The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To Louis Richards
19 September 1872
[Published in "A Religious Revival in Reading, 1829" in Historical Review of Berks County. Volume 15 (October 1949), pages 149-50]
Finney received the following letter from Louis Richards:
Reading, Pa. Sept. 16, 1872.
My dear Mr Finney:
Yours of the 6th inst has proved
of great interest, not only to myself, but to the
now small circle of Christian friends who were
stars in your crown of rejoicing in Reading in 1829,&endash;
thirteen years before I was born. Thomas O'Brien
was affected very deeply by your reference to the
death of his brother Dennis. Her and his wife both de=
sire to be affectionately remembered to you. One of your
friends, a native of this city, the Rev. Augustus
Babb, now a minister of the Evangelical Lu=
theran church at Blairsville, Pa. happened to
be in Reading yesterday, and hearing that he also
was one of your converts, I sought him out and
had a long talk with him about yourself and old
times in Reading. He told me to say to you that
in all his ministerial cause he had found
the Lord Jesus Christ rich enough to provide
the means. This is in reference to a remark
of this kind which you made to him when
he was first awakened, and spoke of entering
the ministry. He told me to say to you also
that the lady who was Elizabeth Porter, a
daughter of Judge Porter and sister of Elijah
Deckert, is now the widow of a ^ clergyman by
the name of Lewis, and resides in the town
of Indianna, Indianna Co Penna. She has
a son in the ministry, & has lived a pious and
devoted life. She often speaks of Mr Finney with
great interest. The McKnights were very much
interested in your letter,&endash; so were Mr & Mrs Levi
B. Smith, both of whom speak very warmly of you
and desire me to communicate their kind re=
gards. Mr Smith is a brother of Mrs Darling,
and was also the father in law of the late
Rev. Elias J. Richards. Amos Buck, the first
convert of the revival in Reading, was an uncle of
Mrs Smith. Thomas O'Brien remembers that
on the evening on which he experienced a hope,
after church you walked up the street with him
arm in arm, and he felt so glad that he
had met his Savior that he wanted to tell every=
body about it. The argument which took hold of
him, he said, was that Christ had always
been willing to save him, but that the un=
willingness was all on his own part. There
are a number of friends in Reading who would
be very glad to see you indeed, and I should
be happy to have you come on and stay with
me. Of course we should not make any
demands upon your ministerial services un=
less you would feel that it would be a grat=
ification to you to preach once more in
Reading. I should be glad to show you how
Reading has improved in these forty-three years,
and think the trip would benefit your health.
I know not whether your wife is living, but if
she is, we should be pleased to see her also.
Mrs Brayton & her husband, I understand
will be here shortly to spend some months
with their relatives.
Since receiving your letter I have been
looking up the record of the Editors whom you
so effectively silenced./ I find in the "Berks &
Schuylkill Journal," of Mch 31, 1829, (the paper
was then Edited by Geo. Getz) a card signed by
the Presbyterian elders defending yourself against
the many calumnies that had been circulated
regarding you, in which they state that you
were a regularly ordained Presbyterian clergy=
man, & had been duly appointed an Evan=
gelist by the Pby of St. Lawrence, N.Y. and
were then a member of the Pby of Oneida, at=
tached to the Synod of Albany &endash; that in the
January preceding, the German Ref Church of Phila=
da, Rev. Saml Helfenstein pastor, had passed warm
resolutions commending you, & c. The wonder
arises in my mind how, being a Presbyterian
minister you came to labor in the Reformed
Church. On the 18th April, appeared a com=
munication in the same paper signed "Luther,"
arraigning you on specific charges, as for
instance first that you had desired a respectable
gentleman whom you thought wd not live long
to give your compliments to Dr Grier in Heaven, &
to tell St Paul that you were much pleased
with his writings; that you had spoken disre=
spectfully of other pastors & either declared or
insinuated that they were leading their congr=
gations to Hell; that you had instigated
certain women to visit their neighbors in an offi=
cious manner, & ask them whether they had read
their Bibles & whether they said their prayers &c,&endash; with
more of the same sort, gross exaggerations I pre=
sume of some underlying facts. That appears to
have been a time of great religious excitement
throughout the country, violent opposition to
revivals, Sunday School Unions, Missionary Societies, &c.
[top of page 1]
Mr Babt informs me that you labored at Lancaster &
Harrisburg, after leaving Reading, but not with such marked
success as here. With affectionate regards Yours Sincerely
Finney replied as follows:
Oberlin 19th. Sept. 1872
Louis Richards Esq.
Dr. Bro. Yours of the 16th is recd.
Thank you for the information it contains respecting those in whom I feel a deep interest. Since I wrote you last I have a memorandem kep by my former wife, from which I learn that I arrived at Reading the 9th. of January 1829. & left for Lancaster the 7th. of May making our stay in Reading about 4 months. I see from this journal that we left Lancaster for Whitestown N. York the 15th. of June. We were a little over a month in Lancaster. A number were hopefully converted at that place but I needed rest & the state of the Church was such as to discourage any but a more protracted effort than I was then able to make. I therefore left & took a few weeks rest at my wife's fathers. I did not go to Harrisburg.
I was not aware of the attack of the Editors nor of the case of the Elders. If I ever heard of them I did not long remember it. I paid little attention to such things.
Hundreds of false & absurd stories were put in circulation about me to which I paid no attention but kept about the Lord's work. It was by Br. Dennis O'Brien that I sent love to Br. Grier. As I was satisfied that Br. Grier was in Heaven & that Br. O. was going right to him, why not send my love?
The other things you mention I do not remember. Bro. Buck was a brother of Mrs. D. O'Brien. His convictions were awful. I was called out of bed in the midst of a frightful snow storm & about 12 at night to go & see him. The storm was almost blinding & as I approached his house I heard him wail & howl with agony. I found him nearly prostrate & his wife bourn down with the might of his case. His look and groans were pitiable & almost frightful. His despair was all but complete. I cannot forget that I exclaimed "if this is conviction what is hell." He was a man of powerful physique. He got relief by faith in Christ I believe before I left him.
The Mr. Smith whom I recollect called on me early in the morning & exclaimed "I am lost." His story in a word was this "When I was in college I & two other young men called on Dr. Grier & asked what we should do to be saved. He told us to keep out of bad company, to read our Bibles & pray for a new heart & either we should be converted or our convictions would wear off. We did as he directed & waited to be converted. Our convictions wore off. Both of my companions are in drunkards graves & I am in the same path & is there hope for me?" I showed him that he had been misdirected & that his sin was not unpardonable. He obtained hope. I understood that he was a lawyer & a brother of Mrs. Darling.
I was deeply interested in his case. If the Mr. Smith you speak of was this man do give him my warmest love.
Is Mrs. D. O'Brien yet living. A barber who shaved on Sab. was convicted & hesitated because of this pub. His customers threatened to forsake him if he closed shop on Sab. He finally decided & shut up on Sab. He told me afterwards that his business had increased & not diminished. I cannot recollect his name. As the work of conversion was deep, convictions of sin overwhelming & opposition for some time daring & almost blasphemous many striking facts occurred. Many thrilling incidents were crowded into the 4 months of my stay in Reading.
I should be happy to comply with your invi[t]ation to visit Reading & I thank you for your generous invitation to be your guest; but I cannot entertain such a hope that it will be duty to visit you. I should be delighted to meet Mr. & Mrs. Brayton these as well as to see the remaining few who were converted during that precious revival. I went to Philadelphia at first to labor with Br. James Patterson.
The revival became so general through the city that I preached alternately in nearly all the Pres. churches. & also in the Dutch churches. Mr. Helpentines church in Race street would hold a larger congregation than any other I was therefore invited to continue in that house as a central point.
I continued there for several months. I was in that city about a year and a half. The revivals there were very extensive. It proved to be as life from the dead to that city.
Some most thrilling & extraordinary incidents occurred in Philadelphia. Those scenes are long past, but many of them are still fresh in my memory. I have been passing through revival scenes in this country & in England & in Scotland ever since then. Bating the intense opposition & the excitement consequent therefrom I have often since seen revivals as interesting & more extensive. Yet, all in all, I have never had more earnest & pleasant recollections of any revivals & their fruits than of those of Phila. & Reading.
Love to all friends. God bless you all.
C. G. FINNEY
Finney received the following reply from Richards:
Reading, Oct. 15, 1872.
Rev. C. G. Finney,
I was very greatly in=
terested in your last, of the 19th ult, and
would have replied sooner, had I not de=
sired to read it to several who could
appreciate its contents, and to collect
for your gratification all the in=
formation I could obtain in regard
to those mentioned in it. Mr Levi
B. Smith is the gentleman to whom
you refer as calling upon you in
regard to his soul's salvation. He
has been for many years a pious
member of the Protestant Episcopal
Church. Rev. E. J. Richards was
his son-in-law, his second wife
being a daughter of Mr Smith's. Your
communications have touched tender
cords in many hearts, though the
generation to whom you preached the
word of life in Reading forty-three
years ago is rapidly passing away.
Mr Amos Buck died in Alabama, in
1841, in his 60th year. He was an ex=
emplary member of the M. E. church.
Mrs Dennis O'Brien I believe is still
living in Philadelphia. The barber
to whom you refer who acted so con=
scientiously in regard to closing his
shop, was Mr John Piper. He afterward
became a dentist, practiced some
years in Reading, & died in 1844, a
humble and devoted Christian. It
will be a source of gratification to
you to be made acquainted with
the fact that so far as I can learn
the converts of your ministry here
all turned out sincere Christians,
glorifying God in their lives, or
praising Him with their latest breath.
I am sorry you cannot
find if convenient to pay
Reading another visit. There are
many who would be delighted
to see you. You would see
great changes in the place
,&endash; many more even than those
referred to by our late beloved
pastor in his anniversary
sermon. It would afford you
pleasure to walk through our
beautiful Cemetery, and visit
the graves of some whom you
knew in life. Rev Dr Grier is
buried on the "Pastors lot," belong=
ing to the First Presbyterian church.
The inscription upon the tablet which
covers his grave runs thus,&endash;
In memory of
The Rev. John D. Grier D.D.
who was born
the 26^thday of July AD. 1783,
and died the
26th day of Jan. AD. 1829,
aged 45 years, 6 mos and 19 days.
The First Presbyterian Church in the
Boro' of Reading was organized under
his labors the &emdash; day of &emdash; AD 18 &emdash;
& he continued its faithful & devoted
pastor until the day of his death. This
monument was erected by the Congrega=
tion, in token of the respect & affection
they bear to his name
&emdash; &emdash; &emdash;
Also in memory of
Wife of the Rev John D. Grier D.D.
Born Nov 15, 1779,
Died March 20, 1858.
I still have a strong desire to learn
more of the history of your eventful
life, & if you at any time come
across any publication giving such
details, I shall be greatly obliged
to you if you will refer me to the
same. I would be gratified to
give you any further information
regarding your friends of the church
here that you might desire,
With Christian love,
This word is unclear.
This word should be "kept".
This word was probably job.
This word should be there.
Finney had probably written Helfenstines. This was Samuel Helffenstein Sr. (1775-1866).