The Oberlin Evangelist
January 5, 1848
LAST SICKNESS AND DEATH OF MRS. FINNEY
[by her husband The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY]
I am aware that it is not customary, on account of the size of your paper, to publish any thing more of obituary notices than the mere fact of the death of individuals. But I am inclined to write a short article for your paper respecting the departure of my dear wife for the following reasons. If you think the reasons and the character of the article justify the publication, you will oblige me by giving it a place in your columns. My principal reasons for this course are the following.
1. My dear wife, as you know, formerly accompanied me in my labors as an evangelist. She participated in my labors, and trials, my rejoicings and sorrows through many of the most searching and powerful revivals of religion that I have ever seen, or of which I have read or heard. In these wanderings and labors she formed many endearing acquaintances and friendships and these friends of hers will, when they hear of her death, desire to know something of her religious history subsequent to their having seen her, and especially during her last illness. It is due to them, due to the grace of God, and due to my departed wife, to satisfy this reasonable desire of her numerous and valued friends. It would cost me more time and labor to write to them individually than I can bestow. I therefore wish to give them the information they desire through the columns of your paper; since I presume it is taken more or less extensively in nearly all places where my dear wife has accompanied me in my labors.
2. Since she has been here you are aware that she has been considerably engaged in lecturing to the classes of young ladies as they have passed through this Institution. Those ladies will, when they hear of her departure, desire to be informed of her state of mind since they have seen her--and this reasonable desire I wish to gratify for their sakes and in honor of the grace of God. But neither can I do this by writing letters. If these reasons appear to have sufficient weight will you peruse what follows and insert or reject it at your discretion? I shall only notice a few facts of her religious history. She was hopefully converted to God when eleven years old under the pastoral labors of the late Rev. John Frost, of Whitesborough, Oneida Co., N.Y.
I became slightly acquainted with her when in the 18th year of her age. As it subsequently appeared, this acquaintance served to interest her in me and especially in the salvation of my soul. I was then unconverted. After some months had elapsed from the time of my having seen her, I began to be aware that the Spirit of God was striving with me, and I was soon after, as I trust, converted to God. Soon after my conversion, I providentially became acquainted with the fact that she who was afterwards my wife had had for a considerable time previous to my conversion a great struggle in prayer for the salvation of my soul. The knowledge of this fact led to a still further acquaintance which resulted in our marriage.
Her religion was always of a mild, unobtrusive and calm type. As she passed through those great and searching revivals to which I have alluded she was often deeply searched, insomuch that the foundations of her heart were broken up. During those seasons she frequently trembled for her own soul, and several times well nigh relinquished all hope. When the Holy Spirit would enable me, in preaching, to lay open the secrets of the human heart, I would often find on going home that the sword of the Spirit had cut my dear wife all to pieces. Thus the Holy Spirit continued to probe and search her heart from time to time, at every successive step laying her lower and lower in the depths of self-abasement. This, so far as I could see, prevented any risings of spiritual pride in her in view of the great success God was pleased to give us in our labors. Upon this point, I at first entertained some fears lest her piety should suffer from the amount of success attending our efforts. But I soon saw that God would take care of that, and the great searchings of heart through which she was frequently passing were doing a great work for her. She did not appear to be steadily at rest about her hope in Christ until after we came here.
Soon after our eyes were opened here more distinctly to the way and life of faith, and we began to preach Christ as a present sanctification to believers, there were great revivals and most profound searchings of heart among all classes of persons here. At this time my dear wife was more deeply searched than ever before. She for a time seemed to be almost without hope. She was naturally tacitum and reserved, and even to me had not hitherto disclosed her deepest exercises of mind. But at the time just mentioned, she wrote me a long communication and left it on my table, in which she laid her heart open to me as thoroughly, I presume, as she could. This led to her receiving such light and grace that she ever after, so far as I know, held fast her confidence without wavering. Since then I have seen her hope thoroughly tested, but never saw it tremble. Two years ago this last fall she was suddenly seized with a violent and copious bleeding at the lungs and seemed threatened with almost instant death. At this awful crisis I was struck with her entire calmness and resignation. Although so suddenly arrested, she seemed to feel herself prepared to go and was not at all afraid to die. From the last great searching of which I have spoken she seemed to have come into a new and steady light and seemed to live by faith in such a sense as to be constantly prepared to die.
She kept about, although suffering much from weakness, since her bleeding at the lungs, until her last sickness. During the last summer however there were more decided developments of a pulmonary consumption than before, insomuch that I repeatedly told her that she could not long survive. This, never in the least degree, as I could see, alarmed or excited her. She would speak of dying as calmly as she would talk of going to church.
The cough had become very severe before commencement. A week before commencement, our son-in-law, Prof. Cochran, suddenly died, and the first intelligence we had of his death was the return of our dear, stricken daughter Helen with the corpse of her departed husband for internment. In the weak state of my wife, this was a severe shock to her as well as to myself. This was followed by the exhausting cares connected with commencement. On the evening of commencement, I was seized with a typhoid fever. Soon after, my two sons and a young lady in our family were also attached with fever. Dear wife kept about for about three weeks and then took her bed to rise no more. She had a run of the fever after which her pulmonary difficulty increased until she departed. With the fever she did not expect to die. She repeatedly said that she did not think that she should die at that time. When, however, the consumptive tendency came to take on an aggravated development, she then became satisfied that she was soon to leave this world. Some weeks before her death she remarked to me that she had had a struggle to give up her husband and her children and make up her mind to leave us. Soon after, she remarked that she had not thought it possible for her so fully and perfectly to give up every thing to God as to have such perfect peace of mind and such perfect and joyful composure in view of leaving us all and going herself into eternity.
She often said, "My soul enjoys perfect peace." She said her confidence in Christ was so perfect that death, in every aspect of it, was pleasant to her.
Knowing as I did her former doubts and fears, I was much edified and refreshed to see the triumph of grace in her case. She seemed at no time to fear or shudder in view of approaching death, but on the contrary to look and wait for her change with joyfulness. She had always been in the habit of holding frequent prayer meetings with her children. She held her last meeting with them about three weeks before her death and when confined to her bed. After this, she said her work was done and she had strength to talk but little with them. She remarked to me a day or two before her death that I might think it strange that she said so little to the children when they stood around her of late. She added that she had no strength to converse with them and besides her work was done with and for them. She had had her last prayer meeting with them and had said all she had to say. She had given them her last advice. The great peace and calmness of her mind were very apparent in her countenance till the close of life. She at no time appeared to be otherwise than in the perfect possession and exercise of her reason. She could speak until within a few moments of her last breath. Up to this point all was peace. When a few hours before her ceasing to breathe I called her attention to the fact that the blood was settled under her nails and that there were other evident tokens of immediate death, she calmly replied, "well that is all right." So far as she was able to make known her state of mind, all was perfect peace, as she used emphatically to express it to the last. She left us at fifteen minutes before 11 o'clock, on the 18th inst. And now my dear brother, will you not suffer me to add a word about myself and my family. Hitherto, on account of my public labors, the immediate care of the children has devolved in a great measure on my dear wife. She has gone and left this responsibility upon me. I am conscious of the need of great grace in my circumstances. I feel deeply the loss of my precious help-meet. My sensibility bleeds at every pore. I am ashamed to dwell upon my loss or upon the loss my children have sustained. I know it is more suitable and more just to the grace of God to dwell upon her unspeakable gain and upon the abounding grace that spared her so long and made her the instrument of so much good to us. She was not ours but Christ's. He bought her with his blood and he espoused her to himself, and surely I ought not to object or to grieve that he should call her home and give her a discharge from further trials and sufferings.
If I know my heart, my only prayer in respect to her life or death has been "Thy will be done." It seems as if this was and is all that I could or can say in reference to it.
My dear wife used to look up to me as her spiritual guide and teacher under God, but in justice to her I would say that she taught me many most valuable lessons. She showed me in many things how to live, and now she has shown me how to die. O, I ask myself, can I die like that? Certainly not without the abounding and sovereign grace of God. Will not you, my brother, and those of your readers especially who knew my dear wife, and all who can pray, pray for me and my motherless family, that great and sufficient grace may be upon us all.
Your brother in the afflictions and hopes of the glorious gospel of the blessed God,
Oberlin, Dec. 25, 1847.
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