Revival at Auburn in 1826


Dr. Lansing, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church at Auburn, came to Utica to witness the revival there and urged me to go out and labor for a time with him. In the summer of 1826 I complied with his request, and went there and labored with him for a season. Soon after I went to Auburn, I found that some of the professors in the theological seminary in that place were taking an attitude hostile to the revival. I had before known that ministers east of Utica were, a considerable number of them, writing letters to each other, holding a correspondence with reference to those revivals, and taking an attitude of hostility to them.

Some of them took the ground that it would greatly injure the colleges and theological seminaries if I were allowed to pass through the churches and preach, when I had neither a collegiate nor a regular theological education. Of course all sorts of false reports were circulated, and things were said too absurd and ridiculous to notice. I in no instance attempted any reply. I had too much to do to turn aside to say anything about opposition. Although articles frequently appeared in the newspapers against me and my labors, I never did more than to look them over to see what of justice or injustice there was in them. In no case did I make any reply. However, until I arrived at Auburn I was not fully aware of the amount of opposition I was destined to meet from the ministry: not the ministry in the region where I had labored, but from ministers where I had not labored, and who knew personally nothing of me, but were influenced by the false reports which they heard, and by some mysterious influence originating somewhere, which neither myself nor any of my friends could understand. But soon after I arrived at Auburn I learned from various sources that a system of espionage was being carried on, that was destined to result, and intended to result, in an extensive union of ministers and churches to hedge me in, and prevent the spread of the revivals in connection with my labors.

About this time I was informed that Mr. Nettleton had said that I could go no farther east, that all the New England churches especially were closed against me. Mr. Nettleton came and made a stand at Albany; and a letter from Dr. Beecher fell into my possession in which he exhorted Mr. Nettleton to make a manful stand against me and the revivals in central New York; and that when the judicatures, as he called them, of New England met, "they would all speak out and sustain him in his opposition." But for the present I must return to what passed at Auburn. My mind became, soon after I went there, very much impressed with the extensive working of that system of espionage of which I have spoken. Rev. Mr. Frost, of Whitesboro, had come to a knowledge of the facts to a considerable extent, and communicated them to me. I said nothing publicly, or as I recollect privately, to anybody on the subject, but gave myself to prayer. I looked to God with great earnestness day after day to be directed, that He would show me the path of duty and give me grace to ride out the storm.

I shall never forget what a scene I passed through one day in my room at Dr. Lansing's in Auburn, soon after my arrival there. The Lord showed me in a vision what I had to pass through. He drew so near to me while I was engaged in prayer that my flesh literally trembled on my bones. I shook from head to foot, like a man in an ague fit, under a full sense of the presence of God. At first, and for some time, it seemed more like being on the top of Sinai, amidst its full thunderings, than in the presence of the cross of Christ.

Never in my life, that I recollect, was I so awed and humbled before God as I was then. Nevertheless, instead of feeling like fleeing, I seemed drawn nearer and nearer to God--seemed to draw nearer and nearer to that Presence that filled me with such unutterable awe and trembling. After a season of great humiliation before Him, there came a great lifting up. God assured me that He would be with me and uphold me; that no opposition should prevail against me; that I had nothing to do but to keep about my work, and wait for the salvation of God in regard to all this matter.

The sense of God's presence, and all that passed between God and my soul at that time, I can never describe. It led me to be perfectly trustful, perfectly calm, and to have nothing but the most perfectly kind feelings toward all the brethren that were misled, and were arraying themselves against me. I felt assured that all would come out right, that my true course was to leave everything to God and keep about my work. I did so; and as the storm gathered and the opposition increased, I never for one moment doubted how it would result. I was never disturbed by it, I never spent a waking hour in thinking of it, when to all outward appearance it seemed as if all the churches of the land, except where I had labored, would unite to shut me out of their pulpits. This was indeed the avowed determination, as I understood, of the men that led in the opposition. They were so deceived that they thought there was no effectual way but to unite against me, and as they expressed it, put me down. But God assured me that they could not put me down.

A passage in the 20th chapter of Jeremiah was repeatedly set home upon me with great power. It reads thus: "O Lord, thou hast deceived me and I was deceived." In the margin it reads enticed. "Thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me. For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his Word was in my heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay. For I heard the defaming of many, and fear was on every side. Report, say they, and we will report it. All my familiars watched for my halting, saying, Peradventure he will be enticed, and we shall prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him. But the Lord is with me as a mighty terrible one; therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail. They shall be greatly ashamed, for they shall not prosper; their everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten. But O Lord of hosts that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance on them; for unto thee have I opened my cause" Jeremiah 20:7-I2. I do not mean that this passage literally described my case, or expressed my feelings, but there was so much similarity in the case that this passage was often a support to my soul. Indeed, as I said, the Lord did not allow me to lay the opposition to heart at all, to be fearful of the results, or to be at all angry with the brethren who were leading on in that direction. I can truly say, so far as I can recollect, I never had an unkind feeling toward Mr. Nettleton or Dr. Beecher, or any leading opposers of the work during the whole of their opposition.

I recollect having had a peculiar feeling of horror in respect to the pamphlet published, and the course taken by William R. Weeks, to whom I have made an allusion. I felt no personal resentment; but there appeared to me to be an artfulness, a mock candor, and a determination in his case, of which I do not recollect to have spoken; but I do recollect distinctly to have frequently felt a kind of shudder in view of his taking such an attitude. Those who are acquainted with the history of Mr. Weeks recollect that soon after this he began to write a book which he called "The Pilgrim's Progress in the Nineteenth Century." This was published in numbers, and finally bound up in a volume, with which many of the readers of this narrative may be familiar. So far as I can learn, he carried his opposition to those revivals to the day of his death. He could not maintain his standing, however, in Oneida County, where he was pastor when I was laboring there. He was dismissed from that congregation soon after, and went to Newark, N.J., and engaged in teaching school. He gathered around him, as I have been told, a very few followers and believers in his doctrine, and continued to preach till the day of his death. He was a man of considerable talent, and I must hope a good man; but as I think much deluded in his philosophy, and exceedingly out of the way in his theology. I do not mention him because I wish to say any evil of him, nor of his book entitled "The Pilgrim's Progress in the Nineteenth Century"; but merely to say that he never ceased, so far as I can learn, to offer more or less opposition, direct and indirect, to revivals that did not favor more or less distinctly his peculiar views. He took much pains, without naming him, to defend the course which Mr. Nettleton took in putting himself at the head of the opposition to those revivals. But God has disposed of all that influence. I have heard nothing of it now for many years.

Notwithstanding the attitude that some of the professors at Auburn were taking, in connection with so many ministers abroad, the Lord soon revived His work in Auburn. Rev. Mr. Lansing had a large congregation, and a very intelligent one. The revival soon took effect among the people, and became powerful. It was at that time that Dr. Steel of Auburn, who still resides there, was so greatly blessed in his soul as to become quite another man. Dr. Steel was an elder in the Presbyterian church when I arrived there. He was a very timid and doubting kind of Christian, and had but little Christian efficiency because he had but very little faith. He soon, however, became deeply convicted of sin, and descended into the depths of humiliation and distress, almost to despair. He continued in this state for weeks, until one night in a prayer meeting he was quite overcome with feelings, and sunk down helpless on the floor. Then God opened his eyes to the reality of his salvation in Christ. This occurred just after I had left Auburn and gone to Troy, New York, to labor. Brother Steel soon followed me to Troy and the first time I saw him there he exclaimed with an emphasis peculiarly his own, "Brother Finney, they have buried the Saviour, but Christ is risen." He received such a wonderful baptism of the Holy Ghost, that he has been the rejoicing and the wonder of God's people who have known him ever since.

Partly in consequence of the known opposition to my labors on the part of many ministers, a good deal of opposition sprung up in Auburn, and a number of the leading men in that large village took strong ground in opposition to the work. In the meantime Theodore Weld, of whom I have spoken, came there and spent several days. As a specimen of the opposition, one of the leading opposers met Weld one day in the streets, and said to him, "Weld, I have promised that I will kick you, and I will be as good as my word," and stepped up to him and kicked him. Weld took very little notice of it, and it passed by. But the Spirit of the Lord was among the people with great power. There were many very striking incidents at that time in that place.

I recollect that one Sabbath morning while I was preaching, I was describing the manner in which some men would oppose their families, and if possible prevent them from being converted. I gave so vivid a description of a case of this kind that I said, "Probably if I were acquainted with you, I could call some of you by name who treat your families in this manner." At this instant a gentleman cried out in the congregation, "Name me!" and then threw his head forward on the seat before him, and it was plain that he trembled with great emotion. It turned out that he was treating his family in this manner, and that morning had done the same things that I had named without being acquainted with any of the facts. He said his crying out, "Name me!," was so spontaneous and irresistible that he could not help it. But I fear he was never converted to Christ.

There was a hatter by the name of Hawley residing at this time in Auburn. His wife was a Christian woman, but he was a Universalist, and an opposer of the revival. He carried his opposition so far as to forbid his wife from attending our meetings, and for several successive evenings she remained at home. One night as the warning bell rang for the meeting half an hour before the assembly met, Mrs. Hawley was so much exercised in mind about her husband that she retired for prayer, and spent the half hour in pouring out her soul to God. She told Him how her husband behaved, and that he would not let her attend meeting, etc., and drew very near to God. As the bell was tolling for the people to assemble, she came out of her closet, as I learned, and found that her husband had come in from the shop, and as she entered the sitting room, he asked her if she would not go to meeting, and said that if she would go he would accompany her. He afterwards informed me that he had made up his mind to attend meeting that night to see if he could not get something to justify his opposition to his wife, or at least get something to laugh about and sustain him in ridiculing the whole work. When he proposed to accompany his wife she was very much surprised, but prepared herself, and they came to meeting. Of all this I knew nothing at the time of course. But I went to meeting, as was common with me in those days, without having made up my mind at all as to the text from which I should preach.

I had been visiting and laboring with inquirers the whole day, and had had no time whatever to arrange my thoughts, or even settle upon a text. During the introductory services a text occurred to my mind, just before I was to rise and preach. It was the words of the man with the unclean spirit, who cried out "Let us alone." I took those words and went on to preach, and endeavored to show up the conduct of those sinners that wanted to be let alone, that did not want to have anything to do with Christ. The Lord gave me power to give a very vivid description of the course that class of men were pursuing. In the midst of my discourse I observed a person fall from his seat near the broad aisle, who cried out in a most unearthly and terrific manner. The congregation were very much shocked and the outcry of the man was so great that I stopped preaching and stood still. After a few moments I requested the congregation to sit still, and I would go down and speak with the man. I found it to be this Mr. Hawley of whom I have been speaking. The Spirit of the Lord had so powerfully convicted him that he was unable to sit on his seat. When I got to him he had so far recovered his strength as to be on his knees with his head on his wife's lap. He was weeping aloud like a child, confessing his sins, and accusing himself in a terrible manner. I said a few words to him, to which he seemed to pay but little attention. The Spirit of God had got his attention so thoroughly that I soon desisted from all efforts to make him attend to what I said. When I told the congregation who it was they all knew him and his character, and it produced tears and sobs in every part of the house. I stood for some little time to see if he would be quiet enough for me to go on with my sermon, but his loud weeping rendered it impossible. I can never forget the appearance of his wife as she sat and held his face in her hands upon her lap. There were in her face a holy joy and triumph that words cannot express. We had several prayers, and then I dismissed the meeting. They helped Mr. Hawley to his house. He immediately wished them to send for certain of his companions, with whom he had been in the habit of ridiculing the work of the Lord in that place. He could not rest until he had sent for a great number of them and had an opportunity to make confession to them, which he did with a very broken heart. He was so overcome that for two or three days he could not get about town, and continued to send for such men as he wished to see that he might confess to them, and warn them to flee from the wrath to come. As soon as he was able to get about he took hold of the work with the utmost humility and simplicity of character, but with great earnestness. Soon after he was made an elder, or deacon, I do not recollect which, and he has ever since been a very exemplary and useful Christian. His conversion was so marked and so powerful, and the results were so manifest to everybody, that it did very much to silence opposition.

There were several wealthy men in the town who took offence at Dr. Lansing and myself and the laborers in that revival, and after I left they got together and formed a new congregation. Most of these men were at the time unconverted men. Let the reader bear this in mind, for in its proper place I shall have occasion to notice the results of this opposition and formation of a new congregation, and the conversion at another time of nearly every one of those opposers.

While at Auburn I preached more or less in the neighboring churches round about, and the revival spread in various directions to Cayuga on the banks of Cayuga Lake, and to Skaneateles on the banks of Skaneateles Lake. This was, I think, in the summer and autumn of 1826.

Soon after my arrival at Auburn, a circumstance occurred of so striking a character that I must give a brief relation of it. My wife and I were guests of Dr. Lansing, the pastor of the church. The church was much conformed to the world and were accused by the unconverted of being leaders in dress and fashion and worldliness. As usual I directed my preaching to secure the reformation of the church and to get them into a revival state. On Sabbath I had preached as searchingly as I was able to the church in regard to their attitude before the world. The Word took deep hold of the people. At the close of my address I called, as usual, upon the pastor to pray. He was much impressed with the sermon and the very manifest impression upon the congregation. Instead of immediately engaging in prayer, he made a short but very earnest address to the church confirming what I had said to them. At this moment a man arose in the gallery and said in a very deliberate and distinct manner, "Mr. Lansing, I do not believe that such remarks from you can do any good whilst you wear a ruffled shirt and a gold ring on your finger, and whilst your wife and the ladies of your family sit as they do before the congregation dressed as leaders in the fashions of the day." It seemed as if this would kill the doctor outright. He made no reply, but cast himself across the side of the pulpit and wept like a child. The congregation was almost as much shocked and affected as himself. They almost universally dropped their heads upon the back of the seat in front of them and many of them wept on every side. With the exception of the sobs and sighs, the house was profoundly silent. I waited a few moments and, as Dr. Lansing did not move, I arose and offered a short prayer and dismissed the congregation. I went home with the dear wounded pastor, and when all the family were returned from church, he took the ring from his finger; it was a slender gold ring that could hardly attract notice. He said his first wife when upon her dying bed took it from her finger and placed it upon his with a request that he should wear it for her sake. He had done so without a thought of it being a stumbling block. Of his ruffles he said he had worn ruffles from his childhood and did not think of them as anything improper. Indeed he could not remember when he began to wear them and of course thought nothing about them. "But." said he, "if these things are an occasion of offence to any I will not wear them." He was a precious Christian man and an excellent pastor.

Almost immediately after this, the church were disposed to make to the world a public confession of their backsliding and want of a Christian spirit. Accordingly a confession was drawn up covering the whole ground. It was submitted to the church for their approval and then read before the congregation; the church arose and stood, many of them weeping, while the confession was read. From this point the work went forward with greatly increased power. The confession was evidently a heart work and no sham, and God most graciously and manifestly accepted it and the mouths of gainsayers were shut. The opposition to this work on the part of some of the unconverted was very bitter, and was much encouraged by the mistaken attitude of many ministers whose opposition they plead as a justification of their own. The fact is that to a great extent the churches and ministers were in a low state of grace and those powerful revivals took them by surprise. I did not much wonder then, nor have I since, that those wonderful works of God were not well understood and received by those who were not in a revival state.

There were a great many interesting conversions around in Auburn and vicinity and also in all the neighboring towns throughout that part of the state, as the work spread in every direction. In the spring of 1831, I was again in Auburn and saw another powerful revival there. The circumstances were peculiar, and deeply interesting and will be related in their appropriate place in this narrative.


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