CHARLES G. FINNEY
Articles in THE INDEPENDENT of NEW YORK
THE PROGRESS OF THE GOVERNEUR REVIVAL
BY PRES. CHARLES G. FINNEY
NEW YORK, JANUARY 30, 1873
The striking conversion and outspoken manner of Mr. Smith made a deep impression upon the community. The surrender, also, of Dr. Spencer, the Universalist, had prostrated the influence of Universalism; and the revival soon became powerful, and conversions to Christ were daily multiplied. But here I must relate a painful fact, which, for the sake of historic truth, cannot well be omitted. It relates to the temporary opposition to the revival of the Baptist church in that place. And here let me assure my Baptist brethren that it is not from any prejudice against their denomination, but from fidelity to historic truth and as a warning to other churches, that I relate this fact. It soon became known through the village and neighborhood that the Baptist minister and church had no confidence in the revival, but were speaking against it. This opposition was probably mostly confined to the leading influences in the church. From the beginning, however, the young people belonging to Baptist families attended our meetings, and the Spirit of God took a powerful hold of them. Some of the Baptist brethren carried their opposition so far as to restrain their young people from attending our meetings; and when they did attend some of them on one occasion came in and took their children out of the meeting, making them rise from their knees to do so. Being Christian people, the Spirit of God was grieved by their opposition, and for several days the work seem to be suspended. The faith of the Congregational or Presbyterian church, whichever it was (for in those days they made very little distinction between them), was too weak and faltering to overcome this opposition. Father Nash (as he was called) was still with me, and we saw that nothing but strong faith could ride out the storm of opposition. Emboldened by the state of things, a band of young men in the place bound themselves together in a pledge not to be converted. Understanding, as we did, that there was no help for this state of things but by a direct appeal to God, and seeing that the faith of the church was unequal to the emergency, Father Nash and I retired to a grove at some distance from the village, and there gave ourselves up to mighty wrestling in prayer with God for the continuance of the work. Father Nash had become one of the mightiest men in prayer that I then had known. The Holy Spirit gave us hold of the promise "Where any two of you shall agree," etc. We wrestled for some hours, until we prevailed, and came from our place of prayer with the assurance that the work would go on, and that no opposition should prevail against it. The meetings had not fallen off in numbers during the suspension of conversions, but were still crowded and intensely solemn. I did the preaching, and Father Nash gave himself wholly to prayer and personal convesation. The next sabbath after this triumph in prayer I had, as usual, preached morning and afternoon; and at five o'clock we had a general prayer-meeting in the church. The young men who had banded together to resist the revival were among the most influential in the place; and, joining their influence to that of opposing professors of religion, had arrested the work of conversion. The house was full, and we observed that numbers of those young men were present. The meeting was awfully solemn, and toward the close Father Nash rose and made a short address. From the first he spoke like a man inspired, and made a profound impression. After addressing the congregation in general for a short time, he turned and addressed those young men in a very pointed manner. He told them what they were doing, and with the utmost solemnity besought them to abandon their position. He denounced the wickedness of their conduct in unsparing language, and assured them that, "though the wicked join hand in hand, they shall not go unpunished." He went on in a strain of alternate indignation and compassion, till he wound up by saying: "Now, young men, mark what I say. In less than one week the Lord will break your ranks. He'll either convert some of you or send you to Hell in less than one week, as sure as the Lord is my God." With the last word he brought his hand down with full strength upon the top of the pew by which he stood. The words and the blow together had well-nigh caused an explosion in the congregation. It was as much as their nerves could bear. He seemed to speak with the authority of an inspiration from God; and never in my life, I think, have I seen a more profound impression produced by any sentence uttered by human lips. The shock was electrical. The Holy Ghost was in it. Father Nash sat instantly down, bowed his head, and groaned aloud with pain. But he had committed himself, and in some sense the cause of God, by asserting that in less than one week some of those young men would either be converted or sent to Hell. I shuddered, and feared that he had gone too far. I had not risen to the h[e]ight of his inspiration, and I thought he was imprudent. I thought of rising to modify what he had said; but I feared to do so. I let it pass, and immediately dismissed the meeting, as I had to preach again in the evening. I then expressed my fears to Father Nash; to which he smilingly replied, "We shall see." Early on the next Tuesday morning the leader of those young men called on me. He was overwhelmed with conviction; and, after a few words of conversation and prayer, he broke thoroughly down, and made full confession of his awful guilt. He seemed completely subdued, and inquired, with the deepest humility, what I advised him to do. I advised him to visit this whole circle of young men, confess to them, and beseech them to be reconciled to God. The Holy Ghost seemed to lay the burden of their souls upon him, and he went out from my presence borne down with the weight of his commission.
Before the week was closed, as nearly as I can remember, almost every one of those young men had hopefully submitted to God. The greater number of these young men, as I understood, belonged to Baptist families. The Congregational church took courage, and the work spread rapidly in all directions. We soon learned that about forty of the converts belonged to Baptist families, and still their opposition did not cease. We exhorted the brethren to make no allusion in their prayers, conversation, or remarks to the opposition. We persisted in this course ourselves, and no reference whatever was made to the opposition, any more than if there had been none. The revival went steadily and powerfully forward, until it was plain to me that, if the Baptist church would cease their opposition, the work would make a clean sweep. I felt called upon to take some decided step with the leaders in that opposition. Without intimating to any one what I proposed to do, I first sought out their deacon, of whose opposition I had heard so much. With him I had a long, kind, but very searching conversation. I told him that he must have become convinced that the revival was the work of God; that I had forborne to make any mention of the opposition, because I supposed that it proceeded from ignorance of revivals, and was made under the supposition that the work was not of God. But the opposition had gone far enough. If they were not now convinced that the work was of God, there was no hope of their becoming so; and, if he and his minister did not immediately cease their opposition, I should feel it my duty to make public mention of it in my sermon the next Sabbath. He made, as I thought, a very humble and sincere confession, and promised to take hold of the work in earnest. We then together had a very serious interview with his pastor, with a like result. They both confessed their opposition, said they had been deceived, and promised to oppose no more, but to enter heart and soul into the work. I then said: "There is now another danger which is greater than the one which I trust is now past. If you go to proselyting, and trying to get all the converts into your church, it will hurt the feelings and provoke the jealousy of the other church. A sectarian spirit will prevail and the work will cease. They both promised that nothing of the kind should be done. That the doors of their church should not be opened to receive members until the revival had spent its strength, and then the converts might enter which church they pleased. But near the close of the same week their monthly covenant meeting occurred. The doors of their church were thrown wide open, and converts were invited to come forward and join.
On the next Sabbath they began their marching in procession from their church to the river and baptizing. In the course of the week they were assisted by one of the most tenacious Baptists I ever knew, who lectured almost daily on the subject of baptism, and persuaded as many as he could to come forward and be immersed. The two elders, deacon, and leading members seemed from that time to be very busy in trying to gather all the converts into their church. Meetings and processions for immersion were occurring almost daily, until little else than baptism was thought or talked of. All classes of people became interested, and those that were convicted remained stationery or lost their conviction in the midst of the excitement about baptism. The work of conversion was again suspended; and for six weeks there was not a solitary conversion, to my knowledge. During all this time the proselyting efforts of the Baptists continued, and I took no public notice of it whatever. It had now become apparent that the question of baptism must be settled in that community or the work of conversion could go no further. On the next Sabbath, therefore, I said to the congregation: "The work of conversion has now been suspended for six weeks, and we all know the cause of it. I extremely regret the diversion of your attention for so long a period from the work of conversion to the subject of baptism. But it is plain that the question must be settled or the work finally cease. In the present state of things I am unwilling to spend* a Sabbath for the discussion of the question; but, if you will come on Wednesday, at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, and bring your Bibles, with pencils to mark the passages, I will read every passage in the Bible that relates to the mode of baptism, and state the views of our Baptism brethren with regard to the meaning of each passage, and then give my own views. At the appointed hour the house was filled by a most earnest congregation, with their Bibles and pencils. I began and read every passage that I had understood to relate to the mode of baptism, from the beginning to the end of the Bible. I had been made reasonably familiar with the best views of the Baptists with regard to those texts. I observed in the congregation a sprinkling of the leading members of the Baptist church. As I read each passage, I first gave the Baptist view of its meaning, and stated their views as strongly and as clearly as I could. I then stated my own views, as clearly and plainly as I could, in explanation of each text. I found, somewhat to my surprise, that the examination had occupied three hours and a half; but I could see in the congregation an appearance of intense and almost universal satisfaction with what had been said. At the close of the meeting I told them, if they would come the next day, with their Bibles and pencils, I would read and explain all the passages relating to the subject of baptism, as I had on the mode that day. During the closing exercises I felt thankful and mellow, and I observed that the congregation manifested a like feeling. After the benediction there was a shaking of hands and a manifest feeling of fellowship, which I observed especially between the Baptist and Congregational brethren present. The next day the house was still more densely packed; and I observed an increased number of Baptists present, one of whom was the proselyting elder above referred to. When I rose to commence my reading and remarks, the elder rose, and said: "Mr. Finney, I have an appointment in another place and cannot stay to hear you. I shall wish to reply to you, and how shall I know the course of argument you pursue?" "I have before me a skeleton outline of the passages I intend to read, and the remarks I intend to make. This manuscript shall be at your service," I replied. He then went out, and, as I supposed, left the house. I then proceeded, as on the previous day, to read the passages relating to the subject of baptism, and gave both views in the case as clearly and fairly as possible. In this I succeeded so well, on both occasions, that I understood the Baptists were entirely satisfied with the manner in which I gave their views. From the first the congregation waxed more and more mellow and tearful. Toward the close, when I brought out prominently the fact that the covenant made with Abraham was still the covenant with the church, the most interesting relation of the children of believers to that covenant, and the precious promises to parents, the congregation was very generally bowed, and sobs and tears pervaded the assembly. Just at this juncture a deacon of the church rose and went out with a child, that had become restless from the long sitting. He afterward informed me that, as he went out, he found the door of the vestibule ajar, and the proselyting elder sitting where he could here, himself bathed in tears. I found that I had occupied just three house and a half in the reading and remarks this day also. On dismissing the congregation, there was on all sides a shaking of hands again, and the remark "Well, this question is settled. There'll be no more of this" was made by many. From what I saw, I was convinced that good feeling was restored between the members of the two churches, which proved to be the case. We heard no more of proselyting and immersion while I staid in the place. The proselyting elder immediately left the place, as I understood, without fulfilling his last appointment. The Baptist brethren, like good Christians, as they really were, notwithstanding the mistake they had made, confessed their error and came earnestly into the work. We went on lovingly together, and the revival was immediately revived with great power. Before I left the town I administered the communion, and several Baptist families came forward, joined the church, and gave up their children to Christ in baptism. From this time so cordial was the feeling between the churches that after I left the Baptists dismissed their minister, and for a considerable length of time went over in mass and worshipped with the Congregationalists.
*original is unclear, might be "spare a Sabbath"--Ed.
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