The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
Revival at De Kalb
From this place I went to De Kalb, another village still farther north, some sixteen miles, I think. Here was a presbyterian church and minister, but the church was small, and the minister seemed not to have a very strong hold upon the people. However, I think he was decidedly a good man. I began to hold meetings in De Kalb in different parts of the town. The village was small, and the people were very much scattered. The country was new, and the roads were new and bad. But a revival commenced immediately, and went forward with a good deal of power for a place where the inhabitants were so much scattered.
A few years before there had been a revival there under the labors of the Methodists. It had been attended with a good deal of excitement, and many cases had occurred of what the Methodists call "falling under the power of God." This the Presbyterians had resisted, and in consequence a bad state of feeling had existed between the Methodists and the Presbyterians; the Methodists accusing the Presbyterians of having opposed the revival among them because of these cases of falling under the power of God. As nearly as I could learn there was a good deal of truth in this, and the Presbyterians had been decidedly in error. I had not preached long, before one evening, just before the close of my sermon, I observed a man fall from his seat near the door, and that the people were gathered around him to take care of him. From what I saw, I was satisfied that it was a case of "falling under the power of God," as the Methodists would express it, and supposed that it was a Methodist; and I must say that I had a little fear that it might reproduce that state of division and alienation that had before existed. But on inquiry I learned that it was one of the principal members of the Presbyterian church that had fallen. And it was remarkable that during this revival there were several cases of this kind among the Presbyterians, and none among the Methodists. This led to such confessions and explanations among the members of the different churches as to secure a state of great cordiality and good feeling among them.
While laboring at De Kalb I first became acquainted with John Fine Esq. of Ogdensburgh. He heard of the revival in De Kalb, and came to see it. He was wealthy, and very benevolent. He proposed to employ me as his missionary to work in the towns throughout that county, and he would pay me a salary. However, I declined to pledge myself to preach in any particular place, or to confine my labors within any given lines. Brother Fine spent several days with me in visiting from house to house, and in attending our meetings. He had been educated in Philadelphia, an Old School Presbyterian, and was himself an elder in the Presbyterian church in Ogdensburgh. When he left De Kalb, he left with a lady, with whom I was staying, a letter for me.
On opening it I found in it three ten dollar bills. A few days later he came up again and spent two or three days, and attended our meetings and became very much interested in the work. When he went away he left another letter as before, containing three ten dollar bills. Thus I found myself possessed of sixty dollars, with which I immediately purchased a one horse buggy. Before this time, though I had a horse, I had no carriage, and my young wife and myself used to go a good deal on foot to meeting.
The revival took a very strong hold of the church in this place, and among others it thoroughly broke up the heart of one of the elders of the church, by the name of Burnett. He got thoroughly broken up and broken down, and became quite another man. The impression deepened on the public mind from day to day. One Saturday just before evening, a German merchant tailor from Ogdensburgh, by the name of Father, called on me and informed me that Esquire Fine had sent him from Ogdensburgh to take my measure for a suit of clothes. I had begun to need clothes, and had once not long before spoken to the Lord about it, that my clothes were getting shabby; but it had not occurred to me again. Brother Fine, however, had observed it; and sent this man, who was a Roman Catholic, to take my measure for a suit of clothes. I asked him if he would not stay over the Sabbath, and take my measure on Monday morning. I said, "It is too late for you to return tonight; and if I allow you to take my measure tonight, you will go home tomorrow." He admitted that he expected to. I told him, "Then you shall not take it. If you will not stay till Monday morning, I will not be measured for a suit of clothes." He remained.
The same afternoon there were other arrivals from Ogdensburgh, a village on the St. Lawrence, and some sixteen miles still farther north from De Kalb. Among the other arrivals was an EIder Smith, who was a brother elder in the same church with Mr. Fine. Mr. Smith's son, an unconverted young man, came with him, and several other persons from Ogdensburgh came up to attend the meeting. EIder Smith attended meeting in the morning, and at the intermission was invited by EIder Burnett to go home with him and get some refreshment. EIder Burnett was full of the Holy Spirit, and on the way home he preached to Elder Smith, who was at the time very cold and backward in religion. Elder Smith was very much penetrated by his words. Soon after they entered the house, the table was spread, and they were invited to sit down and take some refreshment. As they drew around the table, Elder Smith said to Elder Burnett: "How did you get this blessing?" Elder Burnett replied: "I stopped lying to God." Said he, "All my Christian life I have been making pretences, and asking God for things that I was not on the whole willing to have; and I had gone on and prayed as other people prayed, and often had been insincere, and really lied to God." He continued: "As soon as I made up my mind that I never would say anything to God in prayer that I did not really mean, God answered me; and the Spirit came down, and I was filled with the Holy Ghost." At this moment Mr. Smith, who had not commenced to eat, shoved his chair back from the table, and fell on his knees and began to confess how he had lied to God; and how he had played the hypocrite, in his prayers as well as in his life. The Holy Ghost fell upon him immediately, and filled him as full as he could hold.
The first that I knew anything of it was as follows: The people had assembled for afternoon worship, and I was standing in the pulpit reading a hymn. I heard somebody talking very loud, and approaching the house of worship, the door and windows being open. Directly two men came in. Elder Burnett I knew; the other man was a stranger. As soon as he came in at the door he lifted his eyes to me, came straight into the desk to me, and took me right up in his arms-- "God bless you!" said he; "God bless you!" He then began and told me, and told the congregation, what the Lord had just done for his soul. His countenance was all in a glow; and he was so changed in his appearance, that those that knew him were perfectly astonished at the change. His son, who had not known of this change in his father, when he saw and heard him rose up and was hastening out of the church. His father cried out: "Do not leave the house, my son: for I never loved you before." He went on to speak, and the power with which he spoke was perfectly astonishing. The people melted down on every side, and his son broke down almost immediately.
Very soon this Roman Catholic tailor, Mr. Father, rose up in the congregation and said: "I must tell you what the Lord has done for my soul. I was brought up;" said he, "a Roman Catholic, and I never dared to read my Bible. I was told that if I did, the devil would carry me off bodily. Sometimes when I dared to look into it, it seemed as if the devil was peaking[sic.] over my shoulder, and had come to carry me off. But," said he, "I see it is all a delusion." And he went on to tell what the Lord had done for his soul right there on the spot--what views the Lord had given him of the way of salvation by Jesus Christ. It was evident to everybody that he was converted. This made a great impression on the congregation. I could not preach. The whole course of the meeting had taken on a type which the Lord had given it. I sat still and saw the salvation of God. One after another told what the Lord had done for their souls, and the work went on.
All that afternoon conversions were multiplied in every part of the congregation. As one after another arose and told what the Lord had done, and was doing, for their souls, the impression increased; and so spontaneous a movement by the Holy Ghost in convicting and converting sinners I had scarcely ever seen. The next day this Elder Smith returned to Ogdensburgh. But as I understood, he made many calls on the way, and conversed and prayed with many families; and thus the revival was extended to Ogdensburgh. I never knew anything like the number of conversions that occurred in this place at that time, but it must have been very large in proportion to the number of settlers in that new town.
In the early part of October, the Synod to which I belonged met in Utica. I took my wife, and we went down to Utica to attend the Synod, and to visit her father's family who lived near Utica. Brother Gale, my theological teacher, had left Adams not long after I left it myself, and had removed onto a farm in the town of Western, Oneida County, where he was endeavoring to regain his health, and was employed in teaching some young men who proposed to prepare themselves to preach the Gospel. I spent a few days at the Synod at Utica, and then set out on my return to my former field of labor in St. Lawrence County. We had not gone more than a dozen miles when we met Brother Gale in his carriage, on his way to Utica. He leaped from his carriage and said: "God bless you, Brother Finney! I was going down to the Synod to see you. You must go home with me; and I cannot be denied. I do not believe that I ever was converted; and I wrote the other day to Adams to know where a letter would reach you, as I wanted to open my mind to you on the subject." He was so importunate that I consented, and we drove immediately to Western.
In reflecting upon what I have said of the revivals of religion in Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties, I am not quite sure that I have laid as much stress as I intended upon the manifest agency of the Holy Spirit in those revivals. I wish it to be distinctly understood in all that I shall say in my narrative of the revivals that I have witnessed, that I always in my own mind, and practically, laid the utmost stress upon this fact underlying, directing, and giving efficiency to the means, without which nothing would be accomplished. I have said, more than once, that the Spirit of prayer that prevailed in those revivals was a very marked feature of them. It was common for young converts to be greatly exercised in prayer; and in some instances so much so that they were constrained to pray whole nights, and until their bodily strength was quite exhausted, for the conversion of souls around them. There was a great pressure of the Holy Spirit upon the minds of Christians, and they seemed to bear about with them the burden of immortal souls. They manifested the greatest solemnity of mind, and the greatest watchfulness in all their words and actions. It was very common to find Christians, whenever they met in any place, instead of engaging in conversation, to fall on their knees and engage in prayer. Not only were prayer meetings greatly multiplied and fully attended, not only was there great solemnity in those meetings, but there was a mighty Spirit of secret prayer. Christians prayed a great deal, many of them spending many hours in private prayer. It was also the case that two would take the promise, "If two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven," and retire to make some particular person a subject of prayer, and it was wonderful to what an extent they prevailed. Answers to prayer were so manifestly multiplied on every side, that no one could escape the conviction that God was daily and hourly answering prayer. If anything occurred that was in danger of marring the work, if there was any appearance of any root of bitterness springing up, or any tendency to fanaticism or disorder in any respect, Christians would take the alarm and immediately give themselves to prayer that God would direct and control all things; and in many instances it was surprising to see to what extent, and by what means, God would remove obstacles out of the way in answer to prayer.
In regard to my own experience, I will say that unless I had the Spirit of prayer I could do nothing. If even for a day or an hour I lost the Spirit of grace and supplication, I found myself unable to preach with power and efficiency, or to win souls by personal conversation. In this respect my experience at that time was what it has always been since--I found myself having more or less power in preaching and in personal labor for souls just in proportion as I had the Spirit of prevailing prayer. I have found that unless I kept myself--or have been kept--in such relations to God as to have daily and hourly access to Him in prayer, my efforts to win souls were abortive; but that when I could prevail with God in prayer, I could prevail with man in preaching, exhortation, and conversation.
I have stated that my last field of labor in St. Lawrence County was in De Kalb, and that the revival there was powerful for the scattered population that then existed in that new region of country. For several weeks before I left De Kalb to go to the Synod in Oneida County of which I have made mention, I was very strongly exercised in prayer, and had an experience then that was somewhat new to me at the time. I found myself so much exercised, and so borne down with the weight of immortal souls that I was constrained to pray without ceasing. I could not rest in the house, and was obliged to retire to the barn frequently through the day, where I could unburden my soul and pour my heart out to God in prayer.
I had wonderful faith given to me at that time, and had some experiences that alarmed me. When alone I would wrestle and struggle, and my faith would rise till I would say to God that He had made a promise to answer prayer, and I could not, and would not, be denied. I would be so wrought up as to use such strong language to God in prayer--I felt so certain that He would hear me, and that faithfulness to His promises and to Himself rendered it impossible that He should not hear and answer, that frequently I found myself saying to Him, "I hope Thou dost not think that l can be denied. I come with Thy faithful promises in my hand, and I cannot be denied." At that time the Spirit of God made such an application of the promises to my mind, and so revealed their real meaning, as to lead me to understand better how to use them, and to what cases they were especially applicable, than I had ever understood before.
I had been in the habit from my first conversion of having the Spirit in prayer lead me to such an appreciation of the promises, as I never should have gotten by any study of my own. I had very frequently had the promises so applied, had so applied and used them, as to find that they had a much wider application in their spirit than a mere critical examination of their letter would have warranted. I was led frequently to see that the New Testament writers quoted the promises of the Old Testament in such a way as to cover much more ground than the mere letter of the promises would have warranted. But this experience of mine at De Kalb was extraordinary in this respect. I cannot tell how absurd unbelief looked to me, and how certain it was in my mind that God would answer prayer--and those prayers that from day to day and from hour to hour I found myself offering in such agony and faith. I had no idea in my mind of the shape the answer would take, the locality in which the prayers would be answered, or the exact time of the answer. My impression was that the answer was near, even at the door; and I felt myself strengthened in the divine life, put on the harness for a mighty conflict with the powers of darkness, and expected soon to see a far more powerful outpouring of the Spirit of God in that new country where I had been laboring.
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