind is always pondering the truths of the gospel, and the best ways of using them. I go among the people and learn their wants. Then, in the light of the Holy Spirit, I take a subject that I think will meet their present necessities. I think intensely on it, and pray much over the subject, and then go and pour it out to the people. I think I have studied all the more for not having written my sermons. I have been obliged to make the subjects upon which I have preached familiar to my thoughts, to fill my mind with them, and then go and talk them off to the people .... I simply jot down the order of my propositions, and the positions which I propose to take; and in a word sketch an outline of the remarks and inferences with which I conclude."

Charles G. Finney was not the sort of man who could be put in an ecclesiastical strait-jacket. He insisted on working out his own system of religious doctrine and his own method of proclaiming the Gospel. The months which he spent in the study of his pastor were not without their value. His discussions with Mr. Gale, no doubt, served to clarify his own views and at the same time enabled him to perceive the strength and weaknesses of the views which he opposed.

Finally, after such an unusual course of ministerial preparation, Finney was licensed to preach by the Presbytery on December 30, 1823. He preached two trial sermons from texts which had been given him by the Presbytery and went through the customary forms of examination. He expected some opposition on account of his doctrinal views, but to his surprise the vote for licensure was unanimous. This was due doubtless to no love for the doctrines of the candidate, but, as Professor Wright surmises, to "general considerations of policy, and from fear of being found fighting against God."

During his examination he was asked if he accepted the Westminster Confession of Faith. He says: "I had not examined it, that is, the large work concerning the catechism and confession. This had made no part of my study. I replied that I received it for substance of doctrine so far as I understood it. But I spoke in a way that plainly implied, I think, that I did not know much about it. When I came to read the Confession of Faith and ponder it, I saw that although I could receive it as I know multitudes do, as containing the substance of Christian doctrine, yet there were several points upon which I could not put the same construction that was put upon them at Princeton; and I, accordingly, everywhere gave the people to understand that I did not accept that construction; or if that was the true construction; then I entirely differed from the Confession of Faith."

The Sunday following his licensure he preached for Mr. Gale who told him as they left the pulpit that he should be very much ashamed to have it known wherever he went that he had studied theology under him. This distressed Finney somewhat at the time, but in after years he had the satisfaction of knowing that his former pastor and theological instructor had embraced views of truth quite similar to his own.

Mr. Gale subsequently became a leader among the New School Presbyterians, that branch of the Presbyterian Church which modified or toned down some of the more objectionable features of the Westminster Confession. For a time he was compelled by ill health to give up the work of the ministry, but two or three years later he opened the way for Finney to go to Western and conduct the remarkable revivals with which that community and the surrounding section were visited. He finally went to the state of Illinois, where his name has been perpetuated in the city of Galesburg, the seat of Knox College, which he helped to found.


CHAPTER IV

WINNING SOULS FOR CHRIST

 

ABOUT three months after his licensure to preach Finney was commissioned by the Female Missionary Society of the Western District of New York to labor for three months, as a home missionary, in the northern parts of Jefferson County, New York. He commenced his labors at Evans Mills where he preached in a large stone school house which was used on alternate Sabbaths by the Baptists and Congregationalists. He accordingly divided his time between the congregation at Evans Mills and the Congregational Church at Antwerp, a town some thirteen miles distant.

The church organization at Evans Mills was feeble and its membership small, but the preaching of Finney soon attracted the attention of the people, who flocked to the services in large numbers, but to his disappointment no conversions resulted from his labors. Finally at the close of one of his Sabbath services he announced his dissatisfaction by informing his congregation that he should remain there no longer unless they would accept the Gospel. After explaining his position somewhat he asked all who would accept the Saviour to arise while the remainder should keep their seats. As he expected, no one arose, and looking over the congregation for a short time he said: "Then you are committed. You have rejected Christ and His Gospel; and ye are witnesses one against the other, and God is a witness against you all. This is explicit, and you may remember as long as you live, that you have committed yourselves against the Saviour, and said, 'We will not have this man Christ Jesus, to reign over us.'"

His audience was indignant at this application and rose en masse to leave the building. He paused abruptly in his remarks and they halted to see why he did not go on; whereupon he informed them that he was sorry for them, and would make one more appointment to preach to them the following night. All then retired except a Baptist deacon who came up to him and said: "Brother Finney, you have got them. They cannot rest under this, rely upon it. The brethren are all discouraged, but I am not. I believe you have done the very thing that needed to be done, and that we shall see results." It was arranged that they two should spend the following day in fasting and prayer--"separately in the morning and together in the afternoon." The people were highly indignant at the unfair advantage which they believed Finney had taken of them, and threats of violence against his person were heard during the day.

In the afternoon, according to agreement, Finney and the deacon prayed together. As they did so they were inspired with the assurance of victory. That night the house was packed, and Finney preached a powerful Gospel sermon of which he said: "The Spirit of God came upon me with such power, that it was like opening a battery upon them. For more than an hour the word of God came through me to them in a manner that I could see was carrying all before it. It was a fire and hammer breaking the rock; and as the sword that was piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit. I saw that a general conviction was spreading over the whole congregation. Many of them could not hold up their heads." He asked for no reversal of their former action, seeming to take it for granted that the people were committed against Christ. Such was the spirit of conviction produced by this sermon that Finney was sought after several times during the night, but as he was absent from his customary lodgings the feelings of all who sought him were greatly intensified.

The next day was spent in visiting from house to house and conversing with the people about their spiritual needs. A powerful revival followed, which was characterized to some extent by emotional outbursts similar to those witnessed under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards. A woman fell down speechless at the close of a service and was carried from the house in a sort of trance in which she remained sixteen hours, emerging at last with a song of deliverance upon her lips. On another occasion a man, who had taken an oath to kill Finney and had armed himself with a loaded pistol to accomplish his purpose, fell from his seat, crying out, "I am sinking into hell." After a sleepless night he too experienced joy and peace in believing. Men of the strongest nerves were so affected that they had to be carried home by their friends.

Finney made no attempt to repress these manifestations, as he would have done at a later period in his career. Notwithstanding these peculiarities the work went on until nearly the entire community was gathered into the fold of Christ. The tavern keeper of the village, who had been an infidel and a disorderly character, was converted and his house was transformed into a house of prayer. The revival extended to surrounding neighborhoods and produced a lasting effect for good.

A few weeks later the Presbytery of St. Lawrence met at Evans Mills and among other matters considered the advisability of ordaining Finney. He was asked to preach, which he did without previous preparation, upon the subject, "Without holiness no man shall see the Lord." The sermon seemed to meet with the approbation of those who were present, although the opinion was expressed by some that he ought to confine his efforts to schoolhouses and country districts.

Little did the members of that Presbytery dream of the mighty fields of usefulness which lay before this young preacher who had lately forsaken the practice of law to proclaim "the unsearchable riches of Christ." The Almighty does not always commission the wise and the prudent as the instruments of His power. For the accomplishment of His purposes He may call a man from a miner's cabin as He did Martin Luther, or from a shoe shop as He did William Carey, or from behind the counter as He did Dwight L. Moody, or from a law office as He did Charles G. Finney. Neither human foresight nor wisdom can determine the results which may come from the labors of one whom God has called. However, it was voted to ordain Finney, and on the evening of July 1, 1824, in accordance with the usages of the Presbyterian Church, he was solemnly set apart to the work of the Gospel ministry.

The ordination services were conducted in "the Methodist meeting house" at Evans Mills, Rev. A. W. Platt presiding, Rev. J. Clinton preaching the sermon, Rev. G. S. Boardman delivering the charge, Rev. S. F. Snowden offering the prayer of consecration, and Rev. E. Bliss and Rev. W. B. Stowe leading in the devotions at the opening and closing of the service.

Although Finney's original commission, as a home missionary to the northern parts of Jefferson County, was but for three months he remained at least six months on the field, the first part of his labors being devoted mainly to Evans Mills and the country round about, but apparently the greater portion of the remainder of his time was spent at Antwerp, where a powerful revival swept over the community. When he began his labors he met with some opposition. The church had been pastorless for some time and the congregation had become so weakened that services had been entirely discontinued and the church building closed. The landlord of the local tavern had been made the custodian of the key and on Finney's arrival had refused to open the church for services. Meetings were therefore begun in a friendly parlor, but such was the interest that was aroused that it became necessary to transfer the services to the schoolhouse. Soon the obdurate heart of the tavern keeper was softened and he opened the church to the multitudes who flocked to the services. Numbers were converted and the influence of the revival extended in all directions.

Not far from Antwerp was a community which had been nicknamed Sodom on account of its supposed resemblance to Sodom of old. There was but a single praying man in the community and he had been nicknamed Lot. Finney was invited to preach in this place and, though unacquainted with the circumstances, by a strange coincidence selected as his text, "Up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city." He graphically described the condition of Sodom its wickedness, and the urgency with which Lot was exhorted to escape. The people, supposing him to he offensively personal, took umbrage at his remarks. But in concluding his discourse he said that he understood that they had never had a religious service in the place before, and the inference was that it must be a very ungodly community. Taking this as the basis of his appeal he urged upon them the necessity for immediate repentance.

The resentment of the people was transformed into conviction, which became so intense that they began to fall on their knees and cry for mercy. This of course made an end to the sermon. Finney asked the old man called Lot to pray, but his stentorian voice was lost amidst the cries and groans of the penitent. Having another appointment that evening, Finney left the service in the hands of Lot.

So deep was the interest that the meeting continued all night, and in the morning some who had not yet found peace were taken from the schoolhouse to a private dwelling. The revival was as genuine as it was remarkable and from that day "Sodom" was a transformed community. Other neighborhoods were blessed with revivals and a strong church was built up at Antwerp, which has enjoyed a prosperous history down to the present day.

When Finney commenced his home missionary labors his physical health was greatly impaired. Physicians told him that he had consumption and his friends thought that he could live but a short time. He was told to preach but once a week and not more than half an hour at a time. An evidence of his strength of will, which also sheds considerable light upon his entire subsequent career, is that he proceeded to throw this advice to the winds and entered upon his labors with all of the ardor and enthusiasm of his nature. He said: "I preached out of doors. I preached in barns. I preached in schoolhouses. I preached nearly every night. I preached about two hours at a time. Before the six months were completed my health was entirely restored, my lungs were sound, and a glorious revival spread over all that region of country." It was this compelling force of his will that enabled him to win such triumphs for his Master and made him a mighty winner of souls.

In the spring of 1825, while on his way to Whitestone, Oneida County, to get his wife, whom he had married the October previous and from whom he had been separated all winter on account of the stress of his work, he stopped at Le Rayville to have his horse shod. When the people learned of his presence they besought him, since they had no church edifice, to preach that afternoon in the village schoolhouse. The building was packed and such was the interest that he decided to preach again that evening. The interest increasing still further at this service, he made arrangements with one of the brethren to take his horse and cutter and go after his wife, while he devoted his attention to the revival which had already commenced. A remarkable work of grace was wrought at Le Rayville and in the adjoining town of Rutland.

Finney next visited Gouverneur, where a widespread revival attended his labors. There were many notable converts, among them several Universalists and infidels whose arguments vanished before the incisive logic of the earnest revivalist. He was assisted in this place by "Father" Nash, quite as remarkable a character in his way as Finney himself. When the latter was ordained by the Presbytery at Evans Mills, Nash was present, but at that time was in a low state spiritually. After a subsequent illness which brought him into a deeper religious experience he devoted himself with great earnestness to the work of saving souls.

Nash had remarkable power in prayer and was in the habit of making a praying list of persons for whose conversion he daily prayed in secret. It was avowed by his detractors that it was impossible for him to pray in secret since, whether he went into his closet or the woods, he prayed with such vehemence that he could be heard half a mile away. A man once heard him praying in the forest and, although he could not distinguish a word that was uttered, the prayer so impressed him with the reality of religion, that he could find no peace until he dedicated his heart to the Lord. The answers to his prayers sometimes seemed almost miraculous, for he did not confine his "list" to those whom he thought might be reached by the revival, but the most obdurate and unlikely cases were made the subjects of prayer, with results that were truly astounding. He often accompanied Finney to the communities whither he went for the purpose of sustaining him in prayer.

"Father" Nash sometimes did things which did not commend themselves to Finney's judgment. At Gouverneur, for example, a number of young men banded themselves together to resist the influences of the revival. One evening at the close of his remarks Nash addressed them thus: "Now mark me, young men, God will break your ranks in less than one week, either by converting some of you or sending some of you to hell. He will do this as certainly as the Lord is my God!" Finney stood aghast at this declaration and felt that his coworker had gone too far. The leader of the young men, however, was soon converted and at Finney's suggestion exhorted his companions to turn at once to Christ. Before the end of the week nearly all of the young men had ceased their opposition and had consecrated their hearts to Jesus Christ.

From Gouverneur Finney went to De Kalb. A spirit of bitterness had long existed between the Presbyterians and Methodists in that place. It seems that some years before the Methodists had enjoyed a revival in which there had been a number of instances of "falling under the power of God," which met with a spirit of opposition on the part of the Presbyterians. During Finney's labors there were several cases of "falling under the power of God," but strange to say all who were so affected were Presbyterians, and this led to such confessions and explanations as to effect a mutual reconciliation. Conversions were numerous and the influence of the revival extended as far as the town of Ogdensburg, sixteen miles distant.

Early in the fall of 1825 Finney, accompanied by his wife, went to Utica to attend the synod of which he was a member. On his return he was met by Rev. G. W. Gale, his former pastor and theological instructor, who had retired temporarily from the ministry on account of ill health and was residing on a farm near the town of Western, Oneida County. He persuaded Finney to preach there the following Sunday. The Presbyterian Church was not only pastorless but in a low spiritual condition. On Sunday, however, the church was packed and such was the interest that various meetings were appointed at surrounding schoolhouses during the following week.

Finney was greatly exercised in prayer, and others, he found, were in the same state of mind. A Mrs. H--, a frail delicate woman, was so affected that her husband became alarmed over her condition. During the week Finney called, and when she heard his voice she came into the room with face illumined and exclaimed: "Brother Finney, the Lord has come! This work will spread all over this region! A cloud of mercy overhangs us all; and we shall see such a work of grace as we have never yet seen!" To her husband this was unintelligible, but Finney accepted it as a token of the victory of prevailing prayer. A great revival followed, the influence of which was felt in all directions and which extended as far as Rome and Utica.

Of the revival at Western, Mr. Gale wrote: "On the last of September, 1825, the Rev. Charles G. Finney arrived in this town (after a short visit to recruit his health in this county), on his way to the county of St. Lawrence, where he has been laboring with success, and where the people were anxiously waiting his return .... He commenced preaching three times on the Sabbath, and almost every evening in the week in different parts of the town, besides visiting during the day from house to house. Professors of religion were urged to 'pray without ceasing.' . . . Sinners were pressed with the duty of immediate repentance by every truth and motive which the word of God presents, and in language plain and pointed. These efforts were not permitted to be made in vain, even in this unpromising field. Christians were humbled for their past unfaithfulness, and led to pray as they had not prayed before. Sinners began to inquire what they must do. Convictions and conversions multiplied and spread through the town. In some instances whole households were converted .... The number of converts in this town, and that part of Lee where the people attended meetings here, is supposed to be about one hundred and forty. Thirty-seven have united with the Presbyterian Church on confession of faith; a number with other denominations; and many have not yet united with any church."

While the revival at Western was still in progress a company of young people, out of motives of curiosity and for purposes of amusement, drove over from Rome to attend the meetings, but so deeply were they influenced by what they saw and heard, that although they "came to scoff" they "remained to pray." They carried the revival spirit back to Rome, and not long afterwards Rev. Moses Gillett, pastor of the Congregational Church there, attended some of the meetings at Western. He was so impressed that he proposed an exchange of pulpits with Mr. Finney, to which the latter gave a somewhat reluctant consent. As the Sabbath approached he regretted the arrangement, fearful lest the revival spirit at Western might be quenched. He went, however, and preached with marked effect. An inquiry meeting was appointed for the following evening. A deep interest was awakened which led to a revival that continued for several weeks, so that Mr. Finney was obliged to give his whole attention to the work at Rome.

Of the results of this revival Mr. Gillett wrote: "Worldly business was to a great extent suspended. Religion was the principal subject of conversation in our streets, stores, and even taverns. Merchants' and mechanics' shops were many of them closed in the evening, that all might attend meeting .... All classes of people were affected. Many who had regularly attended worship for twenty years, and lived through revivals unmoved, were now made to tremble and bow before the cross. Four lawyers, four physicians, all the merchants who were not professors before, and men of the first respectability in the place are hopeful converts .... In March one hundred and sixty-seven were received into the church upon profession of faith. The whole number received is two hundred and eighty-four. Upwards of thirty have united with the Methodist Church, and some with the Baptists and Episcopalians. The number of hopeful converts cannot be accurately stated. Probably not far from five hundred. Some of them were from adjacent towns .... A marked reformation of morals is too apparent to be denied. The Sabbath is more strictly observed. Intemperance and profane swearing are checked. More good feeling in families and neighborhoods prevails. The church is blessed with harmony. In truth it may be said these Christians love one another."

From Rome the influence of the revival spread to surrounding communities. At Verona about one hundred were converted. At Camden, which was visited by Mr. Finney's coworker, "Father" Nash, about one hundred and fifty united with the Presbyterian Church and a number with the Methodist. Rev. Ira Manly, who supplied the Presbyterian Church at Boonville, visited Rome and on his return gave an account of the revival there. Meetings were inaugurated which were largely attended, Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians participating in the services. Sixty-seven united with the Presbyterian Church and many with the Baptists and Methodists.

Whitesborough was also visited with a season of refreshing. Rev. John Frost, pastor of the Presbyterian Church, wrote: "The revival in Rome excited a deep interest here. Some of the members visited that place, and returned with increased feeling .... The latter part of February, the attention began to extend, and in March was more powerful than anything I have witnessed here before .... One hundred and sixteen have, upon examination, united with the Presbyterian Church. Forty-five of them are heads of families. About one hundred have united with the Methodists, seventy-eight with the Baptists, and three or four with the Episcopalians .... The whole number who have indulged hope is not far from three hundred. Several, and especially among the young, have not united. A number who visited the place from abroad became subjects."

Up to this time Mr. Finney's work had attracted a local attention only. In fact, at his entrance upon the ministry he had no conception of the wide fields of usefulness to which he should be called, nor of the important service which he was to render to the cause of religion both in this country and abroad.

He said: "Having had no training for the ministry, I did not expect or desire to labor in large towns or cities, or minister to cultivated communities. I intended to go to the new settlements, and preach in school-houses and barns and groves, as best I could." In accordance with this purpose his earlier labors had been in home missionary territory, but his work at Rome may be said to be the commencement of a new era. From this time he was to assume the more important role of a general revivalist. For this work he was eminently fitted by nature, and a providential preparation had been afforded in his earlier labors to introduce him to wider fields of usefulness.

The progress of the revival at Rome had created no small degree of interest in the neighboring town of Utica. One of the prominent citizens at Rome was the president of a bank at Utica. He was not a Christian and the first time he heard Finney he said: "That man is mad. I should not be surprised if he set the town on fire." At first he refused to go to the meetings, but not long afterwards at a meeting of the directors of the bank, he was rallied on the state of things at Rome. He replied: "Gentlemen, say what you will, there is something very remarkable in the state of things at 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 will soon subside, or the people will become insane. But gentlemen, there is no accounting for that state of feeling by any philosophy, unless there is something Divine in it." Within a short time the banker was converted.

As the reports of the revival at Rome were noised abroad in Utica a spirit of prayer came upon some of the people in that place, one woman in particular being so exercised that for two days and nights she prayed incessantly until her strength had become fairly exhausted. She could not rest unless someone was praying for her friends and neighbors. About this time Rev. Dr. Samuel Clark Aiken, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Utica, invited Finney to attend the funeral of a prominent elder in his church. Signs of a revival becoming manifest, he was urged to remain. As soon as he could he made arrangements to transfer the base of his operations from Rome to Utica. Within a short time a powerful revival was effected, more than five hundred conversions being reported. Such was the interest that the leading hotel became a center of religious influence, and transients who stopped for a lodging or a meal were converted before proceeding on their way.

Of this revival Dr. Aiken, the pastor, wrote: "The probable number of converts in Utica is about five hundred .... Not far from sixty persons, some of whom were travellers, who 'turned in to tarry but for a night,' or day or week; others belonging to the towns around, experienced, as we trust, the grace of God in this village. More than a hundred, the subjects of the revival, have united with the First Presbyterian Church; numbers with the Methodists and Baptists . . . Never was so large a church more happily united than we have been during this revival, and it is so still . . . Some few individuals have differed from their brethren, with regard to the propriety of some measures; but I have seen none who were blind to the mighty hand of God that was bowing down rebel sinners on every side, and none so hardened in unbelief as not to adore and rejoice in it. The society, also, is evidently strengthened and built up."

One of the notable conversions at Utica was that of Theodore Weld who afterwards became prominent in antislavery circles. At this time he was a student in Hamilton College and through the persuasions of an aunt was induced to attend the meetings. He was virulent in his opposition to Finney's work, declaring that it was nothing but fanaticism and boasting to his fellow students that he would not be moved. He chanced to meet Finney after he had heard him once and abused him most shamefully. Finney spoke a few words and left him. Such was the conviction which followed this brief conversation that on that very night, in an agony of spirit and in a rebellious frame of mind, Weld paced the floor of his room until daylight, when he was overborne with a sense of his lost and sinful condition. He became submissive, gave his heart to God, and the following night made a public confession before the whole congregation. From that time he manifested a consistent Christian spirit and rendered effective service in the work of the revival.

During the progress of this revival the Presbytery of Oneida convened in Utica. At one of the sessions an aged Scotch minister made a speech violently denouncing revivals of religion. Fearing that his words might result in checking the influence of the revival several of the brethren gave themselves to prayer, interceding with Divine Providence to counteract the effects of that speech. The next morning the man was found dead in bed.

From Utica the influence of the revival extended to the surrounding communities, the following being a characteristic incident: Visiting the village of New York Mills to preach one evening, Mr. Finney on the following morning was invited to visit a large cotton manufactory located in the place. As he passed through, the operatives seemed strangely agitated. In one of the rooms where a number of young women were weaving one of them paused at her loom and made some trifling remark to her companion, at which both laughed. With an expression of pain upon his countenance Finney stopped a moment and gave her a searching look. On observing it she ceased laughing and became so agitated that her thread broke. She tried to mend it, but overcome by her emotions she soon burst into tears. Others were similarly affected, whereupon the proprietor, although not a Christian, said to the superintendent, "Stop the mill, and let the people attend to religion; it is more important that our souls should be saved than that the factory should run." Within a few days nearly every girl employed in the mill professed conversion.

While the revival at Utica was still in progress the Rev. Dirck C. Lansing visited the city. Dr. Lansing was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Auburn and one of the founders of Auburn Theological Seminary. So deeply impressed was he by Finney's work that he urged him to visit Auburn. In response to this invitation he went there in the summer of 1826 and "preached with great power and marked success." Multitudes were converted and, as his custom was at this time, he preached in many of the neighboring towns and villages. In consequence the influence of the revival became wide reaching and extended as far as Skaneateles and Cayuga.

In Auburn a spirit of opposition manifested itself and a number of prominent men withdrew from Dr. Lansing's church to form a new congregation. Most of these men were unconverted and it is interesting to note that five years afterwards, when Finney, journeying from Rochester to Boston, was detained a few days in Auburn on account of illness, these very men signed a petition requesting him to overlook their former opposition and conduct meetings in their church. Although he had paid his stage fare and had directed the driver to call him at two o'clock the following morning, when this request was sent to his room, after he had retired, he sent down word to those who were in waiting: "Go to the stage office and withdraw my name from the list of passengers." He remained in the city three or four weeks and a gracious revival followed.

There were numerous accessions to the two Presbyterian churches and to the Methodist and Baptist churches as well.

One of the converts in this second revival was a whiskey distiller, whose business at that time was considered quite respectable. He had been among those who had opposed Mr. Finney at the time of his first visit and had left the church to form the new congregation. Curious to hear what the preacher had to say he dropped into the services one evening. His interest was aroused, his reason was convinced, and being made to realize that he was a sinner, straightway he was brought to repentance. He at once ordered the fires in his distillery to be extinguished, and deliberately broke open his casks of liquor and allowed the contents to flow into the gutter.

From Auburn Finney was invited to Troy by the Rev. N. S. S. Beman and the session of his church. The greater part of the autumn and winter of 1826-1827 was accordingly spent in this city. During the progress of the revival certain disaffected members of Dr. Beman's church brought vexatious charges against him before the presbytery. These charges were not based upon heresy or anything bearing upon his moral character, but related to certain infelicities in his family life and to the methods which he, in conjunction with Finney, was using to promote the revival. The investigations of the presbytery which took Dr. Beman from the meetings for a time, resulted in his complete vindication. In the meanwhile Finney had kept on preaching so that the revival went on with unabated interest and power. In fact the trial of Dr. Beman seemed to help rather than hinder the work and, as the charges had been brought on account of the revival quite as much as against Dr. Beman, his opponents were greatly discomfited at the outcome of the trial.

While the revival was in progress a prominent young woman from New Lebanon came to Troy to purchase a ball dress. Her friends in the city invited her to attend the meetings. She did so with the result that she took back a new heart in place of the new dress and commenced to pray and labor for a revival. Through her efforts such an interest was awakened that she besought Mr. Finney to come and preach. He did so and in consequence a revival swept over the place resulting in the conversion of most of the prominent men in the community.

While the work at New Lebanon was in progress a convention met there to investigate the methods and measures ascribed to Finney. This, however, did not seem in any way to detract from the interest of the revival which swept forward with power undiminished. The occasion, the purpose, and the results of the New Lebanon Convention, as it was called, will be considered in the following chapter.

 

CHAPTER V

OPPOSITION TO NEW MEASURES

 

FOR some time there had been a growing antagonism to the methods and measures of Finney. Already he had encountered opposition of a certain sort. During the progress of his work in Oneida County "Father" Nash, in a letter written under date of May 11, 1826, had said: "The work of God moves forward in power, in some places against dreadful opposition. Mr. Finney and I have both been hanged in effigy. We have frequently been disturbed in our religious meetings. Sometimes the opposers make a noise in the house of God; sometimes they gather round the house and stone it, and discharge guns. There is almost as much writing, intrigue, and lying, and reporting of lies, as there would be if we were on the eve of a presidential election. Oh, what a world! How much it hates the truth! How unwilling to be saved! But I think the work will go on."

In spite of these things Finney had gone right on with his work and had witnessed uninterrupted triumphs in his revival labors. But the opposition which now confronted him was of an altogether different character and was brought about chiefly by false and exaggerated statements of his work and methods which had been sent to the religious press by his enemies. It was alleged that his meetings were boisterous and prolonged to unseasonable hours, that he was harsh and rude in the pulpit and given to saying unkind and censorious things, that he was irreverent in his prayers and prayed for people by name without their consent, that he encouraged the practice of women speaking and praying in promiscuous assemblies, that he had requested persons to come forward to the anxious seat or to rise in public to signify that they had given their hearts to God and would attend to religion, and that he had advertised his meetings by means of sensational handbills.

These allegations for the most part were untrue. At the crisis of his work at Evans Mills Finney had asked the people to rise, and on a single occasion at Rutland he had asked those who wished to give their hearts to God to take the front seat. Otherwise he had never used either of these measures until the great Rochester revival in the winter of 1830-1831.

He and his friends, moreover, were accused of going into churches and parishes without invitation, and even in defiance of the wishes of settled pastors. Writing of this "Father" Nash said: "When Mr. Finney and I began our race, we had no thought of going amongst ministers. Our highest ambition was to go where there was neither minister nor reformation, and try to look up the lost sheep for whom no man cared. We began, and the Lord prospered us. We soon became the subjects of much speculation, and were soon drawn into contact with ministers. But we go into no man's parish, unless called. Ministers who do not want us have only to refrain from inviting us into their parishes, and we shall not trouble them. We have room enough to work, and work enough to do."

The most active opponent to Finney's work in the region where he had labored was the Rev. William R. Weeks, pastor of the Congregational Church at Paris Hill. He was a "Hopkinsian," an advocate of the system of theology propounded by Samuel Hopkins, although he had some leanings towards the teachings of Dr. Nathaniel Emmons. He held that "both sin and holiness were produced 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 of 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 devils, was the result of a direct irresistible act on the part of God."

Unable to impose his views upon the members of the Presbytery with which he was connected, Mr. Weeks withdrew and organized the Oneida Association, which had but a feeble existence at the time of which we are writing and which was completely dominated by Mr. Weeks, who busied himself in writing against Finney to the religious leaders of New England, besides publishing pamphlets and preparing articles for the religious press.

Under his direction a pastoral letter was sent out by the Oneida Association in which Finney and his friends were charged with "calling men hard names"; "reporting great, powerful revivals which afterwards came to little or nothing"; "ostentation and noise"; "not guarding against false conversions"; "injudicious treatment of young converts, such as turning them into exhorters and teachers"; "giving heed to impressions, feelings, and supposed revelations"; "allowing anybody and everybody to speak and pray in promiscuous meetings of whatever age, sex, or qualification"; using means of exciting fears, such as saying to a sinner: "If you don't repent today, you will be in hell tomorrow"; "you are a reprobate, you are going straight to hell"; familiar use of the words "devil," "hell," "cursed," "damned," in a tone and manner like profane swearing; calling elderly people, by youths and boys, "old hypocrites," "old apostates"; imprecations in prayer; interference, by ministers and others, with congregations to which they did not belong; female prayer and exhortations in public; etc., etc.

In view of the accusations made in this document the Oneida Presbytery appointed the Rev. Messrs. Frost, Aiken, and Gale to inquire of the writer of it "whether he has any evidence that any member of this Presbytery used any of the exceptionable expressions quoted" by him, and this committee subsequently reported that "he had refused to give them any information" on the subject.

Another factor in the opposition was the Unitarian Church at Trenton, New York, a prominent member of which wrote a pamphlet, the scurrilous nature of which may be surmised from its title page:

 

A

BUNKER HILL CONTEST

A.D., 1826.

 

Between the "Holy Alliance," for the Establishment of

Hierarchy and Ecclesiastical Domination

over the Human Mind

 

ON THE ONE SIDE,

 

And the Asserters of Free Inquiry, Bible Religion,

Christian Freedom and Civil Liberty

 

ON THE OTHER

---------------------------------

THE REV. CHARLES FINNEY,

 

"Home Missionary" and High Priest of the Alliance in

the Interior of New York.

Headquarters: County of Oneida.

 

In this pamphlet it was alleged that concerted action was being taken among the Presbyterians, especially, for a national church, by whose strength "all the opposition of infidelity would be borne down and overpowered."

Finney's inquiry meetings were described as follows: "They are generally, if not always, held in the night. The room is darkened, so that persons can only see to walk and discover each other; and the reign of universal silence is interrupted only by now and then a dolorous groan from different parts of the room. The leader or leaders tread softly about, as they proceed, whispering to each individual some question or questions, such as 'Do you love God?' etc." It was affirmed, moreover, that "in a circle of the anxious, Mr. Finney would go round, and, by putting his eyes on each individual for a few seconds, tell the exact state of their mind; and would congratulate one and another with their new hope, even though they were strangers."

To such charges a committee of the Oneida Presbytery made the following reply: "Why did not these authors, after describing the darkness of the rooms at these meetings, say that Mr. Finney professed to have powers of vision that he could see the faces of the converts in the dark, as well as 'tell the exact state of their minds'? This would have increased the wonder." This committee concluded their review of these misrepresentations and slanders with the following observations:

"Brethren, we see on record that hatred which exists extensively against those revivals of religion with which our churches have from time to time been blessed ....

For several years past a spirit of bitterness has been manifesting itself, particularly in this State, against a faithful ministry and against the benevolent exertions of the church of Christ. This moral poison has been circulating among a considerable portion of the community, in scurrilous newspapers and pamphlets, which have passed unnoticed. Among the unenlightened and irreligious they have had more influence than Christians have generally supposed .... A great cry is raised about the immense sums which are contributed to carry into effect the plans of benevolence. But when tenfold more is expended in the grog-shop, in the theatre, and in gambling houses, these opposers manifest no uneasiness, and will not unite with Christians to put an end to such shameful waste of time, and money, and health, and life itself."

At a meeting of the Presbytery of Oneida, held at Whitesborough, September 8, 1826, a committee consisting of Rev. John Frost, Rev. Moses Gillet, and Rev. Noah Coe was appointed to report on the revivals within the bounds of that Presbytery. The report, or Narrative of the Revival of Religion in the County of Oneida; particularly in the bounds of the Presbytery of Oneida, in the year 1826, is contained in a bulky pamphlet consisting of sixty-seven closely printed octavo pages. In a footnote the members of the committee expressed in this way their judgment of Mr. Finney, the chief promoter of these revivals:

"He possesses a discriminating and self-balanced mind; has a good share of courage and decision; possesses naturally a good temper; is frank and magnanimous in his deportment--ardent and persevering in the performance of the duties of his office; exhibits as much discretion and judgment, as those who may think him deficient in these qualities would do, did they possess his zeal and activity; and on the whole, is as well calculated to be extensively useful in promoting revivals of religion as any man of whom we have knowledge. To say that he never errs, is more than can, with truth be said of any man, who has ever done much to promote the temporal or spiritual interests of his fellow men."

The Narrative of the Revival of Religion in the County of Oneida consists of three parts, the first of which contains accounts of the revival, written by the pastors of the churches which had been visited with "seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord." The second part consists of Remarks on the Character of this Revival of Religion, as follows:

"1. More than three thousand are indulging hope that they have become reconciled to God through the Redeemer. About half this number have already united with the Presbyterian and Congregational churches, and a large proportion of the remainder with the Baptist and Methodist churches. Never before have the churches in this region been blessed with so great a shower of divine grace.

"2. This revival has continued longer, particularly in some of our societies, than has been usual in former revivals.

"3. Considering the number of converts, and the time that has elapsed since the revival commenced, the instances of backsliding have been fewer than usual.

"4. In this revival there has been less appearance of mere sympathy and excitement of the passions, unaccompanied with conviction of sin, than usual.

"5. This revival has been characterized by a remarkable spirit of prayer. Often it has been said--'Christians pray as they have never prayed before.' Many have been in deep distress, and felt what it was to travail in birth for souls.

"6. Unusual strength of faith in the promises and threatenings of God has been manifested in many of our churches.

"7. An unusual spirit of prayer has prevailed among converts, and they have manifested a disposition to converse with their friends and others on the subject of religion.

"8. This revival has extended to all classes of society .... Many men of wealth and learning and talents have been converted .... Many who had embraced universalism and other errors, have fled from their refuges of lies to lay hold of the hope set before them in the gospel.

"9. Great heart-searchings among professors have characterized this revival.

"10. Converts, especially during the greatest excitement, have manifested more joy and stronger hope than in any preceding revivals among us.

"11. Much opposition has been made to this revival. ... False reports have been circulated. Gross misrepresentations have been made of the preaching, and other means which have been employed to promote the work. Prejudices have thus been excited in the minds of some, who are doubtless the friends of religion, but who have not been in circumstances favorable to judge for themselves. It is not to be expected, that men actuated by the best motives, and pursuing with hallowed zeal the most noble objects, should act with perfect wisdom and discretion. But from the preceding accounts, and from personal observation, the committee feel warranted in saying that ministers and churches have exhibited as much sound wisdom and discretion, as has ever been exhibited in any revival of which they have knowledge. Yea, we believe that there has been an unusual spirit of prayer to God for that wisdom which is profitable to direct.

"It would savor of weakness and spiritual pride in our churches, to justify everything which has been said and done, in public and private, by the friends of the revival. But we believe it a duty we owe to the cause of truth, to say, that most of the opposition has been excited by that preaching, and those means, which have met the approbation of the great Head of the Church."

The third section of the Narrative of the Revival of Religion in the County of Oneida was a description of "Means which appear to have been blessed in promoting this Revival"; which in brief were as follows:

"1. Seasons of fasting and prayer.

2. Confession of sin in churches

3. Church discipline

4. Visiting from house to house

5. Preaching the gospel, its doctrines and precepts, its promises and threatenings, with great plainness and earnestness.

6. Union of feeling and effort in churches has promoted this revival

7. Meetings of inquiry have been greatly blessed.

8. Avoiding disputes upon minor points

9. Urging awakened sinners to immediate repentance and reconciliation to God

10. The visits of ministers, professors, and others, where revivals had commenced, have had a powerful effect in extending the work

11. The preaching and labors of evangelists have been a very obvious and efficient means of originating and carrying forward this work

12. United, agonizing, persevering prayer

13. The instructions given in Sabbath schools and Bible classes have been eminently blessed "

Notwithstanding the description of the character of the revival in Oneida County and the means which had been used to promote it, as set forth by the men who had been associated with Finney and who were, therefore, best qualified to speak in his defense against the scurrilous attacks which had been made upon him and his work, nevertheless a great deal of uneasiness was created, particularly in New England, over the measures and methods which had been ascribed to him. Foremost among those to take a stand against Finney, by reason of these false reports, were Drs. Asahel Nettleton and Lyman Beecher. Dr. Nettleton had been a very successful evangelist and had been greatly blessed in his labors in New York and New England, but at this time he had ceased active evangelistic labors on account of failing health. He was nine years older than Finney and the latter held him in high esteem.

In the autumn of 1826 Finney paid him a visit at Albany and wrote: "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 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 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 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."

Nettleton seems not to have been quite frank towards Finney on this occasion; for when the latter told him that he intended to remain in Albany and hear him preach in the evening he manifested great uneasiness and remarked that he "must not be seen with him." So Finney went and sat in the gallery with a judge who had been in college with Nettleton. What he saw was sufficient to convince him that he could expect no advice or instruction from Nettleton, but rather that he was there to take a stand against him.

Nettleton himself was not altogether free from the charge of being an innovator. Dr. E. N. Kirk says of him that "he was not quite fair, for I am informed that no Revivalist or Evangelist in our day has so abounded in new measures, contrivances, and management, as he." Nettleton, however, was broken in health and seems to have been unduly influenced by the reports which had reached him concerning Finney's labors.

Alarmed by adverse reports about Finney's work and greatly disturbed lest a lasting injury should be done to true revivals, Dr. Nettleton, under date of January 13, 1827, wrote a letter to Dr. Aiken of Utica, criticising the spirit of denunciation which had grown out of the revivals in the West, condemning the practice of permitting females to pray in promiscuous assemblies, and also that of praying for people by name, intimating that such and such persons were unconverted, which, he affirmed, had become "an engine of public slander of the worst form."

Referring to this letter in his Autobiography Finney says: "Mr. Nettleton wrote some letters to Mr. Aiken, with whom I was laboring; in which it was manifest that he was very much mistaken in 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 the one in which Mr. Nettleton stated fully what he regarded as objectionable in the conduct of these revivals; but as no such things as he complained of were done in those revivals, or had been known at all, we took no 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."

The misapprehensions of Dr. Nettleton were shared by so many in New England and elsewhere that a number of representative Presbyterian and Congregational ministers, including both the friends and opponents of Mr. Finney, at the invitation of Dr. Lyman Beecher and Dr. N. S. S. Beman, met at New Lebanon, New York, to consider certain differences of opinion which were "supposed to exist among themselves and their brethren in respect to revivals of religion." This convention met at the house of Mr. Betts, Wednesday, July 18, 1827, and, with the exception of Sunday, continued in session until Thursday, July 26, when it was dissolved.

This "Convention of Ministers of the Gospel" was made up of the following: Asahel Norton, D.D., Clinton, New York; Lyman Beecher, D.D., Boston, Massachusetts; Moses Gillett, Rome, New York; Nathan S. S. Beman, Troy, New York; Dirck C. Lansing, D.D., Auburn, New York; Heman Humphrey, D.D., Amherst College, Massachusetts; John Frost, Whitesborough, New York; Asahel Nettleton, Connecticut; William R. Weeks, Paris, New York; Justin Edwards, Andover, Massachusetts; Henry Smith, Camden, New York; Charles G. Finney, Oneida County, New York; Caleb J. Tenney, Weathersfield, Connecticut; Joel Hawes, Hartford, Connecticut; George W. Gale, Oneida Academy, New York; Silas Churchill, New Lebanon, New York; Samuel C. Aiken, Utica, New York; and Henry R. Weed, Albany, New York. Heman Humphrey, D.D., was elected moderator and William R. Weeks and Henry Smith, scribes.

A series of resolutions was first adopted commending revivals in general, and expressing the hope that greater revivals were "to be expected, than have ever yet existed." Differences in method and relative imperfections attending revivals did not necessarily impair their usefulness, but it was affirmed that the "infirmity, indiscretion and wickedness of man may be the means of preventing the conversion of more souls than have been converted during the revivals."

These resolutions having been adopted unanimously by the convention, a series of resolutions was then introduced condemning the very measures of which Finney had been falsely accused in the revivals which he had conducted. His friends, therefore, raised the objection that these resolutions were liable to misconstruction and would lead to the belief that the accusations had been well founded, but to this the reply was made that they were merely prospective and designed as a safeguard against possible abuses in the future. With this understanding Finney gave assent to the resolutions.

However, from the attitude of Lyman Beecher, Asahel Nettleton, and others, it was evident that they had come to New Lebanon to take a stand against the revivals conducted by Finney and to justify their opposition to the measures supposed to be employed by him. When the question was raised as to the sources of their information upon certain points Dr. Beecher replied, "We have not come here to be catechised, and our spiritual dignity forbids us to answer any such questions." When the question came up as to the truthfulness of the reports which had been circulated, both Nettleton and Beecher took the position that the testimony of Finney and the ministers who had been associated with him should be excluded because they were the objects of censure; therefore it was not admissible since they would be testifying in their own behalf. Dr. Humphrey, the moderator, however, insisted that they were the very actors in the case, they knew what they had done, and for that reason the convention should receive their statements without hesitation. To this all assented except Beecher and Nettleton.

In view of all the facts it is not easy to excuse, much less to justify, the attitude of Nettleton and Beecher. Both had been the undoubted friends and promoters of revivals, the one as an honored and successful evangelist, the other as an evangelistic pastor, the chief end of whose ministry had been the winning of souls. Prejudice, however, is a much more formidable foe to overcome than reason. It may mislead the best of men and blind their eyes to the truth. Nettleton and Beecher had been so influenced by the current misrepresentations about Finney and his work that in all good conscience they thought that they must oppose him and wage an unceasing warfare against the methods and measures of which he was supposed to be the exponent. They had such confidence in the alleged facts which had been brought to their attention by the opponents of Finney that they could credit nothing to the contrary.

After the adoption of the resolutions which had been presented by his adversaries Finney and his friends had their day in court.*

[*The friends who stood so loyally by him at this time, Finney ever held in grateful remembrance. His eldest son, born three years later, was named Charles Beman in honor of Dr. Beman of Troy, New York, and his second son, born five years later, was named Frederick Norton in honor of Dr. Norton of Clinton, New York.]

Dr. N. S. S. Beman now sponsored a series of propositions designed to rebuke the spirit of opposition which had been engendered. Beecher, Edwards, Weeks and others declined to vote for these propositions on the ground that they did "not appear" to them "to be, in the course of divine Providence called for." The propositions, however, were passed by the convention as follows:

"As human instrumentality must be employed in promoting revivals of religion, some things undesirable may be expected to accompany them; and as those things are often proclaimed abroad and magnified, great caution should be exercised in listening to unfavorable reports.

"Although revivals of religion may be so imperfectly conducted, as to be attended with disastrous consequences to the church and the souls of men; yet, it is also true, that the best conducted revivals are liable to be stigmatized and opposed by lukewarm professors and enemies of evangelical truth.

"Attempts to remedy evils existing in revivals of religion may, through the infirmity and indiscretion and wickedness of man, do more injury, and ruin more souls, than those evils which such attempts are intended to correct.

"In public meetings for religious worship, composed of men and women, females are not to pray.

"The writing of letters to individuals in the congregations of acknowledged ministers, or circulating letters which have been written by others, complaining of measures which may have been employed in revivals of religion; or visiting the congregations of such ministers, and conferring with opposers, without conversing with the ministers of such places, and speaking against measures which have been adopted; or for ministers residing in the congregations of settled pastors to pursue the same course; thus strengthening the hands of the wicked, and weakening the hands of settled pastors, are breaches of Christian charity, and ought to be carefully avoided.

"In preaching the Gospel, language ought not to be employed with the intention of irritating or giving offence; but, that preaching is not the best adapted to do good and save souls, which the hearer does not perceive to be applicable to his own character."

As events shaped themselves in the convention, matters did not turn out altogether to the liking of Drs. Nettleton and Beecher. After the fourth day Nettleton absented himself from the remaining sessions. On his homeward way, in the presence of the keeper of a wayside inn, Dr. Beecher dropped the remark, "We crossed the mountains expecting to meet a company of boys, but we found them to be full grown men."

The next year at the session of the Presbyterian General Assembly in Philadelphia the following document was signed and published:

"The subscribers having had opportunity for free conversation on certain subjects pertaining to revivals of religion, concerning which we have differed, are of the opinion that the general interests of religion would not be promoted by any further publications on those subjects, or personal discussions, we do hereby engage to cease from all publications, correspondences, conversations, and conduct designed and calculated to keep those subjects before the public mind; and that so far as our influence may avail, we will exert it to induce our friends on either side to do the same."

To this document were affixed the following signatures: Lyman Beecher, Dirck C. Lansing, S.C. Aiken, A. D. Eddy, C. G. Finney, Sylvester Holmes, Ebenezer Cheever, John Frost, Nathan S. S. Beman, Noah Coe, E. W. Gilbert, and Joel Parker.

The New Lebanon convention and the events leading thereto constitute a painful chapter in the life of the great revivalist. Nor did the opposition at once subside. Throughout his lifetime he was subject to misapprehension because of the methods and measures which had been attributed to him. While it doubtless interfered with his usefulness for a time, in the end it brought him more prominently before the ch