To the Editor of The Examiner and Chronicle

28 March 1873


[Ms in the handwriting of Mrs. Rebecca Rayl Finney, in the Finney Papers, Addendum, Microfilm, roll 8]



Oberlin March 28th 1873.

Editor of the Examiner & Chronicle,

Dear Brother, I have seen

three articles in your paper criticizing my notices of the revival in

Governeur in 1825. I am truly sorry, that I offended my Baptist brethren

by what I wrote, for I have labored much with them in revivals of

religion with them, in many places, and with that single exception,

so far as I recollect, without any sectarian friction springing up, that

hindered the blessed work. I have often found them amongst my most

earnest co-laborers. I do not think that I have received, with that single

exception, more opposition from them, than from other denominations. I

am no sectarian; as the churches wherever I have labored, can testify.

I have read carefully and repeatedly the articles in your paper, to

which I have referred, and, not for my own sake, but in

deference to the feelings of my Baptist brethren, I beg leave to

make a short reply. First. My Baptist brethren regard my statements

as falsifying history. 1st They accuse me of representing the moral state

of society in the village of Governeur as worse than it was. I said

in my first article, that a member of the Presbyterian church had

informed me at Brownsville, that his church had no pastor, and

that "the state of society was highly irreligious." I did not say, that

it was a "God forsaken place." But what I did say has given offence

In ref Secondly, I have within the last year, seen two persons of

unquestionable veracity, who lived in Governeur at the time

I was there, who spoke freely of the state of society before the

revival, and represented it as much worse than I had supposed.

Of course, this was in, and immediately around, the village. Thirdly, In

the articles in your paper, I find enough from which to infer

as much as I had asserted, at least. I had spoken of some young

men's banding themselves together to resist the revival. Mr. Putnam

the present pastor, says "In talking with one man he said to me,

"Well, now, I suppose I was one of those young men, to whom

Mr. Finney referred. I was in those days, a very wild boy,

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and said with others, that I did not want the religion that Finney

preached. He was such an over bearing man, such an egotistical

man, that we determined not to have anything to do with him

or his meetings." Now did not this justify what I said? Was not

this banding together to resist the revival? But, after a sentence

or two he adds, "But as for us young men banding together

there is no truth in it." So he both affirms, and denies, what I

said. The then pastor, Rev. Noah Barrell, writes of one of these

young men, "It was the custom of the young men, to have a

ball, on the fourth of July. And in June, the work of the Spirit

was so general, that the most hardened young men resolved to

have a dance, and one was so desperate as to swear that

he would have one more dance, if he danced over hell."

Do not these sayings of these young men, seem to justify the state-

ment, made by the member of the Presbyterian church, that

society in the village, was in a highly irreligious state?

Again, Mr. Putnam writes "I have questioned old men &

women who remember Mr. Finney's preaching, and all about

the meetings he held here. None have told me that the things he

states in his article are all true. Observe; that revival was in

1825, nearly fifty years ago. It could not be reasonably ex-

pected that persons now living there would verify all the

facts that I related. Several of those facts, they may

never have heard of. And if they had, I submit, that

they would not be as likely, as I should, to remember them.

Mr. Putnam continues, "They say there was opposition, but

not by Baptists, any more than by others;" This may have

been true, without its coming to my knowledge. But I

do not recollect to have heard of opposition from

Presbyterians. It is certainly well known, that opposition to

my labors as an Evangelist, has not been confined to the

Baptists. But I did not think it necessary or in point, to

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say this, in that article. I had said in my article, that

some of the Baptists had joined the Presbyterian church

at our communion after the public discussion of the

question of baptism. Mrs. J. H. K. says that "this

is an untruth." This is also affirmed by Mr. Barrell, as

you represent, in his letter to you. If the church records,

of both churches, made at that time, justify this denial, then

it is plain that my memory is at fault, and I am

happy to stand corrected. I have made no inquiry as regards

the records of those churches. But, My Dear Brother, is it wonder-

ful, that after nearly half a century, we should disagree in our

remembrance of facts, and does good sense and charity,

allow us to make those questions of fact, occurring

so long ago, questions of veracity? I regard them

simply as questions of memory. I have no suspicion

that any of the brethren who now differ with me in regard

to those facts, are guilty of lying. I suppose that each of us,

will continue to believe that his version of the facts, is the

true one. But, surely, it is a unreasonable, as it is uncharit-

able to suspect, or accuse each other of lying. I have had

occasion to know, that untruth, even in witnesses under

oath, in regard to matters of memory, is more frequently

a mistake, than an intentional falsehood. In the com-

munications from Governeur, it is denied that Mr. Hervey

D. Smith was ever an infidel. I said he was a Deist. This

fact, was not perhaps generally known at Governeur, as I had

supposed, or, if it had been known, it may have been forgotten.

Men often conceal their private religious views, even from

their own wives. And but for the fact, that Mrs Smith her-

self, told me at the time that he was a Deist, and

that since, when I informed her, of the substance of my

conversation with him, when he was converted, as I related

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as I related in my article, she took no exceptions to

my representing him as a Deist, but on the contrary, ap-

peared to take the deepest interest in my report, I might

suppose that he had never revealed his skepticism to

her. I have not the least suspicion that any one there, uttered a

known untruth, in denying that Mr. Smith was a skeptic.

Bro. Barrell's recollection of the facts, differs widely, from

my own. He states that the revival commenced in the Bap-

tist church, before my arrival at Governeur. Of this he is

better informed no doubt, than I am. I do not recollect ever to

have heard of it. He says also, that Mr. Barrell & Mr.

Nash agreed to have meetings in the two churches at dif-

ferent hours, and thus mutually to assist each other.

Of this, I do not recollect to have ever heard. But it does

not come into my heart to accuse him of any misrepresentation.


He also says, that on ^ first interview with him, I denoun-

ced the neglect of my people to introduce me to him before, as

shameful, and said the devil was in it. Now, I suppose

that I am as well convinced that this is a mistake, as

he is, that it is true. But I have not the least suspicion

that he states other, than what he believes to be true. What he

states of our interview in the Presbyterian church, differs

widely, from my recollection of the interview. I had stated

that, in that interview he promised to defer the open-

ing the doors of the church, for the reception of new members

until the revival had spent its strength. as I thought the

introduction of the question of baptism, would create still

further division between the two churches, and grieve the Holy

Spirit, thereby putting an end to the revival. I stated, that

they soon after opened the door of their church, and that a

highly sectarian Baptist minister came in, and lectured repeatedly

as I understood, upon the subject of baptism, and that they

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continued to lecture and baptize, as I understood, from

day to day. And this as I stated, and verily believed

was that which stirred up so much sectarian feeling,

grieved the Spirit, and for the time arrested the

revival. Bro. Barrell is represented by you as saying

"The only discussion about baptism, grew out of the

action of a leading member of the Presbyterian

church, Mr. Joel Keyes, who having made up his

mind that he was in the wrong church proposed to

meet at his own house, as many ministers and

members of his church, as should be appointed, to

discuss the question of baptism. Accordingly three

ministers and Mr. Nash argued the case, from the

Presbyterian standpoint, and Mr. Keyes & his wife,

who was a Baptist, from the Bible standpoint." This

he says, "resulted in Mr. Keyes and three others go-

ing over from the Presbyterian to the Baptist church.

Of this discussion, I do not recollect to have ever heard be-

fore. If the going over of those members, is matter of record

made at that time, it is of course true. But I have

not the slightest recollection, of ever having ever

heard of it. He does not say who the three Presbyterian

ministers were, who, together with Bro. Nash argued

the question. Bro. Barrell, you represent, as further

affirming that in his private interview with me

I said that I had no doubt "but that immersion was

the primitive mode of baptism, &c." I have not the

least doubt that this is according to his recollection,

however he came by the idea, and I have just as

little doubt that it is wholly a mistake. The

discussion of the subject of baptism My public dis-

of the subject of baptism

cussion, ^ that followed this private interview was my first

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public teaching upon that subject. On that occasion

I explicitly maintained that immersion was not the original

mode of baptism, and have ever since maintained it,

as the many whom I have taught both as pastor, and

Professor of Theology, can testify. I then taught, and

have always taught, that I did not regard the mode

of baptism, as essential to the validity of the ordinance,

and hence, my practice has been to allow converts

to choose their own mode of baptism, and I have

administered it in various forms. You say that

I had pretty thoroughly considered that question before I

joined the church, and had still further examined it,

during my Theological studies, and though I may be

mistaken, yet I have never seen cause to change my

opinion. You say, "Mr. Barrell further states that during

this revival, no other Baptist minister was present, save

on one occasion, and that, if Mr. Finney's letter

has reference to this occasion, his statements are

false, and cruel." To this I can only ask, is it

possible, that Bro. Barrell and the people of

Governeur have forgotten that Elder Freeman,

(whom I had known, before he came to Governeur

in this revival,) came there and lectured on baptism

as I stated in my article? It is certainly possible

that Bro. B It is very likely, that neither Bro. Barrell

nor any one now living was present, and will

remember elder Freeman's rising in the congregation

on the last day of the discussion, and saying that

he should want to answer me; as I related , but

I can no more doubt, that it all occurred, as I

related, than I can doubt my existence.

Now these discrepancies of memory, after the lapse of

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nearly half a century are not strange. I have

frequently heard honest men, under oath, differ as

widely in their remembrance of facts, of much more

recent date that these, without the least suspicion that

they said anything that they did not really believe.

Bro Barrell and I shall probably continue to the day

to believe each other

of our death, ^ to be at fault in our memory of the

facts in question. Still, I trust we both have too

much good sense, and charity, to suspect each

other of wilful misrepresentation. We are old

men, and I trust we shall soon meet, where

we shall remember the facts alike. In the meantime

I hope that all parties to this misunders I trust that

all of us, between whom, is any discrepancy of

memory, of the facts in this matter, will re-

member that our disagreements are not at all

strange, considering that the facts occurred nearly

half a century ago. Perhaps this article is too

long, yet I have condensed as much as is con-

sistent with perspicuity, and have noticed

only the main points of disagreement.