CHARLES G. FINNEY
Articles in THE INDEPENDENT of NEW YORK
[First of Two]
BY PRES. CHARLES G. FINNEY.
NEW YORK, JANUARY 23, 1873
Some time since I briefly noticed in THE INDEPENDENT a revival that occurred in Antwerp, Jefferson County, N.Y. During that revival it was reported that some "roughs" in Governeur, a town twelve miles north of Antwerp, threatened to come down and break up our meetings. I thought no more of the report; and when I concluded my labors in Antwerp I went to Brownville, to the west of Antwerp some thirty or forty miles. I had never been in Governeur, and knew nothing of the state of society there, except what I inferred from the report just mentioned, and the report had passed completely out of my mind. I had not, to my recollection, so much as thought of Governeur since I left Antwerp, until about mid-winter, while at Brownville. One day, while engaged in secret prayer, the Spirit of God made it plain to me that I must go to Governeur and preach the Gospel. It took me by surprise, as I had not mentioned or so much as thought of Governeur while engaged in prayer. But the Divine showing was clear and irresistible. I must go to Governeur. Nothing was said or revealed in regard to the time when I was to go. Soon after this I was introduced to a member of the Congregational church of Governeur, who was at Brownville on business. I told him that the Lord had bidden me to go to Governeur to preach the Gospel, and inquired as to the state of religion there. He appeared incredulous and confused; but from him I learned that there were two churches a* ([a] Baptist and a Congregational, or it may have been Presbyterian church) there, and that the latter church had no pastor, that the state of society was highly irreligious, and that the churches were asleep. I thought no more upon this subject for some months. I had left Brownville, and was commencing labors in the neighborhood of Le Royville, when, of a sudden, the Lord bade me in a very urgent manner, to go to Governeur, as I understood, immediately. I had two or three appointments to fulfill in the place where I then was; and, as Rev. Daniel Nash had just joined me, I requested him to go to Governeur, survey the ground, leave an appointment for me to preach there, and come back and report. He went; and returned, saying that he found some conviction on the minds of some professors of religion, but, on the whole, the state of religion was very discouraging. At my request, he returned immediately to Governeur, to attend a meeting of the church to prepare for my coming. Two or three days later I followed him, and arrived in the village an entire stranger, just as the meeting was about to be dismissed. I rode directly to the church, and entered just as Brother Nash had risen to dismiss the meeting. He saw me come in, and paused. I went directly to him; and he took me right in his arms, and then turned and introduced me to the church. I preached that evening. The house was full, and the Spirit and power of God were present. The next morning I found the village excited. I sallied forth to converse with whomsoever I should meet. In passing a tailor ship, I observed a number of persons within, and heard them conversing about the sermon of the night before. I stepped in, and found myself in the midst of a company of Universalists, headed by a Dr. Spencer, a hotel-keeper of the village. I proposed to discuss the question of Universalism with the Doctor; and, after settling the preliminaries, the discussion commenced. The Doctor's friends rallied around him, and evidently anticipated a triumph. They soon saw their mistake, and went out, one by one, leaving their leader to get out of the difficulty as best he could. I followed him up till he subsided. His wife was a member of the church. Before night I learned that he went home so much agitated that his wife inquired what was the matter. He at first made no reply; but she said, "Doctor, have you not seen Mr. Finney?" He burst into tears, and replied: "Yes, and he has turned my weapons upon my own head." He soon after obtained a hope in Christ. God was perfectly faithful in fulfilling the promise to pour out his Spirit, as he had assured me that he would. A revival commenced immediately, and went forward with great power. We held meetings, either for preaching or prayer or inquiry, nearly every day. Prominent in the village was a gentleman merchant, by the name of Harvey D. Smith. He was a gentleman of much more than ordinary culture. He was living with a second wife, who was the daughter of an Old School Presbyterian minister. His first wife also was a daughter of a minister of the same school. His father-in-law, together with his other Christian friends, had taken the utmost pains to win him to Christianity; but it had resulted in confirmed Deism. He was a reader, and familiar with such Christian literature as was found in the libraries of his fathers-in-law. He was an amiable gentleman, a good husband, and a good and influential citizen. His wife was a lady of uncommon culture and refinement, and exceedingly anxious to have her husband converted to Christ. I had been there but a few days when she called on me, requesting me to see her husband, informing me who and what he was. I appointed an hour to see him. When I called, he at first declined to see me, saying it would do no good; that he had spent time enough in conversing with ministers upon the subject--he was familiar with all the arguments in favor of Christianity, and was unwilling to give any more time to the consideration of the question. But, as his wife entreated with tears, he consented. As soon as we were introduced, I said: "Mr. Smith, I have not come in to have any controversy with you; but, at the request of Mrs. Smith, to try to do you good. She has informed me that your are a Deist; and, if you will state to me in brief your objections to the Christian religion, it is possible that I may be able to relieve your difficulties." I then said, kindly: "Mr. Smith, how much do you admit?" He replied: "I am no Atheist. I believe in the existence, providence, and government of God." I am a Deist; still I admit the immortality of the human soul. But I do not, I cannot believe the Bible to be the Word of God." I inquired why. He replied: "Mr. Finney, you and I need not consume much time in going over the subject. We can soon ascertain in what we agree and wherein we disagree. We agree that God created us." "Yes," I replied. "That we are conscious of being free moral agents." "Yes." "That we are endowed by our Creator with certain irresistible convictions of right and wrong." "Yes." "That God is just and good." "Yes." "That any pretended revelation from him must represent him as being wise, just, and good." "Yes." "That any pretended revelation that represents God as doing or saying things that are contrary to our fundamental and irresistible convictions of what is right and just cannot be from God." I again said: "Yes, provided the revelation be rightly interpreted and our convictions rightly and thoroughly developed." He then said: "I am glad that we are agreed so far. My objection to the Bible is that it teaches doctrines that directly contradict my irresistible convictions of right." "Wherein?" I inquired. He replied: "The Bible teaches that God holds all men guilty of Adam's sin, and threatens us all with eternal damnation for the guilt of it. Certainly, no book can be from God that teaches such a doctrine as this." "Where," I asked, "does the Bible teach this? Will you produce the passage? Instead of quoting the Bible, he quoted the Catechism. I said: "Mr. Smith, let us confine ourselves to the teaching of the Bible, and for the present lay the Catechism aside. Where does the Bible teach this?" He could not produce the passage that, when justly interpreted, he dared to say taught such a doctrine; but proceeded to say that the Bible represented all mankind as being born under a divine constitution, with a nature wholly sinful in every faculty and part of soul and body, as wholly incapable of good and disposed to all evil, as coming into being in a state of condemnation and wrath, and for this sinful nature doomed to everlasting misery. Here he waxed warm, and asserted that no book that taught such a doctrine as this could be from God. Again I mildly demanded the passage that taught any such doctrine; and he again quoted the Catechism. I again declined to receive the Catechism as proof, and insisted upon his showing me where the doctrine was taught in the Bible. He failed to produce any passage on which he could rely as teaching the doctrine. "But," he said, "are you not a Presbyterian minister, and do you not receive the Confession of Faith as teaching the true meaning of the Bible?" I replied: "Mr. Smith, we are not all agreed as to the exact meaning of the Confession of Faith on all points. If you please, we will confine our examination to the Bible, and deal fairly with it. Failing to fasten this doctrine on the Bible, he proceeded to say that the Bible calls upon all men to repent, on pain of eternal damnation; and yet teaches that we can no more repent than we can create a world. "Can that be a revelation from God, that demands performance of impossibilities, upon pain of eternal damnation?" I again called for proof; and he again quoted Catechism, and added that these were in substance the doctrines that he had heard preached all his life. I held him to the Bible. He proceeded to charge other doctrines upon the Bible; but failed to show that the Bible taught any such doctrines. He finally set himself back in his chair, and said: "Mr. Finney, you are the first Presbyterian minister I ever conversed with that would not receive the Catechism as the true exponent of the teachings of the Bible." I replied: "My dear sir, we have the Bible in our hands. We need not go to the Catechism. We can expound it for ourselves; and, certainly, you have failed to show that the Bible, when rightly interpreted, teaches these obnoxious doctrines, to which you so strongly object." He began to be subdued, and said, mildly: "Please to tell me, then, what you do believe." I shall not soon forget the look and tone with which he said this, as he drew his chair close up in front of me. I then began and gave him my views of the nature and consequences of the sin of Adam. I went over in outline the whole ground of man's guilt, condemnation, and redemption by Jesus Christ substantially as I have always held and preached these doctrines. As I proceeded, he asked some questions, which I readily and satisfactorily answered. When I explained the nature and necessity of the atonement, and that it was made for all mankind, that salvation was free to all, it completely overcame him. The blood rose to his face, which became scarlet red; and, covering it with his hands, he burst into a flood of tears and broke completely down. While he wept profusely and held his face down almost between his knees, I rose and abruptly left the room. Shortly after the bell tolled for a church prayer-meeting. I had hardly commenced the meeting when Mr. Smith and his wife came in. The people looked with surprise to see Mr. Smith in a prayer-meeting. I took up most of the time in remarks intended to enlighten him, and held up Jesus. He looked at me with an intensity that seemed to say: "It is all new to me." Before the meeting closed his face was all in a glow. As his wife informed me, he had been particularly bitter against the doctrine of endless punishment, as being supremely unjust. In walking home from the meeting, he said to his wife: "What has become of all my infidelity? It is all gone! All my arguments in support of it now seem to me to be of no weight. I wonder that I ever could have rested in them. I have entirely misunderstood the government of God. I appear to myself like a man who has been called to pass judgment upon some magnificent temple or piece of architecture, who as soon as he comes in view of one corner of it turned away and condemned the whole of it with disgust. I have done God the greatest injustice, and if ever a man deserved eternal damnation I am that man." He immediately came squarely out for Christ, entered into the work of revival with all his heart, and soon after united with the church. He became a deacon, and was notoriously one of the most consistent and useful Christians in all that region up to the time of his death, which occurred but a few years since. Many very interesting incidents occurred in this revival, some of which I may relate at another time. I do not profess to have related the conversation between Mr. Smith and myself verbatim; but as nearly as I can remember it. I have been more particular in relating this case of conversion as it forcibly illustrates the stumbling-block which has been laid before the feet of that class of men by the bald statements of the Catechism, and how ready the Spirit of God is to make the real truth the power of God unto salvation.
*the article "a" is mistakenly placed before the parenthesis mark instead of after it.--Ed.
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