The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
Revival in Rochester, New York, 1830
I went from New York and spent a few weeks in Whitestown, being solicited in the meantime to return to Philadelphia, and also to New York; and as was common, I was pressed to go in many directions, and was greatly at a loss what was my duty. But among others a pressing invitation was received from the Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester, of which Brother Parker had been pastor, to go there and supply them for a season. I inquired into the circumstances, and found that on several accounts it was a very unpromising field of labor at that time. There were but three Presbyterian churches in Rochester. The Third Church, that extended the invitation to me, had no minister, and religion was in a low state. The Second Presbyterian Church, or "the Brick Church," as it was called, had a pastor, an excellent man; but in regard to his preaching there was considerable division in the church, and he was restive and about to leave. There was a controversy existing between an elder of the Third Presbyterian Church and the pastor of the First Church that was about to be tried before the presbytery. This and other matters had created an unchristian state of feeling to considerable extent in both churches and altogether it seemed a forbidding field of labor at that time. The friends at Rochester were exceedingly anxious to have me go there--I mean the members of the Third Church. Being left without a pastor they felt as if there was great danger that they would be scattered, and perhaps annihilated as a church unless something could be done to revive religion amongst them. With these pressing invitations before me from so many points of the compass, I felt, as I have often done, greatly perplexed. I remained at my father-in-law's, and considered the subject until I felt that I must take hold and work somewhere. Accordingly we packed our trunks and went down to Utica, about seven miles distant from my father-in-law's, where I had many praying friends. We arrived there in the afternoon, and in the evening a considerable number of the leading brethren, in whose prayers and wisdom I had a great deal of confidence, at my request met for consultation and prayer in regard to my next field of labor. I laid all the facts before them in regard to Rochester; and so far as I was acquainted with them, the leading facts in respect to the leading fields to which I was invited at that time. Rochester seemed to be the least inviting of them all.
After talking the matter all over, and having several seasons of prayer interspersed with our conversation, the brethren gave their opinions one after another in relation to what they thought it wise for me to do. They were unanimous in the opinion that Rochester was too uninviting a field of labor to be put at all in competition with New York or Philadelphia, and some other fields to which I was then invited. They were firm in the conviction that I should go east from Utica, and not west. At the time this was my own impression and conviction; and I retired from this meeting, as I supposed settled not to go to Rochester but to New York or Philadelphia. This was before railroads existed; and when we parted that evening I expected to take the canal boat--which was the most convenient way for a family to travel--and start in the morning for New York. But after I retired to my lodging the question was presented to my mind under a different aspect. Something seemed to question me --"What are the reasons that deter you from going to Rochester?" I could readily enumerate them; but then the question returned--"Ah! but are these good reasons? Certainly you are needed at Rochester all the more because of these difficulties. Do you shun the field because there are so many things that need to be corrected, because there is so much that is wrong? But if all was right, you would not be needed."
I soon came to the conclusion that we were all wrong; and that the reasons that had determined us against my going to Rochester, were the most cogent reasons for my going. I concluded that I was more needed at that time in Rochester than in any of the fields that were open to me. I felt ashamed to shrink from undertaking the work because of its difficulties; because it was strongly impressed upon my mind that the Lord would be with me, and that that was my field. My mind became entirely decided before I retired to rest, that Rochester was the place to which the Lord would have me go. I informed my wife of my decision; and accordingly early in the morning, before the people were up much in the city, the packet canal boat came along, and we embarked and went westward instead of eastward, and made our way to Rochester. The brethren in Utica were greatly surprised when they learned of this change in our destination, and awaited the result with a good deal of solicitude, as I learned. We arrived in Rochester early in the morning, and were invited to take up our lodgings for the time with Brother Josiah Bissell, who was the leading elder in the Third Church, and who was the person that had complained to the presbytery respecting Dr. Penny. On my arrival I met my cousin Frederick Starr in the street who invited me to his house. He was an elder in the First Presbyterian Church, and hearing that I was expected at Rochester was very anxious to have his pastor, Dr. Penny, meet and converse with me and be prepared to cooperate with me in my labors. As I declined his kind invitation to go to his house, informing him that I was to be the guest of Mr. Bissell he called on me immediately after breakfast and informed me that he had arranged an interview between myself and Dr. Penny, at his house at that hour. I hastened to meet the doctor and we had a cheering Christian interview. When I commenced my labors Dr. Penny attended our meetings and soon invited me to his pulpit. Mr. Starr exerted himself to bring about a good understanding between the pastors and churches and a great change soon manifested itself in the attitude and spiritual state of the churches.
There were soon some very marked conversions. The wife of a prominent lawyer in that city, was one of the first converts that was much known in the city. She was a lady of high standing, well-known, a lady of culture and extensive influence. Her conversion was a very marked one. The first that I saw her a lady friend of hers came with her to my room, and introduced her. The lady who introduced her was a Christian woman, who had found that she was very much exercised in her mind, and persuaded her to come and see me. Mrs. Matthews had been a gay, worldly woman, and very fond of society. She afterwards told me that when I first came there she greatly regretted it, and feared there would be a revival; and if so it would greatly interfere with the pleasures and amusements that she had promised herself that winter. On conversing with her I found that the Spirit of the Lord was indeed dealing with her in an unsparing manner. She was bowed down with great conviction of sin. After considerable conversation with her, I pressed her hard then and there to give herself to Christ--to renounce sin, and the world, and self, and everything for Christ. I saw that she was a very proud woman, and this struck me as rather the most marked feature of her character. At the conclusion of our conversation we knelt down to pray; and my mind being full of the subject of the pride of her heart as it was manifested, I very soon introduced the text, "Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." This I seemed to be led to by the Spirit of prayer almost irresistibly. I turned this subject over in prayer; and I almost immediately heard Mrs. Matthews, as she was kneeling by my side, repeating that text: "Except ye be converted and become as little children"--"as little children"--"Except ye be converted and become as little children ." I observed that her mind was taken with that, and the Spirit of God was pressing it upon her heart. I therefore continued to pray and hold that subject before her mind, and holding her up before God as needing that very thing to be converted--to become as a little child. I besought the Lord to convert her, to make her as a little child, to put away her pride and her loftiness of spirit and bring her down into the attitude of a little child. I felt that the Lord was answering prayer. I felt sure that He was, and had no doubt, I believe, in my mind, that the Lord was doing the very work that I asked Him to do. Her heart broke down, her sensibility gushed forth, and before we rose from our knees she was indeed a little child. When I stopped praying and opened my eyes and looked at her, her face was turned up toward heaven, and the tears streaming over her face; and she was in the attitude of praying that she might be made a little child. She rose up, became peaceful, settled into a joyous faith, and retired. From that moment she was outspoken in her religious convictions, and zealous for the conversion of her friends. Her conversion of course produced much excitement among that class of people to which she belonged.
I had never, I believe except in rare instances, until I went to Rochester, used as a means of promoting revivals, what has since been called "the anxious seat." I had sometimes asked persons in the congregation to stand up, but this I had not frequently done. However, in studying upon the subject I had often felt the necessity of some measure that would bring sinners to a stand. From my own experience and observation I had found, that with the higher classes especially, the greatest obstacle to be overcome was their fear of being known as anxious inquirers. They were too proud to take any position that would reveal them to others as anxious for their souls. I had found also that something was needed more than I had practiced to make the impression on them that they were expected then and there to give up their hearts; and something that would call them to act, and act as publicly before the world as they had in their sins; something that would commit them publicly to the service of Christ; some public manifestation or demonstration that would declare to all around them that they abandoned a sinful life then and there, and committed themselves to Jesus Christ. When I had called them simply to stand up in the public congregation, I found that this had had a very good effect, and so far as it went it answered the purpose for which it was intended. But after all I had felt for some time that something more was necessary to bring them out from among the mass of the ungodly to a public renunciation of their sinful ways, and a public committal of themselves to God.
At Rochester, if I recollect right, I first introduced this measure. This was years after the cry had been raised of "New Measures." A few days after the conversion of Mrs. Matthews I made a call, I think for the first time, upon all that class of persons whose convictions were so ripe that they were willing then and there to renounce their sins and give themselves to God, to come forward to certain seats which I requested to be vacated, and offer themselves up to God while we made them subjects of prayer. A much larger number came forward than I expected, and amongst others another prominent lady; and several others of her acquaintance, and belonging to the same circle of society, came forward. This increased the excitement and interest among that class of people, and it was soon seen that the Lord was aiming at the conversion of the highest classes of society. My meetings soon became thronged with that class. The lawyers, physicians, merchants, and indeed all the most intelligent class of society, became more and more interested, and more and more easily influenced to give their hearts to God. Very soon the work took effect extensively among the lawyers in that city. There has always been a large number of the leading lawyers of the state resident at Rochester. The work soon got hold of numbers of those. They became very anxious, and came freely to our meetings of inquiry; and numbers of' them came forward to the anxious seat, as it has since been called, and publicly gave their hearts to God.
I recollect one evening after preaching, three of them followed me to my room, all of them deeply convicted; and all of them had been, l believe, on the anxious seat, but were not clear in their minds, and felt that they could not go home until they were convinced their peace was made with God. I conversed with them, and prayed with them; and I believe, before they left they all found peace in believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. I should have said that very soon after the work commenced, the difficulties between Brother Bissell and Dr. Penny were healed; and all the distractions and collisions that had existed there were adjusted, so that a Spirit of universal kindness and fellowship pervaded all the churches so far as I could learn.
The work continued to increase, and I had an appointment in the First Church. There had been a military parade in the city that day. The militia had been called out, and I had feared that the excitement of the parade might divert the attention of the people and mar the work of the Lord. The house was very much packed, filled to its utmost capacity in every part. Dr. Penny had introduced the services, and was engaged in the first prayer, when I heard something which I supposed to be the report of a gun, and the jingling of glass as if a window had been broken by it. My thought was that some careless one of the trainers on the outside had fired so near the window as to break a pane of glass. But before I had time to think again, Dr. Penny leaped from the pulpit over me, for I was kneeling and leaning upon the sofa behind him. The pulpit was in the front of the church, between the two doors. The back end of the church came up to the brink of the canal. The congregation in a moment fell into a perfect panic, and rushed for the doors and the windows as if they were all distracted. One elderly lady held up a window in the rear of the church, where several, as I was informed, leapt out into the canal. The rush was terrific. Some jumped over the galleries into the aisles below; some actually ran from slip to slip on the tops of the pews; they ran over each other in the aisles. I stood up in the pulpit, and not knowing what had happened I put up my hands and cried at the top of my voice, "Be quiet! Be quiet!" Directly a couple of ladies rushing up into the pulpit, one on the one side and the other on the other side, caught hold of me in a state of distraction. Dr. Penny ran out into the streets, and they were getting out in every direction as fast as they could. As I did not know that there was any danger, the scene looked so ludicrous to me that I could scarcely refrain from laughing. They rushed over each other in the aisles, so that in several instances I observed men picking themselves up, and as they rose throwing weaker ones as they had stumbled upon them off "heads and points." They got out of the house as soon as they could. Several were considerably hurt, but no one killed. But the house was strewed with all sorts of, especially female apparel. Some of them had their dresses torn off around near the bottom; and bonnets, shawls, gloves, handkerchiefs, and parts of dresses, were scattered in every direction. I learned that a large quantity of female apparel, parts of female dress, was left in the aisles and scattered about the house. The gentlemen had very generally gone out without their hats, I believe; and many persons had been wounded and made sore by the awful rush.
I afterwards learned that the walls of the church had been settling for some time, the ground being made very damp by its proximity to the canal. The church was built of stone, and was consequently very heavy; the ground was clay, and the building had settled. It had been spoken of in the congregation as not in a satisfactory state; and some were afraid that either the tower would fall, or the roof, or the walls of the building, would come down. Of this I had heard nothing myself. The noise that I heard was made by a timber in the roof, falling end downwards, and breaking through the plastering right above the lamp in front of the organ. The plastering broke the lamp, which created the jingling of glass that I heard. The people of the city being afraid of the house, took the alarm and rushed out, as I have described. Dr. Penny said that when the timber fell, he opened his eyes as he was leading in prayer, and saw what was done; and thinking that no doubt the roof was falling, he leaped from the pulpit and got out as soon as he could. On examining the house it was found that the walls of the house had spread in such a manner that there was indeed danger of the roof falling in. The pressure each night in the gallery was so great as to spread the walls on each side until there was real danger of the peoples being injured. At the time this occurred, I greatly feared, as I suppose others did, that it would mar the work; it created so great an excitement, and withal rendered it impossible to hold our meetings any more in that house. But it seemed not to mar the work. The Spirit of the Lord had taken hold of the work in earnest, and nothing seemed to stay it.
The Brick Church was thrown open to us, and its pastor about that time took his dismissal and went to another field. From that time our meetings alternated between the Second and Third Presbyterian churches, the people of the First Church and congregation attending as far as they could get into the house; and the three Presbyterian churches, and indeed Christians of every denomination generally seemed to make common cause, and entirely united in their efforts, and went to work with a will to pull sinners out of the fire. We were obliged to hold meetings almost continually. I preached nearly every night, and three times on the Sabbath. We held our meetings of inquiry, after the work took on such a powerful type, very frequently in the morning. One morning I recollect we had been holding a meeting of inquiry, and a gentleman was present and was converted there who was the son-in-law of a very praying, godly woman belonging to the Third Church. She had been very anxious about him, and had been spending much time in prayer for him. When he returned from the meeting of inquiry he was full of joy, and peace, and hope. She had been spending the time in earnest prayer that God would convert him at that meeting. As soon as she met him and he declared his conversion to her, and from his countenance she saw that it was really so, it overcame her, and she swooned away and fell dead. This was a very striking fact, and served rather to increase the solemnity. Another man that lived on the west side of the river, and below the city a mile or more, was under great conviction for several days, and finally was suddenly and powerfully converted. The reaction in his mind was so great, and his joy so overwhelming, that he also fell dead.
There was at that time a high school in Rochester, presided over by a Mr. Benedict, the son of Abner Benedict, then pastor of the church at Brighton near Rochester. Mr. Benedict was a skeptic, but was at the head of a very large and flourishing high school. As the school was made up of both sexes, a Miss Allen was his assistant and associate in the school at the time. Miss Allen was a Christian woman. The students attended the religious services, and many of them soon became deeply anxious about their souls. One morning Mr. Benedict found that his classes could not recite. When he came to have them before him they were so anxious about their souls that they wept, and he saw that they were in such a state that it very much confounded him. He called his female associate, Miss Allen, and told her that the young lads and young men were so exercised about their souls that they could not recite; and asked if they had not better send for Finney to give them instruction. She afterwards informed me of this, and said that she was very glad to have him make the inquiry, and most cordially advised him to send for me. He did so, and the revival took a tremendous hold of that school. Mr. Benedict himself was soon hopefully converted, and nearly every person in the school was converted. But a few years since Miss Allen informed me that more than forty persons that were then converted in that school had become ministers; and I am not sure but she said that more than forty of them had become foreign missionaries. That was a fact that I had not known before. She named many of them to me at the time, and a large proportion of them, certainly, had become foreign missionaries.
After remaining a few weeks at Josiah Bissell's, we took lodgings in a more central position, at the house of Mr. Beach, a lawyer of the city, who was a professedly Christian man. His wife's sister was with them, and was an impenitent girl. She was a girl of fine appearance, an exquisite singer, a cultivated lady; and, as we soon learned, was engaged in marriage to Judge Addison Gardiner, who was then judge of the supreme court of that state. He was a very proud man, and resisted the anxious seat, and spoke against it. However, he was absent a good deal from the city in holding court, and was not that winter converted. A large number of the lawyers, however, were converted; and the young lady to whom he was engaged was converted. I mention this because the Judge afterwards married her; which no doubt led to his own conversion in a revival which occurred some ten years later; the leading particulars of which I shall mention in another part of my narrative in the order of time.
This revival made a great change in the moral state and subsequent history of Rochester. The great majority of the leading men and women in the city were converted. A great number of very striking incidents occurred that I shall not soon forget. One day the lady who first visited me and whose conversion I have mentioned, called on me in company with a friend of hers with whom she wished me to converse. I did so, but found her to all appearance very much hardened, and rather disposed to trifle with the subject. Her husband was a merchant, and they were persons of high standing in the community. When I pressed her to attend to the subject, she said she would not do it because her husband would not attend to it, and she was not going to leave him. I asked her if she was willing to be lost because her husband would not attend to it; and if it was not folly to neglect her soul because he did his. She replied very promptly: "If he goes to hell I want to go. I want to go where he does. I do not want to be separated from him at any rate." It seemed that I could make but very little if any impression upon her. She had made up her mind to cleave to her husband; and if he did not attend to the salvation of his soul she would not. But from night to night I had been making appeals to the congregation, and calling forward those that were prepared to give their hearts to God; and large numbers were converted every evening.
As I learned afterwards, when this lady went home her husband said to her: "My dear, I mean to go forward tonight, and give my heart to God." "What!" said she. "I have today told Mr. Finney that I would not become a Christian, or have anything to do with it. That you did not become a Christian, and I would not; and that if you went to hell, I would go with you." "Well," said he, "I do not mean to go to hell, I have made up my mind to go forward tonight, and give my heart to Christ." "Well." said she, "then I will not go to meeting. I do not want to see it. And if you have a mind, after all, to become a Christian, you may; I won't." When the time came he went to meeting alone. The pulpit was between the doors in the front of the church. The house was a good deal crowded; but he finally got a seat near one of the aisles in quite the back part of the church. At the close of the meeting, as was my custom then, I called for those that were anxious and whose minds were made up, to come forward, and take certain seats, and occupy a certain space about the pulpit, where we could commend them to God in prayer. It afterwards appeared that after he went to meeting she went herself; but not knowing where he was, she passed up the other aisle, and took a seat almost opposite to him in the extreme part of the house. When I made the call he started immediately. She was watching to see where he was, and saw him rise to go forward. As soon as she saw him on his feet, and crowding his way along through the crowded aisle to get to the place where they were to have seats, she also started down the other aisle toward the pulpit. To their mutual surprise they met in front of the pulpit, and knelt down as subjects of prayer. A larger number obtained hope on the spot; but this husband and wife did not. They went home, too proud to say much to each other about what they had done, and spent a very restless night.
The next day about ten o'clock, I should think, he called to see me, and was shown into my room. My wife occupied a front room on the second floor; and I a room in the rear of the house, at the head of the stairs on the same floor. While I was conversing with him, the servant informed me that a lady was waiting in Mrs. Finney's room to see me. I excused myself for a few moments, and requested him to wait while I went in to see her. I found that it was the lady who but the day before had been so stubborn, and the wife of the gentleman who was in my room. Neither of them knew that the other had called to see me. I conversed with her, and found that she was on the very verge of submitting to Christ. I had learned that he was also, to all appearance, in the same state. I then returned to him in my own room, and said to him, "I am going to pray with a lady in Mrs. Finney's room; and we will go in there, if you please, and all join in prayer together." He followed me; and who should the lady turn out to be but his own wife! They looked at each other with surprise, but were both greatly affected, each to find the other there. We knelt down to pray. I had not proceeded far in my prayer before she began to weep, and to pray audibly for her husband. I stopped and listened, and found that she had lost all concern for herself, and was struggling in an agony of prayer for his conversion. His heart seemed to break and give way, and just at this time the bell rang for our dinner. I thought it would be well to leave them together alone. I therefore touched my wife, and we rose silently and went down to dinner, leaving them in prayer. We took a hasty dinner and returned, and found them as mellow, and as humble, and as loving as could be desired.
I have not said much as yet of the Spirit of prayer that prevailed in this revival, which I must not omit to mention. When I was on my way to Rochester, as we passed through a village some thirty miles east of Rochester, a brother minister whom I knew seeing me on board the canal boat, jumped on to have a little conversation with me, intending to ride but a little way and jump off and return. He however became so interested in conversation, and upon finding where I was going he made up his mind to keep on and go with me to Rochester; and he did so. He almost immediately fell under great conviction, and the work was very deep with him. We had been there but a few days when this minister became so convicted that he could not help weeping aloud at one time as he passed along the street. The Lord gave him a powerful Spirit of prayer, and his heart was broken. As he and I prayed much together, I was struck with his faith in regard to what the Lord was going to do there. I recollect he would say, "Lord, I do not know how it is; but I seem to know that Thou art going to do a great work in this city." The Spirit of prayer was poured out powerfully, so much so that some persons stayed away from the public services to pray, being unable to restrain their feelings under preaching.
And here I must introduce the name of a man, whom I shall have occasion to mention frequently, Mr. Abel Clary. He was the son of a very excellent man, and an elder of the church where I was converted. He was converted in the same revival in which I was. He had been licensed to preach; but his Spirit of prayer was such, he was so burdened with the souls of men, that he was not able to preach much, his whole time and strength being given to prayer. The burden of his soul would frequently be so great that he was unable to stand, and he would writhe and groan in agony in a most wonderful manner. I was well acquainted with him, and knew something of the wonderful Spirit of prayer that was upon him. He was a very silent man, as almost all are who have that powerful Spirit of prayer.
The first I knew of his being at Rochester, a gentleman who lived about a mile west of the city called on me one day, and asked me if I knew a Mr. Abel Clary, a minister. I told him that I did know him well. "Well," said he, "he is at my house, and has been there for so long a time,"--I forget how long, but nearly from the first of my being in Rochester. Says he, "I don't know what to think of him." I said, "I have not seen him at any of our meetings." "No," he replied. "he cannot go to meeting, he says. He prays nearly all the time, day and night," said he, "and in such an agony of mind that I do not know what to make of it. Sometimes he cannot even stand on his knees, but will lie prostrate on the floor and groan; and then throw himself upon the bed and roll from side to side, and groan and pray in a manner that quite astonishes me." I inquired what he said. He replied, "He does not say much. He cannot go to meeting he says; but his whole time is given to prayer." I said to the brother, "I understand it; please keep still. It will all come out right; he will surely prevail."
I knew at the time a considerable number of men who were exercised in the same way. A Deacon Pond, of Camden, Oneida County; a Deacon Truman, of Rodman, Jefferson County; a Deacon Baker of Adams in the same county; this Mr. Clary, and many others among the men, and a large number of women, partook of the same Spirit, and spent a great part of their time in prayer. Brother, or as we called him, Father Nash, a minister who in several of my fields of labor came to me and aided me, was another of those men that had such a powerful Spirit of prevailing prayer. This Mr. Clary continued in Rochester as long as I did, and did not leave it until after I had left. He never, that I could learn, appeared in public, but gave himself wholly to prayer.
There were a good many cases in Rochester in which people were exercised with this spirit of agonizing travail of soul. I have said that the moral aspect of things was greatly changed by this revival. It was a young city, full of thrift and enterprise, and full of sin. The inhabitants were intelligent and enterprising in the highest degree; but as the revival swept through the town and converted the great mass of the most influential people both male and female, the change in the order, sobriety, and morality of the city was wonderful.
At a subsequent period, which I shall mention in its place, I was conversing with a lawyer who was converted at this revival of which I have been speaking, and who soon after had been made district attorney of the city, the same that some call prosecuting attorney. His business was to superintend the prosecution of criminals. From his position he was made thoroughly acquainted with the history of crime in that city. In speaking of the revival in which he was converted, he said to me many years afterwards: "I have been examining the records of the criminal courts, and I find this striking fact, that whereas our city has increased since that revival three-fold, there is not one third as many prosecutions for crime as there had been up to that time. Thus crime," he says, "has decreased two thirds, and the population has increased two thirds. This is," he said, "the wonderful influence that that revival had had upon the community." Indeed by the power of that revival public sentiment has been molded. The public affairs of the city have been, in a great measure in the hands of Christian men. The great weight of character has been on the side of Christ, and their public business had been conducted accordingly.
Among other conversions I must not forget to mention that of Samuel D. Porter, a prominent citizen in that place. He was at the time a bookseller, and in partnership with a Mr. Everard Peck, who was the father of our late Professor Peck. Mr. Porter was an infidel; not an atheist, but a disbeliever in the divine authority of the Bible. He was a reader and a thinker, a man of keen, shrewd mind, strong will, and most decided character. He was, I believe, a man of good outward morals, and a gentleman highly respected. He came to my room early one morning and said to me, "Mr. Finney, there is a great movement here on the subject of religion, but I am a skeptic; and I want you to prove to me that the Bible is true." The Lord enabled me at once to discern his state of mind so far as to decide the course I should take with him. I said to him: "Do you believe in the existence of God?" "Oh yes!" he said, "I am not an Atheist." "Well, do you believe that you have treated God as you ought? Have you respected His authority? Have you loved Him? Have you done that which you thought would please Him, and with the design to please Him? Don't you admit that you ought to love Him, and ought to worship Him, and ought to obey Him, according to the best light you have?" "O yes!" he said, "I admit all this." "But have you done so?" I asked. "Why no," he answered, "I cannot say that I have." "Well then." I replied, "why should I give you farther information, and farther light, if you will not do your duty and obey the light you already have? Now," said I, "when you will make up your mind to live up to your convictions, to obey God according to the best light you have; when you will make up your mind to repent of your neglect thus far, and to please God just as well as you know how the rest of your life, I will try to show you that the Bible is from God. Until then it is of no use for me to do any such thing." I did not sit down, and I think had not asked him to sit down. He replied. "l do not know but that is fair," and retired.
I heard no more of him until the next morning early, soon after I arose, he came to my room again; and as soon as he came in he slapped his hands and said: "Mr. Finney, God has wrought a miracle! I went down to the store," he continued, "after I left your room, thinking of what you had said; and I made up my mind that I would repent of what I knew was wrong in my relations to God, and that hereafter I would live according to the best light I had. And when I made up my mind to this," said he, "my feelings so overcame me that I fell; and I do not know but I should have died if it had not been for Mr. Peck, who was with me in the store." From this time he has been, as all who know him are aware, a praying, earnest Christian man. I mention this case particularly because this same Mr. Porter has been for many years one of the trustees of Oberlin College, has stood by us through all our trials, and has aided us with his whole influence, and his purse.
The means used for the promotion of this revival were precisely the same that had been used in all the revivals that l had witnessed before, with the exception, as I have said, of what has since been termed "the anxious seat." I found, as I expected, that this was a great power for good. If men who were under conviction refused to come forward publicly and renounce their sins and give themselves to God, this fact disclosed to them more clearly the pride of their hearts. If, on the other hand, they broke over all those considerations that stood in the way of their doing it, it was taking a great step; and as I found continually was the very step that they needed to take. And when the truth was explained to them, and they were made intelligent, and the very duty to be performed was placed before them before they were pressed to come forward, in great numbers of instances, as was afterwards ascertained, they indeed did as they promised to do, and this was one of the means used by the Spirit of God to bring them to a present submission to, and acceptance of Christ. I had been long of opinion that a principal reason why so few were converted while under the voice of the living preacher was, that they were not brought to the point, and instant submission demanded of them. Ministers had been in the habit of preaching to sinners sermons pointing out to them their duty; but then in all probability admonishing them at the close that their nature must be changed by the Spirit of God or they could do nothing. Ministers had been so much afraid of dishonoring the Spirit of God as to think it their duty to call the sinner's attention to his dependence on the Spirit of God at the close of every sermon, and every exhortation to repentance.
The doctrine that sin was constitutional and belonged to the very nature, that the very nature itself must be changed by direct physical influence exerted by the Holy Spirit, compelled ministers who believed it to remind sinners of their inability to do what God required and what in their sermons they urged them to do; and thus just at the point where the sinner needed to think of Christ, of his duty, of the thing important to be done, his attention was turned back to see whether any divine influence was going to change his nature, and let the Spirit of God act upon his nature like an electric shock while he remained passive. Thus the sinner's mind was mystified; and under such preaching it was no wonder that few souls were converted. The Lord convinced me that this was no way to deal with souls. He showed me clearly that moral depravity must be voluntary, that the divine agency in regeneration must consist in teaching the soul, in argument, in persuasion, entreaty. That therefore the thing to be done was to set the sinner's duty clearly before him, and depend on the Spirit's teaching to urge him to do it; to set Christ before him, and expect the Holy Spirit to take of the things of Jesus and show them to the sinner; to set his sins before him, and expect the Holy Spirit to show him his awful wickedness, and lead him voluntarily to renounce his sins. I saw therefore clearly that to cooperate with the Spirit of God as an intelligent agent in this work, I must present the truths to be believed, the duties to be done, and the reasons for those duties. This is the very thing that the Spirit is doing, to make the sinner see and understand the force of the reasons urged by the minister, the truth of the facts stated, and to give the sinner a realizing sense of those truths which the minister presents to him, to induce him to act. Therefore to me it was, and is plain, that to divert the sinner's attention, just at that point, to his dependence on the Spirit of God, was necessarily to hinder rather than to help forward the work of the Spirit. It is the minister's duty to urge him, and the office of the Spirit to make this urgency effectual to overcome his voluntary opposition. Therefore to me it was plain that it was totally unphilosophical and absurd when calling on the sinner to do his duty, to tell him that he could not, to remind him that he was dependent on the Spirit of God, that his nature must be changed, and all those things which in their very nature were calculated to prevent his taking the very step which the Spirit of God was urging him to take. This kind of teaching leads the sinner to resist the Spirit of God, to wait for God to do something and to change his heart before he turns to God. The fact is, the fundamental error consists in supposing that a change of heart is a physical instead of a moral change; that is, a change in the nature instead of a change in the voluntary committal and preference of the mind.
By the kind of teaching of which I am speaking, sinners were constantly stumbled, and almost never converted under the voice of the living preacher. If they were convicted of sin and ever converted, it must of necessity have been when they forgot their theory in which they had been instructed, left entirely out of view their inability, and for the moment their dependence on the Spirit of God, and acted upon their convictions and complied with the urgency of the Spirit's teaching. It is the Spirit's office first to convict the sinner of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come; and when taught their need of the Savior, to present the Savior in His divine nature, His offices and relations, His Atonement and mercy, His willingness, His readiness, His ability to save unto the uttermost. Thus Christ promises the Holy Spirit as a teacher, to lead men by a divine moral persuasion to renounce their sins, and give themselves to God. That of which the sinner is conscious under his agency is not the personal presence of any divine agency in his mind. But he sees the truth clearly, so sees it that it makes a deep impression. His difficulties are cleared up, his errors are corrected, his mind is enlightened, the truth presses his conscience, and he feels an urgency upon his spirit immediately to submit to God. It is the truth that engages his attention. If he is a reader of his Bible, he will infer of course that this urgency that is upon him is from the Spirit of God. It is often well that he should be told that this is the way in which the Spirit of God works with him; that in resisting the truths that are before his mind, he is resisting the Holy Ghost; and that in accepting these truths cordially, he yields to divine teaching. But he should understand distinctly that the Spirit's work is not to convert him while he is passive, while he is waiting God's time; but that the Spirit of God converts or turns him by inducing him to turn himself; that the act of submission is his own act, and the Spirit is persuading him to do this; that faith is his own act, and the Spirit of God gives faith only by so presenting the truths to be believed with such a divine clearness and persuasiveness, as to lead the sinner to trust the Savior. That he gives us faith by inducing us to believe; and that he leads us to perform every duty, to repent, to believe, to submit, to love, by presenting the truths which are calculated to lead to these acts in so clear a light as to overcome our reluctance, and induce us voluntarily, with all sincerity and with all our hearts to turn to God, to trust Him, to love Him, to obey Him.
With these views of the subject I saw clearly that just at the point where the sinner is thoroughly instructed, and while under the voice of the living preacher with the strong pressure of truth set home by the Holy Ghost upon him, something was needed to induce him to act then and there upon his convictions. I concluded then, and have always thought since, that to call the sinner right out from the mixed multitude to take a stand for God, to be as open and frank in his renunciation of sin before the world as he had been in committing it; to call him to change sides, to renounce the world and come over to Christ, to renounce his own righteousness and accept that of Christ--in short to do just that which constitutes a change of heart, was just what was needed. I was not disappointed in the use of this measure. I have always found it a thing greatly needed; and I might relate scores of instances in which proud men, after resisting it for a time, saw the propriety and necessity of it, and themselves came forward to the anxious seat and gave themselves to God. And I have often been told that they believed if they had not been called on to take that step, and if they had not taken it or something equivalent to it, they never should have been converted. If I labor for the conversion of a sinner, I must say to him the things that the Spirit of God wants him to believe and to understand. I need to present before him the considerations that ought to influence his present action. In this way l cooperate with the Spirit of God; for this is the very thing the Spirit of God is endeavoring to secure, his present action in accordance with the claims of God. And I never feel as if I had done my duty till I have pressed every consideration upon the sinner's mind that seems to me at the time to be essential to his rightly understanding his duty and doing it.
In another place, when I come to speak of the next great revival in Rochester in which I was present, the truths that I am now stating will be seen to be exemplified in the conversion of the judge I have mentioned. In this revival at Rochester I am not aware that there was ever any complaint of any fanaticism, or anything that was to be deplored in its results. The revival was so powerful, it gathered in such great numbers of the most influential class in society, it made so clean a sweep, that it created a great excitement far and near. Some persons wrote letters from Rochester at the time to their friends giving an account of the work, which were read in various churches throughout several states, and were instrumental in producing great revivals of religion. Many persons came in from abroad to witness the great work of God, and were converted. I recollect that a physician was so attracted by what he heard of the work, that he came from Newark, N.J., to Rochester to see what the Lord was doing, and was himself converted there. He was a man of talents and high culture and has been for years an ardent Christian laborer for immortal souls.
One evening I recollect when I made a call for the anxious to come forward and submit, a man of the first influence in a neighboring town came forward himself, and several members of his family, and gave themselves to God. Indeed the work spread like waves in every direction. I preached in as many places around about as I had time and strength to do, while my main labors were in Rochester. I went to Canandaigua and preached several times. There the work took effect, and many were converted. The pastor, the Rev. Ansel Eddy, entered heartily into the work. A former pastor, an elderly man, an Englishman by birth, also did what he could to forward the work. I went and preached at several places around about, the names of which I cannot now recollect. But I recollect distinctly that wherever I went the Word of God took immediate effect; and it seemed only necessary to present the law of God and the claims of Christ in such relations and proportions as were calculated to secure the conversion of men, and they would be converted by scores. The greatness of the work at Rochester at that time attracted so much of the attention of ministers and Christians throughout the state of New York, throughout New England, and in many parts of the United States, that the very fame of it was an efficient instrument in the hands of the Spirit of God in promoting the greatest revival of religion throughout the land that this country had then ever witnessed. Years after this in conversing with Dr. Beecher about this powerful revival and its results, he remarked: "That was the greatest work of God, and the greatest revival of religion, that the world has ever seen in so short a time. One hundred thousand," he remarked, "were reported as having connected themselves with churches as the results of that great revival. This," he said, "is unparallelled in the history of the church and of the progress of religion." He spoke of this having been done in one year, and said that in no year during the Christian era had we any account of so great a revival of religion.
From the time of the New Lebanon convention of which I have spoken, open and public opposition to revivals of religion was less and less manifested; and especially did I meet with much less personal opposition than I had met with before. It gradually but greatly subsided. At Rochester I felt nothing of it. Indeed the waters of salvation had risen so high, revivals had become so powerful and extensive, and people had had time to become acquainted with them and their results in such measure, that men were afraid to oppose them as they had done. Ministers had come to understand them better, and the most ungodly sinners had been convinced that they were indeed the work of God. So manifestly were the great mass of the conversions sound, the converts really regenerated and made new creatures, so profoundly were individuals and whole communities reformed, and so permanent and unquestionable were the results, that the conviction became nearly universal that they were the work of God. There were so many instances of conversion that were so striking, such characters converted, and all classes, high and low, rich and poor, so thoroughly were subdued by these revivals, as almost entirely to silence open opposition. Had I time I might fill a volume with the relation of the most striking instances of conversions that have occurred under my own observation for many, many years and in many places.
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