The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
Return to Oberlin and a Glorious Revival Here
I should have said that I had been strongly urged, for reasons that existed here, to come immediately home, and this urgency had been increasing upon me for several weeks before we left Manchester. It was thought by persons here that the state of things in our church demanded my presence. Had it not been for this pressure, we should have remained longer in England. I thought then, and think now, that the work would have greatly increased, not only at Manchester, but throughout all that part of England, could we have remained another year or two. We were invited, and urged strongly, to go to many places, to towns and cities, in that region. But as I said, we were over-ruled by the intelligence from this place, and left England with great reluctance, hoping that sometime we might return.
The first and second day out from Liverpool it rained almost incessantly. I was a good deal on deck and took a severe cold, which subjected me to a very painful attack of lumbago. This continued with a good deal of severity until we arrived in New York. I was so lame on our arrival m New York that I could not immediately travel by land to Oberlin. However, I soon recovered, and we came on to Oberlin and immediately commenced our labors for a revival of religion in this place.
We had had very little rest in England for a year and a half; and those who are used to sea voyages will not wonder that, with the lumbago upon me, I did not rest much during our voyage home. Indeed we arrived here a good deal exhausted. I was myself hardly able to preach at all. However, the state of things was such, and the time of year such, that I could not, as I supposed, afford to rest. There were many new students here, and strangers had been moving into the place, so that there was a large number of impenitent persons residing here at that time. The faculty were of opinion that an effort must be made immediately to revive religion in the churches, and to secure the conversion of the unconverted students. During my absence in England the congregation had become so large that the house could not, with any comfort, contain them; and after considering the matter, the church concluded to divide and form a Second Congregational Church. They did so; the new church worshipping in the College Chapel, and the First Church continuing to occupy their usual place of worship. The Second Church invited me to preach a part of the time to them in the College Chapel. But that would not hold perhaps much more than half as many as the church; and I could not think it my duty to divide my labors, and preach part of the time to one congregation and part of the time to the other; and therefore took measures immediately to secure a revival of religion, holding our meetings at the large church. The Second Church people came in and labored as best they could, but the preaching devolved almost altogether upon myself.
We held daily prayer meetings in the church, which were largely attended. The body of the church would generally be full. At these meetings I labored hard to secure the legitimate results of a prayer meeting judiciously managed. Besides preaching twice on Sabbath, and holding a meeting of inquiry in the evening of every Sabbath, I preached several times on week evenings each week. In addition to these labors I was obliged to use up my strength by conversing with inquirers, who were almost constantly visiting me when I was out of meeting. These labors increased in intensity and pressure from week to week. The revival became very general throughout the place, and seemed to bid fair to make a clean sweep of the unconverted in the place. But after continuing these labors for four months until I had very little rest day or night, I came home one Sabbath afternoon from one of the most powerful and interesting meetings I ever saw, and was taken with a severe chill; and from that time I was confined to my bed between two and three months.
Being obliged to change the preaching, it was found in that case, as it always has been so far as my experience has gone, that the change of preaching soon let down the tone of the revival, and not suddenly, but gradually it ceased. However, it did not react in the sense in which great and badly managed religious excitements do react. There was not, that I am aware of any reaction at all. But the conversions grew less frequent, and from week to week the weekday meetings gradually fell off in their attendance, so that by the time I was able to preach again I found the state of religion interesting, but not what we here call a revival of religion. However, the next summer, as has been almost universally the case, a goodly number of our students were converted, and there was a very interesting state of religion all the summer.
During the summer months there is a great pressure upon the people here. Every family almost take boarders, and the female part of the family have as much as they can do. The students are engaged in preparing for the anniversaries of their various college societies, for their examinations, and for Commencement, and of course during the summer term there is a great deal of excitement unfavorable to the progress of a revival of religion. We have much more of this excitement in later years than we had when we first commenced here. College societies have increased in number, and the class exhibitions and everything that is exciting have been multiplied a good deal for several years, so that it has become more and more difficult to secure a powerful revival during the summer term. This ought not to be.
Before I went to England the last time, I saw that an impression seemed to be growing in Oberlin that during term time we could not attend to the work of revival, and could not expect to have a revival, and that our revivals must be expected to occur during the long vacations in the winter. This was not deliberately avowed by anyone here, and yet it was plain that that was fast coming to be the impression. But I had come here, and resided here, for the sake of the students, to secure their conversion and sanctification; and it was only because there was so great a number of them here, which gave me so good an opportunity to work upon so many young minds in the process of education, that I had remained here from year to year. I had frequently almost made up my mind to leave and give myself wholly to the work of an evangelist. But the plea always used with me had been, that we could not do much in this country in promoting revivals anywhere except at that season of the year when we have our long vacation. Furthermore, that my health would not enable me to sustain revival labor the year around; and that therefore I could do more good here during the term time--that is, in the spring, summer, and early autumn--than I could anywhere else. This I myself believed to be true; and therefore had continued to labor here during term time, for many years after my heart strongly urged me to give up my whole time in laboring as an evangelist.
When I was this last time in England, and received there urgent letters to return, I brought up this subject in my reply of the impression to which I have alluded that seemed to be growing here that we could not expect revivals in term time; and said to them, that if that was going to be the prevalent idea it was not the place for me, for during our long vacation our students were gone of course, and it was for their salvation principally that I remained. I had been greatly afflicted too, by finding when an effort was made to secure the conversion of the students during term time, that the first I would know some excursion would be planned, some amusement and pleasure-seeking, or some exciting thing planned and brought into execution that would counteract all that I, and those that were laboring with me with the same design, could do to secure the conversion of the students. I never supposed that that was the design, but such was the result, insomuch that previous to going to England the last time I had become almost discouraged in making efforts to secure revivals of religion during term time. In my replies to letters received while I was in England, I was very free and full upon this point in saying, that unless there could be a change upon this point, Oberlin was not my field of labor any longer.
Our fall term is properly our harvest here. It begins about the first of September, when we have a large number of new students, and many of these unconverted ones. I have always felt, as a good many others have here and I believe the faculty have realized, that during that term was the time to secure the conversion of our new students. In the fall of our return, as I have related, this was secured to a very great extent. The idea that during term time we could not expect a revival of religion, seemed to be exploded, and the people took hold for a revival, and we had a powerful one.
Since then we have been much less hindered in our revival efforts in term time by excursions, and parties of pleasure, and running after worldly amusements, than we had been for a few years before my last going to England. Our revival efforts have taken effect among the students from year to year, because they were aimed to secure the conversion especially of the students. The inhabitants have been changing a good deal, almost as much as the change of our students. As I have said, the first fall after my return from England, that is the fall of 1860, there was quite a large number of our citizens converted, as well as many students. But the change in the inhabitants here is so great that we very frequently need a sweeping revival through the whole town, among the house holders as well as the students, to keep up a healthy tone of piety in the families where the students board. A goodly number of our students learn to work themselves in promoting revivals, and are very efficient in laboring for the conversion of their fellow students. The young men's prayer meetings have been greatly blessed. The young people's meetings, where the sexes meet for a general prayer meeting, have also been greatly blessed. The efforts of lay men and women generally in the church, have been increasingly blessed from year to year. As for myself, I have over-labored nearly every fall term since 1860, and as a consequence have been confined from one to three months to the house, and mostly to my bed. We have had more or less of a revival continually, summer and winter.
Since 1860, although continually pressed by churches, east and west, to come and labor as an evangelist, I have not dared to comply with their request. With home comforts and nursing I can still perform a good deal of ministerial labor, but I find that I cannot bear excitement in the evening without preventing my sleep. I have been able, by the blessing of God, to perform a good deal of labor here; but as I said I felt inadequate to the exposure and labor of attempting to secure revivals abroad. Last winter, 1866 and '67, the revival was more powerful among the inhabitants than it had been since 1860. However, as heretofore I broke down in the midst, and was unable to attend any more meetings. The brethren, however, went forward with the work. The lay membership took hold with such vigor and persistency that the work continued with great interest until spring. The brethren that preached laid out their strength as best they could, and by the blessing of God a great and permanent good was secured.
This summer, 1867, and autumn we have been very much hindered in our revival effort by the discussion of the question of Freemasonry, and of secret societies generally. The discussion and action of the churches, however, have been confined almost entirely to the question of Freemasonry. When we first settled this place, and when this college was first established, we had a rule excluding from membership those that belonged to secret societies. But the churches never had any rule on this subject. There were no secret societies in the place, and until recently there never have been, to my knowledge. However, within a year or two past a Masonic lodge was formed here. But I knew nothing of it till last spring, when a young man who belonged to the lodge proposed himself for admission to the church. I think that he had been examined by the church, and that the church had voted to have him propounded, before it was known that he was a Freemason. When I understood that he was a Freemason, having Elder Bernard's book entitled, "Light on Masonry," in which the whole thing is revealed, I gave the young man that book, expecting of course that when he had read that he would want nothing more to do with Masonry. I dreaded to have the subject brought into the church, or anything said about it. The young man informed me that he had read the book, but I had no opportunity to converse with him with regard to the impression it made on his mind. But I felt it could not be possible that after reading that book through he would feel as if he could attend a lodge any more.
Soon after another young man proposed himself for church membership, who was a member of the lodge. It was objected to by several members of the church, and consequently he could not be received. The same occurred at about the same time at the Second Church. Some one or more members of the lodge proposed to unite with that church, and they took the same action that the First Church did. A minority voted against it, when, according to Congregational usage they could not be received. But this forced the question of Masonry upon the churches. It was found on inquiry that there were a few in each church who had been Masons when they were young, but for many years had paid no attention to it, and did not approve their establishing a lodge in this place. The churches felt no inclination to meddle with this class of persons. As they had ceased to have any fellowship or to cooperate with Masons, nothing was said or thought of, so far as I know, in the churches about taking any action in respect to them. But the question was, What should we do in regard to receiving new members that were Masons--I mean, that were active, adhering, cooperating Masons at the present time. Committees were appointed in both churches to examine the subject, and make report to the churches as to the nature and tendencies of Masonry.
Professor Morgan was the chairman of the Committee in the First Church, and Professor Dascomb and Brother Jabez Burrell were the other members of the Committee. Various causes hindered their making a report immediately. The difficulty of getting the books that were necessary to a thorough examination of the subject, the want of time and the health of Brother Morgan, and the great labors of the Committee in other directions delayed their making a report until after the Commencement. Just at the time when I wanted to make special efforts for a revival, during the fall term as usual, this question was thrown upon the churches for discussion. The committees of both churches reported strongly against Masonry as an institution, as immoral in its nature and tendency. Meetings were appointed for discussion, and some of the brethren who had been Masons wished an opportunity to reply to the report made by the Committee in the First Church, and such an opportunity was given to them to their satisfaction. They said what they could, some of them, in justification of Masonry; or rather, represented what they regarded as its best side. However, with the exception of the few Masons that were in the church nobody seemed at all inclined to justify Masonry--if indeed the Masons did themselves; for I believe they all declared that spoke, that they did not wish to justify it, or defend it, but simply to justify themselves in holding the relation to it that they did.
As I said the churches--that is the two Congregational churches--with very few exceptions, and those, persons that had belonged to the fraternity, condemned the institution as immoral in its nature and tendency, and dangerous to government and to society. Both churches held meetings for discussion weekly, or oftener, through the fall term; consequently but little was done for the direct promotion of a revival of religion. However, conversions were occurring from week to week, and have been all through the fall term and until this time, January 1868.
The great question in these churches upon which there was a difference of opinion, was not whether Masonry was an evil thing; nor was it whether intelligent, adhering, and active Masons ought to be received to our churches. But it was this: Is it wise to say so. Was it wise to have a rule excluding them from fellowship, when, after taking so much time and expending so much labor as to develop their views thoroughly and ascertain that they were truly and intelligently adhering Masons, persons that justified the institution understanding what it is, and avowed their determination to cooperate with it, understanding the tendency of such cooperation--whether it was wise to say beforehand that in view of these considerations they should not be received. I believe it was agreed on all hands that they would not be received by the churches, in any case where these facts were ascertained. And the discussion for several weeks hung upon that point--whether it was best to say that under such circumstances we should not receive them; or whether it was best not to say it, but do it, as the several cases came up.
Those that were in favor of such a rule gave as a reason, among others, for wishing to have the rule, that without such a rule the question would be thrown right back upon the church for discussion again, should any one present himself for membership, and a minority should oppose his uniting with the church. It would then bring the question right back upon the church for discussion, as it had been at this time. For myself l was not able to attend their discussions; and if I had been able, I should not have been willing to have gone into the discussions, taking one side or the other. I felt it my duty, however, as pastor of the church, from time to time, when I found that they lacked instruction on some particular points, to preach to them and give them the instructions that I supposed they needed. I have reason to believe that these sermons settled many minds. I gave no opinion, however, until the last time that I preached, upon the question of passing the rule to which I have referred. I then stated my preference for the rule, and gave my reasons.
The Second Church on the Friday previous to my preaching for the last time on the subject, had passed a final rule, excluding, as I understood it, from church fellowship any that might apply, who, after due labor being bestowed and time taken to enlighten them, still adhered to the institution. I recommended to the First Church to concur in this resolution, or to pass one of similar import, which they had already before them. They did so on the next Tuesday. But the week after, the Second Church rescinded their last resolution, considering it after all unwise to have such a rule on the subject. A large minority protested against the repeal. It should be understood, however, by all persons here and elsewhere who take any interest in the matter, that Christian people here, with very few exceptions, are entirely opposed to Masonry as a vile and evil institution. The substance of their convictions are expressed in their resolutions; and it should be understood that on all the resolutions except the last--I mean the one excluding from membership intelligent and adhering Masons--the people are nearly a unit.
Perhaps it will be thought--if any should ever read this--that that was a trifling distinction upon which so much time was spent. I regarded it as such myself, and said repeatedly to individuals, I cared but little whether they had such a rule or not. Provided the action of the church was right, it mattered but little, in my estimation, whether they rejected them under a rule, or without a rule. But on mature deliberation, after seeing how the matter stood, and the many reasons for having the rule, my mind came to the conclusion that to have such a rule might save us a great deal of discussion and trouble in the future; and that it was best to say what we really meant, that Freemasons might know beforehand, that if they intended at all events to adhere to the institution they need not make application for admission to the church. I thought it upon the whole unwise to leave the matter in such a shape that they might hope to get into the church although they were resolved to adhere to the institution, make an effort to do so, and finally find that the church would not receive them. I thought it would be better to let it be known beforehand that the church could not receive them after ascertaining that they were intelligent, adhering Masons.
That to say so beforehand would avoid being reproached with any appearance of insincerity in leaving our action in such a way as to encourage Masons to offer themselves, when in fact we did not mean to receive them if they were intelligent, adhering Masons. My former connection with a Masonic lodge, and my reading on the subject since I withdrew from them, enabled me to supply in a great measure, in my sermons, the place of the books in which Masonry had been revealed. But few such books could be found, as a great deal of pains have been taken, as is well-known, to destroy those books.
Soon after I was twenty-one years old, being at school in Connecticut, an old uncle advised me to become a Mason. I did so, and took the first three degrees of the Order. Although at the time I regarded the ceremony as silly; still there was nothing that struck me as particularly immoral until I took the oath in the Master's degree, in which "I promised to keep a brother Master Mason's secrets when committed to me as such, inviolate, murder and treason alone excepted, and those left to my freewill and accord." That promise I knew to be improper and dangerous. But still I had no religion, and was extremely ignorant of the truths of religion. On my going to study law, in Adams, Jefferson County, I joined the lodge there, and became secretary of the lodge. I took no more degrees, but continued in an active relation to the lodge until I was converted to Christ.
During the period of my conviction I do not know that I so much as thought of Freemasonry, my mind was so much taken up with making my peace with God. However, soon after I was converted the time came around for attendance upon the lodge. But the ceremonies distressed me. I found to my surprise that I could have no fellowship with them at all. All their oaths and proceedings appeared to me to savor so much of profanity, that my new nature recoiled from them, and could have no fellowship with them. I retired distressed, and felt as if I had been in an atmosphere not congenial with my spiritual life. I laid the question before God in prayer, and after a severe struggle I requested a dismission from the lodge, informing them that I could not conscientiously continue my membership with them. With manifest reluctance they finally gave me an honorable discharge. This created some excitement about the institution in the place at the time. And I have always supposed with design to keep me in such relation to the institution as they desired, they got up a Masonic celebration and proposed to me to deliver an oration on the occasion. I decidedly declined to do so, informing those that presented the request that I could not conscientiously do it. However, I remained silent, and nobody out of that place, wherever I went, I presume, suspected that I had ever been a Freemason.
I did not suppose at that time that I should ever be called upon to bear any public testimony against it. But not many years later William Morgan published his book, in which he faithfully revealed the secrets of Masonry as far as I had knowledge of it. This, as is well-known, resulted in his murder. Other publications to the same effect immediately followed, and Masonry was no longer a secret, but all its interior was thoroughly laid open to the public. When I was questioned whether that was a true revelation of Masonry, I unhesitantly said, "Yes; so far as I have been, it is a faithful representation of it." I did not consider myself under the least obligation any longer to try to keep a thing secret which was open to the gaze of all the world. It was no longer a secret. I could not deny that Masonry was thoroughly revealed without telling a falsehood, without deliberately lying. I could not even set up the pretence that it was not revealed, or appear to disbelieve that it was truly revealed, without equivocation and lying. Furthermore, consideration and farther light upon the subject had convinced me that it was my duty to cast off such profane oaths, that I had been induced to take by fraud, being told that there would be nothing in my oaths that would be inconsistent with my obligations to God or man, or in other words, that would be inconsistent with my religious or civil obligations. Furthermore, I considered it immoral in me to allow myself to be still under Masonic obligation to do many things which Masons promise and swear to do.
The revelations made of the nature and tendency of Masonry in connection with Morgan's publication and consequent murder, had shown that the institution was eminently dangerous to civil government; and finally the history of Masonry, as it now stands before the world, is such as to convince me of the utter incompatibility of intelligent Freemasonry with the Christian religion.
I should say that although our discussions on Masonry have been exciting, still in general a Christian spirit has prevailed; and in the First Church, as I am informed, particularly, the closing debate and final vote were conducted in an excellent spirit. I trust that nothing has occurred that will produce any permanent jar and division amongst us.
We have from the first had very frequent discussions on many points, oftentimes protracted discussions, and discussions in which, at their close, we were not all agreed. But we adopted the principle of accepting, so far as our action was concerned, the decision of the majority; and the minority has acquiesced so far as to raise no opposition to the judgment and action of the majority, we have supposed that anything inconsistent with this was revolutionary, and if carried out would create endless divisions. I trust that in this case the same course will be taken, and that no evil will result. We could not avoid the discussion; and upon the whole, as to the great question of the nature and tendency of Masonry, we are a unit.
Thus I have brought my revival narrative up to this time, the 13th of Jan. 1868. Yesterday, Sabbath, Jan. 12th, we had a very solemn day in the First Church, I preached all day upon resisting the Holy Ghost. At the close of the afternoon service, first I called upon all professors of religion who were willing to commit themselves against all resistance offered to the teachings of the Holy Spirit, to rise up and unite with us in prayer under the solemnity of this promise. Nearly all the professors of religion, I should think, rose up without hesitation. I then called upon those that were not converted to rise up, and take the same stand. I had been endeavoring to show that they had always been resisting the Holy Ghost, that they were stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, and had always resisted the Holy Ghost. I asked those of them who were willing then and there to pledge themselves to do this no more, and to accept the teachings of the Holy Spirit and give themselves to Christ, also to rise up, and we would make them subjects of prayer. So far as I could see from the pulpit, nearly every person in the house stood up under these calls. We then had a very solemn season of prayer, and dismissed the meeting.
In regard to my revival record, which for the present at least I must leave here, I would say, that I have recorded only a few of the interesting and striking things which I remember to have occurred in the principal revivals in which I have labored. I have written under the fear of being too full in my narrative, and of making too large a book. I have said but little of the opposition that has been offered to those revivals: and should have said nothing had it not been for the desire I have to rectify the impression that has so extensively prevailed, that there have been great disorders connected with the revivals in which I have labored. I have wished to have it understood that that impression is erroneous, and have aimed to give a few hints only in relation to the source of this erroneous impression. I should not have mentioned Dr. Beecher and Brother Nettleton as ever having arrayed themselves against the revival in central New York, but for the fact that their letters in opposition to it have been made public. They were deceived. That everybody knows who shared in those revivals, and was well-acquainted with the facts. In the neighborhood where those revivals occurred, there were always some who were ready to listen to false reports and give them publicity. However. I wish it distinctly understood, I say again, that I have said nothing of the opposition that those revivals encountered, more than I have deemed necessary to do away the false impression respecting them to which I have so often alluded. And here I wish to say at the conclusion of my record, that I have seen none of the evils which have been complained of. I have never witnessed those disastrous reactions, nor do I know where they have occurred. I have never known that those churches where those revivals occurred have "wept tears of blood," or any other tears, over any disastrous reaction that came over them. A few cases occurred where those revivals resulted in division. In Auburn, for instance, as I have related, a number of leading men in Dr. Lansing's congregation went off and formed a new congregation. But Dr. Lansing stood firm in his place, and never was so much beloved, I venture to say, by his people as after that revival.
Brother Gillett's church in Rome, New York, as I have said, was afterwards divided into two. That was owing in part, no doubt, to the fact that their meetinghouse was too small and old-fashioned to well accommodate the greatly enlarged church and congregation, and partly to the fact that Brother Gillett was an old man, his sermons, as he said to me which were the product of his whole ministry, were none of them suited to the new order of things in his congregation. There were many of his people who felt solemnly impressed with the necessity of having a younger man to lead on the converts and the much altered state of society to more advanced ground than could be expected of a man of Brother Gillett's age. In the great revival, Brother Gillett proved himself to be a noble Christian man and minister, and had, as I believe, the confidence and affection of his people in an eminent degree. With all the reasons for the division l am not acquainted.
In some few instances I have known divisions to arise because the pastor did not so enter into the work as to secure and retain the confidence of his people. They were led to feel that he would not follow up the work that had been wrought so as to secure the best results. But this has been my experience as a whole, after I have labored both as an evangelist and as pastor for more than forty-five years. I have observed that uniformly where pastors have gone into revival work with honest earnestness and have cordially and without jealousy cooperated with an evangelist, the revival has greatly strengthened his hands and increased his influence in his church and congregation. At this date, Dec. 1868, I would add that we have had a precious revival as usual during our fall term. Our students are now just gone home, and many to their winter teaching during our winter vacation. Our church is in an interesting state and many seem to be struggling not only for a higher personal experience but for the conversion of the residue of the unconverted amongst us.
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