MEMOIRS OF CHARLES G. FINNEY
LABORS IN HARTFORD AND IN SYRACUSE
WE arrived at Oberlin in May, 1851, and after the usual labors of the summer, we left in the autumn for New York City, expecting to spend the winter, as I had been invited to do, in labor in Rev. Dr. Thompson's church, in the old Broadway Tabernacle. But after preaching there a short time, I found so many hindrances in the way of our work, especially the liability to the interruption of our evening services, by the practice of letting the Tabernacle for public lectures, that I despaired of success in the effort to promote a general revival. I therefore left, and accepted an invitation to go to Hartford, and hold a series of meetings. I was invited by Rev. William W. Patton, who was then pastor of one of the Congregational churches of that city.
Very soon after I began my labors there, a powerful revival influence was manifested among the people. But there was at this time an unhappy state of disagreement existing between Dr. Hawes and Dr. Bushnell. The orthodoxy of Dr. Bushnell, as is well-known, had been called in question. Dr. Hawes was himself of the opinion that Dr. Bushnell's views were highly objectionable. However, both Dr. Hawes and Dr. Bushnell attended our meetings, and manifested a great interest in the work, which they saw had fairly begun. They invited me to preach in their churches, which I did. Still the lay brethren through the city felt as if the disagreement among the ministers was a stumbling block in the way; and there was a considerable urgency expressed to have the ministers come more fraternally together, and take a united stand before the people, to promote the work. The people generally did not sympathize with Dr. Hawes strong views, in regard to the orthodoxy of Dr. Bushnell. Being informed of this, I had a fraternal conversation with Dr. Hawes and told him that he was in a false position, and that the people felt tried with his laying so great stress upon what he called the errors of Dr. Bushnell, and that they very generally, I believed, did not justify him in the position that he occupied. Dr. Hawes was a good man, and manifestly felt his responsibility in this matter very deeply.
One evening I had been preaching, I think, for Brother Patton, and the three congregational ministers were present. After meeting they followed me to my lodgings, and Dr. Hawes said, "Brother Finney, we are satisfied that the Spirit of the Lord is poured out here; and now, what can we as ministers do to promote this work?" I told them freely what I thought; that a great responsibility rested upon them, and it seemed to me that it was for them to say, whether the work should become general throughout the city or not; that if they could reconcile their differences, and come out before the churches, and be united and take hold of the work, a great obstacle would be removed; and that I thought we might expect the work to spread rapidly on every hand. They saw their position; Dr. Hawes and Dr. Bushnell came to an understanding to lay aside their difficulties, and go on and promote the work. I should say here, that I believe Brother Patton had never sympathized with the strong views held by Dr. Hawes; and I should also say, that Dr. Bushnell himself did not seem to have any controversy with Dr. Hawes; and the obstacle to be removed from before the public seemed to be, mostly, in the unwillingness of Dr. Hawes, cordially to cooperate with the other ministers, in the work.
Dr. Hawes was too good a man to persist in anything that would prevent his doing whatever he could consistently do, to promote the work. Therefore from that time we seemed to work together, with a good measure of cordiality. The work spread into all the congregations, and went on very hopefully, for a number of weeks. But there was one peculiarity about that work that I have never forgotten. I believe every Sabbath that I was in that city, it stormed furiously. Such a succession of stormy Sabbaths I almost never witnessed. However, our meetings were fully attended; and for a place like Hartford the work became powerful and extensive.
Those who are acquainted with Hartford know how fastidious and precise the people are in regard to all they do. They were afraid of any measures other than prayer meetings, and preaching meetings, and meetings for inquiry. In other words it was out of the question to call on sinners to come forward, and break away from the fear of man, and give themselves publicly to God. Dr. Hawes was especially very much afraid of any such measures. Consequently I could do no such thing there. Indeed, Dr. Hawes was so much afraid of measures, that I recollect, one night, in attending a meeting of inquiry in his vestry, the number of inquirers present was large; and at the close I called on those that were willing to give themselves up to God, to kneel down. This startled Dr. Hawes; and he remarked before they knelt down that none were requested to do so unless they did it cheerfully, of their own accord. They did kneel down, and we prayed with them. Dr. Hawes remarked to me, as the inquirers rose and were dismissed: "I have always felt the necessity of some such measure, but have been afraid to use it. I have always seen," said he, "that something was needed to bring persons to a stand, and to induce them to act on their present convictions; but I have not had courage to propose anything of the kind." I said to him that I had found some such measure indispensable, to bring sinners to the point of submission.
In this revival there was a great deal of praying. The young converts especially, gave themselves to very much prayer. One evening, as I learned, one of the young converts after the evening services, invited another to go home with him, and they would hold a season of prayer together. The Lord was with them, and the next evening they invited others, and the next evening more still, until the meeting became so large that they were obliged to divide it. These meetings were held after the preaching service. The second meeting soon became too large for the room, and that again was divided. And I understood that these meetings multiplied, until the young converts were almost universally in the habit of holding meetings for prayer, in different places, after the preaching service. Finally to these meetings they invited inquirers, and such as wished to be prayed for. This led to quite an organized effort, among the converts, for the salvation of souls.
A very interesting state of things sprung up at this time in the public schools. As I was informed, ministers had agreed that they would not visit the public schools, and make any religious efforts there, because it excited jealousy on the part of different denominations. One morning a large number of lads, as I was told, when they came together, were so affected that they could not study, and asked their teacher to pray for them. He was not a professor of religion, and sent for one of the pastors, informing him of the state of things, and requesting him to come and hold some religious service with them. But he declined, saying that there was an understanding among the pastors that they would not go to the public schools, to hold any religious services. He sent for another, and another, as I was informed; but they told him he must pray for the scholars himself. This brought a severe pressure upon him. But it resulted, I believe, in his giving his own heart to God, and in his taking measures for the conversion of the school. I understood there was a goodly number of the scholars, in the various common schools, that were converted at that time.
Everyone acquainted with the city of Hartford knows that its inhabitants are a very intelligent people, that all classes are educated, and that there is, perhaps, no city in the world where education of so high an order is so general as it is in Hartford. When the converts came to be received, some six hundred, I believe, united with their churches. Dr. Hawes said to me before I left, "What shall we do with these young converts? If we should form them into a church by themselves, they would make admirable workers for the salvation of souls. If, however, we receive them to our churches, where we have so many elderly men and women, who are always expected to take the lead in everything, their modesty will make them fall in behind these staid Christian men and women; and they will live as they have lived, and be inefficient as they have been." However, as I understood, the young converts, of both sexes, formed themselves into a kind of city missionary society, and organized for the purpose of making direct efforts to convert souls throughout the city. Such efforts as this, for instance, were made by numbers of them. One of the principal young ladies, perhaps as well-known and as much respected as any lady in the city, undertook to reclaim, and if possible save, a class of young men who belonged to prominent and wealthy families, but had fallen into bad habits, and into moral delay, and had lost the respect of the people.
The position and character of this young lady rendered it possible and proper for her to make such an effort, without creating a suspicion of any impropriety on her part. She sought an opportunity to converse with this class of young men; and, as I understood, brought them together for religious conversation and prayer, and was very successful in reclaiming numbers of them. If I have been rightly informed, the converts of that revival were a great power in that city for good; and many of them remain there still, and are very active in promoting religion.
Mrs. Finney established prayer meetings for ladies, which were held in the vestry of the churches. These meetings were largely attended, and became very interesting. The ladies were entirely united, and very much in earnest, and became a principal power, under God, in promoting his work there.
We left there about the first of April, and went to the city of New York on our way home. There I preached a few times for Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, in Brooklyn; and there was a growing and deepening religious influence among the people, when I arrived, and when I left. But I preached but a few times, because my health gave way, and I was obliged to desist. We came home, and went on with our labors here as usual, with the almost uniform result of a great degree of religious influence among our students, and extending more or less generally to the inhabitants.
The next winter we left Oberlin at the usual season, and started East to occupy a field of labor to which we had been invited. While we were in Hartford, the previous winter, we had a very pressing invitation to go to the city of Syracuse to labor. The minister of the Congregational church came down to Hartford, to persuade me, if possible, to return with him. I could not see it my duty to go at that time, and thought no more about it. But on our way East at this time, we met this minister at Rochester. He was not then the pastor of the Congregational church in the city of Syracuse. But he felt so much interest for them, that he finally induced me to promise him that I would stop there, and spend at least one Sabbath. We did so, and found the little church very much discouraged. Their number was small. The church was mostly composed of persons of very radical views, in regard to all the great questions of reform. The Presbyterian churches, and the other churches generally, did not sympathize at all with them, and it seemed as if the Congregational church must become extinct.
I preached one Sabbath, and learned so much about the state of things as to be induced to remain another Sabbath. Soon I began to perceive a movement among the dry bones. Some of the leading members of the Congregational church began to make confession to each other, and public confession of their wanderings from God, and of other things that had created prejudice against them in the city. This conciliated the people around them, and they began to come in, and soon their house of worship was too narrow to hold the people; and although I had not expected to stay more than one Sabbath, I could not see my way clear to leave, and I kept on from Sabbath to Sabbath. The interest continued to increase and to spread. The Lord removed the obstacles, and brought Christian people nearer together.
The Presbyterian churches were thrown open to our meetings, and conversions were multiplied on every side. However, as in some other cases, I directed my preaching very much to the Christian people. There had been very little sympathy existing between them; and a great work was needed among professors of religion, before the way could be prepared outside of the churches. Thus I continued to labor in the different churches, until the Second Presbyterian church was left without a pastor; after which we concentrated our meetings there in a great measure, and held on throughout the winter.
Here again Mrs. Finney established her ladies' meetings with great success. She generally held them in the lecture room of the first Presbyterian church, I think, a commodious and convenient room for such meetings. A great many very interesting facts occurred in her meetings that winter. Christians of different denominations seemed to flow together, after awhile, and all the difficulties that had existed among them seemed to be done away. The Presbyterian and the Congregational churches were all without pastors while I was there, and hence none of them opened their doors to receive the converts. I was very willing that this should be so, as I knew that there was great danger, if they began to receive the converts, that jealousies would spring up and mar the work.
As we were about to leave in the spring, I gave out notice from the pulpit, on my own responsibility, that on the next Sabbath we should hold a communion service, to which all Christians, who truly loved the Lord Jesus Christ, and gave evidence of it in their lives, were invited. That was one of the most interesting communion seasons I ever witnessed. The church was filled with communicants. Two very aged ministers, Fathers Waldo and Brainard, attended and helped at the communion service. There was a great melting in the congregation; and a more loving and joyful communion of the people of God, I think I never saw anywhere.
After I left, the churches all secured pastors. I have been informed that that revival resulted in great and permanent good. The Congregational church built them a larger house of worship; and have been, I believe, ever since a healthy church and congregation. The Presbyterian churches, and I believe the Baptist churches, were much strengthened in faith and increased in numbers.
The work was very deep there among a great many professors of religion. One very striking fact occurred which I will mention. There was a lady by the name of C, the Christian wife of an unconverted husband. She was a lady of great refinement, and beauty of character and person. Her husband was a merchant, a man of good moral character. She attended our meetings, and became very much convicted for a deeper work of grace in her soul. She called on me one day, in a state of very anxious inquiry. I had a few moments conversation with her, and directed her attention especially to the necessity of a thorough and universal consecration of herself and of her all to Christ. I told her that when she had done this, she must believe for the sealing of the Holy Spirit. She had heard the doctrine of sanctification preached, and it had greatly interested her; and her inquiry was how she should obtain it. I gave her the brief direction which I have mentioned, and she got up hastily and left me. Such a pressure was upon her mind, that she seemed in haste to lay hold of the fullness there was in Christ. I do not think she was in my room more than five or ten minutes, and she left me like a person who has some pressing business on hand. In the afternoon she returned as full of the Holy Spirit, to all human appearance, as she could be. She said she hurried home from my room in the morning, and went immediately to her chamber, and cast herself down before God, and made a thorough consecration of herself and of her all to Him. She said she had clearer apprehensions by far of what was meant by that, than she had ever had before; and she made a full and complete resignation of herself and everything into the hands of Christ. Her mind became at once entirely calm, and she felt that she began to receive of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. In a very short time she seemed to be lifted up above herself, and her joy was so great that she could hardly refrain from shouting.
I had some conversation with her, and saw that she was in danger of being over excited. I said as much as I dared to say, to put her on her guard against this, and she went home.
A few days afterwards her husband called on me one morning with his sleigh, and asked me to take a ride with him. I did so, and found that his object was to talk with me about his wife. He said that she was brought up among the Friends, and when he married her, he thought she was one of the most perfect women that he ever knew. But finally, he said, she became converted and then he observed a greater change in her than he thought was possible; for he thought her as perfectly moral in her outward life before as she could be. Nevertheless, the change in her spirit and bearing, at the time of her conversion, was so manifest, he said, that no one could doubt it. "Since then," he said, "I have thought her almost or quite perfect." But, said he, "now she has manifestly passed through a greater change than ever. I see it in everything," said he. "There is such a spirit in her, such a change, such an energy in her religion, and such a fullness of joy and peace and love!" He inquired, "What shall I make of it? How am I to understand this? Do such changes really take place in Christian people?"
I explained it to him as best I could. I tried to make him understand what she was by her education as a Quaker, and what her conversion had done for her; and then told him that this was a fresh baptism of the Holy Spirit, that had so greatly changed her at that time. She has since passed away to heaven; but the savor of that anointing of the Holy Spirit remained with her, as I have been informed, to the day of her death.
There is one circumstance that I have often heard Mrs. Finney relate, that occurred in her meetings, that is worth notice here. Her ladies' meetings were composed of the more intelligent ladies in the different churches. Many of them were probably fastidious. But there was an elderly and uneducated old woman that attended their meetings, and that used to speak, sometimes, apparently to the annoyance of the ladies. Somehow she had the impression that it was her duty to speak at every meeting; and sometimes she would get up and complain of the Lord, that He laid it upon her to speak in meeting, while so many ladies of education were allowed to attend and take no part. She wondered why it was that God made it her duty to speak; while these fine ladies, who could speak so much to edification, were allowed to attend and "have no cross," as she expressed it, "to take up." She seemed always to speak in a whining and complaining manner. The part that she felt it her duty to take in every meeting, a good deal annoyed and discouraged my wife. She saw that it did not interest the ladies; and it seemed to her rather an element of disturbance.
But after things had gone on in this way for some time, one day this same old woman arose in meeting, and a new spirit was upon her. As soon as she opened her mouth it was apparent to everybody that a great change had come over her. She had come to the meeting full of the Holy Ghost, and she poured out her fresh experience, to the astonishment of all. The ladies were greatly interested in what the old woman said: and she went forward with an earnestness in relating what the Lord had done for her, that carried conviction to every mind. All turned and leaned toward her, to hear every word that she said, the tears began to flow, and a great movement of the Spirit seemed to be visible at once throughout the meeting. Such a remarkable change wrought immense good, and the old woman became a favorite. After that they expected to hear from her; and were greatly delighted from meeting to meeting to hear her tell what the Lord had done, and was doing for her soul.
I found in Syracuse a Christian woman whom they called Mother Austin, a woman of most remarkable faith. She was poor, and entirely dependent upon the charity of the people for subsistence. She was an uneducated woman, and had been brought up manifestly in a family of very little cultivation. But she had such faith as to secure the confidence of all who knew her. The conviction seemed to be universal among both Christians and unbelievers, that mother Austin was a saint. I do not think I ever witnessed greater faith in its simplicity than was manifested by that woman. A great many facts were related to me respecting her, that showed her trust in God, and in what a remarkable manner God provided for her wants from day to day. She said to me on one occasion, "Brother Finney, it is impossible for me to suffer for any of the necessaries of life, because God has said to me, 'Trust in the Lord and do good: so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.'" She related to me many facts in her history, and many facts were related to me by others, illustrative of the power of her faith.
She said, one Saturday evening a friend of hers, but an impenitent man, called to see her; and after conversing awhile he offered her, as he went away, a five dollar bill. She said that she felt an inward admonition not to take it. She felt that it would be an act of self-righteousness on the part of that man, and might do him more harm than it would do her good. She therefore declined to take it, and he went away. She said she had just wood and food enough in the house to last over the Sabbath, and that was all; and she had no means whatever of obtaining any more. But still she was not at all afraid to trust God, in such circumstances, as she had done for so many years.
On the Sabbath day there came a violent snowstorm. On Monday morning the snow was several feet deep, and the streets were blocked up so that there was no getting out without clearing the way. She had a young son that lived with her, the two composing the whole family. They arose in the morning and found themselves snowed in, on every side. They made out to muster fuel enough for a little fire, and soon the boy began to inquire what they should have for breakfast. She said, "I do not know, my son; but the Lord will provide." She looked out, and nobody could pass the streets. The lad began to weep bitterly, and concluded that they should freeze and starve to death. However, she said she went on and made such preparations as she could, to provide for breakfast, if any should come. I think she said she set her table, and made arrangements for her breakfast, believing that some would come in due season. Very soon she heard a loud talking in the streets, and went to the window to see what it was, and beheld a man in a single sleigh, and some men with him shoveling the snow so that the horse could get through. Up they came to her door, and behold! they had brought her a plenty of fuel and provision, everything to make her comfortable for several days. But time would fail me to tell the instances in which she was helped in a manner as striking as this. Indeed, it was notorious through the city, so far as I could learn, that Mother Austin's faith was like a bank; and that she never suffered for want of the necessaries of life, because she drew on God.
I never knew the number of converts at that time in Syracuse. Indeed I was never in the habit of ascertaining the number of hopeful converts.
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