MEMOIRS OF CHARLES G. FINNEY
REVIVAL IN STEPHENTOWN
AFTER this convention, I remained a short time in New Lebanon. I do not think the convention injured the religious state of the people in that place. It would have done so, had any facts come out to justify the opposition which they knew had been made to the revivals that had been the subject of discussion. But, as it resulted, the church in New Lebanon were, I believe, edified and strengthened by what they knew of the convention. Indeed, everything had been conducted in a spirit tending to edify rather than stumble the people.
Soon after the adjournment of the convention, on the Sabbath, as I came out of the pulpit, a young lady by the name of S, from Stephentown, was introduced to me. She asked me if I could not go up to their town and preach. I replied, that my hands were full, and that I did not see that I could. I saw her utterance was choked with deep feeling; but as I had not time to converse with her then, I went to my lodging.
Afterward I made inquiry about Stephentown, a place north of, and adjoining New Lebanon. Many years before, a wealthy individual had died, and given to the Presbyterian church in that place, a fund, the interest of which was sufficient to support a pastor. Soon after this, a Mr. B, who had been a chaplain in the Revolutionary army, was settled there as pastor of the church. He remained until the church ran down, and he finally became an open infidel. This had produced a most disastrous influence in that town. He remained among them, openly hostile to the Christian religion.
After he had ceased to be pastor of the church, they had had one or two ministers settled. Nevertheless, the church declined, and the state of religion grew worse and worse; until, finally, they had left their meeting house, as so few attended meeting, and held their services on the Sabbath, in a small schoolhouse, which stood near the church.
The last minister they had had, affirmed that he stayed until not more than half-a-dozen people in the town would attend on the Sabbath; and although there was a fund for his support, and his salary was regularly paid, yet he could not think it his duty to spend his time in laboring in such a field. He had, therefore, been dismissed. No other denomination had taken possession of the field, so as to excite any public interest, and the whole town was a complete moral waste. Three elders of the Presbyterian church remained, and about twenty members. The only unmarried person in the church, was this Miss S, of whom I have spoken. Nearly the whole town was in a state of impenitence. It was a large, rich, farming town, with no considerable village in it.
On the next Sabbath, Miss S met me again, as I came out of the pulpit, and begged me to go up there and preach; and asked me if I knew anything of the state of things there. I informed her that I did; but I told her I did not know how I could go. She appeared greatly affected, too much so to converse, for she could not control her feelings. These facts, with what I had heard, began to take hold of me; and my mind began to be profoundly stirred in respect to the state of things in Stephentown. I finally told her that if the elders of the church desired me to come, she might have a notice given out that I would come up, the Lord willing, and preach in their church, the next Sabbath at five o'clock in the afternoon. This would allow me to preach twice in New Lebanon, after which I could ride up to Stephentown and preach at five o'clock. This seemed to light up her countenance and lift the load from her heart. She went home and had the notice given.
Accordingly the next Sabbath, after preaching the second time, one of the young converts at New Lebanon offered to take me up to Stephentown in his carriage. When he came in his buggy to take me, I asked him, "Have you a steady horse?" Oh yes!" he replied, "perfectly so;" and smiling, asked, "What made you ask the question?" "Because," I replied, "if the Lord wants me to go to Stephentown, the devil will prevent it if he can; and if you have not a steady horse, he will try to make him kill me." He smiled, and we rode on; and, strange to tell, before we got there, that horse ran away twice, and came near killing us. His owner expressed the greatest astonishment, and said he had never known such a thing before.
However, in due time we arrived in safety at Mr. S's, the father of Miss S whom I have mentioned. He lived about half a mile from the church, in the direction of New Lebanon. As we went in, we met Maria--for that was her name--who tearfully, yet joyfully received us, and showed me to a room where I could be alone, as it was not quite time for meeting. Soon after I heard her praying in a room over my head. When it was time for meeting, we all went, and found a very large gathering. The congregation was solemn and attentive, but nothing very particular occurred that evening. I spent the night at Mr. S's, and this Maria seemed to be praying over my room nearly all night. I could hear her low, trembling voice, interrupted often by sobs and manifest weeping. I had made no appointment to come again; but before I left in the morning, she plead so hard, that I consented to have an appointment made for me for five o'clock the next Sabbath.
When I came up on the next Sabbath, nearly the same things occurred as before; but the congregation was more crowded; and as the house was old, for fear the galleries would break down, they had been strongly propped during the week. I could see a manifest increase of solemnity and interest, the second time I preached there. I then left an appointment to preach again. At the third service the Spirit of God was poured out on the congregation.
There was a Judge P, that lived in a small village in one part of the town, who had a large family of unconverted children. At the close of the service as I came out of the pulpit, Miss S stepped up to me, and pointed me to a pew--the house had then the old square pews--in which sat a young woman greatly overcome with her feelings. I went in to speak to her, and found her to be one of the daughters of this Judge P. Her convictions were very deep. I sat down by her and gave her instructions; and I think, before she left the house she was converted. She was a very intelligent, earnest young woman, and became a very useful Christian. She was afterwards the wife of the evangelist Underwood, who has been so well known in many of the churches, in New Jersey especially, and in New England. She and Miss S seemed immediately to unite their prayers. But I could not see as yet, much movement among the older members of the church. They stood in such relations to each other, that a good deal of repentance and confession had to pass among them, as a condition of their getting into the work.
The state of things in Stephentown, now demanded that I should leave New Lebanon, and take up my quarters there. I did so. The spirit of prayer in the meantime had come powerfully upon me, as had been the case for some time with Miss S. The praying power so manifestly spreading and increasing, the work soon took on a very powerful type; so much so that the Word of the Lord would cut the strongest men down, and render them entirely helpless. I could name many cases of this kind.
One of the first that I recollect was on Sabbath, when I was preaching on the text, "God is love." There was a man by the name of J, a man of strong nerves, and of considerable prominence as a farmer, in the town. He sat almost immediately before me, near the pulpit. The first that I observed was that he fell, and writhed in agony for a few moments; but afterwards became still, and nearly motionless, but entirely helpless. He remained in this state until the meeting was out, when he was taken home. He was very soon converted, and became an effective worker, in bringing his friends to Christ.
In the course of this revival, Zebulon R. Shipherd, a celebrated lawyer from Washington county, New York, being in attendance upon the court at Albany, and hearing of the revival at Stephentown, so disposed of his business as to come out and labor with me in the revival. He was an earnest Christian man, attended all the meetings, and enjoyed them greatly. He was there when the November elections occurred through the State. I looked forward to the election day with considerable solicitude, fearing that the excitement of that day would greatly retard the work. I exhorted Christians to watch and pray greatly, that the work might not be arrested by any excitement that should occur on that day.
On the evening of election day I preached. When I came out of the pulpit after preaching, Mr. Shipherd--who, by the way, was the father of Rev. J. J. Shipherd who afterward established Oberlin--beckoned to me from a pew where he sat, to come to him. It was a pew in the corner of the house, at the left hand of the pulpit. I went to him, and found one of the gentlemen who had sat at the table to receive votes during the day, so overcome with conviction of sin as to be unable to leave his seat. I went in and had some conversation with him, and prayed with him, and he was manifestly converted. A considerable portion of the congregation had, in the meantime, sat down. As I came out of the pew, and was about to retire, my attention was called to another pew, at the right hand side of the pulpit, where was another of those men that had been prominent at the election, and had been receiving votes, precisely in the same condition of mind. He was too much overpowered by the state of his feelings to leave the house. I went and conversed with him also; and, if I recollect, he was converted before he left the house. I mention these cases as specimens of the type of the work in that place.
I have mentioned the family of Mr. P as being large. I recollect there were sixteen members of that family, children and grandchildren, hopefully converted; all of whom I think, united with the church before I left. There was another family in the town by the name of M; which was also a large and very influential family, one of the most so of any in town. Most of the people lived scattered along on a street which, if I recollect right, was about five miles in length. On inquiry I found there was not a religious family on that whole street, and not a single house in which family prayer was maintained.
I made an appointment to preach in a schoolhouse, on that street, and when I arrived the house was very much crowded. I took for my text: "The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked." The Lord gave me a very clear view of the subject, and I was enabled to bring out the truth effectively. I told them that I understood that there was not a praying family in that whole district. The fact is, the town was in an awful state. The influence of Mr. B, their former minister, now an infidel, had borne its legitimate fruit; and there was but very little conviction of the truth and reality of religion left, among the impenitent in that town. This meeting that I have spoken of, resulted in the conviction of nearly all that were present, I believe, at the meeting. The revival spread in that neighborhood; and I recollect that in this M family, there were seventeen hopeful conversions.
But there were several families in the town who were quite prominent in influence, who did not attend the meetings. It seemed that they were so much under the influence of Mr. B, that they were determined not to attend. However, in the midst of the revival, this Mr. B died a horrible death; and this put an end to his opposition.
I have said there were several families in town that did not attend meeting; and I could devise no means by which they could be induced to attend. The Miss S of New Lebanon, who was converted at Troy, heard that these families did not attend, and came up to Stephentown; and as her father was a man very well known and very much respected, she was received with respect and deference in any family that she wished to visit. She went and called on one of these families. I believe she was acquainted with their daughters, and induced them to accompany her to meeting. They soon became so interested that they needed no influence to persuade them to attend. She then went to another, with the same result, and to another; and finally, I believe, secured the attendance of all those families that had stayed away. These families were nearly or quite all converted before I left the town. Indeed nearly all the principal inhabitants of the town were gathered into the church, and the town was morally renovated. I have never been there since that time, which was in the fall of 1827. But I have often heard from there, and the revival produced permanent results. The converts turned out to be sound; and the church has maintained a good degree of spiritual vigor.
As elsewhere, the striking characteristics of this revival, were a mighty spirit of prevailing prayer; overwhelming conviction of sin; sudden and powerful conversions to Christ; great love and abounding joy of the converts, and their great earnestness, activity, and usefulness in their prayers and labors for others. This revival occurred in the town adjoining New Lebanon, and immediately after the Convention. The opposition had, at that convention, received its death-blow. I have seldom labored in a revival with greater comfort to myself, or with less opposition, than in Stephentown. At first the people chafed a little under the preaching, but with such power was it set home by the Holy Spirit, that I soon heard no more complaint.
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