The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To Gerrit Smith
7 May 1839
[Ms in the Gerrit Smith Papers, Syracuse University.]
Gerrit Smith (1797-1874), the wealthy philanthropist, and one of the largest landowners in America, was in sympathy with Oberlin, and had already, three years earlier, helped the struggling college financially. See Ralph V. Harlow, Gerrit Smith: Philanthropist and Reformer (New York: Henry Holt, 1939), pp. 227-28.
The following letter is from a copy in a Letter Book:
Peterboro April 25 1839
Charles G. Finney &
My late father purchased, April 22 1815 for $8000, a Tract of land in the new County of Tyler - a County lying on the Ohio River in Virginia. There are about 21,000 acres in the Tract. Nov. 1 1819 he conveyed the Tract to myself. Although it is held under a very old title derived directly from the State of Virginia, it is probable that a still older title - older by about a year - covers some three to four thousand acres of the land. This is not certain however.
My father never sold any of the land - nor have I sold any of it. There have been repeated applications for small parcels of it. There are a few families on it, who pay rent enough to cancel the demands for taxes and for the fees of my Agent, Judge W Underwood of the said County of Tyler.
The land is so far from me, that I cannot make judicious & profitable sales of it. I have thought, very frequently within the last few weeks, as it is not more than some two hundred miles from the Oberlin Collegiate Institute - as this Institute makes a good use of the property given to it - and as it is in great need of more property - that I could not do better with this Tract of land than to give it to the Institute. I take additional pleasure in making this gift from the fact, that the American Education Society has proscribed Oberlin Institute, as well as Oneida Institute - and that you are now under greater need than ever of the liberality of your friends.
Immediately after making the purchase, my father had, at an expense of 4 or 500$ the whole Tract surveyed into farm Lots. Most of these Lots will be unsaleable for many years - A few of them could probably be sold soon for one to two dollars per acre.
I presume the Institute is incorporated. Let me know what must be the name or style of the party of the second part in the Deed. The Deed together with Maps survey bills and a large bundle of papers pertaining to the Tract, I will hand to any person whom you may authorize to receive them.
The gift may be to a great extent, if not entirely unavailable for
several years. I am aware that you are in present need - and I therefore add to the gift two thousand dollars in money. Your draught on me for two thousand dollars payable 1st February next at the Bank of Utica (let it be written by Br. Mahan and signed by both of you) will be accepted by me.
Your friend & brother
The following letter in the Finney Papers from Gerrit Smith's wife, Ann, was received by Lydia Finney. Ann Carroll Fitzhugh was the second wife of Gerrit Smith. They were married in 1822 and she had 4 children.
Address: Mrs. L. R. Finney
Peterboro March 19th 1839
I received your letter, dear sister, with
much pleasure some days since, and open-
ed it with more than usual interest,
because it was post marked "Oberlin".
You ask for my views feelings and expe-
rience, on the subject of dress- furniture &c-
If it will be of any service to you I will give
them joyfully - Tho' I set not myself up in
in these things as a model for others.
My mind was greatly exercised on this
subject for a long time before I made any
change. My conscience would often trouble
me especially about my dress, but it was
as often quieted by looking at christians
around me, whom I esteemed better than
myself. At that time I wore breast pins,
rings, bows on my cap, worked collars, edgings,
laces and many other things which are
worn for show only. I think it is five years
since I was delivered from the bondage
of these things and I really find a liberty in
dressing for comfort and convenience, without
regard to the changes of fashion. It is difficult
to lay down a rule for all to be governed by.
What is comfortable and convenient for me,
may not be so for you. Many have supposed
that the true rule was, to wear no unneces
sary thing. But what one considers unneces
sary another may think necessary. The two
or three years, after I had adopted my present
course, I often fretted myself "because of evil
doers" in the matter of dress. Indeed I think
my mind was absorbed with this subject
to the neglect of others of more moment,
such as salvation by faith - and the full
crucifixion of the "old man". For the last two
years, I have not felt so much like enforcing
on this subject
my opinionson those who are of a contrary
mind. I think that as christians increase
in holiness, these "things of the world" will
drop off. Your motto, "dress in such a manner
as not to attract particular notice one way
or the other", was mine for a long time, but
conscience forced me to lay it aside, and I
think you too, will lay it aside upon fur-
ther consideration. A style of dress which
would "attract notice neither one way or the
other" in your own little plain village,
would be remarked as singular in fashion-
able, christian, circles in New York. Your
motto[ then] would require you to change your
style of dress whenever you go to the City.
I think, my dear sister, that our Father
does not require it of his little ones - his
hidden ones, to be changing their dress
to suit every fashionable circle into whi[ch]
his providence may for a season cast
them. As to furniture, I strive to get every
thing as substantial and plain as can be
got in these days when almost every thing
is made for show - and to change no article
because it is "out of fashion". Your questions
have compelled me to write a very egotisti
cal letter. I should rejoice to see you
face to face and talk over this and many
other things with you. You spoke in your
letter of my living without condemnation. I did, my
dear sister, enjoy this blessedness for several months,
during which time "my peace was as a river" for
I was enabled through faith "to quench the fiery
darts of the adversary", and to maintain peace in
my conscience through the "blood of sprinkling"
But for the last three months, most of the time, my
soul has been in "deep waters."- I long for deliverance
and trust that my feet will be set in a large place.
Altho my general health is good, my nerves I think
have much effect upon my spirit. Remember [me] with
love to those whom I have seen at Oberlin.
I shall always be glad to hear from
you. yours in the love of Jesus,
Ann C. Smith
Finney's reply is as follows. The beginning of the letter is in Levi Burnell's handwriting:
Oberlin Collegiate Institute
May 7th 1839
Dear Brother Smith
Your very welcome and truly
encouraging letter of 25. ult. was recd by us
pr last mail &endash;. For the gift which you
have bestowed upon the Institution we are grate
ful to our Heavenly Father, thanking him for
raising you up to be a co-worker with us and
with him, in diffusing the Gospel of a crucified
The donation of Land although at pres-
-ent within the territorial limits of a Slave-
-holding State, will eventually, we trust, become
available to Christian tenants and free laborers
and may be regarded as contributing to the
permanency of our Institution &endash; The Deed
of conveyance may be [made?] to "The Board
of Trustees of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute"
(of Ohio) which is its corporate title &endash;
Your donation of Two Thousand Dollars [in money]
comes in good time indeed, and will afford
essential relief to our Trustees; enabling them
to discharge some obligations of very pressing
weight at the present time upon their Treas-
-ury &endash; (over)
Levi Burnell, in behalf of the Board, or
his successor, will conduct the correspondence
and direct in relation to the disposition of
papers pertaining to the Land, &c. and to
his order we will make our draft for
the 2000 Dollars payable 1st feby next &endash;
If you have any objection to the
amount being divided into two or three dr[afts?]
as m[ y ac]commodate negotiations with [the]
creditors of the Institution, we will thank y[ou]
to intimate it to us in your next &endash;
very sincerely your brethren in Christ Jesus
[In Finney's handwriting, and signed at the end by Asa Mahan]:
Beloved Br. Smith. Knowing that
Br. Mahan & myself were very busy, Br.
Burnell, our Corresponding Secretary &
Treasurer, had prepared the above for
our signatures. As the mail will
soon l[eave here] we have concluded to
send the above, only adding a
note of our own.
Rest assured Dr. Br. that we feel
all that Br. Burnell has expressed,
& more, in view of what the Lord
has enabled & inclined you to do for
this prospered, though maligned &
It will doubtless be gratifying to you to know
that the Spirit of the Lord is still with us
& we think His gracious influences are
increasing. Students are thronging us very
much & the word of the Lord to us seems
to be "Enlarge the place of thy Tent, strech [sic]
forth the curtains of thy habitation; lengthen
thy cords & strengthen thy stakes". O, Dr. Br.
the place is too strait for us & we say
to God, "give us room that we may
dwell." O, for more room, it agonises
our hearts to be obliged to say no, to the
earnest inquiry "Can we have a place
in your Institution". We want to say
much but must close. Mrs. Finney
wishes to be affectionately remembered to
Mrs. Smith from whom she recently
recd a letter. Will not you & Mrs. Smith
visit us this summer?
Shall you attend the Union convention
at Rochester. I desire much to see you
& were you to be there, I think I should
try to attend. If Mrs Smith will attend
My Dr. Wife might be induced to go.
Shall we hear from you soon.
C. G. Finney
John Brown of Harper's Ferry fame, a son of Owen Brown, one of the Trustees of Oberlin College, was appointed an agent to investigate the lands and try and turn them into revenue. He spent the early summer of 1840 down in Virginia, and was thinking of settling there himself. But before he had made up his mind to go, the College, which could see no prospect of the lands bringing any financial advantage, and being deeply in debt, negotiated with Arthur Tappan to exchange a large part of them to cancel outstanding debts. See Robert Samuel Fletcher, "John Brown and Oberlin." Oberlin Alumni Magazine, Vol. 28, February 1932, pp. 135-37; and A History of Oberlin College 1943, p. 471.
A tear in the paper has removed a part of this word.
2 Finney's views had undergone a similar change in regard to fashion. Preaching on "Conformity to the World" in New York in February 1836, he stated that Christians have to be "singular" in matters of dress:
And here I will confess that I was formerly myself in error. I believed and I taught that the best way for Christians to pursue, was to dress so as not to be noticed, to follow the fashions and changes so as not to appear singular, and that nobody would be led to think of their being different from others in these particulars. But I have seen my error, and now wonder very much at my former blindness. It is your duty to dress so plain as to show to the world that you place no sort of reliance in the things of fashion, and set no value at all on them, but despise and neglect them altogether. But unless you are singular, unless you separate yourselves from the fashions of the world, you show that you do value them. There is no way in which you can bear a proper testimony by your lives against the fashions of the world but by dressing plain ("Mr. Finney's Lectures on Christian Duty. Lecture VIII." New-York Evangelist [13 February 1836], p. 26)
The letter is broken along the folds here and further down the page.
Isaiah 54:2 reads: "Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes."
See 2 Kings 6:1 which reads: "And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us."