MEMOIRS OF CHARLES G. FINNEY
THE REVIVAL IN ROCHESTER IN 1842
AFTER resting a day or two in Boston, I left for home. Being very weary with labor and travel, I called on a friend at Rochester, to take a day's rest before proceeding farther. As soon as it was known that I was in Rochester, Judge G called on me, and with much earnestness, requested me to stop and preach. Some of the ministers also, insisted upon my stopping, and preaching for them. I informed them that I was worn out, and the time had come for me to be at home. However, they were very urgent, and especially one of the ministers, whose wife was one of my spiritual daughters, the Sarah B, of whom I have spoken, as having been converted in Western. I finally consented to stop, and preach a sermon or two, and did so. But this brought upon me a more importunate invitation, to remain and hold a series of meetings. I decided to remain and, though wearied, went on with the work.
Mr. George S. Boardman was pastor of what was then called, the Bethel, or Washington street church; and Mr. Shaw, of the Second or Brick church. Mr. Shaw was very anxious to unite with Mr. Boardman, and have the meetings at their churches alternately. Mr. Boardman was indisposed to take this course, saying that his congregation was weak, and needed the concentration of my labors at that point. I regretted this; but still I could not overrule it, and went on with my labors at the Bethel, or Washington street church. Soon after, Dr. Shaw secured the labors of Rev. Jedediah Burchard in his church, and undertook a protracted effort there.
In the meantime, Judge G had united with other members of the bar, in a written request to me, to preach a course of sermons to lawyers, adapted to their ways of thinking. Judge G was then one of the judges of the court of appeals in the state, and held a very high place in the estimation of the whole profession. I consented to deliver the course of lectures. I was aware of the half-skeptical state of mind in which those members of the bar were, many of them at least, who were still unconverted. There was still left in the city, a goodly number of pious lawyers, who had been converted in the revival of 1830 and 31.
I began my course of lectures to lawyers, by asking this question: Do we know anything? and followed up the inquiry by lecturing, evening after evening. My congregation became very select. Brother Burchard's meetings opened an interesting place for one class of the community, and made more room for the lawyers, and those especially attracted by my course of lectures, in the house where I was preaching. It was completely filled, every night. As I proceeded in my lectures, from night to night, I observed the interest constantly deepening.
As Judge G's wife was a particular friend of mine, I had occasion to see him not unfrequently, and was very sure that the Word was getting a strong hold of him. He remarked to me after I had delivered several lectures, "Mr. Finney, you have cleared the ground to my satisfaction, thus far; but when you come to the question of the endless punishment of the wicked, you will slip up; you will fail to convince us on that question." I replied, "Wait and see, Judge." This hint made me the more careful, when I came to that point, to discuss it with all thoroughness. The next day I met him, and he volunteered the remark at once, "Mr. Finney, I am convinced. Your dealing with that subject was a success; nothing can be said against it." The manner in which he said this, indicated that the subject had not merely convinced his intellect, but had deeply impressed him.
I was going on from night to night, but had not thought my somewhat new and select audience yet prepared for me to call for any decision, on the part of inquirers. But I had arrived at a point where I thought it was time to draw the net ashore. I had been carefully laying it around the whole mass of lawyers, and hedging them in, as I supposed, by a train of reasoning that they could not resist. I was aware that lawyers are accustomed to listen to argument, to feel the weight of a logically presented truth; and had no doubt that the great majority of them were thoroughly convinced, as far as I had gone; consequently I had prepared a discourse, which I intended should bring them to the point, and if it appeared to take effect, I intended to call on them to commit themselves.
Judge G, at the time I was there before, when his wife was converted, had opposed the anxious seat. I expected he would do so again, as I knew he had strongly committed himself, in what he had said, against the use of the anxious seat. When I came to preach the sermon of which I have spoken, I observed that Judge G was not in the seat he had usually occupied; and on looking around I could not see him anywhere among the members of the bar or the judges. I felt concerned about this, for I had prepared myself with reference to his case. I knew his influence was great, and that if he would take a decided stand, it would have a very great influence upon all the legal profession in the city. However I soon observed that he had come into the gallery, and had found a seat just at the head of the gallery stairs, where he sat wrapped in his cloak. I went on with my discourse; but near the close of what I designed to say, I observed that Judge G had gone from his seat. I felt distressed, for I concluded that, as it was cold where he sat, and perhaps there was some confusion, it being near the head of the stairs, he had gone home; and hence that the sermon which I had prepared with my eye upon him, had failed of its effect.
From the basement room of the church, there was a narrow stairway into the audience room above, coming up just by the side of, and partly behind, the pulpit. Just as I was drawing my sermon to a close, and with my heart almost sinking with the fear that I was to fail, in what I had hoped to secure that night, I felt someone pulling at the skirt of my coat. I looked around, and there was Judge G. He had gone down through the basement room, and up those narrow stairs, and crept up the pulpit steps, far enough to reach me, and pull me by the coat. When I turned around to him, and beheld him with great surprise, he said to me, "Mr. Finney, won't you pray for me by name and I will take the anxious seat." I had said nothing about an anxious seat at all. The congregation had observed this movement on the part of Judge G, as he came up on the pulpit stairs; and when I announced to them what he said, it produced a wonderful shock. There was a great gush of feeling, in every part of the house. Many held down their heads and wept; others seemed to be engaged in earnest prayer. He crowded around in front of the pulpit, and knelt immediately down. The lawyers arose almost en masse, and crowded into the aisles, and filled the open space in front, wherever they could get a place to kneel. The movement had begun without my requesting it; but I then publicly invited any, who were prepared to renounce their sins, and give their hearts to God, and to accept Christ and His salvation, to come forward, into the aisles, or wherever they could, and kneel down. There was a mighty movement. We prayed, and then I dismissed the meeting.
As I had been preaching every night, and could not give up an evening to a meeting of inquiry, I appointed a meeting for the instruction of inquirers, the next day at two o'clock, in the basement of the church. When I went, I was surprised to find the room nearly full, and that the audience was composed almost exclusively of the more prominent citizens. This meeting I continued from day to day, having an opportunity to converse freely, with great numbers; and they were as teachable as children. I never attended a more interesting and affecting meeting of inquiry, I think, than that. A large number of the lawyers were converted, Judge G, I might say, at their head; as he had taken the lead in coming out on the side of Christ.
I remained there, at that time, two months. The revival became wonderfully interesting and powerful, and resulted in the conversion of great numbers. It took a powerful hold in one of the Episcopal churches, St. Luke's, of which Dr. Whitehouse, the present bishop of Illinois, was pastor. When I was in Reading, Pa., several years before, Dr. Whitehouse was preaching to an Episcopal congregation in that city; and, as one of his most intelligent ladies informed me, was greatly blessed in his soul, in that revival. When I came to Rochester, in 1830, he was the pastor of St. Luke's; and, as I was informed, encouraged his people to attend our meetings, and I was told that many of them, were at that time, converted. So also in this revival, in 1842, I was informed that he encouraged his people, and advised them to attend the meetings. He was himself a very successful pastor, and had great influence in Rochester. I have been informed that in this revival, in 1842, not less than seventy, and those almost all among the principal people of his congregation, were converted, and confirmed in his church.
One striking incident I must mention. I had insisted much, in my instructions, upon entire consecration to God, giving up all to him, body, and soul, and possessions, and everything, to be forever thereafter used for his glory, as a condition of acceptance with God. As was my custom in revivals, I made this as prominent as I well could. One day as I went into meeting, one of the lawyers with whom I had formed some acquaintance and who had been in deep anxiety of mind, I found waiting at the door of the church. As I went in, he took out of his pocket a paper, and handed me, remarking, "I deliver this to you as the servant of the Lord Jesus Christ." I put it in my pocket until after meeting. On examining it, I found it to be a quit-claim deed, made out in regular order, and executed ready for delivery, in which he quit-claimed to the Lord Jesus Christ, all ownership of himself, and of everything he possessed. The deed was in due form, with all the peculiarities and formalities of such conveyances. I think I have it still among my papers. He appeared to be in solemn earnest, and so far as I could see, was entirely intelligent in what he did. But I must not go farther into particulars.
As it regards the means used in this revival, I would say, that the doctrines preached were those that I always preached, everywhere. The moral government of God was made prominent; and the necessity of an unqualified and universal acceptance of God's will, as a rule of life; the acceptance by faith, of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, and in all His official relations and work; and the sanctification of the soul through or by the truth, these and kindred doctrines were dwelt upon as time would permit, and as the necessities of the people seemed to require.
The measures were simply preaching the Gospel, and abundant prayer, in private, in social circles, and in public prayer meetings; much stress being always laid upon prayer as an essential means of promoting the revival. Sinners were not encouraged to expect the Holy Ghost to convert them, while they were passive; and never told to wait God's time, but were taught, unequivocally, that their first and immediate duty was, to submit themselves to God, to renounce their own will, their own way, and themselves, and instantly to deliver up all that they were, and all that they had, to their rightful owner, the Lord Jesus Christ. They were taught here, as everywhere in those revivals, that the only obstacle in the way was their own stubborn will; that God was trying to gain their unqualified consent to give up their sins, and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their righteousness and salvation. The point was frequently urged upon them to give their consent; and they were told that the only difficulty was, to get their own honest and earnest consent to the terms upon which Christ would save them, and the lowest terms upon which they possibly could be saved.
Meetings of inquiry were held, for the purpose of adapting instruction to those who were in different stages of conviction; and after conversing with them, as long as I had time and strength, I was in the habit of summing up at last, and taking up representative cases, and meeting all their objections, answering all their questions, correcting their errors, and pursuing such a course of remark, as was calculated to strip them of every excuse, and bring them face to face with the great question of present, unqualified, universal acceptance of the will of God in Christ Jesus. Faith in God, and God in Christ, was ever made prominent. They were informed that this faith is not a mere intellectual assent, but is the consent or trust of the heart, a voluntary, intelligent trust in God, as He is revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The doctrine of the justice of endless punishment was fully insisted upon; and not only its justice, but the certainty that sinners will be endlessly punished, if they die in their sins, was strongly held forth. On all these points the Gospel was so presented as to give forth no uncertain sound. This was at least my constant aim, and the aim of all who gave instructions. The nature of the sinner's dependence upon divine influence, was explained, and enforced, and made prominent. Sinners were taught that, without the divine teaching and influence, it is certain, from their depraved state, that they never would be reconciled to God; and yet that their want of reconciliation was simply their own hardness of heart, or the stubbornness of their own wills, so that their dependence upon the Spirit of God is no excuse for their not being Christians at once. These points that I have noticed, and others which logically flow from them, were held forth in every aspect, so far as time would permit.
Sinners were never taught, in those revivals, that they needed to expect conversion, in answer to their own prayers. They were told that if they regarded iniquity in their hearts, the Lord would not hear them; and that while they remained impenitent, they did regard iniquity in their hearts. I do not mean that they were exhorted not to pray. They were informed that God required them to pray, but to pray in faith, to pray in the spirit of repentance; and that when they asked God to forgive them, they were to commit themselves unalterably to His will. They were taught, expressly, that mere impenitent and unbelieving prayer, is an abomination to God; but that if they were truly disposed to offer acceptable prayer to God, they could do it; for that there was nothing but their own obstinacy in the way of their offering acceptable prayer at once. They were never left to think that they could do their duty in any respect, could perform any duty whatever, unless they gave their hearts to God. To repent, to believe, to submit, as inward acts of the mind, were the first duties to be performed; and until these were performed, no outward act whatever was doing their duty. That for them to pray for a new heart, while they did not give themselves up to God, was to tempt God; that to pray for forgiveness until they truly repented, was to insult God, and to ask Him to do what He had no right to do; that to pray in unbelief, was to charge God with lying, instead of doing their duty; and that all their unbelief was nothing but a blasphemous charging of God with lying. In short, pains were taken to shut the sinner up to accepting Christ, His whole will, atonement, official work and official relations, cordially, and with fixed purpose of heart, renouncing all sin, all excuse-making, all unbelief, all hardness of heart, and every wicked thing, in heart, and life, here, and now, and forever.
I have always been particularly interested in the salvation of lawyers, and of all men of the legal profession. To that profession I was myself educated. I understood pretty well their habits of reading and thinking, and knew that they were more certainly controlled by argument, by evidence, and by logical statements, than any other class of men. I have always found, wherever I have labored, that when the Gospel was properly presented, they were the most accessible class of men; and I believe it is true that, in proportion to their relative number, in any community, more have been converted, than of any other class. I have been particularly struck with this, in the manner in which a clear presentation of the Law and of the Gospel of God, will carry the intelligence of judges, men who are in the habit of sitting and hearing testimony, and weighing arguments on both sides. I have never, to my recollection, seen a case, in which judges were not convinced of the truth of the Gospel, where they have attended meetings, in the revivals which I have witnessed. I have often been very much affected, in conversing with members of the legal profession, by the manner in which they would consent to propositions, to which persons of ill-disciplined minds would have objected.
There was one of the judges of the court of appeals, living in Rochester, who seemed to be possessed of a chronic skepticism. He was a reader and a thinker, a man of great refinement, and of great intellectual honesty. His wife, having experienced religion under my ministry, was a particular friend of mine. I have had very thorough conversation with that man. He always freely confessed to me that the arguments were conclusive, and that his intellect was worried, by the preaching and the conversation. He said to me, "Mr. Finney, you always in your public discourses carry me right along with you; but while I assent to the truth of all that you say, I do not feel right; somehow my heart does not respond." He was one of the loveliest of unconverted men, and it was both a grief and a pleasure to converse with him. His candor and intelligence made conversation with him, on religious subjects, a great pleasure; but his chronic unbelief rendered it exceedingly painful. I have conversed with him more than once, when his whole mind seemed to be agitated to its lowest depths. And yet, so far as I know, he has never been converted. His praying and idolized wife has gone to her grave. His only child, a son, was drowned before his eyes. After these calamities had befallen him, I wrote him a letter, referring to some conversations I had with him, and trying to win him to a source from which he could get consolation. He replied in all kindness; but dwelling upon his loss, he said, there could be no consolation that could meet a case like that. He was truly blind to all the consolation he could find in Christ. He could not conceive how he could ever accept this dispensation, and be happy. He has lived in Rochester, through one great revival after another; and although his mouth was shut, so that he had no excuse to make, and no refuge to which he could betake himself, still so far as I know, he has mysteriously remained in unbelief. I have mentioned his case, as an illustration of the manner in which the intelligence of the legal profession can be carried, by the force of truth. When I come to speak of the next revival in Rochester, in which I had a share, I shall have occasion to mention other instances that will illustrate the same point.
Several of the lawyers that were at this time converted in Rochester, gave up their profession and went into the ministry. Among these was one of Chancellor W's sons, at that time a young lawyer in Rochester, and who appeared at the time to be soundly converted. For some reason, with which I am not acquainted, he went to Europe and to Rome, and finally became a Roman Catholic priest. He has been for years laboring zealously to promote revivals of religion among them, holding protracted meetings; and, as he told me himself, when I met him in England, trying to accomplish in the Roman Catholic church what I was endeavoring to accomplish in the Protestant church. Mr. W seems to be an earnest minister of Christ, given up, heart and soul, to the salvation of Roman Catholics. How far he agrees with all their views, I cannot say. When I was in England, he was there, and sought me out, and came very affectionately to see me; and we had just as pleasant an interview, so far as I know, as we should have had, if we had both been Protestants. He said nothing of his peculiar views, but only that he was laboring among the Roman Catholics, to promote revivals of religion. Many ministers have been the fruits of the great revivals in Rochester.
It was a fact that often greatly interested me, when laboring in that city, that lawyers would come to my room, when they were pressed hard, and were on the point of submission, for conversation and light, on some point which they did not clearly apprehend; and I observed, again and again, that when those points were cleared up, they were ready at once to submit. Indeed, as a general thing, they take a more intelligent view of the whole plan of salvation, than any other class of men to whom I have ever preached, or with whom I have ever conversed.
Very many physicians have also been converted, in the great revivals which I have witnessed. I think their studies incline them to skepticism, or to a form of materialism. Yet they are intelligent; and if the Gospel is thoroughly set before them, stripped of those peculiar features which are embodied in hyper-Calvinism, they are easily convinced, and as readily converted, as any other class of the people. Their studies, as a general thing, have not prepared them so readily to apprehend the moral government of God, as those of the legal profession. But still I have found them open to conviction, and by no means a difficult class of persons to deal with, upon the great question of salvation.
I have everywhere found, that the peculiarities of hyper-Calvinism have been a great stumbling block, both of the church and of the world. A nature sinful in itself, a total inability to accept Christ, and to obey God, condemnation to eternal death for the sin of Adam, and for a sinful nature, and all the kindred and resultant dogmas of that peculiar school, have been the stumbling block of believers and the ruin of sinners.
Universalism, Unitarianism, and indeed all forms of fundamental error, have given way and fallen out of sight in the presence of great revivals. I have learned, again and again, that a man needs only to be thoroughly convicted of sin by the Holy Ghost, to give up at once and forever, and gladly give up, Universalism and Unitarianism. When I speak of the next great revival in Rochester, I shall have occasion to speak more fully of the manner in which skeptics, if a right course is taken with them, are sometimes shut up to condemnation, by their own irresistible convictions; so that they will rejoice to find a door of mercy opened through the revelations that are made in the Scriptures. But this I leave to be introduced in the proper order.
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