The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
Labors in Oberlin, in Michigan, etc.
The next fall, the fall of 1845 I was invited and urged as I often had been to visit the place of my spiritual nativity and labor as an evangelist. I finally made up my mind to go. The time arrived for my leaving, and I packed my trunk, and made ready to start the next morning. I retired early, and before my wife came I fell asleep. I was soon awakened by her coughing. I opened my eyes, and saw that she was coughing blood in a most terrific manner. She had come in while I was sleeping, and either a slight cough produced this bleeding, or the bleeding produced the cough, I know not which. But the exhibition was frightful. The blood was pouring from her mouth so fast as almost to choke her. It seemed to be with difficulty that she cleared her lungs from blood fast enough to keep from strangulation. It appeared as if she would bleed to death in a very short time. However, I took her in my arms, held her head over the foot-tub, and soothed her as much as I could without giving any alarm to any of the members of the family. Indeed she did not appear to be frightened herself. Her soul was too much stayed upon God in implicit trust, to suffer her to be greatly agitated. She knew she was of a consumptive family, and a strongly consumptive tendency, and probably was not greatly surprised at what had happened. For some time it appeared as if she would die in my arms, but soon the bleeding began to abate, and finally ceased altogether. After rinsing her mouth and throat with cold water, and wiping the blood from her as well as I could, I laid the precious woman in bed and myself by her side to watch her breathing, her pulse, and every symptom that showed itself. She grew more and more quiet till finally she fell asleep. She recovered from this, and never bled at the lungs again, but after struggling two years with the consumption she passed away.
But this terrific bleeding rendered it necessary that I should stay at home and take care of her, so that I gave up all idea of going abroad that winter. I gave myself up to nursing her, and preached and labored for a revival of religion at home. We had a very interesting state of things here all the winter; but as this was so common, and almost universal here, but little was said about it as being a revival of religion. Indeed it has for many years been the case that our meetings of inquiry would be large, numbers would be converted from week to week, and there would be additions to the church at every communion of perhaps from ten to thirty or fifty, and it would hardly be spoken of here as being out of the ordinary course of things.
I did not leave home to labor particularly as an evangelist till the next winter. The next winter I was pressed hard to go to Detroit. I went there to assist Brother Hammond, who was pastor of a Congregational church in that city. The churches in that city were at that time Presbyterian as opposed to Congregational, and indeed pretty much throughout the state. Dr. Duffield, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Detroit, was a very persistent Presbyterian, and seemed not to take it kindly that I should come there to labor. At any rate his influence was all on the other side, and he at that time had great influence in Detroit. However, we had a precious work there. Some very striking cases of conversion occurred, but I was there but a very short time. It was very difficult to secure such a state of feeling between the Congregationalists and persistent Presbyterians, as was essential to the promoting of a general revival. Indeed it was impossible. Congregationalists seemed to be regarded as interlopers, and I found it impossible to secure anything like union of effort or feeling in that city at that time. Dr. Duffield professed to be New School in his theology, and had been arraigned and tried in Pennsylvania for being such. But after all his philosophy had so mystified his mind that he took great exceptions to the truth as I presented it. He arrayed himself strongly against my preaching, and his great influence no doubt greatly circumscribed the work there that winter. Before I left there, however, I was led to pray about that state of things in such a manner, as to feel confident that God would either change Dr. Duffield's views, or in some way greatly abate his influence in that city and in that state. It appeared to me plain that revival effort was not to be hedged in there, and that Dr. Duffield would be obliged to take a different course, and the way would be opened for revival effort and for the free development of Congregationalism in that region. In its proper place I shall have occasion to notice the results of this state of things.
But before I close my narrative of the occurrences at Detroit, I must relate one very interesting fact. There was at the time a very wealthy and influential merchant in that city by the name of Chandler. He was himself a professor of religion, but his wife, a New York lady of great cultivation and personal beauty, was an impenitent woman. There was also a prominent lawyer by the name of Joy living in that city, who at present, if he is alive, I believe lives in Chicago. Mr. Chandler of whom I have spoken has been for many years a member of the Senate of the United States. Mrs. Joy, the wife of this lawyer, was a very accomplished woman from New England. Her father, in his day, was one of the principal men in Massachusetts I believe. Mrs. Joy soon became very anxious about her soul, attended the meetings of inquiry, and after a severe struggle of mind was hopefully, and I might say powerfully, converted. She and Mrs. Chandler were intimate friends, and she became very much interested in Mrs. Chandler.
One evening I had preached on the text, "I pray thee have me excused." The next morning Mr. Chandler called on me and said that his wife was powerfully convicted by that sermon, and had spent a very restless night, and he desired me to call and see her. He said if I would go directly to his house he would go to his store--he had a room there--and he would pray for his wife's conversion. I went immediately to his house, and as I rung the bell at the door, Mrs. Chandler herself immediately opened it, for she and Mrs. Joy were both standing inside the door when I rung the bell. There was a female prayer meeting in a private house in that neighborhood that morning, and Mrs. Joy, knowing that Mrs. Chandler was convicted, had come over to go with her to that prayer meeting. They were all dressed, with their furs on, ready to go, and had got as far as the door when I rung the bell. I was acquainted with Mrs. Joy, and as soon as I went in she introduced me to Mrs. Chandler, for with her I had not spoken. I took Mrs. Chandler by the hand and immediately told her my errand, that I had come to converse with her about her soul. I saw as I took her hand that she trembled all over. She turned back and invited me into the parlor, where I found a comfortable fire. Mrs. Joy did not follow us into the parlor, but passed right by into another room.
Mrs. Chandler asked me to sit. I told her, No; I wanted to know whether she would give her heart to God before I sat down. I saw from her appearance that she was deeply convicted, but she hesitated very much. I, however, pressed the subject on her. But I saw from all she said, and from everything around her, that she was a woman of worldly tendencies, ambitious and proud, and that the world had a terribly strong hold upon her. I finally sat down, and she sat down, and I pressed the subject home upon her as earnestly and thoroughly as I could. Her great struggle seemed to be to give up the world. She was manifestly an indulged wife, was young, beautiful, the idol of her husband and a great favorite in society, and very fond of dash and equipage and worldly amusements. Her father was a prominent man in the city of New York, and she had been an indulged daughter, as she was at this time an indulged wife. Beside, she had manifestly great pride of heart. She was a lady in her education, in her deportment, and so far as I could see in every respect; a lady of most estimable character, so far as a lady can be such who is not a Christian. She had manifestly never been dealt with personally and searchingly in respect to her own salvation. To be addressed, therefore, in the manner in which I conversed with her, searched her most deeply.
After conversing with her a considerable time, I pressed upon her the necessity and duty of kneeling down then and there, and renouncing the world and her sins, and giving up herself entirely to Christ. We knelt down, and I prayed for her, and tried in my prayer to lead her mind to Christ. I could hear her struggle and weep, and she seemed to be in the greatest anguish of mind. After I had prayed for her some time, and she had agonized in that way she said, "I cannot submit," and was about to rise from her knees. I begged her not to rise, told her it would never do, and that I was afraid she would quench the Spirit of God if she then rejected mercy. She then gave up the idea of rising from her knees, and I prayed for her again. Her agonizing struggle continued, and seemed to increase. The conflict thickened, and the struggle of her mind became fearful. But finally she said, "I will." She became calm, and after consecrating her to God in prayer we arose from our knees. She appeared to be calm and subdued. As soon as Mrs. Joy, who was in an adjoining room, and it appeared had been engaged in prayer for her, was aware of the state of things, she came suddenly into the room, and the scene between her and Mrs. Chandler was very affecting. I did not see Mrs. Chandler after this more than once or twice before I left the city, since which time I have never seen her, and for many years have not heard of her. She appeared at the time to be thoroughly subdued and converted. However, I was aware that her temptations to take a worldly course of life were very strong, and I do not know whether she has been a devoted Christian woman or not. But that scene I shall not soon forget. There were many other interesting cases, which, however, I must pass over. After spending a few weeks in Detroit, in compliance with the earnest request of the church at Pontiac I went there for a season.
There I found a very trying and singular state of things. The place had been settled at first by a class of infidels, who were real scoffers at religion. But there were several pious women in the neighborhood, and after a great struggle they finally had prevailed to have religious meetings established, and had built a church and settled a minister. There was then living in Pontiac the man who had been the pastor of the church immediately preceding the brother who was there at the time I went. The young man who was pastor when I arrived was from New England. His name I do not now recollect. With this former pastor the church had had a great difficulty. They had become very much divided in respect to him, and finally dismissed him. But the circumstances had been such as to leave a very bad state of feeling between him and the church, and also between him and another elderly minister who lived close by the village, and who had labored a good deal as a missionary in that new country in establishing churches. This former missionary had taken a very active part in the controversy between the old pastor and the church, so that between him and the old pastor there was no ministerial, or even Christian, sympathy. Indeed I found the state of things about as unpromising and difficult to manage as I had ever met with anywhere. However, I began to preach, and it was soon evident that the Spirit of the Lord was greatly searching the church. I began there, according to my custom, to have the stumbling blocks removed, mutual confession and restitution attended to, and in short to re-convert the church and prepare the way for a general revival among the openly impenitent. The state of morals at that time in Pontiac was low.
The people were enterprising, and the place was thrifty in a business point of view, but religion was at the lowest ebb. I saw that nothing effectual could be done until the old roots of bitterness were extracted, their divisions healed, and their animosities put away. I therefore addressed my preaching to the church and to professors of religion, and preached some as searching sermons to them as I could. That was the home of their then Lieutenant Governor Richardson. His wife was a religious woman, but had been drawn considerably into the great controversy between their old pastor and the church. After preaching for a week or two I thought the way was prepared, and it was agreed to set apart a day for fasting, humiliation, and prayer. When the day arrived I preached to them from this text: "O the Hope of Israel, and the Savior thereof, why art thou to us as a stranger in the land, and as a wayfaring man that tarrieth but for a night?" My mind was greatly affected with the application of this text to the then state of that people. In the afternoon we had a general prayer meeting of the church. Soon after the meeting began, it was evident to me that there was a very searching spirit upon the meeting. I was the guest of a Mr. Davis, who had taken a very prominent part in the controversy with their old pastor. He was a man of strong feelings, and had been very hostile in his feelings to their old pastor, thinking him altogether out of the way. This old pastor lived a near neighbor to him. As we came home from the morning service I saw that Mr. Davis was very deeply affected. He said to me: "Don't you think it would be well for me to go and make confession to that minister? He was wrong," said he, "but I have had a very bad spirit toward him." I inquired: "Can you go and confess to him without reproaching him, leaving him to confess his own sins?" He said he could, and immediately left the house, went over, and as I understood made an humble confession without accusing him at all. He told him that he had entertained very unchristian feelings toward him, and asked his forgiveness.
As I said, soon after we assembled in the afternoon, it was evident that there was a spirit of great searching on the congregation. Their old pastor was present, as I believe he was every time we had held meeting. Soon after we had assembled I observed Mrs. Lieutenant-Governor Richardson rise from her seat and pass around the church to the opposite side where her old pastor sat, and she openly confessed to him that she had entertained very unchristian feelings toward him. This produced a very general outburst of feeling. I observed that the old pastor's face turned deadly pale. As soon as Mrs. Richardson turned away, there was quite a general movement from different parts of the house of persons going to his seat to confess to him. I saw how the work was going on, and felt confident that there would be a general breaking down.
From the manifest impression that was making upon their old pastor, I expected every moment to see him go on his knees and make confession. The pressure at this time upon the congregation was tremendous. I kept entirely still, and so also did the then pastor, the young man. But just at this moment the old missionary, whose name, I think, was Ruggles, arose and interposed an objection to what was going on. He objected to it, he said, because their old pastor--calling him by name, would triumph, and say that they had justified him and condemned themselves. I did not believe then, nor do I now, that there was the least danger of that. I think if Father Ruggles, as they called him, had kept still, it would not have been ten minutes before he would have made as full a confession as they could have desired. However, Father Ruggles felt too strongly committed against him to see anything done that could, by any possibility, be construed into a justification of his course, and a condemnation of the course which his church had pursued toward him. The moment Father Ruggles took this position, a terrible reaction came over the meeting. All confession ceased; all tears were wiped away; and I never in any meeting in my life saw so manifest a quenching of the Holy Spirit's influences as was manifest there.
The reaction was instantaneous, terrible, and decisive. Up to that moment all their animosities were melting away, but this mistaken course of Father Ruggles arrested the whole tide of good feeling, turned it back upon its fountains, and the animosities sprang up again in much of their former strength. After looking at the desolation for a few days I returned to Detroit, where I was taken sick and for a number of days was confined to my bed. The season had arrived for opening our spring term; and as soon as I was able to travel I returned home, and as usual commenced my labors here; and we had a very interesting revival through the summer.
That summer I published the second volume of my Systematic Theology. I wrote it out and published it, and attended to my college and pastoral duties. Most of the second volume I wrote at the rate of a lecture a day, and sent it to the printers, so that I would correct the proof of one lecture, and write another and send it to the press the same day. But this with all my pastoral duties and intense labors in my classes, so used up my strength that on Commencement evening I was taken with the typhus fever. For two months I was very sick, and came very, very near the gates of the grave. Meanwhile my precious wife was failing of consumption. About the middle of December she passed away. When she died my strength had not returned, and I stayed at home that winter, and did not perform much ministerial labor here or elsewhere.
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