The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
Revival at Rome
At this time Rev. Moses Gillett, pastor of the Congregational church in Rome, hearing of what the Lord was doing in Western, came in company with a Miss Huntington, one of the prominent female members of his church, to see the work that was going on. They were both greatly impressed with the work of God. I could see that the Spirit of God was stirring them up to the deepest foundations of their minds. After a few days Brother Gillett and Miss Huntington came up again. Miss Huntington was a very devout and earnest Christian girl. On their second coming up, Brother Gillett says to me, "Brother Finney, it seems to me that I have got a new Bible. I never before understood the promises as I do now; I never got hold of them before. I cannot rest," said he; "my mind is full of the subject, and the promises are new to me." This conversation, protracted as it was for some time, gave me to understand that the Lord was preparing him for a great work in his own congregation.
Soon after this, and when the revival was in its full strength at Western, Mr. Gillett persuaded me to exchange a day with him. I consented reluctantly. On the Saturday before the day of our exchange, on my way to Rome, I greatly regretted that I had consented to the exchange at that time. I felt that it would greatly mar the work in Western, because Brother Gillett would preach some of his old sermons, which I knew very well could not be adapted to the state of things. However, I knew the people were praying; and that it would not stop the work, although it might retard it. I went to Rome and preached three times on the Sabbath. To me it was perfectly manifest that the Word took great effect. I could see during the day that many heads were down, and that a great number of them were bowed down with deep conviction for sin. I preached in the morning on the text, "The carnal mind is enmity against God," and followed it up with something in the same direction in the afternoon and evening--I do not recollect the texts. I waited on Monday morning till Brother Gillett returned from Western. I told him what my impressions were in respect to the state of the people. He did not seem to realize that the work was beginning with such power as I supposed. But he wanted to call for inquirers, if there were any in the congregation, and that I should be present at the meeting.
I have said before that the means that I had all along used thus far in promoting revivals, were much prayer, secret and social, public preaching, personal conversation, and visitation from house to house for that purpose; and when inquirers became multiplied I appointed meetings for them, and invited those that were inquiring to meet where I gave them instructions suited to their necessities. These were the means, and the only means, that l had thus far used in attempting to secure the conversion of souls. Brother Gillett knew this, and wanted to call a meeting of inquiry, and wanted me to be present. I told him I would, and that he might circulate information through the village that there would be a meeting of inquiry on Monday evening. I would go to Western, and return just at evening, and take the people by surprise; it being understood that he was not to let the people know that he expected me to be present. The meeting was called at the house of one of his deacons. When we arrived, we found the large sitting room in the front part of the house crowded to its utmost capacity. Mr. Gillett looked around with surprise and manifest agitation; for he found that the meeting was composed of many of the most intelligent and influential members of his congregation, and especially was largely composed of the first class of young men in the town. We spent a little while in attempting to converse with them, and I soon saw that the feeling was so deep that there was danger of an outburst of feeling that would be almost uncontrollable. I therefore said to Mr. Gillett, "It won't do to continue the meeting in this shape. I will make some remarks such as they need, and then dismiss them; enjoining it upon them so far to suppress their feelings as not to make any outcries in the streets as they are going home."
Nothing had been said or done to create any excitement in the meeting. The feeling was all spontaneous. The work was with such power that only a few words of conversation would make the stoutest men writhe on their seats as if a sword had been thrust into their hearts. It would probably not be possible for one who had never witnessed such a scene to realize what the power of the truth sometimes is in the hands of the Holy Ghost. It was indeed a sword, and a two-edged sword. The pain that it produced when searchingly presented in a few words of conversation, would create a distress that seemed unendurable. Mr. Gillett became very much agitated. He turned pale, and with a good deal of agitation he said. "What shall we do? What shall we do?" I put my hand on his shoulder and said in a whisper, "Keep quiet. Keep quiet, Mr. Gillett." I then addressed them in as gentle but plain a manner as I could; calling their attention at once to their only remedy, and assuring them that it was a present and all-sufficient remedy. I pointed them to Christ as the Savior of the world, and kept on in this strain as long as they could well endure it, which indeed was but a few moments. Brother Gillett became so agitated that I stepped up to him and taking him by the arm I said. "Let us pray." We knelt down in the middle of the room where we had been standing. I led in prayer in a low, unimpassioned voice, but interceded with the Savior to interpose His blood then and there, and to lead all these sinners to accept the salvation which He proffered and to believe to the saving of their souls. The agitation deepened every moment; and as I could hear their sobs, and breathing, and sighs, I closed my prayer and rose suddenly from my knees. They all arose, and I said: "Now please go home without speaking a word to each other. Say nothing--try to keep silent, and do not break out into any boisterous manifestation of feeling; and as you cannot talk or speak to each other and still control your feelings, please to go without saying a word, to your rooms."
At this moment, a young man by the name of Wright, a clerk in Mr. Huntington's store, being one of the first young men in the place, so nearly fainted that he fell on some young men that stood near him; and they all of them partially swooned away, and fell together. This had well-nigh produced a loud shrieking, but I hushed them down, and said to the young men, "Please set that door wide open, and go out; and let them all retire in silence." They did as I requested. They did not shriek: but they went out sobbing and sighing, and their sobs and sighs could be heard till they got out into the street. This Mr. Wright to whom I have alluded, afterward told me that he was obliged to hold his mouth with the full strength of his arms till he got home, his distress was so great. He kept silence till he entered the door where he lived, but he could contain himself no longer. He shut the door, fell upon the floor, and burst out into a loud wailing in view of his awful condition. This brought the family around him very quick, and scattered conviction among the whole of them.
I afterwards learned that similar scenes occurred in several families. Several, as it was afterwards ascertained, were converted at the meeting, and went home so full of joy that they could hardly contain themselves.
The next morning, as soon as it was fairly day, people began to call at Mr. Gillett's to have us go and visit their families, whom they represented as being under the greatest conviction. We took a hasty breakfast, and started out. As soon as we were in the streets, the people ran out from many houses and begged us to go into their houses. As we could visit but one place at a time, when we went into one house the neighbors would rush in and fill the largest room. We would stay and give them instruction for a short time, and then go to another house, and the people would follow us. We found a most extraordinary state of things. Convictions were so deep and universal that we would sometimes go into a house and find some in a kneeling posture, some prostrate on the carpet, some bathing the temples of their friends with camphor, and rubbing them to keep them from fainting, and as they feared from dying.
We visited, and conversed, and prayed in this manner from house to house till noon. I then said to Mr. Gillett, "This will never do; we must have a meeting of inquiry. We cannot go from house to house; and we are not meeting the wants of the people at all." He agreed with me, but the question arose, where shall we have the meeting? A Mr. Flint, a religious man, at that time kept a hotel on the corner at the center of the town. He had a large, long dining room; and Mr. Gillett said. "I will step in and see if I cannot be allowed to appoint the meeting of inquiry in his dining room." Without difficulty he obtained consent, and then went immediately to the public schools and gave notice that at one o'clock there would be a meeting of inquiry at Mr. Flint's dining room. We went home and took a hasty dinner and started for the meeting. We saw people hurrying, and some of them actually running to the meeting. They were coming from every direction. By the time we were there, the room, though a large one, was crammed to its utmost capacity. Persons of both sexes and of all ages crowded the apartment. This meeting was very much like the one we had had the night before. The feeling was overwhelming. The Word of God was truly the sword of the Spirit; and some men of the strongest nerves were so cut down by the remarks which were made that they were unable to help themselves and had to be taken home by their friends. This meeting lasted till nearly night. It resulted in a great number of hopeful conversions, and was the means of greatly extending the work on every side.
I preached that evening, and Mr. Gillett appointed a meeting for inquiry the next morning in the court house. This was a much larger room than the dining hall, though it was not so central. However, at the hour the court house was crowded to its utmost capacity, and we spent a good part of the day in giving instructions. We adapted our instructions as much as possible to the state of the people, and the work went on with wonderful power. I preached again in the evening, and Mr. Gillett appointed a meeting of inquiry the next morning at the church, as no other room in the village was then large enough to hold the inquirers. That evening, if l rightly remember the order of things, we undertook to hold a prayer and conference meeting in a large schoolhouse. But the meeting was hardly begun before the feeling deepened so much that, to prevent an undesirable outburst of overwhelming feeling, I proposed to Mr. Gillett that we should dismiss the meeting, and request the people to go in silence, and Christians to spend the evening in secret prayer, or in family prayer, as might seem most desirable. Sinners we exhorted not to sleep until they gave their hearts to God.
After this the work became so general that I preached every night, I think, for twenty nights in succession, and twice on the Sabbath. Our prayer meetings during this time were held in the church. In the daytime the prayer meeting was held on one part of the day, and a meeting for inquiry, on another part of the day. Every day, if I remember aright, after the work had thus commenced, we held a prayer meeting and a meeting for inquiry, and preaching in the evening. There was a solemnity covering the whole place, an awe that made everybody feel that God was there. Ministers came in from neighboring towns, and expressed great astonishment at what they saw and heard, as well they might. Conversions multiplied so rapidly that we had no way of learning who they were. I therefore every evening, at the close of my sermon, requested all who had been converted that day to come forward and report themselves in front of the pulpit, that we might have a little conversation with them. We were every night surprised by the numbers and class of persons that came forward.
At one of our morning prayer meetings, the lower part of the church was full. I arose and was making some remarks to the people, when an unconverted man, a merchant, came into the meeting. He came along till he found a seat in front of me and near where I stood speaking. He had sat but a few moments when he fell from his seat as if he had been shot. He writhed and groaned in a terrible manner. I stepped to the pew door, and saw that it was altogether an agony of mind. A skeptical physician sat near him. He stepped out of his slip, and came and examined this man who was thus distressed. He felt his pulse, and examined the case for a few moments. He said nothing, but turned away and leaned his head against a post that supported the gallery, and manifested great agitation of mind. He said afterwards that he saw at once that it was distress of mind, and it took his skepticism entirely away. He was soon after hopefully converted. We engaged in prayer for the man who fell in the pew, and before he left the house I believe his anguish passed away, and he rejoiced in Christ.
Another skeptical physician, a very amiable man but a skeptic, had a little daughter, Hannah, and a very praying wife. Little Hannah, a girl perhaps eight or nine years old, was strongly convicted of sin, and her mother was greatly interested in her state of mind. But her father was at first quite indignant. He said to his wife, "The subject of religion is too high for me. I never could understand it. And do you tell me that that little child understands it so as to be intelligently convicted of sin? I do not believe it. I know better. I cannot endure it. It is fanaticism; it is madness." Nevertheless, the mother of the child held fast in prayer. The doctor made these remarks, as I learned, with a good deal of spirit. Immediately he took his horse and went several miles to see a patient. On his way, as he afterwards remarked, that subject was on his mind in such a manner that it was all open to his understanding; and the whole plan of salvation by Christ was so clear to him that he saw that a child could understand it. He wondered that it had ever seemed so mysterious to him. He regretted exceedingly that he had said what he had to his wife about little Hannah, and felt in haste to get home that he might take it back. He soon came home, but another man; told his wife what had passed in his own mind; encouraged dear little Hannah to come to Christ; and both father and daughter have since been earnest Christians, and have lived long and done much good.
But in this revival, as in others that I have seen, God did some terrible things in righteousness. On one Sabbath whilst I was there, as we came out of the pulpit and were about to leave the church, a man came in haste to Mr. Gillett and myself and requested us to go to a certain place, saying that a man had fallen down dead there. I was engaged in conversing with somebody, and Mr. Gillett went alone. When I was through with the conversation I went to Mr. Gillett's house, and he soon returned and related this fact. Three men who had been opposing the work had met that Sabbath day and spent the day in drinking and ridiculing the work. They went on in this way until one of them suddenly fell down dead. When Mr. Gillett arrived at the house and the circumstances were related to him he said, "There! There is no doubt but that man had been stricken down by God, and has been sent to hell." His companions were speechless. They could say nothing, for it was evident to them that their conduct had brought upon him this awful stroke of divine indignation.
As the work proceeded, it gathered in nearly the whole population. Nearly every one of the lawyers, merchants, and physicians, and nearly all the principal men, and indeed nearly all the adult population of the village were brought in, and especially those who had belonged to Mr. Gillett's congregation. He said to me before I left, "So far as my congregation is concerned, the Millennium is come already. My people are all converted. Of all my past labors I have not a sermon that is suited at all to my congregation, for they are all Christians." Mr. Gillett afterwards reported that during the twenty days that I spent at Rome there were five hundred conversions in that town, or an average of twenty five per day. At evening when I requested that any who had been converted during the day should come forward and report themselves, the people would remain standing instead of retiring, to see who came forward to report themselves as having been converted; and the utmost astonishment was expressed by those present when they saw who came forward.
During the progress of this work, a good deal of excitement sprung up in Utica, and some were disposed to ridicule the work at Rome. Mr. Henry Huntington, who lived at Rome, was a very prominent citizen, and perhaps I may say stood at the head of society there in point of wealth and of intelligence. But he was skeptical, or perhaps I should say he held Unitarian views. He was a very moral and respectable man, and a man highly educated; and he held his peculiar views unobtrusively, saying very little to anybody about them. The first Sabbath I preached there Mr. Huntington was present, and he was so astonished, as he afterwards told me, at my preaching, that he made up his mind that he would not go again. He went home and said to his family: "That man is mad, and I should not be surprised if he set the town on fire." He stayed away from the meeting for some two weeks. In the meantime the work became so great as to confound his skepticism, and he was in a state of great perplexity.
He was president of a bank in Utica, and used to go down to attend the weekly meeting of the directors on a certain day. On one of these occasions one of the directors began to rally him on the state of things in Rome, as if they were all running mad there. Mr. Huntington remarked. "Gentlemen, say what you will, there is something very remarkable in the state of things in Rome. Certainly no human power or eloquence has produced what we see there. I cannot understand it. You say it will soon subside. No doubt the degree of feeling that is now in Rome must soon subside, or the people will become insane. But, gentlemen," said he, "there is no accounting for that state of feeling by any philosophy, unless there be something divine in it."
After Mr. Huntington had stayed away from the meeting about two weeks, a few of us assembled one afternoon to make him a special subject of prayer. The Lord gave us strong faith in praying for him, and we felt the conviction that the Lord was working in his soul. That evening he came to meeting. When he came into the house, Mr. Gillett whispered to me as we sat in the pulpit and said, "Brother Finney, Mr. Huntington has come. I hope you will not say anything that will offend him." "No." said I, "but I shall not spare him." In those days I was obliged to preach altogether without premeditation, for I had not an hour in a week in which I was able to be out of my bed, which I could take to arrange my thoughts beforehand. It was very common with me to wait till the congregation was assembled, and let the appearance of the state of things suggest my subject. At the time I speak of, I do not think I had a subject in my mind upon which I intended to speak when Mr. Huntington came in. When therefore I saw my congregation together, I chose my subject and preached. The Word took a powerful hold, and, as I hoped and intended, it took a powerful hold of Mr. Huntington himself. I think it was that very night, when I requested at the close of the meeting all those who had been converted that day and evening to come forward and report themselves, this Mr. Huntington was one who came deliberately, solemnly forward, and reported himself as having given his heart to God. He appeared humble and penitent, and I have always supposed was truly converted to Christ.
The state of things in the village and in the neighborhood round about was such that no one could come into the village without feeling awestricken, and the solemn impression that God was there in a peculiar and wonderful manner. As an illustration of this I will relate an incident. The sheriff of the county resided in Utica. There were two court houses in the county, one at Rome and the other at Utica; consequently the sheriff, Broadhead by name, had much business at Rome. He afterwards told me that he had heard of the state of things at Rome; and he, together with others, had a good deal of laughing in the hotel where he boarded about what they had heard. But one day it was necessary for him to go to Rome. He said that he was glad to have business there, for he wanted to see for himself what it was that people talked so much about, and what the state of things really was in Rome. He drove on in his one horse sleigh, as he told me, without any particular impression upon his mind at all until he crossed what was called the old canal, a place about a mile, I think, from the town. He said as soon as he crossed the old canal an awful impression came over him, an awe so deep that he could not shake it off'. He felt as if God pervaded the whole atmosphere. He said that this increased the whole way till he came to the village. He stopped at Mr. Flint's hotel, and the hostler came out and took his horse. He observed, he said, that the hostler looked just as he himself felt, as if he were afraid to speak. He went into the house, and found the gentleman there with whom he had business. He said they were manifestly all so much impressed they could hardly attend to business. He said that several times in the course of the short time he was there, he had to arise from the table abruptly and go to the window and look out, and try to divert his attention, to keep from weeping. He observed, he said, that everybody else appeared to feel just as he did. Such an awe, such a solemnity, such a state of things he had never had any conception of before. He hastened through with his business and returned to Utica, but, as he said, never to speak lightly of the work at Rome again. A few weeks later at Utica he was hopefully converted; the circumstances of which I shall relate in its proper place.
I have spoken of Wright's Settlement, a village northeast of Rome some two or three miles. The revival took powerful effect there, and converted the great mass of the inhabitants. The means that were used at Rome were such as I had used before, and no others: preaching, public, social, and private prayer, exhortations and personal conversation. It is difficult to conceive so deep and universal a state of religious feeling with no instance of disorder, or tumult, or fanaticism, or anything that was objectionable, as was witnessed at Rome. There are many of the converts of that revival scattered all through the land, living to this day; and they can testify that in those meetings the greatest order and solemnity prevailed, and the utmost pains were taken to guard against everything that was to be deplored. The Spirit's work was so spontaneous, so powerful, and so overwhelming, as to render it necessary to exercise the greatest caution and wisdom in conducting all the meetings in order to prevent an undesirable outburst of feeling that soon would have exhausted the sensibility of the people and brought about a reaction. But no reaction followed, as everybody knows who is acquainted with the facts. They kept up a sunrise prayer meeting for several months, and I believe for more than a year afterwards, at all seasons of the year, that was very fully attended, and was as full of interest as perhaps a prayer meeting could well be. The moral state of the people was so greatly changed that Brother Gillett often remarked that it did not seem like the same place. Indeed, it had made a clean sweep. Whatever of sin was left was obliged to hide its head. No open immorality could be tolerated there for a moment. I have only given a very faint outline of what passed at Rome. To give a faithful description of all the moving incidents that were crowded into that revival, would make a volume of itself.
I should say a few words in regard to the Spirit of prayer which prevailed at Rome at this time, I think it was on the Saturday that I came down from Western to exchange with Mr. Gillett, that I met the church in the afternoon in a prayer meeting in their house of worship. I endeavored to make them understand that God would immediately answer prayer, provided they fulfilled the conditions upon which He had promised to answer prayer, and especially if they believed in the sense of expecting Him to answer their requests. I observed that the church were greatly interested in my remarks, and their countenances manifested an intense desire to see an answer to their prayers. Near the close of the meeting, I recollect making this remark. It was before there were railroads. I said to the church, "I really believe, if you will unite this afternoon in the prayer of faith to God for the immediate outpouring of His Spirit, that you will receive an answer from heaven sooner than you would get a message from Albany by the quickest post that you could send." I said this with great emphasis, and felt it; and I observed that the people were startled with my expression of earnestness and faith in respect to an immediate answer to prayer. The fact is, I had so often seen this result in answer to prayer, that I made the remark without any misgiving. Nothing was said by any of the members of the church at the time; but I learned after the work had begun, that three or four members of the church--Mr. George Huntington, brother of Henry Huntington, and two or three other brethren--called in at Mr. Gillett's study, and felt so impressed with what had been said about speedy answers to prayer that they determined to take God at His Word, and see whether He would answer while they were yet speaking. One of them told me afterwards that they had wonderful faith given them by the Spirit of God to pray for an immediate answer; and he added, "The answer did come quicker than we could have got an answer from Albany by the quickest post we could have sent." Indeed the town was full of prayer. Go where you would you heard the voice of prayer. Pass along the streets, and if two or three Christians happened to be together, they were praying. Wherever they met they prayed. Wherever there was a sinner unconverted, especially if he manifested any opposition, you would find some two or three brothers or sisters agreeing to make him a particular subject of prayer: and it was very remarkable to see to what an extent God would answer prayer immediately.
There was the wife of an officer in the United States army residing at Rome, the daughter of a prominent citizen of that place. This lady manifested a good deal of opposition to the work, and as was reported said some strong things against it; and this led to her being made a particular subject of prayer. This had come to my knowledge but a short time before the event occurred which I am about to relate. I believe in this case, some of the principal ladies made this lady a particular subject of prayer, as she was a woman of prominent influence in the place. She was an educated lady, and was a woman of great force of character and of strong will, and of course she made her opposition felt. But almost as soon as this was known, and the Spirit of prayer was given for her in particular, the Spirit of God took her case in hand.
One evening almost immediately after I had heard of her case, and perhaps the evening of the very day that the facts came to my knowledge, after the meeting was dismissed and the people had retired, Mr. Gillett and myself had remained to the very last conversing with some persons who were deeply bowed down with conviction. As they went away and we were about to retire, the sexton came hurriedly to us as we were going out and said, "There is a lady in yonder pew that cannot get out, she is helpless. Will you not come and see her?" We returned, and Io! down in the pew was this lady of whom I have spoken, perfectly overwhelmed with conviction. The pew had been full, and she had attempted to retire with the others that went out; but as she was the last to go out she found herself unable to stand, and sunk down upon the floor, and did so without being noticed by those that preceded her. We helped her up, had some conversation with her, and found that the Lord had stricken her with unutterable conviction of sin. After praying with her, and giving her the solemn charge to give her heart immediately to Christ. I left her, and Brother Gillett, I believe, helped her home. It was a few rods to her house. We afterwards learned that when she got home, she went into a chamber by herself and spent the night. It was a cold winter's night. She locked herself in and spent the night alone. The next day she expressed hope in Christ, and so far as I have known proved to be soundly converted.
I think I should mention also the conversion of Mrs. Gillett during this revival. She was a sister of the missionary Mills, who was one of the first missionaries of the American Board. She was a beautiful woman, considerably younger than her husband, and his second wife. She had been, before Mr. Gillett married her, under conviction for several weeks, and had become almost deranged. She had the impression, if l recollect right, that she was not one of the elect, and that there was no salvation for her. Soon after the revival began in Rome, she was powerfully convicted again by the Spirit of the Lord. She was a lady of refinement, and fond of dress; and, as is very common for ladies, wore about her head and upon her person some trifling ornaments--nothing, however that I should have thought of as being any stumbling block in her way at all. Being her guest I conversed repeatedly with her as her convictions increased, but it never occurred to me that her fondness for dress could stand in the way of her being converted to God. But as the work became so powerful, her distress became alarming; and Mr. Gillett, knowing what had formerly occurred in her case, felt quite alarmed lest she should get into that state of despondency in which she had been years before. She threw herself upon me for instruction. Every time I came into the house, almost, she would immediately come to me and beg me to pray for her, and tell me that her distress was more than she could bear. She was evidently going fast to despair; but I could see that she was depending too much on me; and I therefore tried to avoid her. But every time I came into the house from visiting among the anxious, as soon as she heard me come in she would immediately throw herself upon my prayers and instructions, as if she expected something from me.
It went on thus from day to day, until one day I came into the house and turned into the study. In a few moments, as usual, she was before me, begging me to pray for her, and complaining that there was no salvation for her. I got up abruptly and left her without praying with her, and saying to her that it was of no use for me to pray for her, that she was depending upon my prayers. When I did so she sunk down as if she would faint. I left her alone notwithstanding, and went abruptly from the study to the parlor. In the course of a few moments she came rushing across the hall into the parlor, with her face all in a glow, exclaiming, "O Mr. Finney! I have found the Savior! I have found the Savior! Don't you think that it was the ornaments in my hair that stood in the way of my conversion'? I have found when I prayed that they would come up before me; and I would be tempted, as I supposed, to give them up. But," said she, "I thought they were trifles, and that God did not care about such trifles. This was a temptation of Satan. But the ornaments that I wore, continually kept coming up before my mind whenever I attempted to give my heart to God. When you abruptly left me," she said, "I was driven to desperation. I cast myself down and lo!, these ornaments came up again; and I said, I will not have these things come up again, I wilt put them away from me forever." Said she, "I renounced them, and hated them as things coming and standing in the way of my salvation. As soon as I promised to give them up, the Lord revealed Himself to my soul; and O!" said she, "I wonder I have never understood this before. This was really the great difficulty with me before when I was under conviction, my fondness for dress and I did not know it."
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