The GOSPEL TRUTH
CHARLES G. FINNEY
To Theodore Dwight Weld
21 July 1836
[Ms in the Weld-Grimké Papers, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan. It was published in Gilbert H. Barnes and Dwight L. Dumond (editors), Letters of Theodore Dwight Weld, Angelina Grimke Weld, and Sarah Grimke (Gloucester, Mass: Peter Smith, 1965), pp. 318-320. The published version, however, contains a number of errors.]
Oberlin 21st July 1836
Dr. Br. Weld. On receiving your letter per Br. Corliss,
I set down & replied to it at some length stating the
reasons for what I had said of Br Burchard. As you
was distressed about it I thought it due to your feelings
to give you some explanation. But after writing it
I gave up sending it. It was after [all] only vindicating
my conduct in the sight of man & that too by exposing
the faults of another. But what will this avail. Since I
have learned that the Ministers in Vt. blame me
I have been strongly tempted to write to them &
lay before them the reasons for what I had said.
But in that case what wd be gain to me wd be loss
to Burchard, so that the cause of christ wd gain
nothing. It is a small thing to be judged of mans
judgment. When I see you I can, if it is best so explain
myself as I doubt not will justify me in your view
but then somebody else will be blamed so that after
all Dr. Weld you will have no less excuse for the
exclamation "what is man!" I will therefore only say
that as to your question "why did you not follow Mat.18.
I answer, I have both orally & in writing dealt
faithfully with him. I never said much to you
about him, nor should I to any body else but
for the circumstances. I will leave you however to
blame me just as much as you please, lest by
exculpating myself I [s]hould criminate others.
If I ever see you I may think it best to tell you more.
My particular object in writing to you at the present
time is to talk with you a little about the present
state of the church, our country, - Abolition &c &c
Br. Weld is it not true, at least do you not fear it is
that we are in our present course going fast into
a civil war. Will not our present movements in
abolition result in that. Shall we not ere long
be obliged to take refuge in a Military despotism?
Have you no fear of this? If not why have you not?
Nothing is more manifest to me than that the present movements
will result in this unless our mode of abolitionizing
the country be greatly modified. To suggest to some
minds what I have here said would be evidence either
of a pro slavery spirit, or of cowardice. But Dr. Weld
you think, & certainly you can not but discern
the signs of the times. Now what is to be done.
How can we save our country - & affect the speedy
Abolition of slavery. This is my answer. What say you
to it? The subject is now before the publick mind.
It is upon the conscience of every man, so that
now every new convert will be an Abolitionist
of course. Now if Abolition can be made an
appendage of a general revival of religion all is
well. I fear no other form of carrying this question
will save our country or the liberty or soul of the
slave. One most alarming fact is that the absorbing
abolitionism has drunk up the spirit of some
of the most efficient revival men & is fast doing
so to the rest. & many of our Abolition brethren
seem satisfied with nothing less than this.
This I have been trying to resist from the beginning
as I have all along foreseen that should that take
place, The church - & world ecclesiastical & state
leaders will become embroiled in one common
infernal squabble that will roll a wave of blood
over the land. The causes now operating are in
my view as certain to lead to this result as a cause
is to produce its effect, unless the publick mind
can be engrossed with the subject of salvation
& make abolition an appendage just as we
made temperance an appendage of the
revival in Rochester. Nor wd. this in my
judgment retard the work at all. I was then
almost alone in the field as an Evangillist.
Then 100000 were converted in one year
every one of which was a temperance man.
The same wd now be the case in Abolition.
We can now, with you & my Theological
class bring enough laborers into the field
to under God move the whole land
in 2 years. If you will all turn in I will
get dismissed from my charge in N. York
if need be, & lay out what strength I have
in promoting the work. When I am unable
to preach I will counsel & pray & the Lord
will[ing] we will make thorough work of it.
I believe we are united in the opinion here
that abolition can be carried with more
dispatch & with infinitely more safety
in this indirect, than in any other way.
Now if you are not of this opinion, & if you are,
I think by all means that you should come out
here & let us consult immediately. The fact is Dr W.
our leading Abolitionists are good men, but there
are but few of them wise men. Some of them
are reckless. Others are so denunciatory as to kill
all prayer about it. There is very little confidence
& concert among many of our Abolitionists.
It is high time that we understood each other.
By the by H. B. Stanton wrote a letter to my students for
which he deserved a sever castigation. My soul
abhors such a spirit. It is any thing but opposition
to slavery. It is the spirit & the language of a slave
driver. But enough of this. suffice it to say, that
unless we can come to a better understanding
among ourselves, act more harmoniously &
wisely & piously, I fear that all the evils
& horrors of civil war will be the consequence.
Last year I tried to get you to N. York. It would
have done infinite good. But you wd not go.
Will you now come here & let us fast & pray
over this subject & see what God will say to us
in this matter. Now dont fail to come soon. #
[along the left hand margin]
# I can explain to you when I see you all I know about the
refusal of the Tabernacle for the Anniversary &c &c.
I tell you again that unless we can have such an extensive
Revival of religion as to soften the church & alarm the world
we are all among the breakers very soon. C. G. Finney
In October, Weld arrived in Oberlin to recruit agents for the Antislavery Society. (See his letter to Lewis Tappan, written from Oberlin on 24 October 1836, in Barnes and Dumond [eds], Weld-Grimké Letters, p. 345.) It was at that time that the following incident concerning Weld occurred. It was described by James Thome:
Many years ago, a class of young men, having finished their course of theological study, were on the eve of entering the sacred ministry. The world was before them; some were destined to heathen ground, others felt called to tarry among the Churches at home. At that juncture, the Spirit of God, in a most wonderful manner, convinced them that they were not yet prepared to go forth. They saw that there was one thing they could not say &endash;"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel." They were confounded; what should they do? They were thrown upon their faces--they cried for spiritual anointing. While they were in this position, a friend to whom they were devotedly attached--for he had formerly been a classmate--providentially came into the place. He was an Anti-Slavery agent. He was soon penetrated with the conviction that he needed the very blessing which they were seeking. In this state he was called upon, at the close of a sermon, to pray. He kneeled in the desk to pray, but was instantly so struck with a sense of his condition, that his lips were sealed. There was silence for some time; he then uttered a deep groan, and remained speechless. This was followed by an outbreak of agonizing prayer and tears among his friends in his behalf. Seldom, perhaps, has a more awfully solemn scene been witnessed. He, however, obtained no relief. The next day he was besought to throw up everything, and seek the Lord till He should be found of him. This he deliberately declined, on the sole ground that his obligations to God in the Anti-Slavery cause were such that he could not take time. To his friends this seemed a fearful decision. They felt that God, in His providence, had brought His servant among them expressly to bless him. The cup was presented, was pressed upon him, but he declined it. ...
Commenting on this report, Asa Mahan wrote:
The scene above described occurred more than forty years ago. I was present, and witnessed the occurrence. Most, if not all, of the young men who thus "waited the promise of the Father," obtained what they sought, and went forth on their various missions "in the power of the Spirit," and, as a consequence, did good service in the cause of their Divine Master. But what of the individual who then and there "quenched the Spirit?" At the time referred to, he had a national reputation, and as an advocate of the cause of temperance, and of the rights of the slave, had no compeer in the United States. In the "Memoir of Mr. Finney," the conversion of this individual is narrated as one of the most remarkable events of the kind known in the progress of those memorable revivals of former years. On the occasion referred to, Brother Finney had preached a most impressive discourse, a discourse which tended to induce in all minds a full and complete consecration to Christ, and fervent prayer and supplication for a baptism of the Holy Ghost. Our friend was then requested by the speaker to lead the congregation in such consecration and prayer. He came forward and kneeled, and the scene above described followed. He subsequently admitted that as he was about to open his mouth in prayer, the conspicuous attitude in which he stood before the nation, as contrasted with the act of humiliation in which he was then engaged, came distinctly before his mind, and the pride of his heart rose against such humiliation. It was the conflict between such pride of heart and an absolute conviction of what God and duty then and there demanded of him, that occasioned the deep groan referred to. Pride, and the love of the praise of men prevailed, and the Spirit was quenched. He accordingly hastened from our midst, under the professed plea that duty called him to his field of labour. The sequel I relate with pain, and relate it only as an admonition to the reader. Some time after this, we received a letter from our friend, admonishing us that we should continue to live far below our privileges, as long as we retained our present veneration for the Bible, and made as much as we did of prayer, the Sabbath, and so-called means of grace, and that if we would obtain real, Divine illumination, we must turn from all such vain helps, and, in passive expectancy, wait for the Spirit's direct and immediate teachings and impulsions. As for himself, he said that he had not only "ceased from man," but from all reading and study, even of the Bible, and from all forms of so-called religious service. "You need not," he said, "suppose that I shall always continue in this passive, unthinking, and unreflective state in which I now am, but may expect to hear of my being out and moving the public mind, as I have never done before." The expected illuminations and impulsions, however, never came. After a while, his whole being revolted against the very idea of religion itself. He "denied the Lord that bought him," "made shipwreck of the faith," and renounced Christianity, with its sacred Word and ordinances.
In receding from the light of God, he seemed to lose all interest in all that concerned the well-being of man. For more than forty years, and that amid all the moving events around him, has his tongue or pen never moved at all, I believe, in behalf of temperance, the cause of the slave, or any other thing that concerns the well-being of man or beast. From being a star of the very first magnitude, he descended to a rayless state in which he became one of the least conspicuous and most uninfluential of all his countrymen. None who know the facts, hesitate to attribute his deep eclipse to that fatal act of quenching the Spirit on the occasion above referred to.
Years later, in 1853, Henry B. Blackwell visited Theodore Weld at his home. His report of their conversation was given in a letter to Lucy Stone which was published in Alice Stone Blackwell, Lucy Stone: Pioneer of Woman's Rights (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1930), pp. 127-28:
"After dinner we adjourned to a sort of parlor built in the branches of a pine tree, and I tried to draw Mr. Weld out on the reasons why he withdrew from the active advocacy of reforms. He says the immediate cause was a narrow escape from drowning, which destroyed his voice entirely, stopping his public speaking short. This, he says, for the first time in years, gave him time to reflect. He found he himself needed reforming. He was all wrong. He had been laboring to destroy evil in the same spirit as his antagonists. He suddenly felt that fighting was not the best way to annihilate error, and that he could no longer act as he had been doing. All his old opinions and principles began to loosen and scale off. He threw aside his books, newspapers, everything, and for ten years found there was nothing on earth for him to do but to dig ditches and work upon his farm. And he did so.
"I tried to attack his position, but he says it was all right. That for him it was no longer possible nor proper to continue combating. He had done so manfully, and when his work in that way was ended, he was obliged to resign it to others, while he himself entered into a higher sphere of experience. So, since then, he has thought, and worked, and taught his children, and occasionally lectured, and helped all whom he has met who needed help, and, in short, endeavored to live a true, manly life. This all seemed very strange to me. I tried to argue the duty of fighting error so long as it existed, but both he and his wife simply say, 'There is a fighting era in everyone's life. While you feel it so, fight on; it is your duty, and the best thing you can possibly do. But when your work in that line is done, you will reach another and a higher view.'..."
Jedediah Burchard (1791-1864) was a revivalist who had aroused considerable ill feeling and dissension among the churches where he laboured, particularly in Vermont in 1835 and 1836, with his unacceptable behaviour and measures. The situation had got so bad that Edward W. Hooker, the Congregational minister in Bennington, Vermont, set about gathering information about his activities with a view to trying to put a stop to it. He sought information from Finney, who knew Burchard and had worked with him, but Finney would not put anything in writing. However he did talk freely about Burchard to a number of ministers who conveyed the information to Hooker. The Revd Tryon Edwards of Rochester, New York, wrote to Hooker on December 1, 1835:
In a conversation of an hour's length, he [Finney] gave me such a view of Burchard, as to satisfy me that he has little or no confidence in him as a Xn: (so far as I c[oul]d gather, & I sh[oul]d say) much less as a minister. He mentioned, (with horror) many specific instances of his immorality, such as exaggeration, mis-statements, intemperate drinking & down-right falsehood, & while he said that B. w[oul]d seem at times quite penitent, he w[oul]d still keep the habits. He said that B. (I mention these two as only instances of very many other similar cases) was often in the habit of referring to him (Mr F) as one of his (B's) "spiritual children", when he knew that such a reference implied an utter falsehood, & that he every where speaks of Mr F. as entirely in his favor, when he knows better from Mr F. himself. Mr F. tells me, that beside drinking, he is constantly in the habit of using opium, though he added if you were to ask him if he used it, he w[oul]d very likely deny it. He said, "though at times," there were many things in him, that seemed excellent, yet there was more bad about him, than about any man whom he ever knew, that called himself a minister. With this detail, I might go on for hours, & through sheets - but I know not that it w[oul]d be of any use. All these, however, & many similar things, Mr F. was entirely willing to have mentioned as from himself, though he w[oul]d not wish to have them published - in the papers, I mean, or so that they w[oul]d get into them.
The Revd Hollis Read of the Bombay Mission wrote from New York to Hooker on January 1, 1836:
I am very sorry that I cannot send a letter from Mr. Finney as you requested. I saw him yesterday and had a long conversation with him. He regrets the state of things in Vt. and elsewhere in regard to Mr. Birchard - but says "nothing can be done - but that Mr B. will go through vermont in spite of all that can be done". He confirms every thing which Mr. Edwards wrote you - and speaks very freely of Mr. B's immoral character - says the man may do good to some extent, but that he does much more hurt. Mr. F. says something should be done, but thinks ministers should have a general convention and try to put those things right. He says Mr. Edwards and Hopkins &c have committed themselves by once employing and sanctioning Mr. B. - and are to be blamed for not sooner opposing his going to Vermont. Mr. F. thinks he ought not to be made to bear any responsibility in correcting the errors of Mr. B. I urged him to write you yesterday but he declined saying we must talk more on the subject first and see what course should be pursued. ...
Mr. F. says if you contemplate doing any thing to arrest the progress of Mr. B. you ought to go and see his operations for yourself. He says also that if ministers unite in opposing him that the Churches will not sustain them but will have Mr. B. &c. ...
The Revd Sylvester Eaton of Paterson, New Jersey, wrote to Hooker on January 14, 1836:
Finney told me that he had known him [Burchard] some few years ago, to stop on his return from an evening meeting, at any grocery or tavern he met with, & drink half a tumbler full of brandy, gin or whiskey, as the case might be. He remonstrated with him on the subject, & he promised to desist, specially since the progress of the temperance reformation. But he did not comply with the spirit of his promise, tho' he might with the letter. He did not drink so openly, but kept a jug of wine with him & drank more privately. Finney remonstrated with him on this practice also - he again promised to reform - but only changed again (as F. believes) to something stronger. He always had a bottle of laudanum with him, & often a pound of opium. Finney expressed to me his unqualified disapprobation of Burchcard's whole course - says, he did once say to B. "I should sometimes send for you to come & aid me in my labours, if I did not know you so well - but because I know you, I dare not trust you." He utterly disclaims the idea of being a convert of B. Says, when he was converted, B. was not in the place. He has no confidence in B's honesty, as a man of truth & veracity - he will promise one thing, & do its opposite. He admits that he does sometimes preach admirably, but spoils it all before he gets through - He knows not how to account for his conduct in any other way, than that he is under the influence of partial derangement, produced by the artificial stimulants w[hic]h he is in the constant habit of using. ... Could you see Finney, he would tell you more strange & inconsistent things about this man, than I could write in a whole day - He is perfectly open & frank in expressing his opinion, without any reserve. But he knows not what can be done - He says, when churches get an itching to hear him, there is no reasoning with them on the subject - they are determined to try the experiment - & besides, let other ministers, say & write as much as they please in relation to this man & his measures, the churches will believe, that the ministers are either cold & unfeeling, or envious at the success of B.
In a further letter dated Jan 23, 1836, Hollis Read wrote:
I have seen Mr Finney and you need not expect anything from him. He says if you do any thing you should bring charges against Mr. Burchard to his Presbytery and then call witnesses. But he cannot publish he says against Mr. B. So you see how the whole thing stands.
This information was seen by many people and became common knowledge among the churches. It is probable that this is what Weld was referring to.
The correspondence and other material that Hooker collected on the subject were eventually deposited as the Edward W. Hooker Papers on Burchardism, in the Congregational Library, Boston MA.
The Revd Lucius L. Tilden of West Rutland wrote to E. W. Hooker on May 24, 1836:
I was told by one of the brethren who favors B. (one from Add[iso]n County) that Leavitt of the Evan[gelis]t had been written to, & told that it was important to have Finney understand that the men who oppose Burchard are equally oppposed to him. so he had best take care how he helped them to arguments or facts ag[ai]nst B. This may account for some modifications of Finney's statements. Le[a]vitt replied that an unwarrantable use of Finney's statements had been made - that some persons came to him, pretending to be rather friendly to B. & to him, & "wormed" out some things &c &c - I do not think Finney's evidence to be of much importance; and I think that Dr Marsh does right to place him & Burchard in the same (so far as theology is concerned) in the same category.
The section in Matthew 18 to which Finney was no doubt referring are verses 15-17:
Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every work may be established.
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
In the margin against this sentence are written the words "What circumstances?" in an unknown handwriting.
There is no doubt that, in the manuscript, this word is "our"; yet, in the version published by Barnes and Dumond, it has been transcribed as "your". Sigmund Freud might well have been interested in this "slip". By altering the phrase to "your mode of abolitionizing the country" (my italics), Barnes and Dumond have represented Finney as setting himself over against Weld, and dissociating himself from the abolitionists. This polarization between Finney and Weld is a major element in the picture of the relationship between revivalism and abolitionism drawn by Gilbert Barnes, and has been subsequently re-stressed by many writers on the subject. The fact is that Finney identified himself with the abolitionists.
Barnes and Dumond transcribed this word as "moral", but in so doing they have obscured Finney's meaning and lost the whole force and significance of his argument.
John Dunlop, the temperance lecturer, wrote in his Autobiography under the date 1831:
It is stated from America that revivals of religion are "now passing over the face of the Country then in the track of the Temperance Reformation";
and in December 1832, he noted
additional evidence from America to shew that late revivals of religion have stood intimately connected with the Tempce. reformation. And true religion & Tempce have a beneficial influence on each other. (Autobiography of John Dunlop. Dunlop Papers, Vol. 1. (London: Spottiswoode, Ballantyne & Co., 1932), pp. 64, 65.
This word appears to be "your".
The e has been left off the end of this word.
Henry Brewster Stanton (1805-1887) was a convert of Finney from Rochester who had become a leading abolitionist. Harriet Beecher Stowe had known him at Lane Theological Seminary when he was one of the Lane rebels. Years later (in 1854) she referred to him in a letter to Wendell Phillips. Referring to her dislike of Parker Pillsbury's antislavery activities, she wrote:
Now for the same reason that I abhor slave holding I abhor injustice of every kind. The right of men to character is as sacred as the right to "life liberty &c" & the man who for popular effect so states & colors, that truth produces the impression of falsehood to the taking away of his neighbors good name, is in my view guilty of a sin the same in kind with the slave holder--I have no confidence in such a man's moral honesty--no confidence that were time & circumstances favorable he would not become a slave holder & a defender of slavery.
I have noted the course of such men before. There was not a more bitter unscrupulous, untruthful abolitionist in Lane Seminary than Henry B. Stanton--& see where he has landed ..." (Irving H. Bartlett, editor, "New Light on Wendell Phillips: The Community of Reform 1840-1" Perspectives in American History, Volume 12, , page 68; and republished as Wendell and Ann Phillips [New York W. W. Norton, 1979], page 70).
The page ends here with a hatch sign, #. The rest of the letter was written in the margin.
James A. Thome, "Baptism of the Holy Ghost", and Asa Mahan, "The Sequel" in Divine Life and International Expositor of Scriptural Holiness (New York), Vol. 4, No. 9 (March 1881), pp. 163-4.