MEMOIRS OF CHARLES G. FINNEY
LABORS IN WESTERN AND IN ROME, 1854-5
THE next winter, at Christmas time, we went again to Western, Oneida county, where as I have already related, I commenced my labors in the autumn of 1825. The people were at this time again without a minister; and we spent several weeks there in very interesting labor, and with very marked results.
Among the striking things that occurred in the revival this time, I will mention the case of one young man. He was the son of pious parents, and had long been made the subject of prayer. His parents were prominent members of the church. Indeed, his father was one of the elders of the church; and his mother was a godly, praying woman. When I commenced my labors there, to the great surprise and grief of his parents, and of the Christian people generally, he became exceedingly bitter against the preaching, and the meetings generally, and all that was done for the promotion of the revival. He committed himself with all the strength of his will against it; and affirmed, as I was told, that neither Finney nor hell could convert him. He said many very hateful and profane things, until his parents were deeply grieved; but I am not aware that he had ever been suspected of any outward immorality.
But the Word of God pressed him from day to day, till he could stand it no longer. He came one morning to my room. His appearance was truly startling. I cannot describe it. I seldom ever saw a person whose mind had made such an impression upon his countenance. He appeared to be almost insane; and he trembled in such a manner that when he was seated, the furniture of the room was sensibly jarred by his trembling. I observed, when I took his hand, that it was very cold. His lips were blue; and his whole appearance was quite alarming. The fact is, he had stood out against his convictions as long as he could endure it. When he sat down, I said to him, "My dear young man, what is the matter with you?" "Oh," said he, "I have committed the unpardonable sin." I replied, "What makes you say so?" "Oh, said he, "I know that I have; and I did it on purpose."
He then related this fact of himself. Said he, "Several years ago a book was put into my hands called, "The pirates own book." I read it, and it produced a most extraordinary effect upon my mind. It inspired me with a kind of terrible and infernal ambition to be the greatest pirate that ever lived. I made up my mind to be at the head of all the highway robbers, and bandits, and pirates whose history was ever written. But," said he, "my religious education was in my way. The teaching and prayers of my parents seemed to rise up before me, so that I could not go forward. But I had heard that it was possible to give the Spirit of God away, and to quench His influence so that one would feel it no more. I had read also that it was possible to sear my conscience, so that would not trouble me; and after my resolution was taken, my first business was to get rid of my religious convictions, so as to be able to go on and perpetrate all manner of robberies and murders, without any compunction of conscience. I therefore set myself deliberately to blaspheme the Holy Ghost." He then told me in what manner he did this, and what he said to the Holy Ghost; but it was too blasphemous to repeat.
He continued: "I then felt that it must be that the Spirit of God would leave me, and that my conscience would no more trouble me. After a little while I made up my mind that I would commit some crime, and see how it would affect me. There was a schoolhouse across the way from our house; and one evening I went and set it on fire. I then went to my room, and to bed. Soon, however, the fire was discovered. I arose, and mingled with the crowd that gathered to put it out; but all efforts were in vain, and it burnt to the ground." To burn a building in that way, was a state-prison offense. He was aware of this. I asked him if he had gone farther in the commission of crime. He replied, "No." And I think he added, that he did not find his conscience at rest about it, as he had expected. I asked him if he had ever been suspected of having burnt it. He replied that he did not know that he had; but that other young men had been suspected, and talked about. I asked him what he proposed to do about it. He replied that he was going to the trustees to confess it; and he asked me if I would not accompany him.
I went with him to one of the trustees, who lived near; and the young man asked me if I would not tell him the facts. I did so. The trustee was a good man, and a great friend of the parents of this young man. The announcement affected him deeply. The young man stood speechless before him. After conversing with the trustee for a little while, I said, "We will go and see the other trustees." The gentleman replied, "No, you need not go; I will see them myself, and tell them the whole story." He assured the young man that he himself would freely forgive him; and he presumed that the other trustees, and the people in the town, would forgive him, and not subject him or his parents to any expense about it.
I then returned to my room, and the young man went home. Still he was not at rest. As I was going to meeting in the evening, he met me at the door and said, "I must make a public confession. Several young men have been suspected of this thing; and I want the people to know that I did it, and that I had no accomplice, that nobody but God and myself knew it." And he added: "Mr. Finney, won't you tell the people? I will be present, and say anything that may be necessary to say, if anybody should ask any questions; but I do not feel as it I could open my mouth. You can tell them all about it."
When the people were assembled, I arose and related to them the facts. The family was so well known, and so much beloved in the community, that the statement made a great impression. The people sobbed and wept all over the congregation. After he had made this full confession he obtained peace. Of his religious history since I know not much. I have recently learned, however, that he retained his hold upon Christ, and did not seem to backslide. He went into the army during the rebellion, and was slain at the battle of Fort Fisher.
In giving my narrative of revivals thus far, I have passed over a great number of cases of crime, committed by persons who came to me for advice, and told me the facts. In many instances in these revivals, restitution, sometimes to the amount of many thousands of dollars, was made by those whose consciences troubled them, either because they had obtained the money directly by fraud, or by some selfish overreaching in their business relations.
The winter that I first spent in Boston, resulted in making a great many such revelations. I had preached there one Sabbath in the morning upon this text: "Whoso covereth his sins shall not prosper;" and in the afternoon on the remainder of the verse: "But who so confesseth and forsaketh them, shall find mercy." I recollect that the results of those two sermons were most extraordinary. For weeks afterwards, persons of almost all ages, and of both sexes, came to me for spiritual advice, disclosing to me the fact that they had committed various frauds, and sins of almost every description. Some young men had defrauded their employers in business; and some women had stolen watches, and almost every article of female apparel. Indeed, it seemed as if the Word of the Lord was sent home with such power at that time in that city, as to uncover a very den of wickedness. It would certainly take me hours to mention the crimes that came to my personal knowledge through the confessions of those that had perpetrated them. But in every instance the persons seemed to be thoroughly penitent, and were willing to make restitution to the utmost of their ability.
But to return from this digression, to Western. The revival was of a very interesting character; and there was a goodly number of souls born to God. The conversion of one young lady there I remember with a good deal of interest. She was teaching the village school. Her father was, I believe, a skeptic; and as I understood, she was an only daughter, and a great favorite with her father. He was a man, if I was rightly informed, of considerable influence in the town, but did not at all attend our meetings. He lived on a farm away from the village. Indeed the village is very small, and the inhabitants are scattered through the valley of the Mohawk, and over the hills on each side; so that the great mass of inhabitants have to come a considerable distance to meeting.
I had heard that this young woman did not attend our meetings much, and that she manifested considerable opposition to the work. In passing the schoolhouse one day I stepped in to speak with her. At first she appeared surprised to see me come in. I had never been introduced to her, and should not have known her, if I had not found her in that place. She knew me, however, and at first appeared as if she recoiled from my presence. I took her very kindly by the hand, and told her that I had dropped in to speak with her about her soul. "My child," I said, "how is it with you? Have you given your heart to God?" This I said while I held her hand. Her head fell, and she made no effort to withdraw her hand. I saw in a moment that a subduing influence came over her, and so deep and remarkable an influence, that I felt almost assured that she would submit to God right on the spot.
The most that I expected when I went in, was to have a few words with her that I hoped might set her to thinking, and to appoint a time to converse with her more at large. But the impression was at once so manifest, and she seemed to break down in her heart so readily, that with a few sentences quietly and softly spoken to her, she seemed to give up her opposition, and to be in readiness to lay hold on the Lord Jesus Christ. I then asked her if I should say a few words to the scholars; and she said, yes, she wished I would. I did so, and then asked her if I should present herself and her scholars to God in prayer. She said she wished I would, and became very deeply affected in the presence of the school. We engaged in prayer, and it was a very solemn, melting time. The young lady from that time seemed to be subdued, and to have passed from death unto life. She did not live long before she passed, I trust, to heaven.
These two seasons of my being in Western were about thirty years apart. Another generation had come to live in that place from that which lived there in the first revival in which I labored there. I found, however, a few of the old members there. But the congregation was mostly new, and composed principally of younger people who had grown up after the first revival.
As in the case of the first revival, so in this, the people in Rome heard what was passing in Western, and came up in considerable numbers to attend our meetings. This led after a few weeks, to my going down and spending some time in Rome.
The state of religion in Western has, I believe, been very much improved since this last revival. The ordinances of the Gospel have been maintained, and I believe considerable progress has been made in the right direction.
The B's have all gone from Western, with the exception of one son and his family. That large and interesting family have melted away; but one of them being left in Western, one in Utica, and one son who was converted in the first revival there, and who has for many years been a minister, and pastor of the first Presbyterian church in Watertown, New York.
When I was at Rome the first time, and for many years after, the church was Congregational. But a few years before I was there the last time, they had settled a Presbyterian minister, a young man, and he felt that the church ought to be Presbyterian instead of Congregational. He proposed and recommended this to the church, and succeeded in bringing it about; but to the great dissatisfaction of a large number of influential persons in the church. This created a very undesirable state of things in Rome; and when I arrived there from Western I was, for the first time, made acquainted with that very serious division of feeling in the church. Their pastor had lost the confidence and affection of a considerable number of very influential members of his church.
When I learned the state of things, I felt confident that but little could be done to promote a general revival, unless that difficulty could be healed. But it had been talked over so much, and the persons first concerned in it had so committed themselves, that I labored in vain to bring about a reconciliation. It was not a thing to preach about; but in private conversation I tried to pluck up that root of bitterness. I found the parties did not view the facts alike. I kept preaching, however; and the Spirit of the Lord was poured out, conversions were occurring very frequently, and I trust great good was done.
But after endeavoring in vain to secure a union of feeling and effort such as God would approve, I made up my mind to leave them. I have heard since that some of the disaffected members of the church went and joined the church in Western, leaving the church in Rome altogether. I presume the pastor did what he deemed to be his duty in that controversy, but the consequent divisions were exceedingly painful to me, as I felt a peculiar interest in that church.
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