The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
Return to Oberlin and Labors There and Again in New York City and in Boston
After two months labor at Rochester I left for Oberlin and on arriving addressed myself to my work as professor and pastor of the church. The work of God revived amongst our students and people and we had a continual work of grace at this place. There occurred a considerable number of conversions every week, and almost daily through the summer, new cases were reported until I left in the fall to labor in the city of New York. This was in 1843. One of our students, the Rev. Samuel Cochran, was settled over a church in New York City; and they had taken the theater on the corner of Broadway and Prince Street, called Niblo's Garden Theater, and were holding their public services there. I remained there for several weeks--I do not recollect how long. Many very interesting cases of conversion occurred. But in a great city it is very difficult, and often impossible, to form any judgment of the extent of a revival. The people come from every part of a great mass of souls, and get convicted and converted, and are then mixed up with a vast population; so that in all probability comparatively few of those that are really blessed are known at the time.
In this revival the present governor of this state was hopefully converted. He was then a youth of perhaps sixteen or eighteen years of age. One night--the house being very much crowded--I called for those who would submit themselves to God, as usual, to come forward and take certain seats. While others were making their way slowly through the crowds in the aisle, I observed a young man coming across from a remote part of the house stepping on the tops of the slips. He had a very earnest look, and I was at the time quite impressed by the alacrity with which he came forward, stepping upon the backs of the seats. He appeared exceedingly well as a young convert, and I had no doubt then that he was truly converted to Christ. Indeed, I have not seriously doubted it since. He afterward came here to college, went through, and began the study of theology. He began this study while I was in England the first time. But about that time he became bewildered, as I think, by reading President Edwards' treatise on the freedom of the will. He came to study for the ministry. His mother, a very devout woman, was earnestly hoping that he would make a useful minister. We all had high hopes and expectations of his future usefulness, for he was a very promising young man. But he became so entangled in his metaphysical speculations as to call in question the freedom of the human will. In this state of mind he saw clearly that he could not intelligently and with hope of success, present the Gospel to men. He therefore quit his theological studies and went to teaching school. He had been in a law office as clerk before he came to Oberlin. Not finding his way out of his metaphysical speculations so as to feel clear in his mind to go forward and preach the Gospel, he finally adopted the profession of law.
It will be remembered by those who have observed and noted such facts, that the winter of 1843 was one in which revivals very extensively prevailed. I started for home about the first of March, I think, and found sleighing all the way to Oberlin. I found also, to my great satisfaction, that a continuous revival was prevailing through almost every town between here and New York. I hardly stopped at a place as we journeyed on in the stage without learning that they were holding daily meetings for prayer, and that they were in the midst of a powerful revival.
In looking back upon the extensive revivals an account of which I have given, I can truly say that I have never read or heard of such extensive revivals of religion prevailing anywhere with so little to be lamented and so little that was truly objectionable. This fact is owing, no doubt, to the very general intelligence of the American people, especially of the people of the northern states, where education is universal.
I have spoken of my return from Rochester in the spring of '43, and that winter we had an interesting revival. I should have been a little more particular in noticing some of the characteristics of that revival. Sometime in July, I believe it was, a convention of ministers met in Rochester. N.Y., to consider the question, if I recollect right, of the sanctification of the Sabbath. My friends in Rochester were very anxious to have me attend, and I did so. But the Sabbath before I went I preached on the text, "Then shall ye seek me and shall find me, when ye search for me with all your heart." The word made a profound impression. On Monday morning I started for Rochester. But it was found, although I did not know till after I left, that the students were too much impressed to go on with their recitations. The teachers seeing the state of things suspended recitations for a few days, and they gave themselves up to prayer, and to attending to the great question of their salvation. The feeling was intense, and for a few days quite overwhelming. Conversions multiplied very rapidly. But some of the students got very much excited, and one among them, a young Scotchman became quite insane. His insanity, however, lasted but a short time. Such was the state of things that my people requested me to return immediately to Oberlin. I did so, and no permanent evil resulted from the intense excitement that had prevailed for a few days while I was absent. The studies were suspended but a short time, and things went on as usual. The overexcited ones became calm. But a deep Spirit of prayer continued through the summer, with much spiritual progress among Christians, and a large number of our students were hopefully converted. There was in this revival no heretical tendency, that I recollect, at all, or anything that could properly be called fanaticism. Indeed after I returned and I think I was not absent a week, or certainly more than one Sabbath--things fell into the ordinary channel of a wholesome and powerful revival.
In the fall of 1843 I was called again to Boston. When I was there in '42, if I am not mistaken as to dates, it was the time of the greatest excitement in Boston on the subject of the second Advent of Christ. There was a tremendous movement in the public mind on that subject at that time. Mr. Miller was there lecturing on that subject, and was holding daily Bible classes, in which he was giving instruction and inculcating his peculiar views. I never was anywhere that I recollect where I saw so much that was wild and irrational as in that excitement in Boston. I attended Mr. Miller's Bible class once or twice; after which I invited him to my room, and tried to convince him that he was in error. I called his attention to the construction which he put on some of the prophecies, and as I thought showed him that he was entirely mistaken in some of his fundamental views. He replied that I had adopted a course of investigation that would detect his errors, if he had any. I tried to show him that his fundamental error was already detected. The last time that I attended his Bible class he was inculcating the doctrine which he based upon the prophecy in Daniel, that Christ would come personally and destroy his enemies in 1843. He gave what he called an exposition of the prophecy of Daniel on the subject. He said the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, that rolled down and destroyed the image there spoken of, was Christ.
When he came to my room I called his attention to the fact that the prophet affirmed expressly that the stone was, not Christ, but the kingdom of God; and that the prophet there represented the church, or the kingdom of God which was set up, as demolishing the image. This was so plain that Mr. Miller was obliged to acknowledge that that was indeed a fact; and that it was not Christ that was going to destroy those nations, but the kingdom of God. I then asked him if he supposed that the kingdom of God would destroy those nations in the sense in which he taught that they would be destroyed, with the sword, or with making war upon them. He said, No, he could not believe that. I then inquired, "Is it not really the governments that are to be overthrown, instead of the destruction of the people? And is not this to be done by the influence of the church of God in enlightening their minds by the Gospel? And if this is the meaning, where is the foundation for your teaching, that at a certain time Christ is coming in person to destroy all the peoples of these nations?" I said to him: "Now this is fundamental to your teaching. This is the great point to which you call attention in your classes; and here is a manifest error, the very words of the prophet teaching the direct opposite to what you teach." To this, as I said, he only replied, "Well, if I am in error, your course of investigation will detect it." But it was vain to reason with him and his followers at that time. Believing, as they most certainly did, that the Advent of Christ was at hand, it was no wonder that they were greatly excited, and too wild with excitement to be reasoned with to any purpose.
When I arrived there in the fall of '43 or '44, I found a very curious state of things. That particular form of excitement had blown over, but I found existing among many of the people almost every conceivable form of error. Indeed I have found that to be true of Boston of which Dr. Beecher assured me the first winter that I labored there. He said to me: "Mr. Finney, you cannot labor here as you do anywhere else. You have got to pursue a different course of instruction, and begin at the foundation; for Unitarianism is a system of denials, and under their teaching the foundations of Christianity are fallen away. You cannot take anything for granted; for having destroyed the foundations, as the Unitarians and Universalists have done, the people are all afloat. The masses have no settled opinions, and every lo here and lo there gets a hearing; and almost any conceivable form of error may get a footing here."
I have since found this to be true to a greater extent than in any other field in which I have ever labored. The masses in Boston are more unsettled in their religious convictions than in any other place that I have ever labored in, notwithstanding their intelligence; for they are surely a very intelligent people on all questions but that of religion. It is extremely difficult to make religious truths lodge in their minds, because the influence of Unitarian teaching has been to lead them to call in question all the principal doctrines of the Bible. Their system is one of denials. Their theology is negative. They deny almost everything, and affirm almost nothing. In such a field error finds the ears of the people open, and all sorts of most crazy and irrational views on religious subjects are held by a great many people.
I have spoken of the Marlborough Chapel, at that time the property of Brother Willard Sears. I began my labors there at this time, and found a very singular state of things. They had formed a church composed almost altogether of radicals, and most of the members held extreme views on various subjects. The church was mostly composed of that class of persons that had come out from other orthodox churches and united in a church at Marlborough Chapel. They were staunch, and many of them consistent, reformers. They were good people, but I cannot say that they were a united people. Their extreme views seemed to be an element of mutual repellence among them. Some of them were extreme Non-resistants, and held it to be wrong to use any physical force, or any physical means whatever, of controlling even our own children. Everything must be done by moral suasion. Upon the whole, however, they were a praying, earnest, Christian people. I found no particular difficulty in getting along with them; but at that time the Miller excitement, and various other causes, had been operating to beget a good deal of confusion among them. They were not at all in a prosperous state as a church. A young man by the name of Smith had risen up among them who professed to be a prophet. I had many conversations with him, and tried to convince him that he was all wrong, and I labored with his followers to try to make them see that he was wrong. However, I found it impossible to do anything with him, or with them, until he finally committed himself on several points, and predicted that certain things would happen at certain dates. One was that his father would die on a certain day, and on several points he committed himself to certain times.
I then said to him: "Now we shall prove you. Now the truthfulness of your pretensions will be tested. If these things that you predict come to pass, and come to pass as you say they will at certain times, then we shall have Bible authority for believing that you are a prophet. But if they do not come to pass, it will prove that you are deceived." That he could not deny. As the good providence of God would have it, these predictions related to events but a few weeks from the time the predictions were uttered. He had staked his reputation as a prophet upon the truth of these predictions, and awaited their fulfillment. Of course every one of them failed, and he failed with them, and shut up his mouth, and I never heard anything more of his predictions. But he had confused a good many minds, and really neutralized their efforts as Christians; and I am not aware that those who were his followers ever regained their former influence as Christians.
During this winter the Lord gave my own soul a very thorough overhauling, and a fresh baptism of His Spirit. I boarded at the Marlborough hotel, and my room was in one corner of the chapel building. I had my study there, and adjoining my study a bedroom. My mind was greatly drawn out in prayer for a long time, as indeed it always has been when I have labored in Boston. I have been favored there uniformly with a great deal of the Spirit of prayer. But this winter in particular my mind was exceedingly exercised on the question of personal holiness; and in respect to the state of the church, their want of power with God, and the weakness of the orthodox churches in Boston--the weakness of their faith, and their want of power in the midst of such a community. The fact that they were making little or no progress in overcoming the errors of that city, greatly affected my mind. I gave myself to a great deal of prayer. After my evening services I would retire as early as I well could; but rose up at four o'clock in the morning, because I could sleep no longer, and immediately went to the study and engaged in prayer. And so deeply was my mind exercised, and so absorbed in prayer, that I frequently continued from the time I arose at four o'clock till the gong called to breakfast at eight o'clock. My days were spent, so far as I could get time--for I had a great deal of company coming constantly to see me--in searching the Scriptures. I read nothing else all that winter but my Bible, and a great deal of it seemed new to me. Again the Lord took me as it were, from Genesis to Revelations. He led me to see the connection of things--how things predicted in the Old Testament had come out in the New Testament--the promises, the threatenings, the prophecies and their fulfillment--and indeed the whole Scripture seemed to me all ablaze with light, and not only light but it seemed as if God's Word was instinct with the very life of God.
After praying in this way for weeks and months, one morning while I was engaged in prayer the thought occurred to me, what if after all this teaching my will is not carried, and this teaching takes effect only in my sensibility? May it not be that my sensibility is affected by these revelations from reading the Bible, and that my heart is not really subdued by them? At this point several passages of Scripture occurred to me, such as this: "Line must be upon line, line upon line, precept upon precept, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little that they might go and fall backward, and be snared and taken." The thought that I might be deceiving myself by the states of my sensibility, when it first occurred to me, stung me almost like an adder. It created a pang that I cannot describe. The passages of Scripture that occurred in that direction for a few moments greatly increased my distress. But directly I was enabled to fall back upon the perfect will of God. I said to the Lord, that if He saw it was wise and best, and that His honor demanded that I should be left to be deluded and go down to hell, I accepted His will; and I said to Him "Do with me as seemeth good."
Just before this occurrence I had had a great struggle to consecrate myself to God in a higher sense than I had ever before seen to be my duty, or conceived of as possible. I had often before laid my family all upon the altar of God, and left them to be disposed of at His discretion. But at this time that I now speak of, and previously to my finally accepting the will of God, I had had a great struggle about giving up my wife to the will of God. She was in very feeble health, and it was very evident that she could not live long. I about that time had a dream about my wife that had opened the way for the struggle of which I speak. After that dream I attempted to lay her upon the altar, as I had often before done. But I had never before seen so clearly what was implied in laying her and all that I possessed upon the altar of God, and for hours I struggled upon my knees to give her up unqualifiedly to the will of God. But I found myself unable to do it. I was so shocked and surprised at this that I perspired profusely with agony. I struggled and prayed until I was exhausted, and found myself entirely unable to give her altogether up to God's will, in such a way as to make no objection to His disposing of her as He pleased.
This troubled me much. I wrote to my wife, telling her what a struggle I had had, and the concern that I felt at not being willing to commit her unqualifiedly to the perfect will of God. This was but a very short time before I had this temptation, as it now seems to me to have been, of which I have spoken, when those passages of Scripture came up distressingly to my mind, and when the bitterness almost of death seemed for a few moments to possess me at the thought that my religion might be of the sensibility only, and that God's teaching might have taken effect only in my feeling. But as I said, I was enabled, after struggling for a few moments with this discouragement and bitterness, which I have since attributed to a fiery dart of Satan, to fall back in a deeper sense than I had ever done before upon the infinitely blessed and perfect will of God. I then told the Lord that I had such confidence in Him that I felt perfectly willing to give myself, my wife and my family, and all, to be disposed of without any qualification according to His own views and will. That if He thought it best and wise to send me to hell, to do so, and I would consent to it. As to my wife, I felt also entirely willing to lay her, body and soul, upon the altar, without the least misgiving in my mind in delivering her up to the perfect will of God. I then had a deeper view of what was implied in consecration to God than I ever had before. I spent a long time upon my knees in considering the matter all over, and giving up everything to the will of God: the interests of the church, the progress of religion, the conversion of the world, and the salvation or damnation of my own soul as the will of God might decide. Indeed I recollect that I went so far as to say to the Lord with all my heart, that He might do anything with me or mine to which His blessed will could consent. That I had such perfect confidence in His goodness and love, as to believe that He could consent to do nothing to which I could object. I felt a kind of holy boldness in telling Him to do with me just as seemed to Him good. That He could not do anything that was not perfectly wise and good; and therefore I had the best of grounds for accepting whatever He could consent to in respect to me and mine. So deep and perfect a resting in the will of God I had never before known.
What has appeared strange to me is this, that I could not get hold of my former hope, nor could I recollect with any freshness any of the former seasons of communion and divine assurance that I had experienced. I may say that I gave up my hope, and rested everything upon a new foundation. I mean I gave up my hope from any past experience, and recollect telling the Lord that I did not know whether He intended to save me or not. Nor did I feel concerned to know. I was willing to abide the event. I said that if I found that He kept me, and worked in me by His Spirit, and was preparing me for heaven, working holiness and eternal life in my soul, I should take it for granted that He intended to save me; that if, on the other hand, I found myself empty of divine strength and light and love, I should conclude that He saw it wise and expedient to send me to hell; and that in either event I would accept His will. My mind settled into a perfect stillness.
This was early in the morning, and through the whole of that day I seemed to be in a state of perfect rest, body and soul. The question frequently arose in my mind during the day, "Do you still adhere to your consecration, and abide in the will of God?" I said without hesitation, "Yes, I take nothing back. I have no reason for taking anything back; I went no farther in pledges and professions than was reasonable. I have no reason for taking anything back--I do not want to take anything back." The thought that I might be lost did not distress me. Indeed, think as I might during that whole day, I could not find in my mind the least fear, the least disturbing emotion. Nothing troubled me. I was neither elated nor depressed; I was neither, as I could see, joyful nor sorrowful. My confidence in God was perfect; my acceptance of His will was perfect; and my mind was as calm as heaven. Just at evening the question arose in my mind, "What if God should send me to hell--what then?" "Why, I would not object to it." "But can He send a person to hell." was the next inquiry, "who accepts His will in the sense in which you do?" This inquiry was no sooner raised in my mind than settled. I said, "No, it is impossible. Hell could be no hell to me if I accepted God's perfect will." This sprung a vein of joy in my mind that kept developing more and more for weeks and months, and indeed I may say for years.
For years my mind was too full of joy to feel much exercised with anxiety on any subject. My prayer that had been so fervent and protracted during so long a period, seemed all to run out into, "Thy will be done." It seemed as if my desires were all met. What I had been praying for myself, I had received in a way that I least expected. Holiness to the Lord seemed to be inscribed on all the exercises of my mind. I had such strong faith that God would accomplish all His perfect will, that I could not be careful about anything. The great anxieties about which my mind had been exercised during my seasons of agonizing prayer, seemed to be set aside; so that for a long time when I went to God to commune with Him--as I did very, very frequently--I would fall on my knees and find it impossible to ask for anything with any earnestness except that His will might be done on earth as it was done in heaven. My prayers were swallowed up in that, and I often found myself smiling, as it were, in the face of God, and saying that I did not want anything. I was very sure that He would accomplish all His wise and good pleasure, and with that my soul was entirely satisfied.
Here I lost that great struggle in which I had been engaged for so long a time, and began to preach to the congregation in accordance with this my new and enlarged experience. There was a considerable number in the church, and that attended my preaching, who understood me; and they saw from my preaching what had been, and what was, passing in my mind. I presume the people were more sensible than I was myself of the great change in my manner of preaching. Of course my mind was too full of the subject to preach anything else except a full and present salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. At this time it seemed as if my soul was wedded to Christ in a sense in which I had never had any thought or conception of before. The language of the Song of Solomon was as natural to me as my breath. I thought I could understand well the state of mind he was in when he wrote that song, and concluded then, as I have ever thought since, that that song was written by him after he had been reclaimed from his great backsliding. I not only had all the freshness of my first love, but a vast accession to it. Indeed the Lord lifted me so much above anything that I had experienced before, and taught me so much of the meaning of the Bible, of Christ's relations and power and willingness, that I often found myself saying to Him, "I had not known or conceived that any such thing was true." I then realized what is meant by the saying, that He "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think." He did at that time teach me indefinitely above all that I had ever asked or thought. I had had no conception of the length and breadth, and height and depth, and efficiency of His grace. It seemed then to me that that passage, "My grace is sufficient for thee," meant so much that it was wonderful I had never understood it before. I found myself exclaiming, "Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!" as these revelations were made to me. I could understand then what was meant by the prophet when he said, "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace."
I spent nearly all the remaining part of the winter, till I was obliged to return home, in instructing the people in regard to the fullness there was in Christ. But I found that I preached over the heads of the masses of the people. They did not understand me. There was, indeed, a goodly number that did, and they were wonderfully blessed in their souls, and made more progress in the divine life, as I have reason to believe, than in all their lives before. But the little church that was formed there was not composed of materials that could, to any considerable extent, work healthfully and efficiently together. The outside opposition to them was great. The mass even of professors of religion in the city did not sympathize with them at all. The people of the churches generally were in no state to receive my views of sanctification; and although there were individuals in nearly all the churches who were deeply interested and greatly blessed, yet as a general thing the testimony that I bore was unintelligible to them.
Some of them could see where I was. One evening I recollect that Deacon Proctor and Deacon Safford, after hearing my preaching, and seeing the effect upon the congregation, came up to me after I came out of the pulpit and said: "Why, you are a great ways ahead of us in this city, and a great ways ahead of our ministers. How can we get our ministers to come and hear these truths?" I replied: "I do not know. But I wish they could see things as I do, for it does seem to me infinitely important that there should be a higher standard of holiness in Boston." They said it was, and seemed exceedingly anxious to have those truths laid before the people in general. They were good men, as the Boston people well know, but what pains they really took to get their ministers and people to attend, I cannot say.
I labored that winter mostly for a revival of religion among Christians. The Lord prepared me to do so by the great work He wrought in my own soul. Although I had had much of the divine life working within me; yet, as I said, so far did what I experienced that winter exceed all that I had before experienced, that at times I could not realize that I had ever before been truly in communion with God.
To be sure I had been, often and for a long time; and this I knew when I reflected upon it, and remembered through what I had so often passed. It appeared to me that winter as if it is probable when we get to heaven, our views, and joys, and holy exercises, will so far surpass anything that we have ever experienced in this life, that we shall be hardly able to recognize the fact that we had any religion while in this world. I had in fact oftentimes experienced inexpressible joys, and very deep communion with God; but all this had fallen so into the shade, under my enlarged experience that winter, that frequently I would tell the Lord that I had never before had any conception of the wonderful things revealed in His blessed Gospel, and the wonderful grace there was in Christ Jesus. This language, I knew when I reflected upon it, was comparative, but still all my former experiences for the time seemed to be sealed up, and almost lost sight of.
As the great excitement of that season subsided, my mind became more calm. I saw more clearly the different steps of my Christian experience, and came to recognize the connection of things as all wrought by God from beginning to end. But since then I have never had those great struggles, and long protracted seasons of agonizing prayer before I could get hold of full rest in God, that I had often experienced. Since then it is quite another thing to prevail with God in my own experience, from what it was before. I can come to God with more calmness, because with more perfect confidence. He enables me now to rest in Him, and let everything sink into His perfect will, with much more readiness than ever before the experience of that winter. I have felt since then a religious freedom, a religious buoyancy and delight in God and in His Word, a steadiness of faith, a Christian liberty and overflowing love, that I had only experienced, I may say occasionally before that. I do not mean that such exercises had been rare to me before, for they had been frequent and often repeated, but never abiding as they have been since. My bondage seemed to be at that time entirely broken, and since then I have had the freedom of a child with a loving parent. It seems to me that I can find God within me in such a sense that I can rest upon Him and be quiet, lay my heart in His hand, and nestle down in His perfect will and have no carefulness or anxiety.
I speak of these exercises as habitual since that period, but I cannot affirm that they have been altogether unbroken, for in 1860, during a fit of sickness, I had a season of great depression and wonderful humiliation. But the Lord brought me out of it into an established peace and rest.
A few years after this season of refreshing in Boston of which I speak, that beloved wife of whom I have spoken, died. This was to me a great affliction. However. I did not feel any murmuring, or the least resistance to the will of God. I gave her up to God without any resistance whatever that I can recollect. But it was to me a great sorrow. The night after she died I was lying in my lonely bed, and some Christian friends were sitting up in the parlor and watching out the night. I had been asleep for a little while and awoke, and the thought of my bereavement flashed over my mind with such power! My wife was gone! I should never hear her speak again, nor see her face! Her children were motherless! What should I do? My brain seemed to reel, as if my mind would swing from its pivot. I rose instantly from my bed exclaiming, "I shall be deranged if I cannot rest in God!" The Lord soon calmed my mind for that night, but still at times seasons of sorrow would come over me that were almost overwhelming.
One day I was upon my knees communing with God upon the subject, and all at once He seemed to say to me: "You loved your wife?" "Yes," I said. "Well, did you love her for her own sake, or for your sake? Did you love her, or yourself? If you loved her for her own sake, why do you sorrow that she is with me? Should not her happiness with me make you rejoice instead of mourn, if you loved her for her own sake? Did you love her," He seemed to say to me, "for my sake? If you loved her for my sake, surely you would not grieve that she is with me. Why do you think of your loss, and lay so much stress upon that, instead of thinking of her gain? Can you be sorrowful when she is so joyful and happy? If you loved her for her own sake, would you not rejoice in her joy, and be happy in her happiness?" I can never describe the feelings that came over me when I seemed to be thus addressed. It produced an instantaneous change in the whole state of my mind in regard to the loss of my wife.
From that moment sorrow on account of the event was gone forever. I no longer thought of her as dead, but as alive and in the midst of the glories of heaven. My faith was at this time so strong and my mind so enlightened, that it seemed as if I could enter into the very state of mind in which she was in heaven; and if there is any such thing as communing with an absent spirit, or with one who is in heaven, I seemed to commune with her. Not that I ever supposed she was present in such a sense that I at any time communed personally with her. But it seemed as if I knew what her state of mind was there, what profound, unbroken rest in the perfect will of God. I could see that that was heaven, and I experienced it in my own soul. And I have never to this day got over these views. They frequently recur to me--as the very state of mind in which the inhabitants of heaven are, and I can see why they are in such a state of mind.
My wife had died in a heavenly frame of mind. Her rest in God was so perfect that it seemed to me that after she was dead she only entered into a fuller apprehension of the love and faithfulness of God, so as to confirm and perfect forever her trust in God and union with His will. These are experiences in which I have lived a great deal since that time. But in preaching I have found that nowhere can I preach those truths, on which my own soul delights to live, and be understood, except it be by a very small number. Much as that subject has been dwelt upon here, I have never found that more than a very few of our people appreciate and receive those views of God and Christ, and the fullness of His present salvation, upon which my own soul still delights to feed. Everywhere I am obliged to come down to where the people are, in order to make them understand me; and in every place where I have preached for many years, I have found the churches in so low a state as to be utterly incapable of apprehending and appreciating what I regard as the most precious truths of the whole Gospel.
When preaching to impenitent sinners I am obliged, of course, to go back to first principles. In my own experience I have so long passed these outposts and first principles, that I cannot live upon those truths. I, however, have to preach them to the impenitent to secure their conversion. When I preach the Gospel, I can preach the Atonement, conversion, and many of the prominent views of the Gospel that are appreciated and accepted by those who are young in the religious life, and by those also who have been long in the church of God, and have made very little advancement in the knowledge of Christ. But it is only now and then that I find it really profitable to the people of God to pour out to them the fullness that my own soul sees in Christ. In this place there is a larger number of persons by far that understand me and devour that class of truths, than in any other place that I ever saw, but even here the majority of professors of religion do not understandingly embrace those truths. They do not object, they do not oppose, and so far as they understand they are convinced. But as a matter of experience they are ignorant of the power of the highest and most precious truths of the Gospel of salvation in Christ Jesus.
I said that this winter of which I have spoken in Boston was spent mostly in preaching to professed Christians, and that many of them were greatly blessed in their souls. That winter I felt very confident that unless the foundations could be relaid in some sense, and that unless the Christians in Boston took on a higher type of the Christian religion, they never could prevail against Unitarianism. I knew they had been reasoning with them, and that the orthodox ministers had been preaching orthodoxy as opposed to Unitarianism for many years, and that all that could be accomplished by discussion had been accomplished. But I felt that what Unitarians needed was to see them live right out the pure Gospel of Christ. They needed to hear them say, and prove what they said by their lives, that Jesus Christ was a divine Savior, and able to save them from all sin. Their professions of faith in Christ did not accord with their experiences. They could not say right out that they found Christ in their experience what they preached Him to be. In short, in their private and public testimony of the power of the grace of God in their own consciousness, they could not sustain their own orthodoxy; but on the contrary, their constant confessions of bondage to sin contradicted their professions of faith in Christ. I saw more clearly than I ever had done before that orthodoxy in Boston had very little power, and never could have much power till it took on entirely another type of Christian experience. That they needed the testimony of God's living witnesses, and testimony of experience and consciousness, to convince the Unitarians; and that mere reasonings and arguments, however conclusive, would never overcome their errors and their prejudices. And I still believe this to be true. The orthodox churches there are too formal; they are in bondage to certain ways; they are afraid of measures, and afraid to launch forth in all freedom in the use of means to save souls. They have always seemed to me to be in bondage in their prayers, insomuch that what I call the Spirit of prayer I have seldom witnessed in Boston. They are fastidious, and in a strait jacket, and until they can break over their notions of what is wise and expedient, and do what is necessary to break the ice and overcome the stagnation there is among them, they will never succeed in saving that city. The great part of the time there was a spiritual stagnation there. The ministers, and deacons, of the churches, though I trust good men, are afraid of what the Unitarians will say if, in their measures to promote religion they launch out in such a way as to wake the people up. Everything must be done in a certain way. The Holy Spirit is grieved by their yielding to such a bondage.
However, there are in Boston a great many most excellent people, praying people, people who prove their sincerity by their open-heartedness and open-handedness, and by helping forward every good word and work. But they need more courageous leaders. They need ministers of a higher experience, a larger faith, and a greater moral courage than they have generally had for many years.
I have labored in Boston in five different powerful revivals of religion, and I must express it as my sincere conviction that the greatest difficulty in the way of overcoming Unitarianism and all the forms of error there, is the timidity of Christians and churches. Knowing as they do that they are constantly exposed to the criticisms of the Unitarians, they have become over-cautious. Their faith has been depressed. And I do fear that the prevalence of Unitarianism and Universalism there, has kept them back from preaching and holding forth the danger of the impenitent as President Edwards presented it. The doctrine of endless punishment, the necessity of entire sanctification, or the giving up of all sin as a condition of salvation--indeed the doctrines that are calculated to arouse all the impenitent, and all the half-worldly Christians to bestir themselves, are not, I fear, held forth with that frequency and power that are indispensable to the salvation of that city.
The little church at the Marlborough Chapel, as it was called, were very desirous that I should become their pastor. I left Boston and came home with this question before my mind. Afterward Brother Sears came on, as I afterward learned, with a formal call in his pocket, to persuade me to go and take up my abode there. But when he arrived in Oberlin and consulted the brethren here, about the propriety of my going, they so much discouraged him that he did not lay the question before me at all.
This was not my last winter by any means in Boston. I have much more to say, in another place, of revivals there. As to the number of conversions in that city that winter, I cannot speak other than to say that they must have been upon the whole numerous, as I was visited in my room almost constantly from day to day by inquirers from different parts of the city. However, as I have said, I think the greater number of inquirers that winter were professors of religion, whose minds were stirred up mightily to inquire after a higher Christian life.
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